Pardon the tardiness on WagerBop’s account, readers, but to be candid, it feels like a treat that we’re previewing the upcoming UEFA Champions League matches at all.
Europe’s 2020-21 cycle will be forever marred by the “Super League” concept, the specter of up to 12 clubs threatening to detach from national and international federations and form a closed-shop league that isn’t subject to tradition or the promotion and relegation system. Such an idea – officially scrapped as of late April – would have struck a blow at the fabric of the sport itself by allowing Super League clubs to “tank” in the table and prepare for the next season without penalty.
Just as worrisome, the Premier League, UEFA, and other institutions appeared serious about potentially banning teams from competitions who were scheduling intense cycles of Super League matches, even bans that could have been effective immediately. Many of the clubs involved in domestic tournament finales, like the FA Cup, would have been in the (western) European Super League. and are now tasked in making nice with supporters who’ve been beside themselves with grief and anger.
Every club in the UEFA Champions League Semi Final except for Paris Saint-Germain was willing to join the Super League at (almost) any cost, casting doubt on how European viewers will accept the 4 teams in general. PSG is considered a heel by many UEFA fans, keeping the club from generating more worldwide buzz on a Cinderella run to the 2019-2020 Champions League Final. Maybe some of those anti-PSG supporters will see things Parisians’ way against Man City, considering that Sky Blues would have become a blue-tinted Golden Goose in a Super League context, and City’s interest in joining the break-away led others to follow.
It’s ironic that as the football controversy erupted the IIHF was forced to cancel an important women’s event in Canada, but in the process seemed to stick-up a little harder for its athletes and fans in North America, something that has been an issue with the International Ice Hockey Federation and its national squads in the past. By contrast, prestigious soccer teams of the continent stick up for their players and supporters (or unquestioning partisan loyalists, anyway) a little too hard, drunk on the power and success of owning the top brand in TV sports around the world. One malodorous moron had the nerve to call small-town supporters “racist” for caring about what would happen if 12 teams abandoned all for a glorified exhibition, instead of focusing on “other news” while clubs realigned as they may.
That’s an absurd argument, since countless lower-division clubs are stacked with talent as racially and culturally diverse as the “United Nations” squads of the Premier League and Major League Soccer, who aren’t often as financially secure as celebrity footballers. League One and League Two footballers sometimes never step onto a pitch against a Premier League or UEFA side, and a “minnow” tournament bid is an annual chance to heighten respect for the brand and get locals rushing to buy tickets, helping to turn capitalism in favor of minority athletes when EPL teams visit.
Did federations come down too-hard in self interest, threatening to halt prestigious competitions in their tracks in order to stop the mutiny? Let’s just remember that Chelsea, Man City, and the other 10 culprits weren’t planning an International Champions Cup but a consuming, complex ledger of fixtures that – even if the UEFA had relented – would have fundamentally changed the game of football in favor of elites, while flirting with a nasty American habit of “tanking and replenishing.”
In the words of a Vietnam War veteran who half-complimented Richard Nixon in 1972, “somebody better had gotta do something.”
UEFA Champions League Futures: Odds to Lift the Trophy on May 29th
Manchester City is a weird, wobbly, head-scratching favorite to win the 2021 UEFA Champions League hardware. Especially at (+130) futures odds, over 2x as short in reward and high in risk as Sky Blues’ next-closest contender in drawn bets. Controversy has been a distraction as City’s “quadruple” buzz fades again.
It’s true that the English Premier League has upped its ceiling of performance over the last several years, and that the league is finally threatening to forge a new tradition of defeating elite UEFA sides. But it’s questionable how much Man City alone has had to do with that transformation, Citizens being a brand that’s never won the Champions League and which very recently lost 2 crucial matches 7 days apart.
Leeds United earned an historic 2-1 win over Manchester City on April 10th, adding to its impressive list of top-half Premier League scalps. While the underdog won in the sort of way you’d expect to see from Ivory Coast in a circle-the-wagons performance against Argentina, it was still embarrassing for Citizens to have had a red-card generated advantage in the 2nd half and scarcely threaten to earn 3 points. Perhaps the Leeds frustration was a bad omen, but on the Saturday to follow, Man City lost to Blues of Chelsea Football Club in an FA Cup result WagerBop saw coming.
And yet there’s Chelsea at 4-to-1 UEFA Champions League odds, as if the memo on taking the Premiership’s annual CL chances with a grain of salt would only apply to Pensioners, the side that just showed the world how Man City can be conquered even when Pep Guardiola isn’t holding back artillery for the next battle. You’d really expect Chelsea to be getting more action in raise-the-trophy bets on FA Cup momentum alone. Don’t forget that Chelsea is poised for a top-4 domestic league finish. Blues seem to be underrated by bettors across competitions this spring.
Paris Saint-Germain will be the sentimental favorite at 3-to-1, but Real Madrid’s (+375) line is the best value on the board. The prevailing handicap of Parisians is that PSG can give Man City a corker in both upcoming legs, but would be likely to fade from pressure and fatigue again in a hypothetical final. That makes sense for reasons we’ll recap below. But by correlation, there is also reason to believe that whoever wins the other UEFA Champions League Semi Final between Blues and Los Blancos will have a vulnerable opponent to attack in the final round once having advanced.
Because there’s already a surplus of long moneyline and goal-total touts on the World Wide Web, we’ll focus on a full spread of quick-takes and betting leans on a spread of main markets and prop bets on Champions League Semi Final opening legs, kicking off this Tuesday in Madrid.
UEFA Champions League Semi Final Odds and Prop Bets: Real Madrid vs Chelsea
Real Madrid to win (+135), Chelsea to win (+220), Draw (+220)
If the “Draw” line pays off, it won’t be because Madrid is content to wait for an away-goals blitz and forego attacking on home grounds. In fact, one could argue that the Champions League is the only competition which grants its hosts a genuine advantage for the time being.
Real Madrid vs Chelsea First Half Goals: Over (1) (+115)
Bovada Sportsbook isn’t known for reducing juice, but the UEFA betting site could be erring in maintaining such a simple (1) goal O/U line for an opening-half prop wager. Bovada’s refusal to shift the 1st half total-goals line away from a whole number is helping the payoff odds to (+115) on the high side, a steal considering Chelsea and Real Madrid’s frames of mind.
Under prop-gamblers would contend that Real Madrid has not only posted 3 clean sheets in a row, but has played without forward numbers for much of a scoreless-draw-fest between Whites and lesser Spanish clubs. Madrid also played Liverpool to a 0-0 draw in a back leg of the recent UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. That’s some stubborn, staid football, but remember that Real Madrid was leading the tie and working to advance past Reds.
Furthermore, the Spanish club is more focused on international play when alive and kicking at this time of year, much like Manchester City. Real Madrid’s other 2 recent outcomes against top-level quality are more indicative of how the Los Blancos attack functions in big matches – a 3-1 devastation of Liverpool and a 2-1 victory over visiting Barcelona.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel may not have the same emotional style as his predecessor Frank Lampard, but has shown a superior ability to apply common sense in tactics, and certainly knows that Chelsea and Real Madrid could end the 2-legged tie drawn at 1-1, 2-2, or 3-3. Blues would prefer not to lose on the Away Goals rule if that occurs, and they won’t do it by playing not to lose on Tuesday. Madrid goals are slightly less awful in this case, while Chelsea goals in the opening leg are precious. Tuchel will look to put Christian Pulisic in space and attack the hosts’ wounded backline. If keeping a talented midfield’s numbers forward doesn’t produce a goal, Real Madrid’s ability to counter in Champions League should be questioned by nobody, even if less-famous names are playing the ball out from the back.
Lean: Over (1) First Half Total Goals
Goal Scorer Prop Bets: N’Golo Kante Anytime Goal (+1000), First Goal Scorer (+2500)
Vinicius Júnior of Madrid’s odds for First Goal Scorer and Anytime Goal Scorer are way too juiced at (+650) and (+275) respectively, thanks to the Brazilian winger’s recent breakout appearance as a 2-tally striker in the opening-leg triumph over Liverpool. N’Golo Kante, another speedster from the visiting squad, is a solid prop bet to score a goal at 10/1 odds, given that Kante will join Pulisic as keys to Pensioners’ dynamic bid for away-goals.
Lean: Kante Anytime Goal Scorer (+1000)
UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Paris Saint-Germain vs Manchester City Odds and Lines
PSG (+210), Man City (+120), Draw (+280)
Wednesday’s opening leg has been handicapped with Parisians at shorter than 2-to-1 odds, but Bovada is matching the best lines with (+210) on the underdog to win in addition to the nicest Draw odds of any book.
Man City gamblers can make analytical remarks about why they’re taking the favorite in Paris. But it is more than just the vinegar currently flowing in City’s direction that makes PSG a strong underdog from an emotional POV. Paris Saint-Germain is developing Kylian Mbappé at a frightening rate as the striker turns a superstar midfield’s handiwork into goals.
City’s victory in the Carabao Cup, and Mbappé’s thigh injury suffered in a Ligue 1 match on Saturday, are angles that could keep Manchester City’s odds thin and PSG’s odds fat. But the injury appears minor, unlikely to affect the French striker’s appearance on Wednesday. And the hosts have been lying in wait for an overtaxed Premier League squad that suddenly isn’t winning. Draw is the best market – but a bet on Paris isn’t bad.
Yes, it’s true PSG has been lucky to draw an easier and simpler schedule of fixtures than Man City over a substantial period, but pressure will mount on all sides going into May. The key is not letting skepticism of Parisians’ long-term chances to lift the trophy impact one’s handicap of what’s likely to be a 90+ minute drama in France.
Lean: Draw (+280)
PSG vs Man City Opening Leg: Total Goals O/U (3)
Bookmakers also underestimate Paris Saint-Germain’s ability to defend against top European sides. Remember, the away club’s goal total is just a little more valuable and significant than the host’s total, a rule that was intended by UEFA to enliven matches but which can make a “finesse” host with a surprise 1-0 lead play like Wolverhampton for an entire half.
PSG used defending and counter-attacking to get past Bayern Munich in the previous Champions League round, scarcely possessing the ball for 1/3rd of the opening leg despite taking a 3-2 lead. Even with more balanced possession in the back end of PSG and Bayern’s quarter final, only a single goal was scored, as Paris whipped out its defending chops again.
Player Performance Prop Bets: Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Danilo Pereira
Yet another Bovada line appears generous, (+240) on Mbappé to get at least a single shot on-target in the leg, and for PSG to win. 3 dimes added to the payout on a French side’s upset isn’t bad for what would be an almost foregone conclusion on the stat sheet. However, Mbappe has failed to earn a shot on-target in 3 recent matches, a possible sign of fatigue or frustration for the striker.
Better lines are in play on “score and PSG win” for Neymar (+470) and Danilo Pereira (+1700).
Lean: Neymar/Pereira score-and-win
Shots-on-Target Prop Bet: Kevin de Bruyne 2+ Shots (+200)
Stand-alone odds on 2+ shots on-target from Man City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne are also tempting. While his team is a shaky favorite and the match’s outcome is viewed as hinging on various forwards, consider that there are more scenarios than not in which Sky Blues midfielders will be asked to take long-range shots.
Low-percentage shots aren’t always taken by veterans with pipe-dreams about striking like Ronaldo. There are practical reasons too. If Man City is comfortably ahead or satisfied with a 2-2 draw (with 2 precious Away Goals in tow) late in the fixture, then long shots on-target – assuming PSG prioritizes organized numbers over haste when playing out from the back – can be used to get City’s midfield and backs backpedaling safely and securely. That’s a key to success when a team is as far-flung as Sky Blues, playing pressure-filled matches in 4 competitions over the past few weeks.
Meanwhile, if Paris Saint-Germain is leading in the 2nd half, expect Manchester City’s finest footballers to start raining shots from everywhere.
Lean: 2-Unit Wager on 2+ Shots (+200)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.