It is not too late for Lyon to salvage the season, but it is unlikely for them to secure another European championship berth. The best case scenario is to make the group stage once again in 2014 for Europa League, which makes it particularly important to extract the most from their current presence in the competition. So far things are going according to the plan and even though the French side trails Betis by two points, they have a good chance to advance and even win the group.
Three goals in four games is hardly a result that Lyon can be proud of, especially after playing for several years in the most prestigious European competition. Compared to their performance in the Champions League, this year’s display is hardly impressive and if they fail to reach the next stage, they shouldn’t expect any lenience from media, fans and management. Blaming the long list of injuries doesn’t work either, despite the fact that they are struggling to cope with many absentees.
What they should be building on is a potent offensive, with all three strikers ready to go and this is exactly the tactic that the hosts should use tonight. By fielding Gomiz, Lacazette and Briand from the very beginning, Lyon should be capable to exercise enough pressure on Betis’ defense to crack and recent results speak for themselves. The Spanish side conceded a total of eight goals in less than a week while scoring a single goal, after Barcelona and Seville unleashed a 90 min. siege.
The visitors are confident about their chances to survive the group stage and they have all the reasons to be optimistic, as they lead the group with eight points. Add to this the fact that they will face Rijeka at home in the last round, a team that is yet to win a game in Europa League and it is easy to understand why they would gladly settle for a draw in France. At the beginning of the month, they won the game against Guimaraes, a defeat that probably sealed the fate of the Portuguese side. More on this topic, can be found at http://www.thesoccer-blog.com/must-win-game-guimaraes-europa-league/.
Nobody can blame them for starting with a 5-4-1 formation after the recent humiliating defeats, but this could open a window of opportunity for Lyon. The odds for a home victory are staggering at 2.25 with top bookmakers, so punters who don’t mind taking additional chances for the sake of nice payouts should place this wager. Lyon’s defenses leave a lot to be desired but if they play the offensive card properly, they might not need stellar goalkeeping or an impeccable backline display.
This is not the first time that Betis plays in an important European competition and the Spanish team has made deep runs in these tournaments in the past. By contrast, this is the first real chance for Guimaraes to play among the best European clubs and the Portuguese side is highly motivated to advance from Group I. Compared to Lyon and Betis, they are clearly the less experienced team, but neither of these opponents are at the peak of their form.
Another major advantage that the Portuguese have over their opponents is that the French and Spanish teams are not taking the Europa League competition seriously enough. Lyon is mired in a brutal race in its domestic championship and for the first time in many years it is not even among the first three favorites to win the trophy. On one hand, this should motivate them to make a deep run in the European competition because it is unlikely for them to participate again the next season.
The same applies to Betis who is in an even worse situation, struggling in the bottom half of the Primera Division. The fact that they’ve lost to Malaga over the weekend after conceding a third goal in the last minute of overtime is only amplifying their struggles. Three days from now, Barcelona will be visiting Sevilla and the hosts will be huge underdogs once again despite having home pitch advantage.
The prospect of drawing tonight is not that frightful for Betis who has a slim advantage over Guimaraes, so punters should expect a less incisive visiting team. By contrast, the hosts are enjoying a relatively smooth ride in their domestic championship and have made Europa league their main priority for 2013. If they prevail tonight, they will face Rijeka on the road before returning home for the final game against Lyon. In a nutshell, the Portuguese side has a good chance of finishing second in Group I if they win all three points tonight and this is exactly what the host will be aiming for.
Bookmakers have sided with the visiting team, despite the fact that they are clearly in awful form and won just once in the last seven games. As a result, the odds for Guimaraes to win with the cover of an Asian handicap stand at 2.20 with most bookmakers, which is tremendous value. Risk-averse punters could settle for slightly lower odds by betting on the hosts to win or draw.
To say that things are not going according to the plan for Almeria would be an understatement, because the team is struggling in the basement of the standings. Their objective for 2013 is to avoid relegation but if they keep making steps into the same directions, they will find it impossible to avoid this fate at the end of the season. The only team that sits below them is Rayo Vallecano who managed to accumulate just three points in eight games and are among the candidates for relegation.
This is why this confrontation is particularly important, as the one who loses tonight in Almeria is very likely to seal its fate. Although there are plenty of rounds left to be played in the Spanish domestic league, losing to a main counter candidate is disheartening and will have long-term consequences. The two teams are a defensive mess and concede an astonishing amount of goals even when playing against relatively weak opponents. At least in theory, the gap separating them from the other teams struggling to leave the relegation area is not considerable, but the manner in which they lose games is shocking.
Rayo Vallecano lost consecutive games while conceding for goals and even though they’ve somewhat strengthen their defenses recently, they are still unable to score goals of their own. This makes it particularly surprising that they found the resources to take advantage of Real Sociedad’s slump and won their first and only game this season. To explain this result, it is sufficient to look at the starting formation that the visiting team relied on in that particular game, as Sociedad chose to rest its key players.
They are trying to save whatever can still be saved in the Champions League after losing both games in a highly competitive group. Meanwhile, Rayo Vallecano doesn’t have such high aspirations, but they are bound to put all precautions aside and come out firing on all cylinders at Almeria. The hosts have conceded two goals or more in nine consecutive games and even though they score some of their own, it is never enough to deliver a victory.
Something’s got to give tonight when the two worst teams in Primera Division go at each other’s throats and punters would be right to bet on the number of goals. The odds for more than 2.5 goals to be scored are much better than those offered for indicating the outright winner, not to mention that the result is much easier to predict.
A fortunate turn of events gave Hungary a second chance to make the playoffs for the World Cup, but they will fight an uphill battle if we are to get that far. To start with, they travel to the Netherlands in an attempt of collecting all three points, knowing that they still depend on what happens in Estonia and Andorra. They have only theoretical chances of advancing to the next stage but they have the advantage of facing a Dutch team that lacks motivation due to the fact that it already secured qualification.
http://www.fourfourtwo.com/news/fifa-world-cup-qualifying-netherlands-v-hungary makes an interesting observation, by noting that the Netherlands were in fact the first team to qualify for the World Cup, ahead of Germany. Not surprising, coach Louis van Gaal will rest some of its key players especially those who have picked up injuries and are susceptible of aggravating them. On the other hand, he told his players to do everything on the field and treat this games seriously, something that may or may not happen.
Hungary has a mediocre team but players are highly motivated after Turkey achieved a surprising victory in Bucharest and reignited the race for the playoffs. Their main concern in the Netherlands is to avoid conceding an early goal while relying on the counterattack to score the winning goal, most likely in the second half. Obviously, these are plans that look great on paper but what happens on the field depends almost exclusively on how determining the hosts are to win.
Normally this would be a no-brainer, and punters would be recommended to back the hosts at full stakes and even to cover a generous spread, but this is not the case tonight. Van Persie, Gregory van der Wiel, Stijn Schaars and Jonathan de Guzman have picked up some dubious injuries and they won’t play tonight, which will weaken the Dutch team. The visitors are virtually at full strength and except for Adam Szalai who was ruled out, Hungary can field the best starting formation.
In conclusion, punters who don’t want to stay away from this game should take a leap of faith and back the underdogs. In order to mitigate the risks, an Asian handicap wager is in order and most bookmakers offer even odds for Hungary not to lose by two goals or more. Keep the wagers relatively low, because if the hosts suddenly decide that they don’t want to let their fans down, this bet can easily backfire.
The two teams met four times so far and each time Valencia emerged victorious, granted they had to fight hard for each victory. All four wins were secured by a narrow margin, yet a similar result would mean a lot for a team that is struggling at the bottom of the tables.
This weekend, Valencia earned a rare victory against Sevilla at home and scored three goals, for the first time this season. It was exactly what the Bats needed after losing consecutive games and suffering a lopsided defeat in the opening game of the Champions League. Their strikers were nonexistent against Swansea but came back to life just a couple of days later, scoring against depleted Sevilla.
Tonight they will travel to Granada which proved to be a stringy team this season and the best proof is that they’ve collected five points in five games. One of the few defeats suffered by the hosts was caused by Real Madrid who also prevailed by an odd goal, something that prompts pundits to forecast a tight game tonight. Those who watched that particular match live know that the final score is a bit misleading, because the 2011 champions squandered numerous opportunities.
Valencia will not have as many chances to score as Real Madrid, but all they need is to be a bit more clinical and they should emerge victorious. This is the best time to trust them at full stakes to win away from home, as bookmakers are reluctant to grant them favorite status even against inferior opponents. Granada is such a team and they are well aware of the fact that they start at a disadvantage, so will once again field just one striker.
Their strategy for this season in simple, as they try to avoid relegation once again and by drawing against Valencia and other top Spanish teams, they might do just that. There is no point in betting on more than 2.5 goals to be scored, as the hosts lack the will to put a lot of pressure on the visitors, while the latter were not particularly effective up front. Valencia needs to win back-to-back games if it is to make a successful run in a European championship this season and resurgence should start in Granada.
The tiny European nation doesn’t have a tradition in continental football, but for the first time in history Iceland has a chance of making the World Cup. They sit on the fourth place in a group of six teams, but a victory tonight would see them leapfrogging two opponents and bring them one step closer of making the playoffs. Bystanders and pundits alike took notice of their potential after the 4-4 against Switzerland, where the visitors rebounded from a 3-1 handicap.
The task at hand is not an easy one, as they need to win at home against Albania, a team that tied them for the third place with 10 points and a better goal average. Assuming Iceland finds a way of replicating their performance in Tirana, it will set up a decisive game against Norway one month from now. They will need to defeat Cyprus before that, but the very idea of traveling to the Scandinavian country in the last stage of the qualifying campaign to play a decisive game is amazing.
The last couple of years saw Iceland improving its offensive and nowadays its key strikers play for some of the best teams in Europe. It is not surprising that they scored three goals in a quick succession after digging themselves into a hole in Zurich on Friday. This is in fact the main reason of concern for their fans and punters alike, because Iceland proved to be a streaky team, incapable of building a comfortable lead or defending a narrow advantage.
Albania can safely be included into the same category, as they alternated impressive victories with surprising defeats. They did a fine job in causing major upsets such as earning four points in the double legged round with Norway, only to lose at home to Iceland. Whether the islanders got their number or Albania players expected that game to be an easy victory, what is certain is that they’ve lost a chance to claim the first place.
For the remaining two rounds, they have some tough fixtures scheduled, including a game against Switzerland at home and a visit to Cyprus. The defensive is their best asset, but Iceland proved that they’ve got the strikers capable of breaking through even the most effective back lines. The key for Iceland is to take the initiative from the very first minute, because although they have the best attack in the group, their defenses are weak.
As long as the hosts can keep the ball in the opposite field, they should have an easy task in winning the game and close the gap separating them from Norway. Most bookmakers offer odds above evens with the best values exceeding 2.20 and it is most unlikely for these odds to drop as the kickoff draws near. A medium stakes bet on Iceland to prevail makes perfect sense and whether you choose to place it right now or wait until the very last minute, give credit to this young and promising team.
Manchester United is winless in the last four games against Chelsea and they hope to put an end to this streak tonight when the two teams meet on an old Trafford. The hosts are trained by a new coach and Moyes needs to prove his worth against one of the best coaches in the world, as Jose Mourinho returns to Chelsea. He will also have to do without five of his veteran players as Hernandez, Nani, Fletcher, Young and Rafael are all missing due to injuries.
On the bright side, he will have a formidable trident upfront and with Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie scoring two times in the opening game, so he has reasons to be optimistic. Manchester United made short work of Swansea and will count on a similar offensive output against their arch rivals. What they should expect is an airtight defense, as Jose Mourinho knows all too well how to counter an aggressive opponent that has home pitch advantage.
The Portuguese coach won both games so far with Chelsea and will try to capitalize on the numerous absentees that Manchester United is dealing with. Without Sir Alex Ferguson to worry about, he should have an easier task at keeping the winning streak alive although Old Trafford is a hard place to play. One thing that punters are particularly interested in is whether Manchester’s new coach will give Wayne Rooney a chance or keep him on the bench.
What is interesting about the striker’s situation is that he submitted transfer requests recently and Chelsea is one of the teams where he could land in a not so distant future. Moyes told the media that he has no intention of selling the striker and he doubled up on his claims by saying that he might start the match tonight. By having these three strikers in the grass from the first minute, United should have an easier task in taking the initiative and hopefully for them the fail of shots at Cech’s net will bring a goal.
An interesting take on this match is available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2401912/Manchester-United-v-Chelsea–Martin-Keowns-guide.html. The visitors don’t have any fitness concerns except for David Luiz and are not intimidated by Manchester United’s impressive home record. The Red Devils won 51/59 games but lost twice against Chelsea, which means that the match could go either way and makes the odds of 2.50 for home victory fully justified.
It is said that money makes the world go round and the new owners of FC Monaco will go to great lengths to prove that this saying is still valid. The rich Principality saw its team relegated to the second flight one season ago but it somehow found the strength to rebound and will play once again among the best French teams. Its return prompted rich Arab Sheiks to take over and attempt something similar to what has been done at Manchester City or Malaga.
The modus operandi is very similar and once again we see a team transform from the offensive downward, and prolific strikers being transferred. Radamel Falcao is the most prominent player to compete for FC Monaco the season after leaving Spain and there is an informative article posted at http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/transfers/radamel-falcao-completes-51m-transfer-to-monaco-8640165.html that sheds some light on the matter.
Radamel Falcao will probably feel pretty lonely up front with no other player coming even close to him in terms of skill, but will pair up with Traore. The other strikers are much younger and have plenty of time to prove their worth, but the midfield is also featuring some players with offensive valence. Colombian midfielder Rodriguez was transferred from Porto where he scored nine goals last season and made a significant contribution to the Portuguese team lifting the trophy.
The main concern for the visitors is the sub-par defense which was not reinforced after the team promoted from Ligue 2. To make matters worse, defender Raggi suffered an injury and will be unavailable tonight, leaving a gap in the defensive that will need to be plugged. Their opponents are also trying to deal with five absentees, four of them due to injury and one missing after receiving a red card. Bordeaux’s offense is more or less toothless, even so they managed to score a goal against PSG and were on the verge of pushing the game into overtime.
A late goal scored by a defender granted the reigning champions a victory in the Super Cup, but Bordeaux put up a good fight. The head-to-head record favors the hosts who won more games, particularly when they had home pitch advantage, but bookmakers have a different idea about how this match will go down. One theory for why the odds are so lopsided is that the hosts would have a harder time replacing the five absentees and have no real options in the offense.
Another way to look at this game is that Radamel Falcao will work his magic in a similar manner he did one year ago when he played for Atletico Madrid. Granted his speed and technique will be difficult to counter by the somewhat stiff defensive of Bordeaux, the hosts know all too well how to contain a prolific striker. The best wager for tonight is Bordeaux not to lose, with a 0:0 Asian handicap or a more straightforward double chance bet bound to trigger some nice profits without taking high risks.
Salzburg is making another attempt at reaching the Champions League groups after finishing five points behind Austria Vienna last season. It makes no difference who finishes first and second in the Bundesliga because both teams need to go through qualifying rounds before playing among the best European teams. Salzburg won nine out of the last 10 games and scored on average four goals per match, which is an impressive number even if most of the games were friendly ones.
The match that will probably linger longer in the fans memory is the crushing victory over Austria Vienna last weekend when they’ve destroyed the archrivals by five goals to one. Those who are wondering what starting formation will coach Schmidt used tonight, have nothing more to do than to check out the lineup of that particular encounter. There is absolutely no reason for making amends or changing anything in a formation that delivered such a convincing victory against a top opponent.
Kampl and Soriano are the most likely goal scorers tonight but the Austrian team shouldn’t underestimate their opponents, because Fenerbahce is one class about them. A narrow margin victory in Salzburg will probably not be enough for securing qualification, because the second leg will be played on one of the most hostile stadiums in Europe. In Istanbul, the Turks know how to create an incendiary atmosphere and keep the visiting team under constant pressure until they finally crack.
Better teams than Salzburg lost in Istanbul against Fenerbahce or Galatasaray and the key to advancing to the next stage is winning their home game by a considerable margin. This is the reason for why the host will come out firing on all cylinders from the first minute and will refrain from retreating back into their own half after scoring a goal. What coach Schmidt is aiming tonight is a victory by two goals or more, and in order to secure it he will probably need to keep three strikers on the field throughout the match.
By doing so, the hosts will expose themselves to lethal counterattacks launched by Fenerbahce, a club with high expectations but rather disappointing results lately. The Turks have invested a lot of money in prominent players and purchased Kuyt, Sow and Webo trying to outshine Galatasaray in the domestic championship while tasting European glory. So far none of these objectives were a hit and the strikers are aging quickly so this is one of their last chances to propel the team to the Champions League.
Risk-averse players who don’t want to take any chances by wagering on the winner, have a less risky alternative at their disposal. This is the type of game that is very likely to end in a scoring festival, as both teams have plenty of options up front and are highly motivated to win. Given the fact that Salzburg can’t settle for a narrow margin victory, wagering on more than 2.5. goals to be scored is arguably the best bet.
It took them seven years to win the domestic championship after dominating this league for decades, but eventually Steaua Bucharest climbed to the highest step of the ladder. They could capitalize on that performance and win the Super Cup as well, as the reigning champions will face Petrolul in Bucharest. The team was mired in seemingly endless scandals and was on the verge of being eliminated from all European competitions due to corruption allegations.
The scandal is not yet behind them, and with the owner behind bars for more than three years the future doesn’t look too good for Steaua Bucharest. Right now they have a chance of adding another trophy to their impressive collection and with the most important players still in their backyard, they are compelled to live in the moment. Petrolul is not an opponent to underestimate, but this team lacks experience at the highest level and this year’s performance is one of the best in their recent history.
The visitors spent most of the time in the second league and only recently made the step upward, so finishing on the third-place could be regarded as a breakthrough. The last couple of rounds highlighted their lack of experience and the inability to deal with high-pressure, as Petrolul slipped to the third-place. They were lucky to win the Cup as this performance would grant them a chance to compete for European glory, but the road ahead of them is long and tedious.
Fans will be swarming at the National Arena in Bucharest and will create an inferno that should benefit Steaua, while putting the visitors under tremendous pressure. Petrolul has been there before and yet they prevailed at the expense of former champions CFR Cluj, but back then they had thousands of players traveling to the capital from Ploiesti. Facing the team that won the championship by a landslide is an entirely different kind of challenge and it is hard to believe that Petrolul will cause a major upset.
What is certain is that both teams will field offensive starting formation featuring two strikers and this match is unlikely to be heading towards a scoreless draw. Bokila and Younes are by far the most prolific strikers for the visiting team, but Steaua Bucharest has the best defensive in Romanian football and should neutralize them easily. To catch a glimpse at the bigger picture and see how the two teams fared last year visit http://int.soccerway.com/national/romania/liga-i/20122013/regular-season/r18186/.