The draw for the Round of 32 that starts the Europa League’s knockout phase has paired together two Eastern European teams whose paths to this stage of the competition have been rather different.
Red Star Belgrade slogged it out in the group phase of this tournament, finishing second in Group H behind Arsenal and above FC Koln.
CSKA Moscow, meanwhile, were eliminated from the Champions League after finishing third in Group A; the highest points tally of any third-placed team in the competition.
So it will be interesting to see how those two journeys mesh when the two teams meet for the first leg on February 13 – not February 15, like the rest of the last 32 matches.
Either way, don’t expect a thriller if you plan on tuning into the match on TV. Five of Red Star’s six group games in the Europa League witnessed just one goal or fewer; don’t expect to be entertained by the Serbs!
1. The Bookies Choice
Basically, the bookmakers haven’t a clue about how this game is going to pan out, but find out what are the sure betting tips.
That’s why Red Star can be backed at odds of 3.00 to get the win, while CSKA Moscow are a slight favourite at 2.60. The draw is available at 3.25.
2. Where the Money Is
As mentioned, the key factor here is Red Star Belgrade’s ability to completely close matches down and grind out a result.
Take their three matches on home soil in the group phase of this competition. They lost 0-1 to Arsenal but only thanks to Olivier Giroud’s late 85th minute goal, enjoyed a narrow 1-0 win over FC Koln despite perhaps not being the better side, and drew 1-1 with BATE Borisov despite there being nine shots on target in the match and the woodwork being rattled twice!
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Basically, whenever the Serbs are involved it more often than not descends into a low-scoring encounter regardless of the nature of the match.
CSKA Moscow are less predictable, however. In their Champions League campaign they won three and lost as many matches – a sure sign of their inconsistency. Maybe it is worth a risk to put a bet on them, for example at William Hill.
Surprisingly, they won two of their away matches against Basel and Benfica, and gave a good account of themselves at Old Trafford against Manchester United. They did go down 1-2, but had led 1-0 at half time against what was, to all intents and purposes, a first-choice United starting eleven.
After a torrid run away from home in the Champions League, where they lost 12 of 15 away matches in the competition between 2012 and 2016, the Russians have bounced back with those performances above plus wins at Young Boys and AEK Athens in the qualifying round. Their away day hoodoo in European competition is well and truly over.
The nature of Red Star’s performances means they are tough to beat – but it may only take one goal to defeat them.
CSKA are solid defensively, more often than not, and in Alan Dzagoev and Vitinho they have plenty of goal power themselves. As such, we’re happy to back them at 2.60 to win this match knowing that they have beaten better opposition than Red Star in the past couple of months.
Having been eliminated from the Champions League, CSKA Moscow have plenty to prove now they have been moved into the Europa League. But can they get the better of the stubborn Red Star Belgrade?