THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE quarter-finals conclude this midweek. We asked Tom Love (@TomLove_18) to source the best bets from Manchester United's trip to Barcelona.
Barcelona v Manchester United | Tuesday 16th April 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport
Can Manchester United do the unthinkable once again? That second leg comeback away from home in Paris is still fresh in the memory and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to draw on inspiration from that night in March to qualify for the semi-finals.
It could be argued that United are more suited to playing away with little pressure on. It almost always allows more space for the forward players such as Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku to exploit on the break, however they would also have to be diligent and solid at the back, either that or extremely lucky.
It promises to be an even bigger task as they have to go to the Nou Camp, a location where visitors seldom return with anything. Barcelona are unbeaten in 30 home Champions League games, winning a mammoth 27 of those. Not only that, 22 of those wins have come by two goals or more; in addition, each of their last 12 wins in this competition in Catalonia have also been by two clear goals or more.
The Blaugrana are simply an almighty force at their base and even though they don’t have to win this one with a first leg lead intact, it is too difficult to find a reason to oppose the hosts. Looking at the betting blindly I’d have of been happy to take anything around even-money on Barcelona with a -1.5 start on the Asian Handicap and I’m delighted to see Bet365 go odds-against at 53/50 for that particular selection.
It’s not only Barca’s historic dominance that makes this an attractive bet. Ernesto Valverde was able to rest his big guns at the weekend with the domestic title sown up – full focus was on this second leg. Clement Lenglet, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi all didn’t start against Huesca and they’ll all be brought back in here one would imagine.
It’s not like they’re coming up against any great shakes here either. United have failed to convince defensively all season, conceding in each of their last nine games. Luke Shaw did manage to do a decent job on Lionel Messi at Old Trafford but once Barca went 1-0 up they were happy to see it out.
However, domestically they’ve given up an average of 1.40 Expected Goals (xG) per game with the majority of those coming against sides way inferior to Barcelona.
Solskjaer admitted that his side were second best on Saturday evening against a West Ham side with nothing to play for, they’ve been a touch lucky for most of the campaign by all accounts and that’s unsustainable.
They do have to come out here at some point and if Barca do notch first I think they’ll make it a precession. Messi has his own personal battle to get as many Champions League goals as possible and that individual drive is infectious among his teammates.
Even if you think Manchester United rank as an elite European club, I doubt Barca will fear them. They’ve beaten the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, Inter Milan, Roma, Lyon, PSG and Juventus in recent years all by a comfortable winning margin too. I’d expect a similar result on Tuesday night.
I’m also willing to delve into the player Shots On-Target market and the one that makes appeal is home full back Jordi Alba.
I say full back, it’s common knowledge that the Spaniard operates more like a winger constantly bombing forward to aid attacks. His link up play with Messi is a joy to watch and in my eyes he’s one of the most underrated players on the continent.
If we look at the average heatmap of Barca it’s red all the way down the left-hand side of the pitch, it’s clearly a tactic they employ to garner successful results.
Alba has managed one goal and three assists in this competition this season which is a healthy return. It wouldn’t surprise me if Valverde tries to beef up central midfield and bring Aturo Vidal or Sergi Roberto in to give a more narrow but solid look to the middle of the park in order to cut off United’s counter attacking threat.
I would also expect Sergio Busquets to drop into a three man defence which would allow the entire flanks free for Alba and Nelson Semedo to venture forward into.
Now, our man Jordi is averaging 0.6 shots per-game in this tournament with 0.30 on average landing on-target. It doesn’t seem many but looking purely off those stats and with the fact United give up plenty of shots he would be expected to be around 3/1 to land a shot on goal.
However, SkyBet go 5/1 that he manages to do so and therefore it looks like a touch of value in my eyes. His pace is a major weapon of his and with United likely to commit men forward at some point he is a likely outball. He also managed to land a shot on target in the first leg at Old Trafford.
This same bet is as short as 7/2 elsewhere which is probably what I’d have it priced as, so take the 5/1 whilst it’s there!