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Thursday, 26 February 2015, 18:00

Europa League Round of 32

Euro woe for Sherwood's Spurs

Ben Coley previews Thursday's action in the Europa League and fancies Benfica to cause something of an upset at Tottenham.

Last Updated: 13/03/14 at 20:21 Post Comment

Benfica are worth backing to beat Tottenham

Benfica are worth backing to beat Tottenham

The first thing to note as we enter the last-16 stage of the Europa League is that it's a case of so far, so good for followers of our outright preview.

David John's headline tips Napoli are into around the 8/1 mark from 10/1, Red Bull Salzburg are all the way into 10/1 from 33/1, while AZ Alkmaar are 40/1 from 66s.

Clearly, Juventus remain the team to beat and they're priced as Thursday night's bankers to see off fellow Serie A outfit Fiorentina, who they beat in typically efficient fashion last weekend.

But it's Salzburg who've really caught the imagination of punters as they continue the free-scoring form which sees them firmly on course to run away with the Austrian title.

European giants Ajax could do nothing to stop Roger Schmidt's side in the last-32 and Basel, whose bid for another Swiss championship has hit the buffers somewhat of late, may struggle to contain the energetic Red Bull boys.

However, at just a shade of odds-against to win in Switzerland, Salzburg are being given maximum respect by the layers and it's an easy decision to leave that price alone given the outright position established by my colleague.

The reason Napoli have scarcely moved in the betting is that they face Porto next and while there's reason for hope, they need to come through their trip west unscathed if they're to progress.

I wasn't all that impressed with Napoli when they overcame Swansea but Rafael Benitez warrants maximum respect and with Gonzalo Higuain up-front, his side are capable of establishing what would probably be an unassailable first-leg advantage.

That being said, again it's easy to leave them alone - particularly given Porto's outstanding home record - and I'm not tempted by 8/11 about AZ doing as they should and beating Anzhi, either.

Instead, the best bet on the night may well be Benfica, who should provide a stern test for Tottenham and I'm not sure it's one Tim Sherwood's side are ready to pass.

Benfica are powering their way to another Portuguese Liga title and haven't lost a game of any description since they were beaten 1-0 by Olympiacos in November - a result which doesn't look too bad in light of the Greek side's recent exploits.

What's even more impressive is that they've not conceded a goal with 11 men on the field since December, with their only subsequent concession coming after defender Guilherme Siqueira had been sent off at Gil Vicente.

Clearly, they're not often asked to play sides as capable as Tottenham but they travel to White Hart Lane at a good time, with Sherwood's side coming in for criticism from all angles after their disastrous second-half display against Chelsea.

Poor performances against England's best teams has been something of a theme for Spurs of late.

They've been thumped by Manchester City twice and were on the end of a hiding from Liverpool before rolling over against Chelsea and it has to be a concern that their inexperienced manager may not be capable of galvanising let alone organising his men for a serious test against a technically gifted and well-drilled outfit like Benfica.

While it would be unfair to describe Spurs' last-16 victory over Dnipro as fortunate it was at best unconvincing and although there's a risk Benfica could use their defensive quality to settle for a draw and therefore an advantage, at upwards of 2/1 they're surely worth chancing to take a big step towards the quarter-finals.

The other game which interests me involves Lyon, who are perhaps a shade overpriced to beat Plzen.

Lyon haven't had a productive season by their own high standards but things have picked up of late and, by all accounts, they deserved to reach this stage of the competition with what's become a customary 1-0 home win last time.

Plzen showcased their abilities at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season when giving Manchester City a rare old fright, but my feeling was City took them for granted and I can't imagine Lyon will make the same mistake.

The French side are just a shade of odds-against and that price may pay too much respect to Plzen's defeat of Shakhtar in the last round, when they produced what's best described as a smash-and-grab double-salvo in the first half to stun the Ukrainians.

On balance, Lyon should perhaps be closer to the 4/6 mark than 19/20 and although stakes are best kept to a minimum, they look worth a bet.


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