Champions League Corner Picks: Best bets for Manchester United vs. Atletico Madrid, Ajax vs. Benfica, more

During the 90th minute of Real Madrid’s stunning 3-1 comeback win over Paris St. Germain last week, Lionel Messi placed the ball down not far outside the penalty area in the center of the pitch for a free kick. It was the same kind of kick we’ve seen Messi score from countless times, and with PSG needing a goal to tie the match on aggregate and force extra time, you couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the latest example of Messi magic.

Meanwhile, 10 yards away, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema lined up alongside his teammates to form the wall. Benzema had scored all three of Madrid’s goals in 17 minutes in one of the most heroic performances of recent memory. Then, as Messi stepped up and put his foot through the ball, Benzema leaped into the air, trying to block the kick with his face. He would fail, but luckily for him and his teammates, Messi’s kick slid just over the crossbar, and Real Madrid would hold on for the win.

There’s been a lot of blame flying around as to why PSG failed in the Champions League yet again, and everybody has their theories and people to blame. My feelings are pretty simple. The difference between PSG and Real Madrid was that, with the game on the line, Real Madrid’s superstar was willing to block a shot with his face if that’s what it took to win. PSG’s stars could hardly be bothered to track back and defend when out of possession, let alone block shots with their face. That’s the difference, and that’s why PSG won’t win a Champions League with this current roster.

Superstars are great to have, but great players willing to do anything that’s asked of them to win are better.

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All odds are via Caesars Sportsbook.

Manchester United vs. Atlético Madrid

Date: Tuesday, March 15 | Time: 4 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+

Featured Game | Manchester United vs. Atlético Madrid

I want to take a moment to thank Cristiano Ronaldo for his dazzling hat trick against Tottenham over the weekend. Not just because it helped cash the Over 2.5 in Friday’s edition of Corner Picks in speedy fashion, but because it has led to the market overcorrecting a bit for Tuesday’s match against Atlético Madrid. Have you heard the news? Ronaldo is back, and so is Manchester United! Yeah, well, not so fast. One wonderful afternoon at Old Trafford isn’t going to fix anything, and it’s hard to forget what happened in the first leg of this series.

TruMedia/STATS Perform

As the shot chart shows, United had seven shots in the first leg, but only one of them was on target, and that was Anthony Elanga’s goal in the 80th minute. It was also the only United shot from inside the penalty area. Atleti did a fantastic job defensively of keeping United from being able to get into dangerous positions. While that will be more difficult at Old Trafford, given United’s struggles all season long, it won’t be nearly as difficult as the available price suggests. Pick: Atlético Madrid or Draw (-145)

Ajax vs. Benfica

Date: Tuesday, March 15 | Time: 4 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+

Featured Game | Ajax vs. Benfica

I only see Ajax play during the Champions League — sorry, Eredivisie, but I just don’t have the available bandwidth to add you to the rotation — but man, do I love watching Ajax play. Everything Ajax players do on the pitch is in concert with one another, and when it’s working, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. It worked pretty well in the first leg, as Ajax scored two goals within the first half-hour. Unfortunately, they also scored an own goal to give Benfica one, and Benfica would add a second all on its own thanks to Roman Yaremchuk in the 72nd minute, and the match finished in a 2-2 tie.

I like Ajax to win the second leg at home, but the price is too heavy for my taste. Instead, I will go with the over, as Ajax have been damn near unstoppable at Johan Cruijff Arena this season. They’ve scored 10 goals in three home matches during group play, and in league play, they’re averaging an astounding 3.77 goals per match. As I said, they’re an entertaining team to watch, and I’m betting on that being the case again Tuesday. Pick: Over 3.5 (-120)

Lille vs. Chelsea

Date: Wednesday, March 16 | Time: 4 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+

Featured Game | Lille vs. Chelsea

There’s so much going on around this match that has nothing to do with the match itself. Regardless of the situation between Roman Abramovich and ownership of the club, Chelsea are moving along as if nothing’s happening for the most part. Thanks to the first leg, they also have the benefit of a 2-0 lead, and I can see Thomas Tuchel taking a pragmatic approach on the return trip to Lille. Chelsea are likely to just dig in defensively and not take unnecessary chances.

Lille was held to an xG of only 0.66 in the first match despite having 15 shots to Chelsea’s nine. Only two of the shots were on goal, as nine of Lille’s 15 shots were hopeful prayers fired from outside the box. Lille struggled to break Chelsea down all day, and even at home, in desperation mode, I’m not sure how that will change. Lille have managed only seven goals in seven Champions League matches this season, and three of them came against a Wolfsburg team that finished last in their group. Pick: Lille Not to Score (+145)

Juventus vs. Villarreal

Date: Wednesday, March 16 | Time: 4 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+

The first match couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for Juventus. Dusan Vlahovic scored a goal in the first minute, and it looked as if the team’s newest signing was just the man needed to lead Juventus to glory. Unfortunately for Juventus, matches are 90 minutes long, not one. Juventus would manage only one more shot on target the rest of the evening, as Villarreal would take control for most of the match. While the final score was 1-1, Villarreal won the xG battle 1.1-0.5.

I don’t think this second leg will look much different, though I anticipate Juventus will perform better at home. Still, Juve’s defending has been spotty all season, and Villarreal should get a few good chances. I’m betting on them being able to convert at least one of them. Pick: Both Teams to Score (-105)



League Play



Champions League



Overall 47-48 +0.28

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