Full Champions League Betting Preview
March 12, 2019
The Champions League is back again, and after the events in Paris last week, this set of fixtures has a lot to live up to. There are some enticing prospects this week, so let’s get stuck in.
Manchester City vs Schalke
PSG and Real Madrid are out and one of Liverpool and Bayern will follow them soon. Juventus look to be heading the same way, barring a miraculous escape and even Barcelona’s tie against Lyon is no sure thing for the Catalan side. Two of the three teams I thought might win the Champions League are gone then, with the third hanging on by a thread. This is precisely the moment I was afraid of when City began their European campaign in September, the moment when hope starts to creep in.
Historically, Manchester City fans have been rather dismissive of the ‘greatest prize in football.‘ Part of this is no doubt down to the actions of UEFA who, after years of financial dominance by the likes of Barcelona, Madrid and Manchester United, decided that unlimited investment was suddenly a bad thing. You can probably guess how I feel about football’s second largest organisation, but despite that, the prospect of the Champions League has never been sullied. However, for many of my fellow blues, the tournament falls low on the priority list.
I’ve never understood this. I could get behind the booing of UEFA’s anthem at first and I particularly enjoyed the Citizen’s tongue in cheek response to the threats of punishment if the fans continued. But to actually devalue the competition, or think it unimportant, astounds me. Maybe it’s latent jealousy from when I was younger, I vividly remember seeing my Liverpool mates’ ecstasy in 2005 and wishing it could happen to us. It’s the missing piece in the contemporary tale of our club, something we have to win to count ourselves among the historic elite. And when it comes sticking it to UEFA, winning the Champions League feels like it would be the biggest middle finger possible.
Of course, I say all this while being acutely aware that this ‘us against the world’ attitude has become an integral part of City’s identity since the takeover in 2008. Just this week, three of football’s governing bodies have announced investigations into the club due to the allegations brought up Der Spiegel’s Football Leaks. Never mind the fact these documents were almost certainly obtained illegally and posted without any wider context, journalists and fans up down the country joined in unified disgust. Some might find it slightly suspect that these stories only come out when City are top of the Premier League.
A few years ago, this would have annoyed me. But that frustration has now turned to defiance, not just from me but the club as a whole. These weren’t the only headlines about City over the weekend, as news broke out that Pep Guardiola had agreed a four-year deal with Italian giants Juventus. Now, I didn’t actually believe it, but the sheer number of reports was enough to make me sweat a little. Cue the big man himself, who emerged into the press conference after City’s 3-1 over Watford with a speech that was essentially the sporting equivalent of the ‘I’m not leaving speech’ in The Wolf Of Wallstreet.
He rubbished the reports saying the only way he’d leave was if the board sacked him and even claimed he’d be open to an extension. He then went on to say that people were doing everything they could to discredit the club’s achievements and when asked about the allegations, he provided the perfect response; ‘I don’t care.’ It was a bullish reply, with more than a hint of animosity, and I absolutely loved it.
With talk of transfer bans, removal from the Champions League and a mass exodus, it was wonderful to see the boss sit in front of the nation’s media and essentially tell them to ‘**** off’. Whether it’s the fans, players or the gaffer himself, we don’t care about the headlines. The only thing that matters is how we play. And we have been playing some lovely stuff.
City head into the Schalke match with a 3-2 advantage on aggregate, with the away goals rule meaning their German opposition must score at least two to have any chance of progressing. They have the potential to cause a few problems, they showed that in the last leg when they came very near to beating City. But when the pressure gets piled on City, whether on the pitch or off it, this team thrives.
They’re in top form and this year has provided the biggest chance in the club’s history to get their hands on that elusive European title. For this reason alone, I’m backing City to win it. The blue side of Manchester need to send a statement and a big win in the Champions League at this stage would be the perfect way to do it. I think City will put out the strongest team they can and will aim to have the match wrapped up as soon as possible.
Prediction: City 3-0 Schalke – 6-1 with Betfred
Juventus vs Atletico Madrid
In the last leg, I wrote about how I thought we’d see a tight, tactical masterclass with few goals but really good, organised play from both sides. I was half right in that Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid got their tactics spot on, but Juventus somehow managed to fully capitulate on the day. This has led to the somewhat tricky job of predicting what’s going to happen now. The truth is, I honestly don’t know.
On the one hand, Juventus are currently one of the best teams on the planet. They’ve got an incredible squad, a vast amount of experience in the competition and a near indomitable record this season. With the addition of Ronaldo to the line-up, they were my top picks for winning the Champions League. There aren’t many teams you’d fancy to overturn a 2-0 deficit in Europe, but Juventus are a special side. On the other hand, Atletico Madrid are perhaps the most disciplined football team in existence and have an astounding defensive record. While Juventus are one of the only teams who could come back from this position, Atleti are probably the best team to defend it.
Simeone’s men have had the best defence in La Liga for the past three seasons now and have four consecutive clean sheets in this very competition. But again, Juventus’s goal scoring record is equally impressive, having scored in 22 consecutive games at home. It might all come down to squad strength and both teams are missing players. For Juventus, Douglas Costa is a doubt with a hamstring injury but could still make the squad. On top of that Sami Khedira and Juan Cuadrado will also miss out due to injury. Alex Sandro also misses out due to suspension.
Atletico don’t fare much better. Captain Diego Godin might be out with a muscular injury sustained over the weekend, while the left-back spot will give Simeone a bit of a headache as both Lucas Hernandez and Filipe Luis are out. Diego Costa is also a fitness doubt while holding midfielder Thomas Partey misses the tie through suspension. Both teams might need to rejig the formations and personnel, but neither has a significant advantage over the other in this respect.
I can’t see Juventus not scoring, there’s simply too much talent in the squad for them to go goalless. However, they’ll have to be at the absolute peak of their form to beat a dogged Atletico defence. Even if they do make the breakthrough, defending is what Atleti do better than pretty much anyone. They’re not too shabby on the counter either and, if Juventus go hard on the attack, there will plenty of space for them to exploit. I’m banking on a draw in this one, though in all honesty, it could be anything here.
Prediction: Juve 1-1 Atleti – 11/2 with Royal Panda
Bayern Munich vs Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp and co have a massive week ahead of them. Merseyside minds will forget about the Premier League momentarily to focus on their European exploits. They’ve stabilised after the mini-crisis against Everton and looked to be back to their best against struggling Burnley, but Bayern Munich will provide a much sterner test for Klopp’s men.
Form may provide a little insight into the team’s mentality going into it. Bayern have won five of their last six games in all competitions, with the only blemish the 0-0 draw at Anfield. They’ve successfully caught up to rivals Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and now sit top on goal difference. Compare this to Liverpool’s last six, they’ve won three and drawn the rest 0-0, whilst falling behind in the Prem. The wins were fairly impressive score lines; 3-0 against Bournemouth, 5-0 against Watford and 4-2 against Burnley. However, the calibre of these oppositions isn’t the best and their draws may be more telling than the victories.
Against Bayern in the home leg, they were pretty good but couldn’t find the breakthrough they so desperately wanted. But in the matches against Manchester United and Everton, they looked entirely spent. At Old Trafford, they struggled to match the newly rejuvenated United and were lucky to leave with the points. They created very little and were second best for most of the match. Their trip to Goodison brought with it their worst performance. They were lacklustre and bereft of any ideas. While they were much better in their most recent match, their recent struggles in front of goal against the bigger teams will be a source of concern.
Their away form in the Champions League has left much to be desired this season as well. All of Liverpool’s away matches in the group stages ended in defeat and they only scored one goal in that time, a James Milner penalty against PSG. The Reds often boast about the famous Anfield atmosphere and they might be on to something since they have effectively crumbled every time they’ve left their home ground in Europe this year. Against a team that is built for a night like this, something will have to change for Liverpool.
The good news for Liverpool fans is that there are few teams with a more intimidating front three. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah have been in imperious form this season, with the first two mentioned both bagging a brace over the weekend. The Egyptian King might be in the middle of a dry spell at the minute, but he’s still playing well and you wouldn’t bank on his duck lasting for too much longer. If the three of them click on the day, that alone might be enough to win it for them.
Momentum can change the course of a season and this could be a defining game for Liverpool. I don’t believe the Champions League is a distraction at this stage of the season, but if it is, it’s a necessary one. Klopp needs a win, not just to continue their hopes of rectifying the pain of last year, but also to keep the team spirits high as we enter the final part of a thrilling title race. However, Bayern Munich are by no means easy opposition and in their own backyard, they’ll be as strong an opponent as you can get in the Champions League. I think it will be tight, certainly with some goals though. A draw might be the likely outcome, and that would be enough to send the Reds through.
Prediction: Bayern 2-2 Liverpool – 11/1 with Black Type
Barcelona vs Lyon
When I previewed the first leg of this fixture, I said that Lyon were a great side and might cause Barcelona a few problems. I still thought Barcelona were going to win, but not by a large margin. Well, the French side did one better and emerged relatively unscathed in their match against the Catalan giants. Now, I actually don’t think I gave Lyon enough credit and I’m going to try and rectify that. That’s why I’m predicting Lyon might just go to the Nou Camp and nick a result.
Hear me out, because there is a little method to my madness. To start, the aggregate score currently sits at 0-0, which could play into Lyon’s hands massively. Barca coach Ernesto Valverde would’ve been hoping, possibly even expecting, to have taken a lead with him into the match. As it is, the onus is now on Barcelona to take the match to Lyon, which will suit the French side. They showed in the last leg that they could soak up a ton of pressure and you need only look to their group stage exploits against Manchester City to see how lethal they can be on the counter.
Add to this the return of Club captain and all-round world beater Nabil Fekir and suddenly there’s a potential threat for Barcelona. While the league form hasn’t been great recently, they’ve excelled in the cups, showing that on their day they can go toe to toe with anyone. All they need is one goal from a set piece or a pacey counter and they’ll effectively be ahead 2-0 in the tie due to away goals. I’m not saying it’s going a to be a straightforward game for Lyon, but there’s more than enough in it to suggest there may be a shock exit on the cards.
There is plenty to suggest I’m wrong though. With Real Madrid in freefall after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Barca have basically wrapped up the league at this point. They’re in great form anyway, but they can’t afford to rest players for these kinds of games. They’ve also booked a place in the Copa del Rey final, which leaves the Champions League the main priority for now. If there’s one thing Barcelona are exceptional at, it’s turning up when it counts. Simply carrying on the form of the past few weeks will put them in good stead.
Lyon are of course the underdog in this match, but I think that will suit them nicely. They can go their relatively free of pressure and the players will hopefully feel open to express themselves on the pitch. Barcelona are a terrifying prospect for any team, but Lyon have already shown they can match the crème de la crème of Europe. If they go out with a solid game plan, have all their players on top form and maybe get a little bit of luck, they’re more than capable of getting something from the match.
Prediction: Barcelona 0-1 Lyon – 33/1 with Betfair
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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.