Atlético face Chelsea suffering from title hiccups
We’re here again, talking about Champions League last 16 ties that look much different on the eve of battle than they had done when they were drawn pre-Christmas. Atlético Madrid had been La Liga’s runaway leaders, facing a Chelsea team with more teething problems than a toddler. Now with Thomas Tuchel in charge at the Bridge and Diego Simeone’s men smarting from a home defeat to Levante that cut their domestic advantage at the top to three points, we have a tight contest in prospect.
Some of it is natural regression to the mean for Atlético. Luis Suarez‘s deadly finishing up until the last few games saw almost everything he hit on target go in and even now he has scored 39% of Atleti’s La Liga goals – they missed a plethora of chances against Levante. In terms of the team as a whole Simeone himself noted that harvesting the same amount of points in the second half of the season as they did in the first would “very difficult” (they took 50 from a possible 57).
Yet just as key has been injury and illness catching up with the squad, with João Félix, Thomas Lemar and Yannick Carrasco among those to have suffered from COVID and just re-finding their rhythm. Carrasco won’t be in Bucharest – rather than Madrid – as he is on the injury list with Sime Vrsaljko and defensive rock José María Giménez, and with Kieran Trippier still missing, Simeone will have to make do and mend at full-back/wing-back. There could be corridors of opportunity for Chelsea’s wide boys Callum Hudson-Odoi and Marcos Alonso to do their thing.
Back Chelsea to beat Atlético at 32/1
Rose putting out fires ahead of City clash
It’s something that German football is great at doing – compartmentalising. Moves are announced ahead of time to remove doubt and speculation from the equation and everybody just gets on with it, like adults. The switch of Julian Nagelsmann to Leipzig, you might remember, was announced a whole year ahead of time.
So why has the news that Marco Rose is leaving Borussia Mönchengladbach for the other Borussia (Dortmund) at the end of the season left such an apparent cloud? Well, form is an issue, with the chatter before Gladbach confirmed his departure being around Rose’s selection of a depleted XI for the derby with Köln, whch Gladbach then went on to lose. Their latest reverse, to a late winner by relegation-threatened Mainz on Saturday, leaves the team in below-optimum fettle ahead of meeting runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City in Budapest on Wednesday.
If we park form for a moment, Gladbach could present a real challenge to Pep Guardiola and company, who have dealt with a whole range of Champions League setbacks in recent years even when in imperious form domestically. Rose’s team were excellent in a group with Real Madrid and Serie A leaders Inter – who they qualified ahead of – and are well-drilled on the big occasion, with real attacking variety in Alessane Pléa, Lars Stindl and Marcus Thuram. Gladbach can get at quality opposition and their four games with Inter and El Real produced a total of 16 goals, so we could get more fireworks here.
Back over 3.5 goals in Borussia Mönchengladbach v Manchester City at 2.427/5
Could Lazio take advantage of Bayern’s injury problems?
With Real Madrid and Barcelona on the wane and Paris Saint-Germain having less strength in depth than last season, Bayern Munich should be the favourites to retain their trophy, right? Maybe. This season’s punishing schedule has taken its toll as Hansi Flick’s men as much as it has anyone else, and their absentee list puts a whole new slant on their trip to Rome this week.
Bayern have picked up one point from their last two games against Arminia Bielefeld and Eintracht Frankfurt, shrinking their lead at the top of the Bundesliga from seven points to two. It’s little wonder when you bear in mind that Benjamin Pavard and Thomas Müller are still recovering from COVID with Serge Gnabry and Douglas Costa out this week and Corentin Tolisso suffering a serious thigh injury that will keep him out for the season.
Lazio, on the other hand, have every right to enjoy their first time getting past the Champions League group stage since Sven-Göran Eriksson was the boss 20 years ago. They have smart and versatile players in the final third led by Ciro Immobile but also including Sergej Milinković-Savić, Joaquin Correa and Luis Alberto, who hit their winner against Sampdoria at the weekend to continue their recent good spell and take them back into the top five in Serie A. Bayern’s stretched defence beware.
Back Lazio and Bayern Munich to draw at 4.47/2