Football betting analyst Mark O’Haire shares his thoughts on the best bets available for the remaining four Champions League Last 16 first leg fixtures this midweek.
City Uncomfortable Favourites In Madrid
The pressure is on at Manchester City.
The defending Premier League champions have been cut adrift in the domestic title race, and with a ban from Europe’s premier club competition incoming, the Citizens are desperate to enjoy success in the Champions League this season.
Pep Guardiola’s group have been labelled as competition favourites from the outset despite reaching the semi-finals just once since becoming regulars on this stage in 2013/14.
There’s no doubt City have the potential to mix it with the very best on the planet when on-song, although the Blue Moon have struggled for consistency and defensive solidity this term.
The timely return from injury of Aymeric Laporte could solve the latter issue – the Citizens kept back-to-back Premier League clean sheets for the first time since October with the French ace back in the XI – and with Raheem Sterling also available again for selection, Guardiola has an almost fully fit squad to select from.
However, the Catalan coach has been known to overthink these knockout ties and I’m surprised to see City chalked up as favourites for an away first leg in Madrid.
Guardiola holds an alarmingly W2-D3-L6 return in away Champions League knockout ties since 2014/15 with triumphs arriving against Basel and Schalke, while two of the stalemates came against Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Meanwhile, the Citizens have a track record for falling short against the continent’s standout sides on their travels, returning W1-D1-L10 in games at Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid, Juventus, Liverpool, PSG and a Dortmund side that reached the final in 2012/13. In more recent times, the visitors have W0-D1-L6, failing to net in each loss since 2014/15.
Real Madrid might not be the force they once were when Cristiano Ronaldo was leading the charge but the hosts remain one of Europe’s elite and are difficult to dismiss as home underdogs.
The Spaniards can be supported at 1.83 with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap and that looks the smartest play considering the dynamics of the tie.
Los Blancos’ recent results have seen Zinedine Zidane’s side surrender the summit in La Liga, but expect the French boss to return to his preferred system and starting XI for this Bernabeu encounter, particularly in defence where first-choice back four Ferland Mendy, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal will reconvene for the hosts.
When Zidane has fielded his preferred backline, Real have W7-D4-L0 this season, collecting seven clean sheets in the process. The current incarnation of the Spanish giants is more robust than predecessors – Madrid are more functional rather than flashy in a 4-4-2 that features Karim Benzema leading the line – but they’re also a force to reckoned with.
Barcelona To Fall Short In Naples
Gennaro Gattuso and Quique Setien make their debuts as Champions League coaches on Tuesday night as Napoli entertain Barcelona at the Stadio San Paolo and I’m backing the hosts to pick up a positive first leg result in Italy.
Napoli have endured a tumultuous campaign.
Carlo Ancelotti expertly guided the group to the knockout stages before a full-blown on-and-off-field crisis threatened to derail the campaign. Gattuso has since picked up the pieces and gradually brought a sense of calm and confidence back to the camp, and his motivational skills could be key in Naples.
The Partenopei’s ability to turn it on in matches that matter cannot be overlooked.
In 2020 alone, Napoli have deservedly beaten Juventus here in Serie A action, as well as turning over Inter Milan and Lazio in Coppa Italia action. It’s now six victories in seven for Gattuso’s outfit with the hosts scoring in all bar one of their last 20 home Champions League ties.
The atmosphere at the San Paolo is expected to be white-hot and there’s plenty of reason to believe Barcelona could wither under such scrutiny. The Catalan giants are a formidable beast at their Camp Nou base but the Blaugrana have often failed to fire on their Champions League travels, winning just six of their past 16 away days in Europe.
Barca’s struggles have been exemplified against the continent’s elite and the visitors have returned just W3-D4-L6 against the likes of Inter, Juventus, Atletico, Chelsea, Dortmund, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, PSG, Roma and Spurs since April 2016, including a horrendous W1-D2-L5 record in knockout fixtures alone by an aggregate of 2-17.
Setien’s side arrive without Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and Jordi Alba, have W2-D2-L2 on their domestic travels since mid-December, with both away wins under the new boss’ management arriving by the narrowest of margins against third-tier Ibiza in the Copa del Rey, as well as Real Betis. At the prices, I’m happy to again oppose Barcelona away.
Old Lady To Overcome Lyon
Lyon have endured a miserable season and it’s hard to see how Les Gones might be capable of matching Juventus over two legs in their Champions League.
The French club qualified for the knockout stage despite winning just two group-stage games in arguably the softest pool, generating just 7.80 Expected Goals (xG), the lowest of all sides in the Last 16.
Tension between club supporters and head coach Rudi Garcia hasn’t helped harmony at OL, although on-field performances have fallen below acceptable standards.
Lyon are slap bang in mid-table in Ligue 1 and were recently in their lowest league position at this stage of a season since 1997 following a series of underwhelmingly poor displays.
Les Gones managed just five shots in their most recent home outing against Strasbourg – their fewest here since December 2016 – and the hosts have toiled since skipper and creative hub Memphis Depay suffered a season-ending injury in December. The Dutch playmaker registered 14 goals in 18 appearances this term and was vital in Europe.
Lyon have been comfortably dispatched in both games against PSG in Ligue 1 and so Juventus should be feeling bullishly confident about collecting a first leg lead in France on Wednesday night.
The Old Lady might now have completely clicked into gear under Maurizio Sarri’s watch but this is the time the Italian champions tend to come alive.
The Bianconeri have stuttered at Napoli, Verona and Milan of late. However, Juventus have W12-D4-L3 record their travels in Europe since 2016/17, including wins at top outfits Sevilla, Lyon themselves, Porto, Spurs, Real Madrid, Valencia, Man Utd and Leverkusen, and so it’s hard to look past them at 1.95 considering how Lyon having regressed this term.
Cristiano Ronaldo is in the midst of a Serie A record run for goalscoring, has already reached double figures for both goals and assists in 2019/20, whilst Paulo Dybala has also excelled in the final-third this calendar year. With Giorgio Chiellini back from a ban and Leonardo Bonucci rested following his domestic ban, the visitors possess strength across the park.
- Real Madrid +0.25 – 2 units @ 1.83
- Napoli +0.50 – 3 units @ 1.78
- Juventus – 2 units @ 1.98