Britain Soccer League Cup

Mark O’Haire’s Europa League Tips – Thursday

Liverpool may have enjoyed a weekend off but now the Reds face a tumultuous few days as their 2015/16 campaign faces a couple of crunch encounters, beginning with the visit of Augsburg at Anfield on Thursday night.

Liverpool v Augsburg, Thursday 25th February 2016 (18.00), BT Sport Europe
Jurgen Klopp’s charges entertain the Bundesliga outfit in the second leg of their Europa League last-32 tie before switching their focus to Wembley on Sunday for the final of the Capital One Cup.

The German boss has already admitted that winning the Europa League is their only key to Champions League qualification but with silverware on the line less than 72 hours later, how will he approach the Augsburg outing?

We have to assume Liverpool will look to progress to the last-16 by fielding a strong side and that means fielding the attacking trio of Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho together again, despite their failure to convert dominance into goals last week.

The Reds were the better side in Augsburg but failed to capitalise on their opportunities having fired in six shots-on-target compared to the Fuggerstädter’s two. It’s proven a running theme throughout Liverpool’s campaign with the Merseysiders managing just six goals from their seven Europa League ties this term.

Klopp’s troops are understandably strong favourites but are they good enough to command quotes of 2/5 here? I don’t think so.

Sure, Liverpool have returned a rather impressive W12-D6-L1 in their most recent 19 Europa League outings at Anfield across the pasts six seasons but since 2013 that record reads W4-D6-L1 with Zenit St Petersburg the only side to suffer a defeat by more than the odd goal, and that came two years ago.

The hosts have played 14 fixtures this calendar year and their W4-D7-L3 results have included victories against Exeter, Aston Villa, Stoke and Norwich whilst across all competitions, Liverpool’s home results since mid-August (W6-D10-L3) have hardly set the world alight.

I’m a huge Klopp supporter but there’s just no way I could vouch for any punter backing the Reds at those sort of prices. In fact, seeing quotes of 8/13 on Augsburg with a +2 handicap isn’t far off insulting.

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 (W5-D3-L2) to leap up to 13th.

The Fuggerstädter’s road record is promising too – they’ve won at both Partizan Belgrade and AZ Alkmaar in this competition, secured W’s in four of their last six away days in domestic action and kept five clean sheets in those six outings. Further back, they’ve claimed top honours in seven of their last 10 on their travels.

FCA are far from adventurous and will aim to keep things tight thanks to their highly-organised and defensively sound foundations. It’s helped Weinzierl’s men to five clean sheets in seven but they must overcome the likely loss of forward Raul Bobadilla– only Aritz Aduriz has scored more Europa League goals this season – and the visitors have fired blanks in four of their last eight games.

However, Alfred Finnbogason is a capable replacement and Augsburg have found the back of the net in all but one of their 15 fixtures as guests, meaning a deadly away goal on the counter-attack isn’t beyond them.

Bayern Munich and Dortmund are the only clubs to win by a margin of two clear goals against Augsburg since October so I’ll happily get the +2 onside as well as enjoying a small stake on Under 2.5 Goals – it’s proven profitable in 10 of the Bundesliga’s team’s 22 league fixtures, six of Liverpool’s six Europa League ties as well as eight of the Reds’ 14 Anfield matches under Klopp – it’s 10/11.

Recommended Bets
Augsburg +2 handicap (8/13)
Under 2.5 Goals (10/11)

Manchester United v Midtjylland, Thursday 25th February 2016 (20.05), BT Sport 2
Midtjylland delivered the biggest shock of the last-32 first leg encounters last week, upsetting the odds with a 5/1 success over Manchester United in Jutland. However, the Danish champions have said progress would be a miraculous achievement and their Europa League path does look like coming to a close on Thursday night at Old Trafford.

Jess Thorup’s side 2-1 triumph was their first competitive outing since 10 December due to the Danish winter break and the club owned by football analytics and statistics nut Matthew Benham are well aware of the task facing them here.

Midtjylland have Jakob Poulsen back from suspension but Petter Andersson remains sidelined and it’s worth reiterating that captain and defensive lynchpin Erik Sviatchenko was sold to Celtic in January.

The Danes are efficiently organised and proficient from set-pieces but their form pre-Christmas was anything but spectacular. The Wolves had slipped four points off the Superliga summit and had W1-D2-L6 from their previous nine; on their travels they’d managed just W2-D4-L4 across all competitions.

Napoli tonked the visitors 5-0 and 4-1 during the group-phase despite making wholesale changes to their regular XI whilst Midtjylland failed to score in two of their three away days and failed to keep their sheets clean since their Europa League pool opener when welcoming Legia Warsaw.

There really is little excuse for Manchester United not to get the job done. Under-fire boss Louis van Gaal has admitted winning this competition represents the Red Devils’ best hope of securing a place in next season’s Champions League as they sit six points off the top-four in the Premier League. It’s time to deliver.

United tend to produce the goods when it matters most in front of their home supporters on the continental stage. You have to go back to Real Madrid’s visit to Old Trafford in 2013 for the last loss on home soil (W7-D2-L0) and the away goal the Red Devils picked up in Denmark should stand them in good stead.

After the horror performance of a week ago, the side did restore a semblance of face by beating Shrewsbury comfortably in the FA Cup on Monday night and although a record of 13 shutouts in 19 fixtures as hosts deserves serious appreciation, the cripplingly defensive injury crisis that’s engulfed the club has also seen the side silence just three of their last nine opponents.

Man Utd are priced up at just 2/9 to pick up a vital victory so we have to look elsewhere for a value bet. I’m keen to stay on a similar theme to last weekend’s column by investigating the half-time draw and United victory in the Half-Time/Full-Time market – Draw/Manchester United is 11/4 and has legs considering the Red Devils’ knack of churning out half-time stalemates.

A huge 12 of United’s 19 Old Trafford matches have been goalless at the interval, with four of their six Champions League ties level at the break.

The hosts have been locked at half-time in 16 of their 26 Premier League games this term and actually only led after 45 minutes in three of their past 19 outings.

Recommended Bet
Draw-Manchester United (11/4)

Tottenham v Fiorentina, Thursday 25th February 2016 (20.05), BT Sport ESPN
Both Mauricio Pochettino and opposing boss Paolo Sousa made changes to their teams last week but the two sides still managed to play out a decent 1-1 first leg draw in Florence. The duo look set to rest and rotate again this midweek but I believe there’s plenty of reason to get behind another pro-goals bet.

Both Teams To Score has been chalked up at 5/6 and with attack-minded Fiorentina requiring a White Hart Lane goal to qualify, we should be in for a decent encounter on Thursday night with BTTS the standout selection.

This bet has rewarded backers in six of Spurs’ seven Europa League tussles this term and, although the Lilywhites can lay claim to the Premier League’s tightest defence, they’ve managed just a solitary shutout on the continent whilst scoring in each fixture.

La Viola have also notched in every European game this season, with Both Teams To Score banking in each of their last five fixtures in all formats, and six of their last eight outside of their Stadio Artemio Franchi home.

The visitors boast an excellent record of just one defeat in 16 continental clashes, leaking fewer than two goals in 14 of those matches, but don’t quite have the required pedigree to clinch victory in London. Fiorentina have W2-D4-L2 in their last eight away trips and were far from convincing when turning Atalanta over 3-2 at the weekend.

La Viola have W4-D3-L0 in their last seven games across all competitions and with Yohan Benalouane Sousa’s only absentee, they’ll have fancy their chances. But ultimately, a score draw is their best and likeliest result, in my humble opinion.

Tottenham have returned W15-D4-L1 at White Hart Lane in European football, scoring in each of their last 19 as hosts. Pochettino’s talented young squad won all three home group-games, have bagged seven wins from their last nine and have been beaten in just six of their 38 fixtures in 2015/16.

On Sunday, Crystal Palace squeezed a surprise 1-0 success out of Spurs’ North London home but unlike their capital rivals, Fiorentina won’t come to sit back and frustrate. La Viola will need to play front-foot football and open up in the attacking third if they’re to keep their European dreams alive.

Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele might be missing but Nacer Chadli has proven himself well able to lead the attacking line thanks to five goals in eight games and the expected returns of Hugo Lloris and Toby Aldeweireld should also bolster the home ranks.

I’ve talked up the Lilywhites enough to suggest they may be worth supporting at odds of 3/4 but their White Hart Lane record of late isn’t overwhelmingly excellent as they’ve W4-D2-L3 in front of their home supporters.

So keeping things simple with a Both Teams To Score selection looks the best approach to take.

Recommended Bet
Both Teams To Score (5/6)

*Prices correct at time of publication.