The 2012 European champions enter the 2020/21 Champions League with a clear run at topping their group.
Last year the Blues made it to the Round of 16 before clashing with eventual winners Bayern Munich, where they were beaten home and away in a humbling 7-1 aggregate defeat.
This year though, Frank Lampard will expect his side to perform much better than they did last season having spent the best part of £250million to strengthen his side in the summer. After signing Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Edouard Mendy to boost the starting line-up you’d expect them to at the bare minimum exceed their performance from the previous campaign.
Having been drawn in a group with Sevilla, Rennes and Krasnodar, Chelsea will be the favourites to top the group and progress to the Round of 16,
They start their campaign against Europa League holders Sevilla, who have begun their La Liga season impressively with 7 points from their opening four games.
Frank Lampard is still trying to figure out his best eleven and even potentially his best formation however. After all the additions to his side, it was expected that it would be a 4-2-3-1 trying to get the best out of Kai Havertz behind his international team-mate Timo Werner up front. So far though, he has gone with a 4-3-3 with Havertz out wide.
Mason Mount has been a constant in Lampard’s side throughout the entire campaign so far and doesn’t look to be playing himself out of favour despite the struggles of the team, which were exacerbated as Chelsea blew a 2-0 and 3-2 lead in their draw with Southampton this past weekend.
Ngolo Kante has struggled for form for the most part this season too and Lampard is yet to decide whether his best option to partner him is Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic.
With Chelsea comfortably the strongest team in their group, they should be looking for maximum points in all their group games. They will be expected to win all their home games, starting with Tuesday’s visit of Sevilla. With the attacking threat they have and the European nous now flowing through the side, they are much better placed to perform well in the premier competition for club football.
They should be beating Sevilla all things considered, especially at home. They match up well physically and have enough firepower in their squad to find the back of the net, although defensively they still have holes in their team so I expect Sevilla will be confident of causing them issues. If Chelsea can secure 4 points from the two fixtures against their Spanish opposition then they will win the group.
Elsewhere in the group are competition debutants Rennes. An exciting French outfit, boasting the prodigal son Eduardo Camavinga in midfield, they will be entering the tournament fearlessly. Defensively they are open but going forward they are very good at creating chances and don’t crumble mentally if they fall behind. Much like Sevilla, they will certainly cause Chelsea problems in the reverse fixture but at Stamford Bridge the Blues will expect to take all three points. Krasnodar will pose a tricky away day too for Lampard’s side but the individual quality on the pitch should be enough for them to take maximum points from both games.
I expect they will win the group with a game to spare and be joined in the next round with Sevilla but Rennes’ unpredictability should make it an exciting group throughout.
At the top end of the table, Liverpool were crowned champions while Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea filled up the Champions League places with Leicester and Tottenham securing Europa League places. At the bottom end, we said goodbye to Premier League regulars Watford and Bournemouth who were relegated on the final day to follow Norwich back into the Championship.
They were replaced by three familiar faces as Leeds United finally make their long awaited return to the Premier League as champions, their first venture into the top division for 15 years. They were run close to the title by West Brom, who were relegated from the Premier League in 2018 while Fulham have bounced back at the first attempt yet again following a playoff win over local rivals Brentford.
Having already predicted the top 6 I’m now going to break down and predict what I think the bottom 3 will be and why, taking into account any business that is expected to happen before the window closes.
18th West Ham United Likely line-up: Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Noble, Soucek; Bowen, Antonio, Anderson
After scraping survival last season with a game to spare, you’d have thought that West Ham would look to build on their deficiencies to improve their league position. Instead, they’ve sold one of their brightest talents to a direct rival and signed nobody. Grady Diangana was sold to West Brom and sparked outrage from members of the playing staff towards the board, including captain Mark Noble. With the expectation at the time that the club would invest the money on new signings, it was soon reported that the club were refusing to meet the asking price of Brenford’s Said Benrahma. They’ve since had two bids rejected for Burnley defender James Tarkowski and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to secure the deal, with the Clarets looking for £50million for the England defender. With moves up in the air and no real concrete targets anymore, things look bleak. I’ll be shocked if David Moyes survives the whole season and with no reinforcements and a new manager, it’s hard to look beyond West Ham returning to the Championship for the first time since 2012.
Overall it’s not for a lack of talent on the pitch, more the big mess off it that will cause them to suffer and go down.
After bottling the title at the end of the Championship season, West Brom only got automatic promotion because Brentford messed up on the final day. But throughout the season they were scintillating under Slaven Bilic. They scored goals, they attacked well and they played entertaining football. In the Premier League though, they will struggle. They’ve made two first-team signings while also turning Pereira’s loan permanent and that could be their saving grace. If the Brazilian can maintain his form from the Championship then they will score goals in this division whether they end up signing Troy Deeney from Watford or not. Robson-Kanu and Charlie Austin both have Premier League experience as does the manager and that could be a key reason for any success they have. With that said, the overall squad is deeply lacking in depth and quality and with the fixtures as congested as they are it will be tough for West Brom to maintain any sort of form. If they can stay solid at the back and change their style slightly to ensure they concede as little as possible then they may have a chance, but with the personnel in their squad they are better built for attacking.
Overall, they’re just not strong enough. Not enough quality and depth and not enough goals in the side. Bilic is a good manager who could switch up their approach but that would likely take away from their most talented players and could be counter productive. They’ll put up a fight, but ultimately they return to the Championship at the first hurdle.
After gaining promotion in his first full season as a manager, Scott Parker marches Fulham into the Premier League for a real test. The squad is thin and despite five summer signings so far, it lacks real quality and Premier League experience. They’ve made a good signing in goal with Alphonse Areola returning from his loan at Real Madrid to head to west London from PSG. A World Cup winner (despite not playing in the tournament), Areola has plenty of top level experience having played in the Champions League 19 times. There’s plenty of potential at full-back with Robinson and Aina, but neither of them are top flight proven and it’s a risk. In midfield the club have added Mario Lemina on loan from Southampton to boost them a little but once again the club are lacking real quality there and then in attack they will rely heavily on Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian has been their top goalscorer every year since joining permanently in 2018 and did well last time out in the Premier League with 11 goals. He’ll have even less support in attack this time around though and with such a severe lack of goalscoring threat it’s hard to see where they secure points.
Overall, they look destined to struggle. They’re a good defensive unit as you’d expect with Scott Parker as the manager, but they just have such a lack of quality in the side and lack a consistent goal threat beyond Mitrovic that I can’t look past them going straight back down once again.
After 48 days away, the Premier League is officially back!
Last time out, Liverpool were crowned champions for the first time since 1990 after a record-breaking season saw Jurgen Klopp’s side mathematically secure the title with seven games to spare. Manchester City were their closest challengers but finished 18 points behind, while Manchester United pipped Chelsea to third place on the final day of the season. Leicester City and Tottenham rounded out the Top 6 as Wolves just missed out and Arsenal recorded their worst finish since the 94/95 season.
This time around some squads have improved and some have got rid of deadwood, while others have done nothing yet. So who will finish in the top 6 this time around? I’m going to make my predictions here, taking into account business that is expected to happen before the window closes.
6th Tottenham Hotspur Likely line-up:Lloris; Doherty, Sanchez, Dier, Davies; Sissoko, Højbjerg; Bergwijn, Alli, Son; Kane
They finished 6th last season and I don’t think they’ve improved enough to do better this season. Matt Doherty has come in at right-back while Pierre-Emile Højbjerg signed from Southampton in central midfield. While the club are yet to sell anyone from the first-team, it is expected that Danny Rose and Serge Aurier will leave. The club released Jan Vertonghen at the end of last season and haven’t replaced him, instead opting to move Dier to defence permanently. Spurs have a good squad and with Mourinho in charge from the start of the campaign they will know exactly what he expects. The issue however is that cracks seemingly began to show towards the end of the campaign. There is still no back-up striker for Harry Kane and they are still struggling for depth at full-back should Aurier leave. In midfield they have good quality depth with players like Lo Celso, Winks and Lucas all likely to be in and out of the team. If the club end up keeping Tanguy Ndombele and he can put his differences with Jose Mourinho aside, they have a real top tier midfielder in the squad too.
Overall, I think it’s more a case of they haven’t improved where their rivals have and that is why I see them falling behind, however I do expect them to do really well in the cup competitions.
A greatly improved Gunners outfit are coming into the new season riding a huge wave of momentum following their FA Cup and Community Shield wins at Wembley in August. Since Mikel Arteta has come in, the club have looked more steady on and off the pitch and that has shown with his promotion from ‘head coach’ to ‘first-team manager’ just before the season starts. The club have been heavily linked with a central midfielder during this window, with Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar both targets. The issue they’ve had is money, something I don’t see changing before the window closes. With captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signing a new three-year contract at the club, his future is now secure. Arsenal look the most dangerous and secure they have done in several years and that will be dangerous for other teams. Arteta is trusting his squad with the likes of Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith-Rowe all likely to be included in the first-team picture going forward. The issue for Arsenal may be that defensively, they’re still not solid. Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba will be making their first appearances for the club and with Mustafi, Mari and Holding all competing for a centre-back spot alongside David Luiz they will need to settle quickly to hold onto their spot. If they don’t, they’ll either be playing struggling defenders or reverting back to the defenders that were deemed not quite good enough. They also lack goals if Aubameyang is to get injured or lose form, a load Lacazette hasn’t convinced me he’s able to carry during his time in England so far.
Overall, they’re a much better outfit than they were last season but this year may just come slightly too early for their Champions League ambitions.
4th Manchester United Likely line-up: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Van De Beek, Pogba; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
It’s tough to decide on Manchester United right now considering most of their business is still up in the air. The club have been heavily linked with Jadon Sancho all summer and while a deal isn’t done, there are reports there has been progress in the last couple of days. Prior to that, he wouldn’t have been included in my potential line-ups. The club have made just one signing so far, with Donny Van De Beek adding depth to their midfield, while nobody from the first-team has left the club yet. As it stands though, defensively they’re not quite good enough. David De Gea’s form continues to dip but with Dean Henderson returning from his loan away, he now has serious competition. At centre-back, Lindelof is still not of the required level and there are question marks over Harry Maguire too while both full-backs aren’t good enough going forward. That leaves a massive burden on the attackers to provide goals and we saw that the depth outside of their starting attackers is poor. Mason Greenwood is a great alternative across the front-line but beyond him the drop in quality is a real issue for them. If Solskjær can make everything click then they should be able to close the gap on second from last season but I’m still not entirely convinced by the manager and I think they got away with the poor standard of opposition last year to secure their position.
Overall, United have improved but not enough to get them out of a race for the top 4. They still have some gaping holes in their side that unless they’re addressed before the window closes, I think they’ll be lucky to finish above fourth.
3rd Chelsea Likely line-up: Mendy; James, Zouma, Thiago Silva, Chilwell; Kante, Kovacic; Ziyech, Havertz, Pulisic; Werner
It’s been all change at Chelsea this summer. Frank Lampard is still there, but he has made SEVEN signings so far during this transfer window and they’re almost all likely to be first-team regulars this season. In goal, Kepa Arrizabalaga has been replaced by Edouard Mendy, while Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell have both joined in defence. They’ve also added Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to their attack. They signed young defender Malang Sarr too, but he will go out on loan. They have let Michy Batshuayi, Willian and Pedro leave the club, while they are also open to the departures of Emerson, Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko. With the way Chelsea played last season, they have greatly improved all the areas they had issues in last year, with the exception of holding midfield. They now have a proven goalscorer up front, goalscoring support from midfield, a pure creator on the wings, a leader at centre-back and a left-back who is good going in both directions. With the addition of Reece James more regularly plus the depth of previous starters like Mason Mount, Ross Barkley, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and Antonio Rudiger dropping to the bench they are a much scarier outfit this time around. I don’t expect them to win the title this year, but I think we’ll have a proper title race again this year and while they’ll be involved for the most part, they’ll eventually fall away towards the end of the season.
Overall, they’re better than last year and with Lampard now having greater tools to work with to play the type of football he demands he has no excuses. I think he’s a good manager and he’ll be able to meet expectations of at least a push towards the title and a good run in Europe.
2nd Liverpool Likely line-up: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane
It’s rare that when a team wins the league by 18 points and then aren’t favourites for the following season. But it’s also rare that a team wins the league then doesn’t improve their team. Liverpool have let Dejan Lovren leave the club to join Zenit St Petersburg, while they have signed Greek full-back Kostas Tsimikas to provide cover for Robertson. While they’re obviously a brilliant side and it’s hard to judge due to the circumstances, they weren’t very good post lockdown. That may be down to the fact the league was essentially already sewn up or that teams have started figuring them out. They looked stale in the Community Shield against Arsenal, but again that could be the lack of fitness as it was their first real game back for the new season. With the same team playing week in and week out, I feel they won’t be as good as they were over the last two seasons. The midfield are all a year older and their style is to run a lot. With the packed schedule added onto that, they could struggle to maintain the consistency they found last year especially. They have been heavily linked with Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcantara but they are so far refusing to match the asking price of €30 million. If they were to sign him, the talk is that Gini Wijnaldum would then join Barcelona. If that happened, the added quality in the side and change of style that would come with that transfer could be enough to help them retain the title. At the moment though, with the deal looking unlikely I think they’ll miss out.
Overall, Liverpool are still a huge threat and a great side but the great Sir Alex Ferguson once said that a team that doesn’t progress goes backwards. That’s the fear for this Liverpool side, especially with the improvements that teams around them have made. They’ll be there or thereabouts but I think ultimately they will fall just short come the end of the season.
1st Manchester City Likely line-up: Ederson; Cancelo, Koulibaly, Laporte, Ake; Rodri, De Bruyne, Bernardo; Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling
After dominating for two seasons, Manchester City were effectively knocked down a peg or two last season by Liverpool. They won the League Cup in February but then came second in the league, were knocked out of the FA Cup by Arsenal and knocked out of the Champions League by Lyon. The squad was getting stale and needed improvements desperately. As expected, Pep Guardiola and the Man City board have delivered. Nathan Ake has come into the defence and Ferran Torres has stepped in to replace the outgoing Leroy Sane in attack. It’s expected that Kalidou Koulibaly will join from Napoli in a £75million deal and that could be the signing that takes them back over the line to become champions again. With a solid, consistent partner next to Laporte at centre-back they will be confident in playing out from the back but also having protection to guard against the counter. In midfield, Bernardo Silva will be able to move into his more effective central role following the departure of David Silva, while Phil Foden showed post-lockdown that he is ready to enter the first-team picture on a much more regular basis this season. The one thing they may struggle with is up front, as Aguero suffers more and more with injuries and is now a year older while Gabriel Jesus hasn’t quite shown he is ready to step into that role yet. I think they will rely a bit more heavily on Raheem Sterling for goals this season and it could end up bringing him the golden boot too.
Overall, City are just so strong. They have the most depth in Europe in their squad and with the schedule due to be so packed, it will stand them in great stead. They have goals all over the pitch, a style of play that will help them with the schedule and more quality than anyone else in the league. I think after a close run race, they come out on top for the third time in four seasons.
Less than a month after the end of the domestic season in England, the new season gets it’s curtain raiser as league champions Liverpool take on FA Cup winners Arsenal at Wembley on Saturday.
Arsenal won the FA Cup on August 1st thanks to a 2-1 win over Chelsea, where Mikel Arteta showed his coaching stripes by coming from behind to win the first silverware of his career. They’ll face a Liverpool side who dominated the Premier League last season and romped to a record-breaking first league title in 30 years with 7 games to spare.
Since the end of the season, Arsenal have seen their squad strengthened. The return of William Saliba from his loan at Saint-Etienne strengthens the defence while Cedric and Paulo Mari have made their loan deals permanent. They’ve also completed the free transfer signing of Brazilian winger Willian from rivals Chelsea to strengthen their attack options.
For Liverpool, they’ve brought in Greek left-back Kostas Tsimikas as competition/cover for Andy Robertson while young striker Rhian Brewster has returned from his loan at Swansea in fine form during pre-season, scoring three times in their two games so far. Dejan Lovren has left the club for Zenit St Petersburg.
This will be a strange Community Shield game. Unlike normal years, this is still relatively early on in pre-season for both sides. Clubs are still looking to do business and the Premier League season doesn’t start for another two weeks, while the transfer window is open for another month or so after that.
With international duty separating this game and the start of the season, the two teams won’t be at full strength or full fitness for this game and I would expect a slow tempo. That will suit Arsenal, with Klopp’s side unlikely to implement their highly effective pressing game as efficiently as they usually would.
With that said, Liverpool’s squad is much stronger and has more depth right now. They should be beating Arsenal, but football isn’t played on paper.
With Liverpool likely to play a style that isn’t their ideal plan A, Arsenal will feel like they are there for the taking. With the morale around the club right now good, plus the expected announcements of Gabriel Magalhaes’ transfer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s new contract, Arsenal will feel confident they can secure an upset win and continue their momentum going into the new season.
Arsenal are likely to continue in their 3-4-3 shape, with William Saliba slotting into central defence and allowing Kieran Tierney to return to his preferred left wing-back position. Bernd Leno will start in goal following Emiliano Martinez having to enter isolation following his holiday, giving the German a head-start in their battle for the No.1 jersey. Willian will likely make his debut in place of Alexandre Lacazette, which will see Aubameyang move into the central striker position.
Liverpool will line up with a strong side, but could reward Rhian Brewster with a starting spot ahead of Roberto Firmino. The club are yet to decide whether he’ll stay at the club this season or be loaned out again but this will be a big chance for him to stake a claim if he is given some minutes. Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri won’t take part but are likely to re-join the group in training after this game.
While Arsenal are riding a wave of momentum coming into this game, Liverpool will prove too strong for them once again. The sheer quality they have in depth should be enough to see them pip Arteta’s side in a competitive game to kick-start their campaign.
Liverpool win & both teams to score – 21/10 (Betfair) Mo Salah to score anytime – 21/20 (SkyBet)
The longest season in recent memory finally comes to an end on Saturday night as Paris Saint-Germain take on Bayern Munich in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League final in Lisbon.
The two sides have progressed through to the final following big wins in the semi-final against nations from the opposition countries. PSG outclassed RB Leipzig thanks to goals from Marquinhos, Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat while Bayern overcame a rough start against Lyon to also win 3-0, thanks to a Serge Gnabry brace and Robert Lewandowski’s 54th goal of the campaign.
While PSG were quite comfortable in their progression, Bayern had a few question marks early on in the game as Lyon could have quite conceivably been 2-0 up before Gnabry’s wondergoal in the 18th minute. The aggressive high-line that the German champions play was caught out by Memphis Depay and Karl Toko Ekambi, but both players missed golden opportunities to put Lyon ahead.
Once Gnabry found the back of the net, Bayern entered cruise control and saw the game out comfortably but the questions were immediate and loud. If Bayern allow that kind of chance against the quality of Neymar and Mbappe, would they still be able to get themselves back into the game?
In reality, the answer is probably no. PSG have conceded just 4 goals in the competition this season and while they’re much more renowned for their attacking abilities, defensively they have been solid throughout the competition.
Bayern have of course been free-scoring, hitting 7 past Tottenham in the group stages, 7 past Chelsea over their two-legged last 16 tie and 8 past Barcelona in their one-legged quarter-final game. If anyone is going to be able to open up the Parisian defence, it’s Flick’s side who seem to be able to play any style of football necessary.
They control possession in the majority of their games and can unlock low blocks, however we’ve seen them use Lewandowski as a traditional target man to bypass the opposition press and even sit in a bit deeper than usual to be able to launch counter-attacks. With the depth they have on the bench too, they’re always capable of switching the plan mid-game to adjust to their opposition.
PSG are likely to line-up with Marco Verratti and Keylor Navas back in the starting line-up, meaning they will be at full strength. Reports suggest that Kylian Mbappe will start as the centre-forward with Neymar and Di Maria on the wings, meaning Mauro Icardi will start on the bench. For Bayern Munich, they are expected to be unchanged once again. Jerome Boateng is a doubt after coming off against Lyon at half-time, but it’s expected he should be able to overcome his issue to start ahead of Nicklas Süle.
Looking at the performances of both sides, it’s hard to pick against Bayern Munich in this game. They’ve battered everyone and they seem to always have an extra gear to go up if they need it. Hansi Flick’s side are dominant on the ball and while they have had a few issues defensively, they are averaging four goals a game. But something tells me it’s PSG’s time.
With Neymar in sensational form and just missing a goal from his knockout stage performances, he’ll be fired up to take the crown as the world’s best player by delivering the trophy that PSG paid €222million for him to bring to Paris. Kylian Mbappe is already a World Cup final goalscorer and will want to add to that too, while Angel Di Maria and Keylor Navas have won the tournament before. Thiago Silva will be playing his final game for the club and will want to cap off his time as captain with the biggest trophy there is.
There is plenty of motivation for both sides but it just seems like it may be PSG’s time. Bayern have possibly peaked a little bit too early and if they adopt the aggressive high-line that they did against Chelsea, Barcelona and Lyon then they will be punished.
PICKS Neymar to score anytime (90 mins only) – 31/20 (888Bet) PSG to win & both teams to score (90 mins only) – 7/2 (Bet365) Leon Goretzka to be booked (90 mins only) – 9/2 (Bet365)
The 2019/20 Europa League will finally come to an end tonight when Sevilla and Inter Milan meet each other in the final of a tournament that started over a full calendar year ago.
Antonio Conte’s side come into the fixture after dropping down from the Champions League into the Round of 32 and beating Ludogrets (4-1 on aggregate), Getafe 2-0, Leverkusen 2-1 and Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 en route to the final.
Julen Lopetegui has guided Sevilla through the entire tournament. They came out on top of a group containing Qarabag, APOEL and Dudelange where they won 5 out of 6 games. They then defeated CFR Cluj on away goals in the last 32 before beating Roma (2-0), Wolves (1-0) and Manchester United (2-1) in one-legged ties en route to this game.
Looking at performances in the tournament over the last two weeks, Inter Milan are surely the favourites to lift the trophy. Romelu Lukaku has scored in his last 10 consecutive Europa League games for Everton and Inter Milan, including a brace in the semi-final, while Lautaro Martinez seems to have found some form again since coming back into the side.
In defence, Diego Godin and Stefan De Vrij have been rock solid but the emergence of Alessandro Bastoni has edged out Milan Skriniar from the side. Ashley Young has cemented his place as the left wing-back while in midfield, Marcelo Brozovic and Nico Barella are now automatic starters. Christian Eriksen is often the third option in that midfield, although last time out Conte opted for Matias Vecino.
For Sevilla, their side picks itself currently. Sergio Reguillon will continue his strong form at left-back in what could potentially be his final game for the club with many looking to take him away permanently. Captain Jesus Navas has become a right-back in recent years and is a starter for the side, while Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde will start together in the centre. In midfield, Ever Banega will leave the club following this game to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Shabab. Alongside Fernando and Jordan they will need to dominate the midfield areas to have any hope of winning this game. Ahead of them semi-final hero Suso will likely start but the man who scored the winner Luuk De Jong will likely start on the bench once again, with Youssef El-Nesyri picked ahead of him. Top goalscorer Lucas Ocampos will complete the team.
Sevilla’s style of keeping the ball, switching it from side to side and playing through balls down the flanks for cut-backs entirely suits the way Inter Milan play. Conte’s side will play with a deep block and will press in the wide areas then use the pace of Lukaku and Martinez to launch counter attacks.
With the form of the two teams, it’s hard to look past Inter Milan taking the trophy back to Italy with them. Lukaku is absolutely deadly in this system currently and with just one goal needed to match the record of his idol Ronaldo (R9) for most goals in a debut season for Inter he will be absolutely amped for the final.
I don’t anticipate the most exciting game of football ever on Friday night, but I expect a vintage Italian performance from Conte and Inter Milan in a 2-0 win for the Nerazzurri.
Inter Milan to win 2-0 – 19/2 (BetVictor) Romelu Lukaku anytime – 7/5 (BetVictor/SkyBet)
Two shocking upsets, a late comeback and humiliating destruction of one of the biggest clubs in the world have led us to this seasons Champions League semi-finals.
RB Leipzig will take on Paris Saint-Germain while Lyon face Bayern Munich, as Europe’s premier club competition sees the final four clubs all coming from either Germany or France. For the first time since the Champions League was rebranded back in 1992/93, there are no English, Spanish or Italian teams competing for a place in the final.
After going 1-0 down to a free-flowing Atalanta side, PSG looked to be crashing out of the tournament despite the brilliance of Neymar on the night. The Brazilian was in fine form, dazzling his way past opposition players and creating chances for himself and others but was missing his shooting boots. It was the introduction of a half-fit Kylian Mbappe from the bench that helped change the game in PSG’s favour though. In stoppage time, Choupo-Moting floated the ball into the box, which Neymar brought down on his thigh and fired across the goal for Marquinhos to tap in an equaliser. Then just two minutes later, Neymar picked up the ball in his own half and dribbled past two Atalanta defenders. A bit of pinball in the box ended up with the ball back at Neymar’s feet and he played a stunning pass through to Mbappe, who squared for Choupo-Moting to slide into an empty net for the win.
It was well deserved and if they’re in a similar mood when they face RB Leipzig, they will have similar success.
Julian Nagelsmann’s side were expected to be stuffed by Diego Simeone’s defensive Atletico Madrid team, but a 2-1 win thanks to goals from Dani Olmo and a deflected Tyler Adams strike late on sandwiching substitute Joao Felix’s penalty kick.
The German side dominated the possession and found spaces between the lines very well against the low block of Atletico, but they missed the prolificness of Timo Werner with those chances. PSG will leave much more space in behind and will compete for possession of the ball, so it will be an entirely new task for Leipzig to deal with.
Overall, this game will be a fiercely contested game. Leipzig are a very well coached team and with their three-at-the-back system, they don’t leave much space for players to run in behind on them. That is where Mbappe and co do their best work but with Neymar intent on taking the crown as the world’s best player, I think his form will be key to PSG being able to get a win. PSG have conceded just 5 goals in the tournament so far and I think they’ll be able to maintain that record by keeping a clean sheet in this game. With Mbappe likely to start this game and Angel Di Maria back from suspension, PSG will have a stronger line-up but they will severely miss Marco Verratti in midfield and goalkeeper Keylor Navas who is a serious doubt. I think going forward though, they have far more quality and variety than Atletico did and they will be able to get the goals needed to make it to the final.
The Europa League enters its quarter-final stage this week as the new one-legged format kicks off in UEFA competitions.
Manchester United progressed to this round with a 7-1 aggregate win over LASK Linz, with a 2-1 win in the return leg last week. Goals from Jesse Lingard and substitute Anthony Martial saw them come from behind on the night, but the club were already comfortable following their 5-0 win in the first leg back in March.
Copenhagen come into this game following a 3-0 home win last week against Istanbul, giving them a 3-1 aggregate win after their first leg defeat pre-lockdown. Former Reds defender Guillermo Varela assisted Jonas Wind’s first of the night, before he doubled his tally from the spot. Rasmus Falk put the game beyond doubt just after the hour mark with a fine finish from the edge of the box.
The two sides have faced each other just twice before, with both teams winning one apiece in the 2006/07 Champions League group stages.
United will come into this game looking to win this entire competition, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær adamant that he wants a trophy to cap off a relatively successful season for his side. After finishing 3rd in the Premier League, the Red Devils secured Champions League football for next season and with a packed schedule many expected the fringe players to take over this competition with importance not being so high up on the priorities anymore.
However, Solskjær revealed during his pre-match press conference that only three regular first-teamers haven’t travelled as part of the squad to Cologne. Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones are all injured and unable to feature in any fixtures United could play in the remainder of the tournament so have been left at home. United have called up some younger talent though, as James Garner, Ethan Laird, Ethan Galbraith and Teden Mengi have all travelled.
Copenhagen boss Stale Solbakken has talked down his sides chances in this game. The Norwegian boss said “don’t put your house on us” when asked about his thoughts on the game, but they will look to attack down the flanks and stay solid defensively.
Man Utd: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Williams; Matic, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial (4-2-3-1)
With an unchanged line-up for Copenhagen, they’ll match up with United’s strongest possible line-up in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Solskjær’s side have obviously got more individual quality and will be well rested since the end of the Premier League season. They’re in relatively good form and have enough depth and options that they can make changes if necessary and still be strong enough to dispatch of Copenhagen.
If the Reds can get an early goal and put this game to bed before the hour mark, expect them to rest players in anticipation for a much tougher semi-final clash the following Monday against either Wolves or Sevilla.
PREDICTION: Manchester United 3-0 FC Copenhagen – Martial, Fernandes, Rashford.
PICKS: Over 2.5 match goals – 8/13 Anthony Martial to score anytime – EVS
The Europa League returned this week and we finally have a set of quarter-finalists for the competition.
With all ties yet to be completed, with some not even having played their first-leg yet, UEFA set up this fixture list in order to ensure a winner was crowned in this years tournament. All second leg fixtures were played behind closed doors in home stadiums, while any fixture that hadn’t yet completed a first-leg became a one-off knockout fixture in a neutral stadium.
Manchester United held a 5-0 aggregate lead over LASK Linz going into the second leg and secured another win at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in a 2-1 win.
Rangers were looking to overcome a 3-1 deficit when they travelled to Leverkusen, but the German outfit were comfortable throughout and eased themselves to another win thanks to a sole Moussa Diaby goal.
Copenhagen were able to secure their quarter-final place thanks to a 3-0 win over Istanbul, with former Manchester United defender Guillermo Varela getting an assist as the Danish side progressed, while Shakhtar Donetsk progressed after scoring three goals from the 89th minute onward to eliminate Wolfsburg. Basel eased into the next round with a win over Frankfurt on the night to give them a 4-0 aggregate win while Wolves overcame a tough task in Olympiacos thanks to an early Raul Jimenez penalty to win 2-1 on aggregate.
In the one-off fixtures, Inter Milan beat Getafe in a closely fought encounter thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen while Sevilla pipped Roma in a 2-0 win thanks to Sergio Reguillon and Youssef En-Nesyri.
This has set up some tasty quarter-final fixtures as these 8 teams battle it out for a place in next years UEFA Champions League, as Pot 1 seeds as well as winning themselves a major European title.
Manchester United will take on Copenhagen on Monday with a place in next season’s Champions League already secured. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær however has made it abundantly clear that he wants a trophy to cap off the season he’s had and after faltering in the FA Cup at the semi-final stage he is prioritising this competition. They will be heavy favourites for the game in Cologne having rested the majority of his heavy hitters in their Last 16 second leg and I expect a comfortable victory for the Reds. 2-0, goals from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes my pick.
Also on Monday is arguably the tie of the round, as Inter Milan take on Bayer Leverkusen. The Italian side finished second in Serie A this season and Conte will be keen to add a European trophy to his polished CV. Leverkusen will be looking to win the competition as they missed out on the Champions League via their league position having finished 5th in the Bundesliga. With Kai Havertz looking to leave the club, Chelsea’s reported stance is the hope that their participation in the competition can get Havertz to join with Leverkusen accepting a lower fee. In a one-off game, both clubs will be looking to ensure they don’t lose first and foremost and I think Conte’s Inter side suit that better. With in-form Romelu Lukaku up front and firing, I expect his goal will see Inter through in a tight game.
The following day, Shakhtar will take on Basel as the underdogs of the competition look to progress into the final four. Both sides won their Last 16 tie comfortably and will fancy their chances going into this game knowing they got a favourable draw in comparison to what they could have got. Shakhtar are a free flowing attacking side loaded with Brazilian talent and have got more goals in their side than Basel, but the Swiss side are a strong defensive unit and have kept a clean sheet in each of their last five Europa League games. In a one-off game though, they will need to come forward that little bit more and I think it will be enough for Shakhtar to get the goal they need. With Basel then having to push forward, Shakhtar should be able to get another and wrap the game up.
Finally, Wolves will take on Sevilla in a mouth-watering tie. Wolves are a solid defensive unit who control the game with their playmaking midfielders and directness in attack causing all sorts of problems for opposition defences. Sevilla aren’t so solid defensively but they move the ball quickly and well in the middle and final third and use their full-backs effectively to provide extra attacking options. With Ever Banega pulling the strings in midfield and Lucas Ocampos a big goalscoring threat from out wide, Wolves will need to be wary of him making runs between the wing-backs and centre-backs into space. Overall though, Wolves’ added depth should overall be enough to see them through. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one end level after 90 minutes but in extra-time, Wolves’ numerical advantage defensively will see them able to keep Sevilla out and it could be a substitute’s fresh legs that make the difference with a winning goal.
Manchester United 2-0 Copenhagen Inter Milan 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 FC Basel Wolves 1-0 Sevilla (aet)
Do you agree with my picks? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!
It’s almost time for the return of the UEFA Champions League and a big story is brewing already.
Real Madrid must travel to Manchester to take on Pep Guardiola’s City side looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit from their defeat at the Bernabeu back in March. Back then the prospect of a trip to the Etihad in their form without Sergio Ramos (suspended) looking to win by 2 clear goals seemed completely impossible.
Fast forward 146 days and it doesn’t seem so crazy.
Since then, Real Madrid have overturned a deficit in La Liga to win their 34th La Liga title and not lost a single game since the restart. They scored 21 goals and conceded just six in their 11 games en route to the title and come into the game knowing that Manchester City’s form has been hot and cold.
City lost three times since the restart including the FA Cup semi-final to Arsenal and were well beaten to the Premier League title by a rampant Liverpool side. While their skill and goalscoring ability is always a threat, they will be without Sergio Aguero for the tie while Leroy Sane has since joined Bayern Munich.
It’s a tie that on paper is mouth watering and on the pitch could prove to be spectacular. But how will Real Madrid approach it?
Without Ramos, Eder Militao is expected to start at centre-back alongside Raphael Varane with Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy at full-back. In midfield, Casemiro is a sure starter at the base while the likelihood is Toni Kroos and Luka Modric join him. Federico Valverde has struggled to recapture his best form since lockdown ended but his high energy in midfield could be a very useful alternative to have in the side. In attack, Karim Benzema will lead the line but he won’t have either Eden Hazard or Gareth Bale alongside him. The Belgian is a big doubt with another ankle injury, while Bale wasn’t selected as part of Zidane’s 24 man travelling squad despite full fitness. Vinicius Jr and Marco Asensio are most likely to join Benzema to complete the starting line-up.
The possibility of Vinicus going up front with Asensio in behind to compact the midfield a bit more is possible, although I think Zizou’s best hope will be to match City’s 4-3-3 and look to hit them on the counter with the pace out wide and ball-playing ability of his two midfielders.
He has plenty of depth too on his bench, with the likes of Isco, Rodrygo, Luka Jovic and Marcelo all excellent attacking outlets if needed.
Man City will undoubtedly look to attack as usual and with a fully fit squad other than Sergio Aguero, it will be interesting to see how they line up. Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez will likely line up in attack but the rest of the side is up for debate.