A big week of Champions League football is ahead as the group stage reaches the halfway mark. While clubs with a perfect record could put one foot in the knockout stages, other sides with grand ambitions are merely trying to get a foothold.
Real Madrid, the record champions of the competition, fall into the latter category after a surprisingly poor start to the European campaign. When the groups were drawn, it was believed that Madrid may be tested but would ultimately get through. However, an opening home game with Shakhtar Donetsk shook that belief.
A Covid-19 outbreak had ravaged the visiting Shakhtar’s squad, which meant that the weakest club in Group B was forced to play a reserves side against a Madrid with four UCL titles in the last seven seasons. What followed was one of the greatest upsets in group-stage history. Madrid appeared unusually complacent in the opening stages with Shakhtar dominating the ball and creating better chances.
Viewers were waiting for the tide to turn when the visitors scored their first; the 20-year-old Brazilian midfielder Tetê broke the deadlock after 29 minutes. He was set up by a fellow bright starlet, 21-year-old teammate Viktor Kornienko. If Madrid thought that world-class players like Raphael Varane, a World Cup winner with France, would step up, they were mistaken.
Four minutes later, Varane got on the scoresheet himself, picking the ball out of his own net after an attempted tackle poked it past Thibaut Courtois. Madrid huffed and puffed but it was to no great effect and soon Shakhtar had a third through Israeli midfielder Manor Solomon, who coolly placed his shot in the corner of the net.
It didn’t end 0-3, of course. Madrid came out after the break with renewed purpose and focus. They dominated the second half and were a stoppage-time VAR decision away from finishing 3-3. A similar event occurred the following week.
Borussia Monchengladbach went two goals ahead before Madrid pegged them back with two goals after the 87th minute to capture their first point. If the action only counted after half-time, Madrid would be top of the group. Unfortunately for Zinedine Zidane’s side, it doesn’t, so they would be advised to have their heads in the game from the first whistle. This week, they take on an Inter Milan team also searching for their first win of this stage after successive draws.
Europa League finalists last season, Inter were expected to kick on in this campaign but that European odyssey may have contributed to a slow start. They travel to Madrid with one win from their last six games in all competitions.
Los Blancos, meanwhile, got back to winning ways on Saturday when they beat Huesca 4-1 in La Liga, Eden Hazard, starting for the first time this season after a long injury lay-off, opened the scoring. Fans expecting to see another Belgian vying for headlines may be disappointed to learn that Romelu Lukaku is unlikely to shake off his own injury in time.
Inter boss Antonio Conte will play a makeshift forward line and would probably settle for a point if it was offered to him now. Madrid, who have two wins in their last three matches, should seize the chance to defeat weakened opponents.
At 1.9 with 888Sport, we think that Hazard and company are a good bet for this matchday but there are plenty of other compelling contests taking place across the continent.
The best Champions League betting odds can be found on bookmaker review sites like Wincomparator. For example, Ajax are a generous 1.68 with 1xBet to win away to UCL debutants FC Midtjylland, while Istanbul Basaksehir, priced at 8.7 with 22Bet, could add to the woes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by upsetting Manchester United.