Inter Milan players waiting for the penalties during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Atlético Madrid. Source: Imago Images.
Inter Milan players waiting for the penalties during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Atlético Madrid. Source: Imago Images.

Addio italiani! What happened?

Football OlyBet 15.03.2024

We now know the eight best teams in Europe this season. Three of them are Spanish, two English, two German, and one French (if you can call PSG that). We can probably name them all. But have we acknowledged who will NOT be there?

The last edition of this Champions League – remember, it will all be very, very different in just six months – is quite extraordinary. Despite it being the pinnacle of European club football, the Champions League usually provides at least one underdog or a feel-good story.

Last season, it was Napoli in the top eight. The season before that, Villarreal. Porto has been there. Lyon. Atalanta. Leipzig. Ajax. Gosh, even Tottenham or Roma, teams that are not expected to generally contend for the trophy. But who should be the darling this season? Dortmund? Atletico? Arsenal? To be honest, the field seems quite open. At least behind Man City.

This makes it even more surprising that Serie A failed so tremendously after having three teams in the quarter-finals (and two in the semis, and one in the final) just a year ago. It had felt like a rebirth; Inter, many say, were the better side in the final against Man City. Italian football was on the up again.

This season, all still seemed well after the 1st leg: Lazio defeated a sub-par Bayern Munich, Inter led 2-0 against Atletico Madrid at one point, and Napoli matched a troubled Barcelona at home. But every single Italian team will now be watching the Champions League from home. Some fans will point to the Europa League or the Conference League, but… Those games are not held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

How will the Serie A giants react and which other games to enjoy over the weekend?

All times listed below are in Eastern European Standard Time (GMT+2).

Manchester United – Liverpool

Sunday 17:30

The FA Cup has also reached the quarter-final stage, and it won’t get bigger than this. Simply put, United needs this: they have more or less failed in every single competition in 2023-24, and barring a miraculous comeback, will not make the top four in the league. This is their chance to save face (and for Erik ten Hag to maybe keep his job).

Unfortunately for them, they will be coming up against Liverpool – quite possibly the best team in all of Europe right now. Once upon a time, it used to be close between United and Liverpool but, when they last met, Liverpool had 34 shots only to settle for a 0-0 draw. The game before that? 7-0 for Liverpool. And it is no fluke, United has also lost 0-4 and 0-5 in recent years.

Source: Imago Images

Inter Milan – Napoli

Sunday 21:45

The Champions League defeat will be bitter for Inter, but this should be their first Serie A crown in three years – they are 16 points ahead with ten games to go. They have been the best team in Italy by far this season, scoring 70 and conceding just 13. The big question for the weekend is how will they react to heartbreak.

Napoli might have gone out against Barcelona as well, but they have a job to do. The defending champions are just seventh at the moment, seven points away from a top-four finish. They have not reached the same levels they touched just a year ago, but there is enough quality in the team to push for a Champions League return.

Atletico Madrid – Barcelona

Sunday 22:00

Interestingly, the two winners will meet in Spain with plenty at stake. They are still third and fourth behind Girona after 28 games, with Atletico six points adrift of Barcelona, but a bad pattern for them seems to exist: Atletico has lost their last four games vs Barcelona in La Liga, all since Xavi took charge.

Barcelona have done better recently too, keeping a clean sheet in their last three league games (2W 1D). They are relentless, as 41 goals in the second half is the league’s top mark while they have earned the most points with goals in the last 20 minutes. And could they still catch Real? An eight-point gap is rather manageable. But winning is a must.

The Betis Babble

OlyBet is the proud betting partner of Real Betis.

Next game: Sunday 19:30 @ Rayo Vallecano

As head coach Manuel Pellegrini put it, defensive failures cost Betis in a rather odd 2-3 loss to Villarreal last Sunday. After leading twice, an own goal levelled the scores before both had chances to win it (and stupid red cards).

Betis are now seventh and just two points ahead of Valencia, which makes the match against lowly Vallecano a must-win. Vallecano has an identical record in their last nine La Liga games and their last nine games vs Betis (both D3 L6).

Who to watch out for? Betis striker Willian Jose is in great form (two goals and two assists in his last five) and usually delivers vs Vallecano (four goals and an assist in his last six vs Vallecano), his goal decided the reverse fixture in September (1-0).


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