Monday’s Europa League draw threw up some intriguing encounters and with eight teams added after dropping down from the Champions League; there could be some classics in the last-32.
While Chelsea and Arsenal lead the outright betting at 4/1 and 6/1 respectively, Italian pair Napoli (13/2) and Inter Milan (10/1) will interest punters, while five-time winners Sevilla (14/1) are always dangerous. However, it is another team who could continue to shock and with a coveted Champions League group place available for the winners, a certain side from the City of Mozart are particularly appealing.
Club Brugge v Salzburg – First leg away win @ 13/10
Only two teams enjoyed 100% records in the group stages, Red Bull Salzburg and Eintracht Frankfurt. Die Roten Bullen are an exciting prospect having reached the semi-finals last season and cruised through a pool that also included sister club RB Leipzig and Celtic.
With a 14-point advantage in the Austrian Bundesliga, European success is now their goal and their price of 22/1 in the outright market suggests they should have too much for Club Brugge.
The Belgians have come down from the Champions League and having won the First Division last season, recorded impressive 0-0 home draws against Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid at Europe’s top level.
However, Salzburg are an emerging force and a win at the Jan Breydelstadion will emphasise their class.
Malmo v Chelsea – First leg away win to zero @ 20/21
Chelsea were too good for their opposition in Group L and the 2012-13 Europa League champions should have no issues in February against Malmo. The Swedes won away at Besiktas to book their last-32 spot but have been involved in some entertaining fixtures to date.
The first meeting between these sides at the Swedbank Stadion will be their first competitive game of 2019, with the Allsvenskan now on its winter break and rust could be a real issue for Di Blae.
Having come up empty handed during his time at Napoli, Maurizio Sarri will be desperate to claim silverware in his first season and is likely to take fewer chances with his selection after cruising through the pool stages.
It is no surprise Chelsea are just 4/13 to win in Sweden, but having conceded only three times in the pool, they could grasp the nettle in this tie and win the opener with a clean sheet.
BATE v Arsenal – First leg away win and both teams to score @ 8/5
Arsenal are also fancied to win this tournament and Unai Emery’s spell at Sevilla, where he won the competition three times in a row, means they should have no issues against BATE Borisov.
The Belarusian champions are familiar faces to English clubs; losing both games in the pool stages to Chelsea, while the Gunners were the right side of a 10-2 aggregate over the two games when these two met last season.
Emery clearly knows his stuff but is still working out his defensive plan and they may not be too watertight in Barysaw. Despite being one of the outright favourites after reaching last season’s semi-finals, Arsenal can be fragile and the 4-2 these two played out in Belarus could well be repeated at a tempting 37/1.
Lazio v Sevilla – First Leg Draw @ 9/4
Two other clubs with designs on returning to the big time also clash in the last-32 as Lazio take on Sevilla. Los Rojiblancos have won this title a record five times, while Lazio were beaten finalists in 1998 and were seconds away from qualifying for the Champions League, losing out to Inter Milan in the final moments of last season’s Serie A.
I Biancocelesti are a tidy outfit under Simone Inzaghi, who after being overshadowed by his brother during their playing days, appears the superior coach. Inconsistency has been an issue at times but despite being second best to Eintracht Frankfurt in Group H, they are a dangerous opposition.
Perhaps not as dangerous as wily Sevilla though, and qualifying from Group J was hardly convincing for Lazio, winning three and losing as many. With a lack of consistency at home, the Italians may see the Europa League as an afterthought, an issue that is unlikely to be the case for their opponents.
This looks set to be one of the most tactically intriguing ties and a cagey affair in Rome should be expected before Sevilla take charge in the second leg.
Sporting Lisbon v Villarreal – Sporting to qualify @ 5/4
One of the best prices of the round could be the 13/10 on Sporting Lisbon to beat Villarreal at home. The Leoes were the comfortable runners-up to Arsenal in Group E and are unlikely to fear El Submarino Amarillo.
Despite topping Group G, the Spanish club have had a shocking campaign at home, sitting 17th in the La Liga table at the time of writing. The fixture list had hardly done them any favours, with Valladolid, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid their opponents before, during and after their Europa League last 32 outings.
Sporting sit second to Porto in the Primeira and while they no longer possess the star quality that saw them reach the final of this competition in 2004, appear on the way back. They are unbeaten in the league at the Estadio Jose Alvalade and with Arsenal and Estoril the only visitors to win at the ground this term, they offer first-leg value and that could be enough to see them through.
Celtic v Valencia – First leg away win @ 13/10
Finally and Celtic’s setback against Salzburg has prompted serious doubts as to whether they will be able to get past Valencia in the last 32.
The Bhoys resurrected their European campaign after crashing out of the Champions League qualifying stages but needed an extraordinary slice of luck to reach this stage, with Leipzig’s freak 1-1 home draw against Rosenburg the difference maker.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have been beset by inconsistency this season and there are still fears they could even have their Scottish Premiership crown stolen away, with Old Firm rivals Rangers top, but the Bhoys, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen all within a point.
Valencia, 18/1 to win the tournament, have had an odd campaign, drawing an incredible 10 times this season in La Liga but they do have a Champions League victory over Manchester United on their CV.
For all their shortcomings in attack, their defence is the third best in Spain and Los Che’s rearguard looks strong enough to keep an inconsistent Celtic attack out and take an advantage back to Mestalla.
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