If it is True

Congratulations to Manchester United and the legion of fans around the world on winning the FA Cup for the first time since 2004 and ensure that the trophy drought only lasted for just three season; we know those that waited longer to get that monkey off their backs. However, in all the euphoria and excitement comes a lot of worry; my worry is about the future, the future of the Biggest Club in the world.

There have been tonnes of media speculation surrounding the future of Louis Van Gaal and the likelihood that he would not see out his contract. This has firmly divided the fans and a lot has been said on whether or not he should stay or go; my stance on this is well documented and I have received a barrage of criticism on why I think LVG should stay. Yes; Louis has spent a shit load of money; £250 Million at that and it is believed that he has nothing to show for it; well Louis has won at least a trophy at every club he has been and United are obviously not an exception. Great teams are built from the back; from defensive solidity; this he has achieved (United had the best defense in the league along with Spurs) and I firmly believe he is on the path to achieving his aim; to make Manchester United competitive again with the addition of creative and fast attacking players (we all can see the effect Anthony Martial has had at Old Trafford this season). He like any other coach needed a dose of luck; this United lacked particularly on the injury front, but what did he do, he dipped his hand into the famed academy and promoted 14 lads; gave them the opportunity to be first team players; today you have one of such lads,Marcus Rashford with a chance of going to the Euros ahead of more experienced professionals like Andy Carroll and Jermaine Defoe; why because the Gaffer took a chance on these lads. Yes you may say injuries forced his hand, but then we have seen managers who patched players together and made them play through the pain barrier or bid their time till the January window opens to make a flurry of high end or over prized signings; if he had done that; every one would have criticized him further that he had even squandered more funds like United were the only ones spending; City spent (over £60 Million on two center backs with left legs), Chelsea spent as well as a host of other big clubs spent with varying results; still LVG has delivered a trophy, call it what you like, the game is about winning trophies.

Now, I see Manchester United fans who at some point could not stand the presence, thought or phantom the idea of a certain Jose Mourinho anywhere near their beloved club; why? because he obviously stands for everything that’s different and alien to Manchester United. As I have stated earlier, because I know it would be a reference point; the game is about winning trophies, but not by alienating everybody and having a me against them mentality. Come on guys; Manchester United are already hated enough; now comes the thought of taking it a few notches up by bringing in a man that is renowned for leaving a club worst off than he met it; the examples are very numerous and easily verifiable.

461779377 Football Hull City v Chelsea

Lets chronicle his career for a little bit; after leading Porto to European domination in back to back years; the following season after a mass exodus of players; Porto had three managers that season with the club involved in a corruption scandal. At Chelsea, his first stint was great, record breakers, back to back title winners; third season the team struggles, lose the title to Manchester United; picks series of fights with other managers, by the middle of his fourth season, he had to be let go and the team did not recover till Ancelotti and Hiddink arrived to win trophies again (that’s after stints by Avram Grant and Luis Scolari). At Inter, he sucked the life out of that club; that the players were on their knees to win a remarkable treble, since his departure Inter Milan have not been the same again; the club has a whole has not recovered; only one trophy since his departure; a Coppa Italia triumph under Leonardo. At Real Madrid; went all in with his feelings and disgust for Barcelona; alienated players from both sides against themselves, that even though every clasico is tensed, under Mourinho it was a war. This affected relationships among the Spanish players in both clubs; have we forgotten the poking incident against Tito Villanova or comments on the establishment, that made the media turn their backs on him.

His return to Chelsea, is still very fresh in our minds; first compared his team to little horses, after the championship victory of two seasons ago; are Chelsea not a complete shadow of themselves? Have we forgotten already the disgusting outburst with the club doctors? I just feel that this clamour for Mourinho should be met with a lot of caution. It is well documented that he goes looking for these jobs; writes Dossiers and Thesis on what he can do to turn things around at the club; he does succeed without; but can we take a moment to look at the rubble and the destruction he leaves in his wake after he departs. The man gets bored easily, once the conquest is done in his first two season, the third season; if he remains there you will clearly see the degeneration, the inability to refresh and loss of appetite.

Lets take another moment to look at his poor record at bringing through young talent; for a club like Manchester United that its time honoured tradition is to bring through young talent; from the Busby babes to the Class of ’92; the likes of Wes Brown, Danny Welbeck, Marcus Rashford, Mark Hughes, Lee Martin,Norman Whiteside etc. Jose Mourinho does not have the pedigree in this regard, I can only cringe at the thought of what would happen to the young lads that have galvanized our season; just take a look at the Chelsea academy system, no player came through the ranks under his tutelage (Please don’t mention Loftus Cheek) despite tonnes of money spent setting it up; even with the danger of a transfer ban at some point. Now this is an academy that has dominated the FA Youth Cup over the last Five years and won back to back UEFA Youth Leagues; tell me, can we say none of these lads was good enough to make that step up? Instead they get shipped out on loan all over the world. The Manchester United academy has been said to be losing steam and been left behind by the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, despite this the Under 21s continue to deliver league titles; three in four years, I fear for this structure and the future of the players as this players that have been successful at Under 21 level have had the chance to debut for the first team or at least look forward to an opportunity coming their way.

Manchester United's Under-21s receive the Barclays U21 Premier League Division 1 trophy

It is imperative to make things very clear here, I know the main fear for many United fans is the lack of trophies season in season out; not wanting to fall behind our major rivals; Jose Mourinho may guarantee trophies, but the collateral damage he does to the brand, tradition and general well being of the club is my main concern.

I am a life long United fan, from my father down; even when United weren’t winning we were there, through thick and thing; when some fans wanted Sir Alex out, some of us stood firm and resolute; I want Manchester United to always be successful, to win trophies, but I also care about the state of the club and its overall well being. Like I said earlier; ”we” are already the most hated club in England; we may just be raising the bar even more, not that I care; but the established structures we have built may just be torn down by Jose Mourinho ”if it is true”, he is the next manager of my beloved Manchester United.

 

**** Pictures courtesy Getty Images

This Cup Final Weekend

What a weekend we have in store with Cup Finals all around Europe; however our focus would be on the top five leagues. In Germany, Italy and Spain; the League champions are aiming for a double, in England its win or burst for Manchester United and in France, Paris Saint Germain aim to do the domestic treble for a second straight season; talk about total domination.

arsenal fa cup 2015

Interesting starts going into the respective Cup Finals:

  1. PSG have won their last nine matches against Marseille.
  2. Manchester United have kept clean sheets in five of their last six games against Crystal Palace.
  3. Manchester United are undefeated in their last ten matches against Crystal Palace.
  4. Bayern Munich are undefeated in their last five games against Dortmund.
  5. Bayern have kept clean sheets in their last three DFB Pokal games.
  6. Juventus have won seven of their last eight games against Milan.
  7. Milan have one win in their last six games since Christian Brocchi took charge of team management.
  8. Barcelona are undefeated in their last 17 Copa Del Rey games
  9. Barcelona are undefeated in their last nine home games against Sevilla
  10. Sevilla are undefeated in their last Nine Copa Del Rey matches

Predictions and Betting Punts

  1. Paris Saint Germain to win comfortably against Marseille
  2. Manchester United draw first half, win full time.
  3. Bayern to win (Both teams to score or over 2.5)
  4. Juventus to win
  5. Barcelona to win and over 2.5

 

Hey You can watch the Cup Final Weekend Preview here:

Europa League Final: Five Tactical Talking Points

The 2016 Europa League Final was probably not the best final you would have seen; but it was a good final and just like our slogan at www.halftimeng.com states; ”its a game of two halves” and that’s what this final served up for us neutrals. Sevilla have made history by winning the Europa League for a third straight year; a Three Peat; what a feat.

The game had its talking points; especially with Liverpool seeking two penalties in the first half, but its the tactical talking points that’s the main focus of my review of the final.

Kolo Toure

He was massive all through even though Liverpool conceded  three goals, but he showed immense leadership through out till he was replaced in a tactical substitution as the Reds chased the game. He definitely deserves a new contract at this rate, I worried about Liverpool starting with him in defense and lacking other alternatives, but the Ivorian had a good solid game.

The Switch in Style and Approach

In the first half, I felt Sevilla were too predictable with their insistence on bumping the ball forward as a means to cope with Liverpool’s high pressing. For me, it gave the Liverpool defense a lot of comfort because Kevin Gameiro is not the tallest of strikers around; hence the needed the wide players in Vitolo and Coke of Nzonzi from deep to provide the height in the middle, hence making them a tad narrow and quite predictable.

In the second half; a quick change of impetus; playing short, quick passes and getting behind their markers; changed the game and got them a great equalizer after just 17 seconds of the restart in the second half. The quick passing and use of pace from wide areas especially through the full backs got Sevilla past the Liverpool press.

Early seizure of initiative

What better way to damage the confidence and psychology of your opponents that to seize the initiative as early as the 17th second with an equalizing goal. Unai Emery would have told his charges how important it was to get an early goal to get them going and back in the cup final.

Ever Banega

Inter Milan have lacked a creative player for the last two seasons and they must be glad they snapped up a player of this caliber. The Argentine Midfielder struggled to get into the game in the first half obviously due to Sevilla’s overall approach and the very little space he was afforded. In the second half, he started to find the spaces and the pockets to enable him dictate the play with some smooth, short and quick passes and their eagerness to get their full backs fully involved.

Banega was involved in all the goals and as far as I am concerned was my man of the match.

Liverpool failed to get key players into the game

What a strike by Daniel Sturridge to put Liverpool in the lead; it was one of the few times the Reds got any of the key players into the game and in key positions. For most of the second half; Sevilla were better organized; hence keeping Sturridge away from the eighteen yards box where he could be dangerous. Firmino and Coutinho were largely anonymous through out the game and were well kept at bay by the compact and discipline Sevilla midfield and back line, who switch into something of a back six when without the ball as Nzonzi and Krychowiak  drop in to join the center backs; making them difficult to penetrate.

Once Liverpool’s high press was negated by some quick, short and smooth passing, the Reds seem to have no plan b or alternative to get back into the game.

My EPL 2015/2016 Review

What a unique Premier League season we have had; who would have thought Leicester City would be crowned champions of England at season’s end. Be that as it may; it still doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a poor Premier League season particularly in the area of goal scoring. If you compare the top five leagues; you would see that the Premier League’s top scorers (Manchester City) have the worst return compared to other top scorers in Spain with Barcelona and Real doing over 100 goals; Paris Saint Germain also edging past the century of goals mark in France with Roma scoring 83 goals; Dortmund topped Germany with 82 goals and even the Eredivisie duo of Ajax and PSV racked up more than 80 goals.

I would be taking a look at each team’s performance compared to what position was predicted as their finishing position in our season preview written by @tolushotade. Just in case you are not a fan of reading; you can click here for the video review.

240652FA00000578-2876623-Bournemouth_manager_Eddie_Howe_has_steered_his_side_to_the_summi-a-2_1418771752884

AFC Bournemouth

A lot of credit goes to Eddie Howe and the way he managed his Bournemouth team’s maiden campaign in the Premier League staying true to their style and making some really good buys in Max Gradel and Benik Afobe, whilst also getting some really good results on the way to confirming survival early against the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea. Next Season would be even tougher for the lads from the south coast.

Finishing Position: 16th

Predicted Finishing Position: 18th (Relegation)

Arsenal FC

If there was a season that most felt Arsenal were good enough to win the league title, it was this one, but in typical Arsenal fashion; February came along, Champions League elimination was confirmed and so the league form followed suit; thus ending Arsenal’s charge for the title. You would be forgiven if you thought different by simply looking at the table and seeing the Gunners finished in second place, but the reality is that they were never a factor in the title race.

Finishing Position: 2nd

Predicted Finishing Position: Champions

Aston Villa

Disappointing season for the midlands club; Three Managers during the course of the season didn’t help their campaign as it went from one turbulence to another and the fans turned on the team and the owner. I had felt Villa had recruited well with the signings of Micah Richards, Jordans Ayew, Veretout and Amavi; but to no end, Villa were sitting ducks even before the Christmas festivities came by.

Finishing Position: 20th (Relegated)

Predicted Finishing Position: Expected to survive

John-terry

Chelsea

Talk about the worst campaign by a defending champion in the history of the league; this Chelsea side made Manchester United under David Moyes look good. Jose Mourinho had to be let go after over seeing a very toxic atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. In came Guus Hiddink; Abrahimovic’s Mr Fix it to steady the ship; which he did, blooded some fresh talent and led the return to form of some of Chelsea’s leading lights.

Finishing Position: 10th

Predicted Finishing Position: Top Four

Crystal Palace

Palace under Pardew punched above their weight in the first half of the season and European qualification was been clamoured four and you know what they say about water; palace found their level and were almost sucked into the relegation battle.Qualification for the FA Cup Final should deliver some much needed end of season cheer.

Everton

After the promise of Champions League football by Roberto Martinez on his appointment; Everton have continued to deteriorate in each season after a fifth place finish in the manager’s first season. A defense that struggled to keep it together and have a sustained period of fitness was the main catalyst to the demise of the Spaniard.

Finishing Position: 11th

Predicted Finishing Position: Top Eight

Liverpool

After the sacking of Brendan Rogers; the Reds season has taken a turn for the better as Jurgen Klopp arrived in a blaze of glory, renewing the spirit at Anfield and the enthusiasm of the Players. A Capital one cup final defeat to Manchester City and a huge chance at making it to the Champions League with victory in the Europa League Final against Sevilla; the Anfield faithful couldn’t have asked for a better end of season.

Finishing Position: 8th

Predicted Finishing Position: Top Eight

lc

Leicester City

Champions of England; who would ever have thought that Leicester City, a team that barely escaped relegation the previous season would go all the way this season. Credit must go to Claudio Ranieri and the work he’s done at the King Power Stadium; he took over with much criticism from every one; me included and they went out to prove every one wrong. The likes of Jamie Vardy, Wes Morgan and Andy King; who have had to come through the lower divisions to get to the Premier League is an exceptional story and stuff of dreams.

Finishing Position: Champions

Predicted Finishing Position: 20th

Manchester City

If you saw Manchester City in the first six games or so of the season; you may have been guilty of handing they the title so early in the season; but the Citizens just fell off and struggled with injuries as the games came thick and fast; particularly with the injuries to Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero at various periods of the season. Another, sticky point for City had to be the announcement of Pep Guardiola in February as their manager from next season; this led to a period of poor form; however Pellegrini has set a bench mark of a minimum of a Semi final berth in the Champions League and at least a trophy.

Finishing Position: 4th

Predicted Finishing Position: Top Four

Manchester United

It was a mixed season for Manchester United; coupled with a bomb threat. The performance of the team has divided the fans with a section calling for the sack of Louis Van Gaal and a change in the overall outlook of the team. On the positive side has to be the fact that 14 academy players got first team berths this season; United finished with the joint best defense in the League along with Spurs and  a Cup Final to look forward too.

Finishing Position: 5th

Predicted Finishing Position: Top Four

benitex

Newcastle United

The problems at Newcastle are well documented; I strongly feel they could have made a decision on the position of Steven Mclaren early on and should not have waited till it remained less than 10 games to save their season. The appointment of Rafa Benitez galvanized the team and the city; but it was too little to late, a win at already relegated Aston Villa could have changed it all; but played into the hands of city rivals Sunderland to enable them escape relegation.

Finishing Position: 18th

Predicted Finishing Position: Should stay clear of relegation.

Norwich City

Alex Neal’s side’s major problem was finding a goal scorer; Cameron Jerome is not Premier League quality, the signing of Mbokani and Naismith didn’t change the situation either; despite a late rally, the Canaries could not avoid the drop to the Championship.

Finishing Position: 19th

Predicted Finishing Position: 19th

Southampton

The saints had a slow start to the season as they were knocked out of Europe early coupled with an injury to Ronald Koeman; it also took a while for some of their signings to settle in, but big results against Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City are major highlights of their season.

Finishing Position: 6th

Predicted Finishing Position: Top Eight

Stoke City

Stoke City’s dreams of finishing in the European places disappeared quite early, but you must commend the job Mark Hughes is doing in the Potteries as well as the signings they have made in the last three windows. The Britannia continues to be a very difficult place to visit as an opposing side, but some of the myth was extinguished by less accomplished teams.

Finishing Position: 9th

Predicted Finishing Position: Comfortable mid table finish is expected.

Sunderland

If you ever need a manager to manage a desperate situation; Sam Allardyce is your man. He his a manager that assures stability to a large extent and Boy would he have loved it to confirm the relegation of Newcastle after he was badly treated at the Magpies. Jermaine Defoe was a huge catalyst in Sunderland’s survival with 15 league goals in a struggling side to ensure another year in the English top flight.

Finishing Position: 17th

Predicted Finishing Position: another case of staying up but only just.

Swansea City

Great start to the season with a credible draw at Chelsea that led to the turmoil at Stamford Bridge with a good with at home against Manchester United; Gary Monk could do no wrong. Fast forward a couple of months and a bad run of form; Monk had to leave and Alan Curtis took charge temporarily till the appointment of Francesco Guildolin which eventually secured Premier League safety.

Finishing Position: 12th

Predicted Finishing Position: Comfortable mid table finish is expected.

maur-poch_2912969b

Tottenham Hotspurs

What a season for this young Tottenham side, ending with their best points haul and finish in the Premier League era. Unfortunately, they lost their way once it was confirmed they could not wrestle the league title from Leicester City after the unfortunate draw at Stamford Bridge. Spurs have a lot to look forward to and with the addition of some quality in the summer as well as the long term future of Maurizio Ponchetino sorted out; Spurs would be a force to reckon with for years to come.

Finishing Position: 3rd

Predicted Finishing Position: Top Eight

Watford

With two strikers new to the Premier League leading line, you would have been forgiven if you feared for  the Hornets; but Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo showed that they were at home in the league by scoring 28 goals between them. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off their season, but a positive has to be their semi final place in the FA Cup.

Finishing Position: 13th

Predicted Finishing Position: Expected to avoid relegation

Slaven-Bilic

West Ham

Slaven Bilic has done a fantastic job at West Ham; making them difficult to beat whilst been entertaining. Away victories at the Emirates and Etihad definitely raised his stock. The per of Payet and Lanzini had fantastic debut seasons and a lot would be expected from them in seasons to come.West Ham still harbour hopes of qualifying for Europe as they prepare to move to the Olympic stadium as they wait and hope that Manchester United defeat Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final.

Finishing Position: 7th

Predicted Finishing Position: Just Miss out on Europe .

West Bromwich Albion

Well, I suppose its safe to say that once you engage Tony Pulis; survival is secured as his record from Stoke to Crystal Palace has shown. The Baggies never seemed in danger of entering a relegation dog fight and just remained afloat just doing the barest minimum.

Finishing Position: 14th

Predicted Finishing Position: Wont be relegated .

 

 

 

JURGEN KLOPP: THE BENEFITS OF NIPPING THE CANCEROUS GROWTH IN THE BOARD

It seems like a decade ago, when Brendan Rodgers was last seen parading Anfield. Since his departure, miracles have occurred in Liverpool. Before Rodgers was sacked, the atmosphere in and around Liverpool was stale, the morale of the average players he purchased was very low and the Anfield became a graveyard where mourning and lamenting were the order of the day especially for the fans.

Since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp, the team has been revitalised, players such as Lallana, Henderson, Milner, Can, Firmino and Origi play has though they are possessed by demons; even the defence is not
left out as the likes of Kolo Toure, Sakho and Dejan Lovren have stepped up. This new Liverpool will cause any opponents headaches no matter how strong the opponents are; an example is the 3-3 draw against Arsenal, the bashing of Manchester City home and away, their desire, work ethic, industry and passion would most times consume the opponents, giving Liverpool favourable results.

From time immemorial, Anfield has been a ground that produces magical and electrifying moments. Although these disappeared for some time, under the charismatic German, magical and electrifying moments have returned to Anfield as evidenced in comebacks against Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal. Now Anfield faithfuls take their seats with renewed hope and expectation; knowing that the spirit of Anfield will swallow their opponents.

As the season draws to a close, Jurgen Klopp’s score reads: two finals, one he lost to Manchester City, the other he is yet to play against Sevilla (which will guarantee Liverpool an automatic slot in the Champions League should Klopp’s boys lift the Europa League trophy) no matter what happens after May 18, Liverpool’s season will be classified as a good one; judging from where they started.

It is important to note that Klopp has not brought in players this season but he has motivated and inspired the boys he met to achieve some unbelievable feats. The future looks bright for Liverpool and they can boldly declare the slogan “You will never walk Alone” because with Jurgen Klopp it might be a statement of fact for a long time to
come.

This Weekend (06/05/16)

The European Football season is gradually coming to an end and what a season it has been; who would have thought that Leicester City would be champions of the English Premier League. What an incredible story and journey it has been so far for the Foxes.

The title chasing excitement towards the end of the season fully resides in Spain; German Champions should be confirmed this weekend; despite Bayern’s exit from the Champions League in midweek. In England and France; the battle for Champions League Places takes a head to head dimension and of course the relegation battle will also take center stage as two of the three teams fighting for survival host tricky opponents. All these we will highlight in our preview for this weekend and as always drop our betting tips.

The Battle for Champions League Places in England

The battle for Champions League places takes a very interesting turn this weekend as Manchester City host Arsenal in a straight shoot out for third place; as three points separate both teams, but the Citizens have a superior goals difference of +5. This is a game both teams cannot afford to lose, mainly because Manchester United and West Ham are firmly on their heels waiting for a slip up with both teams still having a game in hand which is ironically between both of them.

Sanchez

Manchester City would obviously be demoralized from their appalling showing at the Bernabeu in mid week; they looked like a team bereft of ideas and very little attacking invention. It is left to be seen if exit from the Champions League would affect the team and especially the manager; considering he would not be in the dug out for next season.

For Arsenal; its an interesting case and a slight semblance of ”progress”; last season the gunners finished third in the league and it does seem like they like the idea of finishing in that position as to the late charge for fourth spot. Arsene Wenger has come under tonnes of criticisms this season and has also taken a swipe at the fans for the underwhelming atmosphere at times at the Emirates as the reason why the wheels fell off their title challenge this season and for the umpteenth time in their twelve year search for another Premier League Title.

Manchester City v Arsenal - Premier League

To the game proper; I am sure if a draw is offered to both teams now; they may just accept it; however this is a great opportunity to pull clear of the chasing pack as well a great chance for Arsenal to snatch second place for cross town rivals Spurs if they suffer any hang overs from losing the title at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal have controlled this encounter of the last couple of years and also have the better of the historical head to head; interestingly Manchester City have only won one of their last six meetings with Arsenal. The Gunners have won at the Etihad before and I won’t put it past them to put in a super display if the Citizens remain stuck in Madrid.

My Verdict: A draw looks very likely

My Betting Punt: Both teams to score comes @ 1.54 

The Relegation Dog Fight in England

It is looking more likely that Newcastle may just and that’s a very slight chance avoid the drop, but then that’s me talking what do I know. If they fail to do this business especially this weekend; when their relegation rivals are at home to two tricky opponents with the Magpies away to dead and buried Aston Villa; then there is very little that can be said if they fail to get three points to put some daylight between them and the duo of Norwich City and City Rivals Sunderland.

Rafael-Benitez

Sunderland host rejuvenated Chelsea at the Stadium Of Light whilst Norwich host Champions League chasing Manchester United.  The least that’s said about the kind of season Chelsea has had the better; they have a host of players who are probably playing for their respective futures and still the slight chance of Europa League qualification; hence where I think the desire to cause Sunderland some heartache may come from. Sam Alladyce’s are where they are because of too many drawn games; 11 in total so far this season; the most of the bottom six teams in the league; interestingly drawing six of their last eight games; these draws need to be turned to wins for the Black Cats to have any chance of survival.

Ozil-Sunderland-Sept2013

Norwich host Manchester United in the weekend’s early kick off; Norwich have defeated Manchester United earlier this season and would feel very confident of doing a double over Louis Van Gaal’s side for the first time since the 1989/1990 season. Norwich have won two of the last four matches against United; but find goal scoring difficult, in their last three matches, the Canaries have lost and also failed to score. The face a Manchester United side still chasing a Champions League place, but who have not traveled well lately with just one win in their last four away matches. This provides a big chance for Alex Neal’s side to put a huge dent on the Red Devil’s Champions League chase and also aid their bid to escape relegation as the stand two points away from safety; a win will take them out of the bottom three, even though it may be temporary depending on other results.

My Verdict: A Win for Newcastle; but draws for Sunderland and Norwich

My Betting Punt: Over 1.5 goals in all the games seems a safe bet. 

The very close La Liga Title Race

La Liga continues to show that asides from the marketing, viewing, commercial and money spinning side of the game  it is head and shoulders above any other league with its Drama and the participation of its teams in European Competitions. This season, we have an all Spanish Champions League Final with Liverpool the stumbling block to an all Spanish Europa League final as well. The title race has left many onlookers and neutrals licking their lips at the potential drama that we expect to unfold over the last two match days with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid level on points at the top and Real Madrid just a point behind; so don’t even think about blinking.

at438143header

Barcelona host city rivals; Espanyol in the Catalonia derby; which should be easy for Barca to negotiate, that bad run of one win in six is far gone, now they finish off teams comfortably and ruthlessly. Atletico and Real Madrid have both qualified for the Champions League final and now have to switch their attentions to domestic affairs. Diego Simeone’s team take on a Levante side away from home; who are already looking forward to life in the Segunda Division, so I expect all the plaudits and admiration that Atletico have received from mid week to spur them on to get their usual not so fussy win.

I must give credit to Zinedine Zidane and the work  he has done at Real thus far; as far as many were concerned Real Madrid were done and dusted and the reason would end without a trophy. The french legend has the chance to win Real Madrid’s eleventh Champions League trophy in his first season after taking over in mid season from Rafa Benitez. Zizou has done a great job, whether we like it or not; his team’s application and victory in the second El-Classico remains fresh in our minds. Los Blancos potentially have the toughest fixture of the three with the visit of Valencia who have been on a mini revival since the departure of Gary Neville with three straight wins at a point including victory at the Nou Camp; but have gone on a run of three wins from their last six matches, but lost last time out to Villarreal. Real Madrid must be at the top of their game to ensure they take the fight for the title to the final day. Matches between both teams have produced four draws in the last six matches with the victories shared one a piece.

My Verdict: I expect the top three to win their matches

My Betting Punt: Barcelona (Combo of win & over 2.5); Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid win

The fight for European places in France 

We all know that Paris Saint had run away with the Championship from the winter months and had a points gap as long as the Third Mainland Bridge; but interest in the league has been spurred by the fight for European places. I have been particularly impressed with the resurgence of Lyon; from the disappointments of an early injury to Nabil Fekir and sacking of Herbert Fournier; Lyon seemed dead and buried; but Bruno Génésio has done a fantastic job since taking over; made them solid at home in their new stadium with an unbeaten home record in 2016 which has formed the platform that their success and rejuvenation has been based on.

This weekend they face Monaco; who are in third place and level on points with 62 points; just like in the EPL, its a straight shoot out with two games to go which Lyon must be considered as favorites considering their solid home record and Monaco’s rather draw laden away record with only the victory against PSG been of any significance. Lyon and Monaco have played three consecutive draws and the way I see it; that looks like the most likely result.

Lyon are strong at home and Monaco are quite frustrating customers away from home; it make for an intriguing contest with automatic qualification for the Champions League on the line, I expect both teams to be buzzing as it promises to be an exciting game.

The likes of Saint Etienne, Nice and Lille would need something out of this world to sneak into the UCL places and this is highly unlikely; but I must commend the exploits of newly promoted Anger who stayed close to PSG for many months, demonstrating that they do deserve to be in the elite division.

My Verdict: Lyon v Monaco would end in a draw

My Betting Punt: Draw or over 1.5 goals