UEFA Europa League Preview

Following a pulsating round of 16 which saw the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham and Valencia crash out of the competition, we’re left with just eight teams in this season’s Europa League.  The tie of the round will see Jurgen Klopp return to the Signal Iduna Park where his Liverpool side will take on Borussia Dortmund. Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla clash in an all-Spanish affair while Sparta Prague and Shakhtar travel to Villarreal and Braga respectively. As is always the case, there is some fantastic value on offer, so let’s see whether or not we can find a few winners!

Thursday 7 April

5/10 Borussia Dortmund | Draw 32/10 | Liverpool 5/1 (21:05)

Borussia Dortmund have been priced up as the favourites to win this competition – and for good reason. The Germans are in imperious form, winning 10 and drawing one of their last 11 games with the solitary stalemate coming against a certain Bavarian giant. Liverpool on the other hand, haven’t tasted victory since their 2-0 home win over Manchester United in their Round of 16 first leg match. Jurgen Klopp wears his heart on his sleeve, there’s no doubting that. He had this to say about meeting his former employers in the quarter finals: “I am really happy to introduce my new team to Dortmund. I am really happy to show the boys this wonderful stadium and a great city. It’s a story only football can write.” Beneath the facade of Klopp’s nostalgia though, will be a man desperate to get one over his old club. In order to do so, the Reds will need to nullify the threat posed by Dortmund’s dynamic attacking unit which will be led by red-hot Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Personally, I don’t think that the Reds’ defence will be able to keep them out over 90 minutes in Germany, which means they will have to score if they want to come away with anything from the tie. We needn’t mention how dangerous the likes of Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Gonzalo Castro are in the attacking third of the pitch while Liverpool will be able to call on the considerable talent of Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Divock Origi. Neither side has managed to keep a clean sheet in their last three games so taking Both Teams To Score at 17/20 seems like an absolute no-brainer!

21/20 Athletic Bilbao | 47/20 | Sevilla 5/2 (21:05)

Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla go head to head in an all-Spanish clash at the San Mames Stadium. This tie has all the makings of a classic – both sides sit on 48 points in the Spanish topflight and occupy sixth and seventh place respectively. While they’re incredibly difficult to separate on paper, it’s important to remember that Sevilla have become Europa League specialists over the last few years. They’ve won the last two editions of the tournament having also lifted the trophy in 2006 and 2007. Sevilla also have the upper hand in terms of the two side’s head-to-head meetings this year, beating the Basque side 2-0 in January thanks to a double-strike by Kevin Gameiro. The Frenchman has scored four times in this season’s Europa League and will look to put Bilbao to the sword for the second time this year. Gamerio holds the key to Sevilla’s chances on Thursday evening. While I really like the look of this Sevilla side, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Bilbao have beaten them in their last five visits to the San Mames Stadium. I expect this to be a cagey affair, with both teams feeling one another out in the early stages of the tie. I simply can’t separate them and I’m happy to back the draw at 47/20.

5/10 Villarreal | 29/10 | Sparta Prague 11/2 (21:05)

On the surface this game looks like Villarreal’s to lose, however, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Sparta Prague offer outstanding value at 11/2. The Czech side currently sit second in the Czech First League behind Viktoria Plzen with 16 wins in 22 games. Interestingly though, they remain undefeated in European competition this season and crushed Lazio 4-1 over two legs to march into the last eight. Centre-forward and captain, David Lafata will need to be at his brilliant best if the Czechs are to get anything out of this game. The 34-year-old has been at the heart of everything Sparta have done in Europe this season, scoring five goals and claiming two assists. They will face their toughest test this season, however, as they make the trip to the East Coast of Spain to take on a formidable Villarreal team. The Yellow Submarine have only conceded 26 goals in the Spanish League this season – a record only bettered by Atletico Madrid. Not only are they solid at the back, they have one of the hottest young forwards in European Football right now in Cedric Bakambu. The Congolese international has bagged five goals in this season’s Europa League and will look to add to that against Sparta. Villarreal look much the better side on paper, however, it’s hard to ignore the form of Sparta Prague in this season’s competition. As such, I’m backing Sparta Prague on the Double Chance at 27/20.

15/10 Braga | 2/1 | Shakhtar Donetsk 19/10 (21:05)

The final game of this preview will see Braga welcome Shakhtar Donetsk to the Estadio Municipal de Braga on the northwest coast of Portugal. Confidence will be low on the side of the hosts who were absolutely hammered 5-1 away to Benfica on Friday evening. Paulo Fonseca will know that his side must win the home tie of their quarter-final if they are to stand any chance of going through to the semi-finals. Failure to put clear daylight between themselves and the Ukrainian giants in Portugal this Thursday will put an end to any faint hopes of progressing to the semi-finals. Shakhtar will come into this game brimming with confidence after they romped to an 8-1 win over Metalist Kharkiv in the Ukrainian Premier League on Friday. They’ve only been beaten once away from home in Europe this season, that defeat coming at the hands of Real Madrid in the group stage of the Champions League. They went into their last two knock-out fixtures against Anderlecht and Schalke as underdogs an emerged comfortable victors in both games, so it’ll be interesting to see how they go against the Portuguese side. To put it bluntly, Shakhtar simply have too much quality for a Braga side who have already exceeded their fans’ expectations by making it to the last eight of this competition. Back the Ukrainians to claim the win at 19/10.

Written by Jason Dewey

Europa Picks

Dortmund BTTS 17/20
Athletic Bilbao DRAW 47/20
Sparta Prague WIN/DRAW 27/20
Shakhtar Donetsk WIN 19/10