Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Come the end of Thursday evening the Europa League will be whittled down to just four teams as we look forward to the semi-final phase of the competition. That said, all four of the quarter-finals still hang in the balance and could go either way.
The tie of the round will see Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp welcome Borussia Dortmund to Anfield in what promises to be an absolute classic. Elsewhere, Villarreal, Sevilla and Shakhtar Donetsk all take valuable one-goal leads into their respective second legs.
Liverpool 7/4 | Draw 24/10 | Borussia Dortmund 14/10
Liverpool sprung the surprise of the round last Thursday as they secured a 1-1 draw away against Borussia Dortmund. While Jurgen Klopp will be happy with his charges’ efforts, he’ll feel that they probably should have come away from the tie with a lead – especially thinking back on the chances spurned by Dejan Lovren and Coutinho in either half.
I do think that the Reds have the edge coming into the second leg of this quarter-final. They’ve bagged the vital away goal and head into Thursday night’s clash off the back of a mesmerising 4-1 win over Stoke City on Sunday with a largely second-string side. Dortmund, on the other hand slumped to a 2-2 defeat in their Revierderby against Schalke at the weekend. It should be noted that Thomas Tuchel did field a weakened side in that clash with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ikay Gundogan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus and Lukasz Piszczek all named on the bench.
Liverpool have yet to taste defeat at home in the Europa League this season and will be in buoyant mood at Anfield on Thursday evening – especially considering the form that Divock Origi has shown of late. The Belgian centre-forward has been at his mercurial best in the last few weeks, showing the Anfield faithful glimpses of the form he displayed at the 2014 World Cup. Loveren and Mamadou Sakho have also improved since Klopp took over, forming a formidable partnership at the heart of the Reds’ defence.
As good of a side as Borussia Dortmund are, Liverpool hold all the aces heading into the second leg of this tie. Back Klopp’s men to book their place in the semi-finals with a 90-minute win at 7/4.
Sevilla 1/1 | Draw 26/10 | Athletic Bilbao 26/10
Athletic Bilbao will have it all to do in the second leg of their quarter-final tie after going down 2-1 at home to Sevilla last Thursday. Artiz Aduiriz put the Basque side ahead with a typically powerful header before Timothee Kolodziejczak and Vicente Iborra scored to give Sevilla their first away win in UEFA competition this season.
The statistics make for damning reading if you’re a Bilbao fan – Sevilla have won their last three European home games without conceding a goal and are on a run of 11 consecutive home victories in the UEFA Europa League. Los Rojiblancos have become specialists at winning this competition and will consider themselves massive runners if they can avoid slipping up against Bilbao on Thursday evening.
While Bilbao pose a threat up front with the power of Aduiriz, Sevilla’s pedigree in this competition as well as their continental form at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan are too difficult to ignore. Back Unai Emery and his Sevilla side to win on the 90 minute market at even money.
Sparta Prague 3/1 | Draw 5/2 | Villarreal 9/10
The bookies have been a bit apprehensive when it comes to showing respect to Sparta Prague this season. This much is evident as they go into this game at 3/1 against a Villarreal side who look as though they could upset the applecart this season, providing they get past the Czechs.
Sparta are unbeaten in their last six Europa League matches at home winning four and drawing two of those games, letting in just three goals in the process. They will also be buoyed by the fact that they managed to grab an away goal at the Estadio Madrigal, where Villarreal have been miserly in defence this season. The Czechs possess plenty of attacking nous for all of their defensive steel. David Lafata has bagged five goals in the competition this season while Borek Dockal can lay claim to having the most assists in the competition with five.
As much as I like the balance of this Villarreal side, I think they’ll be sweating heading into this game. Sparta’s partisan fans will no doubt create the sort of hostile atmosphere only found in Eastern Europe. Take the Czech’s on the double chance at 8/10 (90 minutes).
Shakhtar Donetsk 7/10 | Draw 27/10 | Braga 37/10
Our final port of call sees us head to the Ukraine where Shakhtar Donetsk will look to bundle a brave Braga side out of the competition. The Eastern Europeans head into the second leg of their tie with a 2-1 lead following a solid performance in Portugal last time out which saw Yaroslav Rakitsky and Facundo Ferreyra put the Ukrainians two goals clear before Wilson Eduardo gave the Portuguese side a glimmer of hope with a late strike.
I said last week that Braga needed to put clear daylight between themselves and the Ukrainians if they were to have any chance of advancing to the semi-finals. They failed to do so and now look destined to crash out of the competition. While they dominated possession as well as shots on and off target, the Portuguese side simply didn’t look very threatening going forward.
Paulo Fonseca and his men will have it all to do if they are going to overturn the 2-1 deficit on Thursday night. The Ukrainians haven’t lost in five European matches since they transferred over from the Champions League to the Europa League, and they don’t look as if they’re going to ruin that record on Thursday.
Back Shakhtar to claim their place in the semi-finals with an easy 90 minute win against the beleaguered Portuguese side at 7/10.
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