Europa League: Tight tussle forecast for the Mestalla

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WORLD football fanatic James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) takes a look at the best betting opportunities from Thursday's Europa League coupon in games not involving British clubs.

Sevilla v Slavia Prague | Thursday 7th March 2019, 17:55 | BT Sport

Sevilla find themselves in a bad run of La Liga form at this moment in time. They’ve lost their last three, including away to bottom side Huesca this weekend, and are winless in five. However, they do love the Europa League in Andalusia; they’ve won the tournament on five occasions, all within the last 13 years, and most recently in 2016.

Slavia Prague qualified for the Europa League group stages in the last two seasons, but they’ve made the knockout round on this occasion. After a 0-0 draw at home to Genk, many felt it was a wasted opportunity for the Czech outfit, but that was not the case. They backed it up with a tremendous 4-1 away win in Belgium to secure this Round of 16 encounter. They’ve going great guns in the league too, where they enjoy a three-point lead over Plzen at the top.

The market has Sevilla has odds-on favourites to take a lead into the second leg. That is of no surprise given their pedigree in this competition, and with Slavia Prague very much being newcomers in comparison. However, the form guide means Slavia shouldn’t necessarily be discounted on Thursday night.

Nevertheless, as mentioned, Sevilla do seem to turn it on in this competition. Whilst they’ve only won two of their last eight in all competitions, those two victories came versus Lazio (1-0 and 2-0) in the last round, which ensured progression to this point.

One thing Sevilla have managed to do for several years now is make the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán a fortress, especially in European competition. Since a 2014 setback at home to Real Betis, only Athletic Bilbao have beaten them at home in the Europa League.

Sevilla clearly come with risks attached based on recent form, but the crowd are always up for these type of occasions and we fancy them to get the job done on the night. However, we need more value on just a Sevilla win, and I think I’ve found it.

Including qualifiers, Sevilla have won all seven of their Europa League home games this season. On every single of those occasions they’ve been leading at half-time, including against a strong Lazio in the last round. Slavia lost two of their three away group stage games in Bordeaux and Zenit, and Sevilla represents a much stiffer task.

Sevilla to lead a t half-time is a nice 10/11 (Ladbrokes) shot.

Napoli v Salzburg | Thursday 7th March 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport

In my opinion, this is the tie of the round.

There are many similarities between Napoli and Salzburg in how they play the game. We all know about Napoli, they play in Serie A – a big league. They get plenty of attention, even if Juventus remain the big dogs in Italy.

Salzburg play in Austria, a weak league which they’ve dominated, especially as they’ve won in eight times since 2007. They made the Europa League semi-finals last season, and were unlucky not to go one stage further versus Marseille. They’ll give Napoli a game over two legs.

Napoli made light work of Zurich in the last round to reach this stage. They did start the season with much higher aspirations having taken part in the Champions League. There was no disgrace in coming third to PSG and Liverpool, especially on a count of scoring just two goals more after tiring out several other tiebreaker rules. They’ll fancy their chances of going deep in this competition, and so they should.

Napoli did see their long unbeaten Serie A home record end on Sunday to Juventus, exactly a year to the day since they last lost at home. An early red card to their goalkeeper ultimately proved to be the major turning point in that one, so it is understandable.

Salzburg have played five games since returning from their winter break. They included the two legs against Belgian side Club Brugge in the last round. After losing 2-1 away, they made the most of home advantage a week later when securing a comfortably 4-0 success.

Interestingly, Salzburg have played three on the road since coming back, winning one, that being a slim success in the Austrian cup to lower league opposition. The other two they have lost, the other being to Rapid Vienna, who are actually struggling in the Austrian top flight. Salzburg are top of their table by a cool 11 points however.

Salzburg won all six of their group stage games, including away trips to Celtic and Leipzig, so they certainly deserve plenty of respect in that regard. Napoli will afford them that, but at the same time, Napoli would be very disappointed not to progress against a team from Austria over two legs. Carlo Ancelotti’s side are known for their strong attacking intent, but only Juventus have conceded fewer than they have in Serie A so far. On the flip side, only Atalanta, Juventus and Roma has scored more than they’ve done.

Napoli are odds-on to win here and that shouldn’t really be in major doubt. They’ll want a lead to take into a tricky away tie in Salzburg. However, there is no value in that, but there is elsewhere.

Napoli to win and Over 2.5 Goals is available at 5/4 (Boylesports). Salzburg won’t be coming here to park the bus or ‘do a job’. They are attack-minded and with Napoli so tight at the back, the Italians should be confident in keeping them at bay. Salzburg do retain a big goal threat however, but Napoli are tough to deny on home soil. 7/8 of Salzburg UEL games this season has ended O2.5.

Valencia v Krasnodar | Thursday 7th March 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport

It has been a rather strange season for Valencia to say the least. It would be fair to say that they are hard to beat, proven by the fact only four teams in La Liga has defeated them so far. The incredible frustration is the fact they have drew 15 of their 26 matches in the Spanish top flight.

Still, Los che are at least managing to overturn a poor start to the campaign and are now within touching distance of Sevilla, who sit in the final European qualification place. They’re unbeaten in 11, five of which has been draws.

Krasnodar actually have not won any of their four matches since returning from their winter break. It therefore comes as a surprise to know that includes both of the last round of the Europa League, where two draws with Leverkusen saw them progress on away goals. They resumed league action this weekend with a solid away draw to Spartak Moscow, leaving them only three points behind league leaders Zenit. They too have only lost four league games so far this season.

Something that catches the eye when glancing over Valencia’s results this season is the sheer lack of goals. They defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at home on Sunday, which is fine, but the neutral would argue that there is not enough excitement to watch Valencia.

It is a fair argument considering the amount of draws they have had, but they have shone in the cup competitions. They remain in the Copa del Rey, plus they have impressed during their Europa League run so far. Under head coach Marcelino, their La Liga matches has only averaged 1.80 goals.

Valencia started the season in the Champions League, as an expected, they finished third behind Juventus and Manchester United, but ahead of Young Boys. They took four points off United, only losing the two games to Juventus. They were comfortable over two legs versus Celtic, progressing 3-0 on aggregate. Only two of their eight European games this season has ended O2.5.

Krasnodar are quite similar to Valencia on the goal front as well. The Russian Premier League is generally quite low-scoring, so the fact Krasnodar top the over 2.5 goals table for their games is nothing to shout home about.

The game plan for Krasnodar in the first leg will be to stay in the tie. They won all three of their group stage games at home, including against Sevilla. They are a danger on home soil in Russia. Valencia will be wary of that, but we’ve seen this season that they play a measured style, which ultimately doesn’t lead to many goals for or against.

Under 2.5 Goals is definitely worth a play at 21/20 (Marathon).

Best Bets

Sevilla v Slavia Prague – Sevilla to lead at Half-Time (10/11 Ladbrokes)

Napoli v Salzburg – Napoli to win and Over 2.5 Goals (5/4 Boylesports)

Valencia v Krasnodar – Under 2.5 Goals (21/20 Marathon)

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