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The Europa League has been a stern test for all teams concerned again this season. The competition reaches the quarter-final stage; with two teams from England and Spain, and a team from Germany, Portugal, Italy and the Czech Republic still standing.
With three of these teams only entering the competition having finished third in their respective UEFA Champions League groups. Benfica, Valencia, and Napoli all fell out of the groups at the first hurdle; while Chelsea, Arsenal, Slavia Prague, Villarreal, and Eintracht Frankfurt have been in the Europa League since early in the season.
Prague finished second in their group before going onto beat Genk and Sevilla. Meanwhile, Arsenal and Chelsea both finished top of their groups and have remained among the favourites in the Europa League odds to win the competition since the beginning of the tournament.
Frankfurt have overcome Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan in the knockout rounds, but remain the outsiders in the outright Europa League odds. Meanwhile, Villarreal has gone on to defeat Sporting Lisbon and Zenit St Petersburg since topping their Europa League group.
Italian giants Napoli have won three of their four games in the Europa League since dropping down from the Champions League; against FC Zurich and Red Bull Salzburg. Frankfurt have quietly gone about their business and raised eyebrows in the last round when against all the Europa League odds they managed to see-off Inter Milan.
Much is made of the home advantage when it comes to both European competitions. With experts and punters often thinking that a team much take advantage of their home games. However, this isn’t always the case. Frankfurt finished with a 0-0 draw in Germany against Inter Milan; before going to the San Siro and winning 1-0.
The away goals rule in Europe does mean there is an emphasis on the away team attacking, and that has increased the commitment of the away teams in Europe. This is evident in the fact that the away side is the favourite in the Slavia Prague vs Chelsea odds. The Villarreal vs Valencia odds also suggest the away side will attack.
A goalless home draw in the first leg isn’t considered a bad result in European competitions; as a score-draw in the second leg would mean that the team would go through. Slavia Prague have been a perfect example of this. In their Round of 32 stage game against Genk, they drew 0-0 in their home leg, but against all the odds they won 4-1 in the second leg.
Of course, it is an advantage to get a positive result in the first leg; but most teams look at it as a must-not-lose fixture. Both of Frankfurt’s knockout first legs have ended in draws before they have secured their place in the next round in the return leg.
However, teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Napoli- who have an extensive European history- have all taken full advantage of the home legs of fixtures. The two English sides have won both their European home legs 3-0, while Napoli haven’t lost a home game in the Europa League.
Two of these sides are likely to be among the favourites in the Europa League odds after this round. All teams left in the Europa League will be keen to take advantage of the home advantage; as all home teams are unbeaten in their own stadiums in the competition.
The first leg of this particular tie will be crucial. Bookmakers will have a keen eye on the first leg before deciding on the Slavia Prague vs Chelsea odds for the second leg. The first leg will be more critical for Prague as they will have to ensure they take full advantage of their home advantage; with the most important factor being that they don’t taste defeat.
If Chelsea were to win away from home; which they already have against Malmo and Dynamo Kiev, then they might rest a lot of players for the return leg as they will have one eye on their Premier League fixtures. Champions League qualification is vital for the Blues, and this competition presents their best chance of achieving that goal. Therefore they are rightly leading the market in the Europa League odds.
Possibly the best fixture of the round will see another game where the home advantage will be crucial for both sides. The Gunners have relied heavily on their home form in this competition thus far to get through. They have lost both of their European knockout games, before going onto overpower their opponents in the return legs at the Emirates.
It is intriguing as Napoli have a very similar record. That was evident in their last round performances, as they ran out comfortable winners in the home leg against Salzburg, before narrowly avoiding disaster in the return leg; as they lost 3-1.
The tie will be close which means that home advantage will be vital in the result of this fixture. The home side are currently leading in the Arsenal vs Napoli odds.
The all-Spanish tie will be another gripping encounter; with many bookmakers unable to separate them within the Europa League betting. Home advantage will be crucial, with both sides looking more convincing away from home in the competition.
Villarreal’s tie against Sporting Lisbon was a basic example of this, as they managed to win the away game, before holding onto a draw in the second leg. Valencia have been equally as good in their away games; with their 2-0 win at a hostile Celtic Park the immediate standout result.
The game won’t consist of many goals, but the Villarreal vs Valencia odds suggest it will be a gripping encounter between two very established teams.