A busy midweek Champions League schedule lies ahead and Chris Bland has previewed three of the biggest fixtures; Real Madrid vs. PSG, Juventus vs. Atletico Madrid and Valencia vs. Chelsea. If you agree with his Champions League tips then why not use them in our midweek pools?
Real Madrid vs. PSG
Real Madrid host PSG at the Santiago Bernabeu in a heavyweight clash in Group A on Tuesday night. Zidane’s men are looking for revenge from a 3-0 thrashing in Paris in September.
PSG sit atop Group A with a 100% record and qualification already sealed. However, they’ll want to return from Madrid with top spot secured, which requires Thomas Tuchel’s side to nab a point. A 2-0 win over Lille on Friday will give his side confidence. However, they come up against a much-improved Real Madrid side since that 3-0 thrashing.
Real sit second on seven points and require two points from the final two games to qualify. A win over Real Sociedad on Saturday kept them joint top of La Liga alongside Barcelona. New signing Eden Hazard is showing evidence of improving and French striker Karim Benzema remains in impressive scoring form.
The context of the game makes for an interesting dynamic. Real Madrid requiring a victory, and PSG just a point, means from a tactical standpoint, it would be no surprise to see PSG to sit in.
The key tactical battles on the pitch suggest a fascinating encounter. Real Madrid favour attacking wide, and Dani Carvajal has been in flying form for Los Blancos with four assists. The aerial ability of Benzema against Presnel Kimpembe is certainly a cause for concern. The defensive graft of PSG’s front line is also concerning and could open up an avenue for Real Madrid to target, with a willingness to create overloads out wide.
On the other hand, Real Madrid look to play a high line, and the counter attacking ability of the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar means PSG are well-equipped to exploit the spaces which will be vacated by the full backs. PSG have an imperious defensive record, conceding just eight goals with an xGa of 9.23 all season, so will be more than capable of frustrating the Spanish giants.
A return of 34.88 xG in their 14 Ligue 1 games highlights the strength of their attack and they have had to manage without the likes of Neymar and Mbappe at times this season, making the returns even more impressive
The context of the game suits Tuchel’s side. Whilst I’d be tempted to take PSG, I’ll be going for a draw. Real have improved in an attacking sense in recent weeks and, although PSG’s defensive statistics are impressive, it is worth noting that they are up against a much lower standard in Ligue 1. An in-form Real attack is a different prospect.
Juventus vs. Atletico Madrid
Juventus host Atletico Madrid knowing victory will secure top spot for Maurizio Sarri’s side, with qualification already secured. Atletico know a victory will send them through, whilst a point would mean qualification remains in their hands with a home tie against Lokomotiv Moscow to follow.
Juventus defeated Atalanta 3-1 on Saturday without Cristiano Ronaldo. However, it wasn’t plain sailing for Sarri’s side, as their clinical edge shone through against their wasteful opponents. The xG of the game painted a different picture, with Atalanta coming out on top 2.79 to 1.21. This lack of creativity could concern Sarri’s side heading into a tie against such an impressive backline.
Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain both netted in the win and the two Argentines have formed a promising partnership in Ronaldo’s absence. They come up against the formidable backline of Atletico and it will be interesting to see how they cope.
Atletico, who will be happy with a point after defeat to Bayer Leverkusen, have the joint best defensive record in La Liga with only nine goals against. With an xGa of 9.72, Diego Simeone will have no qualms about setting up his side to frustrate the Italian giants. Sarri’s side look to attack narrow, with full backs offering the width, and Simeone’s defence are well suited to deal with this threat.
Scoring goals has been the problem this season for Atletico and it reared its head once again at the weekend in a 1-1 draw at Granada, where they racked up an xG of 2.06 to Granada’s 0.67, but couldn’t take the chances when required.
Alvaro Morata is under-performing again this season and Diego Costa’s untimely injury has heaped further pressure on the Spaniard. To put it into perspective, Atletico sit top of La Liga on Expected Points and are under-performing their xG over the course of the season by eight goals.
It sets the tie up to be a tight affair. Given Ronaldo’s potential absence, and Atletico’s ability to sit in and frustrate, it would be no surprise to see a draw, which would suit both sides heading into the final game.
Valencia vs. Chelsea
Wednesday sees Chelsea travel to Spain in search of a victory that will put them in pole position for qualification before the final round of fixtures.
Valencia are in midst of an injury crisis and went down 2-1 in Betis courtesy of Sergio Cananles’ late winner. Albert Celades’ team performed a smash and grab victory over Chelsea earlier this season, despite racking up an xG of 2.87 to Valencia’s 0.91, as Ross Barkley fired over a late penalty in their only defeat in the Champions League this season.
Valencia will set up to defend and hit Chelsea on the break, and their tendency to do so was highlighted against Betis at the weekend. They only managed to see 39% of the ball. Striker Maxi Gomez is in impressive form, with six goals in La Liga this season, whilst they have shown they have the ability to create goals when required, accruing 20 domestically at an xG of 20.03.
They were unfortunate in defeat against Ajax at home, and were undone by the Dutch side’s clinical finishing in a tie that mirrored Valencia’s own trip to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea will need to be patient to break down the Valencia defence. However, despite a tendency to defend deep and hit teams on the counter, they have conceded 20 goals this season at an xG of 23.07. Tammy Abraham will be well suited up against ex-Arsenal centre half Gabriel Paulista, with his aerial ability and pace enough to cause problems.
The returning French midfielder N’Golo Kante was fantastic against Manchester City and could be influential for Lampard’s side again. His energy and ball-winning ability will be key to breaking up any Valencia counter attacks.
If Chelsea can perform at the same level they did in the home tie, it is hard to see past them, particularly when well suited to break down the leaky Valencia backline.