The Europe League is back in February and the draw has produced a number of mouth watering ties. The competition is enhanced by two of the great clubs of European club football dropping down from the Champions League adding top quality players and the potential for a number of classic matches in the latter stages. Both five-time Champions League winners Liverpool and twice champions Juventus failed to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League, adding to already disappointing domestic campaigns. They will go into the Europa League knockout stages with all guns blazing in an attempt to salvage their seasons. Three British sides remain in the competition and all of them have tough ties with Liverpool drawing Romanian Champions Unirea Uriziceni, Fulham facing holders Shakhtar Donetsk and Everton taking on the inconsistent geniuses of Sporting Lisbon. Liverpool Liverpool, who won the competition in 2001, were disappointing in the Champions League and failed to come through a relatively easy group featuring Fiorentina, Lyon and Hungarian champions Debrecen. The team has also struggled in the league, losing a number of key players to injury at crucial times and will be looking towards the Europa League as their last chance of success this season. The Romanian club impressed in a tough Champions League group, losing out to Sevilla and Stuttgart but beating Scottish champions Rangers to secure third spot. However they recently lost their charismatic manager Dan Petrescu who resigned after complaining about the club’s board. Despite this they remain second in the league and will fancy their chances against a Liverpool side low on confidence. Prediction: Liverpool to win at Anfield and just hold on in the second leg to go through. Overall, Liverpool are one of the best Europa League bets on offer and could still offer value despite being favourites. Fulham Fulham have possibly the hardest tie of the round against holders Shakhtar Donetsk. This is the Cottagers’ first year in Europe and they qualified thanks to a 3-2 victory away in Basle. The team is currently quite thin with key men Bobby Zamora, Clint Dempsey and John Pantsil all sidelined, but Roy Hodgson has built a strong squad on a budget and will find someone to plug the gaps. In contrast, Shakhtar Donetsk have an embarrassment of riches with a squad made up of a mixture of talented home grown players and flamboyant foreigners, including their brilliant captain the mercurial Darijo Srna. He has the ability to rip any team apart if he’s in the mood. Shakhtar are currently second in the Ukrainian league behind great rivals Dynamo Kiev and are enjoying a rich vein of form. They will go into the tie with confidence. The weather could also be an issue in deciding the tie and it will favour the Ukrainian side. When the two teams play the return fixture in Donetsk, the temperature is likely to be below freezing which will suit the home team and is one of the reasons they have yet to beaten at home in Europe’s second tier competition. Prediction: Fulham to draw at home but Donetsk to win their home game comfortably. Everton Everton are the other British team still to be involved in the competition and face the inconsistent Sporting Lisbon from Portugal. Everton have struggled with injuries this season and have played a largely second string team throughout the competition in order to rest key players and give their youngsters important experience. However key man Mikel Arteta should be back for the tie and the Toffees will fancy their chances if all their stars are back playing. They also have the extra motivation of a possible dream final against city rivals Liverpool. Sporting won the competition back in 2005 and are seen as an enigma by football pundits. Both them and their city rivals Benfica continually produce top quality sides but both almost always disappoint in Europe. The Lions have the talent to be one of the top teams in Europe with players like Moutinho, Veloso and Fernanades but have been plagued by inconsistency and poor form. On a good day they could beat Barcelona but on a bad one they’d be troubled by Bournemouth. You never really know what you’re going to get. They currently lie fourth in the Portuguese league and are 12 points behind bitter rivals Benfica who are top. Sporting will be looking at the Europa League as their last chance to win something with this side before the big names inevitably leave in pursuit of glory abroad. Prediction: Lisbon to come back from a disappointing away leg to win by a single goal. Elsewhere in the pick of the ties is between Juventus and Ajax in a repeat of the 1996 Champions League final. Both teams will fancy their chances but in the end Juve’s quality will show and they’ll win by a couple of goals. Another tie which should interest sports betting experts will be Athletico Madrid against Galatasaray. Both sides are equally inconsistent and the tie will definitely be a high scoring affair. Athletico’s wonderkid Sergio Aguero could be the difference. Europa Cup First Knockout Round Fixtures: Ajax v Juventus Athletic Bilbao v Anderlecht Athletico Madrid v Galatasary Club Brugge v Valencia Everton v Sporting Lisbon FC Copenhagen v Marseille FC Twente v Werder Bremen Fulham v Shakhtar Donetsk Hamburg v PSV Hertha Berlin v Benfica Lille v Fenerbahce Liverpool v Unirea Urziceni Panathinaikos v Roma Rubin Kazan v Hapoel Tel-Aviv Standard Liege v SV Red Bull Salzburg Villarreal v Wolfsburg
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Europa League preview

The Europe League is back in February and the draw has produced a number of mouth watering ties. The competition is enhanced by two of the great clubs of European club football dropping down from the Champions League adding top quality players and the potential for a number of classic matches in the latter stages. Both five-time Champions League winners Liverpool and twice champions Juventus failed to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League, adding to already disappointing domestic campaigns. They will go into the Europa League knockout stages with all guns blazing in an attempt to salvage their seasons. Three British sides remain in the competition and all of them have tough ties with Liverpool drawing Romanian Champions Unirea Uriziceni, Fulham facing holders Shakhtar Donetsk and Everton taking on the inconsistent geniuses of Sporting Lisbon. Liverpool Liverpool, who won the competition in 2001, were disappointing in the Champions League and failed to come through a relatively easy group featuring Fiorentina, Lyon and Hungarian champions Debrecen. The team has also struggled in the league, losing a number of key players to injury at crucial times and will be looking towards the Europa League as their last chance of success this season. The Romanian club impressed in a tough Champions League group, losing out to Sevilla and Stuttgart but beating Scottish champions Rangers to secure third spot. However they recently lost their charismatic manager Dan Petrescu who resigned after complaining about the club’s board. Despite this they remain second in the league and will fancy their chances against a Liverpool side low on confidence. Prediction: Liverpool to win at Anfield and just hold on in the second leg to go through. Overall, Liverpool are one of the best Europa League bets on offer and could still offer value despite being favourites. Fulham Fulham have possibly the hardest tie of the round against holders Shakhtar Donetsk. This is the Cottagers’ first year in Europe and they qualified thanks to a 3-2 victory away in Basle. The team is currently quite thin with key men Bobby Zamora, Clint Dempsey and John Pantsil all sidelined, but Roy Hodgson has built a strong squad on a budget and will find someone to plug the gaps. In contrast, Shakhtar Donetsk have an embarrassment of riches with a squad made up of a mixture of talented home grown players and flamboyant foreigners, including their brilliant captain the mercurial Darijo Srna. He has the ability to rip any team apart if he’s in the mood. Shakhtar are currently second in the Ukrainian league behind great rivals Dynamo Kiev and are enjoying a rich vein of form. They will go into the tie with confidence. The weather could also be an issue in deciding the tie and it will favour the Ukrainian side. When the two teams play the return fixture in Donetsk, the temperature is likely to be below freezing which will suit the home team and is one of the reasons they have yet to beaten at home in Europe’s second tier competition. Prediction: Fulham to draw at home but Donetsk to win their home game comfortably. Everton Everton are the other British team still to be involved in the competition and face the inconsistent Sporting Lisbon from Portugal. Everton have struggled with injuries this season and have played a largely second string team throughout the competition in order to rest key players and give their youngsters important experience. However key man Mikel Arteta should be back for the tie and the Toffees will fancy their chances if all their stars are back playing. They also have the extra motivation of a possible dream final against city rivals Liverpool. Sporting won the competition back in 2005 and are seen as an enigma by football pundits. Both them and their city rivals Benfica continually produce top quality sides but both almost always disappoint in Europe. The Lions have the talent to be one of the top teams in Europe with players like Moutinho, Veloso and Fernanades but have been plagued by inconsistency and poor form. On a good day they could beat Barcelona but on a bad one they’d be troubled by Bournemouth. You never really know what you’re going to get. They currently lie fourth in the Portuguese league and are 12 points behind bitter rivals Benfica who are top. Sporting will be looking at the Europa League as their last chance to win something with this side before the big names inevitably leave in pursuit of glory abroad. Prediction: Lisbon to come back from a disappointing away leg to win by a single goal. Elsewhere in the pick of the ties is between Juventus and Ajax in a repeat of the 1996 Champions League final. Both teams will fancy their chances but in the end Juve’s quality will show and they’ll win by a couple of goals. Another tie which should interest sports betting experts will be Athletico Madrid against Galatasaray. Both sides are equally inconsistent and the tie will definitely be a high scoring affair. Athletico’s wonderkid Sergio Aguero could be the difference. Europa Cup First Knockout Round Fixtures: Ajax v Juventus Athletic Bilbao v Anderlecht Athletico Madrid v Galatasary Club Brugge v Valencia Everton v Sporting Lisbon FC Copenhagen v Marseille FC Twente v Werder Bremen Fulham v Shakhtar Donetsk Hamburg v PSV Hertha Berlin v Benfica Lille v Fenerbahce Liverpool v Unirea Urziceni Panathinaikos v Roma Rubin Kazan v Hapoel Tel-Aviv Standard Liege v SV Red Bull Salzburg Villarreal v Wolfsburg
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