Soccer Selections: Picks for Atleti-Manchester United, Benfica-Ajax

I'm trying not to fall into a trap for Wednesday's UEFA Champions League picks.

I'm a Manchester United fan and it is very easy to say that I've been scarred from the last two seasons in terms of expectations.

But here we are with United in the UCL round-of-16 taking on an out-of-form Atletico Madrid. Part of me thinks United can take advantage of the matchup and advance, while the other part of me sees a desperate Atleti side looking to rescue its season with a deep UCL run.

After I took my heart out of the breakdown, I found two considerable trends that I'm willing to play in Wednesday's marquee UCL fixture.

The other one between Benfica and Ajax will not have our attention as much, but it could serve as yet another statement from Ajax that it could make a very deep run among the European powers.

Wednesday UCL Picks

Overall Record: 106-117 (2-0 Tuesday)

Atletico Madrid vs. Manchester United (3 p.m. ET, CBS)

Under 2.5 Goals

Cristiano Ronaldo Anytime Scorer (+155)

Here are the results of Atletico Madrid's first-leg matches in the round of 16 dating back to 2017:





That run of results plays to the under 2.5 goals trend that has been all over the UCL round of 16 this year. Five of the six first-leg matches played so far have had two or fewer goals. Manchester City's five-goal outburst is the only exception.

Atleti's recent string of results suggest the over could be in play. Diego Simeone's club conceded on multiple occasions in six straight games. That run was ended with a one-goal concession against Levante and a clean sheet versus Osasuna.

Simeone and the members of this Atleti squad carry a ton of UCL experience into Wednesday and they will know how to manage the game properly.

Atleti will not be caught off guard by anything that happens over 90 minutes on Wednesday, and the 180 minutes over the two legs, which leads me to believe the Spanish side will head to Old Trafford with a chance to advance.

Manchester United just had a six-game run with one or zero goals conceded snapped by Leeds United over the weekend. Three of the Red Devils' last five opponents had an expected goals total below one.

We may not see many goals at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, but Cristiano Ronaldo could be the source of a strike into the back of the net.

Ronaldo scored in each of his five UCL group-stage appearances this season and he has a history of terrorizing Atletico Madrid.

The Portuguese superstar has 25 career goals against Atleti and he bagged a hat-trick against the Spanish side in the round of 16 in 2019 while he was with Juventus.

I don't foresee a hat-trick coming on Wednesday, but he will certainly be in the mix to score against a defensive style he is more than familiar playing against.

Benfica vs. Ajax (-1.5) (3 p.m. ET, Paramount Plus)

Ajax has some serious credentials to win the entire Champions League.

To win it all, some breaks have to go your way, including dodging the giants of European football in the round of 16.

Ajax produced a perfect group stage and landed a favorable draw against Benfica, whose defense has been average at best recently.

Benfica has a single clean sheet in its last six matches in the Portuguese league. That stretch of games plus the nine goals it conceded to Bayern Munich over two games have me concerned for its fate against Ajax.

Ajax's defense conceded a single goal in its last seven trips to the pitch. It won five of those games by two or more goals.

Ajax also won five of its six group-stage contests by multiple goals.

Those numbers have me confident enough to take Ajax to win by at least two goals on Wednesday, and I sprinkled on the Dutch giants to win the UCL at +1800 since that number should come down after the match.

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