UEFA Europa League

Bayer Leverkusen v Roma: Flying Frimpong can fire Bayer to the final

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso
Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen are still unbeaten in all competitions this season

Bayer Leverkusen are in command of their Europa League semi-final against Roma, and Bundesliga columnist Kevin Hatchard has put together a Bet Builder at a chunky price...

Bayer Leverkusen v Roma
Thursday 09 May, 20:00
Live on TNT Sports

Leverkusen closing in on sporting immortality

All-conquering Bayer Leverkusen have played 48 games in all competitions this season, and haven't lost a single one.

Just let that sink in. Nine months of football, all manner of different opponents, players injured, players away at AFCON, travels as far as Baku and yet not a single loss. They've come mightily close to defeat, and have pulled that unbeaten record out of the fire time and time again.

A first Bundesliga title was locked down weeks ago, the DFB Pokal final will be against second-tier Kaiserslautern and after winning 2-0 in Rome last week, Die Werkself are on course to reach the final of the Europa League.

For a club that had a consistent reputation for choking when the big prizes were in sight, this has been the most remarkable turnaround. They have a maximum of five games left in their season, and it could be one of the greatest campaign professional football has ever witnessed.

Bayer had a bit of fortune at the Stadio Olimpico last week. Romelu Lukaku crashed a header against the bar early on, and Tammy Abraham missed a golden chance in the dying moments. In between, Bayer's golden child Florian Wirtz brutally punished a dreadful error from Roma's Rick Karsdorp, and Robert Andrich blasted in a stunning goal from long range. Andrich is a grafter who has scrapped his way up the ranks, and fully deserves his current success.

Leverkusen stormed to a 5-1 win at Eintracht Frankfurt at the weekend, and were able to rest Wirtz, Jeremie Frimpong, Alex Grimaldo, Jonathan Tah, Piero Hincapie and Victor Boniface. I'd expect all of them to return on Thursday.

Roma still have two routes to UCL ticket they crave

In the era of American owners the Friedkin family, Roma have been trying to qualify for the Champions League, but without success. Jose Mourinho famously delivered the Europa Conference League trophy in his first campaign, and led the Giallorossi to the Europa League final the following season, but he failed to secure Champions League qualification in either campaign. When it looked as though the capital club were going to miss out again, the Friedkins swung the axe.

Replacement Daniele De Rossi has not only produced another deep run in the Europa League, but he has at least given his beloved Roma a chance of making the top five (Italy gets an extra UCL spot next season). Roma are four points behind fourth-placed Bologna with three games left, and behind Atalanta on goal difference having played a game more.

They are behind the 8-ball in this semi final though. Not only do they have to become the first team to beat Bayer in any competition, but they have to do it by two goals just to force extra time. As well as former Roma skipper De Rossi has done since becoming coach, he has only managed to win by at least two goals four times in 22 games.

De Rossi has no fresh injury or suspension concerns, so we could see a similar side to the one he fielded last week. Lukaku is expected to get the nod as the central striker ahead of Abraham, with Paulo Dybala and Stephan El Shaarawy making up the rest of the front line.

Bullish Boniface can spur Bet Builder along

We can construct a treble here on the Bet Builder that pays out at 5.96, and I think all three legs are entirely feasible. The first is for Roma defender Gianluca Mancini to commit a foul - I backed him to do that in the first leg, and he duly obliged with two fouls. That's now 12 fouls in 11 UEL games for Mancini, and 70 fouls in Serie A.

Boniface is one of the most active strikers around when it comes to shots. The Nigerian has had at least three shots in 17 of his appearances this season, and he is starting to return to full sharpness after months on the sidelines.

The last one is Jeremie Frimpong to score. The Dutch international wing-back plays like a forward at times in this Leverkusen system, and he got into some great positions in the first leg. Frimpong has 14 goals in all competitions, and found the net in Frankfurt on Sunday as a substitute.

Back Mancini to commit a foul, Boniface to have 3+ shots and Frimpong to score at 5/16.00

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