Premier League Championship Sunday Preview

Okay before we get into what will likely be one of the greatest Championship Sundays in a long time, let’s get into what happened on Wednesday night.

Spurs somehow came back needing 3 goals in the second half against Ajax to go to their first ever Champions League Final. They were down 3-0 on aggregate at halftime and a Lucas Moura second half hat trick somehow put them through to the Final with the last goal coming in the final seconds of the match. Unlike Barcelona, Ajax did not break down and allow this to happen as much as Spurs willed their way to this win. Whoever the hell is writing this script is the greatest storyteller ever. It took 35 years for a 3-goal lead to be blown in a Semifinal and then it happened twice in 24 hours. We now have an all-English Champions League Final for the first time in over a decade and only the second time ever. Over the years this sport has proven why the world is obsessed, but this last year/month/week have gone above and beyond. The highlights are below…

Credit: Bleacher Report/Turner Sports

Now we somehow transition to a Championship Sunday in which a Premier League Champion will be crowned between either Liverpool or Man City who are separated by only 1 point atop the table. Liverpool haven’t won the league in almost 30 years while City look to become the first back-to-back champion in a decade. It’s also the first time in 5 years that a champion will be decided on Championship Sunday, adding to the drama of one of the greatest title races ever. In that 2013/2014 season, City topped Liverpool on Championship Sunday. In fact, this will be the third time in the Premier League era that City will have to win on the final day to win a title, winning their previous two. Could that be a good omen for City?

This Season: 207-162-47 (+18.4 Units)
Ajax v. Tottenham: 1-1 (+0.0 Units)
(+18.4 units = $100 bettor has won $1,840 this season)

For context, all matches are played at the same time to ensure that all results occur with integrity (and drama of course). The two big matches which include City and Liverpool will be at the end of my preview.

Championship Sunday
English Premier League
10:00 am EST

Arsenal @ Burnley (TV: MSNBC) – It has to be said that Arsenal made the Europa League Final on Thursday after whooping Valencia 7-3 on aggregate and will be playing Chelsea. They’ll be travelling from Spain for this one and usually I’d take Burnley if there were a lot of points on the board, but Arsenal are still playing for 5th place. I don’t like the spread at all so I decided to put a play on the total. The last time these two played it was 3-1 to Arsenal with the over cashing, six of Burnley’s last seven matches against the top 6 have had at least 3 goals and five of Arsenal’s last six matches have had at least 3 goals. That was enough for me to take the over in a match that should have a lot of chances. Over 3 goals (-110).

Bournemouth @ Crystal Palace (TV: Local NBC Sports Markets) – Palace have not been good at home this season and especially as of late. They’re 19th in the home table, their last home win in the league against someone who hasn’t been relegated came in December (8 matches) and Bournemouth have gone two straight unbeaten away from home. I also like Bournemouth because they match up well against Palace as they play a fast-paced game and can score goals on the break. They haven’t lost to Palace in their last three matches and I think they have a great chance of taking points here. I’ll take Bournemouth as underdogs. Bournemouth (+0.5, +105).

Newcastle @ Fulham (TV: Olympic Channel) – Fulham have been relegated and I called their regression last weekend against Wolves after three straight wins. But they’ll be playing a Newcastle team who have gone 1-4-5 in their last 10 away matches and I really think that Fulham will go out of the Premier League swinging with some points. I’m going to take Fulham on the pickem line at home in their last Premier League match against a Newcastle side who really have nothing else to play for. Fulham (Pick, -115).

Chelsea @ Leicester (TV: CNBC) – Chelsea beat Eintracht Frankfurt in penalties to advance to the Europa League Final where they will play Arsenal in Azerbaijan. But they went the distance, 120 minutes and penalties, while Leicester will have an entire week’s rest and will be home for this match. That alone is a great reason to take the home side as Chelsea are sure to rest some starters while Leicester have no reason but to play their normal starting XI. Chelsea have also already locked in their top 4 spot for next season’s Champions League but Leicester can jump to 8th with a win and Everton loss. I think Leicester will be more focused on closing out their season than Chelsea will be after their big win on Wednesday. I love Leicester at home here. Leicester (Pick, -125).

Cardiff City @ Manchester United (TV: USA) – I’m baffled as to why this spread is so low. Yes United are in complete turmoil with recent results, locker room rifts and pundits calling out the leadership as well as Solskjaer’s job, but United are far better than Cardiff. Yes United have won one of their last eight matches but most of them have been against some of the better teams in Europe (Barcelona, Man City, Chelsea and more). Meanwhile at home against non top 6 teams, United haven’t lost all season long. I expect them to close out their year well against a pretty bad Cardiff side. Manchester United (-1.5, -135).

Huddersfield @ Southampton (Streaming: NBCSports.com) – This one is likely to have goals and for that reason I’m taking the over. Why will it have a lot of goals? Well not only was their first match this season 3-1, but seven of Southampton’s last nine matches have had at least three goals with their last four home games hitting that mark as well. Adding to that, five of the last eight Huddersfield matches have had at least three goals with their previous two away matches having a total of 9 goals. These two teams won’t be doing much defending on Sunday. Over 3 goals (+105).

Everton @ Tottenham (TV: SYFY Channel) – Much like the other English teams who traveled this week in European competition, Spurs will likely not even be thinking about this match. Not only will they have 3-4 less days of rest compared to Everton but Spurs players were celebrating pretty hard after their epic comeback win against Ajax (Danny Rose even had a beer on the field after the game). Their spot in the top four has been guaranteed and I expect Pochettino to sit a lot of the players who played Wednesday night in Amsterdam for precautionary and rest reasons. Everton have also been in great form and scoring lots of goals as they have one loss in their last seven matches beating Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Not only do I like Everton on the moneyline but I love the over too because of how these teams can score goals and Spurs’ lineup will likely not be ready for the challenge if they do sit a few starters. Over 2.5 goals (-125) and Everton Moneyline (+240).

West Ham @ Watford (TV: Golf Channel) – West Ham have been playing well but they’re due for some sort of regression. They’ve now won back-to-back league matches in the league for the first time since December, proving that their consistency has been an issue. One of those wins was away at Spurs but it was their first away win in eight matches with seven of those being losses. Meanwhile Watford have not lost to a team behind them in the current table at home since October. I like Watford to close out their Premier League season with a win, knowing they’ll want to go into their FA Cup Final with City in good form. Watford Moneyline (+120).

Now to the big boy stuff…

Wolves @ Liverpool (TV: NBC) – Wolves have not been an easy outfit for top 6 teams this season and it certainly won’t help Liverpool that they played a grueling match against Barcelona on Tuesday. The last time these two played it was in the FA Cup and Wolves eliminated Liverpool at home. Both teams are in good form and the spread sits at 1.5, which is something I don’t want to bite on especially knowing how Wolves love to make things hard on good teams. Instead, due to how they can make things hard and Liverpool’s likely heavy legs, I’m going to take the under. Only three times in Wolves’ 11 matches against the top 6 has the total finished over 3 and I think it’s unlikely this total will go above that mark here as well. I do think Liverpool will win, which will force City to win, but it won’t be easy for the Reds. Under 3 (-115).

Manchester City @ Brighton (TV: NBCSN) – Man City will have to go to a Brighton team who recently drew at Arsenal, barely lost at Spurs and drew at Wolves. But at home, they haven’t been impressive at all. They’ve gone 1-2-5 in their last eight home matches with their only points coming from a win against Huddersfield and draws against Newcastle and Watford. Against the top 6 at home they’ve gained 4 points in a win against United and a draw against Arsenal. But this City team is the best team in the league and they’re now on a 13-match win streak in the league. They know all they have to do is beat this Brighton team who are now fighting for nothing to win a 2nd straight Premier League title to put their names in the pantheon of the league. I think City score early and run up the score in what will be a coronation for the new kings of the Premier League. Manchester City (-2, -120).

Manchester City will win the Premier League title for the fourth time and the second consecutive season. But kudos will have to go to Liverpool who will end up having the third best season in Premier League history.

Thanks for riding with me this season in the Premier League! I’ll still be writing til the end of the season, covering the other European leagues and European Finals. This summer I will also be previewing every USWNT match this summer for the World Cup, transfer rumors, CONCACAF Gold Cup and more!

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo

Ajax v. Tottenham Champions League Semifinal, Leg 2

Before we dive into Wednesday’s match let’s go over what happened at Anfield on Tuesday. Liverpool pulled off one of the bigger comebacks in Champions League history, winning 4-0 and 4-3 on aggregate. Without two of their best players, Liverpool completely took it to Barcelona and limited Lionel Messi’s effectiveness. Barca had chances in the first half to score an away goal which would have forced Liverpool to score 5 to advance, but they couldn’t put them away. It’s Barcelona’s second year in a row blowing a 3-goal aggregate lead in the Champions League and Liverpool now return to their second straight Champions League Final. All credit goes to Klopp who had a gameplan and had his players believing that they could achieve the impossible.

This Season: 206-161-47 (+18.4 Units)
Liverpool v. Barcelona: 1-0 (+1.0 Units)
$100 bettor has won $1,840 this season

Tottenham @ Ajax (TV: TNT) – I don’t know if there is any way this match can top Tuesday’s match but I will never doubt any Champions League Semifinal. Both teams haven’t made European Cup Finals in decades so it should be a very tense affair and I expect both teams to go for it from the gate. I have two picks here and the first one, if you’ve read my recent pieces, is a pretty expected one from me.

I picked the over in Tuesday’s match and it hit. That’s now 15 of 18 2nd legs this season in the Champions League that had at least 3 goals. Adding to that, 8 of the last 11 2nd leg Semifinals have had at least 3 goals. I also think for this match specifically, the over is a good pick regardless of the historical data. Spurs need at least a goal, we all know that, but if they score then Ajax will need one as well. Since both teams likely will need at least a goal, I expect it to be back and forth and full of chances, much like how I expected the start of Liverpool Barca to be. Also, both of these teams like to score goals and that’s generally how they’ve won their matches this season, Ajax specifically. Neither defense is that special but their attacks have caused problems to some of the best teams in the world this season. I’ll take the over.

I’m also going to take Ajax moneyline. This team is not only better than Spurs are, but they’re in much better form than them. Spurs have one win in their last six matches (going 1-5) with their only win coming against Brighton at home. Away from home they haven’t won since early March when they went to Dortmund and closed out the Quarterfinals (0-5 in last 5 away matches). They’ve played 9 matches in 34 days, have dealt with serious injury and depth issues and are coming off of a really bad loss to Bournemouth this past weekend where they had two red cards. The squad that they will likely throw out there hasn’t played consistently together almost all season long and I don’t have much confidence in them slowing down Ajax’s fluid style. As you could probably guess, I don’t like Spurs’ chances in this one.

Meanwhile Ajax have won 10 straight with their last home loss coming in February to Real Madrid in a match that they could have easily won. They’re healthier, in better form and will be home in an absolute fortress of a stadium. Their free-flowing total football has been almost unstoppable this season and I think Spurs are genuinely unequipped to handle it. Spurs’ press seems ineffective against Ajax and once they break that press, they can counter better than anyone else in the competition. Sadly for Spurs, they will likely have to apply that press due to the urgency of the situation and I think that will be their downfall in this one.

Some say Ajax played one of their worst Champions League matches of the season last week and they still went to Spurs and won 1-0. I fancy Ajax to win this match and move onto the Final to face Liverpool. Over 3 goals (+105) and Ajax Moneyline (+125).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo

Tottenham v. Ajax Champions League Semifinal, Leg 1

The Champions League returns with two fantastic semifinals; Ajax/Spurs and Liverpool/Barcelona. In this preview I’ll focus on Tuesday’s match where Ajax will be travelling to London to participate in their first Champions League Semifinal since 1997 against Spurs who will be in their first Semifinal since the 80’s.

This Season’s Record: 198-159-46 (+10.7 Units)
Matchweek 36 Record: 1-5-2 (-4.3 Units)

Not my best weekend but I was due for some sort of regression. Let’s keep trucking…

Ajax @ Tottenham (TV: TNT) – Ajax have shown they could arguably beat anyone in the world right now. Forget the fact that they play in the Dutch Eredivisie, they’re a team that has beaten the back-to-back-to-back champions and the two times runner ups in the last four years in the previous two rounds. They’re one of the youngest teams to ever make a semifinal and are led by a 19-year-old captain, but you wouldn’t know it by watching them play. Their free-flowing and confident style has turned heads across the world and some even have them as favorites to advance to the Final.

They’ll face a Spurs team who, although they advanced against Man City in the last round, haven’t shown much promise as of late. They’re coming off of a home loss to West Ham on Saturday, they had trouble beating a Brighton team last week and before that had back to back losses to City in the league and the second leg of the Champions League. Adding to Spurs’ woes, they’ll be without Harry Kane AND Son who have combined for 60% of their goals/assists in the Premier League and 65% of their Champions League goals/assists. They held their own without Kane initially after his injury but in their last three matches they’ve scored only 1 total goal.

Spurs will now have to rely on Llorente and Lucas Moura up top who aren’t bad options, but they haven’t started in this type of situation all year. They’ll also be going against an Ajax defense who limited Real Madrid to 1 goal at the Bernebeau and Juventus to 1 goal in Turin, stats that should spark fear into Tottenham fans. Yes Eriksen and Alli have the potential to score goals, but their role is still primarily creating chances not putting them away. Not having Kane or Son will also allow Ajax to focus more on shutting down that Spurs midfield, knowing that Llorente will be utilized as a target forward instead of in the build up play. They will need to contain Llorente’s threat in the air though, something he’s done well throughout his career. Expect De Ligt to be marking him on set pieces which is a fantastic matchup.

Ajax meanwhile will have everyone available and healthy, and will have had a week’s rest compared to Spurs’ three days. The reason why that rest might be a big deal is because Spurs are already short-staffed and that rest will likely only exacerbate that problem. At this stage in the season, the team with the fresher legs tends to dictate the pace which is crucial in Champions League ties.

Ajax will cause Spurs serious trouble with their ability to build out of the back while also having the pace on the wings to counter attack. Pochettino will likely press but both Madrid and Juve resorted to that strategy in their second legs and it didn’t work. If Spurs do press, expect Ajax to pass out from the back comfortably and then burst forward with Ziyech and Neres on the wings to feed Tadic up top. Like I said, that’s where they killed Madrid and Juve who doubted their ability to break a press and push forward.

Not only do I love Ajax as underdogs on the spread, but I love them on the moneyline as well at over 2/1. I have Ajax winning this game and taking a commanding lead on aggregate back to Amsterdam. Ajax (+220) and (+0.5, -145).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo
Instagram: @canikickitblog

Tuesday, 4/16 Champions League Quarterfinal Preview + Bonus Pick

The Leg 2’s are here!! There’s still everything to play for in three of the four matches, but every leg of every Champions League tie is still genuinely thrilling. This piece will include Ajax/Juve and United/Barca (and a bonus pick) while my piece coming out tomorrow will include the other two matches, Liverpool/Porto and Spurs/Man City. Let’s get to it.

This Season’s Record: 185-158-44 (+4.9 Units)
Matchweek 34 Record: 1-4-2 (-3.5) Units)

Tuesday, April 16th
3:00 pm EST

Manchester United @ FC Barcelona (TV: TNT) – Barcelona won the first leg 1-0 at Old Trafford and are bringing that away goal back to the Camp Nou to try to seal their path to the semifinal. Luckily for Barca, this is really the only thing they are focused on right now, as they have the Spanish league locked up and don’t have another match with serious meaning until late May. They rested Messi, Suarez, Pique, Lenglet and Rakitic completely while Coutinho, Alba and Arthur came on as subs this past weekend. But since United are still fighting for a Champions League spot, they instead had to play basically their whole squad this weekend against West Ham to get the points needed to stay in the chase.

Not only is rest and fitness on Barca’s side, but form is as well. United were at risk of having their worst run of form since 1992 if they lost this past weekend, but they pulled off a 2-1 win to West Ham at home. In their last six matches in all competitions they have two wins and four losses, with their only wins being at home to Watford in late March and West Ham this past weekend. They’ve actually lost their last four away matches, not boding well going into one of the cathedrals of world football, where Barcelona have not lost since November.

Barcelona meanwhile haven’t lost a competitive match since January 23rd and in their last six matches at full strength (where they aren’t resting most of their starters), they are 6-1-0 with a goal differential of +14, making for an average winning margin of 2 goals. Adding to that, they’ve been historically great in late-stage home Champions League legs (Quarterfinals/Semifinals). They’ve lost once in that criteria since 2008 and in the last four seasons they’ve gone 4-1-0 with a goal differential of +7.

Barca are known for not only winning Champions League legs, but for stepping on the throats of opponents at Camp Nou in those situations. They’re better overall, in better form, less tired and they have the best player in the world at the top of his game right now and I just can’t fade them. FC Barcelona (-1.5, -105).

Ajax @ Juventus – Kind of disappointed this one isn’t the match on TNT but I do understand that Messi and Barca/United is must-see TV. I think this match is going to be an absolute peach though, especially after how the first leg went. Ajax were completely up for it, scoring just 30 seconds into the second half and stifling Juventus’ offense completely right afterwards. They had 60% possession, 12 more shots, 226 more accurate passes and they forced Juve to use the long ball to break through their midfield, something they’re not used to doing. The one thing that’s stuck out to me about this Ajax team is that, even with how egregiously young they are, they’ve responded to every thing that’s been thrown their way. They went to Madrid and won 4-1, they drew Bayern twice in the group stage and they basically dominated Juve last week.

Juve come into this match after a tough loss to SPAL in the Serie A this weekend, but much like Barcelona they only played 2 players who got the start in Leg 1 in Amsterdam. They should be very rested and their loss to SPAL shouldn’t be a reflection at all of their form, but if you dive a little deeper you’ll realize they haven’t been exactly who they were earlier in the year. They’ve been out-shot and out-possessed in each of their last three matches, a stark contrast to their dominance from earlier in the year. This could be a product of having the league wrapped up and only the Champions League to play for, but the inconsistency of squads and performances should worry Juve bettors.

Now I’m not predicting Ajax to win and it’s not that they won’t, but it will be tough for them to waltz into the Allianz Stadium and have the same performance they did last week. But with Juve’s lack of dominance recently and their lack of maintaining systematic control of matches, this match could fit right into Ajax’s playbook to keep it tight. Outside of a few first half chances and the lack of marking Ronaldo on the goal (which shouldn’t happen again), Ajax’s defense didn’t allow Juventus to get any momentum throughout the match. Ajax caught Juventus sleeping on their goal and then kept their foot on the pedal, proving that you can’t and most likely won’t be able to coast against this team. Their midfield can create from deep with De Jong or around the box and they have the finishers to punish you with only a few good chances. If they can cut off the passing lines out wide to the outside backs, who love to whip balls in, and limit the other passing lanes to Ronaldo, I think Ajax can make this close or even push it to extra time.

I’m going to take the points. I think Ajax will be fearless, knowing that they can run with this team and the one goal spread gives them a ton of value if they get a goal as a 1-1 match puts it into extra time. Ajax (+1, -135).

BONUS PICK:

Cardiff @ Brighton (TV: NBCSN) – Oh Premier League you sneaky dogs. They slipped in one of the matches of the week with two relegation teams battling it out. These are my favorite matches since they’re usually very intense, have players playing for their jobs and the club playing to stay in the Premier League. They even say promotion and relegation are worth around $100 million.

But bottom line is that Cardiff have a much bigger hill to climb than Brighton and they will be utterly desperate here. I think that will be their downfall as they will end up going for the three points knowing that it will likely be the only result that can keep them up. The reason why I’m fading them? This strategy, especially away from home and against arguably a better team, often does not work. They’ll likely overextend themselves and allow for Brighton to counter. I usually like betting on the teams that need to win, but Cardiff might need to win too much and it will be their downfall against a Brighton team who have conceded 12 less goals this campaign. I’ll take Brighton as slight favorites here, with the rationale that a win at home will guarantee their survival. Brighton (-0.5, +105).

That’s all for today’s matches! Don’t forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page and to follow on Twitter and Instagram!!

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo
Instagram: @canikickitblog

Wednesday, 4/10 Champions League Quarterfinals Preview

Tuesday Recap:

  • Liverpool beat Porto 2-0 with two early first half goals by Keita and Firmino. They controlled the match from start to finish and didn’t allow Porto to get anything going offensively. As I said in my preview, Porto aren’t used to playing without the ball and it clearly showed on Tuesday. They now have a huge scoreline to make up in the second leg at home in Portugal.
  • Spurs beat City 1-0 thanks to a Heung-Min Son goal in the 78th minute. An early Sergio Aguero penalty could have changed the game but it was saved brilliantly by Lloris and it sparked a belief in Spurs. After that penalty, the energy on the pitch and in the stadium was beyond intense. It was physical, fast, loud and a complete joy to watch, as Spurs now go to Manchester with a one-goal lead and can seal their path to the semifinals with a draw or win in Leg 2.

This Season’s Record: 181-154-42 (+4.1 Units)
4/9 UCL Quarterfinals: 1-1 (-0.1) Units)

Wednesday, April 10th
UEFA Champions League
3:00 pm EST

Juventus @ Ajax – As most people know by now Ajax got through to the Quarterfinals by beating Real Madrid twice in the Round of 16, a feat that can’t be taken lightly. Juventus meanwhile came back from down 2 goals to Atletico Madrid thanks to a second leg hat trick from Cristiano Ronaldo. They’re two teams that have historic pasts, similar playing styles but somehow still feel very different.

Let’s start with Juventus, who will be returning their star Ronaldo after he missed their last three games due to a hamstring injury he picked up over the international break. Allegri already said he is going to start and it should provide an immediate boost to a team who are already coming off of a big win against Milan over the weekend. But this match isn’t as simple as ‘they return Ronaldo, have more quality and are in good form so they should win’. They have to shake off some away demons in the champions league as they’ve lost their last two Champions League away matches, at Young Boys in the group stage and Atletico Madrid in Leg 1 of the Round of 16. They’ll have to go to a very tough place to play in the Johan Cruyff Arena and face an Ajax team who have been brilliant at home this year, and as we learned on Tuesday with both away teams losing, that is very tough.

I think their undoing could be trying to force the ball to Ronaldo, who is just getting back to the squad and the sole reason they’re in the Quarterfinals. He’s also the most decorated Champions League player ever, so it wouldn’t doubt me if did they try to force feed him the ball whenever they could. If instead they can balance their attack and switch the play constantly to spread the Ajax defense out, I think they’ll be successful in finding Ronaldo more organically. Switching the play should also free him more space unless he is man-marked or shadowed, which in turn would free up the likes of Dyabala and Mandzukic. I don’t think his re-addition to the lineup will hurt them, but only if they feel the need to run everything through him on offense. It will be crucial for the supporting cast to step up if he’s either not 100% or marked the whole match.

Ajax went undefeated at home in the group this year and their only home loss in the Champions League was in the first leg to Real Madrid, where they could’ve easily gotten a result with how well they played. Since they lost to Madrid at home, you’d think they’d have trouble against high-quality opposition right? Wrong. This is a team that stood toe to toe with Bayern twice, drawing them 3-3 and 1-1 in the Group Stage this season. The only issue I have is whether or not they can contain Ronaldo both in the air and on the counter attack, where he’s thrived this season on Juve. They need to make sure he never goes unmarked especially as he’s entering the box as he’s the biggest aerial threat they’ll possibly ever face. If they stay disciplined in their marking, they should be able to force Juve to run their offense through someone else. But as I said before, they must balance between shadowing him and cutting off his passing lanes, as they don’t want to free up the rest of the Juve attack.

I think Ajax will be up to the task here at home, knowing this is the last year that this young core has to make an impact before they all move on to bigger clubs. Their defense is good enough to stop quality opponents and even if they need to get into a shootout, they have the offensive firepower to match most clubs. But this Juventus team rarely plays in a hurry and I expect them to keep this low scoring, especially since it’s the first leg. Juve are in no rush to win the tie right now, as they know they’ll be bringing it home in the second leg and any result here would do. Ajax meanwhile know they can’t just take it to Juve, as they need to be a bit more careful than the Italians. I think both teams would settle for a draw, but it’s imperative that Ajax try to keep a clean sheet in order to have a chance on the away goals tiebreaker. This is why I’m going to take the under and the draw. I think it could be a 1-1 draw or a low-scoring win for either team and Ajax will live to fight another day. Under 2.5 goals (-115) and Draw (+225).

FC Barcelona @ Manchester United (TV: TNT) – Woaahhh nelly do we have a good one here too. Manchester United have slipped into a poor run of form and will now have to beat one of the best teams in the world and arguably the best player of all time to turn it around. Luckily for them they should be fearless, (well most of them), since they’ve already pulled off a miracle this year. But this one might be a little different than that tie and I’ll get into why.

United have lost three of their last four matches, two to Wolves and one to Arsenal. It’s not as much that they’ve lost but more how they’ve lost. Their defense has been their biggest problem as they haven’t gotten a clean sheet since the Liverpool game in February (eight matches). They’ll now have to face a Barcelona team who not only have the best player in the planet who happens to be in the form of his life, but also one that just came off of a win against Atletico Madrid, who are one of the best defensive teams in the world. This Barca team has also scored 20 goals in their last six matches (an average of 3.3). If United want any sort of chance of getting a result out of the first leg, they’ll need to stop that deadly attack.

But their defensive strategy is both a blessing and a curse as they’ve been successful sitting back, absorbing pressure and countering against most teams in the Premier League, but that’s also where Barcelona thrive. United will need to find some sort of a balance between absorbing pressure and countering, much like how Spurs did on Tuesday against City. United will also have to deal with preventing Barca’s skill players (Messi, Suarez, Dembele, Coutinho) from dribbling through them, something they’ve had trouble with all season. Obviously this is asking the impossible out of guys like Smalling, Jones and/or Lindelof, but if they want any chance of winning they’ll need to be the ones to stop that front three.

For Barcelona, this match is a bit easier to break down. It should be business as usual for them as they’ll likely see the majority of the ball and chances, which plays right into their comfort zone. What Barca did this weekend to Atletico will be much like what they’ll want to do to United. Yes Atletico had a red card but I do see some similarities in what I expect to see on Wednesday. 64% possession, twice the shots, twice the passes and twice the chances created. They’ll have Messi both dropping in deep to receive the ball and when they have sustained possession, he’ll be sitting just outside the box ready to strike. He has over 40 goals this season, the most combined goals and assists this season by over 12 points (Messi has 45 goals/assists and Mbappe has 33) and loves to beat United and English opposition in the Champions League. In fact he’s won two Champions League Finals against United alone, scoring a goal and winning Man of the Match in each one. This is the exact moment, at Old Trafford under the lights, that he will thrive in. I genuinely don’t see how United can stop him, let alone the rest of the team. If it’s not Messi who’s making the United backline look silly, it will be Suarez, Dembele or Coutinho.

I don’t see United getting points out of this and I think Messi and Barcelona will take the first leg comfortably. FC Barcelona (-0.5, -105).

That’s all for Wednesday’s preview! Don’t forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page and to follow on Twitter and Instagram!

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo
Instagram: @canikickitblog

Matchweek 30 Preview and Champions League Recap

In one of the most wild Champions League matchweeks ever, Ajax, Porto, Manchester United and Tottenham all advanced to the quarterfinals. Here’s how it went down.

Ajax (5) @ Real Madrid (3) – Ajax went into the defending champions’ den and put on an absolute masterclass by winning 4-1, capping off the worst week in Real Madrid history after they just lost to Barcelona twice. Ajax looked brilliant going forward, had a lot more purpose than Los Blancos, completely dominated the midfield and finished all of their chances including a few spectacular goals. Ajax’s young core led by 19 year old captain Matthijs de Ligt, 21 year old Frenkie De Jong and former Southampton striker Dusan Tadic made Madrid look like a youth team and sent shockwaves and warning signs across Europe. They were +750 to advance going into the match.

Tottenham (4) @ Borussia Dortmund (0) – Dortmund had a mountain to climb even before the match being down 3-0 from the first leg. Matters were made worse when Harry Kane got Spurs a fourth on aggregate and an away goal, forcing Dortmund to have to score 5 to get through. Spoiler alert: they didn’t even score one. Spurs get through to the Quarterfinal.

Roma (3) @ Porto (4) – Even though it had to go into extra time, Porto prevailed 4-3 on aggregate and 3-1 in the second leg coming back after being down 2-1 from the first leg. An Alex Telles penalty sealed the deal for the Portuguese as they knock out a Roma side who ended up firing their manager just 24 hours afterwards.

Manchester United (3) @ PSG (3) – Manchester United became the first club in Champions League history to advance on aggregate after losing the first leg at home by at least two goals. They advanced on away goals as their tally of three away goals trumped PSG’s two from the first leg. This marks PSG’s second embarrassingly bad blown lead in the last three seasons and they’re now left wondering what has gone wrong. Several defensive and goalkeeping mistakes allowed United to capitalize on two of their goals and a handball in the box gave them their third. PSG may have let things slip but it was United’s resolve lacking nine of their first team players that shined on Wednesday. A bunch of kids led by a caretaker manager went into PSG’s house and got a fantastic result, moving them on to the Quarterfinals.

Let’s get into this weekend’s preview…

This Season’s Record: 155-137-37 (-2.8 Units)
Matchweek 29 Record: 1-3 (-2.3 Units)

Saturday, March 9th
English Premier League
7:30 am EST

Brighton @ Crystal Palace (NBCSN) – Palace at home against a struggling Brighton side, especially away from home, seems like a good bet here. Their only loss in their last eight was against a surging United team and Brighton are starting to struggle recently with only one win in the league since December 29th. I’ll take Palace at home. Crystal Palace (-0.5, -115).

10:00 am EST

West Ham @ Cardiff – West Ham are too well-priced here against one of the worsts team in the league. The Hammers have played very well recently with a draw against Liverpool, 1-0 loss at City and wins in the two matches that they should get three points from (Newcastle and Fulham). Cardiff meanwhile have lost three straight and lost their captain and center back Sol Bamba last weekend to a torn ACL. They’ll be more vulnerable than they already have been at the back and there’s a chance this can totally get away from them. West Ham (-0.5, +115).

Bournemouth @ Huddersfield – I couldn’t fade a team who has (+130) odds to beat the worst team in the league. A lot of things are trending away from Bournemouth right now but six of their last seven away losses were to Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, United, Spurs and Chelsea. I think going to Huddersfield is the perfect chance to break their form and get an away win especially against a Huddersfield team who have nothing to play for. I’ll take them here especially at (+130). Bournemouth (-0.5, +130).

Fulham @ Leicester City – Brendan Rodgers’ home debut will be against Fulham’s new manager Scott Parker’s whose squad is the worst away team in the league this season. Fulham have also lost their last five matches with only one of them being unwinnable, showing that they’re not getting the results even in matches they could get points from. I like Leicester to take all three points at home here in what hopes to be the start of a new era for the club. Leicester City (-1, -105).

Everton @ Newcastle (CNBC) – Newcastle are not only turning it around but they’re turning it around at home and at the right time, a recipe for success for staying up in the Premier League. They’ve won their last four league matches at home while Everton haven’t beaten a team above 16th away from home since October. I always love me a home pickem and it’s no different here. Newcastle (Pick, -110).

Tottenham @ Southampton (NBCSN) – Spurs are the best away team this year and are surely feeling great after advancing to the Quarterfinals of the Champions League. Yes their last two away league matches were losses, possibly bucking their away form, but they’ve since had a big draw in the North London Derby and had a huge away win at Dortmund in the Champions League. Things seem to be turning around for Spurs and I want to nail them while they’re hot. Tottenham (-0.5, -115).

12:30 pm EST

Watford @ Manchester City – Yes, for the first time maybe ever I’m fading City for a third straight week. They’re injured, have a huge Champions League match on Tuesday, will have one less day of rest than their Champions League opponents and only twice in their last nine matches have they won by more than two goals (only once in the league). For Watford, since the start of December they have only lost by more than one goal once against a top 5 side and against all teams in the league they’ve only lost by more than two once. They’re a team that can make life hard on good teams and I think with their fresh legs,they’ll sit back and take their chances on the counter, something that worked for West Ham and Bournemouth in the last few weeks against City. I’ll take the points. Watford (+2.5, -120).

Sunday, March 10th
English Premier League
8:00 am EST

Burnley @ Liverpool (NBCSN) – I’m taking another underdog, fading the other title contender here. I honestly think this will push but my rationale in picking Burnley is that Liverpool are a bit out of form, haven’t beaten Burnley by more than two goals in the last seven encounters and they have a big Champions League match on Wednesday that will be on their mind and they’ll need to prepare for. They play a Burnley team who in the league, have beaten Spurs and drew United in the last month or so. They are always up for playing the big clubs so I’ll take the points again here. Burnley (+2, +105).

10:05 am EST

Wolves @ Chelsea – Wolves against a top 6 side is always a good bet but I love this one specifically here. Chelsea’s depth problem/Sarri’s lack of change in the squad will come back to bite him after they had a match on Thursday in the Europa league and will likely be tired. They’ll need to make changes and if they do, their depth isn’t that strong and if they don’t then they’ll be tired. Wolves will be rested and have eleven points from nine matches against the top six the season, the best outside of that group this campaign. They also beat Chelsea 2-1 earlier in the season. Wolves (+1, -110).

12:30 am EST

Manchester United @ Arsenal (NBC) – Yes United’s win on Wednesday was one of the most miraculous comebacks in European history, but we have to remember that most of their first team is still injured and they will have to play another group of young players at the Emirates. Yes Arsenal will have one less day of rest and they suffered a bad loss in the Europa League on Thursday but they’re much healthier and have been brilliant at home this season. I think this could very well be a draw but I’m going to lean on the Gunners here a bit more than I would on United. Arsenal (Pick, -130).

Enjoy your weekend of matches! Please tell your friends and subscribe/follow me!

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo
Facebook: Can I Kick It

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