Sam Hendry with his best bets for this week’s Champions League encounters

Sam Hendry with his best bets for this week’s Champions League encounters

Manchester United can virtually seal qualification to the last-16 with victory over Benfica on Tuesday night.

Their blistering start to the season, both domestically and in Europe, saw them pick up maximum points from their opening three group games, while their Portuguese opponents languish a surprising bottom place holding the exact opposite record of three defeats.

Benfica’s league form has remained solid – they currently sit third in the Portuguese Primeira Liga – and realistically they need to pick up at least a point here to even stay in with a shout of Europa League qualification.

United’s own form has tailed off slightly since their goalless draw at Anfield two weeks ago, a run which has coincided with a four-game goal drought for Romelu Lukaku.

They did pick up an important three points against Spurs at the weekend, though, and the prospect of them losing here seems unlikely. Look to back Lukaku to put a halt to that goalless run with anytime goalscorer odds of 8/11

Another team with their sights set on sealing early qualification is Manchester City, who travel to Serie A leaders Napoli on Wednesday.

City came out narrow 2-1 victors in the meeting between the sides two weeks ago at the Etihad, although Napoli were impressive in defeat and would have earned a point if not for Ederson saving one of the two penalties awarded to the Italians.

Pep Guardiola was impressed enough with Napoli to describe them as one of the best teams he has ever faced and this fixture between two of the best attacking outfits in European football will draw the attention of many pundits and neutrals.

While City’s 13-game winning run (if you count their penalties victory over Wolves in the Carabao Cup) is remarkably impressive, it must end at some point and the Stadio San Paolo is as likely a place as any. I’m backing the draw at odds of 14/5 (bet365 and Betfred)

The other marquee fixture on Wednesday takes place at Wembley where Tottenham host 12-time European champions Real Madrid.

Written off by some after the draw placed them with Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, Spurs have defied expectations and are tied with the Spanish giants at the top of the group at the halfway stage.

A stuttering start to La Liga has seen Madrid fall eight points behind Barcelona after ten games – a chasm in Spanish footballing terms.

And they will be under huge pressure to bounce back after their shock defeat on Sunday to newly-promoted Girona.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been strangely profligate in the league this season with only one goal to his name, a stat not helped by the lengthy suspension he had to serve at the beginning of the campaign.

It’s been a different story in the Champions League, though, where he is the joint-top scorer in the competition this season with five goals.

The man he shares that position with is Spurs frontman Harry Kane, although it’s still unknown whether he’ll have recovered from his hamstring injury in time for this one. With that in mind and knowing that he is always a man for the big occasion, I’m backing Ronaldo to be the decisive player here with odds of a Madrid win at 6/5 (Paddy Power and Ladbrokes) and Ronaldo anytime scorer appealing at 4/5


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