Friday, February 22, 2013

EPL and Carling Cup Final preview

Saturday's Carling Cup final will pit 2 teams with an ocean of class between them. Swansea is fighting for an Europa spot in the Premier League while Bradford is plying its trade 3 leagues below in League 2 football. There is no way you can go with Bradford City on this one. Granted, there have been shocks in finals before; just a few years back, Birmingham was on its way to relegation from the EPL and still managed to beat heavily-favoured Arsenal. The realilty is Arsene Wenger has lost more finals than he's won, so it was not a shock of cataclysmic proportions.

Here we have a Swansea team led by an upcoming manager in Laudrup, who will be keen to get the first major trophy of this fledging managerial career. They boast in the ranks one of the top strikers in the EPL today in Michu, who's been one of the revelations of the year. The welsh club are one of select sides, besides the usual top teams, that play good incisive football, that will create problems to any side they encounter.

The reality for Bradford is to try barricade its box and desperately rely on counter-attacks for a deadly goal or make the match last till the lottery of penalties. That would be their best chance of lifting the trophy against all odds. I don't think it will happen, no matter how nice a Cinderella story that would be. Bradford has a huge task facing this talented Swansea side. Looking at the odds, I will go for Swansea to lift the cup in the end, and although the chances are that they will settle the issue inside regular time, a draw-no-bet on them looks safe as well.

Here are my thoughts on some of the week-end matches in the EPL.

Arsenal v/s Villa. Not surprisingly, Arsenal seem destined to win nothing again. They were booted out of the FA Cup last week, they are nearly down and out in the Champions League against Bayern, and they stand no chance in winning the EPL. The best target they can aim for, like in previous years, is at least a 4th place finish in the EPL that will guarantee them UCL football next season. They will have to be wary of Benteke, the Villa striker that seems to be scoring for fun lately. I don't see many goals in this one mainly because the Gunners are bound to feel the effects of Wednesday's drubbing against the Germans, and the Villains will certainly opt for a defensive display to try to sneak a point out of the contest. Still, it might be good value to opt for Arsenal as a draw-no-bet.

QPR v/s Man Utd. I posed the question before the Real Madrid game on how good or bad were the Red Devils. I think they showed they were a very good team that could rival with the best of them any day. This team can play different types of systems; defensive, counter-attacking, offensive, man-marking, and the thing is that they are always a goal-threat with the likes of Van Persie and Rooney. The talent at the disposal of Sir Alex Ferguson is scary; Nani, Chicharito, Anderson don't even have a spot in the first team at the moment. Harry Redknapp's teams used to cause problems to Man Utd years ago, but it seems that he can't find the magic touch against them lately. The truth is, no matter the big signings since the start of the season, Rangers looks a very unbalanced team with a very suspect team play and even a maestro like Redknapp is having trouble righting the sinking ship. This could be a big night for Van Persie to add to his goal tally. Man Utd are a Win selection and they should go 15 points clear by this match.

Man City v/s Chelsea. The hosts have the advantage of not having had an European match to deal with in mid-week. Chelsea can be considered lucky to have scraped through Sparta Prague in the Europa League but they will definitely be feeling the exertions of that match. Last year's fixture was a tight one where the Citizens managed to win after going a goal down, and there is no reason to believe that the match will not be close again this year. They are still the 2 best teams in the EPL after Man Utd. With the seemingly renewed confidence of the strikers Aguero and Tevez, and with the efficient Dzeko, I believe the hosts have the answer to the Chelsea defence. They are a draw-no-bet selection.

Win Cup: Swansea
Win: Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Swansea, Arsenal, Man City

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Malaga danger for Porto.

Of the two UCL matches under-way in a few hours, it's the Porto v/s Malaga one that looks the more appealing form a punting point of view. These are 2 strong teams that have claims to potentially reach the semi-final stage. Porto is the yardstick in the Portuguese league and are on a 19-game unbeaten streak. Malaga is a solid 4th in La Liga and will pose problems to any side. Their financial problems are well-documented but the players do not seem to find it an issue on the pitch. They are led by a very good coach in Pellegrini. They have fine form going into this match and it would be no surprise if they were to spring an upset. The market odds for a +1 goal handicap looks good value and that is the selection.

+1 Handicap: Malaga

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Litmus test for the Red Devils

The Champions League first-leg match between possibly the 2 greatest sides in football gets under-way in a few hours. A few months ago, I would have said that Real Madrid was a banker to go through. They were, and are still I believe, the second best team in the world after Barcelona. Man Utd were, and are still, plagued by a woeful defence that sullies the good names of its predecessors. So, it was a no-brainer a few months back.

Some important variables have since changed and most of it is from Real. They are a club plagued by internal rife that has totally undone them in the domestic league. There is every plausible reason to believe that this could prolong to the Champions League. Mourinho is a great manager but he's shown he's a coach for 2-3 seasons at a club. His expiry date goes fast and it looks that his time in Madrid is up very soon. Worse, it looks like it won't be done with a happy hand-shaking, given the turmoil surrounding the club. All this has had an impact on the football from the team; they are a great team on paper but they've been overly exposed in recent months, showing many glimpses of a side that can easily undo itself. They will have to be at or near their best to overcome Man Utd.

This Man Utd side is unique in that there are so many polar and divided opinions about it. For some, they are a great team, close to the Treble team. For others, they are without any doubt several notches below and any attempt for comparison would be scandalous. This is why, I believe, this encounter with Madrid is the real litmus test. Beat them fairly and they will show they are a truly great side. I've said it before, I  like everything from this Utd team except its defence. I think their strike force and midfield is as strong as it's ever been. Robin Van Persie can score out of nothing and gives them unmatched firepower. The defence is a big concern. It is a mix of the unproven, error-prone and sell-past-date players that will make Christinao Ronaldo looking for a field day. Red Devil fans must hope that the back four can keep the goals-against respectable and let RVP and co do the damage on the other side of the pitch.

This tie is very much up for grabs. There are other story lines regarding Mourinho's good record against Ferguson. That's a fallacy to look at. They encountered twice in the Champions League and although the score is even, it should be the Scot enjoying a 2-0 score. When the Red Devils lost to Porto, they had a valid goal disallowed that would have settled the tie. The Portuguese were also lucky to pounce on a last-minute error by keeper Tim Howard to score the go-through goal. Were it not for that lucky result, Mourinho would not be bragging about his CL record, and who knows, maybe he wouldn't have been given the Chelsea manager role that made his name. The second time they met in the UCL, Man Utd outclassed and dumped Mourinho's Inter Milan team at the quarter final's stage when the Italians were favourites to go through.

I will sit on the fence on this one. Man Utd need to keep it tight at the back to have any chance. We will finally know how good or bad they are. In turmoil or not, Real Madrid are logical favourites to go through on paper. Enjoy the game.

Friday, February 8, 2013

EPL week-end - Man Utd can crush the league

It does not look as though the internationals that took place on Wednesday will have much bearing over this week-end's matches but it will certainly boost each single player that took part in England's beating of Brazil at Wembley (except maybe for blundering Gary Cahill). That was an impressive performance by the Lions and long may live the the midfield axis of Wilshere and Gerrard. Even with Neymar, Brazil is not the Samba team of old. In particular, when you have David Luiz from Chelsea as your rock at the back, there is a reason for Scolari to worry about his defence.

Man Utd can crush the league on Sunday if their main opponents fail to register full points. Everton are the visitors at Old Trafford and the Toffees inflicted their hosts a blow on opening day of the season by beating them by the minimum score at Goodison Park. David Moyes is one of my contenders for Manager of the Year as he's making them perform at a consistently high level since the start of the season. They are led by the mercurial Fellaini who's building himself a great goalscoring ratio for a midfielder. Man Utd rarely lose both home and away matches to the same team and they will want to make sure that the visitors are no exception to the rule. The Red Devils are in good form and seem to have Rooney back to his near-best. My only concern with them is that they are bound to have an eye on next Wednesday's Champions League game at the Bernabeu. It will not be surprising if Sir Alex Ferguson were to alter team selections on Sunday, given that they have a stronghold in the league and that the Champions League still remains a trophy he covets. Although this game looks to be tight, I do not see Man Utd losing this and they look good value as a Win at current market odds. In addition, whether their main rivals win or not on Saturday, I believe in continuing backing them for the title.

Tottenham v/s Newcastle. Spurs got a big blow recently over the injury of their main striker Defoe who's bound to miss at least their next few games. Adebayor is back from the African's Cup but is not certain to feature. Still, they are still potent in attack with the likes of Lennon, Dempsey and Bale. Newcastle go to White Heart lane on the back of 2 consecutive wins to give some breathing air to manager Pardew. They seem to have replaced the loss of Demba Ba with newcomer Sissoko who beat Chelsea on his own last week by scoring 2 goals on his debut. The Magpies are still missing mazy winger Ben Arfa and although they will play with renewed confidence I find it hard to support them against a strong Spurs team. Spurs are a draw-no-bet selection.

Stoke v/s Reading. The hosts are still going through some rotten form and there is no better way for them to get their season on track than playing at home against a lowly team. The Potters showed some of the defensive resilience they have been renowned for in recent years against Arsenal last week although they lost by the minimum score. Reading have gathered points here and there lately thanks to the late heroics of diminutive striker Le Fondre. The rest of the team will have to pitch in big time for their fair record to continue. I don't see a lot of goals in this one but I see this as a great opportunity for Stoke to start a good run.  They are a draw-no-bet selection.

Southampton v/s Man City. The Saints seem to be warming well to new manager Pochettino although the change looked an unfair sacking of ex-manager Nigel Adkins. Southampton have very good form at home and are led by in-form striker Rickie Lambert. They will pose problems for this City side who will be welcoming back their powerhouse midfielder Yaya Toure and possibly their defensive mainstay, captain Kompany. In Toure's absence, David Silva has been running the show but has not been served by the profligacy of their main strikers in front of goal. The problem with the Citizens this season has been their indifferent level of form. They can be outstanding in one game and capable of playing poorly in the next. They have the ammunition to win this game but even if they do, I don't think it will be by much. Looking at the market, Southampton with a 1 goal handicap lead is the selection.

Aston Villa v/s West Ham. How many more chances does Villa need more to finally register a win? It's bound to come one day, and it could very well come against West Ham on Sunday. Striker Benteke is on fire and is Villa's main hope. They cannot afford to lose against the Hammers or else this must surely be the sack for manager Paul Lambert. The Villains are recommended as a strong draw-no-bet against an average West Ham side.

The other games look capable of ending in any result and going for the draw in them might be rewarding.

Win: Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Tottenham, Stoke, Aston Villa
+1 Goal Handicap: Southampton.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Week-end football, Superbowl

It is always the case that the matches following the end of the transfer window spring their cans of surprises because teams have reinforced or weakened during the flurry of activities that characterize the end of transfer proceedings. In addition, new players that are propelled straight into the first team have to gel immediately; so while it will be interesting to see how the forms of all the teams have been affected, caution is the word for the first batch of matches this week-end.

I cannot see Man Utd losing at Fulham. For one, the hosts will be without their main goal scorer Berbatov, while the Red Devils have all their major weapons, bar Ashley Young, at their disposal. The confident selection is Man Utd as a win.

West Brom look exposed against Tottenham. Striker Odemwingie threw a fit and tried to force a vain transfer to QPR on the last transfer day. Talk about morale hit to the team. Spurs were forced to dig deep last week to earn a point at Norwich and will be better served with a seemingly fully-fit Defoe. I see value backing the visitors as a draw-no-bet on this one.

In La Liga, I like Barcelona on their road trip to Valencia. The team is in excellent form and should have trounced Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Cup on Wednesday. They only put one past the Los Blancos although they had clear chances to put the match and tie away. Messi did not score but brave would be the one to oppose him again against Valencia. The hosts are possibly the third best team in La Liga but there is a gulf between them and the Blaugrana. Barcelona is a straight win selection.

Malaga should win at home to Zaragoza. Real Madrid should either win or draw at Granada, and I see Rayo Vallecano as the value bet in La Liga with a +1 goal handicap as they visit Sevilla.

Finally, it's the Super Bowl on Sunday. The San Francisco 49ers are short favourites but I have a feeling the Baltimore Ravens will win this. They are the better balanced team and their quarterback Joe Flacco has the ability to unlock the sometimes unorganized 49er defence. I am no American football expert, but from what I've seen, and I could be wrong, I will speculate and believe going with the Ravens is definitely worth a small crack at the current odds.

Win: Man Utd, Barcelona, Malaga
Draw-no-bet: Tottenham, Real Madrid
+1 Handicap: Rayo Vallecano