Mark O’Haire’s Europa League Tips – Thursday
English football’s most intense rivalry is renewed on Thursday night as Liverpool and Manchester United lock horns in their first ever meeting on the European stage.
Liverpool v Manchester United, Thursday 10 March 20.05, BT Sport Europe
These two richly-decorated clubs are nowhere near their former all-conquering selves but that shouldn’t take away from the spectacle this midweek with more than just pride at stake.
With the duo currently sitting outside the top-five in the Premier League, Europa League glory looks like their best route into next season’s Champions League.
Liverpool haven’t met Manchester United under the lights this decade so the atmosphere and occasion at Anfield promises to be electric. And the Reds will be desperately hoping to arrest a worrying slide in head-to-head results against their old enemies from down the M62.
The Merseysiders have lost four on the spin against the Red Devils and have been beaten in eight of the last 10 renewals. Never before have Liverpool lost five consecutive fixtures against United and, for the record, I don’t reckon they will here.
Jurgen Klopp’s charges arrive in the better shape having bounced back from their agonising League Cup final loss to see off Manchester City at Anfield (3-0) before turning over Crystal Palace (2-1) on Sunday. The Reds have now won three Premier League games on the spin, netting 11 and leaking just once.
The Reds have certainly been boosted by the returns of both Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho from injury and with the two players rested at Selhurst Park at the weekend, the Anfield attack should be ready to rumble. However, it’s the form of Roberto Firmino that’s really gotten the home side motoring again.
The Brazilian forward has been involved in more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other player (seven goals, four assists) and Firmino was on it during Sunday’s victory. A confident and in-form Firmino is a big boost for Klopp.
Anyhow, as hosts, Liverpool boast a strong record at avoiding defeats at home and on the continent.
In 2015/16 their Anfield return has been hampered by draws but even so, their W12-D8-L4 record should give Klopp’s troops encouragement. And since 2010/11, the Merseysiders have bagged W12-D5-L1 when welcoming Europa League visitors.
However, the Reds do look a little on the short side here. Sure, Liverpool should’ve beaten United when they faced them in the league at Anfield – visiting keeper David De Gea was outstanding that day – but I’m just not won over by quotes of 23/20 for a home win.
Saying that, 14/5 pokes Manchester United are anything but attractive. The Red Devils have W0-D1-L4 in their last five away knockout ties in European competition and make the short hop west on the back of a number of drab displays.
United were a touch fortunate to get past Watford and were beaten at West Brom on the weekend. When playing away, Louis van Gaal’s group have managed a solitary success in five – that came at lower-league Shrewsbury in the FA Cup – only five triumphs in 15 and since Sir Alex Ferguson left, the Red Devils have W1-D3-L5 of their continental games as guests.
The travellers remain plagued by injuries and although van Gaal can lay claim to a 100% record against Liverpool, it’s difficult to find the faith in backing United to turn over their rivals once more in the current climate.
With neither side making huge appeal, the 9/4 draw appears the best value in what’s likely to be a tight affair. But with only one stalemate in the past 25 meetings, you may want to look elsewhere.
Personally, I’ve plumped for Both Teams To Score at even-money. United have only failed to score in four of their 22 away in all competitions, 13 of which have seen both teams net. The away side have managed just six clean sheets outside of Old Trafford.
Liverpool have scored just seven goals in the Europa League in their eight outings this season but three of their four at Anfield featured winning BTTS bets. And although they’ve shutout three of their last four visitors, I’m still far from convinced their ramshackle backline is insurmountable.
I’m also going to have an interest in the 1-1 correct score at 5/1. Ten of Liverpool’s last 11 European matches since the start of last season have produced fewer than three goals and I’d be surprised if this contest featured a feast of goalmouth action.
Both Teams To Score @ 1/1
1-1 correct score @ 5/1
Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham, Thursday 10 March 18.00, BT Sport 2
Both Dortmund and Tottenham sit second in their domestic standings, five points off the summit, coming into this mouthwatering match at the Westfalenstadion. With league silverware still up for grabs, it’ll be interesting to see how Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino approach this encounter.
Spurs’ Premier League challenge has stalled slightly in recent weeks. The Londoners were held to a 2-2 draw against north London rivals Arsenal at White Hart Lane despite leading with 15 minutes to play against 10 men. It means the visitors have now managed just two victories from their last six.
However, it would be wrong to rule out Tottenham on those grounds. Pochettino’s built a composed, confident and exciting young squad that are well capable of competing. An excellent two-legged success over Fiorentina deserves plenty of credit and in trips to top-four Premier League teams, the capital club have W1-D2-L0.
Indeed, the away side have suffered just four losses in 29 league fixtures this season and only two came on their travels. Spurs are no longer a soft touch and their organised approach makes the Lilywhites awkward opposition.
Tottenham have fired in more shots-on-target than any of their Premier League foes with only Leicester and Manchester City scoring more goals domestically.
The visitors have scored in 18 of their 20 road trips this term so I fancy their chances of extending that streak, even without the suspended Dele Alli.
However, despite their attractive odds, it’s worth noting that Spurs’ only away Europa League wins in 19 since 2012/13 have come against Anzhi, Sheriff, Tromso, Asteras Tripoli and Qarabag. In none of those 19 outings have the Londoners notched more than the odd goal.
So instead, I’m also keen to take a Both Teams To Score route as Pochettino’s troops travel to the outright Europa League favourites.
Dortmund were held in their crucial Der Klassiker encounter with Bayern Munich on Saturday in a very entertaining goalless draw. And with a W16-D2-L1 record at their Westfalenstadion home, they’re understandably the team to beat here.
The Black & Yellows have been equally imperious when hosting continental football – since 2012/13, BVB have W16-D1-L4 when welcoming European opposition and their six Europa League games this season have seen Tuchel’s troops plunder 20 goals.
Porto were brushed aside 3-0 on aggregate in the last-32 stage and with central defender Sokratis the only absentee in the home camp, Dortmund look primed to give Spurs a serious test of their European credentials.
Jumping back on the BTTS scene then, it’s worth noting the Black & Yellows have netted in 18 of their 19 home games under Tuchel, scoring at least twice on 16 occasions. No side has fired in more on-target attempts in this competition so it’s difficult to see Spurs enhancing their poor away clean sheet record.
Both Teams To Score is an attractive 5/6 but again, I’ll stick the 1-1 correct score in the book at 13/2. The hosts have shipped just one goal in their last seven on home soil and recorded eight shutouts in 10 but BVB are much more adept at getting forward and Spurs possess enough attacking quality to grab a crucial away goal.
Jan Vertonghen’s continued absence hurts Tottenham’s rearguard but they have managed to pick up draws in four of their last seven European knockout games as guests whilst a healthy 14 of their last 19 away continental dates have delivered Under 2.5 Goals.
The Under 2.5 Goals selection has also paid out in eight of Dortmund’s last 10 matches so with the Both Teams To Score trends strong and a cagey opening tie on the cards, I don’t think we can go wrong with a small interest in the correct score.
Both Teams To Score @ 5/6
1-1 correct score @ 13/2
*Prices correct at time of publication.