The last 32 in the football Europa League play their first leg matches this evening and BetVictor Brand Ambassador Michael Owen is here to preview the best of the action.
Both teams to score
Real Sociedad v Manchester United 1-1
Fifth in LaLiga, it’s fair to say that Real Sociedad will be happy with their domestic campaign, so far. However, it could arguably have been better.
The Spaniards got their campaign off to a flying start, but a slight dip in form saw that fade. Now having lost only one of their last six matches, they arrive here in good form.
This will be as stiff a test as you can get at this stage of the competition for United. That said, I do think the way the game unfolds may play into their hands. United are at their best on the counter, so I expect them to score in what could turn out to be a tight match.
With that in mind, I’m going for a scoring draw.
Spurs to win -1 goal
Wolfsberger v Tottenham Hotspur 0-2
Jose Mourinho will be hoping that a change of scenery will act as a catalyst to spark his Spurs side back into form. The Europa League has been a happy hunting ground for Tottenham so far this campaign having gone undefeated in nine of their last 10 matches in the competition.
For Wolfsberger, they’ll be disappointed that the match will be played at a neutral venue. The Austrian side have lost just one of their last eight home matches, so psychologically, it’s a definite blow.
I can’t help but cast my mind back to Liverpool’s win against Leipzig on Tuesday night. Similarly, the Reds aren’t firing domestically, but Europe certainly brought out the best in them.
I think similar fortunes could be in store for Spurs. So, I’m siding with the North Londoners to take the points home.
Leicester to win to nil
Slavia Prague v Leicester City 0-2
I really like the look of Leicester City in Europe just now, especially away from home. Now in the Europa League knockout phase, I think they will be able to execute their counter-attacking style to get those all important away goals, so who knows how far the Foxes can go.
Slavia Prague had a few excellent results in the group stages, however, going forward Leicester can be deadly.
Messrs Barnes, Maddison, and Vardy are all bang in form, so I’m going for the away side to pick up a vital win.
Benfica to win
Benfica v Arsenal 1-0
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has already bemoaned the rearrangement of this fixture that is now set to be played in Rome. It’s not ideal for Benfica either. The Portuguese side have won 12 of their 16 home matches this season, so they’ll be equally, if not more aggrieved with the situation.
Overall, we’ve certainly seen the better side of Arsenal in recent weeks. However, they have lost three of their last four away from home.
That tells me that there is still work to do, and I think up against a well drilled and organised side in Benfica, they’ll find it tough. I’m going for a slender ‘home’ win.
Both teams to score
Royal Antwerp v Rangers 1-1
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers travel to Austria having gone through as group winners. The Ibrox side are still undefeated both in the league and in Europe this season, which is some achievement at this point.
Royal Antwerp showed me enough in their win against Spurs earlier in the competition that they can cause problems, so the Gers’ will no doubt have to be cautious.
I think this could be tight. Rangers may well be happy to sit in and hit on the counter, and I think if you asked my former teammate Steven Gerrard privately if he’d take a draw and an away goal back to Glasgow, he’d be likely to take it.
It’s 1-1 for me in this one.