After a flying start to the season, the wheels are starting to come off for Sevilla. The Andalusian side were top of La Liga at the end of November but a poor run of results, particularly on the road, has seen them drop to sixth and a full 23 points behind leaders Barcelona.
However, Sevilla are still a formidable proposition at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, especially in the Europa League.
Sevilla have lost just three times at home all season, and they have beaten both Barcelona (Copa Del Rey) and Real Madrid (La Liga). The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan is one of the most intimidating places to play football and Sevilla are rarely troubled there.
Sevilla have a long-running love affair with UEFA’s secondary competition, winning it more times than anyone else and including three times in a row between 2014 and 2016. The Spaniards have lost just two games at home in the Europa League since 2013, and simply know what it takes to grind out results.
They have also won every home game in Europe by at least two goals this season. Slavia Prague, their opponents, are hardly world beaters and have made it out of the group stages for the first time since 2008. They have done well to make it this far, but did so courtesy of an implosion from Genk in the round of 32.
The Czechs’ relative inexperience is bound to be found out by a team more accustomed to Europa League football than anyone else. Sevilla should have this virtually wrapped up after the first leg.
Verdict: Sevilla (-1) @ 11/10
Kepa’s Wembley tantrum aside, Chelsea have turned something of a corner in recent weeks. After being humbled by Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup and annihilated by Manchester City at the City of Manchester Stadium, performances from The Blues have been much improved.
Their showing in the League Cup final against City was in stark contrast to the league game against them, and they restricted City’s free-scoring attack to virtually no chances. They might have come away with silverware too, had they been a bit more clinical in front of goal.
An accomplished performance against Tottenham followed that cup final defeat and Chelsea fully merited the 2-0 win over their London rivals. Sunday’s derby win at Craven Cottage continued Chelsea’s recent resurgence and they are now in a strong position to finish in the top four.
With that in mind, they’ll want to head to Ukraine with more than a foot in the last eight of the Europa League. Chelsea have a tricky away trip to Everton just three days after the second leg in Kiev.
They will want to wrap this one up in Stamford Bridge and afford themselves the luxury of resting players next week. Given their recent form, they should do it with a bit to spare.
Verdict: Chelsea (-1) @ 5/6
Easily the tie of the round, Napoli vs Salzburg is a battle of two sides with genuine ambitions of winning the Europa League. Salzburg were desperately unlucky to crash out in the semi-finals of last year’s competition when they conceded in the 116th minute of extra-time.
They were flawless in the group stages this year and despite a hiccup in the first leg of their round of 32 clash with Club Brugge, they should be considered one of the dark horses for the competition.
Napoli, on the other hand, are second favourites in the outright market and have one of the strongest squads in the Europa League. Out of the running in Serie A, and knocked out of the cup by AC Milan, Napoli may as well place all their eggs in the Europa League basket. They brushed passed FC Zurich in the last 32 and should have just about enough to overcome Salzburg in Naples – it won’t be easy, though.
Salzburg have lost just two games in all competitions this season and only failed to score once. That was in a recent league game with Rapid Wien after they had already wrapped up the Austrian Bundesliga.
The Austrians tend to score whenever they play, and Napoli will probably have to score at least twice if they are to live up to their favourites tag.
Verdict: Over 2.5 goals @ 8/11
* All prices correct at time of posting