Europa League Betting: Danes to strike a blow at Old Trafford

Midtjylland dumped out Southampton, but can they also knock out Manchester United?
Midtjylland dumped out Southampton, but can they also knock out Manchester United?
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After securing 4/6 winners last week, Kevin Hatchard is back to preview four Europa League games on Thursday, including Manchester United's clash with Midtjylland...

"Midtjylland are a threat from set-pieces, they scored twice in the first leg, and United have personnel problems in defence."

Back Both Teams To Score at 2.3611/8

Manchester United v Midtjylland
Thursday, 20:05
Live on BT Sport 2

Manchester United were pretty much the only team to let this column down last week, and their abject display in Jutland was beyond feeble. I genuinely thought they'd be able to use the game as a statement, a way to boost morale, but it actually added to the club's malaise under Louis van Gaal.

There's something incredibly jarring about seeing Van Gaal struggle in this way. He has been a giant of European football, in terms of achievement and personality. He now looks uncertain, his bravado stripped away, and we are watching a sad end to a glittering career. It's like watching a great Shakespearean actor look pleadingly to the wings for his next line.

Backing United to win handsomely would be a real leap of faith given their form, but even Midtjylland admit that qualification for the last 16 would be a miraculous achievement. So the question I'm asking myself is whether Midtjylland will score. They are strong on set-pieces, they put two past United last week, and the Red Devils have only managed three clean sheets in their last nine games.

United have a host of injury problems, and it's not yet clear whether David De Gea will recover from a knee injury in time to play. In all likelihood, United will come through this, but the Danish champions might give them a scare first.

Recommended Bet
Back Both Teams To Score at 2.3611/8


Napoli v Villarreal
Thursday February 25, 20:05
Live on BT Sport Europe

Villarreal have a 1-0 first-leg lead to protect after Denis Suarez netted a late winner last week, and having held Atletico Madrid to a goalless draw at the Vicente Calderon at the weekend, they'll be confident of achieving something similar in Naples. Indeed, the Yellow Submarine have kept five consecutive clean sheets, and haven't conceded a goal for more than a month.

Napoli have looked very good in this competition, and after losing to Juventus and drawing with Milan in Serie A, they need a morale boost. Coach Maurizio Sarri has tinkered with his line-up in the Europa League rather than ripped it up, and I expect a strong team as the hosts look to turn the tie around.

Napoli have won 14 of their last 17 games at home, and they won all six of their group-stage games in this competition. Villarreal are hard to beat, but they've only won two of their last ten away games in all competitions, and if Sarri plays anywhere near his strongest side (starting top scorer Gonzalo Higuain would be a big statement) I think the hosts can turn the tie around.

Recommended Bet
Back Napoli to qualify at 2.26/5


Athletic Bilbao v Marseille
Thursday February 25, 18:00
Live on BT Sport Extra

Time and time again, Athletic striker Aritz Aduriz is proving that age ain't nothing but a number. The 35-year-old has banged in 13 goals in La Liga this term, and he is the Europa League's top scorer, with seven goals in nine appearances. He scored the only goal of last week's first leg in France, a simply stunning volley from long range.

Marseille have to go for it, and they conceded five goals on the road in three group games. If they leave any gaps in Bilbao on Thursday, I'm backing the evergreen Aduriz to exploit them.

Recommended Bet
Back Aritz Aduriz to score at 2.1211/10


Schalke v Shakhtar Donetsk
Thursday January 25, 18:00
Live on BT Sport Extra

There is much to admire about Schalke this season. Young players like fleet-footed forward Leroy Sane and midfield axis Johannes Geis and Leon Goretzka have been given plenty of responsibility, and the squad generally feels more united than usual under new coach Andre Breitenreiter.

However, by giving so many young players the chance to shine, you are inevitably inviting some inconsistency. Schalke's 1-1 draw with Stuttgart at the weekend was a good example, as the Royal Blues nearly lost a game they had been well on their way to winning. With leaders like skipper Benedikt Howedes out injured, Schalke are finding it tough to plot their way through some matches.

Although Shakhtar have only just returned from their winter break, and have lost prominent forward Alex Teixeira to Chinese football, they have bags of European experience as a unit. They were unlucky to get both PSG and Real Madrid in their Champions League group, and although they looked rusty in last week's goalless first leg against Schalke, they go to Gelsenkirchen knowing that an away goal would give them a big boost.

Schalke have only won four of their last ten home games in all competitions, and if they fall behind, I don't know if they have enough European street-smarts to recover. I've seen Schalke collapse in home games a few times this term, and it could happen again on Thursday.

Recommended Bet
Lay Schalke at 1.814/5

2016 Europa League Knockout Phase P/L (1 pt per bet)

Points Staked: 6

Points Returned: 8.81

P/L: +2.81 points

Group Stage P/L: +3.3 points

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