Messi and Suárez face tough trip to Mestalla to take on Valencia

Luis Suárez will look to push on after opening his account for Barcelona in Cyprus

Luis Suárez will look to push on after opening his account for Barcelona in Cyprus

It was a case of opposing fortunes for two of La Liga’s finest in Jornada 12. After watching Luis Enrique’s Barcelona steamroll Sevilla by five goals to one on Saturday night, in what was arguably their most convincing performance of the season to date, Nuno Espírito Santo’s Valencia succumbed to a stinging 2-1 derby defeat at Levante.

Valencia v Barcelona Betting Odds:

Valencia win 17/4

Barcelona win 57/100

Draw 3/1

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

Valencia’s red hot start to the season has suffered a few hiccups in recent weeks, which surely won’t be remedied too much by the arrival of Barcelona. Losses to La Liga strugglers Deportivo (a) and Levante (a) over the last month have raised questions about their prowess for a fourth place finish, after many were already pencilling them in for it at the start of October.

But despite that, while they returned to training after the weekend round of games, buoyed by the return of Paco Alcácer and an injury-free squad (at last), playing head tennis in their shorts under the still-relatively-warm East Coast sunshine, Barcelona were busy with European responsibilities out in Nicosia. First strike to Valencia then, eh?

Not quite so fast.

For this Barcelona team has recovered a lot of ground in a short space of time, following Luis Enrique’s first ‘mini crisis’ in the Barcelona dugout. To quickly recap — a convincing loss in October’s Clásico was quickly followed by a home loss at the hands of Celta Vigo (the first since Camp Nou was built). The dogged 2-1 win at Almería after that was hardly ‘champion material’ either (to put it kindly).

But two wins in two games since escaping their ‘rut’ is not as routine as it sounds. When Gianluca Rocchi blew his whistle for the last time in Nicosia on Tuesday night, it marked the end of what has been an extraordinary few days in the life of Lionel Messi (even by his reality-defying standards). Two matches, six goals, two long-standing records met. Sorry, obliterated.

In a week where the topic of commitment to his future at Barcelona resurfaced again, Messi put forward a resounding response in the only way he knows. Against Sevilla, one goal was needed to match Telmo Zarra’s 59-year-old La Liga record of 259 goals. Messi took three for his troubles. A couple of days later in Nicosia, again, one goal was needed to match Raúl González’s Champions League record of 71 goals. He snatched another three. Club Captain Xavi Hernández spoke with simple, yet precise conviction, when he recapped it by declaring: “If Leo is happy, then Barcelona is happy.” And that he certainly is.

As well as putting the icing on Messi’s cake of football domination in Cyprus, there were plenty of other positives to take from the game for Luis Enrique and his staff. Another four goals were added to the five notched at the expense of Sevilla, Luis Suárez got off the mark for the club, Jeremy Mathieu and Neymar were completely rested, and the tempo of the game was about as favourable as Barcelona could have wished for, despite Enrique pulling out Alba, Rakitić and Suárez in the second half, just to be safe. So, stroll in the Mestalla park then?

Hold.

A ‘stroll in the Mestalla park’ doesn’t exist. Valencia might have floundered a couple of times away from home, but that doesn’t apply in more familiar surroundings. Through 6 league games at home; they have won 5, drawn 1, scored 15 goals and conceded 3. Even the champions Atlético Madrid have been rolled over by Nuno Espírito Santo’s team, and you can count on one hand how many times that’s happened to Diego Simeone’s army in recent times.

Despite finding an alluring rhythm to their play at home so far, things have changed from last season off the field too. An 8th place finish last season was their worst since the 2007/08 campaign, as they missed out on qualifying for Europe for the first time in a good while. It was one to forget for the club; losing more games than they won, and conceding more goals than they scored.

But the summer brought renewed optimism on the East Coast of Spain. With Singapore billionaire Peter Lim now in the door, the cobwebs of Mestalla have been blasted off to devastating effect thus far. Attendances are back up, the songs are more frequent, louder. Fans now wait outside the ground in their thousands to welcome the team coach, as if every game is a cup final. Flares, songs, drums, raw passion. Good news for everyone but the opposition. To put it simply  — facing Valencia on their own turf is an entirely different proposal to welcoming them to your place.

In regards to team news ahead of Barcelona’s arrival, Valencia will be absolutely delighted to see their captain Dani Parejo back up to speed. The 25-year-old has been the heartbeat of the team so far, while his absence over the last few weeks has had a noticeable effect. Especially in the 2-1 defeat at Levante, where his team found themselves struggling 1-0 down after 70 minutes, only for Parejo to come on and immediately strike his team back into the game. As well as the skipper, joint top scorer Paco Alcácer also resumed training this week after a hamstring injury – another man who has been so influential to Valencia’s fortunes so far, especially at home.

Barcelona may have found their most satisfying patch of form in recent weeks, as well as being the proprietors of a red hot, record-breaking maniac — but make no mistake — they are coming into the Lion’s Den on Sunday night. Lion’s that are hungry from a painful derby defeat, in a Den where even the spirit of Atlético Madrid was pulverised.

Betting Instinct tip – Valencia to win or draw is 2.27 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Spanish/European Football Writer for Inside La Liga, uMAXITFootball and a host of others. He  is  also an FA Licensed Football Coach with a passion for youth development. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Southampton to set Manchester City stern test in race for Champions League places

Ronald Koeman has silenced those who tipped his Southampton side for relegation

Ronald Koeman has silenced those who tipped his Southampton side for relegation

Twelve matches into the season and Chelsea’s six-point lead at the top of the table already looks impenetrable, likely handing Jose Mourinho his third Premier League title. Yet if Manchester City want to fulfill their dream of retaining the championship, they will need to start a charge now, toppling second place Southampton on Sunday.

Southampton v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Southampton win 21/10

Manchester City win 6/5

Draw 23/10

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

Intermittent form and a blight of injuries to the team’s core has decimated City’s hopes of challenging on two fronts productively. Even after a summer of spending and repointing of gaps identified last season the absence of experienced hands has caused Manuel Pellegrini’s side to slip up too often.

Tuesday’s Champions League outing gave them a lifeline in Europe and while the possibility of success continues their attention to the title race will be mooted. Beating Bayern Munich, City’s first European win of the season, means a score draw when they visit the Olympic Stadium in Rome will be enough for them to pass through to the knockout round.

A daring, ferocious thrill of a win, City achieved it without first-teamers David Silva, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, albeit against 10 men. The result masks concerns about Pellegrini’s team but their tenacity to score late and a will to persevere is admirable. Indiscretions at home to Stoke and on their travels at Queens Park Rangers will be rued come May, however, with the new found strength following the Bayern victory maybe the corner has been turned.

At the heart of City’s resistance is Sergio Aguero. Casting a diminutive appearance from afar, the pugnacious, muscle-bound striker is in the form of his life. The Argentinean’s midweek display, scoring the crucial winning hat-trick, reinforced his position as one of the world’s greatest strikers. His last-gasp heroics may be required again on Sunday, when City face the tightest defence in England.

Leading the top-scorers chart so far, sitting one goal ahead of Chelsea’s Diego Costa with 12, Aguero’s tenacious approach has seen him score a quarter of his goals in the final 10 minutes of games. Reminiscent, in part, of Luis Suarez’s impact at Liverpool last season, where the Uruguayan almost single-handedly delivered them their first league title in 24 years, Aguero’s sparkling form is keeping City in the hunt.

For Southampton, their position at the crest of the Premier League is unexpected. Losing manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham Hotspur and five members of the first team – Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovern and Calum Chambers – in wallet-busting moves during the transfer window, the Saints were understandably predicted a torrid time.

How they have dealt with those departures, bringing in a number of replacements and incorporating them so swiftly after a summer of upheaval is outstanding. New boss Ronald Koeman’s ability to introduce a redesigned strike force while maintaining the discipline at the back has deservedly got them up to second. How they fare for the rest of the season, and whether they will be able to maintain their form, is the quandary.

While they face both Manchester sides and an away tie at Arsenal over the next month, Southampton know all three are beatable. If the Saints are to progress for a third season in a row, this tough pre-Christmas fixture list is the perfect opportunity to state their intentions. And this comes after they were defeated just twice through 2013/14 against the three sides.

Now with a team capable of scoring multiple times against table-topping opponents, an issue they were unable to overcome last year, Southampton have created an unyielding squad: defiant in defence, convincing in attack. Importantly, Koeman has galvanized a resolute defence with the additions of Fraser Forster, Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand. By utilising the full-backs fully, encouraging them to plow forward, reward has come by the way of Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne chipping in with three goals.

Conceding once in five matches, Southampton, are a demanding test for City to face after a zapping European game, if they want the title, this is the opportunity to show it.

Betting Instinct tip – Southampton have shown their mettle this season conceding just six goals, up against a tired Man City side from midweek back fewer than 2.5 goals at 2/1 with intertops.eu

 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

Seahawks – 49ers rivalry renewed in Thanksgiving Day special

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Image credit: PhilipRobertson

One of the burgeoning rivalries in the NFL hits our screens once again on Thanksgiving Thursday as the San Francisco 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium.

It’s not difficult to see how the rivalry has really caught fire in recent years. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and his Seahawks adversary Pete Carroll had a tempestuous relationship whilst coaching in college with Stanford and USC respectively, and that has continued after both landed roles in the NFC West.

 

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers Betting Odds:

49ers win -125

Seahawks win +105

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

 

It’s been one way traffic of late in these games though, with the Seahawks winning three of the last four meeting between the two sides – though all of those victories have been at home, in front of the vaunted CenturyLink Field crowd.

Finally winning against their biggest rivals on the road would really prove that Seattle are back, having stumbled their way to a 7-4 record just months after being crowned Super Bowl champions.

The keys to the game are simple; Seattle will hand the ball to star running back Marshawn Lynch time and time again, and rely on quarterback Russell Wilson to avoid turning the ball over in order to win.

It’s not a dynamic offense, with the Seahawks having only scored 30+ points in three of their 11 games this season, and it sometimes holds them back, leaving them to rely on their defense.

 

On the other side of the ball, we’ll finally get to see cornerback Richard Sherman go up against 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree again after their public spat in the NFC Championship Game back in January, whilst the return of linebacker Bobby Wagner helped the Seahawks to end Arizona’s winning streak on Sunday.

Wagner’s presence will make it harder for San Francisco to have joy in the running game, though in Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde, they have a promising one-two punch at running back, whilst quarterback Colin Kaepernick is also a threat with his legs.

Defensively, the 49ers were superb against Washington on Sunday, with the return of pass rusher Aldon Smith serving as a huge boost – and he’ll be smelling blood once again as he takes on a porous Seahawks offensive line.

The emergence of rookie linebacker Chris Borland has been a welcome boost for the 49ers with Patrick Willis on injured reserve, with the former Wisconsin standout proving his reputation as a tackling machine.

 

Both teams are lagging behind Arizona in the race to win the NFC West, giving this clash something of an early play-off feel – so expect to see a feisty encounter with huge hits, plenty of running yards and a low scoring encounter as two of the NFC’s heavyweights lock horns once again.

 

Betting Instinct tip – we should expect a tight game, and under 19.5 first half points is -105 with Intertops.eu

Intertops Sportsbook is offering stake-backs up to $100 on the ‘first touchdown scorer’ market in this game, if either Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson scores a rushing TD. For this, and for more Thanksgiving NFL props, visit www.intertops.eu

Olly avatarOLLY DAWES is a Sports Management graduate and sports journalist for Here Is The City, whilst he also writes about NFL for Colts Authority.

Detroit Lions can bounce back by mauling Bears this Thanksgiving

Like cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie, a Lions home game is a Thanksgiving staple

Like cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie, a Lions home game is a Thanksgiving staple

It is the longest-running annual series in the NFL, and this Thanksgiving the encounter between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears could be a make or break game for Jim Caldwell’s Lions side.

 

Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions Betting Odds:

Chicago Bears +250

Detroit Lions -300

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

 

After back-to-back reverses against tough opposition in conference leaders Arizona and New England, Detroit has a chance to get its playoff charge back on track against a Bears side that hasn’t won away from Soldier Field since October 12th.

An opening-day demolition of the New York Giants led to cautious optimism around Ford Field, and the Lions have already matched last season’s seven wins with five rounds to spare. However their participation in the playoffs hangs by a thread, meaning they will look to make the most of home-field advantage in their remaining outings. They may be helped by the return of Reggie Bush, who hopes to feature after sitting out the last two weeks with an ankle problem.

 

The Bears narrowly missed out on top spot in NFC North in 2013, but this year trail their divisional rivals going into round 12. Their last road game ended in a heavy defeat against NFC North leaders Green Bay, and they may struggle to contain in-form Golden Tate this week.

This is the first Thanksgiving match-up between the Bears and the Lions since 1999, but a repeat of the 28-10 Chicago win that day seems unlikely. The last six regular-season meetings between the sides have been split three apiece, and this week marks a great chance for the home team to record three wins in a row against the Bears for the first time since 2004.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Chicago’s slow starts see no sign of letting up, and if you fancy a repeat it could be worth backing Detroit -7 at +100 with Intertops.eu

 

Intertops Sportsbook is running a number of special promotions this Thanksgiving, including a special no-juice line on the Lions-Bears game. Head to www.intertops.eu for more information

tv TOM VICTOR (editor) is the editor and co-founder of Betting Instinct. He has written for a variety of    sports sites in the past, including JustFootball, Footy Matters and BeNeFoot. You can follow him  on Twitter or Google+.

Mark Sanchez to be the deciding factor in Cowboys v Eagles Thanksgiving match-up

Does Sanchez have a big performance in him this Thanksgiving?

Does Sanchez have a big performance in him this Thanksgiving?

The NFL fixture list has served up an absolute Thanksgiving cracker! The Philadelphia Eagles take on the Dallas Cowboys in one of the most fascinating games this season. Both teams are on 8-3, both teams have a bitter hatred of each other, and only one team can win the NFC East. You’d be a fool to predict the outcome of this one…. So here’s my attempt to help the fool!

 

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys Betting Odds:

Eagles +3: -105

Cowboys -3: -115

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

 

The Eagles are a curious case this season. Pundits (and even yours truly after week 3) have been waiting to write them off from the start. The wolf has been knocking on the door for sometime howling, “You don’t have a quarterback!” But some scintillating performances from Nick Foles over 9 weeks have kept them quiet. Even when Foles broke his collarbone, New York Jets cast-off Mark Sanchez silenced his doubters with a series of positive displays, and consequently there is a lot to be positive about in the Eagles camp. Their offense keeps churning out game-winning performances, and their go-to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is looking on top of his game.

However, one of the most proficient offensive outfits in the NFL is not backed up by a good defense. They have allowed the third most passing yards in the entire NFL, and the way they were opened up in week 10 by Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers provides concern that this defense simply can’t handle a top NFL quarterback. The only saving grace is the Eagles’ defensive line isn’t so leaky, and this may be enough to nullify the main Cowboys rushing threat, DeMarco Murray. Tony Romo is not in the same league as Aaron Rogers either, so the Eagles defense may have enough to keep the Cowboys down to a beatable offensive total. The main question mark is which Mark Sanchez will turn up? If Sanchez performs to his full capability, the Eagles have a really good chance of winning this game and taking control of the NFC East.

Anybody associated with the Cowboys probably still has nightmares about that Kyle Orton intercepted pass that handed the Eagles the 2013 NFC East title on a silver platter last time these teams met. It was the moment that crushed hopes of the Cowboys ending their 3-season playoff qualification drought, and the moment America resumed their laughter at the demise of their most famous franchise. Presently though, that interception feels like years ago, and the next Cowboys team to run-out on the field to face the Eagles will be very different one. It is a team with a balanced and productive offense, a potential MVP running back, a solid performing defense, and an impressive ability to produce big plays at big moments.

The offensive production from wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten has provided the cornerstone of their solid passing game, whilst pundits continue to run out of superlatives for the rushing production of DeMarco Murray. This is the first Cowboys team with no obvious weakness in recent memory, but as Arizona proved in week 9, they are certainly beatable. Their defense has a habit of allowing a fair few passing yards, and Philadelphia pose arguably the most potent aerial threat they have faced all season. Also, whilst Tony Romo has looked calm and collected this season, there are still question marks over his big-game presence. If the Cowboys want to take command of the NFC East and banish last year’s memories, they will have to produce their finest form on Thanksgiving.

This is a huge game, and like any big game, there is likely to be a season-defining moment that clinches it for one of these teams in the fourth quarter. Last season, a back-up quarterback threw an interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and this season, one team has a back-up quarterback who has a penchant for throwing such interceptions! You can just see it, Mark Sanchez throwing the game away on the final Eagles drive just like he did so many times in his Jets days. The home advantage and dynamic offensive threat will be enough for the Cowboys to expose the Eagles’ defensive frailties, and the Thanksgiving turkey will taste especially good in Dallas.

Intertops Sportsbook is offering a generous stake-back deal on the Cowboys-Eagles game this Thanksgiving. If a team leads at half-time but fails to win the match, a stake-back of up to $100 will be available for losing bets on the ‘1st half spread’ market.

 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

Arsenal’s England stars can overcome Manchester United

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will look to add to his goal for England in midweek

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will look to add to his goal for England in midweek

There was a time when an Arsenal-Manchester United game would provide a strong indication as to which of these two teams would go on to win the title. But those days are long gone; Arsenal’s decline from the very elite of English football has been slow and painful while United’s has been far more pronounced, swift and, dare I say, far more entertaining (from the outside looking in, at least). This lowering of the stakes in recent times has contributed to the feeling that the fixture isn’t what it once was.

However, one gets the impression that more has changed than just the league positions of the sides. Arsenal and United used to provide fiery contests; there existed a real rivalry and a deep-seated hatred between the two. Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira would engage in ninety minute-long sledging matches, both managers would constantly seek to get the upper hand over the other and even a young Cesc Fàbregas once threw a slice of pizza across the tunnel! It was the Premier League at its most intense and, arguably, its most fun and we’ve certainly lost something as, one by one, the protagonists of those fantastic games have departed.

 

Arsenal v Manchester United Betting Odds:

Arsenal win 23/20

Manchester United win 11/5

Draw 23/10

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

 

While far from the big ticket it once was, the fixture remains among the most eagerly-anticipated of the season. And while these two massive clubs are no longer fighting one another for the title, the games are perhaps more intriguing than ever, with this Saturday’s match at the Emirates a case in point. The visitors Manchester United go into the game just a point behind Arsenal in seventh and only two adrift of a Champions League berth. It seems perverse to think that, after such a turbulent start to the season, United should be so close. Manchester City appear the only side capable of mounting a credible title challenge to José Mourinho’s rampant Chelsea so a top-four finish and a return to Europe’s top table for Louis van Gaal’s men this season would surely constitute a success.

The hosts, though, head into the game at something of a crossroads. They have made a disappointing, although not completely disastrous, start to the season and while yet another top-four finish is well within their grasp it looks like any league-winning aspirations they harboured have all but disappeared by mid-November. A red-hot run of form will be required to turn the Gunners into even an outside bet for the title and it’s hard to see where they can acquire that sort of consistency.

 

Still, there would be nothing like a win over United to finally kickstart their season and beside long-term absentees Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy, Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck is the only fresh injury doubt for Arsène Wenger to contend with after the international break while Theo Walcott could make his long-awaited return to the starting line-up. What’s more, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play off the back of excellent performances for England at Celtic Park on Tuesday and Alexis Sánchez will seek to continue his breathtaking form. He has been without doubt the brightest light for Arsenal this season and if Wenger can get Welsh lynchpin Aaron Ramsey back to anywhere near his best by Saturday teatime, their fans will be confident of getting a result. The team certainly owes them a performance after the catastrophic collapse at Swansea a fortnight ago.

They are likely to face a significantly weakened Manchester United side too. The Red Devils will definitely be without Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard while van Gaal will have to check on the fitness of no fewer than eight of his players. Luke Shaw, Michael Carrick, David de Gea and Ángel dí Maria all picked up problems whilst on international duty and face a race against time while Phil Jones, Rafael, Radamel Falcao and Jonny Evans are all returning from longer-term injuries and will have to be assessed closer to the game. At least Chris Smalling is back from suspension though, eh?

 

As for the outcome of the game itself, it is of course extremely difficult to call as with any contest of this magnitude. United have the offensive players to outscore any opposition when they’re in the mood, it’s just hard to gauge when they are going to click. Juan Mata will hope to start in light of United’s injury problems and will have a point to prove having only played a peripheral role so far this term. But it is impossible to ignore the aforementioned injuries; United’s defence in particular has been decimated and it is hard to see how a potential back-five of Lindegaard, Valencia, Smalling, McNair and Blackett would be able to cope with a strong Arsenal side.

There is no doubt that on their day Arsenal possess one of the division’s most potent attacks and this, coupled with United’s crippling injury list, surely makes them favourites. But write United off at your peril; if history has taught us anything it is that games between these two sides can often decided by the tightest of margins.

Don’t expect the most blood-and-thunder of clashes on Saturday. The mood on the pitch at the Emirates is likely to be more cordial than in recent years and we are certainly more likely to see a heartfelt Robin van Persie-focussed reunion in the tunnel before the game than any Keown-esque taunts during it. But we can expect a fantastic match and one which could provide the victor with valuable momentum as we approach a hectic winter schedule.

 

Betting Instinct tip – The last three league meetings between the sides have produced a combined three goals. Back fewer than 2.5 goals at 21/20 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Jack C avatarJACK CHATTERTON is a student and long-suffering Spurs fan, who has written for In Bed With Maradona and  Sabotage Times, among others. You can read his miscellaneous and quite modest blog, or follow him on Twitter

It’ll be tight at Celtic Park between Scotland and Ireland

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Glasgow-born James McCarthy (left) is injured, but Ireland winger Aiden McGeady could still feature against the country of his birth

 

Three match days into the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 and UEFA are ready to pat themselves on the back. The group leaders include Iceland, Wales, Slovakia, Northern Ireland and Austria as a string of surprise results suggest some of Europe’s smaller nations are relishing the idea of finding their way into the expanded tournament.

However, some of the shock results haven’t worked in the favour of teams that would have originally been seen as solid bets to at least make the Play-Offs. Poland’s first ever victory over Germany mixed in with the Republic of Ireland’s draw with the World Cup winners means that Scotland have lost ground to their two rivals in Group D.

 

Scotland v Republic of Ireland Betting Odds:

Scotland win 13/10

Ireland win 11/5

Draw 2/1

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

 

Rather than seeing the Germans run off into the distance with a pristine record for far, Gordon Strachan’s men are the only yet to take points off Jogi Low and his all-conquering side from the summer. That will surely change when Gibraltar do their best to avoid a world record score against the Germans.

For Scotland it makes their clash on Friday night with Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland all the more important. Before the campaign had begun, Strachan and his coaches will have surely focused in on the team’s home form as the key to success. In the last three games played on Scottish soil, the Tartan Army have seen their side keep three consecutive clean sheets. A fourth is very much on the cards against an Irish side that have managed just four goals in their last nine on the road.

Overall, the clash between near neighbours promises to be a tight affair. With O’Neill returning to Celtic Park and the potential for some Scottish-born players in the Ireland side, it will mix for a special line-up at Celtic Park; and probably not one that encourages flowing football.

Betting Instinct tip – Less than 2.5 goals is 1/2 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Saturday night allows Group G to take centre with the matches split across two kick-off times. Inspired by two David Alaba penalties, Austria are leading the group from heavyweights Sweden and Russia, who have both won just one of their opening three games.

Boasting a hard-working squad made-up predominantly of players from the German and Austrian Bundesliga, we’re going to put our faith in a side that have won four and lost none of their last seven matches; especially against a team that are supposedly struggling to pay the wages of their highly-acclaimed manager.

Fabio Capello’s relationship with the Russian Football Union has never looked like the easiest of situations. Drafted in to ready a team for the impending 2018 World Cup and ensure that the host nation do everything they can to lift the trophy on home soil, Capello has failed to capture the imagination. Without a stream of exciting youngsters lighting up the Russian Premier League or any other European competition for that matter, he’s been left to pick experienced pros who will be too old for the next FIFA showcase and elect for tactics that can be described as “solid” at best.

With seven points from their opening three games and a decent enough recent home record – five wins, three draws and one defeat from the last nine – Austria may just have enough to put a little bit of daylight between them and Capello’s side.

Betting Instinct tip Austria to win is 9/5 with AllYouBet.ag

 

For Belgium, there is the chance to grind their way towards top gear with a match-up against Gareth Bale’s Wales. It is terrifying just how much stock Chris Coleman appears to put in Bale’s influence on his team. So far it’s working. They have won two of their opening three games and lead the way from Israel and their opponents on Sunday.

The Red Devils’ only weakness of note is at full-back where Bale might look to exploit matters if he were playing for Real Madrid. For Wales, he moves centrally and right into the waiting arms of Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini and the Belgian’s centre-backs, who will in truth be far from first-choice.

It shouldn’t matter. Sadly for Wales, Gareth Bale is just one man. Even with Aaron Ramsey, there are pretty far from a full team and even further from being able to compete with the list of names that Marc Wilmots will be picking from on Sunday.

Ramsey and Bale have scored nine of Wales’ last 10 goals away from home. If Belgium can do their jobs to stop the lavish stars, they’ll stop the entire team in their tracks.

Betting Instinct tip – Belgium -1 is 4/5 with Intertops.eu

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data.  He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Can Philly fathom Rodgers?

Eagles vs. Packers should be a classic on Sunday

Aaron Rodgers is looking for another huge performance against the Eagles on Sunday!

It’s all eyes on Lambeau Field in Green Bay this Sunday when the Eagles travel to the Packers in what promises to be one of the top games of the NFL regular season’s Week 11 action.

Philadelphia looked good storming past the Carolina Panthers last Monday, whilst the Pack annihilated their bitter rivals from Chicago in a laughably one-sided affair. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has been in MVP form for most of the fall so far, threw for an amazing six first-half touchdowns – becoming only the second player in NFL history to achieve the feat.

Whilst we can’t reasonably expect more of the same this time around, Rodgers could be in for another big game as the Eagles’ defense is hardly anything to write home about. Ranked 12th in the league in points allowed per game and only 21st in yards allowed per game, head coach Chip Kelly and his staff are going to have to find something special to keep Rodgers on the leash.

On the other side of the ball, however, the Eagles are a different story altogether. At 404.3 yards per game so far they are right up their amongst the best and the good news is that regular quarterback Nick Foles’ injury doesn’t seem to have affected them. Stand-in Mark Sanchez, making his first NFL start in almost two years, did everything right against the Panthers with 332 yards and two TDs in the 45-21 win. He may have been found not good enough by the New York Jets, who are now one of the worst team in the NFL, but confidence still seems to be high and Sanchez will be relishing the challenge of resurrecting what looked like a floundering career.

The Packers have lost just three of their last 35 regular season games at Lambeau Field with Rodgers at the helm and they should prevail this time around, but their Cheesehead fans shouldn’t expect them to have an easy ride in what could yet prove to be a dress-rehearsal for the NFC Championship Game in January!

NFL Week 11: Philadelphia Eagles @ Green Bay Packers Betting Odds:

Philadelphia Eagles 3.1
Green Bay Packers 1.4

To win the NFC Championship Odds:

Green Bay Packers 4.0
Seattle Seahawks 4.0
Philadelphia Eagles 7.0
Arizona Cardinals 7.5

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

Miami Heat proving that there is life after LeBron

Dwyane Wade has kept things ticking over for Miami in the post-LeBron era, but how long will it last?

Dwyane Wade has kept things ticking over for Miami in the post-LeBron era, but how long will it last?

With Friday’s line-up of games looking about as appealing as any Adam Sandler movie since Happy Gilmore, we’ll take a look at the 2 that might, just might, be passable viewing. And no, Kobe vs his urge to kill his teammates is not one.

Heat @ Hawks:

The Heat count as a surprise team this year mainly because everyone assumed D-Wade was done and that Bosh had forgotten how to play basketball but this team has looked really good so far. They’re 4th in Offensive Rating and though their defence isn’t quite there, with a coach like Spoelstra at the helm they should form a coherent strategy before too long. This team would be a prime candidate for dark horse Eastern Conference finalists with a little luck but it’s always hard to make such calls this early, especially when the Heat are reliant on Wade staying healthy and big contributions from the corpse of Danny Granger, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton (your guess is as good as mine). The Heat will just be happy to prove that there is life after LeBron.

The Hawks were fun last year, with Coach Budenholzer bringing the Spurs’ ways on board with some beautiful ball movement. That was without Al Horford, the Hawks’ franchise guy, and making the Playoffs without your best player is always a great sign, East or not. Again, there’s a problem with making calls too early but the Hawks haven’t quite meshed yet. To be 3-3 without playing your best is never a bad thing but there always remains the threat of the Hawks being stuck in that corridor of mediocrity in the NBA. Their defence has been fine but their offense hasn’t quite worked out yet. However, in Teague, Korver, Millsap and Horford they have four really good offensive starters and this team on paper looks like it’ll make the Playoffs with little bother. The main question is whether this team’s ceiling is a first round exit.

As for this match-up, I like the Heat – the Hawks have question marks over two key pieces, DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott, and the Heat are playing pissed off this year. This is probably the tightest game of the night to call: if the Hawks have those two guys fit, it should be a great game but the Heat’s extra rest could prove key.

Betting Instinct tip – Miami Heat to win the Southeast Division is +185 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Cavs @ Celtics:

The Cavs could pretty much have come out and won every game by 30 and we’d still probably criticise them for not fulfilling expectations, but in the early season they have undoubtedly had problems. They’re .500 but their wins have come over an awful Nuggets side, a Bulls team without Jimmy Butler and finally a picture of what we all expected from them against Anthony Davis and Co. Let’s face it – what we saw against New Orleans is what will surely become the norm for this team but the picture is far from perfect.

Dion Waiters isn’t a great fit with the Cavs’ starters and even with Marion starting, they’re still starting two pretty awful defensive players, two good defenders in Marion and LeBron who aren’t what they were on that end and a big question mark on Varejao and his health. The bench doesn’t hold much hope for them either, Waiters should keep running that unit whether he likes it or not but even with him, the bench unit doesn’t have much going for it.

When Matthew Dellavedova’s injury is a problem, you have a depth issue, but Erik Spoelstra showed with the Heat that a good scheme can cover up many problems defensively and this is a potentially historic team on the offensive end. The Cavs will be in the Eastern Finals unless they get some serious bad luck with injuries but my bet would be on a healthy Bulls team to best them – though betting on Derrick Rose to be healthy is never too safe…

The Celtics are going to be entertaining this year. Rajon Rondo is playing like national TV Rondo right now and that means he’s a great bet to lead the league in triple-doubles and between he, Avery Bradley and Mahcus “Wicked” Smaht (if that makes no sense to you, you are fortunate to have never come into contact with a Boston accent) they have the potential for the best defensive 1-3 (the Celtics have ran the 3 together with Bradley at Small Forward) in the league. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are talented big men and Jeff Green will either be LeBron or D-Leaguer depending on the night and Brad Stevens is a legit NBA coach. We all know the Celtics aren’t going to storm the Eastern Conference but grabbing the 8th seed wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s happened. There will come a point where they have to decide how dedicated they are to tanking and a Rondo trade remains the most likely scenario but there are the makings of a bright future here for Boston.

For all the criticism of the Cavs and the positivity surrounding the Celtics, this game really shouldn’t be in question. We might get Rondo guarding LeBron which is one of the most entertaining defensive match-ups in the league but no matter how good Bradley and Rondo are on D (Smart will miss the game through injury), the Celtics lack of rim protection will cost them against two of the best finishers at the rim in the league. If the Cavs manage to play at 75% of their second half against the Pelicans, this game will go to them.

Betting Instinct tip – With a few question marks over them at present, now could be a good time to snap up the +100 price on the Cavs to win the Eastern Conference with Intertops.eu

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter or Google+.

Carlos Vela returns for Mexico revenge mission against Arjen Robben’s Netherlands

A controversial late penalty, won by Arjen Robben decided the last meeting between these two sides

A controversial late penalty, won by Arjen Robben, decided the last meeting between these two sides

The Netherlands has beaten Mexico by a score-line of 2-1 in their last three meetings. The most recent defeat can easily take the title of the most dubious. Mexico stood on the verge of making it into the last eight of the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986 until substitute Klass-Jan Huntelaar set up a Wesley Sneijder equalizer in the 88th minute. What followed next won’t easily be forgotten by Mexican fans as Arjen Robben won a last minute penalty in what, if not the worst dive of his career, was certainly his most contentions..

Netherlands advanced to the next round and Robben explained that sometimes he goes down easily to prevent injury– reasoning that would earn few sympathizers. It meant the end of Mexico’s impressive World Cup run that belied expectations. Guided by the energetic Miguel Herrera, El Tri stormed through the competition, pressing and hassling opponents relentlessly while confident in the saving grace of Saint Guillermo Ochoa.

 

Netherlands v Mexico Betting Odds:

Netherlands win 17/20

Mexico win 57/20

Draw 23/10

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

 

The two enemies are now facing each other in what only the aloof would classify as a friendly. The Dutch are going through a wretched run of form after losing two of their first three Euro 2016 qualifiers with new boss Guus Hiddink, who has quickly come under intense scrutiny and has vowed to resign if he fails to engineer a victory over Latvia in their next match. The Dutch will be without Ajax’s Davy Klaassen, Milan’s Nigel De Jong and Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie.

Mexico on the other hand has been in great form: El Tri has not lost in four matches since they were knocked out of the world cup. There’s also specialness to this game besides for the vengeance sub-plot: Carlos Vela, the exiled and then self-exiled volatile striker is returning to the national team fold. Easily one of the best Mexican players of the current generation, the forward has found his form after leaving Arsenal for Real Sociedad in Spain. Though he has routinely denied the advances of the national team after an incident that saw him suspended for six months and lambasted by the media, he has seemingly had a change of heart; a decision that has been welcomed by his fans and critics alike.

Mexico will only be without Enrique Perez, who is ruled out through injury and has been replaced by Carlos Rodriguez.

 

Huntelaar has decreed that the Dutch will win all of their next matches not only for their own sake but for the sake of the coach, but with Mexico on the path of vengeance that could be a premature prediction. As their last match took place last than five months ago, the wound of the supposed injustice is still fresh, and Herrera has been quoted saying:

“If you then lose and in the way that happened to us, you go broke. At least I do. A win [on Wednesday] should be the first important step towards the real revenge over the next four years.”

Friendly may just be a loose term to describe this one. An ensuing battle seems more accurate.

 

Betting Instinct tip – A reverse of the last three scoreline, with Mexico winning 2-1, is 14/1 with AllYouBet.ag

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.