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.

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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.

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.

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.

Things We’ll Learn in Football This Month – February

So the month many of us thought would never end has done what we least expected and ended, how cunning of it. January with its abandoned diets and stretched paychecks is no more and February is upon us. Apart from the exquisite agony of exchanging Valentines gifts with someone you stopped loving years ago, February is shaping up to be a pretty good month. By that I of course mean there are some decent games on – you’re not going to finally rekindle your failing romance or anything like that. To be honest most of you reading this will probably die alone or at best end up trapped in a loveless sexless hell. It’s not all bad though because the first weekend in February serves up not one but two derbies to distract you from the loneliness.

 

First up it’s the North London derby which is a frequent source of goals, glory and comedy. Basically all you want from a football match. Both sides are in good nick coming into this one, Mauricio Pochettino seems to have finally got his Spurs side playing the way he wants and in Christian Eriksen they have one of the leagues form players, plus with Harry Kane defying all logic and actually turning into an incredibly effective attacker they’ll fancy their chances. Arsenal, however, will be equally confident as all of a sudden the injuries have cleared up and they have an attack that is packed with craft and speed. Plus they’ve got Alexis Sanchez and well, he’s just great at football. If we’re lucky it’ll be a high scoring draw, 16 all or something like that.

Betting Instinct tip A score draw of 2-2 or higher is 9.35 with Intertops.eu

 

Later that day it’s the turn of the Merseyside clubs, now whilst there is a school of thought that says any derby calling itself ‘the friendly derby’ should be outlawed swiftly and all records of it stricken from the history books there is enough at stake for both clubs that we might just get a decent game. Liverpool’s title charge of last year, like Everton’s run at the top four, seems a distant memory, but due to the crapness (not sure that’s a word – ed.) of everyone else it’s not impossible that Liverpool could salvage a Champions League spot from what threatened to be a disastrous season, whereas Everton seem to have contrived to end up in some sort of relegation scrap. I mean they obviously won’t go down (have you seen some of the teams in this league?) but they could do with picking up a few points. Also it will almost certainly be Stevie G’s last derby before he moves to Los Angeles.

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool to keep their top four hopes alive with a win at Goodison Park is 5/4 with AllYouBet.ag

 

There’s some midweek action as well but the only game that looks mildly interesting is Liverpool vs Spurs, unfortunately I’ve just written about both of them and I’d only be repeating myself, go back and read the previous paragraphs if you really want. That said, nothing breaks up the drudgery of the working week like midweek league football, so in this context we should celebrate Hull vs Villa like its the World Cup final.

 

The following weekend it’s not only Valentines day but also the FA Cup 5th round, my goodness this might just be the most romantically charged weekend in the history of the world. Ah I can feel the magic in the air already it’s going to be………… *checks fixtures* *files lawsuit against whoever decided to televise West Brom vs West Ham and Villa vs Leicester*.

 

Assuming you manage to avoid slipping into an Aston Villa-related coma then you’ll be able to watch the resumption of European competition after its extended break. If Arsenal can recover from the shock of not drawing Bayern Munich or Barcelona then they should cruise past a Monaco side whose uber rich benefactor appears to have got bored and given up. Oh well at least the Monaco fans (all 14 of them) get to enjoy the nonchalant brilliance of Dimitar Berbatov on a weekly basis. Man City and Chelsea have much tougher tasks and even though neither Barcelona or PSG are at the level they were a few years ago England’s top two will need to be at the top of their game to progress. Man City probably won’t.

Betting Instinct tip – Arsenal to win with less than 2.5 goals in the game is 2.7 with Intertops.eu

 

None of you care about the Europa League and that’s fair enough but as a Celtic fan (9/5 with AllYouBet.ag) the draw against Internazionale (29/20) is an absolute peach. Both sides are shadows of their former selves, in fact both sides are a bit crap but it’s a glamour tie nonetheless, it’s steeped in history and glory and Celtic Park will for the first time this season feel like its old self again.

 

February finishes with me on a train heading down to London, maybe I’ll see some of you in the pub (not you), I’ll be the drunk Scottish guy complaining about the price of a pint.

Before I go, you should follow me on Twitter, or at least send me recommendations for good Malaysian restaurants in North London.

 

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.

 

Champions League Final – Atletico Madrid Hope to Benefit from Underdog Status

Can Cristiano Ronaldo (left) find a way past Thibaut Courtois?

Can Cristiano Ronaldo (left) find a way past Thibaut Courtois?

 

I’ve been to Madrid. I went in 2010, not 2014. I went in January, not June. And I went to Madrid, not Lisbon, and that’s where my stumbling lead-in towards serious analysis of the Champions League final, this season held in the Portuguese capital, falls apart. Onwards and upwards. Well, onwards, anyway.

To try and cut down on the narrative, it’s Real Madrid v. Atletico Madrid this year, and— huh? They’re both from Madrid? Oh, so they are! This is actually a big deal – Atletico have only won two of their last 30 games against Real one of those wins coming this season. Real have lost in four of the five Copa Del Rey they have played against Atletico. Atletico won La Liga this season, and Real finished third. And Atletico are looking to win their first ever Champions League, and Real want to win their tenth. It’s a real shame it’s not being played in Madrid – my first paragraph might’ve been better, too.

 

Champions League Final Betting Odds:

Real Madrid to win in 90 minutes – 1.92

Atletico Madrid to win in 90 minutes – 4.00

Scores level after 90 minutes – 3.20

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

 

There was a point in this season’s competition when things started to feel pre-determined. It might’ve been after Atletico upset some sort of odds to beat Milan, and Real rolled over a German team, or maybe when Atletico upset actual odds to beat Barcelona, and Real rolled over another German team, or maybe it was when Atletico half-upset the odds to beat Chelsea, and Real rolled over another German team. Diego Simeone will worry that their stunning La Liga victory might be overshadowed if the trophy sits in the Real bus back to the Spanish capital, and Carlo Ancelotti will worry that there are no more German teams left to play.

A little unsure of what to make of this game, I asked my Chelsea-supporting friend Michael to give me the tactical lowdown. Here’s what he thinks: “Expect Atletico’s main attacking outlet to be early/diagonal crosses into the box which shows how stingy this team is – attacking without any major commitment forward. They’re like those vines in Harry Potter, the more you struggle the worse it gets. If Real can keep a balance for 90 minutes and not lose their heads should they go a goal down, there’s no reason why they can’t produce the quality to beat Atletico.”

 

Time will tell if Michael knows what he’s talking about, but I like his ideas, and a rare Harry Potter reference in the world of tactical analysis. Atletico have come this far doing generally the same thing – pressing hard when play is high up the field, then locking things down when it crosses the halfway line. Real, the fastest football team this side of a football team of racing cars (someone should make one of these if it doesn’t already exist – ed), will be given more of the ball as Atletico look to sit deep and hit on the counter, which might frustrate them until everyone remembers Cristiano Ronaldo can do anything, and is always a decent shout to score. Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema look likely to make up the front line, with Xabi Alonso the notable absence in Ancelotti’s squad due to a suspension.

Across the city, Atletico are in a bit of trouble. Arda Turan is struggling for fitness, and Chelsea-bound Diego Costa is holed up in Serbia having afterbirth being rubbed up and down his leg – without going into too much detail about a procedure in which placenta fluid is massaged onto the skin around the affected area, things aren’t great. But look, nobody expected Atletico to make it this far, and if you know someone who says they did, then you know a liar.

 

Selection headaches aside, it’ll be tense as hell and twice as Spanish. Diego Simeone doesn’t present himself as the kind of guy who’d accept defeat, and fans of Real Madrid expect a win – and this might work in Atletico’s favour. Leading the underdogs again, Simeone must know that a defeat for Real would be more disastrous than a defeat for his side, and Atletico could well frustrate their way deep enough into the game that Los Merengues lose their nerve.

I’d lean towards a narrow win for Real – Atletico will miss Costa if he doesn’t play – but given what these sides have offered already this season, it’s hard to call with any certainty. Is there a market for a winner from Madrid? That’d be way easier to predict.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Either team to win by a one-goal margin is 2.32 with GR88.com

 

Max avatar MAX GRIEVE (maxjgri) is Australian, but keep reading. He likes football, rugby union and tennis, though has  given up on his dream of being a tri-sport athlete/exciting millionaire. He supports Liverpool, and is  ashamed for doing so. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.