Mark O’Haire peruses the markets and picks out his best bets ahead of Thursday night’s Europa League semi-final second legs.
May is a wonderful time in the football diary as we reach the conclusion of the football season with numerous colossal contests on the cards, particularly in European competition. Thursday night sees Arsenal and Chelsea attempting to book their place in the Europa League final in three weeks time.
GET WITH THE GOALS IN VALENCIA
Last week’s first leg between Arsenal and Valencia was a thrilling watch from a neutral perspective. Neither team held back in their ambition and it led to an exciting and open encounter from the Emirates; the Expected Goals (xG) count for both clubs combined was well over five, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see something similar play out here.
Arsenal impressed when successfully defending a 2-0 first leg lead away at Napoli in the quarter-finals, silencing the Serie A side in North London before grabbing a crucial away goal to kill the tie in Naples. However, the Gunners won’t be able to rest as easy at the Mestalla having allowed Valencia to score at the Emirates.
The Spaniards therefore know a two-goal victory (without shipping more than a solitary strike) would at least send this match to extra-time, and Los Che will be purring after their weekend shellacking of Huesca. Marcelinho’s men appeared out of gas in recent weeks but their forthright display suggests they’ll at least go down swinging in their quest for Champions League qualification.
Other than a professional job at Napoli, Arsenal’s resolute performances on their travels over the past two years have been few and far between, and I certainly wouldn’t be keen to invest faith in the Gunners qualifying at short prices. I do expect their defensive vulnerabilities will be tested and Valencia look very fair favourites at an appetising 1.92 to at least pick up a victory on the night.
However, my preferred play is to support goals with Over 2.75 Goals trading at 1.78. Valencia have kept their sheets clean in only two of their last six continental clashes and will be susceptible to Arsenal’s artillery on the counter-attack. Nevertheless, the hosts pack enough punch to hurt Unai Emery’s outfit and make a game of things on Thursday night.
BLUES CAN BOOK THEIR PLACE IN BAKU
Chelsea prioritized Champions League qualification via the Premier League last week with Maurizio Sarri leaving Eden Hazard on the bench for the trip to Frankfurt. The gamble certainly paid off as the Blues departed Germany with a 1-1 draw following a strong display, before confirming their place in Europe’s premier club competition on Sunday.
Guaranteed Champions League football ensures Chelsea can focus fully on the task of clinching top Europa League honours to cap a successful season despite Sarri being on the brink at numerous occasions. The Blues should be confident having dominated the first leg, winning the shot count 16-6 and conceding with Eintracht’s only on-target effort.
Frankfurt were without two of their three key attackers, although Ante Rebic is back from a ban here and Sebastian Haller is rumoured to be close to a return. The pair are key cogs alongside Luka Jovic in Die Adler’s potent front three and should the trio be named in the starting XI, a play on Over 2.75 Goals would again appeal around the 1.79 mark.
However, it’s hard to have too much faith in Eintracht reaching Baku. The visitors’ energetic approach under Swiss coach Ad Hutter has gained them plenty of plaudits in 2018/19 but Frankfurt have appeared to be running on fumes in recent weeks; the Bundesliga overachievers were smashed 6-1 at Leverkusen on Sunday, as an example.
Hutter described their weekend reverse as a “dark day” for the club. He’d made four changes to the team that held Chelsea in Frankfurt and his small squad look to be running out of steam at the wrong time. Eintracht enjoyed only 18% of the ball at Leverkusen and their grip on a top four finish is loosening by the week.
Die Adler have exceeded all expectations this term and the odds are skewed in Chelsea’s favour as the Premier League big boys are fancied to progress. But I wouldn’t count against the Germans rattling a few cages along the way in what could be an interesting second leg contest from Stamford Bridge.
- Over 2.75 Goals in Valencia v Arsenal 3 units @ 1.78
- Valencia – 2 units @ 1.92
- Over 2.75 Goals in Chelsea v Eintracht Frankfurt 3 units @ 1.79
On this week’s Champions League Podcast, your host Phil Kitromilides is joined by Ian Broadrick and Mark O’Haire to look ahead to this week’s Champions League ties. It seems to be Mission Impossible for Liverpool but the lads are a whole lot more bullish on Tottenham’s chances. Both Brodders and Mark also take a sneaky look at this week’s Europa League ties!