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No stopping Newcastle's title charge

Expert views on the big football issues

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez
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Steve Davies
Racing Post Sport

What’s your best bet of the weekend?
Southend at home to Northampton in Sky Bet League One. The Shrimpers are one of the form teams in the section and their only losses since October have come against Sheffield United and Millwall. The last visitors to Roots Hall were Scunthorpe and they were seen off so Northampton – who have lost four in a row on their travels – look set to suffer a similar fate.

Which favourite looks the most vulnerable?
MK Dons at home to Fleetwood. The Dons have picked up under Robbie Neilson but they don’t score enough goals and are going to struggle to get the better of a Fleetwood side, who have lost only one of their last 20. Fleetwood are in the middle of a tough run of games and are acquitting themselves well.

Would you change anything to improve the FA Cup or is it fine as it is?
It’s fine as it is. Forget contrived seedings, bye rounds for European sides like they get in the League Cup, obligations to pick the best teams. The FA Cup is what it is, and has flourished because the competition has undergone so few tweaks. Crowds are down because ticket prices are high while money’s tight generally. That’s nothing to do with the FA Cup.

Should Arsenal start next season with a new manager?
Probably, though I don’t see it making a huge difference short-term. History is littered with managers who struggled to replace legends – Terry Neill, Wilf McGuinness, Bruce Rioch, David Moyes spring to mind – and the shadow of Wenger and relative failure will hang over the Emirates. A sledgehammer approach might not be a bad shout – so go for Diego Simeone.

Who will be crowned Sky Bet Championship winners?
Newcastle. Best squad, top manager and unlikely to let up once promotion has been clinched. They’ve got a massive week at the end of the month with three games in eight days, away at Brighton, Huddersfield and Reading. With that tricky period in mind you probably wouldn’t want to take too short a price about the Magpies.

Give us a winner on the midweek coupon
Leverkusen are so hit-and-miss that they are the sort of team you might want to side with at big odds – and they are a big price at home to Atletico. Atletico are masters at securing the right result, but Leverkusen know that if they don’t secure a lead in Germany, they’re heading out. They could throw the kitchen sink at Atletico and are worth a bet.

Didi Hamann
Champions League winner

What’s your best bet of the weekend?
Tottenham at Fulham. Mauricio Pochettino needs to take this seriously. For all the title talk, Tottenham look held by Chelsea and Man City. The problem then is that Pochettino gets obsessed with a top-four finish. He should be looking to win the FA Cup if he wants to go down in White Hart Lane folklore. The Gent defeat might encourage Poch to give this tie a go.

Which favourite looks the most vulnerable?
Chelsea. Their squad isn’t the biggest so any changes made by Antonio Conte will have an impact. After the draws at Liverpool and Burnley, the Italian will be well aware that the title race is far from over. Wolves have beaten Stoke and Liverpool and their recent trio of defeats have all been by the odd goal. I’m sure they’ve had eyes on this fixture.

Would you change anything to improve the FA Cup or is it fine as it is?
As a two-time winner, I’ve got nothing but affection for the FA Cup and wouldn’t change a lot. I wouldn’t be averse to giving the winner a Champions League place. It would give the Premier League a jolt, but it could re-ignite the cup. I’ve got no time for fines for team changes or stipulating how many first-teamers must play – it’s up to the clubs what they do.

Should Arsenal start next season with a new manager?
Wednesday night answered that question. Arsenal fans are vocal about the type of manager they want, but they are the wrong people to ask. The board need to take a long look at what’s required and that means a man who does not fit the Wenger mould. To me it’s a choice between Rafa Benitez and Diego Simeone – and I’d go for Benitez because he knows the league.

Who will be crowned Sky Bet Championship winners?
Newcastle. The depth of their squad will prove key. They’re a short price and normally I would be reluctant to get involved, especially when automatic promotion is more important than the title. But if the Magpies were to go up with games to spare, they won’t let up as Rafa will want to use those games as planning for the Premier League.

Give us a winner on the midweek coupon
Manchester City look a solid punt at home to Monaco. City have rediscovered their touch after a sticky period and Guardiola knows, after running out of steam with Bayern, how to pace his team right for these midweek matches. I’d also put City in a double with Seville, who I can see taking Leicester to the cleaners.


Alex Hilton
Racing Post Sport

What’s your best bet of the weekend?
Preston have lost just one of their last seven Sky Bet Championship outings and they should have the stomach for the Lancashire hotpot at Wigan. The Latics are fighting for their Championship lives and have improved recently but they should come up short against a Lilywhites side still chasing, albeit slim, playoff hopes.  

Which favourite looks the most vulnerable?
Leicester. The flailing Foxes haven’t won for eight matches and don’t seem to be up for the fight, which doesn’t bode well for a trip to Millwall. Things have unravelled quickly at the Premier League champions who find themselves in a relegation battle. Wednesday’s trip to Seville is looming large and could be a huge distraction.      

Would you change anything to improve the FA Cup or is it fine as it is?
I wouldn’t change a lot. It’s still a great competition, it just needs a few of tweaks. Nobody bar the TV bosses seem to think replays are a good idea anymore and it’s time to get rid. It may also persuade the big clubs not to rest as many players. I’d also do away with the Wembley semis which are just horrid and take some of the shine away from the final.

Should Arsenal start next season with a new manager?
Yes. Occasional FA Cup wins and a top-four finish each year are great but it’s time to kick on to the next level. There’s been a malaise creeping in for a while and it’ll only get worse. Wenger is a Gunners God but it’s time for a change and it needs to be a complete change. Diego Simeone would instil a fight hugely lacking at the Emirates.

Who will be crowned Sky Bet Championship winners?
It’s impossible to see beyond Newcastle. They’ve got a Premier League-class squad and a world-class manager. Brighton are in danger of tailing off again and the rest of the chasing pack are too hard to trust and keep nicking points off each other.

Give us a winner on the midweek coupon
I expect Seville to wipe the floor with Leicester but at around 4-9 it may be worth sticking them in a double with Juventus who should be way too good for Porto. Overs backers in Manchester City versus Monaco are unlikely to be disappointed either.

Mike Holden
Football analyst

What’s your best bet of the weekend?
Leeds to win at Ipswich. They average more than two points per game against the 20 teams below them. Ipswich could be without three key players – Tom Lawrence is suspended, Toumani Diagouraga is ineligible against his parent club and Luke Chambers cracked a rib against Brighton in midweek.

Which favourite looks the most vulnerable?
I’ll take on Middlesbrough at home to Oxford. Michael Appleton has a brilliant record in knockout competitions. He dumped Arsenal out of the FA Cup at the Emirates with a poor Blackburn side at this stage four years ago. Boro needed 69 minutes to edge out Accrington 1-0 in the last round.

Would you change anything to improve the FA Cup or is it fine as it is?
All gate receipts and TV money should be shared equally between all participating teams on a round-by-round basis. A big payday at Anfield or Old Trafford should not be the main incentive for smaller clubs. The prize money should also be bigger in the earlier rounds. Prestige alone ought to be enough from the semis onwards.

Should Arsenal start next season with a new manager?
Yes. I’ve got great admiration for Arsene Wenger but his demise is painful to watch. Eddie Howe is a fine manager but not the right man to replace Wenger, his approach is too similar. Arsenal fans are desperate for radical change, they’re craving a nasty win-at-all-costs merchant. Someone like Diego Simeone.

Who will be crowned Sky Bet Championship winners?
You look at the two squads and Newcastle have all the Premier League and promotion experience, so you’d have to say them. I’m sure Brighton will get over the line but they’ve had a little wobble and it might yet escalate into something bigger. It’s a big thing when you’ve been outside the top flight for 34 years.

Give us a winner on the midweek coupon
The Manchester City-Monaco game should be great fun. The Monegasques have bagged more than 100 goals this season and Pep Guardiola is bound to fight fire with fire, he always does. So I’m going for over 2.5 second-half goals at around 14-5. It should be frenetic from the first whistle but it might take a while to explode.


Nik Jenkins
Betfred football trader 

What’s your best bet of the weekend?
Millwall have knocked out Premier League opposition in the previous rounds and will fancy their chances against struggling Leicester, who will have their eye on a midweek Champions League trip to Seville.

Which favourite looks the most vulnerable?
I think Tottenham are worth taking on. After a Thursday night away Europa League match they could rotate players and I wouldn’t be touching them at odds-on against a team with a decent home record in Fulham. 

Would you change anything to improve the FA Cup or is it fine as it is?
I think the only way to improve it is to get the big teams to play their strongest teams by giving the fourth Champions League place to the FA Cup winner.

Should Arsenal start next season with a new manager?
No. There aren’t many managers available that would do a better job. Arsenal only have to look at how hard Manchester United have found it to replace Alex Ferguson since he retired.

Who will be crowned Sky Bet Championship winners?
I still think Newcastle will win it. They’ve got too much firepower and the strongest squad which will get them over the line.

Give us a winner on the midweek coupon
Juventus should have too much for an average-looking Porto.

If the Magpies were to go up with games to spare, they won’t let up as Rafa will want to use those games as planning for the Premier League
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