Monday, April 27, 2015

A Clásico beckons in Berlin...?

Champions League.

Spain's big two reach the last four of the Champions League, Guardiola comes home, Torres at 700 and Chicharito shines again

The juicy prospect of a Clásico final in Berlin is on after Barcelona were drawn against Bayern Munich and Real Madrid against Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals.

The Barça v Bayern clash stands out as it pits Pep Guardiola against his former club and spiritual home, and the tactics spotters will have their eyes peeled analysing what has become of the Barcelona style of play at both clubs.

Bayern, who have just won the Bundesliga, also boast the Spanish legion of Xabi Alonso, Juan Bernat, Pepe Reina and Thiago, with Javi Martinez watching from the sidelines. Guardiola's presence still hovers over the Camp Nou, inevitably perhaps given the glory he achieved there and how young he was when he asked to step off the thrilling ride.

His status as a king in exile keeping the door slightly ajar makes this an intriguing tie. Win or lose, Guardiola will face questions and private thoughts about where he belongs.

Yet Juve and Real should serve up an equally gripping contest. The healing time for Real’s injury list could be key, although playing the second leg at the Bernabeu should give them the edge against La Signora's mean defence.

Luka Modric will definitely miss the semi, but is a possibility should Real reach the final. Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are set to be fit for the 5th of May clash in Turin. Barcelona could get a boost as Thomas Vermaelen, their summer capture from Arsenal, is almost fit to make his debut.

5th May                 Juventus v Real Madrid
6th May                 Barcelona v Bayern Munich
12th May               Bayern Munich v Barcelona
13th May               Real Madrid v Juventus

Barcelona cruised through their quarter-final second leg, winning 2-0 at home to PSG to advance convincingly 5-1 overall.

Paris SG were supposed to be the new kids on the European block but they have some way to go having failed to make Barça sweat over 120 minutes. For the neutral it was another pleasantly open game like the first leg had been, and much easier on the eye than the Madrid derby.

Barça’s opening goal in the 14th minute was embarrassingly easy as Andres Iniesta picked up the ball in his own half and sailed past three PSG players before releasing Neymar to coast through and poke home.

4-1 up on aggregate meant Luis Enrique’s side could relax. Dani Alves drew a fingertip save from 30 yards and soon after indulged in some trickery to cross for an unmarked Neymar to head home a second.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was hardly noticeable on his return to his former club and another Camp Nou old boy, PSG coach Laurent Blanc, left with a lot of thinking to do.

After another apparently effortless victory and smooth passage to Europe’s last four, the debates over Luis Enrique’s stewardship have died down, as well as questions over Barça’s new playing style.

As in last year’s Champions League final, Atletico Madrid succumbed by the only goal to their big city rivals so the Real show goes on.

Diego Simeone’s battle-plan had all gone to script up until Arda Turan challenged Sergio Ramos for a high ball in the 75th minute and the Turk’s boot made contact with the Spaniard instead of the ball.
Ramos looked guilty of gamesmanship in his writhing reaction and it worked as Turan picked up his second yellow and left the field.

Turan was guilty of mistiming rather than malice but equally on a yellow card probably should have kept his studs down. Whatever the justice, after 165 minutes of sweaty deadlock, everyone felt the red card would be the turning point and Atletico wilted psychologically from it.

Thirteen minutes later, a moment of defensive chaos allowed Cristiano Ronaldo in and he squared to allow Javier Hernandez an easy tap-in.

The Mexican, on only his seventh start of the season, had failed to impress again, but celebrated his strike like he had won the World Cup. Chicharito’s ecstasy unveiled all his frustration at being a bit player in Madrid, and he is unlikely to score such a vital goal for such a big club in his life again.

Real had dominated most of the match and forged its best chances through James Rodriguez and Ronaldo. Lacking four starters and having failed to score at the Manzanares, it was a triumph of sorts to eke through at home, though the sending-off tilted the tie in their favour. Atletico’s gamble of playing for a lucky break or penalties had failed.

Atletico's last hope of a trophy this season has now gone, but a narrow loss to Real, a third-place finish in La Liga and the guarantee of Champions League football next season means there is no sense of failure or questions over Simeone's position.

Sevilla made it a clean sweep for Spain on Thursday drawing 2-2 at Zenit St Petersburg to go through 4-3 on aggregate to the Europa League semi-finals.

2-1 up from the first leg, the Andalucians got a break in the sixth minute when Vitolo was rashly scythed down in the box and Carlos Bacca fired high into the net to extend their lead.

But a trip to Russia was always going to be tough and Zenit got their own break two minutes into the second half as Sevilla goalkeeper Beto was caught out by a looping cross-cum-shot from Oleg Shatov and hastily backpedalling, could only fumble the ball straight to Salomon Rondon for an easy equaliser.

Zenit’s second was even more stunning, a snap shot from around 35 yards out on the right-wing by Hulk, which took everyone, including Beto once more, by surprise. The wind was now in the Russians’ sails and elimination loomed.

But the Spaniards struck gold in the 85th with a second goal to kill off the tie. Vitolo counter-attacked from the left and cut in to play a square ball across the D. Vicente Ibarra dummied it leaving substitute Kevin Gameiro to rifle a diagonal shot past Yuri Lodygin.

Fiorentina await in the semi-finals, with the first leg at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on the seventh of May.

*In La Liga it was business as usual as the top three all won. Barcelona had little trouble taking their city derby 2-0 at Espanyol. Two first half goals from Neymar and Messi did the damage, both moves of rapid switches rather than attacks down the middle.

The home side never truly threatened and both sides had a player dismissed, Jordi Alba for Barça for a foul and protest in the 54th minute, then Hector Moreno for Espanyol in injury time.

In Sunday's late kick-off, Real were once more playing catch-up on Barça but triumphed 4-2 in Galicia at Celta de Vigo.

The visitors trailed in the ninth minute as Celta's Nolito profited from Sergio Ramos losing a boot to cut in from the right and eke his way between Raphael Varane and Illarramendi before beating Iker Casillas at his near post.

Toni Kroos placed his shot through a crowded box into the top corner to equalise seven minutes later. Then in the 24th a Latin American combination helped Real take the lead.

James Rodriguez combined neatly with Javier Hernandez on the right to let the Mexican fire in from a tight angle. Chicharito, hero against Atletico in midweek, was ecstatic again.

But Celta were not out of it and just short of the half hour Santa Mina burst down the middle breaking the Real backline in two and netted at the second attempt to draw scores level.

Cristiano Ronaldo then hit the post before a James shot deflected off Andreu Fontas to wrongfoot his goalkeeper and make it 3-2 to Real after an action-packed 45 minutes.

Real got a break early in the second half when Kroos felled Fabian Orellana from behind in the box but no penaly ensued. Ramos made it sure in the 69th when he released Hernandez down the middle and the Mexican fired his second of the night past Sergio Alvarez.

Chicharito has enjoyed his best week at the club, profiting from Karim Benzema's injury to grab some goals and prove he is not a spent force or mere second-class option.

If he keeps up his scoring in the meantime, when the Frenchman returns Carlo Ancelotti will have some thinking to do, especially whether to spend the £7.5 million to buy him outright from Manchester United.

Hernandez had complained of a lack of opportunity, despite having been signed as striker cover after failing to nail down a starter spot at Old Trafford, but is changing opinions after this week's goal haul.

Atletico Madrid stay third after winning 3-0 at home to Elche. Fernando Torres played his 700th professional game, but failed to find the net. Antoine Griezmann continued his impressive debut campaign with a brace and Raul Garcia added another.

Sevilla capped a happy week by slipping past Valencia into fourth, at least until Monday night, beating Rayo Vallecano 2-0 at home.

Deportivo La Coruna, Granada and Cordoba still occupy the bottom three, but Almeria beat Eibar and Levante Getafe to help them move away from the drop zone.


  1. Barcelona           Pld 33 Pts 81  +72
  2. Real Madrid       Pld 33 Pts 79  +69
  3. Atletico Madrid  Pld 33 Pts 72  +38
  4. Sevilla                Pld 33 Pts 66 +23
  5. Valencia             Pld 32 Pts 65 +31
PICHICHI (Top-scorer)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)          39
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)                     36
Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)    22
Neymar (Barcelona)                            19
Carlos Bacca (Sevilla)                         17

In the Liga Adelante, Girona leapfrogged Sporting Gijon to jump into the automatic promotion place behind Real Betis, while Las Palmas, Real Valladolid and Ponferradina occupy the playoff spots.

* Real will hardly be able to relax this summer. The team will travel to Australia, China and Germany, playing the likes of Manchester City, Roma, Inter, Milan, Tottenham and Bayern Munich.

* In this week's transfer rumours, Real Madrid may launch an audacious raid on Chelsea for England's PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard. Los merengues are also said to be eyeing Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

West Ham were mulling over a £7 million move for Chicharito, before his goal-fest this week. Dinamo Moscow have allegedly enquired too.

Chelsea allegedly offered Real £100 million for Gareth Bale and Raphael Varane but were turned down.

Real are said to have slapped a £35 million price tag on Isco, with Chelsea and Man City waiting in the wings.

Lazio meanwhile are interested in signing Real's 22 year-old Spanish striker Jese.

Man Utd are set to make Real "an offer they cannot refuse" for Gareth Bale.

Espanyol's Mexican centre-back Hector Moreno is set for a move to North London, with Arsenal pipping Tottenham to the contract.

Manchester City are willing to shell out £50 million to buy out the contract of Barcelona full-back Jordi Alba, who is tied to the Camp Nou until 2017.

City are also preparing an approach to Atletico's Diego Simeone to take over from Manuel Pellegrini or could turn to Carlo Ancelotti or Rafael Benitez if Pep Guardiola stays put.

Barça president Josep Bartomeu admitted his club "enjoy watching" Juventus' Paul Pogba on television. The blaugrana have a transfer ban until next winter.

Barcelona have also been keeping tabs on Inter's Croatian attacking midfielder Mateo Kovacic.

Atletico's Spanish international Koke is a £43 million target for Chelsea, despite a release clause of £50 million in the five-year deal he penned last year.

Los Rojiblancos are apparently no longer interesed in signing Everton's Kevin Mirallas, while Juventus are keen on Atletico centre-back Miranda.

THIS WEEK'S BIG MATCHES, all LA LIGA (kick-off times GMT)

Mon 27th April
Valencia v Granada  19:45

Tue 28th April
Barcelona v Getafe  19:00

Wed 29th April
Real Madrid v Almeria        19:00
Villareal v Atletico Madrid  21:00

Thu 30th April
Rayo Vallecano v Valencia  19:00

Sat 2nd May
Cordoba v Barcelona 15:00
Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao 17:00
Sevilla v Real Madrid 19:00

Sun 3rd May
Valencia v Eibar  18:00

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, April 24, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions 25 April 2015

George's Premiership Predictions 25 April 2015

The big match in the Premier League this weekend is at The Emirates where Chelsea will attempt another smash and grab and we predict that Mourinho's mastery of Wenger will continue with a narrow 0-1 win.

At the bottom Burnley face Leicester is a real 6-pointer while Hull have a difficult fixture at Crystal Palace. Manchester City should be too strong at home for FA Cup finalists Villa.

George's Premiership Predictions 25 April 2015

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Southampton 1 v Tottenham 1
Burnley 1 v Leicester 2
Crystal Palace 1 v Hull 0
Newcastle 1 v Swansea 1
QPR 2 v West Ham 1
Stoke 2 v Sunderland 0
West Brom 0 v Liverpool 2
Manchester City 3 v Aston Villa 0

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Everton 2 v Manchester United 2
Arsenal 0 v Chelsea 1

Champions League - Spanish Top Guns 11/8 To Meet In Berlin

Barcelona and Real Madrid have been kept apart and the Spanish giants are 11/8 to meet in Berlin in a Champions League final that could take your breath away.
Barcelona failed to score against Munich over the two legs at the same stage in 2013, and with the added ingredient of a return for Pep Guardiola, There is a market on how many the Catalans score over 180 minutes.

Bayern Munich landed the treble that season and Guardiola’s current side are 9/2 to repeat that feat, whilst his old team can be backed at 7/2 to finish with three trophies.

2014/15 Champions League Outright

Barcelona 2/1 Real Madrid 2/1
Bayern Munich 5/2 Juventus 15/2

Real Madrid & Barcelona 11/8 Bayern Munich & Real Madrid 15/8
Barcelona & Juventus 9/2 Bayern Munich & Juventus 6/1
To Reach Final

Real Madrid 4/11 Juventus 21/10
Barcelona 8/11 Bayern Munich 11/10
Barcelona v Bayern Munich - Semi Final

Combined Barcelona Goals – Both Legs (Extra Time & Pens don’t count)
0: 12/1 1: 4/1 2: 11/4 3: 3/1
4+: 5/2
2014/15 Team Outright Wins

Barcelona to win Primera Liga, CdR & Champs League 7/2
Bayern Munich to win Bundesliga, DFB Pokal & Champs League 9/2

Last time's predictions


Monday, April 20, 2015

All-Spanish Euro final still on the cards


Barça keep winning while Real's injury list is growing


Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid, a repeat of last year's final, was certainly the pick of the Champions League quarter-final ties on paper and a hard-fought 0-0 final score leaves a second leg to relish.

"It was the best of the worst possible results," said Carlo Ancelotti enigmatically, while his opposite number Diego Simeone added, "It's very difficult with such good opponents to see the smallest detail as favourable."

The capital derby as expected began a bit helter-skelter and with Real dominating possession. Gareth Bale flunked an early one-on-one but neither side forged other clear-cut chances of note, such was the space-denying going on. 45 minutes of struggle confirmed this was high-stakes football

While Ancelotti largely stayed put looking hot and bothered on the bench, his opposite number Diego Simeone prowled the touchline in his close-fitting and dapper black suit, frequently imploring his troops to close down the white shirts.

Sergio Ramos almost committed hari-kiri with an intercepted pass but Antoine Griezmann's whirl to shoot could not beat Iker Casillas.

James Rodriguez curled an exquisite attempt with the outside of his foot through a crowded box ten minutes before the break, but Atletico's goalkeeper Jan Oblak was wise to his plans.

The Colombian was denied by the Slovenian again in the 43rd minute from a tight angle and the half-time whistle came as a surprise after so much compressed energy.

If there was going to be a winner it would most likely be error-induced in the heat of battle.

The pressure threatened to spill over for Mario Mandkukc and Daniel Carvajal whose feud in progress out of sight of the officials at one point led to an exchange of blows which should have drawn red cards.

Mandjukic in particular was fuming and bleeding profusely as well following an aerial collision, seemed on the edge of exploding in red mist.

Replays showed Carvajal apparently biting the Serbian's arm but following the match both players denied any Suarez-esque antics had ensued. The referee flashed only five cards in total which could have been worse.

A dribble from Arda Turan was almost yielded a goal was the highlight of Atletico's attacks but neither side could break the deadlock.

Los Colchoneros had conceded 67% of possession to Real and did not take risks as the second half played out, apparently for fear of conceding an away goal, more proof it appears that the old rule has had its day.

Simeone's side obviously fancy their chances across town in the second leg and the tie looks only slightly tilted in Real's favour.

Real began as favourites and are still tipped to advance now but having failed to score an away goal at the Manzanares, the derby nature of the match means Atletico will have no fear of going for the win at the Bernabeu.

Simeone's side have gained even more hope as Real starters have been falling like ninepins while Atletico's sole injury worry is Mandzukic's right knee.

Los Merengues will be without Luka Modric, who having recently returned from injury, is out again, this time for six weeks with a knee ligament strain.

They will probably also have to do without striker Karim Benzema, who has also picked up a knee injury and Gareth Bale is out for two to three weeks with a calf strain.

Real's trio of fallen galacticos raises questions about the player conditioning at the Bernabeu, and whether they are rushing their stars back to action too readily and for too many minutes.

Bale allegedly complained of pain in his calf but the physios cleared him to play, only for the Welshman to break down after three minutes' action.

Football doctor Jose Gonzalez told AS that soft tissue injuries are often not detected by X-Rays until two or three days after they occur and that team doctors in general are used by clubs retroactively, instead of being involved to help plan training.

To add to Carlo Ancelotti's headaches, right-back Marcelo misses the return leg through suspension having been booked at the Manzanares.

Chicharito should get his chance in place of Benzema up front, but Real's midfield needs reshuffling, with Illarra, Isco, Sami Khedira and Pepe in the mix as replacements.

The onus will fall on James, Toni Kroos and Cristiano Ronaldo to carry the hopes of the home crowd.

Barcelona had no trouble scoring three away goals at the Parc des Princes to probably guarantee their progress to the semi-finals in a 3-1 victory over PSG.

A more open and less pressurized game than the Madrid derby allowed the Catalans plenty of space to weave their magic and PSG to attack too.

Neymar finished a zig-zagging attack diagonally in the 18th minute and Suarez then grabbed a brace of top-drawer finishes. For his first he showed his strangth in holding off defenders and the second was an outside of the boot curler into the top corner. For both goals he nutmegged David Luiz, who had gone back to his clumsy World Cup showings for Brazil.

Edinson Cavani drew a great diving stage from Marc-Andre Ter Stegen before Jeremy Mathieu deflected a late PSG shot into his net to give the French a glimmer of hope, though Barca will go through as long as they don't lose by three at the Camp Nou.

Barça had enjoyed 63% of the ball, in Suarez they had a world-class striker on top form and with the silence of the home crowd confirmed the blaugrana were a class apart. Indeed, it looks harder than ever to bet against them lifting the trophy, such have they excelled away from home in Europe this season.

Elsewhere, the prospect of Pep Guardiola locking horns with his old club receded as Bayern Munich, featuring Spaniards Xabi Alonso, Juan Bernat and Thiago, lost 3-1 at Porto.

"It's a very difficult result for the return leg," said the former Camp Nou coach, "but we are going to try."

Sevilla made it a trio of Spanish wins in Europe by emerging victorious in the Europa League on Thursday, but found a dogged opponent in Zenit St Petersburg, whom they finally downed 2-1.

Having drawn two-all with Barcelona last week, the Andalucians had high hopes of grabbing a healthy first leg lead in the passionate confines of the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

But sleepwalking defenders allowed the visitors' Alexander Ryazantsev two bites of the cherry to snatch a shock lead just short of the half hour.

The subsequent Sevillian siege finally bore fruit in the 73rd minute as Zenit failed to clear their lines en masse and Colombian ace Carlos Bacca leaped to head a snap cross from Aleix Vidal into the net.

Seville kept the pressure up, backed by a fiery 35,000 crowd, and took the lead with an exquisite dipping volley from the edge of the box from Denis Suarez in the 87th.

21 shots to seven confirmed the home side deserved the win but Zenit's away goal means they only need one strike to advance in the return leg next Thursday in Russia.

Back in La Liga, Barça maintained their two-point advantage over Real after defeating Valencia 2-0 at the Camp Nou, while Real won 3-1 at home to Malaga.

Real hopes that the league leaders might slip up for a second week in a row, this time against the fourth-placed side, were dashed as early as the first minute as Suarez slotted home from a Lionel Messi assist.

The Argentine added a second in the 94th minute, his 400th strike for the blaugrana, to seal the deal, running fifty yards unchallenged as the visitors had all pushed up. Valencia did not help their fate after nine minutes when Dani Parejo hit a powder-puff penalty at Claudio Bravo.

The visitors tried hard, largely dominating the game in an effort to draw level, but for all their endeavour and commitment, and despite such a poor performance from Luis Enrique's side, Barça emerged with all the points, and it appears, one hand on the league trophy.

With the gap once more at five points, Real needed a win at home to Malaga to stay in touch. Sergio Ramos grabbed the first in the 24th minute but Malaga fought bravely and in an exciting second half, Real could not relax, especially after Cristiano Ronaldo slammed a 67th minute penalty against the post.

A piece of magic from James Rodriguez doubled their lead in the 69th as the Colombian found space on the edge of the box before curling an exquisite effort onto the postage stamp. Yet two minutes later Juanmi scored for Malaga and it was not until injury time when Chicharito crossed for Ronaldo to tap in unmarked that victory was assured.

Worryingly for Real, who were already missing Karim Benzema through knee injury, Gareth Bale hobbled off after five minutes clutching his left lower leg and Luka Modric on the hour mark following a knee collision. Modric has been ruled out for six weeks.

Atletico won 2-1 at Deportivo La Coruna, who have slipped into the bottom three. Antoine Griezmann's double strike means he has overtaken Neymar in third in the race for the Pichichi top-scorer trophy.

The Frenchman leads the Brazilian by 20 goals to 18. Ahead of them are Leo Messi with 35 goals and Cristiano Ronaldo with 39.

* Real Betis, coached by Pepe Mel, lead the Liga Adelante (second division) by six points from Sporting Gijon and Girona.

Las Palmas, Real Valladolid and Ponferradina occupy the play-off spots with eight games left.

* In this week's transfer rumours, Manchester United goalie David De Gea was yet again linked with a summer move to the Bernabeu, with a Spanish TV programme Jugones claiming the deal was all but sealed.

But Iker Casillas told AS he intends to stay at the Bernabeu until his contract ends in 2017, dampening rumours he could make way for the young Spaniard.

Valencia meanwhile have quashed talk that much-praised teenage left-back Jose Gaya is on his way to Real or Manchester City.

"Gaya is staying at Valencia and is not going to Real Madrid or any other club," said chief executive Amadeo Salvo. Tipped 'the new Roberto Carlos', the 19 year-old is stalling on a new deal at the Mestalla, with his agents demanding a release clause of €22 million and the club €50 million.

Real have enquired about Milan's 16 year-old midfielder Hachim Mastour, according to his agent and are also sniffing around Borussia Dortmund's Marco Reus.

The 25 year-old attacker is under contract until 2019 but without Champions League football next season, could be tempted by a move to Madrid. He & fellow German international Toni Kroos share the same agent and a fee of €30 million has been mooted.

Martin Odegaard, the teenage Norwegian starlet signed in a blaze of publicity last autumn, could make a shock exit this summer from the Bernabeu after failing to break into the first-team squad and struggling to claim a place in Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid B side.

Real's Isco meanwhile, is catching the eye of Arsenal and Manchester City and a transfer fee of €45 million has been mentioned.

Pedro's agent Antonio Sanz confirmed that Inter is an option for the Barcelona attacker, but did not mention reputed suitors Arsenal and Liverpool.

Barcelona have joined the list of clubs interested in Torino's Italian international full-back Matteo Darmian.

Atletico Madrid could re-sign Brazilian left-back Filipe Luis barely a season after selling him to Chelsea for £15.8 million, with Spanish international midfielder Koke heading to Stamford Bridge.

Arsenal are set to pip Tottenham to the signing of Espanyol centre-back Hector Moreno this summer.

Deportivo La Coruna are an unlikely suitor for Tottenham's 20 year-old midfielder Grant Ward, currently on loan at Coventry City.

The English press keeps recycling the idea that Gareth Bale is headed to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge or the City of Manchester Stadium, but their Spanish equivalent has never entertained the idea.

Jurgen Klopp's sudden exit from Borussia Dortmund made only a few waves in Spain compared to his more likely destination in England, but his name has equally not been discarded from the list of possible replacements should Carlo Ancelotti fail to land the league or Champions League and be given the heave-ho from the Bernabeu in the summer.

THIS WEEK'S BIG GAMES - Kick-off times GMT

Tuesday 22nd April CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Barcelona (3) v (1) PSG  7.45 pm

Wednesday 23rd April CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Real Madrid (0) v (0) Atletico Madrid  7.45 pm

Thursday 24th April EUROPA LEAGUE
Zenit St Petersburg (1) v (2) Sevilla

Saturday 25th April LA LIGA
Espanyol v Barcelona  3 pm
Atletico Madrid v Elche  5 pm
Real Madrid v Villareal  9 pm

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, April 17, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions 18 April 2015

George's Premiership Predictions.
George's Premiership Predictions 18 April 2015

There were a couple of perfect scores for the wee lad last weekend - 3 in fact. Georgie correctly predicted the results of Liverpool v Newcastle,  Swansea v Everton and QPR v Chelsea. The big match in the Premier League this weekend is at Stamford Bridge where Champions elect Chelsea face an inform Manchester United  fresh from their derby demolition of Manchester City. City face the Hammers at the Etihad and both managers at this game could be looking for other clubs after the end of the season if the gossip columns are to be believed.

At the bottom Burnley have a difficult away game against Everton while Leicester face Swansea at the King Power.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Crystal Palace 2 v West Brom 1
Everton 2 v Burnley 1
Leicester 2 v Swansea 1
Stoke 1 v Southampton 1
Chelsea 1 v Man Utd 0

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Man City 2 v West Ham 0

Newcastle 1 v Spurs 1

This weekend sees the FA Cup semi-finals take place at Wembley. First up, holders Arsenal will look to move a step closer to lifting the trophy again when they take on Championship side Reading, before Brendan Rodgers bids to make his first major final when his Liverpool side play Aston Villa.

Elsewhere, in the Premier League, leaders Chelsea will bid to extend their advantage at the top when they host Man Utd at Stamford Bridge, while Man City meet West Ham looking for their third straight home win and Newcastle battle Tottenham at St James’ Park.

Last time's predictions


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Eduardo Galeano a football lyricist

"In his life a man can change his wife, his political party or his religion but he cannot change his football team."

Eduardo Galeano

I was sad to hear of the passing of writer Eduardo Galeano aged 74.

Based on his experiences as fascist dictatorships took power in his native Uruguay (where he was jailed) and then in Argentina, where he had escaped to, the Montividean wrote much pressing journalism, including the seminal study of South America's exploitation, "The Open Veins of Latin America", a book Hugo Chavez famously handed to Barack Obama on camera.

But Galeano also never lost his love of football and penned one of the great soccer books, "Futbol a Sol y Sombra' - "Football in Sun and Shadow"/ "Soccer in Sun and Shadow", a lyrical reflection on a life of love for the Beautiful Game.

This title always crops up on the lists of great football writing and reading it is like an evening spent in the hospitable company of a warm and fascinating man with some fine wine and stimulating reflections and reminiscences.

It is definitively Latin in its writing style and an important part of football's literary canon. He also wrote a book "Su Majestad El Futbol" - "His Majesty the Football" in 1968 and continued to pen journalism on his beloved passion.

Eduardo Galeano
Eduardo Galeano
"Football is the only religion without atheists."

"Rarely does a fan say, 'My club is playing today.' Instead he says, 'We are playing today.' 

This twelfth man well knows that he is one who blows the winds of fervour that push the ball when it is sleeping, as much as the other eleven players know that playing without fans is like dancing without music."

Eduardo Galeano 1940-2015

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ronaldo's 300, Fernandez quits on air, Barça drop points



Barcelona and Real Madrid both won in midweek to keep Barca's lead to four points.

The blaugrana had no trouble dispatching Almeria 4-0 at home, with Lionel Messi bending a 20 yarder into the far corner for a goal much like his strike for Argentina against Iran at the World Cup.

Real won 2-0 across town at Rayo Vallecano with two second-half strikes. Cristiano Ronaldo headed in the opener, his 300th goal for the club and James Rodriguez tapped in a second, but both the Colombian and Toni Kroos picked up bookings and will miss a match having accrued five yellows.

Ronaldo also entered the referee's notebook for simulation in comical fashion when he had clearly been upended in the box by Rayo's Antonio Amaya lunging in. The league later overturned the bonkers call.

Daniel Carvajal, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos & Ronaldo however remain on four bookings, one short of a one-match suspension as the title race enters its final lap.

* Deportivo La Coruna manager Victor Fernandez gave an extraordinarily cathartic post-match press conference in the wake of his side's 1-1 draw with Cordoba, announcing he was sacked.

His side had struggled to overcome the bottom club at the Riazor, equalising with only three minutes to go, and with his team sitting one place and two points above the relegation zone by the end of it, Fernandez confessed his time was up.

The club president, he explained, had telephoned him on Monday to tell him it was win or be fired, and he had not won.

An emotional Fernandez told journalists he felt he had given his best effort and left the stage with immense dignity and respect wholly intact.

* On Saturday, Real coasted to a 3-0 win over Eibar at the Bernabeu in the early kick-off, briefly cutting the gap at the top to a point.

Ronaldo got the first after 21 minutes and on a rare start Chicharito took his chance to net the second ten minutes later. Jese bagged the third seven minutes from time in a routine win.

Gareth Bale was out with a hamstring pull and Carlo Ancelotti also rested Karim Benzema and Iker Casillas, allowing Keylor Navas and Lucas Silva a run-out.

Atletico Madrid choked again in their title defence, drawing 2-2 at Malaga to fall seven points behind Real in third. A brace from Antoine Griezmann, a bright light for Los Colchoneros this season, rescued a point after Fernando Torres headed into his own net from a Malaga corner in the first half.

On Saturday night it was left to Barcelona to extend their lead but they could only draw 2-2 away to a spirited Sevilla, who fought back from two goals down.

Messi & Neymar had put their team two up after half an hour but Ever Baneiga pulled one back before the break and a quickfire counter-attack six minutes from time let Kevin Gameiro tap in the equaliser. A draw was a fair conclusion.

Neymar was subbed in the 74th minute but walked to the bench using an Italian-style hand gesture to suggest a rift between him and Luis Enrique. The Brazilian starlet has been the third most substituted player for the blaugrana this season.

In effect, Real gained two points on Barçand with seven games to play the title race is very much alive. As predicted, the Catalans' run-in is choppier than Real's and Luis Enrique's side still have to play Valencia at home and Atletico away.

1. BARCELONA      Pld 31, Pts 75, GD +68
2. REAL MADRID   Pld 31, Pts 73, GD +65
3. ATLETICO MD.   Pld 31, Pts 66, GD +34
4. VALENCIA          Pld 30, Pts 62, GD +30
5. SEVILLA             Pld 31, Pts 62, GD +21

At the bottom, Almeria won a six-pointer beating relegation rivals Granada 3-0 at home, but Deporitvo, in Victor Sanchez's first game in charge, moved out the drop zone by one goal after drawing 2-2 at Real Sociedad.

Chory Castro's second for Deportivo, a first-time volley from the edge of the area, was the goal of the weekend, a true golazo as they say in Spain.

As it stands, Almeria, Granada and Cordoba are headed for the Liga Adelante next season. Top of the second division are Real Betis, six points clear of three clubs, Las Palmas, Sporting Gijon and Girona. Real Valladolid are fifth and Real Zaragoza sixth. The top two go up automatically and a third joins them via a play-off.

* Barcelona might be sailing proud on top of the first division but their reserves are sinking fast. Barcelona B are bottom of the Liga Adelante and facing relegation to the third tier. The blaugrana's second string have won seven, drawn nine and lost 17 this campaign.

* The PICHICHI race to be the league's top goalscorer stands as such:

Cristiano Ronaldo 38, Leo Messi 34, Antoine Griezmann & Neymar 18, Carlos Bacca 17.

The ZAMORA trophy for the best goalkeeper has Barcelona's Chilean custodian Claudio Bravo in the lead with 19 goals conceded in 31 games, an average of 0.61 goals per game. Valencia's Diego Alves is second on 0.69 and Villareal's Sergio Asenjo third on 0.97.

* Blaugrana defender Jeremy Mathieu, who has popped up to score a couple of vital goals recently, hinted at an edgy relationship with centre-back partner Gerard Pique when he joined FCB.

"At the start it was difficult and I noticed Pique was reticent with me," the Frenchman said. "But after a few games we have created a bit of feeling and I think everything is going better."

* European action resumes this week with the Madrid derby in the Champions League the pick of the ties. Atletico are at home first and have as expected sold out the 50,000 capacity Manzanares for Tuesday. The club said they could easily have sold 20,000 more.

Atletico boss Diego 'Cholo' Simeone said of derbies, literally, "They don't just eat your legs, they eat your head too." Translations on a postcard please...

Sevilla take on Zenit St Petersburg, conquerors of Everton, at home in the Europa League on Thursday.

* In this week's transfer rumours, Inter are trying to prise Pedro from Barcelona although their offer of €10 million differs somewhat from FCB's price tag of €17 million.

The Spanish international appears to be hinting at a possible exit, saying "At the end of the season I will speak and decide my future."

Daniel Alves' agent is demanding a three-year contract for his player to stay at the Camp Nou, a demand the club look unlikely to agree to, accelerating the Brazilian's departure.

Chelsea are eyeing Atletico defender Miranda, who is out of contract at the end of next season and Valencia's Andres Gomes.

The Blues' Spanish midfielder Oriel Romeu (23) on loan at Stuttgart, could be heading back to La Liga this summer.

Juan Mata's goal for Man Utd in the Manchester derby made a louder case for his recall to Vicente del Bosque's Spain squad, while former Valencia boss Rafael Benitez could be heading back to England, this time to Manchester City or West Ham.

Atletico Madrid are keeping tabs on Everton's Romelu Lukaku

Malaga are set to sign Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin on loan in the summer.

Zinedine Zidane confirmed Liverpool's Raheem Sterling is on their radar, as well as the cream of the continent's young players.

"We know who Raheem Sterling is," he said, "and of course we are monitoring him as a player. We monitored Bale or over a year, the same for Isco and also for Varane."

Real are also looking at Athletic Bilbao's 20 year-old French defender Aymeric Laporte and Valencia's 19 year-old left-back Jose Luis Gaya.

Athletic Bilbao meanwhile are hoping to sign Real's Basque defensive midfielder Asier Illaramendi.

Barcelona are hoping to prise Ander Herrera from Manchester United as a long-term replacement for Andres Iniesta or Xavi.

Yet the 25 year-old has a €36 million release clause and is under contract at Old Trafford until 2019.

*This Week's Big Matches; kick-off times GMT

Mon 13th April, LA LIGA
Valencia v Levante 7.30 pm

Tue 14th April, UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QF 1st leg
Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid 7.45 pm

Weds 15th April, UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QF 1st leg
PSG v Barcelona 7.45 pm

Thu 16th April, UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE QF 1st leg
Sevilla v Zenit St. Petersburg 7.05 pm

Sat 18th April, LA LIGA
Barcelona v Valencia 3 pm
Deportivo La Coruna v Atletic Madrid 5 pm
Real Madrid v Malaga 7 pm

Sun 19th April, LA  LIGA
Granada v Sevilla 4 pm

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, April 10, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions 11 April 2015

George's Premiership Predictions 11 April 2015

The big match in the Premier League this weekend is the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford as third place Manchester United take on 4th place Manchester City. United haven't won this fixture for a while and with talk of a summer exodus for manager and players alike at the Etihad, this weekend might be the time for the red half of Manchester to be celebrating.

At the bottom Burnley have a difficult home game against in form Arsenal while West Brom face Leicester at The Hawthorns.

George's Premiership Predictions 11 April 2015

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Swansea 1 v Everton 1
Southampton 2 v Hull 1
Sunderland 1 v Crystal Palace 1
Tottenham 3 v Aston Villa 0
West Brom 1 v Leicester 1
West Ham 2 v Stoke 1
Burnley 1 v Arsenal 2

Sunday, 12 April 2015

QPR 0 v Chelsea 1
Man Utd 2 v Man City 1

Monday, 13 April 2015

Liverpool 2 v Newcastle 0

Soccer - Bruce convinced Hull will avoid the drop

Hull City manager Steve Bruce has set his side the target of securing eight points from their last seven matches, which he thinks will be enough to keep them in the Premier League. The Tigers are just two points above the drop-zone after losing at Swansea City last weekend and Bruce accepts that his side produced a below-par display at the Liberty Stadium. "It is up to us to go out there and find a couple of wins and a couple of draws in these last seven games. I'm convinced we can do that and stay up," he said. "The first half at Swansea was disappointing, no doubt about it. We have to be better at Southampton." Hull, 6/4 to be relegated this season, are available at 40/1 to win 2-0 at St Mary's.

Soccer - Young keen to keep the momentum going

Manchester United's Ashley Young thinks the momentum is with Louis van Gaal's side heading into the derby clash with Manchester City at Old Trafford. United have won their last five Premier League matches since losing at Swansea City in February, while fourth-placed City were beaten 2-1 at Crystal Palace on Monday and have triumphed in only four of their last 14 matches in all competitions. City have won the last four derbies, but United can be backed at 14/1 to end that run this weekend by winning the game 2-0. Young is available at 11/2 to score at any time on Sunday. "Obviously it is nice to be winning, but it is about that momentum," said former Aston Villa star Young. "United teams always come strong at this stage of the season and we are showing in every game just how strong we can be."

Last time's predictions


Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Dutch Treat for La Roja then Real hit nine

Spanish Football.

* Holy Week, when the nation shuts down for some colourful parades of its Catholic roots, began with Spain losing 2-0 to the Netherlands in Amsterdam, provoking a round of navel-gazing about La Roja's chances of defending their Euro crown in France next year.

Much of the criticism seemed misplaced: It was a friendly after all, Vicente Del Bosque had made nine changes to the side which had beaten Ukraine four days earlier and Holland's first goal was one of real quality, although there were seven Spanish defenders in the box when Davy Klaassen poked home the Dutch's second.

But Spain have now lost six out of their last eleven matches, and crucially, three of those to big European nations they will have to overcome next summer - France, Germany & the Netherlands (twice), as well as the defeat in Slovakia.

Although Del Bosque's side sit second in their Euro 2016 qualifying group and should make it to France okay, the World Cup 2014 debacle now looks like it was not a flash in the pan.

After six years of being ranked the world's No.1 nation, Spain are currently rated 11th by FIFA, their lowest classification since being 12th in 2006.

The generational shift in the side has not been completed and the manager is ploughing the same furrows he has for the past few years, even though the team is no longer defeating allcomers.

With no Xabi Alonso or Xavi and the twilight beckoning for Andres Iniesta, the creative heart of the midfield has been torn out. As with Barcelona, tiki-taka is no more for La Roja, but unlike Luis Enrique's team, Del Bosque's Spain have not adopted a successful substitute style.

Alvaro Morata and Vitolo did enough to suggest they could play up front alongside or instead of Diego Costa and the dribble king Pedro once more looked dangerous without scoring.

But the sum total of the new Roja - De Gea, Isco, Juanmi, Koke and San Jose as well as the players above, while all decent performers at club level, have yet to find much telepathy for the national side.

No one is really sure how Spain should be playing or what the starting eleven should be, but agree they should at least muddle through to France 2016 where the real test will arrive.

To be fair, after taking a double-whammy in the first half, Spain dominated the meeting in Amsterdam and should have scored at least one in reply.

Iniesta, Alvaro Morata, Pedro, David Silva and Vitolo all forged goalscoring opportunities but were foiled by a very hard-working Dutch defence, which was all the more remarkable as Holland are languishing third in Euro 2016 Group A and in serious danger of not qualifying.

There is no clamour to pick uncapped players, just to get the existing ones playing better. All possible suspects have been given a go. And no country should complain if its B team features starters from Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid.

One humourous note on the night was the Dutch fans' booing of Iniesta in reference to his World Cup-winning goal in 2010. The fake outrage from the managers ignored the fact it was done out of jealousy and was a pertinent reminder of Spain's recent golden age.

* Gareth Bale's two goals and leading role for Wales in their win against Israel made the front pages of the sports section, apparent proof that his frustrating spell in Madrid has been down to Carlo Ancelotti's tight system, which has not made the most of his talents this season.

Lionel Messi's 3,500 mile (6,500km) round-trip from Barcelona to the USA only to stay on the touchlines for two Argentina matches raised a chuckle or two, smacking of the firm hand of FCB.

Despite the 53,000 fans in Maryland and 48,000 in New Jersey chanting his name, Leo stayed glued to the bench the whole time.

*Real Madrid's €32 million capture of Danilo from Porto quickly pushed Spain's floundering national team off the front pages.

The 23 year-old Brazilian right-back, who has been nicknamed 'the new Maicon', has penned a deal until 2021, implying he will be a lynchpin of the first team, which will probably mean the exit for Alvaro Arbeloa this summer and competition with Daniel Carvajal.

Danilo won the Copa Libertadores alongside Neymar for Santos in 2011, before two league titles in Portugal. He has 13 caps for Brazil and played in the 2012 Olympics in London.

* How long before we see a Chinese star at Atletico Madrid? The Dalian Wanda group, who now own 20% of the club, have already sent 90 young footballers from China to work with Atletico's academy...

* Real Madrid sank a hapless Granada 9-1 early on Easter Sunday with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging five goals to leapfrog Leo Messi in the pichichi (top-scorer) race.

Gareth Bale also took another step on the road to redemption with the opening goal and James Rodriguez played one hour in his first game for a couple of months following injury.

Impressive as the cavalcade was it also offered more proof that the top flight is in desperate need of collectivised tv rights to remain credible.

Atletico Madrid won 2-0 at Cordoba to stay third five points behind Real, while Valencia could only draw 0-0 at home to Villareal. Sevilla beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 to close the gap on the fourth Champions League spot to three points.

Late on Easter Sunday, Barcelona scraped a 1-0 win at Celta de Vigo to stay four points clear at the top. The Catalans made heavy weather of their win and had to thank Jeremy Mathieu, scorer in El Clasico, again.

The Frenchman stretched to nod in Xavi's 74th minute free-kick and save the day for the league-leaders, although their far from fluent win will have encouraged nine-goal Real that they will slip up in the final run-in.

Celta's Fabian Orellana was red-carded two minutes from time for lobbing a clump of wet grass at Sergio Busquets' face in protest at his delaying a free-kick.


* In this week's transfer rumours, Fabio Coentrao looks set for the exit door from Real Madrid, admitting it would be "an honour to play for Manchester United." Besiktas have also expressed interest.

Chicharito said his lack of playing time at the Bernabeu was "frustrating", which is odd considering he was on the bench at Man Utd too and the 'BBC' is the core of Real's attack. Wolfsburg are keen to sign the Mexican on.

Bayern Munich meanwhile could table a €60 million bid for Real centre-back Raphael Varane.

Man City are eyeing Carlo Ancelotti to replace Manuel Pellegrini, says Gazzetta dello Sport, with a whole host of candidates lined up to replace the Italian.

Zinedine Zidane, coach of Real Madrid Castilla (reserves) is the most obvious suspect, but other names in the frame include Jurgen Klopp, Rafael Benitez, Jogi Low and Porto coach Julen Lopetegui.

Atletico Madrid are set to recall attacking midfielder Oliver Torres from Porto and central defender Toby Alderweireld from Southampton in the summer, though centre-back Miranda could be heading to Old Trafford.

This week's big games; kick-off times GMT

Tues 7th April
Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad  7 pm
Levante v Sevilla  9 pm

Weds 8th April
Barcelona v Almeria  7 pm
Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid   9 pm

Thu 9th April 
Athletic Bilbao v Valencia  7 pm

Sat 11th April
Real Madrid v Eibar 3 pm
Malaga v Atletico Madrid 5 pm
Sevilla v Barcelona  7 pm

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, April 3, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions April 4 2015

George's Premiership Predictions.
George's Premiership Predictions April 4 2015

The "rat race" for second to fourth place in the Premier League continues with Arsenal at home to Liverpool, Southampton away to Everton and Manchester United at home to Aston Villa.

We predict a spate of home wins except for Burnley to claim a draw at home to Spurs and Man City to win at Crystal Palace.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Arsenal 2 v Liverpool 1
Everton 3 v Southampton 1
Leicester 1 v West Ham 0
Man Utd 3 v Aston Villa 0
Swansea 2 v Hull 1
West Brom 2 v QPR 0
Chelsea 2 v Stoke 0

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Burnley 1 v Tottenham 1
Sunderland 2 v Newcastle 1

Monday, 6 April 2015

Crystal Palace 1 v Man City 3

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Aston Villa 2 v QPR 1

The action gets underway at the Emirates on Saturday as Arsenal face Liverpool in what could be a crucial encounter in the race for Champions League qualification. A busy afternoon then ensues as Man Utd entertain Aston Villa and Southampton travel to Everton, before league leaders Chelsea host Stoke at Stamford Bridge in the late kick-off.

Sunday's games see relegation-threatened Burnley play European hopefuls Tottenham, before Newcastle look to heap more misery on their North East neighbours Sunderland when they go to the Stadium of Light. The fixtures are rounded off on Monday night when Crystal Palace take on reigning champions Man City at Selhurst Park.

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Championship - Race To The Promised Land 7/2 To Be Decided By Goal Difference

Second placed Watford and third placed Middlesbrough are both locked on 72 points and bookies are 7/2 about automatic promotion to the Premier League being decided by goal difference.

Bournemouth start the busy Easter period as bookies's favourites to win the Championship title.

2014/15 Championship Special

Automatic Promotion Settled By Goal Difference 7/2
(2nd & 3rd to finish on same points total)

2014/15 Championship Outright E/W 1/3 1,2

Bournemouth 11/10 Middlesbrough 7/2
Norwich 9/2 Watford 5/1
Derby 20/1 Ipswich 66/1

To Be Promoted

Bournemouth 2/7 Middlesbrough 8/13
Watford 5/6 Norwich 5/6
Derby 9/4 Ipswich 6/1
Brentford 8/1 Wolves 10/1

Top 6 Finish

Bournemouth 1/150 Middlesbrough 1/50
Watford 1/33 Norwich 1/25
Derby 1/5 Ipswich 4/6
Brentford 11/8 Wolves 15/8

To Be Relegated

Millwall 1/28 Wigan 3/10
Rotherham 3/1 Fulham 14/1
Huddersfield 33/1 Reading 50/1

Last time's predictions