No Zidane. No Cristiano. No chance of four in a row?
That will be the viewpoint shared by many, but I wouldn’t rush into opposing the reigning champions just yet. Former Spain head coach Julian Lopetegui earned a wonderful reputation at international level before his pre-World Cup betrayal, and he might just have the tactical nous to get Real Madrid close to yet another UEFA Champions League crown.
The early stages won’t tell us everything about Los Blancos , but a tough looking opener at home to last season’s semi-finalists Roma - who are 5/1 at top football betting sites to win Group G - should provide certain clues.
An energy-sapping 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao was not the ideal warm-up for Lopetegui’s galaxy of stars. It was a feisty contest in the Basque region that ended their perfect start to the La Liga campaign. But this is the Champions League, and we know Real Madrid usually reserve their A-game for this competition.
The go-to talents are undoubtedly Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Released from those invisible shackles unintentionally put in place by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, they have each displayed scintillating early season form. Loving the limelight, Benzema has four league goals already, a tally it took him 25 matches to reach in 2017-18.
After having the summer off (watching France become world champions) he looks fresh and fired up to remind us he’s a top class talent, not just an unselfish workhorse. The frenchman is 4/1 with MansionBet to be first scorer at the Santiago Bernabeu. You may also find a better enhanced offer closer to game time.
Surprise, surprise, Welsh icon Gareth Bale seems happier in the post-Ronaldo era too. He has had a hand in six of Real Madrid’s 13 goals so far in 2018-19, scoring three and assisting three, one of which was a terrific cross for Isco to bury at the weekend.
Cutting in from the right wing he can be absolutely deadly, as a record of 11 goals in his last 13 competitive club matches would appear to confirm. Bale is 4/7 at MansionBet to make the net bulge at any time.
The issue Real Madrid face, and this will be a recurring theme all season, is an inability to keep consistent clean sheets. You’d perhaps assume this is an ‘away’ issue but not so.
The 13-time European Cup winners have conceded in each of their last five home matches in this competition, and have only kept two clean sheets in their last 12 in Madrid over the last two seasons.
New keeper Thibaut Courtois should make a difference, but backing Both Teams to Score at 4/7 with some of the best new betting sites feels like a no-brainer of sorts.
Roma are also nothing if not exciting to watch under Eusebio di Francesco. Last season’s 12-match run the last four was thrill-a-minute stuff that spawned an incredible 40 goals, including several crazy contests.
They have bags of firepower in the form of Eden Dzeko, Stephan El-Sharaawy, Cengiz Under, Javier Pastore et al, and tactically they are not afraid to use those weapons. Forging a reputation as one of bravest outfits on the continent, I’d expect them to take the fight to Real Madrid at times on Wednesday night, testing the hosts’ underbelly.
I’d certainly back them to score, but how many will Roma concede?
Their defensive record on the road was quite frankly pathetic last season (and that was with Alisson in goal) leaking five at Liverpool, four in Barcelona, three at Chelsea, and two apiece away to Atletico Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Roma’s only away win in the Champions League since 2010 was a 2-1 success at Qarabag last term, and they are without a clean sheet since 2007, a run of 28 games! So, backing them at 7/1 with Genting Bet seems fanciful.
I do expect a glut of goals from two adventurous sides, so I would be targeting the Over 3.5 goals at 23/25 with 888Sport or Over 4.5 goals with the same bookie.
My alternative, slightly more cautious call would be 3-1 instead, which is 10/1 with BetHard. Let’s hope this isn’t the kiss of death, but with such bold tactical outlooks – and no history of keeping things tight - this really should be a cracking contest.