MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has picked out his favourite fancies from Thursday night’s Europa League fixtures not involving English sides.
Borussia Dortmund v FC Porto | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
For me, this is hands down the most eye-catching tie of the last-32 in the Europa League and it’s easy to look at the pre-match odds and think something’s not quite right.
Of course, Dortmund have been in blistering form since the appointment of Thomas Tuchel this term but Porto are certainly no slouches having just dropped down from the Champions League. So why are the Black & Yellows such skinny odds?
Simple really. Porto have several defensive absentees meaning 19-year-old Diego Verdasca may be asked to fill in for his debut. Right-back Maxi Pereira and midfielder Danilo are both suspended, Marcano is injured, Maicon is out on loan and Nigerian teenager Chidozie Awaziem who was forced into action at the weekend isn’t registered for the Europa League.
Jose Angel is likely to come in on the left with Miguel Layun switching to the right of defence as Jose Peseiro attempts to plug the gaping holes in his backline ahead of their trip to the German giants.
The Dragons boast a formidable frontline and should play their part in an enjoyable contest but if this comes down to a shootout, I know where my money will be going.
Dortmund to win and Over 1.5 Goals is an 8/11 play with Betfair, and that seems more than fair. Tuchel has almost a fully fit squad available with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang expected to return in Dortmund’s tried-and-trusted 4-2-3-1.
The hosts have scored in all bar one of their 16 Signal Iduna Park outings this season and won 11 of those fixtures by at least a two-goal margin. If they don’t clear a one-goal handicap, I’d want them onside in a goal-heavy game as nine of their last 14 on home soil have delivered winning Both Teams To Score bets.
St Etienne v Basel | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
Runaway Ligue 1 leaders PSG are the only side to beat St Etienne in their last eight encounters but even so, Les Verts look vulnerable 5/4 favourites for the visit of swashbuckling Basel.
The Swiss guests have returned from their winter break to extend their lead at the top of their domestic league to 15 points thanks to back-to-back wins over Lucerne (3-0) and second-placed Grasshoppers (4-0). It means Urs Fischer’s men have suffered just four defeats in 34 fixtures all season (W25-D5-L4).
FCB began their campaign in the Champions League but dropped out of the competition on away goals during qualifying and have since gone on to top Group I ahead of Serie A heavyweights Fiorentina. Basel won all three of their away group-games meaning they’re unbeaten on their continental travels in 2015/16 (W4-D1-L0).
Hosts St Etienne returned W1-D2-L0 in home Group C fixtures in a tricky pool alongside Lazio, Dnipro and Rosenborg but the Europa League regulars have been far from invincible at their Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium base in this competition. Since 2013/14 they’ve W3-D6-L2 when welcoming European sides – two of those victories coming in the qualifying rounds.
Across all competitions, Christophe Galtier’s Greens have W5-D8-L7 since early November and kept only four clean sheets in that time despite being famed for their solid defensive foundations.
I expect Basel to score in France on Thursday night – they’ve notched in all of their 34 games this season – and in doing so, avoid defeat. Therefore, taking the Swiss side at 22/23 (BetVictor) with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start makes perfect appeal.
With this selection, we’ll make money should Basel avoid defeat. We’ll gain a full pay-out should FCB win with a half win (and half stake returned) should the visitors pick up a draw in St Etienne. The only way in which we won’t make money is if Les Verts pocket a first leg advantage.
Valencia v Rapid Vienna | Thursday 20.05 | BT Sport 2
Valencia managed to record their first league win in 12 and their first in nine under Gary Neville at the weekend. Los Che downed Espanyol 2-1 to avoid equalling their longest ever winless streak but it certainly wasn’t pretty.
The Bats fell behind for the 10th time in 10 league fixtures under the Englishman and were fortunate to escape with maximum points. Espanyol missed a host of opportunites and Neville admitted post-match, “This shows that football is not about putting in the best performance; we didn’t play well but we got the result.”
Valencia are 22 points worse off than they were at this stage last season and had defended dreadfully, again. There was little to no control, organisation or quality on show at the Mestalla and so there’s no way I can consider tackling them at odds-on quotes here.
Sure, supreme stopper Diego Alves returned and Paco Alcacer is back from injury. True too that Pako Ayestarán – considered to be the brains behind Rafa Benitez’s successful European conquests – has joined Neville’s coaching ranks but Sunday’s success was just their first in the league since November and their first at the Mestalla in La Liga since October. Atrocious.
The performance data is just as damming against Valencia. Only five clubs have fired in fewer shots-on-target than Los Che and only five clubs have posted a lower shots-on-target ratio figure – their share of the total shots-on-target in games – their 50.96% SOT ratio at the Mestalla is only better than five relegation-rivals’ records too.
Rapid Vienna are this midweek’s visitors and the Austrians sit joint-top of their domestic Bundesliga table having returned from their winter break with a cruising 3-0 triumph against rivals Austria Vienna.
The guests topped their Europa League group by winning five of their six pool fixtures, only losing out to Villarreal in Spain. They knocked Ajax out of the Champions League back in July, gave Shakhtar Donetsk an almighty fright in the next qualifying round and have scored at least twice in seven of their 10 continental contests this season.
Should Rapid attack with the same verve, intent and swagger as they showed in 2015, I’ve no doubts they’ll cause Valencia’s ramshackle defence all sorts of problems. So I’ll take the 9/8 from BetVictor for Rapid Vienna +0.50 in the Asian Handicap market – we’ll be paid out if they avoid defeat.
Borussia Dortmund v FC Porto – Borussia Dortmund to win and Over 1.5 Goals (8/11 Betfair)
St Etienne v Basel – Basel +0.25 Asian Handicap (22/23 BetVictor)
Valencia v Rapid Vienna – Rapid Vienna +0.50 Asian Handicap (9/8 BetVictor)
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