All Still To Play For…
This weekend sees numerous play-offs in England as well as the Champions League final from Munich featuring Chelsea, plenty for English football watchers to get excited about. Play-off matches seem to either be thrillers or edgy, tactical matches, and this can be put down to the huge stakes riding on one match. If there is an early goal, you often see many more as the team behind has no real option but to go for it in the knowledge that there is everything to gain for such an approach. On the other hand, matches can become very stale if both sides refuse to take risks knowing that a slip up could cost them a whole season’s work. Personally, I find either sort of match fascinating so I’m thoroughly looking forward to all the games in store.
This week has seen two major stories concerning English football, the naming of a provisional squad for Euro 2012 and Kenny Dalglish’s sacking from Liverpool. The only real talking point in the England squad is John Terry’s inclusion, presumably at the expense of Rio Ferdinand. They clearly could not be taken together with the legal situation surrounding Terry’s alleged racial abuse of Rio’s brother Anton, so one man had to be left out. I think Roy Hodgson has got this call wrong, but at the end of the day the squad shows how far away England really are from being a force, with or without Rio. The likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Terry were not good enough at their peaks to do anything of note with the national side, so they won’t now either. To include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is exciting, but to persist with the awful Glen Johnson and Stewart Downing should kill any optimism left.
Dalglish flew out to Boston to meet Liverpool’s owners on Wednesday, and paid the price for a horrendous league campaign with his job. With almost the entire back office team also having left, it seems clear that the owners want to start again, and probably distance themselves from the terrible PR that emanated from the club this season. The early news is Roberto Martinez is being interviewed to a mixed response from ‘Pool fans. My opinion is that they won’t do much better than him and they’d be well served getting behind him more than they did for Hodgson as it serves no purpose at all to behave like that. He may not win them the league any time soon, but the reality of the situation is that they are miles off and some good football would be a start for any revival they may make in future, Martinez should bring that at least.
Music comes from Roger Miret and The Disasters with Radio, Radio.
Champions League Final 2012
Bayern Munich v Chelsea, Saturday 1945
Europe’s premier cup competition sees Bayern playing a ‘home’ match against Chelsea in the Allianz Arena. Bayern were mercilessly beaten last weekend in the German Cup final, and this has seen some observers suggesting that Chelsea could well have a chance. The fact that Bayern will have had one eye on this match and Dortmund are a brilliant side seems to have escaped these people. Bayern’s strength is in midfield with Bastian Schweinsteiger dictating things and Robben and Ribery operating out wide. Schweinsteiger has been injured for much of the season, but has been back long enough now to be both fresh and match fit, seriously bad news for Chelsea.
He is everything that England do not have in a central midfielder. He can pass, is mobile, quick and can be very disciplined if he is asked to play a more defensive role for the good of the side. Everyone knows about Robben and Ribery, they are two of the last true wingers left in football and a major reason why Mario Gomez scores so many. He is not the best football player you will ever see, but he is big and strong and has a knack of getting in the right positions to score. Defence is probably Bayern’s weakness, but I would expect Chelsea to again rely very much upon Didier Drogba doing most of the attacking on his own with only Juan Mata offering support. If Schweinsteiger helps out, Bayern should cope.
Chelsea once again have a chance to win the trophy Roman Abramovich most craves. However, they will have to do it the hard way with numerous injuries and suspensions as well as playing in Munich. They currently have no available centre backs, with Gary Cahill and David Luiz hoping to be passed fit on Saturday afternoon. John Terry managed to act like a complete idiot (huge surprise) and got himself needlessly sent off for booting Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona in the semi final. They will also be without probably their best player this season in Ramires. The Brazilian took a while to find his role in the team, but with most around him ageing rapidly and no longer able to get up and down, he is responsible for most of the energy in Chelsea’s midfield. He has added an attacking threat to his game, which no-one else in the Chelsea squad can replace. It seems likely Florent Malouda and/or Saloman Kalou will start, and neither will particularly worry Bayern. Their defence is going to be incredibly busy with Robben, Ribery and Gomez and I fail to see how they will stop them for 90 minutes. They offer a much more direct threat than Barcelona did, and this is enough for me to be behind the Germans.
Back Bayern Munich at 1.83 with SkyBet.
Championship Play-Off Final
West Ham v Blackpool, Saturday 1500
The game many now proclaim the ‘richest in football’ sees West Ham taking on Blackpool at Wembley on Saturday. The Hammers have had their poor spells this season, but they seem to be in a good run of form at just the right time for this match. They beat Cardiff 5-0 on aggregate in the semi finals and looked very much at a different level to their opponents over both games. They will also benefit more than Blackpool playing at Wembley as their players have played more matches in big venues and they have often looked better away from Upton Park this season. Their fans are very passionate but quick to criticise and with Sam Allardyce’s less than appealing style of football they have voiced their displeasure when results have not gone their way. A team containing Rob Green, Mark Noble, and Ricardo Vaz Te is a match for anyone below the Premier League and all have been in good form as the season ended. They won’t let the occasion get to them and I can see them comfortably winning if they get an early goal.
Blackpool have a chance for an immediate return to the Premier League too after beating Birmingham in the semi finals. Ian Holloway has done an excellent job again at this level to get Blackpool back after losing important players like Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell over the summer. Bringing in Tom Ince from Liverpool has provided flair and youthful exuberance on the wings when he is selected, and Kevin Phillips has yielded seventeen goals and brought experience to the squad. They have always been an attacking side, and this was to their benefit against Birmingham as they managed to get valuable goals at St Andrews to progress. Birmingham do not possess the same calibre of attackers West Ham do though, and any spaces will be far more likely to be exploited if they show up on Saturday. I just think the large pitch, experience and class of West Ham is likely to show on Saturday and they will again be lining up in the Premier League next season.
Back West Ham at 2.0 with Stan James.
Blue Square League Play-Off Final
Luton Town v York City, Sunday 1500
The match to decide the team to join Fleetwood in league football has two of the perennial challengers in the Conference meeting at Wembley on Sunday. Luton are nearly always many people’s pick for promotion and have been favourites with the bookies in the last two seasons ante-post market. I have mentioned both years that they should not be nearly as short priced as they are, but they will always be involved in the shake up. They have a large ground for the level, and can count on a good number of noisy fans backing them every week at home. This also gives them an advantage when attracting players as they have more money and can offer a club that is all set up to return to the league. They finished in the final play-off position with a run of six unbeaten matches, including five wins. They have a defence that only conceded two goals in the last seven matches, and they were when a very decent Wrexham side went after them in the semi final second leg. They are more than capable of keeping a side quiet and looking for a goal or two when the chance arises.
York are another side who seem to always be involved in the play-offs, but can’t quite get it done to gain promotion. They finished the regular season above Luton before drawing 1-1 and 0-0 in the semi finals against Mansfield to progress with an extra time goal to Wembley. They scored more than Luton, but also conceded more to leave them with an identical positive goal difference of +36. They were also unbeaten in their last six matches, eight including the play-offs, and only conceded the one goal in their last match with Mansfield. With neither side used to the big pitch, and relying on defences not conceding, this could be a very dull match for the neutral. Unfortunately neither side have a free scoring striker this season so it could well be won by a set piece or even go through to extra time.
Back Under 2 Goals Asian Totals at 2.37 with Bet365.