Europa League: Underdogs can make their mark

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WORLD football fanatic James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) takes a look at the best betting opportunities from Thursday's Europa League coupon in games not involving British clubs.

Benfica v Eintracht Frankfurt | Thursday 11th April 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport

Benfica welcome Eintracht Frankfurt to Lisbon on Thursday night as both go in search of a crucial first leg advantage in what promises to be an intriguing quarter-final battle. The Portuguese outfit needed extra-time before rather comfortably knocking out Dinamo Zagreb in the last round, whilst Eintracht edged past Inter over two legs, winning the second leg 1-0 away from home.

It is fair to say that the market is finding it a little tricky pricing this game up. Naturally Benfica are deemed as the favourites for leg one, considering they are at home. After all, Bayern Munich, Porto and Moreirense are the only sides to defeat them on home soil in all competitions this season. However, discount the Germans at your absolute peril.

Adi Hütter’s men are quite simply one of the form teams in Europe right now. They’ve not lost any game since returning from their winter break, with their last loss on any kind coming a few days before Christmas. They’ve faced the likes of Dortmund, Gladbach, Shakhtar Donetsk, Hoffenheim and Inter over two legs in that period.

It would be fair to say that the Bundesliga in a stronger league than the Primeira Liga. There is simply more depth to it. Taking Benfica’s domestic form into account is always a little tricky when they having to correlate that to what they’ll face in European competition. They’re in decent form themselves, but, with respect, they’ve beaten the sides they should have done.

However, they’ve lost away to Dinamo Zagreb and were knocked out by Sporting CP in the cup. That is being quite picky however. They’re not in freefall or anything of that kind, but they’re certainly tested against better opposition.

Benfica score goals for fun in Portugal, whilst Frankfurt are doing incredibly well to be positioned fourth in their league. Sitting behind Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig is no disgrace at all. Taking into account their recent form, they have been involved in quite a few close encounters. They’ve drew six times and won four games by a one-goal margin since returning following the winter break.

This is a big occasion for both sides, and will see this two-legged affair as a big opportunity to reach the last four. Each side will be glad to avoid the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea. With that in mind, I can really see this being a bit of a tight battle. The onus is perhaps on Benfica more in the first leg to try and take a lead to Germany, but Frankfurt are more than solid defensively.

I cannot back against Frankfurt at the moment, but expecting them to win in a stadium not many come out of with anything might be a big ask.

Therefore, I’m happy to play with Frankfurt Double Chance and Under 3 Goals on the bet builder at 15/8 (Bet365).

Villarreal v Valencia | Thursday 11th April 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport

We have an all-Spanish game at the quarter final stage and it is probably a game that neither side necessarily wanted. Facing a team in your same league in European competition is always a bit of a funny affair. Will this be played as a La Liga match would? Probably not. There is a second leg to come after all.

There will not be a Spanish referee assisting too, so that could disrupt things somewhat. Also, this is a big local derby.

These two have had rather unique seasons in La Liga to say the least. Villarreal have flirted with relegation, much to the surprise of many, but they’ve picked up of late, despite still sitting in the bottom three, albeit on goal difference. Throughout that time, they excelled in the Europa League and have reached this stage in quite impressive fashion. They were moments away from defeating Barcelona only last week as well.

Valencia have been draw specialists but they’ve discovered how to turn some of those into victories, which is seeing them contest the upper echelons of the league once again. Both however enter this contest after losing their latest league game, so both have something to prove in that regard.

These two met in the league as recently as January, with Valencia winning this home battle 3-0. They simply took their chances on the day, but Villarreal then went five unbeaten after that setback. Despite their struggles this season, they’ve still been particular difficult to defeat at home. Three losses in their previous 18 at the Estadio de la Cerámica deserves some credit considering it has been a bad season by their standards.

The Europa League offers some hope for Villarreal however, and they’ll fancy their chances. That came top of their group earlier in the campaign, and have then knocked out Sporting CP and Zenit since.

Valencia of course had higher aspirations earlier in the season when entering the Champions League. It was a tough group that they were given, so finishing third to Juventus and Manchester United, who still remain in that tournament, is no disgrace. As mentioned, they lost their last league game, but that was their first La Liga defeat since 5th January. Perhaps they already had an eye on this trip to their rivals. Nevertheless, losing away to strugglers Rayo Vallecano is not ideal preparation.

This is arguably a more important game for Valencia given that Villarreal really cannot afford to be relegated. However, saying any game versus Valencia is not important is something no one of a Villarreal persuasion won’t agree on.

Villarreal have certainly had some joy in this competition and I fancy that to continue in this first leg at least. We know that Valencia can draw a game, and I get the feeling they’d be quite happy to do the same again. However, Villarreal are scoring goals of late and will pose a threat at home.

Villarreal Double Chance and Under 3 Goals is my play, again on the bet builder, at 11/8 (Bet365).
Only three of Valencia’s last 14 matches overall has seen at least three goals scored overall. Also, only two of the last nine head-to-head has managed to do so as well. Goals aren’t necessarily high on the agenda.

Best Bets

Benfica v Eintracht Frankfurt – Eintracht Frankfurt Double Chance and Under 3 Goals (15/8 Bet365)

Villarreal v Valencia – Villarreal Double Chance and Under 3 Goals (11/8 Bet365)

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