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No pressure, Europa League. No pressure.
After the thrill-a-minute action we’ve enjoyed in the UEFA Champions League this week, Thursday’s European matches have an awful lot to live up to, but hopefully there will be some corkers to keep us all interested.
Looking ahead to some nicely poised ties is our football analyst Adrian Clarke…
Tottenham Hotspur v Gent
“The most important thing for us was to make that game meaningful, and avoid losing 4-0,” beamed Gent’s birthday boy boss Hein Vanhaezebrouck after his side’s shock 1-0 first leg victory over Spurs.
Can they complete the job by claiming a result at Wembley that takes them to the last 16?
If you believe in the mid-table Belgians, they are on offer at 6/4 to go through.
Given the talent at Mauricio Pochettino’s disposal – and their much-improved display at Fulham last weekend – I have to fancy Tottenham to turn it around, even if the 13/25 feels a little too short given they don’t have the luxury of an away goal.
Logic might suggest Gent will park the bus and settle for a 0-0 (11/1) but I doubt they’ll believe they can hold the Premier Leaguers at bay for a second time. Knowing one goal will force Spurs to score three, I suspect the underdogs will chance their arm on occasion.
It should be a far more entertaining game, and that’s why the Over 3.5 goals market appeals at 9/5.
Standing on 396 goals in UEFA club competition, I wonder if Pochettio’s boys will eyeing up the magic 400 mark beneath the arch?
Having overcome their Wembley hoodoo to dispose of CSKA Moscow 3-1 last time, I like the look of a handsome 4-1 home win, with Harry Kane to score.
At 24/1 it’s might be worth a cheeky gamble.
Zenit St Petersburg v Anderlecht
Ring-rusty Zenit trail 2-0 from the first leg, but they have never lost at home in the Europa League, so this tie isn’t dead and buried just yet. It can’t be.
With the Russian season yet to kick off, there’s no doubt the hosts are undercooked, but they do have quality in their ranks.
Brazilian forward Giuliano boasts six Europa League goals this term (and is 4/1 to open the scoring) and Chelsea legend Branislav Ivanovic is just bedding in too. If you think he might come up for a set piece to score, the Serb is a 7/1 shot.
Even if the dreary old cliché ‘2-0 is a dangerous score line’ is nonsense (and I happen to think it is!) Anderlecht do find themselves in a strange position.
Do they sit on the lead given to them by two-goal Frank Acheampong, or do they go for an away goal? In the cold conditions a long way from home, it could be a long, tense evening for them.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see this tie go all the way to penalties, so I’m calling 2-0 as the final score at 17/2.
Fiorentina v Borussia Moenchengladbach
The ‘Viola’ pulled off a fantastic 1-0 win on German soil last week thanks to playmaker Federico Bernardeschi’s terrific strike, and I make them worthy favourites to complete a double in Florence.
Paulo Sousa’s side has made their home a fortress. They remain unbeaten there in Serie A (six win, six draws) and scored 10 times at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in three group game victories.
Therefore I think the 10/7 on a Fiorentina win is a price that catches the eye.
The excellent Bernardeschi is 13/5 to grab another goal, and I also like the look of Senegalese front man Khouma Babacar, who has netted four times in the competition so far. He’s 2/1 to notch anytime.
The German raiders must be respected, and did produce a couple of impressive Champions League performances, not least when winning at Celtic Park. They’ve also won on four of their last five road trips.
I just don’t know if they have what it takes to turn the tie on its head though. Fiorentina to claim victory, with both teams to score is my selection at 7/2.
Shakhtar Donetsk v Celta Vigo
They might have knocked Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey a few weeks back, but I can’t see Celta Vigo overturning a 1-0 deficit away to last season’s Europa League semi-finalists.
The Ukrainians are nine wins from nine in the competition this season, recording a 13-0 aggregate score in four home triumphs.
Considering the Spaniards have travelled 3,500km to play in Kharkiv, in this their first season in European competition for a decade, the 5/8 on Shakhtar looks a decent shout.
For those of you looking for a spot of value, Argentinean hit man Gustavo Blanco (who scored the only goal last time) is 51/10 to score first in a home win.
This should be the end of the road for Vigo.