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As the Champions League is poised to return, there has been renewed vigour in the debate about whether the Premier League should have a winter break. A break in January would not only help the national team, so the argument goes, but would also give English clubs the opportunity to realise their full potential in continental competitions.
Pep Guardiola said the schedule in England is going to ‘kill the players’.
However, try telling that to the bookmakers who are running scared of a Premier League side winning Europe’s top club tournament. The bookmakers are offering just 6/5 about any English team winning the Champions League this season and, as most have been given a favourable last 16 draw, it’s conceivable there could be five representatives when the quarter-finals kick-off in April.
Nothing Faulty About City In Basel
Manchester City are the 7/2 favourites to win the Champions League and it seems ludicrous to think they will not progress from their tie with Basel. The Premier League side are 4/11 to grab a first leg lead in Switzerland, and although Raphaël Wicky’s team have won four of their last five home games against English clubs in the Champions League, this is surely where that runs ends.
At 8/1, Basel are huge outsiders. They have averaged just 39% possession in this season’s Champions League, the lowest ratio among the 16 teams left in the competition, and just haven’t got the personnel or tactical nous to trouble City.
With the in-form Sergio Aguero – 13 goals in his last 10 matches – as short as 17/20 to score at any time, there could be a way of squeezing just a little more value out of the game by backing Kevin de Bruyne to register an assist. The Belgian can boast 77 league assists since August 2012, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
Spurs Set For Italian Job
Understandably, when the draw was made, Tottenham supporters would have assessed their meeting with Juventus with some trepidation. However, after taking seven points from games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal over the past fortnight in the Premier League, there will be plenty of confidence amongst those that used to populate The Shelf that their side can down The Old Lady.
Spurs are 25/1 to win the Champions League, with Juventus 18/1. On current form, there seems little to choose between them, although Juve fans will suggest their team’s run of 11 consecutive wins in all competitions outweighs Tottenham’s current numbers.
Maxi Allegri’s side are 17/20 to win in Turin, which seems very short, and I’m prepared to take a chance that Mauricio Pochettino’s charges can come away from Italy with a positive result. Spurs are one of just four teams unbeaten in the Champions League this term and should be backed to win or draw at 22/25. Given Juventus scored just seven group stages goals (the lowest amongst the 16 clubs left in the competition) and allowed the fewest shots on target to the opposition, under 2.5 goals is also worth a punt at 4/6.
Free Scoring Liverpool To Plunder Dragons Den
Liverpool are 14/1 to win this season’s Champions League, and while their inconsistencies remain, there is no doubt few teams on the continent will want to face Jurgen Klopp’s men. Porto, 125/1 shots to emulate their success of 2004, have that task, and although they sit atop the Portuguese league, it’s perhaps telling that a couple of 0-0 draws recently have coincided with the loss of form of top-scorer Vincent Aboubakar (having netted five goals in the group stages he can boast just one in his last five for Porto).
Liverpool are 13/10 to win at the Dragao, with Porto 21/10 and the draw 49/20. The best bet may come away from the win-draw-win market, though: Paris Saint Germain are the only team who have scored (25) more goals than Liverpool (23) in this season’s group stages.
Real To Remain as El Dorado
It’s a sign of Real Madrid’s current malaise that the odds-compilers make the Champions League holders as big as 8/1 to retain their crown. A tough last 16 draw against Paris St Germain, who are 5/1 joint second-favourites for outright glory, is obviously factored into the La Liga club’s price. While all is not well at the Bernabeu, this competition brings the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo and company.
At 27/20, they must be backed to beat the Ligue Un leaders in the first leg in Spain, while Ronaldo, 17/20 to end the campaign as the Champions League top scorer (he’s got nine already – three clear of his nearest rival), should be punted to hit the first goal of the game at 19/5.