We may have yawned our way through the group stage, but the business end of the Champions League is always a riveting watch – and the competition swings back into action with four cracking first leg clashes across the continent this week. Our resident football expert Adrian Clarke gives us his take on the ties…
Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona (KO 19:45)
Expect goals at the Parc des Princes! With frightening levels of firepower on show it’s impossible to envisage this potential classic turning into a cagey affair.
French hopes will be pinned on hit man Edinson Cavani.
If the PSG striker could finish with as much quality as his movement, its no exaggeration to suggest he’d bag 50+ goals every season. The runs he makes are among the best on the planet.
However, despite occasional wastefulness the Uruguayan still has an impressive 33 goals this term, with nine in his last six outings. The 7/5 on Cavani to score anytime looks an ideal opportunity to cash in.
Luis Enrique’s Barcelona won’t hold back either.
A busy schedule may have tired them a little, but their form is solid, with the mighty ‘MSN’ clicking into gear at just the right time of the season.
Up against a shaky defence that only kept one clean sheet in six first round clashes, I believe the 51/50 on the Catalans netting over 1.5 goals in Paris is a pretty attractive price.
With attack the best form of defence for both these clubs it has the makings of a ‘you attack, we attack’ thriller.
Both teams should score, but Barca have the greater big match know-how. That’s why I’m eyeing up a final score of 1-2 at 15/2 – which would inflict the first home loss on PSG since March 2016.
Benfica v Borussia Dortmund (KO 19:45)
Thomas Tuchel’s German raiders are this season’s great entertainers, scoring a record 21 goals during a stunning group stage campaign – but their domestic away form is rank awful, so I’m content to oppose them on Portuguese soil.
Benfica haven’t scored less than three goals in any of their six home matches so far in 2017, and have a realistic chance of claiming a first leg advantage. The 11/5 on a victory for the hosts is a generous-looking price.
Who’ll be the hero in Lisbon?
With old-stager Jonas facing a late fitness test, that responsibility could fall on Kostantinos Mitroglou’s shoulders. The ex-Fulham flop has been among the goals of late. Keep your eye on winger Eduardo Salvio too; he has three Champions League goals and usually brings his A-game in the big matches.
Dortmund have a talented coach and an exciting young side. Patrick Aubemeyang is an exceptional front man, and the likes of Pulisic, Dembele and Mor are all set for bright futures at the highest level. In this tie though, I suspect they’ll come to the fore in the return leg.
Bayern Munich v Arsenal (KO 19:45)
I keep hearing reports that Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich are a fading force, but right now they sit seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and are unbeaten at the Allianz Arena all season.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this will be anything but a seriously difficult test for the Gunners.
Fast starts also appear to be their forte. Bayern have netted in the first half of every single home contest in 2016-17, so the 13/25 on the hosts to net before half time feels like it could be an absolute banker. With so many different individual goal threats, I’d swerve choosing the man to grab it.
Arsenal may have been spanked 5-1 on their last visit to Bavaria in November 2015, but before that they did pull off a respectable 1-1 draw in 2014, on the back of a 2-0 win the year before.
They have always scored at least once in this virtually annual fixture, and it’s important to note that Arsene Wenger’s men haven’t failed to score away from Emirates Stadium since a goalless draw with Leicester City back in August.
Arsenal may not be in red-hot shape, but scoring goals on the road comes easy to them. If you fancy leading scorer Alexis Sanchez to grab one anytime in the 90 minutes, he’s a 5/2 shot.
Having earned the right to play the second leg at home, it’s imperative the Gunners keep this tie alive, and I believe they’re good enough to do that. Both teams to score, with Bayern Munich running out narrow winners is priced up at 41/20 and it’s a scenario I can see playing out.
Real Madrid v Napoli (KO 19:45)
On the face of it the holders are enjoying another outstanding campaign under Zinedine Zidane, but they are a strange old side. For 60-70 minutes they often look incredibly ordinary, but by sheer weight of natural talent Los Blancos usually get the job done.
Do I trust them to guarantee a victory in this one at the Santiago Bernabeu? No, I don’t think I do.
Napoli at 19/5 with the Draw No Bet is a real tempter because the Italians have a side packed with experience and potential match winners. With 23 goals to his name, winger-turned-striker Dries Mertens is a particularly decent shout to score at 14/5.
We all know Real Madrid take this competition more seriously than any other, and they tend to reserve their best displays for it, so Cristiano Ronaldo to score in a home win is the percentage bet at 6/5.
However, with sloppiness a constant issue my pick would be a repeat of the 2-2 score line (versus Borussia Dortmund) that cost Real Madrid top spot in the qualifying group back in December. That’s on offer at 13/1.