United Stalled on Road to Stockholm
Manchester United fans hoping for a return to the Champions League are increasingly looking towards the Europa League for redemption, as the winners of the much-maligned competition are routed straight into the group stages of Europe’s premier club tournament the following season.
The bookmakers, though, are split as to whether those Thursday night fixtures offer the best chance to Jose Mourinho’s team of heading back to the top table of continental fayre.
Outright Betting Market
Grosvenor Sport goes 7/4 about United winning the Europa League and the same price that they finish in the top four of the Premier League. It’s a conundrum that could be made clearer this week as the Red Devils travel to Rostov in the first leg of their Last 16 tie – win in Russia, and their odds of success in Stockholm, host city of the final in May, will tumble.
United’s biggest rivals in the outright market are Roma, who trade at 11/2.
Luciano Spalletti’s side slipped further behind Juventus in Serie A at the weekend with a 2-1 home reverse to Napoli, and although they are six points clear of fourth place Lazio, they are by no means safe to assume Champions League football is assured next term via a domestic route.
Despite Eden Dzeko being let loose on Europa League defences (his eight goals this campaign make him the top scorer in the competition, with the Bosnian 13/20 to end up with the most), Spalletti, so far, hasn’t played a full-strength side in the competition.
Most clubs haven’t, of course, but with the business end of the tournament looming large, there might just be a change in tact – depending on teams’ national league situation – from coaches on the continent.
Roma face Lyon, 12/1 shots to lift the trophy in Sweden, in arguably the tie of the round, with Celta Vigo, the only Spanish club left in the competition, available at the same price.
For those looking to take United on in the outright book, Borussia Mönchengladbach, at 14/1, could be worth a speculative each-way punt. Since Dieter Hecking took over during the winter break, Die Fohlen have won eight of 11 fixtures, losing only twice.
Crucially, Raffael is now fit after two spells on the sidelines this term with injury. The Brazilian striker has missed 15 of his team’s last 50 Bundesliga fixtures, with Gladbach’s win percentage dropping from 51% to 40% when he doesn’t play, while tellingly their average goals per game tally also falls from 1.71 to 1.40.
Safe from relegation, but too far off the pace to challenge for a top four spot, Gladbach are through to the semi-finals of the DfB Pokal (and 7/1 to win it for the first time since 1995) and are turning into an effective knockout team under Hecking, whose last trophy was the German Cup, won with Wolfsburg two years ago.
They face Schalke at the last 16 stage – who they beat 4-2 at the weekend in the Bundesliga – and with a favourable draw could give backers a run for their money.
Europa League Round of 16 First Legs
The odds compilers make Manchester United 19/25 to win in southern Russia, but Rostov are capable – they beat Bayern Munich 3-2 at home in the group stages of the Champions League this term – and the fact they have lost only once at home in Europe would suggest Ivan Daniliants’ team +0.75 on the Asian Handicap at 41/50 could be a shrewd investment.
Penalty taker Dmitri Poloz, at 4/1, looks fair value to score at any time.
However, of the three early kick-offs, the standout bet is Apoel Nicosia at 37/20 to defeat Anderlecht. The Cypriots knocked Athletic Bilbao out of the competition in the previous round and are unbeaten at home since November.
Of the late starters, Lyon’s match with Roma is the marquee fixture. Bruno Génésio’s men were ruthless in their 11-2 aggregate success over AZ Alkmaar in the Round Of 32, and are 37/20 to grab a first leg lead against the Giallorossi – who are offered at the same price.
Roma have lost only once in France in their history but as OL are unbeaten in 5, and with Alexandre Lacazette (15 goals in his last 15 games) in even better form than Edin Dzeko (11 in 11), I’m taking to the Ligue Un side to inflict a third straight defeat on Roma.
Finally, banker of the evening could come in commentators’ nightmare fixture Gent versus Genk. This all Belgian contest looks set to be a dour affair, as six of the last seven Jupiler League fixtures between the pair have seen less than 2.5 goals – something that can be backed at 4/6.
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