Soccer

UEFA Champions League Corner Picks: Finding value in Atletico Madrid-Chelsea, Lazio-Bayern Munich

The Champions League Round of 16 continues this week with four exciting matches (all of which you can see on CBS All Access). Well, all right, there are three exciting matches. I’m not sure how much drama there will be in Wednesday’s match between Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach, but we’ll get to that later.

Like last week, I have picks for all four matches. Unlike last week, I plan on getting more than one right. Though if you’re only going to get one pick correct, you’re better off having that pick being PSG to win over Barcelona outright. It mitigates the other losses a bit.

Anyway, here are my favorite plays for each of this week’s four matches. As usual, all odds are via the William Hill Sportsbook.

Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea, Tues. 3 p.m. ET (CBS All Access/CBS Sports Network)

Chelsea have looked good since Thomas Tuchel took over. Tuchel, you might remember, led PSG to the Champions League final last season, but was fired a few months later before ending up in London with Chelsea. Since Tuchel took over, Chelsea has been magnificent defensively, conceding only 2.5 expected goals (xG) in six matches Premier League matches, never allowing more than 0.7 xG in one single match. This is primarily due to Chelsea having the ball nearly the entire match, as they’ve dominated possession under Tuchel.

Of course, it needs to be pointed out that Chelsea haven’t played the stiffest of competition since the switch. They dominated Tottenham, but Tottenham’s a mess, and they drew 1-1 with Southampton over the weekend. Atletico Madrid poses the most significant challenge Tuchel will have faced since taking over. Having this come in his first Champions League match with his new team presents an extra challenge.

As for Atletico, Diego Simeone’s men are not at their best right now. Atleti enters this match, having won only one of their last four and coming off a 2-0 loss to Levante on Saturday (only three days after a 1-1 draw with the same Levante), but the xG numbers show that Atleti aren’t playing too differently from what they’d been doing while playing well enough to earn the top spot in Spain’s La Liga. And that’s one of the reasons I see plenty of value on Madrid here, even with this match being played in Bucharest instead of Madrid (travel restrictions due to COVID). Furthermore, Chelsea’s tendency to dominate the ball won’t bother Atletico much. They’re a counterattacking side and are more than happy to defend and take their chances when they come. It should be a low-scoring affair, but I don’t see a lot of value taking the under. Instead, the value lies in Madrid. Pick: Atletico Madrid (+170)

Lazio vs. Bayern Munich, Tues. 3 p.m. ET (CBS All Access)

Speaking of struggling teams, Bayern Munich enter this week’s Champions League tie looking more vulnerable than we’re used to seeing. Whether it’s match congestion catching up to them, or just a poor run of form, I’m not sure, but the results are surprising. Last weekend Bayern drew 3-3 with Arminia Bielefeld, a team struggling to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga. On Saturday, Bayern lost to Eintracht Frankfurt, a team that might be playing the best soccer in Germany at the moment, but it was still a surprising result.

But you know what? Bayern won the xG battle in both of those matches. That’s what happens when you have an attack as capable as Bayern’s. This team’s problems lie on the defensive side of the ball, where they’re surrendering more chances than we typically see. In last season’s Bundesliga, Bayern allowed 34.3 xG over 34 matches or 1.01 per match. Over their last nine league matches, Bayern are surrendering 1.28 xG per match, a significant increase. In this match, they’re facing a Lazio side that isn’t the most prolific in attack (32.5 xG in Serie A ranks only eighth in the league) but is efficient with the chances it gets (38 goals on 32.5 xG). Both teams will find the back of the net in this one far more often than not. Pick: Both Teams To Score (-180)

Atalanta vs. Real Madrid, Wed. 3 p.m. ET (CBS All Access)

It’s somewhat surprising to me that Real Madrid — of all clubs — is flying under the radar a bit these days. Madrid had two shocking losses to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Group Stage, but if we go back to the 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach to finish the stage and win Group B, Madrid have played quite well since. They’ve won 12 of their last 17 matches in all competitions, with two of three losses coming in the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de España, so we don’t know how motivated the team was to win either of them. Madrid come into Wednesday’s match having won four straight. Even though they’ll be without striker Karim Benzema that’s still some solid form.

Atalanta is also playing well. After a rough stretch to begin February (a loss to Lazio, and draws with Napoli and Torino), the Italian upstarts have won three straight, including a 4-2 win over Napoli on Sunday (three of Atalanta’s last five matches have been against Napoli due to the Coppa Italia). However, while Atalanta have improved defensively this season, I still worry about them against higher-caliber competition. Atalanta probably need to win this match to advance, and while I can certainly see it happening, I don’t think it happens nearly as often as the available price says it needs to. There’s value on Real Madrid to manage at least a draw here. Pick: Real Madrid or Draw (-185)

Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Manchester City, Wed. 3 p.m. (CBS All Access)

If you’re more comfortable paying the heavy juice to take Manchester City to win, go for it. I’m looking for a bit more excitement in my life, though. City enter this match having won a ridiculous 18 straight across all competitions. They’ve played 25 matches since last losing (a 2-0 loss to Tottenham on November 21). Pep Guardiola’s team is, quite simply, the best team in the world at the moment. It is also the favorite to win the Champions League, and it drew the team that could be considered the luckiest to still be in the Champions League.

Monchengladbach qualified through Group B, finishing second to Real Madrid and ahead of Shakhtar and Inter Milan. But Gladbach’s only two wins came against Shakhtar by a combined score of 10-0. In four matches against Real Madrid and Inter, they lost twice and drew twice, getting outscored 9-6 in goals and 8.1-4.1 in xG. They currently sit in eighth place in the Bundesliga, and it manager Marco Rose has already accepted the job at Borussia Dortmund for next season. Now all they’ve got to do is play the best team in the world!

Well, I like Manchester City to win, but the reason they’ve been the best team in the world this year is because of tremendous improvement defensively. During their run of 25 matches without a loss, City have kept a clean sheet in 18 matches. So, not only am I taking City to win, I’m saying its defense shuts Gladbach out in the process. It’s hard to find value in City these days, but we just did. Pick: Manchester City To Win To Nil (+122)



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