RB Leipzig v Manchester City
Wednesday night sees RB Leipzig host Manchester City in the Champions League Round of 16. After just one point from two games, RB Leipzig’s 3-0 win against European chasing Wolfsburg at the weekend will give the Saxony club confidence heading into this clash. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City meanwhile dropped points against Nottingham Forest despite playing their strongest squad.
Marco Rose has been handed a huge boost heading into this fixture. After three months out, Christopher Nkunku returned to training last week and completed 25 minutes against Wolfsburg, assisting Konrad Laimer for RB Leipzig’s second. Whilst he’s unlikely to start, Nkunku, who’s Leipzig’s top scorer by a considerable margin, offers a threat off the bench should Rose need him. However, over 180 minutes, Rose will be wary as to not aggravate the injury further with the club still fully in the Bundesliga title race.
Against Wolfsburg, Leipzig reverted to a 4-2-3-1 and we can expect Rose to opt for the same formation, especially if Nkunku doesn’t start. Timo Werner, Emil Forsberg and Dominik Szoboszlai will play behind Andre Silva – goals are shared amongst the quadruple with no primary source for goals in Nkunku’s absence. Willi Orban also returns to the squad after donating stem cells – the captain’s experience at this level will be crucial alongside Leipzig’s younger players.
Chances will always come aplenty with Leipzig’s attack. Only Bayern Munich are averaging more than Leipzig’s 8 Per 90, and only Bayern have a higher pass completion than the Red Bull club.
As for Manchester City, any team with Erling Haaland in will be difficult to stop. The Norwegian already has 5 goals in 4 Champions League games this season and has 26 in the Premier League. Against Nottingham Forest they weren’t their clinical self, converting just 1 of their 10 chances.
Guardiola’s side lead the Premier League for Accurate Key Passes Per 90 (6), Shots on Target (6) and Goals Per 90 (2.5) and so we’re going to see two teams that like to attack go head-to-head. Manchester City haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last four games and Leipzig have only kept two in their last 10. Both teams will be wary with the second-leg in mind, but if Manchester City find their form, this leg could be over before the return fixture. But expect Leipzig to also score, with Over 2.5 Goals offering good value.
Inter Milan v Porto
Sérgio Conceição’s second season in charge of FC Porto would see them top their UEFA Champions League group and advance to the Round of 16, where they would lose 2-1 in Rome and win draw in Porto to force extra time, with Alex Telles scoring a penalty in the 117th minute to secure victory for the Dragons. Two years later, they faced off against Juventus, taking the lead within two minutes via Mehdi Taremi and doubling the scoring after the break from Moussa Marega, only for Federico Chiesa to grab one back for the visitors. The second leg would see Porto open the scoring within a quarter-hour from the penalty spot via Sérgio Oliveira only to concede another goal to Chiesa in the 49th minute, with Taremi receiving a red card and Chiesa completing his brace shortly after to send the time to extra time. Porto received a free kick from 30 yards out with Oliveira curling a low shot into the bottom left corner, with Adrien Rabiot scoring immediately after but unable to inspire another goal – Porto persevered and tasted victory in Turin, before losing to the eventual champions in the quarterfinals for the second time in three years.
The following season would see Porto beat Milan 1-0 at home and draw 1-1 in Italy, before losing their next two matches to finish third in their group, relegating them to the Europa League. The Dragons beat Lazio 2-1 in the first leg with Matteo Zaccagni opening the scoring and Toni Martínez scoring a brace before coming away with a 2-2 draw in Rome – Lazio scoring in the 95th minute – only to lose to Lyon in the following round. Since then, they have won a domestic double, the first two trophies of the 2022/23 Portuguese football season (Supertaça and Taça da Liga), and are alive in the Taça de Portugal semifinals and the Champions League, having lost their first two matches but nevertheless winning their next four and topping their group to set up a match-up with Inter.
Both sides occupy second place – Porto sit two points behind Benfica (who have a game in hand), whilst Inter sit 15 points adrift league leaders Napoli. Romelu Lukaku’s return to San Siro has not gone as expected with the Belgian striker struggling to recover his Scudetto-winning form of 2020/21 after an injury-filled campaign, the Chelsea loanee having his first penalty saved before scoring the retaken effort to open the scoring within 20 minutes as Inter defeated Udinese 3-1 at the weekend, taking his tally to 2 goals in 11 Serie A matches this season. Lautaro Martínez (13 goals) and Edin Džeko (7 goals) have been Inter’s top two scorers but have nevertheless been unable to inspire the same scintillating magic of the past two seasons that has seen Inter win their first league title in 11 years and miss out on the title on the final day of the campaign.
They nevertheless arrive at the match on the back of some impressive defensive results, having beaten Napoli 1-0 (their only league defeat of the season) to start the year before drawing 2-2 to Monza, beating Parma 2-1 in the Coppa Italia, Milan 3-0 in the Super Cup, before losing 1-0 to Empoli, beating Cremonese 2-1 and beating Atalanta 1-0 to advance to the Coppa Italia semifinals. Simone Inzaghi’s side begun February with a 1-0 victory against Milan before drawing 0-0 to relegation battlers Sampdoria and beating Udinese 3-1, and they will be taking on a Porto side that has conceded just three goals since the start of December and that has won all but one match – a 0-0 draw to Casa Pia on January 7 – in that time frame. I’m expecting a fairly even battle in Milan in what should be a low-scoring affair. Porto have not lost since October 21 and despite dealing with an injury crisis that has seen several attacking weapons like Otávio, Wenderson Galeno, and Evanilson, they have the organization and discipline to deal with an Inter side that has been held scoreless by Bayern (twice), Juventus, Empoli and Sampdoria this season.
El Nacional v Independiente Medellin
El Nacional’s debut in the tournament could not have gone any better. A 9-2 aggregate score-line over Bolivia’s Nacional Potosi was the dream start, but now the competition gets serious.
The Ecuadorians ran riot against Potosi, but a poor defensive error and cheap free kick gave away goals in both ties – something Medellin will be looking to also expose.
The Colombians haven’t endured a strong start to their domestic campaign, although they’ve only failed to score in one of their last five matches.
With El Nacional desperate to take a lead into the away leg. They will be on the offensive in front of their own fans, and are capable of picking up goals from an array of players as we saw against Potosi.
However, Medellin will welcome the domestic break and chances will certainly arise on the counter-attack.
Luciano Pons and Diber Cambindo scored 36 goals between them last campaign, and will look to be a threat to El Nacional’s vulnerable back line.
Both teams to score at 1.90 appears to offer plenty of value on the surface.
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