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Michael Taylor 25th Aug 2010 - 10:38

Villa and Liverpool in danger of early Europa League exits

Thursday night is D-Day for both Aston Villa and Liverpool in the Europa League with the English giants both in danger of an early exit from Europe's secondary club competition.

It's not just about the Villains and Reds though as Man City, Celtic and Dundee United all try to cement a place in the group stages and ensure it's not all about their domestic leagues this season.

So how will Britain's big five fare on this night of nights?

It's not been a dream start for new boss Roy Hodgson with only a narrow home win over Trabzonspor to show so far.

They may have dominated the home leg but were left ruing a host of missed opportunities, including a Joe Cole penalty miss, as the Turkish side kept themselves in the tie trailing by a single goal.

To make matters worse for the Reds they now have to overcome a demoralising loss against Man City if they have any ambitions of making their mark in Europe this year.

Realistically qualification, even in the hostile Huseyin Avni Aker stadium, shouldn't be too tough an ask despite a slow start to the season however it's time for the big players to stand up and be counted.

Joe Cole is due a goal and he's the type of person that loves stepping up when he's most needed - so he looks a great bet at 7/1 to net the first of the game - while Fernando Torres is best avoided as his fitness struggles continue.

David Ngog might not be everybody's cup of tea but he's shown enough to suggest he can put lesser teams like Tranzonspor to the sword and again looks value at 6/4 to net anytime.

As for the Turks, their biggest threat comes in the form of Umut Bulut who has proven to be a useful player in cup games during his time in Trabzon.

He's 6/1 to score the first of the game and 7/4 anytime, however I fancy Liverpool to come good in this one and edge past them by a few goals with Liverpool 2-0 at 17/2 looking good and 11/10 about an away clean sheet my nap.

You have to feel for little Dundee United after a farcical series of events has clouded the return leg of their foray into Europe.

As if being down 1-0 wasn't tough enough to take for the Scots they've also had to contend with the location of the game being undecided until the final hour.

The one positive is that the only fans likely to be in attendance are those travelling from Dundee, an expected 6,000, with the game now likely to be staged at AEK's big rivals Olympiakos' stadium.

Unfortunately you have to fear for their chances of progression, especially after they fell 4-0 to newly promoted Inverness at the weekend, while the Greeks should be even fitter with another week of pre-season under their belts.

Athens boast a host of internationally recognisible stars in Traianos Dellas, Papa Bouba Diop and Pantelis Kafes and I expect this experience to be the telling factor with a home win hard to get away from at 4/11.

Terrors manager Peter Houston will no doubt pinpoint diminutive Brazilian Leonardo as a big threat and will be keen for the likes of Craig Conway to get hold of the midfield or risk getting run out of it early.

Sadly it's hard to see people like Danny Cadamarteri firing United through and as such I'd be looking at results such as AEK 3-0 at 7/1.

Perhaps the most intriguing clash of the night sees Celtic try to maintain a 2-0 first leg lead after a great performance at Celtic Park last week.

Neil Lennon will have been delighted with new signing Efrain Juarez's opener as the Mexican midfielder further hinted that he could be one of the signings of the season - he's 16/1 to score the first of the game again and 6/1 to net anytime.

More realistically though you have to believe the old Martin O'Neill approach could be adopted with the Bhoys shutting up shop and defending their well earned lead.

The away side are 13/5 to keep a clean sheet and the scoreless draw is a massive 9/1 - both of which are big tempters.

The Dutch will be hoping more is to come from the highly rated Ricky van Wolfswinkel after an abject performance in the first leg while former Bhoy Jacob Lensky will be desperate to show his ability after being forced out of Glasgow.

Getting back to the original point though, Lennon knows exactly what Europe is about through the experience he gained in captaining Celtic to the UEFA Cup final under O'Neill and from the little we've seen it seems he has the managerial savvy to have more success this year.

Kevin MacDonald did his chances of taking the permanent manager role no favours on Sunday when his Villa side embarrassingly fell 6-0 to newly promoted Newcastle.

It's now essential they rebound and they'll see the match-up against Rapid Vienna as the perfect opportunity after an encouraging showing in the away leg.

Marc Albrighton gave a glimpse of his potential by handing the Villains the advantage early on in the Austrian capital and he could represent great value at 12/1 if he can repeat his heroics on home turf.

The Austrians, to say the least, lacked a genuine threat last week and while their second half performance was a lot better than first it's hard to see Richard Dunne and co coming under too much pressure against Hamdi Salihi.

It's certainly not a formality for the Birmingham side, I do think a return to opening day form, where they smashed West Ham 3-0, will prove too much for the Austrian Leaguers to cope with - 6/4 about Villa/Villa in the double result market is where my money would be heading.

There isn't really much needs saying here, or at least there shouldn't be if Man City can recreate even a glimmer of the form they showed against Liverpool on Monday night.

Some people described the 3-0 win as the most complete City performance in 20 years while Roberto Mancini says the best is yet to come from the multi-million pound squad.

The 1-0 first leg lead doesn't come close to representing the gulf in class between the two sides in this one and you have to feel the Romanians can hold their heads up high if City fail to better the 3-0 from Monday.

Mancini will likely bring in a few of the squad players so I'd be looking at Emmanuel Adebayor being a good bet at 3/1 to score first and Jo to net anytime at 6/5.

As for the result I'm not going to go crazy and predict anything too lopsided, I'd be looking somewhere around 4-0, priced at a generous 7/1, with the charge led by the ever-improving Adam Johnson.


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