Europa League Betting: Inter Milan can be Kings of Europa
There may be plenty of unanswered questions about the conclusion of this year's Europa League, but there's also a stand-out bet, says Jamie Pacheco...
What's the latest on finishing the Europa League?
In normal circumstances, we'd be pretty close to knowing who the likeliest winner of the Europa League was, because we'd be approaching the competition's climax very soon. But of course, these aren't normal circumstances.
The possibility of it simply not being completed is real but somewhat unlikely. Being completed in the usual format is the next strongest possibility. But perhaps the most likely scenario of all though is a truncated Europa League where remaining rounds are played at neutral venues in one-off matches. That could mean the final rounds being played as part of a mini-tournament where the matches take place over a short period of time, with just a couple of days in between them.
And that's without even discussing 'when' the games could take place. Reading between the lines it seems that UEFA's preference is for the domestic leagues to be completed first before everyone turns their full attention to the two UEFA competitions.
So, it's against this backdrop of uncertainty that we're trying to find the winner of it at a good price. We have to assume that the competition will be completed one way or another and that unlike say PSG in the Champions League (Ligue 1 has been called off and they will have to play home games abroad), changes to the format won't necessarily favour one team over another.
Inter Milan, a8.00 chance, may just be the team who tick the most boxes.
Conte up there with the best
About 15 years ago Betting.Betfair's Serie A and MLS expert Dave Farrar told me that when looking at the sides at the business end of European competitions who could go all the way, you should focus more on the manager than the players, or the club's reputation.
It makes sense. The ability to keep a clean sheet at home, grab an away goal, shut up shop during a match or manage a one-goal lead from the first leg are how managers earn their corn in this competition. And they're very different set of skills from the daily grind of managing a side in their domestic league over 34-38 matches.
If that's the case, then Inter should be favourites because I'm not sure there's a better manager in charge of Europa League side than Antonio Conte. He handled the pressure well at Juventus in his first big job and took them as far as he could. He took an extremely ordinary Italy side to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 where they were unlucky to go out on penalties to Germany after beating Spain and Belgium along the way and then went on and made Chelsea the first side in Premier League history to be champions using a 3-5-2 system.
Obsessed with tactics, obsessed with winning, obsessed with discipline and fitness, he won't be every player's cup of tea.
At least you know that with him, nothing is ever left to chance. During the lockdown, he's set every player a strict training regime and diet and doesn't expect anyone to return so much as a kilo heavier or a yard of pace slower. The devil is in the detail, as the say.
Best squad, as well
I'm not sure there's a stronger squad than Inter's, either. It's a rather strange assortment of players including a strong (ex) Manchester United presence: Alexis Sanchez is on loan while Romelu Lukaku (in the summer) and Ashley Young (January) both joined on a permanent basis and have become vital cogs for Conte. Lukaku is already on 17 goals from just 25 league appearances; excellent by Serie A standards.
Victor Moses, an old favourite from Conte's time at Chelsea, is perfect as a wing-back in that 3-5-2 system, though he hasn't featured so much as of yet.
We may have to wait till next season to see the best of Christian Eriksen who also only arrived in January but he's a class act and it would be a surprise if we don't get a crucial goal or assist from him at some stage in this season's Europa League.
Stefan de Vrij and the uber-experienced Diego Godin are very solid in the heart of defence, in front of keeper and captain Samir Handanovic.
Striker Lautaro Martinez has half of Europe desperate for his signature including PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid, which makes him the jewel in a crown packed with talented, high-quality and for the most part, vastly experienced internationals.
Draw opening up
Getafe aren't the easiest side they could have drawn for their last 16 tie. They are after all fifth in La Liga, ahead of the likes of Atletico Madrid.
They're just one point behind third-placed Sevilla and tied with Real Sociedad so logic suggest they're going to make a high league finish their priority. Their bitter fight for a Champions League place - something they've never managed before- may mean their Europa League campaign is somewhat sacrificed. Even if they do go all guns blazing in Europe as well, Inter are still 1.63 favourites to knock them out.
We already know that one of Roma or Sevilla will crash out in this round because they're playing each other. If Conte were to come up against Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, I fear the likeable Norwegian would be on the receiving end of a tactical masterclass from Conte.
Wolves and Nuno Espirito Santo deserve respect for his management skills, the quality of their squad and their ability to always put up a fight but then again, these are unchartered waters they're currently sailing in.
In other words, Inter may not have much to beat.
Up until their last two matches, Inter were very much in the Serie A title race. But they then went and lost back-to-back matches against the sides they really couldn't afford to lose to: Lazio (2-1) and Juventus (2-0), the only two sides above them in the table. They're now eight points behind Lazio and nine off Juventus, albeit with a game in hand over both. Conte will feel this year's race is run and with little or no danger of not finishing Top 4, he can fully focus on winning the Europa League.
We've touched on both these factors already but the possibility that the Inter players will return to action fitter than most and that theirs is a richer squad with more depth than just about anyone else's, means they may be better prepared for the unique challenges of completing this most unusual of seasons than the field. They're a strong selection.