This week sees the long-awaited return of the UEFA Champions League, as the competition enters its knockout phase. The Round of 16 features eight teams taking part in sixteen matches over the course of a month, so although it will be sometime before we know the make-up of the Quarter-finals, we also face the prospect of eight nights of high-intensity drama, featuring the world’s best players. Here are this week’s games;
Paris Saint Germain V Barcelona
The champions of France and Spain meet in a tie that has semi-final quality written all over it, but such is the competitive nature of this year’s competition, one of these sides will exit early. Both teams are struggling to retain their domestic titles, trailing Monaco and Real Madrid respectively in Ligue Un and La Liga, and with the wealth and reputation which comes with being two of Europe’s richest clubs, elimination at the Round of 16 stage would be unthinkable. Messi, Cavani, Suarez, Thiago Silva, Neymar and Di Maria all sharing the same pitch really is a mouth-watering prospect for football fans of any persuasion.
Team news: Thiago Motta is suspended for the home side, while Aleix Vidal will likely miss the rest of the campaign with a broken leg sustained against Alaves.
Return game in Barcelona on Wednesday 8th March
Benfica V Borussia Dortmund
Portuguese league leaders Benfica welcome Champion’s League group stage entertainers Borussia Dortmund to the Estadio da Luz in what could be one of the ties of the round. Dortmund scored a staggering 21 goals in their six group matches, a feat made even more frightening considering they beat Real Madrid into second place. Dortmund’s lacklustre Bundesliga form need not be a factor in this competition, and with any realistic chance of a German title gone for Thomas Tuchel’s men, the BVB could be a dangerous prospect in this competition.
Team news: Mario Gotze, Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek are all doubts for the visitors, while Lisandro Lopez and Andrija Zivkovic will miss out for Benfica due to injury and suspension respectively.
Return game in Dortmund on Wednesday 8th March
Real Madrid V Napoli
Real’s penance for finishing second in Group F is a tricky looking tie against Italian entertainers Napoli, who despite trailing runaway Serie Aleaders Juventus by nine points, have actually out-scored every other team in the division by at least seven goals. Having been undone by those other great entertainers Dortmund in the group stage, Los Blancos and their coach Zinedine Zidane will be wary of a team who likes to take the game to the opposition – something Real are not necessarily accustomed to in La Liga, where they currently head the table by a point from Barcelona, but with two games in hand after their adventures in winning the World Club Cup.
Team news: Gareth Bale is edging closer to a return for the hosts, but will need more time, while Napoli continue to be without injured centre-half Lorenzo Tonelli.
Return game in Naples on Tuesday 7th March
Bayern Munich V Arsenal
Arsenal’s Champions League ‘curse’ struck again as the Gunners once again failed to land a favourable draw, this time seeing their seeding as group winners undermined by Bayern’s second-place finish in group D, courtesy of Atletico Madrid. The good news for the Londoners is that Arturo Vidal is a serious doubt for the game in Germany, but the bad news is that Bayern are on a formidable run of form which has seen the Bavarians go seven points clear in the Bundesliga. Arsenal’s form in the Premier league will do little to convince punters that Arsene Wenger’s men are capable of going beyond R16 for the first time in seven seasons.
Team news: Aaron Ramsey and Santo Cazorla remain sidelined for the Gunners, while although Jerome Boateng will definitely miss out for the hosts, Franck Ribery could return from a hamstring injury. Vidal is also a serious doubt.
Return game in London on Tuesday 7th March
Betting Odds (courtesy of Pinnacle)
Paris Saint Germain 3.550, Draw 3.510, Barcelona 2.210
Benfica 3.210, Draw 3.410, Borussia Dortmund 2.410
Real Madrid 1.526, Draw 4.689, Napoli 6.580
Bayern Munich 1.490, Draw 4.670, Arsenal 7.390
With second-leg games to be played, judging these matches as one-off betting opportunities becomes slightly more difficult, and cagey first encounters are often the order of the day. With that in mind, over/under goals could provide the biggest value, especially with the likes of usually big-scorers Dortmund, Barcelona, Bayern and Real in action, therefore perhaps raising the possibility of value to be found in the under market. That said, it is unlikely the likes of Dortmund and Napoli will set out to defend as their relative successes this season have been built on offensive qualities. Bayern look a strong prospect at home against Arsenal, so finding value is once again difficult.
Paris Saint Germain v Barcelona Under 2.5 = 2.10 with Paddy Power and Betfair
Benfica Match odds 3.30 – Betfair & 188Bet
Real Madrid v Napoli Over 3.5 – 2.38 with various
Bayern Munich v Arsenal Both teams to score ‘no’ – 2.20 with various
All odds correct as of 17:00 CET on 13/02/16