Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – TuesdayStats
Arsenal v Barcelona
You have to go all the way back to 1999 for the last time Barcelona left London with a win against Arsenal in the Champions League.
Arsenal v Barcelona, Tuesday 23rd February 2016, 19.45, BT Sport Europe
Although, nobody can doubt the Catalans being chalked up as odds-on favourites for Tuesday night’s mouthwatering first leg showdown.
Luis Enrique’s visitors arrive on the back of a club record 32-game unbeaten streak (W26-D6-L0) that dates back to early October, including 13 victories from their most recent 14 outings. The Catalans lead La Liga by eight points, have already secured their spot in the Copa del Rey final and have claimed the Club World Cup this season too.
The travellers have reached the semi-finals of this competition in seven of the last eight campaigns, have taken the title in four of the last 10 seasons and bagged 15 wins from their 19 Champions League fixtures (W15-D2-L2) since the start of last season – never failing to net in those 19 games.
Arda Turan is Barcelona’s only absentee but the Blaugrana’s most fearsome weapon is without doubt their outstanding front-three. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have plundered 91 goals between them this season – the trio accumulated an eye-watering 122 goals between them in 2014/15, meaning they’ve racked up a ridiculous 213 goals since the start of last season.
Former Liverpool hitman Luis Suarez has proven particularly unstoppable this term.
The Uruguayan has hit 41 goals in 37 club appearances this season and since the end of January he’s scored on seven consecutive outings.
Go back further and since late October, Suarez has struck at least once in 19 of 24 matches and has a Champions League final goal to his name from June last year. He’s also gotten his name on the scoresheet in four of Barca’s five group games this term and is 10/11 to score on Tuesday – that’s value.
So how about Arsenal? The Gunners were fairly fortunate to keep their record of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League in every season since 2003/04 having been beaten in three of their first four matches in the group stage.
Warming up for this contest with a goalless draw against a much-changed Hull side certainly wasn’t ideal but Arsene Wenger will know what’s required to pick open the Barcelona lock. Having watched the Catalans relentlessly, they tend to buckle under pressure, particularly when Sergio Busquets is targeted.
If the Londoners can press high and close Busquets down at source, they’ll have a chance. The defensive midfielder makes the Bluagrana tick – he sets the pace of the game, breaks up play and orchestrates the all-singing and all-dancing band in attack. When Barcelona have struggled this season, it’s because opposition sides have attacked Busquets at source.
The best, in my opinion, Arsenal can hope for here is to grab a first leg goal. The Gunners are more than capable of scoring and I expect them to notch at the Emirates considering they’ve struck in each of their previous 13 Champions League games, in 14 of their previous 15 Emirates outings in this competition as well as 10 of their last 11 knockout ties.
The two teams have locked horns seven times in recent seasons and Both Teams To Score backers have collected on each occasion. Those seven meetings have produced 27 goals – 3.86 goals-per-game – with Barcelona holding a superior W4-D2-L1 record. Six of those seven encounters featured at least three goals.
With my heavy Barca bias, I’m going to take the Catalans to win with Both Teams To Score at 21/10. It’s proven a successful formula in seven of Luis Enrique’s side’s last 10 fixtures and with the guests shipping goals in nine of their previous 10 away knockout games, as well as in 12 of their 17 Champions League road trips since 2013, it should have a strong chance of landing.
Barcelona only kept their sheets clean against BATE Borisov in the group stage but have managed to strike at least twice in 26 of their unbeaten 32-match spree. They’ve also won 12 of their 16 legs at this stage of the competition since 2007/08 and are understandable outright favourites to successfully defend their Champions League crown.
Luis Suarez To Score Anytime @ 10/11
Barcelona To Win and Both Teams To Score @ 21/10
Juventus v Bayern Munich, Tuesday 23rd February 2016, 19.45, BT Sport 2
Bayern Munich smashed 19 goals in the group stage when clinching last 16 qualification but their quest for a first Champions League title under Pep Guardiola’s tenure has hit the buffers with a defensive injury crisis threatening to derail the Bavarians challenge.
The runaway Bundesliga champions arrive in Turin with Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber all sidelined. Mehdi Benatia remains a major doubt and January loan signing Serdar Tasci fluffed his audition at the weekend meaning midfielder-by-trade Joshua Kimmich might be partnered by David Alaba in the heart of Bayern’s defence here.
Semi-finalists in five of the last six campaigns, Bayern’s prospects for claiming Champions League glory were quashed by injuries last year and a repeat scenario appears to be very much alive and kicking coming into this tie.
Since news broke of Guardiola’s impending departure, Bayern have picked up W3-D1-L0 to maintain their eight-point advantage atop of their domestic table but pressure and criticism has followed with media outlets believing the FC Hollywood head coach to have taken his eye off the ball.
Nevertheless, Bayern’s pursuit of a sixth European Cup will require a major upturn in performances on the road.
The visitors are winless in five knockout Champions League ties on their travels (W0-D2-L3) and have now lost five of their last 11 away days in this competition, firing blanks in three of their most recent six.
The Bavarians have dropped points in three of their most recent seven Bundesliga fixtures outside of their Allianz Arena home and, surprisingly, boast a very mediocre record in the opening leg of knockout matches under Pep (W1-D2-L3).
So when there’s evidence and reasoning to oppose the German giants, you do. Juventus have been made an even-money chance in the Draw No Bet market and that appears more than fair considering the circumstances. But I’ll also chuck in the home win and Under 3.5 Goals at an attractive 5/2.
The Old Lady have yet to concede a goal on home soil in the Champions League this season and have shutout five of their last seven European guests.
Since the turn of the year, the hosts have leaked just once in nine matches and with Giorgio Chiellini possibly returning to the fold here, the watertight Bianconeri can churn out another clean sheet.
Juve’s home record also deserves serious recognition. The Old Lady have W22-D10-L2 in their previous 34 ties in this competition with just two defeats in 47 European matches in Turin now dating back to 2004/05. Admittedly, both of those beatings were against Bayern but having overcome Dortmund, Monaco and Real Madrid en route to last year’s final, plus Europa League holders Sevilla and Manchester City this term, their pedigree is obvious.
Massimiliano Allegri’s team notched just six goals in this season’s group stages, the lowest total among the 16 qualifiers, but former Munich forward Mario Mandzukic could return here and his height could trouble a small Bayern backline. The Croatian has also struck up a sound partnership with Paolo Dybala so don’t discount Juve’s offensive threats.
Cautious optimism has taken hold in Turin – the Bianconeri have bagged 18 wins in their previous 20 matches, included 11 on the spin at the Juventus Stadium – and with five of their six group-games produced two goals or fewer, the goal line looks unlikely to be breached.
Juventus Draw No Bet @ Evens
Juventus To Win and Under 3.5 Goals @ 5/2
*Prices correct at time of publication