It's March Madness, and it looks as though the Cinderella stories aren't exclusive to the NCAA Tournament this year. The Champions League quarterfinal draw was the perfect outcome for anybody who dreams of upsets on the biggest stage.
Manchester City will battle Bayern Munich, while Real Madrid will fight Chelsea. Meanwhile, Napoli get Serie A foe AC Milan while Inter Milan get Benfica. This assures that two of the four "Cinderellas" remaining will reach the semis, while two of the four giants remaining will be sent home.
While getting three teams to the quarterfinals was already a boost for Serie A, this draw is also a blessing. It guarantees the league -- one which has struggled in Europe lately and is still reeling financially from COVID -- will get at least one team in the semifinals, and possibly two. There's also a chance that the Premier League could lose both its remaining teams, which, if we're being honest, would be a welcome sight to every other league in Europe. It may not close the financial gap, but small victories are victories nonetheless.
For a competition that's felt like a long run to the same teams reaching the end far too often, it's been a refreshing change of pace.
All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook
Lazio vs. Roma
Date: Sunday, March 19 | Time: 1 p.m. ET | Watch: CBS Sports Network
Recent form has always been a factor in how I handicap matches, but this is a spot where that recent form needs context. On the surface, Lazio haven't won a match in two weeks. They lost both legs of their Conference League series with AZ Alkmaar and managed a scoreless draw to Bologna between them. Then there's Roma, which was battered by Sassuolo 4-3 (Sassuolo led the xG battle 3.5-1.5) last weekend before a scoreless draw against Real Sociedad on Thursday put Roma through to the Europa League quarterfinals.
Now for the context: Roma looked past Sassuolo because they were concentrating on finishing the job against Real Sociedad. They held a 2-0 lead after the first leg and were content to sit in a low block and let Sociedad pepper them with hopeless shots. Yes, Sociedad managed 1.8 xG in the match, but they needed 19 shots to get there. Roma parked the crap out of the bus. It was a Jose Mourinho special. As for Lazio, manager Mauricio Sarri told the press this week that if given a choice to concentrate on beating Alkmaar in the Conference League or the Derby della Capitale against Roma, he was choosing the derby every time.
So, forget recent form. We're judging these teams on who they've been all season, and that leads me to Roma. Roma's defensive numbers only slipped in their last two matches by design. Before that, this team had been locking opponents down. Lazio's also been solid defensively, but they've struggled mightily to generate chances. Roma may not be ahead of Lazio in the table, but they've been the better team all season. That's what I'm betting on this weekend. The Pick: Roma (+170)
Inter Milan vs. Juventus
Date: Sunday, March 19 | Time: 3:45 p.m. ET | Watch: Paramount+
I've mentioned it before, but it sometimes feels like the 15-point penalty Juventus was given was the best thing that could've happened to this team. It freed them of expectations and allowed this team to enjoy themselves while playing. I don't think it's a coincidence that Juventus have been the second-best team in Serie A behind Napoli since the penalty was handed down. They've won nine of their last 11 matches, and while they've been bad away from home overall this season, they've been much better recently. They've won four of six on the road, and they're facing an Inter Milan team that hasn't been consistent all season.
One day they're beating Porto in a Champions League match; the next, they're losing to Bologna. Then Inter rebounds with a win over Lecce before falling to Spezia 2-1. Tuesday's scoreless draw against Porto wasn't exciting, but Inter did what it set out to do. Recent results suggest that's bad news for Inter in this spot against Juve! While I don't hate swinging big on Juventus to win outright, I'd rather play it safer with the double chance. The Pick: Juventus or Draw (-124)
Brentford vs. Leicester City
Date: Saturday, March 18 | Time: 11 a.m. ET | Watch: Peacock
A few months ago, when Leicester got off to a slow start, I took a future on them to be relegated at +1000. The biggest factor in the decision was the team didn't have the money to solve their issues. For a while, it looked as if Leicester would get out of the muck. A 4-2 win over Aston Villa was followed by a 4-1 win over Tottenham, leaving Leicester in 13th place, six points clear of relegation. But then Leicester stopped winning. They've lost five straight matches since, including four Premier League matches. They've been outscored 10-2 in the span, and they're the only Premier League team not to manage a point in that time. Now Leicester enter the weekend still on 24 points, outside the relegation zone strictly due to goal differential.
And now that team goes on the road to face a Brentford team that's struggled a bit lately but has been much stronger at home than on the road. I'll let you guess whether or not Leicester have been better on the road than at home. Correct! They have not! Finally, while Leicester battling to avoid relegation could be seen as the inspiration it needs this weekend, Brentford are in the hunt for one of the Premier League's European qualification spots, so have plenty to play for as well. I'm not overthinking this one. The Pick: Brentford (-106)
This week's parlay is only three legs, but it has a pretty healthy payout of +135.
- Atalanta (-255)
- Lens (-440)
- Real Sociedad (-265)