Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
In the year when the Champions League final is being held at the Wanda Metropolitano, it goes without saying that Atletico Madrid want to be one of the two teams left standing on the day of the showpiece.
Fortunately for the Rojiblancos, they’re in a great position to advance to at least the quarter finals after a strong first leg win over a Juventus side that was seen as one of the favourites to win the competition thanks to their signing of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The bianconeri need to score at least three times to progress, but that’s not taking into account any away goal from Atleti.
With Antoine Griezmann striking up a decent partnership with Alvaro Morata, one can’t bet against that happening, particularly as Diego Simeone’s side have only been kept scoreless on three occasions since late October.
Defensively sound, it would take a huge performance over two legs by any team to stop Atleti reaching the final now.
DEFENSIVE WALL ⛔️
We are the @LaLigaEN team who has conceded the least amount of goals in the current season (17 in 25 matches), keeping 13 clean sheets in the process. #AúpaAtleti #RealSociedadAtleti pic.twitter.com/oWkVvbV6dq
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) March 3, 2019
Cross town rivals and Champions League holders, Real Madrid, will also fancy their chances if they can overcome a dangerous Ajax team.
Without captain Sergio Ramos, and low on confidence after two shattering El Clasico losses in the space of 72 hours, Los Blancos need an early goal to settle the nerves.
The defeats against Barcelona aside, they’re more than capable of finding the net, but they’ll have to contain midfield duo Donny van de Beek and new Barca signing, Frenkie de Jong, in particular.
Both have the ability to dictate the rhythm of the Round of 16 second leg match, and will do so if afforded time and space. Simply put, Real have to set the pace and be on the front foot from the outset.
Into the last eight is where Santiago Solari’s side will begin to find their feet again, and in their fetish competition, no one, save for perhaps Ernesto Valverde’s side, will relish a visit to the Bernabeu.
Of the three Spanish sides, it’s Barcelona that have it all to do, against a vibrant Lyon.
Whilst the 0-0 in France was a creditable result for the Catalans, it does leave them susceptible to going out of the competition on the away goal.
Bruno Genesio’s team will come to attack, and with Nabil Fekir restored to the starting XI after missing the first leg, Barca will have to be at their very best to progress.
Should they do so, they too can be considered as one of the favourites for the title, given their momentum at present.
In the Europa League, only Valencia have a realistic chance of progression. Los Che seemed to have finally turned the corner in the league, have reached their first domestic cup final in over a decade, and should have far too much for Krasnodar over two legs.
Sevilla have fallen away remarkably in the Spanish top flight. From top of the table in October to 23 points behind leaders Barcelona in early March, a loss to bottom of the table Huesca was the latest in a series of disappointing results, the Andalusians having won just twice since November in La Liga.
European competition will give them some respite, but with confidence at rock bottom, it’s a tough ask against Slavia Prague.
Villarreal complete the Spanish contingent but travelling to Zenit at this stage of the season will sap their energy. League survival is the priority, and the Yellow Submarine are just one point from the bottom of the table now.
Zenit haven’t been in the best form themselves of late, but Villarreal haven’t won away from the Estadio de la Ceramica in over four months.
Champions League odds:
Real Madrid 9/1
Europa League odds: