Basel has high expectations in the Champions League

The Champions League is going to be swerving with excellent teams and for Basel to advance to the quarterfinals, it would be a huge achievement. They still have a long way to go and the first challenge is to defeat a former champion, as Porto comes to town. The Portuguese start with the first chance and they are fully aware of their status, so they won’t defend in Switzerland. They’ve got the offensive to exercise constant pressure, but recent results have been inconclusive and the defensive betrayed them.

baselBasel has already produced a major upset by causing the elimination of Liverpool at the end of a highly contested game at Anfield Road. Back then, they only had to defend the scoreless draw and then returned in the game after Gerrard scored for the host, to deny them the chance to play another final. It was a memorable results and in conjunction with those points collected in front of their fans, propel the Swiss side to the knockout stage.

Overall, they were impressive on many levels when they had home pitch advantage and it is something that they are counting on ahead of this fixture. It won’t be easy to take the initiative against Porto, because the Portuguese side is used to play offensive football and rarely encounters opposition. On the other hand, when opponents fight back, they sometimes lose focus and this happened over the last two months, when they allowed plenty of goals in the domestic championship.

Not surprisingly, they are already trailing Benfica who is leading the division and with six points behind them, Porto is fighting an uphill battle. Nothing is lost and there are enough rounds left but knowing how unbalanced the Portuguese championship is, the runners-up don’t feel too well. Martinez is the player that can single-handedly defeat lesser teams with the striker scoring a massive 14 goals in just 18 goals.

The visiting team will probably use a single striker in the first half, while Aboubakar is the obvious replacement for the remaining 45 minutes. He will probably join the striker regardless of the result at half time, so Basel needs to come out firing on all cylinders. Taking the initiative on be easy, but as long as they succeed at resisting the urge of defending with all lines, the Swiss team has a good chance to win.

The first instinct would be to bet on the more experienced team and credit the Portuguese side with a victory on the road. The odds are not that bad, but given past performance and Basel’s recent results it makes more sense to do the exact opposite. Place a wager on the home side not to lose and you will enjoy odds of 1.65, something that is quite impressive for a Champions League game at this stage.

Porto expected to take advantage on Bilbao’s struggles

Athletic Bilbao is sinking into near irrelevance after losing most of the games in both the Spanish Primera Division and the Champions League. Nothing seems to be going their way, with the offensive being simply abysmal while the midfield is struggling to fill the gaps. Not even the backline is what it used to be, with the Basques allowing plenty of goals when playing against mediocre opponents.

Their European campaign seems to be doomed after the terrible start, but even so they could keep their hopes alive by causing a major upset in Portugal. In the opening match, they had to settle for one point against Shakhtar and then lost to BATE on the road, while scoring a single goal in both games. This is particularly frustrating for a team that used to be dominant upfront and the fact that they have retained most of their strikers during the season break didn’t help one bit.

portoAnother critical problem for the visitors is that they tend to allow plenty of goals, with the first half being particularly hurtful for their chances. They are yet to win a game this season and lost three matches to nil in the domestic championship, while drawing twice against weak opponents. Barcelona and Real Madrid made short work of their defenses and they were never a danger upfront, so Athletic Bilbao fans have plenty of reasons to be worried ahead of this fixture.

By comparison, the Portuguese side fares slightly better but they are still behind schedule on both fronts and something needs to change soon. In the Portuguese championship there are trailing archrivals Benfica by one point and in the Champions League they can consider themselves lucky to have four points. After the convincing victory over BATE they barely scrapped a point on the road against the Ukrainian side and they will need to be more careful defensively if they are to keep a clean sheet.

Manager Lopetegui didn’t hesitate to use three strikers on the road in Ukraine, but this decision proved to be a big mistake because the forwards were mediocre at best. Much to his credit, he decided to make the necessary replacement in the last 30 minutes of the game and introduced Martinez on the pitch. The Colombian goal-getter worked his magic and scored twice in the last three minutes of the game, to deny the hosts their first victory in the Champions league.

It is most unlikely that the Portuguese manager will use the same starting formation tonight, and this time he will feature Martinez in the starting formation. Despite the fact that his opponents are struggling heavily on all fronts, he is not overconfident in his chances and expects a tough test. More on the matter can be found at http://www.fourfourtwo.com/news/porto-v-athletic-bilbao-lopetegui-expecting-tough-test.

PSG hungers for revenge against Barcelona

It’s been exactly one year, since PSG was eliminated from the Champions League by Barcelona and the French side is hoping to avenge that defeat. The timing is not exactly great, because the hosts are trying to field a starting formation that might miss its best strikers. Both Ibrahimovic and Lavezzi have missed the last game which ended once again undecided and there are some who claim that the two strikers will not be fixed to play tonight.

thesoccerThe problem is that even if manager Blanc insists on using them despite the fact that they are not fully recuperated, it is unlikely that either of them will play at full potential. Under normal circumstances, an Ibrahimovic doing his best to be enough to outshine most opponents, but against a team such as Barcelona, they need to have their best players playing their A-game. There are plenty of questions yet to answer and on top of that, PSG has a rather frightening record over the last month.

The French side used to dominate opponents both at home and on the road, scoring a bucket full of goals even against the most defensive teams. Apparently, things have changed and mostly for the worse, with four of the last five games ending in draws. The fact that PSG scored and allowed one goal in each of these contests is hardly encouraging, especially tonight when they are gearing up for an extremely difficult match against one of the best scoring teams in Europe.

Over the weekend, Barcelona impressed its fans with a 6-0 dazzling victory over another and both its key strikers scored on that match. Messi found his way to the net twice and Neymar the is even better, by scoring three goals and he created even more opportunities in the second half. One of the reasons for why the Spanish side decided to throw everything they’ve got in the domestic championship game was to make the scoreless draw against Malaga forgotten.

None of their key players suffered an injury in that match and overall they have all the veterans fit to play tonight, so the starting formation will remain unchanged. The expectations are high and the fact that Barcelona failed to win either the Champions League and the domestic championship last season further increases the pressure. They won’t have home pitch advantage tonight, but this won’t prevent them from playing offensive football, given the fact that PSG is probably going to play without its best strikers.

Punters have to decide on whether to back the hosts and tradition, which says that all head to head games ended undecided. The other option is to go with the favorites and settle for even odds offered by most bookmakers for Barcelona to prevail on the road. The Spanish side is not the most prolific one when playing away from home, but tonight they should be given credit to claim all three points.

Benfica needs a single point in Turin

Benfica won the domestic championship with four rounds before the regular season ends and have a good chance at winning the Portuguese Cup as well. They will be facing Rio Ave in the final and start as favorites, so the only trophy they need is Europa league. Their chances of making the finals are relatively good, after winning the first leg, but the goal allowed in the second half hurts their chances.Benfica

Juventus needs to win and a narrow margin victory is what they will be aiming, after also winning Serie A this Monday as a result of a 1-3 victory on the road. They managed to keep their team healthy and with no absentees to worry about, the host will be fielding a standard 4-4-2 starting formation. Things would’ve been far more complicated, had the Portuguese won the first leg to nil, so the goal scored by Tevez would weigh heavily in the balance.

The Argentinian striker played decently well in the first leg and the fact that he scored his first goal in a European competition after a 5 years break was encouraging. It goes without saying, that he will feature in the starting formation once again, alongside Vucinic, but Llorente is also an option. The Spanish striker is the second most prolific player in their rotation after Tevez with 15 goals in 32 games, but he had some fitness issues that kept him away from the pitch.

Juventus is wary of the Portuguese’s offensive prowess and they will be gradually increasing the pressure. The trick is not to allow Benfica to take the initiative, because once they establish a beachhead in the other half, they are hard to counter. The visitors have several offensive players that can catch the Italians on the counterattack, not to mention that the hosts are counting on aging back line.

This is going to be a very tight fixture that could easily go either way, depending on what happens in the first 30 minutes of the game. If the hosts take the lead, then the match is going to slow down a bit and Juventus will be trying to score the second goal at the end of position or play. The bottom line is that the Portuguese side only needs one goal to be sure that the game won’t take a turn for the worse. The odds for Benfica to win or draw stand at 2.35, which is tremendous value, so this is the best choice for this fixture.

Must win Champions League match for Manchester City

citybarcaUnlike 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.

A scoring festival to arrive in Salzburg tonight

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.

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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.

Bayern gets another chance at winning the Champions League

For the first time in the history of Champions League, we will witness a final between two German teams and once again Bayern is favorite to win. One year ago, they enjoyed the same status as they’ve played at home against Chelsea, but eventually they’ve lost at penalties and all their effort went down the drain. Few remember that a couple of years ago, the British site suffered a similar fate at the hands of Manchester United, and lost the final in Moscow. Those who want to refresh their memory should head on to http://www.thesoccer-blog.com/champions-league/champions-league-final-moscow/.

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Chelsea brilliantly recovered after two seasons and in 2012 they achieved something that few thought possible before the Champions League began. Bayern is going to face the only team in the Bundesliga that they didn’t defeat this season, as both games against Dortmund ended in draws. Their opponents will be missing one vital player, as Gotze will be kept on the bench with an injury but many suspect that this is a strategy. Klopp doesn’t want to use him against his future team and this is something that Bayern is thrilled with, because this was one of the most dangerous players.

On the other hand they would still have to worry about Lewandowski, as the only striker single-handedly defeated Real Madrid. He was just as effective against Bayern in the domestic season and he somehow finds opportunities to score from the least likely situations. With no home pitch advantage, and facing one of the most offensive teams in Europe, Bayern will need to employ the same tactic they used against Barcelona. At least in theory, what worked brilliantly against the best Spanish team of the decade, should work smoothly against Borussia, but only time will tell whether they succeed in containing their rivals.

With no absentees and a coach that is respected by both players and supporters for his achievements, the Bavarian club starts with the first chance to win. Bookmakers tend to overprice the favorites and this season they offer odds of 1.40 for Bayern to lift the trophy and 1.80 for them to prevail in regulation time. There is no value in the former odds, because regardless of how good the team might be, a Champions League final remains an unpredictable event. Those who want to make this game more interesting by placing a wager, should at least go for the regulation time victory.

Liverpool Dodge The Bullet Whilst Arsenal Cruise

I don’t know whether you have noticed but since the arrival of Rafa Benítez at Anfield, Liverpool have tended to do things in dramatic style, some would say “the hard way”, whilst playing in the Champions League.  There have been too many of those “special Anfield nights” to mention here, but let’s just say this one isn’t joining that list!  This Qualifying tie against Belgium’s Standard Liege may have ultimately been dramatic, but it was done the hard way and it was most definitely not special.  This, to be brutally honest, was extremely hard work, extremely difficult to watch at times. Continue reading

Champions League Final Moscow

So what happened on Wednesday night in Moscow?  Yes, the Champions League Final, the biggest game in club football worldwide.  Short of the European Championship Final (coming up on 29 June) and the World Cup Final, it doesn’t really get any bigger. Continue reading