UEFA Champions League Semifinals: First Leg Betting Preview

We’re down to the final four at the UEFA Champions League – and fans and bettors will be treated to a pair of intriguing matchups to decide which two clubs will battle it out for European domestic soccer supremacy.

There’s Real Madrid, with four Champions League titles over the past seven years, taking on a Chelsea side that has just one championship to its credit but is playing some truly dominant football in this tournament. And then there’s English Premier League buzzsaw Manchester City putting its near-impeccable road resume on display against a Paris-Saint Germain team in a battle between two teams that unfathomably have zero Champions League titles between them.

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Here’s a breakdown of this week’s two first-leg matchups, along with my betting picks for each:

Real Madrid vs. Chelsea (Tuesday, 3 pm ET)

Moneyline/Total Pick

If you like goal-scoring, this might not be the matchup for you. Both Real Madrid and Chelsea have shown impressive defensive prowess in recent weeks, which is a significant reason why the Under on the 2.5-goal total is a bettor-unfriendly -166. Madrid has played three scoreless draws over the previous four games, which speaks to their defensive dominance but also raises concerns over whether they’ll be able to do much against the Blues, who have allowed the second-fewest goals in the Premier League.

Part of the problem with a team like Madrid is that so much of the offense runs through star striker Karim Benzema, who has 21 of the club’s 53 goals in all competitions so far this season. Chelsea has had plenty of success shutting down opposing superstars, particularly when those players don’t have much help. On the other hand, Madrid has racked up four consecutive clean sheets and hasn’t suffered a defeat of any kind since Jan. 30, a stretch that includes wins over Atletico Madrid and Liverpool.

Maybe you’re feeling brave enough to take the U1.5 here. I’m not – but I feel rather confident that the U2.5 will cash here.

Bet: Under 2.5 (-166)

Prop Pick

You can only keep a great player down for so long – and preventing Benzema from hitting the scoresheet for 90+ minutes is going to be one of Chelsea’s toughest tasks of the season. And being in hostile territory only adds to the challenge factor, with Benzema having scored 16 goals in 20 games at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium this season.

Benzema has generated multiple shots in all but one home game in 2020-21, and has had multiple shots on target in six of his previous nine home matches. Add in the fact that he has scored four times in the five games Real Madrid has hosted in this year’s UEFA Champions League, and I like his chances of striking Tuesday.

This is going to be a low-scoring game, where one goal might decide the whole thing – and that presents an even more intriguing betting opportunity. I’m leaning toward Benzema scoring, and Real Madrid prevailing as a result. The price is certainly right for a shot like that.

Bet: Karim Benzema Goal/Real Madrid Win (+280)

PSG vs. Manchester City (Wednesday, 3 pm ET)

Moneyline/Total Pick

One of these two teams will get a chance to end their Champions League title drought – and in the case of Paris-Saint Germain, a second consecutive trip to the finals is at stake beginning with Tuesday’s opening leg at Parcs des Princes. And PSG are fortunate to have made it this far, needing to prevail on the away-goal tiebreaker against a Bayern Munich team that was favored at one point to capture the title.

Beating a Bayern side missing all-world goal-scorer Robert Lewandowski is one thing. Toppling a Manchester City juggernaut is an altogether different challenge – and one I fear PSG lacks the personnel to achieve. Man City is the deepest, most talent-laden club in domestic soccer, and has yet to face a serious challenge in the Champions League. Five different players have scored 8+ goals for City in 2020-21, and it has lost just one of its 19 road games in all formats.

These are the best odds you’ll see on a Manchester City outright win this season – so take them and run.

Bet: Manchester City (+110)

Prop Pick

Usually, when you know a team is going to score multiple goals, you dive headlong into the player props, take the team’s most dangerous scorer on the “Anytime Goal” or “First Goal” prop and be done with it. But as I explained above, that’s much more difficult with a Man City team that spreads the scoring around.

Let’s look instead to the halftime trends – and more specifically, how ridiculously dominant Man City has been regardless of which half it’s in. The runaway Premier League leaders own an identical +26 goal margin in both the first and second halves of their 33 league fixtures this season. And while PSG owns an impressive +27 first-half goal margin and a +24 second-half differential, those have come against inferior Ligue 1 competition.

The hosts are no slouches, but Manchester City has looked unstoppable for most of the season and is in good position to win both halves in Tuesday’s opener.

Bet: Man City to Win Both Halves (+480)

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