Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Wednesday
Chelsea have reached the Champions League quarter-finals in eight of the last 13 seasons but the Blues face a battle to keep their qualification dreams alive having fallen to a 2-1 defeat in Paris three weeks ago.
Chelsea v PSG, Wednesday 9 March 19.45, BT Sport Europe
Guus Hiddink’s troops will fancy their chances of overturning the deficit at Stamford Bridge and the Londoners do arrive at the second leg in decent nick. That Parc des Princes loss is their only reverse in 17 fixtures since Jose Mourinho left the club (W9-D7-L1).
Chelsea have recovered well since the opening tie to bulldoze an understrength Man City in the FA Cup before back-to-back Premier League victories against Southampton and Norwich. On Saturday, Hiddink opted to rest and rotate his squad as they played out a 1-1 draw with Stoke at the Bridge.
The Blues won all three of their group-games as hosts to enhance an already strong record when welcoming Champions League opposition. Since 2008/09, Chelsea have W26-D7-L4 in Europe’s premier club competition at Stamford Bridge, scoring in each of their last 22.
And the Londoners have been boosted by the welcome return from suspension of Nemanja Matic this midweek. However, the continued absence of John Terry and Kurt Zouma at the heart of the Blues backline is an obvious concern. Chelsea have been unable to keep their sheets clean since Zouma was crocked.
Still, Hiddink’s charges exceeded expectations in Paris and if they can reach those standards again, they’ll go close to turning this tie around. John Obi Mikel’s crucial away goal should stand the hosts in good stead but ultimately, the prices on a home triumph (9/5) and Chelsea to qualify (11/5) appear fair enough.
The best value bet appears to reside in the Both Teams To Score market with 4/5 on offer for these two capital clubs to both grab a piece of the goal haul.
The BTTS selection has proven profitable in seven of Chelsea’s last eight on home soil.
PSG may have the best defensive record of the teams still left in the 2015/16 competition – shipping just two goals across seven games – but they’re far from the polished article defensively. We saw as much in the first leg when Chelsea’s pace and incisive counter-attacks caused problems for Les Rouge-et-Bleu.
Since that 2-1 success, Les Parisiens’ hopes of an invincible domestic campaign came crashing down as Laurent Blanc’s Ligue 1 leaders were beaten at Lyon. And on Saturday a much-changed PSG side were held to a goalless draw by lowly Montpellier.
However, the French outfit can afford to relax having taken a 23-point lead at the top of Ligue 1 so with the title already wrapped up, Blanc’s been fielding second-string sides to keep his squad fresh. Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi have been nursed back to health and should start at Stamford Bridge.
Since 2012/13, Les Parisiens have returned W9-D3-L6 in away Champions League ties and so having scored in all bar two of their 25 road trips this term, I’d fancy them to grab a goal against an understrength Chelsea defence. From there, you’d favour the visitors to progress but with the odds prohibitive, I’ll keep it simple and count on BTTS.
Both Teams To Score @ 4/5
Zenit St Petersburg v Benfica, Wednesday 9 March 17.00, BT Sport 2
Zenit St Petersburg have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League for the third time in the last five campaigns but never before have the Russians made it to the quarter-finals.
The Blue-Whites appeared to be heading for a positive first leg last-16 result against Benfica in Lisbon before falling to a 91st-minute sucker-punch. Nevertheless, Andre Villas-Boas’ troops can bounce back by beating their Portuguese opponents in St Petersburg on Wednesday night.
We can back the hosts at 21/20 quotes and that appeals.
Zenit ended their winter break with a goalless draw at Krasnodar on Saturday and should now have shaken off the rust.
They should have gained the competitive match practice required to tackle a Benfica side on a high from their weekend derby success.
The Eagles overcame Sporting to make it 15 wins from their last 16 games. However, Benfica make the long journey east with a batch of defensive injury and suspension concerns that could easily derail Rui Vitoria’s men here.
Jardel is banned for the guests and with Lisandro Lopez and Luisao also sidelined, Nelsinho could partner Nilsson-Lindelof at the heart of the visitors’ defence. Elsewhere, Lubomir Fejsa, Nuno Santos and Andre Almeida are all on the treatment table and unavailable.
The Eagles are playing knockout Champions League football for the first time since 2011/12 and although they’ve notched in all seven games in this season’s competition, four of those goals came from set-piece situations and they may struggle to open up a Zenit side that’s unbeaten at their Petrovsky base since August.
AVB’s hosts saw off Valencia, Lyon and Gent comfortably in Russia and although the Blue-Whites have enjoyed the least amount of ball possession of all last-16 sides, there are enough threats in the ranks to cause problems.
Artem Dzyuba has been involved in eight of Zenit’s 13 goals and should carry the offensive threat; the Russian hitman is 13/5 to net in a home victory and could be worth an interest if, like me, you reckon AVB’s team can bounce back.
Alexander Anyukov should replace the suspended Domenico Criscito at left-back and although Javi Garcia’s ban is an unwanted issue, it’s all or nothing for the hosts who are six points off the top in their Russian Premier League defence.
Whether or not a win is enough to secure progression remains to be seen but I’m willing to wager Zenit can come out on top in 90 minutes.
Zenit St Petersburg to win @ 21/20
*Prices correct at time of publication.