MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) nailed 2/3 winners from Tuesday night’s Champions League coupon. Can he repeat the feat on Wednesday?
FC Astana v Galatasaray | Wednesday 17.00 | BT Sport 2
History will be made on Wednesday evening as Kazakhstan plays host to its first ever Champions League group stage game. Now admittedly, I’m no expert on domestic football in Kazakhstan but we do know that Astana’s best attacker Patrick Twumasi is serving a suspension. We also know the side are winless in four and have suffered back-to-back league losses. But should Galatasaray be 7/5 here? I don’t think so.
To start with, Astana have seen off Maribor, HJK Helsinki and APOEL at home during qualifying. Sure, that’s hardly the most fearsome copybook but the artificial surface at the Astana Arena could well come into play. As we’ve seen in international football, trips to these nations are hazardous propositions and although the Turks don’t have a huge distance to travel, they’re hardly the most assured side on the road.
Gala have W6-D9-L34 of their previous 49 away days in the Champions League. They’ve not kept a clean sheet outside of Istanbul in 13 years – a run of 20 games. The visitors have not scored more than one goal in their last 12 Champions League ties, W0-D2-L7 of their most recent nine and lost their previous six.
Burak Yilmaz is injured and whilst the Lions have won both domestic games against Trabzonspor and Gaziantepspor since losing at home to Atletico Madrid, I’m more than happy to oppose them.
Under 2.5 Goals is a strong runner – it’s banked in five of Astana’s seven European matches this season, including their opener at Benfica. But I prefer to back the hosts in the Double Chance market at 5/7 with 888 – that’s 1.71 in decimal terms – and we’re paid out should the Kazakhs win or draw.
Atletico Madrid v Benfica | Wednesday 19.45 | BT Sport Extra
Regular readers will know how sweet I am on Atletico Madrid and although their weekend reverse to Villarreal was a wee concern, I’m confident Diego Simeone’s track record in the Champions League can lead us down the right path on Wednesday.
Since taking charge at the Vicente Calderon, Simeone has seen Atleti W9-D2-L0 of their 11 Champions League home fixtures. The Mattress Makers have only conceded twice in those outings and have kept their sheets clean in each of the last seven in front of their home fans – an eighth against Benfica would establish a new Champions League home record.
Since the start of 2013/14, only rivals Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have managed more Champions League wins than Atletico’s 15 and Los Colchoneros have shutout their opposition more often than any other side during the same timeframe – 14 clean sheets. Include results since before Simeone’s arrival and the capital club have bagged victories in 21 of their last 24 European fixtures at the Calderon – Atleti are also on a run of 12 successive continental group stage victories. And breathe…
It shouldn’t require too much convincing - Atletico Madrid really are the real deal. They walked all over Galatasaray in Istanbul and I fancy their chances at 6/4 (SkyBet) to record a win ‘to nil’ against Benfica.
The Portuguese giants are winless (W0-D7-L8) in 15 against Spanish sides dating back to 1982, failing to even net in their last five Champions League encounters against their neighbouring nation’s opposition. The Eagles have fired blanks in five of their past seven Champions League trips overseas and in six of their last nine European ties.
Rui Vitoria has almost a clean bill of health and will likely to look to sit back and sneak a draw. But I believe Atletico’s superior coach, squad and home advantage will prove decisive. It’s one win in 12 continental away days for Benfica so backing the home win ‘to nil’ makes sense, to me.
Malmo v Real Madrid | Wednesday 19.45 | BT Sport Europe
Real Madrid sent my European NAP down at the weekend but I’m reinvesting in the same win ‘to nil’ bet for Los Blancos’ first ever trip to Malmo. The Madrid giants had 30 efforts on goal against Malaga and should return to winning ways against far weaker opposition.
Rafael Benitez’s boys have leaked just once in seven matches under his tutelage and although Sergio Ramos and Pepe are sidelined, Real will monopolise possession enough to ensure Malmo barely get a sniff. The visitors have shutout their opposition in eight of their last 11 Champions League ties and are ruthless operators at this level.
The 10-time kings of Europe have W13-D1-L0 group games of late, scoring in their last 39 pool fixtures and kept clean sheets in four of their past five Champions League road trips. The stats and trends are certainly in our favour.
Malmo are no longer in the title race in Sweden and although the reigning Allsvenskan champions beat Olympiakos at the Swedbank Stadion last season, the Swedes were beaten ‘to nil’ in all four duels with Atletico Madrid and Juventus in the same group – two teams on comparable levels to Real.
The Swedes kicked off their Champions League campaign with a 2-0 defeat to PSG but that result could have been a whole lot worse in Paris and their weekend goalless draw in domestic action shouldn’t cause Madrid any sleepless nights. The win ‘to nil’ is 13/10 with Paddy Power.
Astana v Galatasaray – Astana double chance (5/7 888)
Atletico Madrid v Benfica – Atletico Madrid to win ‘to nil’ (6/4 SkyBet)
Malmo v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to win ‘to nil’ (13/10 Paddy Power)