Mark O’Haire has two Europa League Bets for Thursday night
An Eruption Of Goals In Naples
The Europa League has reached the Last 16 stage with Napoli rated as joint-outright favourites alongside Chelsea as we reach the business end of the competition. But if the Partenopei have realistic ambitions of taking top honours, they’ll need to overcome a tricky hurdle against RB Salzburg, in what’s the standout tie of the round.
Napoli went down to Juventus 2-1 on Sunday night in Serie A to extinguish any lingering hopes of mounting a domestic title challenge.
With an eight-point cushion over third, Carlo Ancelotti’s men are in no man’s land back home – too good for the rest of the chasing pack, but lacking the efficiency of the all-conquering Old Lady to be considered top dogs.
So the 1989 UEFA Cup champions should really be looking to the continent for a slice of success. Having brushed Zurich aside with consummate ease in the Last 32, Napoli will be eager to make their mark in Europe having been marginally squeezed out of a devilishly difficult Champions League pool alongside the likes of Liverpool and PSG.
The weekend reverse was their first in Serie A for a year at home and matches at their atmospheric Stadio San Paolo base tend to be blockbuster affairs. The hosts fired in 32 attempts in their two games at home to Liverpool and PSG – generating over 3 Expected Goals (xG) – and in the league, they’re racking up an average over two goals-per-game.
Salzburg have dominated the Austrian league since 2007, and last season’s Europa League semi-finalists have been making a splash on the continent too. This term alone the visitors qualified for the knockout stages with a perfect six wins from six, winning away at Celtic and RB Leipzig with style, intent and ruthlessness.
However, a 2-0 reverse at Rapid Vienna in their last road trip was their second away defeat in three in 2019 – you have to go back to May 2018 for their previous defeat of any description. That game in the Austrian capital also marked the first blank from Salzburg since August and legitimate concerns have been raised back home ahead of this encounter.
Football is a cyclical process, mind, and Salzburg haven’t suddenly become a poor team overnight.
The Austrians will be targeting this clash, desperate to pick up a positive result to take home to keep their own dreams of outright glory alive. As already mentioned, they pack enough punch to make a mark in Naples and therefore goals are forecast for Thursday.
Over 2.5 Goals has landed in seven of Salzburg’s eight Europa League ties this term, and seven of their past eight games as guests in this competition over the past year – a repeat can be backed at 1.76 this midweek.
Potential Snoozefest At The Mestalla
Valencia were eliminated from the Champions League in December but overcame Celtic with room to spare in their Last 32 tie to reach this stage of the tournament. Juventus are the only team to beat Los Che in continental competition, whilst Marcelinho’s men have suffered just four league defeats across their La Liga campaign in 2018/19.
An obsession with draws has held Thursday night’s hosts back domestically – 15 in 26 outings overall – although Valencia are starting to warm up as we enter the final third of the season.
Saturday’s impressive 2-0 victory over Athletic has lifted Los Che to within six points of a top-four finish, the primary aim for Marcelinho.
A place in the Copa del Rey has been secured, Valencia are now unbeaten in 11 (W6-D5-L0) and calls for Marcelinho to be moved on after a stodgy start have been quelled. The football might not be to everyone’s tastes this term but there’s an efficiency to Los Che that commands respect, which is built from a firm foundation.
Valencia have kept 10 league clean sheets, although games have been far from thrilling with a goals per-game average of just 1.80 in La Liga. Venturing into Europe, the figure increases slightly but still, just two of eight encounters have featured more than two goals suggesting this week’s meeting may not be the most entertaining of ties.
Indeed, Under 2.5 Goals looks a little too big at an odds-against shout of 2.03 when Krasnodar arrive at Mestalla. The Russians boast plenty of similarities with their opponents and have a penchant for low-scoring contests; six of their last eight fell below the 2.5 goals line and the visitors will only be interested in keeping this tie alive for the return leg.
Krasnodar shutdown an enterprising Leverkusen outfit in the Last 32 with an impressive defensive effort before progressing on away goals; having returned unbeaten from continental clashes at home this season, a similar tactic is expected to be employed on Thursday, emphasising the probability of a game shy on goals.
- Napoli v Red Bull Salzburg – Over 2.5 Goals (1.76) – 2 point win
- Valencia v Krasnodar – Under 2.5 Goals (2.03) – 2 point win
On this week’s Champions League Podcast, Mark joined Phil Kitromilides and Paolo Bandini to preview some mouthwatering ties with Roma on their radars as undoubtedly the most vulnerable side this week.