Following a frenetic round 32 which saw an absolute avalanche of goals, we head into the round of 16 with some of Europe’s biggest clubs still in the hunt for the Europa League title.
The tie of the round will see Liverpool go up against Manchester United. Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund host Tottenham Hotspur while Bayer Leverkusen travel to Spain to take on Villarreal.
Liverpool 1/1 | Draw 22/10 | Man United 28/10Strangely enough, this tie will be the first time the Liverpool and Manchester United lock horns in European competition. Liverpool come into this game following a spirited fight back against what must now be considered their bogey team, Crystal Palace. Jurgen Klopp decided to rest the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Nathaniel Clyne and Coutinho for that game, no doubt with one eye on this fixture. The Reds’ German mentor has clearly identified winning the Europa League as his side’s best hope of reaching the Champions League next season as he puts all of his eggs into one basket. Key to Liverpool’s hopes will be the movement and link-up play of their front three. If Firmino, Coutinho and Sturridge click, they’ll cause all sorts of problems for a Manchester United defence who have looked wobbly at times this season.
Manchester United had a weekend to forget after suffering their first away defeat to West Brom in 32 years. Louis van Gaal’s days are clearly numbered at Old Trafford as he struggles to extract the best out of his failing stars. They’ve played well in bursts this season, however, they’ve not been nearly consistent enough to really challenge on any front. Memphis Depay has been largely underwhelming while big money signings like Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata haven’t lived up to their billing. Even Michael Carrcik, who for so long was the heart of the side has struggled for form of late. Liverpool appear to be peaking at just the right time of the season, they look good value at even money to get one over their fiercest rivals.
Borussia Dortmund 11/20 | Draw 31/10 | Tottenham 9/2Borussia Dortmund have been on an incredible run of form in which they haven’t lost since the 19th of December last year. In that time they’ve won 13 and drawn two matches in all competitions – with one of those draws coming against Bayern Munich. While much has been made of the goal-scoring exploits of Pierre-Emrick Aubameyang, not enough credit has gone to Matts Hummels and Nevan Subotic who have come back into form magnificently well following a rather indifferent phase. BVB once again underlined their Europa League credentials last time out after cruising past Porto with minimal fuss, winning 3-0 on aggregate,
Tottenham and their rather thread-bare squad are just showing signs of tiring as we head into the last few months of the season. This is highlighted by the fact that Delle Ali – who has played over 40 games this season – is on a special fitness regime with fears of a burnout at the forefront of Mauricio Pochettino’s mind. The abovementioned fatigue showed through against Arsenal at the weekend where Spurs failed to make their one man advantage count in the North London Derby as they lost more ground on Leicester City. Dortmund – having enjoyed a winter break – will come into this match fresher and no doubt stronger than their English opponents. You also need to consider how many first team regulars will turn out for Spurs as they focus on the league. Back Dortmund on the Matchbet + both teams to score: no at 15/20.
Villarreal 11/10 | Draw 22/10 | Bayer Leverkusen 5/2Villarreal have had a spectacular season and look as though they could well be on track to make their return to the Champions League next season following if they continue to perform in the league. They defeated Napoli in the last round of the Europa League, much to the surprise of many pundits around the world. The Yellow Submarine will be without Samuel and Jonathan dos Santos who are both out with fairly serious injuries. Cedric Bakambu and Roberto Soldado will likely lead the line while the excellent Bruno Soriano will sit in front of one of the most miserly defences in European football.
Bayer Leverkusen have struggled domestically this season. Heavy defeats to Mainz and Werder Bremen were followed by a disappointing draw to lowly Augsburg. They’ve been better in European competition where they exited the Champions League at the group stage behind Roma and Barcelona. They dispatched of Sporting Lisbon fairly easily in the Europa League, winning 4-1 on aggregate. Leverkusen are going to need their big players to step up if they’re to get through to the next round. Lars Bender and Manchester United loanee, Javier Hernandez to be on top form. Whether or not they’ll be able to break down the Villarreal defence remains to be seen, but I have my doubts. Back Villarreal and both teams to score: no at 22/10.