There are several of games of huge importance this bank holiday weekend with silverware and promotion on the line. On Saturday one of the most high stakes games will be the FA Cup final. Arsenal and Chelsea face each other in their season finale at Wembley having both seen off tough competition in the last round. Further south in the continent and it’s the Copa del Rey final between Barcelona and Alaves. No side has won the competition more times than Barcelona while Alaves are making their first final appearance in their 96 year history.
On Sunday it’s the turn of Blackpool and Exeter to step out at Wembley for the League Two play-off final, hoping to secure promotion the hard way. Both sides won 6-5 on aggregate to reach this point so an exciting game looks to be on the cards. Goals were harder to come by in the Championship play-off semi-finals but the two sides who progressed, Huddersfield and Reading, won’t mind at all. With Premier League football at stake, this is truly one of the biggest games in English football.
Saturday 27th May 2017
Arsenal v Chelsea (17:30) – Chelsea to win in 90 minutes (5/6 with Coral)
Arsenal missed out on a top four finish in the Premier League despite winning on the final day and more woe could be coming Arsenal’s way. A loss against one of their London rivals would be hard to swallow for the Gunners’ faithful who have seen their side perform below-par this season. Arsenal come into the game with a couple of major defensive absences; Lauren Koscielny is suspended after getting sent off against Everton on Sunday and Gabriel is set to be out injured. Against a Chelsea attack that has scored 24 goals in the last seven games, this could prove to be decisive.
To reach the final, Chelsea did what few English teams have managed this season and beat Tottenham. It was a controlled performance from Antonio Conte’s side who don’t look phased by the big occasions. His side will be injury free and in buoyant mood following their fantastic end to their league campaign. No side has won the FA Cup more times than Arsenal but history can only count for so much. Chelsea have looked the better side for many months now and it’s too hard to bet against them here.
Barcelona v Alaves (20:30) – Barcelona to win with a -2 handicap (6/5 with Betfred)
Alaves may not have the stature of a club like Barcelona but they are the only side who managed to inflict a league defeat on them at the Nou Camp this season. Their shock 2-1 win came in September, a high point in what has been a solid season for the newly promoted outfit. It is defence rather than attack that has guided them to a top half finish this season. Just 43 goals conceded in 38 league games represents the fifth best record in the league and they’ll need to hope this is enough to stop a lethal looking Barcelona strike force.
It’s important to remember that both Luiz Suarez and Lionel Messi were absent during Barcelona’s shock loss to Alaves and when the two returned for the second meeting, we had a completely different game. The pair both scored as the Catalan giants brushed aside Mauricio Pellegrino’s side 6-0. With Barcelona’s attacking talents in full force for the cup final, another easy victory could well be on the cards. A repeat of that six goal thrashing is probably asking too much but Barca should be able to see this game out by three goals at least.
Sunday 28th May 2017
Blackpool v Exeter (15:00) – Draw (12/5 with BetVictor)
So little separates these sides in the betting. Exeter will begin the game as the very narrow favourites, perhaps partly due to their ability to perform well away from home. No side won more fixtures outside their own ground in League Two this season and only Doncaster scored more goals. It’s the Grecians’ reward for sticking by boss Paul Tisdale after he suffered a poor start to the season. The former Exeter player is the second longest-serving manager in the top four tiers of English football and has taken charge of many huge fixtures for Exeter during his reign.
Gary Bowyer lacks the experience of his counterpart for this tie, having only had only one permanent stint at a major club, Blackburn. It was an unsuccessful spell but he’s turned things around at Blackpool, showing great leadership to clinch the final play-off spot in the face of stiff competition. He’ll be reminding his players that they’ve taken four points from Exeter this season in the hope of claiming a slight psychological edge. Whatever the preparations though, this will be a very tough game for both sides and one which may well need extra time or even penalties to settle it.
Monday 29th May 2017
Huddersfield v Reading (15:00) – Under 2.5 goals (8/13 with Sky Bet)
It’s quite unusual to see a side with a negative goal difference make the play-offs but that’s just what Huddersfield have done and now they are the more fancied side to go up. They can certainly be accused of taking their foot of the gas when a play-off space was secure as the Yorkshire side lost three of their last four league games. This shouldn’t hurt their chances here though as form counts for little in a tense battle like this. It’s often about keeping your nerve and this is something they did when beating Sheffield Wednesday on penalties in order to reach this stage.
Huddersfield haven’t won by big margins much this season and the same can be said about Reading who have also had a tendency to grind out results. Jaap Stam’s possession-based football may not be the most exciting but it has proven very effective this season. It’s unlikely to make this game a particularly goal laden one though, especially as Huddersfield were the second worst goal-scorers in the top half of the table. If you also bear in mind that the Championship play-off final hasn’t produced many goals in recent years, betting on under 2.5 goals looks like a safe wager here.