Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Schalke vs. Bilbao: Preview

Athletic Bilbao's upcoming Europa League match with German team, Schalke 04, will represent the first time that the two clubs have met on a football pitch, despite a combined history of 221 years.

They will play at the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, at the same time that Valencia take on AZ Alkmaar in Holland, Sporting Lisbon play Metalist Kharkiv, and Athletico Madrid take on Hannover in Spain.

Despite their lack of an introductory fixture, Bilbao and Schalke both have experience with teams from their opponent's country. Schalke have won seven of 21 fixtures with Spanish clubs, while Athletic have claimed the spoils in just one clash in six with a German outfit and fans of Europa League betting need to bear this in mind.

Schalke are the favourites for the win, on Thursday, coming in at 6/5 in the bookmakers' window. The fact that the Europa League's top-scorer, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, is a Schalke player has no doubt contributed to their favourable odds.

Huntelaar has scored two hat-tricks in the 2011/12 Europa League, to date. He currently has three more goals than his closest rival on the rankings, 'El Tigre' – Porto's Falcao – who has six to his name.

Bilbao are utterly relentless going forward, as evidenced by their two most recent matches with Manchester United. Los Leones' up-front duo of Iker Muniain and Fernando Llorente is one of the most effective partnerships in the Europa League and the online football betting reflects this.

Equally, attacking midfielder, Oscar de Marcos, and defender, Andoni Iraola, who took on (and beat) Jonny Evans, Michael Carrick, and Rio Ferdinand in the same manoeuvre, last week, have the potential to unsettle the Schalke defence.

Athletic are 12/5 to win in the first leg on Thursday. They have a unique opportunity to force Schalke to concede their 150th goal in UEFA-branded tournaments, provided that they score three over the two legs.

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