One of the beauties of cup competitions is that getting a meaningful data sample for some prop betting markets is nearly impossible.
That makes games like this week’s UEFA Champions League semifinal open legs extra fun for handicappers like myself, who appreciate data but also like to listen to instinct and what little past history exists.
Of course, there is at least some relevant history between Real Madrid and Manchester City, who meet in Spain on Tuesday. And there’s too much to mention between Milan and Inter, the derby rivals who are playing in the UCL knockout phase for the third time this millennium.
Let’s look at some juicy plus-money prop wagers for two of the biggest games on the European calendar.
It will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal when Madrid mounted a stunning comeback to get the better of City and went on to win a record-extending 14th title.
City and Haaland are in imperious form. The 22-year-old Norwegian has scored 12 of City’s 26 goals in the Champions League this season. He needs five more to equal Cristiano Ronaldo’s single-season record of 17 goals for Madrid in 2013-14
Manchester City, looking unstoppable at the top of the Premier League, are seeking to become only the second English side to win the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup treble after their rivals Manchester United achieved the feat in 1999.
Real Madrid, third in La Liga and trailing leaders Barcelona by 14 points, will take heart from winning the Copa del Rey on Saturday for the first time since 2014.
And Madrid have a knack for beating English teams. This season they have knocked out Liverpool and Chelsea while last year they beat Chelsea, City and Liverpool en route to Champions League glory.
One player to watch: Rodrygo. All of the pressure will be on Karim Benzema and for good reason as he has been Mr. Champions League but with City’s strength in central defense that will require other members of the squad to step up putting all eyes on Rodrygo. He couldn’t have picked a better time to bag a brace than the Copa Del Rey final on Saturday because he’ll be needed to attack the wings and make things happen in the match.
Underrated X-factor: Aurelien Tchouameni. Luka Modric is just returning from injury and while he may start the game it’s unlikely to see Modric go more than 60 minutes which is where Tchouameni comes in. He started off hot for Real Madrid before getting injured and has struggled to impact games lately. With the talent and passing range to dominate the midfield, this is the game where Tchouameni could have his Galactico moment. City already has so many things to account for in this Los Blancos side that Tchouameni can go under the radar and make things happen.
Despite all this, the men who meet in Tuesday’s semifinal first leg (and then again in the return leg in eight days’ time) also have a deeply quixotic, angst-ridden and painful relationship with the competition. For them, this trophy is the definition of a love-hate relationship; can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
For example: Guardiola was in charge of Bayern Munich when, in the 2014 semifinals, they suffered their heaviest-ever home defeat in the history of the competition. Coincidentally, it was to Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid.
As a player, he’d have been able to add another title to the nine he and the Italian have, were it not for the agony of the equal-biggest thrashing any team have taken in a European Cup final. Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona were in their second European Cup final in two years, and a supposedly under-strength Milan missing a clutch of stars smashed the Catalans 4-0 in Athens, heralding the end of the Dream Team era and presaging Cruyff’s departure two years later.
Guardiola has coached six losing semifinal teams in his 15-year managerial career. It is an absolutely stellar record in terms of “you can’t win it unless you’re in the mix in the decisive stages,” but ultra painful in the “close but no cigar” stakes.
Equally, his teams’ eliminations in the final four have often been remarkable, bordering on the bizarre.
There was that 4-0 home defeat to Real Madrid nine years ago, which he still calls the greatest tactical mistake of his career. Beaten by the eventual winners.
Then there was the volcanic eruption in 2010 that meant his Barcelona team had to undertake the journey from Catalunya to Milan by bus because flights were grounded. Inter Milan eked out a 3-2 aggregate victory, with 10 men in the second leg. Beaten by the eventual winners.
Barcelona missed a penalty (well, Lionel Messi missed a penalty, to be more precise) to go 3-2 up on aggregate against 10-man Chelsea in the 2012 semifinals. Beaten by the eventual winners.
Guardiola, throughout his time at City, has actively had to try to convince the English players, in particular, that the Champions League matters as much, if not more, than winning the Premier League. Kevin De Bruyne stated recently that being champion of England mattered more to him. Even Guardiola himself said a year ago that if he had to “sign right now” for one of the two trophies, it’d be the Premier League.
That’s not the case at Madrid, nor has it been emblematic of Ancelotti’s career.
His two principal homes, Milan and Madrid, are the two clubs that have won the European Cup most often: 14 times and seven, respectively. At each club they view the trophy as part of their birthright, Madrid particularly so. Dominating the noisy neighbours winning Serie A or LaLiga, at the expense of Inter and Atletico Madrid still matters very much, but sitting on the European throne and lording it over a continent is something Ancelotti has thrived upon at both clubs.
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