Liverpool and Newcastle United will be expected to confirm their progress into the Europa League group stage when they return to action on Thursday night.
Liverpool v Hearts – 8:05pm
What a difference a week can make, especially if you are Brendan Rodgers. Seven days ago it appeared as though the knives were being sharpened after the opening-day debacle at West Brom. Had the Reds followed that 3-0 defeat up with another loss at Hearts in the first leg of their play-off clash then Rodgers may have become a marked man.
As it was, Liverpool rode their luck a bit as they picked up a 1-0 win thanks to an own goal from Andy Webster. Rodgers’ men have since followed that up with a good showing against Manchester City, when only two individual mistakes cost them all three points.
Given their advantage from the first leg, and with a game against Arsenal to come on Sunday, Liverpool will do well not to look beyond the Jambos. The Reds are 2/9 with Betfred
to win the match, with Hearts 12/1 and the draw 5/1.
Rodgers will hope he can keep his players focused on the job in hand and he should name another strong starting XI after fielding some big names in Edinburgh last week.
Nuri Shain could make his debut after failing to sign in time to face City at the weekend, while Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Adam Morgan are all pushing for starts. Andy Carroll could make his first start of the season against Hearts as Fabio Borini continues to struggle since his switch to Anfield.
Whoever starts for Liverpool will be expected to produce a professional performance as they look to do enough to reach Friday’s draw.
Hearts probably had their chance to cause an upset in the first leg and Liverpool’s extra quality should tell. The Reds are 6/1 to win 2-0 and 13/2 to run out winners 3-0.
Newcastle United v Atromitos Athens – 8pm
Last week we tipped the draw as being a good result for Newcastle in the first leg of their tie with the Greeks. Considering the team Alan Pardew put out and the conditions in Athens it was certainly an excellent result to record a 1-1 draw.
The Toon boss will more than likely keep faith with the majority of the players who did so well in the first leg, with Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigirimana and Romain Amalfitano all set to make their first starts at St James’ Park.
While the fans are desperate for a few European away days you get the sense Pardew would rather keep the club’s focus on the Premier League as they aim to build on last season’s success.
Given the Toon’s fairly small squad a European campaign is likely to take its toll and their league form may suffer as a result. Certainly they weren’t as good as they can be against Chelsea on Saturday, two days after the first leg with Atromitos.
The Greeks have responded well to the disappointment of drawing the first leg, winning the opening match of the season in their domestic league.
However, much like Hearts at Liverpool, a combination of home advantage and a bit of extra quality should make the difference. Newcastle are 4/11 for the win, with the draw 7/2 and Artomitos 8/1.