Real Madrid's progress to the last 16 of the Champions League is far from certain, and Kevin Hatchard believes Borussia Monchengladbach could spring a big surprise.
"Real have already lost at home to Shakhtar Donetsk, Cadiz and Alaves this season, and they face a team that has proven that it can score plenty of goals at this level."
Real Madrid v Borussia Monchengladbach
Wednesday 09 December, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Capital club fear historic failure
The most successful club in the history of European football's premier competition are now in danger of writing a chapter of unwanted folklore. Real Madrid have never failed to escape the group stage of the Champions League, and yet they have left themselves with serious work to do going into Matchday Six. Only a win will guarantee progress to the last 16 for Zinedine Zidane's struggling side, but if Inter beat Shakhtar Donetsk in Milan, then a point would be enough.
Failure here would be catastrophic and symbolic, the end of an era for a star-studded side that has dominated the competition in recent years.
Zidane has watched his side lurch from the sublime to the ridiculous with unfailing regularity this term. The weekend's gritty yet unconvincing 1-0 win at Sevilla can be added to the excellent victory at Inter, the dismissal of old foes Barcelona in El Clasico and the 4-1 thrashing of Huesca. On the other side of the coin, we see barely believable home defeats against Alaves and Cadiz, a pair of lackadaisical losses to Shakhtar Donetsk and a 4-1 hammering at Valencia.
A key factor is that Real aren't playing at the Bernabeu, but instead they are welcoming teams to the much smaller and indeed largely empty Estadio de Alfredo di Stefano.
These are hardly intimidating surroundings, and teams are taking Real on with a sense of adventure that you would rarely see them display at the true home of the Spanish champions.
Real have been given a double boost, with news that Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal could both return to the back four after injury, while Luka Jovic is back after a positive test for COVID-19. Eden Hazard is highly unlikely to feature, and dynamic midfielder Fede Valverde is still sidelined.
Will galloping Foals hit the final hurdle?
Borussia Monchengladbach have exceeded expectations in the Champions League by quite some distance, but if they fail to reach the last 16 from this position, they will have a list of regrets a mile long. They conceded last-gasp levellers in 2-2 draws with Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and had a late equaliser of their own ruled out (rightly) in last week's 3-2 home defeat to the Italians. Having elbowed their way to the front of the race thanks to a couple of convincing wins over Shakhtar, Marco Rose's team is in danger of being dragged back at the last.
At their best, the Fohlenelf are a joy to watch. French forwards Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram have seven goals and five assists between them in just five group-stage matches, while skipper Lars Stindl has chipped in with two goals and two assists. While the Rhineland side have excelled at this level, they have found the Bundesliga tougher going, dropping points in six of their ten matches so far. Saturday's chaotic 2-2 draw at Freiburg was a classic example of how their games can go - Plea and Breel Embolo both scored with fantastic strikes, but Gladbach conceded two preventable goals, and keeper Yann Sommer needed to produce a stunning series of saves to preserve a point.
Gladbach may go through even if they lose if events in Italy go their way, but it's not in Rose's nature to play carefully, and his defenders simply aren't good enough to dig in. It doesn't help that Swiss centre-back Nico Elvedi is struggling with injury. It would be a surprise if Thuram, Plea and Stindl didn't start in the front four, while the gifted Florian Neuhaus will probably partner the energetic Christoph Kramer at the heart of midfield.
Backing Real at odds-on is a leap of faith
I must admit I've sometimes walked into the trap of believing that Real Madrid's quality and experience will get them through these big games, but all too often this term they have fallen short. The return of Ramos is a boost, but it's worth remembering that he was in the starting XI for the dismal home defeat to Shakhtar and the 2-2 draw in Monchengladbach. Hazard is injured again, and he was a key player in their most convincing performance of the group stage, which was the win at Inter Milan.
Gladbach lack experience at this level, but they have saved their best displays for the UCL, and with all of their star forwards fit I think they can do some serious damage to a creaking defence that often needs to be bailed out by the goalkeeping heroics of Thibault Courtois.
Real are only 1.768/11 because of their reputation. If they can lose at home to Cadiz and Alaves, they can certainly fail to pick up the win here, and if the game is level in the closing stages and a point takes both teams through, we can't entirely rule out some kind of entente cordiale.
I'll lay the hosts here.
These two could put on another show
The first meeting between the sides produced four goals, and with both defences highly suspect, I wouldn't be surprised to see goals again, especially if events elsewhere dictate that one of the sides has to chase a win.
Gladbach have scored twice in every single UCL game so far, so backing a BTTS and Over 2.5 Goals double at 1.76 on the Sportsbook's Same Game Multi seems like a sensible play.
Red-hot Plea to strike again
Alassane Plea has been a consistent scorer for Borussia since he arrived in Germany, and this competition seems to have truly inspired him. He is priced at a chunky 5/2 in the To Score market, not bad for a player who has scored six goals across his last six appearances. It's worth considering Lars Stindl too at 16/5, especially when you consider he takes penalties.
On the Real side of things, Gladbach are shaky at set plays, and Sergio Ramos is a real danger at free-kicks and corners. The skipper also takes penalties, so he's worthy of consideration at 16/5.