Its a cup weekend in England this time around as the big guns in the Premier League take on teams in lower divisions looking to punch above their weight and looking to cause upsets and bring down some giants of the English game. In other parts of Europe, league action continues as we have top of the table clashes in Spain and France with a not so small matter of the Milan derby as Inter Milan and AC Milan aim to keep in touch with the likes of Juventus and Napoli.
Barcelona v Atletico Madrid
The Biggest game of this weekend features Spain’s last two League champions and of course its first v second in La Liga. Atletico Madrid have a great season so far with their new signings bedding in quite well and have continued to build the team around a solid back line. Barcelona on the other hand, have blown everyone in front of them away so far this season with Luis Saurez especially looking to break the established order of Football’s elite individual awards.
Games between both teams are always closely fought and contested; this would not be any different. Both teams had contrasting outcomes from tough Copa Del Rey fixtures with Celta Vigo putting paid to Atletico Madrid’s run in the cup, this is coming just after their disappointing goalless draw against Sevilla last weekend; the Catalans, on the other hand continue to fight on all three fronts and this league clash affords them the chance to go three points clear with a game in hand.
This season the records of both sides have been quite impressive; with Atletico keeping nine clean sheet from their last eleven games demonstrating their defensive solidity and undefeated in 17 of their last 19 away games; this not withstanding Barcelona have won their last five games against Atletico Madrid. Barcelona have won their last five games with an unbeaten run stretching to 23 games, scoring for fun and putting teams to the sword with consummate ease. Atletico may have lost their way recently, winless in three straight games; but cannot be taken likely nor for granted, expect a keenly contested and tense affair between La Liga’s top two sides.
My Verdict: Tough to call, Barca to win but only just.
My Betting Punt: A Barcelona win comes @ 1.51
Angers v Monaco
With PSG running away with the Ligue 1 title and every other trophy domestically; there is another trophy up for grabs and it affects the European places. Angers have been the bright lights of Ligue 1 this season, but have seemingly struggled since the start of the year with three straight defeats in all competitions. Monaco have however, picked up the slacks and have made a push for the second Champions League slot,with an undefeated run of nine games which has helped elevate the principality side to second behind run away leaders PSG.
For Angers, the bulk of the success is attributed to their defensive solidity and great home record; Angers have kept seven clean sheets in their last nine league games, coupled with been undefeated in ten of their last eleven home matches. This is Angers third big game in a row, the previous two ended in big defeats, so they need to step up and bounce back from those unfortunate results.
I believe its all the speculation surrounding the manager that has Leonardo Jardim and Monaco rediscover last year’s midas touch and with only three losses all season and an undefeated run since early November, Monaco must be the place to be right now. Players like Bernardo Silva and Joao Moutinho have been the major catalyst in the revival of Monaco this season
My Verdict: I will back Angers on this one to get a win.
My Betting Punt: An Angers win comes @ 3.32
Saint Etienne v Paris Saint Germain
Thirty-one games without defeat in Ligue 1 tells a story of absolute domination, that is what has characterized PSG’s campaign this season, every team they have played have been put to the sword,although teams like Angers seemed to prove difficult at first, but subsequently were put in there place. With a 21 points lead at the top of the league standings, its difficult week in week out to pin point or predict where the Parisians first defeat will come from; which team is bold enough to take up the mantle of beating the Champions and power house of French Football.
Saint-Etienne are such a team; but if you ask me how they will do it, I would probably tell you to snap out of it, because I do not see it happening and their is a likelihood the Parisians go the full season undefeated. Saint Etienne are backed by a very strong and vocal crowd every other week; the manager, Christophe Galtier is ranked among the brightest in the French domestic game, he would be looking to restore his team to a period where they had to answer to all PSG threw at them, however four consecutive defeats to this weekend’s opponents;with two happening in quick succession this season; doesn’t inspire any confidence.
So with a three game unbeaten streak under their belt, Galtier’s team though not exciting would believe they have a measure of confidence to cause PSG problems, especially with the defensive injuries the Parisians currently have. Its a big ask, but if there are any teams left to cause PSG any discomfort its, L’ASSE.
My Verdict: PSG to win
My Betting Punt: A PSG win comes @ 1.50
AC Milan v Inter Milan
Once upon a time, this was one of the biggest games in world football, but then nothing last forever; but then we cannot attempt to discard to commit this tie to the rubbish dump as it continues to have historical consequences and importance. Both Milan sides had contrasting starts to the season with Inter leading the league in the early months; AC Milan on the other hand tried to find its feet under a new manager, looking to build some momentum after an interesting summer spending spree.
Fast forward to the new year; Juventus are knocking on the top position, Napoli are currently holding forth, but seem to be gearing for a much more endearing campaign with the Milan teams still seeking to reclaim and rediscover their past consistencies and competitive edge. With eight points separating both sides, it is almost a clear indication of how much better Inter’s squad is better then AC Milan’s; but after floundering in their last three games and been unconvincing since the winter break have left Inter clutching straws to stay in touch with the leading pack. You would have to say that the Coppa Italian run of the Rossoneri has lifted spirits and the team plays with a lot more desire and conviction to finish with silverware this season.
We can expect a drab, tight, keenly contested encounter with both teams seeking to cancel each other out; Inter are undefeated in nine of their last ten away games, so you would be forgiven if you gave the Nerazzurri a better chance at winning this installment of the Milan Derby.
My Verdict: This looks more like a draw to me
My Betting Punt: A draw comes @ 3.35
*** An investment of N500 on these tips will yield N 12,000
Selected FA Cup tips
Crystal Palace v Stoke – Both teams to score @1.95
Bolton v Leeds – Leeds win or draw @1.41
Liverpool v West Ham – Both teams to score @1.72
Arsenal v Burnley – Arsenal to win @1.40
Oxford United v Blackburn – Oxford win or draw @ 1.35
*** An investment of N500 on these FA Cup will yield N 4,500