Mark O’Haire’s Europa League Tips – ThursdayStats
Midtylland v Man United
Fiorentina meet Tottenham for the second consecutive season in the Europa League last-32 and Thursday’s eye-catching contest could give neutrals and goal-hungry punters a bit of a feast.
Fiorentina v Tottenham, Thursday 18th February 2016, 18.00, BT Sport Europe
Spurs confirmed themselves as serious Premier League title contenders with Sunday’s excellent away success at Manchester City, keeping the north Londoners in the running for three trophies in 2016.
And although Mauricio Pochettino has the chance to rest and rotate here, with an FA Cup clash with Crystal Palace to come this weekend, it’ll be interesting to see which competition the Lilywhites boss prioritises.
Pochettino has given the Europa League plenty of respect since taking over at White Hart Lane and may look to freshen up his full-backs with Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies replacing Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. But with Jan Vertonghen’s injury, Toby Alderweireld and Kevin Wimmer should continue to hold the central defensive fort together.
Tottenham are just two points off the Premier League peak and arrive in Florence on the back of a seven-match winning streak. They’ve made the knockout stages of the Europa League for the fourth successive season but their road record in last-16 and last-32 ties across the past seven years doesn’t make for pretty reading – Spurs have W0-D2-L4 in their six away days since 2008/09, failing to net in all four defeats.
Nevertheless, the capital club are arguably in their best shape in recent times and have notched in each of their past 17 games on their travels. Whether they do so again may depend on Harry Kane’s involvement but even so, I like their prospects of adding and enhancing that goalscoring record here.
Both Teams To Score proved a winner in five of Spurs’ six group games and at 5/6, it looks worthy of our interest again on Thursday evening considering the Italians have kept just four clean sheets in 12 home outings this term.
Fiorentina’s Serie A title hopes have faded after a bright start. La Viola have been unable to keep the pace with the relentless Juventus and Napoli but Sunday night’s last-gasp victory over Inter Milan at least secured their spot in third.
Paulo Sousa’s men have bagged three wins on the spin at their Artemio Franchi home now, as well as six of their last eight, but defeats to Lech Poznan and Basel in this competition and Carpi in the Coppa Italia prove they are far from unbeatable.
It should be noted, last season’s Europa League semi-finalists weren’t at full strength for those losses as their Portuguese head coach chose to shuffle his pack. And Fiorentina head into this showdown with Milan Badelj their only absentee.
Like Spurs, La Viola favour a 4-2-3-1 formation with Slovenian playmaker Josip Ilicic set to be at the heart of their attacking threat behind Nikola Kalinic and although the guests boast the Premier League’s best defence, Fiorentina have only failed to net once since April on home soil.
The 1-1 correct score has been chalked up at 5/1 and that appears more than fair – eight of Fiorentina’s last 12 European games as hosts have featured fewer than three goals, as have nine of Tottenham’s last 13 road trips to Europe. With the BTTS bet already in the book, the low-scoring trends tally nicely to give us the 1-1 forecast.
Both Teams To Score @ 5/6
Correct Score 1-1 @ 5/1
FC Midtjylland v Manchester United, Thursday 18th February 2016, 18.00, BT Sport 2
Under-fire Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has admitted that winning this season’s Europa League represents the Red Devils’ best hope of securing a place in next season’s Champions League after their weekend loss at Sunderland left the club six points off the top-four in the Premier League.
So it’s a surprise to see the Dutch manager leave captain Wayne Rooney at home for Thursday night’s trip to Denmark. United don’t travel to League One side Shrewsbury in FA Cup action until Monday night, making the decision all the more baffling, unless there’s an injury.
Van Gaal is short of options in defence after Matteo Darmian was the latest full-back to sustain a long-term injury, meaning 21-year-old Donald Love could be in line for a first start after replacing the Italian on Saturday. Love is just one of five inexperienced players picked to fill the squad of 18 at the MCH Arena.
United crashed out of the Champions League following a loss at Wolfsburg and having also been beaten at PSV Eindhoven, the Red Devils need to address a worrying slide in away results in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. Since Ferguson departed, Man Utd have returned just W1-D3-L4 in eight away European ties.
The Premier League outfit edged out Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield and conceded a last-gasp equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Chelsea whilst also comfortably dispatching Derby 3-1 in the FA Cup so should have enough to see off the Danes but would you be backing them at 4/6 quotes to do so? I wouldn’t.
Midtjylland certainly aren’t the same side that claimed domestic honours last season and the club owned by football analytics and statistics nut Matthew Benham haven’t played a competitive match since 10 December due to the Danish winter break.
Prior to Christmas, the Wolves were third in the Superliga, four points behind leaders Copenhagen, but had returned just W1-D3-L6 from their final 10 fixtures in 2016. Jess Thorup’s men lost their captain and defensive lynchpin Erik Sviatchenko to Celtic in the January transfer window and are also without Jakob Poulsen and Petter Andersson for this one.
Napoli destroyed the Danes 5-0 and 4-1 in Group D and although the English giants aren’t on the same scale as the Neapolitans, the prospect of Midtjylland being caught cold by United has to be taken into account.
Thorup’s side are efficiently organised and proficient from set-pieces but like Zenit St Petersburg on Tuesday night, they may not have enough gas in their undercooked tank to last the 90 minutes. So rather than back the skinny 4/6, there’s an opportunity to enter the Half-Time/Full-Time market here.
Man Utd saw four of their six Champions League ties go into half-time level and it’s proven a similar story in 16 of their 26 Premier League games this term. The Red Devils have led just twice at the interval in their last 17 matches so the 31/10 on Draw-Manchester United has plenty of appeal.
The visitors have scored in all bar three of their 19 away fixtures this term with 12 also featuring Over 2.5 Goals. All three away Champions League ties rewarded Both Teams To Score punters so with Midtjylland only failing to notch in two of their MCH Arena outings, backing the United win and Both Teams To Score at 29/10 is also worth an interest.
Draw-Manchester United HT/FT @ 31/10
Manchester United to win and Both Teams To Score @ 29/10
Augsburg v Liverpool, Thursday 18th February 2016, 20.05, BT Sport Europe
Not since December have Liverpool recorded back-to-back wins but following Sunday’s 6-0 annihilation of Aston Villa, confidence in Jurgen Klopp’s camp should be sky-high as they head to Germany.
Of course, as good as the Reds were, Villa were awful and the new era at Anfield under the former Dortmund head coach is still showing a few signs of growing pains.
The Merseysiders are far from stable defensively but at the weekend, Klopp was able to field Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in the same XI for the first time and the devastating attacking performance they put on should excite all Liverpool supporters.
With no game to come this weekend, there’s no obvious reason not to include the trio from the off in Bavaria with the Reds well aware, Europa League success is their best chance of playing Champions League football next season.
However, the visitors only triumphed twice in the group-stage (W2-D4-L0) despite being dealt a fairly soft hand. And the Premier League outfit should brace themselves for an impassioned entrance at the WWK Arena on Thursday night.
This is arguably Augsburg’s finest hour. Last season’s fifth-placed Bundesliga finish exceeded all expectations and it’s worth reminding ourselves that this is also FCA’s first ever European campaign.
Like Liverpool, Markus Weinzierl’s men have endured a rollercoaster ride in 2015/16. Having started their season with just W1-D3-L8 from their first 12 league fixtures, Augsburg found themselves bottom of the Bundesliga in November.
But FCA have fought back valiantly (W4-D3-L2) despite failing to record three points since their return from the winter break (W2-D2-L0).
In the Europa League, the Bavarians were beaten in two of their three outings at the WWK Arena – both Partizan Belgrade and Athletic Bilbao notched three times when visiting – but a herculean effort to pocket a 3-1 success in Belgrade in their final pool fixture confirmed qualification.
Partizan and Athletic were just two of 10 guests to leave Augsburg’s home with a victory this season and Weinzierl’s troops do tend to come unstuck when hosting higher-standard sides. Since the talented young coach took charge of the club, FCA have W8-D9-L13 home Bundesliga games against top-half teams.
But at 11/10 Liverpool make little appeal to me so a goals angle might be a better route for profit –
five of Augsburg’s six group-stage games featured both Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score.
With the Reds backline showing few signs of solidity, I’ll play it safe by backing BTTS again at 20/23.
Both Teams To Score @ 20/23
*Prices correct at time of publication