Benfica to end AZ’s easy ride in Europe

BenficaAZ has enjoyed an armchair ride to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League but things are about to get tougher for the Dutch Eredivisie team versus Benfica in the last eight.

One can only beat the sides put in front of one and AZ has registered six wins, five draws and one loss in its 12 UEFA Europa League games against Anzhi, Atromitos, Maccabi Haifa, PAOK, Shakhter Karagandy and Slovan Liberec, with its only defeat coming versus Atromitos when it played all bar the first minute with one men fewer than its Greek opponent.

But the truth is that AZ has been handed a place in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals by a soft draw and its seventh place on the Dutch Eredivisie ladder is a better indication of its merits. And remember that AZ qualified for the UEFA Europa League by virtue of winning the Dutch KNVB Beker in a season in which it finished 10th in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Benfica is a class or three above AZ. Assigning much merit to victories over Tottenham in the current climate may be folly but, on a line through PAOK, there is no doubt that the Portuguese Primeira Liga team is ahead of AZ. Benfica beat PAOK 1-0 in Greece and 3-0 in Portugal over the space of eight February days. PAOK had qualified for the UEFA Europa League from the same group as AZ, with the two round-robin matches both ending with honours shared.

Youwin is offering odds of 1.80 that Benfica does the heavy lifting of its UEFA Europa League quarter-final tie versus AZ by winning in the Netherlands. AZ is going through a rough trot – it has not scored in three of its last four games – and lines up against a Benfica side that must be getting excited about its chance of winning the event.

Only Juventus is listed ahead of Benfica in betting on the UEFA Europa League winner and that has a lot to do with the final being scheduled for Juve’s home ground on 14 May. Lyon stands between Juventus and the UEFA Europa League last four, with bookmakers rating Juve at odds on to win the first leg in France and take a stranglehold on the tie.

Juventus will run out to face Lyon having had its 13-match unbeaten run in all competitions – make that 22 games in Italian Serie A – ended by Napoli. The world is not going to fall in on Juventus because it has lost one match and one that is unlikely to cost it the Italian Serie A title. When all is said and done, Juventus has won three of its last four games, which is how Lyon’s recent results read. They include a 2-3 French Ligue 1 home loss to second-placed Monaco and a 1-2 home loss in the same tournament to Saint-Etienne, which is fourth on the latest ladder.

Several bookmakers, including 888sport and Unibet and , are offering odds of 1.75 that Juventus beat Lyon in France. While Juventus may not be as attractively priced as Benfica in their respective UEFA Europa League quarter-final first legs, Juve are still worth backing to win on the road.

Finally, Valencia looks like a classic false favourite for its UEFA Europa League last-eight first leg versus Basel in Switzerland. One thinks that bookmakers are reading too much into Valencia’s UEFA Europa League away numbers of five wins from five matches. One’s theory is that Valencia, which has a well earned reputation in the Spanish Primera Division for being a poor traveller, has simply had a class edge over its UEFA Europa League opponents but now, at the business end of the competition, it faces a much tougher opponent in Basel.

Here are some facts. Valencia has the worst away record of any Spanish Primera Division team in the top 14 and that is in spite of producing the shock result of the campaign when defeating Barcelona 3-2 at the Camp Nou. Valencia has scored only 13 goals in its 15 Spanish Primera Division road games. And Valencia is about to play a Basel side that has not lost either any of its last 12 home matches or any of its last 16 games irrespective of venue. Basel is over the odds at 3.10 with 888sport and Unibet to take a lead to Valencia.

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