Match Preview: Real Madrid vs Manchester United

When the Round of 16 draw for the Champions League was made, a mouthwatering tie was set. It is not everyday that you get to watch MANCHESTER UNITED play REAL MADRID in a 2-legged tie for the right to progress to the next round.

Rivalries renewed not only between the two great clubs, but also the men at the helm. Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are pretty much close friends with mutual respect for each other. The witty, old Scot hasn’t done well against sides the Portuguese has managed. 3 wins in 14 with 6 losses is not one to be proud of – although he threw Inter Milan and Jose out of the Champions League in the 08-09 season.

On the way to Porto’s triumph in Gelsenkirchen-2004, the Dragons shattered Fergie’s dreams in the Round of 16 in a controversial 2nd leg that saw a legitimate Scholes goal disallowed, then Costinha went on to score in injury time to send the English giants out of that season’s UCL campaign.

The sad memories of 2000 and 2003 are still fresh in Sir Alex’s memory. The Red Fevils led by Superintendent Roy, earned a creditable 0-0 draw in the Spanish capital and were expected to finish the Blancos at the Theatre of Dreams.

However, a certain Fernando Carlos Redondo, the Buenos Aires born Midfield conductor had other ideas. 8 years after setting the King Fahd Confederations Cup alight with some mesmerising displays, he rekindled the form at Old Trafford.

The Argentine midfielder who was famously called the ‘White Machine’ by the Merengues faithful, bossed the game like none other, leaving Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in awe at such an explosive display. He was head and shoulders above all his teammates and opponents that night.

His brilliantly executed back heel  that went round Henning Berg was the highlight of a wonderful night…the resultant effect was a great pass to the deadly Raul who had no problem scoring the 3rd and final goal. The match ended 3-2 and Del Bosque’s men went on to win the tournament for the 2nd time in 3 seasons.

In 2003, it was another story entirely. At the Bernabeu, Luis Figo, Zizou and Raul Blanco put on a show to ensure that Manchester United were soundly beaten 3-1. In the return leg, II Fenomeno Ronaldo had a score to settle with French Goalkeeper Barthez who was part of the World Cup winning Les blues team v  Brazil 5 years prior. A match in which De Lima Ronaldo was below par and half fit.

The Selecao legend registered a well taken hat-trick against Manchester United on the way to a 3-4 loss. They actually led 3-1 until David Beckham came off the bench to score two quickfire goals. 6-5 (on agg) it ended in favour of the ‘Whites’. Yet another disappointment for the Red Army.

Tomorrow at the Santiago Bernabeu, Manchester United will attempt to make things right v a great team comprising of former ward, Cristiano Ronaldo. The 08 Ballon D’or winner aside, Los Blancos have Ricky Kka, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Karim Benzema, Pipita Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Pepe, Sergio Ramos et al to call on when things become difficult. Young Raphael Varane has come of age too.

Manchester United are not far behind in terms of quality players who can turn the tide. Wayne Rooney and RVP are currently the deadliest strike force in the world in my humble opinion and it will take something much more than the Ramos-Pepe tandem to stop them from causing untold damage over both legs.

In midfield, Michael Carrick has shone brightly this term and has what it takes to pull the necessary strings. Ryan Giggs is playing like an 18 year old. The evergreen jewel of Sir Alex hasn’t put a foot wrong in the last two months. His old head will be needed to negotiate through this daunting task.

The likes of Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia haven’t been impressive at all this season. It is a miracle that the Red Devils lie 12 points ahead of closest challengers City. All the wingers are in wretched form at the moment. Japan’s Shinji Kagawa showed signs of his Dortmund form in the last couple of games he featured in, although he hasn’t controlled any game like he used to, when he was a Borussen. If there’s any stage he will like to light up, then this is the one.

The Red Army’s defence must also be at its best to keep out the rampaging RM attackers. Vidic was rock solid v Everton on Sunday. The old warrior attributes were evident in his commanding defensive display two days ago. Jonny Evans at his side was his usual calm and composed self, but he might pave way for the experienced Rio Ferdinand when the team sheet is read out tomorrow.

The full backs Evra and Rafael have to maintain complete concentration levels throughout the encounter to avoid being exposed by Di Maria and the GREAT CR7 of life.

 

KEY BATTLES:

 

CR7 v Rafael da Silva

It is common knowledge nowadays that Ronaldo operates from the left flank, then comes infield sometimes and occasionally drifts to the right and the middle. Apart from the Brazilian youngster, Rafael, whoever plays defensive midfield must be alert and supportive to reduce the threat posed by the Portuguese captain.

Phil Jones did a great job on Bale and most recently Fellaini, but none of them is Ronaldo Dos Santos. Anderson would have been the right pick for this kind of job…Oh well, the injury prone left footer is not good enough at the moment. Some flashes of brilliance have been shown by him this season though. That’s all to it.

 

Benzema/Higuain v VIDIC/RIO

None of them are in form currently, but to dismiss the strengths they possess would be plain daft and unprofessional. Pipita Higuain was a different animal when he wore the Albiceleste jersey v Sweden in a recent friendly.

He is perhaps weighed down by the continued alterations at the Bernabeu. That and injuries have contributed to his poor form this season. Nonetheless, he is fully fit and wants to make the centre forward role at the capital his own.

Benz, on the other hand, is not doing well. Granted, he scored a fortuitous goal at the weekend but his all round play has been woeful at best. Whoever Jose chooses to lead the line must be closely watched by Captain Vida and his friend Rio.

 

OZIL V CARRICK, CLEVERLEY/ANDERSON, KAKAGWA V KHEDIRA-ALONSO

Games of recent times are now won or lost in midfield and this one is no exception. Mesut Ozil is currently one of the best attacking midfielders in the game. Only Andres Iniesta is better to me. If not closely attended to, he will cause lots of havoc tomorrow. His vision, defence splitting passes, great technique and ball usage cannot be overemphasised. Those who watch the Spanish League are aware of this all.

If there’s anyone who can make the German superstar uncomfortable, it is Carrick. The Englishman has been reborn and is playing the best season of his career yet. He dominates his position like none other and makes others around him look great. His job tomorrow will be very important and confidence is sky high on his part. He should have a good game.

Whoever partners Carrick in the centre of the pack must also play out of his mind. Sami Khedira is fast becoming the best in his position. His mazy runs and fast interplay are breathtakingly majestic. Xabi Alonso-oh my GOD. The man who also bears Alonso is one of my favourite players ever. His qualities are countless. He can pass to heaven if he wants. He is a WORLD CLASS AND DYNAMIC footballer any day.

The only time his dominance wanes is v Barcelona, thanks to Xavi and Busquets. The former Liverpool midfielder needs no further introduction. Set him loose and you get more than what you bargained for. He is the fulcrum of the Madrid team and his effectiveness should be suppressed.

 

ROONEY-RVP v PEPE-RAMOS

Contrary to what many people believe, I think it is Wayne Rooney that will come out shining tomorrow at the Bernabeu. Analysts and pundits have singled out RVP as the main man for MUFC. That is a surprise. RVP can only play his position.

Wayne is a versatile beast. A bull. A monster. His all round play against the toffees was a sight to behold. He assisted Evra on more than one occasion and made himself available when others were tight and had no space.

If Manchester United will take anything significant from Madrid tomorrow, Rooney has a big role to play. Way bigger than any other for the Red Devils. Robin Van Persie has fit in well into the system at Manchester United. He looked rusty on Sunday,fluffing at balls and missing easy chances..He wouldn’t make any mistake v Real Madrid. More than anything, he wants to succeed this season and do well in the Champions League; his 23 goals this season is nothing compared to Ronaldo’s 36 in actual fact.

He is the highest goal scorer in the Premier League and that’s no mean feat. His goals have been very important and 10 assisst added to that is nothing such of exemplary.

The combination/partnership with Rooney is blossoming. It will have to be profound and deadly to drive the team to victory.

Kepler Laveran Lima ‘Pepe’ is back from injury. The towering centre back has been out for a while. Mourinho’s men have coped well without him. His return from injury is a welcome development.

The Merengues are a stronger set-up with PEPE-RAMOS at the back. One is strong and ruthless, the other is physical and gigantic. Their plan to stop the Roo-RVP strike force must have alternatives because of the talents the aforementioned have in abundance.

Roo can drop deep, RvP can also go wide and their movements sometimes is terrifying.

 

David De Gea

David De Gea has been widely criticised for his shaky start to life as a Manchester United gloves man. The undisputed 1st choice has shown his incredible talent many times this season. Magnificent saves have become like bread and butter for the long term heir to Iker Casillas’ Roja goalkeeping throne.

Despite his well documented problem connected to lack of command of his area, his shot-stopping abilities outweigh whatever he falls short of. He will be called upon many times to save his team and he will rise to the challenge. That is most assured.

For Real Madrid, Iker is injured/out for a while. The captain and great goalie was accidentally kicked in the hand by his own teammate, Arbeloa. Jose acted quickly by sealing a deal for former RM keeper, Diego Lopez who was at Sevilla. Lopez has been an able deputy, playing exceptionally well v Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey 1st Leg and has been superb ever since.

Antonio Adan, Iker’s able deputy, has been overlooked ever since, fuelling the speculation that Mou only used him to remind Casillas that he isn’t indispensable.

This titanic clash will be an interesting spectacle for the viewing public. Mourinho and Fergie face each for the 15th time. Cristiano Ronaldo faces his old club for the fist time since he left 3+ years ago. Both clubs haven’t crossed paths for 10 years. It remains to be seen how this will play out.

Whatever happens, football is the ultimate victor.

 

Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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Special Feature: Match-fixing remains vague, but still a very clear issue

On Monday, Europol, the law enforcement agency of the European Union, announced the results of an 18 month inquiry of match-fixing in football to a reaction of immense shock throughout the game.

They revealed that a total of 680 matches across the world were fixed, including a Champions League tie that had been played in England which went someway to hinting at the seriousness of their findings. Not only would they concern a club close to home, but it gave a lucid indication that match-fixing was now festering in the very highest levels of the sport.

It was an investigation that originally only involved Germany, Finland and Hungary, but expanded to over 30 countries spanning right across the world. The European Police revealed that Asia had staged 300 corrupt matches while Europe played host to 380, including “several top football matches in European leagues as well as World Cup and European Championship qualifiers”.

Officials went to the extent of revealing the figures of corruption in Germany-based matches alone; £13.9 million in total was wagered to a profit of £6.9 million and very worryingly, as they voiced from behind a stall in The Hague, this was “just the tip of the iceberg”.

However, there was a slight sense of apprehension to the report that UEFA are now awaiting in detail according to Rob Wainwright, Europol’s director. The FA, reacting to the bombshell that one of the matches in question was a Champions League game hosted in England “three or four years ago”, said they were “not aware of an credible reports into suspicious Champions League fixtures played in England, nor has any information been shared”.

The match in question was quickly confirmed as Liverpool’s one-nil win over Hungarian side Debrecen back in 2009. Charges involved Debrecen goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic for not informing officials that he was approached by fixers prior to a game with Fiorentina in that campaign, for which he was banned for two years. However, the charges only specified the Italian club and not Liverpool, who maintain they have never been told by any organisation that the match at Anfield was under investigation.

A case that concerned a goalkeeper who had previously been severely dealt with by European football’s governing body hardly fitted into the sensationalist headlines the investigation should have demanded, but it was clear as the revelation continued that the issue went far, far deeper into the heart of the game. They created a macabre of criminal syndicates, based mainly in Asia, using facilitators in Europe to bribe and corrupt all those involved in the game for financial gain.

Over 425 suspects were identified by an investigation that involved 50 arrests and 80 further search warrants. Wainwright portrayed a dark, eerie criminal network spreading itself into Europe from its epicentre out in the far-east.

It is believed that the betting syndicates are operating not only on results, but on certain events in matches similar to the no ball scandal that scourged the Pakistani cricket team back in 2010. That should be familiar to the everyday football fan who is exposed to in play betting and the plethora of markets now available to betting companies who have developed into a mass businesses on the back of such practice.

The wide-scale of Europol's match-fixing probe.

The wide-scale of Europol’s match-fixing probe.

With so many areas on which to place money in the sport, there is always a suspicion that a footballer can take advantage on an individual level, it was Southampton’s Matt Le Tissier who claimed he made a spread-bet, of which he failed, on himself to win the first throw-in in a game with Wimbledon back in 1995.

Europol’s findings have taken that suspicion and multiplied it to a grave worry that manipulation is taking place on the grandest of scales via a murky underground network of criminals threatening to send a game that has always prided itself on fair play and honest competition into a state of decay.

With the African Nations Cup taking place in South Africa, Paul Put, the Belgian coach of Burkina Faso, said he was not surprised by Europol’s findings, claiming the problem is pandemic.

He has had a previous run-in with the practice having served a three year ban in Belgium after being found guilty for fixing two matches while manager of Lierse, a con allegedly organised by Chinese business man Ye Zheyun and has led to forty people being charged. “Match-fixing has always existed in football” said Put, “that is reality but what can you do about it?”

Even stronger views came from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who feared these revelations would form a “tsunami” that would overwhelm the sport. “I cannot accept this” said Wenger, “I was always aware there was a lot cheating in the game and we are not strong enough on what is happening”. These words were motivated partly by Wenger’s past with corruption that involved his Monaco team being caught up in the match-fixing scandal with Marseille in the early 1990s and he now calls for severe sanctions on those found guilty.

Wenger did allay fears over the domestic game though, remaining adamant that English football remains free of corruptive influence, “match-fixing is not a problem in England” said the Frenchman.

The football world will now await the next chapter of this saga, that will probably appear with the details of UEFA’s revision into the Europol investigation, with a great deal of agitation. There will be a hope that the more the governing bodies continue to peruse over the investigation with the finest of tooth-combs, the more information will gradually begin to come clearer in order to erode away the mystery that is shrouding this squalid world of corruption.

The European Police have gone a long way to confirming a fear that football is blighted by a darker-side but there is a sense that it has only scratched the surface, it now must delve further into the abyss in order to ensure football remains free of the disease lurking underneath.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Man United: 4 reasons why they can win the Champions League

Manchester United could not have asked for a much tougher draw in the quarter-finals of the Champions League – but that does not mean they cannot go on and win it.

The Red Devils will face Real Madrid in the last eight of this season’s competition, and past history would suggest that they are on their way out of the competition because the Spanish champions have won the last two meetings between these teams.

However, Chelsea showed last season that this competition is no foregone conclusion. In fact, who would have predicted a Bayern Munich v Chelsea final?

Therefore it would be reckless to write off Manchester United just yet, and here are some reasons why they can become European champions once again:

 

Robin van Persie

Any team that has a red-hot Robin van Persie in the side has a chance of winning every game. The Dutchman has been in excellent form since joining United from Arsenal, and if he gets opportunities he will continue to score the goals that can fire the Red Devils to another appearance in the final.

And they are no strangers to final appearances…

 

Three finals in five years

United have shown their pedigree by reaching the final three times in the past five years. It is fair to say that this current side is not as strong as previous incarnations under Sir Alex Ferguson, but the legendary Scot has found a way to guide his team to finals in the past and you wouldn’t bet against him doing it again.

And this side is better than the Chelsea one that won the Champions League final last season.

 

Sir Alex Ferguson

Like I said before, this man knows how to guide a team to the Champions League final. And with time ticking down on his legendary career, it is well known that he would love to become a European Champion once again.

This will undoubtedly add more motivation to the players, who will be looking to hand Fergie a third Champions League success.

Beating Real Madrid will boost confidence

If United are to win the Champions League then they must overcome one of the favourites in the last 16, Real Madrid. It goes without saying that a two-legged win over the Spanish giants would send a major statement to their rivals, and it would also cement their status as a major contender to go all the way.

 

Written by Leigh Copson Glazier from Bettingpro.com, the number one source for sports betting tips, breaking news and expert views.

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Everton: January decisive month for the Toffees’ Top 4 Hopes

Everton’s regular late season push is nauseatingly over-referenced. I’ve lost count of the times this season I’ve angrily interrupted insufferable pundits and their propensity to start Toffees-based sentences with ‘Traditionally, David Moyes’ side are slow-starters’. But as we’ve passed the New Year, I’ll risk self-proclaimed hypocrisy to tackle the subject myself.

Everton’s propensity to finish stronger is bandied about as a compliment, a compliment only validated by the sort of start consistently absent from the Blues’ recent records. If you jogged for the first half of the Olympic 100 metres final but sped up enough to overtake a few stragglers late on, tough luck, the Jamaicans have already finished, you’re not getting a medal.

 

Playing well for half a season is only half an accomplishment

Last season’s late surge rewarded David Moyes’ side with eight more points than in the first half, 32 of the overall total of 56. Impressive but still 14 points off third place, 13 points off fourth. A huge deficit. Whilst this season’s significant improvement has given Everton a much better platform – 12 points up on this stage last year – the Toffees’ form absolutely cannot falter if Champions League qualification is to be achieved.

Averaging two points per game for the remaining 17 fixtures will see Everton hit 70 points, Arsenal’s third-place total last year. To achieve this, a run of immediate victories would go a long way. To that end, no Evertonian can complain about the next few fixtures. Everton face Swansea (h), Southampton (a), West Brom (h) and Aston Villa (h) through January and into February.

Whilst 9-10 points would represent a decent return, Everton must view any dropped points as a big failure. Four wins would give Everton 48 points leaving 13 games to accumulate (approximately) 22 points – definitely doable.

 

Taking it two games at a time

To go against the old football adage of ‘taking one game at a time’, it suits the purposes of this article to split those fixtures into two groups rather than four, so let’s look at the first couple.

This Saturday’s home game with Swansea is the biggest threat to a 100 per cent record over the next month, but this is without doubt their toughest period of the season so far.
Swansea’s excellent campaign has them travelling down to London for their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea this Wednesday, heading up to Liverpool to face Everton on the Saturday, before returning to London the following Wednesday to replay their FA Cup Third Round tie with Arsenal. Enjoyably hectic; the problems of progress.

A substantial Stamford Bridge loss may dent confidence whilst a positive result may cause a dip in focus. Either way, there’s enough for Everton to forge a winning attitude out of self-convincing logic.

And then Southampton away. Potentially tricky but one that bears the same traits of Everton’s last away success at Newcastle. A midweek night game (Monday counts as midweek in order to make my argument stronger/ less weak), away at a struggling side just above the relegation zone. If Everton can recreate their St James’ Park performance, the three points should be theirs.

Six points from these games would leave Arsenal needing to beat both Man City (h) and Chelsea (a) to maintain their two-point deficit behind the Toffees. Losing those games could see the Gunners eight points behind Everton. Of course Arsenal have a game in hand but January 16th’s FA Cup replay means Arsene Wenger’s men four times in 10 days culminating in that rearranged West Ham game, followed by Liverpool’s visit the following week. Plenty of potential for a slip-up. Spurs face QPR (a) and Man Utd (h) in the next two. Points could certainly be dropped.  Everton must take advantage.

By January 30th when West Brom travel to Goodison in a game which could really cement Everton’s position in the top six (incidentally my birthday for any overly sentimental and unnecessarily generous followers), Everton will have both Darron Gibson and Kevin Mirallas back (touch wood), and hopefully a few new signings. A victory in that game would create incredible momentum before the Premier League’s current worst side Aston Villa head to Goodison.

If Moyes manages his squad properly this transfer window, as he did so effectively last year, January could well prove to be the decisive month in a successful Everton season, providing the springboard and importantly the points to make for a very hopeful run-in.

 

Written by Chris Smith

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Special Feature: Best Football Video Games of All Time

Over the years, many gaming companies have tried to cash in on the most popular sport in the world, football, and make a game that makes the player feel like he’s right there in the thick of the action. This has been attempted in many ways, from manager simulations to games where you control the team on the field and in many formats including arcade, console and PC games.

 

Championship Manager 01-02 (2000)

The Championship Manager franchise, (now Football Manager) dominated the manager simulation genre for years and peaked in the 2001 – 2002 season, according to many fans of the game. Later versions tend to be far more in-depth which does have obvious advantages, but detracts from the user-friendliness of the game. 01-02 has the perfect blend of difficulty, complexity and usability and is probably one of the most addictive games of all time.

 

Pro Evolution Soccer 5 (2005)

Each year since before the start of the century, the battle between FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer gets played out. While both have had their turn on top, in the middle of the last decade it was all about PES and in 2005, Konami out did themselves. Passing became more important making the game more realistic when it came to end of game results and tackling also changed with this version which added the need for higher skill levels amongst human players.

 

FIFA 09 (2008)

FIFA 09 is considered by many as the best ever installment of the most famous of all football game series and is the one that put the franchise back on top after a spell trailing to their arch rivals at PES. Over 250 changes were made to enhance the realism, gameplay and response times. Skill and ability stats became more important and even the more talented human players found controlling the players when performing tackles, passing etc. needed a little practice to perfect.

 

Kick-Off 2 (1990)

When Anco brought out Kick-Off 2 on the Atari ST, it was seen by many as the best football game ever. It had what was considered very accurate representations on the pitch and at least attempted to use real tactics and formations.

 

Sensible Soccer (1992)

 

In its day, Sensible Soccer by Amiga was the definitive football game. It had an innovative bird’s eye view and is still popular to this day amongst retro gamers. Stanford University compiled a list in 2007 for the Library of Congress detailing the 10 most important video games of all time and Sensible Soccer was the only football game on it.

 

Special Mention

Intellivision Soccer (1980)

Brought out by Mattel Electronics, Intellivision Soccer gets a special mention as it broke the mould and was way ahead of its time. It was the first to give the 3D effect, the isometric point of view and a scrolling pitch, all features that would be used extensively by other sports games for the next couple of decades.

 

Morgan is a Football lover and enthusiast. He also likes to bet sometimes in football matches. You can also find him writing in his personal blog called Free Bets.

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Betting Promo: Place Your Bets and Get Free at Sky Bet Offers!

What would you do with a 5 free bet every week? That’s what Sky Bet is offering to their active users! If you’re a sports lover, why not take your passion to the next level by placing an occasional bet on your favourite team.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get involved with sports betting, either. There are lots of free bets and bonuses available at online sports-books, but perhaps the most generous is the offer that Sky Bet is running.

As a new user, you will qualify for a complimentary Sky Bet free bet worth 10. Simply open an account and get a 10 free bet, instantly. There’s no need to make a deposit. As long as you are a new user, joining during the eligible offer period, you will qualify for this bonus.

In addition, you will get a Sky Bet free bet worth 5 each week as long as you placed a 5 bet with your own money during the previous week. This offer is a great way to get started in the exciting world of online sports betting.

 

A Huge Selection of Sports to Choose From

No matter what sport you are a fan of, there is a good chance that you will be able to bet on it at Sky Bet. The site covers traditional betting favourites such as football, horse racing and darts, but it is not limited to those sports. Other sports that you can bet on include speedway, NFL, golf, greyhound racing, MMA, Moto GP, snooker and tennis.

The site also takes special bets on subjects such as the possibility of a white Christmas, or the name that the royals, William and Kate, will give their first baby.

 

Lots of Betting Options

If you usually feel intimidated by sports betting websites, fear not. Sky Bet offers lots of betting options. You can bet on the outcome of the game, race, or event by placing an Outright bet, or if the sport allows it (such as horse racing), a Forecast/Tricast bet.

With some sports, such as football, you can bet on who will be the first to score, whether or not there will be scores in both halves, or what the finishing score for the game will be. You don’t have to worry about spread betting or other more complex bet formats if those do not interest you.

Sky Bet is a great place to get started with sports betting and could well become your betting home in the long term. If, at some point in the future you were to feel that you have outgrown the site (or you find a love for a sport that is not supported), you can look on bookmaker comparison sites such as Chips to see what other options are out there. However, for the average UK sports fan, this is, no pun intended, a safe bet.

 

AUTHOR BIO : Diyana Hall is a sports betting expert and avid deals hunter. She enjoys experimenting with new sites in the sports betting world, taking advantage of a sky bet free bet and other welcome bonus offers whenever possible. She writes on the subject of online betting for a range of deals websites and sporting blogs.

 

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Special Feature: Picking The Champions League Round Of 16

Now that the UEFA Champions League round of 16 parings have been announced, it is time for football fans all to begin debating them. With the ties not set to occur until mid-February, there is ample time for fans and analysts alike to pick them apart and predict the outcomes. And, of course, this is a particularly exciting process for those who will be placing bets.

Online gambling has become increasingly popular in recent years, and while much of the industry is focused on casino sites like partypoker.com, there is also a great deal of focus on sports betting. For fans, this means that once you’ve made up your mind on the round of 16, you can place a few bets, and really have something on the line during the matches. So without further ado, here are brief analyses and picks for each tie.

 

Galatasaray A.S. vs. FC Schalke

While Galatasaray looks like the underdog on paper, they may actually be the safer bet. Schalke is capable and dangerous, but has struggled in Bundesliga as of late, and is also going through a coaching transition (with Jens Keller replacing Huub Stevens).

Galatasaray, on the other hand, just wrapped up group play with a trio of wins, and few are as hot scoring goals as forward Burak Yilmaz. Schalke remains the oddsmakers’ favourite, but this one is tight. Galatasaray is the pick, against the odds.

 

Celtic FC vs. Juventus

The leg in Scotland won’t be easy, but Andrea Pirlo and Juventus made it through the group stage in relatively dominant fashion, and look to be among the favourites moving forward. A victory for Celtic would be rather shocking here, and Juventus is the smart pick.

 

Arsenal FC vs. FC Bayern Munchen

Having scored 15 goals in the group stage, Bayern is a true powerhouse in this round of 16. Arsenal is never a pushover, but struggled to some extent on both ends of the field during the group stage, and doesn’t seem to have the firepower to stop Bayern. Last year’s runner up, Bayern, will advance.

 

FC Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Borussia Dortmund

Shakhtar impressed during the group stage, defeating Chelsea and earning a draw at Juventus. But, perhaps no team was stronger in the group stage than Dortmund. Currently Germany’s best, Dortmund navigated the group of death with near perfection, and is the pick to move forward in what should be a thrilling tie.

 

AC Milan vs. FC Barcelona

Milan managed only 7 goals in the group stage, and finished with the lowest point total of any team to advance. There isn’t much more to say about this tie – Messi and Barcelona will almost certainly be too much for Milan to handle.

 

Real Madrid CF vs. Manchester United FC

A tie between two historic powers looking to return to the top, this is inarguably the most intriguing of the match-ups. Madrid advanced through the group of death, but has been less than emphatic in recent play, and is essentially out of the running in La Liga.

Meanwhile, the forward combination of newcomer Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney has Manchester United looking quite strong of late. This is a near toss-up and should be a thrilling tie. Madrid remains the oddsmakers’ favourite, but given recent play, Manchester is the pick here, against the odds.

 

Valencia CF vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Despite a strong showing – only one loss, at Bayern – in the group stage, Valencia has looked weak of late, and sits at 11th in La Liga standings. Meanwhile, Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads a scintillating attack for Paris Saint-Germain – one that should carry them through the round of 16 over the Spanish side.

 

FC Porto vs. Malaga CF

This looks to be a closely contested tie between two teams playing fairly well in recent matches. Having earned the first place spot in Group C, and sitting at 4th place in La Liga, Malaga probably looks just a bit stronger right now, and also gets to play at home for the second league. Because of this, Malaga is the pick – but it’s a near toss-up.

 

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Champions League: Last 16 Draw Analysis

Europe’s most prestigious club competition’s round of sixteen always produces some intriguing games. However the matches this year’s draw has proven to be more even more exciting than ever with a lot of the top teams pitted against each other.

 

So what are my predictions for these games?

 

Real Madrid vs Manchester United

Arguably the world’s two most famous and recognisable clubs will go one on one in a game that would make a more than worthy final. The number of sub stories surrounding this huge match are a plenty, most notably the fact that the second leg will see Manchester United legend Cristiano Ronaldo return to Old Trafford for the first time since his £80 million move to Madrid in the summer of 2009.

Jose Mourinho, who is widely tipped to be Manchester United manager when Alex Ferguson eventually steps down will meet up with his old friend Alex.

Manchester United were eliminated by Madrid in the Champions League in the 2002/03 season losing 6-5 on aggregate, after United won an incredible match 4-3 in the second leg. Ferguson will be desperate to avoid a repeat.

Prediction: Real Madrid

Mourinho vs Fergie.... rivalry renewed.

Mourinho vs Fergie…. rivalry renewed.

 

Valencia CF v Paris Saint Germain

Both sides had an impressive group stage, both qualifying with ease, so it shall be interesting to see how PSG can cope against a team of Valencia’s standard. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Javier Pastore are more than used to such occasions, but so are many of Valencia’s players, which include Roberto Soldado and captain David Albelda.

Prediction: PSG

 

Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund

Excellent, high octane attacking play from both sides have led to many calling them two “dark horses” in winning the Champions League. However, only one of these top quality teams will make the quarter finals, in what should be two dramatic matches.

What makes the match even more exciting is the fact that both clubs are known for having stunning atmospheres in their respective home grounds.

Prediction: two very close games, with Dortmund just edging it.

 

Arsenal v Bayern Munich

Arsenal’s failure to win their group has led to them being given an expectedly tough tie against last year’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich. Bayern have looked like a team on a mission so far this season, and they are currently cruising ahead of their rivals in the Bundesliga.

Arsenal haven’t been so impressive, looking shaky and inconsistent. If the situation is the same come February, Arsenal’s Champions League hopes maybe over for another year.

Prediction: Bayern Munich

Arsenal and Bayern... last met in 2005.

Arsenal and Bayern… last met in 2005.

 

Porto v Malaga

Both these sides have impressed many with very well organized sides. Malaga conceded a mere three goals in six group stage games, and none in the first four games. They’ll have a tough job if they want to stop Jackson Martinez in what will be a very tactically interesting tie.

Prediction: Porto

 

Celtic v Juventus

Fans around the world were shocked when Celtic beat the mighty Barcelona 2-1 at Celtic park in November. Whether they can produce it against Italian champions Juventus remains to be seen, but they will give it a real good go.

Victor Wanyama coped just fine with Xavi and Iniesta, can he do it again with Pirlo, Vidal and Nocerino?

Prediction: Juventus

 

AC Milan v Barcelona

These two masters of European club football have had vastly different seasons so far, Milan not as near the top as normal, while Barcelona have had their best start to a La Liga season ever.

Milan were knocked out by Barcelona last year and Allegri is determined to not let Messi and co. do it for the second year running.

Prediction: Barcelona

AC Milan vs Barca: The Catalans ran out as victors in last season's fixture...... Will it be deja vu for the Rossoneri?

AC Milan vs Barca: The Catalans ran out as victors in last season’s fixture…… Will it be deja vu for the Rossoneri?

 

Galatasaray v Schalke

Turkish champions Galatasaray recovered from a poor start to qualify from a very close group, but the vibrant and confident Schalke will present a very tough challenge.
But if the competition’s joint top scorer Burak Yilmaz is on form, Schalke could face some problems.

Prediction: Schalke, if they remain calm and do not get fazed by the atmosphere in the away game.

 

Written by Joshua Sodergren

Follow him on Twitter @chelsealad1365

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Zenit and Spartak: A Second Half Review of their Champions League nightmare

champions-league-2012

Great expectations don’t always materialise into great results. In sport this happens time and time again, it’s just a part of life, but the Russian collapse in this year’s Champions League has come somewhat as a shock that no one ever really imagined would happen.

After last season’s overwhelming success of both Russian representatives in the group stage progressing through to the knockout stages, perhaps we were being a bit greedy when hoping that this year that feat would repeat itself. But instead, we have been brought back down to reality with a bang. Zenit Saint Petersburg, who made the last 16 last season, were hoping to do even better that this time around, especially following the well documented arrivals of superstars Hulk and Axel Witsel.

Spartak Moscow on the other hand, who were competing for the first time in two years, had slightly more modest expectations, but they were still expected to at least make a serious challenge for a last 16 berth. But by the time the final matchday was upon us, all hope had already been brutally extinguished, for both clubs.

Inside scandals and a distinct lack of ability to defend cost both Zenit and Spartak, although on the last matchday Zenit at least managed to save the pride of Russian football, grabbing a spot in the somewhat controversial Europa League with an impressive 1-0 win away to European powerhouses AC Milan.

Spartak however, disgraced themselves with losing 5 of their 6 games, with just about all of their defeats coming about as a result of having one of the worst defensive lines that the Champions League has seen in recent times. And yet after the first half of the group stage, hope was still intact for both sides.

Zenit’s start to the group stage went just about as bad as it could have done. A humbling 3-0 defeat away to Spanish debutants Malaga, followed by a painful and largely unfair 3-2 home to defeat to Milan, Zenit had made life just about as hard as it could have been for themselves. But they finally got on the board with a 1-0 home win against Belgian champions Anderlecht in Saint Petersburg, which left the Russians trailing second placed Milan by just the one point going into matchday 4.

A trip to the Belgian capital Brussels was in store, and on paper, another 3 points were to be expected to be added to Zenit’s tally. Back in the 2010 Europa League Zenit triumphed 3-1 at Anderlecht with minimal fuss, and given the fact the Anderlecht’s team has barely changed since then, no less was expected this time around.

But there was pessimism surrounding the game along with the new-found optimism. The manner of Zenit’s 1-0 victory in Russia wasn’t exactly impressive, with Anderlecht outplaying their hosts for the majority of the game and only losing to an Alexander Kerzhakov penalty 20 minutes from time.

But Zenit got lucky, and they knew it, the only thing that Anderlecht lacked in their game was a goal, which was understandable given that their main sniper Dieudonné Mbokani was absent due to injury. But for this game he was declared fit to play, and this would prove to be the crucial factor. Zenit didn’t start too badly, with Sergey Semak and Zenit’s own Belgian Nicolas Lombaerts going close, but then on 17 minutes, the reigning Russian champions received an unwelcoming shock.

A Lombaerts slip in defence let in Mbokani who coolly chipped the ball over an advancing Vyacheslav Malafeev in the Zenit goal and suddenly all the pressure was on the Russians. Pressure that they just couldn’t cope with, and for the whole remaining 73 minutes not one decent scoring opportunity was created, and all the newfound hope that had been created two weeks ago in Saint Petersburg had been meekly surrendered, with not so much as a whimper.

The task that was facing Spartak was pretty daunting as well however. Just like their compatriots Zenit, Spartak hadn’t had the most fun of starts. There was no shame in bravely going down 3-2 to Barcelona in the Nou Camp, in a performance which caught the eye of many European fans, but the defeat on matchday 2 was plain embarrassing. P
laying against Scottish champions Celtic in Moscow, a club which never wins on the road in Europe, only a victory was expected.

After a rough start with saw the visitors take a shock lead, Spartak responded well to go 2-1 up but still contrived to throw away the game, going down 3-2, and their Champions League was fast going down the drain. However an impressive 2-1 home victory against Benfica had fast resurrected ambitions, but if those ambitions were going to turn into reality, a good result away to the Portuguese outfit was a must.

Just like Zenit did in Belgium, Spartak started off well, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov having a close range effort repelled by Benfica stopper Artur, and the Russians giving away little in defence. But come the last 45 minutes, everything took a turn for the worst. An inspired half time substitution by Benfica coach Jorge Jesus proved to be the crucial factor, sending on proven goal getter Oscar Cardozo, and within 10 minutes, he had already found the back of the net.

Spartak failed to muster a response and it was 2-0 and game over on 69 minutes, Cardozo nodding home following static Russian defending. To make Spartak’s night even worse, defender Nicolas Pareja got his marching orders, but from the ensuing penalty, the Russians enjoyed their best moment of the night, goalkeeper Artem Rebrov preventing Cardozo from grabbing himself a hat trick, but it was no consolation.

With just 3 points from 4 games, Zenit’s last chance saloon was waiting for them. If the Russians were going to repeat last year’s achievement of booking their place in the last 16, they had no other option than to win their two remaining matches. Something which is easier said than done, considering those games were against a Malaga side that so far had only conceded just the one goal and without any defeats, and against the 7 times European champions, AC Milan.

Malaga had humiliated Zenit with a thumping 3-0 victory in Spain, but arrived in Saint Petersburg with a slightly different mindset. Having already amassed an impressive 10 points after the first 4 games, the Spaniards were already assured their place amongst Europe’s best 16 clubs, and could afford to relax somewhat. And that showed, with coach Manuel Pellegrini opting to leave main men Javier Saviola and Joaquín in Spain.

The opportunity was waiting for Zenit with open arms, but it was an opportunity that was thrown away with the first 10 minutes. Malaga’s makeshift frontline was motivated to impress their boss and they showed their mettle, Zenit’s rather stilted defence being horribly exposed and Diego Buonanotte pounced. And just 60 seconds later, Zenit’s somewhat flimsy chances of qualifying for the knockout stage had been well and truly extinguished. Vyacheslav Malafeev carelessly gave the ball away to Roque Santa Cruz, who squared to Sebo to fire home and the game was finished before it had even started.

Zenit rallied however and showed the character of true champions, and even managed to rescue a point, which would prove important in the final standings. Danny scored an exquisite goal just after the break and Viktor Fayzulin fired home after a goalmouth scramble at the death, but it was too little too late.

The situation facing Spartak was just about identical: win the last two games, and a playoff berth would be theirs, anything other than that, and the exit door was staring at them in the face. Zenit’s task of having to beat Malaga and Milan seemed hard enough, but Spartak’s assignment was even worse.

None other than the mighty and seemingly unbeatable Barcelona were rolling into town, followed by a trip to Scotland to face Celtic, and Celtic Park is not a place where any team looks forward to travelling to too much. But first up before that trip, Spartak somehow had to deal with Lionel Messi and company. Their fans did their best to help, a wonderful mosaic card display by the capacity 80,000 crowd certainly got the blood pumping, but that adrenaline was quickly sucked away by Barca’s ruthless attack, which showed no mercy to Spartak’s rather comical defending.

Following a mix up in the defence, marauding right back Dani Alves sent a powerful into the far left hand corner of Spartak’s goalkeeper Andrey Dikan, and from then on, the result was never in doubt. Just as they had done against Benfica, Spartak showed little character and by half time it was 3-0. Lionel Messi capitalized on yet another mistakes to pounce, and a half of magical Barca football was completed when the Argentinan magician deftly rounded Dykan to slot into an empty net. Spartak at least managed to steady the ship for the second half, but the damage was long done.

While the 2-2 draw against Malaga in Saint Petersburg may have ended Zenit’s dreams in the Champions League, the Russians weren’t done with yet. Laid in 3rd place and in a Europa League spot, there was everything to play for against an already qualified Milan. Anderlecht were slumped in bottom spot in the group going into matchday 6, but all they had to do was to better what Zenit could do in Milan, and a European place would be theirs.

But the odds were stacked against the Belgians champions and heavily in favour of Zenit. Anderlecht had the unfortunate task of having to achieve a result against unbeaten Malaga, a side which very rarely give up anything at home, in fact they hadn’t even conceded a goal at home in the competition leading up to this game.

For Zenit, having to play away at the San Siro against Milan may seem somewhat of a daunting task, but not when you look at the statistics. In fact, Milan very rarely win their home games in Europe’s premier competition, and for the last few years, the Milanese have constantly lost their last home match, when their mission of qualifying for the knockout stage has already been achieved.

And it looked as though that would prove to be the case once again this time around, Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri opting to leave the new face of Italian football, striker Stephan El Shaarawy, on the bench along with Robinho. It showed, as Milan from the off were somewhat blunt in the attacking third, but Zenit weren’t much better. The Russians’ usually lightning quick counter attack was strangely subdued, with Axel Witsel, the link between the defence and attack opting to slow the tempo when in possession.

But then a bolt came from out of nowhere. Danny carried a rare Zenit attack into Milan’s penalty area and after a lucky ricochet he managed to find the space to almost pass the ball into the net just out of Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati’s reach.

Milan’s response was good, and in the second half, Zenit had to withstand a barrage of attacks. Vyacheslav Malafeev produced a wonder save to deny Giampaolo Pazzini, and when Allegri introduced both Robinho and El Sharrawy, both went inches away from snatching a point. But it wasn’t to be, and despite a largely unimpressive display, Zenit had themselves a credible win against one of Europe’s giants, and with Anderlecht and Malaga playing out a 2-2 draw in Spain, the Russian champions at least have the Europa League for themselves when next spring comes around.

However, unlike Zenit, Spartak had nothing left to play for. After the lesson that Barcelona gave them in Moscow, even the Europa League was out of reach for the Muscovites. Left on just 3 points with Benfica and Celtic both on 7, and Barcelona already qualified the Russian giants had just their pride left to play for. And after heavy consecutive defeats both in Russia and Europe, it was certainly worth at least trying to re-intact their already heavily damaged reputation.

Their opponents, Celtic, weren’t prepared to show any sympathy for Spartak’s woes however. The Scottish outfit were playing their do or die match: having to better Benfica’s result in Spain, and considering that Benfica’s opponents were Barcelona, Celtic’s chances weren’t bad at all.

Despite all that however, Spartak looked the better side in the opening stages. Kim Källström curling a good effort inches wide after a neat interchange with striker Artem Dzyuba, and then their old nemesis came back to bite them hard. A long hopeful ball up towards the Spartak penalty box shouldn’t have caused defender Juan Insaurralde too many problems, but he contrived to present the ball to oncoming striker Gary Hooper who fired an unstoppable drive into Sergey Pesyakov’s right hand corner.

But the Russians surprisingly showed character however, and were level when Brazilian Ari chipped home a delightful lob 6 minutes before half time. If things stayed this way, Celtic would only be heading into the Europa League, as Benfica managed to get a credible 0-0 draw away in Spain, but despite that, Spartak’s hosts showed little urgency.

It was only 10 minutes from time that Celtic started to show any urgency, and it yielded a goal. Czech defender Marek Suchy bundled into striker Giorgos Samaras, and in what was somewhat a debatable decision, referee Felix Brych pointed to the spot. Kris Commons gave Pesyakov no chance, smashing a powerful spot kick in just under the crossbar and with that sent Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League and shocking the whole of Europe in the process, and at the same time, putting the final nail in the coffin of what has been a thoroughly dismal campaign Spartak campaign.

And so after all the great expectations that came with the new Champions League campaign for Russia’s clubs, all that Russia has to show for it, is one Europa League place, with Zenit barely nabbing the spot in their final fixture.

It isn’t all so gloomy, however. Zenit join fellow Russians Anzhi and Rubin in the Europa League, and both have been amongst the best teams in that competition during the group stage. With players such as Hulk, Igor Denisov, Alexander Anyukov and Axel Witsel, Zenit surely have to be looking at going deep in that competition.

For Spartak, there is nothing left to do other than to somehow fix their situation in Russia, so that they can have another go in the Champions League next year. But I can bet that 99.9% of Russian fans won’t want to see Spartak anywhere near the Champions League anytime soon.

 

Written by Shaun Nicolaides

Follow him on Twitter @zenitfan93

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Arsenal vs Montpellier: Slow and Steady wins the race

jack-wilshere-arsenal-celebrate-montpellier-goal

Jack Wilshere has recently returned to full form with his childhood club Arsenal and today he made an impact like no other. After being 14 months in the shadows, Jack Wilshere has broken out into the lime light with an almighty bang. He pushed personal fears of deprivation aside as he scored his first goal for Arsenal since returning from his long stretch of injury.

If Arsenal ever needed to win a game, it was this match against Montpellier at the Emirates which was vital. If Arsenal didn’t secure these three points, then it was all over red rover for the club as they would be on their way to bidding farewell to the UEFA Champions League.

After a tentative first half, Arsenal were entering the second half with the definite need of these three points hanging above their heads. It took none other than the man with the fire in his belly to break the silence. Jack Wilshere, the player with the determination of a champion, broke the dead lock with a chip over the keeper with his left foot. After a trivial header from Olivier Giroud, the Englishman beat the keeper to tap the ball in, wildly celebrating afterwards with fans and the Arsenal medical staff.

Olivier Giroud also set up Lukas Podolski who scored an absolute cracker to break the hearts of many Montpellier fans. Giroud set an overhead pass with his left foot to his German counterpart who smashed his volley past the Montpellier keeper into the back of the net. This was Podolski’s third goal in three games for his new club and it was a kick of ferociousness to seal the game for the Gunners.

“You always know with Olivier that you will get a guy who fights for the team. Technically it was not one of his best games, but after matches when you measure his performance it is [often] decisive. He had two assists here. Defensively he is always very reliable,” says the Arsenal manager, complimenting Giroud.

Montpellier put up a fight against the Red of North London but you can’t beat a team full of Cannons.

In other news from the UEFA Champions League, the fate of 13 teams has been decided.
While FC Porto, Paris Saint Germain, AC Milan, Arsenal FC, FC Schalke 04, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Malaga CF have qualified to the last 16 – with Borussia Dortmund and Malaga topping their group – FC Dynamo Kyiv and Olympiacos have sealed their place in the UEFA Europa League whereas GNK Dinamo Zagreb and Montpellier Herault SC have been eliminated.

“I’m very proud,” he said. “Thirteen times in a row we [have] qualified… it’s most difficult to be consistent at our level. It is a credit to the club, because it is not as easy as it looks. If you look all over Europe, there are not many teams who do it,” Arsene Wenger expresses proudly.

 

Wenger’s post match conference:

 

Written by Siobhan Pedroza

Follow her on Twitter @briefcase_wanka

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