Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Wednesday


Real Madrid have reached the semi-final stages of the Champions League in each of the past five seasons but the 10-times champions of Europe are in for a tricky test in their bid for an 11th crown.

Roma v Real Madrid, Wednesday 17 February 2016 19.45, BT Sport Europe
Los Blancos travel to Rome looking to end a barren run of results against Italian clubs. Incredibly, Madrid are winless in eight visits to the peninsula and have been eliminated in each of their previous eight two-legged ties with Italian teams.

It’s not just Real who tend to struggle against Serie A’s finest. Since 2006/07, Spanish sides have beaten their Italian counterparts just twice in 22 trips (W2-D12-L8) to Italy in this competition and that run of results includes just one success in 14 attempts by Madrid and Barcelona. Weird, huh?

Obviously those stats have little bearing on Wednesday night’s meeting in the Eternal City but even so, I’m keen to take the Spaniards on this midweek.

Since their last La Liga title triumph, Los Blancos have returned just W5-D6-L8 when taking on top-six clubs in domestic action and it’s worth reminding ourselves that this is also Zinedine Zidane’s first foray into the Champions League as a head coach.

His previous six fixtures have delivered five wins – three of which arrived by a margin of four goals or more – but Madrid were held at struggling Real Betis and required a late Luka Modric winner at even worse Granada – their only victory in their last four road trips.

This midweek the visitors make the journey without Marcelo, Pepe and Gareth Bale meaning Dani Carvajal will continue at left-back with the unconvincing Danilo plugging the right-back spot. And although Real have kept 12 clean sheets in their previous 16 Champions League ties, I’m just not comfortable siding with the Spaniards here.

Roma certainly aren’t world beaters. They’ve reached the knockout stages for the first time since 2010/11 by picking up just six group-stage points and conceding 16 goals – both records for teams that have reached the latter stages.

The Giallorossi’s goal difference was -5 across their six pool fixtures.

Indeed, Roma have returned far-from-impressive W2-D6-L7 results in this competition and kept a solitary clean sheet in 27 European matches. So finding faith to back the Italians for a first leg advantage isn’t easy, especially with Mohamed Salah, Kostas Manolas, Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti all fighting to be fit.

Nevertheless, Luciano Spalletti’s appointment appears to have reenergised the hosts and after a slow start, Roma have churned out four successive wins. Sure, three of those victories came against three of the current bottom-four in Serie A but the style and swagger looks to have returned.

Spalletti was in charge when Roma beat Real 2-1 home and away, eliminating them from this competition seven years ago and there’s genuine belief in Italy that the Giallorossi can repeat the feat in 2016. They’ve suffered just one loss at the Stadio Olimpico all season, beating Juventus on home soil and avoiding defeat to Barcelona.

Since 2013/14, Roma have returned W7-D4-L1 when hosting top-six sides on domestic duties but I’m not convinced they’ve the nous to succeed on Wednesday night. So I’ll get the draw onside but also add Both Teams To Score into the mix for chunky 18/5 odds.

The Giallorossi have kept just a solitary shutout under Spalletti and saw the BTTS bet bank in five of their six Group E games as well as each of their past four Olimpico outings across all competitions. Both teams have also scored in four of Madrid’s previous five as well as 14 of their 19 visits to top-six La Liga teams since 2012/13.

Recommended Bet:
Draw and Both Teams To Score (18/5)

Gent v Wolfsburg, Wednesday 17 February 2016 19.45, BT Sport 2
Gent began their Champions League campaign by taking just a point from a possible nine in Group H but three wins from their final three fixtures saw the Buffalos become the first Belgian side to reach the knockout stages of the competition.

Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s men were one of only six sides to score in each match and Gent look underestimated by the layers to gain a positive result from the visit of Wolfsburg on Wednesday night.

The hosts have been in excellent form of late, topping their domestic table following a 14th win in 18 matches across all competitions, including seven on the spin at their Ghelamco home.

The Buffalos have been beaten just once in front of their home supporters all season, have notched in each match at the Ghelamco and leaked just twice in their previous six on home soil.

Swiss midfielder Danijel Milicevic has been earning rave reviews for his instrumental performances and with Gent returning W9-D1-L0 figures at home and Wolfsburg missing a number of key players, the Belgians look excellent even-money options in the Draw No Bet market.

Dieter Hecking’s underperforming Bundesliga boys arrive without outstanding goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, experienced centre-half Naldo, holding midfielder Joshua Guilavogui or star striker Bas Dost for this fixture through injury or suspension.

The Wolves have lost each of their last six away league games without Dost leading the line – scoring just three goals.

The visitors have also failed to net in four of their previous seven road trips.

The German side are five points off the Champions League qualification places in the Bundesliga having picked up just one win in eight games and their away record all season is a wretched W2-D3-L8 – in eight of those matches they’ve conceded at least two goals.

There’s an obvious quality disparity between the top tiers in Belgium and Germany but Gent have proven in encounters with Lyon, Valencia and Zenit St Petersburg they can more than hold their own and the value is most certainly with the Buffalos here.

Recommended Bets
Gent Draw No Bet @ EVS

*Prices correct at time of publication.