Thursday, March 29, 2012




We are on Valencia outright ( see below) and have to be pleased with their quarter final draw against AZ Alkmaar, especially as they have already seen off another dutch side, PSV, with minimal trouble in the last round. Valencia arrive here on the back of two disappointing results, but aside from a ten minute spell just after they took the lead at Getafe, they played pretty well in that and arrived in Holland in good mood and claim to be treating the match as though it were a final. Hosts are top of Eredivisie, by a single point and have a tough trip to Vitesse at the weekend and are also coming into this game following three disappointing home starts, scoring just once in two league games ( NAC and RKC) and losing to Heracles in the cup, all of whom are in the bottom eight and they have to re-jig the defence tonight with Nick Viergever suspended, Valencia also lose Adil Rami, but Robert Soldado who missed out in the last round, plus the returning Tino Costa and David Albelda should all play. I expect the visitors to progress over the two legs and they need a positive result to get back on track, but the level ball quotes look about right and with the outright bet, there is no need for further involvement.

We spoke about the Iberian Peninsula/ Eastern bloc dominance of this event in recent years in that outright preview and only AZ and the two German clubs stand between them once again providing all four semi finalists.

The Schalke 04- Athletic Bilbao match up is interesting, I am .....


Atletico Madrid are another team like Valencia and Bilbao who have lost their way a little recently, especially on the road, they never looked like winning at Zaragoza on Sunday in the morning kick off, but ......



Like a lot of people, I was not terribly complementary about Caroline Wozniacki when ranked world number one, but on reflection, probably feel that we were all too hard on her and at the end of the day, she is clearly a top 8 player at least and possibly still improving. She is coming off a big win, her first, over Serena Williams and that has given her a huge confidence boost, despite Williams hitting a lot of errors and claiming she was only at 20%, which is very ungracious and unfair, the Danish player upped her game and served really well and when Williams came on strong at the business end of the match, Wozniacki held firm.

After 67 weeks as the media darling and Wozniacki likes/loves the limelight, she has been relegated to the “small interview room” instead of the mini-theatre equipped with TV cameras and transcribers after her previous matches and this seems to have motivated her almost as much as losing her number one ranking. She kept Williams moving with great depth and width on her returns and similar quality will give her a big chance against Sharapova, who, despite moving a little better nowadays, still turns about as fast as an oil tanker.

Lots of players have complained about tiredness this week, coming here straight from Indian Wells and Sharapova went deep there. The Russian superstar saw off Li Na in double quick time in her quarter final, but the chinese player was terribly off her game and Sharapova had previously struggled past Peer, Makarova and even Sloane Stephens here all of which ran close to two hours. MS has been struggling with her second serve and if she gives Wozniacki half as many chances, she will be able to spend the rest of the week planning her upcoming wedding ! The Danish player for me and a few excerpts from her Williams post match interview below .Caroline Wozniacki to beat Sharapova 2.02 + there is a little 2.10 around.

Q. Was it the match of the year for you?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Um, well, yeah, I think so. I mean, Serena is a great champion and I have very much respect for her. For me to go out and win against her I have lost the three previous times.
I thought I played a very good match out there. I'm very pleased about the way I was able to also close it out.

Q. What made the difference today compared to the three past matches?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: I think I served well today. I think my first serve in particular was good. First time I played against her I had match points and lost 7 6 in the third, so I knew that, you know, I had to do something or I had to serve well to close the match out, because she wasn't going to give me anything.
Q. Your backhand also was very strong today. You were stepping in and getting some, you know, winners. Do you think that's an improvement from the past?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: No, I think it's always been pretty good. I think in general I'm pleased about the way I played. I didn't make too many unforced errors, and I made her run.
I served well, and, then, you know, when Serena's serve is on fire it's difficult to do something about the first one. I tried to put pressure on her for the second serve.

Q. You have been sort of flying under the radar as of late. Has this been helpful that you're no longer No. 1?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Yeah, I don't mind. I mean, I can see now that the draw I have had has been pretty tough. I mean, I could have met Clijsters but I played Wickmayer, who also played some very good tennis.
And then Serena in the quarters and Maria in the semis. It's not easy, but I'm just pleased. I just take always one match at a time. I just play. Any court is the same.
If people talk about me or not, I mean, to be honest, as long as I win, I'm happy.

Q. You talk about winning giving you more and more confidence and how important that is to you. How much confidence is a straight set win over Serena Williams give you?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Well, it definitely gives you confidence. Hard work always pays off, so, you know, I just keep going, keep working hard, and there's always room for improvements.
I'm just excited I can always improve my game.

Q. For Maria next what do you have to focus on in that game?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: To be honest, I'm so happy I have a day off tomorrow. I can actually relax a little bit, practice once, and then enjoy Miami. And, to be honest, I definitely again, she's a strong player, you know. I have been playing well lately and hitting the ball hard.
So I need to make her move. That's the most important thing, I think.

Q. Do you think you're being underestimated right now?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: No. I mean, I don't think so. Well, definitely not more than I have in the past. I mean, you know, I think especially media sorry, no offense but, you know, I have just had the just a lot of times, you know, she does make many winners, you know, how can she win when, blah, blah, blah, they always mistakes.
But, you know, I don't mind. I play to win, and that's all.

Q. You moved very well also and you looked very fit.

Q. A lot of players say they're feeling tired. You look so fresh out there and you play like a No. 1. How did you feel?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: I feel good. Um, you know, I always work hard. I always do a lot of things to keep my fitness up and to try to prevent injuries.
I think, you know, that pays off. Obviously it's very tough to have two big tournaments one right after another. But at the same time, I'm just excited to be in the semifinals in this big tournament.



Good Luck.



The competition has added spice this year with the involvement of both Manchester clubs and it is hard to know just how motivated each will be. Both are fully committed to the EPL title race of course and it is hard not to see that going down to the wire, in which case, european involvement will be seen as a hindrance.

Also, City have a tough draw facing Porto in the last 32 and then probably Sporting Lisbon, Portugese clubs have a fearsome record in the competition and always take it seriously. The odds for City to win the EL ( circa 5.50) are a joke IMO and a very poor one at that !

United should see off Ajax, who have as many defensive problems as Sir Alex's team and then face the winner of the Lokomotiv Moscow-Athletic Bilbao match. At first glance that looks tough, but the Amsterdam giants are in poor form, more of the Russians later. you know I rate Athletic highly, but they do not have huge recent european experience and are set to battle for that ( sole remaining ?) Champions League spot domestically. Also, United could make big money from the competition, a sold out home game at Old Trafford, even with slightly reduced admission prices, will generate some £3-4 m each round, including concession and merchandising. So by winning the whole thing ,they could bank an extra £25-30m, which is big by anyone's standards. They are at least used to fighting on two fronts, usually more and might even welcome the involvement/distraction and at around 7-1, there are a far better bet than City in my book, but the doubts still remain about them defensively for me.

Last nine runnings of the Europa League/ UEFA Cup have seen six winners from the Iberian Peninsula, four Spanish winners and two Portugese, they also supplied three losing finalists between them, the other three winners came from the eastern bloc, two Russian and one from the Ukraine, with the final in Romania this year, once again they might have an edge.

The eastern bloc teams are at a disadvantage early, coming off their winter break, but once we are in mid/late March, the pendulum swings the other way and they are fresher and at their peak, when others are beginning to tire.

I am interested in teams that can focus on this competition, or are targetting a big run and the one that stands out for me is Valencia, they are clearly the third best team in Spain and look booked for third place baring any major mishaps and have no chance of troubling the top two, this is perfect IMO. They have a five point lead over the pack and host Gijon at the weekend, a match they should just win, they can then choose whether or not to go for it in the trip to the Nou Camp, which falls inbetween their two games with Stoke City. That is how I think they will approach the remainder of their La Liga campaign, picking which matches to focus on and this will enable them to concentrate fully on a european title. I am writing this ahead of their Copa semi final second leg with Barce and kind of hoping they go out, but even if they progress it will only mean one extra game and they do not have to worry about that until the end of May.

So, they face Stoke and then the winner of the PSV- Trabsonspor game, which should be the team from Eindhoven, again, you know that I like them and expect them to win the Eredivisie, but that is far from finished business, is unlikely to be decided anytime soon and it is seven years since a dutch team made the last four of the competition.Valencia are a three time european finalist in the last dozen years and are just about due another, having won the UEFA Cup in 2004. Finances are not the greatest at the Mestalla and I do not think they will turn their noses up at the money to be earned in the Europa League. 1.75 units Valencia outright 13.0 +

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