In most football tournaments – even knockout ones like the FA Cup – there comes a point in time where, as punters, we’re challenged to add incentive into the mix and come out with the right conclusion.
When it comes to the Champions League, the arrival of this point varies across groups and the teams within them. How motivated will Athletic Bilbao be to scrap for a Europa League spot? How much will PSG sacrifice to beat Barcelona to top spot? And, perhaps most importantly of all on Tuesday night, will Bayern Munich let Manchester City off the hook?
Manuel Pellegrini’s side could do with the help but the Chilean isn’t expecting any.
“No, Bayern never take it easy,” he said after his side had come from behind to beat Swansea in the Premier League. “Big teams never take one game easier. We are going to see a very good Bayern on Tuesday.”
Casting aside the myth that big teams never take it easy, I think Pellegrini is absolutely right otherwise.
Bayern, already guaranteed top spot in Group E having won their four games by an aggregate of 11 goals to one, could be excused for easing off. But while City have been awful in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola will surely not pass up such a fantastic opportunity to strike a knockout blow considering the stature of the opposition.
Don’t forget, after Tuesday night Bayern are just six games away from their Christmas break, a period in which City will play no fewer than six more Premier League games. If either side has cause to ease off, you might even believe it could be the hosts – do they really want to fall into the Europa League?
Of course, I don’t really expect City to toss this one aside – while the prospect of Champions League knockout football remains, nothing but absolute commitment will do. But nor do I expect their visitors to be anything but fully tuned up and that’s why I think Bayern are a fantastic bet at odds against.
Truth be told, City haven’t impressed me at any point this season. Laboured against 10-man United, let off the hook at Arsenal and met with no resistance by Liverpool, they just don’t look at the races and it’s a sign of their league’s weakness and not their own exploits that I’d still be shocked were they to finish anywhere other than second to Chelsea come May.
At this level, though, they’re on the way out and may well be put out of their misery on Tuesday. City face a Bayern side who’ve won 15 and drawn three of their last 18 games, who’ve scored eight goals via six players in their last two in the Bundesliga and who ran in seven at Roma earlier on in this competition.
Of course, we have also to note that these sides have met five times over the last three years and it’s only 3-2 to Bayern in terms of match wins. However, that alone suggests odds-against is more than fair and I’m of the belief that never have they met a less cohesive City unit.
That lack of cohesion will not be helped by the absence of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Fernandinho and while Sergio Aguero alone is capable of winning any game of football, I see Bayern dominating possession from the start and overpowering opponents who are still short on confidence.
Munich have a wealth of options including Bastian Schweinsteiger, who marked his return to the side with an assist on Saturday and, returning to the original point, I feel that 6/5 is a price which suggests they won’t be as concerned with the result as City are. I disagree.
Elsewhere on the coupon, bookmakers will be looking for a turn-up but it’s hard to see from where it might come.
PSG have really found the skill of turning tight games into three points and should be a goal or more too good for Ajax, while their pursuers Barcelona should also win in Cyprus. In both instances, the underdogs could be worthy of support on the handicaps but both Barca and PSG have the firepower to make such wagers appear very foolish, very quickly.
If there is a team to swerve at short odds it might be Sporting Lisbon, who look too short to beat Maribor at around the 1/3 mark.
Maribor’s 6-0 thumping at Chelsea would suggest otherwise but that appears the exception as they’ve generally acquitted themselves well, and it can only be a significant boost to their confidence that they held the same side to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture just a fortnight later.
As for Chelsea, they will confirm top spot if they win in Schalke and while a draw would leave them as long odds-on favourites to do so ultimately, Jose Mourinho will surely be keen to get things wrapped up as soon as possible.
His side didn’t have to work hard to beat 10-man West Brom at the weekend so there’s no issue there and it may be telling that they don’t face City, Arsenal, United or Liverpool until the very end of January – worrying for those who want the Premier League title race to be anything but a procession come the spring.
For Schalke is another chance for Roberto Di Matteo to get one over his old club but he doesn’t look to have the tools to do so. That said, a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge coupled with the fact his side have an unbeaten home record to defend does offer some hope of an upset.
I like this Chelsea side, particularly when the end-goal is clear, and expect them to win, but the best bet looks to be both teams to score at 4/5.
Schalke have found the net in every home game, including when holding Bayern to a 1-1 draw earlier in the season, and even without the injured Julian Draxler they have enough about them to contribute to an entertaining game having scored three inside the opening 25 minutes against Wolfsburg on Saturday.
Both teams have scored in eight of Chelsea’s nine away games – that includes trips to the likes of Shrewsbury and Maribor – so rather than rely on the visitors, at the same price it may pay to bank on action at both ends.