EUROPEAN football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has made us a small fortune on the Europa League in the past two campaigns season. Here’s his favourite fancies from Thursday’s early kick-offs.
Borussia Dortmund v Atalanta | Thursday 15th February 2018, 18:00 | BT Sport
Dortmund have only lost once under Peter Stoger (W4-D3-L1) – away to Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal but three of his four victories have arrived against the bottom three in the Bundesliga, none of which have been completely convincing.
Michy Batshuayi has settled straight into the side and Marco Reus’ return from injury will only boost BVB in the weeks and months ahead. However, the German outfit look a little too short at the prices available considering they’ve only twice tasted victory in 11 at their famous Westfalenstadion home.
Atalanta upset the odds to finish fourth in Serie A last season and although the Bergamo boys made a slow start to 2017/18, they remain well in the hunt for European qualification once more.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s troops topped a mightily tough Europa League pool, coming through unscathed despite regularly resting and rotating. A similar approach is anticipated here – Papu Gomez may miss out – although there’s enough talent in the collective to presume they’re capable of avoiding defeat.
Atalanta took six points off Everton and four off Lyon in the pool phase, reached the Coppa Italia semi-finals after winning at Napoli and have already recorded triumphs at both Roma and Milan in recent months.
The visitors have been beaten in only three of their past 16 across all competitions and are unbeaten on the road since November (W6-D2-L0). Therefore, I’m happy to support Gasperini’s charges with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start at 19/17 (Unibet).
Real Sociedad v RB Salzburg | Thursday 15th February 2018, 18:00 | BT Sport
Real Sociedad’s season hasn’t quite gone to plan. The Basques have performed adequately for large swathes of the campaign but haphazard defending and a lack of leadership has cost the club vital La Liga points.
A 5-0 thumping of Deportivo in early February at their Anoeta home kept Eusebio Sacristan in a job although the convincing 5-2 loss suffered at Real Madrid last time out has kept La Real entrenched in the bottom-half.
Relegation isn’t on the agenda but even so, Sociedad are seriously underperforming. Nevertheless, they did progress in the Europa League – finishing second in a rather poor Group L, behind Zenit and ahead of Rosenborg and Vardar.
Since sealing their spot in the knockout round, Eusebio’s men have seen key centre-half Inigio Martinez sold to rivals Athletic Bilbao, Carlos Vela leave and star striker Willian Jose pick up an injury. With Adnan Januzaj and Carlos Martinez also sidelined, options are limited in the Basque camp.
In theory, a smidgen of odds-on should appeal on a Sociedad success here but the hosts have lost nine of their last 11 outings across all competitions and RB Salzburg could well profit from their poor form. The 15/14 (188BET) offered on the Austrians with a +0.50 Asian Handicap is the way to go.
Die Roten Bullen have made a relatively slow start since returning from their winter hibernation but they’re marginal operators, only interested in eking out the best positive results from tight situations. Built from the back, Salzburg conceded a solitary strike in a group alongside Marseille, Konyaspor and Vitoria Guimaraes.
That goal came 25 minutes into their opening fixture in Portugal, meaning Marco Rose’s men haven’t leaked in European competition for 495 minutes. The visitors are unbeaten in 24 games across all competitions, in each of their last 15 on the continent and look decent value to extend that streak in Spain.