THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE returns on Tuesday night. Here Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the coupon, as well as sharing his favourite outright winner selection.
Champions League 2017/18: Winner
Time is tight so I’ll try and keep this short and sweet, folks. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that my Champions League outright selection is Atletico Madrid each-way at 22/1 with Betway – we’ll receive a quarter of the odds should Los Colchoneros reach the final in Kiev.
Yep, it’s the fourth successive season I’m supporting Atletico and hopefully you won’t require too much persuasion to join me. This is a side that’s reached the semi-finals in three of the past four seasons yet chalked up as 10th favourites to clinch the trophy.
Spanish clubs have claimed 17/36 (47%) continental titles this century whilst only one of the last 22 Champions League winners came from a country outside of Europe’s top-four major leagues. The eventual champion also reached the last-eight in the campaign prior to their outright success, so Atleti fit the bill.
Leaving the Vicente Calderon is an obvious concern and some have suggested the transfer embargo endured this summer could count against the club. However, Diego Simeone has signed a new contract, no significant players have left the capital and the creatures of habit could benefit from a fairly stable summer.
With Diego Costa rumoured to be arriving in January and Vitolo already on the way, Atletico could have the tools to takedown any side in Europe over two legs. Their defensive resilience and supreme organisation makes them awkward opposition for any side once we reach the knockout stages.
Elsewhere, Real Madrid are fair favourites but a little too skinny for me at 4/1 (888), PSG (7/1 Betfair) could be too gung-ho in the current clime and question marks remain over Carlo Ancelotti’s future at Bayern Munich (11/1 Betfair).
Manchester City’s (12/1 BetVictor) defence was their undoing last term and could prove fatal again, whilst Barcelona are a touch underrated at 14/1 (Betfair) despite their overreliance on Lionel Messi.
Bayern Munich v Anderlecht | Tuesday 12th September 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Group B is dominated by Bayern Munich and PSG and the Bavarians should kick-off their campaign with relative ease when Anderlecht pitch up at the Allianz Arena.
Bayern have spent only 13 weeks off the top of the Bundesliga table since the start of the 2012/13 but the all-conquering side have come in for heavy criticism already this term, particularly after falling to a 2-0 reverse at Hoffenheim on Saturday evening.
It was Bayern’s earliest Bundesliga loss in a season since being beaten by Borussia Monchengladbach in the opening game of 2011-12, and their first league loss by more than one goal since going down 3-1 at Gladbach under Pep Guardiola, almost two years ago.
Carlo Ancelotti is under pressure and although the stats suggested FC Hollywood enjoyed 72% of the ball, out-shooting Hoffe 23-6, they never looked completely in control of proceedings during the final hour despite throwing on a galaxy of world class attacking operators.
Still, Bayern are defined by their Champions League record and they shouldn’t have too much trouble bouncing back on Tuesday. After all, the Bundesliga outfit have featured in the top two for highest average possession and shots per-game in each of the last four Champions League competitions, reaching the semi-final stage on three occasions.
The hosts have bagged W15-D1-L1 in Munich on Champions League nights since April 2014 with nine of those 15 triumphs by at least three goals. Bayern have scored at least five goals in six of those 17 fixtures and silenced their visitors in all bar seven.
Anderlecht haven’t made it out of the Champions League group stages in over 15 years now and after securing their 34th domestic title last term, have fallen into an early-season crisis. Les Mauves have made their worst start to a season since 1998 with many locals believing the squad has become complacent.
Swiss coach Rene Weiler will beef up his midfield here in a damage limitation exercise, hoping to penetrate Bayern on the counter-attack. But a lack of creativity in the middle of the park has stunted progress and the Belgians have failed to score in all three of their domestic away days this term.
I’ll back Bayern to repeat the feat and win ‘to nil’ at 5/6 (Paddy Power).
Roma v Atletico Madrid | Tuesday 12th September 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
I’ve already talked up Atletico’s outright prospects but it’s worth highlighting their excellent away record in the Champions League group-stage since 2013/14 (W7-D3-L2). In fact, their only losses on their travels in this tournament over the last couple of campaigns have come at Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
Tuesday night’s guests are experts in securing narrow away victories at this stage of the competition and another low-scoring tie is anticipated. Six of Los Colchoneros’ last eight away group-stage games have delivered for Under 2.5 Goals backers, with five featuring no more than a solitary strike.
But rather than get involved on skinny goals quotes, I’d rather back Atleti in the Draw No Bet market here at 11/12 (888). The Spanish side have had to play their first three La Liga matches on the road as they wait for their new stadium to be completed and although it’s been an indifferent start, they tend to come to the fore in these situations.
Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez and Gabi were rested at the weekend, while Antoine Griezmann will also be fresh after missing their 0-0 draw with Valencia through suspension.
Hosts Roma return to Europe’s top table but have picked up a solitary success in seven Champions League matches at the Stadio Olimpico and appear a weaker outfit than the team that pushed Juventus the hardest during 2016/17.
Head coach Luciano Spalletti moved on and leading lights Mo Salah, Antonio Rudiger and Leandro Paredes have also departed. The impressive Eusebio Di Francesco is the new man in charge but it’s been an inconsistent start, perhaps understandable as he adjusts to life at a much bigger club than Sassuolo.
The Giallorossi weren’t great when overcoming Atalanta on the opening day of the Serie A season, were beaten at home by Inter and then Saturday’s game away at Sampdoria was postponed because of a severe weather warning. They could be a little undercooked for this contest.
Benfica v CSKA Moscow | Tuesday 11th September 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Benfica have made no secret of their desire to dominate domestic football in Portugal whilst becoming competitive in Europe and having reached the knockout stages of the Champions League in each of the past two campaigns, goals are being reached in Lisbon.
However, the Eagles sold three key members of their defensive unit during the summer – goalkeeper Ederson, right-back Nelson Semedo and centre-back Victor Lindelof – leaving a huge hole at the back having failed to adequately replace the outgoings.
It means ageing and injury-prone centre-backs Luisao and Jardel would be the first-choice pairing at the back but the latter’s injury, alongside the continued absence of left-back Alejandro Grimaldo and defensive midfielder Lubomir Fejsa has left the hosts short in defensive areas.
Still, head coach Rui Vitoria has improved Benfica on the continental circuit and the Portuguese club do boast a plethora of forward-thinking options with Jonas, Raul Jimenez and Gabriel Barbosa up front plus wingers Eduardo Silva, Andrija Zivkovic and central midfielder Pizza providing the ammunition.
Benfica shouldn’t struggle for goals and they’ve notched in each of their last nine at the Estadio da Luz in this competition, failing to find the net just twice in 17 Champions League nights here. But that unconvincing backline can’t be ignored so Both Teams To Score appeals here at odds-against quotes of 6/5 (Betfair).
CSKA Moscow are 13 games into their season (W9-D1-L3) and comfortably overcame AEK Athens and Young Boys in the Champions League qualifiers to secure their place in the group-stage.
The Army boys have suffered defeats in 12 of their last 17 away trips in this competition (including qualifiers) but have found the back of the net in 12 of those games and new boss Viktor Goncharenko is known to be a more attack-minded man in charge compared to Leonid Slutsky, so CSKA should score.
Central defence is still built around the old guard of twin brothers Vasili and Aleksai Berezutski alongside Sergei Ignashevich and the veteran backline is unlikely to be able to cope at this level. But Mario Fernandes and Kirill Nababkin will get forward from wing-back and Alan Dzagoev is fit and available.
Atletico Madrid to win the Champions League (22/1 each-way Betway)
Bayern Munich v Anderlecht – Bayern Munich to win ‘to nil’ (5/6 Paddy Power)
Roma v Atletico Madrid – Atletico Madrid draw no bet (11/12 888)
Benfica v CSKA Moscow – Both Teams To Score (6/5 Betfair)