All good things must come to an end and for Barcelona it was topical that their winning run should end at the hands of Real Madrid in the Clasico last weekend. Zinedine Zidane’s men were not particularly fancied and certain underdogs going into the game; the market looked to have gotten it right as the game as Barcelona dominated many early exchanges, but a lacklustre – by their exalted standards – performance from Messi, Neymar and Suarez kept what had been a frustrating game in the balance, and despite taking the lead through Gerard Pique, Real ended the game much the stronger to take a 2-1 win through Benzema and Ronaldo.
That defeat still leaves Barca as virtual certainties to win La Liga, but the worrying nature of their imploding towards the end – Real had a valid goal from Gareth Bale ruled out before Ronaldo’s strike – and the hosts physical energy looked to have been drained badly by a ;long week which included internationals.
The superb defensively display of Casamiero in the midfield reduced the effectiveness of Barcelona’s midfield possession and Ateltico’s superb defensive record is likely to be of obvious concern. The visitors have conceded just 15 goals in 31 matches this season in La Liga and were similarly stingy during the Group phase and knockouts, albeit having to edge PSV during a penalty shootout. They were 2-1 losers in their La Liga matches against Barcelona, but may have taken a result had Filipe Luis and Diego Godin not been sent off in the second half when the two met in January, and they cut loose for the first time in a while when winning 5-1 against Betis at the weekend. Considering the ease of that success compared with Barcelona’s full on fight for El Clasico, a two day break favours the visitors far more and perhaps Barcelona shouldn’t be so short.
However, for all that there are negatives, it should be remembered that Saturday’s loss was their first in 39 games and that includes a double against Atletico; Both successes came by one goal and that may be the best bet tonight.
In Munich, Bayern will surely have an easier time of things against Benfica than they did against a Juventus side that so nearly shocked them in the Last 16. Benfica are beginning to look imperious in Portugal after 14 wins in their last 15 league games and have won at Atletico and Zenit this season, so will travel with no fear, but they travel to perhaps the hardest place to go in world football right now.
Since the start of last season this Munich side has won nine of their 10 home games in Europe’s premier competition and that includes seven HT/FT doubles, six wins to nil and six by at least three clear goals, and of his four games at home in the first legs of knockout games, Guardiola’s won three by four goal margins.
The absence of Arjen Robben is a shame but in Kingsley Conan and Franck Ribery there is width to go with the superb attacking player and Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski Bayern have two unstoppable players. Go for over 3.5 goals.
1 pt Barcelona to win by 1 goal (12/5 general)
1 pt Over 3.5 goals in Bayern v Benfica (13/8 general)