Champions League best bets: Manchester United to struggle against Barcelona as Juventus take on Ajax


Having orchestrated one remarkable Champions League comeback against PSG in the last round,  Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to mastermind another if Manchester United are to progress to the semi-finals.

United played well, up to a point, in their 1-0 first-leg defeat against Barcelona at Old Trafford but they failed to muster a shot on target and face a daunting task to turn matters around at the Nou Camp.

Although drawing 0-0 away at Huesca in their La Liga match at the weekend, Barcelona had the luxury of resting Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique for that game and their players will be fighting far less fatigue than Manchester United’s players, who conceded 57 percent possession to West Ham at the weekend and were fortunate to win 2-1.

Manchester United’s record of two wins in their last six games in all competitions is worse than at any time during Jose Mourinho’s reign and the standard of their performances have declined alarmingly since the amazing result in Paris at the beginning of last month.

Manchester United were 20/1 to qualify after being beaten by PSG at Old Trafford in the last round and are a best-priced 9/1 to progress here.

However, it’s difficult to conjure up a scenario in which Manchester United fail to concede a goal at some point tonight.

Barcelona has scored 72 goals in 24 games, an average of three goals per match, at the Nou Camp in all competitions this season and has found the net at least once in every game in front of their own fans.

That average of three goals per game is perfectly mirrored by their Champions League performances, with Barca scoring 12 goals in their four matches in that competition and whomever Solskjaer selects in defense will face a tough examination.

Barcelona are 2-5 to win tonight’s match and that looks a solid price but for punters not interested in weighing in at short prices, there is plenty of potential bets to be had.

Given Barcelona’s goalscoring prowess and the class differential between their attackers and Manchester United’s defenders, combining a Barcelona victory with over 3.5 goals and over 4.5 goals could be the way to play.

A home win featuring more than 3.5 goals can be backed at 9/5 while a Barca success and more than 4.5 goals is available at around 10/3.

Messi has scored 108 goals in the Champions League and is priced at 1/2 to score at any time during the match but it might be worth noting the Argentinian has scored four hat-tricks this season and has scored at least twice in 12 games this season. Messi is priced at just 9/1 to score a hat-trick in this game and, to put that in perspective, Luis Suarez is next in the market at 22/1. Romelu Lukaku is priced at 200/1 to score a hat-trick with Marcus Rashford at 300/1.

Juventus v Ajax

Juventus are priced at 4/1 to win this season’s Champions League but they face a tricky test against a talented young Ajax side who beat Real Madrid 4-1 in the Bernabeu to reach this stage.

With the tie delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg in Holland, Juventus have been priced at 4/6 to win the match, with Ajax available at 9/2 to win and 9/4 to qualify.

As superb as Ajax were in Spain to knock out the reigning champions, Juventus will be far less open defensively and more difficult to break down than Real Madrid but Ajax does have the flair to cause ageing Juventus defense problems.

Ajax has scored an away Champions League matches against Bayern Munich and Real Madrid this season so it could be worth backing them to find the net again here. Both teams to score in this match can be backed at 4/5, while both teams to score and over 2.5 goals look attractive at around 5/4.

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