As the prospect of a Champions League place draws tantalisingly close for the eight teams remaining in the Europa League, it’s possible that the straightforward goalmouth excitement we’ve seen throughout the competition is replaced by tension.

Certainly, the draw has thrown up three fairly even quarter-finals, even if Celta Vigo (v Genk), Manchester United (v Anderlecht) and Lyon (v Besiktas) are all strong favourites to progress.

United are shortest of all at 1/5 to secure a semi-final place and manager Jose Mourinho knows better than most that an away goal in Belgium would put them in prime position to justify those skinny odds.

It was Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s strike in Russia which gave United more breathing space than they perhaps deserved in their last-16 clash with Rostov, but Anderlecht represent a step up in grade and haven’t conceded at home since the group stage.

The Belgian leaders are looking for their sixth clean sheet in succession at the claustrophobic Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, where they’ve lost just once all season in the Jupiler League and their sole home defeat in this competition came in what was effectively a dead-rubber against Saint-Etienne.

In other words, they’re no pushovers and I suspect we’ll see a fairly cagey game; Anderlecht knowing they’re capable of scoring at Old Trafford, but United confident in their ability to take this tie providing they don’t do anything silly in the first leg.

Given that United’s away defensive record is the best in the Premier League, and that only one of five Europa League trips has seen over 2.5 goals scored (a surprise 2-1 defeat at Fenerbahce), playing under the 2.5-goal line makes sense.

Rather than get stuck in at odds-on, however, we’ll double it up with a over 2.5 play in France where Lyon welcome Besiktas.

It’s been a frustrating few weeks for Lyon domestically, losing having led at PSG and latterly thrashed 4-1 at home by Lorient.

However, they’re well off the pace following a poor start to the season and it seems their focus is fixed on the Europa League – good news for followers of Andy Schooler’s outright preview, in which they were advised at 20/1.

Now priced as the biggest dangers to United at 3/1, Lyon’s domestic form can be overlooked and they should be too good for Besiktas, whose Champions League need is less significant given their five-point lead in the Turkish Super Lig.

That said, with the bang in-form Cenk Tosun leading the line Besiktas, who scored four at Trabzonspor at the weekend, may well trouble the scorer in what should be a thriller.

Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette might be second only to Zlatan in terms of this competition’s most potent threat and he was rested for this at the weekend, which perhaps explains why Lyon’s threat in attack was limited.

Previously, they’d scored 28 goals in six home matches and haven’t failed to find the net at Parc Olympique since a 0-0 draw with Sevilla in the Champions League last year.

Indeed, only twice all season have they been shut out, the other occasion by defensive European specialists Juventus, so it’s difficult to see Besiktas returning home with Lyon having failed to register.

As such, they will feel like an away goal is a must and this game seems sure to produce fireworks. Indeed, if you can find a price it’d be worth backing to be the highest-scoring on the night.

Elsewhere, Genk caused an upset when beating rivals Gent in the previous round, but they’ve not played competitively since and are vulnerable to Celta Vigo.

Again, the Spanish side are focused on this – they rested top-scorer Iago Aspas on Sunday – and while their home record is patchy, Genk lost 5-3 to similar La Liga opponents earlier this season, progressing because of their superb 2-0 in the reverse game with Athletic Bilbao.

Perhaps they can pull of another upset as they’ve been doing all season, but the first task is to stay in touch on Thursday night and I reckon they’d happily head home having lost 2-1, which is arguably the most likely outcome.

Finally, there doesn’t appear to be much between Ajax and Schalke with the Germans a shade of odds-on to progress.

I’d rather back Ajax, who are in superb form domestically, but then again that form has taken them to within a point of Feyenoord at the top of the table with just four games left whereas mid-table Bundesliga side Schalke can give their full attention to this.

Source: Ben Coley