Pressure on the visitors to protect their lead
Rangers and Celtic are both in Europa League action on Thursday in their play-off second legs. Rangers are in Armenia for an early start aiming to protect a narrow one-goal aggregate lead but take confidence from an impressive display on Sunday.
Celtic visit the Netherlands where they’ll face AZ Alkmaar boasting a 2-0 win from the first leg. The Hoops also travel on the back of a solid Premiership win, and both teams will hope to finish the job before clashing in Sunday’s Old Firm derby in Govan.
Armenian champions Alashkert defended well in Glasgow last week despite losing the match 1-0 to an Alfredo Morelos goal. It was a better result than many pundits predicted, and the tie is live for the second leg in Yerevan. Stats from that first leg defeat showed The Yellows were well beaten, hardly troubling the Gers’ defence despite playing more than half the game with a man extra after John Lundstram was sent off.
The locals have now played seven matches in UEFA competition this season and have yet to record a single win. They were eliminated from the Champions League by FC Sheriff after back-to-back draws with Connah’s Q.
They then drew twice with Kairat Almaty in the previous round of this competition before losing in Glasgow. The home win is 65/1 on the Betfair Exchange with the draw trading at 4.3100/30.
Confidence grows as form returns
Some sections of the Scottish press would have football fans believe there is a confidence crisis at Ibrox after Rangers were knocked out of the Champions League by Malmo. That was a bitterly disappointing result and one that will be felt financially, but results don’t reflect that. The visitors have won each of their three games since losing to Malmo, scoring ten goals and conceding only two.
They were last seen in action hammering Ross County 4-2 away from home on Sunday. The two goals conceded were poor from the Gers’ point of view, and a higher level of concentration is required in Armenia and on Sunday. The attack is pulling their weight, and Morelos looks to be back up to speed following his extended break over the summer. Rangers are well worth a bet at 1.618/13 with a win to nil priced at 2.68/5.
Gers travel without manager Steven Gerrard, captain James Tavernier, Calvin Bassey, Scott Wright, Ryan Kent, Alan McGregor and Jon McGlaughlin. Assistant Gary McAllister will be in the dugout and his replacements will have enough about them to get the win.
Dutch club AZ Alkmaar were soundly beaten in Glasgow last week, going down 2-0 at Parkhead. It was an unexpected result, but the tie remains alive, and the locals know if they can grab the first goal on Thursday and get it early enough, they’ll have a real chance of making it through. There’s still plenty to play for, and the home advantage could make the difference in the latter stages.
The home team have enjoyed a bit of a break ahead of this match and that time would have been used on the training field to help improve the squad’s fitness. Alkmaar looked off the pace in Glasgow, but there’s more to come from this side, and they are value for the win at an eye-catching 2.245/4.
One foot in the groups
Celtic have one foot in the group stages of the Europa League but know they can’t afford to look beyond Thursday’s challenge. The Hoops were impressive in the first leg, taking the lead on 11 minutes through Japanese import Kyogo Furuhashi before an own goal doubled their advantage. Anything better than a two-goal defeat will see the Bhoys march on to the group stages of the tournament.
Postecoglou’s side continued their stunning goalscoring form at home on Saturday when thrashing St Mirren 6-0; their second league win on the bounce by a six-goal margin. That ferocious attack will be required on Thursday but far more important in Holland is a stable defence as goalkeeper Joe Hart can’t do it all himself. The away win is 3.052/1 with a draw trading at odds of 43/1.