MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on the final night of group-stage Champions League action this season.
Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona | Tuesday 19.45 | BT Sport Extra
Rarely are we given the opportunity to back Barcelona at odds-against quotes but Wednesday night’s visit to Germany sees the Catalans chalked up at 11/10 with BetVictor and punters are urged to snap it up.
Luis Enrique’s side have already confirmed their status as group winners but the Bluagrana are bidding to finish their pool unbeaten for the first time in three years and have travelled with a strong squad despite resting Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta.
Dani Alves misses out through suspension but the superstar front-three of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are set to lead the attack. Barca have scored at least twice in nine of their last 10 Champions League outings and look more than capable of at least enhancing that return on Wednesday.
The defending champions have W14-D1-L1 in their past 16 matches in this competition and won nine of their most recent 14 road trips at the group-stage, seven of which arrived by a margin of two goals or more.
The visitors had plundered 26 goals in six fixtures before behind held at Valencia on Saturday night but even then, Barca dominated proceedings from the off. With 10 wins from their last 12, it would be a brave man to bet against the La Liga leaders.
To be fair, Leverkusen battled valiantly and performed admirably in the Nou Camp, even leading with 10 minutes to play. But Roger Schmidt’s men collapsed to lose 2-1 and have struggled to find their feet or defensive cohesion since.
Die Werkself must do without skipper Omer Toprak and injured defensive midfielder Lars Bender this midweek, weakening their rearguard and so just a second clean sheet in 11 looks unlikely (their only shutout in 10 came against lower-league Viktoria Koln in the DFB Pokal).
Bayer have leaked 19 goals in nine games, have W1-D2-L4 in their previous seven and been beaten in each of their six meetings with Barcelona conceding 18 goals in the process.
The Germans need to better Roma’s result against BATE in order to progress and they’ll be pinning their hopes on in-form Javier Hernandez to deliver the goods along with Admir Mehmedi and Karim Bellarabi. But even their W4-D1-L1 return from their last six BayArena battles in the Champions League is likely to aid them on Wednesday with their rotten defensive record proving their undoing.
Dynamo Kiev v Maccabi Tel Aviv | Wednesday 19.45 | BT Sport Extra
Dynamo Kiev were 16/1 shots to take Group G honours before a ball was kicked and the Ukrainians can confirm their position as pool winners by beating whipping boys Maccabi Tel Aviv in freezing conditions.
Serhiy Rebrov’s side claimed the domestic double last season and have continued their fine rebirth in 2015/16, taking 43 points from a possible 48 in the Premier Liha. The hosts head into this fixture on the back of five successive wins and a goal difference of +14 from those quintet of matches.
Artem Kravets and Shlomi Azulay are likely to be absent for Dynamo but their imperious NSC Olimpiyskiy record should stand Rebrov’s men in good stead. Since the 2015 winter break, Kiev have managed W16-D5-L1 in front of their home fans in all competitions, including 13 clean sheets.
Having comfortably proven too strong for the Israelis in Tel Aviv, I’m happy to put my faith in Dynamo completing the double. SkyBet have made the hosts a 5/6 shot to win ‘to nil’ and that holds plenty of appeal.
Maccabi have struck just once across their five group-games thus far and that was a penalty against Porto when the side were already 3-0 down. In fact, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side have fired in the fewest shots-on-target in the Champions League (average of just 2.00 per-game) and have lost all five of their previous road trips in this competition, netting once.
Tel Aviv cannot move off the bottom of Group G no matter what the outcome of this game with the guests only hope to avoid a pointless campaign. They’ve leaked at least twice in each of their previous five fixtures with all five defeats seeing the side trail at half-time as well as losing by a margin of two goals or more.
Dynamo should saunter into top spot.
Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona – Barcelona to win (11/10 BetVictor)
Dynamo Kiev v Maccabi Tel Aviv – Dynamo Kiev to win ‘to nil’ (5/6 SkyBet)
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