MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over his favourite Europa League fancies from Thursday night in games not involving English teams.
Basel v Sevilla | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
Sevilla’s quest for a hat-trick of Europa League trophies takes Unai Emery’s side to Basel on Thursday night but I certainly won’t be backing the Andalusians to deliver a first leg victory.
Remarkably, Los Rojiblancos are still looking for their first away La Liga win of the season after failing to hold a 1-0 lead at relegation-threatened Getafe on Saturday – the capital club had been beaten in seven games on the spin coming into that contest.
And it’s not like Sevilla have been doing the business on the road in continental competition. Thursday’s visitors were beaten in all three of their Champions League group-games as guests as well Molde in the previous Europa League round.
Sure, the Spanish side had held a commanding first leg lead before heading to Norway a fortnight ago but even so, there’s no obvious explanation as to why Sevilla slack off so significantly when outside their fortress Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan home, where they’ve won 15 on the trot!
Hosts Basel are 14 points clear at the top of their domestic division in Switzerland and appear destined for yet another league triumph. However, their Europa League prospects were almost ended against St Etienne in the last-32.
Urs Fischer’s men required a dramatic stoppage-time goal to secure a 4-4 aggregate score against the Ligue 1 outfit, securing progression via the away-goals rule. And it’s fair to say, Basel didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory over the two matches against Les Verts.
But the dream of playing in the Europa League final at their St Jakob Park is alive and well and over the years, Basel have been awkward opponents as hosts. Liverpool, Chelsea, Porto, Fiorentina and Valencia have all failed to pick up a win here and Real Madrid only ran out victors by a single-goal margin last season.
Breel Embolo’s suspension is a blow for the hosts but nevertheless, I’m expecting the two teams to play front-foot football here and that should lead us onto a goal-filled game. Both Teams To Score is backable at 11/14 (888) but I’ll snap up the 23/20 quote from William Hill on Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score.
Basel have netted in all of their continental clashes in 2015/16 whilst five of their last eight Europa League ties have featured at least three goals. Looking further back, a chunky 13 of the Swiss side’s most recent 18 have delivered winning Over 2.5 Goals bets.
Sevilla have only once failed to strike in their last 12 matches in this competition with eight of their last 10 Europa League fixtures producing Over 2.5 Goals winners. And in eight European outings this term, five have broken the two-goal barrier so I’ll happily invest in a repeat scenario here.
Fenerbahce v Braga | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
Marathon have chalked up Under 2.5 Goals at 7/9 for this bout in Istanbul – that’s 1.78 in decimals – and that appears generous.
I’ve watched both of these sides in the competition on numerous occasions this season and the two have flattered to deceive in the attacking stakes so I really wouldn’t be surprised if they played out another low-scoring encounter.
Each of Fenerbahce’s past six Europa League games have fallen below the 2.5 goals line as the Turks have kept their sheets clean on four occasions. As hosts, Vítor Pereira’s group have shutout seven of their past 11 Europa League visitors.
Fener are five points clear of the pack in the Turkish Super Lig and boast the division’s best defence. Five guests have been silenced at their Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium base, including all three of their top-four rivals.
Meanwhile, Braga trail the big-three in the Portuguese League but the Archbishops are comfortably the ‘best of the rest’ at home, built around a solid and sturdy backline. In fact, only Sporting (15) and Benfica (17) have shipped fewer goals than Paulo Fonseca’s tight-knit troops.
The away side have recorded eight 0-0 draws on their travels this season, have conceded just twice in their four European road trips and with seven of their past eight Europa League away days seeing Under 2.5 Goals hunters collect, I’m happy following the stats and trends in pursuit of another here.
Villarreal v Bayer Leverkusen | Thursday 20.05 | BT Sport Extra
Villarreal saw their 14-match unbeaten (W9-D5-L0) La Liga streak ended by lowly Las Palmas at the weekend and head coach Marcelinho fired a warning shot at the Yellow Submarine’s whinging supporters post-match.
“I would like to remind you that it’s not normal to go 14 games without losing. At times I think that escapes people, including the fans. I don’t understand how people can start whistling after 15 minutes. I go home sad because there are things that I find it hard to understand”, said Marcelinho.
Nobody had even scored against the Yellows in 620 minutes before the Canary Islanders rocked up to poop the party. Despite not being completely convinced by Villarreal’s progress in 2015/16, the side are playing well above their performance data and remain a rock at their El Madrigal base.
Villarreal’s last 21 as hosts have returned W16-D2-L3 and in league fixtures since the start of last season, the Yellow Submarine have bagged 23 wins in 38 – that’s a superb 68% win-rate and would imply betting odds of just under 1/2 – in exactly half of those fixtures, Marcelinho’s men have kept clean sheets.
Taking this term’s Europa League results at face value, Villarreal hold a 100% record at El Madrigal, with all four visitors failing to score in defeat. Even the highly impressive Napoli fell to a 1-0 loss here three weeks ago.
Go back further and the Yellow Submarine have W5-D2-L0 in continental competition in front of their home supporters and so with 10 triumphs in 13 matches across all competitions at HQ and eight clean sheets from their previous 11, Villarreal look a tasty proposition to get back to winning ways.
I’m a keen admirer of Roger Schmidt’s Leverkusen’s team but Die Werkself are in the midst of a below-par campaign that’s seen the side slide five points off the top-four in Bundesliga action with injuries beginning to bite.
The Germans travel without key midfielders Kevin Kampl and Lars Bender whilst centre-half stalwart Omer Toprak remains a major doubt. And up front, top scorer Javier Hernandez may also miss out as the spine of Bayer’s side struggle with knocks and niggles.
The visitors have managed just W1-D1-L3 in their past five fixtures, shipping 12 goals in the process. Leverkusen have taken a solitary point from a possible 12 on league duty – that came after falling 3-0 behind at Augsburg on Saturday – and across all competitions in 2015/16, Leverkusen have returned W9-D5-L9.
Schmidt’s side are pointless in five away games to side’s currently above them in the Bundesliga and with Villarreal already dismissing Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia at El Madrigal in La Liga football this season, I’ll count on Bayer being added to that hit-list.
However, I’m going to boost the price to an attractive 10/3 (Ladbrokes) by taking the Villarreal win and Under 2.5 Goals option. Should Hernandez miss out, this selection will have a much stronger chance of landing but even so, neither Atleti nor Real or Napoli managed a goal here and Leverkusen aren’t the same standard of those three.
Basel v Sevilla – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (23/20 William Hill)
Fenerbahce v Braga – Under 2.5 Goals (7/9 Marathon)
Villarreal v Bayer Leverkusen – Villarreal to win and Under 2.5 Goals (10/3 Ladbrokes)
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