The Europa League might be down to just four match-ups, but we’re confident that Thursday’s quarter-final first legs will provide plenty of entertainment.
With a European trophy and qualification for next year’s Champions League on offer, all eight teams will be eager to put in a big performance on Thursday night and we’re hopeful that these six will all find the target at some stage.
At odds of over 11/2, it has to be worth a midweek punt.
Athletic Bilbao v Sevilla. 8:05PM
Having seen off a then-Gary Neville managed Valencia in the last round, Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Bilbao are up against fellow Spanish opponents once more as they take on Sevilla for a place in the last four.
Whilst the hosts will be quietly confident heading into this first leg contest, they will know that they are in for a tough test against the defending Europa League champions. Having said that, the Leones have won the last five head-to-head meetings at the San Mames, and should at least be fancied to score.
Unai Emery’s men have fond memories of this competition, though, and are juts three ties away from a third successive triumph. With Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Llorente in attack, the visitors will be fancied to get the crucial away goal.
Moreover, Bilbao’s last four matches have ended in BTTS winners. We can’t see any reason to think that run will end here.
Borussia Dortmund v Liverpool. 8:05PM
The most fascinating tie of the round sees Jurgen Klopp reunited with former club Borussia Dortmund, and his Liverpool side head to Signal Iduna Park knowing that the Europa League is their only realistic hope of Champions League qualification next term.
Goals certainly shouldn’t be an issue for the Merseysiders, who have scored in eight successive competitive matches and will be looking to the trio of Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino for inspiration in Germany.
However, it won’t be easy for the Premier League side; Dortmund battered Tottenham in the last round and are on a 16-game unbeaten run in all competitions. Meanwhile, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is scoring for fun this term and should have no problem against Simon Mingolet, who has been as reliable as Arsene Wenger’s eyesight between the sticks.
Dortmund have to be considered clear favourites, but it’s hard to rule out Klopp’s side altogether. Back both teams to score.
Braga v Shakhtar Donetsk. 8:05PM
Sporting Braga might not boast the quality that they did when reaching the 2011 final, but Paulo Fonseca’s men were brilliant against nine-man Fenerbahce in the last round and will be eager to follow this up with another big win at the Axa Arena.
The hosts tend to struggle on the road, but their home form is quite pleasing and includes at least one goal in each of their past 13 outings. They’re also undefeated in that period, and will hope to see Koka, Alan and Nikola Stojilijkovic give them a first leg advantage.
Visiting Shakhtar have also seen their powers decrease in recent times, but Mircea Lucescu’s men will be in good spirits following an 8-1 win last Friday. Even after losing star man Alex Teixeira to the Chinese $uper League, the Ukrainians have enough firepower in the form of Eduardo, Taison and Marlos. Don’t be surprised if they are amongst the goals too.
The first leg of this clash is arguably more important than any of the other three. That need for a positive start will hopefully bring us goals, and a healthy £57 profit!