Big guns face potential upsets in last eight

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2005, 12:00am

Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle - favourites for the FA Cup - are all rated odds-on shots in this weekend's quarter-finals, but they may not find things as easy as the betting suggests.

All three were beaten the last time they played their FA Cup opponents at the same venues. It is only two months since Arsenal lost 1-0 at Bolton, and now they must go back to the Reebok Stadium without both Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell.

Bolton are in good form, with six wins out of eight since their last meeting with Arsenal, but their overall record against the big clubs suggests they are more likely to draw than to win. The best option is to go with Bolton on the handicap HAD.

Southampton are the hosts against Manchester United, who lost 1-0 on their last visit to St Mary's in August 2003. Southampton have lost only two of their 15 home games this season.United's away form has been much improved in recent months and last week's disappointing 0-0 at Crystal Palace may have been a blip, but Southampton's resurgence under Harry Redknapp has to make them worth considering on the handicap HAD. Newcastle are not unstoppable either in tomorrow night's home game against Tottenham, who won 1-0 on their last visit to St James's Park back in August.

Of the three big teams, though, Newcastle are the only side being offered at their true odds and they look a decent bet. Blackburn are hot favourites at home to Championship outfit Leicester in the other quarter-final. Leicester won away to Charlton - a better team than Blackburn - in the last round, but they haven't won in four league games since (failing to score in three of them) and are hard to fancy. Low goals looks a good bet in this match.

In the European leagues, the match of the weekend is in the German Bundesliga, where leaders Bayern Munich visit second-placed Schalke. The home side stand out as the best handicap bet, with the draw a no-bet scenario. Bayern haven't won at Schalke for almost 61/2 years and have lost on their last four visits.

There are two other good bets in Germany. Kaiserslautern, who have climbed into the top half with a good run since the winter break, should dispose of Borussia Monchengladbach.

The visitors are winless away and are the Bundesliga's lowest scorers on the road, with six goals from 11 games.

In the big relegation clash, Rostock have been more solid since the winter break and their confidence should have been boosted by last week's 1-0 win at Hannover. Bochum haven't gained a single away point since September.

The best bets in Spain are Sevilla at home to Zaragoza and improving Villarreal, who host Espanyol. Sevilla had a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Parma in their midweek Uefa Cup tie but they should bounce back here.

Bologna are the best bet in Serie A. They have performed well against several sides above them and should have no trouble beating second-bottom Siena.

Best home fixtures: Kaiserslautern, Rostock, Bologna, Sevilla, Villarreal.

Best aways: Deportivo.

High goals: Wolfsburg v Hannover.

Low goals: Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers v Leicester City.

Thousand-dollar wager

Each week our expert tipster Nick Pulford suggests his pick of the fixtures to offer the best return-to-risk ratio for a $1,000 bet.

This week:

$200 win: Kaiserslautern, Rostock, Bologna, Sevilla, Villarreal.