Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Champions League Semi Finals 2013/14 - Real Madrid v Bayern Munich

Champions League semi finals can be tense, tight occasions but anyone who suffered yesterday’s tedium between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea yesterday should be able to enjoy a much more expansive occasion tonight when the two favourites for the title, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, clash.

A semi final as tightly matched as last night’s encounter, these two sides are as equally matched as Atletico and Chelsea - but with both their strengths coming in attack. Bayern have scored 81 goals in their Bundesliga title defence, 16 in their run to the DFB Pokal final, and 24 in their run to this stage of the Champions League.

Madrid have scored 10 more in their conquest for La Decima, their 12 year hunt for an elusive 10th Champions League title, and 94 goals with 4 games still left in their battle royale with neighbours Atletico and Barcelona for the title, while scoring 15 goals in their Copa Del Rey win.

It’s pretty clear that both these sides have fearsome forward lines, and with the likely narrative of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern dominating possession and Madrid, not unfazed by being given the ball but lethal on the counterattack, we “should” see a more flowing encounter from start to finish.

The two sides are exceptionally finely matched with Munich favourites to go through and favourites to become the first side to retain their title in the Champions League era, although they are in the rare position of second favourites tonight as they travel to Spain for the first leg with Real as short as 11/8 to take a first leg lead and the same price to reach Lisbon.

Munich’s dominance in Germany has made them look like worthy favourites to retain their title and there’s no doubting the individual class of their side, but there is just a slight feeling that despite Gareth Bale being benched thanks to illness and Cristiano Ronaldo coming straight in off a hamstring injury.

Munich’s two league defeats and a draw in their last four games are understandable after retaining the Bundesliga, but their performance against Manchester United when they laboured for a large majority of the tie cast doubt over their level of performance for the first time in Europe this season. They should find chances much easier to come by this time around against a side that will need no invitation to get forward but there were certain defensive issues exposed by United’s counterattacking style that Isco, Di Maria, Benzema and Ronald can all take advantage of. Jerome Boateng and Dante were sprung more than once on the high line at Old Trafford and could be vulnerable in the same way again, a comment that applies to Rafinia, playing at left back with Lahm in the midfield.

It is there that they should hope to win the possession battle but Modric and Xabi Alonso have been arguably Europe’s best creative midfielders this season and alongside Isco they have proven to be fine anchors for a side that looks immensely powerful under Carlo Ancelotti.

In Sergio Romeos and Pepe, Madrid have the same identical weaknesses but Ramos should prove a weapon in particular for dead ball situations going forward, an area with United exploited to take a lead going into the second leg in Germany.

With Madrid’s away woes still an underlying problem; A defeat against Sevilla may yet cost them the La Liga title and honestly speaking, Dortmund should have taken their quarter final to extra time at least, but at the Bernabeu they’re a force to be dealt with, boasting a record of 23 out of 25 home games won this season. Since the turn of the year that record is 12 out of 13 and they have scored at least three goals in each of their last nine games at the Bernabeu, while having won 15 of their last 17 home games in Europe.

The presence of Munich is a mighty test for any side but perhaps it is time for the favourites to meet their match and Ancelotti’s side have the pace and skill to take a lead back to Germany. One would also favour them to make the final instead of Muncih – although the 11/4 on them winning might be a better bet given they’ll be favourites should they reach Libson – but their away day blues are enough of a concern to steer one off course. 7/5 is a fair price about the home win but given Madrid’s own defensive issues the 7/2 about them winning without a clean sheet is just as attractive and a preferred option, with Hills offering 9/2 about Bayern leaving with a lead and no clean sheet, making for an attractive dutch.


2 pts Both teams to score and Real Madrid to win (7/2 Hills)

1 pt Both teams to score and Bayern Munich to win (9/2 Hills)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Champions League Semi Finals 2013/14 - Atletico Madrid v Chelsea

The last time Chelsea faced Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, the scored over their two legs was 6-2 and the beating they received at the hands of the Blues at Stamford Bridge proved enough to bring about a change of manager for the Spanish club before a 2-2 draw with a much changed outfit at the Calderon saw Sergio Aguero break through.

Tonight Chelsea come here as 4/1 outsiders for the first leg of Atletico’s first European semi-final in over 40 years; A sign of just how much has changed in Madrid. The past 4 years have two a pair of Europa League triumphs and last year a Copa Del Rey, but tonight they face Chelsea three wins away from a first La Liga titles and slight favourites to go through to the final in Lisbon.

And nobody could argue that they don’t deserve it. Madrid have been flawless in all competitions this season barring a Copa Del Rey exit to neighbours Real Madrid and a wobble when they suffered two heavy defeats in away games in February but since a draw against Real in the league they have won their last eight games home or away, including the 1-0 win against Barcelona that sees them at this stage tonight, a scoreline that belies just how impressive they were; In the first 25 minutes they had hit both posts and the crossbar, and had the better of the chances for the large majority of the game.

Since their draw against Real, Madrid have shown all the qualities that have bought them to this stage. In their eight games since they’ve conceded just one goal, and won their last 5 at home to nil. In their last 11 they’ve conceded just three and in the Champions league they have the best defence with just 5 goals conceded from 10 matches. The allowance of Thaibut Cortouis to play is a huge boost, with his shot sopping crucial to their progression against Barcelona, and if they add to his total of 26 clean sheets this season tonight they will feel more confident of reaching the final.
Chelsea, however, will be a very different test to the ones they have faced so far. Atielti’s counter attacking style has proven to be too much for nearly all opposition but facing a Jose Mourinho side that would appear to be  – without making overblowing a tired references to parking the bus – set up for containment and to spring upon the counter attack, the style that has favoured them far more in England than when faced with breaking a side down, which has seen some frustrating performances in the league, notably away from home (especially in defeats to Crystal Palace and Aston Villa to name two recent examples, and upon both those occasions wastefulness infront of goal has proven costly.  A changed side, albeit not a weak one, seemed to struggle with profligacy infront of goal once again when a shock loss to Sunderland knocked their title hopes into all but shreds at the weekend.

However with Europe now their only realistic trophy chance to read too much into that performance would prove unhelpful and a siege mentality that Jose has used to such effect could prove to be the spark they need once again. Chelsea ‘s away form in Europe is a worry – they have been held by Galatasaray, were beaten by Basle in the group stages, and while a 3-1 margin of victory flattered PSG in their quarter final they were not undeserving of victory based on a strong start and finish to the match that night.

The same lapses in concentration are not likely to appear here with a team that should present an extremely hard  challenge to break down and from a neutral viewpoint this game is hard to evaluate given Chelsea’s decision to leave Oscar and Schurrle on the bench while Eto’o, their best striker this season, not even present, raising questions as to whether the sharp attacking bursts we saw against PSG or when they bested Manchester City tonight. Atletico have been magnificent and are deserving of favouritism but haven’t looked so comfortable dominating the ball and this may end in a blowout, and I’ll sit on my 40/1 ante post with a hedge of Chelsea on the night.


1 pt Chelsea +0.75 on Asian h’cap (9/10 Bet Victor) 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Chinese Grand Prix 2014

How do you deal with a problem like Mercedes? The modern F1 era has seen much dominance, and seasoned F1 veterans will remember the likes of Ferrari and even Brawn before Red Bull’s three years at the top but by even those comparisons the early dominance of Mercedes has been startling and on all the current evidence only mechanical failure can prevent the works outfit from taking yet another 1-2 in China this weekend.

From testing their dominance has been pretty much unchallenged, with Malaysia bringing yet another unchallenged win, but it was an exciting sprint finish to Bahrain, a race unlikely to be bettered this season and already being talked about as a classic, that bought home just how far clear they truly were of the field. In the 11 laps from the end of the safety car to the race in Sakhir, they pulled 24 seconds clear of the rest of the field, a rate of 2.2 seconds a lap. The fear of a procession is understandable, but with chief executive director Toto Wolff actively encouraging Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to go toe to toe with eachother we were treated to a sterling duel between the two including some of the closest racing seen for a long time. In a race famous for team mate battles, we had the phenomenon of the Red Bull’s, Force India’s, Williams and Ferrari’s all finished in tandem, with the latter pair drawing clear from the field in just 11 laps after the safety car.

Form can change rapidly from circuit to circuit but China, with it’s long straights and sweeping corner complexes, is very similar to Bahrain and those who prospered last week have an ideal opportunity to do so once again. In the qualifying session the field had to deal with heavy and quite sustained rainfall but that didn’t stop Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes from going nearly a full second quicker of both Red Bull’s (with Riccardo once again out-qualifying Vettel) with Nico Rosberg fourth after overcooking the exit of the back straight.

Rosberg will be frustrated with having only qualified fourth and despite being split by the two Red Bulls, he looks to be Hamilton’s main contender by a considerable distance for the top spot of the podium. Mercedes were 1-2 in Malaysia and Bahrain; at no point ever looking like they were going to be caught, and had Hamilton’s car held up the story would likely have been the same in Melbourne too, making the 11/8 on a dual forecast a very tempting option as the forecast is for a dry race tomorrow.

This is also likely to be of huge benefit to Williams, who qualified superbly in Bahrain, Vateri Bottas coming third behind the Mercedes on the grid and Massa starting in seventh, and they were nip and tuck with the Force India’s and Red Bull’s, set for a podium challenge, before the safety car and a three stop strategy that bought them in just outside of the safety car window. Their positions of  sixth and seventh are excellent starting launchpads for a race around a track that won’t be as hard on their rear tyres, a problem for the Williams which was much better in the wet today then in qualifying sessions in Malaysia and Bahrain. With that behind them both should be aiming for strong showings and either of them is an interesting top 6 competitor – with marginal preference for Massa out of the two, but the better bet might come from the man just behind them.  

Their main rivals, the Force India’s, should be amongst the pack battles once again despite a less than ideal qualifying. They’ve had the better of Williams in the qualifying but both Nico Hulkenberg (left) and Sergio Perez especially struggled with the car balance on Saturday in wet conditions. However a dry race is likely to see them in much better shape and Nico Hulkenberg can take advantage of that to push for a fourth straight top 6 finish on the bounce. He starts in eighth, a fair effort considering that Adrian Sutil failed to make Q3 as well, and with Force India’s car in the dry having handled tyre wear well, and with the car arguably the third fastest around he can have high hopes of improving upon his position. A top 6 finish is 11/8, bigger than any price available pre practice, and interesting, but a far better bet would be the evens on him winning Paddy Power’s Group C. His rivals in this market are the McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen, and his team mate Adrian Sutil. There’s a gap of 4 places between him and Button with Magnussen and Sutil 7 and 8 places behind, and while the two McLarens were going well when clutch failures took them out of the running in Bahrain, in third practice and qualifying Nico was comfortably the faster out of the quarter and with a head start of four places and above, evens looks very generous.


6 pts Nico Hulkenberg to win Group C (evs Paddy Power)

2 pts Hamilton/Rosberg dual forecast (11/8 Hills)

Premiership - Saturday 19th April 2014

Tim Sherwood’s time at Tottenham will be remembered more for his “unique management style” (my quote, not anyone else’s, although even being more than 200 miles away from White Hart Lane I can confidently guess that his match notes include Heart and character', 'spirit and desire' and 'endeavour and desire') than anything else but his Tottenham side should be able to get a much needed win chalked up on the board with victory over Fulham today.

On face value the gap between the two teams, along with Spurs’ home advantage – and they have come from 2-0 down to beat Southampton along with smashing Sunderland 5-1 in their last two home games – should be enough but nothing about the 1/2 on offer for a home win or any handicaps makes great appeal given Spurs’ horrendous lack of defensive cohesion. In their last eight games Tottenham have conceded 20 goals including 3 in less than half an hour at West Brom last week. They pulled back that deficit for a hard fought draw to show the attacking shape that that has been seen to an extent under Sherwood.

The appointment of Felix Magath seems to have worked for Fulham with their safety now well in their own hands following back to back wins against major rivals Aston Villa and Norwich, and with a trip to Stoke and home games against Crystal Palace and Hull City to come after this they have a fighting chance of staying in the division next year. However they too have their own defensive problems – They have just one clean sheet in 17 games with 40 goals conceded on the road – and Spurs have scored 11 goals in their last 4. Backing them to win with both teams to score may be the best option Danny Rose, Younes Kaboul, Kyle Naughton and Zeki Fryers have not been the most solid combination this season – while 5 of Spurs’ last 6 games have seen four goals or more. A repeat today is 11/8 with Skybet and looks a realistic possibility.

Elsewhere in the relegation battle Aston Villa may be put in more trouble in their relegation battle with Southampton not ideal visitors for a side that has lost their last 4 games on the bounce. The Saints themselves were losers to Cardiff at St Mary’s last week but were far better than a 4-1 scoreline against Manchester City at the Etihad indicated the week before on their last away trip, ran rings around Tottenham before being pulled back late.

Broadly speaking, Mauricio Pochettino’s side have generally held their form extremely well through the season and of their 6 wins, 5 have come against sides in the bottom half of the table. Villa won the reverse fixture but have enjoyed being on the road far more this season with 10 losses at Villa Park and apart from shock wins against Chelsea and Manchester City, defeats against sides from 4th to 12th. Southampton’s finishing let them down last week but they are still playing like a side on the verges of the top 6 and 7/5 on them putting the recent record straight is more than fair.

Swansea have not been as impressive, but there’s still an argument to suggest that they are worth supporting to beat Newcastle, who have won just 3 games this year. Pardrew’s side are a way clear of the trouble at the bottom but have been the worst side in the league on recent performances with lamentable showings for the last 3 weeks. Swansea are even closer to the relegation zone than their hosts but weren’t disgraced in defeat at home to Chelsea last week when an early red card didn’t help their chances but two of their recent away tips have included bold shows against Everton and Arsenal and they were not without promise in defeat at Hull the time before.

In the tightest title race – or at least the tightest title race between more than two clubs - Manchester City’s dropping of points in defeat against Sunderland in midweek has opened the position wonderfully for Chelsea, who can ready themselves for what has the feeling of a winner takes all match against Liverpool at Anfield next week by putting Poyet’s side all but down.

Wednesday’s resistance, having come after the worst possible start when City took an early lead, was a spirited effort that should have ended with their survival hopes being realistically boosted, but 6 points away from safety, their survival hopes will be ended today with Jose Mournihio’s side not likely to suffer from the lapse that City did.

Ahead of a vital 4 weeks – Chelsea venture to Madrid for the first leg of their Champions League semi final before travelling to Anfield – Chelsea come here fresh without a midweek game and they may face a Sunderland reeling from the  physical and mental punishment of their efforts.

Jose’ Mounrihio’s side may not have excited as much as City through the season – they’ve scored 22 less goals than Pellegrini’s men – but they represent a much more daunting defensive prospect with just 24 goals conceded over the season and only 9 of those infront of the own at Stamford Bridge, where they have 8 wins with clean sheets, a stat that becomes more impressive when you have to allow for 2-1 defeats of title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City. There is a temptation to back Chelsea to give a goal on the handicap but the prices are a tad short and their defensive unit should feel confident of keeping Sunderland shut-out.


1 pt Tottenham to win and both teams to score (15/8 general) 

1 pt Over 3.5 goals (11/8 Skybet, 6/5 general) 

1 pt Southampton (7/5 general)

1 pt Swansea (17/10 general)

2 pts Chelsea to win to nil (21/20 Bet Victor)

Friday, 18 April 2014

Aviva Premiership - Quins v Leicester

We're at the stage of the season that Sir Alex Ferguson christened as "squeaky bum time", and while Richard Cockerill hasn't had such a quote put to him, his Leicester side are once again showing their best coming into the summer. Poor form at the beginning of the season - some of the worst under Cockerill - was caused in no small part by an injury crisis which saw Geoff Parling, and Manu Tuilagi amongst the absentees, but since the turn of the year they have slowly reached the form which saw them take the title in such dominant fashion last year and they come here on a red hot trail of form. March has bought 4 wins out of 5, that defeat coming at what many would call the hardest away trip in Europe, when going down in the Heineken Cup quarter final at Clermont Auvergne in a game that they ended up being unlucky to lose following a 16-0 deficit. They went into that game having scored 108 points in their last three games with thrashings of Newcastle on the road and Exeter infront of the Welford Road faithful before their derby defeat of Northampton to put extra pressure on them for a home semi final, and even in second gear were impressive in dismissing Wasps last weekend. The hosts carry form that is arguably no less impressive, having brushed aside Sale last weekend to follow to a romp over Stade Francais in the Amlin Cup quarters, but Leicester's intensity and form is against the best in Europe and at their current level they may be too much to handle for Quins here. 


4 pts Leciester (10/11 general)