Friday, April 27, 2012

Decisive time

The big news going into the week-end are the imminent departure of Guardiola from Barcelona. I really hope he gets to manage an EPL team on his return. What he's achieved at Barcelona, particularly the kind of football they play and preach, is unbelievable.

The EPL reaches its crescendo with the upcoming Manchester Derby that will most possibly determine the season's winner. It's been a wild ride with momentum change from one club to the other and the match is really a 6-pointer. Clear advantage is for Man City at the present since they are at home and are on a winning run. It will be interesting to see what frame of mind the Red Devils are in, after their confidence-sapping game against Everton last week. Their main problem is their leaky central defence of Evans and Ferdinand. Vidic is a big missing element in that rear-guard. But obviously, Alex Ferguson's men always rise to the occasion when backed to the wall, and it would be of no surprise if they controlled the game and actually left with the 3 points. Man City's hopes rest mainly on the power of their Argentinian forwards in Aguero and Tevez. These 2 can wreck havoc in any defence, and will certainly have their opportunities to test de Gea. This game looks to be a cracker and hopefully the referee won't play any decisive role in the outcome. I think the Citizens will edge this in the end, but this is just my hunch.

Wolves are relegated as I've been repeating they would for weeks now. I think it's still ok to go against them and Swansea look good value to continue the visitors' winless run under manager Connor. The selection is Swansea as a draw-no-bet.

I also like West Brom's chances as it hosts Aston Villa. If I were to guess another team to be relegated, I think Villa would be prime contenders. The Villains still have some blind faith in manager Mc Leish, and that could prove their undoing. How ironic that he relegated their fierce rivals Birmingham last year, and he's about to relegate them now. Villa is an awful team to watch and their cause is not being helped by the continued absence of their prolific striker Darren Bent. West Brom as draw-no-bet is the recommendation.

My value punt of the week-end goes to Wigan against Newcastle. The Latics have performed admirably of late but they still have to gather points to secure themselves from relegation. Newcastle is my pick for overachieving team this year and they are certainly in contention for a Champions League spot. They will go to the DW Stadium with hope and confidence with individuals such as Cisse and Ben Arfa, who have the capacity to influence a game on a moment's brilliance. I will opt for Wigan here because they can make it hard for visiting teams to play their regular rhythmic football, as Man Utd has attested a couple of weeks back. I recommend Wigan as a draw-no-bet.

In La Liga, Real look set to put their mid-week UCL disappointment behind them when they host Sevilla. The Los Blancos are a sure win here as they march towards the title and that's the recommendation.

It's tough to gauge Barcelona's visit to Rayo.  The hosts are a tough nut to crack at home and will pose problems should the Catalans be not fully focused on the game, for obvious reasons. On the other hand, it could be that the visitors will show extra motivation to win the remaining games under Guardiola. Should Real not bag the 3 points during their earlier match, then Barcelona will try to pounce, but that I cannot see that scenario happening. It's just better to have a punt at Real's games at the moment, because they are the ones with the motivation to go all-out; the carrot is dangling in front of them.

Win: Real Madrid
Draw-no-bet: Swansea, West Brom, Wigan

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A game of many tales

So many things to talk about in the Barcelona vs Chelsea match yesterday.

Such as an awful injustice to Barcelona who deserved to win over the 2 legs. They had their chances at 2-0 up against ten men. They hit the post four times, they missed a penalty. But there has been justice in a certain way for Chelsea, who got dumped out of the competition against the same opponents in controversial fashion a couple of years back, when they should have had at least 2 penalties in their favour. So Barcelona can feel aggrieved today, but the Chelsea fans were nurturing the same feeling of paramount injustice 2 years ago. Massive payback time for the Blues.

We can talk of warriors in the Blue dressing room, in the likes of Ramires. The Brazilian got a second yellow to rule him out of the final, yet scored for his teammates to send them through. It was heroics a la Roy Keane during the Man Utd treble season where the Irishman started the Red Devils comeback trail after receiving a yellow card that ruled him out of the final as well. No, we are far from the crying Paul Gascoigne who lost composure and plot after picking his yellow in the 1990 World Cup semi-final against West Germany.

It was 2 Spaniards that ultimately undid the Spanish giants; Mata was the one that sent Ramires through on goal despite being surrounded and under pressure from 3 Barcelona players. And Torres who scored the killer goal that quieted the Nou Camp, with it the dream of the hosts to win 2 consecutive UCL finals.

Of Messi, we can talk of the world's best player who can miss penalties when they really count; a last-minute one against Sevilla earlier in La Liga that cost Barcelona 2 invaluable points, and yesterday possibly the most important he had ever taken and might ever take. He found the crossbar, the same one I was talking about regarding Cech's reliable friends, in the previous post.

Finally, the summary wouldn't be complete without mentioning John Terry; Captain Terrific or maybe more appropriately Captain Idiotic. How quick off the mark he was to say he was not the dirty player that the video replays clearly labelled him. Well, you knee-ed the guy thinking you wouldn't be caught. At least Zidane was provoked during his moment of madness against Materazzi. At least Beckham was against Diego Simone. You were unprovoked but still wanted to show Sanchez how dirty you are, on and off the pitch.What a captain, to let his team down during the most difficult circumstances. If there is a justice, it's that he won't play the UCL final. The only final he'll have to contend with is the one he royally screwed up by missing the crucial penalty against Man Utd. Missing this year's final will hit him as bad or very possibly worse.

With so many suspended players missing the final, it's hard to see Chelsea lifting the trophy in the end. It seems destined to go to either Real or Bayern. But who knows, things can change in a few week's time. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Season on the line

Man Utd gave a perfect rendition of How to Throw away the Title after getting caught into a 4-4 tie with Everton. A cross-bar and 2 minutes of madness meant that an assured 3 points transformed into a measly 1 point that could cost the Red Devils dear in the end. It's game on for the Manchester Derby next week and City will no doubt on such defensive lapses if they were to repeat at the Etihad.

Barcelona's season is on the line on Tuesday in the return UCL semi-final leg against Chelsea. 2 costly defeats in the space of 3 days have rocked the Catalan club big time; they lost the Liga to Real this week-end and they are in danger of going out of the UCL if they can't beat Chelsea by more than 2 goals.

Against Real, clearly Guardiola was distracted by the UCL match. His team selection meant that he wanted to freshen things up against Chelsea; after all, even a win over Real would have meant his team still trailing the Los Blancos in the standings and hence the destiny of the title still out of their hands. The problem for Barcelona in these 2 matches has been their profligacy in front of goal. With a lack of a pure striker in the form of David Villa, they rely on Messi (excessively) and midfielders Fabregas and Sanchez to score. As we've seen lately, if Messi fails to score, the reliance on the other 2 can be somewhat misplaced. They have scored, but never in the range of the Argentinian genius.

Much of the game will depend on Petr Cech, the Chelsea keeper. He will need to have a near-perfect night and rely on the aid of his best friends, his posts and cross-bar! There's no doubt that Chelsea's defensive pair of Terry and Cahill will be breached, but it remains to be seen whether Cech can be beaten. Yet again, he was saved by his posts against Arsenal over the week-end.

Barcelona will get plenty of possession, and opportunities to score. In fact, they will score, I have no doubt. But will they concede? Chelsea's best way to score will be on set-pieces, particularly with the lack of height in the Catalan team. Arsenal went to the Nou Camp and scored. So did Milan. Chelsea are always a threat to score with Drobga; particularly if he's keen on his unfair-play antics with his usual dead-man drops, sometimes in the penalty area. The Ivory Coast striker is still dangerous despite his age, but the theatrics he's added to his repertoire leave a lot to be desired.

This could be a high-scoring game. Barcelona could blow this Chelsea team apart if they take full opportunity of their scoring chances. If their defence stays perfect on the night and they do not concede, they will qualify. I cannot see them lose. It looks like Chelsea is in for a hell of a trip. Draw-no-bet on Barcelona is safe; for them to qualify is still on (from previous post selection). Messi to finally score against the Blues doesn't look like a far-fetched selection as well.

 Draw-no-bet: Barcelona

Friday, April 20, 2012

Make or Break

If Chelsea wanted some sort of justice to their controversial ouster at the hands of Barcelona in the UCL a few years back, they must feel they got it on Wednesday night. There was only one deserving winner in that game, and it certainly wasn't Di Matteo's men. Not scoring a vital away goal might come and bite back the Catalans in the second leg, which promises to be dramatic to say the least.

This is the final straight of the football season where any drop of points for the contenders can spell the doom to their title chances. Man City hopes are clinging to a thread at this point and they couldn't ask for a better road trip at Molyneux. Wolves have yet to win under their current manager, and it does not look it will happen against the Citizens. With in-form Tevez, Man City should win this and polish their goal differential as well, in case this becomes the deciding factor in the end.

Arsenal host Chelsea and I fancy the Gunners here; the reason being that Chelsea will have their eye on the upcoming UCL match in Barcelona. There is little doubt that many elements of the first-team will not be risked for Sunday's game. Their defense is already stretched and Drogba looks a definite non-starter. This is a glorious winning opportunity for the Gunners and they are good value as draw-no-bet

Man Utd host Everton in another must-win game for the leaders. The Toffees have been in great form of late, so this is not going to be a cake-walk for the hosts. They will need to get the quick first goal, or else there will certainly be jitters to break Everton's defence. A draw-no-bet on the Red Devils looks safe, but I believe they have enough fire power to claim the 3 points. A Win looks good value.

It's the Clasico in La Liga where Barcelona have to beat Real Madrid at the Nou Camp to have any chance of retaining the title. A draw will give the Los Blancos enough breathing room until the end. The coming week will make or break the Catalans. They wrongly negotiated the first leg at Chelsea by getting beaten and not scoring a goal. They are bound to be distracted on Saturday's game as they will want to be at their peak for the return UCL match a few days later. Madrid too will have an eye on their return leg against Bayern, but this the Clasico is not a must-win game for them. In fact, it would not surprise me if Mourinho went for the draw and parked the bus. He'll deny it, but this is sure to be in his plans. The Clasico can go either way and it would not surprise me if Real further advanced its cause for the title by obtaining a favourable result at the Nou Camp.

In Italy, I see a definite win for AC Milan against Bologna. Juventus have a tougher task at home to Roma, and a draw-no-bet on the hosts should be safe.

Win: Man City, Man Utd, AC Milan
Draw-no-bet: Arsenal, Juventus

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Going opposite directions

Bayern edged Real thanks to a last-minute goal, voiding the +1.0 Real selection. Here's my take on tonight's Chelsea vs Barcelona game semi-final match-up.

One of the very few times that I have seen Guardiola's Barcelona team being rocked, has been their visit to Chelsea a few years back in the UCL. Obviously, everyone remembers this game as the one that Barcelona massively got away with, following a last-gap 93rd minute equalizer from Iniesta, and surviving at least 3 good penalty shouts. Chelsea should have qualified on the night. They were then guided by top coach Guus Hiddink.

Fast forward 3 years, and this is the night that Chelsea will be clinging to as a rallying cry, when they host the Catalans again. Barcelona has become better in every aspect; Guardiola's team is now at its zenith. Chelsea has become inferior in every aspect, Drogba, Lampard, Terry, Essien are no longer the force they once were. So when Chelsea are looking for positives such as the impact of Di Matteo as a manager, their current good form, the fact they have never conceded a goal to Messi, the reality is that deep down, they fear the formidable force of the Catalans, just like any other team.

The Chelsea of a few years back would have had a chance. Their current crop doesn't. Barcelona will go through over 2 legs. In tonight's match, the Spaniards look good value as draw-no-bet as well.

To qualify: Barcelona
Draw-no-bet: Barcelona

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bayern vs Real - 1st Leg UCL

Here we go, Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid 1st leg semi-final UCL.

Bayern Munich have a lot of motivations to reach the final; the final will be at their Olympic stadium; they are out of contention in the Bundesliga and their UCL is their only hope of silverware. They have history behind them, having not lost to Real Madrid in the competition. They are hungry, they have top-class players in Ribery, Robben, Muller, Lahm, Gomez and Schweinsteiger.

On the other side comes a formidable free-scoring Madrid team with 2 great assets; Christiano Ronaldo, the second-best player in the world, and Mourinho, an unparalleled maestro for such occasions. The Spanish team has only tasted defeat once since the start of the year, in the Copa del Rey against Barcelona. Mourinho knows this Bayern team well since he beat them (with about the same core players) in the UCL final a couple of years ago with Inter Milan.

In my opinion, if logic prevails, Real should go through after 2 legs. Bayern is good, but not to the level of the Spaniards. They will need to play 2 perfect games to have a chance to go through. I cannot see it happening. The way I see it, tonight's game will be tight, with either team having a chance to win it and a draw being the most probable outcome. If Bayern are to win it, it won't be by more than 2 goals, so a +1.0 goal for Real on the Asian Handicap looks very safe. Over the 2 games, Real Madrid should qualify, and that is the recommendation as well.

To qualify: Real Madrid
Asian Handicap: Real Madrid +1.0

Monday, April 16, 2012

Good referee-ing and the bad

Quiet week-end with 2 winning selections and 1 void. The wins of the leaders of La Liga and EPL ensure the predictable statu-quo. Sunderland could only muster a goal-less draw against Wolves.

The result of the Tottenham vs Chelsea FA semi-final match was far of an interest, except that Martin Atkinson decided it to be otherwise with the ghost goal he allowed for Chelsea. I don't usually go bash into referees, because they are human, but this is a clear case where the referee needs to be held accountable and punished for such a mistake. Why allow a goal which he hasn't seen, or he has seen through troubled vision? The likes of Tevez, Balotelli and Busquets theatrics might be bad for the sport, but irrational decisions like Atkinson's make a mockery of the game. Spurs fans are rightly livid; the referee can express their sorries post-match, but they impacted on the result Yes, the game needs technological help, yes Blatter is the ultimate responsible for this kind of failure, and yes, Martin Atkinson should be banned from representing England to the next European Championships. This was not a mistake of human nature, as many of them are often categorized. And his resume is full of such errors this season. If vision is the excuse, then that says it all.

There were 2 penalties that made the headlines over the week-end; first, the Ashley Young theatrical tumbling for Man Utd's penalty. He clearly accentuated the fall, but he was clearly tackled, so it was a penalty. It's just that he has just earned himself the title of diver and will be scrutinized more so than referees from now on. Second, was Barcelona's penalty against Levante. In my books, that's a good decision as well as the Levante defender did himself no favours in doing a pushing act with both hands during the tussle. The contact might have been slight but the referee will not have missed the defender's body language.

The excitement really came from horse racing; Dabirsim, the champions 2-year old from last year, blotted his resume by losing for the first time, albeit by a nose on his seasonal debut. It is unclear what to make of this defeat; he still looks a horse that can contend for major honors, maybe he won't be as dominating as last year. It will be interesting to see if it is lack of true stamina that will impede him in the Classic races.

States-bound, there were some good preps for the Kentucky Derby, and Bodemeister is the primary name to remember. He thrashed a field containing the not-so-bad Secret Circle by over 9 lengths. Clearly, the son of Empire Maker will be a leading fancy for the big race in May.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Oh Frankel

No surprise seeing Real Madrid winning the derby against Atletico Madrid. Not many footballers would have attempted that Ronaldo shot that led to his second goal. Absolutely brilliant. There is only one real hurdle left for Real Madrid and that is their away game to Atletic Bilbao. With their 4-point cushion, if they win this game, they can afford to lose to Barcelona, as there is little doubt that they will get maximum points in their other remaining encounters.

Actually Real Madrid could make some breathing room for themselves this week-end as they host Sporting Gijon. A certain win for the Los Blancos. Barcelona travel to Levante for a tricky match; the hosts are a force to reckon with at home and it would be a mistake to think that Barcelona are sure winners of this game.

In the EPL, Man Utd could also be opening a gap as they host Aston Villa. I cannot see Villa winning this one at Old Trafford, and they might get lucky to steal a point. But I believe it is worth going for a straight Win for the Red Devils. Man City are in for a tough trip to Norwich, who are a tough cookie at home. This game can really go either way.

I like Sunderland's chances at home to Wolves. If only the bottom-of-table club could have some discipline in their ranks; they just keep shooting themselves in the foot by collecting red cards early in the game. That's one of their many problems. Sunderland as draw-no-bet should be safe.

Finally, some horse racing notes where the Grand National takes place on Saturday. A great spectacle I'll watch but I have no clue on the form of the National Hunt horses. Hopefully, Mc Coy won't win it again as I think he's won everything there is to win now and it's about time that someone else shares the honors.

On the Flat front, Frankel's injury yesterday has given a mighty scare to the racing world. The agony of waiting  will last 1 week by the time he's due his second scan to reveal the extent of the injury. Hopefully, it is only a superficial injury, as connections are hopeful it is. Frankel is having the horse nation on tenterhooks just like Rooney and Beckham had the English nation on the leadup to the last World Cup and European Championships. This is the year Frankel is supposed to show he's the greatest of them all, and I really hope it turns out that way.

Win: Real Madrid, Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Sunderland

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Capital Derby

Mourinho may have won his last 5 derbies against Atletico Madrid, but all that will count for nothing if his team does not win this one today. After Barcelona cut the gap to 1 point yesterday, the pressure is all on Real to win to keep the destiny of the title in their hands. Anything less than 3 points will swing the prospects back to Barcelona, something that was unimaginable a few weeks ago.

The good thing for the Los Blancos is that Atletico will be playing without 3 first-team regulars, including their in-form striker Salvio. Provided they are mentally ready and have not been distracted that their 10-point lead has been whittled down to 1 point, Real Madrid should be winning this game unless they get really unlucky like against their last trip to Villareal. It's a certainty for me that they will not lose, so the safe prediction is a draw-no-bet on the visitors.

Draw-no-bet: Real Madrid

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Flip Flops

The football form was good over the week-end, with 5 selections out of 6 hitting the target, but the golf prediction on Tiger and Rory was a helluva-wayward shot to say the least. Both finished with a dismal +5, far from the Top 10.

What else to say in EPL? City have blown it big time. Alex Ferguson is an unparalleled genius. Man City's money cannot buy what Man Utd have; their manager, their heritage and their instilled desire to win. This 20th title (who can doubt it's not a done deal) will feel super sweet for the Red Devils, that's for sure.

What a turn around of events between La Liga and EPL. A few weeks ago, it looked like Real Madrid was cruising easily to the title in Spain, while the Manchester teams were battling it out to the wire in England. Suddenly, Man Utd have killed off the rest of the pack in a quick and decisive fashion, while Real's 10-point lead has frittered to the point where they have Barcelona smelling blood. A four point advantage is still consequential, but Guardiola is fooling no-one by saying that his team's chances to go top is near-impossible. Real are still masters of their destiny and should win this, but one more faux-pas and Barcelona will be the ones to enjoy all favouritism come the Clasico in a few weeks time.

In a few hours, Barcelona should cut the gap to just 1 point when they host Getafe. They should win this game no problem.

So what to make of the Tiger and Rory flops in the Masters? They both had a good opening round on Thursday and then it all went downhill from there. Maybe Tiger still needs have to work on a few more things and that the Augusta Major came a little too soon since his win just a couple of weeks back. Maybe Rory shouldn't have taken 3 weeks off, and would have been better off with a prep tourney a week before the tournament? Just maybe's. But I felt Lee Westwood was the one to feel that this was one he should have won. He was the best at hitting fairways but just couldn't get hot on the putter. The fact that he putted 21 times more than Phil Mickelson, yet still finishing with the same score, and only 2 shots off the winner, says it all. It wouldn't be surprising if Westwood captured his first Major (finally) soon.

Win: Barcelona

Friday, April 6, 2012

More misery for Man City

Mancini is right for this week-end; there's a big chance that Man Utd strike the decisive blow to his team's aspirations for the title. There is little doubt that the Red Devils will open up an 8-point gap before Man City lock horns with Arsenal a while later. I cannot see QPR going away from Old Trafford with a point, let alone with the win. It's pretty much 3 important points in the bag for the current leaders.

It's very hard, but not impossible, to see Man City grabbing 3 points from their visit to the Emirates. Their current form is certainly not good enough. Unless their talisman Tevez can conjure up something, or the team gets its act together, they are in with a chance, but you wouldn't bet the house on it. This match is important for the Gunners as well for their quest to secure the all-important 3rd or 4th spots for next year's Champions League football. The game can swing either way.

I like West Brom's chances at home to Blackburn. The hosts are always competitive under Roy Hodgson and although Blackburn have enjoyed some success lately, I think they are still one of the bottom teams of the EPL. I recommend WBA as a draw-no-bet.

Also, Stoke makes a lot of appeal against sorry Wolves. The latter are going down, no doubt about it. Stoke looks safe as a draw-no-bet as well.

In Europe, I see wins for powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga, and Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. Barcelona should win at bottom club Zaragoza to keep their slim title hopes alive. Real Madrid have a tougher assignment against third-place team Valencia but the latter played in midweek in the Europa League and are bound to have freshness problems against the rampant hosts. Also, the visitors are an erratic team this year and are simply not as good as in previous years. Real Madrid should have no trouble grabbing another 3 straight points.

Win: Man Utd, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich
Draw-no-bet: West Brom, Stoke

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Masters Showdown 2012

Barcelona won and qualified, and they deserved it over the 2 legs. But their second penalty was not one. In every competitive football game, there are shirt foul tugging on corners that practically never ever get called. How the referee deemed that was necessary in such an important match at such a decisive time is mind-boggling. Barcelona are the best and do not need the ref's assistance, but there are many examples in recent years to the fact that they benefited from such dubious decisions from the men in black in the Champions League (think against Chelsea, Inter, Arsenal previously).

Tomorrow is the Golf Masters, my favourite golf Major of the year. Obviously, Tiger and Mc Ilroy draw all the attention here and on their current form, I would have no reservations seeing them both finish in the Top 10. My only issue is with the weather tomorrow, which could have some effect on the leaderboard. Tiger will tee off from the morning group where fine weather is expected. Mc Ilroy is part of the penultimate starting group in the evening when showers and thunderstorms are expected in the Augusta surroundings. That would be a big hindrance for the evening playing groups if the meteorological predictions prevail.

With that in mind, I have no problem seeing Tiger finish in the Top 10 on Sunday. As long as Rory has kept pace come the week-end and nature hasn't been too hard on his chances, he should finish in the Top 10 as well.

Masters Top 10: Tiger Woods, Rory Mc Ilroy

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nou Camp braced for goals

As expected, the Dubai World Cup meeting was a tough read as far as the form and competition were concerned, and it was with great satisfaction to see the predicted lays confirming their inferiority on the day. All the lays proved correct. The American-trained horses could only muster a best-placed fifth; the reason is simple, they are not as good on the synthetic as the Europeans, Australians or Asians. They rock and rule on the dirt, that's it.

While all the big lays were correct, some of the fancies mentioned, did disappoint, particularly Musir and Sepoy. For the latter, it was probably a case where he did not act on the surface. Same for So You Think.

I was also keeping an attentive eye on the Florida Derby where Union Rags, the favourite for the Kentucky Derby, disappointed to a 3rd place finish. Analysts can argue about his difficult trip and the track not being suited to his dash, but truth be told, he failed to give the showing that was expected of him since his last impressive outing. I must say he is no longer the sure type he looked to be a few weeks ago, for the May showdown. He's still a very good horse among the current batch, but it remains to be seen if there is another out there that can trouble him in a few weeks time.

Football-wise, Man Utd are giving a lesson to Mancini and co on how to close the deal. What an amazing turn of events in the past few weeks where the Citizens have seen their lead crumble like a pack of cards. The comments from Mancini and sorry-Vieira lately, show that they are not coping at all with the pressure. It goes to show what a master Alex Ferguson is; he must be laughing his heart out. A genius, he is. This is their title to lose now, and it would be a brave one thinking otherwise.

Tonight is the second leg of the Champions League between Barcelona and Milan. I mentioned prior to the first leg that Barcelona will go through and quite certain they will following their scoreless draw at the San Siro. I believe that Barcelona will out-score Milan, even if the latter are entitled to find the net. Whichever angle I look at it, I cannot see Milan qualifying. They got trounced visiting Arsenal in the previous round. They were completely outmatched by the Spaniards last week although they kept it to a decent 0-0. Sure, they managed a 2-2 last time they visited the Nou Camp during the group stages, but they were again outclassed and only scored the tying goal in injury time on a set-piece. Everything looks in favour of Barcelona tonight, and I recommend them as a Win in 90 minutes.

Win: Barcelona