Champions League Round of 16 - 12/13th March
Liverpool and City to Complete German Treble?
Tottenham have already begun the process of reinforcing the Premier League's apparent superiority over the Bundesliga, dumping out Borussia Dortmund last week.
Now, the question is simple: can the two contenders for the 2018/19 Premier League title make it a clean sweep of English round-of-16 victories over German opposition?
Manchester City vs Schalke – 12 March
If Bundesliga form is to be used as a factor in gauging the English representatives’ chances of progression, then City’s home leg against Schalke should be a straightforward process.
The eliminations of PSG and Real Madrid last week showed that there is no such thing as a ‘formality’ in the Champions League. However, the dogged way in which Manchester City battled back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 at the Veltins Arena – despite being a man down – implies that they are deserving of their status as outright favourites within Champions League spread betting markets to win the biggest prize in club football.
With Schalke still embroiled in a relegation battle over in the Bundesliga, they will most certainly prioritise their presence in the top-flight over what was always a very unlikely Champions League triumph. Given Schalke’s situation, some extra relevance is lent to the fact that City have scored beyond the 80th minute mark in two-thirds of their last six European fixtures.
On a more basic level, City’s status as massive favourites to beat Schalke by a significant margin is justified by a nine-game win streak at the Etihad Stadium, with six clean sheets in that sequence. That said, City could yet make it difficult for themselves, and despite being tipped by many to win the Champions League in previous years, it has never been forthcoming.
The fact that City teams have won just once in their last five home legs at the round of 16 – while losing three times – is something that is in dire need of addressing. Luckily for Pep Guardiola’s men, Schalke have won just once on the road since November, and losing on five occasions, making anything other than a City win on Tuesday unthinkable.
Expectations of a late Schalke collapse are further reinforced, by the fact that nearly half of the goals so far conceded by the ‘Königsblauen’ in Bundesliga away games have gone in beyond the hour mark. It is also worth noting that Schalke have never prevailed in any type of UEFA knockout tie after losing the first leg on home turf, and come into this game after conceding three or more goals in four consecutive matches for the first time since 1964.
Bayern Munich vs Liverpool – 13 March
The good news for Liverpool is that a score draw sends them through to the quarter-finals for the second time in as many seasons. The bad news, however, is the Merseysiders are facing a Bayern Munich side who have only suffered three defeats in 30 Champions League home games.
With ‘Die Roten’ starting Sunday at the top of the Bundesliga, having clawed back a seemingly-impossible deficit to rivals Dortmund, there is no doubt that the German champions will entertain Liverpool in fine spirits. In a sequence going back to April 2014, Bayern teams have also won each of their last four Champions League home matches to English clubs, with their last defeat of that kind coming in inconsequential circumstances, way back in December 2013.
As shown in their run to last season’s Champions League final, Liverpool play without fear against anyone on the European stage. That was certainly the case in the first leg at Anfield, where Liverpool enjoyed the greater number of purposeful chances, but there was a nagging sense of lost opportunity at the full time whistle that cemented the goalless result.
Should Liverpool draw first blood, then recent form across all competitions bodes well for the serial European Cup winners. Sunday’s win over Burnley excepted, Liverpool certainly know how to keep a clean sheet, getting one – albeit mostly against lesser opponents – in the five games that immediately preceded their 4-2 weekend win over the Clarets.
Of course, it is still worth noting that Liverpool visit Bayern after a run of four consecutive away defeats in the Champions League. Furthermore, when it comes to getting positive results at the grounds of top-seeded teams drawn from pot 1 for the group stage, Liverpool have an indifferent recent history. A 2-1 defeat at PSG was the result in their last away game against a top-seeded side, and that was preceded by a disappointing 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow the year before, and before that came a 1-0 defeat at Real Madrid in November 2014.
The least that can be said is that Jürgen Klopp is not beyond dropping those who underperform. That is exactly what he did at the weekend following a poor Liverpool performance in the Merseyside Derby back on 3 March. Every player on the pitch knows that nothing less than 100% will now be tolerated, and while Liverpool are now outsiders to negotiate this tie, one goal could seismically change the entire complexion of proceedings on Wednesday night.
Can the red and blue of Liverpool and Manchester City join the white of Tottenham in knocking out German opposition in the Champions League?
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