Champions League Tactical Preview: Verratti v Busquets and other key battles

Zidane's Real could lose a high-scoring tie against Napoli
Zidane's Real could lose a high-scoring tie against Napoli
  • vs

Alex Keble takes a look at the four midweek Champions League games and picks out the key features, including Dortmund's shaky defence and Real Madrid's new formation.

"Verratti makes more tackles (3.4 per game) than any other PSG player, and so his ability to harass the Barcelona defenders will be crucial. Sergio Busquets, who has not enjoyed the best of seasons, must use his composure and intelligence to control the game from the base of midfield and outmanoeuvre Emery's furious counter-press."

PSG v Barcelona

Verratti v Busquets
Tuesday, 19:45, Live on BT Sport 2

The most fascinating game of the round sees Unai Emery's high-tempo, high-pressing PSG take on a similarly frantic Barcelona. Both sides like to play long, direct passes into their quick front-three, which should create an open contest with plenty of goals. Barca are favourites, but Marco Verratti's ability to lead the counter-press should ultimately decide the outcome.

Barcelona's inconsistent away form (they have drawn two of their last four in La Liga, against Real Betis and Villarreal) is largely because their opponents defended aggressively from the front. A brave, confrontational defensive system can force Samuel Umtiti into aimless clearances, while penning in the deeper Barca players often cuts off the supply line to MSN; Luis Enrique's directness means that all three players remain high, which leaves them isolated against organised, high-pressing opposition.

rsz_statszone_3.png

Verratti makes more tackles (3.4 per game) than any other PSG player, and so his ability to harass the Barcelona defenders will be crucial. Sergio Busquets, who has not enjoyed the best of seasons, must use his composure and intelligence to control the game from the base of midfield and outmanoeuvre Emery's furious counter-press.

Recommended Bet
Back over 2.5 goals at 4/5

Benfica v Dortmund

Mitroglu & Jonas v Dortmund's shaky back three
Tuesday, 19:45, Live on BT Sport 3

As the pressure increases on Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund's game against Benfica has taken on renewed significance. Rui Vitoria's team top the Primeira Liga and, with their strike partnership on form, could add to the German outfit's woe on Tuesday evening. Benfica's 4-4-2 should clash uncomfortably with Dortmund's 3-4-3, with the home side most likely to benefit.

Benfica are a counter-attacking side who will sit rigidly in their lines and refuse to let Dortmund break quickly into the final third. Absorbing pressure against this confidence-stricken side is an achievable goal, and at the other end Jonas and Kostas Mitroglu - who have scored a combined 11 goals in their last 15 games - might physically dominate a disorganised back three.

Darmstadt's 2-1 win at the weekend was characterised by haphazard communication in the Dortmund defence and the two wing-backs' failure to help out sufficiently. These lapses will surely occur as Benfica break, particularly since Jonas and Mitroglu are such imposing figures; 33% of their total goals scored this season (five out of 15) have been headers.

Recommended Bet
Back Benfica to win at 9/4


Real Madrid v Napoli

Ramos v Hamsik
Wednesday, 19:45, Live on BT Sport 3

Zinedine Zidane surprised us with a 3-5-2 formation for the 3-1 win at Osasuna at the weekend, and it is possible that this experiment was in preparation for Wednesday's Champions League tie against free-scoring Napoli. With Marek Hamsik enjoying new-found creative freedom from a deep midfield position, Zidane may be looking for a way to nullify the Slovakian's late runs from deep.

Hamsik's hattrick in Napoli's 7-1 destruction of Bologna will have worried Zidane. With Dries Mertens looking unplayable of late, Real could become preoccupied with the Belgian and miss Hamsik's charges into the penalty area. This, perhaps, is why Zidane played a third central defender at Osasuna.

rsz_1statszone_2.png

Sergio Ramos will be the man to lead this new formation, and is the most likely to step out from the back line to meet Hamsik. The head-to-head between these two players could prove decisive in what should be a high-scoring match at the Bernabeu.

Recommended Bet
Back Hamsik to score any time at 13/5


Bayern Munich v Arsenal

Robben & Costa v Arsenal's work-rate
Wednesday, 19:45, Live on BT Sport 2

Arsene Wenger has developed a habit of playing defensive, counter-attacking football against strong Champions League opponents in recent years, and so it is not impossible that his team will grind out a positive result. However, as Bayern try to stretch the pitch we can expect a familiar defensive laziness to develop down the flanks.

Alex Iwobi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Danny Welbeck all renege on defensive responsibilities, and thus are unlikely to sprint back to defend after a counter-attacking opportunity breaks down. This is when Bayern, who have scored just 10 goals in their last seven matches, can expect to find some joy in the final third. Arjen Robben and Douglas Costa will cause havoc behind the Arsenal wingers, which in turn will force Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin out of their comfort zone.

If the match remains goalless at half-time then Bayern's fragile confidence might open the door for the Gunners, whereas an early home goal will most likely lead to a familiar Arsenal capitulation. The work-rate and focus of Wenger's wingers, then, is vital from the first kick of the game.

Recommended Bet
Back under 2.5 Goals at 13/10

Get a Free £/€20 Exchange Bet

  • Join Now - Open account using promo code VAL225
  • Bet - Place a £/€20 Bet on the Exchange
  • Earn We'll Refund You £/€20 If the Bet Loses

T&Cs apply.

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles