Manchester United can keep it clean again in Lisbon, but Chelsea could come unstuck according to our Dave Tickner.
Benfica v Manchester United (1945 BST, BT Sport 2)
Manchester United backers have a decision to make here. On the face of it, United are rock-solid 17/20 shots. They have won six out of eight in the Premier League and two out of two in this competition, and now face a Benfica side reeling from damaging defeats in their first two games in Group A.
They were thrashed 5-0 last time out by a Basel side Manchester United had despatched 3-0 on Matchday One. And Benfica have not been pulling up trees domestically either. Since a 5-0 win over Belenenses on August 19, they’ve scored just 10 goals in nine games and already trail leaders Porto by five points and second place Sporting Lisbon by three after eight games.
Victory for United here would place one foot in the last 16 with half the campaign still to run. But – you know there was a but coming – the doubts have to surround how Jose Mourinho and United will approach this match.
Mourinho is the arch pragmatist, and this is a busy time of the season. He used as few resources as possible to secure the result he was happy with at Anfield on Saturday and may view another point earned at something less than full throttle in Lisbon as decent business. A draw followed by a home win over the same opponents on Matchday Four, and the last-16 is all but certain with two games to spare.
It makes backing United at odds-on a bit of a risk. But so poor do Benfica appear right now – even after two games, there must be doubts about how seriously they’ll take the rest of the group stage with even third place looking hard to reach – that even if United do go with avoiding defeat in mind, they may well be plenty good enough to win the game anyway.
I want United onside here, and the obvious call is to get on them to win to nil at a perfectly satisfactory 2/1. They’ve kept clean sheets in eight of 10 top-level games this season, winning seven of those eight. Benfica right now would certainly rank no higher than mid-table among the teams United have thus far faced and beaten.
Another obvious angle is the unders, but I’m wary there. United have shown more than once this season that they can blow beleaguered, beaten teams away in the closing stages.
Chelsea v Roma (1945 BST, BT Sport 3)
Chelsea are another English side in great shape coming into the mid-group double-header. They not only top the pool with six points out of six, but know that even if Atletico Madrid beat Qarabag home and away they will still be playing catch-up as long as the Blues manage to take anything from two games against Roma.
And they probably should. Roma have started tidily here, a 0-0 draw with Atleti followed by a 2-1 win over the whipping boys of Qarabag, but they have already lost twice in Serie A and went down at home to thus-far flawless leaders Napoli at the weekend.
However, can we really trust Chelsea to get the job done at short odds right now? Their Champions League efforts have been exemplary, but their domestic returns have to be a cause for concern.
The reigning Premier League champions are already in danger of slipping out of contention for this year’s title after a 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace, who had lost their first seven games of the season.
Worst of all for Chelsea, it was no smash-and-grab, write-it-off-as-one-of-those-things defeats. Palace were the better side and fully deserved the three points. If anything, the narrow margin of defeat flattered Chelsea.
Three defeats in eight games is not the start of champions, and two of those defeats have come at home.
For Roma, with two home games to come in the last three Matchdays – one a penalty kick against Qarabag – and a three-point cushion over Atleti as things stand, this trip to Stamford Bridge seems to come at the perfect time. It’s a bit of a free roll for the Italians, while Chelsea look more vulnerable than at any other time under Antonio Conte.
Roma have won three out of three without conceding a goal on the road in Serie A this season – including 2-0 at Milan earlier this month – to go with that win over Qarabag in this competition. Chelsea have lost to Burnley and Manchester City within their last six matches at home, while they could consider themselves fortunate that Arsenal left the Bridge with only a point to show for their efforts last month.
Better than 5/1 for Roma to do a number on Conte and co just looks at least a point too big here.
Best of the rest
Much of the remainder of Wednesday’s Champions League coupon pits banker against no-hoper. Atletico to beat Qarabag, Bayern Munich to beat Celtic, PSG to beat Anderlecht, Barcelona to beat Olympiakos and Juventus to beat Sporting are the sort of bets you’re going to need to throw into a big favs acca to get any kind of price.
The most interesting other game of the night, then, is perhaps CSKA v Basel in Manchester United’s group. Assuming United take at least four points from their two games with Benfica, then these two are probably playing for second spot in Group A and a place in the last 16.
CSKA look vulnerable to a 3/1 upset here, having lost three of their seven home games in the Russian top-flight to go with a 4-1 spanking from Manchester United in this competition. But Basel’s form on the road is nothing to write home about having lost already at Young Boys and St Gallen in the Swiss Super League. Throw in the long trip east and Basel, while tempting, are swerved on this occasion.
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Posted at 1435 BST on 17/10/17.