Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Wednesday
Barcelona are aiming to become the first team since AC Milan in 1990 to win back-to-back Champions League titles and, having overcome Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates, a place in the last-eight of the competition looks all but assured.
Barcelona v Arsenal, Wednesday 16th March 19.45, BT Sport Europe
The Catalans have been in record-breaking form and head into this Camp Nou contest on the back of a W18-D1-L0 run – the only match Barca failed to win was a Copa del Rey second leg clash with Valencia when they fielded a reserve XI having held a 7-0 lead on aggregate.
It’s eight wins on the spin for Luis Enrique’s troops, 10 on the trot as hosts, with the club already clinching Spanish Super Cup and Club World Cup trophies this term. Another Copa del Rey final is booked in, the La Liga title is as good as sewn up and so Barca are on course to complete the first ever ‘double treble’.
If we look at their Champions League record, the Catalans have W16-D2-L2 since the start of last season – never failing to score – with 12 of those victories achieved by a margin of at least two goals. At the Camp Nou under Luis Enrique, the Blaugrana boast an unblemished W9-D0-L0 record, scoring 24 goals and shipping just four.
When welcoming Champions League opposition in the knockout stages, only Bayern Munich in 2013 have managed to achieve a win in the last 23 matches since 2008 here and between them, the superstar front-three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have scored more goals this season than EVERY club in the top-five leagues bar Real Madrid and Dortmund.
We’ll be watching one of the greatest teams to ever grace the game so of course, I’m giving Arsenal absolutely no chance of progression, which is a shame after they showed a great deal of tenacity, intent and intelligence for 75 minutes of their Emirates showdown.
I felt Arsene Wenger got his tactics spot on and if the Gunners were more clinical, could have put Barcelona under more pressure. But a sixth successive Champions League exit at the last-16 stage is on the cards with the Londoners’ form taking a major nosedive in 2016.
Topping the Premier League table at the turn of the year, Arsenal have since claimed just two league victories in nine, dropping 11 points off pacesetters Leicester – for me, that’s a sackable offence and the growing calls for Wenger to step down intensified after a 1-2 FA Cup exit to Watford at the weekend.
A first trophyless season in three beckons for the Gunners whose only success in seven has come against Championship outfit Hull.
So with only eight knockout wins from 25 in this competition since 2008 and knowing Bayern are the only team in 12 seasons to see off Barcelona by at least two clear goals at the Camp Nou, 11/1 on an away win and 20/1 to qualify are completely justified.
To make matters worse, the capital club make the journey without Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Laurent Koscielny and Mikel Arteta rated doubtful. The only crumb of comfort comes from Barca’s team news as Gerard Pique’s absent through suspension.
Without Pique, the Catalans can look vulnerable at the back and it’s telling that the all-conquering hosts have conceded in four of the last five games the Spanish international has missed. Indeed, Barca’s backline has leaked in four of their last six Camp Nou outings so Arsenal should be capable of playing their part in a high-scoring encounter.
The last eight duels between these two attack-minded sides have produced an average of 3.60 goals-per-game; Barca have struck at least twice in 16 of their most recent 19 Champions League ties with Arsenal grabbing a goal in each of their last six on the road in the continent – chuck in the fact that 12 of the hosts’ last 14 at the Camp Nou have featured four or more goals and we’re on the right lines.
Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score is a 31/20 play but instead I’ll invest in a Barcelona win and Over 3.5 Goals at 5/4, covering the possibility of a 4-0 whitewash.
Barcelona to win & Over 3.5 Goals @ 5/4
Bayern Munich v Juventus, Wednesday 16th March 2016, BT Sport 2
Bayern Munich were 2-0 up and in total command when the two teams locked horns in Turin three weeks ago. However, the Germans threw away that advantage in a sloppy final half an hour that’s given Juventus hope of pulling off an unexpected and famous victory.
But I’m not expecting the Bavarians to be quite so careless in the Allianz Arena. Pep Guardiola’s men tend to produce their most dominating performances in front of their home supporters and with nine wins on the spin in the competition as hosts (by an aggregate 36-4); it’s hard to oppose Bayern.
FC Hollywood have enjoyed the highest possession (71%) average, the most shots, the most efforts on-target and the highest number of goals in the 2015/16 tournament and despite failing to record a win in back-to-back games recently, bounced back into life by slaughtering Werder Bremen 5-0 on Saturday.
Of those aforementioned nine victories, Bayern kept clean sheets in six with Barcelona the only side to manage to score twice in that time.
And with Mehdi Benatia back from injury, there’s a look of semblance back about the Bavarians backline.
Sure, Mainz won here just a fortnight ago but Bayern have W17-D0-L1 in their 18 games across all competitions at the Allianz Arena this term, scoring at least four goals in nine of those fixtures, keeping their sheets clean on 12 occasions. The hosts are understandably second favourites to go the distance.
Juventus produced an unusually timid effort for large swathes of their first meeting and although Max Allegri’s men battled back valiantly and bravely, the Old Lady have been hurt by a series of key withdrawals from action. Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio and Paulo Dybala are all absent; arguably the key spine of the Bianconeri’s XI.
Juve have embarked on a stunning W18-D1-L0 run in Serie A action, churning out 10 consecutive shutouts since the start of November but their Champions League form shows just four successes in 11 and only one in five on their travels. So it’s difficult to see the Old Lady producing the goods here.
I’ll take the 11/10 on offer that Robert Lewandowski scores in a Bayern victory. The Bavarians have notched at least twice in seven of their last eight in this competition whilst plundering an eye-watering 53 goals in front of their home supporters this season – an average of 2.94 per-game – with Lewandowski netting 21 in 17!
It’s a phenomenal scoring rate and I’d want the Pole, and Bayern, onside this Wednesday night.
Robert Lewandowski to score & Bayern Munich to win @ 11/10