It’s a big week of football action on Bet365 Sport this week and there is no doubt that while the fate of several teams in the Premier League, in terms of relegation and also which teams will claim the Champions League qualification spots remains an interest, across Europe there is a bigger story unfolding.
The semi finals arguably pits the four best teams in Europe this season against each other over two legs, home and away, with a place in the biggest game in club football up for grabs.
The Champions League semis are played in a somewhat unusual manner. Two teams (Juventus and Real Madrid) will play Tuesday this week and then Wednesday the following week giving them eight days between games, whereas Barcelona and Bayern Munich will play Wednesday this week, followed by Tuesday next, giving them just six days in between games, with potentially key league games (for Barcelona at least) in between.
That does certainly seem to put Barcelona at a big disadvantage. They have two days less to prepare for their second leg and face playing three games in six days, as opposed to Real Madrid or Juventus who play three games in eight days.
Bayern Munich I’m discounting here because they have already won the Bundesliga title, so it is likely they will rest key men in their league game at the weekend prior to the second leg against Barcelona.
So this is something we need to factor in when considering what bets from Bet365 are likely to be the most appealing to us on these games and while this will likely not be a factor until the second leg, it may well shape how teams approach the first leg games.
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Tuesday 5th May – Juventus v Real Madrid
This is the first time Juventus have contested a Champions League semi final since 2003, when they reached the final only to lose on penalties to AC Milan. Real, in contrast, are
the current holders of the Champions League trophy having beaten city rivals Atletico in the final last year.
The two teams met in the group stages of the tournament back in the autumn of 2013, with Real winning 2-1 in the home leg and the sides drawing 2-2 in Turin. This time however, the stakes are much higher than a group game.
Real have been rocked by the news that two key players, striker Karim Benzema and midfielder Luka Modric will miss out through injury, however Juventus are hoping that midfielder Paul Pogba, who will miss the first leg, could be back in time for the second leg in eight days time.
Both sides have enjoyed strong campaigns so far. Both performed well in the group stages and progressed into the last 16 with little issue. In the knockout phase, Juventus thumped Dortmund 5-1 over two legs before beating Monaco 1-0 in the last eight. Real defeated Schalke 04 5-4 on aggregate before also progressing into the semi finals on the back of a 1-0 win, in their case against Atletico Madrid.
Much will depend in this game on how Juventus very strong defence can cope with the pace of Real Madrid’s attack from wide areas, with Cristiano Ronaldo and a fit again Gareth Bale likely to spearhead an attack that could feature on loan Chicarito, Javier Hernandez, as the focal point of the attack in place of the injured Benzema.
For their part, the Italians will be hoping their resolute defensive strength will be enough to allow their creative players, most notably Chilean Arturo Vidal, Argentinian Carlos Tevez and former Real Madrid youngster Alvaro Morata a chance to grab the goals they are going to need to take into the second leg of this huge clash.
Our Bet365 tips for UK sports punters
It is very rare that you get better than even money on Real Madrid to win any game, so to see the Spanish giants at 2/1 with Bet365 Sport is a very, very tempting bet.
However, it is worth noting that Juventus have performed superbly against Atletico Madrid already this season in the group stages and when they faced Real last season at a similar time, they did manage a 2-2 draw in Turin.
Injuries to two key players will hamper Madrid, but Pogba’s omission also hurts Juventus who don’t have the same depth of talent in their squad to be able to cope as easily with injury to a player of Pogba’s calibre.
So while both Juventus at 17/10 and Real are tempting bets, my tip here is to go for the draw at 21/10. I can see both sides scoring, though I think a 1-1 draw is more likely than a repeat of the 2-2 draw of last season.
Perhaps more importantly, that is a result both sides would be relatively happy with heading into next week’s second leg in Madrid.
Wednesday 6th May – Barcelona v Bayern Munich
A repeat of the 2013 semi final which Bayern Munich won 7-0 on aggregate, but this time around expect a very different result. Barcelona come into this game far stronger in attack than in 2013 whereas Bayern, while already Bundesliga champions, are not quite the all powerful force they were just two years ago.
Part of the reason for that is injuries robbing Bayern of key men, notably Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber, with doubts over Robert Lewandowski and Frank Ribery’s fitness too.
In contrast Barcelona have almost a clean bill of health and in Neymar, Suarez (pictured) and Messi, have without doubt the best attack in world football and worse news for Bayern is that the trio are bang in form at the moment.
Both have progressed to this stage of the competition with relative ease, although Bayern’s 3-1 defeat at Porto in the last round did cause concern, they bounced back superbly to win 6-1 in the home leg to progress with relative ease. Barcelona won both legs too against a disappointing PSG in the last round and Luis Enrique’s men are yet to be fully tested in the knockout stages.
Bayern will certainly do that but if you think the Germans can win 3-0 in the Nou Camp again on Wednesday, then you obviously have not watched Barcelona play of late. Expect a home performance that could be on a par with some of the best football you are likely to see in many years.
Our Bet365 tips
Barcelona are the 8/11 odds on favourites to win the first leg at the Nou Camp and it is easy to see why. Injuries to key players for Bayern Munich, plus the fact that several other first team players who may play, may not be 100% fit, is a worry for Josep Guardiola’s men on his return to his hometown club.
Add into that Barcelona’s relatively clean bill of health and the form of their triumvirate of striking geniuses, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi and you have a recipe for a night of revenge at the Nou Camp.
Two years ago, Barcelona were humbled at this stage by Jupp Heynckes Bayern Munich team, this time around it will likely be a very different game.
Bayern still posses undeniable quality but they are far more defensively fragile this season, conceding three goals on their travels in games with Manchester City and FC Porto of late. Barcelona’s much-vaunted attack is far superior to either of those attacking line ups.
Add into that the fact that Barca fans will remember how Munich humiliated them over two legs two years ago and I think Barcelona are a strong pick here. You can take the 8/13 on Barcelona to win but a better bet may be both teams to score and a Barcelona win, which you can get 5/2 with on Bet365.