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Champions League Round of 16 Betting Odds, Picks, Prediction, Preview: Back Dutch Power Ajax to Down Benfica (Feb. 23)

Champions League Round of 16 Betting Odds, Picks, Prediction, Preview: Back Dutch Power Ajax to Down Benfica (Feb. 23) article feature image
Credit:

Soccrates/Getty Images. Pictured; Ajax standout Sebastien Haller.

  • Portuguese side Benfica hosts Ajax in Wednesday's Champions League matchup.
  • The visiting Dutch powerhouse is a solid -120 ML road favorite, which has Anthony Dabbundo excited about his top selection.
  • Check out below why he's back Ajax to roll to the victory in this opening leg.

Benfica vs. Ajax Odds

Benfica Odds +350
Ajax Odds -120
Draw +295
Over/Under 2.5 (-145 / +120)
Day | Time Wednesday | 3 p.m. ET
How To Watch Paramount+ | fuboTV
Odds updated as of Wednesday afternoon via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute soccer odds here.

Ajax is one of two teams left in the Champions League that has won every match it has played in the competition, with the other being Premier League giant Liverpool. The Dutch power steamrolled through its group with six wins and zero points dropped, scoring 20 goals and conceding just five goals.

Only Bayern Munich scored more goals in the group stage than the Sons of the Gods, whose attacking flair and technical quality has won them a lot of fans among neutrals.

First up for them is Wednesday’s Round of 16 road match in Lisbon to take on Benfica, which got out of a group that included Bayern and Barcelona. Porto beat Barcelona at home and salvaged a goalless draw on the road to advance from the group, but also featured a negative expected-goal difference overall and really struggled to cope when facing the elite Bayern attack.

Ajax is the overwhelming -400 favorite to advance to the quarterfinal round in this tie and potentially begin another deep UCL run akin to the 2019 event when the club defeated Real Madrid and Juventus, plus was a minute away from the final before a late Tottenham goal.

The market opened the Sons of the Gods as +110 moneyline favorites when the draw was released in December and it’s moved heavily toward them now as we’ve gotten closer to kickoff.

Benfica Putting Together Big Global Campaign

Benfica has the second-best underlying numbers in all of Portugal, behind Porto. They average 1.98 xG per 90 minutes in Portugal, which is second best to Porto and 1.05 xG against per 90 minutes that’s third in the league. They’ve recently undergone a managerial change, with Nelson Veríssimo taking over as a caretaker manager for the sacked Jorge Jesus. 

That managerial change has come with a switch in formation, as they’ve moved from a 3-4-2-1 formation into more of a traditional 4-4-2 setup. That could cause issues for them against Ajax, who can overwhelm with numbers and technical quality, then dominate the midfield and control the game.

Across the six-game UCL sample from the fall, albeit with a different manager, Benfica finished with a -0.64 xGDiff per 90 minutes, which was the worst of any team that advanced. Part of this was two beatdown losses to Bayern, but Benfica also failed to rough up lowly Dynamo Kiev. In two matches against Kiev, they had one draw and one win, but the xG were about even.

In two matches against Barcelona, they conceded three xG, but the Spanish giants failed to finish any chances.

Teams in recent seasons that have advanced to the knockout stage with a negative xGDiff haven’t fared well. Valencia conceded eight goals to Atalanta in two legs in 2020, Porto and Borussia Mönchengladbach were easily dispatched by Chelsea and Manchester City, respectively.

Ajax No Longer Dark Horse on World Stage

The market seems to be finally catching up to the fact Ajax is one of the five or six best teams in the world and has a legitimate chance to make a deep run. Only Bayern had a better xGDiff in the UCL this tournament. The Bavarians ran through Borussia Dortmund across two legs in a more dominant fashion than Bayern even did in the Bundesliga this season.

Ajax has conceded five goals in the entire Eredivisie table, while scoring 70 goals. In 23 total matches in league play, Ajax has a +65 goal difference. The Sins of the Gods are dominating the league more than ever and that play has carried over into this competition.

FiveThirtyEight has Ajax power rated as the fourth-best team in global club soccer, behind only the top three of Bayern, Manchester City and Liverpool. The versatility and technical quality of guys like Antony, Ryan Gravenberch and Steven Berghuis going forward combine with one of the more underrated finishers in all of Europe in Sebastien Haller. The standout scored 11 goals in the group stage, which was tied for first with Bayern star Robert Lewandowski.

Ajax previously matched up with a fellow Portuguese side of similar quality in the group stage in Sporting Lisbon. Across two matches with them, Ajax scored nine goals and conceded three goals. It won the xG battle by a combined 6.0-1.5 margin in two consecutive drubbings.

Betting Analysis & Pick

The biggest tactical question is whether or not Benfica stays in a 4-4-2 formation and sacrifices potential midfield control to better support star striker Darwin Núñez. He has 18 goals this season in Portugal, attracting the attention of multiple big clubs from the top leagues in Europe.

Núñez could be the great equalizer for Benfica, but playing him alone up top could leave him isolated if the club gets overrun in the midfield and can’t sustain any kind of possession.

I expect Benfica to spend most of its time defending in its own box, then trying to run its entire attack through Núñez. The issue with this matchup is the age of the Benfica center backs. Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi are 34 years old and asking them to defend an attack this potent for 90 minutes is a big ask.

Benfica competed with Bayern for the first hour in both games before ultimately collapsing in the final 30 minutes, so there’s a good chance that Ajax is able to wear them down as the match progresses in Lisbon.

Pick: Ajax ML (-130 or better)

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