We've got a bumper crop of five Europa League selections, and Kevin Hatchard believes UEL specialists Sevilla will reach the last 16 in style.
End of the road for Romanians
Sevilla v CFR Cluj Thursday 27 February, 20:00 Live on BT Sport
Julen Lopetegui's reputation lay in ruins before he got to Sevilla. Having agreed a deal with Real Madrid without the knowledge of his superiors at the RFEF, he was fired as Spain boss on the eve of the 2018 World Cup finals. To make matters worse, his dream move to the Bernabeu turned into an unrelenting nightmare, and after a 5-1 hammering against Barcelona he was dismissed in the October of his first season. To many, he had betrayed his country, and been rewarded with abject failure and humiliation.
Now Lopetegui is showing what a good coach he is. Aided and abetted by sporting director Monchi, who is back at his spiritual home after a mixed sojourn at Roma, Lopetegui has dealt with a big turnover of players which included the loss of outstanding striker Wissam Ben Yedder. Sevilla's 3-0 win at Getafe at the weekend boosted their hopes of reaching the Champions League, and they have lost just two of their last eight games. If you look at their Europa League home record, they have won 20 of their last 22 games at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
Cluj held Sevilla to a 1-1 draw in Romania last week, but they lost the Expected Goals battle, and scored from their only attempt on target (a penalty from star player Ciprian Deac.) Dan Petrescu's Liga I champions have done well to reach the knockout phase, but their away form in Europe suggests this will be the end of their adventure. In this season's UEL they lost at Dudelange, Celtic and Lazio, and didn't score a goal in any of those defeats. Even their 1-0 group-stage win at Rennes has to be put into context, as the French team were down to nine men for pretty much the entire second half.
Despite the likely absence of keeper Tomas Vaclik to injury, Sevilla should win this with room to spare. They haven't conceded a single goal at home in the UEL this term, and I'll back them -1.5 on the Asian Handicap here at 2.10.
Let's enjoy a Portuguese party
Benfica v Shakhtar Donetsk Thursday 27 February, 20:00 Live on BT Sport
Having slipped out of the Champions League in agonising fashion at home to Atalanta on Matchday Six, Shakhtar Donetsk are now trying to save their European season. They have given themselves a platform by winning 2-1 against Benfica in Ukraine, but they'll have to play very well to reach the last 16.
Benfica have won 12 of their last 13 home games in all competitions, although Bruno Lage's team is having a dip in form. A 3-2 defeat at Porto in O Classico (their second league defeat to the Dragons this term) means the title race is still wide open, and a 1-0 home defeat to Braga did them no favours either.
Benfica's three Champions League home matches all featured at least three goals, as did five of Shakhtar Donestsk's six group games in that competition. On the road in the UCL, Shakhtar certainly didn't play conservatively, and they scored six goals across their three away games.
A Shakhtar goal here would force the pace, and I think this will be a lively shootout. I'll back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.82.
Dragons to burn Bayer
Porto v Bayer Leverkusen Thursday 27 February, 17:55 Live on BT Sport
Bayer Leverkusen picked up a deserved 2-1 win against Porto in the first leg, as Kai Havertz's twice-taken penalty proved to be the winner. However, you can never underestimate the quality and sheer bloody-mindedness of Sergio Conceicao's Porto.
Bayer's recent away form isn't quite as impressive as it may seem. They lost at Hoffenheim, scraped a 3-2 win at Union Berlin with virtually the last kick of the game, and did exactly the same thing in a 1-0 success at Mainz. In the Champions League, they lost two of their three away matches in the group phase, and didn't score in either defeat. The loss of relentlessly reliable striker Kevin Volland to an ankle injury as a massive blow, and influential midfielder Charles Aranguiz isn't fully fit.
Porto haven't impressed in their last couple of games, but they have won six of their last eight games in all competitions, and they have won 12 of their last 13 at the Dragao. In the group stage they took seven points from their three home matches.
Apart from veteran defender Pepe, Porto have no fresh injury worries, and I'll back them to qualify here at 2.66.
Don't count Ajax out yet
Ajax v Getafe Thursday 27 February, 20:00 Live on BT Sport
Ajax were well and truly Getafe'd last week, losing 2-0 on the out
skirts of Madrid. The Spanish serial overachievers made life incredibly difficult at the Coliseum, and a deflected second goal late on has put Erik ten Hag's side in big trouble.
Getafe are in the mix for Champions League qualification thanks to their relentless work without the ball and excellent coaching by Jose Bordalas. However, as brutally effective as their football can be, they do sometimes have games against quality sides that see them rolled over. At the weekend they lost 3-0 at home to Sevilla, they lost by the same scoreline to Real Madrid, and even though they only lost 2-1 at Barcelona recently, the hosts dominated early on and could've won by a bigger margin.
Obviously, I recognise that Ajax are in a very difficult position against a dogged and determined side, but they have the experience of last season's run to the UCL semi-finals behind them, and the qualities of Hakim Ziyech, Donny Van de Beek and Dusan Tadic. They have won their last five home matches, and they've secured home victories against Feyenoord and PSV without conceding a goal.
If you want a conservative option, back Ajax to win the second leg at 1.88, but if you want to be more bold, back Ajax to qualify at 5.60.
Wolves to complete job in style
Espanyol v Wolves Thursday 27 February, 17:55 Live on BT Sport
Wolves underlined their status as Europa League dark horses last week (they are trading at 8.80to win it), as they crushed Espanyol 4-0 at Molineux. Diogo Jota scored his second hat-trick of the tournament, and Ruben Neves scored arguably the goal of the tournament, taking the ball on his chest before smashing in a long-range volley.
Wolves have won all but one of their away games in the UEL, and I'll back them to win again here against an Espanyol team that has a relegation battle to fight. A 2-1 defeat at Real Valladolid at the weekend left them bottom of the table, and they are likely to rest players ahead of a home game against Atletico Madrid.