After seeing goals galore throughout the group phase, we’re hoping to see more of the same as this year’s Europa League knockout phase begins.
With one game played on Tuesday, there are 30 teams in action on Thursday. That should leave room for plenty of drama. With a little luck, the six teams below will all make a telling contribute to land us a £50 return from £10.
Here are our selections.
Spartak Moscow V Athletic Bilbao. 6PM
Despite failing to progress out of their Champions League group, Spartak Moscow picked up five points with three straight BTTS winners at the Otkrytiye Arena, which should give Massimo Carrera’s men plenty of optimism heading into this crucial first leg. Nonetheless, they shouldn’t expect to have things all their own way against Athletic Bilbao.
The Spanish visitors have endured a difficult season on a domestic front as Jose Ziganda struggles to emulate the success of predecessor Ernesto Valverde. The Basque club have struggled for goals too in recent weeks, but will be eager to get an away goal here through the likes of Aritz Aduriz and Inaki Williams.
Spartak certainly have enough reason to fancy their chances of goals too. Quincy Promes, Luiz Adriano, and Mario Pasalic have all scored on a fairly frequent basis this term. Given that the hosts will be desperate to take a lead to the San Mames, a goal against an out-of-form away side seems likely.
This could be quite a tough tie to predict over two legs, and a big first leg performance will be vital for both. Back goals for both.
Celtic V Zenit St.Petersburg. 8:05PM
While domestic dominance has been on the agenda once again at Celtic Park, Brendan Rodgers’ men enter their Europa League last 32 clash as the huge underdogs against Russian side Zenit St.Petersburg. But while the return leg will be immensely difficult, they can at least hope to give themselves a fighting chance with a big performance on home soil.
The Bhoys do score a lot of goals and that confidence should be important as the likes of Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele, and Leigh Griffiths aim to find the target. With the big crowd behind them, the hosts should be expected to score.
Nonetheless, they could be in for a tough time of things at the other end of the pitch. The Scottish side conceded in five of their six Champions League group games, shipping 18 in total. Zenit, meanwhile, have been scoring for fun and can look to Alekandr Kokorin and co. for inspiration.
A score draw would probably do for Roberto Mancini’s men. In truth, though, they’re more than capable of going once better, even if Celtic are on the scoreboard too.
Lyon V Villarreal. 8:05PM
The Groupama Stadium will host the final of this competition on May 16th, but Lyon fans will be hoping to see plenty of Europa League drama between now and then, starting with a big first leg win over Villarreal. Frankly, this one has the potential to be one of the most exciting encounters of the night.
Bruno Genesi’s men have been a little inconsistent in recent weeks, but there is no doubting their attacking talent, Memphis Depay, Nabil Fekir and Mariano Diaz are all more than capable of scoring goals. Given that Villarreal have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight competitive games, a home goal seems likely.
The Spaniards are in generally good scoring form, though, finding the net in each of the last seven while Carlos Bacca and co. can get a precious away goal for the visitors, who will still be slight favourites to progress over the two legs.
As far as this first leg is concerned, though, it could go either way. Let’s just hope an early goal can kick it into life.