The Champions League knockout stage continues on Tuesday and Wednesday with another set of cracking encounters lined up. Manchester City and Barcelona meet in the Round of 16 for the second year running, with the English champions looking to rewrite the script this time. Juventus and Borussia Dortmund will revive memories of the 1997 Champions League final when they meet in Turin, while Arsene Wenger faces first love Monaco, where he began his managerial career, with Bayer Leverkusen meeting last season's finalists Atletico Madrid in what looks to be a tightly contested affair.
Tuesday 24 February 2015
Man City 23/10
Manchester City welcome Barcelona to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night in what promises to be a mouth-watering encounter given the talent on show. Manuel Pellegrini has led the English giants past the competition's group stage for the second time in their history, but their lack of European pedigree will get a stiff examination when the Chilean is reunited with his old La Liga rivals. The Catalans are certainly one of the biggest teams in world football and City probably fancy themselves as being in the same bracket. The Citizens haven’t been blessed with friendly draws in their very short Champions League history and they face another tough task against a side full of experience and quality. With the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, Barcelona have South America’s cream of the crop, capable of pure brilliance. The four-time winners of the competition currently sit second in La Liga just a point behind leaders Real Madrid, and they will rightly start the tie as favourites. Given the kind of form Sergio Aguero has been in this term—he's scored 21 goals and made five assists in 21 starts across all competitions—the Citizens know they have the firepower to exploit the Barcelona defence. David Silva, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and new signing Wilfried Bony—who will be raring to make his debut—are well capable of hurting opposition back lines, but on the other hand, so is every Barca player. The Citizens have been inconsistent in the competition and aren’t in the best of form having picked up just one win in their last six matches, with three draws and two defeats. Luis Enrique’s men are in a rich vein of form with eleven successive victories. I’m going for Both Teams to Score with Barcelona to edge it - using the Matchbet + Both Teams to Score market - at 26/10.
Juventus sit top of Serie A under the management of Massimo Allegri while Dortmund are languishing in fifteenth place in the Bundesliga following a dreadful start to their campaign. The Italian champions are yet to lose at home this season with eleven victories and three draws in all competitions, where they’ve scored a remarkable 35 goals and conceded a mere eight. Dortmund have been outrageous domestically, but have impressed in Europe with four wins and a draw from six matches, winning their group above Arsenal by virtue of goal difference. Missing most of the season with injury, Marco Reus has found himself since returning at the end of January. In his last two matches, the German attacker has two goals with one assist and his form makes a big difference. It could go either way, but, with Dortmund’s pace on the break combined with the intensity of their pressing they could prove too much for the Italian champions. On their day Jurgen Klopp’s boys can beat anyone, take them to win or draw on the Double Chance at 7/10.
Wednesday 25 February 2015
A second-place finish in Group D could have been a disaster for Arsenal, but instead, it's turned into a minor blessing as Monaco are the least intimidating of the eight first-place finishers. The London side start as favourites against Monaco, but Leonardo Jardim could have some tricks up his sleeve. The Gunners have been outstanding at the Emirates where they’ve won their last nine matches, scoring 23 goals and conceding just three times in all competitions. Monaco are currently fifth in Ligue 1, with their domestic and European challenges founded on a strong defensive approach. Lyon are the only side to concede fewer goals in France's top flight, while a run of nine consecutive clean sheets until the start of February highlighted the impressive resolve of Jardim's side. Arsenal are blessed with an abundance of attacking talent with Santi Cazorla the puppeteer in midfield, Mesut Ozil finally a star shining bright and Alexis Sanchez the cannon in the Gunners’ artillery. This isn’t much of a contest. I suggest you put everything you have on an Arsenal win.
Atletico Madrid 15/10
Leverkusen are young, athletic and very well drilled thanks to the tactical ministrations of manager Roger Schmidt. They defend very well, win possession back quickly and break forward with ludicrous speed that few teams have been able to handle consistently. They may not be a titan with a deep talent pool like their opponents but they're also not a side that anyone should take lightly. Hakan Calhanoglu represents one of German football’s biggest talents and his set-piece delivery combined with Leverkusen’s prowess make them a side to watch out for. Atletico have reinvented themselves after Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois left in the summer for Chelsea, but Diego Simeone’s side still possess the same tenacity and incredible quality which saw them come so close to winning it all last year. Their qualities lie in their strength, organisation and ability to give 100% in every match they play—they never underestimate anyone. Players like Antoine Griezmann, Koke, Arda Turan, Mario Mandzukic and Fernando Torres also add a bit of stardust. Atletico have already beaten Real Madrid twice this season and dealt with Juventus in the group stages. Leverkusen shouldn't complicate things too much. Back Simeone’s army to claim a valuable away win at 15/10.
That promising quad works out to 22/1. Go on, have a punt!