The Champions League is back after a two-month hiatus. The Round of 16 will be played over two legs for the next month with four matches this week and the other four next week.
In case you forgot, here are the matchups for the knockout stage:
Round of 16 draw ✔️
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) December 14, 2020
Currently Manchester City and reigning champions Bayern Munich are the favorites on DraftKings to bring home the title, with Liverpool and Juventus not far behind.
2021 Champions League Odds
Based on the current futures odds, I have played two teams to win it all:
- Barcelona (+1500): Lionel Messi & Co. look much better than they did at the beginning of the season and are looking dominant. Barcelona are unbeaten over their last 12 La Liga matches and have outscored their opponents, 29-10, in that span. They have a good chance in the first leg against PSG with Neymar and Di Maria being out for the French champions. Barcelona also has the third best expected goal difference (xGD) among remaining teams behind only Manchester City and PSG. Plus, based on UEFA coefficients, Spain has been the most difficult league in the world to play in over the last five seasons, so I like Barca at a tasty +1500.
- RB Leipzig (+4500): This is more of a bet on Leipzig getting past Liverpool. If you don’t remember, RB Leipzig made it all the way to the semifinals last season and took down Tottenham and Atletico Madrid in the process. Die Roten Bullen has been the best team in Germany based on expected goals data, with a +24.3 xGD. Leipzig tactically can hang with any team in the world, a statement that was enforced by making it out of the group of death with PSG and Manchester United. In my opinion, Leipzig should be priced around +2500, so I think there is plenty of value on them at +4500.
Now without further ado, let’s get into the projections. You can use these projections to identify early betting value on the opening lines, and follow me in The Action Network App to see any bets I make throughout the week.
Note: These projections do not take injuries into account. The injury news highlighted below is for players that regularly would start in each team’s starting XI.
RB Leipzig vs. Liverpool
Liverpool have been on bad run of form and quite frankly have really struggled all season with an incredible amount of injuries.
The Reds have a major tactical problem at the moment, as well. Usually, Jurgen Klopp plays an all out high press that gives teams fits. Liverpool’s high line at the back also keeps teams from playing long balls up the field and causes most opponents to spend less time on the ball since they are forced to make quick passes.
Right now, Liverpool’s top three center backs are out for the rest of the season, so they’ve had to back off their high press so their fill-in defenders aren’t exposed.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger gives a perfect explanation of the dilemma Liverpool is going through at the moment:
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS_EN) February 13, 2021
Leipzig is the exact team that Liverpool does not want to see in the Round of 16 because they are built to beat some of the top teams in the world. Only Timo Werner is gone from last year’s squad, but Leipzig is even better than they were last year in terms of expected goals for (xGF) and against (xGA) per match.
Additionally, if you look at their match against Bayern Munich this year, you will see exactly how live of an underdog Die Roten Bullen is as Liverpool employs a lot of the same tactics as Bayern Munich.
Unfortunately for RB Leipzig, this match has to be played in Budapest, Hungary, due to COVID-19 restrictions between Germany and England. Either way, Liverpool is one of the favorites I see potentially going down in the Round of 16.
RB Leipzig: Emil Forsberg (CAM) is questionable.
Liverpool: Virgil Van Dijk (CB), Fabinho (CM), Joe Gomez (CB) and Joel Matip (CB) are out. Naby Keita (CM), James Milner (CM) and Diogo Jota (CAM) are questionable.
Barcelona vs. PSG
Barcelona and PSG meet again in the Round of 16. What happened the last time these two faced off in the knockout stage you ask? Well, only the greatest comeback in Champions League history.
Now, things are a little different four years later. Neymar is at PSG, Luis Suarez is playing for Atletico Madrid and Edinson Cavani is at Manchester United.
One thing still remains, Lionel Messi. The greatest player ever has been on an absolute tear over the past two months in La Liga, netting 11 goals and three assists in his last 10 appearances, including two stunning goals against Alaves over the weekend.
⚽ Trincao 29'
⚽ Messi 45+1'
⚽ Rioja 57'
⚽ Trincao 74'
⚽ Messi 75'
⚽ Firpo 80'
You're going to want to watch these Messi goals 🤩pic.twitter.com/YeRn5x775Q
— Goal (@goal) February 13, 2021
Barcelona as a team has been in really good form ever since group play in the Champions League ended. They are unbeaten over their last 12 matches and have put up a +18.92 xGD in that span.
PSG, meanwhile, hasn’t been that dominant in France this year, as they currently trail Lille for this top spot. In fact, PSG only have one win in five matches vs. the top-six teams in France. They also will be coming into this match shorthanded, as two of their main goalscoring threats will be on the sidelines.
Barcelona: Gerard Pique (CB) and Ansu Fati (LW) are out. Sergi Roberto (RB) and Philippe Coutinho (CAM) are questionable.
PSG: Neymar (CF) and Angel Di Maria (RW) are out. Marco Verratti (CM) and Rafinha (CM) are questionable.
Sevilla vs. Borussia Dortmund
Nobody is really talking about the run Sevilla has been on since the group stages ended. They’ve won nine of their last 12 matches in La Liga and beat Barcelona, 2-0, last Wednesday in the Copa del Rey. Their defense has been amazing, allowing 0.98 xG per match over the last two months.
Tactically, Sevilla use a fantastic blend of pressing and defensive structure. Depending on their opponent they may press high up the field or sit back and take away key passing lanes in the middle. That matches up well against Dortmund, who have an unrelenting attack starring Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho.
If anyone can figure out when the real Dortmund squad decides to play up to their potential, let me know, because they’ve been on an absolute roller coaster this season. They currently sit sixth in the Bundesliga and only have one win in their last six matches.
The problem for Dortmund coming into this match is they will be really shorthanded with a lot of key players out due to injury, especially defensively.
Sevilla: Jesus Navas (RB) and Lucas Ocampos (LW) are out. Marcos Acuna (LB) is questionable.
Dortmund: Roman Burki (GK), Thomas Meunier (RB) and Axel Witsel (CM) are out. Thorgan Hazard (CAM) is questionable.
Porto vs. Juventus
Porto was the only club outside of the major five European leagues to make it to the knockout stage. The reason they are here is because of their defense, which has been a fortress in Primeira Liga play, allowing only 0.83 xG per match. The reason for that is because they play out of a 4-4-2 formation, which is one of the most defensive formations in soccer.
Tactically, I expect Porto to park the bus in front of the 18-yard box and dare Juventus to beat them by playing the ball out wide. Porto also have some experience at the back with former Real Madrid defender Pepe and former Newcastle defender Chancel Mbemba, so they are equipped to handle Juventus’ attack.
It’s been a nightmare first season for new manager Andrea Pirlo, as Juventus is currently in fourth place in Serie A. They lost, 1-0, to Napoli over the weekend and have only two wins in seven matches against the top-seven teams in Italy.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been really their only goalscoring threat, having been involved in 19 of the team’s 40 goals.
Pirlo has switched Juventus to a 4-4-2 this season which has been met with great results, as they’re averaging 2.19 xGF per match, while only allowing 0.97 xG. So with both teams playing out of a 4-4-2, this is likely going to be a very defensive contest.
Juventus: Juan Cuadrado (RB), Aaron Ramsey (CAM), Arthur (CM) and Paulo Dybala (CF) are all questionable.