A Hung-over Champions Performance: My Thoughts on the FA Cup Final

Let me be the first to admit that Punditry is such a hard job when we all get it wrong; we are supposed to be experts and quite a number of people depend on our expert analysis to determine their mood going into a big game and in some circumstances place a stake on the game with the hope of making a quick buck or two.

Credit to Arsenal, Arsene Wenger and the fans who believed in their team before and during the match; not you, you know yourselves. Forget about the controversy of the first goal; it was a supremely fantastic Arsenal performance, the Gunners could have been up by four goals at halftime  with their exhilarating play of pace, quick movement and possession. Here are my thoughts from a great Arsenal FA Cup victory:

Chelsea seemed Hung-Over

Antonio Conte would take the blame for this lethargic Chelsea performance; it obviously looked like they had over celebrated their league win just seven days earlier. This takes me back to 1994 and 1999; when Manchester United were chasing a double and a Treble; I remember the words of Sir Alex; to the team and the Fans on the final day of the season; calming down the celebrations, ensuring it didn’t go over board as the team still had bigger fish to fry in the coming days. This Chelsea team didn’t look that; the whole John Terry send forth and general atmosphere at Stamford Bridge on final day; they had a party and seemed to celebrate all week; probably waving off the threat Arsenal were capable of been. The only other time Chelsea were probably this poor was on their trip to Old Trafford; they had no answer for Arsenal’s running on and off the ball, it was an electric performance from the Gunners.

Chelsea Midfield off the pace

I kept asking myself were is all this space coming from; it was like a huge gaping hole after an earthquake. Chelsea’s midfield was completely off the pace; that all that running, movement, quickness of the pacing, use of space; just gave N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic just too much to keep up with. I felt Conte could have responded with a change earlier than he did; especially as Pedro and Hazard were having an off day.

Arsenal got behind the Chelsea in the wide areas, using the pace of Bellerin and Chamberlain in transitioning from defense to attack like a hot knife through butter. The Introduction of Fabregas for Matic; could have brought some much needed calm in the midfield with the Blues seizing possession and some energy and industry could have helped with the introduction of Willian for Pedro; both substitutions could have been done at Half time as Arsenal were having a field day controlling the midfield in the first half, but stepped off the gas in the second half for a counter attacking approach; it would have been a great reaction to the onslaught at the time.

Sanchez’s Goal shouldn’t have stood

I am not a referee; but i have watched the game long enough to know when a player is interfering with play; i am not even mentioning the hand ball leading to goal. Now, lets consider this; ball gets flicked into the box; Aaron Ramsey is in an offside position; doesn’t realize it; makes a move for the ball, turns to get the ball to take a shot a Courtois; but gets either a shout from Sanchez; who made a run from outside the box or just immediately realizes he was in an offside position earlier and shouldn’t touch or make a move for the ball; we have to realize that at this time Courtois is coming to terms with facing an Aaron Ramsey strike on goal only to see him move over for Sanchez to take a swipe at the ball. For me, Ramsey was offside every day of the week including Sundays and public holidays; goal shouldn’t have stood.

Mertesacker Holding Defense; No Problem.

Imagine the hysteria during the week; when it was apparent Arsenal would have to call on their semi retired club Captain to fill the defensive hole left open by injuries to Gabriel, Mustafi and Koscielny’s  suspension. It gave Arsenal absolutely no chance against a rampaging Chelsea forward line full of running and enthusiasm; little did we know that as the saying goes ”there’s no substitute for experience”.

What a performance by Per Mertesacker; a gem of a composed defensive performance; commanding, resolute and quite encouraging. Young Rob Holding would have learnt a ton from partnering with the veteran last night; the German showed all forms of leadership, exhibiting control, didn’t misplace a pass; calm in possession and in his tackling. Permit me to say this; we have had the Gerrard Final; this was the Mertesacker Final (I understand Martin Keown said the same thing too).

Eden Hazard: Not quite there yet

There’s been a lot of debate on how good Eden Hazard is and how he ranks or compares with the likes of Messi, Cristano, Neymar and Saurez. I have maintained that he still has a bit to go to be mentioned in the same category as the aforementioned individuals. For one his numbers have to take a huge nudge up; especially considering the amount of influence he has in the Chelsea team.

Lets make a quick comparison and look at the numbers; this season Hazard has scored 16 goals and 5 assists, probably his best goals return for Chelsea; if you take a look across the pond to the four guys I mentioned:

Lionel Messi – 37 goals; 9 assists

Luis Saurez – 29 goals; 13 assists

Cristano Ronaldo – 25 goals; 6 assists

Neymar Jnr – 13 goals; 11 assists

For a player that has that much influence and is integral to Chelsea’s play and success; he needs to up the ante; been involved in a total of 21 goals all season is probably not good enough in been ranked among the best in the world.

Also; if i were to take into consideration the effect two of these players had in their team’s cup final triumph as against Hazard’s performance in Chelsea’s disappointing Cup demise; it reflects on my entire analysis of how much Hazard can be mentioned in the conversation of best players in the world.

Eden Hazard was one of Chelsea’s poor performers in last night’s FA Cup final; he couldn’t galvanize the team and was largely anonymous; he needs to turn up in games of this nature in a more consistent manner to finally warrant or merit been considered one of the world’s elite players.

 

 

 

 

 

**Pictures courtesy SIPA/REX Shutterstock; Associated Press

FOOTBALL MID-WEEK REVIEW featuring the Manchester Derby

As the leagues in Europe begin to hit home stretch, we have been served with top and feisty matches across the top leagues, there is still a lot to fight for especially in Spain and England where the battle for the winners is not yet done and dusted, the DFB cup was in the forefront in Germany whilst France saw the clash of the best two teams in the land, here is a review of all that happened across Europe in the last few days alongside the preview of the Manchester Derby coming up tonight at the Etihad.

Barcelona and Madrid secure big wins: After the El Classico over the weekend which saw Barcelona edge Madrid at the top of the log on head to head basis, though Madrid still have a game in hand, both teams featured in mid week fixtures as they continue their chase for the La Liga title.  As expected, Barcelona thrashed visiting Osasuna by 7 goals to one confirming the team to relegation after just one year of returning to the elite division with the highlight of the game being Javier Mascherano’s first goal in his 319th appearance for Barcelona, Madrid however faced a tricky tie away at Deportivo La Coruna and when the team-list was released with the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema and Toni Kroos absent, many feared manager Zinedine Zidane may have taken the gamble a bit too far, but all that was erased barely a minute into the game as Morata opened the scoring in what turned out to be a easy 6- 2 win with Isco starring as the main man yet again. Granada suffered their third defeat with new manager Tony Adams whilst Leganes halted an 8 game streak without a win with a 3-0 victory over Las Palmas to boost their survival chances.

NFF and AITEO 2.5Bn deal: The NFF yesterday announced a 5 year partnership contract worth 500 million Naira per year with oil and Gas Company Aiteo as Official Optimum partner of the football body, the deal primarily ensures that payment of all national team coaches and technical partnership of the national teams are duly covered over the year.

Big results in Cup games: In Germany, something of an upset was witnessed as Borussia Dortmund stunned Bayern Munich by 3 goals to 2 to secure their place in the DFB Cup final for the fourth straight time, Bayern Munich had led by 2 goals to one at a certain stage but two goals in five minutes from Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang and teen sensation Ousmane Dembele ensured that the Bavarians will not be winning a double this season, Dortmund will now face Eintracht Frankfurt in the final. In France, Monaco featured a much changed team and were thoroughly routed by PSG as the boys from Paris scored 5 unreplied goals to secure a final berth with Angers.

The Premier League: Arsenal earned a hard fought 1 nil victory over defending champions Leicester City courtesy a late minute Robert Huth own goal to win back to back games for the first time since February and maintain their hunt for a champions league place, Christian Eriksen’s belter at Crystal Palace also ensured that the North Londoners remain just four points behind league leaders Chelsea who put up a commanding performance in their 4-2 victory over Southampton, Sunderland are all but confirmed for relegation after suffering yet another defeat in the hands of fellow strugglers Middlesbrough.

The Manchester Derby: All eyes will at the Etihad tonight as the two Manchester teams go head to head in a battle not for the title but for a top four place. A win for Manchester United will see them in the top four for the first time this year and they will be jointly tied on 66 points with Liverpool despite having played a game less, for Pep Guardiola, his first season has not exactly gone according to plans as the team will be finishing the season without a silverware and a top four position is paramount to his plans of restructuring the team come next season. Both sides have injury worries as Jose Mourinho has confirmed that 89M signing Paul Pogba will be missing after he picked up an injury in their last game, he joins Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has also been ruled out for the season and Marcos Rojo on the sidelines, for City, David Silva remains a doubt but Sergio Aguero is in contention alongside Gabriel Jesus to feature in tonight’s game. It’s Pep Guardiola against Jose Mourinho yet again, many will be curious to see how tactics are deployed in this game following how United approached their last big game against Chelsea, It’s a game that could be a decider to either teams fortunes as we hit the end of the season and whilst a draw may not be bad for both sides, the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal will be wishing that one of the sides, especially United drop all three points to enhance their Champions League place. The two sides have met twice already this season, City won the first leg of their Premier League fixture whilst United emerged victorious in the EFL cup, this is their third and final meeting of the season and whilst a top four place may be the ultimate prize, the bragging rights for who owns Manchester is also an appeal as two of the best managers in the world seek to make the most of what has been a below par season in comparison with the standards they have set in their careers.

FA CUP SEMIFINAL PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS 2017

The oldest and most glamorous cup competition, the English FA cup returns this weekend with two marquee games parading arguably the best four teams in the country at the Wembley stadium. The competition which has been approached more seriously than in seasons past is in its semi-final stage, hence it is no coincidence that the matches will be parading three teams that are presently in the top four places in the league providing us with an action packed weekend.

League leaders Chelsea take on one of the very few teams that have succeeded in defeating them this season, city rivals Tottenham Hotspurs, while in the other game it is the team that has won the cup the most times and have found some form of glory in this competition in recent years Arsenal up against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, here is a preview of what to expect from both games.

CHELSEA VS TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS: So much have been said about how Mauricio Pochettino has built this young Spurs side over the past two seasons, turning them from pretenders into not just top 4 chasers but also title contenders, the manager has rightfully earned his hype and has even been name dropped as one of the likely successors to Luis Enrique at Barcelona, one area he however needs to fix is his lack of titles, whilst the Champions League and the Premier League may be stars too far for him to shoot at, the FA cup presents a perfect ground to add some silverware to his name and with two games standing in his way, there is no better time for Spurs than now. He is however up against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, the team he defeated the last time both teams met and following Chelsea’s defeat at Manchester United last time in the league, Antonio Conte is out not just for revenge but for redemption, another defeat even if it is in a different competition is the last thing that the blues need at this stage of the season. The last time around, Spurs played with a system that negated that of Chelsea and successfully capitalized on their aerial weakness as Dele Alli helped his side to victory, with Diego Costa seeking an end to his goal drought and Harry Kane back to scoring after his injury, this will be a tight encounter and promises to be feisty and exciting. One should particularly be interested in seeing how Conte reacts tactics wise but the midfield battle of Kante and Matic up against Dembele and Wanyama is probably the department that will decide this game. Very close to call seeing Spurs have won their last seven games in all competitions yet struggled to adjust to life at the Wembley ground which was their home during the Champions league games whilst outside the blip at United, Chelsea have been an unstoppable force and with Eden Hazard, they have a massive chink in their armor, this is one game that may stretch beyond the regular 90 minutes but I will give this to TOTTENHAM.

ARSENAL VS MANCHESTER CITY

If there is any team that needs a big win, then both sides fit in that category, but maybe Arsenal needs it just a little more, Arsene Wenger has endured his most torrid season yet managing Arsenal and it looks like they may miss out on a Top four/ Champions league place for the first time in decades and fans calling for the manager’s resignation louder than ever before, it is believed in certain quarters that Arsene Wenger may have already agreed to extend his stay at the gunners but the board desires a winning opportunity for this to be formally announced and in a competition he has won twice in the last four years, this could well be the saving grace for him to remind the Arsenal fans that he is still the man they can trust for at least the next two seasons. For Pep Guardiola, things have not exactly gone according to script at the Etihad, getting knocked out in the second round of the Uefa Champions league was not in the plans when he was given the job and fighting for a top four place instead of the league title was the least his intimidating CV suggested, but in his first season, he would be seeking to end it with at least a trophy like he did at the previous clubs he coached and Sunday afternoon provides him with a chance at the only silverware left. The last time both sides met, it ended in a draw though Pep had won their very first encounter but things have changed a lot since then, Manchester City seemed to have found a bit more stability especially with the return of captain Vincent Kompany at the back and Sergio Aguero re-discovering his scoring form whilst for Arsenal, there was a shape change at the back in their last game against Middlesbrough with the manager adopting the 3 at the back system following defensive injuries and this may be the same system to be adopted against City. Will Pep be able to hit a heavy blow to the gunners or can Arsene Wenger sprout his magic yet again, this should be less cagey and surely see plenty goals, really set up for an intriguing game and Manchester City are my favorites to progress to the final.

5 THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND

This week saw some exciting football and shocking results as the European championships featured across various grounds mid-week, we saw Barcelona stunned, Napoli’s unbeaten run ended by Madrid, Arsenal mauled and the Pogba brothers sharing more hugs than tackles. The bread and butter of league football however makes a return this weekend but in England, the Premier League fades to the background this weekend as the FA cup takes center stage. You can be forgiven for thinking all other leagues are also on break but that is wrong as league football continues across all other countries, here are the top 5 highlights to look out for this weekend across the world.

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1. The NPFL enters Week 9- The Nigerian Professional League which took a break from midweek football returns this weekend with some juicy ties across the centers. Remo Stars new manager Fatai Osho has to hit the ground running as his team lie bottom of the log, they host 8th place Lobi Stars and know that only three points will do the Ogun State based team a world of good. League leaders Plateau United host Niger Tornadoes as they seek to bounce back from their first defeat of the season, other fixtures include, Abia Warriors at home to El Kanemi Warriors, Katsina United VS Shooting Stars, Gombe United VS Akwa United and Sunshine Stars away at Nasarawa United. The likes of MFM, ABS and Enyimba have had their games postponed as their opponents all have continental engagements.

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2. Barcelona seeks to bounce back: After the shocking defeat the Catalan giants suffered in Paris during their Champions league tie, under pressure Luis Enrique will be seeking for some form of response from his team as they welcome Leganes to the Nou Camp Sunday night, league leaders Real Madrid who enjoyed better fortune in Europe will welcome Espanyol as they seek to maintain their top position on the log whilst third place Sevilla host Eibar in a game they just need to win so as not to stay too far off the top two teams. Villareal who got battered in the Europa cup are away at Real Sociedad while Athletico Madrid will take on Sporting Gijon in some of the key fixtures.

3. Upsets in the FA Cup?: The FA cup has always had the glory of major scalps being taken over the years even though we have seen the big teams taking it bit more serious of late as the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United are recent winners. There is no really mouth watering tie in this round as the top sides have been kept apart but don’t rule out an upset from any of the grounds.
Key fixtures: Wolves VS Chelsea, Millwall VS Leicester City, Fulham VS Tottenham Hotspurs, Blackburn VS Manchester United and Monday night football where Sutton United welcome Arsenal.

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4. Across other leagues: In Germany, Bayern Munich who are 7 points clear on the log and off the back of their annihilation of Arsenal in the Champions league making the second leg more or less a formality are away at Hertha Berlin, second place Leipzig are also away at Monchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund host Wolfsburg. In France, the race is on as PSG who are in a fine vein of form are just three points away off leaders Monaco, whilst Monaco who have been free scoring are away at Bastia, PSG hosts Colosseum. Third placed Nice are also away to Lorient. In Italy, runaway leaders Juventus host Palermo, Roma host Torino, Napoli are away at Verona whilst the Milan teams, Inter and AC takes on Bologna and Fiorentina respectively.

Arsene

5. Lights out for Arsene Wenger?- All eyes will be on the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger this weekend following his teams defeat in the hands of Bayern Munich and the voices calling for his exit seemingly more united than ever over the last few days. Luckily for him, it is a little matter of Sutton in the FA cup on Monday night and this should give the team a chance to at least restore sanity with a convincing win. Arsene Wenger has been in the news since Wednesday night as pundits, fans and analyst have had their say on his career and the time for him to finally call it quit. However, for fans of football, especially followers of the Premier league, how best do you think Arsene Wenger will be remembered? The manager that re-defined the style of English football, the man who helped them make that move from Highbury to the Emirates, the manager who has failed to win the league in 13 years, the manager who has seen his team knocked out in the second round of the Champions league for the last six years (maybe seven) and who has never won the big trophy, how best will fans remember the French man if he does eventually reject the new contract offered and call it quit at the end of this season?

**Share your thoughts below in the comments section.

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:

This Weekend (29/01/2016)

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.

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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.

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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.

sinisa

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.

Mancini orders

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

This Weekend (02/01/15)

Its our first installment of the weekend’s preview of the top matches in Europe and across the world. I must say a Happy New Year to all readers of this column and the website as a whole; I wish you all the great things 2015 has to offer; may this be your best year yet.

As is customary, the English game has continued to keep millions of football fans entertained especially during the festive season as the rest of Europe remain on their usual winter break. This weekend, we have the Spanish La Liga making a return, whilst we have the F.A. Cup taking center stage in England.

val v real

Valencia v Real Madrid

I understand there was some form of compromise between Real Madrid and AC Milan to treat the result of their Dubai International friendly as irrelevant; however, you cannot take anything away from how “poor” Real were on the night. So with a winning streak currently at 22 still ongoing Real Madrid face an opponent that would love to halt their enviable record. This season, under the guidance of Nuno Espirito Santo and the financial backing of Peter Lim, Valencia look like top four contenders, playing some good attractive football; keeping touch with the top three of Real Madrid, Barcelona  and Atletico Madrid. Unfortunately, Los Che come against a team they have recorded the most victories in La Liga against, although current form shows they have lost five times in a row against Real Madrid and are winless in 12 games.

santo

The Mestalla used to be know as a fortress for a number of the big teams, but Real have found a way to win consistently against Valencia on their home turf  well and comfortably at that; delivering high scoring games with regularity.

Halftimeng Prediction: Real Madrid to make it 23 wins on the spin and six wins in a row against Valencia

 

Real Sociedad v Barcelona

If there is a team that knows how to defeat Barcelona in recent times; its Real Sociedad; however this is a different and struggling Sociedad under the guidance of David Moyes. The Basque club have really struggled this season, winning only three of fourteen matches played so far this season, this makes for very worrying reading as they host a Barcelona side that has won five of their last six matches in La Liga.

Barcelona v Sociedad

With all these in context, the major issues has to be the ability of David Moyes being able to rally his team to continue their current great run of form against Barcelona; Sociedad are undefeated against last five home games against Barcelona dating back to 2007. Barcelona need to stay in touch with their rivals and cannot afford to drop valuable points at the Anoeta, especially as Real Madrid have already been defeated in the same stadium.

Halftimeng Prediction: Barcelona to end its horrific run of results at the Anoeta.

F.A. CUP

FA Cup

The oldest knock out tournament in the world makes its return with a number of intriguing fixtures and as its expected annually there will be upsets, giant killings and fairy tale runs with the likes of Gateshead, Yeovil Town and AFC Wimbledon getting mouth watering ties against some big names in the premier league. In another clash and potentially the tie of the round; there is a small matter of revenge on the cards at the Emirates as the repeat of last year’s F.A. Cup takes center stage with Hull visiting Arsenal as both teams had mixed fortunes in the New Year’s day fixtures.

Arsenal Fa cup

Premier League Leaders, Chelsea have a small matter of a London derby with Watford to navigate, you can expect a number of changes in the Chelsea line up after the White Hart Lane humbling.

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.

THIS WEEKEND (08/03/14)

Halftimeng Glo Npfl logoThis weekend, as we always do, we preview the big games across Europe basically and we will be making stops in England, Italy and Germany. Meanwhile, back home in Nigeria, action returns to the Premier League this weekend with Week 1 games holding across the federation.

Chelsea-vs-Tottenham-Hotspur-Liga-Inggris-2013We begin our trip from England where Chelsea has a good chance of extending her lead at the top of the log with their direct rivals not been involved in the Premier League this weekend. They welcome a decent Spurs side to Stamford Bridge in a london derby on Saturday evening. Tottenham haven’t won at Chelsea in 24 years and don’t look like ending that run just yet, with Chelsea boasting the only remaining unbeaten home record in the Premier League this season. However, Spurs have the best points tally on the road, and will come here looking to win rather than sit back and hope to snatch a draw. Chelsea on the other hand are undefeated in their last 16 home matches against Tottenham in all competitions. Eden Hazard looks like being fit for the game, while for Spurs Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul and Zeki Fryers could all feature.

Halftimeng Prediction: It’s a home game for the Blues, doesn’t look like a game they will lose. Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham.

watch-arsenal-vs-everton-free-online-video-streaming-highlights-and-results1Still in England, a chance for a Wembley final continues this weekend as FA Cup quarter final games hold across the nation. It will be nine years without a trophy if the Gunners fail to succeed in the FA Cup, barring a miraculous Champions League turnaround or an unexpected comeback to take the league title, this sure looks like a competition they will be taking very serious and a win against Everton won’t be a tall dream for the Gunners. West-Brom-v-Man-Utd-300x200Though there might be a little matter of Manchester United visiting the Hawthorns in the league with both games kicking off at the same time but you can be rest assurred that more attention will be giving to the FA Cup match. Should they dispatch of the Toffees and progress to the last four, arguably only Manchester City could be classed as genuine opposition to stop them. The hosts may make changes though, while Everton are likely to name their strongest side available. The Gunners will be without England midfielder Jack Wilshere, while France defender Laurent Koscielny faces a fitness test on a hamstring problem with Thomas Vermaelen on standby to deputise. Everton goalie Joel Robles is set to continue his FA Cup run by replacing Tim Howard for the quarter-final but Phil Jagielka is unlikely to feature having missed last weekend’s win over West Ham and England’s midweek friendly with a hamstring problem.

Halftimeng Prediction: Will be an exciting game and it could go either way.

Our next stop is Italy, where we will be taking a look at two key games.
downloadFirstly, we start from the home of the defending champions, Juventus who will be welcoming Fiorentina in the first of their three encounters this month. Fourth-placed Fiorentina are the only side to have beaten Antonio Conte’s men in the Italian top flight this season when they won 4-2 at Artemio Franchi back in October, so Juve will have a score to settle. This weekend’s clash at Juventus Stadium also gives the two sides an opportunity to size each other up ahead of their UEFA Europa League round-of-16 clash. The champions have recorded five consecutive wins in all competitions and not conceded a goal in their last four games while Fiorentina are without a win in three games in all competitions. Giorgio Chiellini is set to return following a three-week spell on the sidelines with a calf injury. They also welcome back key midfielder Arturo Vidal after he sat out the 2-0 win at Milan last weekend due to a one-match ban, but playmaker Andre Pirlo is unavailable as he serves a one-match

Halftimeng Prediction: A straight win for Juventus is being expected.

hqdefaultThe other big game this weekend in Italy will see Napoli welcome Roma. Napoli again slipped up in their hunt for the top two by drawing at Livorno last time out, and now 17 points off Juventus and 6 points off Roma (who have one match in hand), that simply means that they can’t afford to settle for a draw should Juventus drop points, that will keep their Scudetto title win alive. The pair have met three times already this season with the hosts triumphing on each occasion and Napoli can take confidence from a 3-0 success over Roma in the Coppa Italia in February. Gonzalo Higuain and Raul Albiol are back from suspension and will be back in the starting XI. Goran Pandev and Dusan Zapata are therefore likely to drop to the bench, while Lorenzo Insigne is in contention to play. Jorginho is still the coach’s first option to play alongside Gokhan Inler in midfield. AS Roma’s De Rossi picked up a 3-match suspension in the match against Inter, and Radja Nainggolan is the man to cover for his absence. Maicon seems to be fully recovered, so Vasilis Torosidis may move to the left side of the defence.

Halftimeng Prediction: A score draw!!!

imagesAnd finally, we stop in Germany where Wolfsburg welcome the mighty Bayern Munich to the Volkswagen Arena on Saturday. Bayern Munich sit comfortably in the top spot of the Bundesliga already 20 points ahead of the second placed Dortmund with 11 games remaining. Pep Guardiola’s men are still unbeaten in the league as they have won 21 games from 23 games drawing only 2 matches. So they will be playing this match just to extend their unbeaten streak rather than the 3 points. However, Wolfsburg will be more than happy if they managed to get anything from this match. Dieter Hecking’s will be looking to quallify for the year’s Champions League. If they manage to get all 3 points which is very unlikely to happen, they will see themselves rise to the 4th position, depending on results from other centres. Wolfsburg are currently in the 5th position with 39 points from 23 games played. Wolfsburg have only managed to find the net on three occasions in nine subsequent league meetings with Bayern, failing to score in the last five. Christian Träsch is suspended, meaning Patrick Ochs will start at right-back. Maximilian Arnold could replace the suspended Luiz Gustavo in central midfield, with Daniel Caligiuri filling in on the right-wing. Meanwhile, Bayern will be without the services of Muller (hamstring), who settled this fixture last time around.

Halftimeng Prediciton: Bayern to win comfortably.