Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Champions League - Barcelona vs Manchester United (Agg 1-0)


As two of the biggest teams in the world, it should shock absolutely nobody that Barcelona and Manchester City are in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League. After a dour win at Old Trafford in the first leg, can Barcelona make the most of their growing advantage and put the Red Devils to the sword in Barcelona?

Barcelona News


The only missing party for the home side is going to be that of Rafinha. The talented Brazilian will sit this one out, having suffered an injury again. However, the return of Ousmane Dembele is timely: he’s likely to take a starting berth ahead of Philippe Coutinho. This match-up should be an interesting one, with Dembele likely running at either Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia.

Sergi Roberto or Arturo Vidal are likely to be fit enough to return to the midfield, a well, in what should give them some extra energy to compete against the English outfit.

Manchester United News


United, meanwhile, are missing a fair few of their main players. For one, Antonio Valencia might not make it; the same goes for Eric Bailly and Nemanja Matic. Luke Shaw is out for sure, as is Ander Herrera. Shaw is suspended.

This will likely mean a start for both Matteo Darmian and Diogo Dalot, with the latter likely playing in the midfield. Scott McTominay will play again, as will Marcus Rashford. Expect Jesse Lingard to start ahead of Juan Mata, who is being linked with a move to Barcelona.

United are short in numbers, which could mean that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to get pretty creative with his line-up.

Verdict


Barcelona to go through. United have grit in abundance, but performances recently have been poor. Barcelona are unlikely to fall to pieces as they did last year against AS Roma, or as Paris Saint-Germain did in the last sixteen.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Manchester City vs Cardiff


If ever a game sounded like a gimme at this time of the season, it’s this. Despite Sergio Aguero likely missing out, we can expect to see Cardiff City struggle here. Neil Warnock has not gotten many results of note against he biggest teams in his tenure as a Premier League coach. With Manchester City on an incredible run, it’s unlikely that this will change on Wednesday night.

Manchester City News


As mentioned above, the loss of Sergio Aguero is a minor blow for Manchester City. So, too, is the continued absence of Fabian Delph and Benjamin Mendy. Vincent Kompany will miss out, too, which will probably give Pep Guardiola one or two things to think about.

For this game, though, they could just about field any side and probably get the three points. Cardiff are in freefall, and aren’t doing great whatsoever in terms of results or performances. City have enough firepower on the bench and in the squad to overcome them: expect them to come out flying here and do the damage regardless of injuries.

Cardiff City News


Cardiff will be without Callum Paterson and Sol Bamba, as well as Matthew Connolly. Manager Warnock has threatened to play a weakened team, which is ironic given his decade-plus long tirade against West Ham United for the same thing. They’ll probably go with many of the same team who played at the weekend in the shocking loss to Chelsea.

Two wins in their last six, though, does leaves the away side with little hope.

Verdict


Anything but City plus two goals seems generous. Cardiff are running out of games to stay up with, but we don’t see them getting anything from this. City are in the title hunt, and should clear one of the easiest hurdles that they have left at present.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Grand National 2019 Outsiders


Tiger Roll, the winner of the Grand National in 2018, was imperious when winning the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival for the second year running. Few would deny that, despite his diminutive stature, the nine-year-old is a worthy favourite to become the first horse since Red Rum, in the Seventies, to win back-to-back Nationals. However, it is worth remembering that, after taking a 6-length lead at the Elbow last year, he was ultimately all out to hold Pleasant Company by a head. Tiger Roll is 9lb higher in the weights this time around and, admirable though he is, odds of 6/1 look short enough.


By contrast, Pleasant Company, who finished ninth behind One For Arthur in 2017 before just being touched off last year, is available as a 33/1 outsider. He, too, is 6lb higher in the weights this time around and is following a similar pattern to last year insofar as he has shown very little in two starts so far this season. Of course, he is trained by Willie Mullins, so he could bounce back, especially if the going at Aintree comes up soft or heavy but, as an 11-year-old, he hardly has time of his side.

One For Arthur was sidelined with injury for most of the season 2017/2018, but returned to action in December and is by no means impossibly treated off 6lb higher mark. That said, he unseated rider on his seasonal debut on the Mildmay Course at Aintree and did so again at Haydock in January, so has some questions to answer in the jumping department. He also reportedly heads to Aintree without another preparatory run, so his fitness needs to be taken on trust, but the 33/1 outsider odds available looks fair enough.

There are other outsiders in the running too. Owner Trevor Hemmings, who’s already won the Grand National three times, with Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds, holds a strong hand with Vintage Clouds – who looks a solid 16/1 chance – and, at longer odds, his more recent acquisition, Lake View Lad, whom he bought from previous connections last October. Both horses ran an excellent trial for the Grand National when second and third, respectively, in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and, at 25/1, Lake View Lad arguably looks the pick of this pair of outsiders at Aintree.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Burnley vs Leicester - Saturday 16th March


Coming into the season, both of these sides were expected to fight for the top eight to ten places in the league. Having both been two of these more high-performing provincial outfits since they came into the Premier League, this always has the feel of a game between two sides who step on each other’s toes. With Burnley in a bit of a relegation dogfight and Leicester City swinging in purgatory, nothing to play for of any great note, can the home side overcome their more progressive opponent?

Burnley News


For the Clarets, it’s hard to see where the chances are going to come from. With the concession of at least two goals in their last three games – and three league losses on the spin – Burnley are going nowhere. They are in a relegation dogfight nobody could have seen coming, and it’s not through bad luck or anything of the sort.

They allow more shots than most in the league, and presently in a poor league position. With a defence no longer as solid as it once was, it’s hard to see where the Turf Moore side will get goals, either. Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood have 16 between them, a decent return, but is it enough?

Leicester News


The Foxes have endured an odd start under Brendan Rodgers. A win the night he was appointed took place, followed by a late loss and then a convincing weekend win. With the improving form of James Maddison and Jamie Vardy, it’s easy to see why Foxes fans are confident of staying in a good position.

For the Midlands outfit, it all comes down to consistency. With nothing of great consequence to play for, can they turn up when it maters?

Verdict


Score draw. New Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers has often struggled with games like Burnley away, and his side – outside of impressing their new coach – having nothing to play for. Burnley, meanwhile, are fighting for their lives: we can see that being enough to edge a fractious, tight contest.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Premier League: Everton vs Liverpool


After a frenetic 96th minute winner in the Merseyside Derby at Anfield, we’re set to do it all again. With five of the last six games at Goodison ending as draws, though – the only winner being a late Sadio Mane winner – it’s not likely to be a classic game. These ties are rarely of a high quality, but the intensity and importance of the game speaks for itself. Who will come out on top, though?

Everton News


Interestingly, Everton coach Marco Silva did not hold back when he spoke of how Liverpool celebrated at Anfield – proclaiming it like a ‘World Cup’ goal. However, there’s an obvious fire about the reaction. While Leighton Baines and Yerry Mina will miss out here, we’ll see the introduction of the likes of Kurt Zouma, though Phil Jagielka might have to play.

Andre Gomes is likely to play again, though Morgan Schneiderlin gave a fine performance in the 3-0 win against Cardiff City.

Liverpool News


The Reds have a few issues, with Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren still out. Roberto Firmino is still a doubt, too, so derby winner Origi could play again. We might see Jordan Henderson return, too, given his propensity to play in the big games. Naby Keita might sit this one out on the bench, at least from the start, having struggled to make much of an impact at Liverpool so far.

For Liverpool, it’s all about getting the result: if they can find a bit more solidity and get Sadio Mane on the ball, they should be fine.

Verdict


We can see Liverpool winning this one – though not by much. The club has struggled at Goodison in recent times, but they should have enough grit to see this one out and get a good result in one of their hardest matches of the season.