Europa League: Which Long Shots Have A Run In Them?
Given its little brother status compared to the Champions League, the Europa League can often get overlooked. It’s sort of like the across the pond version of the NIT.
That doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant to savvy bettors, however. So with the quarterfinals set to kick off in just two weeks, let’s sort through the tournament’s final eight teams and find some betting value, shall we?
Atletico Madrid +150
The only team left in the tournament that has recent Champions League pedigree, Atletico Madrid doesn’t have the easiest of opponents in Sporting CP, particularly given that Atletico visits Lisbon for the second leg. Nonetheless, Atletico is a big favorite to get the better of this fixture.
Antoine Griezmann is arguably the best player in the tournament and has started 2018 in scintillating form, scoring 16 goals in 18 appearances across all competitions. Potentially playing his way toward a big summer move to Barcelona, Griezmann will be keen to continue his fine play. Couple Griezmann with Diego Costa, and Atleti certainly has the firepower to beat any side in this competition.
Even though Atletico Madrid wouldn’t have been thrilled with the idea of being in the Europa League at the start of the season, manager Diego Simeone hasn’t won a major trophy since taking the La Liga title in 2014. With no shot at the league crown this season, Los Colchoneros can go all out for this one.
Perhaps the one side that could spring an upset against Atleti, Arsenal has strengthened their position among the favorites in light of a favorable draw against CSKA Moscow. Arsenal will have to contend with a tough trip in the second leg, however, so they’ll need to make their home advantage count before facing what will undoubtedly be a hostile environment in Moscow.
It’s that atmosphere that could really test the Gunners, who have been criticized for a long time for being fragile, so they will need to keep their composure in Russia. There’s little doubt that the Premier League outfit boasts the stronger side, albeit without the ineligible Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but they’ll need some serious mettle to build upon what was an excellent aggregate win over an in-form Milan last round.
After knocking out Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16, Lazio knows that Salzburg is not to be underestimated. Lazio remains a strong favorite to progress in the tournament, but they will need to improve markedly in order to do so.
The fact that Simone Inzaghi’s side — which is accustomed to a more extensive winter break — has gone deep into both the Europa League and Coppa Italia appears to have caught up with them this year. Lazio’s league form has suffered (they were knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Milan last month), and they’ve left themselves with a lot to work in the second legs of their knockout matches in Europe, having lost in Bucharest and drawn at home with Dynamo Kyiv.
Lazio’s next opponent, Salzburg, has proven that they won’t be as forgiving, and they have home advantage in the second leg — where they have not lost a single game all season. There could be an upset in the cards.
RB Leipzig +1000
Arguably the toughest game to call, certainly as far as the odds are concerned, RB Leipzig’s quarterfinal doubleheader with Marseille should be a cracker. Both teams have an abundance of quality attackers, but in Naby Keita and Timo Werner, the German side just may have the edge.
If RB Leipzig can get past the French outfit, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side will have a real chance of going all the way. Leipzig proved last weekend against Bayern Munich, not to mention in the Round of 32 against a well-fancied Napoli, that they are still a side to be feared despite a relatively underwhelming second season in the Bundesliga. Consistency has been the issue all season, but if they can find some when it matters most, this is one of the more tempting outright prices.
Olympique Marseille +1200
As has been the case with Lazio, the games have really begun to pile up for Marseille, and they still have plenty to get through once they return from the international break. Last weekend’s loss to rival Lyon could be telling, as Marseille is now very much in a two-way tussle for that all important third spot in Ligue 1, which would earn the side Champions League football in 2018-19.
Had they won that match, Olympique Marseille could have put all of their attention into the two legs with Leipzig, but as it is, they may be distracted by their domestic competition. The Europa League has been a source of some relief in a difficult run of results this year until now, but the Bundesliga side could prove too much for OM.
The surprise of the tournament to date in some respects, Salzburg doesn’t really have a star player to pin their hopes to, but they are an organized team that has proven tough to beat. Make that impossible to beat, in fact, as the Austrian outsiders are the only remaining side in the Europa League that has yet to taste defeat in Europe this season. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Salzburg began their campaign way back in August with a two-legged qualifier against Romanian outfit Viitorul Constanta.
All told, Salzburg is now undefeated over 12 Europa League matches (including seven shutouts) despite having faced the likes of Real Sociedad, Borussia Dortmund and fellow quarterfinalist Marseille. Salzburg is a dark horse, but the side is likely happy with their draw (they host the second leg), and could be a good bet for the semis — or even a shock appearance in the final.
Sporting CP +3300
It’s little wonder the Portuguese side, which required extra time to get past modest opposition in Viktoria Plzen in the previous round, is not being given much of a prayer in a nightmare draw against Atletico. About the only positive for Sporting is that this round doesn’t pose as much difficulty from a travel perspective.
That said, if Sporting can hang close in Madrid, Jorge Jesus’ men do boast an astounding defensive record at home. Their Liga NOS home shutout streak stretched to eight matches over the weekend — the longest run of its kind anywhere this season — and just one side has managed to score at Sporting in 13 matches. Atleti, however, will be the strongest team Sporting has hosted all season by a wide margin.
CSKA Moscow +4000
Surprising victors in Lyon in the Round of 16, CSKA isn’t expected to pull off another upset up against Arsenal next month. There’s no real goal scorer in the ranks, highlighted by the fact that three players share the lead with just two tallies in CSKA’s 10 matches across the two European competitions.
Curiously, they’ve been better away from home in Europe thus far, losing just once, though that defeat did come in England to Manchester United. Nevertheless, the Russians will bank on that home advantage in the second leg that to carry them through, and far stranger things have happened, even if they are unlikely to go any farther than that.
All odds current as of 3/21 via Oddschecker.
Photo: Marseille’s Kostas Mitroglou celebrates a goal with his teammates. Credit: @EuropaLeague