The Leg 2’s are here!! There’s still everything to play for in three of the four matches, but every leg of every Champions League tie is still genuinely thrilling. This piece will include Ajax/Juve and United/Barca (and a bonus pick) while my piece coming out tomorrow will include the other two matches, Liverpool/Porto and Spurs/Man City. Let’s get to it.
This Season’s Record: 185-158-44 (+4.9 Units)
Matchweek 34 Record: 1-4-2 (-3.5) Units)
Tuesday, April 16th
3:00 pm EST
Manchester United @ FC Barcelona (TV: TNT) – Barcelona won the first leg 1-0 at Old Trafford and are bringing that away goal back to the Camp Nou to try to seal their path to the semifinal. Luckily for Barca, this is really the only thing they are focused on right now, as they have the Spanish league locked up and don’t have another match with serious meaning until late May. They rested Messi, Suarez, Pique, Lenglet and Rakitic completely while Coutinho, Alba and Arthur came on as subs this past weekend. But since United are still fighting for a Champions League spot, they instead had to play basically their whole squad this weekend against West Ham to get the points needed to stay in the chase.
Not only is rest and fitness on Barca’s side, but form is as well. United were at risk of having their worst run of form since 1992 if they lost this past weekend, but they pulled off a 2-1 win to West Ham at home. In their last six matches in all competitions they have two wins and four losses, with their only wins being at home to Watford in late March and West Ham this past weekend. They’ve actually lost their last four away matches, not boding well going into one of the cathedrals of world football, where Barcelona have not lost since November.
Barcelona meanwhile haven’t lost a competitive match since January 23rd and in their last six matches at full strength (where they aren’t resting most of their starters), they are 6-1-0 with a goal differential of +14, making for an average winning margin of 2 goals. Adding to that, they’ve been historically great in late-stage home Champions League legs (Quarterfinals/Semifinals). They’ve lost once in that criteria since 2008 and in the last four seasons they’ve gone 4-1-0 with a goal differential of +7.
Barca are known for not only winning Champions League legs, but for stepping on the throats of opponents at Camp Nou in those situations. They’re better overall, in better form, less tired and they have the best player in the world at the top of his game right now and I just can’t fade them. FC Barcelona (-1.5, -105).
Ajax @ Juventus – Kind of disappointed this one isn’t the match on TNT but I do understand that Messi and Barca/United is must-see TV. I think this match is going to be an absolute peach though, especially after how the first leg went. Ajax were completely up for it, scoring just 30 seconds into the second half and stifling Juventus’ offense completely right afterwards. They had 60% possession, 12 more shots, 226 more accurate passes and they forced Juve to use the long ball to break through their midfield, something they’re not used to doing. The one thing that’s stuck out to me about this Ajax team is that, even with how egregiously young they are, they’ve responded to every thing that’s been thrown their way. They went to Madrid and won 4-1, they drew Bayern twice in the group stage and they basically dominated Juve last week.
Juve come into this match after a tough loss to SPAL in the Serie A this weekend, but much like Barcelona they only played 2 players who got the start in Leg 1 in Amsterdam. They should be very rested and their loss to SPAL shouldn’t be a reflection at all of their form, but if you dive a little deeper you’ll realize they haven’t been exactly who they were earlier in the year. They’ve been out-shot and out-possessed in each of their last three matches, a stark contrast to their dominance from earlier in the year. This could be a product of having the league wrapped up and only the Champions League to play for, but the inconsistency of squads and performances should worry Juve bettors.
Now I’m not predicting Ajax to win and it’s not that they won’t, but it will be tough for them to waltz into the Allianz Stadium and have the same performance they did last week. But with Juve’s lack of dominance recently and their lack of maintaining systematic control of matches, this match could fit right into Ajax’s playbook to keep it tight. Outside of a few first half chances and the lack of marking Ronaldo on the goal (which shouldn’t happen again), Ajax’s defense didn’t allow Juventus to get any momentum throughout the match. Ajax caught Juventus sleeping on their goal and then kept their foot on the pedal, proving that you can’t and most likely won’t be able to coast against this team. Their midfield can create from deep with De Jong or around the box and they have the finishers to punish you with only a few good chances. If they can cut off the passing lines out wide to the outside backs, who love to whip balls in, and limit the other passing lanes to Ronaldo, I think Ajax can make this close or even push it to extra time.
I’m going to take the points. I think Ajax will be fearless, knowing that they can run with this team and the one goal spread gives them a ton of value if they get a goal as a 1-1 match puts it into extra time. Ajax (+1, -135).
Cardiff @ Brighton (TV: NBCSN) – Oh Premier League you sneaky dogs. They slipped in one of the matches of the week with two relegation teams battling it out. These are my favorite matches since they’re usually very intense, have players playing for their jobs and the club playing to stay in the Premier League. They even say promotion and relegation are worth around $100 million.
But bottom line is that Cardiff have a much bigger hill to climb than Brighton and they will be utterly desperate here. I think that will be their downfall as they will end up going for the three points knowing that it will likely be the only result that can keep them up. The reason why I’m fading them? This strategy, especially away from home and against arguably a better team, often does not work. They’ll likely overextend themselves and allow for Brighton to counter. I usually like betting on the teams that need to win, but Cardiff might need to win too much and it will be their downfall against a Brighton team who have conceded 12 less goals this campaign. I’ll take Brighton as slight favorites here, with the rationale that a win at home will guarantee their survival. Brighton (-0.5, +105).
That’s all for today’s matches! Don’t forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page and to follow on Twitter and Instagram!!
Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.