Champions League Final Preview

The match everyone waits for all season long is finally here as Liverpool are back for revenge after losing to Real Madrid last season and will face Tottenham who are here for the first time in their history. I’m going to go over what each team has going for them as well as what they don’t have going for them and of course a bet for the match. Let’s rock and roll.

This Season: 212-169-48 (+15.8 Units)
FA Cup Final: 1-1 (-0.1 Units)
(
+15.8 units = $100 bettor has won $1,580 this season)

As I said earlier, Liverpool will look to avenge their loss from last season where Real Madrid beat them 3-1 in Kiev. Luckily for them they won’t be playing the 13-time winners and are instead playing Final debutants, Tottenham. Yeah Spurs aren’t Madrid from the last few seasons but they’re still someone Liverpool should be genuinely worries about. Spurs are a team who they play at least twice a year and they haven’t necessarily comfortably beaten them as of late. Over the last 9 meetings between the two, Liverpool have only won four and only one was by more than 1 goal. Each of the meetings this past season were tight as Liverpool won both 2-1, but needed a late own goal to beat Spurs at Anfield in March. So what does Liverpool have going for them on Saturday?

Obviously Liverpool are known for their front three (Mane, Firmino and Salah), who have been outstanding this season, but it isn’t that far and away better than Spurs’ front three (Lucas, Kane and Son). Instead I’m going to focus on the impact that their outside backs have had this season. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson combined for 30 assists this season with TAA earning 12 in the Premier League and Robertson 11, good enough for third and fourth in the league respectively. If Spurs press too much, which they likely will, and don’t have the proper protection on the wings to prevent those outside backs from moving forward, they will be in serious trouble. Liverpool love to move the ball through the midfield then push the ball wide so the outside backs can whip balls into the box or attack the endline with pace.

Another thing that Liverpool have going for them is their defense, specifically with Virgil Van Dijk, which ranked first in the Premier League in goals conceded. Van Dijk will be key in stopping that Spurs front three which will likely be returning Harry Kane for the first time in almost two months. Since Spurs will likely play Son and Lucas on the wings to prevent the outside backs from having space, it should make VVD’s job a bit easier in marking Kane. If Spurs spread themselves too wide and don’t offer the proper help for Kane, it could leave him stranded which would be a dream scenario for VVD and Liverpool. But expect VVD to be shadowing Kane or whoever starts up top on Saturday.

So what are some negatives for Liverpool? Well they will likely be without Firmino, or at least a not 100% Firmino, and Keita has been officially ruled out. That is not good news especially if Firmino can’t start as there isn’t a like for like replacement for the Brazilian. They’ll also be facing a Spurs team who will be returning one of the better strikers in the world in Harry Kane, someone who they got to this stage without. Adding that threat might make this team even stronger and gives that already potent offense more weapons. In games with Harry Kane this season Spurs were 24-3-12 (W-D-L) while without him they went 9-2-7 with an average of 0.7 goals per game. That doesn’t mean he will come back and score goals, but it does mean that he has the ability to provide a spark to the offense or at least make the defense focus more attention on himself and less on Son and Lucas.

For Spurs, things are much more simple than people believe. If they can play their game; press and cause turnovers, then they should cause Liverpool issues. When Spurs press effectively it allows their front three who are doing the pressing to gain possession in key areas with enough space to create quick chances. If they can do that effectively and provide Kane, Son or Lucas with chances inside the 18, they can surely nab a goal.

Another thing that Spurs really have going for them is they seem like the team of destiny in this tournament (trust me that matters). They had to get through Man City in the Quarterfinal in dramatic fashion and then they had to score three second half goals including a 96th minute winner to beat Ajax in Amsterdam in the Semifinal. They won’t have as much pressure as Liverpool since this is their first ever Final and they owe almost nothing to their fans in that respect. Liverpool meanwhile are looking to avoid back to back defeats in Champions League Finals. Adding to that, Spurs have been great in matches away from home in this competition when their backs are against the wall. Bottom line; they’ve gone through the gauntlet and won’t be scared of this Liverpool team.

What are some of the negatives for Spurs? They have also been hit by the injury bug as Sanchez, Rose and Winks are all doubtful. Even Kane might not start because he may not be able to go a full 90 minutes let alone 120 if it goes to extra time. We don’t know what their starting XI will be on Saturday and that should worry Spurs fans. The only thing that we know for sure about Spurs is the midfield trio of Eriksen, Alli and Sissoko. Good luck to Pochettino in picking that starting XI.

How do I think the game will go? Well usually in Finals it takes about 15 minutes for both teams to settle and get the wheels moving because nobody wants to make an early mistake. I don’t think that will happen in this match. Both teams know each other very well, they both press and play a fast-paced style and they both have a few potent goal-scorers. I love the over 2.5 in this match both due to the points I just made (expected back and forth style, goal-scorers and familiarity) and because of the history. Both matches between these two teams went 2-1 this season, 5 of the last 6 matches they’ve played have had at least 3 goals and 6 of the last 8 Champions League Finals have had at least three goals. Outside of the total, I can’t get a read on this match with Liverpool as favorites. I think that’s a fair line for both teams and there isn’t much to exploit from it. Take the over and enjoy what should be a crazy match. Over 2.5 goals (-110) 3 UNITS.

I’d like to thank everyone for following along this year. A year and a half ago I started this for fun and it’s turned into something that became fun for everyone else as well. I recorded a podcast last night for the first time with Gos (@oh_my_gos on twitter) to recap the Europa League Final, this past Premier League season and to preview Saturday’s Champions League Final. We honestly just pressed record and talked for an hour so take it with a grain of salt, but I think it’ not half bad. Take a listen and let us know what you think!

https://soundcloud.com/nicolas-pelaez-86089003/can-i-kick-it-europa-league-recap-and-champions-league-final-preview

Thanks again for another amazing season! I will be providing a few updates shortly after the Final that I’m sure will intrige you all (*eye emojis*).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo

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

Liverpool v. Barcelona Champions League Semifinal, Leg 2

What a title race this is becoming in England as City now sit one point above Liverpool with one match to play. The drama has been intense week in and week out and it didn’t stop this past weekend. Both teams had tough tests and both teams proved why they are having two of the best seasons in Premier League history. Liverpool needed late heroics at Newcastle as a Divock Origo scored a winner in the 86th after both teams traded goals for the whole match. Sadly Mo Salah suffered a scary head injury and looks to be out for the rest of the season, including this match agains Barcelona on Tuesday.

City meanwhile hosted a Leicester team who were totally up for it, but they prevailed 1-0 due to an absolutely insane goal from Vincent Kompany. How insane is it? It’s only his 18th goal in 11 seasons in the Premier League, his first shot on target outside of the box in 6 years and his first ever goal outside of the box. It’s by far the best goal he’s ever scored and it might be the one that wins the title for City.

Now we put that title chase on pause for the second leg of the Champions League Semifinals between Barcelona and Liverpool.

This Season’s Record: 205-161-47 (+17.4 Units)
Matchweek 37 Record: 4-2-1 (+2.5 Units)

Barcelona (3) @ Liverpool (0) (TV: TNT) – This is an odd game because Barca basically have it in the bag already and if they score one more it’ll be completely over. Second legs are also always odd because they are never normal matches. What I mean by that is that there’s usually already a score and both teams’ strategies will surely change throughout the match. When one team is up so much and has such a large cushion, you have no idea how they are going to play it, defend the whole game or try to put it away. But there was a system I used back in the Quarterfinals that worked pretty well and it has some historical data to back it. I’m going to apply that here as well.

In this season of the Champions League, 14 of the 17 2nd-leg knockout matches have had at least 3 goals. Last season, both semifinals in the 2nd leg had at least 4 goals. If we expand that stat over the last 10 years, 14 of the 20 2nd legs in the Semifinals have had at least 3 goals. Adding to that notion, every match that went 3-0 or better in the first leg (4-0, etc…) had at least three goals in the second leg, occurring three times. For this match specifically, I think it has a good chance to go over even without Salah and Firmino because both teams will be looking to score goals quickly. Liverpool have a massive mountain to climb and have no option but to go for it early and Barcelona will look to end the entire thing in the first half. Also, if you’re not properly defending Messi or Suarez then you’re in deep trouble not just on the break but if Barcelona sustain any sort of possession.

I expect Barcelona to not give in early, making sure they don’t provide Liverpool with any momentum but at the same time absorb a bit of pressure. Their goal is to keep a clean sheet in the first 30 minutes while trying to hit on the break to get that coveted away goal.

I hate the pickem line because I can’t rule out a Liverpool comeback at Anfield but I also think Barcelona could just keep running away with it. Also if Barca score first, they can allow four more goals and still go through, making the spread for either side really vulnerable. Meanwhile the over thrives in these situations. Over 3 goals (-105).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo

Matchweek 37 Preview

Before we get into this weekends preview let’s go over Barcelona v Liverpool in the first leg of their Semifinal.

On paper you’d think Liverpool were able to get a result as they had more of the ball, more shots, and even more passes completed. But the scoreline says a completely different story as Barcelona ended up throttling Liverpool 3-0. They failed to achieve two of my three key points; stopping Messi and keeping a clean sheet/scoring an away goal. They did well to contain Messi for a lot of the match but there were times that the entire Liverpool defense went into panic mode whenever he had space, which allowed the lanes for Suarez and Coutinho to open up. On his first goal he was unmarked in the box and put away one of the easier chances of his career. That’s what happens when you take your eye off of him for 5 seconds in the box.

It also didn’t help that Messi scored one of the greatest free kicks we’ve ever seen. It was so good that the Liverpool players couldn’t even complain and it even made Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp smile on the touchline. 30 yards out, at 61 miles per hour and perfectly in the top corner. I really recommend watching the goal HERE. Liverpool now have a massive mountain to climb especially since they don’t have an away goal in their back pocket.

This Season’s Record: 201-159-46 (+14.9 Units)
Barcelona v. Liverpool: 1-0 (+1.0 Units)

Saturday, May 4th
English Premier League
7:30 am EST

Tottenham @ Bournemouth – This is an interesting one because how Spurs line up will say a lot about their commitment to their top 4 finish and their Champions League Semifinal on Wednesday. Son was rested on Tuesday against Ajax because of his suspension but they’ll be without Vertonghen, Kane and several other rotation players I’m sayursay both because of rest and injuries. They have enough of a cushion in the league where if they drop points, a top four finish is still likely. I think they’ll end up resting a few players because of their upcoming trip to Amsterdam. Their form worries me as they’ve only had one win in their last five matches and away from home they’ve gone 1-8 in their last 9. Bournemouth haven’t been fantastic either but they’re coming off of a 3-3 draw at Southampton where they showed that they can grind out a result especially by scoring goals. This is a great opportunity for Bournemouth to steal some points and I’m going to take them as home underdogs. Bournemouth (+0.5, -110).

10:00 am EST

Fulham @ Wolves – Fulham have been in fantastic form ever since they got relegated, winning three straight. But those matches weren’t far-fetched wins for the club and they’ll now have to face their first real test in Wolves. They’ve gone 0-4 in their last four matches against top-8 opponents with a -9 goal differential which makes for an average loss margin of 2.25. Wolves meanwhile have gone their last three matches unbeaten, with a win away at Watford and a win at home to Arsenal. They’re playing well enough to halt Fulham’s form in it’s tracks and they’re still fighting for that 7th place spot. A win here and a Leicester loss at City could guarantee that spot. I’ll take them on the spread at home. Wolves (-1. -110).

German Bundesliga
9:30 am EST

Nurnberg @ Wolfsburg – Nurnberg’s draw against Bayern last weekend was nothing short of spectacular, but it’s a one-off performance In my opinion. Adding to that, Schalke’s win at Dortmund puts Nurnberg’s hopes of survival at almost 0 as they now have an 11 point gap with 5 matches left. They’ll face a Wolfsburg team who have performed up to their standard over the last few matches, covering or pushing in most of them. They’re also still within an earshot of qualifying for European competition next season as they sit only 2 points behind the last Europa League spot and 4 points behind the last Champions League spot. Three points would be crucial in maintaining that quest for Europe and I trust them to get those points at home here. Wolfsburg (-1, -105).

Sunday, May 5th
English Premier League
9:00 am EST

Watford @ Chelsea – Chelsea will be coming off of their 1-1 draw at Frankfurt in the Europa League Semifinals while Watford will have a full week’s rest. I always like fading teams late in the season when they’re coming off of major travel, especially against clubs with a full week’s rest. Also, Chelsea’s recent results have been somewhat uninspiring as their only win in their last five matches was at home to Slavia Prague in the Quarterfinals of the Europa League. Yes Watford are coming off of a home loss last weekend, but they’ve been pretty good against top-6 clubs away from home this season. They’ve only failed to cover once against those teams in their last four tries and rank 8th in the league in away goal differential. I think they can cause Chelsea some serious trouble, especially if Sarri decides to rest some starters before the second leg against Frankfurt. I’ll take them on a spread that I think is 0.5 points too many. Watford (+1.5, -125).

Spanish La Liga
6:00 am EST

Girona @ Getafe – This is one of the more intriguing matches of the weekend as Getafe are still clinging on the the last Champions League spot and Girona are still at risk of relegation. Due to those factors, Getafe only sit as -0.5 favorites, but I think Vegas is severely underestimating how good this squad is. In their last few matches, Getafe have drawn Real Madrid, beaten Sevilla handily and had a home win against Bilbao. That’s three major results against three top-7 clubs while Girona are 1-6 in their last 7 matches. Yes, Girona’s sole win came against Sevilla last weekend (which ironically helped Getafe tremendously in the race for 4th), but overall Girona aren’t a team that Getafe should be too scared of. I love Getafe at home here to continue their quest for their first Champions League birth in 8 years and only their second ever. Getafe (-0.5, -125).

German Bundesliga
7:30 am EST

Augsburg @ Schalke – Schalke are coming off of their biggest win of the season as they dismantled rivals Dortmund and possibly ruined their chances at a Bundesliga title. Shockingly though, they still sit in the last safe spot in the league, but with a six point cushion. Meanwhile Augsburg sit only one point above them. If either of these teams can get three points, it’ll likely guarantee survival for that club. Although Augsburg have had a few good results as of late, they haven’t won in any of their last ten away matches, with their last win coming back in October. I trust Schalke, who are surely buzzing after their win last weekend, to take care of business at home and guarantee survival. Schalke (-0.5, -125).

Italian Serie A
9:00 am EST

Atalanta @ Lazio – This is probably the best match in Italy this weekend, outside of maybe the Turin derby between Torino and Juve. Atalanta come into this match in great form as they have won three straight matches and have gone unbeaten in their last eleven matches. Lazio meanwhile have had a few good wins including against Milan an Inter, but they’ve also dropped points to Chievo Verona, Sassuolo and SPAL. They’re also 2-3-1 in their last six and sit four points behind the final Champions League spot held by Atalanta. Atalanta will also have to play Juve in a few weeks and would feel much more comfortable going into that match with a three point cushion in their 4th place spot. I feel much more comfortable picking an Atalanta team who have had steady and consistent results against a Lazio team who are somewhat out of sorts right now. I’m even going to go as far as taking their moneyline at 2/1. Atalanta (+200).

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo

Barcelona v. Liverpool Champions League Semifinal, Leg 1

Ajax took down Spurs on Tuesday in pretty convincing fashion. It was clear that Spurs were missing a few key players and that their gameplan wasn’t good enough to stop Ajax’s total football strategy. Pochettino’s press did not work as Ajax consistently beat it by playing out from the back and not turning it over in dangerous areas. Spurs had trouble with Llorente up top as he didn’t provide any pace or threat on the break, allowing Ajax to maintain their shape defensively. Sissoko coming on before halftime did provide a spark for Spurs but the final product up top wasn’t there. Ajax now go back to Amsterdam with a 1-0 aggregate lead and an away goal.

This Season’s Record: 200-159-46 (+13.9 Units)
Tottenham v. Ajax: 2-0 (+3.2 Units)

I nailed both the Ajax spread and moneyline as I win back most of what I lost this last weekend. Let’s see what we can do with the other Semifinal, Barcelona v. Liverpool.

Liverpool @ Barcelona (TV: TNT) – This is obviously the better matchup on paper of the two Semifinals as arguably the two best teams in the world will face off for the right to play in the Final. Let’s break down what both teams will need to win the first leg.

Liverpool come into this one on a 10-match win streak but are in the midst of an epic title race in the Premier League. They have the best defender in the world right now and should have basically everyone healthy and available for this match on Wednesday. Their only worry is whether or not Firmino will be 100% for the match, which he is expected to be. I think this first leg will come down to three factors; Van Dijk on Messi, Liverpool’s outside backs and the need for an away goal or a clean sheet.

Obviously we all can’t wait to watch the best player of all time (if you disagree, please tweet me @nicodegallo and I will gladly put you in your place) face off against the best defender in the world. It will be crucial for VVD to slow down Messi as he’s been in amazing form especially at home recently. If there’s one defender that can do it though it’s Van Dijk as his combination of size, speed and awareness can all thwart Messi’s effectiveness. But one thing to keep an eye out is whether or not Messi will try to drop deep to avoid being constantly marked by VVD. If he can do that and force the Liverpool center backs/defensive midfielders to commit, expect it to open up some passing lanes for Barcelona going forward.

The last two factors are a little bit more simple. Liverpool’s outside backs are two of the best crossers in the world and they can cause Barcelona’s outside backs hell if they’re given space. It’ll be key for Liverpool to constantly be whipping balls in, something that will surely make Barcelona uncomfortable. They’ll also need to grab an away goal in order to get some sort of advantage or chance before coming back home. If they don’t grab an away goal, then they’ll absolutely need to keep a clean sheet. If Liverpool can muster a draw at the Camp Nou then they will certainly be favored to move on to the Final.

The only problem is that stopping Messi, especially at the Camp Nou, is a very difficult thing to do. He leads the world in combined goals and assists and it’s not even close. He also leads the world in combined goals and chances created. Just over the weekend he scored the game-winning goal to seal another La Liga title, proving the notion that he steps up in big matches at home. He even scored two of the three goals in the second leg at home in the last round against United. Another problem is that if Liverpool don’t see the majority of the ball, which is a likely possibility, they’ll have less time to feed the wingbacks going forward. And if they rely on that too much it’ll make their attack too one-dimensional, making Barcelona’s job much easier. It’s also not easy getting past this Barcelona’s defense as they’ve only let up 6 goals in their 10 matches this year including only 2 at home.

Barcelona will also be completely healthy and in form themselves. They haven’t lost since January 23rd and since the start of April they’ve beaten Atletico Madrid and Manchester United twice. They’ve now clinched another La Liga title and can focus completely on these two legs against Liverpool, something that Liverpool doesn’t have the luxury of. Another reason to worry if you’re Liverpool is that Barcelona have won their last 8 home matches with a goal differential of +16 and those matches include those three tough ones I mentioned earlier.

The keys for Barcelona are a little more simple than Liverpool’s. Barca just need to do what they’ve done all season; play their game. If they can just play the way they usually play at home (sustaining possession, feeding Messi to create, and running defenses ragged), they should see this one through. Another thing that Barca have going for them is the fact that they aren’t just Lionel Messi. They have Luis Suarez, Phillipe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and more. If they can find a way to spread the ball, forcing Liverpool to focus on threats outside of Messi, expect that supporting cast to be effective and/or provide Messi some space to receive the ball and be effective himself.

I think that Barcelona are too good, especially at home, to fade in this match. As for the entire two legs, I think it’s split even but in this first leg I think Barcelona will take care of business and win the match. Even if VVD and Liverpool slow down Messi, they’ll have to deal with Barca’s other threats up top and they’ll also have to live with not having the ball for the majority of the match. I think this all plays into Barcelona’s hands and I’m going to pick them as favorites at home. FC Barcelona (-0.5, -110).

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

Tuesday, 4/9 Champions League Quarterfinals Preview

It’s baaacckkk. The Champions League returns with four awesome Quarterfinal matchups; Liverpool v. Porto, Tottenham v. Manchester City, Manchester United v. Barcelona and Juventus v. Ajax. I’m posting individual match previews for each day, that way I can go more in-depth about each match. Expect my Wednesday preview of United/Barca and Juve/Ajax to drop Wednesday morning.

This Season’s Record: 180-153-42 (+4.2 Units)
Matchweek 33 Weekend: 5-3-1 (+0.7 Units)

Tuesday, April 9th
UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals
3:00 pm EST

FC Porto @ Liverpool – This draw is obviously the easiest of the group as Liverpool get what is likely the weakest opposition in Porto. But with that being said, Porto aren’t necessarily a complete pushover. They went 5-1-0 in their group and although it was a pretty easy group, it’s still a very impressive feat. They then went on to beat Roma in the Round of 16 over two legs, winning the second leg 3-1 after extra time. Their defense is quite stingy as they have allowed the least amount of goals in the Portuguese Primeira Liga (17 goals in 28 matches) but they will be without veteran defender and three-time Champions League winner Pepe for the first leg due to yellow card accumulation. They will also be without Hector Herrera as the Mexican, who has played in every match for Porto this year, is also be suspended for yellow card accumulation. Their offense can be potent, but they haven’t faced this good of a defense all year long. Making matters worse, they haven’t won on English soil in 18 matches, creating quite the uphill battle for the Portuguese side.

Meanwhile Liverpool, who are favored by 1.5 goals in this, are coming into this match in good form but not great form. The reason why I say that is because although they’re winning their matches, it hasn’t been as easy as one would think. Their last three matches (Fulham, Tottenham and Southampton) have all been tight and have needed either luck or a few late goals to get them the three points. It can be shown as a positive though as they’re still grinding their way to wins, a quality that championship sides must have, but could be a warning sign that they’re not dominating as much as they should be.

Injury/suspension-wise they aren’t as clean either, as they will be without in-form left back Andy Robertson, who has been key for most of their recent wins. Liverpool’s outside backs getting forward is a staple to their attack and Robertson’s 9 assists in the Premier League are as many as Paul Pogba, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane. They will surely miss him but since they will likely dominate the ball, back-tracking by the wing-backs might be less expected than usual in this match. I expect the Reds to lean on left back Trent Alexander-Arnold to make up for Robertson’s offensive absence, as TAA is also ranked in the top 10 in assists in the Premier League this season.

I think the keys to this match are Liverpool’s ability to finish their chances, the amount of created chances compared to Porto, the possession and Liverpool’s home field advantage. Liverpool’s best trait is that they finish their chances even if they don’t create a ton, which I think they will in this match. Their front three can all score and they can score in many different ways, making their attack multi-dimensional. Porto haven’t played anyone nearly to the quality of Liverpool and are used to being the ones having the majority of the ball, creating the chances and setting the tempo. That won’t happen on Tuesday and I think Liverpool will take full advantage of Porto being out of their comfort zone at Anfield, one of the best atmospheres in all of Europe. Liverpool (-1.5, -110).

Manchester City @ Tottenham (TV: TNT) – These two will be playing each other three times in a span of eleven days, with the first being this Quarterfinal at Spurs’ new stadium. It will be interesting to see if Spurs can feel comfortable in their new stadium against what might be the best team in the world right now, while for City it should be interesting to see if their legs can hold up as they’ll be playing their third match in six days.

For Spurs, they got back to winning ways last Wednesday with a home win against Crystal Palace at their new stadium after they had two straight away losses. It looks like Eric Dier, Eric Lamela and Serge Aurier will be missing the match which definitely hurts their depth with less options coming off of the bench. The key for Spurs will be to get through the first 15-20 minutes as City have been brilliant starting off matches. In fact, City have scored 6 goals in the first 5 minutes this season and 26 in the first 20 minutes. If Spurs can ride that initial wave, they can then push a bit forward and force the issue a little bit to get some momentum before halftime.

Other than starting well, the biggest thing for them will be whether or not they can finish their chances when they get them, especially on the counter attack. If Kane and Son can put away their chances, then they stand a good chance at getting to the second leg unscathed. If not, they’ll allow City too much time on the ball without the threat of being countered, which is right where City feel the most comfortable. Most of City’s conceded goals this season have been on the counter after they’ve pushed too far up the field, leaving them vulnerable. If Spurs can counter effectively then they have a great opportunity to score a few goals.

For City, my biggest concern is whether or not they will be up for it, which is crazy considering it’s a Champions League Quarterfinal. But I mean that because their recent opponents have been relatively easy and they’ll be playing their third game in a week. Since the Carabao Cup Final against Chelsea in February, they’ve played West Ham (1-0), Bournemouth (1-0), Watford (3-1), Schalke (7-0), Swansea (3-2), Fulham (2-0), Cardiff (2-0) and Brighton (1-0). Although they went 8-0 in that span, none of those matches can get you ready for a Champions League Quarterfinal against Spurs, especially with only two of those wins being convincing. Luckily for them, they will likely be returning star striker Sergio Aguero who will certainly be in the squad, but questionable to start. Kyle Walker pulled up with a hamstring injury in this weekend’s FA Cup Semifinal, but has responded to treatment well and should be fit to feature in the 18-man roster. They absolutely have the quality to beat this Spurs team, but only if they’re fit and ready for the challenge will they do what’s expected of them.

I think it’s a poor practice to doubt this City team. Yes they’ve had bumps in the road, specifically at the turn of 2019, but they can smell the quadruple and they’ll surely be up for this trip to London. Adding to that, Spurs’ are 2-2-5 against the Premier League top six and Barcelona in their last nine against those opponents, not a record that gives me confidence against arguably the best team in the world. I think City being slight favorites is an opportunity you can’t pass up since they’ve only dropped points twice over their last 23 matches. I think City win a low-scoring match and bring a 1-0 or 2-0 aggregate lead back to Manchester with away goals.Manchester City (-0.5, -110).

That’s all for Tuesday’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

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