Atleti vs Juve & Schalke vs City Champions League Preview
February 20, 2019
The Champions League is finally back and this week sees some of the best fixtures we’ve seen at this stage of the competition.
Of the eight teams competing, all but one are in the top three of their respective leagues, and each has some very big names in their squads. So, let’s just jump right into it and have a look at the fantastic week of Champions League football ahead.
Atletico Madrid vs Juventus
This match sees two of the best teams in Europe go up against each other, but it’s anyone’s guess whether we’ll see an instant classic or a cagey affair. There’s nothing to be said against the quality of the sides, but both clubs have similar philosophies when it comes to approaching the game. The word ‘defensive’ is often used interchangeably in football with others like ‘dull’ and ‘boring’, you need only look to Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United to see that. To me, this is one of the greatest tragedies of modern football.
I remember watching Serie A back in the noughties and thinking it was the best football I’d ever seen. It was slower than the Premier League and lacked the raw physicality that appeals to so many, but there was a tactical grace to be found in nearly every match. The overall quality of the league has waned since then, but Juventus have managed to translate that Italian spirit to the modern game. They are defensive, but without lacking an attacking output, and their ability to suffocate a match when needed has brought them countless wins. Ruthlessly efficient, Juventus’ mastery of this side of the game is something to marvel at times.
Atletico employ a similar style, which is all the more surprising when you consider the way La Liga teams generally play. Spanish football is all about possession and passing, constantly controlling the ball so that the opposition never get a chance to attack. Atletico have created something of a hybrid, dictating the flow of the match by stifling those who face them, rather than dominating them. It’s a single-minded focus on the win. Stats mean nothing to Madrid’s manager Diego Simone, only the end result carries weight.
While they will have to be on top form to beat Juventus, Atlético go into the match confident thanks to their form this season and the experience they have in Europe. They are unbeaten in their last six games against Italian opposition in the Champions League and have one of the best defensive records in Europe. Their squad is good too, with Lucas Hernandez the only noticeable absence, plus a line-up that features some of Spain’s top talents including Koke, Saul and Diego Costa. Former Juventus man, Alvaro Morata, who recently signed to Atletico on loan, has had a torrid time since leaving Turin and may have a point to prove on the day.
Juventus’ squad might be better, but only marginally. One name stands out amongst both sets of players; Cristiano Ronaldo. Atletico are no strangers to his goalscoring exploits, but knowing about Ronaldo’s talent and stopping it are entirely different propositions. If the Old Lady do well, they will probably have their Portuguese maestro to thank for it. They have no fitness problems to speak of, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci both recovering from injuries to make the squad. With both teams at full strength, neither has any excuse to show anything other than their best. That said, there’s nothing really to split the two sides and that’s exactly how I think it will play out. It might not be the most explosive in terms of goals, but I have a suspicion we might be treated to a tactical masterclass from both.
Prediction: Atleti 1-1 Juve – 9/2 with Betfred
Schalke vs Manchester City
If there is a mismatch to be found in the knockout stages, it’s probably this fixture. I’m a firm believer that there are no easy ties, especially in the Champions League, but it’s hard to frame City as anything other than heavy favourites. They haven’t hit the heights of their 100 points, record-breaking season last year but are still one of the most frightening prospects in the competition and currently sit atop the Premier League table.
One of the biggest talking points of the match revolves around German superstar Leroy Sane, who started his professional career at Schalke. He has progressed massively since then, becoming one of the hottest prospects in world football and is an incredible talent in his own right already. He’s got everything you want from an attack-minded player; goals, assists and bags of skill. He also has the ability to glide past players like almost no one else on the planet, turning players effortlessly and making chances from impossible positions. Whether he can do the business against his old club remains to be seen, but his form suggests the Schalke fullbacks might be in for a tough night.
For any Schalke fans looking to the stats for a bit of hope, I’m afraid it makes for grim reading. While they did qualify to the knockout stages, they only managed a meagre five goals in the six group stage matches. Their saving grace was the defence, which managed to shut out the opposition on four occasions, but since then it has deteriorated rapidly. Schalke have conceded at least one goal in thirteen of the last fifteen matches. The attack hasn’t improved either and has managed to score more than once in just four of the last fifteen. When you’re going up against one of the best sides in the world, having issues with both scoring and conceding goals is definitely not what they want.
There is a light in the tunnel for Schalke though, albeit a dim one. Manchester City have a few players missing, with back-up keeper Claudio Bravo side-lined with a long-term injury plus Gabriel Jesus and John Stones, who have both had late fitness problems. Benjamin Mendy and Vincent Kompany are fit, but may not be ready to start. Even with these injuries though, City still have a brilliant squad and cover for each of the positions mentioned. The one position you might point out as a weakness is at left back, but even then, youngster Oleksandr Zinchenko has stepped up to the plate in the place of Fabian Delph and Mendy.
I hate making predictions for City matches as I remember the years of ‘typical City’ when we’d somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. However, Schalke are fourteenth in their league and have struggled in many of the matches they’ve played, both domestically and in the Champions League. They laboured to the knockout stages, but beating City should be a step too far for them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching City under Guardiola over the past two and a half years, it’s that he will want to get the result secured as soon as possible. He’ll field the strongest side he can and I expect the team to be on fire right from the off. I’m probably biased on this, but if the match plays out how the numbers and form suggest, it could be a night to forget for the German side.
Prediction: Schalke 0-4 Manchester City – 19/2 with SportNation
Find all your football betting odds and Champions League betting odds here
Cyrus has been writing about sports and many other topics for major publications over the past five years. Now working in digital marketing, he spends his days arguing over football and dreaming of his beloved Manchester City winning the champions league.