THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE continues on Wednesday night. Here Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the coupon.
PSG v Bayern Munich | Wednesday 27th September 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
PSG meet Bayern Munich in one of the ties of matchday two on Wednesday night. With Celtic and Anderlecht battling it out for third, this meeting is likely to decide who’ll enter the Last 16 seeded as group winners.
However, it feels like a significant test for both clubs and coaches. PSG dropped points for the first time this season on Saturday, recording a meek 0-0 draw away at Montpellier, minus Neymar.
Les Parisians restricted Montpellier to only two attempts from inside the penalty area but Edinson Cavani seemed to be playing a bit too deep and PSG could only manage a sole effort on-target across the 90 minutes. Ugly.
The Brazilian superstar is expected to return here in place of Julian Draxler though and should he and his supremely talented attacking team-mates reach the same heights of their 5-0 shellacking of Celtic, I’d want to be with the hosts at 21/20 (BetVictor).
PSG have W27-D15-L1 of their past 43 European games in Paris, scoring in all bar one of their previous 29 continental clashes on home soil. It’s hard to imagine the hosts not troubling the scoresheet here and I expect them to pile more misery on a Bayern side under intense pressure back home.
FC Hollywood appear to be rudderless without the experience of the retired Phillip Lahm and Xabi Alonso on the field with Carlo Ancelotti’s leadership being called into question. Bayern have already dropped five points in six Bundesliga battles and the manner of their 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg really hurt.
The side attempted to put their on-field woes to one side on Saturday when visiting Oktoberfest but something’s just doesn’t feel quite right in Munich. Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller have all been guilty of a little petulance already this season with performances lame.
Although Bayern beat Anderlecht 3-0 in their opener, they were far from convincing. For a team that’s reached the semi-finals in six of the past eight seasons, questions are understandably being asked but nobody appears to have the answers.
Ancelotti’s not been helped by a rotten injury list, either. Arturo Vidal is available following suspension but Manuel Neuer and Juan Bernat are certainly missing whilst Thiago Alcantara and David Alaba are both doubtful.
The guests have failed to record a clean sheet in eight away Champions League dates and I don’t believe they’ll end that run here. In fact, I’m more than happy to oppose the German giants with PSG available to support at odds-against quotes.
Basel v Benfica | Wednesday 27th September 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Both Basel and Benfica are on the back foot in Group A of the Champions League group losing their opening matches. Defeat for one of two here would leave them with a real uphill battle to qualify so there’s plenty at stake in Switzerland on Wednesday evening.
Basel romped to their eighth straight domestic title last term but are in the midst of a transitional year with the club looking to take a new approach. Popular chairman Bernhard Heusler, head coach Urs Fischer, retired captain Matias Delgado, top scorer Seydou Doumbia and key striker Marc Janko have all left.
Incoming president Bernhard Burgener has said he’s keen to ‘give Basel back to Basel’ and that’s meant a raft of former players being given roles on the board whilst Raphael Wicky has moved up from the U21s to replace Fischer in the coaching hot-seat with the remit of promoting youngsters.
Unsurprisingly, results have been mixed in the early stanza. Across all competitions the RotBlau have W6-D2-L4 whilst in Super League action they already trail table-toppers Young Boys by six points. Basel lost only twice in 2016/17 league duty – they’ve already been beaten on three occasions this term.
The hosts were defeated 3-0 at Manchester United in their Champions League opener and although Jose Mourinho suggested his team lost focus in the second-half, the Swiss champions were neither clinical nor particularly threatening.
Indeed, Doumbia's replacement, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, has started well but the former Norwich misfit didn’t manage a shot nor a touch inside United’s penalty box until the 66th minute. He’ll again be tasked with getting the goals, along with Dimitri Oberlin, with Mohamed Elyounoussi still unavailable.
Serey Die does come back into the fold though and Basel do tend to be competitive hosts. The RotBlau have lost just one of their last 17 competitive games at St. Jakob-Park and boast a reasonable W4-D4-L3 return when welcoming Champions League opposition here.
Defeats have tended to be by narrow margins against the continent’s biggest clubs and goals have also tended to flow. Basel have only failed to score once in their last nine Champions League ties here whilst recording a sole shutout in their last most recent seven St. Jakob-Park UCL encounters .
Such stats suggests there’s value in backing Both Teams To Score at 4/5 (Betfair). Benfica have found the back of the net in each of their last 13 group-stage Champions League games, as well as seven of their past nine away days in this competition.
However, the Portuguese champions have managed just one clean sheet in 10 UCL outings outside of Lisbon and saw their defensive reserves depleted during the summer. Goalkeeper Ederson, defenders Nelson Semedo and Victor Lindeolf were all moved on for big bucks with the visitors silencing their opposition in only three of 10 matches since.
The injury crisis has eased for Rui Vitória’s troops but they’ll be forced to chase the game after a damaging home defeat to CSKA Moscow in their curtain-raiser where profligate finishing and wayward shooting saw the Eagles undone.
It’s only four triumphs in 21 Champions League away days so I wouldn’t be rushing to back Benfica here but they can play their part in what should be an enjoyable contest.