In Rafa we trust

  • By: Ian Ogg
  • Last Updated: February 19 2014, 11:56 GMT

Ian Ogg previews Thursday's UEFA Europa League action and he expects Napoli to prove too strong for Swansea.

Rafa Benitez: Can guide Napoli to victory in Wales
Rafa Benitez: Can guide Napoli to victory in Wales

David John has tipped Napoli to win the Europa League and the Italians are also worth backing to win their first leg clash against Swansea on Thursday.

The last time that Napoli were in Wales for a competitive fixture was in the 1962/63 season when they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Bangor City but there should be an altogether happier outcome this time around for the Neapolitans.

Their manager, Rafa Benitez, is, of course, well versed in the British game while he also has an excellent cup pedigree and has already guided his side to the final of the Coppa Italia.

His experience at the highest level is in stark contrast to that of his opposite number, Gary Monk, who has been thrust into the Swansea hotseat following the sacking of Michael Laudrup and who, arguably, has more pressing concerns with his side just four points above the drop zone, albeit in tenth place.

Monk rested several key players for the FA Cup clash with Everton so his players will be relatively fresh and there is European experience within the squad, but they can't boast the quality of their opponents who sit third in Serie A and possess a world-class striker in Gonzalo Higuain.

The Argentinian will be assessed before the game after picking up a back injury at the weekend but they have plenty of quality elsewhere with former Real Madrid striker Jose Callejon enjoying a productive season and the experienced Goran Pandev offering back up.

Napoli only narrowly missed out on progression from a strong Champions League group, finishing level on points with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal.

They should have too much nous and too much quality for their opponents and, while the 7/2 about Higuain to score in an away win is tempting, Stan James go 6/4 Napoli and it's a price worth taking.

Juventus managed to win just once in their Champions League group but The Old Lady of Turin are nine points clear in Serie A and Europa League favourites and they should be able to dispatch their Turkish opponents Trabzonspor.

Europa League second favourites, Tottenham, face an altogether trickier tie and they travel away to Ukrainian outfit Dnipro who are managed by former Spurs boss, Juande Ramos.

Spurs are on an eight-game winning streak, home and away, in this season's Europa League, and haven't lost over 90 minutes in 10 European fixtures. Prices about an away win may tempt some punters in.

The Ukraine is in the grip of political turmoil with the violence in Kiev spiralling and, while that may or may not affect the players or the atmosphere within the ground with Dnipropetrovsk almost 300 miles from the capital, it is something that could conceivably have an indirect impact.

Regardless of that hypothesising, there are more appealing wagers to be had elsewhere and another Champions League side worth supporting are Basel who travel to Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

These two sides met in the third qualifying round of the Champions League with Basel winning 1-0 at home before racing into a 3-0 lead in the away leg. That game actually ended 3-3 and they may have lost the influential Mohamed Salah to Chelsea but the experienced Swiss outfit still have plenty of quality in their ranks and were good enough to beat the Stamford Bridge side at home and away in the Champions League.

They have already proven that they have what it takes to beat Maccabi and are 9/5 to win outright and 10/11 draw no bet.

Lazio and Ajax are both of interest with the Italians unbeaten in 10 European fixtures at home but both are facing teams that are enjoying good seasons while Porto look a touch short given they only managed to win once in the Champions League group stages even allowing for the troubles of their opponents who languish in mid-table in the Bundesliga.

Genk are hardly setting the Belgian Pro-League alight but they may be able to get something from their game against Anzhi who lie bottom of the Russian Premier without a single victory to their names.

Anzhi, of course, have had to rebuild dramatically after Suleyman Kerimov decided to pull the plug on the club, leading to the sale of most of their prized assets, reducing the annual wage bill from £116m to £40m.

Anzhi qualified in second place behind Spurs (to whom they lost 2-0 and 4-1) in Group K ahead of Moldovans FC Sheriff and Tromso who are rooted to the foot of the Norwegian league.

Genk, in contrast, finished top of Group G including Dynamo Kiev and Rapid Vienna and they should be good enough to bring Anzhi's involvement in the competition to an end.

A top price 31/20, we'll stick them in a draw no bet double with Basel which pays about 9/4 with BetVictor.

  • Preview posted at 1152 GMT on 19/02/2014.