Independiente Medellin v Magallanes
Medellin were unable to hold onto their 1-0 lead in Chile, conceding in the 95th minute. However, back on home soil, the Colombians will look to get the job done and qualify for the group stage. The home team are unbeaten in the Libertadores this season, scoring five goals in their three matches to date. They also won their last home game 3-0 against Aguilas.
Forward Cambindo, who scored in both his last two Libertadores matches didn’t travel to Chile, but is expected to be back in the squad, which is a huge boost for Medellin. The 27-year-old scored 12 league goals in 2022 and recently made his Colombian national debut against the US.
There’s plenty on the line, but with passionate fans behind them and Medellin’s ability to score in this competition, I’m expecting the Colombians to win and progress.
Atletico MG v Millonarios
Atletico MG are just one match away from returning to the Libertadores – something which is simply expected by their fans. A 1-1 draw to Millonarios makes the stakes even higher, but with the reverse leg back in Brazil, Atletico should be able to get the job done fairly comfortably.
Hulk has returned to action, but it’s on loan striker Paulinho from Bayer Leverkusen who is shining at present. The 22-year-old scored in the first leg and is likely to lead the line once again. With Hulk, Paulinho and Eduardo Vargas potentially lining up across the front three, there’s no excuses for Atletico not to come out on top.
Atletico MG can breathe a sigh of relief when the final whistle is blown against Millonarios, escaping any potential embarrassment. Back the Brazilians to score over 1.5 goals.
Real Betis v Manchester United
With this tie already done and dusted barring a miracle, after Manchester United won the first leg 4-1 at Old Trafford, there is only pride to play for in the case of Real Betis as they welcome the Red Devils to the Estadio Benito Villamarín for their first ever competitive visit. It will be the English team’s third visit to the city of Seville, where their record is one draw and one defeat on the other side of the city at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán against Sevilla.
Playing in front of an almost sold-out home crowd, Betis’ players will be incredibly motivated for this game and feel that they have a point to prove to regain their pride after a terrible first leg result has put them on the verge of elimination.
With an FA Cup quarter-final on the horizon on Sunday for Erik ten Hag, rotations could be made which would allow Betis a chance to impress against a weakened line-up, even if they are unable to overturn the three-goal deficit from the first leg.
Manuel Pellegrini has only lost one home knockout game in normal or extra time as Real Betis coach, a 2-1 defeat to eventual champions Eintracht Frankfurt in last season’s Europa League at the same stage. Doing Betis proud and seeking to take something from this game, if not the tie over two legs, will be a real motivation for the Spanish team.
Fenerbache v Sevilla
A 2-0 lead from the first leg puts Sevilla in pole position to qualify from this Europa League battle, but it might not necessarily mean that they win on the night. That was the case in the previous round as an even more resounding 3-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven was almost overturned with the Dutch side winning 2-0 on home turf in the second leg.
Sevilla’s form has been much improved in recent months, but that has almost exclusively come on home soil. When travelling on the road, they have picked up just one point on the road in LaLiga in 2023, with the lowest expected points from away games of any LaLiga team this calendar year.
This is good news for Fenerbahçe, who have not yet lost in the Europa League at home this season and who have lost only two league matches at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. Given that the 2-0 scoreline from the first leg was very harsh on the Turkish team, with a more impressive 1.13 xG than Sevilla’s 0.66, home advantage could get them ahead on the night.
A comfortable lead from the first leg may mean that Sevilla are still the team to qualify, but that doesn’t mean that they will win on the night in this second leg encounter. Fenerbahçe will fancy their chances up against the Spanish side on home turf.
Freiburg v Juventus
Freiburg host Juventus in the Europa League Last 16 with the Bundesliga club needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit if they are to advance to the quarter finals for the first time in their club history. Angel Di Maria scored the only goal of the game, giving Freiburg an excellent chance of qualifying the next round. Typically, goals and Freiburg don’t go hand-in-hand and with Juventus’ recent performances, don’t expect this to be a typically high-scoring fixture.
Freiburg’s Christian Streich has just extended his contract and it’s a testament to the incredible work he’s done at the club as their stock continues to rise. In charge of Freiburg for over 11 years, he’s arguably one of Europe’s most inspirational coaches and players will do whatever is asked of them. Streich will fill his players with belief that they can beat European stalwarts Juventus and their performance in the first-leg showcased that they can cause problems against the Italian side.
One player that Juventus will need to keep an eye on is Freiburg’s Vincenzo Grifo. The Italian has scored nine goals in his last 10 Bundesliga starts and the winger is one of the Bundesliga’s most dangerous players in the final third. Grifo has 12 league goals this season, whilst Juventus’ Dusan Vlahovic, their top scorer, has just eight – further signifying their problems in attack.
Freiburg typically keep it tight at the back. The return of Matthias Ginter alongside the ever-improving Philipp Lienhart is proving quite the defensive partnership. Freiburg have only conceded two or more goals on two occasions in their last 11 games across all competitions. They also come into this game having lost just one of their last seven games across all competitions, to Juventus.
Juventus are also likely to be without Federico Chiesa after training individually on Tuesday just 48 hours prior to this important clash but Di Maria is expected to return after being rested in their 4-2 win against Sampdoria at the weekend. With Vlahovic (10), Adrian Rabiot (9) and Di Maria (8), Juventus do have goals in their squad but could again find it tough against a resilient Freiburg.
Grifo (14) is Freiburg’s top scorer across all competitions and talisman Michael Gregoritsch (12) offers a different type of threat that Juventus are used to. SCF are also impressive from set-pieces with 16 goals scored from dead-ball situations in the Bundesliga this season.
Like the reverse fixture, expect Juventus to try their luck with a high number of shots. But against setting up in a 3-4-3, expect Freiburg to sit deep again and drop into a back five when out of possession – they will also look to counter Juventus. Don’t expect this to be a high-scoring fixture, with Under 2.5 Goals offering excellent value here.
Real Sociedad v Roma
It would take something special for Real Sociedad to progress to the next round, as they have a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in Rome and they are in a terrible run of form, with just one victory from their past nine matches. The problem for La Real has been scoring goals, as they’ve netted just five goals over these past nine games. Alexander Sørloth has suddenly lost his Midas touch and nobody else is stepping up.
Real Sociedad will need goals this Thursday, so this is a big concern and it won’t be easy to return to scoring ways against Jose Mourinho’s Roma. Even though they shipped four goals to Sassuolo at the weekend, that was a strange game and Roma have been defensively solid apart from that for a long time now, conceding just 0.94 goals per game this season.
On Thursday night, we can expect Roma to sit back and to play defensive football, allowing Real Sociedad to have the ball but not to have chances. Mourinho has been the master of this approach throughout his career and even during his short time in the Italian capital. Including last Thursday’s first leg, Mourinho’s Roma have now had under 2.5 total goals in six out of their eight European knockout matches. They like to keep things tight and manage the scoreboard and, with a two-goal lead already, Roma are capable of making this a dull night of football at the Reale Arena.
Villarreal v Anderlecht
There was some frustration in Spain when Villarreal could only manage a 1-1 draw away at Anderlecht in the first leg, considering how the team from Brussels is stuck in mid-table in the Belgian Pro League. However, it should be kept in mind that Villarreal rotated a lot, even giving 19-year-old centre-forward Jorge Pascual a start up front for his debut. And, even still, Villarreal were the slightly better side on the night, edging xG 0.78 to 0.51.
Now, in the second leg, Villarreal won’t be holding anything back. This is an important tournament for the club and Quique Setién is expected to name as strong a line-up as possible to deal with the Belgian outfit.
It’s going to be a full house at the Estadio de la Cerámica, with the club deciding to make this game free for season ticket holders even though it wasn’t initially included in this year’s season ticket. Given that Villarreal had to play at Levante’s stadium in the group stage, because of renovation work on their ground, this is the first European night in the city since last May. The fans plan to make the most of it against an Anderlecht side that have won just two of six away matches in 2023.
OGC Nice v Sheriff Tiraspol
There is an assumption that Ligue 1 side Nice will stroll past Sheriff into the next round of the Conference League, with a 90 minute price of 1.36 showing just how heavily the home side are fancied to have few problems in this match.
Evidence suggests that it may not be the walkover that is anticipated. For a start, the first leg between the two sides last weekend was a close-fought affair. Although Nice came away with the win on a pitch that head coach Didier Digard complained bitterly about, the Moldovan side boasted the better xG, with the French side posting only 0.44 compared to their opponents’ 1.09.
Furthermore, Nice appear to have come down from their high that saw them overcome Lille, Lens and Marseille in succession in Ligue 1. While a 3-0 win away to Monaco was impressive, this was sandwiched between two home draws against Reims and Auxerre. Both those clubs are in decent touch right now, but Nice’s performance was flat on both occasions.
Sheriff, meanwhile, are playing in one of the biggest matches in club history. Never before have them played at this stage of a UEFA competition, which will be a motivating factor in itself for the visitors. They are also fresh after returning from their winter break on the first weekend of March, and though well beaten by Real Sociedad and Manchester United away from home in the group stages, were competitive for long periods of those fixtures.
Sheriff are unlikely to turn this tie around, but expect them to make a good fist of it.
Cerro Porteno v Fortaleza
Fortaleza struggled to break Cerro Porteno down at home and were ultimately punished as a result. The Paraguayans weathered heavy pressure throughout the 90 minutes, and managed to steal a goal – putting themselves firmly in the driving seat with the second leg back at home.
Cerro Porteno have won all three of their Libertadores qualifiers 1-0, showcasing that they can defend well as a unit and prove they are worthy to return to the group stage.
Fortaleza will need to rally, but will know conceding early will effectively ruin their chances of overcoming a difficult tie. The Brazilians prefer to play with one up front and Thiago Galhardo, who’s been in fine form this year, had no joy throughout the match and was no match for the aerial presence of Porteno’s defence.
I’m expecting a cagey affair in Paraguay, and I’m recommending under 2.5 goals.
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