Champions League Knockout Stage - The German Clubs

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Will we see another all German Champions League final this season? With 4 clubs reaching the last 16, today Raphael Honigstein takes a look at the chances of the German clubs.

Manchester City’s tough draw against Barcelona was seen as just punishment for Manuel Pellegrini’s mathematical deficiencies in Germany. A lack of precision and preparation is considered unforgivable there. Unfortunately, group winners Bayern Munich aren’t much better off, either, however. Their re-match against Arsenal is the stand-out tie of four last 16 matches that couldn’t have brought much tougher opposition for the German team. Here’s a look at the fixtures in more detail.

Arsenal v Bayern Munich

“I was afraid this would happen,” said president Uli Hoeness on Friday, “they were the strongest opponents we could get”. It would be an exaggeration to say that the holders were shocked to be drawn against the Premier League leaders, but the sense of respect they have for Arsène Wenger’s side could not be more pronounced. “They have improved this year. They are the hardest opponent for us,” said captain Philipp Lahm. The arrival of Mesut Özil at the Emirates has sharpened the focus on the Gunners in Germany, and their good start to the season has been noted. In addition, Bayern remember the 2-0 defeat at the Allianz Arena in last season’s second leg. Curiously, the defeat proved a catalyst for both sides - Arsenal finished strongly in the league, Bayern went on to beat Juventus, Barcelona and Dortmund to lift the Champions League trophy.

It’s certainly not the draw Pep Guardiola would have preferred. The Catalan wants his players to concentrate on the Club World Cup in Morocco. But ahead of the semi-final against Guangzhou Evergrande on Tuesday night, Arsenal occupied the minds of players and officials. It’s hard to predict what kind of shape both teams will be in come mid February, but Bayern have a couple of advantages. For one, they’re squad is vastly superior in terms of depth. They can lose two or three regulars and still put out a formidable side. Arsenal are less well equipped in that respect. Secondly, there’s the winter break factor. Bayern have looked a little tired in recent weeks, as a long, successful 2013 and the demands of Guardiola’s pressing game have caught up with them. They won’t play any competitive matches for a full month before resuming Bundesliga duties on January 24th.

There’s no doubt that Arsenal will be able to hurt Bayern. But the Bavarians will be slight favourites, for the reasons mentioned, as well as another one: they tend to do well against teams who are attacking in nature, because they utilise space well. There won’t much in it though.

Odds To Qualify For The Next Round - as at 30th January

TeamBest OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Bayern Munich 1.29 77.5%
Arsenal 4.50 22.2%

Zenit v Borussia Dortmund

The prevailing mood at the Signal Iduna Park was summed well by Sebastian Kehl. “It could have been worse,” said the captain. Dortmund’s draw looks like the only one that’s pretty straight forward from a German perspective. The Russians reached the knock-out round with only six points from as many games, a new low in the history of the competition. They have Hulk, of course, “he’s a strong forward with a lot of power,” said Kevin Großkreutz. But the bigger worry pertains to the climatic conditions. Dortmund hope that it won’t be too cold in St Petersburg, and that the pitch in the Petrovski stadium won’t be too bumpy. “I’ve never been in Russia and I’m looking forward to the trip,” said Jürgen Klopp.

Zenit have plenty of decent individuals, Hulk aside. There’s striker Danny, midfielder Axel Witsel and Andrey Arshavin, albeit mostly on the bench. Somehow, Italian Luciana Spalletti hasn’t been able to get the most out of the squad.

Dortmund are confident they can go one further after surviving the “group of death” in dramatic fashion. They needed the break even more desperately than Bayern, to recharge their batteries and get one or two of their injured key players back. The Russians, by contrast, will suffer from too big a break: their league only restarts in March. A lack of match sharpness has hampered Russian and Ukrainian teams for a while. Dortmund should progress.

Odds To Qualify For The Next Round - as at 30th January 

TeamBest OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Zenit 5.50 18.2%
Borussia Dortmund 1.22 82.0%

Schalke 04 v Real Madrid

“It’s a great draw,” said coach Jens Keller. “We’re really looking forward to test ourselves against the most famous club in the world with stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas”. Does that sound like confidence to you? You wouldn’t expect Jürgen Klopp to come out with such deferential guff, and there’s a good chance Keller won’t be allowed to hiss the white flag when Schalke rock up at the Bernabéu in February: Thomas Schaaf has been lined up as his replacement. (Although they are differing reports about the start of his tenure).

With or without Keller, the Royal Blues will be rank outsiders. As they showed against Arsenal in last season’s edition of the Champions League, they can be a very decent side but unfortunately, the team has since regressed due to a combination of injuries - Dutch striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar has yet to kick a ball this season - and Keller’s uninspiring management. This tie could well be a bit of a mismatch, and reminiscent of the semi-final against Manchester United in 2011. Schalke will do well to be still in the tie ahead of the second leg. Anything beyond that would assume the qualities of a football miracle.

Odds To Qualify For The Next Round - as at 30th January

TeamBest OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Schalke 04 7.50 13.3%
Real Madrid 1.14 87.7%

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v PSG

The draw was well received at the BayArena. “It’s a challenge that we are happy to meet,” said captain Simon Rolfes, while Stefan Reinartz felt that the Parisians were “ an attractive opponent” that left his own side with a decent chance to progress. Few neutrals will back Bayer after the frankly embarrassing 5-0 defeat by Manchester United in the group stage. There’s also the memory of their 10-2 aggregate demolition (7-1, 3-1) by Barcelona at the same stage two seasons ago.

But Bayer have grown as a side since then and Paris, for all their individual brilliance up front with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, are not a complete side yet. The format should suit Bayer as well: they’re best when they can play aggressive counter-attacking football. Their 1-0 away win at Dortmund ten days ago provides the benchmark for Sami Hyypiä’s team. If Leverkusen can field their strongest starting line-up - they have little depth - they might just trouble a PSG side who could suffer from over-confidence. The French will be favourites to advance, obviously, but Leverkusen’s true chance will almost certainly be bigger than the odds would suggest.

Odds To Qualify For The Next Round - as at 30th January

TeamBest OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
B Leverkusen 4.33 23.1%
PSG 1.33 75.2%

 

 

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Follow Raphael on Twitter: @honigstein

And read more of his work at ESPNfc.com and The Guardian