Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – May

 

This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end.

 

Yes that’s right one of the most underwhelming Premier League seasons we’ve ever had to endure is spluttering its way toward some sort of unsatisfactory conclusion. The Champions League places are all but concluded with Chelsea impressively but unmemorably coming top of the pile, there is a bit of a scuffle to avoid the Europa League and in fairness to the dregs at the bottom of the league there is still a bit of a question mark as to who will drop down into the Championship. But in the overall scheme of things this has been a poor season in terms of quality, drama and laugh out loud incompetence.

 

The first weekend of the month has no interesting games, none, not one. It’s utter dross. Do some work in the garden or something, or maybe go swimming? It’s been ages since you’ve been at the pool and you always enjoy it when you go. Whatever you do don’t watch the football, especially Spurs (49/20 with Intertops.eu) vs Man City (19/20) which looks deceptively like a game that might be good but in reality both sides gave up weeks ago.

 

The second weekend starts terribly with the inexplicable decision to televise Everton vs Sunderland and doesn’t get much better after that. Hull vs Burnley is a big one down at the bottom of the table but the soul crushing inevitability of Burnley’s relegation and the fact that no one in the world cares about Hull mean that I’m going to stop writing about it now. There is a ‘Super Sunday’ of sorts, with Chelsea vs Liverpool, which if nothing else will be a nice ‘have a look at what you could have won’ moment for Steven Gerrard.

 

Stop press we’ve got a game that might be alright! Weekend number three is mostly awful meaningless nonsense but finishes with Manchester United hosting Arsenal. Louis van Gaal will be looking to overcome the handicap of his weird hair to exact revenge over Arsene Wenger for their FA Cup defeat. For the last 4 months Arsenal have looked like a side who can challenge for the title, there is a new found pragmatism to sit alongside the flair. Of course this could be (and probably is) just Arsenal being Arsenal and they’ll regress to the mean with a spectacular explosion of incompetence before we know it, however a fixture against a rejuvenated but still not all that good Manchester United might give us a better idea.

 

I care so little that I can’t even be bothered looking at the last day, so in an effort to end on a mildly entertaining note I’m going to abandon the formula and go rogue by paying tribute to those who for one reason or another won’t be with us next season.

 

Steven Gerrard – Heading for MLS. Either one of the greatest players of his generation or the worst human of all time, depending on who you ask, Stevie is a man that splits opinion. One thing you can’t deny though is he has very consistent hair.

 

Frank Lampard – Heading for MLS. Got called fat a lot even though he wasn’t fat (but is still a bit fat for a footballer). Scored loads of goals, rumours that he’s a Tory.

 

Manuel Pellegrini – Will probably get sacked. City want Pep so big Manuel is probably done for sooner or later. Got called a “f**kin old c**t” by Alan Pardew and once wore a hoodie like he was nipping to the shop for milk rather than managing one of the richest clubs in the world.

 

Sam Allardyce – West Ham will probably let his contract run out. There are few finer sights in football than the big man after he’s ‘out tacticed’ one of the league’s elite. If there was an instrument to measure smugness then he’d break it.

 

Radamel Falcao – Heading to the glue factory. Knee injuries and advancing years (some say they’ve advanced more than his passport is letting on) mean that the Colombian’s stay in England has been a massive anti-climax. Another name to add to the lost of South Americans who haven’t quite cut it at Old Trafford.

 

John Carver – Heading for the record books. In years to come when they talk of the worst managers in history, big John and his staggeringly bad stint at Newcastle will be right up there. Great stuff.

 

I’m sure there are others but we all have things to do so let’s wrap it up. Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the FA Cup but I’ve just found out I’m at a wedding that day so I’m pretending it isn’t happening.

 

Betting Instinct tip – defy Ally by betting on the very real FA Cup Final. Arsenal to win and both teams to score is 2.98 with Intertops.eu

 

Ally avatar ALLY 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.

 

 

Mayweather – Pacquiao: The Biggest Fight of the Century

mayweather_pacquiao

(photo credit: shosports/YouTube)

 

A couple of years ago, you’d have been foolish to even consider betting on this fight actually happening, let alone placing bets on who will win. Now here we are in 2015 looking ahead to May 2nd at the illustrious MGM Grand for the long-awaited match-up between the two best P4P fighters in boxing right now. Floyd Mayweather finally takes on Manny Pacquiao for the WBC, WBA and WBO world Welterweight titles in a bout that’s been exasperatingly anticipated for the last 5 years.

 

Manny Pacquiao v Floyd Mayweather Jr Outright Betting Odds:

Pacquiao win +185

Mayweather win -225

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

 

Mayweather is currently unbeaten and goes into this as the naturally bigger man. He’s an inch and a half taller than Pacquiao whilst also boasting a 5 inch reach advantage other the Filipino. This will be no deterrent to Pacquiao though, who has held world title in a record 8 different weight divisions. Antonio Margarito held a larger size advantage over Pacquiao than Mayweather currently does and he quite comfortably battered the tough Mexican over 12 rounds, so whilst this will play into the fight a little I don’t think it will be a defining disadvantage for Manny.

Kenny Bayliss will be the man in the middle on the night, and this announcement has given rise to some questions from fans in and of  itself. Bayliss is an excellent referee, comfortably one of the best in boxing. Bayliss refereed the Mayweather-Maidana rematch and many were critical of how quickly he wandered in to split up any inside fighting (which was seen to be Mayweather’s weakness in that fight). However, given Pacquiao’s style and – apart from that fight – Bayliss not really having a reputation for that kind of officiating, I don’t see this being an issue either.

 

It’d be prudent to say that neither of these guys have fought someone relatively similar to the other. In fact, their two styles are exactly what you need to beat the other. Mayweather comes to put on a clinic and – most crucially – he steps in the ring not to lose. He allows fighters to walk him down and then uses his impressive reflexes to make them miss and then land a few counters.

For his age (38), Mayweather still has remarkably fast hands and will utilise these to jab away at his opponent thus creating an opening to work off of. He’s happy to sit on the ropes and defend with the infamous shoulder roll technique (which he has perfected, but didn’t invent. Ken Norton and Archie Moore both used variants of this), before firing off counters to free up some room to enable him to move away. Maidana found a fair bit of success against Mayweather’s defence, particularly in their first fight. Maidana’s attacks can be somewhat crude at times, so this was most likely indicative of Mayweather starting to look his age as opposed to Maidana sussing him out.

 

Pacquiao, on the other hand, steps through the ropes to win. He’s there to beat you up as opposed to winning rounds, and this approach has cost him in the past. His career briefly took a nose dive when counter-puncher Marquez knocked him out cold in their 4th meeting to date. Pacquiao steps out and back into the action which his impeccable footwork. Adding this to his southpaw stance, he is able to attack the other fighter from a myriad of angles landing flurries to the head and body. He does have a tendency to leave his chin exposed, so it was only a matter of time before he eventually got caught flush.

It’s the shots you don’t see which leave you tasting canvas and this was a perfect example of that. Does Mayweather have the power to do that? Probably not. His last KO was against Victor Ortiz back in 2011 and that was essentially a cheapshot after the two touched gloves (though it was after an intentional headbutt from Ortiz, so morally justified). Prior to that, it was the stoppage of Ricky Hatton in 2007.

 

Two years later, Pacquiao put Hatton out cold to effectively end the Englishman’s career. They share quite a few common opponents and those fights corroborate with the above. Marquez aside (who came up two weights to fight Mayweather, who in turn came in for that fight overweight…), they’ve both beaten their mutual opponents. Mayweather outpointed De La Hoya, Mosley and Cotto (De La Hoya was SD, other 2 were UD) whilst Pacquiao stopped De La Hoya and Cotto before outscoring Mosley. Mayweather’s fights were more of an exhibitionist clinic, whereas Pacquiao’s were wars. One comes to box, the other comes to fight.

Will this go down as one of the all time great fights or something of an anti-climax? The lack of public seating and general cost of even just watching this at home leaves something of an unpleasant avaricious taste in the mouth. There remains a real buzz about this one though; even people who aren’t boxing fans are talking about it. It has the potential to be a defining classic for this generation of boxing, but with such potential comes the cataclysmic chance of sheer and utter disappointment. Either way, both Mayweather and Pacquiao will be spoken about for years to come as the greats of the last decade of boxing.

 

Betting Instinct tip – this could go either way, but we like Mayweather to win on points at -164 with AllYouBet.ag

 JAKE COLLINS  is an avid boxing fan and writer currently living in London. Read more of his work in Jake’s blog, or follow Jake on Twitter and Google+.

Where will Juventus star Paul Pogba be next season?

 

Very few players command attention and interest across the globe consistently. We live in a world where Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo take turns in setting the bar higher and higher. This makes other footballers seem mortal, in comparison. But, one player who is keeping up with the best consistently is Paul Pogba. With an array of skills that can put any footballer in his shade, Pogba is making his own mark on the global arena.

 

At 22 years, Pogba is already a special player. The potential was always there and even the confrontations between clubs. When he joined Manchester United from Le Havre, there were accusations that United approached the player illegally. And when he left United to join Juventus in 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson went to the extent of alleging that Pogba had a contract with Juventus ‘a long time ago’. The underlying circumstances may have been different but the pain of losing a talented player was apparent.

Lack of game time was one of the reasons why Pogba left United for Juventus. Even before he kicked a ball for Juventus, everyone knew that the club was successful in grabbing the big prize. Over the last two years, he established himself as the lynchpin of the Juventus midfield. His agent Mino Raiola always maintained that Pogba is on par with the best in the world and is a future Ballon d’Or winner.

 

Torino v Juventus Betting Odds:

Torino win 31/10

Juventus win 10/11

Draw 11/5

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

 

The exploits of this talented playmaker haven’t gone unnoticed. Top European clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City monitor his situation continuously and vie for his signature. It has even been suggested that his old club Manchester United is keen to get him back; and price is not a problem for any of these top sides. Pogba could spur any team to the heights of European glory and none of these teams would want to miss out.

 

Where does this leave Juventus? Surely, the club knows what it has and treasures the value of the player on its books. But, it is an open secret that it may not be long before they get a huge offer and Pogba leaves. Everyone remembers what happened with Zinedine Zidane when he was sold at the peak of his prowess by Juventus to Real Madrid.

Pogba may follow the footsteps of his idol and join the current Champions League holders, and the chances of him ending at Madrid will only increase if Zidane becomes the manager of the first team. However bitter rivals Barcelona are not willing to admit defeat and, if reports are to be believed, will offer huge money to Juventus once their transfer ban is over.

 

Whatever comes next, Pogba will continue to grab attention of every club and fan across the globe, and Raiola could be pardoned for continuously singing the praises of his player. The clubs could be forgiven for waiting with bated breath on what could be his next step. But, what is sure is that Pogba will be a global phenomenon for the next few years at least.

There may still be some naysayers who argue that Pogba is not yet at the level of Messi or Ronaldo. Truth be told, he is not at the same level; not yet! He has all the tools to challenge the game’s elite. It is just a matter of time.

 

Betting Instinct tip Juventus to win to nil in the Derby di Torino is 4.01 with Intertops.eu

sridhar_avatar SRIDHAR BHAMIDI is an avid football follower and follows most of the leagues. He is an experienced freelance writer  covering match reviews, reports, transfer news and betting articles. Follow him on Twitter.

 

Beating Mourinho’s Chelsea would cap off a season of improvement for Arsenal

ozil fabregas

 

Last weekend, there was the small distraction of an FA Cup Semi-Final to take Arsenal minds off Chelsea’s clash against Manchester United. United offered a decent enough challenge but ultimately the 1-0 result was all too routine for this well-drilled, resilient Chelsea team who are proving to be the most Mourinho of Mourinho sides since his Inter of 2009/10. Even if Arsenal do beat Chelsea this Sunday, the gap will still be seven points. It does seem that their “title challenge” is over before it even began.

 

Arsenal v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Arsenal win 27/20

Chelsea win 2/1

Draw 43/20

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

 

However, this does not take anything away from the game’s wider significance. Sunday’s London Derby presents a real opportunity for Arsene Wenger to show that his side have made a meaningful stride forward since last season. In the first few months of this season, many critics rightfully questioned whether Arsenal were actually any better off despite the acquisition of starman Alexis Sanchez who at that point was firing on all cylinders amidst a team of underachievers. Yet Arsenal have rallied since the start of 2015 and a 2nd place finish, along with an FA Cup Final, are just rewards for their respectable turnaround.

Chelsea’s inevitable title on the other hand has come across as rather unremarkable due to the lack of serious contenders. This is somewhat unfair given how impressive and one-sided Chelsea’s early season performances were. From Thibaut Cortois between the sticks to Diego Costa up top, complemented by Eden Hazard’s consistent excellence, this Chelsea team may yet be considered one of the Premier League’s best, if only there had been some decent competition to show it as such.

 

The reason why both media and neutrals alike have been slow to praise Chelsea’s feats this season is because they are so set up in the eye of their maker.  Despite an attractive start, they have reverted to a more functional, strength-based approach that Mourinho favours. This can be seen quite clearly in the introduction of the titanic Kurt Zouma as a defensive midfielder for Chelsea’s big games. Mourinho has also engrained a siege mentality, in which the world and his wife are anti-Chelsea and also attempts to question the regime are met with little attention.

Wenger would love to end his unfortunate run and finally record a victory against Mourinho. The “specialist in failure” jibes still sting deep for the Frenchman, who is yet to beat Mourinho’s Chelsea in 12 attempts. There should be some cause for optimism this year as Wenger has broken the hoodoo of playing the big clubs. The victories away at Man City, at home to Liverpool as well as against United in the Cup, showed different strings to Arsenal’s bow. They also demonstrated that other personnel such as Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil were capable of stepping to the level that Sanchez had set from the off.

 

Sunday’s game will also mark Cesc Fabregas’ return to the Emirates for the first time since his departure to Barcelona in 2011. Had Fabregas ever played against Arsenal for Barca, he might have expected a fond reception from the home crowd but there will be no civilities this time around. While it was difficult to begrudge him a move back to his boyhood club, the subsequent transfer to Chelsea has left a sour taste in the mouths of the Arsenal fan base. This has been aggravated by the fact that Wenger turned down the chance to re-sign him and the visual evidence that he is quite clearly still up to scratch as the Premier League’s top provider, with 16 assists.

Intriguingly, Wenger is likely to employ his surprise of the season Francis Coquelin to marshal Fabregas in the middle of the park.  While Coquelin joined Arsenal in 2008, he did not make his Premier League debut until the fateful 8-2 defeat against Manchester United in August 2011 by which time Fabregas had just signed for Barcelona. After such a baptism by fire, it is pleasing to see that he has not given up the fight to be a top flight footballer following a series of loan spells.

 

On paper Sunday’s result will count for very little. However, if Arsenal can record a convincing victory with the performance to boot, they can lay down the gauntlet for next season and show that it needn’t be a one-horse race again.

 

 

Betting Instinct tip – with Chelsea preferring to keep things tight, the Gunners could all but seal second place with victory this weekend. Arsenal to win 1-0 is 13/2 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Hugo avatarHUGO GREENHALGH is co-founder and editor of The False Nineand a contributor to Eurosport and When Saturday Comes. He can be found following his favourite clubs: Arsenal and Dulwich Hamlet. Follow Hugo on Twitter.

The Future of Wladimir Klitschko

Heavyweight supremo Wladimir Klitschko puts his vast array of belts (WBA, WBO, IBF, IBO and Ring) on the line this Saturday as he takes on unbeaten American Bryant Jennings. Jennings (19(10)-0-0) earned his shot at the king of the Heavyweight division with a relatively uninspiring split decision win against Mike Perez. Jennings is a very athletic fighter and to some extent still learning his trade in the division.

 

Bryant Jennings v Wladimir Klitschko Betting Odds:

Bryant Jennings +850

Wladimir Klitschko -2500

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

 

At 6ft3 Jennings is a tall man, but he still lacks in size to Klitschko. Whilst he is a good boxer and capable of keeping busy for the full 12 rounds, he’s little chance of outboxing Klitschko – something which hasn’t ever actually happened. Instead, he will need to take optimism from the various other upsets that have befallen Klitschko in the past. They may have been over a decade ago, but they still happened.

Jennings has an extremely useful uppercut in his arsenal and if there’s one place Klitschko is vulnerable, it’s on the inside. If Jennings can somehow navigate his way past the viciously accurate and powerful jab of Klitschko’s, then he might land a shot and put Klitschko down (providing there’s a ref who is strict on Klitschko’s inside clinching).

Let’s assume the expected happens – as did with the previously unbeaten Pulev – and Jennings gets blasted out of their by one of Klitschko’s ferocious shots. He will only have 1 fight left on his 3 fight deal with HBO, which *should* be against Tyson Fury. Though you can calmly assure yourself that Klitschko will push for a rematch if he is to lose to Fury, is it likely he would have another fight should be become victorious? I certainly think so.

 

The one thing missing from his current setup is that highly venerated WBC crown currently draped around the waist of America’s Deontay Wilder. To unify ALL the boxing divisions – especially at Heavyweight – would be a truly prodigious task and one that would further mark him down in history as one of the greats at Heavyweight. Klitschko sits at 17 defenses currently, which is 3 behind Larry Holmes and 8 behind Joe Louis. Whilst his style of fighting isn’t quite as widely upheld as Louis or Holmes, it’s difficult not to have some appreciation of his effectiveness and discipline within the ring.

Klitschko may well push on to 20 defenses and then call it a day; he may feel old overnight before that and call it a day. One thing that is for certain is Klitschko really has been a magnificently dominant force within the division and – even at 39 – shows the gulf between elite fighters and decent fighters. Boxing is a prime example of class being permanent, though for me the most wonderful thing about boxing is that all it takes is for Bryant Jennings to land one single punch to make almost all of this article completely irrelevant.

 

 JAKE COLLINS  is passionate about literature, music and sports. He currently works in  London and lives in Essex. Read more of his work in Jake’s blog, or follow Jake on Twitter and Google+.

Bayern Munich facing elimination in Champions League Quarter Finals

 

Few observers predicted any surprises when the Champions League quarter final draw was made last month, but after last week’s first legs one of the bookies’ favourites, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, are facing premature elimination.

Three of the four ties are delicately poised, Barcelona should sail through after their convincing 3-1 win in Paris last week, but it is the prospect of FC Porto defeating the Bundesliga runaway leaders that has gripped the neutrals.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Barcelona 27/20

Real Madrid 7/2

Bayern Munich 7/2

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

 

The Portuguese club, winners in 2004, were outstanding in victory last Wednesday, with the rejuvenated Ricardo Quaresma scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes, before Jackson Martinez extended their lead in the second half after Thiago Alcantara’s away goal. For all of Porto’s quality, Bayern were generous in defeat, gifting away all three goals through glaring individual errors from Xabi Alonso, Dante and Jerome Boateng.

The 2013 champions have been one of the form sides in this season’s competition, with Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk both on the wrong end of seven goal thrashings from the Bavarians, but they must win by at least a two goal margin to progress to a fourth consecutive semi final appearance. It says much about the expectations in modern football that two seasons without a Champions League trophy is unthinkable for a coach as feted as Guardiola.

 

With a mounting injury list that includes Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Javi Martinez and Mehdi Benatia, this could prove one uphill struggle too far for Pep. With Barcelona overwhelming favourites to finish the job against Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday night at the Nou Camp, attention turns to Wednesday’s two fixtures where there remains everything to play for.

Atletico and Real Madrid played out a tense goalless draw at the Calderon last week, and will line up at the Bernabeu for their eighth meeting this season. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and that was certainly the case given the needle on show between the two Madrid clubs last week. Real’s failure to score an away goal could cost them more than Atletico’s failure to ram home the home advantage, especially with Luka Modric and Gareth Bale likely to miss out through injury.

 

Atletico have shown they are the masters of the two-leg format under Diego Simeone, beating Real twice in this scenario already this season in both the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup. They have form, too, for turning a 0-0 first leg at home into a two-legged victory, as their 3-1 semi final win at Stamford Bridge last year so ruthlessly demonstrated.

Last season’s Final defeat in Lisbon remains Atletico’s only loss in their last 10 European matches against Spanish rivals and, in Antoine Griezmann, they have one of Europe’s most in-form players; the French international has six goals in his last five games. With history against Real in their bid to become the first side to retain the Champions League, Atletico look a good prospect to upset their city rivals once again.

 

In the final quarter final clash, Juventus have a single goal lead to defend in Monaco thanks to Arturo Vidal’s penalty in Turin last week, though the winning margin should have been higher given the wastefulness of Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata. The Serie A leaders are the stronger side on paper, and with the principality club required to open up at home in pursuit of goals, they will be easier to pick off than the side that came to defend in Italy. As Arsenal showed in their 2-0 win there in the Last 16, when the onus is on the Ligue 1 club at home they can become vulnerable, despite their excellent defensive record at the Stade Louis II.

With three results still all to play for, this week’s second legs clashes remain on a knife edge. The prospect of seeing this season’s Big Four – Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus and Real – in the semi finals remains a very real prospect, but nothing can be taken for granted.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich all to win their home legs is 3.26 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.

Gerrard v Gilet: Should Liverpool’s captain start against Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa?

 

Signs and screams express Liverpool dreams; a community united in sticking by one of its own, celebrating his achievements, trying to give him that worthy once-and-for-all send off. But as the Kop club together to ‘GET GERRARD TO WEMBLEY’, the sentiment seems, more than sickly sweet, just a little bit strange.

 

Aston Villa v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Aston Villa win 9/2

Liverpool win 11/20

Draw 29/10

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

 

One can forgive the onus on Wembley, by which is of course meant the final proper, rather than Sunday’s capital-staged Aston Villa semi. Responsibility for that imprecision lies at the door of the FA, whose decision to move the semis to the panoptic National Stadium of Everything is only the latest move serving to sap all meaning from a once valued cup competition.

What’s more puzzling is the target audience for those signs and screams. Just who is supposed to ‘GET GERRARD TO WEMBLEY’? Is there an e-petition going around? Is this a call for Ed Miliband to include a ‘Gerrard Responsibility Lock’ in the Labour Party’s election manifesto? Or are they, as is more likely, talking to Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool players, a plea for them to Do it for Stevie! and no mistake?

 

If the latter, it’s striking that fans give Gerrard no agency whatsoever, and that it’s left up to the rest of the squad to do the captain’s job for him. In this sense, the Kop’s calls tell a revealing story about their club’s season so far. Steven Gerrard, Istanbul’s one-man band who so stunningly dragged his teammates to a Champions League trophy, is all lined up to be 2015’s Antonio Nunez, reaping the harvest without planting the seeds. Worse, in fact, given that it was his rush of blood against Manchester United that has allowed the FA Cup to become Liverpool’s sole focus.

Whether Gerrard should or shouldn’t start against Villa is, apparently, one of the semi-final’s biggest subplots. The case for? ‘The FA Cup stars are aligned for Gerrard’ (Mystic Meg meets Sun Fantasy Football), ‘He’s a big game player’ (cough…), and ‘He loves scoring against Aston Villa’ (frankly, who doesn’t?). And against? Actual evidence, like, you know, Liverpool Being Miles Better Without Him.

 

Should Rodgers leave his skipper at shore, to whom will he turn to fulfill the role of Mr Liverpool? It won’t be an actual Scouser, of course, the manager having long since tired of the bore-off blasphemy that was Jon Flanagan’s ‘Flani Alves’ rebrand. Preferred candidate Daniel ‘Doubtful’ Sturridge is struggling with, you guessed it, another niggling injury. And Raheem Sterling appears to be missing after setting off in search of his tattooed-boy-from-Birkenhead hippy crack dealer. We hope you get the help you so clearly and desperately need, Raheem.

Presenting, then, Mario Balotelli, atFinallyMario, whose overdue Anfield success would anger exactly the right kind of people – from the bigots whose intolerance is unmasked when their football team fails, to the newspapermen desperate to scandalise and shame the innocuous.

The bond between Balotelli and the Liverpool fans is real, its strong, it’s even Gerrard-like. Take the Manchester United match, where pitchside supporters reached out to their hero with hugs and warm words, comfort banishing the pain and ignominy of defeat. There’s a reason why the Italian is set to be voted Liverpool fans’ player of the season, and it’s nothing to do with extra-club conspiracy. No, he just gets it, like Louis van Gaal at his club’s big rivals.

To sink Sherwood, Liverpool, Mario’s your man.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool to not only win this weekend but to win the FA Cup itself – on Gerrard’s birthday no less – is 33/20 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.

Zenit chasing consolation prize in Europa League

 

For Zenit Saint Petersburg reaching the Europa League quarter finals will be a mixture of achievement and disappointment. After finishing third in Group C of their Champions League group the Russian side were duly parachuted into the knockout-rounds of the Europa League, and to those who think this ruling is incredibly unfair there are caveats of consolation.

Firstly Zenit are the only club to fully capitalise on their second chance at continental glory and are now solely among those who have been here from the get-go, those who have played their peripheral talent in the group stages and seen their fixture list clog up in a ridiculously bloated tournament.

Additionally Andre Villas-Boas’ side have hardly had it straightforward in their two games thus far, having to dispense with a strong PSV and scrappy Torino to attain a last eight spot.

 

UEFA Europa League Outright Betting Odds:

Wolfsburg 3/1

Sevilla 9/2

Napoli 9/2

Fiorentina 5/1

Zenit 7/1

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of April 14th and are subject to change)

 

This Thursday evening it doesn’t get any easier with an away first-leg tie at holders Sevilla (3/5 with AllYoubet.ag – all odds are for qualification over the two-legged ties) whose slick, well-drilled menace is an intimidating prospect at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan having remained unbeaten there all season. The mighty Barcelona tried this weekend, but despite taking a two goal lead, failed like the rest.

This then is the tie of the round and throws up some intriguing questions. Can Ezequiel Garay contain Sevilla’s Colombian hitman Carlos Bacca whose record of 17 goals in 28 games has seen him heavily linked with half of Europe’s elite? Will Hulk find the top corner instead of the corner flag as he grows increasingly frustrated at a meticulously organised rearguard and attempts an audacious thirty yarder? My money is on no, with Zenit (6/5) having it all to do in the return fixture on April 23rd.

 

Did I just say that Zenit’s trip to Sevilla was the tie of the round? Okay granted Wolfsburg’s (13/20) hosting of Napoli (11/10) runs it close.

Die Wölfe have bared their fangs in 2014/15 and attacked all and sundry with such pace and ambition as to make Kevin Keegan espouse a bit of defensive caution. With de Bruyne ripping apart the Bundesliga, shrewd acquisition Andre Schurrle settling straight in, and Bas Dost firing on all cylinders they have a lethal combination up top to put the fear of a deity into any side, and domestically they remain the only club still tapping on Bayern’s shoulder. Their 4-1 thumping at goal-shy Everton earlier in this tournament, though, reveals that Wolfsburg can be laid bare and here they face just the man to exploit their all-out approach. He persists with a fat man’s goatee, speaks English in a Spanish/Scouse mash-up, and goes by the singular moniker of Rafa.

Benitez is the grandmaster of European chess and with his exit planned from Napoli this summer will be keen to remind football’s behemoths what he is capable of engineering on the biggest stages of all. Expect a nullification of Wolfsburg in the first encounter – the hoary old training ground exercise of attack versus defence – with all the drama lying ahead at Stadio San Paolo. Can Wolfsburg pull off another Inter away? Can Lord Bendtner rise again? Or will an untethered Napoli prove too much with the red-hot Higuian no longer isolated and suddenly enjoying the exquisite close company of Hamsik, Mertens, and Callejon? It is too tight to call.

 

Elsewhere the remaining quarters each contains a Ukrainian side and there’s every chance this year’s final on May 27th could see two Eastern European clubs battling it out – Zenit v Dynamo Kyiv in Warsaw with Putin chuckling maniacally at the potential for further ‘unrest’, anyone?

Dinamo (13/10) take on Fiorentina (11/20) in a match-up that’s hipster heaven and shouldn’t disappoint with both in devastating form. Viola coach Vincenzo Montella has implemented a possession game with a multifarious attack and his players have bought into it eagerly earning them the flattering nickname of ‘Little Barcelona’ into the bargain. This makes them slight favourites to progress but it’s hard to see the prolific Ukrainians failing to score at least once in the first leg with Andriy Yarmolenko in particular looking deadly at present. Conversely Serhiy Rebrov’s team also have a worrying habit of conceding cheaply and it is this which may ultimately decide the tie.

 

Lastly Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (9/10) face Club Brugge (4/5) and though the Belgians have goals aplenty in their armoury it is a favourable pairing for last season’s Ukrainian Premier League runners-up. Dnipro would be everybody’s favourite underdogs in this tournament were it not that pronouncing their name severs cartilage in your tongue and after their hard-fought dismissal of Ajax in the last 16 will now be viewing a semi-final spot with a degree of optimism. The mutual respect shown in the lead up to this game has been refreshing with both clubs admiring each other’s giant-killing.

It is sportsmanship that probably won’t last and certainly won’t be shared in the other three games.

 

Betting Instinct tip Sevilla and Wolfsburg both to win their first legs is 2.8 with Intertops.eu

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.

Atlético have Real Madrid’s number ahead of Champions League revenge mission

 

And so they meet again. Twice in the league, twice in the Copa Del Rey and twice in the Spanish Super Cup. Yet still, arguably the biggest of their meetings this season is still to take place.

Atlético have undeniably man-handled los Blancos this season. Through their six clashes during the current campaign, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have failed to pick up three points on every occasion, losing on a collective aggregate score of 12-4. Some have been utter savageries from ‘Cholo’s’ warriors, some have been close encounters. But few doubt that Atlético thoroughly have Real’s number.

 

 Atlético Madrid v Real Madrid First Leg Betting Odds:

Atlético Madrid win 7/4

Real Madrid win 8/5

Draw 43/20

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

 

Their most recent meeting provided the best evidence of it, as the European champions were beaten well past the brink of embarrassment. “They were better than us in every aspect”, Ancelotti said, after Atlético pulverised his team by four goals to nil. It had been 17 years since los Rojiblancos had beaten Madrid at home, and 38 years since they had scored four or more in a derby on home soil.

The fact that Tuesday night’s clash comes in the Champions League makes it all the more interesting. It’s the competition that captures Real’s imagination like no other; the one which Madridista’s feel is ‘their’ competition. Nobody has won it more, and their hunger for it will never fade. As well as that, it’s the platform in which Real were last victorious over their feisty neighbours.

When they met in the final in Lisbon last summer, Real captured ‘La Decima’ to devastating effect. Atlético had been on the brink of a fairytale league-and-cup double, until Sergio Ramos’ 93rd minute header took the game to extra-time. The blow proved to be too strong for Simeone’s team, who eventually fell to a crippling 4-1 defeat.

If Ancelotti’s men are going to end their miserable streak against their rivals, it seems like the Champions League will be the most likely platform in which they can do so. It’s a competition in which they can bear confidence, knowing their prestige and recent success in, as well as the fact they have the opportunity to win back-to-back titles for the first time since the 1950’s.

And in terms of the spectacle of Tuesday night itself, the stars have aligned as we edge nearer to show time. It’s expected that both coaches will be able to field full-strength eleven’s for the first leg, with the likes of Diego Godín, Mario Mandžukić, Gareth Bale, Pepe, James Rodríguez and Luka Modrić all timing their returns from injuries nicely.

So, on the verge of their most pivotal clash of the season, the question becomes: How long can Diego Simeone prolong this dominance over Real? His opposition have been buoyed dramatically in recent games by the return of James Rodríguez, while Cristiano Ronaldo has hit fine form ahead of the derby. If ‘El Cholo’ can manage it again, it might just be his team’s most impressive triumph of the lot.

_____

Juventus vs. AS Monaco

Elsewhere on Tuesday night, Max Allegri’s flying Juventus (11/25 to win the first leg with Intertops.eu) welcome Monaco (15/2) to Turin for their own Champions League quarter-final meeting. The Italians breezed past Borussia Dortmund en route to this stage, and look to boast Serie A’s most promising European threat for some time.

Many had doubted Juve’s credentials following the managerial switch from Antonio Conte to Allegri, but the veteran boss has done remarkably well since taking the reigns at the club. Speaking in midweek, Carlos Tevez praised the impact of his manager, and insisted that they can match anyone in Europe. “We are a more relaxed team now thanks to the calmness of Allegri,” he said, “I think now instead what we have is a team. We are very difficult to beat, much like Atlético Madrid a year ago.”

In their French opponents, Monaco sprung the shock of the previous round when they dumped out Arsenal. Not many had tipped Leonardo Jardim’s side to make it to the quarter-final stage, but now they are here, their lack of pressure could be a dangerous weapon that Juve will need to be mindful of.

They also lay claim to having the best defence in Ligue 1 under the Portuguese boss this season, and might well have the credentials to frustrate the Italians at the Juventus Stadium tomorrow night.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Atlético Madrid and Juventus to both win their first legs is 3.96 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.

Burnley Could Be The Team to End Arsenal’s Sequence Of Victories

 

It’s April, Arsenal are second in the Premier League table and have won seven games in a row. Before we begin, it’s probably worth taking a second to let that sink in. After a pretty dreadful start to the campaign, they have somehow managed to string together an impressive amount of victories and, for the most part, performances to match. However, all things must pass.

There’s a reason why a big team away at plucky newly-promoted minnows from Up North is on TV – there’s the hope of an upset. Of course, your dual narrative kills two birds with one stone pretty effectively, but this game is a 5.30 kick-off rather than a lunchtime one for a reason; the floodlights, the chill in the air, the slightly more intoxicated and subsequently louder home crowd – the whole thing is set up rather nicely for a Burnley result.

 

Burnley v Arsenal Betting Odds:

Burnley win 19/4

Arsenal win 53/100

Draw 31/10

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

 

This isn’t to say there is some conspiracy against Arsenal of course – this isn’t that type of website. Both Chelsea and Manchester City already found themselves in similar situations at Turf Moor, with the results rather conveniently reflecting both sides’ respective seasons. Chelsea were exciting to begin with, Diego Costa scored without playing particularly well, then Mourinho went and Mourinho-ed – making his side see out the victory in a more professional, yet unspectacular fashion. Manchester City, meanwhile, were underwhelming and failed to match the standards they set last season.

So what kind of game would be representative of Arsenal’s season? Definitely not a handsome win – certainly not as good as Chelsea’s. Probably a 3-2 win or a 2-2 draw, with the Gunners falling a couple of goals behind early on before roaring back in the second half rather surprisingly.

 

And Arsenal have unquestionably been playing well. With 10 wins in their last 11 league outings, Arsene Wenger’s team have finally played themselves into form and last Saturday was probably the first time that their three best players – Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez – all played well in the same game at the same time. However, they’ve also been playing opponents at the right time over the last couple of months.

 

Liverpool were in good form before Manchester United visited Anfield and put a hole in their boat, which enabled Martin Skrtel and captain Steven Gerrard to nobly go down with the ship – both earning themselves three-game suspensions for violent conduct. All this, added to Daniel Sturridge’s injury, allowed Arsenal to steamroller a much weaker Liverpool team than one that would have shown up at The Emirates, say, four weeks earlier.

Everton and QPR were also playing pretty badly prior to their respective fixtures with the Gunners last month. And since Newcastle and West Ham both achieved all their goals (getting enough points to avoid relegation) in the first half of the season, they saw no need for a second, and both allowed Arsenal to stroll away with three points.

 

After spending what felt like the entire Easter weekend trying to bore Tottenham into submission, it’s pretty safe to acknowledge that, comparatively, Burnley aren’t so out-of-form. This isn’t to say they are actually good, mind – they are still second bottom – but as a relatively well-drilled, two-banks-of-four team who have something to play for and aren’t as desperately low on confidence, they may well prove to be Arsenal’s toughest opponents since the North London Derby.

Sean Dyche’s side have unexpectedly tried to fill the spot vacated by Middlesbrough and, more recently, Wigan Athletic, of that side who only seem to take points off big teams. Their record of 10 points against teams in the top seven this season is at least twice the total of anyone else the wrong side of 15th. Despite Sean Dyche having the constant expression of a bouncer of nightclub that’s reached full-capacity before midnight, it’s almost as if Burnley are, in fact, just happy to be here.

 

There aren’t many things more dangerous to a title challenge than a team who seemingly cares more about treasuring their time in the top flight, rather than extending it. Playing Crystal Palace or Hull is meaningless to Burnley – it’ll probably end up being a Championship play-off semi-final in a few seasons anyway – so hosting Arsenal is far more mouth-watering.

Being Arsenal, however, especially in April, is probably one of those few things more dangerous to a title challenge. It was all going so well too. While the rather unrealistic nature of this particular pursuit of the league leaders may be a useful dry-run for next spring, Wenger’s side seem to have developed a bad habit of wetting themselves every time they get within a moderate distance of silverware. This late-season charge from the Gunners really does seem to mirror much of Liverpool’s form at the end of last term, and while the “This Does Not Slip” episode really did set a new bar for hilarious title-bottling, if anyone can better it, Arsenal can.

 

Betting Instinct tip – The score draw is 7.38 with Intertops.eu

 

caolan_avatar CAOLAN COSGROVE writes about football, especially all things Arsenal-related, for BendtOverBackwards, Sabotage   Times and others. Follow him on Twitter.