Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Wednesday
Manchester City have never made it to the Champions League quarter-finals but the Citizens begin their quest to end that unwanted record with a trip to Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday night.
Dynamo Kiev v Manchester City, Wednesday 24 February 2016 (19.45), BT Sport Europe
Manuel Pellegrini’s men have been chalked up as 6/5 favourites to take a first leg lead home but it’s difficult to find the faith to back City considering their deep injury crisis and alarming lack of form in February.
The Citizens have suffered three successive defeats, derailing their Premier League title bid and seeing their FA Cup challenge end in embarrassment on Sunday.
Of course, we can’t read anything into their defeat to Chelsea at the weekend with Pellegrini choosing to field an inexperienced side but there has been a significant drop-off in performances since the announcement that Pep Guardiola was arriving in time for 2016/17.
The Premier League outfit topped a tough Group D in the pool stage but head to the Ukrainian capital without Kevin De Bruyne, Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Fabian Delph, Eliaquim Mangala and Wilfried Bony. With David Silva struggling for form and fitness, City’s attacking threat has been diminished.
Nevertheless, Sergio Aguero can be relied upon to lead the guests’ attack with aplomb. The Argentinian ace has eight goals in his last eight appearances and has struck 15 times in his previous 16 Champions League starts. His availability and freshness should give Pellegrini a vital offensive outlet.
So can the Citizens come away with a positive result? Of course it’s possible. But should they be trading as favourites? I’m far from convinced.
The Sky Blues failed to record a clean sheet during the group stage and have kept just four shutouts in 34 Champions League matches. And their away day blues continue to cause problems; in City’s last 12 road trips they’ve managed four victories (W4-D3-L5), scoring one goal or zero on eight occasions.
It’s been a very scratchy February for Pellegrini’s charges who began the month challenging for four trophies. So they’ll at least be hoping to exploit any rustiness from their hosts, with Kiev out of competitive action since their last Champions League match against Maccabi Tel Aviv in December.
Manchester City have played 16 games since Dynamo’s last outing (W8-D3-L5) but the visitors’ boss has bemoaned their hectic schedule on many occasions. So perhaps the injuries and sustained run of fixtures acts as a bit of leveller here? I reckon so.
For what it’s worth, the Dynamo finished 2015 in fine fettle having won each of their last six matches in all competitions. And the hosts have been playing friendlies every few days over the past several weeks to ensure they’re in peak physical condition for this contest.
The White-Blues are playing knockout Champions League football for the first time since their memorable run to the 1999 semi-finals and Sergiy Rebrov’s men impressed when more than holding their own against FC Porto and Chelsea in Group G.
Both group rivals were held to draws in the Olimpiskiy Stadium and in the past two years only domestic foes Shakhtar Donetsk have left the city with maximum points.
Dynamo also boast an excellent record when welcoming Premier League opposition to Ukraine. Chelsea, Everton, Stoke, Man City and Arsenal have all tried and failed to record a W in Kiev since 2008 and their 13 fixtures against English sides have returned W5-D6-L2 figures. City and Pellegrini will be well aware – this isn’t a walk in the park.
Wing wizard Andriy Yarmolenko has attracted Premier League attention but on the opposite flank Paraguayan Derlis Gonzalez has the ability to unlock City’s less than impressive backline. The hosts are held together by uncompromising centre-back Yevhen Khacheridi but right-back Vitorino Antunes is suspended, meaning Domagoj Vida should deputise.
I don’t see Dynamo losing on Wednesday – or more specifically, I can’t see City winning – so I’ll happily invest in the 4/6 on Manchester City in the Not To Win market. And with that in mind, I can’t resist a wee wager at 5/1 on the 1-1 correct score.
The Citizens can’t be trusted to keep their sheets clean but the defensive-minded hosts may not allow this fixture to open up as much as us neutrals may like.
The two teams are well capable of grabbing a goal each but it could be a relatively tight first leg encounter.
Manchester City Not To Win (4/6)
Correct Score – 1-1 (5/1)
PSV Eindhoven v Atletico Madrid, Wednesday 24 February 2016 (19.45), BT Sport 2
PSV Eindhoven are the first Dutch side to reach the Champions League knockout stage in nine years but the Eredivisie champions face a stern examination on Wednesday night when Atletico Madrid arrive in town.
Philip Cocu’s side head into this showdown on the back of an eight-match winning spree which has seen the Peasants move back to the top of their domestic table, on course to retain the title. It’s been a fabulous campaign for the club that lost both Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum to the Premier League last summer.
In Champions League action, PSV finished second behind Wolfsburg and ahead of Manchester United in a weak Group B but the Dutch outfit did pocket maximum points and score exactly twice in each of their three Philips Stadion fixtures.
The hosts are unbeaten in all 14 home outings in 2015/16 and are yet to fire a blank in front of their home supporters. The Peasants have bagged 18 victories in their previous 22 matches across all competitions but that’s where the pleasantries will end.
Cocu has three key absentees this midweek, making PSV’s arduous task even tougher to complete. Maxime Lestienne was arguably the hosts’ best performer in the group stages – scoring twice and delivering two assists – but the Belgian winger misses out through injury along with Mexican mystros Andres Guardado.
However, PSV’s major missing man is 23-goal top scorer Luuk de Jong who’s suspended. Jurgen Locadia has been tipped to replace Cocu’s star hitman.
Taking on Atletico Madrid isn’t for the feint-hearted so facing the Spaniards without three of your best offensive threats certainly isn’t ideal. The La Liga side have kept clean sheets in 11 of their last 15 Champions League games as well as in 12 of their 19 road trips this term.
Diego Simeone’s side saw their title challenge all but end on Sunday with a 0-0 draw against a stubborn Villarreal side but Los Colchoneros remain one of European football’s best knockout teams through their exhausting work-rate and exceptional organisation.
The Mattress Makers may have failed to record a victory in three of their last five and failed to net in four of their previous six continental away days but Atletico have still won more La Liga fixtures on their travels than any other (W9-D1-L3) and picked up seven points during their group-sage road trips.
Antoine Griezmann’s grabbed just a solitary goal in seven but the French forward is too good to endure a long barren streak and is well overdue a goal. We know Los Colchoneros will keep things tight at the back and I’d fancy Simeone’s side to steal a goal to take first leg honours back to Madrid.
A huge 17 of Atletico’s 21 triumphs across La Liga and the Champions League came alongside clean sheets whilst they’ve shutout seven of their 10 hosts across both competitions. Include all formats and the Mattress Makers have shipped just eight goals in 19 outside their Vicente Calderon home with 14 of those fixtures featuring fewer than three goals.
In last season’s Champions League, Atletico saw three of their four knockout matches finish in 1-0 results with one goalless game.
If, like me, you reckon the Spaniards will prove too strong, it should pay to back them with Under 2.5 Goals for a much tastier 13/5 than the standard 5/6 offered in the Match Odds market.
Atletico Madrid to win and Under 2.5 Goals (13/5)
*Prices correct time of publication.