Besiktas vs Borussia Dortmund | Wednesday 15th September 2021, 17:45 | BT Sport
Besiktas make their first appearance in the Champions League since March 2018 and couldn’t be in better form having taken 10 points from a possible 12 in the Turkish Super Lig and have yet to concede a goal.
That water tight defence will face the strongest of examinations here as Borussia Dortmund roll in to town fresh from a typically frantic 4-3 away triumph over Bayer Leverkusen – falling behind on three separate occasions, before firing two goals in a six-minute second half salvo – the winner of course coming from the red-hot shooting boots of Erling Haaland.
The Norweigan has found the net in seven of his nine appearances for club and country this season amassing an incredible 13 goals already, having taken two match balls home with him after hat-tricks against Wehen in the season opener and against Gibralter last week.
Regular readers of this column last year will remember Haaland being a regular source of profit so if it aint broke don’t fix it so they say – so I’m taking him to score two more more goals here as he has done on four occasions already this season and in two of four UCL group stage games last campaign – Sky Bet offer the best odds of 9/4.
An unusual stat caught my eye when looking in to this game in that Dortmund picked up just one yellow card in their six UCL group stage matches last season.
Besiktas have collected seven yellow cards and one red in their four league games so far this season – with at least one in all of those games.
The referee for this one – you may have heard of him – Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz – and he has taken charge of four games so far this season showing 14 yellow cards at an average of 3.5 per game.
I like the look of Sky Bet offering 11/10 for Besiktas to be the team with the most booking points – with the same bet priced at 13/20 with William Hill which is a lot closer to where I had pegged it.
Sheriff Tiraspol vs Shakhtar | Wednesday 15th September 2021, 17:45 | BT Sport
Sheriff Tiraspol make history in this game as they’ll become the first Moldovan team to feature in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League and it will be intriguing how they approach this tie against UCL old hands Shakhtar Donetsk.
Roberto De Zerbi has got the Moldovan’s well drilled and disciplined with the Italian manager guiding them undefeated across their last nine matches in European competition (W6, D3) build around a solid defence who have kept six clean sheets.
Dinamo Zagreb found no way past in the qualification final drawing a blank in both legs, while Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) also failed to score here and fell to a 1-0 defeat after a 1-1 draw in Serbia.
Shakhtar do represent a step up in class however, and at this stage last year went toe to toe with Inter Milan and Real Madrid who they stunned with a 3-2 victory on MD1 in Spain.
As a result, I am backing the side from Ukraine to at least find the net here and although I have looked at the tempting odds against quote for over 2.5 goals, I am instead siding with a player who looks like the visitors most likely route to goal.
Lassina Traore warmed up for this clash with a goal off the bench on Saturday – sealing his sides win in the 87th minute after being brought on with 30 minutes to go, he also scored for his country during the international break as well as hitting the back of the net against Genk in the UCL qualifying semi-final.
With odds of 7/4 to score at any time looking a nice price for a player who has scored in five of his last 8 appearances for club and country.
We should expect the visitors to dominate the ball here, having had more of the ball in three of their four qualifiers this campaign, bossing possession against the likes of Roma and Borussia Monchengladbach in their European games last campaign.
In contrast Sheriff had less of the ball in six of their eight qualification ties and as a byproduct of that I am interested in playing corners.
Using those last two ties as the most comparable teams the Moldovans averaged 3.75 corners won, conceding 9.25 losing the corner count in three of the four matches.
Shakhtar have played 11 competitive games so this season with a corner average of 4.73 per game and giving away only 3.36 – they have taken more flag kicks than their opponents in seven of those 11.
With that taken in to account the 4/5 with Sky looks good value.
Atletico Madrid vs Porto | Wednesday 15th September 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
Spanish champions Atlético Madrid haven’t been at their best but still come in to this tie undefeated in La Liga, placed in third only off the top by the virtue of goal difference.
The Diego Simeone way – the never say die spirit – has never been more abundantly clear than in their last two league games either side of the international break.
Staring down the barrel of a loss in their Wanda Metropolitano at the hands of Villarreal, the Rojiblancos kept going and forced a 95th minute own goal to share the spoils – only to go one better, or one later, at the weekend.
Espanyol took the lead in the 40th minute only for Yannick Carrasco’s late strike seemingly rescuing another point – step forward Thomas Lemar to score his first goal of 2021 in the 99th minute to snatch all three.
Porto lost on MD1 last season, but advanced to the knockout stage keeping five successive group-stage clean sheets after although this season has not been so water tight with just two clean sheets to their name from their opening five fixtures, while Atletico have only managed one after four rounds of La Liga action.
Given the theme of late goals and also the reputation of both defences I looked at under goals, half time result to be a draw or even half-time correct score 0-0 but then discovered the second half has been the highest scoring half in five of Atlético’s last six competitive fixtures – expecting Porto to want to keep it tight early on then the 6/5 available via Betfair for the second half to have most goals looks a worthy bet.
I also expect this contest to have plenty of aggression – we all know about Atletico who have the worst disciplinary record in La Liga, which takes some doing with Getafe around, having picked up 16 yellow cards and one red in their opening four games which have averaged just over seven cards.
The fact Porto are third bottom as far as number of cautions are concerned says more about the Portuguese league rather than their reluctance to “mix it” – 12 yellow card and a sending off is not too shabby from only five games.
Odds of 11/10 for man in the middle Ovidiu Hațegan to show both teams two or more cards is worth taking on in my opinion.
Club Brugge vs PSG | Wednesday 15th September 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
This looks like one of the most one sided contests of the opening match day – with PSG as short as 1/5 to win – finding a value selection is no easy task – let alone two – but hey that’s what I’m here for, so here goes!
On the positive the Belgian side come in to this daunting opening fixture as leaders of Jupiler Pro League – despite being on the receiving end of a 6-1 thrashing in the final game before international break – a similar scoreline isn’t out of the question here.
PSG are ruthless operators at this stage of proceedings and have won by two or more goals in five of their previous six UCL group stage away victories against sides drawn from pot 4, which is Club Brugge’s status as this group’s bottom seeds.
Mauricio Pochettino knows he has high expectations to live up to and we should expect him to want to put a marker down here, as he has done in Ligue 1 after seeing Lille lift the title last season, he has made sure his side have flown out of the blocks.
Five wins from five in the league with all of those wins also landing HT/FT – often my go to for games where there is a very short favourite – we see that at 4/5 so in case that price shrinks even further I will take a different option to keep the Parisians onside.
Averaging 3.20 goals per league fixture and also having a 5-0 UCL group stage victory here at Jan Breydelstadion in the record books from just two years ago, gives me the confidence to take the Asian Handicap with Bet 365 with the line set at 1.5,2.0.
We may finally get to see PSG starting with a front three of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, who was brought on as a 52nd minute sub with his side a goal to the good – but then went on and scored a hat-trick with goals in the 61st, 79th and 83rd minute.
Fresh from a goal at the weekend I feel the 22-year-old will want to make a statement in this competition but with anytime scorer odds as short as 1.5 I’ve looked elsewhere – whoscored man of the match appeals but 5/2 is another skinny price and competition is strong in a game which should see goals galore, to score and assist is 13/4 but has not landed in any of his Ligue 1 games this season.
So instead, I will take the 7/2 on offer from Sky for Mbappe to score two or more goals.
Inter Milan vs Real Madrid | Wednesday 15th September 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
It’s a sense of Deja vu as these two sides who you would expect to meet at the business end of the competition but actually meet at the group stage for the second year running.
Madrid won both encounters, 3-2 at their home for last year the Alfredo di Stéfano Stadium and a clinical 2-0 in this corresponding fixture.
Both clubs have new managers at the helm with Simone Inzaghi leaving Lazio to replace Antonio Conte and Los Blancos replacing Zinedine Zidane with a not so new face – the returning Carlo Ancelotti – who also knows his way around Milan fairly well too!
Losing their top scorer Romelu Lukaku, is a blow for the Italian champions whereas Madrid have Eden Hazard fit again and Gareth Bale back from his loan spell at Tottenham.
The losses of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are impactful but replacement duo Eder Militao and Nacho are certainly no mugs – as they proved at the tail end of last season.
Ancelotti seems to have simply let the break off his side marking their return to the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday with a 5-2 win over Celta Vigo sending them to the top of the table with 10 points in the bag but a super haul of 13 goals already.
Neither of these sides have looked assured defensively in the opening skirmishes of their respective league campaigns and so opens up the distinct possibility both head coaches will believe attack to be the best form defence.
With the players in forward areas we should see on the pitch I am going to side with BTTS and over 2.5 goals – which is available at 19/20 with Bet 365 – an outcome which has landed in two of Inter’s three games and in three of Madrid’s four so far this term.
With goals on the menu, we need look no further than one of the competitions elite marksmen to provide us with our second selection – Karim Benzema who is tied with club legend Raul in fourth place in the UCL top scorers list with 71 goals.
Back in the French squad for this summer’s Euros and seemingly never better, the 33-Year-Old warmed up for this huge clash by plundering a hat-trick in that 5-2 thrashing of Celta Vigo making it five goals in four La Liga appearances – given two players ahead of him in that aforementioned list (Ronaldo and Lewandowski) both scored on Tuesday night he can have no better incentive to do what he does best and get his name on the scoresheet. Betfair offer best odds of 8/5.
Sporting vs Ajax | Wednesday 15th September 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
Sporting have received a big blow ahead of their Champions League group stage opener against Ajax on Wednesday with the news star striker Pedro Gonçalves who withdrew from the Portugal squad through injury during the international break, and missed Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Porto, is expected to be sidelined for another week, meaning he will miss the visit of the Eredivisie champions.
The 23-year-old plundered 23 goals last season to help the Lisbon side to their first domestic title in 19 years and at the other end of the pitch Leões will also be without captain Sebastián Coates, with the Uruguay international having to serve a European suspension.
What they do have on their side however is 36 year-old manager Rúben Amorim, who has already set the Primeira Liga record for consecutive unbeaten games with Sporting (32), and has a phenomenal win-rate of over 70% after 59 competitive matches in charge.
For my last UCL preview I find this very tough to call but think the key missing personnel for the home side makes me want to side more with Erik ten Hag’s team but instead of taking an outright winner or goals angle I am instead going to focus on two of their key players.
Sebastien Haller has rediscovered his mojo following his transfer to Ajax after a frustrating and disappointing spell in England at West Ham.
The Ivorian forward scored 10 goals in 48 appearances for the Hammers but plundered 11 in just 19 games for Ajax last term and has 4 in 4 for his club this season also scoring both goals for his nation in a 2-1 win over Cameroon last week.
A man in form, back to his best, up against a side possibly missing both first choice central defenders – 2/1 to score – I'll take that.
Dušan Tadić has been a revelation for Ajax since joining from Southampton in 2017 with the Serb bagging 78 goals and providing 71 assists from 154 competitive matches since joining the Amsterdam club and I was tempted to play him either the assist or goal markets – even both and I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off as those numbers speak for themselves – but at a slightly bigger price I’m going to put one of Ajax’s new signings forward.
Steven Berghuis has been a massive contributor to rivals Feyenoord for five seasons – with 64 goals and 44 assists in his last 121 games for the club and he has hit the ground running providing three assists in his opening four appearances – two of which supplied Haller with his goals at the weekend.
Unibet have the 29-year-old priced at 15/4 to supply at least one assist in Portugal.
Besiktas vs Dortmund – Erling Haaland to score two more goals (9/4 Sky Bet)
Besiktas vs Dortmund – Besiktas Most Booking Points (11/10 Sky Bet)
Sheriff Tiraspol vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Lassina Traore to score (7/4 Bet 365)
Sheriff Tiraspol vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Shakhtar Most Corners (4/5 Sky Bet)
Atletico Madrid vs Porto – Second half to have most goals (6/5 Betfair)
Atletico Madrid vs Porto – Both teams to receive two or more cards (11/10 Bet 365)
Club Brugge vs PSG – PSG –1.5, 2.0 Asian Handicap (93/100 Bet 365)
Club Brugge vs PSG – Kylian Mbappe to score two or more goals (7/2 Sky Bet)
Inter Milan vs Real Madrid – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (19/20 Bet 365)
Inter Milan vs Real Madrid – Karim Benzema to score (8/5 Betfair)
Sporting vs Ajax – Sebastien Haller to score (2/1 Sky Bet)
Sporting vs Ajax – Steven Berghuis to give an assist (15/4 Unibet)