Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – April

 

April is a glorious month, the days get warmer and longer, outside boozing become socially acceptable and I can start my now annual crusade to be allowed to wear shorts to work. The football season also approaches what that Football Cliches bloke on Twitter would call the ‘business end’ (or are we there already? – ed.).

 

March finishes with the bleak nothingness of an international fortnight so thank the Lord above that April has an absolute cracker of a game to get us started. Brendan Rodgers and his band of merry men travel to face Arsenal, where they really have to win to keep their top 4 hopes alive. They do of course make this trip minus their captain, which in most cases would be a disadvantage but in all honesty when your central midfielder is so busy raging against the dying of the light that the physical act of football becomes an irrelevance in his tortured mind then maybe it’s for the best if he takes his place in the stand. Arsenal are in form and at the stage of the season where they traditionally win games so are heavy favourites. Their form is such that there has even been talk of a title challenge, that obviously won’t happen but they could conceivably finish in the top two, which would represent progress of a sort and save any awkward early season ventures to deepest darkest Europe in the name of Champions League qualification.

 

Arsenal v Liverpool Betting Odds: 

Arsenal win  4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 53/20

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

 

The other stand out game that first weekend is the Tyne Wear derby, Sunderland (29/20 with Intertops.eu) have terrible players and are terrible so they will lose, but then again Newcastle (19/10) gave up on their season a couple of months ago and have a terrible manager so they’ll probably lose as well. Sunderland have a new manager who is in theory less terrible than the last one so that might help. Honestly unless you support either of the sides you’re only watching this one for the inevitable comedy violence.

 

The following weekend we get to witness the sight of Tottenham’s greatest ever manager returning to the scene of both his glorious triumph and the scandalous betrayal that ended his White Hart Lane reign. It is never wise to speculate on how history will remember a man and his deeds but in the case of Tim Sherwood we can rest assured that future generations will speak of him with the reverence reserved for only the truly great. He does have to be a bit careful that for all his undeniable majesty and grace he doesn’t end up forgetting to stop Villa getting relegated. A win at Spurs would be handy.

 

On Sunday we have the Manchester Derby and although United have spent the majority of the season grinding out results whilst playing suspiciously Moyesish football their recent upturn coupled with City’s recent malaise probably makes them favourites. United might have Van Persie back but he probably won’t get in the side ahead of Marouane Fellaini. Which when you think about it is a bit odd.

 

The season is actually in real danger of petering out, the top 4 looks familiar and unlikely to change save for a bit of jostling. The teams occupying the relegation zone all have a very Championshipy look about them, Burnley might just drag themselves out and haul someone back in, with Sunderland looking most likely. Leicester have played quite well at points this season without ever looking like they might still be here come next August and QPR are a shambles both on and off the pitch. I’m not saying I’m struggling to find things to write about as we approach the conclusion of another campaign but we could really do with a good handshake/non-handshake scandal to keep things interesting over the next few weeks.

 

The only saving grace may come in the remaining cup competitions where the Champions League despite/because of (delete as appropriate) its lack of English participants looks particularly well poised for a brilliant last few rounds. We get repeat of last years final where Atletico (8/5 to qualify with AllYouBet.ag)will be looking for revenge against their city neighbours (11/25) and if there’s one man on this planet you’d bet on to exact his revenge it would be Diego Simeone. His rebuilding of the second Madrid club is one of the great stories of modern football and rarely can one team have been created to resemble so closely the mould of its master. That’s probably the pick of the ties but Zlatan visiting any club he feels he has been wronged by is always entertaining, so Barcelona vs PSG should be fun.

 

There’s also the FA Cup where we’d all like to see Steven Gerrard sign off as a champion/fall over and gift the opposition a goal in the last minute (delete as appropriate). Arsenal will probably win the thing for the second year running but it’s been a while since they spectacularly imploded against lower league opposition so maybe they have one of those in store for us.

 

Betting Instinct tip Liverpool to beat Blackburn in their FA Cup replay and move closer to that dream final is 3/5 with Intertops.eu

 

 

Anyway that’s enough filling, see you next month. Or maybe I’ll see you over on Twitter where I recently got 250+ RTs on a tweet with a typo which I thought was the type of thing that only happened in horror stories designed to frighten grammatically substandard children https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

 

Advertisements

First time finalists New Zealand battle Australia for Cricket World Cup crown

Can Australia benefit from home advantage at the MCG?

Can Australia benefit from home advantage at the MCG?

 

It may have required an exhausting 44 days and 48 matches to reach, but finally the Cricket World Cup crescendo tops out in all the flip-flop, vest top glory joint-hosts Australia can offer. In the end, the final match-up was predictable, as Australia and maiden finalists New Zealand thrashed their way with unrelenting prowess to meet for the chance to become world champions.

Both deserve their place in the final for the attacking, edge-of-your-seat style cricket they have played. No team has matched their appetite for runs and ruthless fast-bowling, and as the pair walk out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday we are likely to witness a truly stunning contest.

 

Cricket World Cup Final Betting Odds:

Australia win 11/25

New Zealand win 7/4

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

 

Having smashed their way around both of their own islands, New Zealand now travel across the Tasman Sea for their first game of the World Cup on foreign soil. And while Australia will enjoy home advantage, their Kiwi cousins enter the final as the only side to win every match of their campaign including the group stage fixture between these two sides.

New Zealand offer better outright winner odds, but Australia are peaking at the right time and, as shown by their unforgiving dismissal of current champions India in the semi-finals, it is almost impossible to predict a victor.

As such, we need to look elsewhere, and one bet that is more tempting is Australia’s opening partnership to be under 29.5 runs at 5/6 with Coral.

Australia have posted an opening partnership over 30 just once in their seven games so far, striking 57 against England in their first match of the World Cup. Even then, they gave a simple chance in the first over, when Chris Woakes dropped Aaron Finch on a duck; New Zealand are unlikely to be so generous.

 

Indeed, so disciplined have they been in the early overs that only one side scored an opening partnership above 30 against them. Though new-ball pair Tim Southee and Trent Boult suffered late on in their last match with South Africa, where Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and David Miller went Thor-like hamming the seamers to all parts, they share 36 wickets in the tournament. Crucially for this bet, they remove opposition opening batsmen cheaply: on four occasions the opening stand has fallen for five runs or fewer.

And if the pace bowlers don’t work, New Zealand can turn to the spinning threat of Daniel Vettori in the knowledge he is unlikely to leak runs. The oldest player left in the tournament, 36-year-old Vettori has taken 18 wickets already in this World Cup, and his canny ability to change delivery speed will cause problems in Melbourne. Added to the attacking mind-set of captain Brendon McCullum’s field settings and the MCG’s larger boundaries and Vettori can be used from the off.

In comparison, New Zealand’s forthright batting has their first 15 overs run rate averaging at 6.97 runs per over (Australia lagging on 5.87). Opener McCullum proved against the pace attack of South Africa that even the world’s best bowling won’t prevent him from playing big shots. And though many will point to New Zealand’s smaller boundaries for their big-hitting success, 16 of their 25 knock-out round maximums would have still cleared the MCG ropes. So backing New Zealand to have the most runs after 15 overs (around evens with most sportsbooks) is a worthwhile bet.

 

Lastly, for those who enjoy bet-in-play options, look no further than an Australian win if Steve Smith reaches his half-century. The Australian batsman was pushed up to number three for their quarter-final bout with Pakistan where he made 65, and then backed it up in the semi-finals notching up a man-of-the-match 105.

Once mocked, Smith’s contribution with the bat has been telling, with Australia yet to lose an ODI contest when he makes 50. Averaging 71.50 in the number three slot, Smith provides a calm but powerful presence, building a platform for the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson to exploit with their hefty middle-order blows.

 

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

Tottenham’s Harry Kane should win Premier League Player of the Year

 

Last Saturday, I was in the Park Lane end at White Hart Lane, watching Spurs play Leicester. It finished 4-3 and any match with that scoreline, to get all @footballcliches, obligatorily has to be labelled a ‘seven goal thriller’ by commentators and match report writers.

This match wasn’t really a thriller though, more a series of ever increasing defensive cock ups. Leicester gave away a daft penalty and one, possibly two own goals. Spurs conceded thrice, to respectively a forward who hadn’t scored in five months, a lumpy centre half who’d never scored a Premier League goal and David Nugent who at kick off had the lethal goalscoring rate of eleven goals in eighty one Premier League games.

 

Phil Tufnell, fielding on the boundary once in Australia, was asked by a wag in the crowd to ‘lend me your brain, I’m building an idiot’. Any idiot builders would have loved to have got their hands on Kyle Walker’s brain, such was his performance. Somehow, it was rewarded with an England call-up. Does that make Roy Hodgson an idiot builder?

It was a weird game generally – odd goals, abnormal levels of cold for this time of year and most surprising of all, a good performance from Paulinho coming off the bench. A vast change from the man who for most of his time at Spurs looked no more likely to pen a bestselling novel than put in a  performance that would get more than 6.9 on Football Manager.

The game was memorable for a hat-trick by Harry Kane. At the ground, the reception to his hat-trick was warm but it wasn’t overwhelming. The ‘he’s one of our own chants’ struggled to get going, the volume was muted. It was akin more to nods of approval at a decent support act than crazed moshing at the chorus of a band’s best song.

 

Premier League Top Scorer Betting Odds:

Harry Kane 13/10

Diego Costa 8/5

Sergio Aguero 5/2

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

 

There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, for Spurs at least, the game didn’t mean a whole lot. The top four’s a distant hope, they’re out of the cup competitions and all a strong end to the season does is make it more likely Spurs end up in football purgatory (the Europa League) again next season. Also, Kane’s triumvirate of goals were not especially thrilling. A tap-in from a corner, a heavily deflected shot and a penalty. Dennis Bergkamp v Leicester or Tony Yeboah v Wimbledon it wasn’t.

Plus, the game lacked quality, there were long stoppages in play for knocks to Hugo Lloris and Eric Dier and it was bloody cold. By the seventy five minute mark any observer who walked into White Hart Lane would have seen fans with their coats zipped up to the neck, hands in pockets, shaking in their seats, trying to retain their last vestiges of warmth.

Perhaps more than anything though, Harry Kane scoring a hat-trick wasn’t remotely surprising. Such are his achievements at the moment that the ridiculous becomes plausible on a weekly basis.

 

The stats are ridiculous. Kane didn’t start a Premier League game till November 9th against Stoke. His first league goal of the season only came the week before, a deflected free kick winner at Villa Park.

Since then, he’s scored nineteen league goals. Nineteen! That includes five goals in his last three, eleven goals in his last eight. In four months, he’s gone from not scoring a league goal to being the league’s top scorer. For the season, he has twenty nine goals in forty three games.

While that rate of goalscoring is not uncommon, I doubt anyone in the Premier League era has had such a good season with so few expectations. He started off the season as Tottenham’s third choice striker, in a team that only plays with one forward. His role was as backup for league games, perhaps making occasional appearances off the bench. Cup games were to be his bread and butter. Some decent performances under Tim Sherwood at the fag end of last season had cemented his role as a squad player.

 

Two games this season were pivotal to his development, as he morphed from just another squad player to this superhero figure he’s become lately.

The first  was the Europa League group fixture versus Asteras of Greece. It had all the makings of a dull encounter – Europa League group games tend to be about as exciting as an episode of Fred Dibnah’s World of Steam.

Not this one though. Erik Lamela scored one of the most outrageously brilliant goals of all time and Kane scored a hat-trick, his first for Spurs.

His hat-trick though wasn’t the most memorable thing he did that night. In the match’s dying embers, Hugo Lloris got sent off for taking out an Asteras forward who was through on goal. All substitutions had been used up. So we got to witness one of football’s underrated pleasures, an outfield player going in goal.

And who volunteered to put on the purple goalkeeping jersey and don the gloves? Super Harry Kane of course! It didn’t even matter he let in the resultant free kick. Scoring a hat-trick and going in goal, voluntarily, in the same game endeared him to the Spurs support, who perhaps witnessed in this Chingford-born, lumpy forward with an unorthodox gait and hangdog facial expressions, a kindred spirit. Who hasn’t fancied going in goal for the lols occasionally?

 

With consistently good cup performances and increasing calls for his place in the starting XI from the stands, aided by Emmanuel Adebayor’s Emmanuel Adebayor-ness and Roberto Soldado’s continued hopelessness, he got into the first team. He did well – four goals in his first nine starts, with his workrate making him an excellent fit with the high pressing style Mauricio Pochettino has imposed at Spurs.

But it was the game against Chelsea on New Year’s Day where he morphed again, this time from decent Premier League forward to fully fledged superhero. With Spurs 1-0 down, struggling against the usual robotic display from Mourinho’s players he scored a ridiculously good equaliser. He got the ball on the touchline, worked his way past three or four defenders into the middle of the pitch, then unleashed a scuttling shot that beat Thibaut Courtois at the near post from twenty five yards out.

Chelsea seemed stunned. They played like it too, coming apart at the seams under increasing Spurs pressure. What looked like another humdrum victory for the league leaders became a 5-3 rout for Spurs, in spite of Eden Hazard playing like a sober, Belgian Maradona. Kane didn’t stop running, doing things to Gary Cahill’s confidence that could take years to rebuild. His second goal that night too was outrageously good. A wonderfully dextrous touch and turn, then a lovely side footed finish. A touch of genius.

 

After that, he’s been this superhero figure that football watchers are still grappling to come to terms with. He scored twice against Arsenal, the second goal being one of the best headers I’ve ever seen. Leaning backwards, from a good twelve yards out, to power a looping a header over Ospina in the Arsenal like he did almost defied physics. And a homegrown product scoring to win the game over the local rivals too, just amazing. He did something that day that kids dream of doing. In real life.

What he’s achieved is remarkable. What adds to this is how he looks and often acts like the antithesis of the modern day superstar footballer. He has this gangly gait, more befitting a spotty teenager than a Premier League player. His default facial expression is that of a gormless farmhand. He talks like his tongue’s too big. West Ham fans got in trouble for a chant about him recently.

But that makes him all the more loveable. He’s not some super-athlete with muscles the size of watermelons, jet heels and a lingerie model girlfriend. He looks like you and me. He even plays like faintly you and me, with his boundless energy and chasing of lost causes. Judging from his social media output, he has a very nice life where he plays football, scores goals, goes for celebratory drinks afterwards then goes home to his childhood sweetheart girlfriend and their dogs. He even wears naff Christmas jumpers.

He’s an ordinary guy who just happens to be extraordinarily good at football. A film about him wouldn’t be a glossy, stage managed product but a gritty, documentary style drama. More This Sporting Life than GoalIndeed, with his incredible achievements against all the odds, he’s like a footballing Forrest Gump.

 

Where does he go from here? He’ll make his England debut for a start and those that still give two hoots about the England team can only hope that he doesn’t get sucked into the vortex of mediocrity that seemingly envelopes all the young talent that wears the three lions on it’s chest.

Also, he’s a shoo-in for Young Player of the Year with his goalscoring output and all round performances. No one comes to him for that award.

But what about Player of the Year? The natural reaction is to laugh off such talk. Harry Kane does not exactly fit the mould of a serial award winner. He’s not marketable, doesn’t get linked with ridiculous transfer rumours to PSG or Real Madrid on websites’ gossip columns. He doesn’t sound like a star either, with the speech impediment he has.

 

But who deserves to beat him then? Alexis Sanchez was perhaps the early favourite but has tailed off since Christmas. Aguero missed time with an injury. Diego Costa has looked tired recently, plus his all-round villainy will surely, rightly or wrongly, count against him.

It surely comes down to Kane or Eden Hazard. Hazard’s been, very very good. He’s allied his talent and skill with increased work rate and more end product. The Mourinho effect in Hazard especially, of all of Chelsea’s players, has been noticeable.

Hazard has done that in a star studded outfit, though. He has Cesc Fabregas feeding him the ball with Diego Costa ahead of him. Kane gets his help from Andros Townsend and Ryan Mason. And aside from a brief Christian Eriksen purple patch, he’s had to carry the Spurs goalscoring burden almost single-handedly.

He gets less help than Hazard and does just as much, if not more in terms of end product. Notwithstanding that a reserve forward coming from football’s metaphorical tundra regions to shock the footballing public would be an amazing story. Kane already had consecutive Player of the Month awards before his hat-trick against Leicester.

 

As Harry himself would say, “Never fucking give up.”

 

Betting Instinct tip Harry Kane is 10/3 to open the scoring for England against Lithuania tonight with Coral.co.uk. He is second-favourite for Premier League Player of the Year with most sportsbooks.

 

avatar-jackhowes-50JACK HOWES (debaser92) is an avid sports fan who writes about football and Asperger’s Syndrome. The only things he loves more than Mars Bars are his family and Tottenham Hotspur FC.

Tottenham, Real Madrid and Rangers players in the spotlight for Euro 2016 qualifiers

 

Rejoice, football lovers, for when the sun is settling down and the wind shooting through Wembley stadium this Friday evening, you’ll at least be in the company of ONE OF YOUR OWN. Harry Kane, that lad at school who treated his Adidas ‘preds’ better than you did your girlfriend. Harry Kane, who of course skipped class to watch Sven’s men in a Chingford pub called the Sirloin. Harry Kane, not just boyhood Spurs (oops) but ‘patriotic England fan . . . sang God Save the Queen with pride, always do.’ One of us. One of us.

Yes, international week, where European football comes to die, has rolled round once more. First to discuss is England vs Lithuania, a match Roy Hodgson’s players – debut-ready Kane excepted – care so little about that they’re not even bothering to watch the individually-tailored videos that their manager has so painstakingly put together in advance. Not that it would make much difference, the squad being what it is.

England vs Lithuania Betting Odds:

England win 1/10

Lithuania win 18/1

Draw 15/2

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

A flurry of injuries means that Rob Green, as sharp as a bag of wet mice to paraphrase the real star of Sunday’s Clasico, deputises for Joe Hart. Andros Townsend, to Arjen Robben what Hugo is to Bart, covers for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. And so worried is Hodgson by the threat of Saulius Mikoliunas, the Lithuanian winger formerly of Hearts and now at Belarusian club Shakhtyor Soligorsk, that he has called up three left-backs in Leighton Baines, Kieran Gibbs, and Danny Rose.

Expect a drab England win in the manner of every England win: 0-0 at the hour; a twitchy Andy Townsend, Clive; a cheap penalty for 1-0 and a deflected free kick to seal it. But do enjoy Harry Kane, the everyman with the remarkable ability to leave supporters even more open-mouthed than he is.

Israel vs Wales

Wales, the only home nation to play away from home, will leave Europe behind for the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa. The long trip to Israel, however, will not worry them so much as the form of their opponents. Wales (333/100 with Intertops.eu) have been solid, with two wins and two draws from their opening matches; Israel (5/6) have been perfect, their 100% record comprising an especially impressive 3-0 defeat of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Facing the twin-hindrance of tough opponents and the management of Chris Coleman, that Wales are even in with a chance here tells you something about the talent in their starting eleven. Exhibit A: Britain’s best midfield, lovely little Joe Allen and the now sadly bearded Aaron Ramsey supplemented by the even beardier Joe Ledley. And Exhibit B: It’s Gareth Bale, taking some time off from making Cristiano cry to chill with Hal Robson-Kanu. Granted, not enough to win a match all by themselves, but probably enough to give Tal Ben-Haim a good working over.

This, though, is not the time for rational analysis. With Wales teasing a first major tournament appearance in nearly 60 years, it’s time to stop what you’re doing, stand up, and listen to Paul Robeson belt out Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Imma let you finish, Harry Kane, but Wales got one of the best anthems of all time.

Scotland vs Gibraltar

Scotland’s squad, meanwhile, are ‘not special yet,’ assistant manager Mark McGhee helpfully pointed out this week. Beat Gibraltar, who boast four losses from four, a goal difference of -21, and 13 players from the almost certainly fictional Lincoln Red Imps F.C., and they’re one step closer. The whole world is watching. And a 6-0 home win is shorter odds than smaller margins of victory.

Northern Ireland vs Finland

Off the back of a friendly against Scotland, Northern Ireland face Finland knowing that a win could put them a massive five points clear of third place with half of the campaign gone. This is wonderful news for the neutral, Norn Iron suddenly emerging as the most don’t-give-a-damn of all the home nations.

First there was January’s Ballon d’Or boycott, the Irish Football Association – alone among peers – failing to send their voting ballots back to FIFA on time. In any case, manager Michael O’Neill didn’t deem Lionel Messi to be one of the world’s best three players; Ronaldo, Philipp Lahm, and Thomas Mueller would, save for the IFA’s incompetency, have been his preferred choices. There’s also Jonny Evans, eligible for this match despite having eyeballed and spat at a man lying on the floor, before then going on to brazenly deny the subsequent FA charge. And what about the call-up for Shane Ferguson, coming as a great surprise to loan club Rangers who were told that he would be injured for the rest of the season?

No matches played, but a strong year so far for the Northern Irish – and with 43 in the world rankings coming up against 78 on Sunday, it might well be that they take that scintillating off-field form on to the pitch and cap an unusually exciting international break.

Betting Instinct tip Northern Ireland to keep up their unlikely run with a win is 17/10 with Intertops.eu

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.

Real Madrid and Barcelona see form fluctuate ahead of El Clasico

 

Lionel Messi was finished. Barcelona were in crisis. Luis Enrique in trouble. Now, they’re not. Barcelona are the league leaders, they’ve advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Enrique has figured out his best team. So of course, it’s Real Madrid’s turn.

Cristiano Ronaldo is done. Gareth Bale can’t score. Carlo Ancelotti is clueless. Real Madrid are firmly in what constitutes as a crisis these days. Which means that they are second in the league and have also advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. But there is some fire where the smoke is.

 

Barcelona v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Barcelona win 67/100

Real Madrid win 31/10

Draw 16/5

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

 

Real Madrid are struggling where Barcelona are rising. While Barca were rampant in their destruction of Manchester City, Real came deathly close to being knocked out by a fervent Schalke squad. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Leroy Sané especially tried to squeeze the life out of Los Merengues. This after Real lost 1-0 to a suffocating Athletic Bilbao side. The sky was falling.

Then they beat Levante 2-0 to get back on track, and Gareth Bale, maligned throughout the season, scored a brace. Luka Modric, who the team sorely missed, and whose absence create an imbalance in midfield, returned. Even if Sané broke him down during the Champions League game. Ronaldo may be spending most of his time throwing temper tantrums, but he’s still as dangerous as ever. Form is hardly ever an indication in this game.

 

So that brings us to the present. All signs point to a Barcelona win, even if Real is resurgent. Barcelona have seemingly fixed the issues that had them written off mere months ago. The Neymar-Luis Suarez-Lionel Messi trio are playing breathtaking football. While the former BBC of their rivals are finding goals harder to come by. Mixed in with the rumors that there is discord within their ranks and it’s a sure recipe for disaster.

The job on Ancelotti’s hands then is to get his troops on the same page as quickly as possible. This is still the same team that won La Decima a season ago. It’s still the same cast of men who ran out 3-1 winners against Barcelona earlier this season. Even if some of the players have fallen victim to the injury gods, the quality of the group is no less.

 

Barcelona are still fragile in defense and they are still beatable. Even in the game against Manchester City, the English had many chances to claw back into the tie. Chances that you would expect a squad of Real’s calibre to finish. Hope is abundant still. If not for any other reason than for the fact that Los Blancos are immensely talented.

From Barcelona’s point of view, all that needs to be done is to continue down the same path. Messi is in irrepressible form. Unplayable and creative. He’s in the same type of beast-mode that earned him 89 goals in 2012, except now he has more weapons. Not only his improved passing but his cast.

 

Neymar spends as much time scoring as he does embarrassing defenders. Luis Suarez has found his place within the team. Ivan Rakitic is much more suited to Barcelona’s current style than Cesc Fabregas, and he’s much more physical as well. Javier Mascherano is a steel curtain of a man and Gerard Pique has found his brain again.

If they play as they’ve been playing the latter part of the season, things look bright. But if Barcelona take their opponents for granted; if they miss the same chances presented to them against City, Real will punish them. El Clasico is an entity in itself and any mistake or hesitation can easily cost either team.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Barcelona to win and both teams to score is 2.34 with Intertops.eu

 

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

Even for Top Seeded US College Basketball Teams, One March Madness Loss Can Mean its Over

US college basketball betting in March MadnessAs US college basketball competition begins in earnest this week, it comes as no surprise that the University of Kentucky is the overall No. 1 seed in the Midwest as Kansas hangs on to a No. 2 seed despite losing in the Big 12 title game. In the East, The Cleveland Cavaliers ended up at No. 2 in what could be a very unpredictable bracket. Duke is the favorite in the South but  Gonzaga and Iowa State could yet have a word or two to say about that. When a single loss means it’s all over, no one should get too comfortable.

It’s early days, but at this point Kentucky (+120) is favored to win the Championship on April 6th in Indianapolis followed by Wisconsin and Arizona (both +700).

AllYouBet, an American-style online sportsbook, has attractive odds on all NCAAB championship games as well as a couple of great March Madness bonus offers.

Until April 7th, AllYouBet is adding an extra 50% bonus (up to $100) to all deposits. Basketball bettors can claim this sportsbetting bonus by entering coupon code MMBONUS15 when they deposit. Everyone that wagers a minimum of $1000 on the Final Four will receive a $100 Free Bet on April 8th.

March Madness 2015 is Kentucky’s to lose

Can anyone stop Kentucky this year?

Can anyone stop Kentucky this year?

Kentucky is the best team in the country. There is no more obvious statement in the whole sports world right now. With a 34-0 record – which included victories over Kansas, North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisville – Kentucky is the undisputed best team in the country. But what is scariest is not their 30 point demolitions of Kansas and UCLA, instead it is the back-to-back near upsets they faced against Ole Miss and Texas A&M which both went to overtime, with the A&M game ending in double overtime. It was those two games where Kentucky showed that they can grind out wins even when everything is against them.

And it is that mental fortitude which will come in handy in the tournament where they will have a target on their back every single game they play. Throw in the fact that they ended up losing in the final last year to an 8 loss UConn team and this Kentucky is going to be hellbent on going 40-0 and winning the tournament.

 

2015 NCAA March Madness Outright Betting Odds:

Kentucky +110

Wisconsin +750

Arizona +800

Duke +850 

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

 

Looking at the top seeded teams in this year’s tournament it is just impossible to not see Kentucky emerging victorious. They are the best coached team in the country and have a size advantage that no other team can match, with Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns – two NBA-ready 7ft players. Most teams would be lucky to have one of these guys, but Kentucky has two, and it makes them completely unplayable in the paint. The smart money is on Kentucky, they are a step above every other team in the country and when you look at the odds this notion is clearly reflected. March Madness, the most unpredictable tournament in the world, is predicting one thing; and that is, to the disdain of every college hoops fan, a Kentucky victory.

But even though Kentucky is the smart bet, it is no fun rooting for the team who is overwhelmingly perceived as the tournament favourite, especially when it is a team as universally disliked as Kentucky.

 

So if you’re not going to back Kentucky then who is there left to bet on? The second tier of teams (despite all being #1 seeds) are Wisconsin, Duke and Villanova. Villanova can be crossed off the list immediately purely for being a Big East team. Yes, they have a 32-2 record and have beaten down on their conference, but how many Big East teams are actually going to make it to the second round of the tournament? And they ended up splitting the series with the best team they faced, Georgetown, that featured them getting blown out by 20 on the road. Villanova are also placed in one of the toughest regions this tournament with Louisville, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Virginia all lying in wait. It is hard to back a Big East team to win the tournament given the conference’s recent history in tournament play.

Virginia look like the team to beat in this region, finishing the season with the #1 ranked defense and only 3 losses (to Duke, Louisville and UNC by a combined total of 12 points). This Virginia team has been excellent all year and will be a great match-up to Kentucky if both progress that far. In a tournament like March Madness where there is more money to be won betting on teams who are not #1 seeds then Virginia (+1100 with AllYouBet.ag) are the most logical choice if you want an outside shot but don’t want to be taking a punt on a sub-elite Kansas or Louisville team.

 

The other team apart from Virginia where there is good value is Wisconsin, who, despite being widely considered the second favourite behind Kentucky, come with some pretty favourable odds. The main reason behind Wisconsin being seen as the second best team in the tournament is Frank Kaminsky, a 7ft behemoth who is widely regarded as the best offensive player in the country. If Wisconsin manage to reach final to presumably face off against Kentucky, then the match-up between Willie Cauley-Stein and Frank Kaminsky will be fantastic to watch, pitting an undefendable player against the best defender in the country. Wisconsin can go as far as Kaminsky wants to take them and it is never a bad move to bet on the team that features the best player in the country, especially as the earliest Wisconsin can play Kentucky is the final game of the tournament.

Kentucky may be the heavy favourite for the tournament but that creates a lot of value elsewhere with Wisconsin and Virginia being prime examples.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – Wisconsin to win NCAAB West is +150 with AllYouBet.ag

 

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.

Liverpool and Manchester United battle for Champions League place

Liverpool come full circle on Sunday as Manchester United visit Anfield – a grudge match in every sense of the word – and yet intensified by what lies at stake. When the sides met at Old Trafford in the middle of December Brendan Rodgers debuted his innovative 3-4-2-1 formation, but his team still ended the game on the wrong side of a 3-0 thrashing. The Reds dropped to 10th in the table and 10 points behind their arch-rivals, and at that stage their prospects of a top four finish looked incredibly bleak.

But the seeds of Liverpool’s revival were sown in those harrowing 90 minutes at Old Trafford. The 3-4-2-1 has been an ever-present since, it has led to greater defensive solidity and allowed Liverpool to replicate a hint of their attacking zest from last season; most importantly they haven’t suffered defeat in the league since, and they now sit two points behind their fourth-placed rivals with nine games remaining.

 

Liverpool v Manchester United Betting Odds:

Liverpool win 21/20

Manchester United win 12/5

Draw 12/5

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

 

The system may have come by design, but the personnel in the eleven that will probably start at Anfield very much by accident. Brad Jones infamously displaced Simon Mignolet in goal and his novel trait of playing dodgeball, rather than, say, goalkeeping, lasted until a Boxing Day injury picked up at Burnley. The Belgian has subsequently found his best form since his move to Merseyside behind the settled back three of Emre Can, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho.

Can’s elevation to a ball-playing right-sided centre-half came in that trip to Turf Moor, after an injury to Glen Johnson and half-time substitution of Kolo Toure. Sakho’s opportunity on the left finally came after Rodgers’ patience with £20million summer recruit Dejan Lovren wore thin. Those three and Mignolet have formed an effective defensive unit and underpinned Liverpool’s surge up the table since the turn of the year.

 

P 13 W 10 D 3 L 0 F 24 A 8

Those are the numbers behind the Reds’ transformation since the bleakest of midwinters; a season that looked a write-off is now full of opportunity and progression. The highlight of their current five-game winning streak came with Philippe Coutinho’s stunning winner against Manchester City, but it has also included important victories against Tottenham and Southampton, teams that they have left behind in pursuit of Champions League football next season.

A similar outcome against Louis van Gaal’s Man United on Sunday will see Liverpool enter the top four for the first time since August. United fans may have feared retribution from their Red rivals on Sunday, but the manner of their 3-0 win over Spurs last weekend has changed the conversation somewhat. It was easily their best performance since the turn of the year and has soothed the heavy criticism of the manager and his playing style in the wake of the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal.

It hinted at a reinvigoration at both ends of the pitch; David de Gea remains in fine form while Wayne Rooney, restored to the strike force, has struck four goals in as many games. While results have remained mostly positive throughout the season, a progressive style of play has mostly eluded van Gaal. The Spurs result is a small sample size, granted, but it had United playing fluid football, quicker in tempo and largely to their strengths.

 

The increasing use of Marouane Fellaini has been a lightning rod for criticism of van Gaal and his tiresomely lampooned “philosophy”, but it’s a red herring. United have failed to convince this season not because of a perceived over-reliance on long-balls, but because of painfully slow build-up play that made them pedestrian and predictable. Against Spurs they combined Fellaini’s physical presence with quick counter-attacking – it was, for the first 45 minutes, brutally effective, and could well cause problems at Anfield.

While Liverpool are not the defensively brittle side they were earlier in the season, the first half of their 1-0 win at Swansea on Monday night was their most unconvincing defensive performance in months. Garry Monk’s men cut off the attacking supply line from deep and repeatedly got in behind their backline. The Reds have discovered, though, what United have thrived on this season – ways to win football matches.

 

Problem-solving has come to define both teams in recent months. A head-to-head joust for the fourth Champions League spot is not where either side wants to be in the long-term, but this is a defining game in what will prove a defining end to the season for both Brendan Rodgers and Louis van Gaal.

 

Betting Instinct tip – With both teams aware of the cost of defeat, consider backing fewer than 2.5 goals at 9/10 with Intertops.eu.

 

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. Follow him on Twitter.

As March Madness Begins, Early Wagering Suggests Notre Dame and Gonzaga Could be Teams to Watch

March madness bonuses and bracket contestWith Selection Sunday behind us US college basketball betting is picking up at online sportsbooks this week.  64 teams are competing in regional tournaments hoping to be one of the Final Four that goes to Indianapolis April 6th.  Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova are all top seeds, but it’s early days. Anything can and does happen during March Madness.

“At 34-0 for the season Kentucky is obviously the best in the country and quite possibly the best college basketball team we’ve seen in many years,” observed the sportsbook manager at Intertops Sportsbook.  “Outside of the top four, early wagering would indicate that Notre Dame and Gonzaga could be teams to watch.

So, it’s Bracket Week.  Got it all figured out already? Intertops Sportsbook will pay $25,000 for a perfect bracket – 63 correct picks. Entries can only be accepted up to the start of the second round games on March 19th, so you don’t have long to make your selections.  If you wager $1,000 or more there, be sure to  claim your $100 Hoops Free Bet on Monday, March 30th.


March Madness Bonus

Intertops  will add 20% to one deposit (available until March 25th only).


Villarreal and Sevilla set to resume their La Liga battle in Europe

 

The first thing to say with regards to this match-up is that the other 14 teams in the competition should be pretty damn pleased. Both Sevilla and Villarreal have the credentials to go all the way in this tournament, and one of them is going home after this tie. The second thing to say is, the Europa League’s Round of 16 has provided its audience a game of tremendous value at this stage of the tournament.

 

Villarreal v Sevilla Betting Odds:

Villarreal win Evens

Sevilla win 53/20

Draw 47/20

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

 

When they met in October at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, a 93rd minute penalty from Carlos Bacca completed a painfully late turnaround for Sevilla, who had gone 1-0 down with just ten minutes of the game to play. It was an encounter that entirely summed up the ultra-competitive relationship between these two sides, who are currently separated by a single point in La Liga’s race for Europe.

Things have changed since their last meeting though. Sevilla’s 2-1 win over Villarreal took them to second in the league after nine games, while their not-so-clinical opponents lurched closer to mid-table. Over the turn of the year however, the Yellow Submarine have hit their stride devastatingly. And with one man in particular giving them an edge nobody had foreseen.

 

If you’ve not heard of him yet, Luciano Vietto is the 21-year-old terrorising every defence in Spain. Not even the top three have been able to escape his demolition so far, in which he has chipped in with a staggering 19 goals in his first season outside of Argentina. He has already slammed one home in front of Sevilla’s infamous north stand this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him have the same effect on Thursday night.

Stopping Vietto doesn’t mean stopping Villarreal by any means though. Marcelino has got his team functioning tremendously well; the Argentine just so happens to be exceptionally well-versed in contributing and benefiting from the team’s production. The loss of captain (and talisman) Bruno Soriano in mid-February has perhaps demonstrated best how the system prevails over all at Villarreal, who have barely skipped a beat since drafting in Tomás Pina at the heart of midfield.

 

It’s just as well that they have kept the show rolling too. Sevilla haven’t lost a game on home soil this season, which is a record that no other team in Spain can lay claim to. The reigning Europa League champions have not always thrilled in Unai Emery’s second season, but there is no doubting their tenacity and stubbornness. Managing the two-legged affair with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the previous round is nothing to be sniffed at, and only serves to reinforce their credibility in this competition.

The fact is, Sevilla are very well suited to competing over two legs. With the immovable duo of Grzegorz Krychowiak and Vicente Iborra doing their work in front of the back four, it takes a skilled outfit to break down the team’s defensive core. At the same time, the energy of Vitolo and Aleix Vidal on the wings can be a devastating weapon, as Gladbach found out rather harshly last month.

 

The Europa League can be scoffed at by some, but it’s a platform which Sevilla have come to associate with massively in recent years. “It’s a competition we love,” Unai Emery said after the Gladbach victory. He speaks for the fans when he says that too, and their voices will be heard in Castellón on Thursday evening.

For Villarreal however, this is a mammoth-sized opportunity. Marcelino’s team selections over the last month have said so themselves. Significantly rested elevens have graced the league just recently, with this exact game in mind. Knocking out a team of Sevilla’s pedigree would be symbolic, and a real incentive to go on and think about winning their first honour since 2004. But first, some real groundwork is going to have to be laid at their El Madrigal home.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Villarreal to win the first leg and both teams to score is 5/2 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.