Analysis

Charlie Nicholas' Europa League predictions: Arsenal and Chelsea to win

Last Updated: 20/09/18 6:43am

The opening round of the 2018/19 Europa League group stage takes place on Thursday, so who is Charlie Nicholas tipping to start with a win?

Four British teams are in action, with Arsenal hosting Ukraine's Vorskla Poltava and Chelsea travelling to Greece to face PAOK Salonika. Brendan Rodgers' Celtic are at home to Rosenborg and Steven Gerrard's Rangers, who had to beat four sides to qualify for the group stage, face a tough trip to La Liga side Villarreal.

Former Arsenal and Celtic striker Charlie Nicholas gives his predictions for all four fixtures…

Villarreal v Rangers (Group G, 5.55pm kick-off)

Rangers are unconvincing. At home, they are definitely improving under Steven Gerrard. A lot of people are unsure but I am convinced they are improving, it is just early stages for them. This competition was about getting in there and getting the money and their profile up.

Villarreal won at the weekend but have not started the season well. They have an intimidating little stadium, not hostile but an intimidating little pitch and it is different.

They are very good technically, always have pace up front, and I think Rangers will struggle in this group, starting with a defeat.

I am going Villarreal to win 2-0, high in discipline with Rangers struggling to sort theirs out at the moment, so 40+ Rangers booking points.

Charlie predicts: Villarreal 2-0 Rangers (5/1 with Sky Bet)

PAOK Salonika v Chelsea (Group L, 5.55pm kick-off)

Eden Hazard is carrying this Chelsea team at the moment and I think the manager's type of play is taking time to settle, but it is a very promising domestic start for them. Maurizio Sarri does like to rest players for different situations and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the game he says to Hazard, 'I'll give you a rest and give a few other players an opportunity'. I still think Chelsea are more than good enough to win this one.

It's not easy going to these places, they can be a bit hostile at times, but I am going to go for a low-scoring victory and I have a feeling Sarri will give someone like Ruben Loftus-Cheek an outing, so I will back the England midfielder to score.

Charlie predicts: PAOK 0-1 Chelsea (13/2 with Sky Bet) and Loftus-Cheek to score (4/1 anytime)

Celtic v Rosenborg (Group B, 8pm kick-off)

At the moment Celtic aren't playing well, but at the same time they have already beaten Rosenborg in the qualifiers for the Champions League. Rosenborg had a half-decent result at the weekend as they beat Valerenga, while Celtic drew at St Mirren.

Celtic aren't making a lot of chances at the moment which is frustrating for a lot of people, none more so than Brendan Rodgers. Being a Celtic man, I would play Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths together and go after Rosenborg and pin them in.

They are not that good so I wouldn't be concerned about them scoring loads of goals here on the counter, they are slightly dangerous because Celtic have their own issues, but I think they will beat them again.

I am going for 2-0, hopefully Brendan finally agrees with me and I will back Edouard and Griffiths both to score, Celtic to win to nil.

Charlie predicts: Celtic 2-0 Rosenborg (6/1 with Sky Bet) and both Griffiths and Edouard to score (3/1)

Arsenal v Vorskla Poltava (Group E, 8pm kick-off)

I would expect Arsenal to be a bit like Chelsea; they will want to start the group well and with a win.

I imagine there will be a lot of changes with the likes of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan coming in, so it will still be a strong enough team for me to expect Arsenal to win this.

The way Arsenal play they don't do clean sheets, so I am going to go for a 2-1 win and Mkhitaryan to score first.

When new teams come into the competition they get caught up in the emotions of it so I will also go with 60+ booking points.

Charlie predicts: Arsenal 2-1 Vorskla and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to score first (35/1 with Sky Bet)