The Champions League semifinals are here and the matchups couldn’t be more exciting. We have a rematch of last year with Real Madrid and Manchester City after Madrid broke the hearts of City fans with late-game heroics. On the other side, we have one of the best derbies in all of Europe between Inter and Milan.
Let’s try and figure out who will be heading to Istanbul.
Manchester City-Real Madrid
A rematch of last year’s epic semifinal and this time there is a new addition, the world’s best goal-scorer in Erling Haaland. The tie will kick off in Spain, which is where it ended last season when Madrid pulled off a miraculous three goals after the 90th minute to advance to the finals.
Despite the dramatics of last year, City are sizeable favorites to advance to the next round with the number set at -350.
I have Manchester City advancing to Istanbul, but to look at a number like that is a bit much for me. Regardless of what I think of City it still isn’t worth placing a number on them like that when the first leg hasn’t even been played. In this competition (as proven last year) taking a -350 number seems a bit naive.
Over last year’s two legs that excluded Haaland, we saw a total of 11 goals. With Manchester City in great form and Real Madrid winning yet another final this weekend with the Copa Del Rey, I am going to ride the goal wave here. Manchester City’s team total for the first leg is just sitting at 1.5 at -115, an over that is more than attainable considering how inconsistent this Madrid defense can be.
Madrid has run into some poor form outside their cup win by conceding a goal in three straight league matches. Four goals to Girona, two to Almeria, and then a 2-0 loss against Sociedad. This is a worrying sign heading into Tuesday’s match. Whereas City has been firing on all cylinders with 10 straight Premier League wins and 20 matches unbeaten across all competitions. City has outscored its opponents 29-7 throughout 10 matches across three different competitions. Not only is City doing it with its main XI, but is also able to show off its depth while stomping on the opposition. If there is something we can rely upon here it’s that City will be having a lot of chances regardless of who and where they play.
Let’s play everyone’s favorite: devil’s advocate. Say you are someone that has immense respect for Real Madrid in these matches and think despite what the lines are offering, Madrid will give City a hell of a challenge regardless. City’s goal total over is a perfect bet if you can’t decide on a winner, but also think there will be goals. During the last four matches played between City and Madrid, we have seen both sides score all four times. With that is a bet, both teams to score and either team to win +130. This is a safer play if you cannot decide between a specific team for this tie, but there is also the opposite where picking City with both teams to score at +260 or Madrid to win and both teams to score +425.
This derby (the best in all of Europe?) is starting episode three of the Champions League matchup. The two previous times these sides have met in this competition AC Milan has advanced. Oddly enough the last time they did face off, a quarterfinal in 2005, was when the final also took place in Istanbul. Cover your eyes, Rossoneri fans.
This tie is going to be incredibly difficult to read, both sides share the San Siro so there isn’t necessarily that type of advantage that one would come to expect from the home fans, however, the energy within the stadium itself will be electric.
Inter has managed to beat Milan just one time over the past four Serie A matches. That was a 1-0 win in February when Milan played a back three with Rafael Leão starting on the bench, Mike Maignan still being injured and no Ismaël Bennacer. All of which are Milan’s most valuable players. If you bring them back into the starting lineup here it completely changes the tie and that is something that is looking likely despite the precautionary sub of Leão over the weekend. Milan won just one of the seven Serie A matches that Leão started on the bench.
If we look at the other side, Inter are favored for this one and are in fantastic form scoring 18 goals over the last six matches. Inter also has a great cup manager in Simone Inzaghi. Inter’s main issue will be that Milan Škriniar, the team’s best defender, is out for the rest of the season.
The safest option for me is a prop involving Lautaro Martinez to be an anytime goalscorer at the price of +188. If you preferred him as the first-scorer he is listed at +450, but we know how risky those are. Martinez usually lights up Milan as he has seven goals in 12 matches against the cross-city rivals.
Ultimately this tie hangs in the balance of Leão and what his ability will be to create and finish chances for Milan, which have missed the most big chances in Serie A this season. It has been on display in the past two rounds of the Champions League where the Rossoneri left multiple goals on the table with their inability to finish efficiently.
Meanwhile, Inter has so many options outside of Lautaro. Romelu Lukaku has rounded into form, Joaquín Correa has shown signs of life and you can’t knock the experience of an Edin Džeko when push comes to shove. Inter also have a better midfield consisting of Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Nicolo Barella, and Marcelo Brozović, the number of opportunities they can create with the strikers up top favors Inter.
With that, I am taking Inter to advance at -165, which is a bit chalky but still at a sound number especially when you compare it to City sitting at -350. If Leão is not at full strength to start the match there is always the opportunity to jump in on the singular moneyline for Inter at +140. Inter has been in better form, has the better players and the better manager for cups with Inzaghi leading Inter to yet another Coppa Italia final.
Inter vs. Manchester City is my prediction for the final in Istanbul where you can also parlay these two to advance at +105 if you strongly side with the two favorites if you didn’t want to take either as a solo play.
(Photo of İlkay Gündoğan: Gareth Copley / Getty Images)
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