EUROPEAN football expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Thursday's Europa League action.
Lyon v Besiktas | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport
Lyon's hopes of Champions League football next season reside solely on their ability to win the Europa League after their prospects of podium finish in Ligue 1 evaporated with an uncharacteristic 4-1 home loss to Lorient at the weekend.
OL opted to start Alexandre Lacazette and Mathieu Valbuena on the bench with Thursday’s clash in mind and having taken the lead, all appeared to be going swimmingly. But Bruno Genesio’s side collapsed after leaking the equaliser before the break and put in a shocking second-half display.
Genesio ripped into his players post-match, saying “What comes to mind first is a feeling of shame because of the second half that we produced in front of our fans. The first-half was good with a goal and chances to build on our lead, but the second period was not worthy. We gave up.”
That’s hardly a ringing endorsement for punters queuing up to take the 8/13 (Bet365) available on a home success here. Sure, Les Gones were wonderful when swatting Roma aside 4-2 at Parc OL in the Last 16 but the French outfit have W1-D1-L3 across their last five, albeit four of those fixtures were away.
Lyon tend to be excellent operators as hosts – the home side have claimed W9-D2-L1 in their past 12 home Europa League ties since 2012/13 and scored 17 goals in their past five home continental encounters – but Maxime Gonalons is suspended here and Memphis Depay is ineligible.
There’s still an abundance of quality going forward and Les Gones can lay claim to nine triumphs in 11 Parc OL outings since before Christmas but the market odds give Genesio’s group a 62% chance of taking a first leg lead and that feels a little generous.
Besiktas are without the suspended Vincent Aboubakar and injured Ricardo Quaresma but the Turkish champions have the likes of Cenk Tosun, Ryan Babel and Anderson Talisca all in-form and capable of conjuring up goalscoring opportunities whilst Oguzhan Ozyakup has impressed in midfield.
The visitors are unbeaten since Valentine’s Day (W8-D3-L0), recorded professional victories against Hapoel Beer Sheva and Olympiakos after dropping out of the Champions League and have also maintained a comfortable lead at the top of the Turkish Super Lig.
Senol Gunes – the coach who guided Turkey to third at the 2002 World Cup – has seen his troops suffer just two defeats in 16 continental clashes since 2015/16 and accrue four points from contests against Napoli during this season’s Champions League group-phase.
The visitors last reached this stage of European competition in 2003 and the Black Eagles are desperate to stay in touch ahead of a return to Istanbul next week and I reckon they’re are good enough to warrant Asian Handicap support here.
Besiktas can be backed at 93/100 (Bet365) with a +1 Asian Handicap start – this selection would see our stake returned should Lyon win by a one-goal margin with a draw or away win providing profit.
Backing Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 20/23 (Coral) also appeals. Lyon’s last 10 here have seen at least three goals scored with eight of their last nine Europa League encounters breaking the Over 2.5 Goals barrier.
Besiktas have delivered BTTS profit in all bar one of their 10 European matches this term with six producing Over 2.5 Goals winners.
Celta Vigo v Genk | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport
Spanish clubs have dominated European football in recent seasons and the Europa League has crowned eight La Liga sides in the past 13 campaigns. So it’s rather surprising to see Celta Vigo the only team left flying the Spanish flag at the quarter-final stage.
Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal have both exited early but the unheralded Galicians have reached their first continental quarter-final since 2001 by ousting the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk and Krasnodar in the knockout stages. They deserve respect.
Eduardo Berizzo's boys have invested their focus into the Europa League of late too, opting to rest and rotate their charges during the weekend’s home loss to Eibar. So expect top goalscorer Iago Aspas to be amongst the regular starters to feature from the off here on Thursday.
The luckless Giuseppe Rossi is out injured long-term again and joins Marcelo Diaz and John Guidetti on the sidelines, while goalkeeper Ruben Blanco remains a doubt. But even so, the Vigo-based club have the quality to hurt Genk.
It’s a little surprising to learn the Sky Blues have bagged just W2-D2-L1 at Balaídos during European action this season, and their only triumph in four La Liga outings here came against terrible travellers Las Palmas so once again I’ll swerve the short-priced hosts.
Instead, I’ll be investing faith in goals with Both Teams To Score just too big to ignore at even-money with William Hill.
Celta recorded a sole shutout in five Europa League home ties this term and haven’t managed a clean sheet in Galicia since mid-February. Visitors Genk are also unimpressive at the back, shipping 17 goals in their eight Europa League away days this term.
However, the Smurfs do pack a major punch when on their travels. The Belgians have notched at least two goals in each of their last seven away continental games, including three when travelling to Athletic Bilbao in the group-stages.
The visitors have claimed top honours in six of their most recent nine Europa League outings and although they enjoyed a relatively soft passage past Astra and Gent in the knockout stages, it’s just two losses in 13 Europa League games as guests now.
Genk have saved their best displays for midweek dates in Europe and whilst they’re without Tino Susic, Marco Bizot, Siebe Schrijvers, Nikolaos Karelis and Dante Vanzeir here, they’re unlikely to be fearful of a trip to Spain.
Albert Stuivenberg – Louis van Gaal's assistant at Manchester United – leads the Smurfs into their first major UEFA quarter-final and I should expect the Belgians to be involved in another humdinger; six of their seven away trips have featured Over 2.5 Goals with the visitors keeping their sheets clean just once.
Ajax v Schalke | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport
Two former winners of the UEFA Cup lock horns in Amsterdam and I’m keen to keen the hosts onside at a fair price.
Ajax haven’t reached the quarter-finals of European competition since 2003 and might be missing the suspended Lasse Schone but teenage sensation and 17-goal striker Kasper Dolberg is fit enough to start for the in-form Dutch outfit.
Peter Bosz’s men squeezed past FC Copenhagen following a first leg reverse in Denmark and were rather tame when overcoming Legia Warsaw in their first knockout tie but there’s no doubt Ajax are coming to the boil.
The Amsterdammers have W5-D1-L0 since that loss in Copenhagen, including a 5-1 thrashing of NEC on the road and a 4-1 thumping of AZ Alkmaar in their most recent two skirmishes. And those impressive recent results have seen the Dutch giants move to within a point of Eredivisie leaders Feyenoord.
But it’s been their performances at the Amsterdam Arena that deserves maximum respect. PSV Eindhoven are the only visitors to depart without defeat since August across all competitions (W18-D1-L0) with the hosts scoring at least two goals in nine of their past 10 here.
Ajax boast a 100% home Europa League record this term, recording four clean sheets. In fact, the hosts are unbeaten in 11 continental outings here and can also lay claim to seeing off 13 of their last 15 guests from Germany.
So of course I’ve been seduced by the 43/50 (Bet365) – that’s 1.86 in decimals – available on Ajax off a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap line. The exact same selection as a Draw No Bet punt, we’ll see our stake returned if the game ends all-square.
It’s been a peculiar season for new Schalke coach Markus Weinzierl and sporting director Christian Heidel. Both arrived with burgeoning reputations and whilst the Royal Blues recovered well after a record-breakingly bad start to the campaign, the Gelsenkirchen club haven’t often convinced.
Sure, Schalke have saved some of their best displays for the Europa League but Nice fielded a second-string when the Royal Blues won away in France and fellow Bundesliga foes Borussia Monchengladbach left them off the hook when chucking away a two-goal lead in the last round.
Three victories in five (W3-D1-L1) have moved the visitors up to 10th in their domestic standings and 0-0 draws at both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich deserve respect.
However, Schalke’s away season record when excluding visits to lower-league clubs in cup competitions reads W5-D5-L10. In 10 of those 20 away days the Royal Blues leaked at least two goals and if we extend their recent form when including their Veltins Arena base, it’s just three triumphs in 12 competitive matches and W3-D3-L8 away.
January signing Guido Burgstaller has been in sublime form since joining and represents a threat in the final third but having weighed up the two teams’, I’m inclined to favour the hosts at a decent price in what’s the trickiest of the four quarter-finals to call.
Lyon v Besiktas – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 20/23 (Coral)
Lyon v Besiktas – Besiktas +1 Asian Handicap (93/100 Bet365)
Celta Vigo v Genk – Both Teams To Score (1/1 William Hill)
Ajax v Schalke – Ajax 0 Asian Handicap (43/50 Bet365)