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UCL x Europa League Exclusive Preview
A chance for redemption and a huge clash between heavyweights Bayern Munich and Bayern all take place this week. We talk about them and more but before that, you can head to our Cross Sport Specials page to check out some of the special offers we have.
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Benfica vs Club Brugge
Club Brugge faces a herculean task as they head to Portugal to take on Benfica on Tuesday, hoping to overturn a 2-0 deficit. In the history of the Champions League, there have been 45 instances where a team has won by two or more goals in the first leg of a knock-out tie, and only once has the losing team managed to turn it around in the second leg to progress – Manchester United against PSG in 2019 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Benfica, who topped a group that included PSG and Juventus, is a formidable opponent and should not be underestimated. They are seeking to make it to the quarter-finals of this competition for the second consecutive year, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 1967-68/1968-1969. Domestically, they are performing well and are currently sitting at the top of the Portuguese Primera Liga, eight points ahead of FC Porto. Gonçalo Ramos and João Mário are leading the league in scoring with 15 and 14 goals, respectively, while Alex Grimaldo leads the assists chart with 7.
Scott Parker’s debut as a Champions League coach started well, but his Club Brugge team made two costly mistakes due to lapses in concentration, allowing Benfica to take advantage and win. More concerning is that the Belgian side hasn’t been particularly inspiring leading up to this upcoming match. With only 2 wins and 7 draws in their last 12 games, it’s clear they don’t pose a significant threat to Benfica. Additionally, their 3-0 loss to KV Oostende on Friday highlights the struggles of the fourth-placed Belgian team.
Benfica Form: L-W-W-W-W
Club Brugge Form: D-L-D-W-L
Benfica have only been eliminated from 3 of their 31 knockout ties in European competitions after winning the first leg. Also, 30-year-old midfielder, João Mário will be looking to become the first Benfica to score in 5 consecutive games in this competition since football icon, Eusebio in the 1960s.
- Benfica to win @1.44
- Benfica to keep a clean sheet @2.15
- João Mário to score & Benfica to win @2.50
Chelsea vs Dortmund
On Saturday, the final whistle at Stamford Bridge brought relief and joy to everyone associated with Chelsea football club, as it marked the end of a seven-game winless streak and only their second victory of 2023. Under the leadership of Graham Potter, the club has experienced a rough few months, but their recent 1-0 win against Leeds United provided a glimmer of hope. While Potter knows that advancing to the Champions League quarter-finals would win him some support from Chelsea fans and extend his time as manager, the face a team that is quietly the most in-form side in Europe.
Since the World Cup break, Borussia Dortmund has been on a roll, winning all 10 games and keeping 4 clean sheets. They have only conceded more than one goal in a single game during that time. Currently, they are tied on points with league leaders Bayern Munich but sit in second place due to their inferior goal difference. Unlike the first half of the season, where their success seemed to hinge on the performances of teenage star Jude Bellingham, Dortmund now appears to be a well-rounded team with multiple players capable of inflicting damage on their opponents. Among those players is 26-year-old Julian Brandt, who has scored 4 goals since the break and is thriving on the wings after playing mostly through the middle earlier in the season. While Dortmund has historically done well in Champions League knockout stage ties when winning the first leg, they now face a solid defensive Chelsea side that may struggle to score but can be difficult to break down.
Chelsea Form: D-L-L-L-W
Dortmund Form: W-W-W-W-W
Despite an impressive 10-game winning streak, Dortmund come into this game with history counting against them. They lost their last 5 UCL away games in England while Chelsea have fared well at home to German opposition with 6 wins and 2 draws in 9.
- Under 3.5 goals @1.36
- Dortmund to Qualify @1.61
- Over 8.5 corners @1.45
Bayern Munich vs PSG
On Valentine’s Day, when the teams faced each other in Paris, Kingsley Coman scored the game’s only goal, giving Julian Nagelsmann’s team an advantage leading up to their crucial game at the Allianz Arena. Despite losing to Borussia Mönchengladbach in their next match, Bayern currently sits at the top of the Bundesliga standings, having achieved subsequent victories against Union Berlin and VfB Stuttgart, and holding onto their position due to goal difference. Bayern has scored the most goals of any team in Europe this season, with a total of 104 across 34 games in all competitions, so we can anticipate several goals being scored against a PSG team that is equally capable of scoring many goals. While Kingsley Coman may not be the most dangerous Bayern attacker, he is still a player that Parisians should keep a close eye on, as he has scored two goals and provided two assists in his six Champions League meetings with his childhood club, and he will be eager to improve on that record.
Over the weekend, PSG won 4-2 against Nantes, with both Mbappé and Messi scoring goals, which helped the team maintain their top position in Ligue 1. PSG has now won three consecutive league games since losing to Bayern in the first leg. In the upcoming match against Bayern, it is anticipated that both star strikers will start as the two forwards in Christophe Galtier’s 3-5-2 formation, as Neymar is out with an injury. Nordi Mukiele is also expected to play as the RWB as Achraf Hakimi remains under investigation.
Bayern Munich Form: W-W-L-W-W
PSG Form: L-L-W-W-W
After winning 4 of their first 5 UCL ties against Bayern, PSG have now lost 5 of their last 7 against the 6-time champions. Bayern, on the other hand, have an excellent record at home in the Champions League, with only six losses in 50 matches at the Allianz Arena. They have only failed to score in two of those 50 games and have scored in 22 consecutive home games.
- Over 2.5 Goals @1.44
- Both teams to score @1.40
- Bayern to score 2 or more goals @2.18
Tottenham Hotspurs vs AC Milan
Both AC Milan and Spurs suffered recent domestic losses, with Milan losing 2-1 to Fiorentina on the road and Spurs falling 1-0 to Wolves, no thanks to Adama Traore’s 82nd minute winner. Spurs may be more worried about their defeat since it was their third loss in five games, which includes a loss to Milan in the first leg and Sheffield United by the same 1-0 scoreline. They have been one of Europe’s most inconsistent side, following a convincing 1-0 win over Man City with a 4-1 defeat by Leicester City, while a pair of 2-0 wins over fellow London sides West Ham and Chelsea were followed by a pair of 1-0 defeats in the FA Cup and Premier League. It is difficult to predict which Spurs team will show up. Nonetheless, Antonio Conte can take comfort in the fact that his team has advanced from their two of the last three European ties after losing the first leg.
Milan has been struggling with inconsistency as well, having suffered four consecutive defeats across all competitions before bouncing back with four consecutive wins, all of which included clean sheets. However, their winning streak came to an end with a 2-1 loss to Fiorentina on Saturday, and Pioli’s team is hoping that it won’t lead to another losing streak. Although Milan has only been eliminated in three out of their last 21 European ties in which they won the first leg, they know that a slim 1-0 advantage is not enough to secure their place in the next round. Therefore, they may need to score one or two goals in order to advance.
Tottenham Hotspurs Form: L-W-W-L-L
AC Milan Form: W-W-W-W-L
Despite a rich history in this competition which has seen them crowned champions on 7 occasions, AC Milan have struggled on their visits to England. A 1-0 win at Old Trafford in 2005 is their only win in 21 games against Premier League sides, having lost 13 and drawn 7. Even more worrying, they’ve lost their last 3 visits to London by an aggregate score of 9-1.
- Over 2.5 Goals @1.94
- Tottenham to qualify @2.35
- Both teams to score @1.74
Manchester United vs Real Betis
A European game is always important but having suffered a joint heaviest defeat in the club’s 145 year history, this game will be of extra significance to Manchester United. A 7-0 defeat is hard to shake off but that’s what Erik ten Hag’s side must do with a very solid Real Betis side visiting. Prior to their defeat to Liverpool, the Red Devils had enjoyed an 11-game winning streak and won 9 of those games. Their loss to Liverpool also marked the first time since October 16th, when they played Newcastle, that they failed to score a goal. Manchester United will be eager to make amends to their fans and may score an early goal in this game. In their previous eight European knockout ties, they haven’t lost the first leg, with a record of four wins and four draws. Furthermore, when playing at Old Trafford, they’ve only lost one of their last 11 first-leg games.
Real Betis will face Manchester United in a competitive match for the first time in the history of the club. However, they previously played each other in a friendly shortly after the World Cup, which Real Betis won thanks to a goal from Nabil Fekir. Unfortunately for Real Betis, Fekir will not be available for selection as he suffered a season-ending ACL tear last week. They are expected to take a more cautious approach, similar to the one that earned them a draw against Real Madrid on Sunday, and Manchester United, regardless of their attacking eagerness, will have a tough time penetrating their defense. However, it’s worth noting that Real Betis could also pose a threat in attack. Borja Iglesias leads the team with 10 league goals and next to him is Sergio Canales with 4 goals and he would miss this game due to an injury. You would be right to deduce that this makes them easier to contain as they have just one major goal threat but the unpredictability in attack equally poses a problem for Erik ten Hag.
Manchester United Form: W-W-W-W-L
Real Betis Form: L-W-W-W-D
Real Betis manager Manuel Pellegrini is familiar with the Red Devils having served as Man City manager from 2013 to 2016. However, his record against them while at Villareall stands out. All 4 games against Manchester United in European competitions have ended in a 0-0 scoreline. With Man Utd expected to make some changes to their starting XI (which could disrupt their chemistry a bit), it could be worth punting on.
- Score in the first 30 mins @1.62
- Man United Clean sheet (NO) @1.63
- Correct Scoreline: 0-0 @12.75
Sporting CP v Arsenal
With 12 games left in the Premier League and a strong possibility of the Gunners being crowned English Champions for the first time since 2003/04 season, it’ll be interesting to see how Mikel Arteta approaches the Europa League that many believe could be a distraction to their domestic ambitions. This will be the fifth meeting between the two sides, and Arsenal has yet to lose against their opponent, having kept clean sheets in all four previous games. Additionally, the North Londoners have a strong record against Portuguese opposition in the Europa League, having won three and drawn three of their six meetings. Despite being the stronger team, their focus on the Premier League could lead to an upset.
Sporting CP is currently far behind in their pursuit of a Champions League spot, and they acknowledge that winning this competition could be their most realistic path back to the tournament next season. Currently, they are 7 points behind 2nd place FC Porto and 5 points behind 3rd place Braga, while holding onto 4th place which only guarantees them a spot in the Conference League. Their recent track record in the UCL has not been promising, with 3 losses and a draw in their last 4 group stage games highlighting their struggles in Europe. However, their 5-1 aggregate victory over Midtjylland in the Round of 32 (in the Europa League) provided some hope ahead of this tie.
Sporting CP Form: D-W-W-W-W
Arsenal Form: L-W-W-W-W
Marcus Edwards, Paulinho and Arthur have all scored against Spurs in the UCL earlier in the season and a goal against Arsenal could see either one of them become only the same player to score against the two North London sides in a single European campaign since Youssef El Arabi for Olympiakos in 2019/20.
- Over 2.5 goals @1.98
- Double Chance: Sporting to win or Draw @1.63
- Over 8.5 Corners @1.47
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