UEFA Europa League

Atalanta v Bayer Leverkusen: Draw a runner as 5/1 Granit Xhaka tipped

Former Arsenal captain and Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka
Granit Xhaka is 5/1 for an assist

Sky Sports' betting expert Lewis Jones - aka 'Jones Knows' - previews the Europa League final between Atalanta and Bayer Leverkusen where he thinks the draw and a Granit Xhaka assist are bets worth taking...

Betfair Superboost

Italy and Germany flock to Ireland on Wednesday for tonight's Europa League Final at the Aviva Stadium, with Bayern Leverkusen looking to extend their season long unbeaten run against Atalanta.

Should they avoid defeat here, they will have one more match to play to finish the 2023-24 campaign undefeated, and possibly winning an unprecedented treble.

Leverkusen are expected to dominate the ball this evening, and Betfair have rolled out a Superboost on an Atalanta side - who commit more fouls per Europa League game than any other - to commit 12 or more this evening. That can be backed below at 1/12.00 - up from 4/71.57!

The Italian side have hit the 12+ mark in all but one of their Europa League encounters this season (11 in the other), with their game-by-game tally in the competition as follows - 17, 16, 14, 16, 15, 18, 16, 17, 11, 12, 16, 14.

Atalanta v Bayer Leverkusen
Wednesday 22 May, 20:00 kick-off
Live on TNT Sports

They were once Neverkusen. They are on the cusp of becoming Treblekusen.

A trio of major trophies is within touching distance for Xabi Alonso's phenomenal team.

After storming to their first Bundesliga title, they can complete a treble if they win this Europa League final and beat Kaiserslautern in the German Cup on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini is still hunting a first major trophy of his long career. How he deserves a moment like the one that could come his way in Dublin.

The 'lift the trophy' market has Bayer Leverkusen at 1.4740/85 on the Betfair Exchange and Gasperini's men at 3.052/1.

But it might not be as straightforward for the Bundesliga giants as the market suggests.

Leverkusen's draw strike-rate hard to ignore

As you'd expect, Leverkusen have had some wobbly moments negotiating their way on this epic high-wire act of 51 games unbeaten. Draws, of course, are going to be a common result when a team is on such a unique run of results - but I was surprised at their high strike-rate of draws when playing a top-five team in the Bundesliga or in the knockout stage of this competition.

It stands at 57% with eight of those 14 matches ending all square, including in fixtures with Roma, West Ham and Qarabag en route to this final.

And just on those fixtures, it's easy to argue the case that Atalanta have had a far more treacherous run to the final having come through Portuguese champions Sporting Lisbon, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and a much-improved Marseille outfit.

There is the chance that the stars are just aligning perfectly for Leverkusen this season - you need that bit of fortune to help you on the way to immortality - but there is a part of me that just wants to see some more conclusive evidence that they should merit being 1.9210/11 to beat such a dangerous team like Atalanta in 90 minutes.

This tendency to swerve Leverkusen does make the draw a runner to my maths at 3.7511/4 on the Betfair Exchange.

It's never a popular bet in these monster matches, especially in recent seasons where the goal expectancy generally in football has increased due to more aggressive and attack-minded styles of play. This has seen prices for draws shoot up in odds as the higher the ratio of goals the lower the probability for the two main draw options become in 0-0 and 1-1.

However, in cup finals of this nature where huge stakes and jeopardy are at play, those two low scoring outcomes become more likely, and the market hasn't reacted accordingly here. For example, the last three Europa League finals have all ended 1-1.

Interestingly, the 1-1 correct score is trading at 8.27/1 on the Betfair Exchange making it the shortest priced option in that market.

I'm more than happy to add both the outright draw price and 1-1 correct score to my staking plan.

Xhaka is here to assist you...

Granit Xhaka has been an inspired signing by Alonso. He is the on-field manager. Alonso's mouthpiece. The organiser.

"I don't want to play dad or the boss but everyone must be clear that you have to work hard to be successful," he said earlier this season when discussing his role.

He must've forgotten what it's like to lose a football match. It's now over a calendar year since Xhaka walked off a football pitch as a loser when Arsenal went down 1-0 at Nottingham Forest.

His influence on this team is gigantic, both with and without the ball. And it's his underrated creative nous that has led to me wanting to back him to register an assist in the final at 5/16.00 on the Betfair Sportsbook.

The Swiss midfielder isn't just a destroyer, he can play. Even at Arsenal his intelligent passing and ability to play quickly under pressure with his cultured left foot was never really heralded in a way his play deserved despite recording eight assists last season - and that's been a similar story in Germany.

A quick look at his assist record in the Bundesliga would tell you why he's not had rave reviews for his creative output. He has zero assists.

Yet the underlying data paints a completely different picture. Xhaka has created 40 chances for his teammates in the German league suggesting a huge slice of variance is at play. That argument of misfortune is backed up by the fact he's grabbed two assists in the Europa League this season from the 19 chances he's created.

On the biggest of stages, Xhaka is worth a bet to grab an assist.

Now read Lewis Jones' latest Notebook column where he tips up a Wembley treble!

Follow Lewis' Premier League tips and predictions across Sky Sports each week.

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