7th of March 2018 Author: Johnny Karp
A Franco-Basque clash will take place in at Velodrome Stadium in Marseille on Thursday as the local team will take on LaLiga side Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League last-sixteen tie. The two teams have met in the same competition two seasons ago, but in the first knockout round, and back then Athletic Bilbao pulled through with a 1-0 away victory followed by a 1-1 draw at home. Marseille have won just two of their thirteen matches against Spanish teams in European competitions, while Bilbao have won two out of eight against French teams.
Marseille have two options to play Champions League football next season: keep their current third place in Ligue 1 or win the Europa League. However, they have not won any of their last four matches in all competitions and lost three of them, with this kind of form they might fail to reach both of these objectives. In the previous round they made things easy with a 3-0 home win over Braga in the first leg, but this time will most likely be a lot more difficult. Striker Kostas Mitroglou is injured and won't be able to play in Thursday's match.
Athletic Bilbao are looking to reach their third European final and maybe have better luck with the trophy this time after having lost their first two. They don't have anything left to fight for in LaLiga this season as they are quite certain of a tranquil mid-table finish, they are also out of the Spanish Cup, so they will give everything they have in the UEFA Europa League. In the previous round they gained a solid advantage with a 3-1 away victory over Spartak Moscow in the first leg, but they lost the second leg 2-1 and had to go through some unwanted thrills in the last minutes of the match. Iker Muniain, Mikel Rico and Mikel Balenziaga are injured.
Marseille: Mandanda - Sarr, Rami, Rolando, Amavi - Lopez, Gustavo - Thauvin, Sanson, Ocampos - Germain
Bilbao: Herrerin - Marcos, Alvarez, Etxeita, Lekue - Iturraspe, Jose - Williams, Garcia, Susaeta - Aduriz
My prediction: 1-1 draw.
Here are the odds for the match at Bet365:
Marseille win - 1.85
Draw - 3.60
Bilbao win - 4.75
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Marseille were the better team in this clash over the course of both games and they didn't left too much of a hope to the visitors from the first game.
I think the French side is the hidden favourite for the cup although there's a couple of sides that are clear ones, but probably none of them wants to face Marseille before the final.
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