The Europa League takes centre stage on Thursday night and both semi-final first-legs are intriguing for differing reasons.
One features two big names who will feel they deserve a place in the final at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais on May 16, while the other features a resurgent force taking on a surprise package.
Arsenal’s clash with Atletico Madrid looks set to be a tactical affair while the game between Marseille and Red Bull Salzburg appears primed to explode with goals.
Now that Arsene Wenger has confirmed he will leave The Emirates in the summer, a maiden European trophy on his CV would be fitting and his side are 3/1 to win this tournament. The Frenchman has overseen defeats in both the UEFA Cup and Champions League finals during his tenure and a last piece of silverware would prove a fitting end to a reign that has arguably gone on a couple of years too long.
Arsenal have struggled on the road in 2018 but have been stellar at home in recent times, winning their last six. That streak has included wins over both AC Milan and CSKA Moscow and they are 6/4 to make it a trio of European victories.
Atleti won this tournament in both 2010 and 2012, while they also reached the Champions League finals in 2014 and 2016. Los Colchoneros are the 11/10 favourites to win this competition but head to England in rotten form.
One win in five has stalled their momentum and they come into this game on the back of a 3-0 defeat at Real Sociedad and a 0-0 home draw against Real Betis. Like Arsenal, the Europa League is now their only opportunity for silverware.
They will be without Diego Costa on Thursday due to his persistent hamstring issues but that loss is offset by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being cup-tied for the hosts.
Alexandre Lacazette will start up front for the home side and having netted three times in his last two outings, is 6/4 in the Anytime Goalscorer market.
Lacazette’s ammunition is likely to be provided by the resurgent Danny Welbeck, while Jack Wilshere is a doubt after being rested in recent weeks.
Griezmann especially will be one to keep an eye on and needs to find his form again ahead of the World Cup. France’s hopes largely rest square on the 27-year-old’s shoulders and although he is still 6/4 in the Anytime Goalscorer market, he has scored just once in four matches.
There will be plenty of quality on display on what will the first time these sides have met competitively. There could also be goals, with Arsenal the tournament’s highest scorers with 29.
Despite Atleti’s reputation for being tight at the back, they have struggled in recent weeks and a home win and both to score could be on the cards at 7/2.
In the other game Red Bull Salzburg head to the Riviera to face Marseille in what promises to be an open affair. These teams met in Group I but could only find a goal between them as the Austrians edged to a 1-0 advantage over their two games.
Both sealed impressive quarter-final triumphs, with Les Phoceens dominating RB Leipzig, while Die Roten Bullen overturned a first-leg deficit to eliminate Lazio. Despite the cagey nature of their previous games, there were a combined 19 goals over the four legs in the quarter-finals these two played and this is likely to be the more entertaining of the two Europa League semis.
Marseille famously won the Champions League in 1993 with a team featuring Fabian Barthez, Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly, three men who would help France win the World Cup in 1998, while Alen Boksic and Rudi Voller were also in that line-up. A domestic bribery scandal still overshadows their success in the history books but they have shown fleeting moments of brilliance, notably losing to Valencia in the final of this competition in 2004.
Following Frank McCourt’s investment, their current squad is a bit of a rogue’s gallery of players who have either not lived up to expectations elsewhere or simply fallen out with their previous team-mates. Dimitri Payet (2/1 Anytime Scorer) and Florian Thauvin certainly fall into that category but seem to be at home at The Stade Velodrome. Their team are unbeaten in eight in Europe on their own turf and are 5/8 to win on Thursday, while they can be backed at 33/10 to win the tournament.
Die Roten Bullen are less famous but at 6/1 for the Europa League outright, finally seem to be producing the continental form their domestic dominance has promised. A victory on Thursday would be massive and they are 4/1 to triumph, with the draw 3/1.
Much like sister club Leipzig, they have a combination of exciting youngsters and rough diamonds and despite this being their 19th Europa League game, still seem to have something in their locker having won the last four in all competitions.
They only conceded once in the group stages and also kept a clean sheet at home to Borussia Dortmund. Lazio did, however, expose areas of weakness, but Salzburg hit back in attack and have done throughout the Europa League. Both Valon Berisha and Moanes Dabbur have scored five in this tournament, and are 33/10 and 7/4 respectably in the Anytime Scorer market, while Stefan Lainer has five assists.
Marco Rose’s men have also scored twice in five of their last six European matches and are unlikely to freeze on the big stage. The 41-year-old is a new name on the scene and will have his work cut out against the wily Rudi Garcia.
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