Europa League predictions: Fener too strong at home for Slovacko

James Mason
LiveScore
Jorge Jesus' Fenerbahce side host Slovacko
Jorge Jesus' Fenerbahce side host Slovacko

Fenerbahce, Olympiakos and Malmo feature among the seven Europa League third-round first-leg qualifiers taking place on Thursday, as teams hope to move a step closer to the competition's main draw.

Northern Irish champions Linfield are also in action — and are aiming to qualify for the group stage of a European tournament for the first time in the club's history when they welcome Zurich to Windsor Park.

League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers take on KF Shkupi Skopje in Dublin, as the hosts eye a return to the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. 

Elsewhere, AEK Larnaca take on Partizan Belgrade, Slovacko travel to Fenerbahce and Malmo FF host F91 Dudelange. 

Maribor go up against HJK Helsinki and Olympiakos face Slovan Bratislava. 

Fenerbahce vs Slovacko (Thursday, 6pm BST)

It has already been a disappointing start to the season for Fenerbahce after they were knocked out in the second qualifying round of the Champions League by Dynamo Kyiv, but they have to pick themselves up quickly after that early setback. 

Head coach Jorge Jesus will demand a response from his side against Slovacko, who are involved in Europa League qualifying for the first time in the club's history after finishing fourth in the Czech First League Championship Group last season. 

The stats

Fenerbahce finished third in Group D of the 2021-22 Europa League to drop down into the Europa Conference League — but they were defeated 6-4 on aggregate by Slavia Prague in the play-off round of the knockout stage. 

The Yellow Canaries will be bitterly disappointed to have missed out on Champions League football again — they have not reached the group stage since 2008-09 — but their best European result came in the Europa League when they made the semi-finals in 2012-13. 

Slovacko's European record, in contrast, is short and sweet. 

Having progressed to the third round of the 2002 Intertoto Cup, they were then knocked out at the second round of qualifying in last season's Europa Conference League. 

A fourth-place finish in the Czech First League last season has presented them with the opportunity to play in Europe and they will be hoping to cause an upset in what will be the first ever meeting between the two teams. 

Prediction

It is hard to look past Fenerbahce to pick up a first-leg win at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, a venue they have lost just three of their last 19 Europa League matches at. 

Jesus will be eager for his side to right the wrongs of the Champions League defeat to Kyiv and his side should have enough strength in depth to overcome a Slovacko outfit that lacks experience at this level. 

Fenerbahce have generally kept things tight at the back, with clean sheets in four of their last eight competitive home fixtures, so it would be no surprise to see them shut out their opponents again on Thursday. 

Olympiakos vs Slovan Bratislava (Thursday, 8pm BST)

Both Olympiakos and Slovan Bratislava lost in the second round of Champions League qualifying, going down to Maccabi Haifa and Ferencvaros respectively — but they still have the chance to reach the Europa League group stage. 

The Greek champions were thumped 5-1 over the two legs, most notably losing 4-0 at home, while last season's Slovakian Super Liga winners were downed 5-3 on aggregate in an entertaining tie. 

It is a case of deja vu for these two teams heading into Thursday's first leg, as they were pitted against each other in the play-off round in Europa League qualifying last term, with Olympiakos winning 5-2 on aggregate. 

The stats

Olympiakos finished second in Europa League Group D last term before losing to Atalanta in the play-off tie of the knockout round, while Bratislava ended up third in Pool F of the Europa Conference League. 

While the Greek giants are yet to get their domestic campaign started, their Slovakian opponents have already turned out three times — picking up two victories to sit second in the early table.

This will be the fifth meeting between the pair, with Olympiakos unbeaten in the previous four contests, winning three of those to nil and drawing the other game 2-2. 

Prediction

A 3-0 Olympiakos win was followed by a 2-2 draw in the two qualifying matches last season and there is enough evidence, certainly from Bratislava's recent results, to predict goals will be on the agenda again. 

The Slovakian champions have scored nine goals from their three league outings this term, while they also netted three times over the two legs in the Champions League qualifying defeat to Ferencvaros.

Linfield vs Zurich (Thursday, 7:45pm BST)

Northern Irish side Linfield have never made the group stage of a European competition but have caught the eye already this summer.

David Healy's Linfield face a tough tie against Zurich
David Healy's Linfield face a tough tie against Zurich

The stats

Linfield edged past Welsh champions The New Saints in their first Champions League qualifier in July before beating Bodo/Glimt 1-0 at home in the first leg of the next qualifying round.

However, a demoralising 8-0 defeat in the return game in Norway ended their chances in that competition and they must attempt to pick themselves up against Swiss side Zurich.

FCZ were also dumped out of the Champions League qualifying, falling 5-4 on aggregate to Qarabag in the second round after they were unable to overcome a one-goal deficit from the first leg.

Zurich are the favourites but have not won any of their last five competitive games to give Linfield, who are unbeaten in their last 11 competitive matches at Windsor Park, a glimmer of a hope.

Prediction

Linfield have demonstrated they can beat bigger sides at home recently and they should keep it tight — but a narrow away victory for the visitors, who have considerable pedigree a this level being Swiss champions, seems likely.

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