Bayern Munich (+155) at Juventus (+210), Draw (+220)
Inevitably, when we reach the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, we’re bound to see some of the best clubs in Europe going head to head a little too early in the tournament. That’s exactly the case again this year as German powers Bayern Munich will take on Serie A leaders Juventus for a spot in the quarterfinals. The first leg of the two-game aggregate goals series gets underway tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 23) at Juventus Stadium in Turin (2:45 PM Eastern).
Juventus made it all the way to the UCL final last season, where they fell to Lio Messi and Barcelona. They had a good deal of roster turnover in the offseason, and struggled to coalesce with so many new faces at the start of the year, but those problems are a distant memory at this point.
The Bianconeri get to this series playing arguably their best soccer of the season. The team had a 14-game winning streak going in Serie A before drawing 0-0 against Bologna last Friday. There’s no team in Serie A that can rival Bayern Munich, though, and Juve are aware of the challenge that lies ahead.
“I’m sure that we can pull off a great result, but we’ll require everyone to play their part,” defender Patrice Evra said to Sky Italia. “We’ll need Juventus Stadium to be bouncing and everyone giving off positive vibes. It’s important to play with intelligence, personality, respect and be fearless in our approach.”
Juventus Stadium has been a bastion for the squad. The Serie A leaders haven’t lost at home since the opening game of the season (against Udinese). They have have posted a sparkling 13-3-0 record since including 12 straight wins.
Bayern Munich have their own little win streak going. They took their third straight game with a 3-1 win over Darmstadt on Saturday in the Bundesliga. They now have an eight-point lead over second-place Dortmund in the table, and a massive 23-point cushion on third-place Hertha BSC.
While they don’t have the formidable striking trio of Barcelona, Bayern have the most balanced roster in all club football. Even though Juve were runners-up last season and are dominating Serie A again, Bayern are still 1/3 favorites to qualify for the next round, versus 9/4 for the Italians.
Their depth will be tested this weekend, though, especially on the back end. Holger Badstuber fractured an ankle in training last week, while fellow defenders Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng are sidelined long-term by knee and groin injuries, respectively.
So expect Bayern to come out on the attack tomorrow, looking for an all-important away goal. Given the strength they have in midfield with Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, and Arjen Robben, the Germans should be able to dominate possession, opening holes in the Juve defense with quick passing.
But Juve have proven to be a tremendous defense force of late, particularly at home; they haven’t conceded a goal in their last six Serie A games in Turin. They’re also peaking at the right time and should be able to manage a point on home soil.
Pick: Draw (+220).
(Photo credit: terceroinf fmiralcamp (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo may appear cropped.)