The (Quarter) Final Countdown
The last 16 of this season’s Champions League is already on the cusp of being remembered as one of the competition’s most epic rounds, so don’t miss out on seeing who books their place in the last eight this week.
Here is our football expert Adrian Clarke with a rundown of what to expect in the coming days…
Napoli v Real Madrid – Tuesday 7th March, KO 7:45pm
I’ve got a new commentators’ cliché for you! “A 3-1 first leg lead in Europe is a precarious one”.
Not having it?
Statistically you’d be correct to think that, for 77.2% of teams that have won a first leg on home turf by that margin in UEFA competitions, have gone through to the next round…but Real Madrid are a different animal.
Remarkably they have been in this position eight times before in their history, and only prevailed on four occasions. Second leg blow-ups from them aren’t as rare as you might imagine.
With this in mind the 11/2 on Napoli to knock the Champions League holders out, perhaps doesn’t sound too daft after all. A fantastic 2-1 win at Roma last weekend, inspired by a Dries Mertens double will also have lifted spirits at the Italian side.
Napoli may have only won once in four home games in this season’s Champions League, but I wouldn’t rule out that happening at the Stadio San Paolo tonight. Mertens to score anytime in a 2-1 home win that sees Zidane’s men narrowly sneak into the last eight, is a value bet that might just land at 21/1.
Whichever way it goes, I doubt the Spaniards – who can be flaky on the road – will find it a stroll in the park.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich – Tuesday 7th March, KO 7:45pm
You could probably stick an extra nought on the end of the 20/1 that’s being offered on Arsenal reaching the quarter-finals at Bayern Munich’s expense – and still get limited uptake from punters.
There was such a cavernous gulf between the Bundesliga’s all-red machine, and a Gunners’ side low on confidence, during that thumping 5-1 first leg victory at the Allianz Arena three weeks ago.
The 90/1 on Arsene Wenger’s men claiming the 4-0 win they need to go through in 90 minutes, seems fanciful.
That’s not to say this match up is without interest.
It should still be a fascinating tête-à-tête, if only to see how man-of-the-moment Alexis Sanchez responds to being dropped last weekend. Arsenal’s leading scorer is rated a 6/1 chance to bag the opening goal.
They may be away from home with a healthy cushion, but Carlo Ancelotti’s all-star side are worthy odds-on favourites (23/25). Since their last defeat in late November they have won 12 and drawn two matches in all competitions.
With Arsene Wenger promising ‘lucid rage’ from his boys, it’s hard not to imagine plenty of goals in this one – so Bayern Munich to win & Over 2.5 goals in the game looks tempting at 2/1, as does the 11/5 you can get for the visitors to claim victory with both teams scoring.
Barcelona v Paris St-Germain – Wednesday 8th March, KO 7:45pm
PSG’s wonderful midfield trio of Verratti, Rabiot and Matuidi bossed an ageing Barcelona engine room, from minute one to minute 90 during a stunning 4-0 first leg success, that was as close to perfection as I’ve seen from any team for several seasons.
Why would anything different happen in the return?
While the Nou Camp is a very intimidating place to play – and with ‘MSN’ lurking ominously, anything is possible – I am lured towards to the PSG or Draw double chance at 9/5.
It feels to me that under Unai Emery (a man that’s highly experienced in facing Barcelona) the French champions have the measure of a gifted Catalan side that’s in urgent need of a midfield rebuild.
If you’re looking for a goalscorer gamble, Edinson Cavani has scored in 10 of his last 11 starts for PSG. He is 17/10 to score anytime, and has been magnificent in this season’s competition.
For Barcelona, Luis Suarez to score first is on offer at 17/5, and many of you will believe in Barcelona’s powers of recovery, I’m sure.
For those that can see them rewriting the history books by becoming the first club ever to recover a 4-0 first leg Champions League deficit, you’re looking at 8/1 for them to go through.
A scarcely believable 5-0 win comes in at 27/1.
Personally, I’m not tempted. This feels like it is PSG’s time.
Borussia Dortmund v Benfica – Wednesday 8th March, KO 7:45pm
If you saw the first game you’ll know how lucky Benfica are to have clung on to a goal advantage.
It was all Dortmund, and but for some uncharacteristically shoddy finishing by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this tie would’ve already been wrapped up by Thomas Tuchel’s men.
Even without the injured Marco Reus I fancy a backlash, with the aforementioned Aubameyang likely to make amends. He is 3/1 to score at least two goals.
Defending has not been the German outfit’s strong suit this season, but knowing how damaging an away goal could prove, I expect them to focus hard on the clean sheet.
They will go for it, but not in a gung-ho manner. That would be madness.
With the bookies all over a Dortmund turnaround it’s not easy to find value, but a professional 2-0 or 3-0 win for the hosts does offer a little bit extra. I’d be taking 3-0 at 8/1, or a 2-0 win at 6/1.
On the back of a 6-2 thumping of Bayer Leverkusen last weekend, it’s hard to see you throwing cash overboard by backing the Yellow Submarine.