James Horncastle provides mini previews of this week’s four Champions League games, and our man believes Chelsea could be set for a shock exit when in-form PSG arrive at the Bridge…
Real Madrid v Schalke
Live on ITV 1
It doesn’t take much to raise Carlo Ancelotti‘s eyebrow. But Real Madrid’s form is beginning to concern even the most sanguine and composed manager in the game. And to think his team finished 2014 on a remarkable 22-match winning streak.
The balancing act Ancelotti was able to achieve, often playing a top-heavy side with all the Galacticos on the field at the same time, promised to work only as long as they all pulled together and put side before self. That no longer seems to be the case. Conquering La Decima and the Club World Cup has sated a once hungry group of players while Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t performed at the same extraordinary levels since claiming a third Ballon d’Or.
Real lost to Valencia when La Liga resumed after the winter break. Suffered elimination from the Copa del Rey at the hands of Atletico, who then beat them 4-0 at the Calderon. Got held by Villarreal last weekend and then lost to Athletic on Saturday.
“There is no connection,” Ancelotti said. “There is too much individual play. It’s strange to say Madrid have a problem up front when we have scored so many goals but I think it’s the truth. The front three didn’t play well, but it’s not just their fault. We need to attack as a team. It is quite confusing what we are doing when we are attacking at the moment.”
Will Real snap out of it or is the misfiring set to continue upon Schalke’s visit to the Bernabeu on Tuesday? One suspects there’ll be a response to Ancelotti’s words. Back this one to finish with at least four goals.
Back Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.226/5
Porto v Basel
Live on Sky Sports 1
Porto are a little less lusophone and more hispanophone these days. The club signed no fewer than seven Spanish players in the summer, many of whom were youngsters, who had been members of the Under-21 team that beat Italy in the final of the European Championship the season before last.
Oliver Torres, the midfield playmaker on loan from Atletico, is considered the most talented, but it’s Cristian Tello, once close to Liverpool and a part of the Barcelona team that won La Liga under Tito Vilanova, who is the man of the moment. Lightning quick, he struck a hat-trick in the Clasico with Sporting last weekend and got the only goal of the game as Porto edged Braga 1-0 at the Quarry on Friday night.
Also on loan, Tello said: “I’ve been treated very well since I got here and I hope to stay for a long time.” Back him as an Anytime Goalscorer against Basel on the Sportsbook.
Back Cristian Tello To Score (anytime) @ 7/4 (Sportsbook)
Chelsea v Paris Saint-Germain
Live on Sky Sports 5
“Frustrating” is what the front-page of L’Equipe called the first leg at the Parc des Princes. PSG should have won a fortnight ago. The French champions caused Chelsea a number of problems particularly in the second half when they upped the intensity, played more aggressive and direct while their opponents got deeper and deeper.
Thibaut Courtois was Man of the Match but Chelsea mustered a 1-1 draw, even going ahead with their one and only shot on target. Only 27% of teams who drew the first leg at home have gone through since the 1970-71 campaign.
Chelsea, as we all know, are formidable at the Bridge. But PSG are playing their best football of the season at exactly the right time and couldn’t be crossing the Channel in better form. They will create chances. This time they have to take them. Back the French league leaders to spring a minor shock.
Back PSG to Win @ 4.3100/30
Bayern Munich v Shakhtar
Live on Sky Sports 1
“No goals. Many questions,” declared the headline in Kicker after Bayern’s stalemate with Shakhtar in Lviv. Pep Guardiola‘s team selection came under scrutiny. His back four included three full-backs. Robert Lewandowski was excluded from the starting line up in favour of Thomas Muller as a false nine and, not for the first time, there was a sense that his approach was too clever for its own good.
Bayern created little that was clear cut and the game became scrappy particularly after Xabi Alonso was sent off. The margin for error is fine ahead of Wednesday’s return leg at the Allianz Arena, particularly with the threat of a Shakhtar away goal.
Bayern remain favourites of course and have gone through on all but one of the six occasions that they have drawn the first game 0-0 away from home in the knockout stages of UEFA club competitions. But with Luiz Adriano, the Champions League top scorer with nine goals, finding the net once more against Metalist on Saturday, Bayern have to be careful. They fell behind to Hannover at the weekend and have conceded in four of their nine games in 2015. Back both teams to score in Bavaria.
Back Both Teams to Score @ 2.588/5