The Big Weekend Preview

Arsenal v Chelsea, FA Cup semi-final, April 18, 2009

Manchester United and Everton fans may be upset that they have to play their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday but for the fans of London’s two biggest clubs this should be some occasion as both chase all-important silverware.

With both sides banging in the goals in recent games we can surely expect Wembley’s famous wide open spaces to be exploited with some electric attacking football.

Amazingly, Arsenal will be gracing the new Wembley for the first time which says a lot about their trophy drought in recent years. Arsene Wenger’s young side appear to be coming of age and they have been in spectacular form in 2009, losing just once to AS Roma (in a tie they went on to win) and it is no exaggeration to say all their attacking players are coming into form at just the right time.

Theo Walcott (7/2 to score) was the star of the show against Villareal on Wednesday night perhaps sending left back Joan Capdevila a step closer to retirement after he chased shadows all night. Since returning from injury both Emmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabregas have shown the form of last season and Robin van Persie (7/1 to be the first goalscorer) is in the midst of his most productive campaign in an Arsenal shirt.

Throw Andrei Arshavin into the mix and it is clear that Chelsea can ill afford the defensive lapses that have seen them concede seven goals in the last two matches. The Blues have of course scored eleven goals in their last three games and Arsenal have major defensive worries at the back.

Only Kolo Toure is a first choice starter of the Gunners backline that was rarely troubled by Villareal and the likes of Didier Drogba (13/8 to score) and Frank Lampard are likely to pose a whole lot more danger at Wembley.

Similarly to Arsenal, Chelsea have been in fine fettle in recent weeks thanks to the sacking of Luiz Felipe Scolari and subsequent arrival of Guus Hiddink. They have been beaten just once in their last 14 league and cup matches and they also look like a team coming into form at the right time of the campaign.

Somehow the Blues need to return to their defensive roots if they will nullify the attacking threat of the Gunners. John Terry’s return should help and all eyes will be on Petr Cech who is going through his worst spell since joining from Rennes in 2004.

There is no shortage of intriguing battles to look forward to in this one as Chelsea face arguably the closest side to their Champions League semi-final opponents Barcelona in terms of attacking style in world football. The clash between Michael Essien and Cesc Fabregas should be explosive whilst Ashley Cole and Nicolas Anelka cannot be ruled out to make an impact against their former club.

In the league Chelsea have struggled against their “Big Four” rivals but they did see off Liverpool in midweek. The Blues haven’t beaten Arsenal in the FA Cup for over sixty years and both clubs will feel they can win this trophy.

The way both these sides are playing it feels like this one could end 5-5, but a look back over recent results suggests a 2-1 is likely with that scoreline occurring between Chelsea and Arsenal once in the past four seasons.

After an incredible week of football, is it too much to ask that these two in-form teams will play another classic?

101gg predicts: Arsenal 1 – Chelsea 2 (9/1)

Full match odds here.

Juventus v Inter Milan, Serie A, April 18, 2009

Coming off the back of two poor results, a draw with Chievo and a defeat to Genoa, Juventus have all but handed the Scudetto to Inter Milan. With the gap between the top two now at ten points we will witness a match without a whole lot at stake except pride for two giant clubs.

There is an overwhelming feeling of disappointment at Juventus. Coach Claudio Ranieri expressed it in the best way during the week by saying that the Bianconeri should have reduced the gap from Inter but instead increased it and now they will come into this game with regrets.

The importance of the game for Ranieri cannot be underestimated since the Italian press have been speculating all week that the former Chelsea manager may not be in charge come next season.

“The Old Lady” come into this clash without long-term injury victim Momo Sissoko, also missing will be the suspended Claudio Marchisio and Mauro Camoranesi. Nevertheless, Ranieri is expected to bench Alessandro Del Piero (11/2 to be the first goalscorer) and start with David Trezeguet alongside Vincenzo Iaquinta and with Marco Marchioni replacing Camoranesi on the right flank.

Sebastian Giovinco will also be on the bench and could well play the role of “super sub,” such has been the form of the “atomic ant” at times this season.

For Inter there is much optimism going into the “Derby d’Italia as with a 10 point lead and seven matches to go, the Scudetto looks all but certain to remain in the Nerazzurri trophy cabinet.

Coach Jose Mourinho has almost all of his squad available except the injured Mancini and Maicon as well as Adriano who is still in Brazil and whose future at the club is shrouded in doubt.

As a result Mourinho will play Mario Balotelli alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front at the top of a 4-3-1-2 formation with three hard working central midfielders to provide balls to Stankovic who will probably play just behind the two strikers.

101gg predicts: Juventus 1 – Inter Milan 1 (11/2)

Full match odds here.

Bordeaux v Lyon, Ligue 1, April 19, 2009

For the first time in seven months, Lyon are no longer top of Ligue 1. After a 2-2 draw in the Stade Gerland against Monaco last weekend, Marseille (thanks to a 4-1 win over Grenoble) are a point clear and have great hopes to win their first championship since 1992.

With six teams still involved in the French title race, all eyes will be on this match involving the strongest two teams in France over recent seasons. In the previous meeting between these two teams in the Stade Gerland, Lyon claimed a crucial 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Kim Kallstrom.

Fernando Cavenaghi who scored for Bordeaux is still injured and will not participate in this game. To underline just how important this game is for both sides, there are just seven weeks of the season and Bordeaux come into this game in third place just a point behind their opponents.

“We’re not going to complain but we cannot wait to start preparing for the Lyon game,” said arguably Bordeaux’s best player in the last two months, Marouane Chamakh. “It is a real six-pointer game,” said the Moroccan striker.

Chamakh has 11 goals to his name this season (10 in the league and one in the UEFA Cup) is in great form. He has spent his whole professional career at Bordeaux and since the 2002/2003 season has scored 44 goals and this season could be his best ever.

The 25-year-old added: “After everything that I’ve gone through here, if I could give the title to Bordeaux and leave afterwards, that would be great.”

Lyon’s Brazilian midfielder and talisman Juninho has admitted that “maybe it’s someone else’s turn,” as both Marseille and Bordeaux have looked stronger than OL at times this season.

Juninho, together with Sidney Govou (currently recovering from snapping his Achilles tendon and will be absent for this game), are the only members of Lyon’s squad to have been involved in all seven consecutive championship wins.

“It’s good for the championship. I’m an honest man and you’ve got to say that Marseille and Bordeaux have worked well these past two seasons. This year maybe they deserve to go all the way,” said the Brazilian free kick specialist.

Lyon will need to be at their best to win their eighth championship, because their last seven games look tough on paper with trips to Bordeaux, Marseille and Toulouse and a home game against PSG.

Over the last four seasons, with seven weeks remaining, Lyon were always in first place and with a big points difference from the chasing pack. This season the situation is different and it will be intriguing to see how Lyon respond.

101gg predicts: Bordeaux 2 – Lyon 0 (11/1)

Full match odds here.

Valencia CF v Sevilla FC, Primera Division, April 19, 2009

Valencia and Sevilla will battle each other on Sunday with both sides hoping to gain some ground in the fight for a Champions League berth next season. Valencia are sitting in the fourth place, eight points behind Sevilla in third and only one ahead of Villareal in fifth, making Sunday’s game extremely important for the Los Che.

Despite both teams having excellent attacking players, the most important player in the match will be Valencia’s left back. With Asier Del Horno out with a slight injury and Emiliano Moretti set to miss a second game in a row also because of an injury, Valencia’s coach Unai Emery has a very difficult and important decision to make.

Alexis, who played as a left back against Gijon, is also in doubt for Sunday. Therefore Emery might start with young Brazilian Thiago Carleto, or with youngster Jaume Costa. It seems Carleto has the best chance to play. The attacking minded left back is an extremely talented player, but he is yet to settle in Spanish football after arriving in January from Brazil.

Carleto, who is also comfortable playing as left midfielder, is better at attacking than defending and has powerful long distance shots. But his defensive ability and lack of experience can be a tool in the hands of Sevilla, who have excellent right wingers.

First and most important is Jesus Navas (5/1 to score), who is having another great season and may outplay Carleto on Sunday to cause a lot of damage from his wing.

Sevilla can also move Ndri Romaric from the left wing to the center, enabling Diego Capel to replace Renato in the lineup. With Capel as the left winger, who can change flanks with Navas during the game, both of the wingers can push Carleto during the entire match.

But, Sevilla is coming into the match after a surprising 1-0 loss to Getafe in the last round. Freddy Kanoute will try to regain his excellent form of recent games and with the help of the dangerous Luis Fabiano, it seems Sevilla also has an advantage in terms of strikers against center backs; as Hedwiges Maduro and Carlos Marchena proved to be not so much of a stable partnership, with Maduro more of a midfielder than defender.

Valencia were ousted from the Copa del Rey earlier this year by Sevilla. So despite Sevilla having the edge “on paper,” Valencia has all the motivation in the world to beat them.

“A victory against them would move us closer to the Champions League zone and it is something we have been fighting for all season long,” said Valencia’s captain Marchena ahead of the match.

So will motivation prevail against tactical superiority?

101gg predicts: Valencia 2 – Sevilla 2 (12/1)

Full match odds here.