Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Wednesday
Both Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have been reinvigorated by Middle Eastern investment in recent years with the two cash-rich clubs eyeing Champions League success as an end goal.
PSG v Manchester City, Wednesday 6 April 19.45, BT Sport Europe
But neither of the two teams have been further than the quarter-final stage since ploughing huge sums into each club, making the last-eight showdown an intriguing contest.
Manchester City’s best European performances in the Manuel Pellegrini era have tended to arrive on the road with Roma, Sevilla and Dynamo Kiev brushed aside with consummate ease. The Citizens have in fact won six of their past 11 trips to the continent but City are now in unchartered territory.
There’s been a noticeable downing of tools since the announcement that Pellegrini would be replaced by Pep Guardiola for the 2016/17 campaign became public knowledge, although Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing at Bournemouth did provide City supporters with a degree of hope.
Kevin de Bruyne made a stellar return to action from a two-month layoff as the Citizens recorded only a third success in 11. And with Sergio Aguero striking 16 times in his past 18 Champions League encounters and David Silva providing the ammunition, there’s no doubt the visitors have the talent to grab a goal.
But that’s where the positivity ends. Yaya Toure doesn’t appear to fancy the challenge, Joe Hart remains a doubt despite returning to training and with skipper Vincent Kompany absent, the Sky Blues have looked anything but stable at the back. The Premier League outfit have recorded just two shutouts in 23 Champions League ties, including just one in 2015/16.
The visitors have W2-D3-L9 when taking on top-half teams domestically this term and were outclassed home and away by Juventus in European action. With a W1-D1-L4 record in knockout Champions League ties, the 4/1 on offer for a surprise away win makes little appeal.
PSG wrapped up the Ligue 1 title in record-breaking time and Laurent Blanc’s men have now set their sights on the continental crown.
Les Rouge-et-Bleu sauntered to a 4-1 smashing of Nice at the weekend with Zlatan Ibrahimovic grabbing a hat-trick, taking his tally to 30 league goals this season.
But Les Parisiens have fallen at this hurdle in each of the past three seasons and will go into this first leg tie without influential midfield maestro Marco Verratti. Adrien Rabiot is a solid replacement but it’s certainly a blow; imagine swapping a swanky Mercedes-Benz for a dependable Peugeot – you get the picture.
Still, Thiago Motta will pull the strings as PSG bid to monopolise possession. Zlatan will come deep and the lung-bursting Blaise Matuidi and irrepressible Angel Di Maria’s pace and energy will provide the threats from midfield. In short, there’s still a wealth of top-class talent to take care of business.
Blanc’s ability to keep his players focused and committed deserves great praise. He’s also become a fine tactician and I’d fancy the PSG head to outwit Pellegrini here. After all, Les Parisiens are defending a super strong Parc des Princes record in this competition (W25-D12-L1) since 2007.
The hosts have claimed top honours in 13 of their last 19 Champions League games in the French capital with only Real Madrid stopping the side from scoring. And although PSG boast the competition’s joint-best defensive record, it’s true their multi-million pound defence has creaked in recent weeks.
It’s just two clean sheets in nine matches across all competitions – one of which came against rock-bottom Troyes in that famous 9-0 annihilation – and it’s also worth noting that Both Teams To Score has proven profitable in each of the past seven of PSG’s knockout ties, five of which featured Over 2.5 Goals winners.
With Man City scoring in 10 of their past 12 road trips and PSG proving a little rickety at the back, I reckon the French side will land a first leg blow in a game involving both sides scoring. Therefore, a home triumph and BTTS makes most appeal at 5/2 on Wednesday night.
PSG to win and Both Teams To Score @ 5/2
Wolfsburg v Real Madrid, Wednesday 6 April 19.45, BT Sport 2
Real Madrid officials may have kept a stern expression when facing the flashing of cameras and the various 24-7 sports news outlets following the Champions League quarter-final draw. But behind the scenes the 10-time European champions were thrilled.
Los Blancos couldn’t have asked for a more beatable last-eight opponent than struggling German outfit Wolfsburg, with the added advantage of playing the second leg at the Bernabeu. Suddenly the club’s belief is back and another bash at continental glory could well be on the cards.
Madrid look to reach the Champions League semi-finals for the sixth season running having ended their arch-rivals Barcelona’s record-breaking 39-match unbeaten streak on Saturday. The Clasico win may have meant little in regards to the La Liga title race but the euphoria from the dramatic comeback victory has only served to consolidate the feel-good factor around Zinedine Zidane’s squad.
The Spanish side have now bagged six successive wins and head to Wolfsburg with a fully fit squad. Having only picked up one triumph in 24 previous visits to Germany, Real have won on three of their last four trips, notching 12 goals. So a repeat scenario is far from unfathomable on Wednesday evening.
Madrid have won four of their past seven away knockout games in this competition since 2013/14, clearing a one-goal handicap on each occasion.
This season, Los Blancos have kept their sheets clean in seven of their eight continental clashes and Cristiano Ronaldo has plundered 13 Champions League goals. They mean business.
For Wolfsburg, Friday night’s 3-0 defeat at Leverkusen all but ended their hopes of a top-four finish and Dieter Hecking’s troops have collected just a solitary point from a possible nine since dispatching Gent a month ago.
The Germans have never ventured as far as the quarter-finals on the European scene but they are the only side left in the competition to post a possession figure under 50% (49.5%) and must get by without the injured Naldo, Sebastian Jung, Daniel Caligiuri and Bas Dost this midweek.
It’s just three Bundesliga wins from 15 and although the hosts have won all four of their Volkswagen Arena ties in the Champions League this season, this is a significant step up for a side that’s been beaten by both Dortmund and Bayern Munich (x2) in 2015/16 on their home patch.
The hosts opt for a 4-2-3-1 that focuses upon containing tactics without the ball before Julian Draxler orchestrates the counter-attack. The German international was directly involved in three of Wolfsburg’s four goals against Gent and is clearly Wolfsburg’s key.
But Andre Schurrle’s found form in recent weeks and although off-field distractions haven’t helped Max Kruse’s cause, he’s still an accomplished forward. Dost’s absence has taken away the team’s shining light but there are enough threats for the Wolves to make home advantage count with a goal.
The Bundesliga boys have notched in seven of their eight European outings in 2015/16 and it’s telling that Madrid have recorded a solitary shutout in 10 away days, with seven of their most recent eight road trips featuring successful Both Teams To Score selections.
Real’s rejuvenation should carry them back to the Bernabeu with a positive result but there’s no guarantee they’ll keep a clean sheet. So I’ll have a bite on the 21/10 offered on a Madrid win and BTTS.
Real Madrid to win and Both Teams To Score @ 21/10
*Prices correct at time of publication.