Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

A total of 40 goals were scored in the Premier League over the last couple of days and it is fair to say that it was one of the best weekends of action all season. Yet again Federico Macheda took the headlines but there were no shortage of great games and incident. In Europe, the title races in France and Germany look like they will go down to the wire and if that isn’t enough we are just hours away from yet more Champions League football.

Good Weekend

Federico Macheda

The 17-year-old wonderkid did it again and although there was a huge amount of fortune in his deflected effort from a Michael Carrick shot, there is no denying the match winning qualities of the young Italian. Incredibly, Macheda has not even played a half of Premier League football over these two games yet he could go on to be one of the most important factors in Manchester United reclaiming the Premier League title.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side yet again looked a little off the pace and a number of players were under par. It is testament to their know-how and fighting spirit that they came away from the Stadium of Light with all three points.

Attention now turns to FC Porto, who were 3-0 winners over Amadora on Saturday night and if one combines United’s recent form with Porto’s home record and the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, the Red Devils travel to Portugal as distinct second favourites.

Manchester United are 12/1 to win the Premier League, FA Cup & Champions League.

For long-term odds see here.

Fernando Torres

“El Nino” claimed a brilliant brace in the first half against Blackburn to all but seal the three points on a sombre day at Anfield. The first was one of the goals of the season and Torres’ instincts for scoring goals was proved by the fact that he wasn’t facing the goal for either his first strike or the header later on in the half.

It is now possible that a shift has occurred at Anfield whereby the league is more important than the Champions League. Nevertheless, Benitez should be buoyed ahead of the visit to Stamford Bridge that his team recovered from their shock defeat to Chelsea who themselves let in three goals in ten minutes to a very average Bolton side.

Two defining games come for the Reds on consecutive Tuesdays, they have nothing to lose away at Chelsea in the Champions League and then face Arsenal at home a week later in their toughest league game left.

Liverpool are 12/1 to qualify from their Champions League tie with Chelsea. Full match odds here.

Arsenal

There is no doubt that Arsenal rode their luck at the JJB Stadium, at 1-0 down Kieran Gibbs should have been sent off for a foul on Valencia and the resulting free-kick from Ben Watson hit the post and bounced out just before the half-time whistle. The second-half performance was much improved and was yet another reminder of the attacking talent Arsenal possess.

Arsenal have lost just one match this year and that was to Roma in a tie they eventually went on to win on penalties. Arsene Wenger has rightly pointed to the 3-0 defeat at Manchester City as the nadir of the campaign and the Gunners have not lost a league game since then.

With fourth place all but wrapped up, Wenger’s side are now well poised to mount a serious challenge for the Champions League and FA Cup in ties coming up this week. If only Andrei Arshavin wasn’t cup-tied for the Champions League. Nevertheless, Arsenal should see off Villareal on Wednesday and can perhaps look forward to a semi-final clash with Porto.

Arsenal are 22/1 to win the FA Cup & Champions League. For long-term odds see here.

Middlesbrough

Gareth Southgate played an attacking side for the visit of Hull and was rewarded with a three-goal haul for the first time this season. Boro really had a go and will have to continue to give it a go in the six remaining games.

As Southgate rightly pointed out Boro fans now have hope and the game with Fulham at the Riverside is now crucial with the following two fixtures against Arsenal and then Manchester United. Their next game, and one to mark in the diary as a “six-pointer” is an away match at Newcastle on May 11, which could decide their Premier League future.

Boro are now 2/5 to go down, relegation odds here.

Stoke fans

It is surely no coincidence that Stoke’s incredible home record comes hand-in-hand with surely the most vociferous crowd in the country. To put it into perspective their eight wins at home is a better record than Aston Villa and Everton and only slightly inferior to Chelsea and Arsenal.

Tony Pulis’ side were unlucky not to beat Newcastle on Saturday and all but secure Premier League survival. Will the Stoke fans create the same noise and passion next season when the novelty of the top flight has worn off a little?

Chelsea & Bolton

A cracker of a game and both sides should have taken away some important lessons. Chelsea should be switched on for 90 minutes against Liverpool on Tuesday and the fact Bolton scored three in ten minutes should be a major warning against complacency. Bolton have enough fight and quality in them to avoid the drop.

Roman Pavlyuchenko

The Russian striker came off the bench and proved that Guus Hiddink was right earlier last week when he praised the Spurs number nine. With Jermain Defoe close to fitness, this was also a timely moment for Pavlyuchenko to remind everyone of his undoubted class.

Andres Iniesta

After Iniesta’s inspired performance against Recreativo, 35 million pounds would be cheap for the Barca schemer who everyone forgets due to the abundance of quality elsewhere at the Nou Camp. Iniesta was sensational in both centre midfield and wide left on Saturday night, scoring the first and setting up the second.

Genoa

Unfashionable Genoa reclaimed the fourth and final Champions League place with a fine win over Juventus in a five-goal thriller. With a two point lead over Fiorentina they have a number of winnable games and if they can hold their nerve will be playing in the premier competition in Europe next season.

Lazio players

It is always a good weekend when you win a derby match, if it means the Lazio players no longer have to hear the bleating of their chairman Claudio Lotito then all the better.

Wolfsburg & Edin Dzeko

Felix Magath’s side claimed another crucial win at Monchengladbach and now have a clear three point lead over Bayern Munich and Hamburg with a further five points separating them from former leaders Hertha Berlin. It will come as no surprise that Edin Dzeko scored again, from a Zvjezdan Misimovic cross before a Dante equaliser meant Wolfsburg had to show the character of champions to win thanks to a late strike from Sascha Reither.

Jurgen Klinsmann

The former Inter Milan and Spurs striker would have been sacked had Bayern lost at home to Eintracht Frankfurt to complete a miserable week. Bayern won 4-0 and Klinsi lives to fight another day.

AZ Alkmaar

With an 11 point lead at the top of the Eredivisie it matters not a jot that Ajax scored seven and Feyenoord five.

Bad Weekend

Hull

There is always one team in the top flight who crash and burn after Christmas and eventually get relegated. This season it looks like Hull will be that team and when the final reckoning comes the half-time team talk on the pitch at Eastlands on Boxing Day could well be cited as a major factor behind their descent.

Phil Brown’s side have won one league game in 2009 and without Manucho things would be looking desperate. With three of their six remaining games of the season against Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester United, they probably need two wins from next week’s away game at Sunderland, a home game with Stoke and a visit to Bolton on the penultimate day of the season.

Hull are 2/1 to go down, relegation odds here.

Sunderland

Sunderland put up a valiant display on Saturday and but for the intervention of Federico Macheda would probably have gained a point, they certainly deserved more from the game after a battling display. The trouble is that recently they have played poorly and the decision to replace Roy Keane with Ricky Sbragia is now looking decidedly iffy.

The Mackems have now lost four games in a row and have not tasted victory since beating Stoke at home in early February. The suspicion remains that Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cisse are good enough to keep them up and they may have to prove this in the next two games.

Hull at home and West Brom away could well yield the six points that will all but secure safety, if not Sbragia and the Sunderland fans could face a nervy few weeks where they pay even greater attention to events at their great rivals Newcastle.

Sunderland are 11/4 to go down, relegation odds here.

Newcastle

Although they will point to being somewhat unlucky to have conceded a corner that should have been a goal kick, Newcastle were fortunate to come away from the Britannia with a point and Shola Ameobi’s marking for the Stoke goal was shocking.

To compound matters for Alan Shearer, Middlesbrough’s win at home to Hull brings the two north east clubs level on points and the former Toon number nine seems to be correct when he says “it will go right down to the wire.”

The home games against Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Fulham looks massive but Newcastle may need to pick something up from away trips to Spurs, Liverpool and Villa. Hope can be taken from Andy Carroll’s performance and just their second point in six games.

Newcastle are 4/5 to go down, relegation odds here.

Blackburn

Sam Allardyce’s side were hopeless at Anfield and playing Christopher Samba up front on his own says a lot about the former Bolton boss.

Portsmouth

When you are in relegation trouble a home win over the bottom team who are almost doomed is a must. Pompey are by no means safe.

Everton & Aston Villa

These two teams played out another cracker but the result was mainly welcomed at the Emirates. Villa have failed to stop the slide and haven’t won in the league since early February whilst David Moyes was incensed with the penalty decision that levelled the game up.

Manchester City

The second 3-1 defeat of the week and the second leg with Hamburg is make or break for Mark Hughes. City can of course cite tiredness and there is no doubt that Fulham would have fancied their chances going into the match.

Nevertheless, with all the money invested in Robinho and then in the January transfer window, the suspicion remains that eleventh position simply won’t suffice for the Dubai owners of the club. There will also be those who bemoan the sacking of Sparky Hughes but the former Manchester United striker will surely admit his team have underachived this season, unless they can win the UEFA Cup.

Villareal

The “Yellow Submarine” have dropped to fifth in La Liga and face a battle with Valencia and Atletico Madrid to qualify for the Champions League next season. They travel to the Emirates on Wednesday without captain and talisman Marcos Senna who is now injured and off the back of two domestic defeats.

Roma

Now eight points off a Champions League place, they were favourites going into the derby but yet again came up short in a big game.

Hamburg

Stuttgart away sandwiched in between the two-legged tie with Manchester City was always going to be a tough ask for Martin Jol’s side.

Lyon

Following another weekend of Ligue 1 action the top of the table looks even closer with the top six now separated by five points. Lyon’s draw with Monaco means Marseille are a point clear at the top. Surely this is the season when Lyon don’t win it.

Next week OL travel to Bordeaux and then face PSG at home, the anyone but Lyon brigade could finally get their wish.


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