There are now just four teams remaining in the Europa League and the winner will earn a place in next season’s Champions League. The stakes are high, particularly for favorite Man Utd, which is not guaranteed to finish in the top for in the Premiership and qualify the normal way. They are the biggest team left in the competition by some distance and should be able to get past Celta Vigo. The other semi-final, which sees Ajax take on Lyon, looks tighter, but Lyon is expected to progress. Here we preview both first leg ties:
Ajax v Lyon
Lyon will have home advantage in the all-important second leg, but first, they need to go to Amsterdam and get a result against Ajax. The Dutch side is second in the Eredivisie, and just three points above third-placed PSV, so they are not guaranteed of reaching next season’s Champions League as just two Dutch teams qualify. Lyon is 20 points below third-placed Nice in Ligue 1, so this is also their only chance of earning the riches of Champions League football in 2017-18.
Lyon is the favorite to qualify: Paddy Power has -150 on Lyon and +138 on Ajax. But Lyon suffered a blow in the quarter-final when star striker Alexandre Lacazette was injured as they scraped through against Besiktas via a penalty shoot-out, and he is unlikely to play a part in this semi-final. Lyon is also in poor form, losing five of its last nine games. Ajax is the favorite to win this first leg tie, and that makes sense as it has won all six home games in the Europa League this season, while it has also won most of its home games in the Eredivisie. Given the injury to Lacazette and Lyon’s poor form, Ajax should win this one and the odds are good: +130 with Bet365 and various other green listed bookmakers.
Celta Vigo v Man Utd
This tie is huge for Jose Mourinho’s side as Man Utd hunt silverware and that vital guarantee of Champions League football next season, which brings with it heaps of cash from a share of TV revenue, plus the pulling power to attract some of the world’s best players in the transfer window, all of whom want to play on the biggest stage. Mourinho is a specialist at knockout competitions because he is so good at studying an opponent's weaknesses and setting up his team to exploit them. That’s why he won the Champions League at Porto and Inter, knocking out better teams in the process. His Man Utd side has already won the EFL Cup in England this season and is now homing in on the second piece of silverware.
Man Utd is -110 to win it and that looks a good bet right now as they are by far the biggest team left. Lyon, who knocked out Roma, is the +375 second favorite, and without Lacazette they will struggle. Man Utd is -250 to qualify here, and that looks like money in the bank. Celta Vigo has lost its last three games and slumped to 11th in the table. Man Utd has a better manager and better players and over 180 minutes should progress. However, backing Man Utd to win this first leg tie looks risky. In the last 16, they drew away at Rostov and then won the home leg, and it was the same in the quarters as they drew away at Anderlecht and then won at home to progress. They are a cautious team and it would not be a surprise to see a draw here, and odds of +275 with Bwin look good. That claim is bolstered by looking at the correct score betting lines, where 1-1 is the favorite, and +550 at William Hill looks good there after Man Utd drew 1-1 with Rostov and with Anderlecht away. Man Utd have emerged as the draw kings of the Premiership this season, drawing far more games than any other team, and the injury of leading goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic will hit them