Tottenham have stern Europa League test in Benfica battle
“We know how important it is to keep a clean sheet at home,” said Tottenham head coach Tim Sherwood in the build-up to his team’s next assignment, yet Spurs have shut-out visiting teams just twice in the Europa League this term.
Portuguese league leaders Benfica (2/1 to win the first leg) travel to White Hart Lane with just three away defeats to their name in all competitions. This last 16 tie pits two of the top five teams most likely to lift the trophy, according to Coral.
Tottenham are 15/2 chances for Europa League glory and 13/10 for victory here, while Jorge Jesus’ team are 11/1 shots to go one better than last season, when they were losing finalists to Chelsea. A draw is the least likely outcome at 12/5.
Keeping a clean sheet is going to be tough for Sherwood here in the absence of injured captain Michael Dawson. He joins Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches on the sidelines, so Younes Kaboul, who has played just 12 games this season and last, should partner Jan Vertonghen at centre half.
Young Zeki Fryers, formerly of Manchester United, could cover the left back berth as there is still doubt over Danny Rose’s return. Tottenham are thus 21/10 to keep a clean sheet here.
A win to nil is 16/5, but Benfica have recorded seven straight victories in all competitions coming into this one. Jesus’ Lisbon giants changed tack since losing out on what would have been a historic treble at the end of last season.
In part, their approach altered because target man Oscar Cardozo has struggled with a back problem for long spells this term. In his stead, Brazilian attacker Lima has lead the line and got 13 for Benfica in all competitions. He is 7/4 to score anytime for the visitors, but Cardozo is the horse for this particular course.
When previously paired with Premier League opposition, the big Paraguayan has netted nine in 10. Back Cardozo at 6/4 to score against Spurs. As Jermain Defoe has now completed his move to MLS franchise Toronto, the goal burden for Tottenham falls on Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado.
They are 6/5 and 5/4 respectively to score anytime, but Adebayor has netted the vast majority of his 11 in all competitions away from home. Spanish striker Soldado, meanwhile, has saved his best for the Europa League with five in as many outings.
Sherwood is banking on Spurs keeping up their run of winning all home games in this competition here. A narrow Tottenham victory at 7/1 is an attractive bet for punters because Benfica’s defence contains reported long-time Manchester United target Ezequiel Garay, who almost left the club in the January transfer window.
Even-money on Spurs advancing to the quarter-finals means Coral make their Portuguese opponents odds-on favourites to qualify for the last eight at 5/6. That could come to pass, but Benfica are stronger in Lisbon – where they are yet to lose.
Your best bet is definitely Cardozo. Premier League defenders have always been bullied by him and Jesus rested the striker last time out, which suggests he will be unleashed on Tottenham. Take odds of 11/2 on the Paraguay frontman scoring first.