MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) analyses Wednesday night’s Champions League quarter-final first leg clash between Wolfsburg and Real Madrid.
Wolfsburg v Real Madrid | Wednesday 19.45 | BT Sport 2
Real Madrid head to Germany this midweek licking their lips, riding on a wave of Clasico euphoria, believing they’ve finally gotten their mojo back.
Saturday’s dramatic comeback victory at the Camp Nou has consolidated the feel-good factor around Zinedine Zidane’s squad with Los Blancos ending their arch-rivals’ 39-match unbeaten streak. The match may have meant little in terms of the La Liga title race but it mattered to Madrid.
The 10-time European champions celebrated the success vociferously and Zidane agreed post-match it could be a turning point. Optimism has flowed through the club over the past fortnight; a handsome Champions League draw, a 4-0 destruction of Sevilla and now a Clasico victory to rubberstamp the revival.
Real have reached the Champions League semi-finals in each of the past five campaigns and were jumping for joy behind the scenes having been pitted against struggling German outfit Wolfsburg, with the added advantage of playing the second leg at the Bernabeu.
The past four occasions in which Madrid have claimed top European honours, they finished outside the top-two in La Liga. Could history be repeating itself in 2015/16? Madridistas’ response tends to be a resounding ‘yes’.
Their weekend win owed much to the now acceptable version of a Los Blancos XI featuring Casemiro in the middle of midfield and Isco and James Rodriguez being left on the bench. The capital club ceded possession for the majority of the match against Barcelona, containing the Catalans’ collection of superstars before breaking with vengeance and adventure in the final half an hour. It worked.
Madrid looked fit, strong, powerful and pacey as they recorded a sixth successive success. With no injury or suspension concerns, Europe’s most decorated club travel to Wolfsburg looking for a fourth victory in five trips to Germany. Another conquering performance is far from unfathomable on Wednesday evening.
Real have won four of their past seven away knockout games in this competition since 2013/14, clearing a one-goal handicap on each occasion. This season, Los Blancos have kept their sheets clean in seven of their eight continental clashes and Cristiano Ronaldo has plundered 13 Champions League goals. They mean business.
For Wolfsburg, Friday night’s 3-0 defeat at Leverkusen in ‘El Plastico’ – all but ended their hopes of a top-four finish. German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung felt “it could amount to a new Volkswagen scandal” as the Wolves warmed up for the club’s biggest game in history with a woeful showing at the BayArena.
Dieter Hecking’s troops have collected just a solitary point from a possible nine since dispatching Gent a month ago and although the Lower Saxony side have been a model of inconsistency this season, Friday’s fright night was a new low for the group.
The Germans have managed just three Bundesliga wins from 15 and have scored 23 fewer league goals than at the same stage last season. Kevin De Bruyne’s departure – the Bundesliga’s best player in 2014/15 – has hit the club hard but injuries to Bas Dost and hard-working winger Daniel Caligiuri have also had an effective on the Wolves’ output.
Hecking’s hosts opt for a 4-2-3-1 that focuses upon containing tactics without the ball before Julian Draxler orchestrates the counter-attack. The German international was directly involved in three of Wolfsburg’s four goals against Gent and is clearly Wolfsburg’s key.
But Andre Schurrle’s found form in recent weeks and although off-field distractions haven’t helped Max Kruse’s cause, he’s still an accomplished forward. Dost’s absence has taken away the team’s shining light but there are enough threats for the Wolves to make home advantage count with a goal.
Wolfsburg have won all four of their Volkswagen Arena ties in the Champions League this season but it’s a step into the unknown – never before have they ventured as far as the quarter-finals on the European scene – and this is a significant step up for a side that’s been beaten by both Dortmund and Bayern Munich (x2) in 2015/16 on their home patch.
The Bundesliga boys have notched in seven of their eight European outings in 2015/16 and it’s telling that Madrid have recorded a solitary shutout in 10 away days, with seven of their most recent eight road trips featuring successful Both Teams To Score selections.
Real’s rejuvenation should carry them back to the Bernabeu with a positive result but there’s no guarantee they’ll keep a clean sheet. So I’ll have a bite on the 11/5 offered by Stan James on a Madrid win and BTTS, as well as snapping odds-against quotes of 10/9 from BetVictor on Madrid -1 on the Asian Handicap line.
Backing -1 on the Asian Handicap market means I’ll see my stake returned should Real only manage a victory by a one-goal margin. I’ll pocket profit should Zidane’s galaxy of stars triumph by two or more goals and only lose out if Wolfsburg upset the odds by avoiding defeat on Wednesday.
Wolfsburg v Real Madrid – Real Madrid -1 Asian Handicap (10/9 BetVictor)
Wolfsburg v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to win and Both Teams To Score (11/5 Stan James)
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