Best Bet: Back Liverpool to win, Tottenham & Man United to falter in this tasty Europa League treblePublished February 18, 2016
FC Midtjylland v Manchester United, 6pm
Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat at Sunderland on Saturday has left their hopes of a Top-4 finish in the Premier League hanging by a thread and their best hope of Champions League football next season probably rests on their ability to win the Europa League and qualify via that route.
They’ve been handed a perfectly decent draw in the round of the last 32, with FC Midtjylland not only being one of the big outsiders left in the competition, but also lacking match-sharpness with the Danish Superliga not back from its near three-month winter break until the end of February.
The Danes did account for Southampton 2-1 on aggregate in the play-offs to secure their place in the group stage, but that was back in August when they had the edge in terms of match-fitness.
On the domestic front FC Midtjylland have been solid defensively, but do struggle for goals themselves – rather like Manchester United it could be said. Goals could be at a premium here.
Fiorentina v Tottenham Hotspur, 6pm
This tie represents a repeat of the same stage of last season’s Europa League between Fiorentina and Tottenham Hotspur, with the Italians prevailing 3-1 on aggregate on that occasion.
Both teams come into this tie on the back of excellent form, with Fiorentina picking up 11 points from their last five Serie A matches to go third in the table and looking good for a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.
For Tottenham it looks even more positive on the domestic front. They will be buoyed by their current run of seven wins on the spin (they’ve only lost twice in their last 23 games in all competitions) and in particular Sunday’s splendid 2-1 victory at Manchester City that firmly established them as genuine Premier League title contenders.
The question is whether Maurico Pochettino will now see the Europa League as a potential distraction to those Premier League ambitions. Even allowing for the renowned work-rate of this Tottenham team, Sunday’s victory at the Etihad Stadium must have taken something out of them and it’s difficult to believe that Pochettino will select his strongest possible starting XI here. Home advantage could well prove decisive in the 1st leg.
FC Augsburg v Liverpool, 8.05pm
FC Augsburg finished fifth in the German Bundesliga last season, but lie just above the relegation play-off position this term. They went down to a 3-1 home defeat to Bayern Munich in the Bavarian derby at the weekend and have just two points and scored just two goals in four matches since returning to action from the winter break.
A 6-0 demolition of Aston Villa in the West Midlands on Sunday was the perfect preparation for Liverpool ahead of their trip to Germany, bringing a much needed victory after a run of disappointing results.
Winning the Europa League is now Liverpool’s only realistic hope of securing Champions League football next season. Liverpool’s performances on their travels under Jurgen Klopp have been far more impressive than those at Anfield to date and they now have something close to a fully-fit squad available too.
Defensively Liverpool are highly suspect and although Augsburg struggle for goals, they did score 12 in their six Europa League group games.