Today the Champions League kicks back into action but also so does the Europa League. The revamped league section has not been that well received but once this tournament enters the knockout section it becomes excellent. It has 32 teams so they squeeze in one more round than the Champions League and with the 2 time slots on a Thursday means you get back to back matches. It produces some excellent matchups and plenty of goals. The added bonus of a Champions League place increases the prize and all of this on a Thursday which is a big bonus.
Some tips were posted on the blog last season for the Europa League and the same will be done again based on past results.
The Europa League has run in it’s current format for 6 seasons and the winners have been Atletico Madrid twice, Porto, Chelsea and Sevilla twice. Those teams come from Portugal, Spain and England and those countries have provided 17 of the 24 semi-finalists in those 6 tournaments. Spain are the European powerhouse at the moment and they have proven that in the Europa League and previously in the UEFA cup. Of the last 12 finals spanning those 2 competitions a Spanish team has taken the trophy in 7 of them and they have also provided a losing finalist in a couple. It therefore seems a bit odd that in the betting for this tournament it’s Dortmund and Napoli who are the favourites with Dortmund a clear favourite at a best priced 8.0.
7 of the last 12 winners were Spanish is a pretty staggering record and they have 4 teams in it this season in Sevilla, Valencia, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao. If any bookmaker offers the winning nation bet I think that is worth taking. Valencia are really struggling this season and are unlikely to be able to galvanise themselves enough to survive this tournament.
The Dortmund price looks much too short in a tournament this unpredictable. The Wolfsburg team, featuring De Bruyne, which came 2nd in the Bundesliga last season was eliminated in the quarter finals last season by Napoli and you have to go back to 2010 to find a German team in the Europa League semi finals. Bayern Munich are a massively strong team but the rest of the Bundesliga still has a bit to prove. Dortmund also start off against Porto and that is not going to be easy for them.
Napoli are best priced 12.0 and both them and Fiorentina made the semi finals last season and Juve also made the semis the year before so they are worthy of that price considering their position in Serie A. You also have Lazio and Fiorentina in the draw but Fiorentina have a tough opener against Spurs and Lazio are just too unpredictable.
Looking at the English clubs I think Spurs will not prioritise this tournament. They are looking solid for a Champions League place and battling for the title. A gruelling set of Thursday night matches is not what they need as they are also still in the FA cup. It would not be a surprise to see Fiorentina knock them out. Man Utd and Liverpool are second joint 3rd favourites at a best priced 13.0 but both have been inconsistent this year. However, it looks like winning this tournament is the only way they can play Champions League football and that is a massive prize for them so they both will be all out to win this. English teams often seem to be too short in these markets, possibly down to the volume of bets placed on them.
Sporting Lisbon are currently top of the pile in Portugal and have beaten both Benfica and Porto this season. Jorge Jesus is their manager and he took Benfica to the final in both 2013 and 2014 and now has changed teams so is longer under the Béla Guttmann curse. They have a tough draw against Leverkusen but Portugal has provided 4 of the last 10 finalists and they look to be a good bet at 50/1.
This looks to be a wide open tournament again and so the best strategy is to look for value. Spanish teams deserve a lot of respect and Villarreal and Sevilla are the best of the two this season sitting in 4th and 5th in the league. Sporting Lisbon are worth a speculative bet and at the price so is Fiorentina. If they can get past Spurs then they have a good chance and made the semi finals last season.
Sevilla 13.0 generally (15.0 with Corals) 1pt
Villarreal 26.0 generally 0.5pt e/w
Fiorentina 26.0 generally 1pt e/w
Sporting Lisbon 41.0 generally (51.0 with Bet365) 0.5pt e/w
e/w bets are all 1/2 odds on making the final