Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Comeback, only a dream for Real

Tonight is a momentous point in the career of Jose Mourinho; do the near-impossible and thrash Dortmund by 3 goals at least to qualify Real Madrid to the Champions League final. Fail to do so and be destined to be  remembered as an also-ran, or worse, a failure, as a  Madrid coach. Self-confessed philosophical latter words from the Portuguese himself. For, that would leave him with just one league and one Copa del Rey titles (make that two Copas if they win this year's) to boast during his short tenure at Madrid. Very far from the ambitious cries of European glory that characterized his appointment a few years ago.

The European Cup is not short of great comebacks from the men in white. In the late 80's, it seemed inevitable they would make the difference at the Bernabeu after a heavy defeat on their travels;Anderlecht, Inter, Moenchengladbach have painful memories of these reversals. This would be the inspiration for the Los Blancos for tonight's game. Can they also do it? I don't think so. For every goal Madrid is bound to score, Dortmund can respond with one as well. They scored 2 on their last visit during the preliminary stages. This is a team that is mentally strong enough to withstand the apprehension of stepping into the cauldron of the Bernabeu. Their unorthodox manager Klopp will have readied them for that.

Real will depend on Ronaldo as usual. Much will depend on his disposition for the game as he's officially nursing a thigh injury. I have hardly any doubt Madrid will score; I actually think they can get 2 or possibly 3. But Dortmund will have their chances to score as well. My intuition of an all-German final before the start of the semis looks good; unless the referee has some other devious plan in mind, Dortmund should go through and the odds currently on offer are an absolute bargain.

In the other semi-final, I mentioned before that Barcelona have no chance of going through against the Bayern machine. Even with a Messi at 100%.

To qualify: Borussia Dortmund

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rogues and cheats

Amidst the fabulous semi-finals of Champions League football and Sprinter Sacre spectable in racing at Punchestown, two bombshells hit the headlines in these sports for the past week; yet-another scandal involving Luis Suarez, and the Al Zarooni drug shame.

The long list of mis-demeanors of Liverpool's Suarez is well-documented; biting at an opponent during his Ajax days, racial abuse towards Man Utd's Evra, refusal to shake hands with the latter in a later game, numerous diving incidents, and the deliberate hand-ball at the goal line against Ghana during a World Cup game. I am less inclined to fault him for that latter obstruction as it was really a reflex to stop being scored against. But his latest chewing at the expense of Chelsea's Ivanovic is less forgivable. It is a case of repeatable barbaric offence which, in my mind, deserves an unconditional heavy punishment. Ten games and Liverpool are sulking? Common, I think he deserves half the season on the sidelines. Let him consider his future in English football; in fact, I think the EPL would be better without his antics. His football skills are evident, but mentally there is definitely something amiss. How much more human meat he needs to chew before Liverpool decide that enough is enough?

The Al Zarooni saga is still unfolding, so not all the elements are pieced together yet before all questions can be clearly answered. It is quite hard to accept his reasoning that he did not know the rules about steroid use in UK racing. I mean, of the past 7 years, there have been 3 drug violations that have been detected; 2 of them were from Al Zarooni himself, for usage of forbidden pain-killers on his horses. It seems unfathomable that had that been naivety of his part back then, that he wouldn't have consulted the drug policies regarding harder drugs like anabolic steroids. His excuse of not knowing the rules does not hold much water. Unlike Suarez, his career is over. It looks to be the case of the young ambitious trainer who had his chance, took it and then blew it. What remains are pertinent questions that hopefully will be answered in the next days, but possibly many others won't be answered; For example, what to make of his successes at the highest level during the past 3 years? Was Monterosso juiced in winning the Dubai World Cup in 2012? He did surprise many by his decisive win on that day. Was Rewilding a worthy winner at Royal Ascot when gunning down heavy favourite So You Think? Many thought, including I, that the Ballydoyle colt was unbeatable that day, which prompted shell-shocked trainer O'Brien to advance that he hadn't prepared the colt adequately. How about Encke foiling Camelot's triple crown bid in the St Leger last year? Pounds, as well as dreams, were shed by many on that Classic, and they could very well have been for the wrong reasons if the Godolphin representative benefited from an illegal boost on the occasion.

Unlike some, I think that Godolphin will survive this. They are too huge to go under, just like the saying in the financial world, where there are banks that are too big to fail. There's every chance that Suarez will continue his controversial path and find something up his sleeve when he comes back. It just wouldn't shock anyone anymore. On further thoughts, maybe it could still shock, you never know with Suarez.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dortmund to make case for German final

Bayern did it as expected yesterday, and there is no way back in this tie for Barcelona. It's true a couple of the goals were suspect, particularly the Robben one which should have been disallowed, but Bayern were truly the better team by far. This is the end of the Barcelona dominating team as we know it.

My view that it can very well be an all-German UCL final stands, and Dortmund can pile more Spanish misery tonight against Real. How the sudden Gotze announcement will affect the team remains to be seen. Dortmund have a crazy manager in Klopp, a brilliant manager he is as well. I don't think Mourinho had any chance of playing mind games with Klopp which is why the Portuguese has stayed pretty numb in the rundown to tonight's encounter. It sometimes takes a crazy personality to outdo another one and that's what Klopp has done to Mourinho! Anyway, on the pitch, it will be 2 evenly teams needing to take their scoring chances to make it through.

Dortmund have unbelievable talent in Reus, Gotze and Lewandowski. No doubt that they won the Bundesliga twice in a row when Kagawa was there as well. They are potent but they have to be less profligate at goal like against the first-leg in Malaga where they wasted a ton of first-rate opportunities to score. Their strike force can un-lock the suspect Madrid defence, for sure.

Real Madrid have Ronaldo, and that gives them a winning chance in any match. Limit him and Borussia will have a great chance. I think Real will look for the away goal and try to park the bus in this match, in order to make the difference at the Bernabeu. Counter-attacking is their forte and look set to be their modus operandi.

I think it's worth going with Dortmund as a draw-no-bet here. They beat Real in the preliminary stage by the minimum score, although the conditions were different at the time. Real showed vulnerability in their last 2 travels; at Old Trafford where they needed a helping hand from the referee to go through, and at Galatasaray where they were outplayed by an arguably modest Turkish side. Dortmund looks to make a statement tonight and advance the cause of Bundesliga power in Europe.

Draw-no-bet: Borussia Dortmund

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bayern to overwhelm Barcelona

Nice pay-day on Monday; I've been mentioning on these pages since January to pile on Man Utd for Premier League glory and they made it official after thumping Aston Villa. Nice outcome one month before the season actually ends! Whatever is said about the quality of this team with respect to its predecessors, I think this team has the potential to get even better next year and no doubt that winning the Champions League will be seriously on their agenda. But this talk is for next season.

Talking of UCL, Tuesday sees Bayern Munich host Barcelona for the first semi-final, arguably these 2 teams being the best in the world at the moment. My thoughts on the UCL at this stage is very much against popular thought at this stage; I think one of the Germans teams will win it and it could very well be an all-German final. The market obviously thinks otherwise and sees either of the Spanish giants winning it and favo urs an all-Spanish final.

Bayern Munich have won the Bundesliga in an unprecedented canter. They have been dominating  in both the domestic league or in Europe, even though they can show the occasional blip like in the return leg against Arsenal at the elimination stage. This team is possibly the best organized of the remaining four and strong in all departments. This team is strong mentally as well with the likes of Schweinsteiger, Robben, Lahm, Ribery and Gomez in their prime. The only thing that they lack against Barcelona is a Messi/Ronaldo-type player that can change a game at will. The arrival of Gotze, by the way, next year, will only reinforce this team.

I subscribe to the growing belief that Barcelona are past their prime; they are still one of the best, if not still the best, teams out there, but it's tough to see them improve on what they've already achieved. This year, they've shown that they are hugely dependent on Messi and if the Argentinian is not on song, they can be in a lot of trouble. That spells trouble against Bayern, particularly that Messi has just come back from injury and will not be at his utmost best against the Bavarians.

Bayern look strongly favoured for this encounter, based on the form of the two teams in the past few weeks. The Germans' best hope of going through is to make the difference at home, with full knowledge that the Spaniards have shown great vulnerability on a few of their travels. If they can limit a Messi who's bound to be not at his best, they must have a great chance of winning this first leg.

Bayern is a safe draw-no-bet. At current odds, for a riskier venture but greater return, I would be inclined to go straight for the Bayern win. I think Barcelona are in for a difficult night at the Olympic stadium.

Win: Bayern Munich
Draw-no-bet: Bayern Munich

Friday, April 19, 2013

Week-end football and racing

The Flat season has started its post-Frankel era since a couple of weeks. No doubt that the mega-star of the past few years will be missed, but this is racing; one goes and there is hope that another gem arises, although it will be tough to surpass Frankel. But just a few years ago, everyone seemed to think that we'd never see the likes of Sea The Stars again, yet the son of Galileo appeared and the rest, they say, is history.

Black Caviar surprisingly left for the paddocks as well earlier this week and so racing has lost its 2 brightest stars. Among the juvenile brigade, there are a few that have shown potential and might emerge with promise; Dawn Approach and Toronado are certainly at the fore-fronts of all minds ahead of the coming Guineas. Among the older brigade, Camelot oozes enigma, and expectations will be high on the son of Montjeu to vindicate claims from his trainer that he's the best horse ever to come out of  Ballydoyle.

Then, Sea The Stars has his first 2-year olds running this year. I personally believe he will become a terrific sire; whether as good or better than his half-brother Galileo, it's difficult to pronounce, but he's definitely got the pedigree and breeder support to make a great stallion. We'll have to wait and let his sons and daughters do the talking. Lots to look forward indeed.

On Saturday, Noble Mission, makes his season appearance at Newbury. It looks to be all systems go for the Frankel's half-brother. The distance will suit and he's clearly got the best form from last year, among the runners. He will definitely be in the top 2, but is worth a punt as an outright Win at current odds.

The Group 3 Greenham Stakes at 15.30 looks to be a race between Hannon's Olympic Glory and Botti's Moohajim. Both yards are in good form but I give a small advantage to the Hannon horse at the seven furlong distance. He's a Win selection as well.

In football, I like Norwich as a Win against sorry Reading. This should put the Canaries at ease in the relegation fight. I think Wigan will sneak something out of their trip to West Ham. They showed good spirit in their loss at Man City and they definitely can match the Hammers. Wigan is a draw-no-bet selection.

Win: Noble Mission, Olympic Glory, Norwich
Draw-no-bet: Wigan

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tough Toffee test for Gunners

Arsenal's odds are way too short against Everton on Tuesday's sole EPL match. The Gunners struggled against Norwich over the week-end and were only able to breach the Canaries in the last 5 minutes. Everton were convincing home winners against QPR and will certainly be less physically worn-out for Tuesday's game. As usual, the Toffees should give the Gunners a hard time and I see them as great value with a +1 goal advantage.

+1 Goal: Everton

Friday, April 12, 2013

Week-end European fixtures

It will be Bayern v/s Barcelona and Dortmund v/s Real in the semi-finals of the UCL. In fact, any combination would have been mouth-watering; these are really the 4 best teams in the world. My early inclination is that one of the German teams is going to win the trophy, and I also feel it could very well be an all-German final; I'm sure the majority will not agree. We'll get to those fixtures when the the first leg will be played. Here are some thoughts on some of this week-end's matches.

Arsenal v/s Norwich. I don't think the Canaries will drop and I also don't think they can go to the Emirates and win. Arsenal look to finish another disappointing season on a strong note and am backing them for the Win. They will be missing Diaby in midfield although the return of Wilshere should bring that loss in perspective.

Aston Villa v/s Fulham. Got to go with the Villains to snatch at least a point from this contest. They are on a real fight for survival and must be gunning for maximum points against Fulham. Their form is alright against middle-tier teams and I fancy there will be a few goals in this contest. Aston Villa is the value draw-no-bet selection of the week-end.

Everton v/s QPR. It's almost game over for Rangers who will drop in my opinion. Although it will be difficult for them, Everton are still in contention for the fourth spot and will aim for maximum points. With the return of Fellaini and Pienaar, Everton look a safe draw-no-bet selection.

Stoke v/s Man Utd. The Red Devils are on a mini-slump and although they still have a more than comforting advance at the top, they will want to stop their losing run. Stoke have been toothless for quite a while and they look to be a team that needs major restructuring. Tony Pulis does not seem to be able to get any more out of the current team. It's true that the Mancunians have always found The Brittania a difficult place to go but they've not lost there. This is a match they need to make a statement to knock any revived title hopes a City fan might have nurtured. Man Utd is a win recommendation.

In Europe, Atletico Madrid should beat Granada while in the Ligue 1, PSG should come back with full points from their travel to Troyes.

Win: Man Utd, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, PSG
Draw-no-bet: Aston Villa, Everton

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Semi-finals in sight for Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund looks primed to reach the semi-finals of the UCL tonight. Although the first leg match against Malaga ended up in a scoreless draw, the Germans squandered a host of good chances to snatch at least an away goal, albeit win the game. They showed they were the superior team and will be the deserved favourites to go through back on their home ground where they are quite formidable. There are quite a few things going against Malaga; a couple of suspended players, mixed current form, and the unfortunate disruption of their training with the absence of top manager Pellegrini over the past few days. Even at their best, the Spaniards floundered in the last round on their visit to Porto, and were lucky to come away with a narrow 1-goal loss. Dortmund are bound to be less forgiving and they look set to win the match and advance. I see the Germans winning over 90 minutes and qualify.

Win: Borussia Dortmund
To Qualify: Borussia Dortmund

Friday, April 5, 2013

European Preview

Man Utd should put the title beyond any lingering doubt next Monday when they welcome their neighbours Man City. I cannot see them being beaten at home and they look safe as a draw-no-bet.

It is more the relegation battle that is the centre of interest since the Red Devils have been cruising in the league for a while now. Norwich have massive chance to advance their credentials for staying up when they welcome slumping Swansea. It is a must 3 points for the Canaries and I expect them to at least get a point from the match. They are a draw-no-bet selection.

Liverpool entertain West Ham and I see it worth siding with the hosts here. West Ham will be missing a few key players for this game while the Kops will only missing Raheem Sterling. Suarez could get back into some serious goal scoring in there. Liverpool are a Win selection.

QPR v/s Wigan is a 6-pointer game. Rangers cannot afford anything other than a win here. Wigan are going through their usual last-ditch escape rituals and still have an error of margin to play with. Rangers should be able to dictate the play but the main question is whether they can take their chances. The visitors will be all happy to pounce on the counter-attack, on which they are particularly effective. At current odds, I see it worth siding with Rangers as a draw-no-bet.

In Spain, I see wins for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia, and it's best value to have them in an accumulator.

Win: Liverpool
Draw-no-bet: QPR, Norwich, Man Utd
Accumulator: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easy path for Real Madrid

I've read several reports of Galatasaray having a chance of causing an upset tonight against Real Madrid; I just cannot see it happening. I don't even think that the Turkish team is comparable in any way, shape or form to the Spanish giants. Sure they have Drogba and Sneijder. They have a good manager. But it's a huge stretch to think that they can go win at the Bernabeu. It's a longshot to think that they can go through to the next round. I don't think any of this will happen. The Turks barely scraped through Shalke in the last round and that does not bode well facing possibly the second best team in the world. They might score against Real Madrid tonight but there's every reason they will be outscored in the process. Real Madrid should win tonight.

The other game between Malaga and Dortmund looks more even-handed; the Spaniards have to try to make the difference at home if they are to overcome their formidable opponents over 2 legs. Dortmund is a difficult beast to play against, whether on the road or at home. Having already surrendered the Bundesliga title to Bayern, the Germans will put all their effort in the UCL and must be favourites to go through. I think tonight will be a very tight affair and it will not be surprising if this game is decided with 1 goal difference or in a draw. Sitting the fence on this one.

Win: Real Madrid

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

UCL Quarters

The UCL quarters start today with 2 mouth-watering clashes between PSG and Barcelona, and Bayern against Juventus.

PSG v/s Barcelona. PSG will soon become a European heavy-weight behind the backing of Qatar's coffers. They are a team in the making and are not yet up to the likes of Barcelona.They look set to win the French Ligue 1 and have done well to reach this stage of the UCL. But the buck should stop here. Their main weapon is Ibrahimovic and Barcelona will put their focus to shut him down and hence subdue the Parisians' premier goalscoring threat. I believe they should do so and let Messi and co dictate things at the other end of the pitch. Barcelona are not invincible and will be keen not to repeat their nightmare of San Siro a few weeks back where they surrendered 2 goals. The return of manager Tito Villanova behind the bench will no doubt strengthen the team and I advise them as a solid draw-no-bet.

Bayern is crushing the Bundesliga but Juventus will be as strong a team as they will face all season. The Italians will certainly try to squeeze at least a goal on this trip so that they can make the difference back home. This looks to be the tightest match-up of the quarter-finals and on quality, the Germans have the edge only marginally. They will be looking to make a strong statement at home and I see them as a strong draw-no-bet as well.

Draw-no-bet: Barcelona, Bayern Munich