Posts by gregianjohnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Manchester United v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Manchester United win 17/10

Chelsea win 7/5

Draw 12/5

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Result #5: Manchester United P-P Chelsea

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Can the Champions League hit the same heights as last season?

Could Real Madrid struggle without the dynamism of Angel di Maria?

Could Real Madrid struggle without the dynamism of Angel di Maria?

The Champions League has a lot to live up to this season.

After a summer in which the competition’s status as the greatest show on Earth was called back into question due to a World Cup for the ages, Europe’s premier club tournament must remind the public just what they missing while gallivanting off on their Brazilian fling.

So let’s get to it. Which of the opening fixtures in the first clutch of games will be able to pump up the drama and bring back that spark of romance to make their estranged viewers forget about Brazil, carnival, sex, Pele?

Basel to bruise a reeling Madrid

Poor Carlo Ancelotti. Having finally tamed the bombastic beast of excess that lurks within the soul of Florentino Rerez last season, the Italian has now seen the two conduits of sense and reason that underpinned his Champion League-winning team leave the Bernabeu to be replaced by fancy dan playmakers.

Without the balancing powers of Angel di Maria and Xabi Alonso, Real Madrid have slumped to two La Liga defeats in a row against Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid to leave Carlo’s eye brow at an all time, muscle quivering high. The left side of the poor man’s forehead must be in constant spasm.

Fortunately, up next for Real are group stage giant-killing specialists, Basel. Wait, that’s not good for them at all. In fact, the Swiss could be exactly the wrong team at the wrong time for the reigning champions, with the 33-year-old Marco Streller still playing as if he wears some amulet from the Gods designed to punish the rich and hubristic wherever he finds them on a football field.

Saying Basel are going to beat Real at the Bernabeu sounds like too much of a tip, but here we are.

Betting Instinct tip – Basel to humble the champions is 14/1 with Intertops.eu, while the Swiss side are 5.22 to avoid defeat

#FreeShinji versus dat guy: the Manchester United reject derby

In case it passed you by at all, Manchester United aren’t in the Champions League this year due to an administrative error by David Gill, who has clearly lapsed on his responsibilities as a Machiavellian super fiend in the pay of the Glazers at UEFA.

Still, the suits at Old Trafford have done their best to help the club’s fans out by ensuring that Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck will play under the floodlights of Europe this season, which is almost as good as the club competing itself. Count up the various savings on travelling costs and this Plan B becomes inarguably sound.

So who should United fans be backing in this clash of their two honorary B teams? Let’s go with Arsenal. Not only is Welbz “dat guy”, but Borussia Dortmund weren’t all that convincing at home against Bayer Leverkusen, which was their last real test going into the first game of their Champions League campaign.

The Gunners on the other hand looked really rather good against Manchester City, and benefited from the mobility of the ex-United forward up front, although his inability to find the back of the net could still cost them.

Betting Instinct tip Danny Welbeck to score at any time is 15/8 with Coral.co.uk

Ultimate Warrior Football  Edition: The Red Army of Soviet Russia versus the Roman Empire

Put the ball down and take off your boots.

No, this isn’t a strange, English reboot of the Terminator franchise starring Vinnie Jones, in which a mechanised, killer Wimbledon defender travels back in time to kill the mother of Peter Winkelman. Well, it’s sort of close.

This week, the Champions League meets The History Channel, as CSKA Moscow—a team once run by the Red Army back in the days of the USSR— travel to the Italian capital to face AS Roma. For the uninitiated, Roma’s badge sports an image of Romulus and Remus from the Roman legend of how Rome was founded, and for the sake of this bizarre set-up, were definitely once run by a rouge load of Centurions back in the days of the Roman Empire.

Expect football to take a back seat as both teams don their traditional battle dress and weaponry to decide once and for all who wins in this historically inaccurate insult to the whole idea of recreations.

CSKA Moscow are obviously going to win. They’ve got great winter coats, and tanks, and planes, and guns. Roma have got eagles and short swords. You’d have to be a brave punter to put any cash down on their chances, but then again…

Betting Instinct tip CSKA to lead at half-time is 5/1 with AllYouBet.ag

Separatists to prosper against victims of an insurrection

Athletic Club are a proud symbol of Basque nationalism. They’re sponsored by a local, Bilbao-based chemical corporation, and only field footballers of Basque descent.

Shakhtar Donetsk’s long-term future is currently uncertain due to the Ukraine crisis which threatens to rip their country in two, and with the team, known as The Miners due to their industrial roots, based on the eastern, generally pro-Russian side of the nation, their situation could get extremely complicated, extremely quickly.

As such, there’s not too many jokes to be found in this match up, but plenty of opportunity to profit from an awful scenario that exists far beyond the realms of football.

With the game set to take place in Bilbao, Athletic Club will hold a mighty home advantage in their new San Mames 2.0 stadium, not least because their players aren’t currently living with the prospect of a geo-political meltdown on their doorstep.

It also helps that Bilbao are again looking good this season under the guidance of manager Ernesto Valverde. Back them. It won’t make you a bad person, or an exploiter of bad news stories. Honest.

Betting Instinct tip – Athletic to win by two or more goals is 5/2 with Intertops.eu

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

Five incidents bound to happen during Manchester City vs. Liverpool

David Silva's Premier League campaign is already an improvement on his World Cup

David Silva’s Premier League campaign is already an improvement on his World Cup

Remember the World Cup? How good was that! Remember all the big games that happened right at the start and all the goals that were scored to get everyone into the mood in record time?

Well turns out that the World Cup was such a good idea that the Premier League have gone and borrowed its best bits in order to make sure the beginning of the new season doesn’t disappoint after all the fun of the summer. By which I mean they’ve scheduled a really rather large fixture to be played in the second round of matches: last year’s champions, Manchester City, against last year’s runners-up Liverpool.

 

Manchester City v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Manchester City win – 1.85

Liverpool win – 4.00

Draw – 3.50

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

 

Clearly this game is set for yet more Brazil 2014-themed surprises to spice up the action, with kick-off scheduled for an appropriately trans-Atlantic 8pm on a Monday evening. If that’s not group stage scheduling, I don’t know what is.

So without further ado, here’s what’s probably, definitely, bound to happen as Manuel Pellegrini’s Premier League winners take on Brendan Rodgers’ Champions League returnees, for a chance to top Group A, which is the only group in this competition.

 

Someone will score a really good headed goal from a left-back’s cross

And that left-back will most likely be Glen Johnson, who started on his non-natural flank against Southampton in Liverpool’s opening game of the season.

With Daniel Sturridge set to start up front for the Reds, the displaced right-back will stumble upon some space, look up and see his England team mate dashing towards Joe Hart’s area.

We’ll then watch, disbelievingly, as Johnson produce the cross of his career with the part-time sandwich artist jumping up and flopping like a salmon (teriyaki, with extra green peppers? – Ed.) to head the ball into City’s net.

 

Luis Suarez will bite someone again

On Twitter anyway, because as far as English football goes, Luis don’t live here anymore.

That’s right, while the action takes place on the field of play, thousands of rehashed memes and tired, old jokes will surge forth onto various social media channels.

Liverpool will “lack bite”, according to the pictorial punchlines that are to come. Some will overreach in an attempt to force relevancy. A Uruguayan family will go hungry without a supply of Martin Demichelis’ shoulder meat, they’ll say. In text speak.

Maybe some will go for a different angle, trying to use Rickie Lambert’s lesser-known past as a beetroot technician to create an ethical, vegetarian friendly version of all this great new ‘comedy’ that will be taking place. It’ll be like football itself has taken the trapezium muscle of an Italian defender and won itself a transfer to BBC Three, to play alongside Nick Grimshaw and Russell Kane or something.

 

A physio will be injured

Gary Lewin’s stumble against Italy will not have happened in vain. The Premier League are already making plans for the fourth official to go behind one of the team’s physios during the game and take out their knees with a large spanner, as a loving tribute to the fallen England backroom staffer.

No word yet as to who the bookies think the man in the stands will target, but it’s sure to only add to the tense occasion that will be gripping the Etihad, as fans pour into the stadium to see who will be left standing at the end of 90 minutes.

 

Liverpool’s South Americans will sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” really loud for ages just before kick-off, which City’s Brazilians will boo mercilessly

One of the most endearing features of the World Cup was the heart, passion and a capella abilities shown by the South American fans prior to the start of their teams’ games.

Brazil and Chile in particularly showed off the intensity of feeling held by their players and fans during their national anthems. In order to bring some of that pre-match vibrancy to the Premier League, Liverpool’s South Americans will be encouraged by officials to belt out that Rogers & Hammerstein classic, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

As an added twist however, City’s Brazilians will be allowed to try and disrupt the singing without censor, much as their fellow countrymen in the stands did with boos and whistles when Chile and Brazil met in the second round this summer.

It’s at this point that the sponsors will begin to feel a little nervous over the whole charade.

 

Both sets of fans will peer into the future and realise that neither City or Liverpool can win this year due to their lack of Germans

Germany won the World Cup, so it stands to reason that they’ll also win the a post-World Cup, World Cup-themed Premier League. That’s logic.

Therefore, the title is between Chelsea and Arsenal, which means Jose Mourinho’s already won it.

City do have the best Argentinians in the league however, so second-place is theirs. Meanwhile, it’s doesn’t look good for English talent-laden Liverpool. Roy Hodgson’s team didn’t even make it out of their group in Brazil, which means the Reds will slip out of the Champions League this year, determined to do better in 2016.

 

A Chilean will invade the press room

Whatever the result on Monday, Manuel Pellegrini will storm the press room, flip the buffet table and ensure a couple of temporary walls fall onto the heads of some of the journalists present, in the spirit of the 150 Chileans who invaded the press centre at the Maracana.

It’s not been announced what the mild-mannered manager is expected to do once he’s caused the carnage, with many insiders suggesting he’ll just meekly walk away, ashamed of being dragged into the surreal affair, but anything could happen in the one-man melee that may ensue.

 

Betting Instinct tip – No bookmakers are offering odds on some of these more specific predictions, but more than 3.5 goals, in keeping with the early World Cup theme, is 2.75 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Unfamiliar with decimal betting odds? Check out our odds calculation guide to find out how to translate to decimal or fractional

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

The World Cup has already spoilt fans, but there is plenty more to come

Can surprise package Costa Rica keep their incredible run going against the Netherlands?

Can surprise package Costa Rica keep their incredible run going against the Netherlands?

 

For the first time in World Cup history, the last eight is compromised entirely of nations who topped their groups at the group stage.

It’s a fitting quarter-final line up for a tournament that has—for the most part—mercilessly punished mediocrity and compromise wherever it has reared up. Spain’s complacency saw them dumped out of the running early on while the cracks within England’s and Italy’s game plans were quickly exposed and exploited to send them home before the knockout rounds. The likes of Cameroon, Portugal and Russia have been outfought, outclassed and nonchalantly tossed to the wayside by better teams filled with real courage and conviction.

 

Few would deny that the World Cup has already spoilt its global audience with the action that it has produced so far, but now it’s time attention turned to the so-called “business end” of proceedings, where the names of stages are mounted with the suffix of “final” and honours are ultimately decided.

That all sounds very sobering and serious however, the fun isn’t over just yet. With the final scheduled to take place at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday July 13, the following four quarter-final fixtures look set to lay the foundations for a grandstand finale worthy of the exhilarating momentum of the early rounds.

 

Friday July 4th, 5 pm (GMT): France vs. Germany – an Old World battle for authenticity

For many, the loss of Franck Ribery to injury and the exiling of Samir Nasri after a season-long personal renaissance with Manchester City cast doubt on France’s credentials heading into the tournament. Yet Didier Deschamps’ side now stands relatively tall amongst the narrowing field of nations still in the competition as one of the few teams not carrying any obvious fatal flaw, having thrashed Honduras and Switzerland and beaten Nigeria 2-0 in normal time.

Germany on the other hand jetted off to Brazil hyped up on the recent successes of the Bundesliga and their intimidating roster of matured stars and exciting young prospects. However, Jogi Löw’s team looked less than convincing against Algeria and Ghana, with his decision to persist with Philipp Lahm in midfield amid diminished options at full-back looking rather self-consciously contrarian and stubbornly pretentious rather than brave or bold.

They struggled to assert themselves in front of goal against the USA, and their brittle back line consisting of four centre-backs looked vulnerable to the pace and determination of Algeria, who were unfortunate not to covert a stream of chances over 120 minutes of normal and extra time. Even their 4-0 win over Portugal felt more like a brutal exposé of the Iberians’ failings than a testament to the victors’ quality and intent.

Blunt in attack and pedestrian in defence, Germany may not be able to live with France’s attacking power, which could yet be enhanced further should Deschamps finally decide to start Antoine Griezmann over Olivier Giroud. The Real Sociedad forward’s movement and magic on the ball off the bench saw him put the game against Nigeria beyond doubt, and alongside Mathieu Valbuena he could be too clever and cunning for Low’s four-man central defence to handle.

Betting Instinct tip France to win in 90 minutes is +200 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Friday July 4, 9 pm (GMT): Brazil vs. Colombia – the work in progress or the accidental master plan?

Where would Brazil be without Neymar? Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team look utterly dependent on their one true star as they struggle towards what they believe to be their destiny: a chance to right the wrongs of 1950 when they lost in the final of their first home World Cup to Uruguay. If the rumours over his failing fitness prove to be true then that dream is as good as dead.

Colombia lost their own talisman before the summer even began when Radamel Falcao was cut down by injury and ruled out of the World Cup. Yet his absence has lead Jose Pekerman to create arguably a more well-rounded side who look like the team Scolari wishes he could create with Brazil.

Regardless of how you say his name, James Rodriguez has been one of the players of the tournament, supported by a cast of diligent co-stars who look solid if not always spectacular. To call Colombia functional is not to insult them. They have produced some wonderful moments already in Brazil yet the solidity of the foundations Pekerman has put together cannot be overstated.

Their quarter-final opponents didn’t take too well to facing off against South American opponents ready and willing to outclass and outfight them in the round of 16 against Chile, with the World Cup hosts getting overly physical with Arturo Vidal & co. at times. Don’t be surprised if tempers boil over in the sweltering heat of Forteleza if things don’t go Brazil’s way and Colombia gain the upper hand.

It will take a brave referee to show the red card to a Brazilian player, but given the instability and intensity of the emotions surrounding their tournament, a dismissal is a real possibility.

Betting Instinct tip a red card to be shown in regular time is +250 with Intertops.eu

 

Saturday July 5, 5 pm (GMT): Argentina vs. Belgium – the unexpected snooze fest

Lionel Messi’s showdown with the pre-tournament dark horses would have been touted as one of the ties of the round on paper had such a game been proposed back in May, but given both teams’ struggles to match their billing and to light up  the tournament, it could well prove to be the most underwhelming quarter-final on offer.

Belgium’s lack of full-backs has led them to look all-too-staid going forwards, while injuries and uncertain form have lead to Alejandro Sabella switching up his formations and team selections to hamper the fluidity of his side.

Even with their formidable rosters of attacking talent, both nations required late, late goals to overcome their round of 16 opponents and punters could be in for another stodgy, rigid anti-spectacle as Argentina go through the motions against a group of dark horses who have so far looked more like beige donkeys.

Betting Instincct Tip: No goals in standard time is +700 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Saturday July 5, 9 pm (GMT): Netherlands vs. Costa Rica – a quarter played on the counter

He who daren’t, wins could well be the mantra by which victory is secured in Salvador as The Netherlands and Costa Rica both look to continue to succeed by catching each other out on the break with three-man defences and spontaneous attackers.

All logic and reason dictates that the Dutch should outclass their cross-Atlantic opponents, but as shown by Uruguay, Italy, England and Greece, underrating the chances of the Central Americans is a somewhat perilous exercise.

Louis van Gaal’s team will undoubtedly be the best opposition the Costa Ricans have faced yet however, and if Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben are on form, it’s hard not to assume the Oranje should progress, and with a rather handsome margin of victory.

Having said that, it’s hard to say whether it’d even be a surprise anymore if the underdogs somehow claimed the scalp of yet another Goliath to barge their way into the semi-finals.

Betting Instinct tip – Robin van Persie to score two or more goals is +275 with Intertops.eu

Unfamiliar with American-style betting odds? Check out our odds calculation guide to find out how to translate to decimal or fractional

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

World Cup Dark Horses Croatia Can Stun Brazil in Sao Paulo

Young talent Mateo Kovacic could surprise a few people in Brazil

Young talent Mateo Kovacic could surprise a few people in Brazil

The World Cup is almost here, and as intrigue explodes around the obvious betting markets of which nations could win in Brazil and who could grab the Golden Boot, it’s time to look at some less obvious yet intriguing tips to sink your teeth into this summer.

Who are the six most backable dark horses to surprise the globe at the 2014 World Cup?

 

Group A: Croatia

After Spain, Croatia will arguably be the team bristling with the most magical midfielders in Brazil this summer. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic and the even more directly attack-minded Ivan Perisic would each be worthy of playing as the sole creative fulcrums of many other sides. Together, if their coach Niko Kovac can get the balance right, they could be witheringly potent, pulling enough strings to fill a harp behind Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic. That may be a big “if” should they remain as discordant as they were at times in qualifying, but if Croatia click, watch out Cameroon and Mexico. Brazil can’t afford to rest on their laurels in the group opener either.

Betting Instinct tip – Croatia to win or draw against Brazil is 3.22 with Intertops.eu

 

Group C: Japan

Having famously put together a 100 year plan to turn Japan into a World Cup-winning football superpower in 1992, the 2014 tournament in Brazil may  have too soon for the Blue Samurai to push for the title, but they will be a genuine left-field threat to the other teams in Group C, with all the qualities needed to top the group. After all, everything seems to be going for them. Colombia have lost Radamel Falcao, Ivory Coast have a long history of fluffing their lines on the big stage and Greece are solid yet not exactly spectacular. By contrast, Japan are a team full of pacey, technical footballers who thrive as a collective. With the right draw, the quarter finals aren’t out of the question.

Betting Instinct tip Japan to reach the quarter-finals is 7.50 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Group E: Ecuador

France will be favourites to top Group E, but Ecuador cannot be overlooked as a potential source of upsets and heroic narratives with La Tri well-adapted to any potential issues with the Brazilian climate, and boasting some highly effective players, not least Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia. Pace, as we’re forever being told, is a deadly weapon in international football, and the winger could shred many a full-back on his mission to heave his nation into the knock out stages. To do that, they will have to hold back Switzerland and Honduras—the former being a more challenging proposition, but far from unbeatable. After all, this Ecuador team did finish fourth in South American qualifying, finishing above Uruguay, with striker Felipe Caicedo finishing fifth-highest scorer with seven goals. With the element of surprise and low expectations, they could thrive.

Betting Instinct tip – Ecuador to finish top of Group E is 5.00 with Intertops.eu

 

Group F: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Even before the tragic flooding of their country in May, World Cup debutants Bosnia were all set to take the most inspiring narrative with them to Brazil, entering their first international tournament after a troubled recent past of war and sectarian in-fighting. Yet the Dragons will not be heading to South America hoping to best sides with a sympathetic story. With Asmir Begovic in goal, Emir Spahic in central defence, Miralem Pjanic in midfield and Edin Dzeko leading the line, they have an exceptionally strong and surprisingly experienced spine of proven, top class players. The presence of Iran, another potential dark horse team, and Nigeria in Group F has tempered the enthusiasm of some for hailing Bosnia’s chances, but if those four key players fit—especially Dzeko, who finished as second-highest top scorer in European qualifying—then they could be more than worthy runners-up to Argentina.

Betting Instinct tip Edin Dzeko to win the Golden Boot is 51.00 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Group G: Ghana

With a well-constructed squad that blends together some of their most exciting young talents such as Christian Atsu, and the experience of Michael Essien, Kevin Prince-Boatang and Kwadwo Asamoah, Ghana could be the strongest African contender at Brazil 2014. The Black Stars have some impressive depth, with other well-regarded names such as Sully Muntari and Andre Ayew swelling the midfield ranks behind captain Asamoah Gyan, who will lead from the front four years after emerging as one of the big stars of South Africa 2010. On first glance, Group G may look like a fiefdom to be fought over by Germany and Portugal, but the high-energy football of die Mannschaft could well wilt in Brazil, and with Cristiano Ronaldo struggling for fitness, Paul Bento’s men may struggle to make the knock outs, especially with Ghana on their tails.

Betting Instinct tip Ghana to make it out of Group G is 3.75 with Intertops.eu

 

Group H: Algeria

Most will remember Algeria as England’s anti-football antagonists in South Africa, whose negative approach also failed them in the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Yet these disasters eventually lead to a rethink and refreshing of the national team under Vahid Halihodzic, who has replaced the turgid time-wasting of the past with a high-press and a refocus on passing. Never mind Adnan Januzaj’s Belgium call up. Tottenham Hotspur’s 19-year-old passing conduit Nabil Bentalab is heading to the World Cup with just two caps to his name; a one-man reinforcement of the ideological shift that has taken place within this Algerian team. The youthful midfielder joins an already exciting cast of players featuring Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli—a hero of many a player on Football Manager 2014—Granada’s Yacine Brahimi and Islam Slimini of Sporting. A hardened touch of the previous regime remains too to add some physical backbone in captain Madjid Bougherra, which will be needed in a tough and well-balanced group featuring Belgium, Russia and South Korea. However, even if foreign perceptions don’t yet realise it, Algeria have the quality to crash the party in Group H.

Betting Instinct tip – Algeria to make the last 16 is 5.50 with AllYouBet.ag

 

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

Is Arsenal vs. Hull City the end of civilisation as we know it?

Can Arsenal win their first final at 'New Wembley'?

Can Arsenal win their first final at ‘New Wembley’?

The West Antarctic ice sheet is melting! Soon all will perish amid sea level rises too big for even Bruce Willis to stop, seemingly rendering the result of Arsenal’s crunch Community Shield qualifier against Hull City irrelevant on the grand scale of things.

This is of course false. Had the world paid more attention to football in the first place, none of this would have happened. Mankind’s greatest error was to put their faith in hockey stick graphs rather than transfer gossip columns about the landmark transfers of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or something. Heat maps could have saved us all if only we’d listened.

Still, there is some hope that a few emaciated survivors may be able to scrape together an existence during the coming Armageddon out somehow. The FA Cup stands as a testament to humanity’s ability to cling on within a post-apocalyptic landscape.

 

Arsenal v Hull City Betting Odds:

Arsenal – 1.24 

Arsenal to win in 90 minutes – 1.44

Hull City – 4.00

Hull to win in 90 minutes – 6.80

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Having once been the jewel of the English football calendar, cup final day has slipped into becoming a desperate struggle for recognition in the arid wastes between the Premier League finale and the Champions League final. Manchester United used to be the great Satan, who fatally undermined this institution with a transcontinental lust for silverware, but with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona’s La Liga decider currently threatening to steal away viewing figures, the problem seems bigger than a fixture clash.

Similar to the rules of the Thunderdome from Mad Max 3, at Wembley two teams will enter, but only one shall leave. In contrast to the movie’s blood sport however, it’s the loser that gets to walk away, with the victors instead set to be called back for a sound beating at the hands of Manchester City some August.

 

Even the supposed grand prize of a shot at the Europa League feels like a demoted consolation offering. Steve Bruce’s side have already been informed that they’ll be heading off to face the likes of FC Luch-Energiya Vladivostok (wow – turns out that’s actually a real team – ed.) whatever the result against Arsenal thanks to the Gunners’ Champions League qualification via the top four. In that respect, the FA Cup final is left looking more like a passing out ceremony for this season’s press ganged, sacrificial offering to UEFA’s secondary tier, rather than a prestigious bounty. A season scrabbling across Europe to take part in the competition formerly known as the UEFA Cup could even send Hull out of the Premier League next year. If you thought Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a terrifying and depressing read, don’t spend to long mulling over the death by glory inflicted upon clubs forced into competitions they have neither the squad nor resources to properly fight.

Then again, while the heat death of the FA Cup may be stretching out the public’s attention spans and will-to-watch, as if expiring through the footballing entropy of the game’s own laws of thermodynamics, perhaps this year might be different?

 

For once, it’s not just the plucky minnows who are striving for an unlikely trophy win. Arsenal would do well to check that Patrick Vieira didn’t thrown down a Bela Guttmann-esque curse on the club  when he left in 2005. Arsene Wenger’s team haven’t won a proper pot or title since.

With their status as this year’s Liverpool, before Liverpool too—having let slip a commanding lead in the title race rather than a cataclysmic and very literal one for Demba Ba to shatter their dreams—the likes of Aaron Ramsey will be keen to ensure something tangible comes through from a season that promised so much However, Hull need only look back to Birmingham City’s League Cup win over the Gunners to see how their last appearance in a final that was billed as a relative formality turned out.

 

Unfortunately for Bruce’s challengers, his two star strikers—Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic—are cup-tied for the final, but as any fan of disaster cinema will tell you, being outnumbered and outgunned is all a protagonist needs to escape the rapture. Even John Cusack did as much in that one where the Buddhist monk climbed to the top of Everest only to be swept away by a giant tidal wave. It had planes taking off in earthquakes and a big aircraft carrier thing he had to throw his kids onto at the end. High Fidelity was it? Who knows.

Regardless, the fate of the FA Cup could well depend on who can discover their inner Cusack. Sone Aluko or Olivier Giroud. It’s got to be Arsenal, right? Right?

 

Betting Instinct tip – Arsenal to win 2-1 after a spirited Hull performance is 7.60 with GR88.com.

 

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

 

Chelsea set to field a weakened manager against Liverpool

Is José Mourinho on the verge of a Napoleonic downfall?

Is José Mourinho on the verge of a Napoleonic downfall?

In seasons gone by, the threat of rocking up to a title decider with a purposefully depleted hand—enfeebled in protest at having to play on a Sunday—would have been celebrated as classic José Mourinho. He strode the Premier League like Banksy spitting up something pithy onto an unguarded wall, or Marcel Duchamp plonking down a toilet in an art gallery and declaring it a fountain.

 

English football  had found a new crown prince-cum-arch satirist, who was bent not only on winning everything he could but doing so while fiddling with the well-worn levers of the British manager’s identity, much to the amusement of the game’s cossetting, chattering classes. “Oh, José!” they squealed, rocked back into their writing chairs, as he fired off yet another belter of a sound bite or tugged at yet more of the tropes set down by the likes of Brian Clough, Don Revie, Bill Shankly & Co.

Yet something has changed on his return to Stamford Bridge. It’s hard not to think that compared to the man who previously terrorised the establishment with both his flamboyant antagonism and trophy count, that come Sunday Chelsea will be fielding a weakened manager as much as a weakened team.

 

Liverpool v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Liverpool – 1.63

Chelsea – 4.80

Draw – 3.85

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

For all his absurd, syrupy nonsense and motivational envelopes, Brendan Rodgers looks like a man composed, calm and in his element at present. By contrast, Mourinho has at times appeared trite and perhaps even desperate.

The usual jibes and mind games have never quite come off for him as they used to. His ploy to write off his team’s chances at every opportunity became flat and old in a way that wouldn’t have seemed possible during his more electrified tenure back in the early days of Roman Abramovich’s reign.

 

Of course, momentum can often be everything when it comes to the dubious art of mind games, and perhaps too there is more than a hint of over-familiarity with his methods that has generated a considerable about of contempt for him of late. However, from day one something didn’t feel right about his return. He announced himself to be happy rather than special in what was an oddly subdued press conference—vibes that some put down to him feeling aggrieved at having not been granted a shot at the Manchester United job.

Though his ego surely yearned to be a feature of the intrigue that has swept through Old Trafford this season, it seemed more likely that the scars of the past were weighing heavy upon him rather than jealousy for the future.

 

It’s not often that Mourinho has tasted failure since his ascendency to the top of the game with Porto in 2004. At Chelsea and Inter he achieved the vast majority of his objectives and sometimes over-reached even his own expectations with a record points tally and treble win respectively.

His years in Madrid changed all that however. While the location of the biggest job in football is an argument that will never be settled, it’s hard to think of a more demanding post in the game than taking up position in the home dug out of the Bernabeu.

The manager of Real shares the same average life span and political workload as an average Game Of Thrones protagonist (could have given us a spoiler warning – ed.), and yet faces even greater demands that stretch beyond simply amassing trophies. Real must win in style, to some self-styled ideal of false-modesty, with the most glamourous players in the world, constantly bettering themselves like gentlemanly aristocrats charged with civilising others through their own great works.

 

It’s a level of pressure and pedantry that broke José, who has become a figure of self-parody; his pronouncements now sounding just off-key enough to scan as slightly hackneyed and irrelevant. The Premier League almost feels as if it has left him and his kind behind when in the past it seemed as though Mourinho himself controlled English football’s zeitgeist.

Now reports abound about Mourinho fielding a weakened line-up for Sunday’s trip to Anfield, and with it throwing away his chances of snatching a seemingly impossible title from Liverpool’s grasp: is it a hardnosed protest or an act of sheer petulance?

 

It’s hard not to think that the Mourinho of old would have come up with something more cutting, original and, well, effective. He looks like a man feeling the impact of having to compromise his chances of winning to make a point. The ruthless master of his own destiny who once looked set to force Alex Ferguson into (relatively) early retirement surely would never have told the public of his intentions to give up on a chance of silverware.

Yet Real got to him, with his demands for the likes of Iker Casillas to wage total war against Barcelona turning into an internal conflict against his own authority and methods. Without the ends to justify the means—only one La Liga title and a Copa del Rey to show for three years of viciousness that never seemed to bring Real any closer to La Decima—he was ultimately rejected. Like Napoleon’s downfall after failing to overcome the Russian winter, he has now been exiled to an island off the mainline for his failings.

 

Mixed up in all of this are the intentions of Abramovich himself, who may well have re-hired Mourinho in order to hand him enough rope to implode his rival personality cult as much as benefit from his gift of winning trophies.

If the Portuguese is unable to rediscover the edge that he enjoyed in England prior to 2007, then his own defeat at Waterloo—and the popular and political backlash that brought upon his historical likeness—may well come sooner than many might think. Having faced off against opposition of his own from Jose loyalists in the past, reappointing his former champion to destroy his own legacy, so soon after tilting in Madrid, is a Machiavellian move that will play right into Roman’s hands even if he achieves the opposite.

 

Until then, Liverpool look set to be denied their final, title-clinching triumph, not they’re likely to care too much. With Atletico Madrid readying themselves for a second-leg raid of Stamford Bridge, Mourinho’s determination to appear as though he never wanted the win at Anfield—rather than losing at full-strength to a superior rival—will also double up as a handy excuse should the worst happen against Diego Simeone’s men.

Yet it may not be Chelsea who are too tired to rise against the Argentinean’s rampaging La Liga chasers or Rodgers’ surprise Premier League title favourites, but the special one himself who is now at risk of becoming all-too-ordinary.

 

Betting Instinct tip – If Chelsea do give the likes of Nathan Aké and Andreas Christensen a run-out on Sunday, it could well be worth backing Liverpool to be winning at half-time and full-time at 2.64 at with GR88.com

 

Greg avatarGREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football blog and podcast.

Manchester United vs. Manchester City: United doomed as Rooney lob comes too early

Should Rooney have held a bit back at the weekend?

Should Rooney have held a bit back at the weekend?

David Moyes may have enjoyed watching his team win by routine against West Ham, but in truth it was a Pyrrhic victory for the visitors at Upton Park. Now Manchester United must somehow rally to face Manchester City in midweek, burdened by the knowledge that their last remaining hope has been extinguished by the lustful boot of Wayne Rooney.

What a goal his opener at the weekend was: a thwacked, searching goblet of an artillery round that looped over the scrambling Adrián’s head and into the goal. It was so good, Steve Bruce had to call a break mid-press conference to indulge himself in its execution.

Yet though it may well go down as a strike for the ages, it arrived three days earlier than expected, like a missed delivery to a house you haven’t quite moved into yet, or a cavalry charge through the wrong battlefield before the right war has been able to break out.

Manchester United v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Manchester United win – 3.15

Manchester City win – 2.10

Draw – 3.30

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

And now Rooney’s energies are spent; his special move wasted on a relatively meaningless fixture, leaving nothing left in the tank for taking into the City game. I mean, did you really think that shinned, upside down bicycle kick goal from a couple of years back was merely the product of good fortune, timing and a bit of creativity? Of course not.

Ryan Giggs, misunderstood by the football press to be sulking and scheming behind Moyes’ back, has actually been spending the last few weeks hidden away in a Carrington backroom, using his tantric yoga abilities to build up a reservoir of karma to fuel another derby day weapon for Wayne.

Unfortunately, just as when faced with the temptations of unattended, high-calorie pastry products, and red-lit establishments catering to a more mature demographic, Rooney’s lack of self-control saw that potential match-winner go off in his right sock as Big Sam & Co. looked on bemused. Now United will have to resort to trying to best their crosstown rivals at football, which will only end one way: defeat.

After all, City have now assimilated the Moyesian United model and bested it in every category. They have the better quality manager with spooky eyes and a haunted face, a fancy new way of spelling and saying “United” (Etihad), a more evil and successful brand of distant, foreign owner, and a slightly greater meaningless trophy win this year (Not sure the Community Shield even counts as a trophy – ed.). They’re also quite good at scoring goals and generally being more than just one-dimensional when going forward.

Without his supply of mojo, Rooney will be reduced to running around and playing well for his team, which we all know is an anathema to his best work in such high profile fixtures. There’s little chance that he will trudge about the field all sullen for 80 minutes before fluking the goal of the season, as the script requires during these encounters. No one ever won a derby, cup final or title decider with the necessary dramatic clout by being really good and consistent, and even if they did, who would want to watch that?

So, United fans, sadly it all looks to be over for the foreseeable. Rooney spurted away his load a stroke too early while well out of range of Manuel Pellegrini’s men, leaving his teammates high and dry, and ready for a beating. City can now travel to Old Trafford without fear of an unlikely bombshell cascading down from on high via the laces of the home side’s star forward.

Not even the planned blood sacrifice of Tom Cleverley to the old gods can help them now, though as a form of half-time entertainment that wouldn’t go amiss.

Betting Instinct Tip – City’s Yaya Touré is in fine goalscoring form after netting a hat-trick at the weekend, and Touré is 4.80 to score first in tomorrow’s derby with GR88.com

 

Greg avatarGREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football blog and podcast.

Arsenal vs. Manchester United: another opportunity to indulge in David Moyes’ misunderstood genius

One word was on everyone's lips at Old Trafford on Sunday

One word was on everyone’s lips at Old Trafford on Sunday

Like any great auteur born before their time, David Moyes is struggling under the oppression of those who just don’t get his greatness in the here and now. Arsene Wenger has suffered similar injustices from an ignorant public over the years, with many failing to appreciate his innovation of turning a league position into a trophy.

After all, the glory of fourth place isn’t the only new idea brought into the English game by Arsenal’s long-standing patriarch. His greatest teams also introduced the idea of taking one too many unnecessary passes in the box rather than shooting for goal. In a land more used to the obvious glory of winning games, this new style of playing took some time to catch on. Thankfully, his friends in Spain—like Bowie opening up the UK to Kraftwerk—have helped him achieve mainstream popularity, and we have come to live in age in which the pass has been fetishized as something greater than a goal. As shark-faced sage-in-waiting Brendan Rodgers is known to crow at anyone willing to listen to him after games: we won the passing. And who can argue with that?

Now, before our very eyes, we are watching a similar genesis of a revolutionary footballing trend rising into the ascendency. If goals are vulgar, passes will soon be passé, but then what comes next? Crosses. Lots of crosses.

Arsenal v Manchester United Betting Odds:

Arsenal to win – 2.04

Draw – 3.25

Manchester United to win – 3.40

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

The 81 crosses made by Manchester United against Fulham were not an aberration but a giant leap into a great unknown. Just as football theorists grew to better understand the game following its discovery in 1992, uncovering the assist and then the key pass in their vital research, future soccerologists will mark this season as a landmark juncture. The crossed cross and cross from within the box are upon us, and from this day on they will be known as the criss-cross or inverted-daisycutter.

No longer the preserve of FIFA and Pro Evo players, whose refined muscle memories are known to unstuck when mashing unfamiliar controller layouts, the age of launching it into the mixer from within the mixer is here. All thanks to the visionary David Moyes. When he mistakes a square for a circle—an A button for a B—he means it.

A school of thought has emerged that suggest that Moyes somehow held Everton back these past few years, but it’s now becoming clear that it was Everton who held back David Moyes. At Old Trafford he has been handed the budget to make his most vivid dreams come true, and those dreams are filled with crosses.

Forget Marcelo Bielsa and his vertical football. That now belongs to the past. The new buzz word will soon be David Moyes’ crosssectionality. Struggling to lump balls in from wide? Well, your team are lacking in crosssectionality. Playing through the middle? Suffering due to limited crosssectionality. Repeat it and spread the word brothers and sisters.

But where does this leave Arsenal? Wounded from their 5-1 defeat to Liverpool, can they weather Moyes’ coming storm? It all hangs on whether the former Everton manager can complete his life’s work and find an elusive third flank down which he can play another full-back and winger to fire yet more wide deliveries into the opponents’ area. Of course, ever the thinking man, Wenger has already moved to solve this impending dilemma by over-fielding midfielders to the point where Arsenal at times seem to pose the question of whether the concept of flanks exist at all.

Football writing hasn’t quite caught up yet to these events, with metaphysics still trailing behind the dominant genres of tactics and stats in the blogosphere. Yet that won’t stop Arsenal versus United from being the most progressive spectacle of the season. Purity is a rare thing in football, with prolific cowards such as Jose Mourinho and his ilk compromising their ideals to gain victory through problem solving and pragmatism. Not in Moyes and Wenger’s name.

Neither man will end the season with any silverware but they are already managing on a higher plane of understanding, without need of trophies or success. Like Rodgers, Moyes already knows what his victory looks like. “We got to the byline lads, and that’s all that matters”, he’ll say while tearing up with pride in the away dressing room. In the future, the byline will be all that matters.

Betting Instinct tip – With both teams involved in high-scoring games over the weekend, more than 3.5 goals is 2.90 with Intertops.eu

 

Greg avatarGREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football blog and podcast.

The underdogs and dark horses who could save the FA Cup this weekend

Roberto Martinez won the cup with Wigan last season - can his new side Everton repeat the feat?

Roberto Martinez won the cup with Wigan last season – the holders are in action this weekend, as are Martinez’s new side Everton

In these dark days of petro-dollar goliaths and professional football cynics who will rise up to save the FA Cup? Well, Wigan Athletic for one. Last season they downed the sky blue Balrog of Manchester City with a battle cry of “we shall pass!” stunning Wembley and all those who assumed they were to be devoured whole.

Yet their triumph in accelerating the demise of Roberto Mancini’s reign came at a cost, and the Latics fell. Not quite through the fire and water mind, but they certainly dropped out via the lowest dungeon of the Premier League. Since then, Roberto Martinez has shot to fame as the anti-Moyes at Everton, Owen Coyle has come and gone, and Uwe Rosler has arrived in his place, with a collection of youthful top-flight loans sprinkling the squad with quality.

Nick Powell may not be allowed to carry the ball, but he’s carried his teammates at times, and will need to be on point against the war-band hordes of Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace. The former Crewe Alexandra midfielder is in top form, and his temporary Championship side are slight favourites over their Premier League opposition.

Wigan Athletic v Crystal Palace Betting Odds

Wigan to win – 2.02

Draw – 3.15

Palace to win – 3.30

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

If they do overcome the Eagles, can the Latics defend their cup with another unlikely and heroic charge to the Wembley zenith? Considering the depletion of last season’s victorious squad, coupled with the exertions of a long Championship season, the bookmakers think not.

Does that mean that romance is dead? Far from it. The early kick-off on Saturday sees Bournemouth play host to Brendan Rodgers’ free-scoring Liverpool with the Cherries dreaming of staging a famous upset against the Reds. Whether they can do such a thing will rely heavily on the visitor’s mindset, not to mention the amount of hubris Rodgers decides to pour into the jelly mould he uses to fashion his starting line ups.

AFC Bournemouth v Liverpool Betting Odds 

Bournemouth to win – 8.50

Draw – 4.75

Liverpool – 1.30

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

It’s fair to say the Liverpool manager took some liberties with the starting 11 in their 2-2 away draw with Aston Villa, and with some fans suggesting key players should be rested for the run-in, there could be issues should these ideas be shared by the coaching staff. Bournemouth were tricky opponents for Wigan in the fourth round last season, taking the eventual winners to a reply after a 1-1 draw.

That means of course that anyone brave enough to plump for Eddie Howe’s side could be facing up to a handsome reward should they be able to snatch some unlikely glory. Four of Bournemouth’s seven home wins this season have come by a single goal, and if they are to shock Rodgers’ side this weekend it will likely be by a similar margin.

Betting Instinct Tip – A surprise 1-0 win for Bournemouth is 13.00 with AllYouBet.ag

While their hosts may be long shots when it comes to their chances for taking the trophy back to the south coast with them at the end of the season, Liverpool are currently placed as fourth favourites to win the whole competition.

The blue half of Merseyside will also be on the move down the motorway to play Stevenage, who have been declared favourites for the tie by last year’s FA Cup-winning manager, Martinez according to BBC Sport. Look at that for an effortless return to the opening theme, eh?

The noises coming out of Goodison Park are surely nothing more than mind games however, and the Boro will fancy their chances after having advanced to the fifth round in 2012, where they held Spurs to a 0-0 draw before losing out 3-1 in the repeat fixture.

However, the odds are against Stevenage repeating their dogged display of defiance two years ago at this same stage of the competition.

Betting Instinct Tip – Everton to be winning at half-time and full-time is 1.74 with GR88.com

Of course, for the footballing world to enjoy the delicious taste of an over-the-odds victory for the little guy, favourites must be slain and expectations inverted. Out of the runners and riders galloping into the fourth round, who do you think stands the greatest chance of sating the bloodlust for some triumph over adversity this summer?

______________________________________________

GREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football blog and podcast.