This season’s Champions League resumes in just three weeks’ time with the best 16 teams left in the competition as the group stages give way to the knockout phase. From a sportsbetting point of view, picking a winner might look impossible, but what if you had someone in the know?
Thanks to Calvin Ayre, you do. The Secret Coach is a professional football coach in English football… who will remain anonymous. The Secret Coach has worked with some of the biggest names in the game, been through the coaching badge courses and is currently part of the coaching team at an English league side… and that’s all we’re telling you. As ever, this week, The Secret Coach pulls no punches!
We started by asking The Secret Coach whether they think the knockout phase reverting to two-legged ties this year after one-legged games last year gives some teams an advantage.
“With it being two legs this season, I think the home leg coming second is still key.” TSC says. “That said, with no crowds, places like Anfield won’t be the same with that twelfth man, so COVID-19 might have levelled up the playing field in that respect. I think it will be down to schedules for travelling and each club’s domestic league fixtures that will be key now.”
Another Premier League side, Manchester City have a good draw by getting Borussia Monchengladbach, one of the outsiders for the tournament. Like last year, Pep Guardiola’s side have been heavily favoured, but they have never won it. Could that inexperience at the crucial final stages hold them back again?
“I don’t think the inexperience is what’s holding them back. I feel it’s just football and having those bad moments at the wrong time and others rising to the occasion. It’s very similar to PSG – money doesn’t buy the trophy. It’s who performs in those one-off games.”
Liverpool must have been licking their lips at the prospect of RB Leipzig after a tricky group stage saw The Reds scrape through in top position. The German side, however, were underestimated by Manchester United to their cost. Should Jurgen Klopp be concerned given The Reds’ recent defensive frailty?
“RB Leipzig are a good team full of young players who a lot of European teams are looking at, so they’re a decent side who are very capable of a shock.” Says TSC. “Liverpool are in a in a tough period and being tested physically and mentally at the moment. Anything could happen, as it’s never easy in the Champions League; just ask Barcelona, who have been 3-0 and 4-0 up fro 1st legs and still lost!”
Talking of Barcelona and Real Madrid, both La Liga giants are present in the draw, but face tough ties with neither side convincing on the domestic front. Could Atletico Madrid be the longest-lasting Spanish side or does Champions League experience really count for a lot more?
“There are a lot of historically successful sides still left in Champions League contention. In domestic leagues they may not be playing well, but in cup competition, all league form goes out of the window and gives teams a breather from anything going on domestically,” says TSC. “The big Spanish duo have not been the greatest of late and, yes, Atletico are really good and have shown great regularity in Europe over the years, so I’m sure they will cause teams problems as they did with Liverpool last season.”
That’s a very good point; the unfancied Atletico took Liverpool out at the same stage last season. Turning to the ‘forgotten’ English team in the hunt, Atletico’s opponents Chelsea famously won their only other European Cup after a manager who had only just arrived at Stamford Bridge took them all the way. Could Thomas Tuchel take over and inspire them to glory in the same manner?
“That’s a very interesting question. We will have to wait and see; Tuchel didn’t quite claim victory at PSG, but is he a long game manager or is he a master – like Rafa Benitez – of the two-legged game? Either way, with a proven elite manager in at Chelsea, I’m sure Tuchel will win things with them… but for how long?”
Tuchel may not get long to prove himself, but he has some terrific talent to choose from. These are sides with real reputation, however. Which outsider does The Secret Coach believe may cause a shock this year like Leipzig and Lyon did in the 2019/20 season?
“I like RB Leipzig, but football all over the world in this current climate is affected. I don’t think there is one team who have not suffered a ‘blip’ this season, so a surprise team could be someone struggling domestically like Real Madrid rather than a lesser-known team.”
When it comes to the top goalscorer market, it looks wide open with no one player running away with it. Who does The Secret Coach think will fill the onion bag more between now and the end of the competition?
“I can’t look any further than the proven scorers like Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski or Juventus talisman Cristiano Ronaldo for a Golden Boot in the Champions League this year. Both men are in good teams and know how to score even when they’re not on top.”
Finally, it’s the toughest question of all, but with just 16 teams left, who could end up winning the competition outright?
“I’m going to say Paris St. Germain could go one stage further than last year. They broke the hoodoo and got to the final last year but with the quality they have and now with an attacking coach in Mauricio Pochettino, I can see them becoming a big force in Europe with the attacking players they possess.”
There you go. Get your money on Robert Lewandowski (5/1) or Cristiano Ronaldo (8/1) to be top goalscorer or back Paris St. Germain to win the trophy at 12/1. We like a sneaky punt on Chelsea to be the English team who progresses furthest at 9/2. We’ll be back next week with another exclusive interview with The Secret Coach… after they’ve looked toward their next domestic game, aiming for another vital three points.