MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) nailed five winners from his six Champions League suggestions on Tuesday. Can he repeat the trick on Wednesday?
Astana v Benfica | Wednesday 15.00 | BT Sport 2
I’ve been looking forward to penning this preview. *Rubs hands together*
Lovely little Astana retained the Kazakhstan domestic title earlier this month allowing Stanimir Stoilov’s side to focus on their Champions League commitments and garnering a first ever victory in the group-stage of Europe’s premier club competition.
The Blue & Yellows are one of four teams yet to record a victory in this season’s tournament and although they’ve failed to score in three of their four fixtures thus far (with their only two goals the result of own goals), please don’t write them off this midweek.
I was hoping but not quite expecting a hunky price on Astana here and my wish has been greeted with bookmakers dangling quotes up to 4/1 on the hosts taking maximum points. And you know what, there’s loads of leg on show – enough to get me very hot under the collar and prepare to dive deep into a pro-Astana punt.
You just have to get the Kazakhs onside here. I’ve specifically taken a strong watching brief to their two group-games at their Astana Arena home already and the hosts have recorded a 2-2 with Galatasaray and a 0-0 with Atletico Madrid. On neither occasion were the Blue & Yellows outclassed. Far from it.
Include qualifying fixtures and Astana have also dispatched Maribor, HJK Helsinki and APOEL in front of their home fans. And although Baurzhan Dzolchiev is suspended, the artificial surface and sub-zero temperatures in the Kazakh capital play into Stoilov’s charges hands.
Benfica beat their hosts 2-0 in Lisbon on the opening matchday and their three wins from four is their best return at this stage of a Champions League campaign ever. But the Portuguese travellers have only W2-D4-L8 in their previous 14 road trips and face an arduous seven-hour flight to their destination.
What’s more, the Eagles must make-do without suspended star Nicolas Gaitain and defensive lynchpin Luisao whilst Rui Vitoria’s visitors suffered their third Lisbon derby loss at the weekend when losing out to Sporting in the cup after extra-time. Will they be mentally ready or weary? I’d say the latter.
Benfica top Group C and a point should be enough to help secure progression but in all competitions under Vitoria they’ve W3-D1-L3 on the road this term and although their 2-1 success at Atletico Madrid stands out on paper, the Portuguese champions were dominated in that encounter.
We can back Astana in the Double Chance market at 21/20 with Boylesports and we’ll be paid out if the home side avoid defeat. I’ve backed it confidently and I’m now I’m waiting for the Kazakhs to do their thing on Wednesday afternoon.
CSKA Moscow v Wolfsburg | Wednesday 17.00 | BT Sport 2
Julian Draxler scored the only goal of the game in the reverse fixture in Germany to hand Wolfsburg a handy 1-0 victory. It was just one of seven Group B contests to end in home wins and with the Wolves struggling to find form or consistency away from the Volkswagen Arena, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see CSKA pocket maximum points.
Dieter Hecking’s men have been beaten in five of their last six on the road with Wolfsburg also losing out in four of their previous five in the Champions League. Despite their 6-0 demolition job of Werder Bremen on Saturday, it’s certainly warning enough to steer clear of Ze Germans this midweek.
However, CSKA aren’t exactly top of the class right now although they are sitting pretty at the top of the Russian Premier League. Still, Leonid Slutsky’s troops have suffered three consecutive losses (scoring once) and have managed just four wins in front of their Moscow fans in 15 home European ties in the past four years.
Instead, I’m keen to enter the goals markets with Bet365’s 21/20 on Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score appealing. CSKA haven’t kept a clean sheet in 20 Champions League appearances and just one in those aforementioned 15 continental fixtures at their Arena Khimki home.
First-choice goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev hasn’t kept opposition sides out since 2006 in this competition – a run that spans 35 Champions League matches – but in attack Seydou Doumbia’s scored consistently and they should have more than enough to find a route past a less than formidable Wolfsburg backline.
Dieter Hecking’s side have seen Over 2.5 Goals bank in six of their eight European away matches since the start of last season and that previous meeting in September could easily have ended with three or more goals in Germany. the visitors have struck 12 of their 13 continental goals from open play and the Wolves boss has promised to field an attacking XI.
Wolfsburg should revert to a 4-1-4-1 formation with Draxler and Max Kruse tucked in behind Bas Dost as the guests go in search of a result that could book their place in the Last 16. I’m expecting an open and attacking contest and for that reason, a goals-based bet suits best in Moscow this midweek.
Astana v Benfica – Astana double chance (21/20 Boylesports)
CSKA Moscow v Wolfsburg – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (21/20 Bet365)
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