MAN CITY are not alone among the more fancied sides to be running into troubles on and off the pitch.
Second and third favourites Bayern (6/1) and PSG (7/1) meet tonight and both are in peculiar form since the World Cup.
The Bavarians returned from the winter break with three consecutive 1-1 draws, and while a sense of normality has been restored in recent weeks as they’ve edged ahead of supporter-owned FC Union Berlin by a point in the Bundesliga, they are still without Sadio Mane to lead their attack.
Bayern made light work of a tricky group that included Barcelona and Inter Milan- as they progressed to the knockout rounds without dropping a single point, and they now have the chance to win their first seven games of a Champions League campaign for just the second time, after previously doing so in the 2019-20 season. The now 10-times-in-a-row German champions (how boring is that?) usually fare well at this stage of the competition too, having progressed from the last-16 in nine of the last 10 seasons, including their last three campaigns.
PSG, like City, are trying to add a continental garland to their domestic dominance for their Gulf overlords. The Parisians have lost two straight games coming into a home fixture against the side that defeated them in the 2020 final and knocked them out in the quarters the following year.
They have just one clean sheet in Ligue 1 (at home to bottom side Angers) since Mbappe (a slight injury doubt) and Messi returned from their epic tussle in Doha.
PSG would have hoped to have faced a slightly easier opponent in the last-16, but despite finishing level on 14 points with Benfica, they had to settle for second place as they lost out to the Portuguese giants on away goals scored in the dying embers of the group stages.
If the French champions are to avoid a second straight last-16 exit — they were beaten by eventual winners Real Madrid at this stage last season — they will need to make the most of home advantage and they have won 12 and drawn three of their 15 home games this season.
Of the other six teams in action tonight and tomorrow — Milan v Spurs, Dortmund v Chelsea and Brugge v Benfica — it is hard to see a bolter from them.
Spurs — who qualified as group winners — take on the Serie A champions, who are 6/4 to win the first leg with Spurs 4/5 to qualify following two legs. Antonio Conte knows this San Siro well as he won the title with Inter there in 2020/21. His old side Chelsea travel to Dortmund for their first leg tomorrow and though they are favourites to advance (4/6) it is difficult to have much confidence in Chelsea, as their difficulties under Graham Potter continue.
Club Brugge v Benfica is the other first leg that takes place and the Portuguese side are firm favourites to overcome the Belgians on the night and across the two legs (2/7).
WOOHOO! It’s Valentine’s Day, when between 3pm and 5pm restaurants and florists receive a thousandfold spike in (panicked) phone calls.
The Romans are responsible for the date being celebrated because apparently Emperor Claudius II executed two, or possibly three, men named Valentinus/o on this date back in the day. From February 13 to 15, the Romans used to celebrate the feast of Lupercalia, when men sacrificed a goat and then whipped women who they’d drawn in a lottery with the hides of the animal they’d just slain — an early version of a slap-up meal.
It’s been my plan for years to surprise the wife with a romantic trip to Paris around this time of the year and then mention on the plane that Ireland are also playing at Stade de France that weekend and that, looky here, we’ve got tickets! Maybe next year.
Ireland are now 1/4 to win the Six Nations and 4/6 to complete a Grand Slam for the third time since 2009 after beating Les Bleus on Saturday. They are also 4/1 to win the World Cup, while hosts France have slipped to 3/1 to join the All blacks in that market.
TIGER WOODS returns to competitive golf the first time since the Open at St Andrew’s last summer this week. It will be his first appearance on the PGA Tour since October 2020.
The 15-time major winner has struggled with injuries relating to a serious car crash in which he was involved in February, 2021.
This will be the strongest field in golf this year with 23 of the world’s top 25 players, including new World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy (both 10/1) and Jon Rahm (15/2). None of these three have won or finished runner up so looking elsewhere might be wiser. Defending champ Joaquin Niemann and fellow LIV leaper Cam Smith are the only two top-25 not participating.
Take a punt on Justin Thomas who was just a stroke off the lead here in 2019 at 18/1.
NOT everything we’ve typed since the beginning of last September has made a whole pile of sense, but at least two of the big calls have come to pass with Argentina winning the World Cup and now the Kansas City Chiefs taking the Super Bowl.
We were slightly disappointed that the flyover of fighter jets just prior to kick-off didn’t feature any balloons being gunned down, but there was at least the sight of Rihanna at the half-time show, spotted in the middle of a field for the first time since ordered out of one by a DUP alderman outside Bangor a dozen years ago because he thought her clothes were too skimpy (look it up if you don’t believe me).
Let’s take a high-priced accumulator to celebrate: Milan, Benfica, and two draws in the Champions League will net you 63/1.