EUROPEAN football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from Tuesday night’s Champions League clash between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid.
Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid | Tuesday 19:45 | BT Sport 3
Bayer Leverkusen were the only side to progress from the Champions League group-stages despite not being one of the two richest sides in their pool.
An unbeaten six games against Spurs, Monaco and CSKA Moscow deserves plenty of credit but four of those fixtures ended all-square and Roger Schmidt’s side have been befuddled by inconsistencies throughout their campaign.
However, Die Werkself have managed to bag back-to-back Bundesliga victories for the first time since the beginning of November in preparation for this tie, notching three goals on each occasion. And a solid record at the BayArena should also stand the hosts in good stead.
Solid European performers
Leverkusen are unbeaten in 10 (W5-D5-L0) European outings on home soil and since the beginning of 2014/15, the Germans have beaten the likes of Benfica, Zenit, Monaco, Sporting Lisbon, Lazio and Atletico here whilst also holding Roma, Barcelona, Villarreal and Spurs to draws.
It’s one defeat in 12 Champions League encounters at the BayArena but Die Werkself haven’t reached the quarter-final stage since appearing in the 2002 final and must also overcome a pretty wretched knockout record (W1-D0-L8) in this competition.
A fully fit Bayer outfit can be a match for any side on the continent and although Schmidt’s youthful squad have performed admirably over the past fortnight, it’s still a concern to see crucial components missing for Tuesday night’s contest.
Bayer missing key components
Set-piece specialist and playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu is banned for the rest of the season whilst central defender and talisman in defence, Jonathan Tah, is crocked. Meanwhile, Admir Mehmedi and Lars Bender are major doubts.
Expect Aleksandar Dragovic to feature alongside Omer Toprak at the heart of the defence, though Tim Jedvaj is also pushing for a start. Further forward, Leverkusen have options and in-form Javier Hernandez will lead the line with fully fit Karim Bellarabi and speedster Julien Brandt also available.
Understrength Atletico at the back
Visitors Atletico have selection issues of their own. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak is back in training following a dislocated shoulder in December but looks unlikely to make his first start since injury. And a further two of the team’s first-choice back-five are also absent for the Spaniards.
Diego Godin – ever-present during the group-stage – and Juanfran are injured, robbing Los Rojiblancos of vital defensive stability. Diego Simeone’s men leaked just twice during the pool stages despite being pitted against the might of Bayern Munich.
At the back, the capital club haven’t entirely convinced in recent weeks. Atleti have kept only two clean sheets in their last eight outings but going forward they’ve packed enough punch to keep the ship on course for another top-four finish in La Liga.
Atletico packing a punch
Los Colchoneros were largely lifeless against Sporting Gijon on Saturday before a five-minute Kevin Gameiro hat-trick sealed a 4-1 success in the dying embers of that encounter. It was the fastest treble scored in Spain since Bebeto for Deportivo back in 1995.
With Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco also in tow, the visitors have the firepower to mix it with Europe’s best but it seems unlikely that Atletico will attempt to open up and attack from the off – it’s just not Simeone’s style.
An excellent performance against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey recently showcased Atleti’s ability to turn game-heads on when it matters most and it’s almost impossible to ignore their quite remarkable Champions League trends when looking at this match from a punting perspective.
Overwhelming Champions League trends
Los Rojiblancos scored just twice in their three away Champions League group-games this season, have notched only nine in their past 13 away continental clashes – eight finishing with Under 1.5 Goals – with the Spaniards not scoring more than once in any European away day since the start of 2016.
Simeone’s charges have kept 25 clean sheets in 42 Champions League games since their return in 2013/14 and also know how to keep things watertight in the knockout stages. In their eight opening legs of knockout Champions League football during that time, a total of just eight goals have been scored.
The betting angles
Six of those eight first legs featured fewer than two goals with six reaching half-time goalless, including each of their last three Last 16 first legs. A repeat can be supported at odds-against quotes of 6/4 (Bet365).
Under 1.5 Goals backers will be encouraged by the fact two of Leverkusen’s group-games banked in that market, as well as four of Atletico’s six pool matches. The same selection paid out in seven of the guests’ past 13 Champions League games and so will garner interest at 15/8 (BetBright).
But instead, I’m going to get behind the 56/25 (Marathon) – that’s 3.24 in decimals – for the draw. Four of Atletico’s past five road trips have ended all-square and it would be typical Simeone to shut this first leg down in an attempt to squeeze through when returning home in a fortnight.
The Spaniards have won only one of their last seven opening legs of Champions League knockout football, including none of four on the road (W0-D2-L2). With four of those seven finishing all-square, including three 0-0s, there’s also scope to attack the Correct Score market.