Liverpool FC – Season Review

The 2013/14 season ended in a daze of bittersweet disappointment for Liverpool fans, as Brendan Rodgers allowed supporters to be seduced by the illusions of grandeur once more.

If you had imagined reading that statement before a ball had been kicked this season, you would have guessed Liverpool had suffered final day heartache, being pipped to the final Champions League spot by neighbours Everton.

However the strides taken under Rodgers meant that Liverpool went in to the final day this season with title aspirations still (just about) intact. It wasn’t meant to be as Liverpool ended the season with a 2-1 victory over Newcastle after going 1-0 down, whilst City strolled to a comfortable success over West Ham at the Etihad.

It has been a magnificent season under Rodgers as the manager has managed to stamp his style on the club, and adopt a free-flowing attacking style reminiscent of the old days. His ability to incorporate young British talent into the side has been beneficial to the chemistry of the side, and gained many plaudits from across the media. Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Jon Flanagan and Dan Sturridge have been excellent for the most-part, and have provided hope of a solid base for the future.

Beginning to Believe;

Liverpool’s first game of the season was against Stoke in the 12:45 kick-off of the opening weekend. A Dan Sturridge goal and a late Simon Mignolet penalty save allowed Liverpool fans to indulge in the old ‘We are top of the League’ jokes until the later games got underway. However as two more Dan Sturridge goals, resulting in two more 1-0 victories, over Aston Villa and Manchester United respectively, Liverpool endured their best start to the season in living memory, even without the services of talisman Luis Suarez for the first six games and the future looked bright.

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Fans were enjoying heading to games, a stark contrast from the Hodgson and Dalglish days, were some games felt like chores (being there for Blackpool doing the double over us in the ‘10/11 season springs to mind), and there was plenty of faith in Rodgers as a long-term prospect.

Champions League qualification was the aim and fans were in buoyant mood as the season began to progress, with only defeats at Arsenal and a 3-3 draw at Everton leaving bitter tastes in the mouths of Reds before the Christmas period.

The Everton result on paper, wasn’t a bad result, however Joe Allen’s miss from six yards to put the game to bed at 2-1 up is a haunting image, which did linger in the mind for a while after result. Everton battled well and probably should have gone on to win the game but for the magnificence of Simon Mignolet, and a late Dan Sturridge header rescued a point for Liverpool and meant supporters went away with a silver lining.

Two defeats in three days during the Christmas period put paid to Liverpool fans getting ahead of themselves, yet the performances allowed fans to take some solace in defeat. They led in both games against Manchester City and Chelsea, before going on to lose 2-1 in each encounter. A dubious offside for Raheem Sterling against City, and an individual error from Simon Mignolet left the fans feeling frustrated at the Etihad, and a blatant foul on Luis Suarez in the box at Stamford Bridge left many feeling aggrieved, and questioning how they came away from both games without a point.

However the turn of the year would be kind to Liverpool, as they would only go on to lose one game during in 2014, racking up eleven straight wins in the Premier League.

A key game that really kick-started the progress was the 4-0 win over neighbours Everton, who at the time rivals for the final Champions League spot, as it signified the season was going in the right direction and the victory typified what Brendan Rodgers was string to instil in his players. Fast-paced, free-flowing attacking football, as Liverpool got out of the blocks early and managed to get a goal, meaning Everton were forced to attack and were then torn apart on the counter-attack. This is where Liverpool fans began to think Champions League was a definite, and confidence was bounding through the veins of the players.

The unbeaten run gathered pace, as teams were swept aside with consummate ease. Then leaders Arsenal were beaten 5-1, in a game that sent a message to the rest of the league, that Liverpool were to be taken seriously as title contenders. The Reds travelled to Old Trafford on the cusp of starting the game as favourites for the first time during the Premier League era, and United were quickly dispatched thanks to a Steven Gerrard brace from 12-yards, and one from the magician Luis Suarez.

Games were coming thick and fast and the media were suggesting ‘they will falter soon’, however with every game that passed, Liverpool managed to ensure they returned to Anfield with three points and confidence to ‘go again’.

A 4-0 win over Spurs and chants of ‘Now you’re going to believe us’ bellowing around the ground, was extremely fitting. Members of the older generation seemed to be genuinely happy their children were in the process of witnessing Liverpool returning to their perch, and in the process of witnessing something special.

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West Ham were the next port of call, and after going 1-0 up after yet another Steven Gerrard penalty, things were seemingly going to plan. However Andy Carroll had other ideas and after a ludicrous challenge with Simon Mignolet just before half-time, Guy Demel swept in the equaliser and left players, fans and manager all aghast at what they had just witnessed.

It was a fifteen minute interval that had Liverpool’s chances in the balance. They had to put their sheer frustration and anger behind them and keep going to try and get the vital three points. They did that and the skipper stepped up and swept home another penalty to take Liverpool to the top of the league.

Manchester City travelled to Anfield in a must-win clash for Liverpool, if they were to stretch their advantage at the top, and put down a marker for both Manchester City and Chelsea to attack at the tail-end of the campaign.

It was all going to plan for the Reds as they raced into a 2-0 lead before half-time thanks to Sterling and Skrtel, as-well as the imperious Yaya Toure limping off with a minor injury. However City did what champions do and fought back to level the game up at 2-2 with over 20 minutes remaining. It had the feel of something special was needed to resurrect Liverpool’s flailing title ambitions and his name is Philipe Coutinho. The Brazilian wizard popped up with a magnificent curling effort from 18-yards, capitalising on a rare Vincent Kompany mistake, and sending the Anfield faithful into raptures.

They believed.

After coming through the difficult encounters home and away, they saw off Norwich in a thrilling 3-2 victory, and all eyes turned to the Chelsea clash.

It was avoid defeat, and Liverpool would have one hand on the title.

It wasn’t meant to be.

A Steven Gerrard slip allowed Demba Ba sweep in and score on the stroke of half-time, to the shock of the Kop, after Liverpool had dominated the early proceedings without creating much. It was a weakened Chelsea side to add insult to injury, and after Iago Aspas had been brought on to try and get a late equaliser, his poor corner allowed Chelsea to break and ex-Red Fernando Torres rolled the ball to Willian to make it 2-0 Chelsea in the dying embers of the game, and hand the initiative back to City.

After City had did all they had to, Liverpool travelled to Palace knowing a win was needed, and any big margin would keep the extremely feint hopes of catching the Citizens superior goal difference. As Sturridge made it 3-0, then was urged to get back to the centre-circle as opposed to celebrate suggested Liverpool still believed. Fast-forward twenty minutes and a calamitous collapse has seen Palace claw back the deficit and Tony Pulis’ men were celebrating a 3-3, which all but ruled Liverpool out of the title race.

Going for a draw at Chelsea and shutting up shop when 3-0 up against Palace might well have seen Liverpool win the league, however it isn’t Rodgers’ style. This will be a massive learning curve for the manager, and the players who just lacked that ability under immense pressure in the closing three games. It was a step into the unknown for Liverpool, which will serve them well into the future and next season.

Analysis of the season;

Fast frenetic starts were the flavour of Liverpool’s success this season, as the Reds scored 57 of their 101 goals in the first-half of the game, smashing the Premier League record. The side managed to net 15 goals in the first 15 minutes of games and it is a trait which has served them well so far under Rodgers.

However it often masked Liverpool’s inferior fitness levels to other sides towards the later part of the season. The squad consisted of around 13/14 players that looked comfortable in the top level games, however Reds fans could never really feel confident with Victor Moses and Iago Aspas as impact players, who were to be relied on to get a late goal. Rodgers factored this in to his game-plans, and ensured that Liverpool flew out of the blocks early, and built up a lead to fall back on later in the game.

It was often referred to as ‘taking their foot off the gas’ but in most cases, they just couldn’t keep up their high intensity levels for more than 50 minutes at most. This is something that needs to be looked at over the summer, and although the World Cup will be a hindrance, the fact that Liverpool have cemented Champions League football means they are much more of a pulling power than in previous years, and if Rodgers is to be believed, he is attempting to bring in six new faces to help bulk out with the squad and share the weight of pressure and intensity out between the players.

Another aspect that needs to be looked into is the defence.

Sakho was signed as the saviour; however he never looks comfortable on the ball for the style of play Rodgers likes to practice, with Mignolet rolling the ball out to his defence. He has shown signs of tactical awareness and is an intimidating unit in the air; however he needs to work on his ball-work massively if he is to figure. He is only young and will improve, yet he needs to show signs of improvement to feature as a starting centre-half.

Kolo Toure. The less said, the better.

Aly Cissokho. See above.

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Skrtel and Agger had previously cemented their place at the heart of the defence with great effect in previous years, and when they were paired up this season, they looked the best partnership the Reds had at their disposal.

The lack of consistency surely paid its part in the poor defensive performances, with so much pressure on the back four. There seemed to be very little confidence in Mignolet, who often failed to command his box and as a result Liverpool conceded a large amount of their goals from set-pieces.

Flanagan has been a revelation at left-back and looked strong for the majority of the season, however he looks set to be a short-term solution in that position as he was the most dribbled past player in the entire league. He has a tendency to show players inside onto his stronger right-foot, and they glide down the touchline and more times than not, manage to get a cross into the box. He possesses the ability to be a top Premier League full-back in the future, but he looks a lot better at right-back, which looks set to be for the best judging by Glen Johnson’s terrible season.

He’s always shaped as a better right-winger than a right-back, and his inability to defend has been costly on plenty of occasions this season. He has never looked overly interested and with his contract nearly up, it would be a surprise if he was to stay on next season.

Steven Gerrard answered plenty of critics (including myself) in the best possible way this season, putting to bed the ‘he’s lost his legs’ claim, excelling in his new deeper role.

He has been dictating play and pulling the strings for many of his side’s attacks this season, often dropping in between the centre-halves to allow freedom to the full-backs and the ever impressive Jordan Henderson.

He has offered the stability in the centre that Liverpool had been lacking since Lucas suffered his injury two seasons ago. Gerrard’s technical ability is second-to-none and his clinical finishing from set-pieces has been ultra-impressive. He still has another season or two left in him, and he has made that holding midfielder role his own this season.

gerrard lirdThis has allowed Jordan Henderson to shine, and show off his outstanding engine. His box-to-box role has been one he has been crying out for since joining the Reds, and he has slowly became one of the first on the team-sheet. He is technically gifted and has the ability to progress into a very special player if he begins to believe in his own ability. He is prone to panic in the final third, however he is definitely improving in this area, and is sure to be keep his place in the side next year. If he hadn’t had been sent-off against Manchester City, would Liverpool have won the league?

Coutinho starred yet again, showing glimpses of his skills-set when given the chance in an attacking role; however he has been overshadowed this season by Raheem Sterling.  The 19-year-old has matured into a valuable first-team player, either out wide in a front-three or as the spearhead of a midfield diamond where he has thrived, scoring plenty of valuable goals. He looks set for a bright future, and the World Cup will be a fantastic learning curve for him to take into next year, as the squad begins to strengthen once more.

The attacking duo of Suarez and Sturridge took the league by storm, and were the most impressive strike partnership the Premier League has seen in many a year. Luis Suarez missed the first six games of the season following a suspension, and there were question marks of whether or not he will be putting in his upmost efforts after taking to the media to air his desire to leave Anfield. However those rumours were quickly dispelled as Suarez took to cutting down Premier League defences instantly, bagging two at Sunderland on his return to the side. He ended the year with 31 goals, taking the PFA Player of the Year, Golden Boot and Football Writer’s accolades, and Liverpool must be prepared to receive plenty of offers for their Uruguayan superstar.

Dan Sturridge also played his part in the success of the side, as his prolific nature in-front of goal helped the Reds rack up plenty of points, especially during the opening stages of the season when Suarez was missing. He enjoys dropping deep, and drifting wide to make diagonal runs behind the back four of the opposition, which works well with Suarez’ direct nature. He went off the boil towards the end of the season, following an injury he picked up against Manchester City, however he is still set for a starring role for England at the World Cup, and with the acquisition of one more striker over summer, he will be able to have a breather at stages next season, to ease his workload.

Overall;

The season has been a massive success regardless of the fact there was no silverware won for the Reds. Brendan Rodgers has given faith and belief back to the fans and the players, who mixed it at the top level for the first time in many a year. They battled it out with the richest side in the league at the death, with a far less talented squad. So, with money at his disposal in the summer, and the Champions League pull should help attract top quality players to strengthen the squad, and Rodgers’ tactical nous should help ensure Liverpool can balance the pressures of Europe with a solid league campaign once more.

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He is already ahead of the projected target, with the promise of Champions League football being delivered a year ahead of schedule and a title challenge showing just how far the club has come under his guidance. There players that need to leave the side, such as Glen Johnson, Aly Cissokho, Kolo Toure, Victor Moses, Iago Aspas and the dead wood. Then new additions will be important to the side, with plenty of rumours flying around about Michel Vorm, Ashley Cole, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Marcos Rojo, potentially joining the ranks.

The summer transfer window is going to be extremely exciting for Liverpool, as for the first time in a long time; they look a really attractive proposition for many footballers. A young side, playing attacking football with young British talent. The future looks bright for Liverpool.

Liverpool Odds for 2014/15:

Premier League: 11/2

Top 4 Finish: 4/9

 

Premier League – Opening Day Advice

Finally, after an excruciating long summer without football, the Premier League returns, and with it, an opportunity to win some money to make Match of the Day even sweeter.

There’s nothing worse than conceding an injury time equaliser, to ruin your acca (apart from Garth Crooks), but on the flip-side, there is nothing sweeter than hearing Jeff screaming “there’s been a goal at the Emirates!”, when waiting on Arsenal for the last leg of a tasty treble.

Swings and roundabouts, and there are plenty of ups and downs to be expected over the coming season, but hopefully we can start with a profit.

Under/Over treble;

I’ve never put up any predictions about over/under 2.5 goals before, but looking at the prices this weekend, there seems to be some brilliant value floating around.

Liverpool kick-off the new season versus Stoke in the early kick-off, and the last two games at Anfield between the two sides have finished 0-0.

Liverpool always seem to start the season slowly, but should have enough firepower to see off a Stoke side that will take a while to adjust to the new playing style of Mark Hughes.

I can’t see Stoke troubling new boy Simon Mignolet too much, and a 2-0 victory for the reds looks a solid prediction. However, you can never be too confident on Liverpool bagging too many goals against the Potters, and the under 2.5 goals price at Evens looks a solid bet to add to the multiple.

Swansea v Manchester United is the late kick-off on the opening day, and we can expect goals galore at the Liberty Stadium. Swansea have had the benefit of being back in competitive action earlier than most, with the Europa League qualifying having already commenced.

They looked solid, with new-boys Wilfried Bony and Jonjo Shelvey linking up well with one of the finds of the season Michu. They will cause a rather worried David Moyes some problems, and with United’s pre-season being rather mixed, it would be no surprise to see Swansea bag a couple.

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However a side with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney in will always score goals, so the safe option is to side with over 2.5, and just enjoy the game, which looks set to be a cracker. 4/5 is a fair price, and is worthy of going in the multiple.

The final leg of the over/under treble is the West Brom v Southampton game, which looks set to have plenty of action.

The Baggies’ new signing, Nicolas Anelka will be looking to get off the mark straight away, and with new England front-man, Rickie Lambert on the opposite side, there looks to be goals in the offing.

Both are rather attacking sides, and will be a bit slow defensively earlier on in the season. It is worth risking the front-men being able to stick away the chances they are sure to get. 10/11,. tots up the over/under treble to 5.87/1, and adds a bit of interest during the televised games.

Opening Day BTTS & Win double;

Norwich entertain Everton at three o’clock, and the Blues has been in great form pre-season, showing they can match it with the big boys over in America. Kevin Mirallas looks like he is set for a massive season, and he can lead Everton to an opening day victory at Carrow Road.

Roberto Martinez seems to have fazed in his new passing style seamlessly during the season, and has a solid back four to base it off. Coleman and Baines are arguably the best full-back pairing in the league on their day, and both are set to go on to bigger things unless Everton step up and mount a European challenge this year.

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Norwich have signed well, but still lack defensive depth and a central midfielder to run the show. This is where Everton can take advantage on Saturday, and with Fellaini pulling the strings in the centre, Everton should just have enough to see off the challenge of Chris Hughton’s men.

It’s worth taking advantage of Ladbrokes’ 18/5 about Everton to win, with both teams scoring.

Add this with Manchester United to beat Swansea, with both teams scoring at 11/4 and we have a 16.25/1 double that is extremely enticing.

Any-time scorer treble;

Theo Walcott looked in good nick for England in midweek, getting himself on the score-sheet, and he can replicate this come Saturday, against a rather week Aston Villa defence.

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He is 5/4 to net any-time, and with his pace like to cause the Villa back-four problems all afternoon, he looks good value to start the season with a bang.

Kevin Mirallas can also carry on his pre-season form by getting his name on the score-sheet at the first time of asking. The Belgian has gone from strength-to-strength since arriving in the Premier League, and has excelled under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, slotting in to the fluid formation with great ease.

Employed as a wide-man, Mirallas is keen to link up with the lone striker, and this means the 5/2 about him netting looks a decent prospect.

Tottenham have brought in Roberto Soldado to bolster their attack, and mount a challenge for top-four next season, and he will start his campaign away at Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon.

He has strength, and a sharp finish and although he won’t be used to the physical presence that Palace offer, he had the ability to be able to adapt quickly.

He is set to be penalty taker for Spurs, which could come in handy Sunday, and at 5/4 it’s worth adding him to our any-time trio, which will hopefully result in us having a bit of interest come Sunday.

Advice:

1 point treble (Over/Under 2.5 goals): Liv/Stoke – Under, Swa/MU, WBA/South – Over @ 5.87/1 (William Hill)

1 point double: Everton to beat Norwich & BTTS, Manchester United to beat Swansea & BTTS @ 16.25/1 (Ladbrokes)

1 point treble (any-time scorer): Walcott/Mirallas/Soldado @ 16.72/1 (BetVictor)

Barcelona v Bayern Munich – Betting Preview.

After an action-packed first leg in Germany, Munich have all but booked their flights to Wembley, after a resounding 4-0 victory.

It was viewed by many as the changing of the guard, with German football taking over the reins from La Liga as the greatest footballing league in the world.

However, there is still life in the old guard yet, and you can never rule out a side spearheaded by Lionel Messi.

The Catalan side know they need to attack, which means an open game at both ends, which suggests there will be plenty of goals. The 5/4 on offer with Bet365 for over 3 goals looks massive value, considering four or more goals is only 6/5 with Paddy Power.

Barcelona’s defence has been exploited on many occasions this season, and are more likely to be caught short tomorrow with so much emphasis on attack.

This means the both-to-score bet looks relatively safe, but with so little value, there is no point getting involved.

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Instead it may pay to side with the wincast special of Lionel Messi to net any-time in a Barcelona victory, at 7/5.

The Argentinian will be out to try and restore his sides credibility, as-well as prove why he is the greatest player in the world.

He was unusually quiet in the first leg, which was swept under the carpet as Munich’s success was primarily focused on, as opposed to Barca, and Messi in particular’s disappointment.

No-one is sure of how Munich will set up and with the German’s renowned for their irresistible attacking displays this season, it seems hard to fathom they will be told to just sit deep and ensure Messi/Iniesta can’t get their foot on the ball.

However, it may be what happens, and that could turn out to be a very dangerous tactic if true, as if anyone can break a side down from 30 yards inwards, it’s Barcelona.

You can never discount them at the Nou Camp, and as they showed against AC Milan earlier in the competition, they are able to do their best work when little is expected of them.

No pressure means that the side can go and play with no restrictions, and although they are (arguably) defensively weak, and likely to concede, they should still manage to get a few goals in front of a loud home crowd.

The 3-1 scoreline appeals at odds of 14/1 with Stan James, and I’m sure it’s one that will shorten before the off, with other firms offering much shorter prices.

Advice:

1 point: Over 3 goals – 5/4 @ Bet365

1 point: Messi/Barcelona (Wincast) – 7/5 @ Stan James

0.5 points: Barcelona 3-1 – 14/1 @ Stan James

2013 = +31.71

Champions League – Round of 16 (2nd leg) Advice.

All eyes will be on Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, as Manchester United host Real Madrid in the return leg of their last-16 game.

Both sides go into the game evenly poised, after the sides drew 1-1 at the Bernabeu.

It looks set to be a thriller, with both sides going all out to land a place in the quarter-finals. They both come into the game in great form, but United hold a slight advantage after managing to grab what could be an all-important away goal in Madrid.

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This means Real Madrid have to score on the night, and will be going all out from the off. With the likes of Ronaldo, who is returning to Old Trafford for the first time since leaving the club, Benzema and Ozil all available when going forward, you would have to fancy them to hit the net at least once.

Veteran Ryan Giggs looks set to earn his 1000th appearance for the Red Devils, and it looks written in the stars he is set to have a major part in the way the game swings.

Yet, for me, the bet lies with the slightly out-of-form Robin Van Persie, who is in a dry-spell by his incredible standards.

He will be looking to make up for his glaring miss in the opening leg by getting on the score-sheet at Old Trafford. The more Madrid begin to push in search of a goal, the more gaps will appear across the back-four. RVP only needs one sight of goal when he’s on form, and he looks set to get a few chances against Los Blancos.

The 11/8 for him to score anytime appeals, and would be a slightly safe bet in what is set to be an enthralling fixture.

Elsewhere on Tuesday evening, Dortmund entertain Shakhtar Donetsk after a 2-2 draw in the first-leg.

Two away goals for Dortmund mean they are in a strong position to advance.

They are imperious at home and know they can play their normal football without having to chase the game. This means they will be able to pick off and counter Shakhtar, allowing Robert Lewandowski to enhance his already growing reputation.

With the likely attacking attitude of Donetsk, he should get his chances to hit the back of the net, and the 5/1 on offer for him to score two or more looks too big to resist.

However with Dortmund beginning to come under so much pressure, due to a dip in their league form, they know they have to qualify in order to ease the pressure.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has scored 18 goals in his last 18 appearances, and will be a lot sharper after both he and his side have played a few games since finishing the winter break. He looks potentially massive at 3/1 to score any-time, and with Shakhtar looking to get their key man on the ball as often as possible in the final third, it would be no surprise to see him hit the back of the net at least once.

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Meanwhile on Wednesday evening, Celtic face a near impossible task of re-clawing a three-goal deficit as they head to Turin to take on Serie A leaders, Juventus.

Celtic by no means disgraced themselves at Celtic Park, yet the difference in class showed, as Juventus were clinical with their limited chances, whereas Celtic were slightly wasteful.

This looks set to be the same for the second leg, yet Juventus will be allowed to simply dictate the pace of the game, as Celtic are set to be all-out attack from the outset.

This will leave them incredibly exposed, and I expect Juventus to grab an early goal and then patiently see the game out. This makes the Evens for Juventus to be leading at both half-time and full-time, a great price.

The final game I will preview is the PSG v Valencia fixture, which looks set to be a tasty affair.

With Ibrahimovic suspended, PSG’s attacking threat has been lessened  however they should have just enough to see off a gritty Valencia.

It looks set to be an open game, with Valencia knowing they have to score at least twice to have any chance of qualifying. Yet, PSG look far too strong defensively, and should stand up to the task well.

The 9/10 for a PSG win looks solid, and should be added to any multiples.

Advice :

1point: Double: Juventus/Juventus and PSG to win – 2.88-1 (BetVictor)

1 point: RVP any-time @ 11/8 (Bet365)

1 point: Henrikh Mkhitaryan any-time @ 3/1 (BetVictor)

2013 profit: +0.8 points profit

Champions League Feature – With Sportingbet’s Mark O’Haire

With the Champions League now becoming a global betting phenomenon, Mark O’Haire from Sportingbet kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his views on this season’s tournament, and the some of the bets he has come across so far.

 

What are your major tips for this weeks Champions League encounters, and why?

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(Mark): I expected to see Porto shorter than 8/11-4/5ish, if I’m honest. They’ve a superb home record – unbeaten in 19 matches and are notoriously strong at the Dragao in Europe.

Malaga are unbeaten in the Champions League defence but were lucky to be drawn in a fairly comfortable group. Their away record in La Liga is sketchy and Porto have plenty of firepower to break their resolute defence.

Elsewhere, I was a big fan of Galatasaray when the draw was made. Schalke have been out-of-sorts since the Champions League group phase ended in November. I watched them on Saturday and they picked up a credible draw at Mainz which will no doubt give them some belief but a visit to Istanbul will definitely test their character.

 

What is proving popular with your punters?

Outright Bayern Munich are our biggest loser following by Real Madrid and Dortmund. Barcelona are also a small loser but all other runners are decent results for us at Sportingbet.

In this week’s games, Galatasaray have had a lot of interest and could be our worst result. Bayern Munich and Barcelona make up a number of accumulators and would represent poor results for us.

 

What’s the biggest bet that has been wagered on this year’s Champions League?

We’ve a big German punter who’s regularly placed bets around the £200,000 mark this season. He’s been less prolific in the Champions League but did have a winning £40,000 bet on Cluj double chance away at Galatasaray in the group stage at 6/4.

 

What’s the most obscure bet you have witnessed for the Champions League, on the whole?

There’s been a few. Last week one of our punters had £50 on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to be sent off in our Zlatan specials at 40/1. He was given a red card in stoppage time of PSG’s game against Valencia.

But the strangest was probably a £39 bet on the winner of the Champions League to be from Belarus at 250/1!

 

Who is your fancy to win the prize outright, and why?

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Taking price and betting out of the equation, Barcelona are the greatest club team I’ve ever seen with the best player to ever walk the earth so they’ll take all the beating. But my outsider pick ante-post was Juventus and I don’t think any side will enjoy playing against them.

Italian clubs haven’t performed well in Europe over the past few seasons but this Juventus side is head and shoulders above the rest without many weaknesses. I also think they’re being underrated in the markets.

 

Advice:

If you wish to take Mark’s advice, there are some brilliant odds on offer with his very own Sportingbet.

Galatasaray to beat Schalke @ 23/20 (Sportingbet)

Porto to beat Malaga @ 4/6 (Sportingbet)

Juventus to win the Champions League @ 9/1 (Sportingbet)

 

Champions League – Last 16 – Value Bets (Week 2)

Following last week’s feast of footballing brilliance in the opening fixtures of the last 16 of this seasons Champions League, there is even more expectation heading in to week two.

It was a solid start in 2013 for the blog, with two tips being landed (Shakhtar/Dortmund draw and Over 2.5 goals in Valencia/PSG), which meant that we finished the week with a 1.8 point profit from a four point output, a solid return.

Arsenal host Bayern Munich on Tuesday, in what looks to be a massive night in North London, in particular for Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman has come under a lot of pressure as of late, following a poor run of form, culminating in being eliminated from the F.A Cup by Championship Blackburn. He understands he either needs to progress into the latter stages of the Champions League or secure fourth place in the Premier League, or his job will be under real pressure.

He will have relayed this message to his players who always seem to turn on the style on big European nights at the Emirates, none more so than when they defeated Barcelona 2-1, two years ago in the competition. This is an extremely different Arsenal side, but there is no reason as to why they should not be able to cause the German defence some problems.

theo-walcott_2449047b

Walcott, Giroud and Podolski are all extremely talented players and with Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere pulling the strings in behind. The 7/5 on offer for Arsenal to score the first goal looks a brilliant bet.

Munich will attempt to press Arsenal high up the pitch, and if this happens, Theo Walcott looks set to be the obvious beneficiary as he is likely to line up opposite the attacking-minded David Alaba, which could be a key battle over the course of the evening. 11/4 for Walcott to score any-time looks enticing, as does the 8/1 for Jack Wilshere.

However it will not be plain sailing for the North London side, and with the likes of Mandzukic, Gomez and Ribery spearheading the German outfit’s attack, there is sure to be goals. Arsenal’s defence has been poor of late, conceding very sloppy goals and with Munich going all out to secure a first-leg lead, they will need to be on their toes to make sure they have any chance of winning the game.

There is limited value in any-time scorers bet, so the short-priced ‘good thing’ for most punters looks to be the 5/6 on offer with Ladbrokes for Bayern Munich to score over 1.5 goals.

Jackson-Martinez-FC-Porto-2012

Unbeaten Malaga travel to Portugal to face Porto in Tuesday evening’s other fixture, and it looks sure to be a very close encounter.

Porto are strong favourites to overpower the Andalusians, and in-form Jackson Martinez will be out to make sure he can help his side take a lead into the second leg.

He has bagged three in his last four in the Champions League, and eight in five in all competitions and comes into the game in tremendous goal-scoring form. Understandably he is a short price to get on the score-sheet with most firms, however BetVictor are offering a very generous 29/20 for the Colombian to hit the back of the net on Tuesday evening.

Arguably the most anticipated game of the week takes place at the San Siro as AC Milan entertain an imperious Barcelona side. All of the pre-game hype would have surely surrounded Mario Balotelli ahd he not been cup-tied (played for Manchester City in the group stages) but this has allowed the build-up to surround the football itself and in particular the magician that is Lionel Messi.

Messi notched his 300th goal in all competitions for Barcelona last weekend, and will be out to kick-start into the three hundreds as soon as possible. He has a habit of scoring against Milan, and with it likely to be a feisty affair, he is sure to get his chance to get on the score-sheet via set-pieces.

He is currently a stand-out 9/4 with BetVictor to score two or more, and this could turn out to be a magnificent price, as the Argentine has what it takes to put Milan to the sword and put the tie to bed before they face Real Madrid twice within a month in domestic competitions.

drogba-galatasaray

The final tie of this week’s fixtures is Galatasaray v Schalke, taking place in Istanbul. It gives Didier Drogba his first chance to taste Champions League football since scoring the winning penalty and subsequently lifting the trophy with Chelsea last May. His link-up play with fellow new boy Wesley Sneijder is set to be a key part of the Turkish sides chances, and the Ivorian has already made a big impact, scoring after only five minutes of his debut last weekend as he helped his side to a 2-1 win.

Galatasary are currently flying in the Super Lig, topping the table by seven points, wherease Schalke are struggling on the domestic front, currently lying in eighth place a massive 27 points off leaders Dortmund.

Their defence has been shaky as of late, and with Drogba seemingly not showing any signs of rustiness, he looks set to reignite his love affair with the Champions League and lead the Turkish side to a first-leg lead, which could prove all important. The 100/30 for Drogba to get on the scoresheet in a Galatasaray win looks too good to ignore.

 Advice (1 point acca):

Arsenal to score the first goal  @ 7/5 (Bet365)

Jackson Martinez to score any-time  @ 29/20 (BetVictor)

Lionel Messi to score 2 or more @ 9/4 (BetVictor)

Didier Drogba to score and Galatasaray to win @ 100/30 (BlueSq)

 

2013 so far: +1.8 points

Champions League 2012/13 – Preview with Best Bets.

Last year’s Champions League was as eventful as ever and eventually went the way of Chelsea, for the first time in their history. They hit 33/1 after losing the first leg of their last-16 game against Napoli 3-1. This result played some part in the sacking of AVB, this led to Di Matteo taking the reigns at the South London club, before guiding them through the second leg in dramatic fashion before going on to lift the trophy three months later in Munich, after beating Bayern on penalties.

This year they will be looking to emulate their success and are currently a best-priced 16/1 to do so. It will be a big task to land back to back Champions League’s, as no team have done so since the brilliant AC Milan side back in 89/90. However after landing the job on a permanent basis, Di Matteo has already done some brilliant business during the transfer window so far, bringing in Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin. Chelsea often lacked the cutting edge in the final third last year, failing to break defences down and not scoring as many goals as they should have done. The departure of Didier Drogba will pave the way for Fernando Torres to step up to the mark and prove to the world he is still the same magnificent player he was at Liverpool. He has never managed to get a decent run in the Chelsea team, with the amount of striking options that was at AVB/Di Matteo’s disposal, but this year he is set to be first-choice in the absence of Drogba and coming in off the back of winning the Golden Boot at the Euro’s, his confidence will be sky-high. He has always been a confidence player, and the past 18 months, he has looked someone who lacked self-belief, but following the Euro’s, he looks to have found his shooting boots, and with that comes confidence. He will be a key man for Chelsea, and will be key in any success they are to have this year.

Runners-up Bayern Munich have also been busy in the transfer market in an attempt to go one better than last year. They have brought in a number of new faces, which has given their squad tremendous strength in depth. The aquisition of Mario Mandzukic is superb one and the Croatian front-man looks set to have a massive season. He scored on his first competitive start for Bayern in the German Supercup against Bundesliga winners Borussia Dortmund, notching the first after six minutes in a 2-1 win for Munich. The 14/1 on offer for Bayern may tempt many, but they lack the flair against defensive opposition so I can see them coming up short again. But when the top goalscorer markets are released, it may pay to have a little flutter on Mandzukic being top.

Unsurprisingly, the two joint-favourites for the competition come from Spain. Barcelona have a great record in recent years, having won the Champions League in 2006, 2009 and 2011, beating English opposition in each final. They will be hoping for a repeat performance this year under new manager Tito Villanova, who had previously been assistant under Pep Guardiola from 2008 until taking over as the manager in June of this year. He has inherited arguably the greatest squad on the planet, headed by the worlds greatest, Lionel Messi. Messi is immensely talented, and never fails to make a difference. While he is on the pitch, anything is possible, and with David Villa returning to the squad, the team is sure to get goals. Their defence has often been highlighted as a potential weak spot, but when looking at the arrivals:

Alex Song
Defensive Midfield
24
Arsenal FC
  Premier League
16.720.000 £
Jordi Alba 10.000.000 €”>Jordi Alba
Fullback, left
23
Valencia CF
  Primera División
12.320.000 £
Marc Muniesa 2.500.000 €”>Marc Muniesa
Centre Back
20
FC Barcelona B
  Segunda División
Martín Montoya 4.000.000 €”>Martín Montoya
Fullback, right
21
FC Barcelona B
  Segunda División
Marc Bartra 2.500.000 €”>Marc Bartra
Centre Back
21
FC Barcelona B
  Segunda División
Jonathan dos Santos 2.500.000 €”>Jonathan dos Santos
Central Midfield
22
FC Barcelona B
  Segunda División
Henrique 3.000.000 €”>Henrique *

You can see Tito is attempting so sure up the defensive side of the team, and Jordi Alba is a massive signing. He can attack with menace, as shown by his goal in the Euro Championship final but he can also defend extremely well and is regarded as one of the top three left-backs in the world. Alex Song has been brought in to hold in the midfield, but can also adopt to a centre-back role, meaning along with Mascherano, they have versaitaile holding midfielders who can play anywhere across the back. This could be the difference, and with the wealth of riches Barcelona have in midfield and attack, with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Fabgregas, it would take a brave man to back against them. However, they have began the new season slowly and other teams will be hopeful of explointing any weaknesses they find, especially with the new manager. They look to have the best squad in the world, but at a best price 7/2, there may be better value elsewhere.

Real Madrid on the other hand, look as steady as ever, with ‘the special one’ Jose Mourinho still at the helm. Los Blancos are the most successful club in the competitions history, with nine wins and Mourinho will be confident of adding a tenth. Madrid have strengethened their already exceptional midfield, by acquiring arguably the best deep-lying play-maker on the planet, Luca Modric. He will give the side that added creativity in midfield, and will help turn defence into attack in one smooth move. His range of passing is superb, and the attackers will be excited to be able to feed off his service. He is likely to line up next to the always solid and consistent Xabi Alonso, who now have a midfield strong enough to challenge Barcelona’s. With Europe’s greatest player, Cristiano Ronaldo, spearheading the attack, there is sure to be goals, and Madrid will be as confident as ever to build on last years unfortunate semi-final loss, and add the tenth Champions League in the clubs glistening history.

There will be an extremely strong challenge from Italy this year, in the shape of Juventus and AC Milan. Last years Serie A winners Juventus will be out to prove a point after not playing in Europe at all last season. They managed to fight off the challenge of AC Milan in the league, and secure their first Scudetto since the ’02/03 season, possibly helped by the lack of European distractions. This year, they have added to their squad, with numerous strong signings from across the world, most notably purchasing the other 50% of Sebastian Giavinco’s transfer rights from Parma. He will add that goalscoring touch alongside Mirko Vucinic. They look solid, and the Juventus Stadium is always a tough place to go, but I doubt their ability to go away from home and score goals, which could cause problems in the latter stages. So they would need to be considerably bigger than the current 16/1 to tempt me.

AC Milan have gotten rid of two of their key-men, in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. The club raked in £55 million from PSG during these sales and are yet to re-invest it. Milan have started their Serie A campaign very slowly, going down 1-0 at home to Sampdoria. They will need to pick up the pace and make two or three world class signings to be in the position to mount a serious challenge.

Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal complete the strong English challenge, along with holders Chelsea. Both Manchester United and Manchester City will be out to make amends on rather disappointing showings in last years competition, when they bowed out in the group stages. Manchester United have strengthened their squad massively, acquiring the highly-rated Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund as-well as Robin Van Persie from rivals Arsenal. RVP is sure to bring goals to the side, which is something, at times,  they lacked last year, as-well as the creativity in the final third that Kagawa will bring. The return of Vidic is massive, as is the form that De Gea seems to have started the season in. Expect a bold showing from United this year, as Ferguson will be going all out to land the European Cup at least once more before he finally retires. With the group they have, RVP will have many chances to get on the score-sheet in the opening games and he could be a value bet for top-scorer.

Manchester City were well fancied by many last season, when they flopped in the group stages. Going away from home, they looked extremely vulnerable and their defence has started the season in the exact same fashion this year. They have immense attacking quality, with Aguero, Tevez, Balotelli, David Silva etc, but their defence has often let them down. Joe Hart is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and will give his defence confidence that they have a pair of safe hands behind them, and he will be key to any success that City have. They have been dealt an extremely tough draw and at a best-priced 10/1, it would be difficult to hammer into them knowing they face a mammoth task, to even get out of their group.

Arsenal have started the season in mixed fashion, initially failing to score in their opening games before hitting form and showing what we all know they can do. They have a wonderful set-up, with a beautiful passing game. The departure of RVP is a massive loss for Wenger’s men, but in Podolski and Giroud, they have two apt replacements. They have a pair of forwards who have the potential to link-up and finish the chances provided by the solid midfield behind them. Santi Cazorla is one of the captures of the season, and his creativity is something Arsenal has definitely lacked in recent years, in the absence of Fabregas. They should be able to comfortably escape their group and the 25/1 may be some each-way value for small-stake punters.

Group Overview:

Group A: Paris Saint-Germain (11/10), FC Porto (15/8), Dynamo Kiev (7), Din Zagreb (25)

PSG will be pleased with their group, after avoiding many of Europe’s big guns. The French side have been splashing the cash in the the summer transfer window, bringing in many high class players in an attempt to land the Champions League for the first time. Lucas Moura, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Verratti, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi have all signed for the club for massive transfer fees and expectation will be huge. They should comfortably come through their group with the amount of class they possess and it would be no shock to see them progress very far in the competition.

It looks as though Porto, Kiev and Zagreb will all be battling it out for second place, and 2004 winners Porto, look set to take that role. Seeded first in the draw, they will be fairly pleased with the draw, although trips to the Ukraine and Croatia will not be easy. They should be able to beat both Kiev and Zagreb on their own turf, and providing PSG do the same, all Porto would have to do, is stop the sides from beating them, which they should be able to do.

Group B: Arsenal (4/5), Schalke 04 (3), Montpellier (7), Olympiakos (14)

Arsenal will be hopeful of getting out of this group, but they do have to face tricky away days across France, Germany and Greece. They should be able to get maximum points at the Emirates however and as long as they pick up points at Montpellier and Olympiakos they should be able to top the group.

Of the rest, it looks a straight battle between Schalke and Montpellier for minor honours. Schalke have tremendous strength in depth, and with the likes of Huntelaar and Affelay (who is on loan from Barcelona), the German side should progress as runners-up.

Group C: AC Milan (13/11), Zenit St Petersburg (2), Malaga (5), Anderlecht (22)

It looks a straight battle between Milan and Zenit as to who tops the group, with Malaga close behind before a massive gulf in class between the rest and Anderlecht. Milan have started the season slowly and I can imagine it will take a while they hit top gear, so it may be wise to take a little risk on Zenit, who have recently acquired the highly-rated Hulk and Axil Witsel. They are 2/1 to win the group and this looks decent value, with Milan expected to fill the runners-up spot.

Group D: Real Madrid (10/11), Man City (5/2), Bor Dortmund (7), Ajax (33)

The group of death includes four champions from four different countries. Any team that wants to progress will have to be on top of their game and it would be no surprise to see the eventual winner, to come from this group.

Madrid always put in a major showing in whatever they take part in and they should have too much class for the opponents, and the 10/11 for them to top the group looks tremendous value. They host Manchester City first game, and a victory here would set them on their way to topping the group. Manchester City have never impressed in European competitions but should be able to see off Dortmund and Ajax, which would be enough to secure the runners-up spot.

Group E: Chelsea (20/19), Juventus (13/8), Shakhtar Donetsk (9), FC Nordsjaelland (100)

Chelsea have impressed so far this year in the Premier League, and Eden Hazard looks set to show his class on the big stage. Stamford Bridge is always a difficult place to go and the fact they are odds-against is a shock for me. The group could well go down to goal difference, and Juventus have never really been known as a team that scores many, as it is the strength of their defence that often gets them out of trouble. The pair should draw clear of Shakhtar and FC Nordsjaelland and it looks a banker forecast, for it to finish Chelsea/Juventus.

Group F: Bayern Munich (1/2), Valencia (3), Lille (10), BATE Borisov (33)

Essentially Group F is Bayern Munich’s group to lose. They should comfortably have enough to see off the declining giants Valencia and Lille who have lost their star-man Eden Hazard. Bate Borisov will struggle to get anything out of the group, and look set to finish in a distant last place.

It looks between Valencia and Lille for the runner-up position, and Valencia should be able to progress, as they look to  have too much fire-power for their French opponents, in the shape of Soldado and Jonas.

Group G: Barcelona (2/13), Benfica (9), Spartak Moscow (20), Celtic (66)

Barcelona should comfortably win the group, with Benfica filling the runners-up spot. Spartak and Celtic both lack the strength-in-depth to compete with Europe’s big guns at this stage, and it should be a procession.

Group H: Man Utd (2/7), Braga (8), Galatasaray (10), CFR Cluj (50)

Manchester United have managed to avoid all of Europe’s big-guns and will be extremely pleased with their group. They face tricky away ties across some tough parts of Europe, but they should top the group comfortably, with the strength of their current squad.

It will be extremely close between Braga and Galatasaray as to who fills the runner up-spot, and I think it may pay to side with Galatasaray. The Türk Telekom Arena as it is now known, is always a tough place to travel, and the Galatasaray fans will play a key part in making it a fortress, and an extremely difficult atmosphere for the away teams to come to.

BETTING TIPS:

Manchester United to win the Champions League: 0.5 point e.w @ 10/1

RVP top scorer and Manchester United to win UCL: 1 point @ 66/1 

Madrid, Barca, Chelsea, Munich, United to win their groups: 2 points @ 13/2

PSG, Arsenal, Zenit to win groups: 1 point @ 10.34/1