For the first time, the final 16 in the Champions League were drawn from the Big Five, which led to some exhilarating matchups for the first round of knockout play beginning in February.
While offshore books offered a few lookahead lines, most major sportsbooks won’t have game lines until late January or early February. However, it’s never too early to look at some trends that will help inform where your money goes come match day.
Based on the draws, bettors have some clear opportunities, a few matches to stay away from and a few ties in which it’s better to wait for the first leg to transpire.
Ties to Play
— Liverpool vs. Atletico Madrid
One tie almost always comes down to the away-goals rule, and this matchup between Group E winner Liverpool and Group D runner-up Atletico Madrid may be the prime candidate.
Atletico will host the first leg Feb. 18. Diego Simeone’s side is unbeaten at the Wanda Metropolitano in UCL play this season and last lost a Champions League match at home in September 2017.
Additionally, Simeone has never lost when playing the first leg of a knockout round at home. That will provide value to bettors who play Atletico, even though most of the public will likely be on last season’s UCL winner.
It’s unlikely to happen, but if you can find books giving you 0.5 on the goal line with Atletico at home, take it. If books make Atletico the favorite and force bettors to lay goals on the GL, the total will be worth a look as both teams are defensive-minded teams.
Lastly, if you can get plus money with Atletico on the ML, that will be worth considering as well.
For Liverpool, UCL finalists the last two seasons, there’s value on Jurgen Klopp’s side in the reverse leg at Anfield.
Want to know the last time Liverpool lost at home in any competition? That would be April 2017. And like Atletico, Liverpool has never lost a Champions League match at Anfield since appointing Klopp in October 2015.
Because these teams are so close in quality, books will have no choice but to make this a tight goal line for the second leg on March 11. If you can get plus money on the Reds, play it. They have a comfortable lead in the Premier League and won’t be losing any key players in January, making Klopp’s side the clear play.
With that in mind, if Atletico races to a two-goal lead after the first match, the second-leg total would be unplayable in my mind, as books would adjust their totals accordingly. Even if it hovers around 2.5, the number I expect to come in for the first leg, you’ll see the Over juiced in the book’s favor for the second leg.
— Barcelona vs. Napoli
It was a sight like no other — Lionel Messi standing at midfield, apologizing to nearly 100,000 fans at Camp Nou for the Spanish champion’s play in the second leg at Anfield in April.
Group F winner Barcelona looks like a team on a mission. It hasn’t won a Champions League title since the 2014-15 campaign and knows it can only lose the La Liga title, making the European competition a priority.
Sure, Napoli impressed in the group stages, finishing with the highest point total among the eight runners-up. But look at Messi and company’s last five results in Champions League knockout matches at home: 3-0, 3-0, 5-1, 4-1, 3-0.
Barca is equally as impressive on the road. Since Barcelona appointed Ernesto Valverde in 2017, Barca has lost only two UCL matches, both on the road. It might be worth looking at including them in a ML parlay for the first match day with a team like Juventus, but only a single play is worth taking for the second leg March 18. If books make the goal line anything under -2.5 for Barcelona at home, take it. Should it be 2.5 and you have to lay -110 or -115 juice, it becomes a stay-away for me.
Napoli just sacked its manager, is 11 points out of a Champions League spot in Serie A and hasn’t progressed past the round of 16 since 2014-15. Betting trends and angles aside, the Group E runner-up simply doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with a prolific Barcelona attack.
Could it hold Barca to a draw in the first leg at home? Maybe, but Kalidou Koulibaly could exit in January, and Napoli might be prioritizing Serie A instead, making Barca a bet-on team in both legs of this tie.
— Juventus vs. Lyon
Not only is Juventus far and away the better team, but Lyon could be without star striker Memphis Depay for the rest of the season.
Group D winners Juventus had a disappointing quarterfinal exit last season but has progressed past the round of 16 three years in a row. Additionally, given that it plays in a league in which its winning the title is as certain as water being wet, it’s hard to envision a letdown to a short-handed French side.
For the first leg at Lyon, it would be wise to play the Old Lady in a ML parlay, as the probability of a blowout seems unlikely. Lyon held Barcelona to 0-0 draw in last season’s knockout round at home, and should Depay not play, it leaves Lyon in a position to play not to lose.
For the reverse leg in Turin, however, go all in on Juventus. Expect a GL to come in around -2.0 — I think the worst you could do in that case is a push — but if it’s anything under that number, bettors would be wise to take it. Books will almost surely put the ML at a huge number, so taking a straight-up win will be all but guaranteed but won’t provide a significant return.
As for the total, the Under will be worth a look. Juventus typically won’t blow teams out in UCL ties unless its backs are against the wall, such as last season’s 3-0 win against Atletico.
The trend worth recognizing is that in its last 10 road knockout legs, Juventus has seen the total go over three goals just twice, with one push. Especially for the first leg, if the total comes in at 3.0 or 3.5 goals, bettors will be wise to consider the Under, even if you have to lay juice to get it.
If it comes in at 2.5, there’s still some value on the Under. In the last 10 UCL knockout-round road fixtures, Juve has had seven matches finish Under 2.5 goals.
— RB Leipzig vs. Tottenham Hotspur
This is a much tougher draw for Tottenham than meets the eye. If an under-the-radar side has the potential for another Ajax-like run, Leipzig would be the team. Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner can cause problems for a lackluster Spurs defense. Who knows what Tottenham will look like when the January window closes? And the Spurs defense is so uncertain. Leipzig could have some value at home in the second leg, but we won’t know until these teams face off.
— Valencia vs. Atalanta
My gut says there’s value on Valencia, but Atalanta employs a tricky counterattack that could expose some gaps in Valencia’s defense. Group H winner Valencia has plenty of attacking threats in Carlos Soler, Ferran Torres and Denis Cheryshev, but Italian teams are known for their stout defense. Because of that, I’ll hold off on the first leg to see how Valencia approaches the match. If Valencia wins or stays within a goal on the road, I’ll consider playing it at home for the second leg.
— Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea
These teams last met in the spectacular 2012 Champions League final, and it’s a revenge spot for Bayern. The only reason this is a stay-away (for now) is that Bayern struggled last season at Liverpool in their knockout-round tie, and Chelsea is good enough at home that there’s enough unpredictability to cause concern for bettors. Wait and see if Bayern is too much for this Chelsea defense, and then look for some value in the second leg at the Allianz.
— Manchester City vs. Real Madrid
On paper, this is an easier matchup for Manchester City than most suspect. However, Real Madrid is still Real Madrid, and it could be making some moves in January that change the outlook of this tie. Additionally, City has so much ambiguity with its health on defense that it’s hard to predict how they club will line up Feb. 26. Plus, these are two of the most substantial home-field advantages in the world.
If anything, look to play the Over — juice likely will be heavy — or see if you can find good value on “Both Teams to Score” props.
— Paris Saint-Germain vs. Borussia Dortmund
Yes, PSG should win relatively easily, but the potential range of scores is high. Thomas Tuchel is going up against his former team, and his side often wins 4-0 or loses 3-0, and it’s so hard to predict which match will be which.
Plus, PSG is banged up and could have a less-than-stellar defense exposed by an aggressive Dortmund attack. With that said, if you like Dortmund, play them at home. You should be getting some plus-money on the ML. If you like PSG, wait for the home match. That’s when they’re most dangerous.