Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Tuesday
There were grumbles of discontent in Catalonia when the Champions League draw was made. Barcelona were far from fearful of Atletico Madrid but the club are well aware there are easier quarter-final assignments across the continent.
Barcelona v Atletico Madrid, Tuesday 5 April,19.45, BT Sport Europe
The Blaugrana’s quest for back-to-back trebles was never going to be a comfortable task to complete but Tuesday’s first leg test from the Camp Nou at least gives Luis Enrique’s troops a chance to bite back after their Clasico disappointment on Saturday night.
Barcelona saw their record 39-match unbeaten (W32-D7-L0) streak since October ended by bitter rivals Real Madrid as they suffered a first home reverse since February 2015. The white side of the capital celebrated the success vociferously back in Madrid but Barca knew there were more important matters at hand.
The Catalans were flat at the weekend – arguably due to their three stars having been involved in World Cup qualifiers and returning only 48 hours before kick-off – and struggled to contain an energetic Real outfit. But I’m more than certain they’ll have had one eye on this encounter.
A ninth successive last-eight appearance, the Catalans are chasing an eighth semi-final spot in nine seasons – it’s a remarkable record. Having W17-D2-L2 in their last 21 Champions League outings – scoring in all 21 – and triumphing in all 10 Camp Nou games at this level under Luis Enrique, it’s understandable to see the Blaugrana quoted at 8/15 to take first leg honours.
Since 2013/14, Barcelona have landed a first leg success in five of their six ties with four of those victories by at least a two-goal margin.
But Atletico Madrid are the only side to stop the European champions from winning in their last 15 Camp Nou contests in the Champions League.
Sure, Barcelona have a stellar recent record against Atleti – winning each of the last six head-to-heads – but the most recent five clashes saw the Catalans squeak a one-goal margin success and in four of those fixtures they conceded to the Madrid club. Further back, only one of the last 13 meetings saw Barca triumph by two goals or more – they’ve been far from dominant.
Los Colchoneros played superbly when ultimately losing 2-1 with nine men in the La Liga duel earlier this season and of course, Diego Simeone’s side stunned the Blaugrana 2-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals in 2014. They have form.
Nobody relishes playing Atletico; Los Rojiblancos boast Europe’s best defence and although Jose Gimenez is a confirmed absentee, Diego Godin’s return to fitness is a huge boost for the visitors – without the stalwart Uruguayan, Atleti have leaked in six of seven La Liga matches since the start of last season.
But Godin plays and Simeone’s charges will be hunting a 14th Champions League shutout in 18 outings. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak has conceded only four goals in 11 Champions League games since 2015 and Atletico’s ability to keep things tight, play at great intensity and excel when having little other option but to play on the counter suits them to a tee.
The capital club have failed to net in 453 minutes of Champions League knockout football and recorded two 0-0s against PSV Eindhoven in the last-16. But since February, the visitors have been scoring regularly, Antoine Griezmann is in the form of his life and winger Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco is expected to return.
Should Los Colchoneros follow Real’s plan to eliminate space on the flanks, the away side could easily sneak something here but keeping a clean sheet will require a monumental effort against the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – scorers of 42 of Barca’s last 51 Champions League goals (82%).
The superstar trident have notched 11 of the Catalans’ 12 goals against Atletico since the start of last season and I reckon Barcelona may just have enough X-Factor to sneak a first leg success in a showdown that might well go against the grain on the goals front.
Of Barcelona’s last 14 home Champions League victories, 11 featured three or more goals as they conceded on eight occasions. Luis Enrique’s hosts have kept only three clean sheets in 12 matches now, as well as only two in eight at the Camp Nou.
So with Atletico netting in five of their most recent seven trips to Barcelona and losing both La Liga meetings 2-1 this season, a repeat scenario seems entirely viable on Tuesday night. Therefore, I’ll have a stab at Barcelona winning by exactly one goal at 12/5 and also take the 29/20 on Barcelona to win and Over 2.5 Goals at 29/20.
Barcelona to win by one goal @ 12/5
Barcelona to win and Over 2.5 Goals @ 29/20
Bayern Munich v Benfica, Tuesday 5 April 19.45, BT Sport 2
Bayern Munich survived a major scare in the last-16 when falling 2-0 behind in both legs of their tie with Juventus as Pep Guardiola was tactically out-classed by Max Allegri. The Bavarians eventually powered their way into the last-eight and are now staring at a potential sixth semi-final appearance in seven seasons.
FC Hollywood haven’t been at their scintillating best in recent weeks but with Franck Ribery back in the fold, Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal fit and fresh having been rested on Saturday and Kingsley Coman looking frightening from the flanks, Guardiola has almost a full list of offensive options to choose from.
Bayern have W9-D1-L0 in home Champions League ties by an aggregate of 40-6 recently. And Die Roten are the tournament’s top goalscorers (25) this season, they have enjoyed the highest average possession (71.6%) as well as landing the most efforts on-target (69) this term.
And although Guardiola’s first leg record in Champions League action is surprisingly poor (W6-D8-L6), only four of those fixtures came as hosts and three were won by four-goal margins. But again, there’s reason to prod at possible deficiencies in the home camp.
Bayern have recorded just one shutout in seven Allianz Arena knockout matches under the Man City-bound boss.
Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng are out and Mehdi Benatia’s a doubt so there’s certainly a few flaws in the 25-time German champions’ backline despite Javi Martinez’s return.
The last two Portuguese teams to visit Munich have been sent packing 6-1 and 7-1 but there’s wriggle-room for optimism in the Benfica camp as they prepare for their first Champions League quarter-final action since 2012.
Barcelona are the only side alongside the Eagles to strike in all eight continental clashes this season and Rui Vitoria’s team are beginning to look imperious back home having collected 14 wins from their past 15 league fixtures.
Benfica have actually triumphed in 19 of their last 20, smashed five past Braga on Friday night to take their tally to 76 goals in 28 league games, are 18 games unbeaten on their travels and have succeeded in 11 away outings on the spin!
The Reds have scored in 19 of their last 20 road trips and in veteran forward Jonas, have a striker who’s struck 30 goals in 28 Liga Nos appearances. But it’s Nicolas Gaitan who deserves headline billing with the cunning and pacey wide playmaker providing goals and assists on the counter.
Rui Vitoria has Jardel back from a ban but Lisandro Lopez, Luisao, Nuno Santos and Julio Cesar all miss the trip and there’s a suggestion the visitors could set-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation to defend and destroy before attacking at pace when possession is turned over.
So I’m not expecting a timid attempt from Benfica, here. Six of their eight ties this term have seen the Over 2.5 Goals selection bank as they’ve recorded just two Champions League clean sheets. And with Bayern’s last seven continental clashes – including each of their last six Allianz Arena knockout contests – breaking the Over 3.5 Goals barrier, another high-scoring encounter is forecast.
Bayern Munich to win and Over 2.5 Goals seems a touch skinny at 7/10 but the 29/20 on a home triumph alongside BTTS should do the trick. And there could be a bit of mileage in the 13/5 on Robert Lewandowski striking two or more goals – the Pole has 10 in his last seven Champions League games in Munich and has plundered 22 goals in 20 home matches in 2015/16.
Bayern Munich to win and Both Teams To Score @ 29/20
Robert Lewandowski to score 2+ goals @ 13/5