Europa League Tips: Milan to keep visitors in Czech

Milan have made a very strong start to the season, and Kevin Hatchard believes that will continue against Sparta Prague in the Europa League. Kev's picked out four selections for Matchday Two.

Don't be distracted by Rossoneri's rotation

Milan v Sparta Prague
Thursday 29 October, 17:55
Live on BT Sport Extra

It says a lot about how far Milan have come under Stefano Pioli in 2020 that they were desperately disappointed by Monday's 3-3 draw with Roma. The inimitable Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice, as Milan led three times, but failed to hold onto the lead on any of those occasions. Losing incredible keeper Gigio Donnarumma because of a COVID-19 diagnosis proved a hefty blow, as back-up Ciprian Tatarusanu struggled, despite his vast experience.

That draw represented Milan's first failure to win in Serie A this season, and they have also made a convincing start to the Europa League. A 3-1 victory at Celtic was fully warranted, a win that featured first-half goals from Rade Krunic and Brahim Diaz, who are both expected to start this game. Pioli has made no bones about his wish to rotate his squad on Thursday, but Milan have a deep squad, and should still field a strong line-up.

Sparta Prague were smacked 4-1 at home by Lille on Matchday One, and they don't tend to travel well in this competition. They have lost their last five away games in the UEL, conceding at least twice in each defeat. Yes, that's a sequence that goes back four years, but it still suggests this is a team that struggles to deal with the step up from the Czech top flight. The capital club are missing key players because of injury and suspension, and I think they'll struggle here, so I'll back Milan -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 2.12.

Wounded sides to put on a show

LASK Linz v Ludogorets
Thursday 29 October, 17:55
Live on BT Sport Extra

I must admit I was disappointed with what LASK Linz served up at Tottenham last week. A side that usually poses a potent attacking threat was reduced to a couple of long-range drives, and they proved to be the only tests for Spurs keeper Joe Hart. That 3-0 defeat has put the Austrians under pressure in this group, and I expect them to come out all guns blazing this week, just as they did in the weekend's 4-0 hammering of St Polten.

Bulgaria's perennial powerhouse Ludogorets are also behind the 8-ball after losing 2-1 at home to Antwerp on Matchday One, and it's worth noting that their away games in this competition tend to be quite lively. Five of their seven they have played since the start of 2019 featured at least three goals, and both teams have found the net in six of their last 10 UEL road matches.

LASK have seen their last seven competitive matches feature three goals or more, and I'll back Over 2.5 Goals here at 1.8.

Depleted AZ to be made to work

AZ v Rijeka
Thursday 29 October, 20:00
Live on BT Sport Extra

It's been a difficult year for Dutch club AZ. The fates conspired to deny them a chance of winning the Eredivisie title, because the COVID-19 crisis saw the season cut short, with the men from Alkmaar level on points with Ajax. The Amsterdam giants weren't given the title, but they were given a place in the UCL group stage, with AZ forced to qualify. Arne Slot's side slipped up, as they lost 2-0 at Dynamo Kyiv.

AZ have made a curious start to the new season. They have drawn all five of their league matches, but they gave a sharp reminder of their quality as they won 1-0 at Napoli on Matchday One. However, COVID-19 has stymied them again, as they have temporarily lost the services of a number of players after positive tests. Myron Boadu, Ferdy Druijf and Timo Letschert are all expected to miss out, while Ron Vlaar and Jordy Clasie are carrying injuries.

Rijeka are averaging two points per game domestically, they pushed Real Sociedad hard on Matchday One in a 1-0 defeat, and their away record in the Europa League is decent. They won 1-0 at Copenhagen earlier this month, and they have only lost one of their last six on the road in this tournament.

I'll back Rijeka with a goal-and-a-half start on the Asian Handicap.

Foxes to win again

AEK Athens v Leicester City
Thursday 29 October, 17:55
Live on BT Sport ESPN

It's been a strong week for Leicester City at home and abroad. They beat Ukrainian side Zorya 3-0 on Matchday One, and then edged a drab game 1-0 at Arsenal in the Premier League, their third consecutive away win in the top flight.

Although Jamie Vardy may be rested for this one, Leicester's away form suggests they can still come away from Greece with a victory. AEK were outclassed in a 3-0 defeat in Portugal against Braga, and they won't have their usual raucous backing at home for this one. AEK aren't on the same level as Greek champions Olympiakos, and they have only won one of their last seven games in this competition.

I expect Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers to take this game seriously, and I'll back his side -1.0 on the Asian Handicap at 2.44.

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