With a packed midweek football schedule lying ahead, the enormous £800,000 1X2 Pick 15 Pool returns. We decided to preview three of the featured matches within the Pool; Preston vs. Leeds, Tottenham vs. Man City & Man Utd vs. Barcelona.
Preston vs. Leeds
Tuesday, 9th April, 19:45
As the early pacesetters in the Championship this season, it looked as though Leeds would be the team to beat. However, as the season has progressed their form has stuttered and they now find themselves in third place after losing two of their last three matches.
Norwich look as though they have the title sewn up, the Canaries are seven points clear with six games remaining. The second automatic promotion spot remains up for grabs, however, with Leeds trailing Sheffield United by a single point. As such, they will be desperate to get back to winning ways against Preston in a bid to end their 15 year exile from the Premier League.
Preston still have an outside chance of promotion themselves. The Lilywhites are five points from the playoffs having played a game more than Bristol City. Their playoff push hasn’t been helped by consecutive defeats to Reading and Sheffield United though, which came at the wrong time after a three game winning run had put them in contention.
Both sides have injury concerns; Leeds are sweating on the fitness of Pablo Hernandez whilst Preston have doubts over several key men.
Even in Hernandez’ absence though, I believe that Leeds should have enough quality to claim the victory which would return them to second place, albeit possibly temporarily.
Preston have been weak at home this season, winning only seven of their 20 matches whereas Leeds are fourth in Championship’s away table. Marcelo Bielsa will have them fired up and I’m supporting a Leeds win.
Tottenham vs. Man City
Tuesday, 9th April, 20:00
White Hart Lane hosts the first of three encounters between these two sides in the next twelve days.
City have dominated Tottenham in recent meetings, winning three in a row with an aggregate scoreline of 8-3. The run of fixtures come at a difficult time for Spurs, who are showing distinct signs of fatigue, losing four of their last seven matches.
They did beat Crystal Palace last week in the curtain-raiser at their renovated ground, in a match that Mauricio Pochettino will hope has helped to breed some familiarity for fans and players alike in their new home.
The Man City juggernaut continues to roll on. Their 1-0 victory against Brighton in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday was their eighth straight victory and their 14th without defeat. The Citizens welcoming back Sergio Aguero and Fabian Delph back from injury is a timely boost and will provide them with added firepower and more options at full back where they are currently depleted.
My primary concern for City is whether they will eventually run out of steam, as they are still fighting on three fronts having already wrapped up the League Cup. Three matches against one another in such a short period of time will surely take a lot out of both clubs but, whilst Tottenham had the weekend off, this will be City’s third game in six days.
For City the scars from last year’s quarter-final against Liverpool will still be fresh. Pep Guardiola severely misjudges his tactics in the first leg at Anfield and they were soundly beaten 3-0 which effectively killed the tie. They won’t want to make the same mistake again and, with squad freshness also to consider, I suspect that Guardiola will be happy to contain Spurs in the opening leg before trying to overwhelm them at the Etihad in the return fixture.
Man Utd vs. Barcelona
Wednesday, 10th April, 20:00
United’s incredible run under Ole Gunnar Solskjær couldn’t last forever. Despite conquering all before them at the start of his tenure, the wheels have begun to come off for the Red Devil’s in recent weeks and they have lost three of their last four matches.
Their defeat at Arsenal in the league was forgivable but Solskjær will have been concerned at the manner in which they then lost twice to Wolves in the space of two weeks. Indeed, given their stuttering form and rumours linking several United players with moves away, it promises to be a summer of change at United.
Barcelona have slipped under the radar this season. For some reason there doesn’t seem to be the same level of hype around them as there was during the Pep Guardiola era, when Xavi and Iniesta were still running the show alongside Lionel Messi.
Yet Barca are 11 points clear at the top of La Liga having scored 26 goals more than anyone else. They have reached the final of the Copa Del Rey and the quarter-finals of the Champions League without breaking a sweat.
Lionel Messi seems determined to reclaim the Ballon D’Or prize that has evaded him in three consecutive seasons by scoring 43 goals in 40 games so far this season, including eight in the Champions League where he tops the scoring charts.
Ominously, from Manchester United’s perspective, Messi also thoroughly enjoys playing against English clubs. He has scored 22 goals in 30 matches against Premier League’s top six, including nine goals in six appearances against Arsenal.
Given the unpredictability of United’s season and the fact that they have home advantage, no result in this game would be a total surprise but with Messi in such fine form, I can’t explain the feeling that Barcelona simply have too much quality.