Our Europa League columnist Kevin Hatchard has trawled the last 16, looking for the best bets…
Wolfsburg v Inter Milan
Thursday March 12, 18:00
Live on ITV4
Wolfsburg are the 7.413/2 favourites to win the Europa League, and although I tipped them as winners on radio after the group stage concluded, I must admit I’m surprised to see them favoured by the market ahead of Italian giants Napoli and Roma.
The Wolves saw their Bundesliga title dream die in Bavaria on Saturday, as a 1-0 defeat at Augsburg saw Bayern Munich extend their lead at the top. Having denied for months that his team are in a title race, Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking is now denying that they’ve dropped out of one, but the game is surely up.
Wolfsburg have won 11 of their last 13 home games in all competitions, including wins over Bayern in the league and Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League. They haven’t failed to score at least twice in a home game since mid-December, and their unlucky group-stage defeat to Everton remains their only loss of the season on home turf.
Wolfsburg are justifiably 1.738/11 favourites to win this first leg, but the sheer unpredictability of Inter makes that price a bit too short to be of interest. Roberto Mancini’s men battled back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Napoli at the weekend, and they’ve only lost one of their last five away games in all competitions. Sometimes Inter are awful, but with potential matchwinners in the line-up like Mauro Icardi and Xherdan Shaqiri, the Nerazzurri are always a threat.
Perhaps a better bet is backing Over 2.5 Goals at 1.834/5. Wolfsburg don’t really have it in them to play cagey football, and nine of their last 15 games in all competitions have featured at least three goals. Inter aren’t exactly living up to the Italian stereotype of shutting up shop on the road – five of their last six away games have contained at least three goals, including that extraordinary 3-3 draw at Celtic in the last 32.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.834/5
Fiorentina v Roma
Thursday March 12, 20:05
Live on BT Sport 1
We’ll never know what would have happened if Roberto Soldado hadn’t totally messed up one of the easiest chances of the season, as Fiorentina ultimately beat Spurs 2-0 in Florence to book their place in the last 16. I was happy to oppose La Viola on that occasion, and I’m doing so again on Thursday.
Fiorentina’s home form is the chief reason behind my reticence to support them. Former Roma striker Vincenzo Montella has seen his side win just four of their last ten matches at the Artemio Franchi, and they have kept just two clean sheets in that sequence. Their results have fluctuated wildly in the last week, as a superb 2-1 win at Juventus in the Coppa Italia was followed by a 4-0 drubbing at Lazio in Serie A.
Roma have seen their title hopes fade away amidst a flurry of draws, including a 1-1 stalemate in Florence in late January. They aren’t winning many games, but they aren’t losing many either, and have tasted defeat just once in 16 outings.
That defeat was a 2-0 home reverse against Fiorentina, which I can only assume has contributed to the hosts’ price of 2.447/5 to win this first leg. That just seems a touch too short to me against a Roma side that is tough to beat, doesn’t have too many injury worries, and has potential matchwinners in players like Gervinho and Francesco Totti. If you back the visitors +0 & +0.5 on the Asian Handicap, a draw gives you a half-win, and you’ll have a full winner if Roma nick a first-leg lead.
Back Roma +0 & +0.5 on the Asian Handicap at 1.8810/11
Napoli v Dynamo Moscow
Thursday March 12, 20:05
This last-16 tie brings together two sides who have generally found the Europa League to be pretty straightforward so far. Napoli had a blip as they lost 2-0 at Young Boys of Berne, but they won four of the other five games in their section, and then battered Trabzonspor 5-0 on aggregate in the last 32. Methodical coach Rafa Benitez loves the challenge of two-legged ties in Europe, and he has seen his side keep clean sheets in their last five Europa League games.
Dynamo Moscow won all six of their group games, including a pair of 1-0 successes against PSV Eindhoven. In the last 32, Stanislav Cherchesov’s men ground out a goalless draw at Anderlecht before doing the business in the home leg, and I suspect that will be the plan for this tie. Dynamo have already racked up four shutouts in the Europa League.
This could be a safety-first affair between two teams who have firepower but have also defended extremely well in this competition. I’m not expecting a firefight.
Back No in the Both Teams To Score market at 2.0421/20
Club Brugge v Besiktas
Thursday March 12, 18:00
Live on BT Sport 2
Sometimes it’s wise to look not just at a set of results in terms of wins or losses, but also to analyse who those results were achieved against. Belgian league leaders Club Brugge are yet to taste defeat at home in any competition this season, which looks an impressive record. However, scratch beneath the surface a bit, and it doesn’t quite look so good.
Brugge have bashed most domestic teams at home, but against both of their title rivals Anderlecht and Gent, they were held to draws on home turf. In the Europa League they came through a relatively weak section, and were still restricted to draws at home by Torino and FC Copenhagen. They then swept aside Danish champions Aalborg 3-0 in the last 32.
What I’m getting at is that Club Brugge haven’t had a massive test yet, and they’ve got one coming up against a Besiktas side that is ultra-competitive under teak-tough coach Slaven Bilic. The Turkish giants knocked out Liverpool on penalties in the last 32, and they have shown their quality and fighting spirit in a number of tough away assignments.
Besiktas were unlucky to lose 1-0 at Arsenal in the Champions League qualifiers, they held Spurs to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, and they weren’t far off getting the goalless draw they came for at Anfield. It wouldn’t surprise me if Besiktas ground out a draw in Belgium, and with the excellent Demba Ba lurking around in attack, they might just nick a win.
Back Besiktas Draw No Bet at 2.37n/a
2014/15 Europa League P/L (1pt per bet)
Points Staked: 63
Points Returned: 65.73
P/L: +2.73 points