After early fears that this season’s UEFA Champions League would be dominated by English clubs it is looking increasingly likely that England will instead have no representative in the final in Madrid. Both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool lost their first-leg defeats, with their respective failures to score a goal leaving them in perilous positions ahead of next week’s second leg.
Liverpool look dead and buried thanks to Lionel Messi’s genius, but Spurs are very much alive; Ajax could yet wobble in Amsterdam while the returning Heung-Min Son is a cause for optimism.
Here’s a look at how the first legs went – plus predictions and bitcoin betting tips for what will happen next:
Liverpool v Barcelona
Tuesday, 07/05/19, 20:00
Liverpool were unlucky to fall to such a heavy defeat at the Nou Camp in the first leg, and unlucky to have to face Messi at all. The Argentine was in magnificent form, swinging the tie in Barca’s favour in the last 20 minutes by subtly repositioning himself more centrally and popping up in the gaps between Liverpool’s defence and midfield.
Jurgen Klopp’s side should have scored a crucial away goal when Mohamed Salah hit the post, and indeed they matched their opponents in almost every area. The one regret Liverpool will have is starting Gini Wijnaldum up front. That opening 20, in which Liverpool pressed assertively, felt significant – but without Roberto Firmino linking Sadio Mane and Salah together the visitors lacked a cutting edge.
Firmino should return for the second leg and, with the Anfield crowd behind them, it will certainly be another even contest in terms of possession and quality. Barca’s huge advantage is unlikely to be overturned, but Anfield has produced some miraculous matches in recent history and it is not inconceivable that the English side could race into an early two goal lead.
More likely, Liverpool will attack confidently but leave too much open space on the counter-attack for Messi and Luis Suarez. Barcelona could have scored twice from breaks in the closing stages of the first leg, and that pattern will repeat itself when Liverpool become desperate. Consequently the total goals market is worth a look, and since there is little value in backing Barca to qualify, a win in 90 minutes for Klopp’s side is more attractive.
Back over 3 goals at 1.88
Back Liverpool to win at 2.02
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Ajax v Tottenham
Wednesday, 08/05/19, 20:00
This match is still in the balance after Tottenham patched up their initial tactical errors courtesy of a forced substitution. Ajax were on top and cruising – their high-tempo one-touch football too much for Spurs’ under-stocked midfield – until Jan Vertonghen’s head injury forced Mauricio Pochettino to bring Moussa Sissoko on and go to a diamond 4-4-2.
More solid in the middle, the shape suited Spurs and pushed Ajax back, and although the Dutch side deserve credit for their resilience, this should offer Tottenham fans hope of a second leg comeback. Ajax have been stronger on the road than at home in Europe this season, perhaps reflecting the added pressure in Amsterdam and their opponents’ tendency to underestimate them.
Tottenham certainly won’t make that mistake again, and they may just catch Ajax on the counter-attack with Son back. It will take something very special to qualify for the final after a 1-0 defeat in London, but then again Ajax don’t exactly have a strong defensive record. They have only kept four clean sheets in their last 14 home games in all competitions.
Son and Christian Eriksen are the key players, but after a long and wearying campaign it is tough to imagine Tottenham battling back. They have looked consistently tired of late, with a series of injuries and lack of summer signings holding them back at this crucial juncture. A draw on the night seems to be the most plausible outcome.
Back the draw at 3.77
Back under 2.75 goals at 1.99