George Pitts looks ahead to Thursday's Europa League last 16 first leg matches.
For advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record
Fixtures - last 16 first legs
1755 GMT kick-offs
- Dinamo Zagreb v Benfica
- Eintracht Frankfurt v Inter Milan
- Rennes v Arsenal
- Sevilla v Slavia Prague
- Zenit St Petersburg v Villarreal
2000 GMT kick-offs
- Chelsea v Dynamo Kiev
- Napoli v RB Salzburg
- Valencia v Krasnodar
Rennes v Arsenal
BT Sport 3, 1755 kick-off
When you saw the list of potential ties in the last 16 - some bigger European sides or long, unwanted midweek trips - Arsenal officials will have breathed a sigh of relief when they were drawn against Rennes.
They have a short trip to northern France but their opponents, 10th in Ligue 1, will be no pushovers after reaching the last 16 and scoring six against Real Betis over two legs.
Arsenal, meanwhile, went through despite losing to BATE Borisov in the first leg and Europa League expert Unai Emery will be keen to avoid slipping up in their away trip once again.
Considering Rennes' 12 home match unbeaten run in all competitions and the fact they have scored at least two goals in their last three Europa League matches, it will be a tough task for the Gunners and there could be goals in this one.
Early kick-offs can sometimes be slow to get going, with a cagey start, and it would be no surprise to see the scores level at the break (5/4) while the 12/5 price on BTTS in the second half is appealing considering the goal threats these sides both possess.
But the preferred option is to keep it fairly simple by backing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score anytime, despite a relatively poor run of just one goal in his last six appearances.
With Alexandre Lacazette still suspended for his sending off in the previous round, Gabon forward Aubameyang is likely to start more central in France against opponents he has previously enjoyed coming up against.
Aubameyang, 29, faced Rennes six times during his spell in France with Lille, Monaco and St Etienne, scoring four and assisting two in nine appearances. He will no doubt be aware of his good fortune against them and with the improving Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi behind him, he should not be short of opportunities.
With all that considered, he averages nearly four shots per game in this competition and the 6/4 price on him looks too good to turn down.
Score prediction: Rennes 1-1 Arsenal (Sky Bet odds: 11/2)
- Rennes will be the 10th different French team that Arsenal have faced in all European competition – the Gunners have beaten each of the previous nine French sides they’ve met.
- Arsenal have never lost an away game against French opposition (W8 D5 L0). Their only two defeats suffered in France in competitive games came in the 1995 Cup Winners Cup final vs Real Zaragoza and the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona.
- Rennes will be hosting an English side for only the second time in their history, and for the first time since July 2001 when they beat Aston Villa 2-1 in the first leg of their Intertoto Cup semi-final encounter.
- This is the sixteenth successive campaign in which Arsenal have reached the last 16 of a major European competition, a run that began in 2003-04. The Gunners reached this stage of the Champions League 14 times between 2004 and 2017, whilst also appearing in the Europa League last 16 last season.
- Rennes striker Ismalia Sarr has been directly involved in five goals in the Europa League this season (three goals, two assists); more than any other player for the French side.
Chelsea v Dynamo Kiev
BT Sport 2, 2000 GMT kick-off
Chelsea can start on the front foot when they play their last 16 first leg clash at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues will be keen to gain an advantage before a long trip to Ukraine next week and Maurizio Sarri's side have bounced back well since their Carabao Cup final defeat to Man City on penalties, winning back-to-back games in the Premier League against London rivals Tottenham and Fulham.
The Blues have been victorious in 10 of their last 11 Europa League matches, but they come up against a Kiev side unbeaten on the road in this competition. It is crunch time, though, and although Sarri has complained about having to play Wolves in the Premier League just 62 hours later, even his rotated squad has the quality to get past Kiev over two legs.
They have started well in this competition so far this season, scoring inside half an hour in five matches and the 29/20 price on them to be ahead after 30 minutes makes it worth a small play.
One nice price to score anytime at 11/4 is Willian, who could be pivotal in a front three with Eden Hazard rested. The Brazilian has two goals and five assists in the competition this term, averaging over two shots per game. It is worth waiting to see if he starts, but at nearly 3/1 he is a good shout for the score sheet.
Barring their home outing against Malmo in the last round, the Blues have taken seven or more corners, entering double figures on four occasions, and it is well worth looking at overs in the corner market, but we are hoping for a quick start for them here.
Score prediction: Chelsea 3-0 Dynamo Kiev (Sky Bet odds: 13/2)
- Chelsea will be facing off with Dynamo Kyiv for just the third time, with the Blues winning one and drawing one of the two previous meetings during the group stages of the 2015-16 Champions League.
- Dynamo Kyiv have never won a European match on English soil, with the Ukrainians drawing three and losing 11 of their 14 previous visits – most recently a 0-0 draw at the Etihad against Manchester City in the Champions League last 16 back in March 2016.
- Chelsea’s only previous appearance at this stage of the Europa League was back in 2012-13, beating Romanian side FCSB over two legs – the season the Blues went on to lift the trophy under manager Rafa Benitez.
- Dynamo Kyiv have not won any of their last nine first leg knockout matches in the Europa League (D6 L3); though their last such victory did come against English opposition - beating Manchester City at home during a last 16 encounter back in March 2011.
- Willian has had a direct hand in seven Europa League goals this season (two goals, five assists); no Chelsea player has had more goal involvements in a single European campaign since both Juan Mata (12) and Fernando Torres (9) did so during their 2012-13 Europa League winning season.
Best of the rest
- Luka Jovic is one to look for in the scoring markets for Eintracht Frankfurt's home clash with Inter Milan. The 21-year-old forward, on loan from Benfica, has 21 goals to his name in all competitions this term and averages around three shots per game in the Europa League. He will be key to Eintracht's hopes of reaching the quarter-finals and is nearly 2/1 to score anytime in front of his own fans on Thursday. The Bundesliga side are in excellent form in this competition, having gone unbeaten in their last nine fixtures, and the 7/5 price for them just to win looks a worthy shout. They have scored at least two goals in their last 11 matches and the 13/10 price for them to net 2+ goals here against a beatable Inter side looks incredibly generous and the preferred option.
- The tournament's third favourites Napoli face a home tie with Austrian outfit Salzburg in the first leg and they will be looking to bounce back from Sunday's Serie A defeat to rivals Juventus. Napoli have scored at least two in their last three fixtures in this competition, while there has been over 2.5 goals in seven of Salzburg's last eight games. Therefore, Napoli to win and BTTS could be a great option here at 9/4.