Europa League: Ranieri’s Roma face CSKA test
Hertha head for more agony, Bremen to expose Bilbao and Sofia aim to upset Roman applecart. TSR takes a look ahead to the best of Thursday night’s Europa league action.
Sporting Lisbon v Hertha Berlin
They may have lost to Porto at the weekend but Sporting Lisbon are great value at 1.53 to take the spoils at home to Hertha Berlin on Thursday. Sporting’s defeat leaves them fifth in the Portuguese standings but that is no disgrace, certainly not compared to rock-bottom Bundesliga outfit Hertha, who, after receiving another home hammering at the hands of Hoffenheim on Saturday, parted with their manager Lucien Favre this week.
Sunday’s 5-1 thrashing was the last straw for the club from the German capital – particularly considering they were trounced 4-0 only the previous week by unfancied Freiburg. Former Germany captain Lothar Matthaus has been linked with the vacant role but looks unlikely to arrive in time to spare Hertha further agony in Portugal. That onerous task, for the time being, has fallen to the club’s Under-23 coach Karsten Heine.
Hertha, who have lost six out of seven league matches, have conceded 17 goals in six matches and, with their 1-1 draw with Europa league also-rans Ventspils apart, have not been involved in a match in which less than three goals have been scored for seven matches.
Sporting, by contrast, won four matches on the bounce before their narrow defeat to Porto – a game in which they hit the bar. Furthermore, their 3-2 win in the last round of this competition highlighted the attacking menace posed by Liedsen. The naturalised Portuguese hit a hat-trick in Herenveen and will be rubbing his hands at the prospect of helping himself again here.
Recommended Bet: Back Sporting to win at 1.53; Back over 2.5 goals @ 2.02
Werder Bremen v Athletic Bilbao
On the face of it there is little to choose between these two sides. Werder lie fifth in the Bundesliga and Athletic sixth in La Liga, while both have tasted European success with opening Europa League wins. Closer scrutiny of the two sides, however, suggests that this is a match last year’s losing finalists should win comfortably.
Since suffering a 3-2 reverse to Eintracht Frankfurt on the opening day of the season Werder have responded with a magnificent run of results, going ten matches unbeaten, winning seven and scoring 23 goals in the process.
The permanent capture of Claudio Pizzarro, who scored twice in the 3-2 defeat of Portuguese side Nacional two weeks ago, has helped ease the pain of losing Diego to Juventus in the summer, while the Brazilian’s departure has enabled Mehmet Ozil to shine in the playmaker role.
Bilbao, meanwhile, are in something of a false league position, having acquired their La Liga points against modest and slow-starting opposition, such as Xerez, Espanyol and off-form Villarreal. Nothing should be taken away from Bilbao’s fine 3-0 win over Austria Vienna, but since then they have lost to Tenerife and been thrashed 4-0 by Seville. Free-scoring Werder Bremen simply have too much firepower for their Basque visitors.
Recommended Bets: Back Bremen to win at 1.71; Back over 2.5 goals @ 1.65
AS Roma v CSKA Sofia
Roma have had a difficult few months, with financial constraints restricting their summer spending to just two signings (Nicolas Burdisso and Stefano Guberti), constant to-ing and fro-ing over whether or not the club will be taken over and back-to-back defeats at the start of the season that saw coach Luciano Spalletti resign.
Spalletti’s replacement Claudio Ranieri announced upon his arrival that any Roma fans expecting his side to play in the same way as they did under his predecessor are very much mistaken. The Giallorossi have struggled for form, their 2-0 loss to FC Basel a disastrous performance by the Serie A side’s standards, but they have at least remained unbeaten in the league under the Tinkerman.
CSKA Sofia will fancy upsetting the applecart as Luboslav Penev’s men are top of the Bulgarian standings after six wins and a draw. They also earned a creditable draw against Fulham in their opening Europa League tie and, perhaps most tellingly of all, have lost just one away match in seven Europe outings when they lost 2-0 to Besiktas over three years ago.
Although Francesco Totti is rediscovering his form, Daniele De Rossi is scoring regularly from midfield and the Wolves were impressive when dispatching Fiorentina 3-1 on 20 September in Ranieri’s only home match to date, it is difficult to know which Roma will turn up.
For that reason – and the Bulgarian outfit’s consistent away form – it is worth backing the draw . It is also worth noting that Roma have developed a knack for scoring late goals – a feat they achieved when drawing 3-3 at Palermo and 1-1 at Catania recently. If you get the chance, back the minute of the last goal at between 80-90 mins.
Recommended Bets: Back draw at 6.0; Back 1-1 correct score @ 12.5