Chelsea to continue their march to the title with victory over Spurs

 

Tottenham may need another man-of-the-match performance from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris

Tottenham may need another man-of-the-match performance from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris

First, a disclaimer: this preview was written in 2014 – that’s right, an entire year before Tottenham and Chelsea will play on New Years’ Day of 2015. And who knows what 2015 has in store for the world, much less this football match? I’ll go for drones with better stability, an iPhone 7 and, if we’re lucky, an iPhone 7S. We can hope for something space-related, too, but it’ll probably only be a robot finding ice particles on Mars, which I doubt really excites the scientists who launched the thing to begin with. A man on the moon would be better and, all jokes aside, is probably our best shot at achieving world peace – you can’t aim a gun if you’re staring up at the sky (not well, anyway).

 

No, 2015 will roll right on from 2014, as years tend to do, and Chelsea will still be the immovable force that everyone knew would win the Premier League after the first two or three games of the season. Worse than the inevitability of it all is that they’re threatening to be likeable, too. Roman Abramovich found an oily £85 million to spend on Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Felipe Luis and Loic Remy over the summer, but Jose Mourinho has his team playing consistently watchable football despite John Terry’s continued involvement, and has instilled in them a work ethic bordering on Germanic. Ruthless, efficient, and pretty damn focused on the finish line, Chelsea have the mentality and depth to swat aside any half-decent side with relative ease.

 

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Tottenham win 7/2

Chelsea win 3/4

Draw 5/2

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

 

Seemingly incapable of achieving anything better or worse than top-half mediocrity, Tottenham are the epitome of half-decency. It makes sense that they drew with Manchester United, a team balanced out to half-decency by a very good forward line and a terrible defense, and so it makes sense that Chelsea should swat them aside with relative ease.

Tottenham have maintained typically indifferent home form this season (four wins and four losses in ten) while Chelsea have been impressive on the road (the recent loss to Newcastle their only defeat in ten), though records might point to a closer game than current form: Chelsea have won only once at White Hart Lane since the 2005/06 season, a 4-2 win in late 2012. Take from that what you will – it’s a statistic stretched out over nine years, taking in a time when Andre Villas-Boas, Avram Grant and Juande Ramos were still relevant – and the 3-0 loss Spurs suffered at Stamford Bridge less than a month ago seems to be a better indicator of the way this match might go.

 

This match is Chelsea’s to lose, and they don’t lose often – only once this season, and four times in the league in all of 2014. Even then, they’ve been losses that can only really be described as straight up weird: 1-0 to Aston Villa, 1-0 to Crystal Palace, 2-1 to Sunderland, and then this season’s sole defeat, 2-1 to Newcastle – they’re anomalies more than anything. It’s harder to pick that kind of pattern with Spurs, and easier to say that they lose whenever the mood takes them: Liverpool, West Brom, Newcastle and Stoke have all won at White Hart Lane this season. That goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was named man of the match in the 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Sunday is as good an indication as any that they should’ve lost that match, too, and Chelsea are unlikely to be as forgiving in front of goal.

Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are the obvious threats for the away side; Hazard having opened the scoring in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Spurs at Stamford Bridge at the start of December, and Diego Costa having been able to stick a leg out and score at a rate of nearly a goal a game to date. Spurs have struggled for clean sheets, having only recorded five this season so far, and Lloris will need to be at his unassumingly competent best, as he was against United, to keep Spurs from falling behind – they have come from behind to win three times this season, but Chelsea have only twice dropped points from a winning position in the league, in 1-1 draws with the two sides from Manchester.

 

What does it all mean? Both sides have had unbeaten runs over the Christmas period, and while a draw would probably suit Spurs just fine, Chelsea will be wary of Manchester City behind them, chasing down their lead at the top of the league. Jose Mourinho will know that he can’t rely on Manuel Pellegrini’s side to throw away 2-0 leads against Burnley every week (and rightly so, given that they only play each other twice a season). I’ll go for a 3-1 Chelsea win.

 

Betting Instinct tip Tottenham 1-3 Chelsea is 12/1 with AllYouBet.ag

Max avatar MAX GRIEVE (maxjgri) is Australian, but keep reading. He likes football, rugby union and tennis, though  has  given up on his dream of being a tri-sport athlete/exciting millionaire. He supports Liverpool, and is    ashamed for doing so. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

NFL Week 17: Panthers and Chargers can sneak into Playoffs

Does Philip Rivers have what it takes to carry the Chargers into postseason?

Does Philip Rivers have what it takes to carry the Chargers into postseason?

Week 17 of the NFL season is a minefield for those betting on the NFL. Sure, picking the Broncos over the Raiders in Denver looks like free money. But nothing rivals the feeling of panic when you tune into the game and see Brock Osweiler towering over everyone in Denver’s opening huddle and Peyton Manning sat with his feet up on the sidelines. You check Osweiler’s stats for the season and realise he’s only thrown 8 passes this year, 2 of which were completed. Now you’re seriously worried (although after blowing their Monday night game against the Bengals, Denver still have the first round bye to play for).

In the final week of the season it’s just impossible to trust good teams who have already wrapped up their division and want to use this week to rest players, especially if they are playing a bad team coming off a win who want to finish the season strong (read: Oakland and Washington).

 

The key game in the playoff picture this week is the the de facto NFC South Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. It has taken 17 weeks but finally one team must begrudgingly accept the title of NFC South champion and they will enter the playoffs as a 7 win team. If you are a supporter of chaos then it’s your duty to root for the winner of this game throughout the playoffs, because who doesn’t want to see a team who finished the season with a losing record become the Super Bowl Champion?

 

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons Betting Odds:

Panthers +3.5 -105

Falcone -3.5 -115

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

 

With Atlanta coming off a 30-14 road win in New Orleans and Carolina only managing to scrape past the shambolic Cleveland Browns at home you would expect this game to be Atlanta’s for the taking, and the with the line favouring Atlanta by -3.5 the bookies seem to expect the same.

But even though the Panthers aren’t blowing teams out, they are looking very reminiscent of the team that won the NFC South last year; grinding out victories by playing suffocating defense and scoring as few points as possible but enough to somehow win the game.

 

In last year’s game against Atlanta in the final week of the season, the Panthers squeaked out a 21-20 victory in the must win game, and a similar spectacle is on the cards this week. The Panthers defense is well suited to handle the Falcons’ high power offense, as for all the wealth of talent that the Falcons have at the skill positions, their offensive line is still one of the most repulsive units in the league. And for a Panthers front seven, which has finally recovered from the mid-season loss of Pro Bowler Greg Hardy, this spells good news. Rookie Kony Ealy has come on strong late into the season, notching a sack in each of his last 2 games and will be eager to be match-up up opposite rookie left tackle Jake Matthews.

Even if Matt Ryan and Julio Jones manage to get into a rhythm, the Panthers are going to keep this close and I can’t see the Falcons covering the 3.5 point spread, especially given the rejuvenated way that the chronically injured Jonathan Stewart has been playing in the past few weeks for Carolina.

The Falcons are currently undefeated at home against the NFC South, and the Panthers are undefeated on the road against the NFC South, so one of these team’s records and playoff hopes will be blemished come Sunday, and all signs point to the game being won by Graham Gano or Matt Bryant on the final kick of the game. Given the way that Ron Rivera’s teams traditionally close out seasons and Mike Smith’s utter incompetence as a head coach in important games, I would give Carolina the edge this weekend.

 

Another game with clear playoff implications and an underdog who seems primed for a victory is the AFC West match-up between the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. For some reason the line in this game is Chargers +2.5. Whoever set that line must not have seen how Philip Rivers was playing last Sunday in the overtime thriller against the 49ers. He was a man possessed. After throwing 2 interceptions and gifting the 49ers a comfortable 21-0 lead at the start of the 2nd quarter, Rivers become intent on dragging his team into the playoffs by any means necessary as he tossed 4 TDs against the 5th ranked passing defense in the league.

Philip Rivers has somehow become one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the game, and he knows that if he wants to be mentioned in the discussion for who the best QB of the 2004 NFL Draft was, then he needs make like Eli and Ben and win a ring (or two). Rivers may have gone through a horrible spell towards the middle of this season when the Chargers lost 3 games in a row, but he has been on fire in his last two road games, throwing for over 700 yards and 7 TDs in games against the 49ers and Ravens.

 

The Chiefs are a team who have won 1 of their past 5 games (and that lone win was against the Raiders who they also lost to in that 5 game spell). Their offensive line is falling apart; no longer opening up huge running lanes for Jamaal Charles and failing to protect Alex Smith from the pass rush. And their plan to consistently win games without having any legitimate wide receivers has been fully exposed. They may have some impressive victories against Seattle and New England on their résumé, but this is also the same team that lost to Tennessee and Oakland, who have a combined total of 5 wins. The Chiefs have been a sloppy football team in this final stretch of the season, and with the Chargers coming off an emotional overtime victory and with all to play for, it’s hard to bet against a fired up Rivers in this game.

Betting Instinct tip – Chargers +2.5 is +100 with Intertops.eu

 

mattm MATT MCGRATH writes about American football, be it college or NCAA (because betting on unpaid student athletes is fun and definitely ethically correct). Follow him on Twitter.

 

Strikerless Manchester City Look To Boing The Baggies

James Milner looks set to feature as a false nine for a second straight Manchester City game

James Milner looks set to feature as a false nine for a second straight Manchester City game

Manchester City head to the Hawthorns on Boxing Day with six straight league wins under their belt, a run that has seen them return to title contention.

It is a game considered their most difficult in an otherwise favourable Christmas schedule. Indeed it could potentially have been a festive breeze were it not for losing all three of their recognised forwards, one of whom has been so sensational he virtually counts as four.

 

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City Betting Odds:

West Brom win 19/4

Man City win 1/2

Draw 16/5

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

 

The loss of Sergio Aguero, in addition to Dzeko and Jovetic, has forced Manuel Pellegrini into employing a Barcelona-style 4-6-0 formation that clicked ominously last weekend against Crystal Palace with three goals, 656 completed passes, and 73% of possession. You do wonder though whether in private moments the Engineer rues his decision to offload Alvaro Negredo in the summer now that his striking options consist of rookie teens or the versatile James Milner in the ‘false 9’ role.

The latter will presumably start again on Friday and one would expect him to run his socks off in typical fashion. While ex-Blue Joleon Lescott will certainly be glad of Aguero’s absence, he will struggle with the unfamiliar movement of an interchangeable attack made up of an array of mini-marvels.

The relentless probing for pockets of space from Milner, the rejuventated Nasri and fit-again Silva are integral to this unusual formation’s success but equally so is the forceful runs of Kolorov and Zabaleta out wide.

 

If the Baggies have any hope of enjoying their post-game turkey sarnies their own full-backs must be brave, take risks, and dare to venture forward at every opportunity. All too often when facing the current champions the opposition look to stem the tide and hold out against a constant barrage of tiki-taka magic and driving runs from deep with a breakthrough always imminent. Pinned back inevitably that breakthrough arrives.

So it falls upon Andre Wisdom and Sebastien Pocognoli to offer support and speculative overlaps further afield knowing that should City break there is no killer instinct up front to punish them quickly. More so it puts doubt into Kolorov and Zabaleta’s minds every time they ‘go’.

For this strategy to be employed the home side must show more adventure than they’ve mustered this season. The supporters are growing tired of Alan Irvine’s negativity and baffling team selections and their capitulation to QPR on Saturday after being two goals to the good has meant whispers for his dismissal have noticeably increased in volume. Yet their recent 1-0 triumph over local rivals Aston Villa and an exhilarating opening twenty minutes of attacking intent at Loftus Road hints at a coach willing to loosen his cautious ways. West Brom were largely undone by three poor pieces of defending and each can hopefully be remedied on the training pitch ahead of three extremely tricky fixtures that Irvine would certainly not have requested from Santa. After hosting City they face daunting trips to Stoke and West Ham.

 

As for the visitors the expected return of Vincent Kompany will boost them further and the manner in which they have overcome adversity of late seems to have re-energised the whole squad. Since Aguero pulled up early in the game against Everton – prompting one well-known pundit to prematurely declare Chelsea champions-elect – they have shared out the goalscoring duties admirably with Yaya Toure, Silva, Zabaleta, and Frank Lampard all mucking in. They will go into this encounter full of rediscovered confidence.

No team has ever won the league or avoided the drop at Christmas time but City know the immense value in momentum coming into a new year while Irvine will be acutely aware there are two kinds of sack in December. One contains presents in the form of much-needed points. The other is a P45 some claim is already in the post.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Man City to win both halves is 13/10 with AllYouBet.ag

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

In-form Cazorla should relish Liverpool trip

Santi Cazorla will look to pull the strings once more after tearing apart Newcastle United last week

Santi Cazorla will look to pull the strings once more after tearing apart Newcastle United last week

What extraordinary times these are for Liverpool. After coming within one slip of winning a first league title since 1990 last term, they have endured an unimaginably nightmarish first half to this season. Gone is Luis Suárez and, perhaps not coincidentally, gone are the goals. The Reds, so easy on the eye as they powered through the Spring of 2014, are now a team with a distinct lack of direction and one in desperate need of inspiration. They have picked up just 14 points from the last 30 available and have already suffered defeats to the likes of Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Aston Villa. That they have only managed seven league goals all season at Anfield tells its own story.

They have been hit hard by the continued absence of Daniel Sturridge (he has not featured in a Liverpool shirt since August) while summer arrival Mario Balotelli has found life in front of goal difficult. Steven Gerrard’s performances have begun to deteriorate rapidly and Dejan Lovren and Simon Mignolet have suffered horrendous starts to the season. The Reds did manage to negotiate a potential banana skin in Bournemouth in the league cup in midweek, but serious questions still hang over their defensive solidity.

 

A miserable run of form culminating in last Sunday’s dismantling at the hands of Manchester United means they languish in eleventh place in the Premier League but they still have a chance of making the top four – down largely to the inconsistency of those above them more than anything else. The gap currently stands at seven points but it will surely widen quickly unless Liverpool experience a marked improvement in the next few weeks.

But things won’t get any easier for Brendan Rodgers’ men, with Sunday seeing the visit of Arsenal. The Gunners have recovered well since their calamitous defeat at Stoke City, with progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League as well as a convincing defeat over in-form Newcastle achieved since then. Olivier Giroud is back fit and firing and he has injected some much-needed impetus into Arsenal’s season. Problems still abound for Arsène Wenger’s side but for all the talk of crisis at the Emirates, they know a win on Sunday could lift them as high as fourth.

 

Liverpool v Arsenal Betting Odds:

Liverpool win 7/4

Arsenal win 29/20

Draw 23/10

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

 

Arsenal’s fanbase has never been more divided over whether Wenger should remain in charge, but the Frenchman’s skin is thicker than most and he will be focusing solely on the job in hand this weekend. Santi Cazorla turned in a mesmerising performance in the 4-1 win over Newcastle last Saturday and he is likely to start again at Anfield. If he can rediscover his best form after an indifferent start to the campaign then the Gunners will have one of the division’s most exciting number tens. He may have just turned thirty but he still has lots to give and could very well make the difference on Sunday.

Arsenal will remain without Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey, though, who along with Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil form an extensive injury list. Nacho Monreal will hope to return to the matchday squad while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a slight doubt.

Liverpool’s injury woes are far less pronounced; apart from long-term absentees Daniel Sturridge and Jon Flanagan, Glen Johnson is their only concern. He will face a late fitness test.

 

Despite Arsenal’s drastically reduced options they still go into this game as overwhelming favourites. A repeat of their last visit to Anfield, when they were blown away with four early goals and went on to lose 5-1, somehow looks unlikely. That was only in February but already it seems an eternity ago. Liverpool’s confidence has been shot to pieces and while Arsenal remain shaky away from home they would be disappointed to come away on the end of a defeat.

We know Liverpool have the players to lift themselves from their current predicament, but it’s increasingly difficult to see where the next win is coming from. If Raheem Sterling can display the same scoring touch he showed at Dean Court on Wednesday then they will have a chance, but the young Englishman has been inconsistent at best this season. A victory on Sunday could definitely provide them with the momentum to start climbing the table but if there’s one word that sums the Reds up at the moment it’s ‘fragile’. Any early setback is likely to derail them, and Arsenal will look to take full advantage of this.

 

Betting Instinct tip Draw at half-time/Arsenal at full-time is 9/2 with Intertops.eu

 

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

Tyne-Wear Derby offers Newcastle and Sunderland’s unsung heroes a chance to shine

Jozy Altidore could earn himself cult hero status at Sunderland by shining against Newcastle

Jozy Altidore could earn himself cult hero status at Sunderland by shining against Newcastle

It suits Alan Pardew to downplay the significance of Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby. Since being gifted the Newcastle job in December 2010, his team have won just one of their seven clashes with Sunderland. When the away team came away from St James’ Park with a 3-0 victory in 2013, it was the heaviest Newcastle derby defeat since 1979 – and then, a year later, it happened again. When Pardew told the press this week that the fixture is ‘always interesting’, then, he almost certainly meant ‘interesting’ in its most euphemistic sense. ‘Shut your noise,’ he seems to be saying to Newcastle fans, and focus your attentions elsewhere.

His Sunderland counterpart Gus Poyet might be expected to be a smidgen more brash, given that he is unbeaten in Tyne-Wear derbies since taking over as manager. Not so: ‘unless someone wins player of the month like Connor Wickham and Adam Johnson did last season,’ he said after his team’s 10th draw in 16 league games, ‘it is going to be boring draws all the time.’ As a strict assessment of his team’s recent performances, it is fair enough. As a means of stirring and spurring them to another win at the home of their biggest rivals, it looks at best misguided.

 

Newcastle United v Sunderland Betting Odds:

Newcastle win 9/10

Sunderland win 57/20

Draw 49/20

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

 

Thankfully, Sunday is not about words. Whatever Pardew or Poyet have to say, it cannot diminish – nor, for that matter, amplify – what is a moment, not a match. Fans of both teams love the derby because fans of both teams make the derby (it is always just ‘the derby’), transforming manager to makeweight, player to pawn, and stadium to cesspit – glorious, wondrous, hate-filled cesspit.

After Newcastle were comprehensively beaten by Arsenal at the weekend, I sent a message to my Newcastle-supporting dad, noting that the midweek League Cup quarter final vs Tottenham was always the more important fixture. His reply was, ‘I and derby stick it up the makums’ (‘I’ equals ‘Aye’, ‘makums’ equals ‘mackems’, or Sunderland fans): no nuance, no cause for elaboration, just a target. While this might be typical of most dads’ football texting habits, it is nonetheless telling. There is no room for ‘rational’ analysis when the derby rolls around; what we have here, Clive, is an occasion where the form book goes out of the window. It is instead something to relish (for the victors), to detest (for the losers), to wonder upon (for the outsiders).

 

All of this makes picking a winner next to impossible. With Shola Ameobi, who – stat alert – scored 16% of his Premier League goals against Sunderland, now taking a late-career amble in the Turkish second tier, United lack a talisman. Sunderland are in a similar pickle: Fabio Borini, their preferred derby bogeyman with three of his eight English top flight strikes coming in wins over Newcastle, is back on the bench at struggling Liverpool.

In lieu of logic, only #NARRATIVE can take up the slack. Every derby demands a hero and a villain: take Kevin Nolan and Titus Bramble on Halloween 2010, or Jack Colback and Pardew – always Pardew – in the February of last season. Sunday will be no different, and at a stretch there are a few clues as to who they might be. Samuel Ameobi could be inspired by his brother’s proud legacy, or he could collapse under the pressure of his hefty surname. Colback could replicate said performance in his new team’s colours, or he could continue to do Sunderland favours. Josmer Volmy Altidore could do what he has done for the last 18 months, that is, nothing at all, or he could find in the derby the catalyst for something remarkable.

I have no idea. Pardew and Poyet have no idea. Nobody has any idea. And if that makes for a terrible betting preview, then so be it.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Eight of Sunderland’s games this season have either finished 0-0 (8/1 with AllYouBet.ag) or 1-1 (11/2), and a repeat of one of these scorelines seems likely

 

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.

Old Trafford trip highlights Liverpool’s season of decline

Defeat this weekend will increase the pressure on Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers

Defeat this weekend will increase the pressure on Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers

As we approach the half-way stage of the 2014-15 Premier League season, once again Liverpool fans are being bombarded by the Groundhog day sensation. The visit of Chelsea and the trip to Selhurst Park last month were reminders of where last season’s title challenge disintegrated, but Sunday’s encounter with Manchester United at Old Trafford promises to be the most harrowing reminder yet of how far Brendan Rodgers’ side have plummeted.

Last March Old Trafford reverberated with the sounds of Poetry in Motion as the revelling hordes of travelling Liverpool fans lauded their side – “We’re gonna win the League”. Their title chances then still looked unlikely, but the swaggering momentum they were building up was undeniable and at times irresistible.

The 3-0 victory that afternoon was one of control and precision, not the swift counter-attacking that came to define them, and that it came at the home of their decaying neighbours made it ever sweeter. How Liverpool fans must wish they could bottle the mood of that afternoon and carry it with them this weekend.

But there will be no repeat of that this Sunday; David Moyes has gone, much to the chagrin of United’s rival fan bases, and the club are in a significantly healthier position this December. Liverpool’s win in Manchester back March was their fifth in succession and they won another six in a row afterward; Louis van Gaal’s United have won their last five and shoved their way into the top three – they could be there for some time now.

 

Manchester United v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Manchester United win 4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 13/5

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

 

Besides the intrigue of their respective fluctuating fortunes, is the resumption of what remains England’s greatest fixture and club rivalry as it enters a new era. The departure of Luis Suarez removes the most volatile character in its recent history, but the arrival of Van Gaal guarantees that the rivalry cycle continues.

The 63 year-old is no stranger to rivalries and the importance associated to it by supporters. Watching his end-of-season victory speech at Bayern Munich in 2010, where he claimed his side not only to be the champions of Munich and Germany, but of Gelsenkirchen, Bremen and Hamburg too, you can imagine he would require little encouragement to proclaim Manchester United as the champions of Liverpool.

 

His revival of United has been in stark contrast to the slapstick moments of August; they have not quite gone down the route of simply trying to outscore opponents. The defence remains makeshift and rarely convinces, but it is nowhere near as porous as many make out; since the second-half collapse at Leicester in September, West Brom are the only team to score more than once past them. The improved form of David de Gea, who is playing at his most consistent peak since joining three years ago, is an undoubtedly strong factor behind this.

The integration of Marouane Fellaini higher up the pitch has given the Red Devils more than just an aerial reference point, and he doesn’t look quite the £28m waste of space that he did under Moyes last season. The entire side looks to be regaining a presence and purpose under their new Dutch manager, a knowhow for winning all manner of football matches no matter the circumstance and situation – for all of Southampton’s endeavour against them on Monday night, United’s victory felt somewhat inevitable.

 

How Brendan Rodgers desires that winning habit that has so deserted him and his team since the spring. The sight of Martin Skrtel operating as an emergency centre-forward as Liverpool limped out of the Champions League on Tuesday was a painful one for supporters and highlighted the disintegration of the attack that had carried them there in the first place.

In the light of a harrowing run of form in the autumn, which culminated in a fourth successive defeat at Crystal Palace last month, Rodgers has abandoned his idealism and resorted to pragmatic football, selecting the players he trusts most and bringing short-term gains. Play is not built from the back, full backs have stopped rampaging forward and midfielders are charged with stopping the opposition resulting in a static rather than fluid attack. Seven points from the last nine available in the league suggests it’s had some effect, but it did not prevent Champions League elimination.

The autumnal slump has been arrested to some degree – Liverpool have not lost since last month’s aberration at Selhurst Park – but they remain in the full grip of a malaise, and on the precipice of a deeper crisis. If the midweek disappointment is followed by defeats at Old Trafford, away to Bournemouth next week and against Arsenal the weekend after – not out of the question for a team with three wins in 12 – then the pressure on Rodgers could grow insurmountable.

 

There is still time for Rodgers to turn this around and the next three fixtures can be viewed as opportunities to regain pride for himself and his team; to do that he must trust in and accentuate the qualities of his players not fear the opposition’s. It is impossible to say in this day and age without sounding like a glib Alan Hansen rehash, but Liverpool still possess the one weapon that can truly unsettle opposition defences; pace.

If the manager decides again to lead the line with a 32 year-old and a 34 year-old, with the combined pace of a bowl of porridge, it will play right into the hands of van Gaal. Failure to pressurise another changed backline, with Chris Smalling now joining Phil Jones and Luke Shaw on the United treatment table, would be another illustration of the fear that has overcome Rodgers and Liverpool.

 

Betting Instinct tip – With Liverpool having only a few days to recover from their Champions League exit, the hosts can take advantage. Manchester United to win by two or more is 2/1 with AllYouBet.ag

 

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football

Will Liverpool and Man City miss key men in Champions League showdowns?

Who will be missed more, Sergio Aguero or Daniel Sturridge?

Who will be missed more, Sergio Aguero or Daniel Sturridge?

While Chelsea and Arsenal have sealed their progress to the Champions League second round with a game to spare, things are not so simple for the remaining two Premier League representatives.

A combination of tough opponents and underwhelming performances have left Liverpool and Manchester City with a tough task to qualify, but both have their fate in their own hands going into matchday 6.

Liverpool v FC Basel Betting Odds:

Liverpool win 7/10

Basel win 7/2

Draw 53/20

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

Liverpool’s return to European football’s top table for the first time in five years has been overshadowed by attacking woes, with Daniel Sturridge’s absence through injury adding to the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona. Strikers Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert have scored just once each in the five group games so far, with Brendan Rodgers’ side picking up just one more point after a narrow win over Ludogorets in their opening game.

However victory over FC Basel would be enough to ensure progress behind group winners Real Madrid. The Swiss champions edged past the Reds at home thanks to a Marco Streller goal, but have won just one of their last five away games in the competition. That was in England, though, when a Streller winner made the difference against Chelsea last season.

An absent striker is the main story for Manchester City as well, with the injury picked up by Sergio Aguero in Saturday’s victory over Everton ruling the Argentine out of Wednesday’s trip to Roma. And after his hat-trick in a last-gasp win over Bayern Munich, it is fair to say that Aguero will be missed, with Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko both yet to score in the competition this season.

Like their fellow Premier League club, City have just one win from five games so far. However, due to a quirk in the Champions League’s head-to-head tiebreaker, Manuel Pellegrini’s men could progress with six points or exit with eight. All they know is defeat in the Italian capital (or a goalless draw) would see them eliminated.

Will we have a repeat of 2012-13, where two English sides failed to make it past the group stage, or could we still see the perfect qualification record enjoyed by Premier League outfits last season?

Betting Instinct tip Liverpool to win and Manchester City to win or draw is 2.6 with Intertops.eu

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.

Reborn Manchester City threaten to flatten struggling Everton

Can the returning Eliaquim Mangala keep out Romelu Lukaku?

Can the returning Eliaquim Mangala keep out Romelu Lukaku?

After months of under-par struggling that has baffled supporters, pundits, and – you suspect – Manuel Pellegrini himself Manchester City seem finally to have found the high gears that secured them the title last season.

Their slick passing and fluid movement has returned, and a quartet of consecutive victories – two of which laid to rest long-standing ‘bogey’ fixtures – have hauled them back to within striking distance of a Chelsea side that seem incapable of losing.

 

Manchester City v Everton Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 1/2

Everton win 5/1

Draw 3/1

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

 

The sensational form of Sergio Aguero aside it is difficult to pinpoint what has caused this dramatic turnaround but evidence lends itself to a team spirit rediscovered as they trailed to Bayern Munich with just minutes to go during their last Champion’s League encounter. The free-scoring Argentine may have bagged an impressive hat-trick that evening – prompting accusations of City being a one-man side – but the collective energy, fight, and pride that coursed through the Etihad on the final whistle acted as a release valve on months of pent-up frustration. City suddenly remembered who they were, what they are capable of and, most importantly, how to set about dismantling opposition with lethal disdain.

Southampton and Sunderland both suffered the ensuing backlash and it’s logical to assume Everton will be similarly punished this Saturday teatime especially in light of the Toffees’ own prolonged dip in form.

 

The visitors, though, boast a very credible record against City. Indeed it wasn’t long ago when they too were considered a bogey team of the current champions, winning nine of the fourteen previous encounters. Defeats both home and away last term appear to have ended that curse and it’s worth noting that the majority of Everton victories were presided over by David Moyes, a man who appeared to take personal exception to City’s fancy ways and consequently fortified his men for battle. At times it was Braveheart vs The Age Of Innocence with the inevitable conclusion being a pumped-up Tim Cahill punching a corner flag in goal celebration.

Under Martinez the Merseysiders have opened up, attempting to play their way through the phases, and this more genteel style is much more in keeping with City’s ideal.

They still possess Romelu Lukaku however, a combination of brawn and touch that will trouble a City rearguard missing their leader Vincent Kompany and the pacy striker will look to exploit any uncertainties in the unfamiliar partnership of Mangala and Demichelis. With McGeady and Mirallas offering intelligent support there’s plenty of scope for Everton to break quick and hard.

 

Dealing with such counters has been City’s Achilles heel this season so it’s critical Pellegrini is brave and starts once more with a rejuvenated Fernandinho in the holding role despite a crucial Champions League showdown with Roma being only four days away. Elsewhere Milner is expected to pip Jovetic for a spot with his forceful endeavour favouring cute flicks to weary a congested Everton midfield.

Where this game may be won tactically resides in which pair of full-backs pins back the other. Both sides are blessed with wingers in all-but-name and should Baines and Colman cede to away etiquette and attempt to keep a solid back four Clichy and Zabaleta – both reborn of late – will surely capitalise and run riot out wide.

 

Then there’s Aguero. A devastating one-man spree of muscle, trickery, and intent ‘Kun’ has exploded into a stratosphere only inhabited by a select handful of sublime talents who seem to have this football lark mastered. So far fourteen goals have been haughtily slotted home and now that his team-mates have raised their game he’s even prepared to help them onto the score-sheet too with three assists in the last two games. All this in addition to his relentless probing and expertly seeking out a yard of space means it’s safe to assume Phil Jagielka will have a sleep-deprived Friday night.

That goes double for Tim Howard who has become a shadow of his former self, uncharacteristically shaky behind a defence who have already shipped in 22 goals this season, more than any other side bar those in genuine relegation plight.

With this in mind Sergio and co must be licking their lips and even without the artful magician Silva pulling the strings and Kompany the warrior leading from the back it’s hard to see past anything other than a continuation of Manchester City’s rebirth.

The wheels are back on the juggernaut and Everton will do well to not be flattened.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Against a porous Everton defence, Manchester City to win both halves is 13/10 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Crisis time for Klopp!

Crisis in Dortmund!

Klopp’s Dortmund are rock-bottom of the Bundesliga!

He may be one of the most sought-after managers in Europe after his recent success, but for the time being Jurgen Klopp is living a Bundesliga nightmare at Borussia Dortmund. Whilst big rivals Bayern Munich are seemingly strolling to yet another title, Dortmund amazingly find themselves rock-bottom of the division after 13 games.

Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt was just the latest in a run of inept performances in the league this season, made all the more mystifying by Dortmund’s excellent form in the Champions League. The Black and Yellows have now lost eight of their 13 league games and won just three. To make matters worse the atmosphere within the club seems to have turned nasty following the latest flop.

Dortmund’s huge army of supporters have always enjoyed a reputation for patience, but travelling fans vented their frustration and anger in no uncertain terms after the Frankfurt game to further increase the pressure on both Klopp and his team to turn things around.

General manager Michael Zorc stressed that the club’s bosses are still behind charismatic Klopp, but his magic does indeed seem to be on the wane. The coach himself stressed that he has no intention of throwing in the towel after six years at the helm at Signal Iduna Park, but Friday’s Bundesliga encounter at home to a confident Hoffenheim side could yet prove to be a crossroads in his career. If the 2011 and 2012 Bundesliga champions should slip up again at home (fourth loss in seven home games), then a fairytale relationship between coach, team and fans could well come to an abrupt end.

German Bundesliga, Matchday 14: Borussia Dortmund vs. TSG Hoffenheim Betting Odds:

Borussia Dortmund 1,53
Draw 4.25
TSG Hoffenheim 5.25

Next Bundesliga coach to leave his club Odds:

Jurgen Klopp 7.0

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

Things we’ll learn in the Premier League this month – December

Will Aleks Kolarov get into the Christmas spirit once more? (photo credit: YouTube/Manchester City FC)

Will Aleks Kolarov get into the Christmas spirit once more? (photo credit: YouTube/Manchester City FC)

Goodness me it’s December already, and amongst other things that means the traditionally packed Christmas schedule. With it being a bumper month for football you’d think that would mean a bumper column, but I’m getting paid the same for this as I would on a normal month so that won’t be happening.

 

We get an early Xmas present (yes there will be a festive theme running throughout, deal with it) with the first round of fixtures in December being played mid-week. What better way to break up the drudgery of our miserable lives than a televised feast of Leicester vs Liverpool on a Tuesday and Arsenal vs Southampton on a Wednesday. Both clashes are tricky to predict as Leicester pretended to be good for a bit before discovering they were actually rubbish and Liverpool pretended to be really good for a bit before discovering they were actually rubbish. It’s a similar dynamic in the Arsenal vs Southampton game as Wenger’s men are pretending to be rubbish (they’ll get better soon) and Southampton are pretending to be good (they’ll get less good soon). Now none of that might make much sense to you right now but don’t worry it’ll become clear in time.

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool and Arsenal to both win is 3.51 with Intertops.eu

 

The first weekend of the month throws up a set of fixtures that are surely designed to let us get our Christmas shopping done. So head to the high street my friends and spend more money than you can afford on unwanted gifts for people you don’t even like. It’s what Jesus would have wanted*.

* My editor insists that I make it clear I do not speak for Jesus and have no way of knowing what he would want us to do with our weekends.

 

Come the middle of the month we have two of the Premier League’s flagship fixtures. First up it’s Arsenal hosting Newcastle, now at the time of writing Arsenal are the club in turmoil, but by the time this game comes around both clubs could conceivably have been in and out of a season defining crisis on three or four occasions. Also the two managers really don’t like each other, so that’s worth keeping an eye on. Then on Sunday it’s Man Utd vs Liverpool, English football’s one true firecracker of a fixture and it’s a game both teams will be even more desperate than usual to win. Last season Liverpool, high on the scent of a potential first title in decades, ripped through a hesitant and meek United, but this time it’s Liverpool who look primed for a doing. Louis van Gaal hasn’t got things right quite yet but his side are brimming with talent and are going to run up a big score against someone soon, it may as well be their fiercest rivals.

It doesn’t get much easier for Brendan and his merry men as the week after the trip to Old Trafford they welcome Arsenal to Anfield/A bit of relief for Brendan and his merry men as the week after the trip to Old Trafford they welcome Arsenal to Anfield**.

** Delete as appropriate taking into account the current Arsenal crisis level.

 

It matters little that the Boxing Day fixtures aren’t up to much, we have a full Premier League card the day after Christmas. Who cares if the televised matches are two middling London derbies, you can spend a full day gorging on chocolate and leftovers slumped in front of Sky Sports basking in the glory of your existence, it’s what Jesus would have wanted (we’ve already been over this – ed.). Alternatively you could actually go to a game, work of some of the holiday excesses by cheering on your chosen side. Keep in mind it will be cold and your side will probably lose on account of your left back being even more sluggish than usual thanks to a serving or two too many of trifle the day before

Just to add to the anarchical nature of the days between Christmas and New Year there is another round of games on the Sunday, just two days after the Boxing Day extravaganza. How anyone is supposed to know what day it is and where they’re meant to be is beyond me. As long as you don’t accidentally go to work you have Southampton vs Chelsea to look forward to, at the time of writing this is a top of the table clash but that may not be the case come the end of December depending on how quickly Southampton regress to the mean.

 

Anyway that’s enough from me, I hope your December is full of wonder and joy and that your football team doesn’t extinguish that wonder and joy with their ineptitude.

 

Come wish me a Merry Christmas over on Twitter https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

Ally avatarALLY MONCRIEFF is a freelance football writer and editor of All or Nothing magazine. Sometimes even he can’t tell if he’s being serious or not. Follow Ally on Twitter and maybe he’ll be your friend.