Europa League – Wolfsberger AC v AS Roma

The Europa League group stage resumes this week with 24 matches on Thursday all over Europe. We aren’t going to cover them all, instead focusing on four matches that have been viewed as closer than others according to various prognosticators, or feature clubs that we are following for other reasons.

At the moment, Manchester United remains the favorite to win the tournament overall, with an 8% chance of taking home the cup. However, with eight third-place clubs from Champions League entering the fray in the knockout round, a new favorite could emerge from that group. For example, Liverpool is one of three clubs with a 6% chance of winning Europa League, even though they are currently favored to win their Champions League group.

Our final preview features the two clubs at the top of Group J after wins on Matchday 1. Wolfsberger AC welcomes Roma to Graz, Austria, with the match kicking off at 6:55pm local (12:55pm EST) at Liebenauer Stadium.

Like we did in our other previews, we’ll cover how things are going for the clubs back home, and recap what happened on Matchday 1 for both clubs. We’ll wrap up with a look at the history between the two clubs – if they have any – and what the odds look like for the match and beyond.

Without further ado, here’s a look at the clubs:

Domestic League Performance

Though Wolfsberger AC was founded in 1931, they had spent most of their existence in the lower leagues in Austria, finally reaching the Austrian Bundesliga in 2012-13 after winning the championship in the Austrian Football First League the prior season. Last season, they finished third in the championship round, resulting in their qualification for Europa League.

They remain a strong performer this season, and currently find themselves in third place with 10 points (6-1-2) behind Red Bull Salzburg and LASK. They do have a win against LASK in the books, but lost a big game to Red Bull Salzburg (5-2), albeit on the road in that one.

Since their founding through a merger in 1927, A.S. Roma has spent all but one season (1951-52) in Serie A in Italy. They also have three Serie A titles, though the most recent was nearly 20 years ago in 2000-01. Last season, after a strong finish to the season – they were unbeaten (5-4-0) in their last nine matches – they finished in 6th place, three points behind Inter Milan for fourth place.

Through six matches this season, they are alone in fifth place with 11 points (3-2-1), their only loss coming to Atalanta two weeks ago at home. They are undefeated on the road thus far (2-1-0) and have a slate full mostly of clubs behind them in the table over the next few months, leading up to their first match against Juventus at the “turn around” point of the season.

European History

With only a few seasons in the top Austrian division, Wolfsberger has a limited history in European competition, with their only previous appearance coming during the 2015-16 Europa League, where they reached the third qualifying round and a loss to Borussia Dortmund.

Their Matchday 1 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach was the second-biggest upset of the day, as they entered the match with only a 15% chance of winning (per FiveThirtyEight). Gladbach was favored as the home club, and had a 65% chance of walking away victorious against one of the weaker clubs in the group stage draw. Instead, Wolfsberger netted three first half goals on their way to a 4-0 thrashing at Borussia-Park, elevating them to the top of the group table because of the away goals tiebreaker.

Roma has a much longer history in UEFA competitions, though they were elevated to a group stage entry this year only after AC Milan was excluded from the competition over financial fair play violations. Otherwise, they would have entered in the second qualifying round and had to play a few more matches along the way. In their last trip to Europa League during the 2016-17 season, they reached the Round of 16, losing to French club Lyon. Last season, playing in Champions League, they were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Porto.

Their 4-0 victory over İstanbul Başakşehir on Matchday 1 was a little more expected – they entered the match as 5-to-1 favorites – but it was impressive nonetheless. They did their damage in the second half, breaking open the game and sending the Turkish club back to Istanbul in a four-goal hole. They are in second place in the group because Wolfsbergers’ goals were scored on the road, but they have to be pleased with their current position.

This Matchup

Not surprisingly, these clubs have never met in European competition due to Wolfsbergers’ limited European participation. Roma also has a limited history against Austrian clubs overall, with a 3-1-0 record over four matches in Europa League.

Despite their current table position, and the relative strengths of their Matchday 1 victories – Roma enters this match as the favorite (per FiveThirtyEight), winning in 46% of simulations. Wolfsberger is no pushover, checking in with a 30% chance of winning, though that may be partly due to their status as the home team.

That’s also the order they find themselves in for the group overall, with Roma (56%) and Wolfsberger (21%) the top two clubs in terms of winning the group. Gladbach cannot be discounted right now, especially since they are favored in today’s match against İstanbul Başakşehir and looking to show that their loss to Wolfsberger was a fluke. For the moment, however, the Germans have the most ground to make up, and will likely be no higher than third in the group when today’s action concludes.

A Wolfsberger win will continue a great story for the club, but I think Roma will find a way to win this one in Austria. They are the stronger (and deeper) club, and should have little difficulty with the plucky upstarts, though I am prepared to be shocked as well.

Until next time…

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