UCL Wednesday Morning Best Bets: Round of 16 - 1st Leg
Resurgent United look to draw first blood against depleted PSG.
Manchester Utd vs. PSG
It really is incredible how quickly things change in football. When Manchester United and PSG were drawn out of the Champions League hat together back in December, an audible shudder was heard around the city of Manchester – the red half, anyway.
It was during the dark days of Jose Mourinho, where United were meandering to a 6th place Premier League finish and an early European exit.
No such fears exist anymore.
It’s fair to say Ole Gunnar Solskjær has turned the fortunes of Manchester United around somewhat, and they now head into this first-leg with PSG as favourites – something inconceivable a couple of months ago.
Not only have United won 10 of their 11 games under the Norwegian, but PSG have some serious problems of their own. Thomas Tuchel will be without Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Thomas Meunier on Tuesday – three crucial cogs in the PSG wheel, it’s fair to say – which may well tip the balance in United’s favour.
PSG have certainly gained a (well-deserved) reputation for flattering to deceive in the Champions League when it really matters – a certain evening in Barcelona springs to mind – and with poor away performances against Liverpool and Napoli under their belts already this season, I can see them being swallowed up at Old Trafford.
I’m backing United to win this first-leg.
Roma vs. Porto
Roma’s Champions League tie with Porto has a mouth-watering feel to it. Both sides will believe they have a fantastic chance of progressing, and it’s looking particularly tough to call a winner after the two legs.
The Italian side are enduring a fairly average season in Serie A, currently lying 6th and one point off the Champions League places, while Porto lead the Primeira Liga by a single point.
Sérgio Conceição’s men enjoyed an excellent group stage campaign – winning five and drawing one of their six matches against Schalke, Lokomotiv Moscow and Galatasaray. Roma, who finished second behind Real Madrid, won three of their four matches against CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen while twice succumbing to the holders.
Crucially, Porto will be without both Vincent Aboubakar (who has been injured for most of the season) and Moussa Marega – their two main strikers - giving Roma the edge on Tuesday.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s side have lost just once at home this season in Serie A, and considering Porto have stuttered to three draws in their last four on the road, a narrow home win is certainly the most likely result.
The free-scoring nature of Roma is the primary reason as to why they’re so strong at home. 28 goals in their 11 Serie A matches at Stadio Olimpico is a tasty return, and top-scorer Stephan El Shaarawy has been right in the thick of things.
The Italian has eight goals in his 15 league appearances, and he’ll be keen to subject Porto’s defence to more torment.
My best bet is for El Shaarawy to score and Roma to win. It wouldn’t surprise me if Porto turned this tie around at Estádio do Dragão, but the first-leg will likely belong to Roma.