Romans could march to Europa conquest
Top tips to lift the trophy
Milton's Best bet
Manchester United (9-2) and Tottenham (8-1) dominate the betting for the Europa League but the market leaders can be swerved at those prices.
Both are still in the FA Cup and expect to be involved in the battle royale for a top-four finish in the Premier League.
United have also reached the EFL Cup final while backers of Spurs for the Europa League last term have bitter memories of the weakened team sent out for the last-16 first leg against Borussia Dortmund – a game Tottenham predictably lost 3-0.
Roma have underachieved in European competitions, losing in the Champions League playoffs this season after going down to nine men against Porto, but the Wolves have a good chance of lifting the trophy in Stockholm.
Having finished third, second and second in Serie A in the last three seasons, they have won 17 of 24 league games this term and only Juventus are above them in the table.
Seven points behind Juve and eight clear of fourth-placed Inter, Roma look inked in to finish at least third in Italy so Luciano Spalletti can afford to have a serious tilt at European glory.
Spalletti won the Coppa Italia twice in his first spell in Rome and steered Zenit St Petersburg to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in the Russian club’s history in 2011-12.
Significantly, from a betting perspective, he picked strong teams during the group stage of the Europa League with regular starters such as Bruno Peres, Federico Fazio, Diego Perotti, Radja Nainggolan and striker Edin Dzeko playing plenty of minutes in Roma’s unbeaten Group E campaign.
A last-32 tie with Villarreal is no gimme but the Spanish side have won only one of their last nine matches and Roma will be confident of completing the job at the Stadio Olimpico, where they have won all 12 league games this term (including the nominal away fixture against derby rivals Lazio).
The most recent of those home victories was a 4-0 defeat of Fiorentina, who are just 20-1 to win the Europa League, while they also inflicted a rare home loss on a Napoli side who won their section in the Champions League.
Turkish clubs are distinguishing themselves in this competition with Fenerbahce finishing ahead of Manchester United in Group A and Osmanlispor beating Villarreal to top spot in Group L.
That pair are joined in the last 32 by Super Lig leaders Besiktas, who had a fine Champions League campaign in Group B – at least until it ended with two red cards and a 6-0 defeat away to Dynamo Kiev.
Put a line through that result and Besiktas look like credible Europa League contenders, especially as Ladbrokes’ 40-1 is twice as big as some other firms’ quotes.
Before the Dynamo drubbing, Besiktas had drawn twice with Benfica – coming from 3-0 down to make it 3-3 in Istanbul – and taken four points from two fixtures against classy group winners Napoli.
They have had a couple of recent setbacks, losing to Fenerbahce in an ill-tempered Turkish Cup tie before a shock league defeat to Karabukspor.
However, they had won their previous three league games by an aggregate score of 11-2 and last-32 opponents Hapoel Be’er Sheva may struggle to contain a creative Besiktas side.
Talisca, Ricardo Qaresma and Oguzhan Ozyakup are quality attacking midfielders while Cenk Tosun has scored 15 goals in 20 league starts and fellow striker Vincent Aboubakar scored Cameroon’s winner in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
With Croatia international Matej Mitrovic arriving in January to bolster a defence including ex-Barcelona man Adriano, Beskitas could be dangerous outsiders.
Others to consider
Europa League powerhouses Seville are in the last 16 of the Champions League so the Spanish challenge is led by Athletic Bilbao, who lost to the Andalusians on penalties in the quarter-finals last season.
Fiorentina won their group and are unbeaten at home in Serie A, beating Juventus and Roma and drawing with Napoli in Florence, but they are no certainties to get past Borussia Monchengladbach.
Shakhtar Donetsk were the only side with a 100 per cent record in the group stage, earning plenty of respect from the bookmakers, and 100-1 shots Ludogorets caught the eye in the Champions League, drawing away to PSG and losing 3-2 at home to Arsenal, having led 2-0 early on.
2pts 12-1 general
1pt each-way 40-1 Ladbrokes