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

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

Who Will Win the Bundesliga? The Case for Borussia Dortmund

The last time a team won the Bundesliga that wasn’t named Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund was in 2008-2009 when Wolfsburg triumphed atop the German table. This year will be no different as the two clubs are tied atop the Bundesliga table, eleven points ahead of third place Leipzig. Luckily for Bayern they have a seven point lead on the goal differential tally, the tie-breaker if both clubs are tied on points, but a lot can change over the next two months especially when these two clubs face each other on April 6th.

I’m going to go into who has the better shot at winning the league title with their respective paths to the finish. In this piece I will go over Dortmund, following with a piece for Bayern’s chances.

The Case for Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund were on top of the table for most of the season until their bad run of form in February and early March, where they went five matches with only one win in the league and eight matches with one win in all competitions. They crashed out of the Champions League, DFB Pokal and lost their grip atop the Bundesliga table, allowing Bayern to take the top spot. Bayern’s outstanding form has also attributed to this as they have had only one league loss since away at Dortmund back in November. But Dortmund began to turn things around a bit with back to back wins before the international break and should come out of the break feeling good. Another thing that will help their title chase is that they will be playing less matches than their rivals Bayern, as the Bavarians will be playing in the DFB Pokal, the German domestic cup. They are expected to go far in the league cup, possibly chopping up their focus on the Bundesliga title.

Let’s see what Dortmund’s road ahead looks like and if they can gain enough points to top Bayern.

HOME v. Wolfsburg – Dortmund haven’t lost to Wolfsburg at home in the league since 2012 but they haven’t been beating them comfortably recently either. Their last two matches were 0-0 at home last January and a 1-0 win for Dortmund at Wolfsburg this past November. Wolfsburg are also on the cusp of a Europa League spot as they sit four points off of a guaranteed place in European competition and are tied with Leverkusen for the Europa League playoff spot. This has the makings of a trap game for Dortmund, and could well be a draw. But for the sake of this hypothetical let’s say they take the three points at home where they have yet to lose this season.(3 pts).

AWAY v. Bayern Munich – Ahhh the big one. If someone can grab the three points here they will surely be the favorites to win the league. The bad news for Dortmund is that they haven’t taken points away at Bayern in the league in five years and Bayern have won seven straight home games this year scoring 24 goals and conceding only 2. It will be a very tough task for Dortmund to come in and they may even try to settle for the draw. I think that will doom them and I expect Bayern to take this one. (0 pts).

HOME v. Mainz – They shouldn’t have trouble with a Mainz side who have been poor this season especially away from home where they have collected only 11 points from 13 matches. (3 pts).

AWAY v. Freiburg – Freiburg haven’t been bad at home this season, ranking mid-table in that juncture but they just aren’t strong enough to beat this Dortmund team. They haven’t beaten Dortmund since May of 2010 and I see that trend continuing. (3 pts).

HOME v. Schalke – What’s really tricky about this match for Dortmund is that Schalke could be facing a relegation battle at this stage in the season and are historically always up for this derby. They’ve split the last two and the previous four encounters resulted in draws. If Schalke are fighting for their lives I think another draw is likely here in what is always a very tightly contested match. (1 pt).

AWAY v. Werder Bremen – Another trap game here for Dortmund as they face a Werder team who has troubled them not only in this season but in recent years as well. Their DFB Pokal match earlier in the year went to penalties with Werder prevailing, their league match in December was very tight going 2-1 to Dortmund and the last time these two met at Werder they drew 1-1. I think Dortmund slip up again here and drop points in a very tough away match. (1 pt).

HOME v. Fortuna Dusseldorf – As of 3/25 Dusseldorf sit in 12th place and although they’ve been good against top opposition this year, I don’t see them waltzing into Signal Iduna Park in May and getting points. This will be Dortmund’s easiest chance at three points and I expect them to take full advantage.. (3 pts).

AWAY v. Mochengladbach – If the league is still up for grabs on the last day of the season here, expect an all-timer between these two clubs. Gladbach have been brilliant this season sitting in 4th place and have been more than capable at home. They could be likely fighting for a Champions League spot and I have a hard time envisioning Dortmund coming out of this one with all three points. If both teams are fighting for something, I see this one being a draw. (1 pt).

With that point tally Dortmund would finish with 75 points, which would very rarely win you the Bundesliga. But with this seasons lower-than-normal point total you never know and if they can pick up form during this stretch then anything can happen. Their odds to win the Bundesliga currently sit at (+225) which has value, but their path does looks grim as they’d need to win two derbies and a tough match on the last day of the year to win the league. They’d also likely have to finish above Bayern instead of tying them as they are behind on goal differential, another obstacle for the yellow and black.

As I said before, their price to win the league does have value based on the positive odds, but the reality of their race to the top is that they’d likely need a miracle run to win it. I wouldn’t buy into Dortmund right now but I also wouldn’t completely rule out their chances to make things interesting, especially if they can grab points against Bayern. But with that being unlikely and due to them being behind on goal differential, I don’t see Dortmund coming out of this season crowned champions.

Keep an eye out for Bayern Munich’s case for the Bundesliga coming soon.

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo
Facebook: Can I Kick It

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