Europa League Betting: Rangers to step towards knockout football

Rangers host Benfica at Ibrox in a battle of the group leaders. Betfair's Frankie Monkhouse expects another big performance from Steven Gerrard's Gers...

Differing fortunes

We are into the second half of the Europa League group phase when games return on Thursday evening. Both Celtic and Rangers are back in action, but their fortunes have been quite different in this tournament so far.

Celtic are bottom of Group H without a win on the board and now must travel to Sparta Prague. Rangers are top of Group D and would take a huge step towards knockout football for the second year in-a-row if they make home advantage count against Benfica.

Sparta Prague v Celtic
Thursday, 17:55
Live on BT Sport

Sparta Prague suffered defeat in each of their first two group matches but finally got off the mark last time when securing three points in Glasgow. An under-strength Prague had been written off in the betting before kick-off but made light work of the Hoops on their patch, easing to a stunning 4-1 victory.

Despite that confidence-boosting win, Prague suffered a 4-2 defeat on Sunday against SK Dynamo in the Czech Republic 1st League. Far from the ideal preparation for the visit of Celtic but the locals know victory on Thursday would keep alive their hopes of making it through to the next round.

Struggling Celts look fragile

Life has been tough for Celtic fans in recent weeks as they have watched last season's Scottish Premiership champions stumble from one poor result to the next. Neil Lennon's side have claimed just one of the nine points that have been available to them in this competition, losing to AC Milan and Prague while letting slip a two-goal lead to draw in Lille.

Things haven't been any better domestically with Celtic 11 points off the pace set by Old Firm rivals Rangers in the Scottish Premiership. They could only draw in the capital on Saturday, needing a goal late in stoppage-time to snatch a share of the spoils against Hibs. Lennon was far from in a forgiving mood during his post-match media chat, accusing his defence of being fragile.

Prague can do the double

Neither side enter this match in solid form but the ease in which a patchwork Sparta Prague beat Celtic at home is worth keeping in mind. Anything can happen in this competition, of course, but a 4-1 win at Parkhead suggests the home team can do the double. Sparta Prague are 2.36 for the win with Celtic 3.1 and the draw 3.65.

Celtic have conceded seven goals in their last three games in all competitions, something that has angered fans and could yet cost Lennon his job. They have found the net in each of their Europa League games, however. Both teams to score is 1.58 with over 2.5 goals 1.71.

Rangers vs Benfica
Thursday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport

Rangers are going great guns so far this season and are top of both the Scottish Premiership and Europa League Group D. Steven Gerrard led them deep into the UEFA tournament last season and an unbeaten record in their first three group games mean they have a great opportunity to ensure European football in Glasgow for 2021, hopefully with fans in attendance.

The Gers have already beaten Standard Liege and Lech Poznan and were desperately unlucky to only draw with Benfica last time. The Govan side fell behind early in that contest but fought back to lead 3-1 with 75 minutes on the clock. Two late goals saw two points slip through their fingers and Gerrard will hope his men learned a lesson from that. Rangers have since put eight past Hamilton and four against Aberdeen.

Red card hurt the Eagle

Benfica raced into an early lead when hosting Rangers earlier this month, a Conor Goldson own goal inside 60 seconds giving them the advantage. It looked like the Eagles would go on to win at a canter, but Nicolas Otamendi was sent off on 19 minutes, putting his side on the back foot. Benfica conceded three goals but battled back, Ferreira Silva and Darwin Nunez rescuing a point, the latter scoring with 91 minutes on the clock.

Benfica sit third in the Portuguese Primeira Liga table after seven games having won five and lost two. Interestingly, each of those two defeats have come in their last two games and they went down 3-2 at home against Sporting Braga at the weekend. The visitors have now conceded six goals in their last two league games.

Bears can take advantage

Rangers will be without the famous Ibrox roar on game night, but the players are used to that by now and some even appear to be thriving without the pressure of a sell-out crowd. Benfica started and finished well last time, but the Gers created chances and had the quality in attack to take them. The home win looks worth a punt at 2.2 with the draw 3.55 and Benfica 3.6.

Gerrard's defence has been solid this season, conceding only three goals in their first 15 Premiership matches. The backline will be asked to stand firm again and will be key to any Rangers success. No in the both teams to score is 2.4 with under 2.5 goals 2.3.



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