Can United blast City’s title hopes into oblivion?

Can Angel di Maria (right) make Aleks Kolarov (left) eat his words this week?

Can Angel di Maria (right) make Aleks Kolarov (left) eat his words this week?

Somewhere hidden deep in the heart of Manchester, Louis van Gaal sharpens his sword, reaches for the war paint and perfects his war cry for the baying media. He’s ready for battle. Manuel Pellegrini, tucked away in his office, clutches his hands together and stares across his blueprints. He’s not ready to give up the pride of his adopted blue half of the city. The two men of mass experience will not leave this battle to chance with the allure of local dominance and vast ego massaging awaiting the victor.

It can only mean one thing: the Manchester Derby is back. And yes, it’s still pretty personal.

 

Manchester City v Manchester United Betting Odds:

City win 4/5

United win 3/1

Draw 13/5

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The two sides head into Sundays encounter with differing objectives for the season. For City, anything less than a serious push for Premier League supremacy will not do, whilst United aim to revive the side blown apart over the last eighteen months and secure a vitally important Champions League qualification spot. There may not be the fierce title competition rivalry between the two that has existed previously but this is still a bitter affair.

City have been dominant in recent history over their neighbours with five out of the last six encounters between the two finishing in favour of the Citizens, scoring at least two goals a game across the previous four meets and achieving a 7-1 aggregate scoreline against their red opponents last season. United will take comfort from their solitude victory over that bleak run though, with a 3-2 victory at the Etihaad in December of 2012 demonstrating their ability to win on the road at even the toughest environments. Much of that same United matchday squad still remains at the club, though age and injury has taken its toll on many.

 

Gauging the recent league form of both sides is difficult, for their propensity to throw away winnable matches has been paramount to the collective failings occurred this season. It was only last week that City were completely outplayed by a resurgent West Ham side brimming with vigour and energy, qualities that last season champions simply failed to match for any sustained period, a trend continued midweek against Newcastle. United will be less disappointed with their home draw to Chelsea, though it remains the case that thirteen points from nine league games is a poor early season start from the Red Devils, especially considering that Chelsea represented the first real top four test they have had to face thus far.

What may stand hugely in United’s favour ahead of this clash is their free diary either side. Whilst United have had a week to prepare solely for this match and are gifted a week afterwards to recover, City fielded a strong side in their League Cup defeat against Newcastle. In addition to that they’ll also have to keep one eye on next weeks showdown with CSKA Moscow in a Champions League match they simply have to win to keep their qualification hopes alive and avoid dropping out of the competition at the group stage yet again.

 

City will be without Frank Lampard for Sunday’s clash, whilst United look set to miss the recently sidelined Phil Jones. Van Gaal will have to make a late fitness decision on Radamel Falcao, Antonio Valencia, Paddy McNair, Wayne Rooney and Jonny Evans, with all five battling to be fit in time for their most important game of the season to date, with Pellegrini awaiting further news on the status of Yaya Toure and David Silva, both injured in the midweek Capital One Cup defeat to Newcastle.

Whether Evans or McNair make it back in time will determine how United set up across the back, though Van Gaal is still yet to work out his favoured centre back pairing, having made more personnel changes than the Sugababes. This could be music to the ears of Sergio Aguero, City’s star man who will wish to continue his fine individual form return from injury and add to his current 9 goal tally (which currently places him atop the Premier League goalscoring charts).

However, Pellegrini will be desperately hoping to see the return to form of another player whose early season struggles have been well documented by the media, undoubtedly fuelled by memories of pre-season cake shenanigans. That man – Yaya Toure, should he return in time – has so far coasted through the start of use season rarely pushing out of first gear and is long overdue a domineering brute force display. Should Toure find his top form, coupled with the space that a fit David Silva may be able to utilise against United’s attacking set up, City could easily find themselves in the goals.

 

Nevertheless, City’s defence showed vulnerabilities against Tottenham, West Ham and Newcastle, teams with less firepower than that available to United. Angel Di Maria may therefore prove pivotal in finding the gaps and unlocking the opportunities for Van Persie and Falcao should the Colombian make it back in time. All the same, it’ll be important for the reds to remain disciplined, particularly on the flanks where City can cause damage with their overlapping full backs confident in supporting attacks.

City full back Aleksandar Kolarov stoked up the fire earlier this week by claiming that City had been superior to their opponents for the last five to six years. Comments like this will only fire up a Manchester United squad growing in confidence and belief week on week as demonstrated by Luke Shaw, who told journalists, “It has been a fight, but we talk in the dressing room and at training and we know we’ve still got the best to come. I don’t think we are playing our best at the moment, although you saw bits against Chelsea.”

 

Sunday will truly show just how far both sides have come and how far they need to go to achieve their respective season goals. A win for City here will place pressure on Chelsea in the title race, whilst victory for United will send out a message to the rest of the league that they are back in business. The stakes are high – how will the dice roll?

 

Betting Instinct tip – with firepower up front for two unconvincing sides, back the score draw at 5.51 with Intertops.eu

 

CONNOR JIPPSconnor avatar  is a young sports writer and student at De Montfort University. His main topics of focus when writing are tennis, rugby and soccer, with a particular focus on Tottenham Hotspur, editing his own blog www.SPURStalk.co.uk. Follow Connor on Twitter.

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Things We’ll Learn This Month – November

Can Mario Balotelli's first domestic goal for Liverpool inspire a fruitful November?

Can Mario Balotelli’s first domestic goal for Liverpool inspire a fruitful November?

October is almost over, so now it’s time to embrace the wintry delights of November, with its bonfires, its toffee apples and its anti-catholicism. There’s some football games scheduled as well, let’s see if any of them might be capable of bringing a bit of sunshine to our bleak existences.

 

The opening weekend of the month sees the first Manchester derby of the season, it’s been a pretty reliable fixture in terms of entertainment value recently, with late goals, comedy errors and the odd hiding thrown in to keep us amused. United are a different beast to the pale imitation of a football side David Moyes was in charge of last season, they still aren’t particularly good, the defence is awful and the midfield hasn’t really been fixed but they do have Angel Di Maria and he’s part footballer part magic elf (by that I mean he’s good and looks like an elf) so they pose a far greater threat than 12 months ago.

City meanwhile have problems of their own, namely in the shape of a sulky Yaya Toure but when a side can call on Sergio Aguero and David Silva then they’re never going to be far short of ‘pretty bloody good’. City will probably win because they’re a better football side but United should have enough about them to ensure November starts with a bang (I think that might be a firework joke, sorry). Also on the first weekend we have Burnley travelling to play Arsenal, Burnley are a Championship team in all but name, Arsenal will still somehow struggle, there might, if we’re lucky be some booing, Arsenal fans are some of the best booers in the league. You don’t want to miss that.

Betting Instinct tip – Manchester City and Arsenal to both win this weekend is 2.25 with Intertops.eu

 

On to the second weekend and the big one is Chelsea visiting Anfield. With Mario Balotelli doing a passable impression of Chelsea era Fernando Torres/Andry Shevchenko/Adrian Mutu/Mateja Kezman and Chelsea doing a passable impression of a first Mourinho era Chelsea side only much prettier, you’d have to expect we’ll be hearing more creative excuses from Brendan come the final whistle. Maybe this time Balotelli’s hair will be the problem? or his choice of aftershave? Ah well, let’s just hope no one swaps shirts prematurely, we all know that’s the real scourge of modern football, and Brendan won’t stand for it (I thought it was holding in the box – ed.)

Having looked at the fixtures, West Ham actually have a pretty easy month, maybe this top 4 charge isn’t so unlikely, maybe we’ll get to see Big Sam manage at the Bernabeu after all or maybe Andy Carroll will come back and they’ll revert to type, long diagonals into the big man with Kevin Nolan feeding of the scraps. It’s hard to tell (no it isn’t – ed.).

 

During November we also have one of those international ‘week of football’ things, normally this would send us all into a fit of despair so deep that many of us would never fully recover but in this instance we have a genuinely big game to look forward to. It’s the battle of the Celts at Celtic Park as Scotland entertain Ireland, two evenly matched sides with everything to play for on a Friday night in Glasgow, it’ll be brilliant, or if not brilliant then at least a bit violent (amusing violence not real violence that is). A few days after that it’s the turn of England to take on the resurgent Scots but because I promised to take my girlfriend to see Jack White the same night (before I realised there was a clash (it’s part of her birthday as well, no getting out of it (not that I want to get out of it if you’re reading honey*))) I completely refuse to discuss it.

 Betting Instinct tip – Ireland (9/1) and Scotland (16/1) are generously priced with Coral to qualify from Group D

 

When Premier League action resumes the stand out game is probably Arsenal vs Man United. This fixture which has given so much over the years has been diminished somewhat with the cooling of hostilities between the two camps. During the later years of the Ferguson reign there was even signs of a mutual respect beginning to emerge, which I think we can all agree is frankly unacceptable. However whilst there will almost certainly be no food fights or the like, we do have the prospect of two talented but fragile sides going head to head, a scenario that often results in goals and red cards, and I’m not sure you can ask for more than that.

 

* I obviously don’t call my girlfriend honey.


Ally avatarALLY MONCRIEFF

Can Brees banish the road blues at last?

The Saints face a crucial game against the Panthers.

Drew Brees and the Saints need to get winning on the road!

One thing is pretty much certain in the NFL – if you can’t win on the road, then you have little chance of making the Super Bowl!

After starting the season as one of the favorites to challenge in the NFC title race, the New Orleans Saints now have to change their priorities in order to keep their season alive. Drew Brees and Co. are almost unbeatable at their own Superdome, but currently just cannon-fodder on the road. Eight straight regular season away defeats since last November are a sorry tale indeed and everyone at the franchise knows that this needs to be changed quickly.

Just four days after showing what potential they have by thrashing highly-fancied Green Bay in Week 8, the Saints travel to NFC South rival Carolina on Thursday desperate to make a statement away from their own fans at last. Luckily the division is the worst in the NFL at the moment with no team able to boast a positive record so far.

After starting the season with two wins, the Panthers have managed just one victory in their last six games, but are still top of the division standings. Last week saw them put up strong resistance against defending Super Bowl champion Seattle before eventually going down 13-9.

Thursday’s game could have a crucial bearing on the NFC South title race because however bad the teams are throughout the season, the division champion lives to fight another day in the playoffs! The Saints will be highly motivated to beat their rivals, overtake them in the standings and prove that they can win on the road after all!

NFL Week 9: New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers Betting Odds:

New Orleans Saints 1.71
Carolina Panthers 2.20

To win the NFC South Odds:

New Orleans Saints          1.5
Carolina Panthers            2.85
Atlanta Falcons                13.0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers  67.0

All odds provided by allyoubet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change

CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on football — both NFL American football and European football.  Chris discusses betting tips and trends and includes betting odds in his regular posts at BI

 

Five results to put your money on for Manchester United versus Chelsea

Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj could be surprisingly influential against Chelsea

Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj could be surprisingly influential against Chelsea

With Manchester United still struggling to wake up to the realities of the post-Ferguson era at Old Trafford, their old stronghold, the so-called Theatre Of Dreams, has never been more fittingly named. The yawning gaps at the back of Louis Van Gaal’s system remains the stuff of nightmares, with the stilted boredom-ball of David Moyes’ era replaced by humiliating away defeats to Leicester City and MK Dons.

Chelsea on the other hand look like a team bang on schedule. Last season, Jose Mourinho arrived to find a club that, to his mind, looked a bit too casual in how it rose itself from its own slumber. This season, the Portuguese and his devastating new duo of attacking talent—Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas—have acted like an extra strong shot of coffee fired straight down the gullets of Eden Hazard and co. Already five points clear of their title rivals, Manchester City, after just eight games, the Blues can boast a total of 22 points from their furious start to their campaign. Still undefeated, the worst result they’ve managed to record so far has been a draw, and that was against City at the Etihad: arguably their most testing game of the season.

Yet their second trip up to Manchester comes with a hefty dose of uncertainty over the fitness of Costa and his dodgy hamstring. He may not be bed-ridden, but if his problems are as severe as many of the papers believe, it’s unlikely that he will be able to make it onto the field to face United. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mourinho has massaged the state of a player’s injury in order to keep an opponent guessing however.

 

Manchester United v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Manchester United win 17/10

Chelsea win 7/5

Draw 12/5

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Given the confusion over the state of his talismanic striker’s leg muscle, here’s five potential outcomes of Chelsea’s away visit to Old Trafford to mull over, and the odds you need to look out for if any of them take your fancy.

If you’ve been watching much of Brian Cox’s new series, and believe in multi-verse theory, then we can’t be wrong. Somewhere in another reality these will all take place. Unfortunately, we only have access to markets that relate to happenings in this universe. Which is a shame.

 

Result #1: Manchester United 0-2 Chelsea (9/1 with Intertops.eu)

A shadowy robed figure approaches the matchday officials holding Chelsea’s official team sheet. As the receivers eyes roam down the list, the name of a certain Brazilian-born, Spanish striker’s name rolls into view.

“Diego Costa is…” they begin, before the man throws off his cloak and announces “Yes! It is I: Diego Costa!” before promptly trying to get a rise out of the refereeing team by sticking a wet finger in his ear, tweaking his nipple and generally trying to be as obnoxiously macho and irritating as possible.

On the pitch, his desire to distress those around him produces two wonderfully taken goals to puncture Van Gaal’s pre-match talk about his team raising their game to defeat their in-form foe; his defence buckling once again thanks to some slapdash positioning by Phil Jones and a numerical disadvantage in their own half.

 

Result #2: Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea (12/1 with AllYouBet.ag)

A shadowy robed figure approaches the match day officials and tries to same schtick but this time is reprimanded by Phil Dowd and ruled unavailable to play the match for being a bit of a dick.

Loic Remy, Chelsea’s other walking wounded scorer of the occasional wonder goal, replaces his team mate up front, scores the Blues first goal and then once again breaks down with just 15 minutes played. Didier Drogba replaces him.

With Mourinho’s plans doubley disrupted, United’s attackers show their individual class with Robin van Persie peeling away from Filipe Luis to slip a silky shot past Thibaut Courtois. Radamel Falcao soon follows, getting on the end of a wonderfully crafted scoop pass from Angel di Maria.

However, with four minutes of injury time to play, Chelsea win a corner. Fabregas sends in a wicked delivery and who else but Drogba, the man himself, rises highest to greet the ball and send it crashing down over the line and past David De Gea.

Van Gaal shakes his head and raps his notepad in frustration. It’s a draw.

 

Result #3 Manchester United 3-2 Chelsea (25/1 with Intertops.eu)

There is no shadowy figure. Costa hasn’t made it, and turns up in stands looking understandably upset at not being able to play against United. Those around him bear the brunt of his irritatible mood through Chinese burns and a barrage of popcorn kernels to the back of their heads.

Remy again starts but struggles through the first half and isn’t able to continue into the second. United are already 1-0 up from a long range strike from Angel Di Maria. Drogba replaces the Frenchman for the final 45 minutes.

Yet it’s not the Ivorian who makes the biggest impact in the second half, as Hazard takes it upon himself to expose the fraudulent defending of Jones and Marco Rojo to run through United’s backline in search of an equaliser, which he finds with just five minutes of the second period played.

The hosts respond through Falcao, a one time Chelsea target, who runs clear of John Terry to chip Cech who is surprised off his line. Again, the Blues comeback though, this time through Branislav Ivanovic, who tears Luke Shaw apart on his way into the box for an emphatic net-breaker from just inside De Gea’s area.

Just as the narrative predicted however, the man cast away by Mourinho comes back to haunt him, and on the 87th minute, Juan Mata steps up to take a freekick from a dangerous position, and just like how he used to be Chelsea’s decisive man versus United with a dead ball, he curls his shot home to score the winner.

 

Result #4: Manchester United 5-1 Chelsea (150/1 with Coral.co.uk)

Daley Blind lines up at left wing-back with Van Persie up front, Adnan Januzaj behind him, and a midfield made up of Mata, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, as United suprise everyone by going back to playing the 3-5-2 that served Van Gaal so well at the World Cup.

Early on, it looks like a bad idea however, with Chelsea scoring first through Costa after Fabregas set free his countryman with a beautiful long ball over the top. However, the tide soon changes as Blind arcs a fantastic effort from left-back onto the head of Van Persie. Everyone in the press box, the stands and in the technical areas double blinks. Something has been changed in The Matrix.

Shell-shocked by this recycled act from recent history, Chelsea fall apart as Januzaj goes all Arjen Robben and runs the Blues to pieces. It ends 5-1. Everybody is too terrified by what they have just witnessed to celebrate.

 

Result #5: Manchester United P-P Chelsea

Roman Abramovich pilots a drone carrying a mural of Peter Kenyon and himself shaking over an image of Manchester shaded in Chelsea blue. The fans lose it and storm the pitch while the visitors become incensed when Januzaj decides to pull down the flag.

Phil Dowd sends the players to the tunnel. The match is postponed, although it is later ruled as a 3-0 victory for United, who are also docked three points for their part in the fiasco.

 

BONUS BALL: Manchester United vs. Chelsea – Match abandoned due to vacuum meta-instability event

After having perfected our multi-verse accumulator with the first five predictions, the structural integrity of our reality begins to buckle, because nobody—not even the unseen spectral super-beings who control dark matter—likes a smart arse.

Phil Dowd looks up to the sky as a swirling vortex of purple lightning and crimson clouds appears above Old Trafford. The whistle drops from his mouth before he can blow it as his jaw and eyes gape in terrified awe at the sight of the heavens in flux.

Unfortunately for the Premier League title race, and wider human interests, existence is about to come to an end as a tear within the fabric of reality envelopes our world, and all worlds, along with everything else in every universe, all at once. Rooney stamps the ground in anger. City enter the apocalypse as the last champions of England, with Chelsea top of the table. If only he’d seen through one of his transfer requests to the bitter end, he might have had a chance to enter oblivion at the top of his game.

Somewhere in the Far East, a canny member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement wins millions in a niche underground betting market. Today was his lucky day!

 

And that, children, is why Brian Cox isn’t keen on football.

 

Greg avatar GREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to  FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football  blog and podcast. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

NFL: Lions and Falcons out to impress on Wembley debut

It hasn't happened overnight, but British fans are definitely warming to NFL

It hasn’t happened overnight, but British fans are definitely warming to NFL

Who would have thought it? The NFL is making a huge splash in England. American popular culture has always fascinated us English, but whilst our music charts are filled with the newest American teen stars and our TVs are constantly broadcasting American sitcoms, American sport has not had an easy ride across the Atlantic. Really, promoting the NFL in England would be about as hopeless as promoting the Premier League in the US….

So in the same month, the Premier League are exploring plans to play in the US, and on the back of Wembley hosting three NFL games this year instead of the regular one-off, there are even noises of a London NFL franchise. Finally, the best of American sport is finally beginning to capture the minds of us English. So here is your guide to this weekend’s NFL game at Wembley, and your invitation to jump on the English NFL bandwagon.

The first NFL game at Wembley this season (Miami Dolphins vs Oakland Raiders) was a particularly unglamorous matchup between two teams with slim playoff aspirations, but the Falcons vs Lions game is on a whole different level.

 

Atlanta Falcons v Detroit Lions Betting Odds:

Falcons win +170

Lions win -200 

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Atlanta brings perhaps one of the most exciting NFL offenses to England, however their very leaky defense has been the catalyst for four losses in a row that has seen a promising start slump to 2-5, and Matt Ryan’s aesthetically pleasing passing game has been far less successful on the road in comparison to his scintillating home performances. The Falcons are not the team they were at the beginning of September, and some serious changes are needed, but if Ryan and their offense can find their best form, they are certainly a danger. Let’s put it this way, even on current form, they are no Oakland Raiders… It’s a big game for Atlanta, since their playoff aspirations desperately need resuscitating, and anything other than a win at Wembley to end their 0-4 slump could leave the Falcons season flatlining.

The Detroit Lions provide them with a genuinely fascinating test at Wembley, boasting the 1st ranked defense in the NFL and an impressive 5-2 record. They have a plethora of established offensive talent including last season’s Superbowl winner Golden Tate, legendary running back Reggie Bush, and ‘Megatron’, aka Calvin Johnson, a wide receiver with incredible physical prowess that more than deserves his robotic nickname (though he is doubtful for this weekend with an ankle injury). Make no mistake, this team has genuine Super Bowl potential, and could potentially be the best NFL team to ever cross the Atlantic. However, their season has been plagued by a less than impressive offensive line, which has meant that quarterback Matthew Stafford has not been able to get his talented offense going thus far, having been sacked a whopping 24 times already this season. If the Falcons defensive line can put pressure on Stafford, this game may be far closer than it’s lining up to be on paper.

 

Realistically the Falcons are up against it here, and statistical indicators suggest that Atlanta don’t really have the weapons to put the kind of pressure on Matthew Stafford to keep the Lions offense quiet. The Atlanta offense faces it’s toughest test yet, and on current form, the Falcons best chance of gaining any decent field position is through a repetitive series of 4th down punts. The Lions, on the other hand, could finally showcase their offensive talent against a very questionable Atlanta defense, and run out clear winners here. Expect to see plenty of points and entertainment, but Detroit to run out clear winners. It’s likely this will be the game that the NFL world starts taking the Lions’ Super Bowl chances very seriously.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Back the Lions -3.5 at -115 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Scott AvatarSCOTT SIMPKIN is a young sports journalist from the UK with a growing interest in sports in the US, particularly American football and Baseball. He has previously contributed to publications including Palatinate Online and FourFourTwo

Real Madrid out for revenge against unpredictable Liverpool

Jay Spearing's cameo was an integral part of Liverpool's most memorable meeting with Real Madrid

Jay Spearing’s cameo was an integral part of Liverpool’s most memorable meeting with Real Madrid

 

‘We made Madrid look like sidemen.’

So went the tweeted verdict of one Liverpool fan reflecting on his side’s 2009 Champions League demolition of the current competition holders. And, it’s true, they did. Liverpool are these days no strangers to making entire teams look like ‘sidemen’, of course; despite a rocky start to this campaign, the last saw sideman after sideman capitulating to the talents of Suarez, Sturridge, Rodgers, and the rest. But there was a greater romance to the feat five years ago: Ryan Babel laid on a goal; Andrea Dossena scored; and in the ultimate indignity for the Spanish side, Jay Spearing replaced Steven Gerrard with fifteen minutes still to play (‘After the skewering, the Spearing’, as Henry Winter so characteristically put it).

Though at least Liverpool had some romance to lose. Their opponents on Wednesday are the antithesis of such an idea. Real Madrid aren’t a team, but a machine – if anything too well oiled – at once both beautiful and ugly. Cristiano Ronaldo spits on your ‘romance’, Pepe headbutts it, and Carlo Ancelotti neatly – but firmly – files it away in a drawer.

They showed it again in Saturday’s 5-0 trashing of Levante. Ronaldo scored his tenth goal in four league games and his fifteenth this season, bringing his Football Manager average rating up to a staggering 9.37 in the process: truly unprecedented. The week before that? Another 5-0 win at home to Athletic Club. Though they sit third in La Liga, their results of late (in all competitions) have been nothing short of ridiculous: since the 2-1 loss to Atletico on September 13, the list reads, 5-1, 8-2, 5-1, 2-0, 2-1, 5-0, 5-0. Gareth Bale will be injured for the away side, and a potential distraction lurks in the background in the form of Saturday’s El Clasico, but even taking both into account, Liverpool ought to be worried.

 

Liverpool v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Liverpool win 3/1

Real Madrid win 4/5

Draw 13/5

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The English side’s weekend win at QPR was an absurd spectacle; one that you would think had been made up were it not for the eminently plausible event of a Richard Dunne own goal. Absurd, perversely impressive, but far from convincing, it was a performance that will no doubt encourage Real Madrid. Liverpool, remember, have some of their own injury problems – Sturridge is out for another few weeks; Raheem Sterling might well, if he can keep his eyes open, watch from home with some warm milk and a blanket – and their form in Europe has been patchy at best: the last gasp win at home to Ludogorets was concerning enough, but to follow it up with a 1-0 loss to Basel was to put their place in the competition in doubt.

 

It could well be that Liverpool need a tie like this, something to kickstart their stuttering season. There is (rightly) much made of the Anfield atmosphere on big European nights, and Wednesday should be, to quote Rodgers, ‘special’: ‘To see that flag back out in the middle of the pitch and for the supporters to get behind their team, like they do, is going to be an amazing experience.’ Being excited, however, is not the same as being prepared.

There will be no repeat of 2009’s 4-0, not this time. And if you can find odds on Mario Balotelli pulling down Pepe’s shorts, kicking him up the backside, and telling him that he looked better baldy, take them. With such a craaaazy guy – What’s he gonna do next? Dye his hair RED? HAHA! – leading the line, Liverpool have next to no chance. Far better to take a punt on the dependable Rickie Lambert, a man much more likely to terrorise young Raphael Varane than he who dragged his country, kicking and screaming, to the final of Euro 2012.

Otherwise, as a Real Madrid supporting friend of the Liverpool fan we met earlier replied, ‘this time we will see who will be the wasteman.’ It’s up to you, Brendan.

 

Betting Instinct tip Real Madrid to win by two or more goals is 37/20 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Kieran avatar KIERAN DODDS  is a masters student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others. Follow Kieran on Twitter.

NBA Season Preview: Spurs Old Guard Poised for a Final Shot at Glory

Does Tim Duncan have another year at the top left in him?

Does Tim Duncan have another year at the top left in him?

With less than a week until the new NBA season tips off, it’s prediction time again and the two conferences are intriguing for very different reasons.

Out West, the same old question has taken on new significance after the Spurs triumphed in the Finals last season: “Are they too old to contend?”  Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have an average age of almost 36, but the evergreen band is back together along with most of last year’s supporting cast.  Kawhi Leonard has another season’s experience, as the Finals MVP no less, and rookie Kyle Anderson may just have landed in the best place to utilise his unique talents.  Write off Gregg Popovich at your peril, and the Spurs are the likely favourites to come out of the West in May.  But surely this is the last time.

 

NBA Western Conference Betting Odds:

San Antonio Spurs +225

Oklahoma City Thunder +260

Los Angeles Clippers +450

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The two teams best placed to dethrone the Spurs have questions of their own to answer.  The Oklahoma City Thunder must find a way to manage without reigning MVP Kevin Durant for the first two months of the season while he recovers from a Jones fracture.  Expect to see Russell Westbrook in full gunslinger mode, while sparkplug Reggie Jackson will get more touches early on to prove he deserves a contract extension.  Even then, the Thunder may struggle without the 32ppg Durant averaged last year, but it’s better to be without them in November and December than in April and May.  The Thunder will stay afloat without KD early on, and he will have enough time to play himself into form before the postseason, where he and Westbrook will have renewed aspirations of their first title.

Meanwhile the Los Angeles Clippers, free from the drama that marred last season, must finally decide if they are ready to take the next step in their transformation and compete for a championship.  Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are entering their third season together in “Lob City”, but have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs.  Last year Paul was the best passer in the league, Jordan led the NBA in rebounding and Griffin finished third in the MVP voting – if each can build on their individual games and play as the team we know they can, the Western Conference crown could belong to the “other team” in LA.

 

Things are a lot easier to predict in the Eastern Conference, where two superstars will take to their home floors again with the NBA title in their sights.  LeBron James’ decision to return to Cleveland shook up the landscape of the NBA even more than most of us could have predicted it might.  Depending on who you choose to believe, the Cavs, at the request of James, brokered a deal with the Timberwolves that would bring All Star forward Kevin Love to Ohio for a package centred around this year’s heralded No. 1 pick, Andrew Wiggins.  Kyrie Irving completed Cleveland’s new “Big Three”, which immediately made them the bookies’ favourite to represent the East in the Finals.

The only team with a reasonable chance of upsetting these odds is the Chicago Bulls.  Former MVP Derek Rose appears to have done everything right in his latest recovery from a serious injury, impressing at the FIBA World Championships and the preseason.  And while Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls have always been known for their prowess on the defensive end of the floor, this offseason they surrounded Rose with more firepower to ease his scoring burden as he returns.  Pau Gasol remains as skilled as ever, and should still have plenty in the tank, especially as he will play fewer minutes in a strong frontcourt rotation that includes Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.  Rookie Doug McDermott’s shooting and size on the wing will prove a valuable weapon, and if former Real Madrid star Nikola Mirotic can adapt to the life in the NBA the Bulls may be the most well-rounded team in the conference.

 

The rest of the playoff seeds are where it gets really interesting, as young and emerging teams battle for their place against old heads who are desperate for one last shot at glory.  The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors made great strides last season, and noises coming out of both organisations suggest that neither will be shy in trying to go one step further this time around.  An injury to Washington’s Bradley Beal will hurt Washington in the first eight weeks of the season, though they re-signed Marcin Gortat and added Paul Pierce, veteran influences that will definitely help come playoff time.  The Raptors did well to keep the young core of last season’s impressive squad together, and as they continue to grow as a unit this could be the team to make a surprise appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It is unlikely that either of last year’s finalists will be there again, due to the loss of both their star players.  The Miami Heat, of course, lost James, but re-signed Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.  Any chance of success returning to South Beach depends on the notorious knees of the latter, but they will likely retain a playoff berth by default in the weaker East.  The Heat’s opponents in last year’s ECF, the Indiana Pacers, were dealt a cruel blow when Paul George suffered a horrific injury in a scrimmage with Team USA at the beginning of August.  This further weakened a roster that had already lost Lance Stephenson to the renamed Charlotte Hornets, and will now struggle to make even the lower seeds.

 

Betting Instinct tip – don’t underestimate the impact of the returning LeBron James. Back Cleveland to win the Eastern Conference at +110 with Intertops.eu

 

With a number of new-look teams going into the new campaign optimistic of a playoff berth, who do you see meeting in the finals next June? Have your say in the comments section below.

 

Cathal avatar CATHAL LOUGHRAN (cathalloughran) is a student and writer from Ireland, based in London.  He  writes about  college basketball and the NBA for Betting Instinct. Follow him on Twitter.

2014 World Series: The real David versus Goliath

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Anyone who has ever lived in Kansas City and taken an interest in major sports has been waiting for this day for a generation. Put it this way, it says a lot when the most successful team to come out of your city is an MLS franchise. The Royals will look to redress the balance when the World Series kicks off at Kaufmann Stadium later tonight in what is the team’s first appearance in the Fall Classic since winning it back in 1985.

 

Baseball has the smallest postseason of any of the four major US sports and fittingly the two Wild Card winners face off as the San Francisco Giants and those aforementioned Royals take part in the second ever all-Wild Card World Series.

Every few years there is a team that comes along and sweeps everyone off their feet so much so that you can imagine fans of the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics all wholeheartedly rooting for the Royals in this season’s World Series. Hell you can imagine that the whole world outside of San Francisco praying for anything other than yet another Giants victory to make it three in five for the Californians.

How can the Royals please the world at large, though?

 

San Francisco Giants v Kansas City Royals – World Series Betting Odds:

Giants to win series: -105

Royals to win series: -115

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

First and foremost they’ve got to ride that bullpen. Every team on a hot streak has its trademark and for all their other potent tools the Royals are reliant on the group of guys that take over in the sixth inning thus making the starting pitcher role an easier job than in any ballpark. Kelvin Herrera [1.41 ERA in regular season], Wade Davis [1.00 ERA], and Greg Holland [1.44 ERA] have been almost lights out throughout the playoffs and if you’re betting in-play and the Royals get to the sixth inning in the lead…you know what to do.

In addition to the bullet-proof pen, the Royals kept making downright ridiculous plays on the defensive side of the ball in the ALDS and ALCS, and the huge outfield at Kaufmann Stadium means the opening two games of the series could see even more of those plays.

 

How hard a task is it? Very. Consider this: Game 1 starter Madison Bumgarner has never lost a playoff start away from AT&T Park and has given up two earned runs on four wins from as many starts. Streaks are meant to broken though, right? Not this time.

The Giants have their own miracle making bullpen to boot that is led by closer Santiago Casilla [0.00 ERA in the postseason] and includes Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Yusmeiro Petit, who have all posted that same blank ERA that Casilla boasts. Sergio Romo tops it off with a 1.93 ERA and coach Bruce Bochy can be confident that he has a solution to just about any problem.

 

Even though the Royals are riding an almighty wave of momentum into the postseason it’s hard to see past a Giants win in six games and a third World Series pennant in five years for Buchy’s charges. Never say never though.

 

Betting Instinct tip Giants to win in six is +450 with Intertops.eu

 

b134431a32f9f238467cd75e1b0b3454 JAMIE HINKS is an experienced content writer who has focused on the gambling industry   and technology, and has an obsession with football and all US sports. Follow Jamie  on Twitter.

Inter v Napoli: A Serie A must-draw?

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Can Mauro Icardi help save Walter Mazzarri’s job?

Tensions will run high as Inter Milan host Napoli in a fixture neither side will be delighted to see. Both coaches have personal reasons for wanting to win: Inter’s Walter Mazzarri led Napoli very successfully before leaving on acrimonious terms, and Rafa Benitez was sacked by Inter after just six months in 2010.

More pertinently, both bosses are under pressure after disappointing starts to the season. Napoli may have made a rod for their own backs by finishing third last season and have failed to meet the expected pace this term, losing twice already in Serie A and most painfully falling at the first hurdle in the Champions League. Inter have things even worse, Mazzarri’s job is hanging by a thread after a humiliating 4-1 loss to Cagliari and a jarring 3-0 reverse at Fiorentina. Owner Erick Thohir has been very patient so far, but fans are calling for the axe and Mazzarri is living on borrowed time. His body language and demeanour aren’t encouraging and there are rumours that Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis is offering his players a bonus if they topple him.

The odds show Inter are narrow favourites and the players seem to still be keen to save Mazzarri, but last season’s fixture was a tense stalemate and a similar encounter could be on the cards.

 

Inter Milan v Napoli Betting Odds:

Inter Milan to win – 7/5

Draw – 11/5

Napoli to win – 37/20

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The hosts know a defeat would probably cost coach Mazzarri his job and Napoli would almost certainly accept a draw, so a tight contest is in the offing.

A cagey affair is made all the more likely by both sides’ current striking woes. Inter have lost their most reliable striker so far this season, four-goal Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, to injury for around a month and the burden of the Nerazzurri’s goal scoring has to fall on Mauro Icardi who has three goals so far this term. Icardi can be brilliant, but he is by no means consistent.

Napoli’s goal hero from last season, Gonzalo Higuain, is misfiring badly in the league. Despite finding the net in Napoli’s brief Champions League campaign, Higuain is yet to register at all in Serie A and missed two sitters against Torino. Two goals for Argentina against Hong Kong may have restored some belief, but Napoli’s back line will be much more organised. Without Higuain’s deadly touch, Napoli will rely heavily on Jose Callejon.

 

The visitors have only found the net eight times and conceded seven so far all season, an average of 1.3 goals scored per game. Inter have scored 11 and conceded eight, but seven of their goals came against hapless Sassuolo – in reality they are hitting the net with roughly equal frequency to the Partenopei.

Inter will be determined to exorcise the demons of their 4-1 drubbing against lowly Cagliari in front of their fans, but home advantage may not prove to be such an advantage. In recent matches the fans have shown their displeasure at the coach and his players and if Napoli can start well the crowd may not be a 12th man as much as an unwelcome heckler.

The hosts will probably play a 3-5-2 and will hope Nemanja Vidic can steady the ship after some early teething problems. Napoli’s formation will most likely resemble a 4-5-1 with Higuain leading the charge supported by dangerous forwards Lorenzo Insigne and Callejon. Benitez, unlike Mazzarri, has the luxury of a full squad at his disposal.

 

Napoli have been most dangerous in the opening 15 minutes of games, scoring three times, whereas they tend to look more vulnerable during the middle of each half. Inter have conceded three times in the first 15 minutes of their matches, so Napoli could benefit from a fast start. Inter generally get stronger as the first half goes on and have only conceded one second half goal in Serie A this season.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Back less than three goals @ 4/5 or Napoli half-time/draw full-time @ 12/1, both with Intertops.eu

 

Paul avatar PAUL WATSON (paolowatson) has written about Serie A for Football Italia and wrote the book Up Pohnpei. He is also one part of of Back of the Net, alongside fellow Betting Instinct  blogger  John Foster. Follow Paul on Twitter.

Weakened Man City look to pour misery on Spurs

Yaya Touré has sometimes struggled to find his form after international duty

Yaya Touré has sometimes struggled to find his form after international duty

Thirteen seconds. That’s all it took. Manchester City required no more time. Giant flags adorning the golden eagle motif were still being hauled over the crowd as the ball crossed the line; chants ditched mid-chorus for euphoric celebrations. A Hugo Lloris miskick here, a palmed Sergio Agüero shot there, and Jesus Navas sent the rebound exquisitely over the French goalkeeper to give City the lead.  The goal, less than a quarter of a minute into the game, was the joint quickest in Premier League history. Manager André Villas Boas watched on, unable to motivate his Spurs side, who eventually conceded another five.

 

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 1.45

Spurs win 6.5

Draw 4.15

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

That high-tempo, destructive dismantling by Manuel Pellergrini’s team last November was uncharacteristic in nature for the previously rational coach.

After a summer of defensive reinforcements, though, he looks to have returned to type. An average of 2.68 goals a game in 2013/14 has now dropped to 2, as City stumbled through the opening barrages of the season. A home defeat to Stoke preceded draws against Arsenal and Chelsea, before victories over Hull and Aston Villa put them second before the international break.

Although already five points behind Chelsea, City are realistically the London side’s only title rivals. Considering they are yet to ‘click’, it bodes well they are still in a position to chase. The Champions League, however, is once again proving a chastising experience for City, where they currently sit third in Group E on one point. Injuries and energy consuming continental trips, combined with the late return of Yaya Touré from Ivory Coast duties, have caused selection problems for Pellegrini.

 

Part of the side to lose 4-3 in their Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier to the D.R. Congo, Touré continued his goal-scoring form, drawing level early on for The Elephants through a thunderous 25-yard strike. But with his arrival back in Manchester possibly as close as 24 hours before Saturday’s midday kick-off, and then a trip to Russia for Tuesday’s match against CSKA Moscow, Pellegrini will have to deliberate whether to rest the midfielder or not.

After a slow start, following a difficult summer, Touré began to show glimpses of his previous best away to Villa, bursting forward late on and disrupting tired back lines. It is a role that’s proved rewarding against Tottenham this season, as Liverpool exploited in August, highlighting Spurs’ defensive weaknesses when facing two upfront, using quick transitions and overlaps from an advancing midfielder.

City’s preferred 4-4-2 formation gives them the advantage of being able to run directly at the centre-backs, and with Fernando expected to be fit they do not have to worry about leaving space in the centre of midfield. The ability to adapt, though, especially in the closing stages, moving to a 4-3-3, has been one of City’s great traits. Pellegrini’s side have scored nine of their 14 Premier League tally in the second half so far this season, seven coming in the final ten minutes.

 

For Tottenham, the match 11 months ago propelled the calls for Villas-Boas’s dismissal, and within three weeks he was out, sacked following another shellacking, on this occasion 5-0 to Liverpool. Tim Sherwood’s gilet-inspired tenure turned out as expected, hindering the club and slowing the integration of so many new players.

More is predicted of Mauricio Pochettino, however. While the football has not been to everyone’s liking, and at times as turgid as that played previously, the high-pressing, possession-based philosophy he wants to set down will take time. Injuries to goalkeeper-cum-sweeper Lloris and top-scorer Nacer Chadli, who are both possible absentees on Saturday, may slow that progress even further.

But as we reach a busy section of fixtures for City, and injuries of their own accumulate, Spurs have the chance to build on their nerve-wracking 1-0 win at home to Southampton. If they are to achieve their top four dream, then this is the best opportunity to prove they’re capable of overcoming like-minded opposition.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Draw half-time and Manchester City to win full-time is 4.25 with AllYouBet.ag

 

FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter