The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 approaches with teams looking to cement their spots ahead of perilous second-leg fixtures. There are some exciting match-ups like the enchanting Shakhtar Donetsk going up against Bayern Munich while last season's quarter-final foes Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea do battle once again. Porto and Basel each have a grand opportunity to make their way into this season's Champions League quarter-finals but Schalke have slim hopes of overturning the challenge of European champions, Real Madrid. There’s cracking football in store and lots of money to be made. Let’s get to it then.
Tuesday 17 February 2015
Shakhtar Donetsk 7/1
Bayern Munich 4/10
Pep Guardiola’s ferocious Bayern Munich side had no problem coasting through arguably the strongest group in the competition which contained champions from England, Netherlands and Russia. The Bavarians recorded three shutout wins at home and only lost once, away to the Citizens in a wild game that featured red cards and a hat-trick for Sergio Aguero. The nine-time Ukrainian champions are very much an unfamiliar foe, at least to Bayern, as the two sides have never met on the European stage. Shakhtar are a very dangerous side and Mircea Lucescu has managed to create a successful team with plenty of experience in the Champions League. To their advantage they will face Bayern without the burden of expectation on their shoulders; by all accounts, the Germans will be expected to win. Bayern’s best performance in the group was their 7-1 hammering of Roma, as they became the first side in Champions League history to score five first-half goals away from home. That same night, Shakhtar did them one better with a 7-0 win against BATE Borisov, with six goals scored before the halftime whistle. Of course, scoring against Bayern is a very different task from finding the net against BATE but it will be difficult to stop Luiz Adriano, who is the top scorer in the competition with nine goals. Shakhtar only lost once in the group, against Athletic Bilbao, but that defeat did come at home and with the class and quality Bayern have, you’d fancy the German champions to oust their opponents. Back Bayern to get the victory, though Both Teams To Score at 19/20 is where the value lies.
Paris St. Germain 17/10
After the last sixteen draw was made, Chelsea vs PSG was one of the more exciting looking fixtures especially after last season’s exhilarating Champions League quarter-final which saw the Blues overcome a 3-1 first leg deficit to advance to the semi-finals with a 2-0 home victory. The French champions waged an impressive group stage campaign, which included stunning wins over Barcelona and Ajax. Laurent Blanc has instilled a better team ethos and setup than PSG have had in the past and they've been reaping the rewards. Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains their most potent attacking threat with eleven goals in seventeen games this season; the Parisians rarely lose when Zlatan is on the field and it was his absence at Stamford Bridge last year that was arguably the biggest factor in Chelsea's eventual win. Led by the Special One, the Blues are certainly one of the favourites to win this season's Champions League. Chelsea are loaded with talent in every position, having one of the world's best strikers in Diego Costa and one of the best goalkeepers in Thibaut Courtois. When you factor in the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and now Juan Cuadrado, they only become more formidable. Mind you with all the attacking talent they have, Nemanja Matic is the master of his domain. You won’t see him strutting his stuff across the pitch and doing anything fancy on the ball, but he’s the ultimate team player, who helps the more creative players flourish. Although Ibrahimovic didn’t play against Chelsea last season, neither did Matic who was cup tied having played for Benfica in the play-offs and you’ll be forgiven if you thought Chelsea didn’t play with a striker too. This time, the Blues are well prepared having strengthened their squad over the summer. PSG have struggled for consistency in Ligue 1 but they’ve been unconquerable at home with twelve wins and three draws, scoring 31 goals while conceding just nine times in all competitions. Given that impressive home form, Mourinho will accept a draw in Paris but at the same time will be pushing for the away goal that could prove to be decisive. Having said that, the score draw looks a likely result at 31/10 using the Matchbet + Both Teams to Score market, and as for the second leg, we’ll cross that Bridge when we get there.
Wednesday 18 February 2015
FC Basel 21/10
Both FC Basel and Porto were not expected to progress much further into the competition, but this two-legged encounter guarantees at least one of the tournament's big outsiders will be in the quarter-final stage. The Swiss champions are certainly not a side with many household names but they’re an ambitious young team that will be stubborn opponents for the Portuguese outfit. Given their victory over Liverpool at home, plus their ability to turn it on in crucial matches as they have previously shown in the competition, they should be a tough team to beat. Taulant Xhaka, the diminutive Swiss playmaker is among their biggest attacking threats and Fabian Schar is a rock at the back, not forgetting Marco Streller who may be old but still gold. Porto won their group with ease, only Shakhtar Donetsk managing to take points off them. The aggressive style utilised by Julen Lopetegui's squad has served them well, as many teams have struggled to keep up with their pace and athleticism. Jackson Martinez is the focus of Porto's attacking efforts and for good reason. He's big, athletic, and is a natural finisher. It should be a very close affair but I don’t see Basel losing. They’re difficult to beat at home. Take Basel to win or draw at 11/20.
Real Madrid 4/10
Real Madrid and Schalke will go head-to-head on Wednesday night for what can only be described as a blood bath waiting to happen. Los Blancos destroyed the German side last year, beating them 6-1 at the Veltins-Arena and 3-1 at home – a 9-2 aggregate. The current holders of the European Cup are chasing their eleventh title after finally completing La Decima last season. Madrid were the best team in group stage play winning all of their games, scoring sixteen goals and collecting a maximum eighteen points, barely being challenged along the way. This Schalke team don’t score goals at will and have managed just three in their last four home games. Their defensive line will struggle to stop Real Madrid's attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. Los Blancos on the half-time/full-time win double looks a top bet at even money.
That quad works out to 24/1. Get on!