It’s been a brave and bold maiden voyage into the Europa League for Stoke City, but their expedition is about to be brought to a close in the port city of Valencia.
Tony Pulis and his boys have clocked up more miles than Phileas Fogg on this adventure but following Thursday night’s round of 32 second leg at the Mestalla, they can give their passports a breather for a couple of months at least.
Stoke’s rough and rugged approach was tamed by the cultured and composed continental sophistication of Valencia in the first leg as Unai Emery’s men gave the hosts a lesson in possession football to land a fatal 1-0 away first-leg lead.
Stranger things have happened in Europe, but with the Potters needing to win by scoring two goals in Valencia, bwin’s price of 7/1 for Stoke to make it through the tie with Valencia at 1/20 pretty much sums up the task.
Los Che are no great shakes themselves. They were poor in their Champions League group and capitulated against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge when presented with a chance to make it into the knockout stages, but even still, they should have no worries making hay here.
Stoke simply aren’t good enough and are not playing well enough to get much here and Valencia’s overall class and Euro nous should shine through.
Barring a trio of victories against lower-league opposition in the FA Cup, Stoke are in pretty miserable form themselves. They’ve won just one of their last nine Premier League games, scoring only six goals, so the chances of them scoring two or more here to progress are pretty bleak.
Even the odds on them winning the game outright aren’t too favourable, with bwin’s 3Way football betting market having Valencia at a very short 2/5 to win the match in 90 minutes, with Stoke out at 15/2 and the draw at 16/5.
The hosts have been in fine fettle on their own patch, winning seven of their last nine games and scoring 25 goals. Barcelona haven’t managed to win here in two visits this season so you can forget about Stoke usurping the European and world champions.
The visitors’ best chance of pulling off a miraculous reverse would be to keep it tight for as long as possible and nick one goal to take it to extra-time and possibly penalties, which fortunately doesn’t stray too far from Pulis’ remit at the best of times.
Valencia also rested key men for the first leg and with one foot in the next round and a crunch La Liga meeting with Sevilla to come on Sunday, Emery may choose to shuffle his pack and all in all this could be a low-scoring affair.
You can get 11/5 for Valencia to win a game featuring under 2.5 goals, while the Spaniards to triumph in match containing less than four goals is priced at evens.
If you fancy Stoke to hold on for a while before succumbing, the half-time draw/Valencia win is a tempting 16/5, although Valencia to win both halves at 23/10 is also appealing.
However, my pick is the good old-fashioned, no-nonsense 2-0 win. Stoke simply aren’t good enough and are not playing well enough to get much here and Valencia’s overall class and Euro nous should shine through.
This scoreline is available at 5/1 and punters who use their free £25 bet for joining bwin.com on a 2-0 Valencia win could be rolling in £150 by the close of business on Thursday evening.
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