It’s a European football week! We know what that means: Europa League Thursdays. The last 16 matches are split between 6pm and 8:05pm kick-offs (GMT), which means we can all park up in front of our televisions for a solid four hours of football.
The Europa League field is particularly strong this season. There are teams synonymous with Champions League knockout football, and players every bit capable of living with the best in the world.
AC Milan vs ARSENAL
AC Milan are firmly on the way up under Gennaro Gattuso. Arsenal are most certainly not. Milan have not lost since before Christmas, while Arsenal have lost eight times this calendar year, including five of their last six.
Even in the Europa League the contrast is stark. Gattuso saw his side cruise past Ludogorets, not conceding a goal over the tie. Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, watched his team lose at home to Ostersunds in the second leg, giving the minnows a sniff of a turnaround.
The trajectories of the two clubs right now make the price on Arsenal to avoid defeat the best of the bunch here. The Gunners simply are not as bad as they have looked of late. This competition is all that matters for Arsenal this season and that, paired with a trip to the immense San Siro, might just be enough to ignite something from Wenger’s team.
TIP: Arsenal to win OR draw @ 10/13
BORUSSIA DORTMUND vs RED BULL SALZBURG
Salzburg upset the odds to secure their Europa League progression. The Austrian club were undoubtedly the underdogs against Real Sociedad, but a stellar away performance in the first leg put them in control of the tie. They will need something similar in this one.
The fallibility of Dortmund has been clear, despite a 10-match unbeaten Bundesliga run. Atalanta caused countless troubles for the 2013 Champions League finalists – particularly in the first leg – and we can expect to see a similarly end-to-end match on Thursday.
The visitors have scored in every one of their Europa League matches so far this season, and I back that to continue in Dortmund. Both teams to score is the real standout for this match.
TIP: Both teams to score @ 8/11
CSKA MOSCOW vs LYON
CSKA Moscow got a narrow win over Ural at the weekend to keep them just one point off second in the Russian Premier League. They progressed to the last 16 of the Europa League in a similar fashion, squeaking past Red Star Belgrade 1-0 over 180 minutes.
Lyon were solid to hold for a 1-0 away win against Villarreal to secure their fate, but the work was done with a 3-1 home victory over the La Liga side. The French club are winless in six Ligue 1 matches, however, and have dropped off the top three pace as a result.
I anticipate another low-scoring affair for CSKA here. Lyon are on a dire run of form, and will be more than happy to travel to just keep themselves in the tie. This could be a one-goal match.
TIP: Under 2.5 goals @ 8/11
MARSEILLE vs Athletic Club de Bilbao
Bilbao have won just once in their last nine in La Liga. Marseille have won one in four in Ligue 1, including a disappointing home draw with out-of-form Nantes. This match could define the respective seasons of these clubs.
Both clubs were below par in the second legs of their Europa League ties, too. It’s a clash of two teams desperately searching for a bit of form. Marseille were one of the most free-scoring sides in Europe until their recent dip, but face a Bilbao side who have been solid defensively for much of the season.
It could easily result in a Marseille’s attack versus Bilbao’s defence type of contest. The home side will have the majority of the ball, while the visiting Spanish side will hope to unleash Inaki Williams on the counter-attack. Calling a match between two teams playing short of their best is always tricky, but I am leaning towards a home win.
TIP: Marseille to win @ 9/10
RB LEIPZIG vs ZENIT SAINT PETERSBURG
There were late scares, but RB Leipzig just about held off Napoli in the second leg to force their way into the last 16. Zenit, meanwhile, dispatched a dire Celtic in St Petersburg to extend an already impressive home European record.
Zenit are underperforming domestically this season. That continued in a 0-0 draw with Amkar at the weekend, and their deficit to league-leading Lokomotiv Moscow stayed at eight points. The defence has remained steely, however, while goal scoring in the Europa League has been no problem thus far. Roberto Mancini’s side scored 17 in the group stage.
Leipzig have dropped off recently in the Bundesliga, leaving them in sixth. Defensively, Die Bullen have been indifferent this season, though their attack remains a threat. Both teams have scored in 11 of Leipzig’s last 14 in all competitions. I like the price on that to become 12 in 15.
TIP: Both teams to score @ 19/20
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*