A tasty £10,000 is up for grabs in the midweek 1X2 – Pick 8 Pool that features games from the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League and Ligue Un. Our resident tipster has written a preview of three of the featured matches as Brighton take on Cardiff in a relegation six-pointer, Man United try to stage another remarkable recovery in Barcelona and Arsenal travel to Napoli defending a two goal advantage.
Brighton vs. Cardiff
And so it comes to this. Cardiff’s Premier League fate rests on the outcome of a single midweek fixture. Draw or lose and the Bluebirds will have virtually zero chance of survival, win and they will drag Brighton deep into trouble.
Both sides lost at the weekend but the manner in which they fell to defeat were stark in contrast. Cardiff felt aggrieved to have a penalty decision overturned which would have allowed them to equalise with Burnley in what was a close contest. Meanwhile Brighton put on an utterly abject performance at home to Bournemouth who routed them 5-0.
To make matters worse, Anthony Knockaert saw red for a wild challenge on Adam Smith, that we are legally obliged to describe as reckless, and was symptomatic of Brighton losing their heads generally.
Many will still consider Brighton heavy favourites for this but I simply can’t see how such a drubbing, their fourth straight defeat, won’t affect their confidence. Cardiff haven’t been playing badly at all and have been on the wrong end of several poor refereeing positions that haven’t helped their cause.
All the pressure is on the Seagulls, Cardiff have nothing to lose and I see Brighton’s poor run continuing.
Barcelona vs. Man United
United produced a mini-miracle in overturning a first leg defeat to PSG but I fear that a similar escape might be beyond them here.
Despite beating West Ham at the weekend, the honeymoon period is well and truly over for Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer, with an initial upturn in their form now receding back to the mean.
Both of United’s goals against The Hammers were penalties and they haven’t scored from open play in 257 minutes now. This isn’t ideal preperaration for the Nou Camp, where Barcelona are undefeated in 15 matches and have lost one in their last 44.
With the league wrapped up, Barca were able to rest several key players during their 0-0 draw with Huesca at the weekend, including Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique, though the latter two were suspended. They will be fresher than United who are still battling in the league and, as such, put out a strong side against West Ham.
They were second best at home against Barca and, with Lionel Messi presumably fired up after his clobbering at the hands of Chris Smalling, could be in for a long night. Barca should be comfortable and win this by a couple of goals.
Napoli vs. Arsenal
Arsenal were impressive as they strolled to a 2-0 opening leg advantage against Napoli on Thursday. Unai Emery’s men took the lead through Aaron Ramsey in the 15th minute before an own goal from Kalidou Koulibaly sealed the deal for the Gunners.
They will travel to Naples knowing that, should they score at the San Paolo Stadium, Napoli will need to get four in reply to progress thanks to the away goals rule. However, all of Arsenal’s troubles in the league have come on the road this season and they just don’t seem to travel well.
Arsenal sit third in the Premier League’s home table this season, taking just four points less than Manchester City. Yet an away table has them in 10th place, below Leicester, Crystal Palace, Watford and Wolves. In 15 league games away from home, Arsenal have won just five and that will be a real cause for concern going into this one.
Furthermore, Arsenal are still struggling to decide what their best formation is. There is real debate among the fanbase over whether Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be starting, or whether they should both be playing.
Emery is still heavily reliant on Juventus-bound Welshman Aaron Ramsey and must surely soon start trying to see which of his squad can potentially fill Ramsey’s boots, or he will be forced to spend heavily to replace him this summer. Though I wouldn’t expect him to experiment to much in this one.
I feel like Arsenal will qualify but, given their lousy away form, will make hard work of it. Napoli for a narrow win that has Arsenal nerves jangling.