Ajax v. Tottenham Champions League Semifinal, Leg 2

Before we dive into Wednesday’s match let’s go over what happened at Anfield on Tuesday. Liverpool pulled off one of the bigger comebacks in Champions League history, winning 4-0 and 4-3 on aggregate. Without two of their best players, Liverpool completely took it to Barcelona and limited Lionel Messi’s effectiveness. Barca had chances in the first half to score an away goal which would have forced Liverpool to score 5 to advance, but they couldn’t put them away. It’s Barcelona’s second year in a row blowing a 3-goal aggregate lead in the Champions League and Liverpool now return to their second straight Champions League Final. All credit goes to Klopp who had a gameplan and had his players believing that they could achieve the impossible.

This Season: 206-161-47 (+18.4 Units)
Liverpool v. Barcelona: 1-0 (+1.0 Units)
$100 bettor has won $1,840 this season

Tottenham @ Ajax (TV: TNT) – I don’t know if there is any way this match can top Tuesday’s match but I will never doubt any Champions League Semifinal. Both teams haven’t made European Cup Finals in decades so it should be a very tense affair and I expect both teams to go for it from the gate. I have two picks here and the first one, if you’ve read my recent pieces, is a pretty expected one from me.

I picked the over in Tuesday’s match and it hit. That’s now 15 of 18 2nd legs this season in the Champions League that had at least 3 goals. Adding to that, 8 of the last 11 2nd leg Semifinals have had at least 3 goals. I also think for this match specifically, the over is a good pick regardless of the historical data. Spurs need at least a goal, we all know that, but if they score then Ajax will need one as well. Since both teams likely will need at least a goal, I expect it to be back and forth and full of chances, much like how I expected the start of Liverpool Barca to be. Also, both of these teams like to score goals and that’s generally how they’ve won their matches this season, Ajax specifically. Neither defense is that special but their attacks have caused problems to some of the best teams in the world this season. I’ll take the over.

I’m also going to take Ajax moneyline. This team is not only better than Spurs are, but they’re in much better form than them. Spurs have one win in their last six matches (going 1-5) with their only win coming against Brighton at home. Away from home they haven’t won since early March when they went to Dortmund and closed out the Quarterfinals (0-5 in last 5 away matches). They’ve played 9 matches in 34 days, have dealt with serious injury and depth issues and are coming off of a really bad loss to Bournemouth this past weekend where they had two red cards. The squad that they will likely throw out there hasn’t played consistently together almost all season long and I don’t have much confidence in them slowing down Ajax’s fluid style. As you could probably guess, I don’t like Spurs’ chances in this one.

Meanwhile Ajax have won 10 straight with their last home loss coming in February to Real Madrid in a match that they could have easily won. They’re healthier, in better form and will be home in an absolute fortress of a stadium. Their free-flowing total football has been almost unstoppable this season and I think Spurs are genuinely unequipped to handle it. Spurs’ press seems ineffective against Ajax and once they break that press, they can counter better than anyone else in the competition. Sadly for Spurs, they will likely have to apply that press due to the urgency of the situation and I think that will be their downfall in this one.

Some say Ajax played one of their worst Champions League matches of the season last week and they still went to Spurs and won 1-0. I fancy Ajax to win this match and move onto the Final to face Liverpool. Over 3 goals (+105) and Ajax Moneyline (+125).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo

Liverpool v. Barcelona Champions League Semifinal, Leg 2

What a title race this is becoming in England as City now sit one point above Liverpool with one match to play. The drama has been intense week in and week out and it didn’t stop this past weekend. Both teams had tough tests and both teams proved why they are having two of the best seasons in Premier League history. Liverpool needed late heroics at Newcastle as a Divock Origo scored a winner in the 86th after both teams traded goals for the whole match. Sadly Mo Salah suffered a scary head injury and looks to be out for the rest of the season, including this match agains Barcelona on Tuesday.

City meanwhile hosted a Leicester team who were totally up for it, but they prevailed 1-0 due to an absolutely insane goal from Vincent Kompany. How insane is it? It’s only his 18th goal in 11 seasons in the Premier League, his first shot on target outside of the box in 6 years and his first ever goal outside of the box. It’s by far the best goal he’s ever scored and it might be the one that wins the title for City.

Now we put that title chase on pause for the second leg of the Champions League Semifinals between Barcelona and Liverpool.

This Season’s Record: 205-161-47 (+17.4 Units)
Matchweek 37 Record: 4-2-1 (+2.5 Units)

Barcelona (3) @ Liverpool (0) (TV: TNT) – This is an odd game because Barca basically have it in the bag already and if they score one more it’ll be completely over. Second legs are also always odd because they are never normal matches. What I mean by that is that there’s usually already a score and both teams’ strategies will surely change throughout the match. When one team is up so much and has such a large cushion, you have no idea how they are going to play it, defend the whole game or try to put it away. But there was a system I used back in the Quarterfinals that worked pretty well and it has some historical data to back it. I’m going to apply that here as well.

In this season of the Champions League, 14 of the 17 2nd-leg knockout matches have had at least 3 goals. Last season, both semifinals in the 2nd leg had at least 4 goals. If we expand that stat over the last 10 years, 14 of the 20 2nd legs in the Semifinals have had at least 3 goals. Adding to that notion, every match that went 3-0 or better in the first leg (4-0, etc…) had at least three goals in the second leg, occurring three times. For this match specifically, I think it has a good chance to go over even without Salah and Firmino because both teams will be looking to score goals quickly. Liverpool have a massive mountain to climb and have no option but to go for it early and Barcelona will look to end the entire thing in the first half. Also, if you’re not properly defending Messi or Suarez then you’re in deep trouble not just on the break but if Barcelona sustain any sort of possession.

I expect Barcelona to not give in early, making sure they don’t provide Liverpool with any momentum but at the same time absorb a bit of pressure. Their goal is to keep a clean sheet in the first 30 minutes while trying to hit on the break to get that coveted away goal.

I hate the pickem line because I can’t rule out a Liverpool comeback at Anfield but I also think Barcelona could just keep running away with it. Also if Barca score first, they can allow four more goals and still go through, making the spread for either side really vulnerable. Meanwhile the over thrives in these situations. Over 3 goals (-105).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo

Barcelona v. Liverpool Champions League Semifinal, Leg 1

Ajax took down Spurs on Tuesday in pretty convincing fashion. It was clear that Spurs were missing a few key players and that their gameplan wasn’t good enough to stop Ajax’s total football strategy. Pochettino’s press did not work as Ajax consistently beat it by playing out from the back and not turning it over in dangerous areas. Spurs had trouble with Llorente up top as he didn’t provide any pace or threat on the break, allowing Ajax to maintain their shape defensively. Sissoko coming on before halftime did provide a spark for Spurs but the final product up top wasn’t there. Ajax now go back to Amsterdam with a 1-0 aggregate lead and an away goal.

This Season’s Record: 200-159-46 (+13.9 Units)
Tottenham v. Ajax: 2-0 (+3.2 Units)

I nailed both the Ajax spread and moneyline as I win back most of what I lost this last weekend. Let’s see what we can do with the other Semifinal, Barcelona v. Liverpool.

Liverpool @ Barcelona (TV: TNT) – This is obviously the better matchup on paper of the two Semifinals as arguably the two best teams in the world will face off for the right to play in the Final. Let’s break down what both teams will need to win the first leg.

Liverpool come into this one on a 10-match win streak but are in the midst of an epic title race in the Premier League. They have the best defender in the world right now and should have basically everyone healthy and available for this match on Wednesday. Their only worry is whether or not Firmino will be 100% for the match, which he is expected to be. I think this first leg will come down to three factors; Van Dijk on Messi, Liverpool’s outside backs and the need for an away goal or a clean sheet.

Obviously we all can’t wait to watch the best player of all time (if you disagree, please tweet me @nicodegallo and I will gladly put you in your place) face off against the best defender in the world. It will be crucial for VVD to slow down Messi as he’s been in amazing form especially at home recently. If there’s one defender that can do it though it’s Van Dijk as his combination of size, speed and awareness can all thwart Messi’s effectiveness. But one thing to keep an eye out is whether or not Messi will try to drop deep to avoid being constantly marked by VVD. If he can do that and force the Liverpool center backs/defensive midfielders to commit, expect it to open up some passing lanes for Barcelona going forward.

The last two factors are a little bit more simple. Liverpool’s outside backs are two of the best crossers in the world and they can cause Barcelona’s outside backs hell if they’re given space. It’ll be key for Liverpool to constantly be whipping balls in, something that will surely make Barcelona uncomfortable. They’ll also need to grab an away goal in order to get some sort of advantage or chance before coming back home. If they don’t grab an away goal, then they’ll absolutely need to keep a clean sheet. If Liverpool can muster a draw at the Camp Nou then they will certainly be favored to move on to the Final.

The only problem is that stopping Messi, especially at the Camp Nou, is a very difficult thing to do. He leads the world in combined goals and assists and it’s not even close. He also leads the world in combined goals and chances created. Just over the weekend he scored the game-winning goal to seal another La Liga title, proving the notion that he steps up in big matches at home. He even scored two of the three goals in the second leg at home in the last round against United. Another problem is that if Liverpool don’t see the majority of the ball, which is a likely possibility, they’ll have less time to feed the wingbacks going forward. And if they rely on that too much it’ll make their attack too one-dimensional, making Barcelona’s job much easier. It’s also not easy getting past this Barcelona’s defense as they’ve only let up 6 goals in their 10 matches this year including only 2 at home.

Barcelona will also be completely healthy and in form themselves. They haven’t lost since January 23rd and since the start of April they’ve beaten Atletico Madrid and Manchester United twice. They’ve now clinched another La Liga title and can focus completely on these two legs against Liverpool, something that Liverpool doesn’t have the luxury of. Another reason to worry if you’re Liverpool is that Barcelona have won their last 8 home matches with a goal differential of +16 and those matches include those three tough ones I mentioned earlier.

The keys for Barcelona are a little more simple than Liverpool’s. Barca just need to do what they’ve done all season; play their game. If they can just play the way they usually play at home (sustaining possession, feeding Messi to create, and running defenses ragged), they should see this one through. Another thing that Barca have going for them is the fact that they aren’t just Lionel Messi. They have Luis Suarez, Phillipe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and more. If they can find a way to spread the ball, forcing Liverpool to focus on threats outside of Messi, expect that supporting cast to be effective and/or provide Messi some space to receive the ball and be effective himself.

I think that Barcelona are too good, especially at home, to fade in this match. As for the entire two legs, I think it’s split even but in this first leg I think Barcelona will take care of business and win the match. Even if VVD and Liverpool slow down Messi, they’ll have to deal with Barca’s other threats up top and they’ll also have to live with not having the ball for the majority of the match. I think this all plays into Barcelona’s hands and I’m going to pick them as favorites at home. FC Barcelona (-0.5, -110).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo

Champions League R16 Leg 2 3/12-3/13

With Arsenal’s six-point swing over United, Chelsea’s dropped points against Wolves and Spurs’ blown lead to Southampton we now officially have two races at the top of the table. City and Liverpool still remain a point apart at the top of the table but it’s now third through sixth that will be fought for over the next two months as well. Here’s how the top 6 shapes out:


This Season’s Record: 161-140-38 (+0.2 Units)
Matchweek 30 Record: 6-3-1 (+3.0 Units)

The footy rolls on as we close out the Round of 16 in the Champions League this week with only one of the matchups really being out of reach and the rest still up in the air. Let’s get to it.

Tuesday, March 12th
4:00 pm EST

Atletico Madrid (2) @ Juventus (0) (TNT) – Atletico got two crucial goals in the first leg and will be in damage control mode in the second leg here as they know if they bag a goal they should be good to go through. Sitting back actually suits Madrid since they’re known as defensive stalwarts, but they’ll be facing a fresh and rested Juve side who have been unbeatable at home this season. In their 4-1 win on Friday they rested Ronaldo, Chiellini, Dyabala and Mandzukic in preparation for this match compared to Atletico who played on Saturday and started a few more starters in their 1-0 win over Leganes. Juve know they need to score goals which is what they’ve done all year at home and with Ronaldo’s Champions League track record, I love Juve to win this game at the least. We’ll see if they advance but I like them as slight favorites in this match. Juventus (-0.5, -130).

FC Schalke (2) @ Manchester City (3) – There are a couple huge warning signs for Schalke going into this match. The first being they will likely need to score three goals to overcome the aggregate score and the away goal difference (assuming City get a goal in this game). The second one being the rumors that they might not put out a lot of their first team due to injuries and due to their fight to stay in the Bundesliga as they’re only four points from safety. And third, they are 1-2-6 in their last nine matches with each of their last three matches being multiple-goal losses. Yes, City haven’t been their normal self recently, will be without Fernandinho, De Bruyne and Otamendi and have been shaky in the Champions League this season but this is their chance to right the ship in an advantageous position against a vulnerable opponent. They showed signs on Saturday that they are slowly finding their goal-scoring abilities and this will be their first back to back home match since early January. I think City will run through Schalke here and get a few early goals to put the nail in the coffin. Manchester City (-2.5, -105).

Wednesday, March 13th
4:00 pm EST

Lyon (0) @ FC Barcelona (0) – Lyon did a wonderful job keeping Barcelona at bay in the first leg but they now have to go to the Camp Nou and win, or at least keep a clean sheet long enough to put into penalties. I don’t think that will happen. But what I do think will happen is them keeping Barcelona at bay again, enough to cover or at least push the two-goal spread. Lyon have gone undefeated in the Champions League this season, beating City once, drawing City another time and now drawing Barcelona in the first leg. This is a team that has lost by more than two goals once this season, away at PSG a long time ago, and one that figured out how to limit Barca’s effectiveness in front of goal in the first leg. They allowed Barca to go at them, but stayed stout in and around the box keeping everyone behind the ball rather than getting beaten when Barca advanced the ball forward. Although this tactic often can’t last for a whole match, it can last for just long enough to cover a two-goal spread. Lyon also rested many of their starters and key players in preparation for this match over the weekend while Barca still had to start most of their main core. Barcelona will advance don’t get me wrong, but this is a Lyon team that will make that very hard on them and subsequently I’ll take the points. Lyon (+2. -120).

Liverpool (0) @ Bayern Munich (0) (TNT) – This is probably the best match overall of the week when considering the matchup and the aggregate score. Two European titans battle it out in the second leg with everything to play for after going 0-0 in the first? Sign me up. Much of this match is up in the air on paper as it could go either way. Liverpool’s defensive ability and Bayern’s offensive prowess match up so well it’s almost impossible to pick who will come out on top. But there are two things that stick out in this match that I think give Bayern an edge. First thing that jumps off the page is that Bayern will have an extra day of rest since the Premier League didn’t let Liverpool change their Sunday match against Burnley where they won 4-2. The next thing is form. Bayern has one loss since November 10th, are 6-1-0 in their last seven and during that span they have a goal differential of +12 (19 goals scored and 7 goals conceded). Liverpool meanwhile are 3-5-0 in their last eight with draws against Bayern, United and Everton. It’s not that they’re playing poorly but more that they’re not playing to the standard they will need to go to Munich and beat a red hot Bayern side. I like Bayern to win the match in the 90 minutes and advance to the Quarterfinals. Bayern Munich (-0.5, +110).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo
Facebook: Can I Kick It