Champions League Matchday

There might not be too much at stake in Tuesday’s final round of group games in the Champions League but the goals are expected to flow when Arsenal head to Switzerland to face Basel.

The Gunners know they need a helping hand from Ludogorets, who face Group A leaders PSG in the French capital, if they are to end up top and avoid facing another group winner in the last-16, but Arsene Wenger is expected to field a fairly strong side and some of the star names set to line up are clearly full of confidence having looked like they’d score with every attack in Saturday’s 5-1 stroll at West Ham.

Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil carved the Hammers open at will and both could feature here, while Olivier Giroud is back in contention following injury. Per Mertesacker and Hector Bellerin are others back in light training this week but could still be some way off a return to the fold.

Draws with Tottenham, Manchester United and PSG, combined with a miserable EFL Cup exit at home to Southampton, showed Arsenal to be suffering from their all-too-familiar November blues, but the win at the weekend was the perfect start to the month ahead of a really busy Christmas schedule and they don’t look a bad price around 5/4 to get the better of Basel, a side they outclassed from the off in the only previous meeting between the cubs in this competition in September.

Basel boss Urs Fischer insists his side played well in the reverse fixture and in fairness to him he probably wasn’t expecting a great deal. The Swiss champions have been terrible on the road in the Champions League this campaign, failing to register a single goal in all three away games.

However, it’s reasonable to expect a bit more from Fischer’s men in front of their own fans as they need something from this match to stand a chance of finishing third and sealing a place in the Europa League – a tournament they’ve done quite well in in recent seasons, making the semi-final in 2013 and quarters a year later.

They are also prolific scorers at St Jakob Park, scoring 25 goals from their eight home Super League games domestically. They’ve won seven and drawn one of those matches and while a fully-firing Arsenal is clearly a step up in class from what they’re used to facing, that impressive record is enough to put me off backing the visitors.

Instead it looks best to focus on all those goals, with over 2.5 looking a cracking 5/6 chance. It’s a bet that would have weighed in for 15 of Basel’s 17 league outings this season and three of Arsenal’s five European outings.

The English side have scored in all of their Champions League games so far, netting at least two in four of the five, while Basel haven’t been shut out at home in all competitions since the final day of last season.

The price isn’t anything to write home about and the bolder option of over 3.5 (11/5 in places) is tempting but either way there is plenty of logic behind the assumption that both teams will be looking to end the campaign on a high in order to boost their respective prospects further down the European path, and a wide-open encounter should be in the offing.

Bay MunichA Madrid
Man CityCeltic
Dynamo KieBesiktas

Group C is signed and sealed and there appears little reason to be backing Manchester City at home to Celtic. Indeed, the Citizens – who travel to Leicester on Saturday – make zero appeal on the back of a potentially-damaging display against Chelsea at the weekend.

Pep Guardiola’s side showed really concerning levels of ill-discipline at the Etihad after once again looking the better side for large periods of the match and we could be in for another rather subdued atmosphere in Manchester for this dead-rubber.

One angle of potential interest would be to anticipate a bold show from former City player Scott Sinclair, who has enjoyed something of a renaissance under Brendan Rodgers north of the border.

He has never scored in the Champions League but has 10 Scottish Premiership goals to his name this season and is 4/1 and bigger to open his account at this level.

The same group also sees Barcelona play out their fixtures with a home clash with Borussia Monchengladbach.

The Germans are coming in for support as 8/1 outsiders in the match market and it’s not hard to see why given Barca’s recent form.

Conceding late on in El Clasico at the weekend saw them stay six points adrift of Real Madrid in La Liga, which must have come as another blow to morale having lost the winning touch completely of late. They’ve drawn their last three now and have failed to win in five of their last seven across the board, which isn’t good enough by their standards.

Having said all that, Tuesday’s visitors haven’t won away in the Bundesliga all season; their two wins on the road this year have come in this competition but victories at Celtic and Young Boys aren’t quite enough to encourage me into a speculative Nou Camp wager on the away side.

Group B looks the most interesting of the night with three teams still fighting it out for the two qualification spots, writes Andy Schooler.

Benfica host Napoli with a win for either side taking them through. Likewise, Besiktas know a victory will take them into the last 16 – they head to already-eliminated Dynamo Kiev.

It is the latter game which attracts my attention given the set-up of the group.

The Turks have impressed, scoring three times away to Napoli and at home to Benfica, but here goals seem less likely to flow.

If they get ahead it’s hard to see them continuing to push forward as they’ve done in previous games, even if they do feel a weakened Kiev side is there for the taking. A draw may not be good enough for them.

The hosts have nothing to play for and with attacking talent such as Euro 2016 winner Ricardo Quaresma and Vincent Aboubakar, Besiktas appear to have every chance of winning in Ukraine.

They are around the 7/5 mark to do just that, which seems perfectly fair, but given the circumstances I’m tempted in by quotes of around 13/2 about them claiming victory by a 1-0 scoreline.

They’ve shown they can shut up shop when required. They’ve won two domestic games on their travels by such a scoreline this season, while the weekend saw them produce a disciplined defensive performance to draw their derby clash with Fenerbahce 0-0, keeping their local rivals below them in the table.

Kiev have managed just two goals in their five group games thus far and with nothing but pride to play for it’s not hard to imagine them struggling to trouble the keeper again in this one.

I also like the look of another 1-0 result in Group D where our old friends Atletico Madrid can claim another shut-out success.

They already won 1-0 at Rostov and PSV Eindhoven in the pool, while the reverse fixture with Bayern was also won by such a margin.

We’ve long sung their praises in terms of defending on these pages and are very happy to have them on our outright coupon in this competition at 14/1, despite some iffy recent form domestically.

Five wins out of five so far mean they have already won the group, while Bayern are guaranteed to finish second.

While I’m always wary of getting too heavily involved in a game with little riding on it, I’m willing to do so when the price makes it worthwhile and, at 15/1, another 1-0 win for the visitors looks worth a punt.

Bayern have been vulnerable in recent weeks and they find themselves in the unfamiliar position of second in the Bundesliga. Defensive problems have been apparent with just one clean sheet in the last 13 games.

While few sides keep them out, there are few teams better at doing just that than Atletico.

Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti has already admitted he’ll be bringing in some “fresh” legs which has the ability to disrupt them in an attacking sense.

Atletico, who actually welcome Fernando Torres back, will also make a few changes but my view here is that Diego Simeone has his players so well drilled in a defensive sense that whoever plays in the back four (and the defenders in his squad are all familiar ones) will be very capable of carrying out his plan to soak up pressure and hit the opponent on the break.

At 15/1, a 1-0 win for the visitors is worth some small change.


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