Champions League semi-finals: Goals on Tuesday, tight and tense on Wednesday

Chelsea's Fernando Torres will hope to feature against his former club

Chelsea’s Fernando Torres will hope to feature against his former club

 

Four teams are just one match away from the 2014 UEFA Champions League final. Neither of the first legs were riveting affairs as the teams made sure they didn’t lose the tie before it had really begun. That should lend itself to more attacking football in both of this week’s return matches.

Real Madrid are the only team with a telling advantage over the two clashes. Having never lost to Bayern Munich as manager of AC Milan, winning four and drawing two of the six previous clashes, Carlo Ancelotti had a clear and evident game plan for stopping the reigning European Champions. The Madrid side kept bodies at the back, restricted Munich’s space on the ball and looked to hit them on the break.

 

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Bayern Munich to qualify – 2.42

Real Madrid to qualify – 1.60

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The pace in the Madrid side, exemplified by a swift move that lead to a chance for Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half, will be a real worry for Bayern Munich. Madrid can move up the pitch in a matter of seconds, having made no more than a handful of passes.

Teams arriving to the Allianz Arena and setting up to frustrate Bayern Munich is nothing new. The German giants have been gifted the lion’s share of possession by many visitors in recent seasons. However, they don’t usually have to worry about the likes of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale being poised and ready to do damage at the other end.

 

Bayern Munich have to score. Real Madrid will be licking their lips at the prospect of an away goal that will leave Guardiola’s side needing three. Both teams will attack and we should see the goals that were missing from the first leg. Bayern playing on the front foot will play nicely into Madrid’s hands. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that the Spanish side will want to soak up as much pressure as they can, while breaking at speed when given the chance.

An early goal then it could spark the two teams into playing out a goal fest. Otherwise, we may just have to hold on for a frantic finish.

However, I think we might be lucky to see more than a couple of goals in Wednesday’s decider between Chelsea and Atlético Madrid.

 

Chelsea v Atlético Madrid Betting Odds:

Chelsea to qualify – 1.93

Atlético Madrid to qualify – 1.88

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

José Mourinho’s team went to Spain last week with the intention of nicking a 1-0 win. However, after losing both Petr Cech and John Terry to injury, the plan was re-evaluated to focus purely on retaining their clean sheet.

The result retained Chelsea’s recent unbeaten run in the Champions League against Spanish sides. They have won six and draw 10 of their last 16 against teams from La Liga. However, a draw won’t be good enough for the Blues on Wednesday night.

Without an away goal, Mourinho needs to mastermind a victory. Although don’t hold your breath hoping for a rip-roaring, rampaging brand of football.

 

In the last week Mourinho has employed tactics in two matches that have been all about earning the result. Tuesday’s 0-0 draw was followed up by a near perfect display on Sunday as Chelsea secured a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Liverpool in a match that blew the Premier League title race wide open. Neither performance has been the prettiest but Mourinho has never been a manager to be expansive in a clinch contest.

The Blues’ record at Stamford Bridge in Europe is exceptional. They have never lost a semi-final leg in any European competition at home, winning eight of 12.

Atlético Madrid should expect a frustrating evening. Chelsea will be well drilled and concentrated. The La Liga leaders, who may just have on eye on a potential title win this weekend, won’t be able to create too many chances against the London side. They’ll need to take at least one of them, and as early as possible, to force Chelsea into something other than shutting the game down.

 

Whereas we’d think the game in Germany could produce a hatful of goals, the clash in London will be settled by the odd goal. Jose taking on his former club in the final is our bet but with armfuls of match winners on show, all four teams will feel confident of getting the result they need.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Wednesday promises to be a tight affair, and Chelsea to win 1-0 is available at 6.20 with GR88.com

 

Ryan avatarRyan Keaney (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona.

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Will Real’s 1-0 lead over Bayern be enough to see them reach the Champions League Final?

Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the winning goal in the first leg of this semi final.

Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the winning goal in the first leg of this semi final.

While the Champions League Semi Final between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid was expected in many parts to be an explosive goal filled extravaganza, the first leg at the Bernabeu last week was far from that. Real scored early through French striker Karim Benzema, but no more goals appeared in the final 70 minutes of the game as the Spaniards claimed the advantage with a 1-0 win. The big question is will a one goal advantage be enough to bring to the Allianz Arena this Tuesday night?

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid Odds:

Bayern – 1.70

Draw – 3.90

Real – 4.30

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Although they failed to score a goal in the first leg of this final four match in the Champions League last week, Bayern were the dominant side as they controlled much of the possession during the match in the Spanish capital. However, their final ball was completely missing and they rarely tested Iker Casillas in the home goal. They will feel that they cannot play much worse in the final third this week and the only way is up. Bayern have, however, suffered defeats on home soil to Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at the Allianz Arena this season, albeit in dead rubber games, and Real are certainly a better side than both of these teams. With it do or die time for the opportunity for retain their Champions League crown how will the hosts fare in this must win game?

Real will be reasonably happy with their endeavours last week as their performance sees them ahead at the halfway stage of the tie. They were second best in the ball retention area last week as they finished the match with just 36% possession yet they were better in every other area. They created three clear cut chances in the first half and converted one of these to secure victory while they prevented Bayern from creating any serious chances too. With both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale likely to start for Real this Tuesday evening Carlo Ancelotti’s men will fancy their chances at progression, but can their defensive unit survive a 90 minute German onslaught?

With this tie poised the way it is at the midpoint, I believe that this second leg is more likely to see the goals that were lacking last week. Real know that pushing for a goal will see the Germans needing three to progress if they do find the net, while Bayern will want to keep things tight at the back while improving on their performance in front of goal. The game will see Bayern dominant possession once again and likely win this match, but whether they can win by enough to progress is the big question and is one that I feel could go either way by the full time whistle.

Back Bayern to beat Real and there to be at least 2.5 goals in the match @ 2.40 with GR88.com

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Chelsea set to field a weakened manager against Liverpool

Is José Mourinho on the verge of a Napoleonic downfall?

Is José Mourinho on the verge of a Napoleonic downfall?

In seasons gone by, the threat of rocking up to a title decider with a purposefully depleted hand—enfeebled in protest at having to play on a Sunday—would have been celebrated as classic José Mourinho. He strode the Premier League like Banksy spitting up something pithy onto an unguarded wall, or Marcel Duchamp plonking down a toilet in an art gallery and declaring it a fountain.

 

English football  had found a new crown prince-cum-arch satirist, who was bent not only on winning everything he could but doing so while fiddling with the well-worn levers of the British manager’s identity, much to the amusement of the game’s cossetting, chattering classes. “Oh, José!” they squealed, rocked back into their writing chairs, as he fired off yet another belter of a sound bite or tugged at yet more of the tropes set down by the likes of Brian Clough, Don Revie, Bill Shankly & Co.

Yet something has changed on his return to Stamford Bridge. It’s hard not to think that compared to the man who previously terrorised the establishment with both his flamboyant antagonism and trophy count, that come Sunday Chelsea will be fielding a weakened manager as much as a weakened team.

 

Liverpool v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Liverpool – 1.63

Chelsea – 4.80

Draw – 3.85

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

For all his absurd, syrupy nonsense and motivational envelopes, Brendan Rodgers looks like a man composed, calm and in his element at present. By contrast, Mourinho has at times appeared trite and perhaps even desperate.

The usual jibes and mind games have never quite come off for him as they used to. His ploy to write off his team’s chances at every opportunity became flat and old in a way that wouldn’t have seemed possible during his more electrified tenure back in the early days of Roman Abramovich’s reign.

 

Of course, momentum can often be everything when it comes to the dubious art of mind games, and perhaps too there is more than a hint of over-familiarity with his methods that has generated a considerable about of contempt for him of late. However, from day one something didn’t feel right about his return. He announced himself to be happy rather than special in what was an oddly subdued press conference—vibes that some put down to him feeling aggrieved at having not been granted a shot at the Manchester United job.

Though his ego surely yearned to be a feature of the intrigue that has swept through Old Trafford this season, it seemed more likely that the scars of the past were weighing heavy upon him rather than jealousy for the future.

 

It’s not often that Mourinho has tasted failure since his ascendency to the top of the game with Porto in 2004. At Chelsea and Inter he achieved the vast majority of his objectives and sometimes over-reached even his own expectations with a record points tally and treble win respectively.

His years in Madrid changed all that however. While the location of the biggest job in football is an argument that will never be settled, it’s hard to think of a more demanding post in the game than taking up position in the home dug out of the Bernabeu.

The manager of Real shares the same average life span and political workload as an average Game Of Thrones protagonist (could have given us a spoiler warning – ed.), and yet faces even greater demands that stretch beyond simply amassing trophies. Real must win in style, to some self-styled ideal of false-modesty, with the most glamourous players in the world, constantly bettering themselves like gentlemanly aristocrats charged with civilising others through their own great works.

 

It’s a level of pressure and pedantry that broke José, who has become a figure of self-parody; his pronouncements now sounding just off-key enough to scan as slightly hackneyed and irrelevant. The Premier League almost feels as if it has left him and his kind behind when in the past it seemed as though Mourinho himself controlled English football’s zeitgeist.

Now reports abound about Mourinho fielding a weakened line-up for Sunday’s trip to Anfield, and with it throwing away his chances of snatching a seemingly impossible title from Liverpool’s grasp: is it a hardnosed protest or an act of sheer petulance?

 

It’s hard not to think that the Mourinho of old would have come up with something more cutting, original and, well, effective. He looks like a man feeling the impact of having to compromise his chances of winning to make a point. The ruthless master of his own destiny who once looked set to force Alex Ferguson into (relatively) early retirement surely would never have told the public of his intentions to give up on a chance of silverware.

Yet Real got to him, with his demands for the likes of Iker Casillas to wage total war against Barcelona turning into an internal conflict against his own authority and methods. Without the ends to justify the means—only one La Liga title and a Copa del Rey to show for three years of viciousness that never seemed to bring Real any closer to La Decima—he was ultimately rejected. Like Napoleon’s downfall after failing to overcome the Russian winter, he has now been exiled to an island off the mainline for his failings.

 

Mixed up in all of this are the intentions of Abramovich himself, who may well have re-hired Mourinho in order to hand him enough rope to implode his rival personality cult as much as benefit from his gift of winning trophies.

If the Portuguese is unable to rediscover the edge that he enjoyed in England prior to 2007, then his own defeat at Waterloo—and the popular and political backlash that brought upon his historical likeness—may well come sooner than many might think. Having faced off against opposition of his own from Jose loyalists in the past, reappointing his former champion to destroy his own legacy, so soon after tilting in Madrid, is a Machiavellian move that will play right into Roman’s hands even if he achieves the opposite.

 

Until then, Liverpool look set to be denied their final, title-clinching triumph, not they’re likely to care too much. With Atletico Madrid readying themselves for a second-leg raid of Stamford Bridge, Mourinho’s determination to appear as though he never wanted the win at Anfield—rather than losing at full-strength to a superior rival—will also double up as a handy excuse should the worst happen against Diego Simeone’s men.

Yet it may not be Chelsea who are too tired to rise against the Argentinean’s rampaging La Liga chasers or Rodgers’ surprise Premier League title favourites, but the special one himself who is now at risk of becoming all-too-ordinary.

 

Betting Instinct tip – If Chelsea do give the likes of Nathan Aké and Andreas Christensen a run-out on Sunday, it could well be worth backing Liverpool to be winning at half-time and full-time at 2.64 at with GR88.com

 

Greg avatarGREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football blog and podcast.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays take flight in AL East

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista connects on another home run

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista connects on another home run

Baseball, unlike many sports the world over, is not one where the first month’s form will tell bettors anything about where the World Series trophy ends up come October. Granted your season ending Tommy John surgery injuries will be knocking about and someone could throw a no-hitter then do nothing for the remaining months, but on the whole the first sixth of the season won’t say a lot.

 

One thing the first few weeks of the campaign has shown is that the American League [AL] East will be closer than it has been in a good decade and four of the combatants go head-to-head later tonight in what will be two tight series between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

 

Baltimore Orioles @ Toronto Blue Jays Betting Odds

Orioles +102

Blue Jays -112

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Toronto is unique in that it is the only place in the whole of Canada that baseball fans can go out to the ball park and it is also alone in the fact that it is the city’s only ‘World’ champion in almost 50 years.

They don’t have the glitz or the pizzazz of Drake backing them up or the multi-million dollar signings that Toronto FC has brought to the table, though they are in a division that this year looks like it could be ripe for the taking.

Toronto’s bats have been heating up all season with Melky Cabrera held hitless in just one game so far this season and Jose Bautista tied for second place in all of baseball with six home runs. Baltimore is set to send Bud Norris to the mound for Thursday’s start and he has struggled against the top end of the Blue Jays order in the past with Jose Reyes [.375 avg in 16 ABs], Edwin Encarnarcion [.333 in 3 ABs] and Cabrera [.429 in 7 ABs, 3 RBIs] all excelling. Norris has two heavy losses on the road this season already and will run into trouble north of the border.

 

Norris pitches against Drew Hutchison once again after they duelled it out for a no decision in Baltimore on 12 April and the 24-year-old is still yet to rediscover the stuff that let him hold the Tampa Bay Rays scoreless over five innings on the way to his first win of the season.

The first time out between these two pitchers was decided in extra innings but expect this to be the polar opposite and the Blue Jays to come out on top in a slugfest.

 

New York Yankees @ Boston Red Sox Betting Odds:

Yankees +110

Red Sox -120

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Last season’s world champions play host to their fiercest rivals in the AL East’s other clash of the night and it’s fair to say that the residents of Bean Town are far from what they deem their best.

The Red Sox were three-and-a-half games behind the Yankees on Tuesday night and could be behind by as much as four-and-a-half by the time the two teams face off at Fenway Park on Thursday evening.

 

One of the problems the Sox have been finding already this season is that aside from John Lackey, the starting pitching has been an itch the club house is finding it incredibly hard to scratch.

New York has had a slightly better time of things when it comes to pitching apart from C.C. Sabathia, Thursday’s starter. The veteran slinger has had an extremely mixed season so far with at least two runs surrendered in each of his four games and his one start against the Red Sox so far ended up in a 4-2 loss.

Thursday will be another close run thing with nothing more than a couple of runs in it and the AL East looks like being the same crapshoot meaning long odds on the likes of the Blue Jays are well worth a punt.

 

Betting Instinct tip – With AL East wide open, the odds on the Blue Jays to win seem very generous at +700 with Intertops.eu

 

b134431a32f9f238467cd75e1b0b3454 JAMIE HINKS (jamiehinks) is an experienced content writer who has focused on the gambling industry  and technology, and has an obsession with football and all US sports. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Champions League: Returning Ronaldo can give Real first-leg lead

Can Cristiano Ronaldo add to his 14 goals in 8 Champions League games this season?

Can Cristiano Ronaldo add to his 14 goals in 8 Champions League games this season?

Cristiano Ronaldo is set to return for the first leg of Real Madrid’s semifinal match against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The 29-year who missed the Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona has been suffering from an apparent hamstring injury but returned to full training a few days ago. Gareth Bale, the hero of the final against Barcelona, was reported earlier this week to be suffering from the effects of the flu, but he has also seemingly recovered in time to welcome Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich to the Bernabeu.

 

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich Betting Odds:

Real Madrid win – 2.38

Bayern Munich win – 2.74

Draw – 3.30

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Real Madrid enter the game aiming for their first Champions League final berth in 12 years, though they have famously won the trophy nine times so far. History is not on the side of Los Blancos as they have lost four out of the last five semi-final matches against Bayern and Guardiola was also responsible for breaking the stranglehold of Real Madrid in Spain –not losing in any of six visits to the Bernabeu– during his time at Barcelona. Though most of the team is healthy for Madrid, Marcelo is set to miss out, leaving Fabio Coentrao to start in his place and Álvaro Arbeloa’s injury woes means that Daniel Carvajal will retain his starting spot. These issues leave Real Madrid vulnerable in Bayern’s strongest position, the wings, where Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry ply their trade.

Real Madrid’s last match in the Champions League suggests that they will have a hard time dealing with the pace of Bayern, as they were exploited by Borussia Dortmund’s pace numerous times as they went on to lose 2-0 to the Germans in the second leg of their quarter-final. While they were able to hold on and progress, the loss against Dortmund was a shock as they were able to dispatch their opponents very easily during the first leg, and in the second leg, completely collapsed as Dortmund threatened throughout, with only the width of the post preventing them from forcing extra-time.

Bayern are to all intents and purposes a better team than Dortmund, and have more weapons while retaining the same intense pace. Ronaldo’s return and Bale’s good health will be welcome news for Real but the more important factor will be if their defence can stand up against their German opponents.

 

Bayern are also welcoming back a talisman of their own in the form of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was serving a suspension for a red card offense in the last round. The Germans were held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester United in the first leg of the quarterfinals before coming from behind to eventually run out 3-1 winners in the second leg. They wrapped up the Bundesliga title in record time but have become complacent in the league in recent weeks, suffering uncharacteristic losses to Augsburg and at home to Dortmund, though this seems to have been remedied by their most recent performances, winning 5-1 against Kaiserslautern and 2-0 against TSV Eintracht Braunschweig. This suggests that they are over there complacency issues and are back to their winning ways, something that should be concerning to Real Madrid fans everywhere.

If the Bavarians have a weakness it is their response to counter-attacking play, something that Dortmund feasted on as they ran out 3-0 winners recently, and something that has been a running problem in Guardiola teams. Their defenders push up very high and the fullbacks do a great deal of attacking, leaving them exposed if their opponents are able to form a quick, incisive counter. This plays into the hands of Real Madrid who are the best counter-attacking team in Europe, with the triple threat of Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema. Angel Di Maria’s resurrection in the midfield will always be critical to the match-up, the energy of the Argentine is a big reason for Real’s effectiveness on the counter and his energy is essential for hassling midfielders and retrieving possession –all while he is still able to create chances with his dribbling skills.

 

Bayern will most likely dominate possession and with arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, will be bailed out a few times when they are caught on the break. Real Madrid however, will look to break quickly when Bayern do concede possession and with their ferocious attack, they should be able to muster a few clear cut chances and test Manuel Neuer. His opposite number Iker Casillas, meanwhile, is having a record-breaking season as the cup keeper for Madrid and will be on hand to thwart the efforts of the Germans who are always a safe bet to manage a few shots on goal.

The game will likely come down to which defense breaks first, with both teams having topped 100 goals this season in all competitions. If both teams’ attacks behave as they have for the season, the game will be a goal-fest and the winner might come down to whoever has the last shot on goal.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – With two of the most formidable forward-lines in world football going head-to-head, we can expect goals. More than 3.5 goals can be backed at 2.60 with GR88.com.

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter.

Pacers suffering from Hawks’ headache!

Can the Pacers even up the series in Game 2?

The Pacers are struggling against the Hawks in the NBA playoffs!

They may have sealed the number one seed in the East, but Indiana’s form going into the NBA playoffs was anything other than championship-worthy. A 12-14 record since March 1st, a one-time stingy defense that has been leaking points left, right and center and rumoured discontent within the team had many experts predicting a tough time for the Pacers when the postseason got underway – and it looks as though those warners were right.

Saturday’s Game 1 home loss to the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks simply further underlined Indiana’s current struggles and has now heaped on the pressure to succeed when the teams take to the court again tonight. A career-best 28-point performance from Indiana-native Jeff Teague helped the Hawks to what could be a crucial win, especially as both teams know that the Pacers have struggled badly in Atlanta in recent years.

Many don’t believe that the Pacers have the stomach for a real playoff fight and whilst most think that Charles Barclay’s description of them as “wussies” is a bit over the top, Tuesday’s Game 2 showdown in Indiana could well be a make-or-break showdown for what promised to be a fantastic season!

Atlanta Hawks @ Indiana Pacers, Game 2 Odds

Atlanta                 3.9
Indiana                1.28

Team to win the Series

Atlanta                 2.6
Indiana                1.56

Odds provided by www.allyoubet.ag are correct at the time of writing, but subject to change.

______________________________________________

CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on football — both NFL American football and European football.  Chris discusses betting tips and trends and includes betting odds in his regular posts at BI.

Ronaldo and Bale to fire Real Madrid to victory over Bayern Munich?

Will the firepower of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale give Real a first leg advantage over the European champions?

Will the firepower of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale give Real a first leg advantage over the European champions?

This Wednesday sees the clash of two of the biggest names in European football as this Real Madrid v Bayern Munich clash in the Champions League Semi Finals sees a meeting of two sides that have lifted the European Cup on 14 occasions. Real have won the title on nine separate occasions, but are without a win since 2002, while Bayern have five wins including lifting the title at Wembley last season. Both teams will be desperate to claim a first leg advantage in an attempt to book their place in Lisbon for the Champions League Final at the end of May, but who is favoured for victory at the Bernabeu?

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich Odds:

Real – 2.30

Draw – 3.30

Bayern – 2.88

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Real come into this final four match of the Champions League as one of just two sides to have gone unbeaten throughout the tournament, with their city rivals Atlético Madrid the only other team to match this feat. They will come into this match boosted having not played a match in a week since securing the Copa del Rey title over Barcelona with a stunning winning goal from Gareth Bale. Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, who is likely to return for this clash following a spell on the sidelines with injury, have scored 19 goals between them in this competition so far and they will be hunting for more goals on home soil tonight. Real are especially impressive at the Bernabeu this season with 20 wins in their last 21 games in all competitions, including scoring three against German sides Schalke and Borussia Dortmund, so will CR7 and Bale fire them to victory again?

It will not be easy for Real as they face a side that has swept the board as they have taken every trophy they have contested over last season and this. They have taken two Bundesliga titles, the German Cup, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup in this time. They do not have the standout firepower of Real Madrid’s star players and world record breaking purchases, but they have a much more rounded and balanced side overall. The question is, will this better team play see them able to neutralise the firepower of the Spanish team?

Since wrapping up the Bundesliga title early this season, Bayern’s concentration has seemed to waver with losses to Augsburg and Borussia Dortmund in recent weeks as well as managing to draw only 1-1 at Old Trafford with a subpar Manchester United despite dominating possession too. I feel that Bayern are likely to once again dominate possession in this Champions League Semi Final, but you can sure that Real will be more direct and lethal when they get the opportunity to attack Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal.

As a result of this, I can see this match being a close but high scoring clash in the Spanish capital with both sides finding the net. However, the edge that the home support will give Ronaldo, Bale and the rest of the Real Madrid side leads me to believe that Real will just edge this first leg tie setting us up for a fantastic second leg at the Allianz Arena next Tuesday.

Back Real Madrid to beat Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu in this Champions League Semi Final first leg @ 2.30 with GR88.com.

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Atlético favoured to reach the Champions League Final ahead of Chelsea

Will Diego Costa be the striker that separates Atlético and Chelsea in these semi finals?

Will Diego Costa be the striker that separates Atlético and Chelsea in these semi finals?

And then there were four! We’re down to the final four sides in the Champions League and this week sees the first leg matches of these Semi Final games, with Atlético Madrid v Chelsea at the Estadio Vincente Calderón first up this Tuesday evening.

The Spaniards are favoured to both progress overall to the final and claim victory over the Premier League side who were upset by the bottom of the table team Sunderland at the weekend.

Atlético Madrid v Chelsea – To Progress:

Atlético – 1.88

Chelsea – 1.92

Atlético Madrid v Chelsea – First Leg Odds:

Atlético – 1.90

Draw – 3.10

Chelsea – 4.20

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Atlético have been one of the outstanding teams of the season in Europe this season with them top of the La Primera Liga table and just two matches away from the Champions League final. They also reached the semi finals of the Copa del Rey title but had a defensive breakdown against their big city rivals, Real, as they were defeated 5-0 on aggregate. That was one of few defensive horror shows they have had this season as they bring the best defensive records in both Spain and Europe to this final four stage match with 22 goals in 34 league matches and just five in ten Champions League conceded. They have outscored visitors to the Estadio Vincente Calderón 14-3, including keeping clean sheets against Porto and Barcelona, in the Champions League this season and they will be confident of another advantage this week.

Chelsea will be concerned about their lack of goals from strikers Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba this  season as they come to one of, if not, the most difficult place to score goals in Europe. Their last three Champions League away games have seen them beaten by PSG and FC Basel as well as drawing with Galatasaray. The French and Turkish sides were faced in the knockout stages and Chelsea used their super weapon of Jose Mourinho’s tactical knowledge to turn the games around at Stamford Bridge, but with Atlético conceding so few and having the lethal goal scorers of Diego Costa and David Villa at their disposal will Mourinho’s brain be enough to see them through?

In my opinion, it will not be enough as Chelsea, although they may have the experience at this stage of the Champions League that Atlético do not thanks to winning the title two seasons ago, do not have the quality to unlock the Spaniards back line to score enough, possibly even any, goals to win this first leg. As such, I am backing the home side to secure the spoils and the advantage from this Atlético Madrid v Chelsea first leg game this Tuesday evening.

Back Atlético Madrid to beat Chelsea in this Champions League Semi Final first leg in Madrid @ 1.90 with GR88.com.

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Champions League semi-finals – The Key Battles

Diego Costa will hope to round off a great season by firing his club to the Champions League final

Diego Costa will hope to round off a great season by firing his club to the Champions League final

 

There is little doubt that the final four in the Champions League represent the elite of European football.

Last year’s champions Bayern Munich are aiming to become the first side to go back-to-back, while Chelsea – the side that beat them in the 2012 final – can give manager José Mourinho a third win with three different teams. However they will need to get past the top two in Spain, Atlético Madrid and their domestic rivals Real.

Ahead of the first legs, we take a look at a few of the key battles.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Bayern Munich – 2.26

Real Madrid – 3.50

Atlético Madrid – 4.30

Chelsea – 5.20

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Gareth Bale v Philipp Lahm or Rafinha

Welsh international Bale has had the eyes of the world on him this season after swapping Tottenham for Real Madrid in a world record move last summer. While he has impressed in La Liga, hitting double figures for goals and assists, a stunning winning goal in the Copa Del Rey final has helped him fully announce himself in the Spanish capital.

Bayern manager Pep Guardiola has given captain Philipp Lahm a new midfield role this season, using Rafinha – a squad player under Jupp Heynckes – more regularly. However the Brazilian’s lack of experience at the highest level could make Guardiola hesitant to risk him. Javi Martinez may well be used in a holding midfield role as he returns from suspension, leaving Lahm with the responsibility of keeping Bale in check.

 

Diego Costa v John Terry

A year ago, you may not have known much about Diego Costa unless you closely followed La Liga. The striker had never scored more than 10 league goals in one season, while his international career amounted to two appearances for Brazil in friendly matches.

However this all changed in 2013-14, with 26 goals for Atlético Madrid in the league and seven in the Champions League putting Costa on the radar of clubs such as Atlético’s semi-final opponents Chelsea. Furthermore, after he was granted Spanish nationality last summer, the striker earned a call-up for his adopted country for the first time and could well lead the line for La Roja at the World Cup.

One of his opponents on Tuesday, Chelsea captain John Terry, has unfinished business in this competition. He missed a crucial penalty in the 2008 final and was suspended for his club’s triumph in 2012, and he will be as determined as any of the other 21 players on the pitch.

 

Domestic form v European form

Three of the four remaining sides are still very much in their domestic title race, while the fourth, Bayern, have seen their form slide somewhat after clinching the Bundesliga title.

Chelsea have the biggest conflict of interest, taking on title rivals Liverpool between the two legs of their semi-final, but the two Spanish sides may also feel the pressure as they reach crunch time in La Liga. Fatigue and concentration could well come into play, particularly for Atlético, who have not reached this stage of the competition since they won the European Cup some 40 years ago.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Real and Atlético have lost just three home matches between them in all competitions this season. Both Spanish teams to win their first leg match is 4.53 with GR88.com.

 

With tired legs towards the end of a long season, we could well see late goals in either of the first-leg games. If a goal is scored in the 88th minute or later then GR88.com will refund selected losing bets. Full terms and conditions can be found here.

 

 

tvTOM VICTOR (editor)  is the editor and co-founder of Betting Instinct. He has written for a variety of  sports sites in the past, including JustFootball, Footy Matters and BeNeFoot.

 

Western Conference is wide open as NBA Playoffs begin

Chris Paul needs to be on form for the Clippers to stand a chance

Chris Paul needs to be on form for the Clippers to stand a chance

While the Eastern Conference may be easier to predict on paper, there are a number of big stories that could emerge as we prepare for the Western Conference Playoffs to begin.

The Miami Heat might be championship favorites, but of the six franchises with the shortest odds, four are from the West. One thing’s for sure, there’s plenty to look forward to over the coming weeks.

 

NBA Western Conference – Outright Betting Odds:

San Antonio Spurs +140

Oklahoma City Thunder +165

Los Angeles Clippers +450

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

1) Who is favourite – the Spurs or OKC?

It seems utterly bizarre to ask this question when the Spurs have won 62 games despite no player playing over 30 minutes per game. The fact remains that this team is really, really good. They have had an obscene amount of injuries, got a year older and were written off yet again. But here they are again. They face Dallas in the first round, a team they swept in the regular season and even with Dirk being Dirk, it’s hard to see that series go beyond 5. Then it gets interesting.

Their next 2 series’ would be against two teams that swept them in the regular season. Obviously this is all ifs and buts, the Rockets face a very good Portland side and it’s hard to take too much from the Spurs in the regular season given how often they sit big players. But the fact remains, it is two really tough match-ups for the Spurs on paper. They struggle with athleticism and Houston match up very well with them. Howard can do a job on Timmy and Patrick Beverley is a great perimeter defender for Tony Parker. Smart money would still be on the Spurs but that series could be a long slog. Not what they want going into the seemingly inevitable Conference final with OKC.

This is a big problem for the Spurs. No-one can stop Kevin Durant. He will get 30 points 9 nights out of 10 and often much more than that. Durant on his own will need to be doubled and with Westbrook and Ibaka, the Thunder have the best 3 pronged attack in the league. I would back the Thunder in this series and honestly, I’d also back them to do it in 6. There is one minor problem for the Thunder. Though the Grizzlies are an awesome team, a sleeper team, the one match-up they didn’t want was this one.

Still, Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. I reckon he could average about 35 for this series. His presence alone makes OKC instant contenders but an athletic roster and two superb back-up stars in Westbrook and Ibaka arguably makes them favourites. They will just pray they can stay healthy.

 

2) The Clippers – are they for real?

The Clippers have been superb this season, no doubt. Doc Rivers has done a great job, the leap in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is testament to that. They have 2 of the best 5 players in the league right now. It all seems awfully rosy for the Clippers. But this team has fundamental flaws.

The other contenders all have one thing in common – a perimeter stopper. The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green as a bonus. The Thunder have Thabo Sefolosha and Durant, tall, rangy and under-rated on the defensive end. The Heat have LeBron, the best perimeter defender in the game when he wants to be. Wade is also a fine defender when fit, though that is a big if. And the Pacers have Paul George, right up there with LeBron and Kawhi Leonard as the best stoppers around.

The Clippers have two options – Matt Barnes, a severely underrated player and defender but not quick enough and with a notably short temper, and Danny Granger, a really good defender… 2 seasons ago. He is due to return in game 1 but he hasn’t looked healthy yet. Having no-one to stop scorers is a big problem when out West and, if by some miracle they get to the Finals, in the toughest series in basketball.

Then there is offense. It seems crazy to question the best offense of the regular season but in Playoff basketball the game slows down and two things become crucial – a go-to scorer and 3 point shooting for when that player gets double teamed. The Clippers have got a scorer in theory – Blake Griffin is insanely good. But his jumper does not fall enough to make it a consistent weapon in the playoffs. The Thunder let Griffin have his jumper against them and it worked well. Blake is one of the best post players in the league and will get points there if left one on one. Therein lies the problem, he won’t be. He needs players to kick out to. Chris Paul’s 3 pointer is starting to fall and this is great news for the Clippers. If he shoots the 3 at over 40%, they look a lot scarier. But this season, they are 22nd in the league in 3 point shooting, with only two playoff teams (the Bulls and the Bobcats) below them. It will take big, big contributions from CP3, the returning JJ Redick and Matt Barnes from outside for the Clippers to top the Thunder. And that’s assuming they get through round 1. On that note…

 

3) Who are we sleeping on?

So we know the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers are supposedly our contenders. But there are two teams getting very little coverage who will be just fine keeping it that way.

It seems bizarre to single out only one team from a 4 vs 5 match-up that could go 7 as a sleeper and not the other but the Houston Rockets have 2 players in or around the top 10 of the league and two really good perimeter defenders in Beverley and Parsons, as well as the fascinating wrinkle of the Asik – Howard twin towers. This Houston team is just one of those match-ups that teams hate. If they top Portland, they have a shot against the Spurs as mentioned earlier. They have a player in Harden who can get hot and win games and an elite inside presence in Dwight Howard. This might come one season too early for the Rockets, especially with the unconvincing Kevin McHale in charge, but keep an eye on them.

A team with an awful lot in common with the Rockets is my other sleeper for very similar reasons. Golden State have Steph Curry, one man heat check and perfectly capable of winning games on his own. They have Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala (here is their Kawhi / LeBron / George) on the perimeter to guard tough assignments. They look like a nightmare for any team.

The problem comes with Andrew Bogut. Bogut is kind of Dwight-lite. He isn’t anywhere near as good on offense but both are elite inside forces. The problem is, he’s injured, and it becomes clear an injury is bad when Bogut won’t play through it. There is no schedule for his return as of yet and this is what might well decide the series against the Clippers.

Without Bogut the Warriors lack rim protection but may become even deadlier on offense. All logic points towards a Clippers win in this series but it’s probably the most reluctant I’d be to put money on of the first round match-ups even with Houston-Portland seemingly geared for a long one. Of these teams, the Rockets are perhaps the better bet but people aren’t so much sleeping on the Warriors as they are forgetting them completely. That’s an ill-advised strategy when Steph Curry is around.

 

Betting Instinct tip – OKC are +165 with Intertops.eu to win in the west, and that represents good value with Kevin Durant in his current form

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter @DiarmaidHill