Barcelona v Roma
Wednesday April 4 19:45
Live on BT Sport 3
Minor blip nothing to worry about
Barcelona suffered a minor blip (by their high standards) when drawing 2-2 at Sevilla. And they needed two very late goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to even get that.
But then again Sevilla are a tough nut to crack as Manchester United found out and you could have forgiven Barcelona for having an eye on this match. And it's not like it will make much of a difference any way; they're nine points clear of Atletico Madrid in the La Liga table anyway.
They were unbeaten in the group stages of the Champions League and thrashed Chelsea in the last 16 stage so have enjoyed this competition this year.
Key men struggling to be fit
Roma will have been delighted to have got the better of Shakhtar in the previous round. Edin Dzeko's winner at home was enough to see Roma go through on away goals and the campaign will have boosted their coffers so they'll already see this run as a success, whatever happens from here.
They also drew at the weekend and it was Dzeko again with the goal, despite only having come on as a 61st minute substitute.
Coach Eusebio di Francesco will be sweating over the fitness of Radja Nainggolan and Cengiz Under. The former hobbled off in that weekend draw while Turkish star Under missed the game entirely after picking up an injury on international duty.
Bad omens for Roma
At first glance it may seem that 1.251/4 on Barcelona is a little insulting to Roma but closer inspection suggests it's not that much of a travesty. Barca beat them 6-1 the last time they met, are unbeaten in nine successive Champions league games (scored 13, conceded two) and haven't lost any home games in the last 25 they've played. In that period they've outscored their opponents 77-12. All stats courtesy of Opta.
All the stats mentioned above suggest that not only will Barcelona win this but they should do it pretty comfortably.
Just so you get an idea of how well Barcelona have defended at home of late, they've kept clean sheets in 10 of their last 12 in all competitions. Maybe it's not that surprising; it's hard to score goals when you don't have the ball for long spells of a game.
I'm always a big believer in having some sort of yardstick to measure how a team might perform and I'd put Roma at the same sort of level as Chelsea, who Barca beat 3-0 last month. Not only from a from the point of view of how well they're playing and the resources they have in terms of players but in this case, they finished with the same 11 points in Group C.
Barcelona won't be wanting to leave anything to chance here and will be looking to do all the hard work in the first leg. It's not that ambitious to think they can score three or four goals here and plenty of numbers suggest they can do so without conceding themselves. Splitting stakes between 3-0 and 4-0 could be the way to go. 3-0 is 7/1 with 4-0 available at 12/1 on Betfair Sportsbook.
I don't know about you but I had to take a second look when I saw Lionel Messi was available at 10/3 to score two goals or more.
There may be some concern that he sat out Argentina's two friendlies last week but that just seemed like a precaution and though he started on the bench at the weekend, again that was just to make sure he was fully fit for this one.
Absurdly, you'd say that it hasn't actually been that great a season for Messi given that he's 'only' scored 39 goals in 48 games. But he has also scored two or more goals on 10 occasions this season and I wonder whether that week off actually did him some good and that he'll be fresh and raring to go here.
Apologies for going on about that Chelsea match but it's worth remembering he scored two in that one and he's certainly not the sort to go missing on the biggest stages. Wednesday night could be a stark reminder of what he can do.
Ousmane Dembele will probably play as part of the front three with Philippe Coutinho cup-tied but his quote of 12/5 is worth swerving. In 15 games so far this season he's scored just once. Hardly great numbers for a Barcelona forward.
So if you're looking beyond Dembele, Messi and Suarez you may want to consider Ivan Rakitic (6/1) or Gerard Pique (8/1). Both are big-game players with a knack of scoring in important games.
If you want to ignore the stats about Barcelona clean sheets then look no further than Edin Dzeko for a Roma goalscorer. He's not exactly in Messi territory when it comes to goals but has 20 from 42 matches in all competitions this season and has four in his last four. He's 3/1 to score anytime.