Back Tottenham to win and both teams to score at 2.5Bet now
Mourinho under fire despite cup success
Tottenham have a cup final to look forward to later this season against Manchester City, and only a monumental collapse would see them fail to qualify for the last 16 of the Europa League. However, the weekend’s 2-1 defeat at London rivals West Ham means that Jose Mourinho is on his worst league run as a manager, a sequence of five defeats in six.
Mourinho has bullishly claimed that his coaching methods are second to none, but unless there’s a swift improvement, Tottenham are in danger of missing out on European qualification entirely. Given the fiscally-cautious nature of chairman Daniel Levy, such an outcome would be seen as disastrous. Rumours linking the club with a move for the talented and ambitious Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann haven’t just appeared from nowhere, and whether he likes it or not, Mourinho is under scrutiny.
Mourinho knows a trophy would alleviate the pressure, and he has taken the Europa League seriously from the start.
Spurs dismantled Wolfsberger AC in the first leg, with Gareth Bale playing a starring role as he collected a goal and an assist. The 4-1 win gives Spurs more latitude in terms of team selection, and the likes of Harry Winks, Dele Alli and Bale could all start again.
Plucky WAC looking to bow out in style
It’s been quite a ride, but Wolfsberger AC finally reached their Europa League ceiling last week. A team that has beaten Feyenoord and CSKA Moscow in this season’s competition had no answer to Tottenham’s quality, although they had bright moments.
Veteran Michael Liendl has been one of the stars of WAC’s campaign, and he struck home a penalty, while the Austrians also hit the frame of the goal. WAC will now look to put on a good show to build confidence for the Austrian Bundesliga, where they have won three of the last four, including an impressive victory at Sturm Graz at the weekend.
Mario Leitgeb could return to midfield after injury, but Eliel Peretz is still sidelined. Serbian striker Dejan Joveljic, who struggled to make an impact at Eintracht Frankfurt but has found form in Austria, could lead the attack again.
Spurs to win but WAC will attack
Tottenham have surely already won this tie, but they have a clutch of players who want to impress Mourinho and play their way into the Premier League XI. Spurs have won eight of their ten UEL games, and five of those eight victories have seen both teams score.
Wolfsberger AC have scored in all but two of their Europa League games, and they’re not the type of side to just meekly shuffle off. I’ll use the Sportsbook’s Same Game Multi to back Tottenham to win and both teams to score at 2.45.
Bale to make his mark again?
Gareth Bale has endured a frustrating return to Tottenham, but he has had some bright moments in the UEL. The Welshman is 10/11 to find the net here, with backup striker Carlos Vinicius 5/6 (the Brazilian scored in the first leg).
On the WAC side of things, 35-year-old Liendl has scored five goals in six UEL appearances. He is priced at 11/2 to find the net.
Back the draw in Rangers v Antwerp @ 4.7Bet now
Seven-goal thriller in Belgium
Rangers host Royal Antwerp in the Europa League Round of 32 at Ibrox on Thursday. After the pair served up a memorable seven-goal thriller in Belgium last week, armchair fans want to see the same again. Steven Gerrard demands his side return to their best at the back to protect a 4-3 aggregate lead.
The goal-fest last Thursday at Bosuilstadion had it all. An unpredictable referee, several VAR decisions, three penalties. There were numerous injuries, including knocks to Rangers captain James Tavernier and attacker Kemar Roofe, Antwerp losing goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. A red card and last-minute winner. No sooner have fans caught their breath, we go again.
Gerrard will be without his free-scoring captain
Rangers took the lead in Antwerp through a Joe Aribo goal but went into the break 2-1 down, conceding a penalty eight minutes into stoppage-time. Super-sub Ryan Kent netted a wonderful goal either side of two penalties from left-back Borna Barisic. Rangers return to Ibrox with four away goals and an aggregate lead but we’re only at the halfway stage. There’s sure to be plenty more twists and turns in this tie.
Gerrard will be forced into a reshuffle after losing his captain and star player Tavernier from right back. He has options to freshen up the attack but filling the void left by Tav will be more difficult. It’s likely he’ll call on well-travelled defender Leon Balogun to do a job there. The 32-year-old Nigeria cap can help in defence but lacks the quality of the club captain going forward.
Franky’s men can’t relax
Royal Antwerp went into the first leg missing a few first-team regulars but proved a match for the Scottish Premiership leaders. Franky Vercauteren’s team looked fragile at the back but were always dangerous in attack and despite the first leg loss, they will arrive in Govan confident of causing Rangers problems again. This tie isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination, but they must win at Ibrox and do it by at least two goals.
The Great Old will take confidence from the fact they led twice and forced Gers goalkeeper Alan McGregor into some remarkable saves in the second half. They must attack in Glasgow and have the flair going forward to score more goals. In doing so they are likely to leave themselves open at the back. Beiranvand could return between the sticks after going off injured on 77 minutes.
The first goal will be crucial
The first-leg was end-to-end stuff with both teams looking like scoring every time they passed the half-way line. Rangers have the advantage but it’s a narrow one and if the visitors score first things will get even more interesting. Rangers are favourites on the match-winner market with 1.48 trading on the Betfair Exchange.
Antwerp must gamble if they are to stay in this. The first goal will be crucial in Glasgow on Thursday night and the visitors are expected to get plenty of the ball as their opponents sit deep and aim to hit on the counter-attack. Royal Antwerp are 7 for the win with the draw 4.7.
Both score the obvious choice
Bettors would be forgiven for not knowing how to approach this match after the drama and excitement of last week. Both teams to score is an obvious pick at 1.7 or over 2.5 goals 1.5.
A draw or low-scoring defeat would suit Gers, but Gerrard will demand much better than he saw from his men in Belgium. They must be better organised, defend set-pieces with more confidence and resist the urge to give away silly fouls around the box. The draw looks overpriced.
Arsenal v Benfica
Thursday 25 February, 17:55
Live on BT Sport 1
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.9
Gunners well short of Premier League elite
Arsenal were given another sobering reminder of their position in the Premier League pecking order at the weekend, as Manchester City struck early and then kept their opposition caged in a 1-0 success for the league leaders.
The Gunners managed an Expected Goals figure of 0.40 according to Infogol, and they only registered one shot on target. Mikel Arteta’s side has now racked up 11 top-flight defeats this term, more than they suffered in the whole of last season. They have the worst attacking record in the top 10, and in the top half only Everton have a worse goal difference.
Tough as it may be to take for Arsenal fans, the Europa League is more the club’s level right now, and progress in this competition should be the absolute priority.
In last week’s first leg in Rome, Mikel Arteta’s side fell behind through a Pizzi penalty, but equalised almost immediately through Bukayo Saka. Had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang not missed some great opportunities, Arsenal would’ve struck more than one away goal.
Their home leg takes place in Athens because of COVID-19-related travel restrictions, but the market still gives them the edge – the north London giants are 1.83 to win the second leg, and 1.5 to qualify.
Arteta is expected to field a strong side here, but Rob Holding is out with a head injury. David Luiz and Gabriel are likely to be recalled in central defence, and the fit-again Kieran Tierney could keep his place at left-back. Although Aubameyang doesn’t quite look his old self, he is likely to start in attack. Midfielder Thomas Partey is still short of full fitness.
Pressure mounting on faltering Jesus
Benfica lost further ground in the Portuguese title race at the weekend, as they drew 0-0 at lowly Farense, and the leaders Sporting beat Portimonense 2-0. It means that Jorge Jesus’ side are a staggering 16 points off top spot, and they are four points adrift of the top three. Failure to qualify for the Champions League would be a bitter blow given the money that has been lavished on the squad.
Benfica did perform adequately against Arsenal last week, despite employing an unfamiliar back three. However, they gave up several big chances, and crucially they conceded a leveller just after taking the lead. Star striker Darwin Nunez was starved of service, and his German strike partner Luca Waldschmidt went off at half-time. Benfica have now won just three of their last 11 competitive matches.
Jesus is likely to pick a similar side to last week, although it remains to be seen whether he will persist with the same formation.2.24
Back Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score at 2.24
Gunners a bit too short to take the win
Arsenal perhaps made the clearer chances in Rome, but they didn’t really dominate, and it’s worth bearing in mind that Benfica’s goals now count double at a neutral venue. The Portuguese giants aren’t winning many, but they are tough to beat. They haven’t yet suffered a defeat in this competition, and they showed fighting spirit to twice overcome two-goal deficits in group games against Rangers.
I’m not excited about the prospect of backing Arsenal to win here at odds-on, but I don’t have enough confidence in Benfica to lay the Gunners either.
Stick with goals, despite last week’s score
I tipped Over 2.5 Goals ahead of last week’s first leg, and although it finished 1-1, I’m happy to do so again. Benfica need to try to score, and an early goal either way would really open this up. Neither defence looked rock solid in an open first leg, and I’ll back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.98.
Aubameyang to make his mark
Although he wasn’t at his clinical best last week, Aubameyang got into some great goalscoring positions, and that’s always an encouraging sign. He scored a hat-trick against Leeds recently, and he has six goals in last eight appearances. He’s a big-game player (think of the FA Cup last season) and I’ll back him to find the net at 5/4.
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