After a two-month wait, the Champions League is back. Many fans regard the knockout stage as when the competition really starts, and there are a number of very attractive-looking ties over the next two weeks for us to enjoy.
The round of 16 has been split into two games per night over the next two Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so we can all savor the very best that European soccer has to offer. There are no easy games at this stage of the competition – and one bad game can mean elimination for another year.
I’m going to be looking at all the ties from a betting perspective to see where the value is in the prices and markets, as well as previewing the games and making some all-important picks.
Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Here are the latest odds, courtesy of Betway.
- Manchester United to Win 2.50
- The Draw 3.60
- Paris Saint-Germain to Win 2.60
Although the bookmakers seem to think that PSG will progress from this round, there’s a renewed optimism around Old Trafford that has given Manchester United some belief that they can take a lead from the first leg to Paris.
The odds on a home win would have been longer had Jose Mourinho still been in charge, but thanks to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s transformative powers, we will have to make do with these.
The draw at 3.60 is the most interesting price of the three, as I believe it will be a very even match punctuated with some wonderful skill that should mean we are treated to a great game of soccer.
First, let me take a more detailed look at both sides before revealing my pick for the Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain match.
When the draw for the round of 16 was made, Mourinho was still in charge, and many thought the tie was over as soon as PSG’s name came out of the pot. But Solskjaer has brought the fun back to Old Trafford – and delivered a whole load of points at the same time.
Conceding goals is still a problem for United, however, even with arguably the best keeper in the world. If there is a worry, it is whether United’s defense can deal with the pace of Kylian Mbappe and the doggedness of Edinson Cavani.
But United is in a much better place now and is at least capable of getting the victory they undoubtedly need to take to Paris for the second leg. The question will be whether they can stop the visitors from grabbing a crucial away goal.
The Champions League is the trophy that PSG’s owners crave. Ligue 1 has already virtually been decided, and although they were surprisingly knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue recently, PSG is still on for a domestic double.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his assistant Mike Phelan were in Lyon recently to witness PSG lose their first game of the season and would have been heartened to see the champions come unstuck against a young side that is not afraid of taking the game to their opponents.
Mourinho’s United would not have played like that – but this new-look United side will.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel could employ the same tactics that so nearly worked against Liverpool in the group match at Anfield – soak up the pressure and hit United on the counter-attack with the devastating pace of Mbappe. The continued omission of Adrien Rabiot in the middle will hamper PSG’s chances of a victory, but any goal could be enough to take back to France.
My Pick and Prediction
Although Old Trafford on a Champions League night used to be an imposing place under Alex Ferguson, those days have certainly gone. The influence of Solskjaer has rekindled some of that feeling, and I feel that the optimism around the place could spur United on against PSG.
Neymar is a big miss for the visitors, but they still have plenty of incredible talent at their disposal, so I see both sides being able to find the net.
The price for a home win is not really attractive enough to interest me, but when you add in both teams to score at 4.20, then that looks like better value. Manchester United may not make it through to the next round, but I do think they will take a slight lead into the second leg.
Pick: Manchester United to Win and Both Teams to Score 4.20
Roma vs. Porto
The other Tuesday game is Roma vs. Porto – here are the main match prices for that one.
- Roma to Win 2.10
- The Draw 3.25
- Porto to Win 3.60
Given Roma’s recent performances, odds of 2.10 do not inspire me. I’m not sure the Italian side will make it through to the next round even though this could be considered a favorable draw looking at the clubs left in the competition.
Porto to win at 3.60 is far more interesting. The Portuguese giants eased through an admittedly comfortable group and have led the way in their domestic league for the majority of the season. The question will be whether they go all out to end the tie at the Stadio Olimpico or do just enough to finish the job at home.
Roma’s coach, Eusebio Di Francesco, has had the look of a haunted man over the last few weeks as he has witnessed his side capitulate in the worst ways possible in both the league and cup.
In the league, the display at Atalanta was just as bad. Roma somehow raced into a 3-0 lead before half time, but it always seemed as if the Bergamo club would get back into the game – and if they had played for another 10 minutes, Roma would have surely lost that game too.
Roma looked a long way behind Real Madrid in their Champions League group and relied on victories over smaller sides to get through to this stage. But they will need to pick their game up considerably to get through to the quarterfinals – and I’m not sure that they have it in them.
Porto has been in impressive form in Portugal, leading the way in the league since October and only coming unstuck to Sporting in the Taca da Liga at the end of January.
I really like the way head coach Sergio Conceicao has this Porto team playing, and although they were not really tested in their six group matches – only Schalke took points off of them in the first match – I think they could capitalize on Roma’s defensive frailties.
My Pick and Prediction
Roma is a club that really needs an extended Champions League run. They are a whole 25 points behind Juventus in Serie A, so they desperately need to keep their European adventure going.
But I feel the pressure that brings will be too much for them to perform to the standard required, allowing Porto to sneak in for the win. An away win in the Champions League knockout stages is like gold dust, but I think Porto is set up the right way to get the result in Rome and make it almost impossible for Di Francesco’s side to repeat the heroics of last season’s campaign.
Pick: Porto to Win 3.60
This is when the Champions League gets really interesting. The main contenders start to show their real talent, and the minnows have been eliminated.
We will see over the next few weeks who has the form to topple Real Madrid, but these two games are a great way to kick off the knockout stages. Let me know what you think of my picks and predictions in the comments section below.