Thursday, May 19, 2022

Corner Picks: Champions League predictions, best bets, odds, for Benfica-Liverpool and Manchester City-Atleti

Remember all the talk earlier this season about how weak Spain’s La Liga was? I do, because I was very much involved in it. It was all something of an overreaction (in this sport!?) to Barcelona being in terrible shape and Real Madrid just getting off to a slow start. Now it’s April, and while Real Madrid have a vice grip on the league title, Barcelona are tied for second with a match in hand against Atlético Madrid and Sevilla.

Oh, and there’s also the fact La Liga accounts for three of the eight teams remaining in the Champions League, and none of the three are Barcelona! While Barcelona couldn’t get their act together in time to move on in the Champions League, they currently looks like the favorite in the Europa League.

So as we reach the final stages of the season, La Liga is looking a lot better than it did six months ago. Of course, there are also three Premier League clubs and Bayern Munich still standing between them and that glory in the Champions League (also, Benfica). So how will the quarterfinals shake out? If I could see the future, I’d be making a lot more money doing other things right now, so let’s just make our best guesses instead. All odds via Caesars Sportsbook.

Manchester City vs. Atletico Madrid

Date: Tuesday, April 5 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+/CBS

Featured Game | Manchester City vs. Atlético Madrid

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Manchester City are not as dominant defensively as you might think based on the results, and they’re not nearly as dominant as they were last season. While City have allowed only 12 goals in their last 21 matches, they’re not as impressive as you might think when you look closer. In those 21 matches, City have played four matches against teams in the top six of the Premier League, and five of those 12 goals came in those matches. The clean sheets have come against a series of teams City can overpower.

Suppose we narrow the field down to City’s Champions League performances. In that case, there’s something unique about their two wins over Sporting in the Round of 16: they’re the only clean sheets City have kept in the entire competition. They’ve allowed 10 goals in their six Group Stage matches. While City were able to overwhelm Sporting, I don’t see that being the case against Atletico. In fact, I think this is an excellent matchup for Atletico. Diego Simeone’s entire philosophy is built upon having to withstand the pressure of facing teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona and putting his team in a position to beat them. This team is designed to let its opponent have the ball and quickly strike on the counter when the opportunity arises. Based on City’s recent performances, Atletico should be successful once. I doubt once will be enough to win the match, but both teams will get on the scoresheet. Pick: Both Teams To Score (+115)

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Benfica vs. Liverpool

Date: Tuesday, April 5 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+

Featured Game | Benfica vs. Liverpool

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If there’s a Cinderella left in the Champions League, it’s Benfica. This is a team that currently sits in third place in Portugal’s Primeira Liga and just looks outmatched against the teams remaining in this competition. While I worry about Liverpool getting caught looking ahead to this weekend’s match against Manchester City — it could decide the Premier League title — I don’t think it will matter much. While Benfica has earned its place at the table, this is not a solid defensive team.

Benfica have allowed 28 goals in 28 league matches, and while that’s fine in a vacuum, compared to where this team stands compared to the rest of the league, it’s not a good number. In Champions League play, it has allowed 11 goals in eight matches since group play, but with an expected goals (xG) allowed of 13.8, so the results have been kinder than they should’ve been. Benfica was overrun in two matches against Bayern and in the first match against Ajax. Do you know who plays a similar style to those teams but has even more attacking talent? Yep, it’s Liverpool, and I think they’ll have a good night at the office Tuesday. Pick: Liverpool Over 2.5 (+130)

Chelsea vs. Real Madrid

Date: Wednesday, April 6 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+/CBS

OK, so in the lede, I spent a lot of time telling you how La Liga is better than we anticipated and that Real Madrid overcame a slow start to take control of the league. Those are all true, but I’m still picking Chelsea to win this match because Madrid are in a bit of a rut lately. The 4-0 loss to Barcelona two weeks ago was shocking on the surface but not a major surprise if you looked beneath the hood. Madrid were leaky defensively even in their 3-0 win over Mallorca the week before with an xG allowed of 1.4. Things didn’t change much during a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday, as Vigo had an xG of 1.7 in the match.

They were able to get away with it against those clubs, but asking them to do the same against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is a bit much. Yes, Chelsea looked awful defensively in their 4-1 loss to Brentford. Still, with the Premier League title out of reach and a top-four finish nearly guaranteed, I suspect that Chelsea were more focused on this match and moving on in the Champions League than Brentford. Pick: Chelsea (+108)

Villarreal vs. Bayern Munich

Date: Wednesday, April 6 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+

Betting the over in Bayern matches has become something of a core principle for me. Not only does it win a lot, but there are plenty of times you don’t even need the other team to score for it to cash. Seriously, Bayern have averaged 3.0 goals over their last 18 matches. If you include the opponents’ goals, the average climbs to 4.0.

While I have my doubts about Villarreal’s chances to survive these two matches and move on, this is a team that can put your defense in difficult spots, and Bayern has been a lot weaker defensively the last two seasons. They don’t mind giving you chances because they’re so efficient and ruthless at creating and converting their own. If you want to bet the Over 3.5 instead of the 2.5, I won’t try to talk you out of it. Pick: Over 2.5 (-160)



League Play



Champions League



Overall 54-53 +3.10

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