Much has been made of the fact England have no representatives in the quarter-finals of the Champions League but I think that people seem to be forgetting about the presence of the greatest living Englishman in Tuesday’s quarter-final between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.
For the less astute among you, you should have detected tongue firmly placed in cheek there. Of course, there is more chance of Lord Lucan returning to these shores than the media letting us forget about David Beckham, but for once maybe – just maybe – the attention might be elsewhere as Barca’s plethora of stars take on the big-spending Parisians in an intriguing first leg at the Parc des Princes.
It might be wishful thinking but with Beckham set to be sat on the bench in his H&Ms all match – he won’t be allowed anywhere near the starting line-up for such a vital match – you would like to think that a true footballing great might not be overshadowed by an underpants salesman.
At the weekend, Lionel Messi scored in his 19th consecutive La Liga match, in the process netting against every single other side in the division to set the most incredible of records – a record that seemed impossible, and will never, ever be repeated.
It is a superhuman feat from a superhuman player, and in my eyes it shows up Beckham for what he is: a formerly very good player obsessed with celebrity, while Messi is the greatest player ever to kick a football. Maybe a few people might realise the distinction over these two matches.
But where Beckham might yet enjoy one over Messi is in the French capital in Tuesday’s first leg. He won’t be on the pitch, but I think that his teammates could well get a result to take back to Camp Nou in a week’s time.
Barcelona are obviously the favourites at 18/25, with the draw at 27/10 and PSG the 18/5 outsiders, but I think that it is worth siding with a combination of the latter two results at 21/20.
I have written before that betting against Barcelona is the quickest way to the poor house, but I did so in their previous away trip in the Champions League, and the 2-0 loss in Milan highlighted that sometimes it is worth going against the Catalans, and I see Tuesday as another opportunity to do so.
That Barcelona have slipped below the standards we have come to expect, Messi apart, for large parts of the season (and certainly in 2013) is a given, but a look at their past results in the away legs of their Champions League knock-out ties doesn’t fill you with the confidence to back them at such a short price.
Since Pep Guardiola took over in 2008, Barca have won just three of their 13 away knock-out games, losing four and scoring just 14 goals. They have failed to even score in their last three (at Milan twice and Chelsea).
Part of this may well be because, as they are always group winners, they know they have the safety blanket of a home leg to come and with no desperate need to win, they play a safer brand of football. But it is a definite trend, and it makes the 21/20 on PSG avoiding defeat alert my interest.
Carlo Ancelotti is a Champions League specialist and has won three and drawn one of his four home games in Europe this season. His side, seven points clear in Ligue 1, are in great form at home, too: PSG haven’t lost in 13 matches at Parc des Princes, winning 11, keeping eight clean sheets and letting in just five goals.
And with Zlatan Ibrahimovic available to face his former club after having his suspension reduced, PSG can easily grab a goal against a Barca defence that hasn’t kept a clean sheet in ten matches on their travels.
I am always wary of odds-on away pokes anyway, and backing an 18/25 shot on the road in the Champions League quarter-finals is severely risky business, even for a side as good as Barca. I would much rather be on the 21/20 that PSG take a result back to Spain.