Tuesday 17 March
Arsenal’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in five years suffered a stunning blow as they slumped to a shocking 3-1 home defeat by Monaco in the first leg. The Gunners looked to have been handed a favourable draw but a display that plumbed the depths of incompetence and naivety leaves them facing a last-16 exit once more. After a rough start to the season, manager Leonardo Jardim has guided Monaco back to the elite ranks of French football with his philosophy of hard, defensive work and incisive counter-attacking football, which was evident in their victory over Arsenal. The Gunners must score at least three goals to even stand a chance of going through and only Bordeaux managed to put three or more goals past Jardim’s men this season which happened early in the campaign when the Red and Whites were still finding their feet under the Portuguese. All Arsene Wenger's side needs to do is repeat the 4-1 scoreline from the trip to Galatasaray and they'll be through. Arsenal also won their previous European away trip - 2-1 against Anderlecht - so the fact that they’ll be playing in France shouldn’t deter them. If Alexis Sanchez can produce his best form, then Arsenal have a very decent chance of progressing. I do think Arsenal will get a victory here but I’m not exactly positive that it will be enough to qualify.
Atletico Madrid 7/10
Leverkusen will come into the clash with a slim lead after beating Atletico Madrid 1-0 at the BayArena in the first leg. The La Liga champions now need to try dominate play and take the game to Leverkusen; be strong defensively but lightning on the counter-attack. It's not necessarily a tactic which suits Atletico's main strengths perfectly, though the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Arda Turan and Koke do give them plenty of creativity and guile in long spells of possession in the attacking third. The key will be in controlling Bayer on the break, making Gabi a vital component, but Tiago's absence will be keenly felt, as will Uruguayan defender Diego Godin. Both are suspended after being booked in the first leg. Leverkusen are a side who play attractive, attacking football and the lethal trio of Karim Bellarabi, Hakan Calhanoglu and Heung-Min Son—who have 22 goals between them this season—will be a particular point of concern for the Spaniards on the counter-attack. Diego Simeone was perhaps a little surprised by how ferociously intense Leverkusen were in the first leg, but at the Vicente Calderon you can expect the Spanish champions to harness the full extent of their renowned fire. A tight clash is surely on the cards here and in those kinds of matches, it’s typically Simeone’s team that emerge as victors. Back Atletico to win at 7/10.
Wednesday 18 March 2015
Manchester City 57/10
Barcelona took one step into the Champions League quarterfinals after a 2-1 away win against Manchester City in the first leg. City may only be a goal down but the reality is the gulf between the two is considerably wider and were it not for a last second Joe Hart penalty save the outcome would be realistically decided. As it is, City remain in the tie but barely as they were caught in the cyclone of a first-half performance from Barcelona that hit early and left them reeling. Playing against Barcelona you are aware that there will be times where they dominate possession, but for all City’s qualities with the ball, they lacked discipline and a semblance of a plan when they were without it in the first leg. If there’s one thing that normally marks Barca’s play out, it is the ability to seamlessly move the ball from front to back. Fluid movement, crisp, accurate passing and a high tempo are all associated with Barca’s play and City were dominated at home. The Catalans possess one of the deadliest attacks in world football with Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, the latter scoring a brace at the Etihad. The deadly trio have netted an astonishing fifteen of Barca’s seventeen Champions League goals this term and while Messi has taken the lion's share, the other two are proven net-rattlers in their own right. City have been the dominant force in English football over the last four seasons but they have only fleetingly shown their best in Europe, and will need to produce their best performance to date to get through this test. History is certainly against Manuel Pellegrini given his own poor record against the Catalans and he should certainly fear them again as Barca are back to their best. I’m going for a Barca win at 4/10.
The first leg was an enthralling encounter, one in which a controlled performance from the Italian champions eventually saw them emerge victorious. Looking at the way the two teams matched up, Juventus appeared to have more belief in attack and the presence of Carlos Tevez gave them the cutting edge that Dortmund seemed not to possess. The Old Lady have continually impressed this season, enjoying a comfortable lead in the Italian league and have a slight advantage from the first leg against BVB. Serie A is no longer the battleground for Juventus to solely prioritise, as European success—or a distinct lack of it—is the major headline stalking Turin's top team around every corner. The Champions League will be at the forefront of the fans' minds after long periods in the shadows and Massimiliano Allegri has a squad capable of finally putting this team back on the map. Perhaps the one area where Juve could improve upon the first leg is in defence, with Giorgio Chiellini looking particularly uncomfortable. Aside from his slip—which led directly to the Marco Reus goal—his lack of pace meant he was often left chasing shadows. Juventus have struggled with strong counter-attacking sides this season and that's a bad omen heading into a tie with Dortmund. The Bundesliga side are fast, combine well and don't need many chances to score—providing their form and confidence are high. Dortmund’s front four of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Reus, Shinji Kagawa and Kevin Kampl have a lot of pace and versatility, which may give Juventus’ defence some headaches with their positional interchange as well as their lightning quick speed on the counterattack. This is very close to call but I’m going for a Dortmund win, but I’m not sure if it will be enough for BVB to qualify.
There’s some cracking football in store and lots of money to be made. Arsenal will have to create history against Monaco as no side has ever won a Champions League knockout tie away from home after a two-goal first leg deficit, but they’ll give it a good go and 5/4 is a gift from the bookies. As for the quad, it works out to a mouth-watering 10/1 and I’m feeling very confident I can catch it!