Europa League action is relentless during the late winter weeks. Thursday nights are now dedicated to Europe’s undervalued competition, just as it should be.
The first legs were, for the most part, good to watch. Ties are not as balanced as the general footballing public would have liked, but that does set us up perfectly for some dramatic second leg turnarounds.
Here are some thoughts and tips on the second leg matches…
ATHLETIC BILBAO vs MARSEILLE
Athletic Bilbao’s poor season got even worse with their 3-1 defeat to Marseille last week. Aritz Aduriz’s penalty gives Bilbao a sniff of progression, though it will require a special effort that they have looked unlikely to produce. The 2-0 victory over Leganes at weekend does give a confidence boost, mind.
It took a late Kostas Mitroglu goal, but Marseille returned to Ligue 1 winning ways away at Toulouse. Their attacking football has been superb for much of this season. Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet are producing numbers with the best in Europe, and I can’t see them being contained this Thursday.
Marseille are unsurprisingly heavily odds on to qualify. There’s not a great deal of value in this one, so I’m leaning towards over 2.5.
TIP: Over 2.5 goals @ 17/20
ZENIT SAINT PETERSBURG vs RB Leipzig
Zenit dispatched Celtic 3-0 at home in the last round of the Europa League despite a deficit. With this tie heading to St Petersburg the Russian club again have a disadvantage, but their away goal gives them a good chance of progression.
Leipzig were frustrated to concede the late goal at home in the first leg. That has left this tie wide open and puts the pressure on the Bundesliga club to get on the scoresheet themselves against an impressive Zenit defence.
The visitors were held to a 0-0 draw by Stuttgart at the weekend to make it four league matches without a win. While Zenit’s match also finished 0-0, I fancy Mancini’s side to qualify given their formidable home record.
TIP: Zenit to go through @ 17/10
ARSENAL vs AC MILAN
Arsenal were very good in the San Siro last week. Milan, though, were as poor as the Gunners were impressive. Gennaro Gattuso’s side quickly moved on from that to win a fourth-straight Serie A match at the weekend.
Arsene Wenger’s side built on their first leg victory by easily seeing off Watford on Sunday. If they can replicate a performance like either of their last two, this will be another comfortable evening at the Emirates. You can never write off the possibility of a Gunner meltdown, however.
As much as it would be so very Arsenal, I just can’t it happening. Arsenal seem to have pulled out of their really poor run and should do this relatively easily. Milan to get on the scoresheet is good value.
TIP: Both teams to score @ 4/6
RED BULL SALZBURG vs BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Salzburg recorded the shock of the last 16 first leg matches with their victory in Dortmund. Valon Berisha’s brace at the start of the second half has the Austrian side in firm control of this tie. Dortmund require at least two away goals to progress to the quarter-finals.
The visitors for this one picked themselves up at the weekend, however. A frenetic clash with Eintracht Frankfurst ended in a last gasp win through another two goals for Chelsea loanee, Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian is in fine form at the moment and will need to get on the scoresheet again if Dortmund are to turn this around.
This match will have goals. Plenty of them, I reckon. It’s set up to be the tie of the night, and, whether Dortmund turn it around or not, this should be a thriller. That’s why I think there’s value in over 3.5.
TIP: Over 3.5 goals @ 8/5
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*