Schedule for the rest of this week...............
Email at the standard time of 10.00 UK covering Europa League games.
Friday 21/04: Email #1
@ 10.00 with main Friday focus on Ligue 2, but this might also include MLS/Championship and two late morning kick offs from J-League.
Email #2: Follow up newsletter @ 14.00 will preview the Saturday "morning" J-League fixtures.
Newsletter will be sent @ 10.00 and feature English league games, plus MLS.
All the Sunday football action at the usual time of 10.00.
LGF notes will follow the newsletter immediately on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and there will almost certainly be a supplementary look at the final round of the Valero Texas Open on Sunday, no pre tournament notes this week, but definitely on the Zurich Classic of New Orleans next week, which is a "lucky" tournament and one where I have the winner !
AS Monaco- Borussia Dortmund
There were lessons to be learned yesterday in the games in Madrid and Metz, where Real were seemingly content to absorb a huge amount of Bayern pressure and rode their luck and with PSG happy to sit back after the break with a 2-0 lead which could have been 5-6 at the time and nearly paid the full price for doing so. You would hope that Monaco and Juventus were taking notes , the Italian champions should also have the events of Barce-PSG still fresh in the memory bank and will be mindful of dropping too deep, inviting too much pressure and probably know they need to score, to at least avoid a very uncomfortable 15-20 minutes at some stage. Juve are one of our two outright teams (see below) and having already got Atletico through to the last four, we desperately need the "Old Lady" to join them.
They are far better equipped to deal with what Barce will throw at them in the Camp Nou, they are not a high possession team like PSG and scored three without reply in the first leg despite having just 34% of the ball , have a far stronger backline and they have not really conceded from open play in the competition this season (two goals indirectly from set pieces). Barce also have a very quick turnaround to deal with this time and not the 22 days between the PSG games with which they could prepare mentally. I sided with Barcelona to win big against PSG, this time my head is saying that the value is with Juve and that big handicap start, but I cannot really make a strong logical case to do so when we are already heavily involved in the outright market and come 22.00 UK time I would be happy to have seen them lose by two, although if that is teh case, my heart might not agree. I will pass.
Dani Alves was very emotional and happy on his return to the Catatlan capital and kissed the turf yesterday when arriving at the stadium where he spent eight years, he has two Champions League road goals for his new club already, scoring in Zagreb and Porto and some double digit quotes (11.0-13.0) for him to mark the occasion with a goal seem big , but again it feel easier to skip the game entirely.
Monaco are not the kind of team you feel who will look to sit on a lead, but Dortmund who need to score at least twice to progress will dictate how this plays out, they will not sit back for long and that will leave the hosts the space to exploit. I spoke ahead of the first leg about ASM being a breath of fresh air, they just play with a real joy and I have not seen a group of players for many years so in tune with each other and they could almost play blindfolded, as they all seem to know where team mates will be and they almost always are !
Ahead of their return leg with Manchester City in the previous round my notes spoke about the first leg and how Monaco were likely to approach the second game and had played at home all season ..............
Wow ! What an entertaining first leg which City won 5-3, the scoreline doesn't fully do justice to how well Monaco played for an hour or so (they also missed a penalty), the huge impact on a world stage several of their players made and just what a joy they were to watch .............
LGF discuss Monaco every week, so most of you should be well aware of what they bring to the party and that is goals and lots of them and they are as far removed as the ASM of 2-3 seasons ago, as almost any team in world football is. In 2014-15 their Ligue 1 goal difference at this stage was 26-19, last season 37-29, this time round it is 76-24 ! So, they have found an additional 50/39 goals respectively whilst conceding around the same number at the other end of the pitch ! Combined with a small fall off domestically for PSG, that has left Monaco top of the table after 26 rounds, with a three point lead, in the last 16 of the Champions League and National Cup competition and final of the Coupe de la Ligue ! You might feel that something has to give, but nothing has and until it does, this is a talented team, very pleasing on the eye, who are probably still improving and quickly !
Ahead of an early season trip to Wembley to face Tottenham my notes included ..............
Tottenham are in their first Champions League campaign for six seasons, they have limited experience of the competition in their ranks and I am not sure that moving these games to Wembley, helps their high pressing style on a bigger, more open, energy sapping surface. They have trained at the national stadium just once, last month, head coach Mauricio Pochettino is clearly a little concerned (or maybe just thorough) as afterwards he had two pitches laid out to the same dimensions at their training ground. Pochettino said:“You have more space to play, it’s more difficult for the opponent to press you when there are more metres to run, but it is the same for both.“We believe in the way we play and it’s a good chance to play on a big pitch, we need to adapt our game. "We feel good at White Hart Lane because it’s our home and we need to feel good at Wembley.”
Spurs did not impress me as much as they did other watchers in what looks a great (on paper) 4-0 away win at Stoke over the weekend and I feel all of the games they have played so far (2-2-0) could have worked out differently and a lot has gone their way so far. Many of their key players were at their first major international tournament in the summer and my view is that they are still recovering.
Monaco are top of Ligue 1 and were certainly no less impressive than Spurs in a 4-1 away win at Lille on Saturday, they played with great pace and width, so Wembley should suit, they will be stronger today with a couple of regulars returning and arrive full of confidence. ASM upgraded in the summer and feel they are very different from the side who lost 4-1 at White Hart Lane last December in the Europa League. That was a half hearted performance from the visitors who were already on their way out of a competition they were not committed to and they were at the time still playing catch up in Ligue 1 for a Champions League place, their target for the season. Already competition battle hardened through playoff games with Villarreal where they won both legs, I favour them to take a point this evening in what could be a very entertaining contest.
They impressed there and won 2-1 and took the return fixture by the same scoreline, they met Arsenal at this stage two seasons ago and won 3-1 at the Emirates and were knocked out and narrowly by Juventus (1-0 on aggregate) in the last eightand have obviously improved out of all recognition since. We have discussed many times Manchester City's failings defensively, especially against the best teams and they are going to struggle to keep this Monaco side, who clearly will not come to defend and like playing English teams, quiet for 90 minutes. If Monaco needed a boost, it surely came when they saw PSG beat Barcelona 4-0 last week and would have given them a clear indication of where they stand currently amongst the cream of european football and that is not too far behind !
Monaco will not feel this tie is over and they rested several players at the weekend to keep them fresh for tonight, but the loss of central defender Kamil Glik is huge. He has played every minute of all bar one Ligue 1 games ( which they won 6-0), but perhaps more importantly, did not play in three Champions League games, including a 2-1 loss to Fenerbahce in qualification and 3-0 defeat to Leverkusen , but the first was very early in the campaign and the second in a group they had already won. Monaco have averaged 3.47 goals at home in Ligue 1, 2.0 in the Champions League and need two tonight as a minimum, they are not the sort of team to change their game plan, or lose heart if they concede one or two, but City might switch off a little were they to score first, with a big league meeting with Liverpool this weekend. City did not win away in the group stage and conceded eight road goals, they do not need to win tonight to progress and for me, all the real value is with the home side.
They won that 3-1 , of course it was different in that they were chasing that two goal lead and now a narrow low scoring loss will suffice, but defending a lead is hardly their forte or playing to their strengths and with Borussia despearte to get forward, Monaco will get plenty of opportunities to play on the counter and I expect this to be just as open an encounter as Real-Bayern was and that really should have produced at least a couple more goals. Dortmund are quite strong favourites to win this and I am not sure that is correct, they have won just 4/15 Bundesliga away starts this season and are "forced" to play a certain way this evening. This is not the Dortmund side of four years ago, or even close and I feel they have been priced more on reputaion not ability. However, we have seen before and from Bayern last night, who were a prime example, that German teams are almost always brave in these situations and we can expect the visitors to really go for this and we can sit back and enjoy. Whether they can stop Monaco from scoring a couple of goals is another matter and I have my doubts and they have lost 8 of their last 11 Champions League knockout games.
So many players catch the eye in the home squad, but the obvious one is Kylian Mbappe who only turned 18 in December, he is improving game on game, has 13 goals in as many starts and with the "foolishness" of youth has no nerves at all and positively thrives and steps up a level on the big occasion, he scored in both games against City and twice in Dortmund and he looks great value at 2.40-2.75 ( 1.25 units) to do so again this evening in what seems sure be a wide open encounter.
However, I think oddsmakers see this match wrong, or at least how it is likely to play out, Dortmund will need to score 3+ to win this and best value of the Champions League evening has to be .............
1.5 units AS Monaco level ball 2.35 asian line/Sportmarket.
MLS: New England Revolution- San Jose Earthquakes
I previewed Revolution's early season home game with MLS newcomers Minnesota United last month, when I spoke about the hosts attempts to improve defensively in the off season and their huge offensive threat....................
Last week, ahead of their trip to Colorado Rapids, I spoke about how life for new MLS club MUFC had not been easy ...............
Minnesota have conceded 11 in two starts and in truth, it could have been more ! They will have to start with their second choice keeper today it seems and not through choice ! They will surely come to Colorado with damage limitation as a priority, but it is what happens when that first goal is conceded which is the issue, having shipped three in 8 minutes at Portland and three in the opening 27 last weekend. They also have to handle and for the first time, the 1,600m altitude of Commerce City and have already conceded five goals after the 76th minute this season and in just two starts, it is easy to see this running away from them late when the rarified air has taken it's toll. Rapids were the most improved team in the Western Conference (probably MLS) last season moving up from 10th to 2nd and were unbeaten on home soil 11-6-0, conceding only 7 goals, five less than anyone else.
They conceded another two goals, so 13 in three starts, but this time came away with a share of the points, scoring with both attempts on target. Rapids did enough to have won, but paid a high price for a few lapses in concentration. Minnesota now travel East to face Revolution and their third lengthy road trip of a still new season. Revolution will be hungry in their home debut after starting with two away and fruitless trips to Colorado and Dallas. They will be pleased to be back home, where they won their final four home starts last season, with an 11-2 goal difference, all by 2 +. Despite that run, they missed out on the playoffs on a tiebreaker, which was painful, Kei Kamara, Lee Nguyen , Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo , give them as much offensive potential as almost anyone in MLS and they made upgrading the defense in the off season their priority and the signings of Benjamin Angoua and Antonio Delamea Mlinar, plus the return from injury of defensive midfielder Xavier Kouassi who made his debut last week eight months after his signing, should really (eventually) strengthen their central defensive spine . Huge game for them, as they are back on the road next week with a long and always difficult trip to Portland and I am expecting a big showing. MUFC will be without suspended defender Justin Davis.
NER won that 5-2 and they subsequently drew on the West Coast at Portland Timbers and came back home to extend that home record (they have now won 6/6 here, all by 2+ goals) with a 2-0 win over Houston Dynamo, but suffered a set back with a 3-0 loss to Chicago Fire on Saturday. Fire were and are, well on fire(!) with huge momentum built up by the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has not come to help Chicago win the World Cup (look it up), but has certain raised their level and profile. We can forgive NER that loss, they were reduced to 10 men early when left back Je-Vaughn Watson was dismissed in the 27th minute and pretty much played with today in mind once falling behind.
He will have to be replaced tonight of course and this has been a problem area for Revolution this season, but they have most of the other advantages and they and head coach Jay Heaps took a very pragmatic approach to the game in the Windy City and once the second goal was conceded he opted to pull Kei Kamara (66 mins), Juan Agudelo (57 mins) and Lee Nguyen (52 mins) from the field in order to save them for today.
Earthquakes were 5,000 km away, at home over the weekend and had to fight for 90 minutes plus, for a share of the spoils, equalising in added time, they have made that always difficult cross country trip to play a one off midweek fixture, they are on the road again on Saturday, but that is way down South in Houston and followed by a trip North to Minnesota. Tough couple of weeks and a big "thank you" to the scheduler ! We will definitely return to that for at least one of those games, if what I heard about SJE's plans is correct, but that is then and this is now ! SJE are four without a win, five starts since a clean sheet and have long been poor travellers, winning just 1/21 and scoring only 19 goals, they are nusing a lengthy injury list and will have to play with not just today, but the three road games in mind and in terms of travel, this will be the most difficult. H2h NER have won 4/6 of meetings here, losing just once, which came in their horror year of 2011, when they finished bottom of the Conference and won just five times all season.
1.5 units New England Revolution -0.75 ball 2.11 asian line/Sportmarket.
UEFA Champions League : (written April 11th)
For those Barcelona comments, they largely apply to Real Madrid and still to some degree Barce. All the big clubs had extended domestic campaigns in 15/16, Barce played their Copa final in late July, Real and Atletico the Champions League decider on May 28th, they started high profile warm up games in late July and most of their players were at Copa America or Euro 2016 inbetween. That is a very short, almost no break and as winners, Real had that World Club commitment in Japan in December. It has to take a toll somewhere and usually for defending champions in this competition, that comes around this stage.
Barcelona's poor performance in Paris where they were forutunate to score nil has been largely swept under the carpet by the incredible events of the return leg, but we can add domestic defeats against Deportivo la Coruna and Malaga in the last month into the mix and there are clear signs of fatigue and that is as much mental as physical. We have not seen losses from Real, but they have made things very hard for themselves at times and have conceded in 16 of their last 19 starts and I feel both are vulnerable.
Atletico had far fewer commitments on players in the summer and some feel they have something to prove by being left out of Euro 2016, their season has played out differently in that they have pretty much been out of the title race since November. That IMO was a blessing in disguise with regard to Champions League, it took the balancing act between league and european glory largely out of their hands and we spoke after New Year about this and also their "failed" offensive minded shift and switch back to what they do best, this was covered ahead of their game last midweek ..............
Atletico are now up to third, level with Sevilla on points and holding on to that will be their La Liga ambition now. A three point edge will be hugely valuable ,as Sevilla travel to Barcelona tomorrow and Atleti play the Madrid derby away to Real at the weekend, so the win today could take the pressure off that and should as a minimum, preserve the status quo.
The hosts look pretty much back to their best at present, ahead of a trip to Leverkusen in the Champions League in late February I spoke about how they tried to play a little differently this season, a little more offensive minded and they were perhaps more "fun", but they lost four times before Christmas and battling/chasing Barce and Real , that is about three too many ! There was a clear shift back more to the old Atleti around the turn of the year ............
My preview of an Atletico group stage game are reproduced at the foot of this email and contain notes on two games played with Bayern Munich in the last ten months. They have actually met Bayern four times in that time frame, had the better of three and only lost the last, once the group stage was already won, they beat Barcelona over two legs in the quarter finals and only lost out to Real Madrid on penalties in the final. They were also a minute away from beating Real in the 2014 final and a very strong case could be made for them being the best team in two of the last three runnings of the Champions League and a win in the premier club competition being overdue.
In Europe this season they have looked at their defensive best, conceding a competition (joint) low two goals and we have spoken of them often as the most disciplined side and best defensive unit in world football and one who would run through a brick wall for head coach Diego Simeone . Simeone is known for his uncompromising nature, however, he did change things around a little domestically this season and we saw a more adventurous approach from his team. It has not been an unqualified success and whilst Atletico have scored 9 goals more than at this same stage last season, they have conceded eight more and have six points less. That might not sound like a huge difference, but in La Liga when Real and Barce lose so infrequently and with Sevilla having upped their game, it has left Atletico playing catch up for much of this campaign and they are still four points adrift of third, a (minimum) place they would now see as theirs by right.
We have seen a shift back more to their old style since the turn of the year and the hard, high and especially wide press that was such a hallmark of their game and which has worked so well in Europe. They will be desperate to finish top 3 in La Liga and earn that automatic CL group stage place, but 4th looks safe and is a fall back option and in reality, this season is now solely about the Champions League and maybe, their league position has done them a favour and they can go all the way this time round. They would have been happy with the draw, having got the better of Bayern twice, there is no real need to fear Leverkusen who were 28 points behind the Bavarian giants last season and already trail them by 20 after 21 games this time round. Bayer have won just 9 of those Bundesliga games and have been treading mid table water all season long in what, it has to be said, is not a league with great depth. They finished above Tottenham and CSKA Moscow to qualify behind Monaco, but a lot went their way there, especially the draw and a Spurs team who were defensively in a mess and struggling with Wembley as a home venue.
These two met at the same stage two seasons ago and Bayer won the home leg 1-0, but Atletico were forced into major changes early, with two players leaving the field before the break with injuries and they played the final 15-20 minutes with ten men. I would consider the German side fortunate winners that night in terms of all the luck going their way and that was their sole win in nine CL knockout games and I have to favour the very motivated visitor for whom this is a season defining game and Atleti would have learned a lot from that last visit.
They are 9-3-1 in the league since the mini winter break and have coasted into the last eight of the Champions League, they are more like their old selves defensively, but have retained a little of that increased offensive threat and that feels like a good trade off.
They edged that 1-0 and came from behind to draw 1-1 away to Real at the weekend, a result which would have served them well in terms of a confidence boost and local bragging rights ! Atletico would still like to secure third, but know they will be in the Champions League regardless and are not involved in the title race this season and it should all be about that first CL win, they could easily be looking for a third and were incredibly unlucky to lose to Real in both 2014 and last year. The draw has been kind and Leicester's issues have been well documented in my notes since pre season, they have picked up under their new coach since the departure of Claudio Ranieri and relegation fears have evaporated, but it has been a dire title defence. They are european novices, so have overachieved to reach this far , but were helped by a good draw in the group stage and by riding their luck. They could easily have been 4 down at the half to Sevilla in the Round of 16 game and if they play to the same level tomorrow, this will be over and quickly . Atletico will take little for granted and will know they will face a motivated opponent in the return leg and saw how different the Foxes were in the second game with Sevilla, so I feel they will want to try and do the hard work in Madrid and look for a two goal + lead. This is another huge step into the unknown for City and I think they will be found wanting by one of Europe's most experienced teams.
With regard to tonight's games, Dortmund- Monaco could really be fun and the visitors served us well in both games with Manchester City and were attacking without fear and like a breath of fresh air until a month ago, but have gone off the boil a little and I think the heavy cup final defeat to PSG knocked them off kilter and whilst they might be reinvigored by a return to CL action and I hope for football's sake they are, I would like to see them first and will pass on that game, but it is the one quarter final tie I am most looking forward to watching.
Juventus- Barcelona is no less interesting, it must surely be all about the Champions League for Juve this season, they are in more of a battle domestically, but hold a six point lead over Roma and in the middle of an easy run of league games and can win Serie A anytime ! They lost in the 20154-15 final to Barcelona and were unfortunate last season to drop out at the last 16 stage to Bayern Munich with the match decided in extra time, a sixth Scudetto in a row will be great, but they will be not considered a truly great Juve team down the generations unless they win this competion and it is this year it looks do-able. They rested key players at the weekend and will be defending a fearsome home record in Turin, three games away from completing their second 100% record in four seasons (67-5-1 overall), they have also not lost here in 17 Champions League games. I feel they have played all season with today in mind and take them to beat a vulnerable visitor who will miss suspended Sergio Busquets in midfield.
I have spoken in the past about the lack of domestic competition at this stage of the Champions League hurting Bayern Munich and I do still have concerns about that, but they have a winning head coach in Carlo Ancelotti and he is firmly targeting a fourth CL with a third team, which will put him in an elite group of one ! Bayern have a ten point Bundesliga lead and we have seen Ancelotti step up the intensity before european ties, winning three domestic games by a combined 14-0 before the second leg with Arsenal and a season best performance in a 4-1 win over Dortmund at the weekend, with the game pretty much over inside 10 minutes. Bayern have their veteran stars all firing for the first time in years, Arjen Robben could have scored four before the break against Dortmund and Franck Ribéry has found a time machine and stepped back four years or so to a period we thought might have long passed and even got a big sloppy kiss from Ancelotti at the weekend. Right now they look hot and ready for Real, who were the previous team that Ancelotti coached and one he knows as well as his own.
Three home teams I think are a little overpriced or under matched and two "favourites" for the competition with issues.
Last four seasons have seen the 16 quarter final first legs result in nine home wins and just one victory for the away side, six of those wins have come by 2+ goals , with an even split of eight over and under games. The away team has failed to score in 8 and, by more than a single goal only twice (both teams also scoring in 8), hosting teams have scored in 14, 2+ goals in 9 and there is, as you might expect, a heavy home bias, which suits our purposes.
In terms of the outright winner, I feel that Atletico and Juve are overpriced at a combined 4.33 and both are overdue in the competition . I have already voiced concerns about Barce and Real and whilst I favour Bayern tomorrow and to qualify, the lack of competition week in, week out and age of key players is an issue and will be more so down the line and their odds are sub what we can get for the pair below combined .
2.5 units Atletico Madrid to win outright 6.50-7.0 general quote.
1.25 units Juventus to win outright 11.0 general quote.