THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE continues on Wednesday night. Here Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the coupon.
Juventus v Sporting Lisbon | Wednesday 18th October 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Juventus were beaten in Turin on Saturday for the first time in 57 games, a run of results that spanned two years. With domestic rivals Napoli extending their 100% record in Serie A, the defending Italian champions are five points adrift of top spot in third.
The Old Lady were out-shot 11-7 by Lazio but Paulo Dybala – starting on the bench following the international break – saw a stoppage-time penalty saved as the Bianconeri won the xG count 1.79-0.37. Without dismissing Lazio’s victory, on any other day, Juventus pick up a point in that encounter.
So Max Allegri and his merry men will be determined to bounce back when they return to the J-Stadium on Wednesday night for a Champions League duel with Sporting. The hosts are unbeaten in 20 (W13-D7-L0) matches at this level in front of their home supporters since 2013 and should enhance that record here.
Stephan Lichtsteiner, Benedikt Howedes and Mattia De Sciglia are all unavailable so Stefano Sturaro should continue at right-back with Miralem Pjanic possibly returning and Sami Khedira back in contention. Dybala will also feature from the off, probably alongside Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain in attack.
Despite their riches in forward areas, Juventus’ defensive strength should form the basis for our bet. The Old Lady have recorded shutouts in four of their last five continental clashes in Turin, in eight of 11 Turin tussles going further back, as well as five of their six matches on home soil this season.
But rather than back the home win ‘to nil’, I’d rather invest in the 11/10 available from Ladbrokes on the Bianconeri beating Sporting in a contest featuring no more than three goals. indeed, each of Juve’s past 10 home successes in European competition would have seen this selection bank.
Sporting arrive without ever tasting victory on Italian soil (W0-D4-L10) and with only win across their last five outings (W1-D3-L1). That arrived in domestic cup action against lower-league Oleiros at the weekend with the Portuguese outfit firing blanks in three of those five fixtures in the sample.
The Lisbon club did convincingly overcome Olympiakos on matchday one and have claimed top honours in six of their seven road trips this term but this promises to be their toughest test outside of the Portuguese capital.
Jorge Jesus’ group have recorded one clean sheet in 16 Champions League matches and head to Italy with Fabio Coentrao, Alan Ruiz and Seydou Doumbia all rated major doubts. Bas Dost should start his first Champions League group stage match of the campaign but I expect Sporting to batten down the hatches.
The guests have seen Under 3.5 Goals recorded in seven of their most recent eight Champions League games and were beaten in all three away pool fixtures last term.
Barcelona v Olympiakos | Wednesday 18th October 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Barcelona failed to record a victory for the first time since their Spanish Super Cup drubbing against Real Madrid on Saturday. The Catalans were forced to settle for a point apiece at Atletico Madrid in an absorbing La Liga contest.
Ernesto Valverde’s charges’ had previously recorded nine successive triumphs, seven alongside clean sheets and five by a margin of three goals or more. Early season cries of crisis around the Camp Nou have dramatically subsided.
At the weekend the Blaugrana boss fielded a 4-4-2 formation with Lionel Messi partnering Luis Suarez in the final third. As Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha and Arda Turan remain crocked, a similar system looks likely to be employed here.
Either way, a fairly routine home success is forecast. Barca have won all six previous meetings against Greek clubs by an aggregate of 26-3 and have claimed W15-D2-L1 in their previous 18 Champions League group games.
At the Camp Nou, the Catalans have W20-D2-L0 in continental action, keeping clean sheets in five of their last six. The hosts have won by a margin of four goals or more in four of those six and in domestic matters, Valverde’s troops have notched 19 goals in five home outings already this term.
There’s little value to be found across the majority of markets but the 8/11 (Betway) on Barcelona winning both halves should certainly be considered. It’s a selection that’s paid out in four of their five Camp Nou encounters under Valverde and in eight of their last 10 here in the Champions League.
Olympiakos secured a 4-3 win at Panionios at the weekend but that victory was one of only two in their last eight. The Super League champions have picked up just 11 points from their opening seven matches and currently sit fourth back home despite dominating the domestic scene in recent years.
The Greeks have been beaten in both group games already this term, have W2-D0-L7 in their last nine away Champions League games and lost 12 of 14 trips away to Spanish sides (W0-D2-L12). The Pireaus outfit are someway below their own recent standards and should be comfortably dispatched here.