Europa League 2011/12 latest odds, news and free bets

Manchester United and Schalke played each other in the semi-final of the Champions League last season, although the two teams find themselves in the Europa League this time around

While the German side were always going to pay the price for a poor domestic campaign while their European adventure kept going, the Red Devils were originally in the elite competition this term before finishing behind Benfica and Basel in the group stage.

Manchester City were also unable to claim a top two spot after Bayern Munich and Napoli claimed the qualifying berths, while Valencia are another surprise Europa League default entrant thanks to Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen shunting them out.

It means that the Europa League is a lot more attractive proposition than previous seasons and City are the bookmaker favourites at 5/1 (Betfred free bets) with Roberto Mancini’s side facing a very tough last 32 tie against FC Porto.

After all, the Portuguese champions are the holders of this tournament, although the return of Yaya Toure from African Nations duty is a timely one and Carlos Tevez might even be involved when it comes to making progress in this competition.

Perhaps we will see an all-Manchester final in Romania come May and you can get 25/1 (Bet Victor £50 free bet) about that happening which would firstly require the teams to effectively be in opposite halves of the draw.

However, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team aren’t exactly guaranteeed to reach the last sixteen after being paired with Ajax, another Champions League casualty who were cruelly denied by Lyon’s amazing goalfest in the final matchday of the group stages.

United are a 7/1 chance (Ladbrokes bookmaker) to win this competition, with Wayne Rooney pointing out that Sir Alex Ferguson had never won this trophy, although we can be sure that players such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs will be used sparingly considering there is the small matter of a Premier League title to clinch.

We might see a very youthful team take on Ajax and it could be that the Dutch side are great value at 50/1 if they can get past their English opponents.

Finally, we shouldn’t forget Stoke City, who have been massively unfortunate to draw Valencia after working their way to the last 32 after playing in the preliminary stages. The Potters are not in great form at the moment and much depends on whether Los Che will field a strong team in this tournament.

FC Schalke will expect to get the better of Viktoria Plzen over two legs, while Atletico Madrid v Lazio is another tie of the round, with the Spanish side favourite to make progress.

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