Europa League is back in action Thursday with the quarterfinal first leg matches kicking off.
In case you missed it, here are the quarterfinal matchups:
There is still a ton on the line for everyone left in the competition, because the title winner earns a spot in Champions League next season. So for teams like Arsenal, Granada, Villarreal and Roma — who are currently outside the top four in their respective domestic leagues — it gives them another shot at qualifying for the prestigious European showcase next season.
If you’d like to read more about how I determine my projected lines and totals using an expected goals model, you can read about it here.
For the Europa League, my projections factor in UEFA Coefficients for every country represented. The projections also take into consideration the talent of each squad based on their total transfer value on TransferMarkt.
That way, the projections can account for the strength of the domestic league each club plays in and the talent level of each team.
Granada vs. Manchester United
Granada is one of the most surprising teams to be in the quarterfinals considering just three years ago they were in the second division of Spanish soccer. They pulled off an upset of Napoli in the Round of 32 and then took care of business against Norwegian side Molde in the Round of 16.
However, the Spanish side is actually struggling in La Liga this season, as they’re currently in ninth place and have only two wins in their last 11 matches in La Liga play. Their underlying metrics are horrific as well, as they are only creating 1.05 xG per match, while allowing 1.61 xG per match.
Manchester United got past AC Milan in the Round of 16 thanks to a Paul Pogba second half goal in the second leg.
Despite being in second place in the Premier League table, Manchester United’s expected goals do not match up with its actual results.
The Red Devils have only the fourth-best expected goal differential and are fourth in expected points. The reason for that is that they’ve been a bit fortunate in front of net, as they’ve scored 58 goals on the season but created only 50.30 expected goals.
Defensively, Manchester United has been solid this year, allowing only 1.13 xG per match. That number has only gotten better as of late, as it’s really turned up the defensive pressure over the last six matches, allowing only 1.01 xG per match.
I think the current moneyline, spread, and over/under doesn’t provide much value, so I am going to pass on this game.
Arsenal vs. Slavia Prague
Arsenal survived a scare from Benfica in the Round of 32 with a late Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal in the second leg.
They then exercised some revenge on Olympiacos, putting away the Greek Champions in the first leg.
The Gunners had a terrible start to the season in the Premier League. but they have improved since the calendar turned to 2021. The Gunners’ offense has gone from scoring just 1.10 xG per match before Christmas to 1.66 xG per match after the holiday. The emergence of Real Madrid loanee Martin Ødegaard, along with young sensation Bukayo Saka, has taken the Emirates by storm.
Arsenal mamager Mikel Arteta typically plays out of a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is the most common setup in modern football. The formation allows Arsenal to deploy three attacking midfielders going forward, which can overwhelm opposing defenses. It has allowed Ødegaard and Saka to create a ton of chances. They put up a dud of a performance against Liverpool this past weekend, losing 3-0 at the Emirates, so Arteta’s men need to get back to their promising form of the past few months.
Slavia Prague is in the quarterfinals after pulling off back-to-back upsets over Leicester in the Round of 32 and Rangers in the Round 16. The Czech champions have been on a roll in their domestic league, as they have not been beaten in 25 matches. Slavia Prague has only lost twice this season and has done it with their defense. In the Europa League, it has allowed only 1.19 xG per match and held Leicester to only 1.06 xG total over the two legs. However, their offense hasn’t done much in the knockout stage, as it’s created only 3.03 xG over the four games.
Just like the Granada/Manchester United match, I think the current moneyline, spread, and over/under doesn’t provide much value, so I am going to pass on this game, as well.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Villarreal
Dinamo Zagreb pulled off a historic comeback in the Round of 16, erasing a 2-0 first leg deficit by beating Tottenham 3-0 in extra time.
Dinamo Zagreb put on a goalscoring clinic last time out. 💥
Will they be able to sustain their goalscoring ways against Villarreal? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/TgEPOEp81M
— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) March 31, 2021
The Croatian champion were lucky to draw weak opponents during the group stage, and in the Round of 32, Tottenham was the first club from the five major European leagues it has faced this season. Even though they somehow pulled off the upset, they are lucky to be in the quarterfinals because Tottenham dominated them on expected goals over the two legs, 3.87 to 1.86.
The team’s expected goals in the Croatian First Division aren’t really that impressive for playing in the 18th-most difficult league Europe, scoring 1.96 xG per match, while allowing 1.14 xG per outing.
Villarreal is in a great run of form coming into this match, winning five straight in all competitions. They made quick work of Dynamo Kiev in the Round of 16 and have not lost a match in the Europa League this season. They have a fantastic defensive record in Spain, allowing only 1.02 xG per match. Their offense is no slouch either, as they’re averaging 1.60 xG per match, which is actually better than both Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in La Liga.
I think Villarreal is criminally undervalued in this match given the run of form they are on and the differences in UEFA Coefficients between Spain and Croatia. So, I like Villarreal at -103 (DraftKings) and would play them up to -150.
Pick: Villarreal -103
Ajax vs. Roma
Roma have been flying high this season, as they’ve been one of the highest-scoring teams in Italy, averaging 1.99 xG per match. The reason for their elite offensive output is because Roma has switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation this season, which is the same formation teams like Chelsea and RB Leipzig have adopted.
The main objective of the 3-4-2-1 is to completely overwhelm opposing defenses by outnumbering them on the counter-attack. The formation allows Roma some tactical flexibility as they can adjust on the fly based on how the match is going.
That has allowed I Giallorossi to dominate possession and keep opponents on their toes. The proof is in the numbers, too, as Roma is averages +1.08 xGD per 90 minutes, when playing out of that formation, per Understat.
Ajax is one of the most lethal teams in front of net in all of Europe. In the Dutch Eredivisie this season they are averaging a whopping 2.59 xG per match. They destroyed Austrian side Young Boys in the Round of 16, beating them 5-0 and 6.98 to 1.08 on expected goals over the two legs.
The Dutch champions have an incredibly talented squad with a fantastic mixture of talent and experience from guys like Daley Blind, Davy Klaassen, and Dušan Tadić.
This is going to be a free-flowing match with a ton of chances at both ends, so I think we are going to see a high-scoring affair.
Since I have 3.51 goals projected for this match, I am going to back Over 3 goals at +112 (DraftKings).
Pick: Over 3 goals (+112)