THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE continues on Wednesday night. Here Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the coupon.
RB Leipzig v Monaco | Wednesday 13th September 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Group G of the Champions League should be great fun and the battle between RB Leipzig and Monaco on Wednesday evening promises plenty.
Having sensational steering promoted Leipzig to the Bundesliga runners-up spot last season, head coach Ralph Hasenhuttl is now plotting a path to progress in the Champions League. The suggestion is, Die Roten Bullen will prioritise Europe and I wouldn’t want to oppose the hosts in their quest to secure a top-two finish.
If there’s any doubt, it’s the lack of experience in the squad. RBL’s side has an average age of 23.4 so it could be a steep learning curve. But the synchronised pressing and blink-of-an-eye transition speeds when in possession should stand Leipzig in good stead.
Crucially, the club managed to keep hold of star attractions Timo Werner, Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg this summer and although the latter pair are slight doubts here, the former should form the base of our best bet in this encounter.
Werner is likely to lead the line for Germany at the World Cup next summer and the speedy striker is a great value selection at 6/4 (Betfred) to score here.
The odds available imply a 40% chance of the 21 year-old scoring here but he’s notched 30 goals in Bundesliga and international duty since the start of last season, at a rate of one every 106 minutes.
His exceptional goal in Friday night’s victory at Hamburg showcased his ability and he should be in amongst the goalmouth action as Leipzig look to make home advantage count.
Monaco started their campaign in style with four wins from four in Ligue 1, scoring 14 goals. However, their 4-0 thrashing at Nice raised alarm bells and with Thomas Lemar out, the visitors will be missing half of last season’s first-choice XI that thrilled en-route to the semi-finals.
Radamel Falcao remains in fine form having scored seven goals in five games and the Colombian’s form in the Champions League also commands respect – nine in his past 15 starts. But it’s at the back where Monaco could be exposed with the principality club recording a sole shutout in 12 continental outings, shipping at least twice in five of eight away trips.
Both sides play entertaining football and goals are expected. Twelve of Monaco’s 16 games in this competition resulted in Over 2.5 Goals last term and eight of Leipzig’s last 11 at the Red Bull Arena have followed suit. But prohibitive pricing make a goals bet a little trappy so instead, invest your faith in Werner.
Porto v Besiktas | Wednesday 13th September 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Staying in Group G, Besiktas look a little underrated in the pre-match markets. So much so that I’ll be backing the Turks with a +1.25 Asian Handicap start when they travel to Porto. This selection would see us make money should the visitors avoid defeat by two or more goals…
The Black Eagles have recorded back-to-back domestic titles for the first time in 25 years and their ambitious president Fikret Orman is planning to build a global brand. Indeed, Besiktas became the first Turkish side to play a game in China during the summer and are keen to continue trend-setting.
But on the field, reaching the Champions League knockout stage is top of the agenda having failed in their last six attempts. Last season the Turks were in control of their destiny before being inexplicably beaten 6-0 by Dynamo Kiev in their final group-game to tumble out of the competition.
The bulk of the squad remains the same but striker Vincent Aboubakar has returned to Wednesday’s opposition Porto after a middling loan spell. Alvaro Negredo has replaced the Cameroon international whilst Pepe, Gary Medel and Jeremain Lens have all arrived to strengthen the first XI.
Manager Senol Gunes has instilled a winning mentality into this squad and teamwork and spirit amongst the group remains very healthy. Although an ageing side, the Black Eagles still boast the quality necessary to go toe-to-toe with Porto here.
Maverick playmaker Anderson Talisca’s still at the club, Ricardo Quaresma should relish playing against his former team and Cenk Tosun is capable of turning a game if preferred to Negredo. Elsewhere, Ryan Babel’s made a decent impact and Oguzhan Ozyakup is an excellent operator in midfield.
The visitors collected four points against Napoli in last season’s group-stage whilst also holding Benfica to home and away draws and with only two defeats by a two-goal margin since February 2016, they should have enough in their armoury to avoid a heavy defeat in Portugal.
Porto have made a perfect start to life under Sergio Conceicao, claiming five victories ‘to nil’ on their ascent to the top of the table in Liga NOS. However, the Dragons are acutely aware that performances domestically have never had a bearing on European performances.
Still, there is plenty to be positive about. Conceicao has had plenty of impact already, integrating returning loanees Vincent Aboubakar, Moussa Marega and Ricardo Pereira and bringing underperforming stars Oliver Torres and Yacine Brahimi back to their best.
The rock-solid defence remains intact, which together with the protection provided by the superb Danilo Pereira lends Porto a strong foundation. Their problem resides in a lack of depth in attack and at centre-half; so with Aboubakar absent and Andre Silva sold, much will depend on Tiquinho Soares here.
Porto’s 4-4-2 relied on overlapping full-backs and inverted wingers and their high-pressing game could give Besiktas a fair few headaches. But I’m confident the Turks can remain competitive despite the hosts returning W10-D5-L3 in their past 18 group-games.
Only one of the Dragons’ last seven home Champions League dates has featured Over 2.5 Goals and in a tight encounter, backing a generous handicap should give us a good run for our money.