This week’s Millionaire is dominated by the League Cup quarter finals with a bit of Championship, Ligue 1 and Serie A action thrown in.
Let’s get straight down to business…
Middlesbrough v Everton
Although Everton have almost always had the best of the fixtures between these two sides, Aitor Karanka’s Boro will push the Toffees all the way in front of a packed Riverside crowd.
Just twice in the last 10 years have the hosts been on the winning side but one of those was in this competition. A competition that Boro do have a particular affinity with.
What’s more, they’re playing some sparkling football at present and sit deservedly in second place in the Championship, just behind leaders Brighton.
They score goals too, lots of them. And their goal difference is one of the best in the division.
Roberto Martinez likes his teams to play in much the same way as Karanka, an expansive and attractive style that is pleasing on the eye.
Gerard Deulofeu in particular is enjoying a rich vein of form for Everton and will be one of the chief threats to the hosts progress.
Goals aplenty here, and I’m tipping an upset thanks to home advantage.
3-1 or 3-2 are my first selections this week.
Stoke v Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Wednesday are another Championship side who are very capable of disposing of Premier League opposition. Just ask Arsenal who were taken to the cleaners in the last round.
An away win at Newcastle evidences that the Owls have travelled well also.
Just one defeat in the last 14 games is a sign of a team in form and with nothing to lose, they’ll take the game to Mark Hughes’ Stoke side and force the Potters to come out and play football.
In fairness to Stoke, they are now a side that play a more attacking and vibrant style rather than their previous incarnation as a team that were hard to beat but often relied on the more physical aspects of the game.
Carlos Carvalhal is a name that isn’t known to many outside of Sheffield but if the manager can mastermind another victory then he’ll certainly come to the attention of the wider public.
Fernando Forestieri is the man to watch for the visitors and if the Stoke defence are unable to shackle him and Lucas Joao then another shock could be on the cards.
Time for Charlie Adam, Ryan Shawcross et al to step up.
I can’t split them in 90 minutes, 1-1 is my selection here.
Southampton v Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp faces Southampton for the second time in his short Liverpool managerial reign.
The first encounter was a cagey affair with both sides promising much over the 90 minutes but delivering little.
A 1-1 draw in what was Klopp’s first Premier League game in charge of the Reds was probably a fair result.
Since then we’ve seen the “heavy metal” football that the German likes his teams to play and only one loss in nine games is an indication that he is doing something right.
Christian Benteke presents the most obvious physical threat to the hosts but it’s Philippe Coutinho’s trickery that will likely author the outcome of this one.
A couple of recent losses for Ronald Koeman’s Southampton were their first in eight games, a sequence that has seen them win away at Chelsea and Sunderland and draw with high-flying and free-scoring Leicester.
If Saido Mane in particular brings his “A” game, then he could have as much of a say in matters as Coutinho.
Shane Long should get space in and around the penalty box and against Martin Skrtel the livewire attacker should profit.
Both teams to score but Klopp to continue the good news story on the red half of Merseyside.
1-2 or 1-3 for your coupon.
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Bank a portion of your winnings to this point and then play on with the remainder of your ticket.
Even if you have an overall losing bet, you can still walk away with something if you play your cards right.
Reading v QPR
Mid-table QPR travel to the Madjeski Stadium for Thursday night’s Championship game, looking for the win that would bring them to within one point of their hosts.
A hard-fought win over Leeds last time out was their first victory in five and will give them confidence to pick up something here.
It was a match where Alejandro Faurlin was a class apart, providing the assist for the prolific
Charlie Austin to secure all three points.
Reading have just one win in the last seven and that came against bottom placed Bolton but they have only failed to score in one game going back to mid-September.
The issue that Steve Clarke faces is defensively and being unable to protect a lead.
Quite the opposite problem to Rangers who’ve failed to score in five out of the last seven matches.
If Austin can at least work the channels between Michael Hector and a labouring Paul McShane, he can profit and an away win here is there for the taking.
I’m going to sit on the fence with a 0-0 and 1-1 as my selections.
Rennes v Marseille
Five places and four points separate these two sides in the Ligue 1 table at the start of play.
The visitors have only lost one game in the last six but are more in need of the points being just four off of the relegation places.
Their struggles have been something of a surprise given that Jose Miguel Gonzalez’s side continue to utilise an inventive 4-2-3-1 where each player interchanges with the other. Not quite total football but not far off of it at some points.
The head to head record certainly favours the visitors over the last decade but only once in the last six games between the sides have Marseille emerged victorious.
Rennes have scored at least twice in their last 3 matches but that follows a barren period of two months where they couldn’t score more than one goal per game including five 1-1 draws in six games.
In fact they are the draw specialists with seven in the last eleven matches.
Kamil Grosicki remains the danger man for the hosts and if he is given time on the ball, an assist or two to Jeremie Boga is virtually a formality.
I’ll take the hosts by the odd-game 1-0 or 2-1.
Lazio v Juventus
There was a time when this fixture would be a battle between the top two in Serie A but those days are long gone.
Juve are nothing like the side that took Barca all the way in last season’s Champions League final and, devoid of most of their main stars, have struggled throughout this campaign.
Seventh place, a full nine points of off leaders Inter Milan, is as good as it gets for the Bianconeri at present.
The fear that Paul Pogba will soon join the exodus must be foremost in the minds of the clubs’ supporters.
Lazio sit just two points and two places behind but have won only once in the league since early October.
It’s a poor run of form that Stefano Pioli needs to address. It will have to wait another week however. Lazio have won just once out of the last 18 games between the sides stretching back to 2009.
Never the highest scoring of fixtures, my final selections for this week are 0-2 or 1-2.