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UEFA Europa League Betting Preview: Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Ajax
August 24, 2023
Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad take on Ajax Amsterdam in the Europa League play-off first leg on Thursday, August 24
Both teams have never met each other before. The Bulgarian champions, however, won twice against PSV Eindhoven (2-0 in both matches) in the Europa League group stage in 2013-14, while Ajax traveled to Bulgaria for the first time since the glorious 70's.
Ajax Amsterdam won against CSKA Sofia in their first clash against a Bulgarian opponent en route to a third successive European Cup title in 1972-73, but the mighty Dutch side were dethroned by the same opposition next season.
Ludogorets Razgrad Betting Preview (+305 at BetOnline)
Whereas Ajax are set for their first European game this season, Ludogorets Razgrad have already faced several opponents across different competitions.
After another Champions League setback, the 12-time Bulgarian champions are now bidding to reach the Europa League group stage for the seventh season running. Still, even if they fail to do so, Ludogorets have already secured a spot in the Europa Conference League group stage.
Ivaylo Petev's troops defeated FC Ballkani of Kosovo in the Champions League first qualifying round before losing to Olimpija Ljubljana in the second round. Ludogorets continued their continental quest in the Europa League with a clash against Kazakh champions FC Astana as they managed to overturn a 2-1 deficit with a 5-1 second leg victory.
Ludogorets Razgrad suffered a 1-0 defeat at Cherno More Varna on Sunday night, thus ending their eight-game winning streak over The Sailors in league matches.
Petev made a number of changes during Sunday's domestic league clash against Cherno More and the Ludogorets boss will surely recall some of his aces.
According to his own words, Ivaylo Petev has a clean bill of health (except the already reported long-term injuries) ahead of the Europa League play-offs so he can pick his best players. With that said, Dinis Almeida, Denny Gropper, captain Anton Nedyalkov as well as summer signing Kwadwo Duah are all sidelined for the Bulgarian champions.
It remains to be seen whether Simon Sluga will once again get the nod in goal as the Croatian goalkeeper started the last couple of games for Ludogorets, while Dutch goalkeeper Sergio Padt was sidelined.
Elsewhere, the Ludogorets boss will be pleased to have key midfielder Claude Goncalves available for selection, thanks to the new UEFA rules. Goncalves is set to start alongside Ivan Yordanov and Jakub Piotrowski, who scored twice in the 5-1 win over FC Astana last week.
Ajax Amsterdam Betting Preview (-132 at BetOnline)
Having won four consecutive championships under Erik ten Hag, Ajax are still struggling following his departure last summer and his successor Alfred Schreuder was sacked only a few months later - in January.
As a result, Johnny Heitinga has been appointed as Ajax head coach for the remainder of the campaign and the ex-Netherlands defender, who previously managed Jong Ajax, eventually led the Amsterdam outfit to third place in the Eredivisie - their worst finish since 2008-09. Imagine if your "worst" finish is actually the third place, but that's another topic.
The European giants have now appointed ex-Sparta Rotterdam head coach Maurice Steijn, who guided his former club to sixth place in the Eredivisie (their best ranking since 1995-96) and the European competition play-offs.
Maurice Steijn's side opened the new Eredivisie campaign with a 4-1 win over Heracles at the Johan Cruijff Arena but the positives of his debut
The Amsterdammers are set to fly to Bulgaria on the back of a disappointing 2-2 draw against Excelsior in the Eredivisie on Saturday afternoon.
They rescued a point on their trip to Rotterdam at the weekend. Brian Brobbey opened the scoring midway through the first-half but Davy Klaassen's second-half equalizer was crucial at the end.
Ajax have been really active on the transfer market this summer, with the Dutch powerhouse confirming the signings of Croatian defender Josip Sutalo, Danish right-back Anton Gaaei, Argentine left-back Gaston Avila as well as Nigerian forward Chuba Akpom just over the past couple of days.
Argentine left-back Gastón Ávila became the latest Ajax signing earlier this week but the Europa League play-offs come too soon for him.
Thus, Owen Wijndal is expected to get the nod over youngster Anass Salah-Eddine at left-back, while midfielders Kenneth Taylor and Davy Klaassen (both were introduced as second-half substitutes against Excelsior) are also pushing for starts. However, there are reports that Klaassen, whose contract expires next summer, could leave the club to join Ligue 1 side Lyon.
While he's suspended for several domestic games, Steven Berghuis is expected to feature in Razgrad and the 31-year-old Netherlands international will provide much-needed experience in an youthful Ajax side.
Steven Bergwijn scored a brace in Ajax's curtain-raiser against Heracles and the ex-Tottenham Hotspur attacker should play a pivotal role here.
Elsewhere, first-choice goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli, who joined the Eredivisie side last winter, and veteran Remko Pasveer are both injured so Jay Gorter should start between the sticks on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, last season's Europa Conference League winners West Ham United are keen to acquire Mohammed Kudus ahead of the transfer window's closure but, so far, Ajax have been reluctant to sell the Ghanaian international and he's set to start against Ludogorets on Thursday.
Possible Starting Lineups of Ludogorets Razgrad and Ajax Amsterdam
Simon Sluga - Aslak Fonn Witry, Olivier Verdon, Noah Sonko Sundberg, Marcel Heister - Claude Gonçalves - Bernard Tekpetey, Jakub Piotrowski, Ivan Yordanov, Kiril Despodov - Rwan Seco. (4-1-4-1)
Jay Gorter - Devyne Rensch, Jakov Medi?, Jorrel Hato, Owen Wijndal - Branco van den Boomen, Benjamin Tahirovi? - Steven Bergwijn, Steven Berghuis, Mohammed Kudus - Brian Brobbey. (4-2-3-1)
Spooky Express Betting Prediction
Unlike their poor away record in European games, The Eagles have won six of their last eight home matches (6-1-1) and would fancy their chances of causing an upset.
The Bulgarian champions will be keen to exploit their home advantage and the ongoing rebuild of the Dutch giants. However, Ajax are still favorites to take the lead ahead of the second leg at the Johan Cruyff Arena next week, but their defense seems to be vulnerable right now and we expect a high-scoring first leg in Razgrad.
Spooky Express Free Play: Over 3 Goals -115 at BetOnline for 6/10 Units
Written By: Boris Angelov
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