EUROPA LEAGUE (written 09.00 Thursday)
ZENIT ST PETERSBURG- NACIONAL
Many of the star names at Zenit have moved on and the end of an era was clearly defined when Dick Advocaat, who was set to leave at the end of the season in any case, was fired. League performances have picked up since then, although they did lose the first leg 4-3 in Madeira, when they were without several key defenders, all of whom are now available to play some part.
The squad is still a talented group of players, capable of mixing it with the best in Europe on a going day and I fully expect them to turn this tie around, a win of almost any sort will see them progress, but the visitors, who have limited european experience will have to come out of their shell, if and when they fall behind and I am confident that a second or third goal will then follow. Nacional appear to have regressed a little from last season, especially with the loss of last season's Superliga top goalscorer Nene, who has joined Cagliari and they will hardly be at their best after a 5,000 km trip to St Petersburg.
6 points Zenit -1.25 goals 1.99 asian line.
ASTON VILLA - RAPID VIENNA
Villa kick started their season with a fine win at Anfield on Monday night and they took their chances well, although it has to be said that Liverpool were very poor. That has really given the midlands club a massive boost and they are determined to keep the momentum and confidence levels up, by turning this tie around. They fell behind to a very early goal in Vienna, which they were never able to claim back, despite creating a lot of decent chances. There is a clear difference in class and although MON would probably prefer to concentrate on the league this season, I am sure that the last thing he , or his side need right now, is another poor home showing, following the Wigan debacle. I expect a two goal plus win on the bigger Villa Park pitch, but feel the HT/FT option offers a little more value, John Carew looks set to return to give them more and different offensive options and they will want to put this to bed asap and then focus on the Fulham game on Sunday.
6 points Villa-Villa HT/FT double result 1.83 general quote.