MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) analyses the odds for Wednesday night’s big Champions League showdown between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich | Wednesday 19.45 | BT Sport Europe
Atletico Madrid upset the odds to see off defending champions Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals and now Diego Simeone’s men must overcome the new outright favourites to reach a second final in three years.
The two-legged tie against Bayern Munich is a repeat of the 1974 European Cup final and brings together two teams with vastly contrasting styles. It might not be a repeat of Beauty against the Beast – as anticipated when Barca crossed swords with Atleti – but it’s not far off it.
All the pressure is on Bayern – in particular Pep Guardiola. The German giants are a win away from claiming a fourth successive Bundesliga crown and are on course to claim a second consecutive domestic double. But having taken over the Bavarians as European champions, Pep’s fallen at this hurdle in successive years, ironically both times to Spanish opposition.
The Catalan coach is judged by impossibly high standards and it’s not unfair to say, his legacy in Munich will be severely tarnished by a third semi-final exit on the spin, before departing to Manchester in the summer.
Pep’s triumphed in eight of 10 duels with Atletico in management but his current side aren’t hitting the heights of earlier in the season despite being pushed all the way by Dortmund in the German top-flight. And the FC Hollywood hierarchy made no secret at their distaste for drawing Simeone’s tenacious outfit.
Bayern’s director of football Matthias Sammer described Wednesday’s hosts as “a passionate monster” and there’s quite a large degree of doubt creeping into the visitors’ camp. As well as Atletico proving a brutally tough team to outmanoeuvre, Munich’s hideous road record on the continent makes them vulnerable visitors.
It’s more than two years since Bayern won on their travels in Champions League knockout football and their last 13 away days in this competition have returned just W4-D4-L5 with wins against CSKA Moscow, Roma, Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb – hardly a who’s who of European football.
The Bavarians have spent much of their time under Pep looking like the best team in Europe but twice they’ve been cut to ribbons at this stage by Spanish opponents – Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid in 2014 and Lionel Messi and Barcelona in 2015.
Pep’s own knockout record when playing away is also remarkably frightful. In 21 knockout phase encounters, as manager of first Barcelona and later Bayern, the Spaniard has claimed W4-D10-L7, including W1-D4-L3 during his stint in Munich.
Confidence in the camp was shaken by two far from convincing last-16 ties against Juventus whilst even Benfica managed to trouble the German giants in the quarter-final fixtures. Chuck in defeats at Arsenal and Gladbach and draws at Dortmund and Leverkusen – none of which involved domineering attacking displays – and there are most definitely concerns.
The visitors rested a catalogue of key players in their weekend win over Hertha Berlin but best centre-back Jerome Boateng remains a major doubt and vertically challenged midfielders such as Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba will be seen as weak links by the aggressive, physical and set-piece wonders in the home camp, should they be fielded in defence.
Despite the negativity, Bayern are still the top goalscorers in the competition this season and in Robert Lewandowski boast a striker that’s notched 46 goals in 53 outings for club and country in 2015-16.
So can Europe’s best defence shut down Bayern Munich's high-octane attack? The immovable Atletico will need to negotiate the Vicente Calderon encounter without Diego Godin, their defensive leader and lynchpin.
Godin’s absence couldn’t be worse timed but Jose Maria Gimenez's return is a boost and young Lucas Hernandez has showed real maturity and composure when filling in at the heart of Los Colchoneros‘s unwavering backline.
The capital club have kept clean sheets in 13 of their last 15 home Champions League ties, including shutting out Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez here just a couple of weeks ago. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak has kept 32 clean sheets in 51 appearances this season with Simeone’s side leaking just 12 goals as hosts this term. Stunning.
What’s arguably most eyebrow raising is Atleti’s run of six straight knockout-phase shutouts with Barcelona (x2), Real Madrid, Juventus and Chelsea amongst those silenced at the Calderon in critical Champions League games.
Going forward, Fernando Torres has scored in five fixtures on the spin – never before, even at his peak, has he been in better goalscoring form and French ace Antoine Griezmann has already plundered 30 goals for club and country. The might, muscle, speed and trickery of the pair could cause this Bayern backline problems when possession is turned over.
Most of you will know I’ve had a serious love affair with Atletico in recent seasons and I’ve backed them to win both La Liga and the Champions League back in July. Even without Godin, I believe they possess what’s required to get a result here and I’m genuinely surprised (and thrilled) to see I can support the hosts at 8/11 (Matchbook) with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start.
With this selection, we’ll make money if Atleti avoid defeat – we’ll earn a half-stakes win should the game end all square but pocket a full-stakes profit should Los Colchoneros claim a first leg victory.
In semi-final first legs since 2006/07, the home side has W12-D4-L2, progressing to the final in each of the most recent eight semi-finals and delivering a first leg victory in seven of those encounters. I’m counting on Atletico to continue that theme with a positive result here.
Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich – Atletico Madrid +0.25 Asian Handicap (8/11 Matchbook)
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