A Right Royal Midweek…
The title this week refers to my attendance at the Reading v Nottingham Forest match midweek where a late Mikele Liegertwood goal confirmed Reading’s return to the Premier League next season. Having been languishing in 16th as late as November, it is a fine achievement by Brian McDermott and his players to haul themselves to a position where a positive result over the weekend could actually see them win the Championship. With the change of ownership expected over the summer, there should be some interesting times ahead.
It has been fairly quiet apart from that match domestically with the Champions League and Europa League semi-finals taking centre stage. Both Spanish sides were strongly fancied to meet in the final of the Champions League, but both go into their home second legs with one goal deficits to overcome. They will both definitely like their chances of overturning them though with their wealth of attacking options and vociferous home support.
I would expect the Chelsea match at some point to again descend into a fine show of cheating. With the likes of Drogba, Busquets, Alves etc… all in action, it can only really be that way. The Europa League matches were again the more exciting ones to watch for a neutral, with plenty of attacking and less gamesmanship on the whole. Atletico Madrid won 4-2 in the all-Spanish match against Valencia and should now hold on for the final. Sporting take a 2-1 lead to the cauldron that is San Mames against Athletic Bilbao. Having scored freely all season, Bilbao will fancy their chances of progessing.
Music this week is from Beatsteaks with Hello Joe.
Arsenal v Chelsea, Saturday 1245
Chelsea are making the short hop across London to take on Arsenal. Arsenal’s fantastic run that took them from a distant fifth right up to third has faltered somewhat of late. They have traditionally struggled against the relegation candidates at the tail end of seasons past and losing to Wigan on Monday continued the trend. They were incredibly sluggish to start and had fallen two behind in fifteen minutes. Whilst they dominated much of the rest of the match, they failed to convert this into goals. It has been noticeable lately that Van Persie seems to have been slightly subdued and they really need him firing again to start getting some goals. This should provide the perfect opportunity.
Chelsea managed to escape from the home leg with Barcelona with a 1-0 win. With around 25% possession and four shots compared to Barca’s twenty five, they may well consider themselves lucky. Didier Drogba was also doing his level best to remind everyone why he used to be so widely despised. He went down like a proverbial sack of shit every time anyone from Barcelona got near him. He also reminded us of his undoubted quality when scoring the decisive goal. It is a crying shame that he will probably be remembered as a lesser player because of his histrionics, but he’ll only have himself to blame. I really think they might leave something out of this match after Tuesday’s exertions. Also, Drogba has been the difference against both Spurs and Barca and I would fully expect Torres to take his place and give him a rest.
Back Arsenal at 2.0 with BetVictor.
QPR v Tottenham, Saturday 1730
I don’t think I’ve backed QPR more than once all season. It has been with good reason to be honest, they’ve been hopeless until very recently. In saying that, their away form still leaves plenty to be desired, but they are at least picking up some points at home now to leave them with a chance of escaping from relegation. I’m definitely no huge fan of Mark Hughes and his managerial abilities, but after spending a lot of money in January to try and turn things round, it does look like he may well have done enough. As mentioned, they have been particularly good at Loftus Road and have been unbeaten in their last four home matches, beating Arsenal, Liverpool and Swansea in that time. Bobby Zamora finally looks to have found some form and that bodes well as he is a useful player for a struggling side.
Spurs’ season has absolutely imploded since being 2-0 up against Arsenal. Redknapp’s lack of rotation has been an issue raised by people before, and it once again looks likely to cost Spurs the Champions League place they looked assured of in February. The likes of Luka Modric and Scott Parker who cover a lot of ground every match look shattered at present, and I don’t foresee them getting a rest. Every summer Redknapp asks for investment in his squad to take them on a level, and every summer he buys players for this reason and ignores them, Steven Pienaar being a recent example. The constant allowance for Gareth Bale’s far too regular forays into the centre of the park is also another reason Modric’s effectiveness has been curtailed as he all too often finds Bale in the way. Basically, if these matches are Redknapp’s England audition, he’s failing.
Back QPR Draw No Bet at 3.0 with Bet365.
Barcelona v Real Madrid, Saturday 1900
El Clasico returns on Saturday night! It’s now all to play for in the Primera with Real drawing with Malaga, Valencia and Villarreal of late to cut their lead to just four points. Barcelona have now won eleven matches in a row in La Liga and can go within a point of Real with five to play with a home win on Saturday night. The win is priced up around the 1.66 mark, and that certainly seems fair, but I will be looking for some extra value elsewhere for the benefit of the column. They can often be slow to go ahead in matches as they wear teams out slowly with their passing and movement and it they never seem in a rush to score. This has often been the case against Real where they can be safe in the knowledge that hotheads like Ramos, Pepe and Ronaldo will be likely to blow up if things are not going their way. For this reason I think there could be a chance of level scores at the break before they go on and win.
Needless to say, Real could really do with not losing this match or the pressure will really begin to heat up. Unfortunately, they again lost their composure against Bayern Munich late in the game on Wednesday night. Whilst I have all the respect in the world for Mourinho’s ability to carve out winning teams, the man’s petulant child act is often carried across to his players when things do not go their way. This can be seen in numerous matches between these two giants where Mourinho has so far failed to get a league win against their rivals. All too often they get frustrated with Barcelona’s dominance and lose their cool. Patience is the only thing asked against Barca and I again fail to see Real keeping their cool.
Back Draw HT/Barcelona FT at 5.0 with Coral.
Real Sociedad v Villarreal, Sunday 1100
Next up from La Liga is this season’s major disappointments Villarreal travelling to Sociedad. Sociedad are the other Basque side along with Bilbao and suffer a bit in comparison. They relaxed their own Basques only policy a number of years ago in an effort to improve the club’s fortunes, and it has been something of an intermittent success. Under John Toshack they almost won the Primera title around a decade ago, but have ambled along ever since. This season has been no different in that respect. They rely on excellent home form to cover up the fact they are often pretty poor on their travels. The backing they receive at home is excellent and along with Bilbao’s home support is most similar to England in terms of passion in all of Spain. This season they go seven wins, five draws and four losses from sixteen home games scoring twenty four and conceding sixteen in that time. This is an excellent record in a league containing powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Villarreal have been a huge disappointment this season and look likely to begin a decline in standards. Under Manuel Pellegrini they were a force to be reckoned with across the continent due to his numerous South American contacts and fine tactical acumen. Since he left though, the brilliant signings and attacking flair have all but disappeared. Nilmar was the sole bit of flair left and he looks a shadow of the player of two years ago thanks to the lack of support he receives. Guiseppe Rossi also being injured for the whole season has not helped, as he was by far their most regular supplier of goals. Their away form reads won two, drawn three and lost eleven. They have only scored a paltry nine times and have conceded a whopping twenty nine. This looks a foregone conclusion.
Back Real Sociedad at 2.4 with BetVictor.
Catania v Atalanta, Saturday 1945
Over to Serie A and it’s Montella’s overachievers Catania hosting another surprise package in Atalanta. I have previously mentioned the fine job Montella is doing in keeping Catania’s heads well above water with a limited budget, and in only his second managerial role. Many expected a season of struggle for the Sicilians, and it is to Montella’s great credit they have never looked anything like in trouble. He is surely destined for bigger things at some point. They sit in eighth position and it has mostly been their away form that has stopped an astonishing push for a European place. Their home record is won eight, drawn five and lost only three with twenty two scored and only twelve conceded. They are without a win in five, but I think this is a good opportunity to get a win again.
Atalanta have also done very well to avoid being anywhere near the relegation places and sit comfortably in mid-table in eleventh spot. Similarly to Catania, they have been reliant upon good home form for this, and have been very hit and miss away from home. Their record away is won four, drawn seven and lost five, they have only scored seventeen in those games and that is the main reason for all the draws. This lack of goals is due to not having a prolific striker and therefore basing their tactics around packing the defence and midfield, and hoping to nick a goal for a win. It works sometimes, but against Catania’s mean defence it may come unstuck.
Back Catania at 2.25 with BetVictor.
Juventus v Roma, Sunday 1945
Juventus are still unbeaten this season and an awful lot of that is down to the defence that Antonio Conte has built his side upon. They are happy to grind out results and it’s easy to understand why he has gone down this route. Juve have not fully recovered from their demotion to Serie B in terms of free-flowing football and crushing all before them. The quickest route to success is often to make your team hard to beat and then move on from there. It is much easier to build a solid defence and midfield, then search for those players who will provide the flair and know-how further forward. In all thirty two matches this season Juve have only conceded eighteen goals and will always fancy themselves to keep a clean sheet and nick a goal or two.
Roma have featured many times in their attempts to try a whole new way of approaching the game in Italy. As mentioned many times before, this has had very mixed results so far. There have been some excellent results, but there have been weeks where the football has been dreadful. Similarly, some signings have been excellent and some have been major disappointments. Bojan Krkic has always been marked up as one to watch since his Barcelona B and Spain U21 days, but it looks like he has failed to live up to his reputation. Former Chelsea reserve Fabio Borini has looked a much better player than Bojan, and he never got a look in at Chelsea.
Back Juventus To Win To Nil at 2.37 with SpreadEX.
Werder Bremen v Bayern Munich, Sunday 1430
The title was pretty much decided in Germany last week in the favour of all those who followed me at the start of the season following the 6.5 shots Dortmund retaining their crown. Bayern failing to beat Mainz away leave Dortmund needing only a win this weekend to confirm the title. Bremen should see this as a great opportunity to get something from what would normally be a match they would not expect to win. They have not had the best season in recent memory, but they can still qualify for the Europa League if they get the results and others go their way. They’ve been good at home for much of the season and go won eight, drawn four and lost three. They’ve scored twenty eight and conceded eighteen in that time to leave them looking a tough match for anyone.
Bayern now will be focussing their attention on the Champions League tie with Real Madrid as the league is all but a forgone conclusion. I would expect to see the likes of Robben, Ribery and Schweinsteiger all rested this weekend so they are as fresh as can be to try and cling on to their 2-1 lead at the Bernabeu. This will leave them open to a poor result here, and they have had a few already this season away from home. The 0-0 at Mainz last week was a case in point where they find it very hard to get good results if they don’t get an early goal. They can get frustrated and for all Mario Gomez’s goals, he is still not the type to create a chance out of nothing.
Back Werder Bremen at 3.25 with SportingBet.
Trabzonspor v Besiktas, Saturday 1700
We again head to the Super Lig Championship play-offs this weekend and we have Trabzon hosting Besiktas this weekend. Trabzon are missing their only reliable goalscorer this weekend in Buruk Yilmaz, and this will definitely effect their chances of a win. They don’t score much anyway and Yilmaz has over half of their goals. He has scored thirty two out of the sixty goals Trabzon have netted this term and you can imagine in his absence that will really hurt their chances of victory. Trabzon have also lost five out of seventeen at home this term, which is not that bad in most leagues, but as one of the Turkish Big Four you would possibly expect slightly better.
Besiktas have proven to once again be a mixed bag of a side. They have often chosen to sign players with big reputations who have not quite turned it on in the major leagues on big salaries. The likes of Simao, Guti and Quaresma have looked like mercenaries a lot of the time and only turn it on sporadically. In saying this, they do show why they have played in far better competitions when they can be bothered. Manuel Fernandes is the exception to this rule. He impressed a few years ago when on loan at Everton from Valencia and I was surprised when seemingly only Besiktas took a punt on him. He has been probably the best central midfielder in the Super Lig and will certainly make Trabzon’s midfield sweat.
Back Besiktas Draw No Bet at 2.87 with Stan James.
Galatasaray v Fenerbahce, Sunday 1700
Without a doubt the biggest match in Turkey is the Gala v Fener match. It is a huge match on any occasion, but this has been turned into all but a title decider with Gala so far ahead. They sit nine points ahead of their Istanbul rivals at present and should they win it will be over bar the shouting or some sort of monumental collapse. If you also factor in the fact away fans are unwelcome at any of these play-off games it is another card in Gala’s favour. In the regular season Gala only drew three and lost one at home from seventeen, scoring thirty eight and only conceding fourteen. It is a phenomenal record and shows exactly how far ahead of the rest of the field they have been.
Fener have been almost equally as dominant at home this season, but their away record has been way off the mark. They have won six, drawn five and lost six on their travels and it is this that leaves them trailing so far behind Gala this time out. Even signing the likes of Moussa Sow in January have failed to arrest this disparity in their form and they wont relish this trip at all. They failed to beat Gala in their previous league meetings, and I would expect them to fail again and watch their eternal rivals celebrate wrapping up the title.
Back Galatasaray at 2.1 with Stan James.