UCL: Last 16 - A more predictable set of matches
The results of this week's games, the second set of first-leg matches, should prove easier to call. Famous last words, perhaps, but favourites Manchester City and Bayern Munich should ease by Borussia Monchengladbach and Lazio, respectively. The tightest match to call is Atletico Madrid versus Chelsea, though we opt for the Spaniards, while Real Madrid should also triumph over Atalanta.
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The Last 16 - Round 1, First leg, Match week 2
Last week, we saw Liverpool roll RB Leipzig, Barcelona embarrassed at home by Paris Saint-Germain, Dortmund hold on against Sevilla and Porto defeat Juventus. This week, the remaining four first-leg matches of the round of 16 - and the results seem to be a bit easier to call this call.
Manchester City are currently favourites to win the Champions League this year (at current odds of 3.81), with Bayern Munich close behind (3.96). Both teams are in action this week, along with the two clubs from Madrid (Atletico at 14.8 and Real at 15.8), Chelsea (15.8), and three teams far less accustomed to competing at this level of European football in recent times (Lazio, Atalanta and Borussia Monchengladbach).
There are two ties between clubs who have met within the last five years, and two between sides who have never previously faced off against each other. Here we preview each game and offer some thoughts on main lines that should offer value.
Odds cited are correct at the time of writing, but please make sure to check the site for the latests odds.
Atletico Madrid v Chelsea
Atletico Madrid and Chelsea last met in the Group Stage in the 2017/18 season, but an awful lot has happened to the Stamford Bridge hierarchy in those three years. The Blues are on their third manager since that night, having recently appointed Thomas Tuchel to the top job - the man who steered Paris-Saint Germain to the final last season.
The contrast with Atleti could not be more pronounced given that Diego Simeone has clocked up over nine years at the helm there. Despite being a staunch 4-4-2 man for many years, the Argentine has experimented with a back three this season, but it hasn’t affected their renowned defensive stability; they conceded just 12 goals in their opening 20 league matches this season. That said, they may well miss their Uruguayan international Jose Giminez who limped off during this weekend’s surprise 2-0 La Liga loss to Levante.
And in classic Simeone style, Atleti navigated the Group Stage despite scoring just seven goals in six games. Chelsea scored twice as many goals, while only conceding two, and with good reason – they had the highest average chance quality (based on expected goals per shot) and the second lowest at the back.
But Simeone’s side has had a way of making matches like this bend to their will. While the Covid pandemic has cast doubts over the importance of home advantage, it will be interesting to see if this tie - being played in Bucharest - will affect Atletico’s impressive “home” stats: they have played 13 Champions League knock-out matches at home under Simeone, winning nine and drawing four, while conceding just two goals.
Lazio Roma v Bayern Munich
These two clubs have never met before, which isn’t all that surprising if you take into account Lazio’s Champions League record. The Italian side are competing in this competition for the first time in 13 years, and last navigated the first Group Stage back in 2000/01.
With that discrepancy in recent experience at this level, it’s natural to assume six-time champs Bayern Munich will coast through this tie, not least as they were the top scorers in the Group Stage with 18 goals.
But Lazio were one of only four clubs - alongside Bayern - who scored in all six Group Stage games. Simone Inzaghi’s side have only drawn a blank in one of their opening 21 league matches this season too.
The downside is that they didn’t keep a clean sheet in Group F, and most of their shutouts in Serie A have come against teams who are battling relegation. We can expect goals in this match, so it’s no wonder the Total Goals line is set at 3.25 - with the Over paying 1.98 and the Under 1.89.
Bayern are top of the Bundesliga, as usual, but a relatively poor underlying performance - by their own sky-high standards - has been propped up by the superhuman finishing skills of Robert Lewandowski. With no summer break to speak of, it’s understandable that their level has dipped, but they have only gone out in this round once in the last nine seasons, and so should win here.
Match result: Bayern Munich to win (1.75)
Both teams to score: Yes (1.54)
To win the competition: Lazio (100), Bayern Munich (3.96)
Atalanta BC v Real Madrid
This is the other tie with no history to draw upon - Atalanta BC only taking part in the Champions League for the first time last season.
Thanks to their counter-attacking and high pressing style - only a handful of teams in Europe’s big five leagues have scored more goals on the break this season, or have a higher pressure success rate - Atalanta have had far more success on the road in Europe. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have won five of their away matches in the last 18 months, but only two at home.
In this season’s Group Stage, Atalanta had the worst conversion rate of the teams still in the competition, with their 11.4 expected goals (xG) only leading to 10 in reality. While that’s not a massive drop, they also conceded 8 goals from 6.4 xG, and it’s very hard to compete at this level when underperforming at both ends of the pitch.
But interestingly, the same was true for Real Madrid, and their efforts in defence were the worst of the remaining teams - 9 goals conceded from 6 xG. However, Zinedine Zidane’s team were the only side in the competition that had at least five shots on target in every single Group Stage match, and Atalanta should certainly allow them chances.
And as you have to go back five years to find the last time Real lost a knockout first leg away from home, they can be confident of maintaining that fine record here.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Manchester City
There’s only one team in this tie that has previously competed in a Champions League or European Cup final - and it isn’t Pep Guardiola’s Premier League leaders.
However, having reached the showpiece in 1977 will be of little use to Borussia Monchengladbach now, as they prepare to face the tournament favourites - and the side that is the main hope for the First Time Winner market (Yes 2.61, No 1.43). Incidentally, click the link to check out all the special Outrights markets available on the UCL.
The Citizens are in ominous form, having glided through the Group Stage with just one goal conceded. Their opponents - Marseille, Olympiakos and Porto - were not the strongest, but City allowed just 1.6 xG from 6 matches, which is remarkable at this level.
And while Monchengladbach deserve credit for emerging from a tough group which featured Real Madrid and Inter Milan, the underlying statistics suggest they were fortunate to get through. They allowed just shy of 2 xG per match - the most of any club who made it this far - and managed to score 16 goals from chances collectively valued at around 10 xG.
Perhaps the one thing in the German side’s favour is that they have fared well against top sides in the Bundesliga at home, having already defeated Bayern Munich, Dortmund and Leipzig on their own patch. But a combination of their slightly porous defence and City’s rock solid backline implies that the visitors will win this match to nil, putting one foot firmly into the quarter finals.
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