EUROPEAN football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Thursday’s evening Europa League action.
Schalke v Borussia Monchengladbach | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport
Ruhr valley neighbours Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach meet for the second of their three-match trilogy in the space of 13 days following Saturday’s Bundesliga encounter between the pair from the west.
Played in torrential rain, Gladbach dominated proceeding and collected a richly-earned 4-2 triumph at Borussia Park. The hosts fired in 19 efforts – 16 of which were attempted from inside the penalty box and won the shots on-target count 7-2. It was far more convincing that the final score.
Now the duo go head-to-head in Gelsenkirchen in an all-German Europa League contest. With both sides out of continental qualification contention domestically, progress and success in this competition is vital should either have aspirations of playing in Europe next season.
Monchengladbach’s weekend triumph was their eighth in 13 meetings with Schalke since 2010 and the Foals have been in far better form than Thursday night’s hosts, motoring up the standings following the December arrival of Dieter Hecking.
Since Hecking pitched up, Gladbach have churned out W8-D0-L2 in 10 matches across all competitions and moved up to ninth in the Bundesliga, a full five points clear of Schalke. The guests have bagged four successive victories and have arrested their hopeless road record by securing six wins on the spin away.
Indeed, no top-tier team in Germany has taken more points post Christmas break than the Foals and Hecking’s charges are unbeaten on the road since mid-December. In fact, Gladbach have even managed to keep their sheets clean in three of their most recent five games as guests.
The return of Raffael has bolstered the visitors’ attacking options whilst skipper Lars Stindl has been in mesmeric goalscoring form, netting a hat-trick when Gladbach won in Fiorentina during the Round of 32. The Foals have scored 22 goals in 11 games under Hecking’s watch and offer plenty of final-third threat.
Much was expected of Schalke’s new management structure of head coach Markus Weinzierl and sporting director Christian Heidel but the Royal Blues have failed to make their mark. Injuries continue to bite but results and recent performances have left Weinzierl under pressure from supporters.
Thursday’s hosts may have W5-D2-L1 of eight Europa League home games since the start of last season but Schalke arrive winless in five, out of the DFB Pokal and marooned in the bottom-half of the Bundesliga.
The Royal Blues have notched only four triumphs in 16 fixtures across the board and bagged just two victories in seven at the Veltins Arena. The home side have shipped 10 goals in their last five outings and with the team failing to function at both ends, I’m happy to oppose Schalke here.
We can back Gladbach with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line here at 97/100 (Bet365) – a selection that would make us money if the Foals avoid defeat.
Olympiakos v Besiktas | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport
Away supporters are banned from the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium in Athens on Thursday night but don’t allow that put you off a punt on Besiktas avoiding defeat against their Aegean neighbours Olympiakos here.
The Black Eagles are four points clear at the top of the Turkish Super Lig following their weekend win against Rizespor made it five triumphs on the trot for Senol Gunes’ group.
Besiktas comprehensively outplayed Hapoel Be’er Sheva in both legs of their Round of 32 tie, claiming a 5-2 aggregate victory and have scored in 16 of their last 17 European outings.
The Turks are bang in-form and keen to impress; the visitors managed a memorable 3-2 win at Napoli and held Benfica in Lisbon during their Champions League exploits earlier this season and appear underrated against an Olympiakos outfit reeling from a third coaching change this campaign.
Paulo Bento savagely sacked seven months into his stint with the side leading the Greek Super League by six points. The decision came just a week after Bento was given the dreaded vote of confidence by the capital club.
The Greek giants wielded the axe after the club suffered their third straight league loss without a goal – their worst run of results since 1996. PAOK beat Olympiakos 2-0 on Sunday but the former Portugal manager’s fate may have been sealed beforehand following a few ill-advised moves.
First Bento invited the ire of the club by deciding not to send scouts to watch Besiktas’ last league game and following the PAOK loss, the boss attacked the club for selling the team’s best players during the January transfer window.
U20 coach Vasilis Vouzas has taken charge on a caretaker basis but the Piraeus players and fans are frustrated by the lack of stability at Olympiakos, making the hosts particularly vulnerable.
Fellow Turks Osmanlispor were involved in a drab goalless draw here in the last round of Europa League action and with the Greeks having W2-D1-L3 in their last six and failing to impress throughout their home fixtures in continental action, it makes sense to side with Besiktas.
Again, I’m taking the Asian Handicap avenue with 4/5 (Bet365) available on the Black Stars with a +0.25 start. We’ll pocket profit should the visitors avoid defeat.