Europa League Betting: Athletic's wall to come down in Berlin

Pal Dardai has transformed Hertha's fortunes
Pal Dardai has transformed Hertha's fortunes
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The Europa League's group stage is set to begin, and Kevin Hatchard's been scouring the markets for the best bets.

"Hertha have an excellent home record, while Athletic have generally struggled on the road in this competition."

Back Hertha Draw No Bet at [1.95]

Hertha Berlin v Athletic Club
Thursday 14 September, 20:05
Live on BT Sport 3

It's been an excellent couple of seasons for Hertha Berlin under their influential Hungarian coach Pal Dardai. They are a unit cast in Dardai's own image - tough, disciplined, and willing to work themselves into the ground for the Hertha cause. Dardai was a Hertha player for many years, and he understands the club better than most.

Two seasons ago, Hertha finished seventh after a late-season collapse that cost them a Champions League spot. They then failed to reach the group stage of the Europa League, as they were beaten by Danish club Brondby in the playoff round. Last season, they finished fifth, and therefore qualified automatically for this phase of the competition.

Hertha have founded their success on generally impeccable home form. Despite the cavernous nature of the Olympiastadion, the BSC faithful still manage to make an almighty racket, and the team responds accordingly. Hertha have won 13 of their last 19 home games in the Bundesliga.

Athletic Club have more European experience than Hertha as a unit, but their away form in Europe leads me to suspect that they might be vulnerable in the German capital. The Basque side have won just two of their last eight Europa League away matches, and in last season's group stage, they took just one point from their three road games.

Hertha have taken four points from their three Bundesliga games so far, and they have looked pretty sharp, only losing to Borussia Dortmund. Australian Matthew Leckie is in the form of his life - he has already scored three Bundesliga goals for his new club, as many as he managed in his previous 71 top-flight appearances.

Given their home form over the past season, I think Hertha are worth backing using the Draw No Bet market.

Recommended Bet
Back Hertha Draw No Bet at [1.95]

Vardar Skopje v Zenit
Thursday September 14, 20:05

It's been quite a journey for Macedonian side Vardar Skopje so far. In the Champions League qualifiers, they knocked out Malmo, and gave Copenhagen a scare. In the Europa League playoff round, they dumped out Turkish giants Fenerbahce.

Now they face a Zenit side that needed extra time to squeeze past Dutch side Utrecht in the playoffs, and were nearly knocked out by Israeli outfit Bnei Yehuda, Roberto Mancini's reign has got off to a smooth start in the Russian Premier League - his side are a point clear at the top - but the European displays haven't quite matched that form.

I'm happy to give Vardar a goal start in Skopje, where they have beaten Malmo, Copenhagen and Malmo.

Recommended Bet
Back Vardar Skopje +1.0 on the Asian Handicap at [2.06]

Hoffenheim v Braga
Thursday September 14, 18:00

Having been outclassed in the Champions League qualifiers by Liverpool, Hoffenheim are now hoping to make their mark in the Europa League, in what is their first ever season in European competition. Hoffe coach Julian Nagelsmann continues to carve out a reputation as one of the brightest coaching talents on the continent, and Saturday's superb 2-0 win over Bayern Munich has further enhanced the 30-year-old's burgeoning reputation. Indeed, he has been widely tipped to replace Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern, perhaps sooner rather than later.

For now, Nagelsmann is fully focused on TSG, and the hosts have every reason to be confident. The defeat to Liverpool was their only home reverse since May 2016, and Hoffenheim have won seven of their last 11 home games to nil in all competitions.

Sporting Braga have plenty of European experience, but in the Primeira Liga they have scored just five goals in five games. They scored in away matches at AIK and FH in the qualifiers, but this is a big step up from those sides.

Braga have to be respected as a team that plays in continental competition pretty much every season, but I believe Nagelsmann will have another finely-tuned plan, and I'm backing the hosts to win and keep a clean sheet.

Recommended Bet
Back Hoffenheim to win to nil at [2.4]

Copenhagen v Lokomotiv
Thursday September 14, 18:00

Copenhagen were surprisingly dumped out of the Champions League qualifiers by Azerbaijani side Qarabag, but they remain a dangerous team in this competition. The Danish champions have lost just one of their last 11 European home matches, and in last season's Champions League group stage, they thrashed Club Brugge 4-0 and drew 0-0 with both Porto and Leicester City.

Lokomotiv are just a point off top spot in the Russian Premier League after eye-catching derby wins at CSKA and champions Spartak. That form may lead some to back them to win at a hefty [3.2], but I'm swayed by Copenhagen's impressive body of work in the Danish capital.

Recommended Bet
Back Copenhagen Draw No Bet at [1.76]

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