While Europe’s biggest and brightest clubs compete in the Champions League this week, I’ve been tasked with covering the continent’s ugly stepsister tournament – the Europa League.
And though I am obviously grateful to be given a break from the usual League One and League Two prediction antics in midweek, the match-up of Newcastle United and Maritimo could be as tough a nut to crack as the average Rotherham United encounter.
After all, while the Toon Army may be installed as heavy favourites at 21/50, Alan Pardew’s boys have struggled for form in the Premier League of late, heading into this one on the back of a disappointing home defeat to Swansea City.
That said, in Maritimo, they face a side in similarly dodgy form and the Portuguese minnows are rank outsiders for a win at 27/4, perhaps because they have been prone to shipping a fair few goals in Europe so far this season.
Maritimo have conceded one goal in the first half of their last two Europa League encounters and with Newcastle enjoying home advantage, backing the Magpies to score a single goal in the first half could offer solid returns at 29/20.
St James’ Park has proven to be something of a fortress for Newcastle in this competition, with Pardew’s team keeping a clean sheet in each of their previous three home encounters.
It may not offer the best odds, but as a big-money banker bet, you could back the Toon Army to make it four games without conceding a goal at home in the Europa League at 91/100.
Punters with an eye on Newcastle’s previous results could also be tempted to back them to win handsomely. Last time out in Europe, Maritimo lost 1-0 to Bordeaux – a team that the Magpies duly dispatched 3-0 at St James’ earlier in the season.
With odds of 31/4 on Newcastle winning 3-0 yet again, that could translate into winnings of £175 for anyone using bwin’s free £20 bet for registering.
However, my money will be on Pardew’s men notching exactly once in the first half – whether that translates to a victory which would send them through to the last 32 remains to be seen.