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Booking Tips: Two big priced card picks for Europa League Thursday

Marc Albrighton features amongst Thursday's booking tips.
Marc Albrighton features amongst Thursday's booking tips.

The frantic 2020/21 Europa League schedule reaches Matchday 5, a crucial point for so many of the teams with only a handful of having secured qualification to the knockout stages which commence in the new year. I’ve taken a look at some of the ties to try and identify some money making opportunities on the player front.

Zorya v Leicester – UEFA Europa League – Thursday 2nd December (5.55pm) – BT Sport 1

With three wins and draw from their four group games to date, Leicester are in the comfortable position of having already secured their progression to the next round, allowing Brendan Rodgers to rotate his troops even more here for the long trip to Ukraine.

Rodgers has deployed a relatively strong first eleven in European competition so far, certainly enough to get through against some tricky looking opponents on paper at least. The likes of James Maddison, Jonny Evans and Youri Tielemanns have been ably supported by some capable understudies which will no doubt be the case again here but, despite qualification already being in the bank, Rodgers will want his team to get back to winning ways after a couple of poor league showings against Liverpool and most recently Fulham. Besides, the incentive of clinching top spot in the group and (in theory) an easier draw in the next round is still up for grabs.

Zorya know that they realistically need two wins from their remaining matches to stand any chance of finishing second in the group and with an away trip to Braga still to come, that looks a huge uphill task. A poor start to their domestic season – just three wins in the first 10 games – does not inspire confidence of an upset here, even if they will be playing a much-changed Foxes side.

Today's football tips
Zorya v Leicester City
Thu, 17:55
Marc Albrighton to be shown a card
  • Albrighton will serve a suspension for a meaningless final group game with a card picked up here.
  • The wide man is cynical when fouling, his last 4 bookings as a result of his only foul of the game.
  • Referee Eskas is very card happy.
Odds correct as of 2020-12-02 20:10 Odds subject to change.

We reach the stage of European competition where tactical bookings come into effect. For those unaware, that basically means that any player who has already received two yellow cards will be suspended for the next game with one more booking.

Albrighton is one of several players in the group stages currently on two cards and with Leicester having already qualified, you would not rule out him picking up another one here to miss a meaningless final group match rather than a more important knockout game further down the line. The wide man is averaging one foul per game in the Europa League this season compared to 0.2 in the Premier League and with those two cards, it certainly suggests that he has been cynical at times with his fouls. In fact, that has been the case with the last times the Englishman has had his name taken so when he does foul, he does it properly!

Despite his sporadic appearances for the 2016 league champions, Albrighton is no stranger to a card and whether he starts the game on the wing or at wing-back does not tend to factor into his discipline record across his career.

The referee in charge here is Espan Eskas who has a quite big card average in both Norway and Europa League fixtures so, despite this not being a game that would scream out cards overall, the official’s record suggests he won’t hesitate to reach for his pocket should any gamesmanship by Albrighton be deployed or he times a challenge late.

With the knockout stages on the horizon, I’m willing to back the wing-back to pick up a card with Betfair with a 2 point play. 

Europa League Betting
Lille v Sparta Prague
Thu, 20:00
Andreas Aalen Vindheim to be booked
  • Six yellows and a red in the reverse fixture.
  • Conceded seven fouls in his last two games in this competition.
  • Up against Jonathan Bamba.
Odds correct as of 2020-12-02 20:15 Odds subject to change.

Lille v Sparta Prague – UEFA Europa League – Thursday 3rd December (5.55pm) – BT Sport ESPN

Lille and Sparta Prague meet in a huge contest in Group H, with a three-way battle looking like going down to the wire to decide which two teams will qualify to the next phase of the competition.

The reverse fixture saw the French outfit triumph 4-1 - undoubtedly aided by an early red card for the hosts – and it now means that they have won all three previous meetings with Czech opponents by a healthy 12-3 aggregate. In this season’s Europa League, Lille remain one of 10 sides unbeaten and know therefore that their destiny is in their own hands, knowing that a win will seal qualification and continue an excellent start to the campaign on all fronts.

Many of Lille’s key men were rested for the 1-1 draw at Saint Etienne over the weekend so they should be fresh and ready to go here but Sparta cannot be underestimated. Vaclav Kotal’s men have come alive in the group following successive 4-1 wins over a Celtic outfit in disarray and they will look to harbour the experience in their squad in this competition to try and cause an upset on Thursday night.

This game, when you consider the context in the group; the last meeting that saw seven yellows and a red and the referee in charge looks set for plenty of cards.

Matchday 5 across the Champions League and Europa League often brings plenty of bookings in games which have plenty riding on it and this should be no different. Both sides can still qualify, so the match should have a good edge to it and be fiercely competitive. I mentioned the reverse fixture and the early red. The flow of cards didn’t stop there, with each team picking up three yellows after that despite the gap in the scoreline.

We have another referee who likes to flash more cards than Granny at Christmas in Javier Estrada Fernandez. Whilst his record outside of Spain is lower than his incredibly high domestic average of 5.75 cards per game, he is still dishing out over four per match in the Europa League across his career – including five yellows and a red in his only Euro contest this season.

With all those factors in play, it’s worth a look at the prices on individual players in this match and I think Vindheim holds some value at 4/1.

Vindheim has rotated between playing right-back in a back four to wing-back and has picked up 1 card in the 4 group games to date, although he’s perhaps fortunate that tally isn’t more having conceded four and three fouls to the two games prior to that booking against Celtic. It’s worth noting however that the first two games of the group the wide man started in an attacking midfield role rather than right-back however, so the one in four is perhaps not the best indicator.

The main reason I want to back the Norwegian to be booked is because of the man he will be up against. Jonathan Bamba plays left-wing for Lille and is frequently fouled. In that 4-1 victory in Prague, the Czech team’s right-back that evening – Michal Sacek – was booked for a foul on Bamba so hopefully we get a repeat here with Vindheim instead which not be a surprise with Sparta averaging three cards per game in the group stages.

Looking back across Lille’s matches this season, the opposition’s right side picks up a fair few cards so I’m happy to back Vindheim with a 2 point play at 4/1.

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