Lionel Messi set to pose Max Allegri an unsolvable problem

lionel-messi-01It was just last summer that Luis Enrique and Max Allegri came to be. A couple of months separated their arrivals at Barcelona and Juventus, but they drew familiarity in the immediate questions surrounding their promotions. While the Asturian was scrutinised in his ability to manage a top European club, Allegri was deemed a step down from the departing Antonio Conte; even ridiculed at times. And yet one year on, both men stand on the precipice of an historic treble.

Time has healed the apprehension surrounding the pair, while a triumph for either on Saturday night would take them to once unimaginable heights. Even the most diehard of detractors would have a job on then, though the fashion in which the game is won and lost will perhaps leave the biggest imprint.

With Barcelona heading into the contest as favourites, a dispatch of Juve akin to that of the Bayern and Paris St-Germain games would see the Catalans archived as another of Europe’s greatest ever teams, while Luis Enrique would converge the path of Pep Guardiola’s historic reign some years before. Though the front three of Messi, Neymar and Suárez will hog the billboards for as long as they are together, their coach and his associates are special talents too (as much as it continually appears taboo to say).

The sheer fitness, intensity and hunger displayed by Barcelona this year puts pay to the feelings that the coach doesn’t have a grip on his team. More than that, they are a renewed beast; boasting more tools than possibly ever before. Their transformation in terms of set pieces at the hands of Juan Carlos Unzué, perhaps a leading example of that.

The task for Max Allegri on Saturday night is a different one entirely though. For the Italian, preparing the most meticulous, ingenious game plan ever seen in a European final, could still see his team leave empty handed at this rate. For unlike his opposite number, Allegri can only hope that his team are spared in the German capital. “It’s practically impossible,” the Juventus manager said on Monday.

He was referring to the potential man-marking of Lionel Messi; a decision which he will have soon retracted had he been thinking of it before last weekend’s Copa del Rey final when the Argentine obliterated his Basque opposition. It’s not that Juventus don’t have potential match winners too, it’s just that they’re not Messi.

Juventus stalwart Gianluigi Buffon has since echoed Allegri’s sentiments too. “Messi is an alien that dedicates himself to playing with humans,” the captain said on Tuesday. “The only hope is that this Saturday he will be from earth, like the rest of us.”

It’s pertinent that Juventus’ inspiration, as well as the man who will be his team’s last port of call for stopping the little man, feels that way. But it only serves to reinforce the cyclone that the ‘Old Lady’ could be preparing to enter at 7.45 on Saturday night.

2015 has simply produced a monster in Messi; thanks to a changing of diet, a tinkering in his role, and a new-found measure in his work. He is far removed from the long-haired wild man who came to prominence almost a decade ago. Nowadays, he plays with the aura of realised genius and can kill you from anywhere, seemingly whenever he chooses at the moment.

Last weekend at the Camp Nou, he chose slaloming past four Athletic Bilbao defenders and hammering past Iago Herrerín with a run that began from a static position on the halfway line. Until then, Ernesto Valverde’s team were coping perfectly. After Messi had done, they were never the same.

For the weeks of preparation that both managers and teams will have undergone by the time the ball rolls in Berlin, the end result can be shaped by one man alone. And therein lies the difference for Luis Enrique and Max Allegri.

While both have proved themselves to be excellent organisers and tactically astute operators throughout the tournament, the Catalans hold the pawn. Allegri is capable of matching Luis Enrique stride-for-stride, except the one area; the one where Messi goes.

Television graphics tell you that’s on the right wing, but it’s not. There is no tracking his trail. It spreads like a raging wildfire, before there becomes too many flames to extinguish. If it’s not the man himself putting the ball away, he will supplement the equally insatiable appetite of those around him.

Of course, Messi is not solely responsible for Barcelona standing ninety minutes away from a treble. Nor are his partners in crime, Neymar and Suárez. The longevity and consistency of the team’s success could only have been born of an outstanding collective effort; one that has emanated from Luis Enrique and his associates, and gradually immersed within their ultra-talented squad. But when it comes down to ninety minutes, these are the ones who make the difference. Messi has done so in every Champions League final he’s been fortunate enough to feature.

In the German capital, Juventus will present themselves as the underdogs, though they would be unwise to think heart and desire will bridge the discrepancy in quality. Gifted beyond measure Luis Enrique’s team may be; uncompetitive they are not. Barcelona will not wilt, whatever the Italians throw at them. And that is an asset that can be directly credited to the young manager’s regime.

They will need to call on those qualities one more time this season, where the prize is bigger than ever. If Barcelona get their approach as accurate as they have done for pretty much the entirety of 2015, it is their game to lose. The work has been done, the criticism has evaporated, and the Catalans could not be in a better place on the eve of the final.

One more effort is required from Luis Enrique and his team, and there’s little evidence to suggest it won’t be forthcoming. If it’s business as usual for the Blaugrana in a collective sense, Juventus have problems. If it’s business as usual for Messi too, they have an unsolvable problem.

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 JAMIE KEMPjamie k avatar is a freelance football writer focusing on the Spanish game in particular. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

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Juventus v Real Madrid a very different prospect 12 years on from last Champions League semi-final meeting

This week sees Juventus and Real Madrid go head-to-head for a place in the Champions League final, with the tie delicately poised after the Italian champions held on for a 2-1 first-leg win in Turin.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side is looking to become the first ever to retain European football’s top trophy, following last year’s extra-time victory over Atletico Madrid, but if they want another shot at glory they will need to get past the side which ended their hopes of back-to-back victories in this competition 12 years ago.

 

UEFA Champions League – Outright Betting Odds:

Barcelona 53/100

Real Madrid 3/1

Juventus 11/2

Bayern Munich 33/1

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

 

Back in 2003, Vicente Del Bosque’s Real Madrid were locked in an unlikely title fight with a Real Sociedad side inspired by Darko Kovacevic and a young midfielder by the name of Xabi Alonso. Del Bosque had added just one player to the squad which edged past Bayer Leverkusen to win the previous year’s Champions League, but what a player – Ronaldo returned to Spain fresh from securing Golden Boot honours at the previous summer’s World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

While the Spanish title race would go right to the wire, Juventus had already secured the Serie A title by the time the two sides met at the Stadio Delle Alpi for the second leg of their semi-final. It may have been that lack of domestic pressure which allowed Marcello Lippi’s side to play without fear.

 

The first leg in May 2003 produced a comparable outcome to the equivalent tie this year, with a 2-1 home win keeping Real Madrid’s dream of La Decima well and truly alive. Indeed Graham Hunter suggested the winner from Roberto Carlos left the Spanish club “on course for their fourth Champions League final in six seasons.

However the gulf in quality and spending power between the Spanish and Italian leagues was nothing like it is now: the Bianconeri could boast such talents as David Trezeguet, Lilian Thuram and Pavel Nedved, while the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and Gigi Buffon were approaching their respective peaks.

 

Indeed Lippi’s side would go on to meet AC Milan in an all-Italian final after playing what Del Piero described as “the perfect match” in the return leg. Trezeguet, who had scored an important away goal at the Bernabeu, put Juve ahead within the first 15 minutes. Madrid sorely missed Ronaldo, only fit enough for the bench on his return from injury, and Del Piero doubled the lead before half-time.

Del Bosque’s side still had plenty of their other Galacticos on show, and Ronaldo – introduced early in the second half – gave Luis Figo the chance to level things up on aggregate when he was brought down in the area by Paolo Montero. However Figo saw his spot-kick saved by Buffon and the Portuguese was made to pay not long after when Nedved added Juventus’ third. A late strike from Zinedine Zidane against his former club would not be enough to keep the Spaniards’ dream alive.

 

The game – and the season – would prove momentous for both clubs. Juve lost on penalties to Milan in the final and went a decade without getting as far as the semi-finals again, losing their Serie A status in the Calciopoli scandal in the intervening period.

Madrid, meanwhile, parted ways with Del Bosque and midfield anchor Claude Makelele that summer, leading to a sustained run of underperformance in Europe. They would not reach the semi-finals again until 2011, while they had to wait until last year for La Decima.

 

This week both clubs enter the game with the awareness that the winner will likely go into the final as an underdog against a Barcelona team which brushed aside Bayern Munich in their first leg, however that ought not to matter too much.

Madrid enter as reigning champions of Europe and as such are expected to progress, while Juve – without any high-quality competition domestically – have done well even to make it this far. Their goalscorers in the first leg, Carlos Tevez and former Real Madrid youngster Alvaro Morata, while both undoubtedly talented, are only in Italy because richer clubs decided they were surplus to requirements.

In contrast, their opponents parted with more than €100m last summer, bringing in the likes of James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Lucas Silva. They cruised through their group with six wins from six and after edging past local rivals Atletico in the quarter-finals they will feel like this is a tie they should win.

 

For Juventus it is a chance to return to the glory days of the early 2000s, while Real have the chance to exact revenge for a painful defeat. But in truth this game is only comparable to that famous 2003 meeting on a superficial level.

 

Betting Instinct tip Real Madrid to win by two goals is 7/2 with Intertops.eu

 

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 TOM 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. You can follow him  on Twitter.

Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich to see Guardiola turn pragmatist

Pep Guardiola returns to the Camp Nou. There’s little else to be said that will inflate the sense of event. Four ultra-successful years he spent managing his boyhood club, and now he’s back. Back in attempt to silence the Colosseum that he had always dreamed of igniting.

 

He still loves Catalunya and misses it from his Munich base, but his intended legacy requires that Bayern approach this tie with no sentiment whatsoever. With stars in the form of Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Franck Ribery all missing for tomorrow night’s game, a positive result will irrevocably take pride over place. Though he may be renowned as a serial perfectionist, he is a serial winner who will do whatever it takes to progress at this point.

The 44-year-old failed by his own admittance last year. Real Madrid blitzed Bayern in the semi-final, in a game he later describe as the ‘biggest mistake’ of his career. For his German escapade to have been worthwhile to this date, he can’t afford to not leave his mark on the Champions League for a successive season. It’s an almost incomprehensible reality for him. Barcelona must be stopped.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Barcelona 7/4

Real Madrid 2/1

Bayern Munich 5/2

Juventus 15/2

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

 

On Monday, Sport newspaper headlined ‘Obsesionado con Messi’. It was in reference to Guardiola’s on-going plans to stop the Argentine, which have no doubt occupied his mind ever since Bayern’s ball was pulled out of the hat in Nyon. He has seen Messi trample on teams at this stage of the tournament before, more often than not from the Camp Nou touchline. Guardiola stood slack-jawed like the rest of us when Messi demolished Bayern back in 2009.

Reports from the city suggest that his initial plan to combat him would have been a man-marking job done by David Alaba; a player he considers athletic and intelligent enough to have put the brakes on Messi. With the Austrian unavailable for selection through injury, however, it’s now anyone’s guess as to how they will go about it.

And as much as he knows the damage Messi can cause, he will also know that Barcelona still have the ability to serve him up a taste of his own medicine. Despite the front three of Neymar, Suárez and Messi taking the plaudits in 2015, Luis Enrique’s midfield area in particular have demonstrated a renewed ability to control and alter the tempo of games in their favour. In fact, many have said the current team is the closest model to Guardiola’s that we’ve seen since he left in 2012. “This Barça presses more, defends better and now they have Suárez too,” Javi Martínez said earlier in the week.

 

The Catalans have been in superb form over the past few months. Their preparation could hardly have gone better. They remain in the ascendency in La Liga, their strike trio are undoubtedly the finest in Europe at present, and unlike their rivals, their team doctor might have one of the easiest jobs in the city.

Elsewhere, Bayern may have already wrapped up the Bundesliga title, but they come into the game on the back of two consecutive losses. A defeat in the German Cup semi-final against Borussia Dortmund has been followed by a 2-0 slip against Bayer Leverkusen; a game which ex-midfielder Owen Hargreaves described as ‘the worst you will see [Bayern] play’. It may only be two games, but momentum shouldn’t be taken for granted when the stakes are so high.

 

With the Germans’ injury record, it appears to be advantage Barcelona ahead of tomorrow night. The timing of the meeting is undoubtedly favouring the first leg hosts but they should be wary. Guardiola failed last year and is back again – sharper, hungrier and desperate to right his wrongs. His affinity for Barcelona will not stand in his way of stepping on them. And regardless of that, his legacy demands that he does. But be sure in the fact that Luis Enrique is equally hungry to chop down his friend in the name of building his own.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Barcelona to win the first leg with both teams to score is 2.89 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Bayern Munich facing elimination in Champions League Quarter Finals

 

Few observers predicted any surprises when the Champions League quarter final draw was made last month, but after last week’s first legs one of the bookies’ favourites, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, are facing premature elimination.

Three of the four ties are delicately poised, Barcelona should sail through after their convincing 3-1 win in Paris last week, but it is the prospect of FC Porto defeating the Bundesliga runaway leaders that has gripped the neutrals.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Barcelona 27/20

Real Madrid 7/2

Bayern Munich 7/2

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

 

The Portuguese club, winners in 2004, were outstanding in victory last Wednesday, with the rejuvenated Ricardo Quaresma scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes, before Jackson Martinez extended their lead in the second half after Thiago Alcantara’s away goal. For all of Porto’s quality, Bayern were generous in defeat, gifting away all three goals through glaring individual errors from Xabi Alonso, Dante and Jerome Boateng.

The 2013 champions have been one of the form sides in this season’s competition, with Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk both on the wrong end of seven goal thrashings from the Bavarians, but they must win by at least a two goal margin to progress to a fourth consecutive semi final appearance. It says much about the expectations in modern football that two seasons without a Champions League trophy is unthinkable for a coach as feted as Guardiola.

 

With a mounting injury list that includes Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Javi Martinez and Mehdi Benatia, this could prove one uphill struggle too far for Pep. With Barcelona overwhelming favourites to finish the job against Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday night at the Nou Camp, attention turns to Wednesday’s two fixtures where there remains everything to play for.

Atletico and Real Madrid played out a tense goalless draw at the Calderon last week, and will line up at the Bernabeu for their eighth meeting this season. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and that was certainly the case given the needle on show between the two Madrid clubs last week. Real’s failure to score an away goal could cost them more than Atletico’s failure to ram home the home advantage, especially with Luka Modric and Gareth Bale likely to miss out through injury.

 

Atletico have shown they are the masters of the two-leg format under Diego Simeone, beating Real twice in this scenario already this season in both the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup. They have form, too, for turning a 0-0 first leg at home into a two-legged victory, as their 3-1 semi final win at Stamford Bridge last year so ruthlessly demonstrated.

Last season’s Final defeat in Lisbon remains Atletico’s only loss in their last 10 European matches against Spanish rivals and, in Antoine Griezmann, they have one of Europe’s most in-form players; the French international has six goals in his last five games. With history against Real in their bid to become the first side to retain the Champions League, Atletico look a good prospect to upset their city rivals once again.

 

In the final quarter final clash, Juventus have a single goal lead to defend in Monaco thanks to Arturo Vidal’s penalty in Turin last week, though the winning margin should have been higher given the wastefulness of Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata. The Serie A leaders are the stronger side on paper, and with the principality club required to open up at home in pursuit of goals, they will be easier to pick off than the side that came to defend in Italy. As Arsenal showed in their 2-0 win there in the Last 16, when the onus is on the Ligue 1 club at home they can become vulnerable, despite their excellent defensive record at the Stade Louis II.

With three results still all to play for, this week’s second legs clashes remain on a knife edge. The prospect of seeing this season’s Big Four – Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus and Real – in the semi finals remains a very real prospect, but nothing can be taken for granted.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich all to win their home legs is 3.26 with Intertops.eu

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football. Follow him on Twitter.

Atlético have Real Madrid’s number ahead of Champions League revenge mission

 

And so they meet again. Twice in the league, twice in the Copa Del Rey and twice in the Spanish Super Cup. Yet still, arguably the biggest of their meetings this season is still to take place.

Atlético have undeniably man-handled los Blancos this season. Through their six clashes during the current campaign, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have failed to pick up three points on every occasion, losing on a collective aggregate score of 12-4. Some have been utter savageries from ‘Cholo’s’ warriors, some have been close encounters. But few doubt that Atlético thoroughly have Real’s number.

 

 Atlético Madrid v Real Madrid First Leg Betting Odds:

Atlético Madrid win 7/4

Real Madrid win 8/5

Draw 43/20

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

 

Their most recent meeting provided the best evidence of it, as the European champions were beaten well past the brink of embarrassment. “They were better than us in every aspect”, Ancelotti said, after Atlético pulverised his team by four goals to nil. It had been 17 years since los Rojiblancos had beaten Madrid at home, and 38 years since they had scored four or more in a derby on home soil.

The fact that Tuesday night’s clash comes in the Champions League makes it all the more interesting. It’s the competition that captures Real’s imagination like no other; the one which Madridista’s feel is ‘their’ competition. Nobody has won it more, and their hunger for it will never fade. As well as that, it’s the platform in which Real were last victorious over their feisty neighbours.

When they met in the final in Lisbon last summer, Real captured ‘La Decima’ to devastating effect. Atlético had been on the brink of a fairytale league-and-cup double, until Sergio Ramos’ 93rd minute header took the game to extra-time. The blow proved to be too strong for Simeone’s team, who eventually fell to a crippling 4-1 defeat.

If Ancelotti’s men are going to end their miserable streak against their rivals, it seems like the Champions League will be the most likely platform in which they can do so. It’s a competition in which they can bear confidence, knowing their prestige and recent success in, as well as the fact they have the opportunity to win back-to-back titles for the first time since the 1950’s.

And in terms of the spectacle of Tuesday night itself, the stars have aligned as we edge nearer to show time. It’s expected that both coaches will be able to field full-strength eleven’s for the first leg, with the likes of Diego Godín, Mario Mandžukić, Gareth Bale, Pepe, James Rodríguez and Luka Modrić all timing their returns from injuries nicely.

So, on the verge of their most pivotal clash of the season, the question becomes: How long can Diego Simeone prolong this dominance over Real? His opposition have been buoyed dramatically in recent games by the return of James Rodríguez, while Cristiano Ronaldo has hit fine form ahead of the derby. If ‘El Cholo’ can manage it again, it might just be his team’s most impressive triumph of the lot.

_____

Juventus vs. AS Monaco

Elsewhere on Tuesday night, Max Allegri’s flying Juventus (11/25 to win the first leg with Intertops.eu) welcome Monaco (15/2) to Turin for their own Champions League quarter-final meeting. The Italians breezed past Borussia Dortmund en route to this stage, and look to boast Serie A’s most promising European threat for some time.

Many had doubted Juve’s credentials following the managerial switch from Antonio Conte to Allegri, but the veteran boss has done remarkably well since taking the reigns at the club. Speaking in midweek, Carlos Tevez praised the impact of his manager, and insisted that they can match anyone in Europe. “We are a more relaxed team now thanks to the calmness of Allegri,” he said, “I think now instead what we have is a team. We are very difficult to beat, much like Atlético Madrid a year ago.”

In their French opponents, Monaco sprung the shock of the previous round when they dumped out Arsenal. Not many had tipped Leonardo Jardim’s side to make it to the quarter-final stage, but now they are here, their lack of pressure could be a dangerous weapon that Juve will need to be mindful of.

They also lay claim to having the best defence in Ligue 1 under the Portuguese boss this season, and might well have the credentials to frustrate the Italians at the Juventus Stadium tomorrow night.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Atlético Madrid and Juventus to both win their first legs is 3.96 with Intertops.eu

 

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – April

 

April is a glorious month, the days get warmer and longer, outside boozing become socially acceptable and I can start my now annual crusade to be allowed to wear shorts to work. The football season also approaches what that Football Cliches bloke on Twitter would call the ‘business end’ (or are we there already? – ed.).

 

March finishes with the bleak nothingness of an international fortnight so thank the Lord above that April has an absolute cracker of a game to get us started. Brendan Rodgers and his band of merry men travel to face Arsenal, where they really have to win to keep their top 4 hopes alive. They do of course make this trip minus their captain, which in most cases would be a disadvantage but in all honesty when your central midfielder is so busy raging against the dying of the light that the physical act of football becomes an irrelevance in his tortured mind then maybe it’s for the best if he takes his place in the stand. Arsenal are in form and at the stage of the season where they traditionally win games so are heavy favourites. Their form is such that there has even been talk of a title challenge, that obviously won’t happen but they could conceivably finish in the top two, which would represent progress of a sort and save any awkward early season ventures to deepest darkest Europe in the name of Champions League qualification.

 

Arsenal v Liverpool Betting Odds: 

Arsenal win  4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 53/20

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

 

The other stand out game that first weekend is the Tyne Wear derby, Sunderland (29/20 with Intertops.eu) have terrible players and are terrible so they will lose, but then again Newcastle (19/10) gave up on their season a couple of months ago and have a terrible manager so they’ll probably lose as well. Sunderland have a new manager who is in theory less terrible than the last one so that might help. Honestly unless you support either of the sides you’re only watching this one for the inevitable comedy violence.

 

The following weekend we get to witness the sight of Tottenham’s greatest ever manager returning to the scene of both his glorious triumph and the scandalous betrayal that ended his White Hart Lane reign. It is never wise to speculate on how history will remember a man and his deeds but in the case of Tim Sherwood we can rest assured that future generations will speak of him with the reverence reserved for only the truly great. He does have to be a bit careful that for all his undeniable majesty and grace he doesn’t end up forgetting to stop Villa getting relegated. A win at Spurs would be handy.

 

On Sunday we have the Manchester Derby and although United have spent the majority of the season grinding out results whilst playing suspiciously Moyesish football their recent upturn coupled with City’s recent malaise probably makes them favourites. United might have Van Persie back but he probably won’t get in the side ahead of Marouane Fellaini. Which when you think about it is a bit odd.

 

The season is actually in real danger of petering out, the top 4 looks familiar and unlikely to change save for a bit of jostling. The teams occupying the relegation zone all have a very Championshipy look about them, Burnley might just drag themselves out and haul someone back in, with Sunderland looking most likely. Leicester have played quite well at points this season without ever looking like they might still be here come next August and QPR are a shambles both on and off the pitch. I’m not saying I’m struggling to find things to write about as we approach the conclusion of another campaign but we could really do with a good handshake/non-handshake scandal to keep things interesting over the next few weeks.

 

The only saving grace may come in the remaining cup competitions where the Champions League despite/because of (delete as appropriate) its lack of English participants looks particularly well poised for a brilliant last few rounds. We get repeat of last years final where Atletico (8/5 to qualify with AllYouBet.ag)will be looking for revenge against their city neighbours (11/25) and if there’s one man on this planet you’d bet on to exact his revenge it would be Diego Simeone. His rebuilding of the second Madrid club is one of the great stories of modern football and rarely can one team have been created to resemble so closely the mould of its master. That’s probably the pick of the ties but Zlatan visiting any club he feels he has been wronged by is always entertaining, so Barcelona vs PSG should be fun.

 

There’s also the FA Cup where we’d all like to see Steven Gerrard sign off as a champion/fall over and gift the opposition a goal in the last minute (delete as appropriate). Arsenal will probably win the thing for the second year running but it’s been a while since they spectacularly imploded against lower league opposition so maybe they have one of those in store for us.

 

Betting Instinct tip Liverpool to beat Blackburn in their FA Cup replay and move closer to that dream final is 3/5 with Intertops.eu

 

 

Anyway that’s enough filling, see you next month. Or maybe I’ll see you over on Twitter where I recently got 250+ RTs on a tweet with a typo which I thought was the type of thing that only happened in horror stories designed to frighten grammatically substandard children https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

 

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in fine fettle: Champions League last 16

Of the sixteen teams left in this season’s Champion’s League only seven have previously hoisted aloft the impressive trophy so – statistically at least – it bodes well for a newbie to step up and join the elite.

What skews the odds back to the tiresomely familiar however is that among those former champions lurk the monopolising trio of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and the ever-dominant Bayern.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Bayern Munich 11/4

Real Madrid 11/4

Barcelona 33/10

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

 

Between them these behemoths have won the most prestigious club accolade of them all a mind-boggling 19 times and with all in fine fettle it is difficult to see far past them when envisioning the fireworks and bastardised Zadok the Priest blaring out in Berlin on May 27th.

All three artfully negotiated tricky aways in their first leg ties with Madrid all-but securing safe passage to the quarter-finals with a 2-0 win at Schalke. Cristiano Ronaldo and co will be seething following their shock reverse to Athletic Bilbao at the weekend but with the Germans now forced to go gung-ho a slick, polished dismissal at the Bernabéu is expected.

 

Barcelona, meanwhile, took full advantage of Manuel Pellegrini’s adventurous midfield two at the Etihad and though Manchester City will have gained hope from Lionel Messi’s bizarre last-minute penalty miss the need for a clean sheet surely makes it mission impossible for the Blues. After some initial hum and crackle Barcelona’s magical front three have finally tuned onto the same wavelength thus forging a Harlem Globetrotters’ level of exhibition greatness that we all feared was inevitable. A 6-1 trouncing of Rayo Vallecano on Sunday was all the more ominous with the ease in which it was administered and all the more impressive as it marked the sixth consecutive season the other-worldly Messi has bagged 40+ goals. Joe Hart and a City defence that has struggled for cohesiveness have our best regards.

 

Lastly there is Bayern Munich who showed typical reserves of fortitude and nous to come away from Shakhtar Donetsk with a goalless stalemate. The Ukrainians looked rusty from their winter break and resorted to dragging the visitors down to tetchy attrition. Such tactics won’t wash at the Allianz Arena and despite the absence of orchestrator-in-chief Xabi Alonso through suspension the Germans predictably start as clear favourites. Arch poacher Robert Lewandowski’s four strikes in the previous four games makes him a good shout for first goal-scorer but in truth Bayern’s array of attacking talent means the breakthrough could come from anywhere.

So it is difficult to see far past this trio of behemoths but let’s try not least because the remaining five fixtures throw up some intriguing propositions.

 

Perhaps the most finely poised clash in this last 16 round can be found in Dortmund where Jürgen Klopp’s revitalised troops look to overcome a goal deficit to Juventus. The black and yellows face an unenviable task of breaking down a mean Juve rearguard with Buffon, Chiellini, and Bonucci pulling down the shutters across Serie A and Europe. But with a priceless away goal attained in Turin under their belt, and a guaranteed high-voltage atmosphere electrifying Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund have every chance to cap their recent turnaround with a famous victory.

 

Let’s not forget at this point that it is not solely progress to the quarters that is at stake this week and next; a bounty of coefficient points are up for grabs while a prize of just shy of four million Euros for reaching the last eight is not to be sniffed at either.

With that in mind Monaco – who realistically have little hope for ultimate glory – will not be cutting a Cuban for Berbatov just yet despite a healthy 3-1 advantage procured from the Emirates while Basel and Bayer Leverkusen can expect 90 minutes apiece of examining bombast from Porto and Atletico Madrid respectively.

 

Two clubs that presumably aren’t too fussed with the riches on offer are Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain and in a repeat of last season’s quarter-final pairing – where the English side narrowly triumphed – Mourinho’s men take on Zlatan the Magnificent and ten of his team-mates in a fascinating duel at the Bridge.

Chelsea remain unbeaten in Europe so far this season but the significance of their away goal obtained in the 1-1 draw at the Parc De Princes last month presents Jose with an awkward dilemma: Do they stick or do they twist? The former is the Special One’s speciality but is an awfully dangerous strategy to enforce considering Ibrahimovic has struck 68 times in 85 appearances for the French champions.

It’s an astonishing hit-rate to make Messi feel positively wasteful.

 

Betting Instinct tip Bayern, Real and Barcelona to all win their second legs is 2.07 with Intertops.eu

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Things we’ll learn in football this month – March

Nothing much usually happens in March, it’s the most unremarkable of months. This March however might just be different, this could be the month where the race for the top four finally starts to take shape. The importance placed on finishing in the top 20% of the league is often used as a stick with which to beat the league (and Arsenal) but for all it’s modern football awfulness it does at least provide an element of genuine interest and drama that would otherwise be missing. If we’re lucky a bit of that drama will explode into our lives during the month of March.

 

On the very first day (pinch punch and all that) we have Liverpool vs Man City and Arsenal vs Everton. We also have the League Cup final but I’ve got a theme going this month and I’m sticking to it. Liverpool’s heroic but unsuccessful tint at the title is long forgotten but with Sturridge back and a tactical switch bringing about an element of defensive stability they might just force a route back into the Champions League, where they’ll presumably look to do slightly less badly than they did this year. Their recent good form means they’ll fancy their chances against a Man City side who every now and again look like they really can’t be bothered. City of course are almost assured their place in the top four, unless there’s a spontaneous African Cup of Nations and they have to do without Yaya again. It’s a game that has the potential to be an absolute peach and for all CIty’s occasional malaise they are still the best team in the country on their day so it should be a good test of those Scouse Champions League aspirations. It’ll probably be a draw, a score one.

Betting Instinct tip Back the score draw at 5.44 with Intertops.eu

 

On the very same day it’s Arsenal (1/2 with AllYouBet.ag) vs Everton (5/1) which would have been a game significant to the theme of this column last season but Everton are rubbish now. Still though, they’re not as rubbish as their league position would suggest so Arsenal will need to be at their best if they’re to keep their top 4 bid on track.

 

There is a full mid-week card in the first week of the month and the most intriguing of the fixtures it throws up is Manchester United’s trip to play Newcastle. There’s a school of thought (well I tweeted it once) that once you factor in the cost of removing Moyes, hiring Van Gaal and the fees and wages that have been lavished at the Dutchman’s behest that never in the course of human history has so much money been spent to achieve so little. Now I am prone to hyperbole but the fact remains that at best United have been underwhelming, so far Van Gaal has had an easy ride with the assumption that he’ll secure Champions League football protecting him from any real scrutiny. If that Champions League place starts to look doubtful then that will swiftly change. Dropping points to a team managed by John Carver would not go down well, not well at all. Now of course Van Gaal has pedigree so deserves time to get things right but he also has an unsettling haircut so maybe he’s had enough time and needs to be moved on.

 

As we reach the middle of the month it’s time for Tottenham to have their say as they visit Old Trafford. Spurs have an excellent first XI where everybody is super fit and knows their role, if they leave Manchester with all three points it’ll be one of those shocks that isn’t really a shock but is still a bit shocking. Both teams have brilliant goalkeepers, which is nice.

Earlier that day it’s Chelsea who will win the league vs Southampton who will not finish in the top four but might come quite close. Like all Southampton’s games against the leagues biggest and best it should be an intriguing if ultimately pointless clash.

 

March ends with some of that international nonsense we all hate so the final Premier League games take place over the weekend of the 21st/22nd. Once again we have a game that will have a massive say on who gets to take on the European elite next season and once again it involves Manchester United and their unsettlingly coiffured manager. This time it’s a trip to face their old enemies Liverpool and their unsettlingly unsettling manager (I’m not sure what I mean by that). There will always be something special about this fixture and for all these two clubs would prefer to be battling each other for top spot their respective and relative mediocrity won’t dim the ferocity of this one. History teaches us that Arsenal always finish in the top 4 and logic tells us that Chelsea and City will this season, so it might just be between these two old foes and their clash at the end of March could very well prove pivotal.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Get on Chelsea to win the Premier League while you still can. They’re currently 1/4 with Intertops.eu

 

You should follow me on twitter where I’m occasionally funny https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

Ally avatarALLY MONCRIEFF is a freelance football writer and editor of All or Nothing magazine. Sometimes even he can’t tell if he’s being serious or not. Follow Ally on Twitter and maybe he’ll be your friend.

Barcelona and Atléti hope to continue Spanish dominance of Champions League

 

Ahead of the weekend, Barcelona had won eleven consecutive games in all competitions, and Luis Enrique was on the verge of breaking Pep Guardiola’s best winning streak in his time at the club. Meanwhile, Premier League champions Manchester City had won just once in their last six games, including two comprehensive losses on the way.

However by the time weekend was over, the landscape for their Champions League meeting had taken a rather surprising turn. The Catalans were beaten 1-0 at home by Málaga on Saturday, in what was one of the Blaugrana’s worst performances of the season. Over in Manchester just an hour or so later, Manuel Pellegrini’s team obliterated Newcastle United by five goals, while it could easily have been more.

 

Manchester City v Barcelona Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 9/4

Barcelona win 11/10

Draw 9/5

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

 

These two teams faced each other in the same round last year, meaning their impending reunion has been met with considerably less enthusiasm than last time. Barcelona won 4-1 on aggregate on that occasion, which came as a surprise to few. And considering the form of both sides coming into the weekend, a similar outcome wouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone.

Luis Enrique’s time in the Barça dugout has been interesting to say the least so far. At times, the magnitude of the job has looked daunting for him. On occasions, almost as if the role was feeling like a chore. But from faltering against the likes of Getafe and Real Sociedad over the turn of the year, Barça had begun to carve the figure of a team capable of winning honours through January and February. The Camp Nou had even begun to sing Luis Enrique’s name on match days – an often-clear sign that things are certainly going well.

The Málaga defeat has drawn flashbacks to a duller time in his tenure, however – a time when the machine was not working as it should. Knowing the furor that can quickly envelope a team with such a spotlight, one loss can rapidly turn into much more. “The losses hurt and it takes effort to get over them. We have a spectacular challenge ahead of us in three days,” said Enrique on Saturday evening.

A flicker of doubt has begun to ember again, and it’s Barça’s job to ensure it doesn’t become a fire. They have more than enough to do so. Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez may very well be the best front three in world football, and not just on paper.

But for Manchester City, it’s their job to add fuel to that Barça ember tomorrow night. If the Catalans’ reaction is half-hearted, Manuel Pellegrini’s side may have enough to ignite it on home soil.

_______

2010 was the last time, and only time, Atlético Madrid (3/2 to win the first leg with AllYouBet.ag) and Bayer Leverkusen (37/20) have met in their history. They faced each other twice in the Europa League group stages that year, playing out 1-1 draws on both occasions. The Germans topped Group B in the competition, while the team from the Spanish capital missed out on qualification behind Greek side Aris Saloniki. Atlético compounded a Europa League exit with a 7th place league finish in the 2010/11 campaign. Over in the Bundesliga, Leverkusen finished 2nd above Bayern Munich.

Cut to present day and the Diego Simeone-led Atlético are a different beast entirely. Only Real Madrid could halt them in Europe last season, and even then, they were less than a minute away from Champions League glory. At this stage last year, they swept past AC Milan by five goals to one on their route to the quarter-final. Leverkusen were hammered 6-1 by Paris St-Germain.

The Germans have quite arguably been handed the most daunting draw of all. Not the most dangerous, but quite certainly the toughest. Getting a result at the BayArena is near imperative for Leverkusen, considering Atlético haven’t lost a Champions League game at home since Simeone arrived. And unfortunately for Schmidt’s side, November was the last time they won at home in any competition.

Many had seen the losses of Thibaut Courtois, Filipe Luis and Diego Costa as the beginning of Atlético’s downfall: the end of their flutter at the helm of European football. But Diego Simeone and co have kept the show rolling at the Calderón, with new stars being impressively embedded. The strike duo of Mario Mandžukić and Antoine Griezmann has been a resounding success so far – with the latter bringing immeasurable ability to the capital, as well as a new-found hunger and work rate. 14 goals in his last 14 games means the diminutive Frenchman is indeed the man to watch in this tie.

“The Champions League is always special. Now we begin the challenging part – it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a game we’ve been waiting for for weeks,” said Atlético goalkeeper Miguel Ángel Moyá over the weekend. Last year’s finalists are back to accomplish what they couldn’t last year, and Leverkusen are in their way.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Atlético Madrid to take a 1-0 lead back to the Spanish capital is 6/1 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Champions League Last 16: David Luiz and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar putting former clubs to the test

It’s back. The greatest competition in club football returns to brighten up this dark, dank, freezing February, and how we have missed that euphoric anthem blaring into our living rooms.

As has now become tradition, the Champions League first knock-out round is stretched out over a month with the eight first-leg fixtures spread over the next two weeks. This week sees a razzmatazz of European heavyweights and also-rans battling it out: a re-run of a quarter-final from last season, East versus West, a Battle of the FCs and the Raul derby.

Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea Betting Odds:

PSG win 33/20

Chelsea win 33/20

Draw 9/4

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

This tie brought one of Jose Mourinho’s finest moments in his first season back at Stamford Bridge, and the European heavyweights have been drawn together once again – this time at the first knockout stage. Not so much a battle of heavyweights as a battle of political capital between two of the richest clubs in world football. Egos are set to dominate in this first-leg clash at the Parc des Princes; Zlatan Ibrahimovic v Diego Costa anyone?

David Luiz faces his old club, for whose fans he still remains a popular figure, yet he will be up against a side much more ruthless and threatening than the one he departed in the summer. A late Javier Pastore goal gave the hosts a 3-1 advantage that they then squandered in the second leg; Demba Ba the unlikely hero in the rematch at the Bridge. Laurent Blanc’s men would do well to recreate that first-leg scoreline – Chelsea may have improved since, they started without a striker in that game – but the Parisians have regressed, and though their domestic form has picked up in recent weeks they remain unconvincing and Blanc’s position at the club uncertain. Expect an easier ride for Chelsea this year.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Bayern Munich

Shakhtar Donetsk (15/2 with AllYouBet.ag) have been perennial dark horses in the Champions League for years now – not so much a well-kept secret anymore, but their ability to regenerate their squad from the transfer upheaval of recent years has meant they retain that unknown factor in this competition. While Willian, Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have departed westwards, Luiz Adriano has remained, and grown ever more important to the Ukrainian side if his nine goals in the group stage are any indicator. The Ukrainian champions’ imperious home record in this competition will be integral to their chances of upsetting the odds against one of the tournament favourites.

While other sides in the competition may be running on fumes as we enter the final few months of the campaign, Shakhtar and Bayern Munich (9/25) will be refreshed and focused as a result of their respective breaks. While the home side have not played a competitive game since December, the 2013 champions have look underwhelming since their season re-started barely a fortnight ago. Pep Guardiola will be concerned at how the lack of competition in the Bundesliga derailed their Champions League campaign last season with the gap at the top standing at eight points at present. Such concerns may surface later in the competition, but for now the German champions possess enough in terms of squad depth, energy and purpose to see past Shakhtar over two legs.

FC Basel v FC Porto

How many times does a club have to upset the odds before their success becomes an expectancy and no longer a surprise? The forever unfancied FC Basel (43/20 with Intertops.eu) held on to a deserved draw at Anfield in their final Group D game to claim passage into the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time since 2011-12. The Swiss champions’ reward is a fairly favourable draw against knock-out round veterans and their manager’s countrymen FC Porto (13/10). The Portuguese club qualified with ease from Group H, and in the duo of the rejuvenated Ricardo Quaresma and the lethal Jackson Martinez they have the firepower to be too much for Basel over two legs.

Paolo Sousa is a novice at this level, taking the round about route of the lower English leagues with Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City and Leicester before traversing the Hungarian and Israeli leagues to reach the Last 16 of the Champions League. But the Portuguese has inherited a skillful, intelligent and under-appreciated side, who will always back themselves. And they have the 36 year-old Walter Samuel.

Schalke v Real Madrid

The Raul Derby, as this contest will probably never be known in years to come, is the fourth and final fixture of this Champions League week. Though the Spaniard may have long since departed Germany, you can always count on Klaas Jan-Huntelaar to provide the ex-club narrative. The Dutch striker spent one season with the current European champions, 2008-9, and despite his prolific five-year spell in the Bundesliga he continues to be written off on the basis of his nightmare at Madrid and then AC Milan. The Dutch international, 31 years-old, is the old head up front, supported by the prodigious talents of Max Meyer and Arsenal’s Julian Draxler, who are ready to announce themselves to a wider audience.

The meeting pits two Italian Champions League winners against each other, though Carlo Ancelotti can probably stake more of a claim for the influence he’s had on his three triumphs than Roberto Di Matteo can for Chelsea’s in 2012. Real Madrid’s astonishing early-season form brought 22 consecutive wins, two shy of the world record, and they have remained free-scoring if a little inconsistent since the winter break. No side has ever successfully defended the Champions League trophy, but Real should not be overly troubled here; they have too much firepower and tactical nous to be overturned by an inconsistent Schalke side.

Betting Instinct tip – Real Madrid to be winning at half-time and full-time is 11/10 with AllYouBet.ag

 

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football. Follow him on Twitter.