Where Will The Europa League’s Shocks Happen?
Shock results were thin on the ground in the first leg of Europa League’s round of 32 fixtures, but with some ties finely balanced there is plenty of opportunity for upsets in this week’s second legs.
Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat to Danish champions Midtjylland was undoubtedly the most surprising result of the gameweek, with the loss adding to the high pressure on Louis van Gaal.
Elsewhere, Tottenham and Liverpool both drew away from home, Borussia Dortmund took control of their match with a 2-0 win at home against Porto and Napoli lost their first leg 1-0 at Villarreal – in fact, all four Spanish clubs in the competition were victorious.
Here are five of the biggest Europa League games for fantasy users to look out for this week.
Manchester United v Midtjylland
United’s 2-1 loss in Denmark was one of van Gaal’s most embarrassing results to date and he will be eager to put things right in the second leg at Old Trafford on Thursday.
With a big Premier League match against Arsenal on Sunday, van Gaal may be tempted to hold some of his star players back, but he cannot afford for United to be knocked out by Midtjylland.
United’s away goal should help but without injured striker Wayne Rooney, they look light on goals. Anthony Martial has only scored two goals in his last 10 games, although he is still United’s joint-top scorer with seven, level with Rooney.
Beanpole striker Ebere Paul Onuachu, who is available at £5.5m with daily fantasy football provider FantasyBet, scored Midtjylland’s winning goal in the first leg, with van Gaal admitting his team could not cope with the attacker – could he strike again?
Napoli v Villarreal
Losing their place at the top of Serie A may have distracted Napoli, who have a tough test against a Villarreal defence that has kept five clean sheets in a row, including in a 0-0 La Liga draw against Atlético Madrid at the weekend.
Villarreal will have to stop Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuaín, whose 26 goals this season mark him out as one of Europe’s elite forwards. But for those fantasy players who fancy Villarreal to keep it tight, 22-year-old goalkeeper Alphonse Areola and defender Víctor Ruiz could be wise selections.
“This team keeps getting better with every month and every year,” said Villarreal coach Marcelino ahead of the trip to the Stadio San Paolo.
Molde v Sevilla
Fantasy players looking for a sure-fire winning team could find Sevilla fit the bill, with the La Liga side having triumphed in 10 of their last Europa League 11 matches, including a 3-0 win in the first leg of their round of 32 tie against Molde.
A trip to Norway will test Unai Emery’s squad, but they have enough talent to make it 11 wins from 12 Europa League games. Fernando Llorente and Kévin Gameiro were on target in the first leg for Sevilla, for whom Éver Banega controls matches from a deep-lying playmaker role.
Tottenham v Fiorentina
A weekend FA Cup exit to Crystal Palace eases the high pressure on Tottenham’s busy schedule, but in-form Fiorentina will relish the visit to White Hart Lane after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
Mauricio Pochettino has carefully rotated his squad but lacks alternatives to star striker Harry Kane, who is by far Spurs’ top scorer this season with 19 goals. Son Heung-min has four assists in the Europa League this season, with only Napoli’s Omar El Kaddouri having recorded more.
Fiorentina’s man to watch is Federico Bernardeschi, with the exciting 22-year-old scoring twice in his last four matches, including hitting the equaliser in the first leg of this tie.
Athletic Bilbao v Marseille
Our final match to watch sees Marseille seek to overturn a 1-0 defeat against Athletic Bilbao, who boast the Europa League’s top goalscorer this season, Aritz Aduriz, who hit the first leg’s only goal with a stunning 30-yard dipping volley.
That took the 35-year-old’s tally to seven Europa League goals and the veteran, so strong in the air, has hit the net 26 times in all competitions this season.
Marseille boast one of the competition’s finest goalkeepers in Steve Mandanda and the Ligue 1 side’s coach Míchel can also call upon 21-year-old Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, who has scored four goals in six Europa League games.