Andy Gray & Richard Keys: EPL predictions – Week 34

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Weakest link: The punditry pair see Martin Demichelis as a reason why Liverpool fans can remain optimistic of their chances.

Liverpool are currently riding on a wave of self-belief after a fabulous run of nine consecutive wins that has put them in with a real chance of winning the title. Tomorrow, they host Manchester City, currently favourites for the EPL crown, in what is a massive game of football for both teams.

Andy Gray and Richard Keys, who front beIN Sports’ Premier League coverage, discuss the match.

Andy Gray: This is a huge game but I think there is still too much football to be played for it to be the title decider. If Liverpool win it would put them seven points ahead of Manuel Pellegrini’s side but City would still have two games in hand and a slightly easier run-in.

That’s why I think Liverpool must win. A draw wouldn’t be good enough in my opinion and could cost them the title.

All City need to do is avoid defeat so they would be more than happy with a draw. If they win, with those games in hand, they will take some stopping with Sunderland and West Brom their next two games at home before they travel to Crystal Palace who you would expect them to beat.

Four of their last six games after the Liverpool match are at the Etihad and the only one that looks genuinely difficult is Everton away. Liverpool need to put some distance between themselves and City because, apart from anything else, they still have to play Chelsea.

Midfield will be important in this game and I think City edge it here with Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, David Silva, and Samir Nasri. If they are allowed time on the ball and dominate in the way they can, City, with the firepower they have up front, will be difficult to contain.

I expect Liverpool to come flying out of the traps and throw everything at City in a bid to upset their rhythm early on. But for me, the match could be won by the players who will start this game sitting on the bench. You need to look at the players each team could call upon to make a difference.

When I look at the City bench they have the likes of James Milner, Alvaro Negredo, and Edin Dzeko, who will probably be replaced in the starting line-up by Sergio Aguero. They are all capable of changing a game and I am not sure the same can be said about Liverpool’s bench.

Liverpool will know that City are a bit vulnerable at the back, particularly with Martin Demichelis who lacks pace. In a one-on-one situation Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge or Raheem Sterling would expect to expose him so the City defender will be targeted.

I hope this game lives up to expectation, and if it does, there should be a few goals, so I am going for a 2-2 draw which City will be delighted with.

Richard Keys: I know I have tipped Chelsea for the title, but if Liverpool win it, then I would have no complaints. I think they have been a breath of fresh air and Brendan Rodgers has done a fantastic job, particularly with Sturridge and Suarez who he managed to keep despite strong interest from elsewhere in the summer.

Rodgers has given the team belief and you can see that in the way they are currently playing. If they can get into City, who I still think will choke, then, because they are at home, I think they will be hard to stop.

At Anfield with that passionate crowd roaring them on, I can’t see them losing.

This game will be won right at the top end with Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling running riot and Steven Gerrard taking on the job of cramping Yaya Toure’s style. Andy is right when he talks about Demichelis being a bit suspect and Vincent Kompany can also occasionally go missing.

The point Andy makes about the benches won’t come into the equation because by the time Pellegrini looks to make changes Liverpool will have put this game to bed. City may well have depth in their squad but I think Liverpool’s starting eleven is as good as, if not better, than City’s on their day.

The energy, excitement and expectation at Liverpool will be such that it will carry them through.

When they get the bit between their teeth Anfield is a special place and I think City might be overwhelmed.

I am going to go for Liverpool to win this 3-1 to boost their title hopes and put a huge dent in City’s ambitions.

Swansea v Chelsea
AG: The Champions League draw would have given Chelsea a lift. Atletico won’t be easy but they have avoided Real and Bayern, so they will go into this match in buoyant mood. Swansea are still in a mess, hovering above the relegation zone and they lack any kind of form or real quality. 2-0 Chelsea.

RK: Chelsea will bounce into this off the back of beating PSG and I just can’t see Swansea giving them any problems. 2-0 is a good shout.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa
AG:
You never know what you are going to get from Villa but I know what we are going to get from Palace – organisation and determination. They know that one more win should see them safe and they will get it. 1-0 home win.

RK: I’m with Andy on this as Villa aren’t much of a threat without Christian Benteke. Palace know it will be job done as far as survival is concerned if they win, and after what manager Tony Pulis has done, they deserve to stay up. 1-0.

Fulham v Norwich
AG:
Norwich’s whole season rests on this game. They need to make sure that Fulham are at least five points behind them by the end of this match because, as we have said many times before, their run-in is incredibly difficult. If Fulham can win this and make it back-to-back wins at this stage of the season, it would give them real belief that they can catch Norwich. 2-1 home win.

RK: I have no idea why Norwich fired Chris Hughton at this stage of the season. It makes no sense whatsoever. It won’t make any difference to the situation they are in. They will lose this 2-1 and I honestly believe they will be relegated which, to be frank, they will have deserved.

Southampton v Cardiff
AG:
One win, one draw and five defeats in their last seven games tells you all you need to know about Cardiff. Southampton have far too much quality with players who are trying to be selected for the World Cup. A comfortable 3-1 home win.

RK: Southampton are far too good for Cardiff, who are down and out. I am told that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the sixth highest paid manager in the Premier League. If that’s why he took the job then he deserves to go down with his team. Saints will win this 3-0.

Stoke v Newcastle
AG:
In the last couple of weeks Newcastle have looked as though they have booked their summer holidays and have given up on their season. Mark Hughes certainly won’t let his players think their season is over, so I think Stoke will win 1-0.

RK: Newcastle have been trying to play in their flip flops for the past few weeks and have fallen apart. Stoke didn’t look great last week, but they are half decent at home. 2-0.

Sunderland v Everton
AG:
Gus Poyet’s body language suggests to me that he has already accepted his team are down. Everton are flying, full of confidence and have the incentive of knowing if they win this they move into the top four, ahead of Arsenal. If the Everton players can handle the burden of expectation that brings with it, they will win 2-0.

RK: Sunderland have been hopeless since they lost the League Cup final. All you hear from them these days are excuses. There is nothing left at the club and Everton will stroll this. 3-1.

West Brom v Tottenham 
AG:
West Brom have got a bit of momentum going with a couple of draws and a win in their last few games, and although this is a tough one to call, I am going for a score draw. 1-1.

RK: Pepe Mel has done a great job in extremely difficult circumstances after Steve Clarke was sacked and I think he will keep West Brom up. Tottenham will ask a few questions but I agree with Andy, 1-1.

Arsenal v West Ham
AG:
Arsenal are playing Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final this weekend and if they lose that I think West Ham will get something out of this game on Tuesday night. If Arsenal win, they will be feeling good about themselves and will beat West Ham and that is what I think will happen. 3-1.

RK: I think Arsenal will reach the FA Cup final, but I don’t agree that means they will then go on and beat the Hammers. I think the Arsenal players will be more interested in making sure they don’t get injured for the FA Cup final. I reckon they will fancy a winner’s medal a lot more than finishing in fourth place and there is nothing Sam Allardyce would love to do more than cause Arsene Wenger some heartache. 1-1.

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Holders Bayern face Real test as Chelsea draw Atletico

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The Champions League semi-final draw has pitted Chelsea against Atletico Madrid and incumbent champions Bayern Munich against Real Madrid.

Atletico will host Chelsea at the Vicente Calderon stadium on the 22 April with the second-leg at Stamford Bridge scheduled eight days later.

Real, meanwhile, will host Bayern at the Bernabeu before making the trip to the Allianz Arena for what promises to be a mouth-watering tie.

After reports had stated that Atelico Madrid's on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could be withdrawn from any potential tie between his loan and parent clubs, UEFA released a strong statement saying the young Belgian will be eligible for Atletico regardless of any agreement in place betrween the two clubs.

The statement read: "Both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations contain clear provisions which strictly forbid any club to exert, or attempt to exert, any influence whatsoever over the players that another club may (or may not) field in a match.

"It follows that any provision in a private contract between clubs which might function in such a way as to influence who a club fields in a match is null, void and unenforceable so far as UEFA is concerned.

"Furthermore, any attempt to enforce such a provision would be a clear violation of both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations and would therefore be sanctioned accordingly.

In the Europa League semi-final draw, Juventus will face Benfica and Sevilla have been drawn against fellow La Liga side Valencia.

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Bayern produce storming comeback to advance into UCL last four

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Ruthless Robben: the Dutchman helped Bayern seal semi-final spot with classy display.

Holders Bayern Munich romped into the Champions League semi-finals with a 3-1 victory in the second-leg at home to Manchester United meaning it ended 4-2 on aggregate.

Having drawn 1-1 at Old Trafford in last week's first-leg, Bayern had to come from behind after United's left-back Patrice Evra put the guests ahead with a superb second-half strike at Munich's Allianz Arena.

But Bayern equalised just 69 seconds later through a diving Mario Mandzukic header, the first of their three goals in the final half an hour.

Thomas Muller then tapped Bayern into the lead before Arjen Robben slotted the hosts third to knock David Moyes' United out of the competition.

"I thought the players did a great job tonight, the only crime was that we let them equalise just a few seconds later," said Moyes.

"We contained them for long periods of time, but it wasn't to be."

Defensive midfielder Michael Carrick said the United squad were devastated to have thrown away the lead in Munich.

"We're bitterly disappointed to go out," claimed Carrick.

"We put ourselves in a great position after getting the opening goal – but the equaliser straight after was a big blow for us.

"I thought we might go on to score again, but in the end it's a defeat and one we'll have to take."

Bayern join Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Chelsea in the final four with the Bavarians eager to defend their title in the May 24 final in Lisbon.

"The first ten minutes after the break were a catastrophe for us as they took the lead," said Robben with Bayern on the verge of their fourth Champions League final in five years.

"It was important that we got the equaliser quickly, now we have just one more opponent before the Lisbon final."

The first-half was a tense, tactical affair with Bayern failing to exploit their customary 70 percent possession as United packing their defence, forced the Germans to attack through the middle with little success.

Manchester's wing-backs Phil Jones and Evra worked tirelessly to contain Bayern's wingers Robben and Franck Ribery, limiting the Bavarians' main source of chances.

Just as they had in the first-leg, United gave a masterclass in how to defend against Bayern's star-studded attack with their deep-lying defence quickly closing down any spaces the Germans managed to open up and tightly marking Bayern's stars.

The 10 first-half chances Bayern created in peppering the United goal compared to the single Manchester effort- when Antonio Valencia had a goal disallowed, told its own tale.

United looked to have taken a first-half lead when Valencia converted Wayne Rooney's cross at the back post, but the effort was ruled offside.

Robben was United's chief tormentor in the first 45 minutes and he threatened with a probing run into the area before his final shot was charged down just before the half-time whistle.

United put the Bayern defence under pressure after the break and they were rewarded when Evra gave the guests the lead with a thunderbolt of a shot which gave Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer no chance as it hit the top right-hand corner on 57 minutes.

The lead lasted just under two minutes as Ribery was released on the left wing and his cross was met by Mandzukic who beat Evra to the diving header.

The relief from the Bayern squad was palpable as the Croatia international unleashed a primal scream after his equaliser.

The goals breathed life into the match as space suddenly opened up for both teams to attack.

United had their chances after but England striker Rooney, who played despite the effects of a badly bruised toe, mistimed his shot with only Neuer to beat.

Germany's Muller then put the defending champions into the last four when he flicked Robben's cross past United goalkeeper David de Gea on 68 minutes.

And the hosts turned the screw on United when Robben was finally rewarded with a 76th-minute goal which he had threatened to produce all night.The Dutch winger cut across the United defence, then buried his shot past the diving De Gea into the bottom left-hand corner to complete Bayern's fight-back.

MAN OF THE MATCH:

Arjen Robben

The Dutch star wins few fans with his histrionics and kidology, but when he is in the mood he can be a menace. He displayed all the good traits of his game- aside from the expected spot of greed- as he ran United ragged, picking out Muller for Bayern’s second before notching a classy individual goal.

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