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Wolfsburg v Eintracht Braunschweig: Super Mario to make his mark

Wolfsburg v Eintracht Braunschweig
Thursday 25 May, 19:30
Live on BT Sport 3


Wolfsburg

As falls from grace go, Wolfsburg's has been pretty spectacular. Last season they beat Real Madrid in the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final, and now they are scrapping to avoid a humiliating and potentially disastrous relegation.

The Wolves have never really recovered from losing Kevin de Bruyne to Manchester City, as it ripped the creative heart out of the side, and turned the team from one of the best counter-attacking outfits in Germany into one of the worst. Expensive signings like Max Kruse, Andre Schuerrle and Julian Draxler ultimately failed.

There have also been some bad coaching decisions. When the excellent Dieter Hecking found that his players were simply no longer responding to his instructions, two critical errors were made. Firstly, Wolfsburg perhaps understandably took too long to part company with a man who had delivered the DFB Cup and Champions League. Secondly, they had absolutely no plan in place when they dismissed him. Youth coach Valerien Ismael was a fish out of water from the get-go, and the Frenchman lost nine of his 15 games.

Wolfsburg's third coach of the season, Andries Jonker, was parachuted in from the Arsenal academy. Although he has managed to get the best out of star striker Mario Gomez (they worked together at Bayern, and their bond is clearly strong). Jonker looked set to take the team clear of trouble, but VFL lost five of their last eight games, including a catastrophic 2-1 loss at Hamburg on the final day. A point would have kept Wolfsburg up, but they conceded an 88th-minute winner.


Eintracht Braunschweig

Since their relegation from the top flight in 2014, the Lions have been working towards a return to the big time. The opportunity to also send down their Lower Saxony rivals (there are only 35 kilometres between Braunschweig and Wolfsburg) has also caught the imagination of EBS fans.

Torsten Lieberknecht's men were in the race for automatic promotion all the way through, but a barely comprehensible 6-0 demolition at Arminia Bielefeld robbed them of the chance to finish in the top two. A 2-1 home win over Karlsruhe was too little, too late.

What made the meltdown in Bielefeld all the more odd was that it was totally out of keeping with Braunschweig's recent form. The Lions have won five of their last seven league games, and they only lost six times across the entire Bundesliga 2 season. They only conceded 36 goals, which means that a sixth of the goals they leaked happened in one match.

There is plenty to like about Eintracht, who only finished three points behind the Bundesliga 2 title winners Stuttgart. Keeper Jasmin Fejzic has been a consistent performer, and in front of him centre-backs Saulo Decarli and Gustav Valsvik have formed a solid partnership. Enterprising left-back Ken Reichel has a penchant for scoring spectacular goals (he has scored 14 in the last two seasons), and veteran striker Domi Kumbela has netted 13 league goals this term.


Match Odds

Braunschweig have lost only two of their last 10 away games in the league, but both of those defeats came in the last three outings. The worry for Lieberknecht is that his team simply don't score enough goals on the road - they have netted just seven goals in the last ten away games, and have only scored more than once in one of those games.

Wolfsburg aren't playing particularly well, and they might not be ready for the stresses and strains of a derby duel, but I think that over 90 minutes their quality will show. Jonker has a plethora of attacking options at his disposal, and if they can get the ball to big Mario Gomez often enough, he can do some damage.

I think it's significant that Braunschweig lost all three away games against the rest of the top four in Bundesliga 2 this season, and I think they'll lose here. Either back Wolfsburg at 1.60, or use the Asian Handicap to boost the price when there is some liquidity in the market.


To Score

At time of writing, there isn't much liquidity in the market, but if you can get anything around 1.80 or bigger for Mario Gomez to score, it's worth a wager. The big man had a slow start to his Wolfsburg career, but he has gathered momentum, and he took off from the moment Jonker walked through the door.

Gomez has scored 11 goals in his last 13 league games, and 16 Bundesliga goals in total.


Recommended Bets


Back Wolfsburg -1 on the Asian Handicap at around 1.85
Back Mario Gomez to score at anything above 1.80




Ajax v Manchester United: Adventurous Dutch outfit to spark a lively final

Ajax v Manchester United
Wednesday 24 May, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 2


Ajax


Ajax, the club of Cruyff, Neeskens, Keizer, Van Basten, Litmanen, Davids, Seedorf, Rijkaard, Suarez, Ibrahimovic and Kluivert, is back in the big time. Although the Amsterdam giants were pipped to the Eredivisie title by their old foes Feyenoord, a victory in Stockholm would mean so much more to Ajax as a club and Dutch football as a whole. Ajax are the only club to have played in every single edition of the Europa League since the competition was rebranded, and they are finally in position to lift the trophy.

For an institution that loves to dip into its past, the hiring of coach Peter Bosz was something of an anomaly. He had never played for Ajax, and had in fact once turned out for Feyenoord, but after a shaky start to his reign he has grasped the principles upon which the club is built. He has given young players their opportunity to shine (he recently fielded the youngest starting XI in Eredivisie history), and he has played thrilling football at breakneck speed. It's no accident that Bosz has just been named the Eredivisie Coach of the Year, despite the superb achievements of Giovanni van Bronckhorst in Rotterdam.

Ajax topped their Europa League group, and their knockout ties followed a similar pattern. They drew in Warsaw, and lost in Copenhagen, Gelsenkirchen and Lyon. The club's emotional, turbo-charged wins over Legia, Copenhagen, Schalke and Lyon propelled them to Stockholm, but those results pose a big question. What happens to Ajax outside the Dutch capital? Yes, they will have their fans with them, but will a group of largely inexperienced players be able to withstand the pressure of the biggest game of their lives?

Nick Viergever is suspended, so 17-year-old sensation Matthijs de Ligt is likely to partner Davinson Sanchez at the heart of defence. Daley Sinkgraven should line up at left-back if he shakes off a knock. The front three are incredibly dangerous. Amin Younes is a tricky, elusive left-winger who is always trying to bamboozle defenders. On the other side, Bertrand Traore is direct, energetic and carries a goal threat. Through the middle, 19-year-old Dane Kasper Dolberg is an ice-cool finisher, who has netted six UEL goals this term. Behind them, Hakim Ziyech is the playmaker, and Opta tell us he has picked up four assists in his last three Europa League appearances.


Manchester United


Given the horrific events that have unfolded at the Manchester Arena, United's visit to Stockholm now has something of a sombre edge. Some of the players have sent messages of condolence, and the tragedy will no doubt be on the minds of players and travelling fans alike. UEFA have released a statement saying there will be tight security checks at the stadium, but the game will go ahead.

United haven't always impressed on their way to the final, but they have always found a way to do just enough. In the group stage, defeats at Feyenoord and Fenerbahce could have proved costly, but strong home form saw them through. Although United were impressive over two legs against St Etienne in the last 32, they then laboured against Rostov and Anderlecht, before squeezing beyond Celta Vigo by the narrowest of margins in the semi-finals.

That said, I advised backing United to win the tournament in February at 4.60, and I still believe they will. Opta tell us Jose Mourinho has won all six of his meetings with Ajax, but perhaps more relevant is the fact he has won 11 of his 13 cup finals since 2003, and he has won the Champions League (twice) and Europa League. It might not always be pretty, but Mourinho knows how to get the job done.

English clubs have often been accused of not taking this tournament seriously, but Mourinho has from the get-go. World-record signing Paul Pogba has played in every single UEL game this season, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was also a consistent presence until he suffered a campaign-ending injury against Anderlecht.

Many will focus on the Champions League place that winning the Europa League now brings, but this game in Stockholm is about so much more than that for a club that has never won this tournament before. United haven't won a European trophy since 2008, and if they do overcome Ajax, it will unquestionably be the biggest achievement since Sir Alex Ferguson departed. Football is about winning trophies more than it's about having a golden UCL ticket in your hand for next season.

Eric Bailly is suspended and Marcos Rojo is still injured, so Mourinho has decisions to make in central defence. Daley Blind seems likely to start against his old club, and will be partnered by Phil Jones or Chris Smalling. Marcus Rashford is likely to lead the attack - Opta tell us he has been involved in United's last four Europa League goals, scoring two and making two.

Match Odds

United are odds-on favourites here at 1.94, and although Ajax have put in some fine displays in this tournament, that's probably fair. Ajax simply haven't been as effective away from Amsterdam, they looked naïve and brittle at Schalke and Lyon in the last two rounds, and narrowly escaped both times.

There is huge experience of this kind of occasion in the United dugout, and with Blind in defence, Herrera, Pogba and maybe Carrick in midfield, and the irrepressible Rashford in attack, there is strength of character throughout the side.

I love the way Ajax play, and they've done so well to get this far, but I believe United will be too strong for them. I already have an open bet for United to win the tournament, but I certainly wouldn't discourage you from backing them here.

Over/Under 2.5 Goals

Unders is the favourite here at 1.76, and I can see why. United's last seven UEL games have seen an Under 2.5 Goals bet pay out, and Mourinho's inclination will be to keep things tight. However, Ajax will look to force the pace here, because they know that's their best chance of winning.

The Ajax defence always gives up opportunities to the opposition, and even though United don't always take their chances as ruthlessly as they should, they do tend to carve out a fair few. An early goal could really open things up, and it's worth noting that United have only managed two clean sheets in their last six Europa League games.

I'll go against the grain here and back Over 2.5 Goals at 2.22.

To Score

The Opta stats show that Bertrand Traore has had more shots on target than any other player in the competition, and he has scored four times in the UEL. He is a hefty 4.20on the Sportsbook to score in 90 minutes, as is midfield general Davy Klaassen, who has scored 16 goals in all competitions.

Time and time again, Rashford has shown he can rise to the big occasion, and I believe his pace will cause problems for de Ligt and Sanchez. At [17/10] on the Sportsbook (Exchange had little liquidity at time of writing), the 19-year-old is worth backing.

Recommended Bets
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 2.20
Back Marcus Rashford to score at 17/10 

Open Bets from previous columns
Backed Manchester United to win the Europa League at 4.60

Football Bet of the Day: Turkish delight for the neutral tonight

Akhisar Belediye v Alanyaspor
Monday 18:00

A final flourish from Kev yesterday as Atletico Madrid cruised to victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Vicente Calderon's last ever game. A Fernando Torres brace - no less - put them two up with not much more than 10 minutes on the clock and Diego Simeone's men never looked back.


As Kev looks forward to a week off, we're looking to Turkey for some end-of-season hi-jinks from a couple of mid-table outfits. With a couple of rounds of the Super Lig season to go, Akhisar Belediye and Alanyaspor don't have anything serious left to play for.

Ninth-placed Akhisar are already playing with a certain freedom. They've struck 17 times in winning their last four home and away. At Manisa 19 Mayis Stadium they've scored 11 in two. Three of the last four there have delivered Over 3.5 Goals in total - and it should be more of the same as free-scoring (and free-conceding) Alanyaspor come to town.

The visitors have won their last couple 4-2 and 3-2. On the road, they've scored exactly three times in 3/4. Each of those three games went Over 3.5 Goals and that, of course, is today's bet of the day.

Recommended Bet
Back Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.24 in Akhisar Belediye v Alanyaspor


La Liga Betting: Real Madrid can overcome Málaga to seal Spanish title

Atlético Madrid v Athletic Club
Sunday, 15:45
Live on Betfair Live Video

We saw in the Premier League last weekend that saying goodbye to a much-loved stadium can inspire a football team. Atlético Madrid will be looking to take a leaf out of Tottenham's book on Sunday, when they welcome Athletic Club to town for what should be the final game at the Vicente Calderón.

Diego Simeone's charges will doubtless want to give the place a good send-off before their move across the capital to the new-look Wanda Metropolitano and if Atleti can produce a performance anywhere near as strong as the one they put in against Real Madrid in the final European match there, they should get the job done.

Yes, Los Colchoneros are without a number of key men at the back: Diego GodínFilipe Luís and José María Giménez are all suspended this weekend, joining Šime Vrsaljko and Juanfran on the sidelines. But if anyone can patch up and inspire the side to one final hurrah, it is the irrepressible Simeone, for whom this match may also be valedictory in nature.

Recommended Bet
Back Atlético Madrid to win at 2.12

Barcelona v Eibar
Sunday, 19:00
Live on Sky Sports Mix and Betfair Live Video

Even if it comes to nothing, Barcelona can at least say they gave it a good crack. Real Madrid have been in the driving seat for some months now, but their great rivals have produced a stirring run of 15 wins in 17 league matches to keep the pressure on until the last. It has been a valiant effort, especially given the disarray around the club at stages earlier in the campaign.

The Catalans are unlikely to slip at this final hurdle. They have won their last 11 games at the Camp Nou by an aggregate score of 46-9 and tend to enjoy playing Eibar: Barça have won all five Liga meetings between the sides, scoring 16 times and conceding just once.

That chimes with a wider pattern of Eibar struggling against the big sides, and this weekend there is the added factor that the minnows are basically already on their summer holidays. José Luis Mendilibar's side have claimed just four points from their last six games, failing to score in five of them. They have nothing to play for and it's hard to see them putting up much of a fight.

Recommended Bet
Back Barcelona win to nil at 1.83

Málaga v Real Madrid
Sunday, 19:00
Live on Sky Sports 3 and Betfair Live Video

The mathematics of the thing are fairly simple for Real Madrid: avoid defeat at Málaga and a 33rd La Liga title - a first since 2011/12 - is theirs. Having held their nerve in their game in hand against Celta Vigo in midweek, just 90 minutes separate them from glory.

Real have an excellent league record at the Rosaleda: 15 matches have yielded nine victories and just a single defeat. But Málaga have been in handy form recently, beating Barcelona and Sevilla in a run of six wins in eight. Star striker Sandro Ramírez, a former Barça player, has insisted that his side will be going all-out to derail their opponents' bid at the last.

Against that, Real can point to their own serenity in recent weeks. Since the Clásico put the cat amongst the pigeons, Zinedine Zidane's side have quietly gone about their business, compiling five straight league wins - four of them by a margin of three goals or more. They have now scored in their last 63 matches in all competitions, so Málaga will almost certainly need to be ruthless in attack if they are to spring an upset.

Málaga do have the firepower to trouble Los Merengues, even if the away win looks the most likely outcome. The angle, then, is to back Madrid to seal the title with both teams getting on the scoresheet - a bet that would have landed in fully 27 Madrid matches this season.

Recommended Bet
Back Real Madrid to win and both teams to score at 21/20


Chelsea v Sunderland: Cards not as unlikely as the odds suggest

Chelsea v Sunderland 
Sunday May 21 15:00

Chelsea 

I'm unlikely to say anything here about Chelsea's title success that hasn't already been said 100 times before.

To win a Premier League title (and pretty comfortably in the end) in your first season in England is only for a select few. Antonio Conte deserves a huge amount of credit in this regard and did what he did without falling out with senior players like John Terry or Cesc Fabregas, who hardly got a look-in simply because they didn't fit in with his system and style of play.

Conte has an interesting dilemma ahead of this game. He'll want to put on a good show in the final match of the season in front of his team's fans but won't want any injuries to any of his key players who are chalked in to start against Arsenal in the FA Cup final next weekend.

But where does that leave the likes of Marcos Alonso, David Luiz and Diego Costa, who didn't feature against Watford on Monday? Might they be a little under-cooked if they sit this one out, too?

Just about everyone is fit to play in this game.

Sunderland 

Hard to find any positives at all about Sunderland's season. David Moyes' stock continues to fall with this just the latest of several setbacks to his career progression.

The handful of players like Jermain Defoe, Jordan Pickford and Didier NDong who actually did ok are unlikely to be at the club next season and there isn't really even any young talent coming through to speak of.

David Moyes' team selection dilemma comes about for very different reasons to that of Chelsea. Is it worth giving a couple of fringe players a game thinking about next season? Or does he play his strongest side and try to avoid suffering one final humiliation?

Match Odds

Despite the strange, narrow 4-3 win over Watford there's nothing to suggest Chelsea won't win this game. But then, given they're 1.13, you didn't need me telling you that.

Over/Under 3.5 goals 

In a game with understandably few betting opportunities given the question marks over motivation and energy levels, plus team selection, this might just about be the safest one you can get that isn't at a prohibitively-short price.

Obvious thing to say but there might be a real devil-may-care attitude by both sets of players. No-one has anything to lose at all and in their match against Watford, Chelsea showed they can still keep on scoring goals even though some of the big-name attacking players aren't there.

In addition to that, the famed quintet of Moses-Cahill-Azpilicueta-Luiz-Alonso is likely to be broken up again with Terry almost certainly getting the chance to say goodbye to his fans in style and at least one more of those five getting a rest ahead of that Arsenal game. Meaning that strange as this may sound, a Sunderland goal isn't out of the question at all. Which would obviously help our over 3.5 goals cause.

Total Booking Points 1

I can see why it's such a huge price (4/1) about 45 booking points. No Chelsea player will want to risk getting themselves sent off ahead of the FA Cup Final nor will a Sunderland man want to add insult to injury by capping off a horrible season with a last-day sending off.

That's all well and good but football doesn't always work out that way. You could have said similar things about Chelsea's game against Watford and that game saw four bookings (two of them Chelsea guys) and a red.

Party atmosphere it may be for the Chelsea players but it's still a professional game of football and that could mean the odd shirt tug or slight late challenge you'd get in any other game.

It's by no means an obvious bet to place in a match under these circumstances but maybe that's the point.

Recommended Bets
0.5pts Back Over 3.5 goals @ 2.00 
1pt Back Over 45 points in Total Booking Points 1 on Betfair Sportsbook @ 4/1