Chelsea are bidding to become the first side to win the Europa League in the season following a Champions League triumph and are probably decent value to get the better of Benfica in 90 minutes in the Ajax Stadium in Amsterdam at 13/10.
Now is probably a good time to play Tottenham Hotspur. Though Gareth Bale’s ankle injury is not as bad as first feared he will still miss his side’s quarter-final, second-leg with FC Basel in Switzerland and, with Jermaine Defoe also missing, you’d fancy the home side to finish off the job they started so impressively at White Hart Lane.
There may be no Premier League teams in the last eight of the Champions League but the quarter-finals of the Europa League sees a strong English presence and all three sides still involved will fancy their chances of making further progress.
There are some who say that Manchester United and Manchester City are destined to face each other in this year’s Europa League Final but both teams have plenty of work to do to make that a reality.
Shamrock Rovers, who became the first side from the League Of Ireland to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League after winning in Zagreb, have been rewarded with a plum draw in the competition. Michael O’Neill’s Hoops will line up against Russians Rubin Kazan, who beat Barcelona in the Champions League a couple of years ago, and PAOK Salonika of Greece as well as facing home and away fixtures with Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur.
Last-16 First Leg
The last-16 stage of this season’s Europa League kicks off next Thursday with the current outright favourites Manchester City (8/5) facing a difficult first leg tie away to Dynamo Kiev (7/5). The Ukrainian side are no strangers to European football and are coming off the back of a fantastic performance against Besiktas in the last round. Kiev are a fantastic bet at 6/4 to qualify for the next round of the competition.
The draw for the Round of 32 in this season’s Europa League has been made and the betting market has undergone a bit of a shake-up. Surprisingly, English Premier League side Manchester City (4/1) has been installed the favourites for the competition following their progress from Group A. Even more startling is inclusion of Liverpool (11/2), who have been, at best, mediocre this season
European ties against the likes of Juventus were nothing more than a pipe-dream for Manchester City fans a few years ago. Is it complacency, therefore, that they are now viewed as a distraction rather than a bonus?
City fans have, of course, more to concern them than some relatively meaningless Europa League match at the moment.
Matchday 6 (Thursday)
European football continues tonight with all eyes focused on the current Europa League holders Atletico Madrid (13/10). The Spanish side travel to the BayArena in Germany to take on Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen (15/8) knowing that need to better the result of the second-placed team in Group B, Aris Salonica (2/5), if they are to stand any chance of qualifying for the knockout phase of the competition.
Watching Liverpool at the moment is a bit like tuning in for an episode of ‘Lost’. Just when you think you’ve worked out the story line, one of the regular cast disappears and along come a couple of characters you’ve never seen before who turn the whole thing on its head. Of course, in Liverpool’s case, the big names aren’t being killed off, but merely confined to the treatment table.
This was always going to be a season of transition for the Reds and a learning curve for manager Roy Hodgson.
Matchday 6 of the Europa League group stage gets underway tonight and its last chance saloon for a number of teams who are struggling to progress into the knockout phase of the competition. Sevilla (6/4) currently lie second in Group J and if they avoid defeat at home to Borrusia Dortmund (6/4) than the Spanish side will be guaranteed a spot in the last 32. Another team looking to avoid defeat is Steaua Bucharest (13/2). Their opponents, Napoli (2/5), must win in order to secure second place in Group K and given that the Romanian side have lost their last six games in Europe, it’s likely that the Serie A club will be in the draw for the knockout stage of the Europa League.
The Europa League group stage continues on Thursday night and it’s crunch time for a number of clubs that are struggling to progress into the knockout phase of the competition. English side Liverpool (13/10) have saved their best form for the Europa League this season and a point away to Steaua Bucharest (2/1) will guarantee them a spot in the last 32.