Champions League Preview

Champions League tips, 2/10/12

Spartak Moscow v Celtic, 17:00

It is a measure of the task facing Neil Lennon that Spartak Moscow put two goals past Barcelona at the Nou Camp and very nearly upset the Spanish behemoth in the opening round of games, and of course the fact they only nearly managed to win means the Russians also have more motivation to get three point here, combined with the extra belief. Celtic did well to get a point in their first game, but to have a realistic chance of joining Barca in the next round they need to start winning. WilliamHill have 15/2 on a 1-1, which would be a good result and could be made possible by changes to the Spartak lineup.

Right-back Adam Matthews is a doubt for Celtic’s Champions League clash with Spartak Moscow, and Lassad Nouioui is out with a calf injury but Georgios Samaras, Beram Kayal and Joe Ledley are all on the comeback trail, and could feature this evening. Spartak will be without first-choice goalkeeper Andriy Dykan, captain Sergei Parshivlyuk, Brazil international Romulo and leading striker Welliton, while Evgeni Makeev, Nicolas Pareja, Marek Suchy and Kirill Kombarov are all doubtful in fitness terms.

 

CFR Cluj v Manchester United, 19:45

Although Cluj are only a recent addition to the pantheon of European sides in the consciousness of many people, their run last year and a 2-0 win over Portuguese outfit Braga in the opening round of this group have proved they are no mugs, and for Manchester United to get three point this eveing will be no easy task. A win over Galatasary in their first game got them off to a good start, but the memory of last year and the Europa League will still haunt the manager as he plots a route to the knockout stages. The 5’s with SkyBet on United to win by 3 or more may be a bit insulting to Cluj, but the Reds do play well against the smaller teams.

Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Antonio Valencia were missing from the Manchester United squad which travelled to CFR Cluj, with Sir Alex Ferguson being forced for fitness reasons to dilute the quality of his travelling band.

 

FC Nordsjaelland v Chelsea, 19:45

Danish teams rarely make an impact in the Champions League and tonight the home team have a real chance to change that. FC Nordsjaelland are not a famous or easily pronounced name in the game, but playing the champions is an opportunity for their players to gain exposure and potentially a famous win, if things go their way. Chelsea are a very good team, but there is a slight lack of depth to the squad which suggests they could be vulnerable with too many changes. However, with Fernando Torres on form and fit, they are dangerous and the Spaniard is 7/2 to score the opener with StanJames.

Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge misses out with a hamstring problem, and Frank Lampard is set to return to the side as Roberto Di Matteo rotates in order to keep everyone happy and fit. Although it will please the player, the club will need to monitor Fernando Torres as the Spain star has started every game this season, and has a history of fragility.

Champions League tips, 19/09/12

Chelsea v Juventus, 19:45

Although they have had a few wobbles in recent weeks Juventus have to be considered one of the form clubs in Europe, as they haven’t lost in forty or so league matches and provided the core of the fairly successful Italian side in the European Championships. Chelsea’s position as winner of the tournament last year will neither intimidate or impress their visitors for the evening, and it will be very interesting to see how this new set of Blues get on against true European footballing royalty. If the handshakes go off without incident this could be a really great encounter, but I do worry the Turin-based outfit won’t want to commit to attacking if it means they might lose, and for that reason the 6/1 with Ladbrokes on a 1-1 would be my pick.

One absentee the Juventus fans will be concerned about is coach and former player Antonio Conte, who has been handed a halfway-house sort of punishment for not disclosing what he knew about match-fixing whilst in charge at Siena.

 

Manchester United v Galatasaray, 19:45

Last season was the culmination of a number of factors for United that contributed to their European downfall, most notably a complacency in the league that is being stamped out and a lack of true class the club hopes to have rectified over the summer in signing Robin Van Persie and others. Galatasary are traditionally nightmarishly difficult to play in their own back yard, but rubbish on the road and considered easy pickings, but a side with the talent and unpredictability of the Turks can never be taken for granted. United have been patchy in the league, but the 3/1 on RVP scoring first with Bet365 is borne out by his excellent start.

Patrice Evra is set to return having recovered from injury, as could Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, and Darren Fletcher, all of whom have been suffering with injuries or illness. Galatasaray defenders Tomas Ujfalusi and Sabri Sarioglu are both out injured, and form striker Umut Bulut is set to partner former Bolton Wanderers forward Johan Elmander up front.

Champions League tips, 18/09/12

Montpellier v Arsenal, 19:45

On paper this isn’t the ideal draw for Arsenal, with a team that comes from one of the improving leagues in Europe ready to dethrone one of the former greats, but Montpellier have had a shocking start to their domestic campaign and the press is France generally seems to be focussing on whether the home team can get a point. Arsenal fans were happy to see their team beat Liverpool and Southampton already this term, but last year did highlight a gap between themselves and the top teams in Europe they will have hoped to close over the summer. At 6’s to win by 2 goals with SkyBet Arsenal are clearly fancied, and for a good reason.

Olivier Giroud is returning to his former club for this game, and given the less-than-spectacular start he has made to his time at Arsenal he may look around his old stomping ground wistfully, wondering if London was a mistake.

 

Real Madrid v Manchester City, 19:45

Well, this is a game played a million times on FIFA13, or whatever the latest football game preventing the kids from going out to play football is, but now we get a real clash of the cash in the group stages of the Champions League. Prior to the competition draw, some suggested this as a potential final to make the mouth water but we’re in for a treat as it open up the group. So far this term Real haven’t quite hit the heights they would like, much to the chagrin of Jose Mourinho, but a big game can fire top players back onto form. Carlos Tevez scoring first nets you a 9/1 return with Coral, and he’ll be key if Aguero can’t make kick-off.

The return of Sergio Aguero could be a big boost for the away side this evening, and the man with experience in Spain to go with his huge talent may be over his knee injury. Likewise Mario Balotelli is available after eye surgery and could feature, and Gareth Barry is also in contention. However, Micah Richards remains sidelined and centre-back Kolo Toure has not been registered for the competition.

Free Footy tips, 19th May 2012

Bayern Munich v Chelsea, 19:45

It seems as though there has rarely, if ever before been a Champions League final as big as this for so many reasons. Just the semi-finals cost Europe’s top club their visionary boss after Pep Guardiola proved he doesn’t cope quite as well with defeat as victory, and after several months of speculation that this would be an all-Spanish affair the Real/Barca bandwagon was halted. Now, two sides guilty of spoiling every 12 year-old FIFA fanatic’s day come face to face in what could be a fantastic event.

Bayern are as much playing at home as any side can be in a major final, even if a lot of their season-ticket holders will not be in the ground due to UEFA allocations, and the necessity of greasing palms. They are missing less important players than Chelsea, both in number and influence, and almost certainly have the better side on paper, but a lot of that was also true about Barcelona and the Londoners managed to defeat them, so don’t rule Roberto di Matteo’s side out.

Chelsea caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo is “very hopeful” Gary Cahill and David Luiz will be fit to start the final while Florent Malouda will train on Friday night after a hamstring problem of his own but seems further from full fitness. John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles are all suspended, as are Bayern’s Luiz Gustavo, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber.

Bayern come in at 4/5 with PaddyPower as winners, with Chelsea 19/5 with 188Bet, but it’s the 8/1 with VictorChandler on a 2-1 Munich win that I’d be tempted by. I don’t rule Chelsea out, as they showed they can beat anyone on their day, but I’d really struggle to back them for this game.

 

 

West Ham v Blackpool, 15:00

It looked for most of this season like West Ham were going to have little or no trouble getting out of the Championship, such was the solidity of their defence and consistency of their form, but as things tightened up the Hammers fell away and they are now in a one-off, winner takes all match to get back to where they once belonged. You’d think a lot of Hammers fans would be disappointed about this, and it will be very interesting to see what the fallout is if they fail.

In Sam Allardyce the Hammers have a fairly divisive leader, even amongst the Upton Park faithful, and the same is true for Blackpool boss Ian Holloway. For every person who found him amusing during his spell in the Premiership there was another fan that couldn’t stand the West Country burr and stretched clichés, but his side were a good addition to the Premier League, with an attacking ethos and good spirit, and no-one would be sad to see them back.

Midfielder Jack Collison has handed West Ham a major fitness boost ahead of the Championship play-off final with Blackpool on Saturday. The 23-year-old has recovered from the dislocated shoulder he suffered in the semi-final second leg against Cardiff, leaving both managers with basically fully fit squads to pick from.

Favourites West Ham are available as winners with BetFred at 20/21, while Blackpool are definite underdogs, best priced with BoyleSports as a 16/5 shot. I can see this one going to penalties personally, with BlueSquare offering 14/1 on a 2-2 draw. Blackpool are a good side going forward, but will need to be aware of the threat players like Collison and Carlton Cole will cause.

 

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich tips, 25th April

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich, 19:45, (agg. 1-2)

 

Real Madrid at present is ‘the team Jose built’ and although the Special One hasn’t been there as long as a Ferguson, for example, his reign may prove a useful lesson for the club owners. Chopping and changing used to produce results in the days of Figo and Zidane, but these days it seems beating Barcelona requires a longer view and that is just what the Portuguese genius has provided. There is still a question to be answered over the ability of star turn Ronaldo to produce under the huge pressure of an international or top European setting, but his goal against Barcelona on Saturday will have given him the belief he can do that more regularly.

Bayern have a chance to do something very rare, that being compete for and potentially win the Champions League at their own stadium, with the final due to be held there. The German team have a great combination of youth and experience, and massive amounts of quality throughout, and the fact Frank Ribery had his best game for months in the first leg is yet more encouragement. He, along with Robben and Muller, Gomez and Neuer will need to be on top of their form for the full duration, as Real can break at incredible speed, but for me this game is nearly even-money to go either way, such is the overall quality on show.

Suspension-wise, with the final in mind Madrid’s Xabi Alonso, Fabio Coentrao, Higuain and Sergio Ramos will all have to be careful while seven Bayern players are on their last warning, including Thomas Muller and captain Philipp Lahm. The favourite score for Real Madrid to qualify is 2-0 at 17/2 (BetFair), although Bayern are given some hope by the bookies. The TV companies seems to have decided that Real and Barcelona will go through, but I think we could be talking about a different game to that come Thursday morning.

Free Footy Tips, 24th April 2012

Barcelona v Chelsea, 19:45

In his press conference yesterday evening Roberto di Matteo made a sincere promise to be positive and attacking in his efforts to guide his team into the Champions League final, but I’m pretty certain the man who penned those words also had a hand in composing Ryan Giggs’ wedding vows and that bit in Titanic where she says “I’ll never let you go” before the other one drowns. Chelsea know exactly what they have to do in this match, which is defend manfully and be alert to any potential opportunity that may come their way, but committing to an open match is not part of the plan.

Didier Drogba has travelled after he missed Saturday’s Premier League draw at Arsenal, most likely with an injury sustained in throwing himself to the floor in the first leg. Barcelona’s Gerard Pique hopes to be fit after missing the first leg and the 2-1 home league defeat by Real Madrid, as does Cesc Fabregas. VictorChandler have 11/1 on a 2-1 home win, putting Chelsea through, but I’m sure all the clever money is backing Barca.

 

Aston Villa v Bolton, 19:45

This is a match with two teams equally motivated by events in football and away from it. Bolton have the Lazarus-like tale of Fabrice Muamba to inspire them, whilst Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov was recently diagnosed with acute leukaemia. There are problems on the pitch too, more so for the away side, but neither of these two are safe from relegation. Bolton are playing a game in hand that, if won, will take them to the brink of escaping the relegation zone, and no further, whilst Villa need one win to breathe easy and make plans for next term.

Aston Villa’s James Collins is doubtful, but Alex McLeish is hopeful that Gabby Agbonlahor will overcome a shoulder problem, while Ciaran Clark could return. Bolton have injury concerns over Mark Davies and Darren Pratley. Davies limped off at the end of Saturday’s draw with Swansea, while Pratley missed the game with a virus. WilliamHill have 14/1 on a 2-2 draw, which wouldn’t be good for Bolton at all.

 

Champions League tips, 18th April 2012

Chelsea v Barcelona, 19:45

We all know that Chelsea felt cheated last time they lost to Barca at this stage of the Champions League, and most of us also remember the disgraceful behaviour of their players as they threw childish paddies about the defeat. Didier Drogba in particular should never live that down, but with any luck the fact they are all a little bit older will mean that whatever happens, we at least won’t have to endure that level of idiocy from any of the London side this time around.

Barcelona are hardly a paragon of virtue themselves, with the likes of Busquets and Pedro never far from a dive, but the way they play the game makes it hard not to love them, and I for one can see this being a bad evening for the home side. The Chelsea midfield is slower, and older than it was the last time these met, and the likes of Lampard and Essien are so diminished as to be unrecognisable at times, particularly the Englishman wearing the treacle boots.

Chelsea will be without defender David Luiz for the game after the Brazilian centre-half injured his hamstring during the FA Cup win over Tottenham at the weekend. Gary Cahill could start in his place while Branislav Ivanovic is available, and this is shame for Roberto di Matteo. Since his arrival at the club Cahill has really struggled with the step up, while Luiz has been sticking it to his critics with some fantastic performances.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has been out with a thigh strain but is back in contention, while David Villa and Eric Abidal remain sidelined, Abidal with a potentially career-ending surgery. Barcelona aren’t the best at the back, but former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano has become a key part of their team, and is a fairly accomplished replacement should Pique not make the eleven.

Because he’s playing I’ll give you the odds on Messi as first goalscorer, StanJames leading the way at 3/1. Ladbrokes have 9/2 on Barcelona winning by two goals, and most of the bookies seem to think the Spaniards will emerge victorious. I’d be genuinely amazed if the home side managed a 2-0, or something like that, but anything can happen, I suppose.

Champions League tips, 17th April 2012

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid, 19:45

Amazingly, Bayern have never lost a home match to Real Madrid, and in the three semi-finals between the sides the Spaniards have only emerged victorious once. Madrid are in extremely clinical form this season, not having lost a single game in the Champions League, but the Bayern team is at that stage where the players seem to have the perfect combination of experience and talent, and this will be a close affair.

For me this is the tie of the round, as I’m entirely unconvinced Chelsea can match Barcelona, and this game also contains a brilliant battle of the minds between legends of management. The play will be edgy and tight, with the Spaniards the absolute masters of the counter attack and going from one end of the pitch to the other in a very short space of time, and that will force Bayern to play conservatively to some extent as they won’t want to concede and away goal.

Bayern are set to bring back Franck Ribery, Mario Gomez and Philipp Lahm after the three players were rested for the draw with Mainz at the weekend. Bastian Schweinsteiger could start after returning from suspension with Luiz Gustavo also in contention, but Daniel Van Buyten and Breno are both injured. Ribery’s form has been criticised recently, and if he doesn’t perform it could be the end for him, with Shaqiri arriving in the summer.

For Real, Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria and Kaka could start for the visitors after being consigned to the substitutes bench in the Liga win over Sporting Gijon on Saturday. Xabi Alonso returns after a domestic suspension, but Ricardo Carvalho and Lassana Diarra remain on the injury list. Ronaldo will undoubtedly be the main threat, but with the likes of Kaka, Ozil and di Maria available Bayern can’t afford to focus solely on the Portuguese.

Ronaldo is a 4/1 shot with SkyBet to score first, but seeing as I’m going to say I like the 12/1 with Bet365 on a 0-0 that can’t be my bet. The bookies are more in favour of a 1-1 (6’s, VictorChandler), but I went for a bit of value.

Champions League tips, 4th April 2012

Cheslea v Benfica, 19:45 (agg. 1-0)

The winner of this tie will go into the last four knowing they are not expected to make any kind of impact on the final. As good as the Benfica team is at present, they can’t honestly say that anyone is putting them on a level with Bayern, Barcelona or Real Madrid, the likely other qualifiers, and Chelsea are basically killing time before their next spending spree. The question for the Blues right now is who will still be at Stamford Bridge when that spree begins.

 

However, the longer this unexpected European Cup run goes on, the larger the chances become that it may be the flat faced Italian, di Matteo, who is given the next lot of cash to spend. A win in this round would make it three games further than anyone was expecting of him and his charges and the potential for a two-leg battle with the elite of the continent will have Chelsea fans drooling. Bayern and Real are solid, talented and massively experienced, but I’d fancy the Barca tie to be an absolute classic.

 

Right now, though, the home side have a decision to make about how defensive they will be. Benfica are not to be taken lightly, and with the likes of Gaitan and Cardozo operating in the final third for them it will be a real challenge for the home back four to stay focussed on stopping any potential counter-attack. Torres is 5’s with VictorChandler to score first, and although I backed him to do so last week and was let down, the improvement in his form is unmissable.

FA Cup/Champions League tips, 27th March 2012

Benfica v Chelsea, 19:45

It’s getting quite tough to know what to expect from the Blues at the moment, especially in Europe. Playing the way they did against Napoli at Stamford Bridge they should progress past Benfica, but the reality is that the Portuguese side are more than capable of knocking Chelsea out and Roberto di Matteo off his perch. This competition is the best chance the Italian has of taking the job full-time, and the expected return of Branislav Ivanovic will be a defensive boost for Bobby.

In terms of the tie, starting away from home gives Chelsea an advantage overall, but I’d say this game will be one they’ll struggle to win, so the 10/3 with Ladbrokes on a 1-goal win for Benfica seems most prudent.

 

Spurs v Bolton, 19:30

Enough has been written about what happened last time this game was started for now, so we’ll focus on this match. Bolton and Tottenham have both played since then and neither side has their full attention on the cup. Spurs are desperate to hang onto the top four after being considered title contenders for a bit, while the away team are battling bravely, gamely but not particularly successfully against relegation at present.

Tottenham defender Michael Dawson, goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, and midfielder Tom Huddlestone are all missing through injury. Bolton manager Owen Coyle says recent signing winger Gregg Wylde will not make his Wanderers debut as his registration is not complete yet. Bet365 have 9/1 on a 2-1 Spurs win, possibly reflecting their poor league form of late.

 

Sunderland v Everton, 20:00

In the reverse of the other game in the cup this game is pretty much the whole season of these two teams, to the extent that Everton have sacrificed a Merseyside derby in an attempt to keep their best eleven fresh. The home side will be pleased to take Everton to a replay, and the form of James McClean will give them hope of making it to the semi-final against Liverpool, but the noises coming out of the Everton camp suggest they are champing at the bit to get to Wembley.

Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson and full-back Phil Bardsley, who were unwell, are fit, but John O’Shea and Kieran Richardson are out with calf problems. Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar is cup-tied so Darron Gibson is expected to keep his place, but Jack Rodwell and Seamus Coleman are doubtful. James McClean is available at 7/2 with Bet365 as an anytime scorer, and the winger is starting to get into the box more often for the Black Cats.