Unlike 2013 when they didn’t survive the group stage, Manchester City made it through and they lock horns with Barcelona. The 2012 champions will try to would behind them the failure of last season when they were crushed by Bayern Munchen both at home and away. Securing a spot in the quarterfinals shouldn’t be a big challenge for the Spanish side, as long as they can leave England with at least one point. They are not the best traveling team and quite often during the group stage they settled for a draw.
At least in theory, keeping a clean sheet and splitting points wouldn’t be a disaster for Manchester City, but this means that the British side would have to score at Nou Camp. They’ve had a busy schedule this February and win just a bit over half the match is played this month, including a critical cup fixture with Chelsea. They only had three days to rest ahead of this important Champions League match and they’ve got their best players fit to play.
It goes without saying that Pellegrini will not rest any players for the upcoming Premier League match against Stoke this weekend, instead he will throw everything he’s got at Barcelona. Alvaro Negredo and Dzeko are the two strikers that he will be counting tonight to catch the visiting team offguard, with the latter struggling to return to form. Negredo didn’t play this weekend due to a knee injury but he is completely recovered and is expected to feature tonight from the first minute.
Barcelona scored six goals over the weekend without conceding one and they pack quite a punch up front, with Messi, Neymar and Pedro spearheading the offensive. In Champions League fixtures they seem to be more interested in preventing opponents from scoring than to take a lead themselves, but this doesn’t mean that Barcelona will be toothless in Manchester. All the aforementioned players are deadly on counterattack and they don’t need too many opportunities to score.
To make matters worse, City is struggling with subpar goalkeeping the season and have been shifting between Hart and Pantilimon. The former will be given the green light tonight but he is dependent on his back line to keep him out of harm’s way. Overall, this appears to be a balanced game that could go either way and punters who insist on wagering should choose the draw for the sake of better odds.
This weekend has been truly spectacular as far as Primera Division fans are concerned, unless you are rooting for Barcelona in which case, it is a forgettable one. The reigning champions suffered a complete meltdown in front of their supporters when they lost to Valencia and allowed three goals for the first time this season. Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid could take advantage of their slump and overtake them, but both these teams are facing tough opponents.
Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao are no pushovers and although they don’t expect to win the title this season, they have their sights locked on the Champions League. Both are in good position to secure such a spot, but they are not the only ones in this race. Villarreal can be the fortunate winner of this extraordinary weekend, as they are the only one of the top 7 teams that fights a weak opponent.
Osasuna comes visiting and players are under no impression that more than a draw would be possible, especially with their recent results. The small team from Pamplona is trying to avoid relegation, its recurrent objective and it is far from celebrating success. Granted they are safely about the dangerous area, there are only a few points separating them from teams sitting on relegation spots.
Tonight they will field their standard formation featuring Riera, Torres and Armenteros the three players that scored the vast majority of their goals. What is somewhat surprising is the fact that only the former is a striker, while the other two are midfielders who sometimes shoot at the opponents’ net. By contrast, the hosts have a solid roster and a couple of players who are more than capable at finding he breaches in a permeable defensive such as Osasuna’s.
Uche, dos Santos and Perbet are the ones that Villarreal will be counting tonight and it is most unlikely for any of them to be retired even if the hosts take the lead early in the game. They simply can’t afford to take chance and see Osasuna tying the score in the final minutes of the match, so the hosts will keep pushing until the last whistle. This is why punters shouldn’t settle for the match line and instead bet on Villarreal to cover the -1.5 goals spread. It shouldn’t be too difficult and the odds are just good enough to warrant the effort and risk taken.
It’s been a while since Atletico Madrid failed to win in two consecutive weeks, but that’s exactly what happened in January. They drew at home against Barcelona in the most anticipated game of the month and then settled for a 1-1 draw away at Valencia in Copa del Rey. That incident had no consequences as the team from the capital won the second leg and advanced to the next stage of the competition.
Now it is time for them to earn three more points in Primera Division, as Barcelona is also expected to win comfortably away from home at Levante. Since the two teams are separated by their goal average and none has lost a game in a long while, winning this fixture against Sevilla is of critical importance. Luckily for the hosts, their opponents are not only vulnerable to rapid counterattacks, but have struggled in the past against Atletico Madrid.
To think that Sevilla was struggling at the bottom of the standings with their city rivals and now compete with tough teams for a Europa League berth is impressive. They have risen to the challenge and won several games at home, but on the road they are still struggling to win consecutive games. They were outplayed and outshot by Elche in the previous round and can consider themselves lucky not to lose that fixture, after tying the score with 1 minute left in the match.
Numbers speak for themselves and those who want to see how Sevilla matched up against Atletico, should head on to http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/football/liga/2013-2014/atletico-madrid-sevilla-fc-632001.html. These figures are reliable, but what is more important is that the numerous absentees in their backline are going to provide the hosts with plenty of opportunities to score. Suarez is the only player missing from their rotation and he doesn’t play a critical role so his absence will go unnoticed.
One way to tackle this match would be the straightforward one of backing the hosts to win or even cover the spread of an Asian handicap. The odds are decent for the second type of bet, but those who expect the hosts to score a few goals should better wager on the totals market. Over 3.5 goals to be scored is the kind of bet that can more than double your investment without taking big chances, but risk-averse players could also settle for the 2.5 line.
West Brom hasn’t won a match in two months and prevailed just once in the last 15 fixtures, which explains why they are the underdogs tonight. Newcastle is not the best traveling team but the players don’t settle for second best and are more than willing to put everything on the line. The best proof is that the team didn’t draw a single match on the road and won 5/9 fixtures.
Keith Downing has good reasons to be worried about his position as manager, given the fact that his team is winless in 10 games. To be perfectly fair, he is not to be blamed for most of these defeats as he only took over in early December when Steve Clarke was sacked. Unless he finds a way of turning the ship around soon, West Bromwich is very likely to relegate at the end of the regular season, which would be a catastrophic event for the club.
Right now, they stand two points clear of the relegation zone, which is hardly encouraging and they can’t afford to slip any further. By contrast, Newcastle won eight out of the last 10 games and except for the narrow margin defeat to Arsenal, they were impressive throughout December. Furthermore, they have an impeccable track record in head to head games, winning or drawing all games played against West Bromwich in the last two years.
For the first time this season they have a genuine chance of tying Manchester United and Tottenham for the sixth place, even if for just a couple of hours. The aforementioned teams will compete in the final match of the day and the winner will probably leapfrog two teams to secure the fourth place. The visitors will make very few changes in the starting formation as the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal is hardly worrisome.
The odds for an away victory stand that 2.80 with most bookmakers, which is plenty of value Given the Way, Newcastle played recently. West Bromwich drew the last three games but it is unlikely for them to secure another point, so there is no point in sacrificing these odds for a double chance wager. The least risk-averse players can do is to take the visiting team with the cover of a 0:0 Asian handicap which has the stakes returned if the game ends in a draw.
One reason for why the hosts are still struggling at the basement of the standings is that they miss a couple of essential players. The injury list recently gone wider and this time they will be playing without seven essential players, with the midfield being particularly affected. With a single victory in the last eight games, Rayo Vallecano is clearly heading into the wrong direction and unless something changes soon, they will slip again into the relegation area.
Granada used to have the same problem a couple of weeks ago and many still regard them as a strong candidate for relegation, but for the time being they are far away from the dangerous zone. They have a habit for winning back-to-back games and even though there winning streak was snapped by Barcelona, they shouldn’t drop points at Rayo Vallecano. Granada has already collected valuable points against main counter candidates for relegation and they would gladly settle for a draw tonight.
The good news for the visitors is that they don’t have any injury concerns, unlike their rivals who struggle to put together a competitive team. If opportunity arises, Granada will try to take the initiative despite not having home pitch advantage and filing their performance in Copa del Rey we would be wrong to credit them with the first chance. The key to victory tonight would be to maintain constant pressure in the first half, because with their midfield ravaged by injuries and suspensions, the hosts are unlikely to withstand pressure.
Bookmakers are extremely and surprisingly generous with the visiting team, with bold punters having the opportunity of tripling their investment if they back Granada to win in regulation time. A far riskier proposition that has odds only slightly below even value is the double chance wager, which pays off if the visitors win or draw. Granted there haven’t been many games ending undecided when Granada was on the pitch, this somewhat awkward statistics shouldn’t have a deterring effect on punters.
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.