10/1 Napoli get Europa vote

  • By: David John (Twitter: @SLifeDaveJohn)
  • Last Updated: February 21 2014, 9:17 GMT

Napoli head David John's three picks in the outright betting as the Europa League reaches the round of 32.

Rafa Benitez and Napoli are worth a bet at 10/1
Rafa Benitez and Napoli are worth a bet at 10/1

I guess that the most obvious place to start ahead of the round of 32 for the Europa League is with favourites Juventus.

They trade at a best price of 7/2 and the current runaway Serie A leaders are still clearly smarting from their Champions League exit in December after a 1-0 defeat to Galatasaray on an appalling pitch after the original tie had to be abandoned in an Istanbul blizzard.

"We are bitter with the way we were knocked out," said director general Beppe Marotta as his side now prepare to face another Turkish side in Trabzonspor.

They only had themselves to blame for getting into an all-or-nothing scenario, but rather than sulk, the Old Lady should have some additional motivation bearing in mind that the final will be staged on their home ground in Turin as Marotta added: "That should push us to give our maximum."

Juve have suffered just one defeat since that loss in the Champions League - to Roma in last eight of the Coppa Italia - but the odds just don't stack up for me at this stage with nine games still to play before anyone gets their hands on the silverware on May 14.

At almost three times the odds, fellow countrymen Napoli make some appeal as they also now join in the competition after bowing out of the Champions League group phase.

While Juventus scratched their way to a rather feeble six points, Napoli amassed a pretty impressive 12 only to be trumped on goal difference by Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal. So if anything, they have more reason to feel a bit hard-done-by than the market leaders.

Rafa Benitez may have hoped for something slightly easier at this stage than Swansea but I would be surprised if the Spaniard's vast European experience and his side's greater quality could not oust the Premier League outfit over two legs to set up a last-16 clash with either Porto or Eintracht Frankfurt.

Napoli have already booked their place in the final of the Coppa Italia having come from behind to beat Roma on aggregate and their strong home form all season is going to make them a tough proposition for anyone in these two-legged affairs.

They seem no less comitted than Juventus to reach a final on home soil, as Benitez pointed out: "We will be thinking about how to give the maximum in the UEFA Europa League."

Swansea and Tottenham carry the hopes of the Premier League and the latter hardly scream any value despite posting the best record of any team from the group phase.

New man Tim Sherwood's first task in the competition is an arduous trip to Dnipro in Ukraine while they are in the midst of a scrap for a place in next season's Champions League. That means the dreaded Thursday-Sunday schedule for games and though the club may publically say otherwise, an extended campaign in Europe is going to get in the way of their domestic target.

Garry Monk seems to have galvanised Swansea since taking over from Michael Laudrup but like Spurs, surely their Premier League campaign is of much more importance - Napoli should dispose of them anyway but any further progress would test a pretty thin squad on two fronts at the Liberty Stadium.

So I am going to punt on a couple of lesser lights in the competition at bigger prices in the shape of AZ Alkmaar and Red Bull Salzburg.

The former got to the last eight in 2012 and although a couple of interviews with the players recently suggest the team is not quite at that level currently, they are bursting full of bright young prospects on an upward curve.

They did not lose a game in the group stage and the X-factor that could give them a shot is head coach Dick Advocaat, who won the competition back in 2008 with Zenit St Petersburg.

You can picture his vast European and international experience moulding a young team that frankly has very little to lose and should be able to go out and get on a roll over the first two knockout rounds that pitches them in against teams all at three-figure odds.

"With his (Advocaat's) experience, we can go far," said striker Aron Johnasson - we shall see.

Salzburg fans may have baulked at being taken over by Red Bull in 2005 and forced to change their traditional strip from violet to red and white but the results have certainly come on the field with the influence of Gerard Houllier since 2012 as Global Sports Director.

The Austrians are strolling away again with their title domestically and actually matched Tottenham's six wins out of six in this competition before Christmas with a goal difference of +12.

Goal-scoring prowess has very much been a feature of their rise and a 3-0 drubbing of Bayern Munich in a friendly during the winter break last month will not have done any harm to their self-belief despite Pep Guardiola whining that he was trying a new formation.

Salzburg have some exciting talent on the field in Kevin Kampl and strikers Jonatan Soriano and Alan among others and I have a feeling they are capable of causing a shock or two en route to Turin, starting with seeing off Champions League dropouts Ajax.

  • Posted at 1745 GMT on 18/02/2014.