Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Tuesday
PSG meet Chelsea in the Champions League knockout stage for the third successive season but for the first time, Les Parisiens come into the contest as favourites to progress.
PSG v Chelsea, Tuesday 16 February 2016 19.45, BT Sport Europe
Les Rouge-et-Bleu are in the midst of a record-breaking 35-game unbeaten streak in domestic action and have suffered a solitary defeat all season – a 1-0 reverse to Real Madrid in the Bernebeau.
However, Laurent Blanc’s men have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the lead up to the Parc des Princes opener. Right-back Serge Aurier recorded an absurd, obscene and extraordinary attack on his team-mates and head coach during a Saturday night Periscope video and has subsequently been suspended indefinitely by the club.
It leaves Blanc with an unwanted defensive conundrum. Regular stand-in Gregory van der Wiel is still on the comeback trail from appendicitis so Marquinhos looks like being asked to fill in at full-back. Either way, the cavalry will return having been rested and rotated for Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Lille.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura, Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti and Thiago Silva will all make the XI as Les Parisiens bid to enhance an outstanding run of W20-D2-L0 from their last 22 matches. And when hosting European football at their Parc des Princes home, PSG have suffered just a solitary reverse in 37 (W24-D12-L1), to eventual winners Barcelona last year.
The home side are rated 4/6 shots to clinch a first leg lead and that equates to a 60% chance of success.
Blanc’s boys are yet to concede a goal in Paris during this season’s competition.
And in Ibrahimovic, Angel Di Maria and Edinson Cavani, they have an attack that’s as good as many on the continent.
Even the aforementioned loss to Real Madrid came when PSG were superb on the night, dominating possession and playing scintillating stuff in the Spanish capital. So whilst the Aurier episode is ugly and unwanted, it shouldn’t detract from the confidence in the camp coming into this clash.
Like their hosts, Chelsea will need to shuffle their defensive pack. With Kurt Zouma’s season over, John Terry has been ruled out leaving Guus Hiddink ready to field Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill at centre-back with Baba Rahman featuring at left-back.
The Blues have had their problems at the back all season and have kept just 13 clean sheets in 37 fixtures across all competitions. In fact, only six Premier League sides have faced more shots-on-target on their travels than the Londoners so belief in shutting out PSG’s all-star cast should be slim.
Chelsea’s form and results have undoubtedly improved under Hiddink – the away side are currently enjoying a 12-game unbeaten run (W6-D6-L0) – but we can still find reasons to beat the Blues. For example, two draws against a turgid Manchester United, a 1-0 victory at 10-man Arsenal and seven goals conceded in three games against Watford, West Brom and Everton is hardly likely to leave PSG quaking in their boots.
The visitors remain a pale imitation of last year’s title winners and three triumphs in 11 Champions League games as guests (at Sporting, Schalke and Maccabi Tel Aviv) just enhances the belief the Premier League side needs to be opposed.
With Les Rouge-et-Bleu a touch too skinny to back at 4/6, I’m keen to explore other options so the Zlatan/PSG Wincast at 29/20 appeals.
The Swedish superstar has struck 28 goals in his last 29 appearances for club and country and although his record in the knockout stages is notoriously poor – seven goals in 36 games – he should have plenty of joy against Chelsea’s makeshift defence.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score and PSG to win @ 29/20
Benfica v Zenit St Petersburg, Tuesday 16 February 2016 19.45, BT Sport 2
Benfica, Portuguese champions for the past two seasons, have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2011/12 and the Eagles will be hoping to catch Zenit St Petersburg cold on Tuesday night.
The Russians arrive having not played a competitive match since their last Champions League outing in December due to a domestic winter break. It was a similar tale for each of the last two seasons and Zenit were beaten on both occasions – going down 2-0 to Monaco 12 months ago and 4-2 at home to Dortmund prior to that.
Visiting boss Andre Villas Boas claims the lack of match practice won’t be a problem for the Sky Blues who’ve spent their time off in Qatar, Portugal and Spain in a bid to be ready for the off.
Zenit topped Group H, winning their first five matches before taking their foot off the pedal in their final fixture with Gent.
The Russians were lively in attack with the likes of Hulk and Artem Dzyuba doing particular damage and they’ll fancy their chances here.
Last season the Sky Blues completed the double over Benfica, handing the Eagles their first defeat in 14 European home games at the time. And although Viktor Faizulin, Vyacheslav Malafeev and Igor Smolnikov are all injured, I still reckon the Russians can grab a goal at the Estadio Da Luz.
Benfica failed to keep a clean sheet in their last five Champions League games with their sole shutout this season coming against Astana in Lisbon. Rui Vitoria’s side saw Both Teams To Score prove a profitable formula in five of those group-stage games and are without influential skipper Luisao.
The hosts have won 11 of their last 12 but were well below-par when losing a crucial league clash with rivals Porto on home soil last Friday and it’s telling that five of their last six domestic duels have now also seen the BTTS bet collect.
Benfica have scored 37 goals across those aforementioned 12 games but shipped 10 in their last nine at the Estadio Da Luz. Ordinarily I’d be looking to oppose them here but with Zenit’s lack of competitive action in mind, the Both Teams To Score bet looks a safer plan of attack at odds of 20/21.
Both Teams To Score @ 20/21
*Prices correct at time of publication.