PSG vs Real Madrid | Tuesday 15th February, 20:00 | BT Sport
The Champions League returns with a bang with a tasty clash between PSG and Real Madrid in Paris. But there’ll be no love lost between these two sides, who last met during the group stages of the 2019/20 campaign.
Both sides haven’t been at full flow this season but find themselves sitting pretty at the top of their domestic tables. Now as attention returns to this, some punters might be surprised to see PSG at 10s to lift the trophy given the attacking quality they possess.
The tactics and ambition will play a big part in how this pans out, considering we usually see a different dynamic from the group stage to the first leg of a knockout tie. So, will that be the case once more?
Strong at the back
Those two meetings in the 19/20 season both saw over 2.5 goals with seven goals scored. However, there’s a much different feel to these sorts of ties with neither side wanting to be out of it before the second leg.
And these two have been strong defensively. Since the start of December, PSG have played 13 games in all competitions, conceding just five goals. Meanwhile, Real Madrid have conceded nine times in 16 games in all comps (in 90 mins).
Across those 29 games, they’ve managed to keep a combined total of 16 shutouts (eight each), which shows how well they’ve defended.
Mauricio Pochettino has tightened things up after his side were allowing quite a few shots at goal earlier in the campaign. In recent Ligue 1 outings, their xGAs have been 1.0, 0.8, 0.5, 1.2 and 0.7, so keeping their opponents at an arm’s length.
And similar can be said about Madrid in La Liga. Their XGAs in their last four league games have been 1.2, 0.8, 0.7 and 0.5.
The big caveat is that Madrid don’t face an attacking trio of Kylian Mbappé and old foes Lionel Messi and Neymar. While it’s vice versa that PSG don’t come up against this calibre of opposition too often.
Carlo Ancelotti also has the dilemma of judging Karim Benzema’s fitness. He’s been their main man, having scored their most goals and chipped in with the most assists. But he’s missed their last three games, where Los Blancos have only scored once.
So, without him or even with him at 75%, how much can Real achieve in Paris? I’ll be honest, some of my thinking surrounds how much Ancelotti will be able to get out of the Frenchman and how much to risk him. And it’s his fitness that’s swayed the market in PSG’s favour.
The betting angles
With there being no away goals rule, it could mean Real just deploy a low block to keep this tight. So compared to previous seasons, the mentality of these first legs might shift the pressure onto the hosts to find the net.
Bet365 have set the Asian goals line at 2.75. And I’m willing to go low at a price just above EVS (2.04). Even if three goals are scored, we’ll get half of our stake back. With what’s at stake, I don’t think this will be a high-scoring contest.
All the above stats on their recent strong defensive displays, the first leg mentality and issues around Benzema’s fitness mean I’m more than happy to go against goals.
Now, when WLB head honcho Mark O’Haire sent across this fixture to preview, I headed straight to my usual site to view the referee appointment. There might have been a smile of delight to see the name of Italian Daniele Orsato given the gig.
He’s no stranger to the big games around Europe and we all know he loves a card. His four UCL games during the group stage saw 21 yellows and a red. While his overall career in this competition shows 171 yellows and seven reds in 40 matches – the yellow card average alone is above four per game.
And this season, he’s shown 4+ cards in 14 of his 17 games (82%). The bookies aren’t taking any chances when it comes to those 2+ cards each team markets with their relatively short prices.
However, if you go to the BetVictor Bet Builder, you can get 9/10 for both teams over 1.5 cards and both teams over 0.5 cards in the second half. The same bet is 4/5 with Bet365. It’s one that will go close given how spiky some of the main characters can be, especially those who’ll have to get stuck in that midfield area.
PSG have already picked up 13 cautions – 10 of those (77%) have been in the second half, while four of Madrid’s six cautions (83%) have been after the break. Get the popcorn ready for second-half fireworks!
When you look back on the group stages, PSG were the fifth most fouled team (81), which is something else to note.
While an unsurprising fact in those six group games was that Casemiro lead the way for most fouls committed by a Real Madrid player, resulting in two cards. He’s best priced at 7/5 for another card.
If Ferland Mendy starts at left-back, he’d be on my radar. He’s picked up two cards in the UCL from just four fouls. Up against Neymar, Mbappe or Di Maria could see him making a few wild challenges.
In recent La Liga matches, Real Madrid have been drawing cards from right-sided defenders. So, Marquinhos and Achraf Hakimi could be ones treading a tightrope.
However, given the referee and combative nature of the two midfields, it’s hard to look away from a player card double surrounding two certain individuals.
I’ve made a case for Casemiro above. Now it’s the turn of Marco Verratti. In Ligue 1, he’s committed 24 fouls for nine cautions. While in 250 mins of UCL football, he’s committed five fouls for one card – against Man City.
We all know these are two hotheads who love to get stuck in. And Orsato isn’t usually one to allow players a long leash, so it’s hard to see him allowing 3+ fouls to go unpunished. The fact both players are odds-on for a card with Paddy Power sums it up.
With William Hill’s Build #YourOdds, you can get 24/5 for the pair to be carded. In comparison, it’s 9/2 with Bet365, 33/10 on BetVictor and 3.26/1 with Paddy Power. Close to 5/1 on them looks generous in what could turn out to be a tempestuous first leg.
PSG vs Real Madrid – Under 2.75 Goals (21/20 Bet365)
PSG vs Real Madrid: Both Teams Over 1.5 Cards and Both Teams Over 0.5 Second-Half Cards (9/10 BetVictor)
PSG vs Real Madrid – Casemiro & Marco Verratti to be carded (24/5 William Hill)