Soccer – England vs Ukraine (Under 21 World Cup)

England like Spain is a favorite to win this years Under 21 World Cup. Spain like England faces a must win match in the group stage. Ukraine was defeated by the Czech Republic in their first match and they will definitely be looking for revenge and a result in this one. That said England is far more talented and should win this match handedly. England wont be taking this match lightly and if England wants to keep its destiny in its hands they will need to win this match. A must win match by England will mean Ukraine should be defeated fairly handily.

 

Pick: England, Win.

Soccer – England @ Spain (Under 21 World Cup)

This is a tricky matchup. Both England and Spain are the early favorites to win the Under 21 World Cup. This match isn’t being played in either England or Spain and under 21 talent is incredibly hard to judge. Given the relative haze that surrounds under 21 talent when compared to regular national games it is really hard to judge this game. Still the two favorites for the entire tournament matching up on a neutral location seems to smell of a draw. Spain is a slight favorite but England always has a lot of Under 21 talent and I think if Spain didn’t win the regular World Cup last year this matchup would strongly favor the win draw option. If this match were in Spain I wouldn’t hesitate to  take them but on neutral ground I must go with the win draw here.

 

Pick: England to Win or Draw

Soccer – MK Dons @ Peterborough United

The second leg of the promotion playoff between MK Dons (23-8-15) and Peterborough United (23-10-13) will be played in Peterborough. MK Dons took the first game in the two leg semi finals 3-2, so Peterborough has to win this match to advance, a draw is not an option for them. These two teams have met three times this year, each time with a result. The home team has not lost in this series this year. Dons won both at their place and Peterborough won the lone early season matchup between these two.

MK Dons took their home game in the first leg 3-2. Dons has been very solid at home but their road record is much less convincing this year, 9-3-11. Dons over the past 5 games is 3-0-2 and their past 5 on the road they are solid 3-0-2. They have struggled more than their record on the road might imply though, posting a -5 Goal Differential on the road.

Peterborough United, despite being down in this series is a very solid home team. So far this year United has posted a 15-5-3 record at home and they have gone 3-2-0 in the last 5 at home. In their last 5 home or away United has gone 1-2-2. United has posted a phenomenal +29 goal differential at home compared to a +2 GD on the road.

I don’t see this match ending in a draw. Dons might fight for a Draw but realistically Peterborough is going to be pushing so hard for a two goal win and advancement in this tournament that they will either score a bunch and win or they will open up holes in their defense and lose. In a matchup that likely will find a result I like Peterborough United, they have scored a ton of goals at home and Dons has been poor on the road. If Dons had won by 2 goals at home I think United would have had to play more reckless but only a 1 goal lead headed into this series just won’t be enough on the road.

Pick: Peterborough United, Win

Fun Fact: MK Dons has the worst road Goal Differential of any team in the top 7 and are 11th out of 24 teams in GD on the road. Peterborough United meanwhile has the 3rd best GD of any team at home.

Soccer – Tottenham Hotspur @ Liverpool

 Tottenham Hotspur (14-14-8) has been absolutely terrible recently despite a 6th place spot in the tables. Tottenham is 6-5-7 on the road. They have also performed poorly recently going 0-3-2 in their last 5. They are even worse on the road recently going 0-2-3 on the road in their last 5. To add insult to injury, Tottenham will be playing in a stadium in which they have not picked up a win in their last 16 attempts. Just about the only thing that Tottenham has going for them is motivation. A win Sunday would put Tottenham into 5th place in the tables and allow them to control their own destiny in a chance to get into the Europa League. While Tottenham has failed to qualify for the Champions League as they did last year, in order to insure significant attention and interest is still paid to Tottenham next year they must get into the Europa League. A loss today would eliminate Tottenham from any chances at playing in Europe next year.

Liverpool (17-7-12) is a team headed in the exact opposite direction. They have absolutely dominated Tottenham at home. Top that off with a solid 12-4-2 home record and a phenomenal 4-1-0 home and 4-1-0 overall record over the last five and I like Liverpool’s chances. Liverpool will ensure that they will play in the Europa League next year with a win today and they are in terrific form. Despite a disastrous start to the season Liverpool might be finishing stronger than any other team in the entire football world.

Liverpool has owned Tottenham at home over the past several years. Liverpool is the hottest team in the Premier League right now. I don’t see any amount of motivation preventing Liverpool from picking up points here today. Given how well Liverpool has played lately and how poorly Tottenham has I would go with Liverpool for the win, though a Draw seems like a slight possibility.

Pick: Liverpool

Soccer – Stoke City vs Manchester City (Neutral location)

This Saturday, Stoke City and Manchester City will travel to London and play in the FA Cup Final at the English National Team’s home pitch, Wembley Stadium. Neither team has made an FA Cup Finals in over 30 years. For those of you less familiar with British Soccer, the FA Cup is a tournament held every year which includes every single team in English Soccer from the Premier League down to the Conference National leagues.

Stoke City (12-7-16) enters play presently 8th in the Premiership, having blasted its way with ease into the FA Cup Final. Their semifinal victory over Bolton was a 5-0 rout. They also defeated fellow Premier League members West Ham 2-1 in the quarterfinals. Stoke enters play in very strong form. Stoke has gone 3-2-0 in their last 5 matches and 5-3-2 in their last 10. Stoke has been terrible away from home this year, with a 3-3-12 record on the road, but how important those struggles will be to a game on neutral turf is hard to determine. Stoke did win their one other game at Wembley this year, which was the Bolton tilt mentioned earlier.

Manchester City (19-8-9) had a far more difficult challenge in the semifinals of the FA Cup where they dispatched Premier League leading and intercity rivals Manchester United 1-0. Manchester City has also posted far better results in league play and leads Stoke in the Premier tables by 19 points. Manchester City has also been very good recently posting a 5-0-1 record over their last 5 and a 7-0-3 record over their past 10. Manchester City is the better team, but this prop doesn’t allow for Manchester City to rely on extra time; they must win in regulation to win this prop.

It’s worth noting that in these two teams only meeting earlier this year, the result was a 1-1 draw on Stoke’s home soil. However, Stoke has only been very good on home turf this year; they have struggled away from home and while the game is being played at a neutral location, the lack of home field advantage will hurt Stoke. I don’t think that Stoke will be able to match the intensity and pressure that City will place on them and I expect Manchester City to take this one in regulation.

Pick: Manchester City

Soccer – Cardiff City @ Reading

This is the other matchup in the English Championship Division promotion playoff semi final. I won’t give a full rundown of  how the playoffs work. To see that, see my previous preview for the Nottingham Swansea match, which included a much more detailed description of the full importance of this game to both sides. The link for that article is here. The very shortened version of the playoff rules is, the team with more goals after two games advances to the promotional playoff.

Cardiff City will be on the road in this one. They finished the regular season 4th in the League tables. Cardiff City finished the regular season with a road record of 11-4-8 and they have the win draw option in this matchup. Over the course of the season that 11-4-8 road record means that they either won or drawn 65% of the time. Cardiff has a few injury concerns, one of which may be their starting goalie but they presently have a goalie on loan from Derby who has been performing almost as well as the teams domestic starter (Tom Heaton) and so the concern at goalie should be minimal. Cardiff’s recent performance has been solid for this pick. Overall they have been relatively solid down the stretch finishing with a 3-2-1 record (80% win or draws). On the road they finished even better going 3-2-0 (100% win or draws). It is worth noting however, that all those road games were against teams outside of the top 8 and two of which will be relegated this year.

Reading will be the home team in this ever crucial first leg of the Semi Finals and they posted a 12-7-4 home record. They have the win option on this pick, during the regular season they outright won their home matches 52% of the time. Reading also has a few injury concerns in the ever so critical midfield positions. Reading has suffered mixed results at the end of the year. Overall they went 2-2-1 in their final 5 games (40% wins) but at home they have been on fire finishing 4-0-1 (80% wins).

This is a very tight and tough match but the deciding factor for me is the results against each other. In the two previous matchups this year both ended in draws, 1-1 and 2-2 respectively. Both teams are so evenly matched but Cardiff has been very good on the road and they also have the win draw option. If this were a straight up pick there would be no doubt, take Reading but with the draw option on the table, I will have to go with the team which has managed a win or draw more often than the home team has managed a straight out win.

Pick: Cardiff City Win or Draw

Soccer – Swansea City @ Nottingham Forest

Swansea City travels to Nottingham Forest for the first leg in the Promotion Championship Semi Finals in the English Championship Division. The two teams have faced off twice earlier this year with the home team winning both matches. The difference here is both teams will be pushing hard for points, especially Nottingham Forest. For those of you who are unfamiliar how this Semi Finals works I will provide a quick overview below.

The Promotion Playoffs Semi Finals is actually a two game event. The team with more goals at the end of the two games will advance to the second round, in other words you want to have a higher aggregate total of goals than your opponent. Therefore there is a lot of pressure on both teams in the first game of the playoff to get off to a good start. If Swansea can put a few in the net and manage just a draw or even a win they will have a huge advantage headed home. Meanwhile, Nottingham really needs to pick up a win so they are ahead as they go on the road, the only type of Draw that would be beneficial to Nottingham would be an 0-0 Draw, giving up goals in a draw only puts more pressure on Nottingham to need to score a bunch of goals when they head on the road. Therefore, the home team in the first leg must push and hard for a win. So there is no question that the motivation for both teams will be huge and the pressure is slightly heavier on Nottingham to get off to a good start at home, as the second game will only be more difficult if they are behind or even tied going on the road. Now the numbers.

Nottingham finished the regular season 6th in the tables and claimed the last spot in the promotion playoffs. Nottingham was solid at home during the season posting a 13-8-2 home record this season. Further, Nottingham finished the regular season by posting a 3-1-1 record over their final 5 home games and a 4-1-0 record overall in their last 5. Nottingham is not suffering from any serious injuries and enters play almost at full strength. Nottingham also won at home early this year against Swansea City 3-1.

Swansea City finished the regular season 3rd and just missed out on automatic promotion by 5 points but they are not dramatically better than Nottingham despite finishing 3 places higher in the standings. Swansea finished the regular season only 5 points higher (that’s a difference of only 1 more win and 2 more draws) than Nottingham. Swansea was not good or bad on the road this year posting a 9-3-11 record on the road. They finished the season on the road in a bit of a slump posting a 1-1-3 record over their final 5 games. Though they did finish strong, if you combine home and road games where they posted an overall 3-1-1 record to finish the year.

Look for Nottingham to push for the badly needed victory. Nottingham with all the motivation in the world will stay hot at home, and Swansea will continue their recent road struggles, Nottingham wins.

Pick: Nottingham Forest for the Win.

Extra Reading for those unsure of the importance of this game to both teams.

In case some people are wondering what I mean by promotion playoffs, the 3rd place – 6th place teams in England’s Championship League play a playoff to decide the 3rd and final team which will at the end of the season be promoted up to the next level of British football (soccer). Unlike traditional American sports, in Europe teams can move up and down the ladder. Imagine major league baseball. A similar structure there would see the top 3 or 4 AAA teams moving up to the MLB and the bottom 3 or 4 MLB teams moving down to AAA (as well as AA to AAA etc). As you can imagine promotion is a HUGE deal in European football as it involves a ton of money. Imagine the kind of media deals that would associate a small AAA team in Nashville suddenly being in the MLB. Then imagine what would happen to the media deals for a team like the New York Yankees if they were demoted to AAA.