The two-month wait is over, as the Champions League returns to action this week with the knockout stages. I finally have a chance to fill in that “0-0” mark that’s been sitting in the table tracking my results all this season.
For those of you who may be new to the Champions League, the knockout stages are the tournament’s second phase. Group play consists of eight groups of four playing six matches against the other three teams in their group (one home, one away), and in the end, the top two teams in the group move on to the knockout stages.
The knockout stages resemble a more traditional tournament format like in the NCAA Tournament, though the home and away aspect remains until the final. So the matches we’ll see this week are merely the first of two legs, and after the second leg, the team that wins on aggregate will move on.
This is important not only to understand what’s happening but also from a gambling perspective. It adds a bit of nuance because the approach teams would take in a win-or-go-home setting is much different than the approach they could choose for this format. The road team could look to keep things close until they return home for the second leg. It’s a factor that makes betting these matches more difficult but more fun at the same time.
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RB Leipzig vs. Real Madrid
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 13 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+
Neither of these teams were forced to break a sweat in group play, as Real Madrid won all six of their matches, and Leipzig’s only losses came to Manchester City. The latter portion of that sentence sticks out to me the most here. Leipzig outscored Young Boys and Red Star 10-4 but were outscored 6-3 by Man City. That’s not unusual, but what sticks out is that Leipzig failed to keep a clean sheet in any of the matches.
It’s nothing new for Leipzig. While they’re the fourth-best defense in Germany going off expected goals (xG) allowed, they’ve only managed six shutouts in 21 matches, and five of those came in the first nine matches of the season. They’ve only done it once in their last 12. Real Madrid have been shut out once in 34 matches across all competitions and have managed to score at least twice in 25. Even if Madrid take a more relaxed approach, they’ll have ample opportunity to score. The Pick: Over 2.5 (-150)
Copenhagen vs. Manchester City
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 13 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Watch: CBS/Paramount+
Copenhagen is a great story reaching this point of the tournament, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say they got a bit lucky to be here. They had the worst xG differential in the group but were the beneficiary of Galatasaray’s and Manchester United’s failures. Now, their reward is Manchester City. Hooray!
As we enter the week, Copenhagen sits in third place in Denmark’s Superliga. There isn’t much reason to believe they’ll knock off the defending champions, but betting Man City to win at (-400) isn’t the most exciting play in the world. Instead, I’ll take a slightly different route that leads to the same destination. The Pick: Copenhagen Under 0.5 (-125)
PSG vs. Real Sociedad
Date: Wednesday, Feb. 14 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Watch: CBS/Paramount+
PSG is a tough team to get a read on. Did they finish in second place in its group behind Borussia Dortmund because it isn’t as good as it usually is, or was it just a byproduct of playing in the most difficult group (AC Milan and Newcastle United were the teams that failed to advance)? Yes, PSG is running away with things in Ligue 1, but that may say more about the state of the league than PSG right now.
I sat and pondered this for a while before realizing I didn’t care! It’s PSG, playing at home against a Real Sociedad team that currently sits in seventh place in Spain and has won only four of its 12 matches since the group stage ended. And it’s only scored eight goals in those 12 matches! You aren’t beating a team with Kylian Mbappe on it 0-0, no matter how hard you try. The Pick: PSG (-145)
Lazio vs. Bayern Munich
Date: Wednesday, Feb. 14 | Time: 3 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+
Not that Bayern Munich would ever not take the Champions League seriously, but I have to wonder if Bayern will take things to a different gear after losing to Bayer Leverkusen over the weekend. Bayern are now five points behind Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, and it looks like its run of 11 straight league titles will end. The Champions League might be its best chance at silverware this season.
This is not good news for a Lazio team stuck in neutral most of the season. Yes, they advanced through the group stages, but they weren’t great in its six matches; they had an easier draw with Feyenoord and Celtic in the same group. And that’s been Lazio’s story even at home in Italy. They’ve performed well against the bottom half of the league and struggled with the better teams. Even at home, it’s tough to imagine Lazio pulling off a victory here. The Pick: Bayern Munich (-145)