IT’S BACK! Europe’s premier club competition returns to our screens on Tuesday night and European football boff Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his best bets from the opening night.
Wolfsburg v CSKA Moscow | Tuesday 19.45 | BT Sport Extra
Wolfsburg made their one and only Champions League group-stage appearance back in 2009/10, falling at the first hurdle. But the affluent Germans are hoping for more joy this time around and were thankful to the UEFA committee for gifting them a relatively soft group.
The Wolves will be joined by Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven as well as Tuesday’s visitors CSKA Moscow and Dieter Hecking’s men will be well aware, a place in the Last 16 is an achievable target. To make the knockout rounds, VFL will need their Volkswagen Arena form to be tip-top and in fairness, it has been ever since Hecking took up the head coach role.
Including both league and continental results, Wolfsburg have returned W31-D13-L7 under Hecking’s watch and played some thrilling football along the way too. Bundesliga Player of the Year Kevin De Bruyne and Ivan Perisic may have left in recent weeks but the signature of Julian Draxler should ensure the hosts hold onto their attacking edge and take the game to CSKA this midweek.
The Wolves were held to a frustrating 0-0 at newly-promoted Ingolstadt on Saturday and true, they were lucky to escape with a point. But back at their Lower Saxony base, they’ll fancy their chances. I would too if I wasn’t so concerned about their inability to keep clean sheets.
So instead, I like the idea of taking the hosts to score Over 1.5 Goals at 3/4 with William Hill. Wolfsburg have only failed to score in three of those aforementioned 51 fixtures and bagged at least two goals on 35/51 (68%) occasions. Taking that percentage success rate, this bet should be closer to 4/9!
The Russians threw away a two-goal lead against title rivals Zenit last time out and have a history of haemorrhaging goals in this competition. The Horses have W1-D2-L7 of their past 10 group-stage games and have failed to shut any Champions League side out in their most recent 20 outings.
Leonid Slutsky will revert back to a tried-and-trusted 4-2-3-1 in Germany but the visitors averaged the second lowest share of possession in last season’s competition – just 34.8% ahead of APOEL Nicosia’s 30.3% – and have leaked at least twice in nine of their past 12 away days in the Champions League dating back to the 2011/12 renewal.
There is a range of different goals bets for this encounter worth considering – CSKA have been involved in 15/17 winning Over 2.5 Goals bets lately, for example – but I’m happiest taking the hosts to score twice or more at a value price.
Sevilla v Borussia Monchengladbach | Tuesday 19.45 | BT Sport Extra
With five of the six games involving non-English sides including a short odds-on favourite, finding a decent-priced punt on Tuesday is a little tricky. So for my second best bet, I’ve plumped for two teams I’d like to think I know inside out.
Neither Sevilla nor Monchengladbach have covered themselves in glory during the early exchanges of the 2015/16 campaign. Between them they’ve managed W0-D2-L5, scoring three goals and conceding 15, and arrive at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuán with defensive selection problems.
Unai Emery’s hosts will field youngster Sergio Rico in goal with the news Beto is out for six weeks and with Dani Carrico, Adil Rami and Nico Pareja all absent, Los Rojiblancos are likely to start with summer signing Marco Andreolli and full-back Timothee Kolodziejcak at the heart of the backline again, as they did against Levante on Friday night.
For the guests, Lucien Favre has lost veteran skipper Martin Stranzl once more. The stalwart is the glue in the Gladbach defence but is back on the sidelines following his Friday return in a shockingly bad home loss to Hamburg. Throw in Granit Xhaka’s suspension, Christoph Kramer’s return to Leverkusen and the Foals are also missing their two midfield marauders from last term – the duo patrolled the area in front of the defence with panache and guile.
So now we’ve covered the team news, there are a few other points to consider. Firstly, Sevilla did the double over Gladbach in the Last 16 of the Europa League and you’d have to say, despite the turnover of talent at the club this summer, Emery’s charges look far stronger on paper. For example, Carlos Bacca may have left but Spanish international Fernando Llorente is a more than able replacement.
And then there’s Sevilla’s outstanding record at the Pizjuán. Since March 2014, Los Rojiblancos have managed a supreme W30-D7-L2 record in front of their home fans, in all competitions. Only Barcelona and Atletico Madrid came away with a maximum point haul and Gladbach are nowhere near the match of those two.
As well as knocking the Foals out of continental competition last season, Sevilla beat each and all of their Europa League opponents on home soil and although Favre’s suffered just two away defeats in 10 European contests in the hot-seat at Gladbach, their early season form is far more concerning than Sevilla’s.
Having finished third – their best season in the German top-flight since 1987 – Borussia have made their worst ever start to a Bundesliga season and Foals fans are genuinely concerned about their prospects, heading into their first European Cup/Champions League campaign since 1977. Normally so dependable at the back and dangerous on the counter-attack, the side has failed to function and sit rock bottom of the Bundesliga without a point and conceding at least two goals in each match.
Sevilla are the bet here but too short to suggest in the Match Odds market so dig a bit deeper and have a play on the -1 Asian Handicap at 21/20 with Bet365. Should Sevilla only managed a one-goal victory; we’ll get our cash back. But should Emery’s men run out winners by two goals or more, we’ll be paid out.
Wolfsburg v CSKA Moscow – Wolfsburg to score Over 1.5 Goals (3/4 William Hill)
Sevilla v Borussia Monchengladbach – Sevilla -1 Asian Handicap (21/20 Bet365)
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