EUROPEAN football expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Thursday's evening Europa League action.
Anderlecht v Zenit | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport Extra
Zenit arrive in Belgium for their first competitive action since the Europa League group-phase came to a conclusion back on 8th December and no matter how you look at it, that has to be considered a negative.
The high-flying Russians breezed through their pool with five wins from five before downing tools in their final encounter at AZ Alkmaar to easily take top spot but Mircea Lucescu's men can be opposed at the prices here.
The Blue-White scored at least twice in all of their group fixtures with Giuliano particularly impressing, notching six goals and laying on four assists. But it could have been a whole lot different had Zenit not staged an astonishing turnaround from 3-0 down with 20 minutes to play in Tel Aviv during matchday one.
During the winter break, midfielder Axel Witsel has moved to China and whilst the defence has been strengthened with the addition of Branislav Ivanovic, I’m still not convinced the Russians will be on top of their game here.
Lucescu's had the team training in Dubai and Spain with 11 friendly fixtures packed into the schedule to get the group into condition but their competitive road record (W0-D1-L4) before the break, plus the absence of right-back Igor Smolnikov leaves them vulnerable.
Anderlecht have W6-D3-L0 since their group-stage concluder, a 3-2 loss against Sainte-Etienne. On Sunday the Belgians beat Zulte-Waragem 4-2 as hosts to send them joint-top of their domestic league and Rene Weiler’s charges are keen to make home advantage count here.
The 1983 champions have notched 14 goals in five continental outings in Brussels this term and suffered only five defats at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium in 64 outings dating back to October 2014, making the 11/12 (BetVictor) on the 0 Asian Handicap offering a decent angle to take.
Working in exactly the same format as the Draw No Bet market, we’ll see our stake returned should the game end all-square.
*Wednesday's press conference suggested only four Anderlecht players from their weekend league win would feature in this match. If you're not yet involved, you're advised to steer clear of this game.
Athletic Bilbao v APOEL Nicosia | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport Extra
Occasionally I think we all get a little starry-eyed by stats and that’s not often a bad thing. It can lead us towards a number of gems at hunky odds and I reckon that’s the case here as Athletic Bilbao welcome APOEL Nicosia.
Athletic shipped five goals at San Mames during the Europa League group-stage despite winning all three of their home clashes against Genk, Sassuolo and Rapid Vienna. That trio of fixtures featured an average expected goals rate of 3.19.
Les Leones are now enjoying a 16-match unbeaten streak at their Basque base (W13-D3-L0) and remarkably, 10 of those 13 triumphs have arrived alongside successful Both Teams To Score selections, just as all three Europa League victories did.
Considering seven of Athletic’s last nine home Europa League encounters have now rewarded BTTS backers – winning on six occasions – it makes sense to follow the familiar pattern and back Les Leones to win and BTTS at kind 27/10 odds at BetStars.
APOEL progressed thanks to an excellent return of four wins from six group-games with the Cypriots scoring in all six. The visitors have W12-D3-L0 from their last 15 outings and are well on course to clinch a fifth consecutive domestic title.
However, Barcelona are the only side to leave San Mames with maximum points this season and Athletic’s excellent home record should give the La Liga side the edge in what could be an enjoyable encounter.
Hapoel Beer-Sheva v Besiktas | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport Extra
Besiktas were going great guns until a dreadful implosion in their final Champions League group-game against Dynamo Kiev back in early December.
The Turkish side were unbeaten in all competitions heading into the contest and had an eye on progression to the Last 16 but a 6-0 shellacking in Ukraine saw Senol Gunes’ group crash out of the Champions League and into Europe’s secondary club competition.
The Black Eagles have since lost twice more, including a shock reverse away to Karabukspor at the weekend to reduce their lead at the top of the Super Lig to two points. On the road, Besiktas have claimed only two successes in six (W2-D1-L3) and the Turks head to Israel without a number of key players.
Brazilian attacking midfielder Talisca's return from a broken metatarsal is a big boost but right-back Andreas Beck, strikers Vincent Aboubakar, Demba Ba, Caner Erkin plus Omer Sismanoglu and left-back Adriano are absent.
It means the 7/8 (188BET) on Hapoel Beer-Sheva 0 Asian Handicap carries plenty of appeal – the selection works in exactly the same way as a punt on the Draw No Bet market where your stake is returned if the game ends all-square.
Beer-Sheva have W4-D3-L1 in eight European home encounters and currently hold a five-point advantage at the top of their domestic league thanks to their weekend victory. Across all competitions the hosts have W6-D3-L2 in their last 11 and won 12 of 14 games as hosts.
The Camels won the shot count 52-25 in home games against Inter Milan, Southampton and Sparta Prague and allowed an average of just 14.66 touches inside their own penalty box across those three fixtures.
The Israelis may not be the most fashionable bet on Thursday night but they should give us a good run for our money against a depleted Besiktas team.