Benfica v Zenit
It might not be the glamour tie of the last 16, but Benfica’s match-up with Zenit is a very interesting one to call. Former Chelsea & Spurs boss Andre Villas Boas is the Head coach at Zenit and they enjoyed an excellent group stage cruising to qualification with 5 wins out of the 6 games.
However, it was a poor group that included the extremely average Lyon, Belgian newcomers Gent and a shambolic Valencia team. Zenit are also struggling in the Russian Premier League languishing in 6th place with 18 games played. They have also not played a competitive game since the last Group match against Gent in December, so questions arise about their sharpness.
In contrast, Rui Vitoria’s Benfica team are on a run of 11 straight wins and sit atop the Primeira Liga standings. While the standard of teams in Portugal is not exceptional, Benfica are extremely comfortable with the tag of favourites and are an accomplished team when it comes to breaking down a team that sits back and defends.
They have a settled team with no big injury worries and look an excellent bet to take a lead into the 2nd leg in Russia in early March. Take the 11/10 on a home win with Bet365.
PSG v Chelsea
An intriguing game lies ahead with Chelsea desperate to rekindle their season after a hugely disappointing Title defence. Only a spot in the final will suffice, but getting there they will have to up their performances enormously and make it past some top teams.
The Blues are starting to play a little better under Hiddink and this is positive with such a big match against PSG on the horizon. The one big worry is John Terry and the ridiculous timing of the announcement that he is to leave the club. Surely this will only split the club once again, giving fans of the captain another chance to vent their frustrations at the club and team. It resembles Gerrard’s 3 month Liverpool leaving parade at the end of last season, where the focus was on one player and not the good of the team. Hopefully this will not be the same situation and Chelsea can build on their current form.
There’s also the matter of PSG who are running away with Ligue 1 and will be very focussed on dismantling a fragile opponent. Zlatan Ibrohimovic will spearhead the attack and is scoring for fun at present.They may not get pushed every week in the French league, but they have plenty of class and are rightly favourites to progress. The prospect of turmoil in the Chelsea camp has helped us side with the French team and backing them To Qualify at 8/11 is a solid bet.
The likelihood of Diego Costa getting in a fight with a PSG player is better than Leonardo DiCaprio winning an Oscar, it’s nailed on! So with that said we’ll be taking the Brazilian to put it about and Receive a Yellow Card at some point during the first leg. We’re expecting odds of around 2/1 and may be even bigger, so keep an eye out for when the prices are released by BetVictor. It may not be buying money, but it will be fun watching!
Arsenal v Barcelona
Can Arsenal get one over on their old foes in the last 16? Our answer is a resounding no unfortunately. This is the fourth time these two teams have met in the knockout stages of the Champions League, Barcelona winning the 2005/06 Final whilst also progressing in the two other meetings since.
It’s hard to see Wenger changing his tactics for this huge game and although he undoubtedly has a good team he doesn’t have the tools to stifle the likes of Messi, Neymar & Suarez. The 1st leg will definitely be the more competitive and the big question is whether Arsene will try and keep it tight or attempt to match the Catalans on the attacking front. I fear the latter and that could be the nail in the coffin for The Gunners, but it does mean an entertaining match is in prospect and goals could flow. Take a look at the overs markets and get on more than 3.5 goals at a tasty 17/10.
With the expectation of goals we move on to the player to score markets and pick out some good looking value for the 1st leg. The obvious threat and main favourites in the Anytime Scorer section are unsurprisingly Messi, Neymar and Suarez. All will start and all are likely to give Mertasacker and Koscielny a torrid night.
The ex-Liverpool man Suarez is our pick to continue his superb goalscoring form, he should be priced at around 6/4 to net anytime during the game so keep your eyes out for the markets and is definitely a worthwhile punt.
Champions League last 16 first legs
Tuesday February 16
Paris St Germain v Chelsea
Benfica v Zenit St Petersburg
Wednesday February 17
Gent v Wolfsburg
Roma v Real Madrid
Tuesday February 23
Arsenal v Barcelona
Juventus v Bayern Munich
Wednesday February 24
PSV v Atletico Madrid
Dynamo Kiev v Manchester City