Europa League: Smurfs and Sky Blues to deliver another thriller


EUROPEAN football expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) has made us a small fortune on the Europa League this season. Here's his favourite fancies from Thursday's quarter-final second leg action.

Besiktas v Lyon | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport

Crowd trouble delayed the start of this first leg quarter-final clash but Besiktas boss Senol Gunes saw his side clock off early, chucking away a 1-0 advantage in Lyon with less than 10 minutes to play.

The Black Eagles may have taken an away goal and 2-1 reverse beforehand but the manner of the loss stung. Goalkeeper Fabricio’s schoolboy error handed the French hosts the game just seconds after Les Gones had cancelled out Ryan Babel’s early strike for the Turks.

The Superliga leaders were good value for their early advantage and will be defending an unbeaten European record at their new Vodafone Arena stadium (W2-D3-L0) but Gunes’ group have yet to keep a clean sheet in those five fixtures here either.

Star striker Vincent Aboubakar remains suspended and is joined on the sidelines by defender Marcelo but Ricardo Quaresma is fighting to be fit. Even without Aboubakar and Quaresma, Besiktas proved they still pack a final-third punch with the likes of Cenk Tosun, Anderson Talisca and Babel on top of their games.

The Turkish giants are eyeing a first ever major European semi-final and their free weekend has allowed them fully focus on the task in hand. Their first leg loss was their first since Valentine’s Day (W8-D3-L1) and with a sole defeat at their Istanbul home this term, the Black Eagles should go close.

Besiktas can be backed at 11/12 (BetVictor) off a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap line here and whilst the hosts remain vulnerable to Lyon’s pace and power, they also appear underrated. This selection will see our stake returned if the game ends in a draw.

Lyon’s trip to Bastia on Sunday was abandoned due to more crowd disturbances with a collection of the Les Gones players attacked on the field by home supporters. Another red-hot reception is expected in Istanbul.

Maxime Gonalons is back from a ban but Rafael is now suspended and Bruno Genesio’s side must raise their standards on their travels. OL have managed just two triumphs in 10 away days (W1-D3-L5) although the French outfit have scored in all bar one of their five continental trips this term (W2-D1-L2).

A 3-1 success at Ligue 1 table-toppers Monaco before Christmas stands out but Lyon’s performances outside of Parc OL have been chalk and cheese for some time now and I’m surprised to see the visitors priced up as only marginal outsiders for this contest.

Goals are again expected – nine of Lyon’s last 10 Europa League encounters have broken the Over 2.5 Goals line whilst Besiktas have delivered Both Teams To Score profit in all bar one of their 11 European matches this term, with seven producing Over 2.5 Goals winners. But there’s little value to be had here.

Genk v Celta Vigo | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport

Both Genk and Celta Vigo are aiming to reach a major European semi-final for the first time in their history and with so much at stake in Belgium, another rip-roaring encounter should be expected on Thursday.

Celta edged out Genk in a five-goal thriller in Spain last week with two open and attacking teams keen to take the initiative. Chuck in a collection of dodgy defending and awful goalkeeping efforts and the first leg lived up to its billing.

I’m keen to back a repeat now with Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score available to support at 20/23 with Coral.

Genk had the first and last word in the opening meeting, with Jean-Paul Boetius heading them in front after just 10 minutes and veteran playmaker Thomas Buffel grabbing a vital second late on.

The Smurfs have now scored at least twice in each of their last eight continental away days and claimed top honours in six of their most recent nine Europa League outings. But it’s their record at the Luminus Arena commands maximum respect.

Genk have saved their best displays for midweek dates in Europe and at home they’ve returned W7-D1-L0, shipping only two goals. La Liga high-flyers Athletic Bilbao were beaten 2-0 here whilst at the weekend the hosts romped to a 3-0 triumph at Kortrijk.

Siebe Schrijvers is back from injury but the home team are still without Tino Susic, Marco Bizot, Nikolaos Karelis and Dante Vanzeir here but Albert Stuivenberg’s troops will need to tighten up having been carved open time and time again in Vigo.

Spanish clubs have dominated European football in recent seasons and the Europa League has crowned eight La Liga sides in the past 13 campaigns. Celta ousted Shakhtar Donetsk and Krasnodar in the knockout stages en-route to the last-eight with some impressive away performances.

The Galicians have scored twice in each of their last four away days in Europe, winning the most recent three by the same 2-0 scoreline. However, Eduardo Berizzo’s boys have recorded only three clean sheets in 12 and I’d be surprised if they improved on that record here.

Celta have conceded more away goals than any other team in the top-half of La Liga this season and whilst they’ve invested their focus into the Europa League of late, they’ll need to overcome an expected onslaught from the lively Belgians to book a semi-final place here.

Best Bets

Besiktas v Lyon – Besiktas +0 Asian Handicap (11/12 BetVictor)

Genk v Celta Vigo  – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (20/23 Coral)

About Author

The big cheese at WLB. After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production before setting WeLoveBetting up soon after the 2014 World Cup. With a huge passion for stats, analytics, the EFL and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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