The Europa League group stage resumes this week with 24 matches – one today and 23 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, the current favorite is a club that is still toiling away in Champions League, with Red Bull Salzburg having a 10% chance of winning the tournament according to FiveThirtyEight. Of the clubs currently playing in Europa League’s group stage, however, the favorite is Manchester United, and the Red Devils currently have an 8% chance of taking home the cup.
Our final preview of Thursday’s action features a battle between two clubs for second place in Group G. Rangers, who lead based on an away-goal tiebreaker, play host to Porto in a match from Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. The match kicks off at 9:00pm CET (3:00pm EST) on Thursday night.
Like we did with our other previews today, we’ll cover how things are going for the clubs back home, and recap what has happened through the first half of the group stage 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
Rangers are one of the most successful football clubs in the world, winning a record 54 league titles since their founding in 1872. They were a founding member of the Scottish Premiership, and if not for some financial difficulties earlier this decade, they would have nearly 150 years uninterrupted in the top tier of Scottish football. Nevertheless, spending 143 of a possible 147 seasons at the top is still quite impressive.
Last season, they finished a distant second in the Premiership behind longtime rival Celtic, and have failed to win a league title in nearly a decade, with their last title coming the season before administration in 2010-11. This season, through 11 matches, they are tied with Celtic at the top of the table, with the same 9-1-1 record and Celtic only on top due to a one-goal advantage in goal differential (as well as a loss to Celtic back on 1 September).
Porto can boast similar success in Portugal as the most successful club from that association. They boast of 28 Primeira Liga titles (the last coming in 2017-18), as well as numerous other trophies from domestic competition. Last season, they finished second behind Benfica by only two points.
And that is also where they find themselves a third of the way through the current season, two points behind Benfica. They are unbeaten over the past nine matches (8-1-0), however, and they hope that an opening day loss to Gil Vincente – who are currently in 14th place – doesn’t come back to sting them as we head into the new year.
With all their success domestically, Rangers have competed in Europe a lot, though due to the stature of their league, they usually have to advance through qualifying while doing so. And all that success in Scotland hasn’t translated to major European trophies, as they came up just short in the 2008 UEFA Cup Final, losing to Zenit Saint Petersburg. Last season, they played through qualifying and reached the Europa League group stage only to finish third in their group.
This season, they defeated St Joseph’s, Progrès Niederkorn, Midtjylland, and Legia Warsaw during qualifying, compiling a 6-2-0 record and outscoring their opponents 20-3. The group stage hasn’t been as kind, with a loss to group leader Young Boys and a win over Feyenoord to go along with their Matchday 3 draw with Porto.
Porto has also played a lot in Europe, but unlike Rangers, has some hardware for their troubles. They have won four major trophies, winning Champions League and Europa League twice each, with their last title coming in the 2011 Europa League Final over countrymen Braga. Last season, they reached the quarterfinals of Champions League, succumbing to eventual champion Liverpool.
This season, they again began in Champions League, though they lasted only one round in losing to Krasnodar in the third qualifying round. They then moved to Europa League, where they had the opposite results of Rangers: a loss to Feyenoord and a win over Young Boys, and finding themselves in third place due to the away goals tiebreaker.
This will be the sixth match between the two clubs in European competition, with Rangers holding the slight edge with a 2-2-1 record in the previous five matches. The last meeting was three weeks ago in Portugal, with Rangers notching the 1-1 draw with a late first half goal.
With the action shifting to Glasgow, you would think that the home club would find an advantage in front of their faithful followers. But according to the experts at FiveThirtyEight, that is not the case, with visiting Porto coming in as the favorite with a 42% chance of winning. Rangers check in with only a 30% chance of coming out on top, but I feel like the match will be much closer than that spread indicates, and we may even see another draw in this one.
Overall, that’s how the odds in the group shake out as well, with Porto given a 68% chance of advancing to the Round of 32, compared to the 50% chance of Rangers. With Young Boys expected to win over Feyenoord, neither of these clubs wants to be left behind and simply draw with their opponent. And since Rangers get two of their final three at home, they need to take advantage, and that begins with this match.
Until next time…