By Kevin Cain
At the moment it is hard to keep up with all the important matches that are currently being played. The Champions League and the Europa League are heading towards the knockout stages, The Premier League is as confusing as ever and there are international qualifying World Cup games taking place.
UEFA Champions League
Taking place the week beginning the 13th February are the Champions League round of 16, first leg matches. There are eight tempting games: Bayern Munich v Arsenal, PSG v Barcelona, Real Madrid v Napoli, Leverkusen v Atletico, Manchester City v Monaco, Porto v Juventus, Benfica v Dortmund and Sevilla v Leicester.The second leg of these games will be played on the 8th, 9th & 16th of March. Then the remaining teams will go into the Quarter Final draw on the 17th March. Currently Barcelona are still the favourites to win the trophy with Leicester City being the rank outsiders.
Obviously the Quarter Final draw will have a big impact on the betting, however perhaps this year the tournament will throw up a surprise package. The leading goal scorer so far is Lionel Messi and with ten goals he is ahead of the pack by some distance. With such reliable firepower can Barcelona be beaten? The second in the table is Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich, but with five goals he only has half of Messi’s haul.Top of the table of assists is also a Barcelona player, Neymar. And yet again he is far away from the chasing pack. Barcelona also top the statistics with number of attempts on target. Rarely are statistics proved wrong, and it will take a mighty effort from the other teams to edge ahead of Barcelona.
As we come to the final third of the season, Chelsea seem to have a stranglehold of the pole position, and as we go to print Spurs languish nine points behind in second place.Remarkably the team that was really making ground on the London team before Christmas was Liverpool. But with surprise defeats against Hull and Swansea, and draws against Sunderland, Manchester United and Chelsea their start to 2017 has been nothing short of disastrous.
It very much looks like the title is done and dusted and the remaining teams in the top 6 are just battling it out for Champions League places.The biggest fight is happening at the other end of the table, against relegation. Sunderland still prop up the other nineteen teams but with their resolute Scottish manager David Moyes, they are starting to look like a credible survivor. Anybody from Bournemouth down could realistically be relegated, even last year’s champions Leicester City.
The relegation odds presently cite Sunderland as favourites to go down at 4/11, with Hull next at 8/11 and surprisingly Crystal Palace as the third team at even money. Will it be the first time that Big Sam takes a team down into a lower division? Their thrashing at home by rock bottom Sunderland 0-4 stunned the Palace management in what was billed as a six pointer. Surely the champions of the 2015 / 2016 season could not be relegated? This has never happened before in the Premiership, and it is quite baffling the poor form of the Foxes this season.
Trying desperately to break into Europe are Everton, Ronald Koeman’s side seem to have found new resilience and Romulu Lukaku is scoring for fun, the Toffee’s have won four out of their last five. Unfortunately for Everton, Manchester United have found form and are stubbornly not giving ground away. It would be ironic if Everton’s success was to Liverpool’s demise.
The Europa League enters the round of 32, and on the 16th February the first leg matches takes place, with the second leg taking place on the 23rd. The group winners were: Fenerbache, Apoel, St Etienne, Zenit, Roma, Genk, Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk, Schalke, Fiorentina, Sparta Praha, and Osmanlispor. Surprisingly four teams that did not win their group are in the top five of the betting to win the trophy.
Manchester United are currently the bookies favourites at 4/1, with Spurs second 8/1, then Roma, Shakhtar and Zenit. It is Manchester United’s current form that has rocketed them into the favourites position, finally Mourinho seems to have got the side working cohesively. Domestically and in Europe, Manchester United are now a formidable team. St-Etienne will not relish their round 32 tie against the Red Devils and the Manchester team is expected to go through comfortably.
2018 World Cup Qualifiers
The world cup qualifiers are well on the way, with four games played in the European group fixtures some ominous teams lead their groups. France, Germany, England, Spain, and Belgium all top their leagues.There are five groups of four teams in the African qualifying group, with only 2 games having already been played Nigeria and Ivory Coast have started well.
The Asian qualifiers are perhaps the toughest, only two groups exist comprising of six teams each. Already 5 group matches have been played and Iran and Korea top one group whilst Saudi Arabia and Japan lead the second. Unfortunately Thailand prop up Group B with only 1 point under their belt.The North and Central American qualifying group consists of 6 teams and with only 2 games played Costa Rica and Mexico top the group. Unbelievably USA has suffered two defeats and have no points so far.The South American qualifying has always been pretty much a bun fight with 10 teams battling it out for qualification and after 12 games Brazil lead the group having amassed 27 points. Uruguay and Ecuador are next with Argentina in 5th place a massive eight points behind Brazil.Finally the Oceania qualifying consists of two groups of three, New Zealand and Tahiti are top of their respective groups.
The current favourites to win the 2018 World Cup are Germany closely followed by Brazil, Spain, Argentina and France. Surprisingly England are eighth favourites at 16/1, considering their dismal record in all tournaments since 1966 this is a generous price.
There is a feast of football to provide plenty of entertainment between now and next year’s World Cup. There are also sure to be plenty of surprises along the way and some unexpected events = remember Leicester City ?!.