Remember when we had to knock around & bother with the Europa League?
None of our business anymore, as The Reds go head first into a Champions League semi-final this week. But UEFA’s second tier competition has regained some of its integrity and glamour this year with four big teams still battling it out in the closing stages.
Will we have an all-English final? Will the hipsters’ choice of Eintracht Frankfurt with Jovic, Rebic & Haller in tow progress?
Here our tips for where there could be money to be won from Thursday night’s Europa League action with boosted odds and prices to be found on site.
Arsenal v Valencia – Thursday, 8pm
Arsenal may be faltering domestically but they experienced little difficulty in overcoming Napoli in the last round, winning 2-0 at home in the first leg and 1-0 in Naples, while they put three past Rennes without reply at the Emirates in the last 16.
They’re yet to concede in front of their own fans in this competition, while across all tournaments, they’ve won eight of their past nine on home turf as they kept six clean sheets.
The Gunners are without Aaron Ramset at present and that’s certainly held them back over their last three fixtures, though likewise Valencia have their own absentees, with the suspended Francis Coquelin joining injured duo Geoffrey Kondogbia and Denis Cheryshev on the sidelines.
Marcelino’s men have lost their last two outings without those latter two players, and with seven of their last eight defeats coming on the road, the visitors will be looking to keep things tight and then hope to still be in the running ahead of the second leg back at home.
Three-time winner Unai Emery has won a fantastic 16 of 19 home knockout matches in the Europa League since 2011/12 and since Europe’s second-tier competition was reworked into its current format in 2009/10, home teams have triumphed in the first legs of semi-finals in 12 of 18 matches, losing just twice.
Valencia have failed to find the net in eight of their 11 defeats this season, with four ending 1-0 and another four finishing 2-0, and with each of their four defeats away in Europe since 2015/16 culminating with one of those two scorelines, the home win and under 2.5 goals appears profitable.
Eintracht Frankfurt v Chelsea – Thursday,8pm
Whereas Chelsea have been handed the kindest of runs to the semi-finals, with the best team they’ve faced so far Slavia Prague in the last round, Frankfurt have had to do things the hard way and the Blues shouldn’t take anything for granted.
The Germans won all six group stage matches despite having both Marseille and Lazio in their pool, while in the knockout rounds they’ve successfully negotiated tricky ties with Shakhtar Donetsk, Inter and Benfica.
They’ve been particularly good at the Commerzbank-Arena where they enjoy vocal support and have downed both Lazio and Shakhtar 4-1, as well as Marseille 4-0, with their 28 goals in this tournament leaving them just second behind Chelsea (30) as top scorers in the current campaign.
The front three of Sebastian Haller, Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic have been crucial for them, and Adi Hutter has been handed a major boost with the former returning from injury.
That has to be a worry for a Chelsea side that have suffered some horrendous away days in 2019, as excluding the relative minnows they’ve encountered in Europe, they’re just W2-D1-L6 since the turn of the year.
They failed to score in each of those defeats, with the wins coming over hapless duo Cardiff and Fulham, while Frankfurt are riding high and look set to qualify for the Champions League next term.
Maurizio Sarri also has to make do without his best centre-back, Antonio Rudiger, after the German international suffered a knee injury and left Old Trafford on Sunday supported by crutches, and Frankfurt’s front three can take advantage.
*Odds are subject to change
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