Galatasaray v Benfica | Thursday 14th February 2019, 17:55 | BT Sport
It perhaps didn’t catch as many headlines as I expected thought, but Benfica actually won 10-0 at the weekend! Whilst they play in a league that finished in second place is regarded as a bad season, it was still a tremendous achievement.
Benfica started the season poorly, which led to a managerial change, but they are firmly back on track now. Also, they’re within touching distance of Porto at the top of their domestic league, so there is every to play for.
Galatasaray are also playing catch-up on the domestic front. They may sit second to Basaksehir but they are six points behind, and the leaders have only lost twice all season. Having said that, Galatasaray have found their stride again in recent weeks.
The Turks ended 2018 disappointingly, but the winter break seemingly came at a good time for them. They’ve played seven and won six since returning in 2019. Also, FC Porto are the only side to defeat them at home in 90 minutes this season.
Having said that, I still think we can get very generous odds on Benfica. It is understandable to see them viewed as the outsiders, considering they’re playing away from home in the first leg. At the very least they’ll want to stay in the tie to take back to Portugal. However, they are close to the top of their game at the moment, and they are simply too tough to oppose.
Benfica won away in AEK during the Champions League group stages and ran Ajax very close in a 1-0 defeat as well. Gala might have won their last four at home, but in the eight previous to that, they secured just the one victory. Benfica won’t go easy on them, and after netting ten last Saturday they should still contain that thirst for goals.
A trip to Turkey in Europe is never easy, but I like the look of Benfica. Just to play it a little safer, we’ll play the Benfica draw no bet at 26/26 (Marathon).
Olympiakos v Dynamo Kiev | Thursday 14th February 2019, 17:55 | BT Sport
Dynamo Kiev are one of those clubs that are still negotiating their winter break, meaning that they have not played a competitive match since 13th December. It is OK playing a series of friendlies, but that won’t ever be as effective as game time with points at stake.
Even so, Dynamo's form in those friendlies against largely poor opposition isn’t so inspiring, if you’re one of those to take scores in uncompetitive games too seriously. They sit second in the Ukrainian league but have a seven point gap to Shakhtar Donetsk to overcome. Their form on paper looks good, but they’ve essentially beat the teams they should, and dropped points in those slightly tougher than usual contests.
Olympiakos had been in top form themselves, prior to losing to rivals and Greek league leaders PAOK on Sunday. Even taking that into account, they’ve been winning lots of games over the last few months.
The Greek giants started the campaign badly, which led to a change in manager. However, since the 1-0 away defeat to OFI Crete in October, they’ve lost only two more games until now, which also includes away to Real Betis in the Europa League group stages. Something else which has to be recognised is their incredible home form, which is very much a fortress.
It is home advantage why I am strongly swaying towards Olympiakos on this occasion. The fact Dynamo Kiev haven’t played competitively for a while does grate in the back of my mind, and it would if I were to back them outright. However, the reality is that a draw will be a good outcome for them, whilst the Greek side will go all-out for victory.
Olympiakos are strong at home, and they did beat AC Milan in their last Europa League tie, which ensured progression into the knockout phase at the expense of the Italians. PAOK and AEK are the only sides to leave with maximum points in the whole of 2018 and what we’ve had of 2019 so far. A huge and passionate crowd will be in attendance to make life as though as possible for Dynamo Kiev.
Kiev actually avoided defeat in their three Europa League group stage away ties. However, the pressure was off them to a degree on that occasion as they always looked like progressing, whilst the ante very much increases in the two-leg environment. They cannot enter this game with any degree of momentum, which is tough at this hostile venue.
Olympiakos is very much worth a play at 21/20 (Marathon).
Club Brugge v Salzburg | Thursday 14th February 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport
Club Brugge have let me down too many times recently, and now I’m looking to be against them!
The Belgians have returned from the winter break winning just once in four, which has opened up the gap to the league leaders in their domestic league even further. Even prior to the winter break they were hardly in glittering form.
Brugge were negotiating the Champions League alongside the league and that was proving a struggle. Being in the Europa League now is a success considering how tough their Champions League group was, but facing Salzburg is quite possible the hardest tie they could’ve got.
Salzburg might still be in their own winter break but they are very much a tie who are starting to become the ‘new Sevilla’ when it comes to the Europa League, or at least they have the potential to do so.
Expecting the Austrians to make a strong impact in the Champions League have been a challenge for them, but they did reach the Europa League semi-finals last year, and they were very unlucky to lose in the semi-final to Marseille. They won six out of six in the group stages, winning away in both Leipzig and Celtic, which is no easy task.
Whilst in the last column I felt being in amidst of a winter break would work against Dynamo Kiev, but I don’t think it’ll be so much of an issue for the Austrians considering the type of football that they play. After all, this was the case in their last Europa League run to the semis, so this won’t be an entirely alien concept to them. Salzburg scored goals for fun in the group stages, including 10 across their three tough away games.
It will be interesting to see how Club Brugge approaches this. In their three Champions League home games, they lost 1-0 to Dortmund, and drew with both Monaco and Atletico Madrid; adopting quite defensive approaches in them both. The problem is that they really need to be taking a lead to Austria to stand any chance of progression. That means taking risks, and Salzburg will get chances to break.
The fact they’ve been on the winter break is what is bugging me backing Salzburg outright at a decent price. To play it a little more cautiously, I’ll go for Salzburg to score Over 1.5 Goals at 121/100 (Royal Panda). They remain a goal threat and Brugge cannot afford to be too defensive in this one.