Eintracht Frankfurt v Benfica | Thursday 18th April 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport
I actually fancied the first leg to be more of a cagey and tighter affair than it was. However, in my defence, a red card after 20 minutes to Evan N’Dicka of Frankfurt certainly changed the complexion of the tie.
Benfica take a 4-2 lead to Germany, and considering the circumstances, Frankfurt won’t be too unhappy about this. They very much remain in the game and if they can keep future superstar Joao Felix quiet then they may have a shot of turning this around. Benfica will fancy their chances of scoring again however, so it is fair to say Benfica are the favourites to progress after the first 90 minutes.
The second leg of any European knockout tie is always quite a spectacle. How will Benfica approach this? Will they look to score again to really kill off the tie? Will they sit back and protect what they’ve got?
Frankfurt, shall they be gung-ho from the off? Or is a more measured style required? There are so many posers of that nature at the Commerzbank-Arena. The early exchanges are likely to answer several of those questions.
For what it is worth, I can’t see Benfica wanting to be too defensive in this one. It simply is not in their DNA to do so. Playing in this manner could frustrate Frankfurt in spells, but conceding the first goal would make things very nervy for the Portuguese outfit.
Benfica have something of a patchy record on the road in Europe this season. They gave Ajax a good game in a 1-0 defeat, and were heavily defeated in Bayern Munich but edged past AEK Athens in a hostile atmosphere. Winning away at Galatasaray is good going as well. They’re certainly capable of winning again, especially as Frankfurt will have to take certain risks at some point.
Frankfurt are fighting hard to qualify for next season’s Champions League and fourth spot in the Bundesliga in their aim. A surprise home loss to Augsburg at the weekend was a big disappointment, and again they picked up another red card. Keeping their heads is a must during this second leg, and playing with 10-men again would probably end any hope of making the last four.
After going unbeaten in 15, Frankfurt have suddenly lost their past two, however they had a red card in each of them. They do have that excuse, but the worry is that they could be losing momentum at a crucial stage of the campaign. Only Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Augsburg have beat them on home soil this season. They’ve also kept clean sheets in three of their five home European contests.
As I’ve touched upon, I can sort of see this second leg going more like the first. The red card did play a part, but this is likely to be an end-to-end battle with both keeper’s being called into regular action. Benfica have scored just shy of three goals per game on average in their domestic league. Frankfurt are averaging over two per game over their previous eight.
Both Teams To Score and Over 2.5 Goals paid out in the first leg and there is no reason why it shouldn’t on this occasion. Frankfurt should be good for a goal, but they’ll have to leave themselves exposed at times. Benfica have many offensive weapons and are likely to pounce at some stage themselves.
This is a worthwhile 5/6 (Sky Bet) shot.
Valencia v Villarreal | Thursday 18th April 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport
Much like in the game above, I picked the first leg of this tie to also be a bit of a tactical battle. There was no red cards in this one, but two very late goals for Valencia ensure they take a 3-1 lead back to home soil. They very much already have one foot in the final four and a semi-final versus either Arsenal or Napoli.
However, one thing they won’t do is take Villarreal lightly. The first leg was 1-1 until the 91st minute, so 3-1 possibly flattered Valencia to a degree. Villarreal face an uphill battle to keep their European dream alive, but they have won on three of their last four visits to the Mestalla.
Valencia are one of the form teams in Europe at present. Confidence is certainly no issue for Marcelino’s men. They’ve only lost in four of their 26 games in 2019, two being in the Copa del Rey and all coming away from home. That means they’re on a 19-match unbeaten run in front of their own supporters.
Real Madrid, Man Utd and Sevilla are just some of the teams they’ve faced in that period. It also included a 3-0 success over Villarreal in La Liga. Also, in those 19, they’ve kept ten clean sheets. They’re no longer draw specialists, and they’re huge favourites to progress to the semis.
It could be argued that the Europa League is a bit of a distraction for Villarreal. Relegation to the second-tier remains a very real possibility for the club. A club which made the semi-finals in the Champions League in 2006, and also the last four in the Europa League in 2004, 2011 and 2016.
For all that Villarreal are big underdogs on Thursday night, that suits them right down to the ground. They’re actually unbeaten away from home in Europe this season. They’ve faced journeys to Russia twice, Scotland, Portugal and Austria. Their previous away day in this competition saw them win 3-1 in Zenit. They’d gladly take a repeat in Valencia to take this tie into extra time.
I do see this game being a little closer than the Frankfurt and Benfica clash. This all really depends on how much Villarreal believe they can turn this around. Much of the same questions from the game above is asked here.
Will Villarreal go for broke from the start? Will Valencia look to manage the game and coast through? Valencia are full of confidence so they’ll go for the win on the night, but things could get a little nervy if they fell behind. Villarreal have nothing to lose, but Valencia are stubborn opponents and can see them doing a job in the first 45.
Therefore, I like the look of the Second Half Highest Scoring Half at 113/100 (Marathon). Villarreal would have no choice in the second period to take sufficient risks to even give themselves some remote hope. Valencia could have some fun in this period and exploit such areas of space.