Soccer Betting: Champions League Final

Soccer Betting:  Champions League Final

The biggest single day sports betting event in the world isn’t the Super Bowl–it’s the UEFA Champions League soccer final which will be contested on Saturday at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal. The 2014 final is an all Spanish affair with La Liga rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid battling for the title. These teams obviously know each other well and each have already achieved an important championship victory this season. Atletico Madrid won the La Liga title this season while Real Madrid finished tied with Barcelona for second place three points back. Real Madrid did earn some vindication in the Spanish club championship aka the Copa Del Rey as they defeated Barcelona 2-1.

Obviously this is going to be a huge event in Spain but having two La Liga teams in the final–as well as the impending 2014 World Cup–has somewhat muted enthusiasm for this year’s Champions League Final. It does make our handicapping somewhat easier since we’re not having to compare ‘apples to oranges’ and instead have plenty of statistical data, common opponents, etc. with which to work. Nothing but respect to Atletico Madrid for winning the La Liga title but for analytical purposes it would be wrong to conclude that they were significantly better than either Real Madrid or Barcelona. In fact, by some metrics they were the least potent of the three teams. Atletico tries to play a tactical and conservative defensive style that can frustrate teams with better offenses. Atletico allowed only 26 goals in La Liga play–best in the league–but Barcelona allowed only 33 and Real Madrid 38 good for second and third.

The biggest difference is on the offensive side of the ledger. Atletico did have the #3 scoring offense in La Liga with 77 goals but that output is far behind Real Madrid who lead the league with 104 goals (Barcelona was second with 100). That gives Real Madrid a significant goal differential advantage (66 to 51 for a +15 edge). This is only Atletico’s second European Cup final (the other came in 1974) while Real Madrid has a long legacy of success. That being said, they haven’t been in the Champions League Final since 2002.

Atletico kind of sputtered down the stretch in La Liga play (1 loss 2 draws) but they kept their stout defense intact and did enough to win the title. Defense has also been their calling card in the Champions League and they’ve had considerable success with 9 wins and 3 draws allowing only 6 goals. They may have had more of an advantage against teams unfamiliar with their style than they will against Real Madrid who is very familiar with it. Real Madrid is on a 11 W 1 L 1 D run in Champions League play with the only loss coming against Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. That loss could have been due as much to complacency as anything else since they held a 3-0 advantage from the first leg and were playing without Cristiano Ronaldo.

This is a classic ‘contrast in styles’ matchup with a Real Madrid team that scored 37 goals in 12 Champions League games against an Atletico team that allowed only 6. Worth noting that Atletico’s two best players–leading scorer Diego Costa (hamstring) and Arda Turan (hip)–have been dealing with injuries all week but were practicing with teammates on Thursday suggesting that they’ll play. Atletico is the underdog here but that might have as much to do with ‘name recognition’ as anything else. They’ve earned a win and a draw in their last 4 against Real Madrid and in La Liga play this season had a 1-0 win and a 2-2 draw. We’ll look for a tightly contested, low scoring game that won’t be decided in regulation.