EPL TEAM OF THE WEEKEND (28/04/14)

74476483_74476482The EPL drama continued over the weekend and we have carefully chosen our best XI following some interesting results that were recorded. Do you agree or disagree with the panel? Using a 4-4-2 formation, here it is. Let’s hear from you via the comment section of this page or via twitter -@halftimeng. #HTTOTW

2014-04-28-EPL-TOTW

GK- Mark Schwarzer – Chelsea

RB- Nathaniel Clyne – Southampton
CB- Younes Kaboul – Tottenham
CB- Branislav Ivanovic – Chelsea
LB- Ashley Cole – Chelsea

MF- Nemanja Matic – Chelsea
MF- Yaya Toure – Manchester City
MF- Jonjo Shelvey – Swansea City

FW- Saido Berahino – WestBrom
FW- Wayne Rooney – Manchester United
FW- Wilfried Bony – Swansea City

Manager – Jose Mourinho – Chelsea

THIS WEEKEND (25/04/14)

article-2613306-15A09FD4000005DC-66_634x390This weekend had promised to be a mouth-watering one prior to the death of Ex-Barcelona boss, Tito Vilanova who passed on after a long battle with cancer aged 45. Our condolences to his family and friends and the Barcelona football family. Back to action, we have some key games to look forward to seeing this weekend in Italy, England and Spain.

Our first stop is Italy where we have a big clash on friday night.

ROMA VS AC MILAN

roma-milanRoma will be looking to muster the motivation to make it nine wins in a row when they welcome AC Milan this evening at the Stadio Olimpico. With neither side dropping points since mid-March, Friday night’s matchup features the two hottest sides in the league considering their results in the last six matches, Milan has won five of those six matches, scoring 12 goals and conceding 2 along the way while Roma has taken all 18 points, banging home 15 goals in the process. The difference between the two teams in the standings is big though, Roma have guaranteed their Champions League place for next season as they will finish 2nd, 8 points behind league leaders Juventus. AC Milan instead is sixth on equal points with Parma and they are embroiled in the fight for Europa League qualification.

Probable line-ups:
Roma (4-3-3): De Sanctis, Maicon, Toloi, Castan, Dodò, De Rossi, Nainggolan, Pjanic, Gervinho, Totti, Ljajic. Manager: Garcia

Milan (4-2-3-1): Abbiati, Abate, Rami, Mexes, Bonera, Montolivo, Muntari, Taarabt, Kakà, Poli, Balotelli. Manager: Seedorf

Prediction: Roma 3-2 AC Milan

article-2612887-1D57D4BD00000578-637_634x467Our next stop is England where we will be looking at two games quickly, Liverpool VS Chelsea and Crystal Palace VS Manchester City. Following Moyes’ sack earlier in the week, four members of the “class of 92” will lead United against Norwich City on saturday while the battle for survival heats up as Sunderland tackles Cardiff City and Fulam hosts Hull City.

LIVERPOOL VS CHELSEA

downloadLiverpool host Chelsea on Sunday aware that victory over the Blues would eliminate them from the race for the Premier League title. The Merseyside club lead Chelsea by five points with three games remaining, and a win at Anfield would take Liverpool to within four points of their first league trophy since 1990.

For manager Brendan Rodgers, Daniel Sturridge will face a late fitness test, On-loan winger Victor Moses is ineligible against his parent club and midfielder Jordan Henderson serves the second game of a three-match ban.

article-2612845-1D505D4C00000578-329_634x487Jose Mourinho is considering wholesale changes for Chelsea’s trip to Anfield due to the proximity of the Champions League semi-final second leg with Atletico Madrid next Wednesday. The Blues are hit by injuries to goalkeeper Petr Cech (shoulder), captain John Terry (ankle), playmaker Eden Hazard (calf) and Samuel Eto’o (knee), while midfielder Ramires’ season is over after he received a four-match ban.

Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah are ineligible in Europe so are likely to feature, while Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel are available ahead of European bans, with all four likely to be selected at Liverpool.

Possible starting lineups

Liverpool: Mignolet; Johnson, Flanagan, Skrtel, Sakho; Gerrard, Lucas, Coutinho; Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez

Chelsea: Hilario; Kalas, Mikel, Christensen, Ake; Matic, Van Ginkel, Baker, Lampard; Salah, Ba

Prediction: Liverpool 2-2 Chelsea

Crystal Palace VS Manchester City

ad_123544248Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini will hope to remain in the title race when his team travel to Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon. City sit six points adrift of leaders Liverpool with a game in hand, and anything other than victory at Selhurst Park will damage the club’s hopes of a second Premier League crown in three years.

Crystal Palace have now won 5 games a row; only 3 teams (including this week’s opponents Manchester City) have enjoyed better winning runs all season in the Premier League and Tony Pulis has led them to guaranteed safety.

For Pellegrini, his team will be without David Silva, Jesus Navas and Matija Nastasic for the trip to Selhurst Park on Sunday but Yaya Toure may be available for selection after missing the games against Sunderland and West Brom.

Crystal Palace boss Tony Pulis has guided the Eagles to five successive wins in the Premier League to guarantee their top-flight status for another year. Their ascent from relegation favourites to mid-table safety has been one of the stories of this Barclays Premier League season.

Last weekend’s 1-0 win at West Ham United strengthened Palace’s hold on 11th position, and a sixth victory in a row could see the London outfit move into the top half of the table.

Pulis is unlikely to make any alterations to the team that won at Upton Park.

Possible starting line-ups

Crystal Palace: Speroni; Mariappa, Ward, Dann, Delaney; Dikgacoi, Puncheon, Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie; Jerome

Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Clichy, Kompany, Demichelis; Fernandinho, Nasri, Javi García, Milner, Jovetic; Aguero

Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-2 Manchester City

imagesFinally in Spain, Real Madrid will be in action against Osasuna with Ronaldo getting the nod to start while Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema remains doubtful. Valencia welcomes Atletico Madrid and Barcelona will be away at Villareal.

Prediction: A comfortable win for Real Madrid. Atletico will struggle against their hosts but they should edge it and should Barcelona drop points against Villareal, it would be no surprise.

EPL TEAM OF THE WEEKEND (20/04/14) #HTTOTW

The EPL drama continued over the weekend and we have carefully chosen our best XI following some interesting results that were recorded. Do you agree or disagree with the panel? Using a 4-4-2 formation, here it is. Let’s hear from you via the comment section of this page or via twitter -@halftimeng. #HTTOTW

2014-04-20-EPL-TOTW

KADUNA UNITED FANS BANNED

Kaduna United players in action.
Kaduna United players in action.

Following reported breach of security around Match Officials in Kaduna by members of the Kaduna United Supporters Club after the Match Day 6 encounter between hosts Kaduna United and Heartland FC, the League Management Company (LMC) has banned the Official Supporters Club of the team from all league games for a period of one year. Kaduna United in addition to some financial sanctions have also been ordered to install or restore electricity supply and proper lighting in the tunnel and dressing room area before their next home game  or be made to pay N100,000.00 for each game during which this situation persist.

These decisions and others have are the outcome of the LMC investigation after consideration of the Match Commissioner’s report and have been communicated via a letter signed by the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the LMC, Salihu Abubakar who also announced a decision to fine Kaduna United the sum of N250, 000.

“Kaduna United is held responsible for the conduct of their fans as provided for under Rules 115:16 and is therefore fined N250, 000 as a first offender to serve as an appropriate deterrent to all others”, Abubakar wrote.

The Club was also held liable for access of unauthorized persons to Match Officials and thereby exposing them to danger. The LMC ruled that “Kaduna United failed to secure egress leading to the Dressing Rooms thereby allowing unauthorized persons access to match officials who were now exposed to potential danger.

“For this; Kaduna United shall pay a fine of N100, 000 and undertake to conduct a Supporters’ Enlightenment seminar to which leaders of their Supporters Club must be invited to before their next Home game. This seminar must be observed and approved by the LMC”.

20140419-125513Abubakar informed the Club that to the Supporters of Kaduna United are being reprimanded for rowdy behaviour after the match and have therefore “been put on notice of possible heavier sanctions should this type of behaviour repeat as envisaged by Rules 13:22”.

-LMC

EPL Team of the Weekend (13/04/14)

Following an exciting English Premier League weekend, we have carefully chosen our best XI. Liverpool looks on course for their first EPL title in 24 years following a 3-2 win over Manchester City, Chelsea remains in the mix as well with a hard-fought 1-nil win away at Swansea, Fulham got a vital win in her quest to remain in the EPL andmore drama is to follow with four games to go. Do you agree or disagree with the panel? Let’s hear from you via the comment section of this page or via twitter -@halftimeng. Using a 4-4-2 formation, here it is. Thank you.

2014-04-14-EPL-TOTW

THIS WEEKEND (11/04/14)

_71963556_020445085-1It’s another weekend of exciting matches to look forward to seeing across the globe and as it has become a norm from us, we give you a comprehensive preview of “Must-See” games. FA cup semi final games will hold in England, battle for the Spanish league title continues in Spain and there’s a title deciding clash in the English Premier League. All matches this weekend will kick off seven minutes later than usual.

WIGAN-ATHLETIC-VS-ARSENAL-12-april-2014-prediction

WIGAN ATHLETIC VS ARSENAL
We start from England where Arsenal are so close to ending their trophy drought, and are huge favourites to win the FA Cup this year with only Wigan and one of Hull or Sheffield United standing in their way. Wigan are, however, renowned giant killers, having won the competition last season and knocked out Manchester City to reach the semi-final. Arsenal’s recent form suggests they might be at risk of crashing out but they should just have too much quality for the Championship side. Wigan do have a chance, and that will be enough to inspire them, but Arsenal simply can’t afford to fail to win this competition. Wigan have won 9 of their last 11 matches in FA Cup, Arsenal on their on part have won 6 of their last7 matches in FA cup.

TEAM NEWS:
article-2601436-1CDAB7D600000578-688_634x429WIGAN
Last season’s FA Cup hero Ben Watson misses out through injury. Another major blow for Wigan is that
Chris McCann will also be absent. Manager Uwe Rosler will likely field a 5-4-1 lineup as he did in the win at the Etihad in the previous round.

article-2601436-1CE22A4B00000578-948_634x422ARSENAL
Arsenal have a lengthy list of injury absentees, but should still have a strong squad for the FA Cup semi final against Wigan. They will have been boosted by the return of Aaron Ramsey last week, and he could be in line for a first start since December. Mathieu Flamini will miss out through suspension after picking up his tenth yellow card of the season. Yaya Sanogo could be handed a start up front as well.

5996302-largeThe other game will see Hull City tackle Sheffield United.

Halftimeng’s Prediction: Anything outside an Arsenal win will be a huge upset, Advantage Arsenal.

Still in England, Chelsea has a tough one against Swansea away from home but they should do enough to get the maximum three points. Everton will look to compound the woes of Sunderland over the weekend at the Stadium of Light but all eyes will be at Anfield when table-toppers Liverpool welcome title challengers, Manchester City.

epl-2012-liverpool-manchester-city-356Looks like whoever wins this match will win the Premier League but with all the hype around this game, it might just end in a draw. “Can’t wait to watch it”. There’s not a lot between these teams at all, but the return of Sergio Aguero will make a lot of difference to City.

Liverpool are the in-form team in the Premier League at the moment and will look to make it 10 wins from their last 10. The Reds have won all 4 of their home league meetings with the rest of the top 7 this season and know victory here will go a long way to securing their first top-flight title since 1990.

City are unbeaten in their last 10 games away from home, winning 7, and a win at Anfield will move them to within a point of Liverpool, albeit with 2 games in hand. They’ll be keen to replicate the 2-1 win they inflicted over the Reds at the Etihad Stadium on Boxing Day. Five of the last six meetings between the two sides in all competitions at Anfield have ended in a draw, though home advantage could swing this tie in Liverpool’s favour.

TEAM NEWS:
article-0-1CFF382800000578-119_634x507LIVERPOOL
The Reds have almost a fully fit squad available, with only José Enrique certain to miss out, while Daniel Agger is a doubt. Should the Dane fail to recover in time, Mamadou Sakho should partner Martin Skrtel at centre-back again. Lucas may come in for Philippe Coutinho in midfield to provide greater defensive protection to the defence.

article-2602389-1D07148A00000578-557_634x507MANCHESTER CITY
Matija Nastasic and Micah Richards are closing in on a return to fitness, while Yaya Touré is a doubt having picked up a knock in the 4-1 win over Southampton. Sergio Agüero missed the victory over Saints, but should return to the squad for the trip to Anfield. Manuel Pellegrini could start Gaël Clichy in place of Aleksandar Kolarov in what may be his only change to the starting XI from the weekend win.

Prediction: A draw.

The second legs: A second chance at redemption

The Second Legs: A second chance at redemption

You have got to say that the favorites tag on some of Europe’s elites may have been removed with the outcome of last week’s first leg results. However, the reason why they are favorites remains in their ability to pull the chest nut out of the fire, this is the situation the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Chelsea find themselves currently.

Chelsea V PSG

I actually have some money riding on this one; Chelsea may win the battle but won’t win the war; but the indices presented, the circumstances currently point to the fact that PSG have the edge in this one.

Stats

A number of stats has PSG going into this one has clear favorites, although if ever there is a manager who seeks to defy the odds its Jose Mourinho. A number of surprises await us in the way Chelsea will line up; the Blues need to score at least 2 goals and not concede; this they have done quite comfortably in their last two home games. PSG have scored in virtually all games this season and are yet to concede up to three goals in any single game and are undefeated in 16 of their last 17 champions league matches. This sets us up for a fine European night.

Tactics

With Zlatan out; PSG would look a lot more comfortable sitting back and hoping to counter with the fluency and fluidity that a front three of Cavani, Lavezzi and Moura provides. Movement across the pitch and a lot of runs of the ball; the pace of Moura would be a major outlet for PSG and a source of worry for Chelsea especially taking into consideration his performance as a substitute in the first leg.

Mourinho’s major headache has to do with 7 first team players missing out either through suspension, injuries or ineligibility. This puts him in a rather tight corner with respect to the selection of his starting 11. Of great concern would be who to occupy the two midfield roles in front of the back four as Mikel is injured; David Luiz’s poor performance in the first leg, hence in this area Chelsea would be quite light weight and quite vulnerable to the counter. Another area of worry is the striking position; does he keep faith with Fernando Torres or does a returning Eto’o get the nod or those he spring a surprise with Demba Ba starting; better yet Mourinho may pull a tactical surprise to go with two strikers to lead the line; it’s a great possibility and quite a necessary gamble.

Verdict

Chelsea to win the game, but PSG to go through.

Atletico Madrid v Barcelona

A battle that may involve the spilling of blood; because for me these crop of Atletico Madrid Players look like they are ready to shed blood on the pitch for Diego Simone. Barcelona are struggling with major injuries; Victor Valdes and Gerard Pique are currently out and this constitutes a major blow to them; but Diego Costa is a really big loss for Atletico Madrid.

Stats

Atletico Madrid are winless in six against Barcelona, but are undefeated in their last 9 matches in the Champions League whilst drawing their last 4 matches against Barcelona in all competitions.

Barcelona are undefeated in their last 10 matches against Atletico Madrid, so may have the edge here.

Tactics

With Diego Costa out through injury, Diego Simone may need to reconsider his approach going into this battle; ideally a 4-4-2 formation seems the logical approach, but then you ask the question who partners David Villa up front; the only other option is Leo Baptista or Adrian. However, if I were a betting man, I would say a 4-4-1-1 seems more likely with Raul Garcia taking the role behind David Villa. Christian Rodriguez may be the surprise addition ahead of Diego; who is better suited for coming in at the latter stages.

Barcelona will always be Barcelona; but the area of worry is not tactical but more that of personnel, Marc Batra may get the nod ahead of Carlos Puyol; tough choice, but that is what Tata Martino is paid to do. How Atletico deploy their pressing style on Barcelona may be the difference especially on Sergio Busquets. The big tactical question for Barcelona is if they would go with the pace of Pedro and Alexis or the calmer presence of Neymar and Fabregas.

Verdict

Tough call, but my instincts tell me; Atletico Madrid will go through.

Bayern Munich v Manchester United

Who would ever have thought that Manchester United would be going into the second leg with a chance of making it to the Semi Finals? This is the kind of situation; United’s season requires, undefeated since the derby and playing with some level of confidence and good team spirit and team ethics.

Bayern Munich, on the other hand haven’t won any game since wrapping up the league title in Germany; to cap this up a loss at the weekend against Ausburg seemed like the unthinkable. Bayern have Javier Martinez and Bastian Schweinsterger missing the return leg due to suspension; but Dante should return to the starting line up along with the others rested at the weekend.

Manchester United are sweating on the fitness of Wayne Rooney, whilst Danny Welbeck makes a return after taking the weekend off with Evra, Vidic and Rio likely to return to the heart of United’s defense.

Stats

Bayern Munich are undefeated in 13 of their last 14 matches in the Champions and undefeated in 9 of their last 10 matches against Manchester United. Possession in the first leg was 75% to 25% in favour of the Bavarians. Manchester United seem more relaxed nowadays with a 3 game unbeaten run with 9goals scored and 2 conceded.

Tactics

Bayern Munich seem more like they wanted to tear United to pieces with their intricate play, movement off the ball and insistent pressure. They however seemed to elaborate in their play and somehow made United comfortable sitting deep and hoping to catch them on the break.

This second leg would not be any different nor would it be any easier for Bayern; 4-1-4-1 v 4-2-3-1; as long as United use the ball well when they have it and take their chances (Danny Welbeck take note) the Red Devils may have a chance.

Verdict

Bayern just look too strong and will go through.

Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid

I guess it is safe not to bother taking about this tie; Dortmund are depleted, Real can smell blood.

Verdict

Real Madrid to go through.

Salient Points from two exciting Champions League Nights

Tuesday and Wednesday Nights were absolutely special and definitely has wet our appetites for an even better set of nights to come next week as the second legs take center stage.

From United’s resolute performance against all odds to Chelsea’s defensive frailties coupled with PSG and Atletico Madrid’s bullish statement of intent. On the strength of these; we look at the high points and the lessons whilst selecting our star performers from both nights.

Diego Simeone

PSG and Atletico Madrid must be taken seriously

Dark Horses, that’s what they call teams like these, they creep on you unnoticed, pulling surprise after surprise. They are not part of the established order, but have carved a niche for themselves, either though huge financial injection or with the presence of an astute manager with an eye for detail.

Atletico Madrid have been a pain in the back side for Barcelona all season so far, not only are they holding on to top spot in La Liga, they just might knock out mighty Barcelona; a team once heralded as the greatest football club in history. On the strength of their performanceon Tuesday, they did give the Catalans a lot to think and ponder on; Barcelona not only have Victor Valdes out for the rest of the season; their best defender; Gerard Pique is injured as well; leaving the less assured Marc Batra and the advanced in age; Carlos Puyol as the available replacements. The second leg looks like a foregone conclusion in favour of the Vincente Calderon side, then you throw in the small matter of the final game of the season likely to determine the destination of the La Liga title.

zlatan14688_w2

Paris Saint Germain have shown this season that they can tangle with the big boys; this they demonstrated in topping their group and especially in their performances since the knock out round began; impressive displays away in Germany and in the comfortable home win against Chelsea. The Parisians are well equipped with the depth of their squad to pull through and stand toe to toe with any of Europe’s more illustrious names.

fernandotorresceleb20131027_576x324

Defenses win Championships, but Strikers win Matches

The saying ‘‘defenses win championships’’ has somewhat become a cliché, even though to some extent it is true, you still cannot discount the impact of the guys saddled with the responsibility of finishing off chances created by their team mates.

In tight Matches, you require a striker that can make the difference at a crucial time, especially in tight situations and games. Dortmund, Chelsea and Manchester United all had this problem; poor conversion, poor decision making at pivotal times proved to be the difference between a victory or at least having a better chance going into the second legs. Robert Lewandoski, Robin Van Persie were missing and the consistently awful Danny Welbeck could have made the difference at crucial times for their teams.

Chosen One

David Moyes: We are not fooled

I titled my preview of the Manchester United v Bayern Munich game; ‘‘Will David Moyes make a fool of himself on fool’s day?” In as much as he did not make a fool of himself; I can assure him that one spirited performance from the lads does not have us fans fooled. Manchester United are a proactive team traditionally and not a reactive one as Mr. Moyes has done.

I still see the cracks and I don’t believe David Moyes is the man to return United to its prime position.

 

Andreas Iniesta: Pure Class.

If ever, there is a player that is grossly under rated especially by virtue of considerations for all individual awards on offer; it’s the genius that is Andreas Iniesta.

I am always short of words when it comes to pouring superlatives on the brilliance and elegance of Iniesta; simply put he is class. Did you see that Pass?

 

Thiago Motta and Marco Veratti look a good Pair

Thiago Motta and Marco Veratti seem to have built a good relationship and partnership in PSG’s midfield and seem to complement each other.

Is a place on Italy’s World Cup plane on the cards?

 

UCL 1st Leg Last 8 BEST 11 (4-2-3-1 formation)

UCL-Last 8-Leg-1

Revenge And Some More Intrigues On The Cards Tonight

Day-2-Champions, PSG, BVB, Real Madrid, Chelsea

Tuesday night provided everything that makes the Champions League the world’s premier and foremost club competition. Take it or leave it, both games were finely poised, and anyone can go through (no sentiments here, I can assure you).

Tonight, revenge is definitely on the cards, and two unusual entities set for a head on collision: Real Madrid v Dortmund (depending on which one turns up) is a promising encounter, whilst PSG v Chelsea has the potential for so many plots and sub plots.

Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund

The quest for the elusive ‘‘La Decima’’ continues. If ever a club is getting obsessed with something, this is Real Madrid’s obsession, and getting beat last season at the semi finals stage by tonight’s opponents adds another dimension to tonight’s clash. Revenge, they say is best served cold. There is no better time to catch Dortmund than now; with so many injuries to key players, the first question you ask is, which Dortmund will show up on the night?

 

Tactics

Carlo Ancellotti has instilled his 4-3-3 formation on this side that has only lost 2 in their last 33 games. This is quite impressive, and at the focal point of this is the adaptability of De Maria, and the return from injury of Xabi Alonso.

Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund are a shadow of the team from last season. Their high pressing physical game has taking its toll on the team, with the treatment room becoming as packed as a train station in rush hour. His major headache would be what eleven to select, not to talk of the entire match squad. Dortmund have flirted with both the 4-2-3-1 formation and the 4-4-2 diamond in certain circumstances, with the focal point always Bayern-bound Robert Lewandoski, who unfortunately will be missing the first leg suspended.

Los Blancos will go for it from the get go, with Dortmund seeking to contain and probably starve them of possession as much as possible. Real would seek to be very direct in their approach especially with the B-B-C combination at the peak of their powers. Whilst Di Maria is out, expect Isco to come in to fill the void. I expect Pierre Erik Aubameyang to lead the attack for the german side; a lot would depend on the work he has to do with his back turned to goal or opt for a false nine in Marco Reus. Difficult yes, but he who is down need fear no fall.

 

Stats and Head to Head

Both teams have met 8 times; Real Madrid has the edge with 3 wins and 3 draws to Dortmund’s 2 wins and 3 draws. Both teams returned to winning ways over the weekend, and would seek to continue that in this game.

 

Verdict:

Real Madrid can smell blood right now and will surely be licking their lips; that is not to say this is a non contest. The Germans are always difficult, resilient, efficient and determined, especially with their backs to the wall, and this is one of such times.

Real to take the first leg with some level of ease

 

Paris Saint Germain v Chelsea

In a battle of wits, intrigues and tactics, two teams that can trace their success to some major injection of money from rich benefactors go head to head in the one fixture that seems very difficult to call. PSG look solid all round. Chelsea on the other hand would love to have some of the attacking reaches their opponents have at their disposal.

 

Tactics

It’s a 4-3-3 v 4-2-3-1; a lot would depend on the mentality of Chelsea, especially on whether the game would be a spectacle; we all know the man at the helm at Stamford Bridge can put out a team that can bore you to death; but then PSG themselves have to make a game out of it.

Laurent Blanc will look to young, enterprising Marco Verratti for all things innovative and creative especially from deep in midfield. Would Mourinho designate a player to curtail the youngster’s influence on the game? Chelsea’s transition from defense to attack is the worry for me, especially with the absence of cup-tied Matic, who has become a main stay of the current Chelsea side…and you would agree that Frank Lampard is not the same ‘Fat Frank’ we use to know. Expect Zlatan Ibrahimovic to trouble the English defensive duo of Gary Cahill and John Terry; coupled with the physical presence of Cavani and the runs off the ball of Ezekiel Lavezzi.

I feel Chelsea will find joy in the 2v1 situations going forward as if there exists a weak link in the PSG defense is at the full back positions; expect Hazard to be the Chief tormentor and outlet when Chelsea counter attack.

 

Stats and Head to Head

In three meetings between both sides; PSG are winless against the London side; Chelsea have one win and interestingly it was at the Parc de Princes. PSG have been in imperious form in Ligue 1 this season, but Chelsea have struggled lately in the EPL and this may have something to do with the distractions of this game on the horizon. PSG are undefeated in 15 of their last 16 matches in the Champions League and Chelsea have kept clean sheets in 5 of their last 7 in the Champions League.

Verdict:

If you give Chelsea a draw before kick off, I am sure it would be taken with both hands; a difficult trip and encounter with the Blues losing at the weekend. PSG would expect to win their home leg and I won’t put it past them.

PSG to knick it by the odd goal

Will David Moyes make a fool of himself on Fool’s day?

 

Manchester United v Bayern Munich; on any day is a big European clash; forget the fact that both teams are on different pedestals at the moment, forget 1999, the games that have come after where Bayern have triumphed over United. To exact revenge properly on Manchester United; Bayern need to meet United in a cup final, will that ever happen? Not on this current form especially from the Manchurians current position. There is nothing more enduring and pleasing than watching a replay of the injury time goals by now United Legends; Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or the hilarious rolling on the floor and shedding of tears by Samuel Kuffor (he will probably be on Satellite TV tonight doing the game; bet he will never forget).

Today, both teams are completely different in all aspects; Bayern seem stronger, more fluid and lethal than the team that won the treble last season; whilst Manchester United look like a complete shadow of the team that won the League comfortably last season. Talk about a 360 turn around, an evolution of unimaginable proportions; no doubt the outcome seems like a foregone conclusion; but then this is football, every team goes into a game with a 50% chance of gaining a result, so from this perspective we will preview this game.

Tactics

Under Pep’s guidance; Bayern have evolved from a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 playing side to a 4-1-4-1 side with Phillip Lahm as the defensive Midfield pivot being the interesting aspect of the new look Bayern. Interestingly; Pep has used the versatility of Lahm to perfection; deploying him in that role; gives Bayern the added incentive of an extra runner from deep; this is despite having probably the best wingers in the game, supported by attacking full backs; the runs off the ball by Lahm through the calming midfield presence of Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger provides a penetrative outlet when teams prove stubborn to break down.

For Manchester United under David Moyes; it has been one of tactical confusion; is it the 81 crosses debacle or the confusing deployment of Maroune Fellani and Tom Cleverly on the wings to track Manchester City’s attacking full backs. As Bayern have found a tactical Identity; United seem lost in a tactical abyss.

I feel Moyes will go with something of a semblance of the approach against Olympiakos; yes Bayern are a different proposition, but United have to go into this game with the right mentality, a will to win and a chance of making a game out of the encounter. Kagawa has to play and so does Januzaj; these two can provide the invention United require with Rooney concentrating on hurting the Germans in the final third and maybe the industry and guile of Danny Welbeck may bother the Bavarians (Can’t believe I just wrote that). Bayern are not at their best defensively when Dante is unavailable; hence the weak link has to be Jerome Boateng; his lapses in concentration must be exploited. If I were David Moyes; I would play the first 40 minutes of the 2010 encounter with Bayern Munich for the lads to watch how to attack with conviction and the need to keep their heads and concentration especially the likes of Carrick, Rafael and I fear for Buttner coming up against Robben.

Stats and Head to Head

Both teams have met 10 times; Bayern have the edge with 3 wins to 2 and 5 draws; United have kept 5 clean sheets in their last 6 games in the Champions League; Bayern are however undefeated in 12 of their last 13matches; the loss against a team from Manchester; is this a sign?

Verdict:

The Bavarians are overwhelming favourites without a shadow of doubt; but then like they always say this is football; anything is possible; more so it is Fool’s day; you just never know.

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid

The all Spanish encounter proves to be one of the more intriguing contests in the last 8 of this season’s Champions League. Interestingly; both teams are neck and neck in La Liga and there are some similarities in both teams. Barcelona especially under Pep Guardiola were the chief exponents of the pressing game; but you have got to say that Diego Simone’s side have added a robust physical approach to the intense pressing style. Both teams are yet to get the better of each other this season; but have two strikers at the peak of their powers; Diego Costa and Lionel Messi with 28 and 23 goals respectively; however Atletico’s strength has been in their defensive solidity and the work rate in midfield; Koke has been one of the shining lights in this regard along with Raul Garcia; who slots in quite well in the role behind the striker; however he will be missing through suspension. Barca will miss the ever present Victor Valdes; this is where I worry for Barcelona because Pinto is not an able deputy in this regard; this just adds to Barcelona’s defensive problems.

Tactics

Under Gerrado “Tata” Martino; Barcelona have been lot more direct; this is not to mean they have neglected their tried and trusted possession football. It’s a battle of wits; 4-3-3 v 4-4-1-1; Barcelona may struggle with the physical side of the game, but with the first leg at the Nou Camp, the Catalans will seek to take advantage.

Atletico will miss Raul Garcia, who has adapted quite well to his role behind the lone striker; in certain quarters it is believed that Atletico may approach the game with a more attacking outlook with David Villa making a return to the starting eleven to hurt his former side in a 4-4-2 formation partnering Diego Costa. I feel Diego Simeone; would stay with the 4-4-1-1 with Villa still on the bench; this formation enables his team to put pressure on Barcelona’s midfield especially Sergio Busquets. Koke may move to the position behind the striker with either Christian Rodriguez returning to the side or Tiago to provide some steel in midfield and some creativity from Diego.

It promises to be an intriguing tactical battle, noting that both teams have only been separated by the away goals rule this season.

Stats and Head to Head

Atletico Madrid are winless in their last six meetings against Barcelona with this season’s encounter been the only time they have come quite close to the Catalans. History has the battle between both sides to be a high scoring encounter, but not on the strength of this season’s clashes.

Verdict:

With the first leg at the Nou Camp, you have got to say that Barcelona may have the edge, but then on the strength of the way Atletico blew Milan away in the second leg of the round of 16; you need to fear this Diego Simeone side. Maybe decided by the away goals rule.