Soccer Picks for UEFA Europa League Knockout Stage: Torino vs. Athletic Bilbao

Kevin Stott

Sunday, February 15, 2015 2:13 PM GMT

Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015 2:13 PM GMT

Here are our best soccer picks as UEFA Europe League play resumes on Thursday with this Knockout Stage opening leg game from Italy between upstart Athletic Bilbao and Torino.

Torino vs. Athletic Bilbao, Thursday 18:00 (FOX Soccer 2Go (US), 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT):
Spanish La Liga side Athletic Bilbao heads to Turin and Stadio Olimpico di Torino on Thursday to face Serie A’s Torino in Leg 1 of this Round of 32 (Knockout Phase) match in the UEFA Europa League. Athletic Bilbao and Torino have never played before in European competition.

Soccer odds makers see this as a very even game, with host Torino slight +162 Favorites (bet365), visiting Athletic lined at +180 Underdogs and the Draw priced at +210. The Total Goals is 2½ (Under -117, Over +140, bet365), so, most sports books will probably be more comfortable hanging a 2 for the Total in this fixture. The Both Teams To Score prop bet is lined at Yes -137 and No +120 (Skybet), while the Draw No Bet odds see Torino lined at -125 and Athletic set at -110. Some other Prop bets tied to the predicted Final below? Total Goals Exact 0-1, (+170, William Hill); and, Correct Score 0-0 (+650, William Hill).

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Athletic Club Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao (25/1 to win UEFA Europa League, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) and head coach Ernesto Valverde won their final two UEFA Champions League games in the Group Stage, but still finished third in its group, sending Los Leones (The Lions) here to the Knockout Stage and the Round of 32 of this Europa League. Valverde spent the majority of his playing career with Athletic, where was tagged with the more-than-wonderful nickname, “Txingurri” (The Ant). The last time Los Leones played in this tournament was just two years ago (2012/2013), when they were eliminated in the Group Stage, but a year before (2011/2012), Athletic made it all the way to the Europa League final where it lost to fellow La Liga club and then rising powerhouse, Atlético de Madrid, 3-0 in Bucharest.

Los Leones will go into this match without the services of injured DM Ander Iturraspe (knee) and F Guillermo (Guillermo Fernández Hierro), while Athletic CMF Beñat (Etxebarria) will be celebrating his 28th birthday on matchday, Thursday, so Feliz Cumpleaños mi Hermano. May all of your Peanut Butter be smooth and all of your Tires inflated.

For scoring, Athletic will look to star 34-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz (16 goals all competitions, 1 goal in CL; +210 Anytime Goalscorer, bet365) to get that magical Road Goal in this Leg 1 in Italy, or possibly F Iñaki Williams (+250), S Borja Viguera (+275) or maybe even S Kike Sola (+300). But scoring and quality shots on target could be limited in this game between two teams who may both be a little tentative to make a big mistake; tired from play in their respective leagues; and, potentially choppy with one club (Torino) having already played and used to this Europa League tourney this year, and the other (Athletic), coming in after failing to advance in Champions League play in the Fall. This may evolve into a 90-minute Feeling Out process of sorts with Athletic GK Gorka Iraizoz possibly registering a clean sheet.

 

Torino FC
Serie A side Torino (66/1 to win UEFA Europa League, William Hill) heads into this match unbeaten in its L9 European tourney fixtures at Home (7-2-0), and haven’t allowed a goal in its L8 at Stadio Olimpico di Torino—the last one coming all the way back in March of 1994 against English Premier League side Arsenal—the last time this team has played in this Spring phase of a UEFA competition. But despite the sleekness of that stat, that was Then and this is Now, Bubba, and this opening leg is a complete tossup in my mind. And the Football Club Elo Ratings have host Torino ranked #60 (1,636 points) and visiting Athletic Bilbao at #30 (1,725 points) on the European continent. Torino manager Giampiero Ventura—who took charge in 2011—helped the club back into Italy’s top flight of soccer and this is the 67-year-old’s first time coaching il Toro in a European tournament. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Il Toro (The Bull) has progressed to this point in the tournament from the Third Qualifying round, one of just five clubs to do so.

Host Torino—now in 8th place in Serie A, where il Toro had W4 straight and climbed into 8th at this writing—will look to its talented strikeforce to try to get the edge in this series at Home here with starr Fabio Quagliarella (9 goals Serie A, +187 Anytime Goalscorer), Amauri (+250), Maxi López (+275) and Paulo Vitor Barreto (+250) being the most likely to tally for Torino. Kamil Glik (5 goals, +650) and Venezuelan striker Josef Martínez (2 goals, +300) are also candidates for il Toro, which should have a slim edge in Time of Possession, get the little breaks with GK Daniele Padelli probably being under a little less pressure than Iraizoz. Whether or not Torino can make it 9 straight without conceding and 10 straight unbeaten in European tourney play is irrelevant, but this team will certainly want to protect its home Turin turf and not let the visitors get any valuable Road goals in this Leg 1.

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Best Betting Approaches
Athletic Bilbao is 0-1-2 here in Turin, but those three games were all against Serie A’s Juventus. On the other foot, Torino has won all 4 previous meetings with Spanish sides in UEFA play, the biggest being a 3-2 (aggregate) victory over Real Madrid in the semifinals of the 1991/1992 UEFA Cup—this tournament’s previous name. And again, all of that stuff is irrelevant in this specific handicap. Ancient history, bruh. Expired milk. This one is about figuring out who can afford to have what happen at this early point (Leg 1) in this series and the prevailing thought is that both will play it somewhat conservative to start, probably resulting in a 0-0 Halftime Score (+150, William Hill). And then host Torino, feeling the pressure to somehow desperately get a second half goal will lock up with Athletic clamping down defensively, knowing that heading home for Leg 2—to be held a week after this one, on Thursday, February 26 at San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao—with a 0-0 aggregate scoreline is actually a really good thing for them.

Besides the Under, savvy gamblers may want to look and/or take a shot at placing their Soccer Picks on the Draw (+230, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) here as this one could very well end 0-0, 1-1 or maybe even 2-2 if all Hell breaks loose. But logic says this will most likely be a low-scoring affair and the -187 juice on the Under (2½) at bet365 speaks volumes. Of Being and Nothingness in Turin? Only the Shroud knows.

Predictions: Torino 0 Athletic Bilbao 0

Free Soccer Picks: Under 2½ -187 (bet365), Halftime Score 0-0 +150 (William Hill)

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