EUROPEAN football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Thursday’s early Europa League action.
Besiktas v Hapoel Beer-Sheva | Thursday 18:00 | BT Sport Extra
Last week I backed Hapoel Beer-Sheva to continue their impressive home record by avoiding defeat to Besiktas in the first leg of this Europa League Round of 32 tie but the Camels were out-classed in Israel.
Atiba Hutchinson’s stoppage-time goal on the counter-attack wrapped up a 3-1 success for Besiktas and puts the Turkish champions in the driving seat ahead of Thursday night’s concluder. And I’m backing the Black Eagles to progress with a second victory over Beer-Sheva here at 3/4 (Coral).
The cold, hard stats aren’t particularly favourable for Besiktas following that first leg success. Both sides fired in 12 efforts at goal with the Israelis winning the on-target count 6-4; but the visitors twice hit the woodwork and always looked more threatening when coming forward.
Brazilian attacking midfielder Talisca’s return from injury has provided the Istanbul club with a major final-third boost and along with Ricardo Quaresma, Senol Gunes’ side boast the tools capable of hurting Beer-Sheva further.
Cenk Tosun notched his 10 goal in 10 games for the Turks during their weekend 3-1 league win against Akhisar Belediye, a result that extended the hosts’ advantage atop of their domestic table to four points.
Besiktas often save their best performances for their Vodafone Arena home and during the Champions League group-stage they held Napoli, Benfica and Dynamo Kiev here whilst also beating eight of their 10 league opposition.
Hapoel have bagged a sole triumph in six away European excursions this term (W1-D3-L2) and Barak Bakhar’s men are in the midst of a sticky run of results, garnering only two victories from their last seven outings (W2-D2-L3).
The Camels have won once in seven games as guests (W1-D4-L2), firing four blanks in the process, and appear unlikely to turn this tie around on Thursday night.
APOEL Nicosia v Athletic Bilbao | Thursday 18:00 | BT Sport Extra
Athletic Bilbao hold a 3-2 advantage following the first leg skirmish with APOEL Nicosia in Spain but Giannis Gianniotas’ last-gasp goal has given the Cypriots hope of upsetting the odds when they return home for Thursday’s second leg.
Having fallen behind, Les Leones fought back to take a commanding 3-1 advantage thanks to impressive attacking displays from veteran striker Aritz Aduritz and Inaki Williams. However, their dominance over the course of the contest wasn’t displayed by the final score.
Athletic won the shot count 22-3 with APOEL’s late goal coming despite the visitors enjoying only 31% of the possession at San Mames. With two away goals now in their back pocket, Thomas Christiansen’s charges are hopeful of progressing to the Last 16.
The Cypriots certainly shouldn’t be discounted here. The Legend are formidable hosts and qualified from the group-stages with a 100% record when entertaining Astana, Olympiakos and Young Boys at their GSP Stadium home.
APOEL are unbeaten at home in over a year and have W6-D3-L3 when welcoming continental opposition. Christiansen’s men set a new club (and national) record by accruing 12 points in this season’s pool stage and have claimed W9-D2-L0 in their last 11 at the GSP.
Athletic have wobbled all too often on their travels this term, losing 10 of their 16 away days across all competitions. Ernesto Valverde’s men are winless in three continental sojourns (W0-D1-L2) and claimed a sole success in games as guests in 11 outings (W1-D3-L7) against second-tier Santander.
We can back APOEL with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start at 13/15 (188BET), a selection that will make us money should the Cypriots avoid defeat.