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The Last 16 - Round 1, First leg
The 2020/21 Champions League resumes in the third week of February with a quartet of intriguing fixtures. Neither of the two outright favourites, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, are in action so a relative dark horse for the tournament may have the opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of the rest of the competition. But many of the leading players in the top goalscorer market will be in action, so they will be worth keeping an eye on.
As the group winners play away from home first, far more of those teams usually reach the quarter-final. But what impact will playing both legs behind closed doors have? Only time will tell, but here’s a look at the form guide and some suggested bets for the forthcoming fixtures.
As ever, odds are correct at the time of writing, but please make sure you check the live site for the latests odds.
FC Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain FC
It wouldn't be surprising if Barcelona are still haunted by their abject 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in last season’s quarter-final. Had they won that, they may have gone on to face Paris Saint-Germain in the final, but it was emphatically not to be.
Yet if Barca are still having nightmares about last season, PSG won’t easily have forgotten about the last time these clubs met, when the Spanish side overturned a 4-0 defeat in Paris with a stunning 6-1 win at home in the Camp Nou in 2017 to reach the quarter-finals.
The Parisians have only won a single two-legged Champions League tie since that remarkable night (against Dortmund last season), yet despite that - and the fact they recently parted company with manager Thomas Tuchel - had until recently been favoured to proceed from this tie.
PSG will undoubtedly miss the talismanic Neymar, out yet again with an injury, this time to his groin. He has had a torrid run of UCL injuries, and his team undoubtedly suffers in the competition without him.
But Ronald Koeman’s side had the best underlying attacking process of any team in the group stage, and have been deservedly the second-best side in Spain, even if they are struggling to keep pace with Atletico Madrid.
While not the team they once were, Barcelona have won their last six knock-out phase matches on home turf, and are unbeaten in their last 15 such games. They should be strong enough to win here, but only after PSG have also scored.
To win competition: PSG 11.0, Barcelona 16.0
RB Leipzig v Liverpool FC
Few people would have predicted that RB Leipzig would get further than Liverpool in last season’s Champions League, but in their first season in the knock-out phase the German side reached the semi-finals. And with Liverpool in poor form domestically, could this be a good time for Julian Nagelsmann’s side to face the six-time champions?
The picture is complicated by the fact that this match is being played in Budapest thanks to travel restrictions, as well as the discrepancy between Leipzig’s defensive form at home and abroad. They conceded 12 goals in the group stage, the most of any team who made it through to this round and twice the average posted by the 16 remaining clubs - yet they have the best record in the Bundesliga.
Liverpool’s form at the back in Europe is also difficult to read - none of the Reds’ senior centre-backs or first choice goalkeeper played more than half of the matches during the group stage - so it feels to us unlikely that they’ll be able to keep a clean sheet. As their attack has been better away from Anfield recently, both teams can be expected to score.
It also feels like a match where either side would be happy to take the draw, before looking to secure a decisive result in the second leg on Merseyside on 10 March.
To win competition: Liverpool 7.0, RB Leipzig 41.0
FC Porto v Juventus Turin
For two teams that are rarely without European football, it is surprising that Porto and Juventus have only ever met five times in the past. They clashed at this stage in 2017, with the Italian side winning both legs to nil (2-0 away and 1-0 at home), before going all the way to the final, only to lose 4-1 to Real Madrid.
The ‘Old Lady’ of Turin haven’t reached the semi-finals since then, but Porto have only reached the last eight on three occasions since they last won the tournament, in 2004. Of the 13 teams who’ve reached this stage at least eight times in the previous 17 seasons, only Arsenal have a worse pro-rata record than Porto for qualifying from this stage of the competition.
Sérgio Conceição’s side conceded just three goals in the group stage, and all to Manchester City in Matchweek One. But they generated very little expected goals in attack, with their total of 7.1 from their six matches the fewest of the teams still in the competition.
This leaves Porto as one of only three sides in this round that had a negative expected goal difference in the group stage, yet in reality they somehow managed to notch up a goal difference of +7.
However, we doubt they will be as fortunate against Juve, who should win a low-scoring match comfortably enough.
To win competition: Juventus 10.0, Porto - unavailable at time of writing
Sevilla FC v Borussia Dortmund
The favourite in the top goalscorer market, Erling Haaland, returns to centre stage with a decent opportunity to add to his six goal tally so far.
Sevilla only kept two clean sheets in the group stage (both of their first two matches), while Dortmund scored in every match. The Spanish side have one of the best defensive records in La Liga, but have few clean sheets against teams in the top half of the table, which could prove telling here.
Dortmund have arguably been the best team in the Bundesliga based on the underlying statistics, but their inability to convert strong numbers into results cost Lucien Favre his job. Their domestic season to challenge Bayern as not been going to script and they still sit some way off the top of the table.
While relative rookies have done well in the Champions League in the past, new boss Edin Terzic has only been in charge for a handful of games since Christmas. However, while he might not have the pedigree to steer Dortmund to ultimate glory, they are in our view, the stronger team in this tie and should win.
As Dortmund have only kept three clean sheets in 14 away matches - in both the Bundesliga and Europe - this season, expect a few goals in this match.
To win competition: Borussia Dortmund 21.0, Sevilla 41.0
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