Some Fans Are On The Pitch…
This week’s title is an allusion to the fact that a number of leagues are already decided as we enter the final few weeks of the seasons around Europe. Last weekend saw Borussia Dortmund and Charlton seal their respective leagues and provide decent paydays for all who followed me in on them pre-season. Real Madrid also pretty much wrapped up La Liga by finally beating a tired looking Barcelona at the Camp Nou. We also saw a swing in the race for the Premier League title, letting Man City back in and making Monday night’s Manchester derby the biggest for quite some time.
Midweek was taken up by European competition semi finals once again. In a massive upset, both of Spain’s giants exited the Champions League to leave Chelsea and Bayern to play out the final in Munich. There can rarely have been a bigger shock than Chelsea somehow losing one centre back early to injury and falling one behind, then losing their moronic captain to a sending off and going two behind, before scoring themselves and somehow holding on for a memorable victory. Once Terry had been removed I even found myself able to get behind them! Barcelona were reduced to looking like Arsenal can at times, with no idea how to breach a committed and disciplined defence. I’m no hater of them, although they can be boring, but I think the more deserving side on the night won.
In the other semi Real raced into a two goal lead, both courtesy of Ronaldo, and then seemed confused as to how to approach the rest of the match. This apprehension allowed Bayern to come on to them and they duly scored to take the tie to extra time and then penalties. After a selection of poor penalties and misses Bayern won through Schweinsteiger’s cool fifth penalty.
In the Europa League we will see an all-Spanish final contested by Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in Bucharest. Both these sides have entertained for much of the tournament and possess strikers in Llorente and Falcao that many big clubs covet. In Bilbao’s case, it is just reward for the bold decision made in appointing Marcelo Bielsa as manager and letting him try to change their entire playing style.
Music comes courtesy of The Ramones with the belting Commando.
West Brom v Aston Villa, Saturday 1500
A Midlands derby with lots riding on it for the away side. West Brom have looked good again this season under Roy Hodgson’s astute management and he will surely have taken some satisfaction in beating Liverpool at Anfield last weekend. He may well not have been the right man for the job when there, but he was chased out in a disgusting manner and in Dalglish, the fan’s choice, they have looked even worse than under Woy’s management. Hodgson has made WBA hard to beat with a defence who know their roles, and two central midfielders who know they should always make sure the defence is protected before venturing forward. He has an enviable choice of forwards with the unpredictable Odemwingie, hard working Shane Long and also the immensely strong Marc-Antoine Fortune to choose from. Odemwingie is a fantastic player when the mood takes him and can link very well with Yusuf Mulumbu. With both these starting Villa’s defenders wont be looking forward to the trip to the Hawthorns.
Villa are yet to pull clear of the relegation fight and the reverse from 1-0 up to 2-1 down in five minutes at home on Tuesday shows how poor they are. They have not won in over ten matches now, looking poor at the back and worse in attack. The loss of Darren Bent to injury has shown the paucity of attacking options McLeish has at his disposal. With his normal choice to have nine behind the ball and one up top, it cannot work when the one is the godawful Emile Heskey. At Heskey’s peak I thought he was pretty dire, and as he approaches the end of his career he looks dreadful. Villa’s chairman should hang his head in shame if they go down as McLeish’s record clearly showed he was a poor manager and the fans made their feelings clear from the moment it was mentioned.
Back West Bromwich Albion at 2.2 with Stan James.
Norwich City v Liverpool, Saturday 1730
After all the talk of how brilliant Brendan Rodgers is, it is Paul Lambert who is now getting some credit. And rightly so, with his Norwich side looking to finish the highest of all the promoted clubs, and also having rarely looked outclassed by any side this season. With the amount of times I tipped them this season it is obvious I thought they had enough to stay up (and even flourish) but they were tipped by most to go straight back down. Their collection of players who have been excellent at lower levels and hungry to prove themselves has worked wonders, and has probably helped to keep a good spirit with no obvious stars to rock the boat. From the goalkeeper John Ruddy (ex-U’s didn’t you know!?), right through to hulking striker Grant Holt they have all performed when called upon. The fact these two have been mentioned as outsiders for England’s Euro 2012 squad tells you how well they’ve done. They played well at Anfield and earned a draw and they are more than capable of going one better at Carrow Road.
Liverpool eh? What a shower they’ve been since Christmas. If Kenny stays next season I would seriously advise laying them every week as I am certain it will yield profit over the course of a season. They were possibly unlucky last week to lose to WBA at Anfield, having dominated play and with only a silly mistake allowing Odemwingie in to score. However, the lack of goals is no rare occurrence this season and is a problem Dalglish should have fixed a long time ago. He spent a fortune on Carroll, and then Downing and Adam as they could presumably provide good balls for the big man to contest. Downing has been horrendous with not a goal or assist to his name in the league and Adam has become the scapegoat for large sections of the crowd for the overspending on average players. If Kenny clings to his job expect much of the same next season, I have no faith he can adjust to the modern game tactically or scout properly.
Back Norwich Draw No Bet at 2.75 with Paddy Power.
Man City v Man Utd, Monday 2000
The Big One! I am loathe to give a prediction for this match at this moment before there is any team news. I would be inclined to follow City’s home form and also their better recent form, but they are quite short at 2.2ish at present. I’ll wait and those who follow on Twitter @TopTopTips will see my prediction on Monday afternoon/evening.
Getafe v Mallorca, Saturday 1700
Two sides with little to play for meet on Saturday evening in Madrid. Getafe sit three points off Athletic Bilbao for a Europa League place next season, but are in eleventh spot as there are still so many sides with hopes of a European spot in Spain this season. At home this season, they have again been in good nick with a record of eight wins, five draws and only three losses. Their away form has let them down, explaining their league position, but at home in their little bowl ground they are very hard to beat. They have also won the last four home matches by a combined score of eleven to two and have beaten Valencia 3-1 in that run. They could yet get a Europa spot if they can pull something out in their away matches as well as at home.
Mallorca sit one spot below Getafe, but have been more bothered with relegation than Europe for much of the season. They are another of the many sides in Spain that are completely broke (actually in large amounts of debt) due to the TV monopoly Barca and Real hold at present. On the road they go four wins, five draws and eight losses scoring seventeen and conceding twenty six so far. They have actually won two of the last five away, but they were tight victories over the two hopeless bottom clubs and should be treated as such.
Back Getafe at 2.0 with William Hill.
Bologna v Genoa, Sunday 1130
Bologna have been on a very good run since the festive period, seeing them only lose three times having lost nine before the break. They looked to be a certainty for the drop, but have made themselves very tough to beat and ground out victories that would have been losses before. They have won four, drawn three and lost two at home since the change of manager at Christmas and that’s a respectable record that would have made mid-table a certainty over the whole season. They have tailed off slightly of late with two 1-1 draws in their last two matches having seen themselves all but safe now.
Some of you may have seen the pictures of the Genoa match last weekend being halted by their Ultras screaming for play to stop and the players to remove their shirts as they weren’t fit to wear them. Thankfully after some talking between players and fans, this was halted and the match was resumed. Unfortunately they still saw Genoa lose 4-1 to Siena at home, combined with the 1-0 loss to AC on Wednesday they are only one point above the Serie B play-off place. It sort of serves them right for allowing the big clubs to cherry pick their best players for a few years now and has left them a shadow of the side that was challenging for Europe three years ago.
Back Bologna at 2.7 with William Hill.
Hamburg v Mainz 05, Saturday 1430
Hamburg have appeared many times in the column this season due to them being absolutely awful. They can still be relegated to the Bundesliga II for the first time in their history if results in the last two games go against them. They have snuck a draw and a win out of their last two matches to fortunately leave them five points clear of the relegation spots with two to play, but many would not have shed a tear at them departing as they have offered little to the neutral. The summer transfer policy of Frank Arnesen signing the players he brought to Chelsea as youths and never made the grade was as bad as it sounds. Many were hopelessly out of their depth thrust into a major European league and huge changes will be needed to stop next season being another battle for survival. A home record of won only three, drawn six and lost seven means that they have actually been worse in front of their critical fans than on the road.
Mainz have been up and down all season long. They definitely have the capability to give most teams a tough game, as seen in holding Bayern to a draw the weekend before last, but have struggled for consistency. They have been draw specialists on the road with a lack of goals meaning they have struggled to convert these into wins. They go two wins, eight draws and six losses away and have very little to play for now. I think with Hamburg all but safe Mainz should be able to play out another low scoring draw here.
Back the Draw at 3.5 with Ladbrokes.
Trabzonspor v Galatasaray, Saturday 1700
Last weekend Gala let us down in somehow conspiring to dominate the game yet lose at home to eternal city rivals Fenerbahce . This should be a different match altogether. Conspiracy theories abound that after Fener bought the title from Trabzon last season they may well ease off in this and go all out against Fener later on to deny them another crown. Regardless of this, Gala have much the better side and Yilmaz is once again missing for Trabzon. As mentioned last week, Yilmaz is central to Trabzon’s success recently, this season he has scored thirty two of his side’s goals. They still had too much for Besiktas last weekend in his absence, but Gala will be a much harder proposition.
Gala will be really motivated for this with the perceived injustice of losing to Fener’s only two shots last Sunday afternoon. Gala had all the play and should have been well ahead, but failed to take their chances and Fener punished them. In all honesty, the only side that have looked anywhere near Gala’s level this season are Fener, and they should still clinch the title by beating Trabzon and Besiktas in the play-offs. They are strong throughout the side and have no injury concerns again.
Back Galatasaray at 2.25 with SportingBet.
Fenerbahce v Besiktas, Sunday 1700
Fener will be on a high after the previously mentioned win against Gala in their rival’s stadium last Sunday. Whilst they may not have deserved it, this will probably only fuel their confidence going into this match. Their weakness this season has been away from home and their poor defence. Both of these problems should be untested in the main by a Besiktas side that have again been hit and miss in the play-offs. The attacking threat of Moussa Sow and Alex Da Silva should be more than enough to see off Besiktas and put pressure back on Gala.
Besiktas should have hammered a weakened Trabzon side last weekend, but managed to lose 1-0. They were devoid of ideas for the most part and this has been the case quite often away from home this season. They have some players of very decent pedigree such as Simao and Quaresma, but they only seem to turn it on infrequently and most regularly at home. They are bottom of the Super Final group now and look destined to finish there.
Back Fener -1.0 Asian Handicap at 2.06 with BetVictor.