Europa League Tips: Battered Bayer feeling the strain

We have five more Europa League selections, and Kevin Hatchard says some key injuries could cost Bayer Leverkusen their place in the tournament.

Atalanta can build on lively win

Bayer Leverkusen v Atalanta
Thursday 17 March, 17:45
Live on BT Sport

It's been a sobering few days for Bayer Leverkusen. Firstly, they were far too easy to play against in a 3-2 first-leg loss against Atalanta in Bergamo, and then they lost a Rhineland derby 1-0 at home to Köln. To make matters worse, their best player was ruled out for the rest of the season, as 18-year-old midfield magician Florian Wirtz damaged an ACL.

Bayer are now without Wirtz, star striker Patrik Schick and rampaging right-back Jeremie Frimpong for Thursday's game (he's also out for the rest of the season), and they have now won just one of their last five matches. A lot rests on the shoulders of in-form winger Moussa Diaby, who scored a superb goal in the first leg.

Atalanta are far from their best, but Ruslan Malinovskyi and Luis Muriel were too hot to handle for Bayer last week, and I think that could be the case again. Leverkusen have a tendency to overcommit when chasing a game or a tie, and without Wirtz they've lost a big chunk of creativity. I'll back Atalanta +0 & +0.5 on the Asian Handicap here at 1.88. We get a half-win if the game is drawn, and a full pay-out if Atalanta win.

Dembele can make his mark

Lyon v Porto
Thursday 17 March, 20:00
Live on BT Sport

Lyon's rollercoaster season under attack-minded evangelist Peter Bosz shows no signs of rattling along evenly instead of lurching from corkscrew to corkscrew. The team that has beaten Marseille, Monaco and Porto recently was absolutely hammered by Rennes at home at the weekend. Les Gones were 4-0 down at one stage before eventually losing 4-2.

Something that's a little more consistent is the performances of striker Moussa Dembele. The former Celtic frontman set up the only goal of the first leg for Lucas Paqueta, and he has found the net in six of his last nine appearances. Reports suggest that form has been noticed by several clubs, including Manchester United.

Porto are always competitive, but last week's defeat was a big blow, and they have looked more fragile defensively than usual in Europe this season. They leaked 11 goals across six group-stage games in the UCL, and they let in three goals across two games against Lazio in the UEL playoff round.

I'll back Dembele to score here at 2.5, and then we don't have to worry about whether Lyon will blow the tie or not.

Don't count out Monaco just yet

Monaco v Braga
Thursday 17 March, 17:45
Live on BT Sport

Sometimes a late goal can change the complexion of a tie, and Vitinha's late header last week gave Braga a 2-0 lead to defend at the Stade Louis II. It was a flattering scoreline to some extent, as Monaco conceded a clumsy opener, and Braga keeper Matheus was forced into a couple of phenomenal saves with the score at 1-0. According to Infogol, Monaco shaded the xG battle 1.65 to 1.33.

On that basis, I'm not sure this tie is done yet. Monaco have won ten of their last 15 home games, and seven of those wins were by at least two goals. There is quality and experience in several departments, although I maintain that the progression of German goalkeeper Alexander Nübel has stalled completely.

Braga have lost seven of their last 11 away games in all competitions, including a 6-1 hammering at Benfica, a 5-1 loss at Boavista and a 2-0 loss at Sheriff in the previous round.

You could be bold and back Monaco to qualify at 2.88, but I'll be more conservative and back them -1.0 on the Asian Handicap at 1.9. If the Monegasques win by a goal, we get our stake back, but if they win by more, we get a full pay-out.

Kostic can have his say

Eintracht Frankfurt v Real Betis
Thursday 17 March, 20:00
Live on BT Sport

While the likes of Andre Silva, Sebastien Haller, Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic have all moved on to bigger but not always better things, Eintracht Frankfurt have been able to retain the services of Serbian wing wizard Filip Kostic. A move to Lazio fell through in the summer, much to Kostic's annoyance, but to his credit he has knuckled down and contributed consistently to the team's success.

Eintracht were excellent in Seville last week, with Kostic scoring an early opener, and Betis found it incredibly difficult to contain the Eagles. Manuel Pellegrini's men are 2-1 down after that game, and have now conceded at least twice in five of their last nine games. It could well be that fighting on three fronts (they are in the final of the Copa del Rey) is draining the energy levels of the squad.

Kostic has four goals and ten assists across the Europa League and Bundesliga, and this is the kind of night he thrives on. I'll split one unit across two markets here - the To Score market at 4.0 and the Anytime Assist market at 2.7.

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