Spurs vs City, Porto vs Liverpool: Champions League Betting Preview
April 17, 2019
In the build-up to the last leg of this fixture, I talked about why Tottenham might have the mental edge over City.
Many had dismissed Spurs’ chances, arguing that, if this were a Premier League game, there would be no doubt as to who the heavy favourite would be. But despite the teams, it wasn’t an English match, it was very much a Champions League encounter. In this competition, Manchester City have historically been a very different team compared to their league form. And last week, we also got a very different Pep Guardiola.
Domestically, City play far and away the best attacking football. I don’t just mean in an offensive sense either, they literally attack the ball from the get-go. Famed for their pressing and determination to win back possession, at this point, it is essentially unheard of to see City simply allow the opposition to play. However, this is exactly what they did against Tottenham. Spurs were able to put together long periods of passing play and set up in City’s half. They dictated play to a certain extent and this ultimately cost Guardiola’s side.
Now, the other side of this is that if City had got any kind of result from the game, there would be no questions over Guardiola’s team selection. If Aguero finishes the penalty or one of the other many chances they had somehow sneaked in, I might even be praising Pep for switching it up a bit. But City didn’t win and there are a few too many problems with the way they approached the game for me to ignore. Resting both Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane I could just about understand, but to not bring either of them until the last few minutes is almost unforgivable.
It’s not like his reasons for the set up aren’t understandable. To start, City are in the enviable position of being able to dictate their fate in the league, albeit with some very tough fixtures. They have to face Spurs again before a trip to Old Trafford, and that’s without mentioning the test they faced at Crystal Palace over the weekend. If they win all of these games, they will finish the season as Premier League champions. Perhaps Pep simply feels City have a better chance of that than winning the Champions League, but that would seem out of character. The man is a born winner, he will go all out for every piece of silverware available.
Instead, I think City’s recent history in the competition has influenced the way he approaches these matches, for better or for worse. In his first season, he was knocked out by Monaco at their ground through the away goals rule after letting a golden lead slip. Last year, City were knocked out after a horrendous first leg at Anfield, leaving them with far too much to rectify at the Etihad. Both of these away fixtures sent them packing and both times they played their usual expansive game. If City went to Tottenham’s fabulous new stadium, set up like a normal Premier league match and lost 3-0, Pep might well have been criticised for not playing more conservatively.
Trailing 1-0 on aggregate isn’t exactly what they would have wanted, but it doesn’t mean they’re out. City will have to be on top form to win the match and a Spurs goal would make the task exponentially more difficult. But they are still more than capable of overturning the tie if they play at their absolute peak. If City do end up winning the tie, Pep might feel vindicated and the loss will be forgotten. Last week, Tottenham played a very cautious Manchester City and prospered as a result. Tonight, I’d be surprised if we saw the same.
Injuries and Manchester City have been inseparable this season and they have a couple of concerns again ahead of this fixture. The one Pep will be most worried about is the fitness of midfield workhorse Fernandinho. The Brazilian has been instrumental to City’s system for years now and, even at the age 33, he continues to be one of their most important players. He has trained ahead of the match, but it remains to be seen whether he will start. Left-back might also be an issue as, even though there are no out and out injuries, both Fabien Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko are doubts for the tie.
This leaves an opening for Benjamin Mendy, who has missed much of the season through injury himself. The Frenchmen adds a different dimension to City’s offensive play and has the ability to cause havoc for opposition teams. On the other flank, I think Danilo might get the nod over Kyle Walker, who started at the weekend and has been a little inconsistent as of late. At centre-back, John Stones has been steadily making his way back to full match fitness and should start this match, with the indomitable Aymeric Laporte starting alongside him.
In midfield, if Fernandinho isn’t ready to start, Ilkay Gundogan is the man most likely to replace him. The German has had a quietly competent season and has shown he can fill the holding role. Bernardo Silva will almost certainly start in front of him and has been one of the most consistent performers in the side. Pep then has a choice between David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, not exactly the worst dilemma to have as a manager! I think De Bruyne will get the nod, purely because he is much more of an impact player than his Spanish centre teammate.
I generally pick Sane for every match prediction I get, because there are few players who can singlehandedly influence a match as he can. However, Pep doesn’t seem to agree with me and has rested the German international for some of City’s most important games this season. He had a really good game at Selhurst Park over the weekend though and showed enough for him to start. Raheem Sterling should also be called upon to help in the wide areas, while the magnificent Sergio Aguero will spearhead the attack if he’s fit.
As for Spurs, there are a few players in doubt, but the biggest story will be the absence of Harry Kane. The English striker suffered a potentially season-ending ankle injury after a heavy collision with Delph in the last leg. The good news for Spurs fans is that Heung Min Son was more than capable occupying the role for the remainder of that match, firing them into the lead after Kane had come off.
He’s not the only one who has shown a goal scoring touch for Spurs after Lucas Moura scored the first hattrick in their new Stadium at the against Huddersfield. That showing might have been enough to get him on the team sheet for this one. With Son and Moura on the wings, and Kane out injured, Fernando Llorente might be drafted into the most important match of his Spurs career.
Christian Eriksen will be the first name in midfield, but Spurs will be without a couple of key personnel in that area. Both Harry Winks and Dele Ali are doubts for the trip to the Etihad, which could leave Tottenham shorthanded in an area where they can’t afford to be. With Eric Dier still struggling with a hip problem, Wanyama and Moussa Sissoko will probably get the nod. This might mean they play in a quite defensive fashion, but that could be just the trick to keeping the lead.
Speaking of defence, Tottenham’s back four will have to be on top form to stop City scoring. The Belgium duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen will be the ones with the biggest say in this, though Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose will have a job on their hands to stop the pace of City’s wingers. Hugo Lloris was the first half hero last week after saving Aguero’s penalty and should start again.
As far as a prediction goes, I think City will win the match, but the tie is much harder to call. One goal from Spurs and suddenly City need three to progress which might just be a step too far for them. I would be shocked if Guardiola’s side didn’t turn up on the day, but the precarious nature of away goals makes their job much more difficult. That said, City have to win regardless, if only for pride and Pep won’t allow them to slip up again.
Manchester City 1-0 Liverpool (City 4-3 on penalties) – 8/1 with Betfair
FC Porto vs Liverpool
Liverpool head into tonight’s other Champions League fixture with a 2-0 lead on aggregate, which leaves them in a very good position to progress. While nothing is ever certain in football, you would expect Jurgen Klopp and co to do the business against a side they should beat comfortably. Having said that, you need only look to Ajax’ European exploits this season to see that you should never count the underdog out.
However, Porto aren’t Ajax and they haven’t shown anything to suggest they could replicate that type of success. Moussa Marega, one of the stars of their continental campaign so far, was woeful in the last leg. He failed to really threaten Liverpool at any point and was representative of the difference in quality between the two teams as a whole. While there are no easy matches, this is one fixture Liverpool will be looking forward to.
As for the red team from Merseyside, the next few weeks will be pivotal, not just for their season but their history. In all honesty, it’s been a ridiculous season and perhaps one of the best ever. Just in case you don’t agree, if Liverpool were to win their remaining league games, they will have been one win off being invincible centurions. The most astounding thing is that they could do all that and still finish second.
With Juventus and Real Madrid out, Liverpool have a very strong chance in the Champions League this year. There has been a lot of conversation about Manchester City’s potential quadruple hopes, but if Liverpool were to win a Premier League and Champions League double, they would put themselves right up there with the best.
Picking the team won’t be the most difficult job for Porto manager Sergio Conceicao as he has no fitness concerns to speak of. Because of the aggregate score, I expect we’ll see the strongest line-up possible. In attack, Tiquinho Saores will probably start in the centre, with Yacine Brahimi and Moussa Marega on the wings to provide the width.
There is good news for Porto in the form of midfielder Hector Herrera, who returns to the side after a suspension. He’ll be joined by Danilo Pereira and the two will probably operate as holding midfielders. Oliver Torres will operate just in front of them to help with the attack and supply the front three.
Defence sees another key player return from suspension as ex-Real Madrid veteran Pepe is now cleared to play. From on old Madridista to a future one, the outgoing Eder Militoa will almost certainly start alongside him. Left-back Alex Telles has been courted by some of the best clubs in Europe for a few years now and for good reason. The Brazilian has been class for Porto and is one of the best talents in the side. He’ll be joined by Corona on the right flank. The legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas completes the team.
For Jurgen Klopp, the only real injury concern he has to deal with is that of Dejan Lovren who misses out through illness. This won’t be too much of a problem for him though, as he has arguably the best defender in the world in Virgil Van Dijk. Joel Matip might not be the biggest star in the world, but he is a capable replacement for Lovren. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have been sensational together and will also start, with Alison providing the last line of defence in goal.
Fabinho has been a great signing and has played a few roles under Klopp this year, though he will probably be deployed in the holding position. Jordan Henderson has enjoyed operating in a more advanced position recently and will probably start there along with Georginio Wijanldum. The three have helped Liverpool massively in their pursuit of silverware and tonight should be no different.
Liverpool’s front three have been on fire all year long and, despite the lead they have, I don’t see Klopp changing anything for this game. Sadio Mane has found a rich vein of goalscoring form and Roberto Firmino has really settled into his current role; both will make the starting line-up. Mo Salah has been, well, Mo Salah and is about as close to a guaranteed starter as you’re likely to get.
Porto have it all to do in this game. There are questions over whether they can get a result, let alone win the tie, and if they progress it would be one of the biggest shocks the Champions League has ever seen. Even if Liverpool start in second gear, it should still be enough to progress comfortably. I never like to write a team off, but it’s difficult to see anything other than a Liverpool win.
Liverpool 2-0 Porto – 9/1 with Ladbrokes
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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.