Tuesday, 13 June 2017

France vs England - International Friendly - 13th June

France and England will play a friendly encounter in Paris on June 13th. Both teams had less than stellar performances in their recent 2018 World Cup qualifier matches,  so this friendly match in the Stade de France will be a good chance of redemption for them both. Also, bearing in mind that the decisive games for the World Cup Qualifiers are a few months away, a test against a strong opponent could be useful for both teams.

The late Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain goal that resulted in a 2-2 draw against Scotland can’t cancel out the poor game played by the England team. Although the two goals from the Scots came from the excellent left foot of Leigh Griffiths in two consecutive free kicks, it’s also true that the team managed by Gareth Southgate had a really bad performance, especially up front. Joe Hart was under the spotlight too after the last match, as he is being blamed for the free-kick goals, and now he will be replaced. Tom Heaton and Jack Butland will step up instead. Oxlade-Chamberlain earned the chance to start in the line-up, with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane possibly joining him in the offensive line.

France thre away an incredible opportunity to stand out from the rest in their qualifier group. A mistake from the goalkeeper Hugo Lloris cost them the game against Sweden, who are now sharing the top of the group with the French side with 13 points each team. With Netherlands on 10 points and improving their performances, the next encounter between them will be a fierce one, and this match could be the preparation needed for that encounter. That’s why Didier Deschamps will put out a strong line-up, with most of the best players starting, such as Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet. Some of the young promises of the team may make an appearance, such as the wonder-kid Kylian Mbappé and the Borussia Dortmund player Ousmane Dembélé. Deschamps has a lot of options in the offensive line, which makes the French team a concern for any defense.

At 4/5 with most bookmakers, the odds are in favor of a win for France. The offensive power that the home team can display is fierce, and the poor recent display by England helps this decision. Still, at 7/2 (average) an away win has some solid value. If we analyze both teams, it’s not an unlikely scenario: England have the players to beat almost any team, it's just that often it doesn't quite come tiegther for them. Finally, at 11/10, the odds for a match with three goals or more seem decent. The friendly nature of the encounter may free some creative players, and both teams might have a more offensive display than in a nervy competitive match. I envisage a tough encounter, but with a good number of chances for both teams.

With all of this in mind, I'd advise a 2.5+ Goals bet and if you're one for the patriotic pound, then a punt on England to win!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Republic of Ireland vs Austria - World Cup Qualifier - 11th June

Republic of Ireland and Austria will clash on June 11th in the Aviva Stadium. Both teams have their chance to qualify for the next World Cup, with Ireland fighting for the first position with Serbia. Austria are currently in fourth place with 7 points so could really do with the win. If they do, they'll have 10 points to Ireland's 11, putting them in a fairly good position for the coming matches.

The Republic of Ireland are a solid team, with good defensive style. With only 3 goals conceded so far in their 5 group games, the team managed by Martin O'Neill have the lowest count of goals against them. The absence of the center back Keving Long due to injury could harm the team, but they have suitable alternatives. The offensive line could be a weakness though. The Irish have showed some flaws in this  respect, with only 7 goals scored so far.

Austria are a younger team. With David Alaba as a key player (playing in midfielder for the national team), the team relies on an attacking style assisted by the veteran Martin Harnik and support on the wings. They've scored 8 and conceded 7 in the group so far, so something of a mixed bag.

Although this could be a tough match, Ireland remain as the favourite to win, with 13/10 odds available. A draw, at 11/5, is not out of the question either. The average odds for over 2.5 goals is a decent 7/5, which could give us some value, as both teams needs to win and in the potential for an open match. On top of that Austria's defense isn't the best and this could provide decent scoring opportunities for Ireland.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Scotland vs England - World Cup Qualifier - 10th June

Hampden Park will host another clash of one of the most historical derbies in football on June 10th. England and Scotland will face each other in Group F of the UEFA qualifiers for the next World Cup. The first encounter ended with a 3-0 bashing from England, who continue to lead the group with 13 points (4 wins, 1 draw). Scotland, on the other hand, are lagging behind fighting for the playoff spot, with 7 points (2 wins, 1 draw, 2 loses).

England are riding the qualifiers with ease. Gareth Southgate’s team is a solid one in defense. They haven't conceded a single goal yet, and although their offensive power may be lacking (with only 8 goals), it’s sufficient to beat most opposition. Harry Kane will attempt to repeat his amazing performance this season for Tottenham with the national team, where he hasn't quite replicated that level of play. Not only that, he will be replacing Wayne Rooney as the captain for the first time. Although the starting lineup is not yet confirmed, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Adam Lallana, Dele Alli, Sterling or Oxlade-Chambers back Kane up front, making this a powerful team capable of hurting any defense. Eric Dier will probably start as the only defensive midfielder.

Scotland are well aware of their position as the underdog in this match, as their manager Gordon Strachan said at the pre-match press conference: “We'll have to play at our very best, at the top of our capabilities. If we do that then we give ourselves a chance”. This to me shows that they are up for the contest. Leigh Griffiths will most probably be starting as the main striker. Griffiths closed a great season with Celtic, but this likely won't be enough against elite defenders such as Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling. 

Scotland usually demonstrate a decent defense and a combative midfield. Their lack of creativity against stronger teams is usually their main issue. Robert Snodgrass will be key to providing Griffiths some chances. If the West Ham midfielder has a good performance, there might be hope for the local team. Their fragile position in the qualifiers will force them to try to win the match at any cost. It's 'go for broke' territory!

With that being said, the clear favorite for this encounter is England. At 8/11 for a win I foresee a probable win for the team. At 6/5, a Harry Kane goal is also a viable betting option. An interesting market that some bookmakers are offering is “Win both halves” for England. At 15/4 this looks like a decent bet. It's certainly a plausible outcome. If England manage to score in the first half, Scotland will have to be be more attacking as they need a win, opening up spaces for counterattacks in the second half.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

UEFA Champions League Final - Juventus V Real Madrid

The match we are all waiting for is finally here. On June 3rd, Real Madrid and Juventus will clash in the final match of the 62nd UEFA Champions League. The Millenium Stadium in Cardiff will be watched by football fans around the world, as the two best teams in Europe fight for glory. Real Madrid aim to be the first team in history to win the Champions League twice in a row, while Juventus hope to win this title for the third time in their history (the last time in 1996) and take revenge for the 1998 finals.

Real Madrid have found a new identity with Zidane. With him, this team crushes opposition by overwhelming them at crucial moments. They may not have the best playmaking style, but they don’t need it: it’s about understanding the flow of the match. Real Madrid can make a goal in the blink of an eye and any rival will have to stay focused for the full 90 minutes. Every player has an important role. Cristiano Ronaldo is now a more box-orientated player, always well positioned and with lethal finishing touches. Benzema back him up with more movement towards the flanks to assist him, without losing his main qualities as a striker. Isco plays as an old-fashioned playmaker and adds his quality to the equation. Carabajal and especially Marcelo, who is the best left-back at the moment, regularly help in an offensive capacity too.  On top of this, Kroos and Modric have stunning accuracy in the midfield. Casemiro as their partner, fulfills the defensive duties. Ramos and Varane as center-backs are an established pairing, and Keylor Navas has proved to be worthy when needed. With such a display, it isn’t hard to see how Real Madrid became the team that it is.

Juventus is a team that reminds us of the old italian style of play. Under Allegri’s management, they have the most solid defense in the world, with possibly the two best center backs. Bonucci and Barzagli know everything about the defensive duties, and work splendidly together. If you manage to pass them, Buffon is still around to deny almost any scoring chance. He may well be in the final years of his career, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still one of the best goalkeeper in Europe. Dani Alves really adds something and one wonders how Barcelona let him go. Pjanic replaces Pogba and Pirlo with some quality displays. He’s not only a tactical player, always well positioned, but also displays outstanding technique in his touches. In offense, Allegri adds some South American flavor to the mix, with Paulo Dybala as the key player. The young argentinean is a vital part of the system not only due to his dribbling and scoring abilities, but also because he commands almost every transition from defense to attack. Gonzalo Higuaín is another important player, always ready to score when he has a chance, but also helping in the build-up. Finally, a word must be said about Mandzukic. The Croatian used to be a typical striker, but now plays as a winger, covering the entire left flank and helping in defensive duties. And when the matches are tight, Allegri can count on Cuadrado’s dribbling to solve the puzzle if needs be.

It’s hard to predict an outcome for this encounter. While Real Madrid is the clear favorite for all the bookies, with average odds of 7/8, one should take into account that the best offense in the world will clash with the best defense. Juventus is a solid team and it's not an easy task to score against them. This match may well be a close one with one team grinding out a win, so we should expect a fairly low score. At 8/13,  2 goals or less seems like a probable outcome. If there are goals, it’s hard to see Cristiano Ronaldo being without one! He's the main striker for Real Madrid and frequently scores in decisive matches. A goal from him is 11/10 with bookmakers, which seems generous. Enjoy the match!

Monday, 22 May 2017

UEFA Europa League Final - 24th May (19:45)

On May 24, the Friend's Arena in Solna (Sweden) will host the UEFA Europa League’s final match between Manchester United and Ajax. Both teams qualified in hard fought matches to qualify for the final. History is in the making, as Manchester United have never won the UEFA Europa League and Ajax haven't played an international final match since the 95-96 UCL, where they lost against Juventus. 
The Dutch side is an interesting one: they play with the traditional style that the team has accustomed us to with Davy Klaasen as the key in the midfield. Klaasen is a versatile player, with technique, almost every play from Ajax is built around him. The midfielders contantly pressure the opposing side, and the team has three attacking players that suits this style perfectly: Younes and Traoré on the sides provides speed, while also maintaining their defensive duties. Kasper Dolberg is a young center-forward, but with bags of potential. André Onana, a young Cameroonian goalkeeper formed in La Masia, has proved also to be a reliable goalkeeper. Their main flaw lays in defense: As overall, this is a young team, and that lack of experience often shows in big games.

Manchester United display a different style. Mourinho has had some ups and downs during the season, mainly in the Premier League, but has settled in the UEL to be the main contender for the title. In a one-by-one comparison, one could say that they have a clear advantage. Specially with the attacking players, few teams can equal a line-up with the names of Rooney, Martial and Mkhitaryan. On top of that, Marcus Rashford is in great form and performing well with the pressure of having to replace a key player such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The basque Ander Herrera is having a fantastic season and has proved to be a great central midfielder, with influence in both offense and defense. Sergio Romero will probably be in goal and to be fair, the devils haven't  missed De Gea that much during the competition: the argentinean proved to be a reliable goalkeeper when needed.

With more experience and quality players, Manchester United are the clear favorite to win the UEFA Europa League. The odds reflect this with an average of 4/5 for a United win. Due to the quality of both teams in attack, I can also foresee few goals. More than 2 goals (over 2.5 goals) could be a good bet at 6/5. Finally, a draw at half time and a win by Manchester United at the second (HT - FT odds) is enough viable option. Since Ajax defensive game is physical (applying pressure everywhere), one  this scenario could be a possibility. It's available at 3/1

The game is on BT Sport, but is going to be free-to-all, so tune in!