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Soccer Europa League - Play-Offs 10 March 2023

AS Roma vs Real Sociedad - Match Preview

A hard-fought 1-0 win over Juventus on Sunday helped Roma solidify their spot in the Serie A (SA) top-four, but the focus now quickly shifts to the UEFA Europa League (UEL). Three wins from their last four competitive matches (L1) serve as ideal preparation for a first-ever competitive meeting against Real Sociedad and the Giallorossi may have to lean heavily upon that form considering they have won only one of their last ten UEFA matches against Spanish clubs (D2, L7).

Given José Mourinho’s side has been near-impregnable at home, winning seven of their last eight matches at Stadio Olimpico (L1) in all competitions, hopes will likely be raised of ending that Spanish curse. A mere two losses across their last 33 home matches in UEFA competition (W24, D7) should reinforce that belief, although the fact both those defeats came against Spanish opponents does raise some doubts over their credentials.

Sociedad won’t roll over easily as they go in search of a spot in a European quarter-final for the first time in 34 years, but with the White and Blue travelling on the back of an indifferent seven-game run (W1, D3, L3), few know what to expect. That included a goalless draw against Cádiz on Friday, but Sociedad had no such issues in the group stage considering they were the only team to win their first five UEL group games this season!

That included three away wins on the trot, which now affords Sociedad the chance to become just the third team to win four consecutive UEL matches on their travels. That will likely require an improvement on their recent away form though, as the visitors have won just one of their last four competitive away games (D1, L2), alarmingly failing to score on three occasions.

📋 Players to watch: A man for home comforts, Paulo Dybala will fancy his chances of finding the net having scored his last three UEL goals at this venue. Sociedad will hope lucky charm Alexander Sørloth can net a goal of his own, as his last 11 goal-scoring appearances in all club competitions have come in wins!

Hot stat: Mourinho has won 15 of his last 17 UEL matches at home venues (D1, L1) but the two exceptions have come against Spanish clubs.

Sporting CP vs Arsenal - Match Preview

In the UEFA Europa League (UEL) Round of 16 for the fourth time, Sporting Lisbon will welcome Premier League (PL) leaders Arsenal in fine form, with their recent 1-0 win at Portimonense stretching their unbeaten competitive run to five matches (W4, D1), albeit they remain 15 points behind the title pace in Portugal. However, they’ve already overcome a North London PL side in the shape of Tottenham this season (2-0) on matchday two of the Champions League, and they’ve only tasted defeat in one of their three home UEL games against English opposition (W2).

Yet that one defeat did come against their opponents here back in 2018 (1-0). The Gunners look like a much tougher opponent this time around too, with Sporting manager Rúben Amorim even labelling them “out of this world” in the build-up. He did, however, claim his side still has a chance, but they’ll need to improve on five defeats from their last nine European home games (W3, D1) to give themselves the best chance of progression.

Arsenal left it until stoppage time on Saturday to seal a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down to beat Bournemouth 3-2 to keep their five-point lead at the top of the PL. That victory extended their winning run to four, with nine of their 12 goals during that period coming in the second half. That highlights that the London club have been struggling to get going from the outset in recent matches, something manager Mikel Arteta hinted could be down to physical issues as he revealed he intends to “pick the players (for this game) that are in the best possible condition”.

We may, therefore, see a shake-up in the starting XI. Yet even if we do, many will fancy the away side to bag a positive result, especially given their record of just two defeats across their last 16 UEL away matches (W11, D3). Although, the previous win at this venue was their only success from their last seven European visits to Portugal (D3, L3), suggesting this game might not be as easy as many predict for the PL’s first-placed side.

📋 Players to watch: Sporting’s Héctor Bellerín made 239 senior appearances for Arsenal and scored in his current side’s last home encounter. His ex-teammate Reiss Nelson grabbed a goal and assist in his first appearance of 2023 for Arsenal on Saturday.

Hot streak: Each of the last five UEL goals conceded by Arsenal came in away games.

Juventus vs Freiburg - Match Preview

Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri called for his team to “be calm” following Sunday’s Serie A 1-0 defeat to Roma, in which they hit the woodwork three times and saw Moise Kean sent off less than a minute after being substituted on! That ended a seven-match unbeaten run (W6, D1) which had helped them progress to the UEFA Europa League (UEL) last 16 so they’ll be searching for an immediate response as they host Freiburg.

With the domestic title out of reach after their 15-point penalty for financial irregularities, this is one of Juventus’ two remaining chances of silverware this term along with the Coppa Italia. Their chances may be boosted if they can maintain the calmness Allegri has requested, as they’ve never lost a UEL home match (W5, D7), whilst they’re unbeaten in their last four home matches against German opponents (W2, D2).

But Freiburg cannot be taken lightly as they’re on a five-match unbeaten run themselves (W3, D2), although they couldn’t take advantage of ten-man Borussia Mönchengladbach at the weekend (D 0-0). Head coach Christian Streich described parts of the match as “hectic” before admitting he was happy with the goalless draw in the end.

Sitting fifth in the Bundesliga and therefore in contention for another crack at Europe next term, this is Freiburg’s first-ever foray into springtime European competition and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first time they’ll have faced Italian opposition before. However, they’re unbeaten in three UEL away games this term (W2, D1), including a notable 4-0 win over Nantes – that’s one goal more than Juventus managed against the same opponents in France last month.

📋 Players to watch: Ángel Di María has scored four goals across Juventus’ last four games, including a hat-trick to see off Nantes. Freiburg’s Italian winger Vincenzo Grifo will be looking to have a similar effect against some of his international teammates, with four of his last six club goals arriving before the 30th minute.

Hot stat: Juventus have lost just one of their last 12 home games played on a Thursday (W7, D4).

Manchester Utd vs Betis - Match Preview

The Erik ten Hag era suffered its biggest and most humiliating setback yet as Manchester United were hammered 7-0 by arch-rivals, Liverpool, last time out. The Dutchman described his side’s second-half performance as ‘unprofessional’ and he now has the task of picking his players up to tackle a UEFA Europa League Round of 16 ties with Real Betis. He’ll be confident of achieving that though, given that both the Red Devils’ previous 3+ goal defeats this term was followed by victories.

While the Old Trafford faithful were bruised by that drubbing, they’ll be sure to get behind their side who are unbeaten on home soil since September (W17, D2). They’ll be aware that United’s last defeat on their own turf was to Spanish opposition in the form of Real Sociedad in this season’s group stage however, although they impressively knocked out Barcelona to get to this stage, they’ve been eliminated by Spanish opposition in each of their last five European campaigns.

Betis geared up for their first-ever trip to Old Trafford with a goalless draw against Spanish and European champions Real Madrid. That stalemate left Los Verdiblancos just three points adrift of the top-four in La Liga, and bookended a four-match unbeaten run which has propelled their pursuit of a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2005 (W3, D1).

The Andalusians have been comfortable on their travels of late, winning each of their last three road trips, with the last two decided by a 3-2 scoreline. They’re also unbeaten in five UEL matches away from home (W4, D1), whilst also sailing through the group stages without tasting defeat (W5, D1), so they’re unlikely to be intimidated by the Old Trafford crowd.

📋 Key battle: Red Devils’ midfield stalwart Casemiro has lost just two of his 12 personal H2H meetings with Betis (W7, D3). He could be tasked with restricting Betis loanee Ayoze Pérez, who assisted twice in his last clash against the Manchester club, part of a 4-2 Leicester victory.

Hot stat: Betis manager Manuel Pellegrini has faced United four times in European competition, all ending in 0-0 draws while in charge of Villarreal.

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