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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Experienced European campaigners Zenit should ease past modest group rivals

Leandro Paredes and his Zenit teammates could make light work of Group C
1 of 1

Starts 5.55pm Thursday

Group A
Best prices: 4-11 Leverkusen, 6-1 Ludogorets, 10-1 Zurich, 16-1 AEK Larnaca
Bayer Leverkusen are bottom of the Bundesliga after three defeats in three games but bookmakers expect them to breeze through Group A.

The Germans are as short as 1-4 to top a weak section in which Bulgaria’s Ludogorets – thumped 4-0 on aggregate by Milan in last season’s round of 32 – are the main dangers.

Group B
5-6 RB Leipzig, 7-2 Salzburg, 4-1 Celtic, 16-1 Rosenborg
Celtic face a Rosenborg side who they defeated 3-1 on aggregate in Champions League qualifying but stiffer tests will come against RB Leipzig and a Salzburg team who reached the semi-finals last season.

Salzburg lost to Marseille, who also snapped up their exciting young Croatian defender Duje Caleta-Car in the summer, and they may have to play second fiddle to Red Bull-sponsored sister club Leipzig.

Group C
Evs Zenit, 7-2 Bordeaux, 6-1 Copenhagen, 8-1 Slavia Prague
Russian league leaders Zenit St Petersburg are rated solid favourites to see off some modest opposition.

Bordeaux lost star man Malcom to Barcelona in the summer while trips to Copenhagen and Slavia Prague hold few fears for experienced European campaigners Zenit, who have a squad packed with good-quality internationals.

Group D
11-8 Fenerbahce, 7-4 Anderlecht, 4-1 Dinamo Zagreb, 20-1 Trnava
Fenerbahce, who have taken just six points from five games in Turkey, are narrow favourites to hold off Anderlecht in a competitive section.

The Belgians had a brute of a Champions League group last season, drawn with European powerhouses Bayern Munich and PSG, but they reached the Europa League quarter-finals in 2016-17, losing only 3-2 on aggregate to winners Manchester United.

Group E
4-11 Arsenal, 7-2 Sporting, 20-1 Qarabag, 40-1 Vorskla
A largely second-string Arsenal won their group comfortably last season and Europa League specialist Unai Emery is expected to pick stronger teams than Arsene Wenger did at this stage of the competition.

Group E is effectively priced up as a match bet between the Gunners and Sporting, who are rebuilding after a traumatic end to last season when the players were attacked by their own fans at the club’s training ground.

Group F
10-11 Milan, 11-5 Real Betis, 5-1 Olympiakos, 100-1 Dudelange
Milan looked primed to go deep into the competition until a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Arsenal in the round of 16 last season.

They have another soft group with Betis, who finished sixth in Spain despite conceding the same number of goals – 61 – as bottom club Malaga, likely to join them in the last 32.

Group G
8-13 Villarreal, 5-1 Spartak Moscow, 9-1 Rangers, 9-1 Rapid Vienna
Villarreal were stuffed by Lyon in the first knockout stage of the 2017-18 Europa League but they had comfortably won a weak group and should do likewise this time around.

They open up with a home game against Rangers, who have a realistic chance of qualifying in second place.

Group H
6-4 Lazio, 13-8 Marseille, 10-3 Eintracht Frankfurt, 22-1 Apollon Limassol
Apollon Limassol struggled in a group with Atalanta, Lyon and Everton last term and the Cypriots have things even tougher this season.

Marseille reached the final last season while Lazio lost 6-5 on aggregate to Salzburg in the last eight and those two should outclass Eintracht Frankfurt.

Group I
6-5 Besiktas, 10-3 Genk, 7-2 Malmo, 11-1 Sarpsborg
Besiktas head the betting, with on-loan Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius hoping for better luck in Europe this season, but second-favourites Genk are worth a bet to topple the Turks.

The Belgians made the quarter-finals two years ago, losing 4-3 on aggregate against Celta Vigo, and scored 22 goals in six straight qualifying wins to book their group-stage spot this season.

Malmo lost to Hungary’s MOL Vidi in Champions League qualifying and Norwegian side Sarpsborg are making their European debut.

Group J
2-5 Sevilla, 13-2 Standard Liege, 7-1 Krasnodar, 12-1 Akhisar
Sevilla have won the Uefa Cup or Europa League five times since 2005-06 and they should ease into the knockout stages once again.

Bookmakers are struggling to split the other three teams in the group but Krasnodar have decent Europa League pedigree, finishing top of Borussia Dortmund’s group in 2015-16 and qualifying from a section featuring Schalke, Salzburg and Nice a year later.

Group K
5-4 Dynamo Kiev, 2-1 Rennes, 13-2 Astana, 11-1 Jablonec
Dynamo Kiev reached the last 16 of the Europa League last season, losing to a powerful Lazio side, and they ran into a decent Ajax unit in qualifying for the Champions League.

They should have the class to top Group K with the layers rating Rennes their biggest threat. Finishing fifth in France was a decent effort last term but Rennes ended up 19 points behind fourth-placed Marseille.

Group L
1-7 Chelsea, 12-1 PAOK, 16-1 BATE Borisov, 33-1 MOL Vidi
Chelsea are the shortest-priced group favourites and it’s not hard to see why.

Maurizio Sarri’s men have made a fine start to their season and have the squad depth to coast through even with star players likely to be rested.

PAOK, BATE Borisov and MOL Vidi – the artists formerly known as Videoton – aren’t expected to upset the Blues, who are as short as 1-12 to finish top of the table.

Recommendations
Zenit St Petersburg to win Group C
3pts Evs Sky Bet
Genk to win Group I
1pt 100-30 Sky Bet
Dynamo Kiev to win Group K
2pts 5-4 BoyleSports


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Group E is effectively priced up as a match bet between the Gunners and Sporting, who are rebuilding after a traumatic end to last season
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