Posts by maxjgri

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Tottenham win 7/2

Chelsea win 3/4

Draw 5/2

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

US Open Could Provide Last Hurrah For Federer

federer

There was a point in the mid-2000s where it appeared as though the evolution of tennis had stalled in the era of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, as the sport’s relative glass ceiling was raised to impossible heights. Between 2004 and 2010, the two shared 24 grand slam titles, meeting in the finals of Wimbledon, Roland Garros and the Australian Open on seven occasions – remember that most of those finals rank among the greatest matches ever played, and you can start to understand the depth of the rivalry that consumed men’s tennis over the last decade.

Now, it seems to have broken down. Neither man is the dominant force in men’s tennis, with Novak Djokovic properly interrupting the good thing that we all had going in 2011, as Federer’s form dropped with his ranking and Nadal felt the effects of his unsustainably physical game. In the years since the rivalry began to soften, eras have overlapped at such a rate that the word “era,” fairly impressive though it may be, isn’t really accurate any more. Andy Murray flirted briefly with success, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga threatened without threatening, and Djokovic has emerged as a survivor of the End Times, as Federer moves closer to retirement, and Nadal’s body gives up on him outside of Paris.

So it’s interesting to consider how the three players who have defined the last ten years of men’s tennis have approached this US Open: Djokovic as the favourite, Federer in sepia-tinted form, and Nadal not at all. The champion withdrew with a wrist injury, and while the consensus is that it is Djokovic’s tournament to lose, there’s also a feeling that it’s Federer’s to win.

 

US Open Betting Odds:

Novak Djokovic +125

Roger Federer +250

Andy Murray +700

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

 

The Serbian world no.1 is already in the second round after a straight-sets win on the opening day, and shouldn’t be troubled until the semi finals. Nadal, were he not injured, would be in pretty much the same position, but things are different and we have to put up with another narrative. Djokovic lost in the final at Roland Garros and returned to no.1 with a victory at Wimbledon, and despite losing two of his last four matches, has started at Flushing Meadows as the best competitor in the field that has shown up to play. His robotic consistency stands him in good stead to reach the final despite a difficult draw heavy with perennial nearly-men (an effect of Nadal’s withdrawal and a subsequent shift in seeding) – by the end of the fortnight, we’ll have a much better idea of whether or not Djokovic is the irresistible power that men’s tennis is looking for.

Roger Federer is at, and has been for a few years now, at a strange point in his career where “we will have spent nearly as much time talking about his mostly graceful decline as we did his rise and reign,” in the words of Reeves Wiedeman. With Nadal out, however, this tournament provides Federer with a golden opportunity to prove wrong the friend who laughed at my suggestion that he might win – Federer, he says, like “a post-prime Muhammad Ali, floats like a butterfly and gets stung like Winnie the Pooh.”

 

It’s a fair assessment of the man who hasn’t won a major final since 2012, an almost isolated Wimbledon victory as his star faded. He’s 33, and only one man, Ken Rosewall in 1970, has won the US Open at an older age than Federer is now. He hasn’t featured in a final at Flushing Meadows since 2009, when he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro, though I guess it’s worth remembering that he won a record five straight US Open titles in the years before. He also reached the Australian Open semi final and the Wimbledon final earlier this year, and has moved up to number three in the ATP rankings. He’s as fit as he’s ever been, which always seems to be the case, and though they go astray more often than they used to, his shot-making is still as effective as it is aesthetic. Damn it, here comes the paragraph 180: Roger Federer can definitely win this tournament.

 

Should one of Federer or Djokovic run into trouble, then it’s anyone’s game – “anyone” here meaning four or five other men. Andy Murray struggled with cramp in his first round, four set win over Robin Haase, and can be reasonably be expected to reach the semi-finals. Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov would also be happy with places in the semis, while David Ferrer looks set to be happy just to be there. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, says my tennis coach – I can do one-handed backhands now – is also probably a pretty good shot to win, and he knows what he’s talking about when he’s talking about tennis.

In the women’s competition, everything is entirely dependent on whether or not Serena Williams has any interest in winning another major. Li Na isn’t in New York this year, and the American has been in typically dominant form on hard surfaces since failing to reach the quarter-final stage of any of the other grand slams this year, but that’s down to Jehovah sharing things around for once. That said, it’s worth looking at fifth seed Maria Sharapova and eighth seed Ana Ivanovic, simply because the women’s game is the most unpredictable sport on the planet. Sharapova didn’t play the US Open last year and has been unimpressive since her win at Roland Garros, but women’s tennis is the most unpredictable sport on the planet, and she’s already in the second round after roundly beating Maria Kirilenko 6-4 6-0 in the first.

Nadal should be back next year, as should Li Na, and order might return. For now, we can enjoy seedings warped by absence, and a tournament that might finally define an unpredictable 2014 season.

 

Betting Instinct tip Roger Federer to win his 18th grand slam at Flushing Meadows is 5/2 with Intertops.eu.

 

 

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

USA should have enough to make World Cup second round

The USA needs a point to guarantee back-to-back appearances in the knockout stages

The USA needs a point against Germany to guarantee back-to-back appearances in the World Cup knockout stages

We may not always be listening, but North Korea is talking, and the word from Pyongyang is “this World Cup is great stuff, guys!” And while that’s more the gist of what they’re saying rather than anyone’s actual words, it seems to sum up the mood of a nation consumed by World Cup fever pretty well. Local football nut Ryang Min Ho, a section chief of the Pyongyang Vegetable Science Institute and man for some reason quoted by the state broadcaster, the Korean Central News Agency, as a source for this story, said, “I am closely following the result of every match.”

 

Meanwhile, experts have taken a pretty dim view of the Spanish efforts at the tournament. “Even a strong team may have a bitter experience of defeat,” Yu Myong Uk, an official of the DPRK Football Association, told the KCNA, “It seems to me that Spanish “tiki-taka” is going bankrupt.”

Of all the predictions I’m about to make, I’m most sure of this one: we won’t see the North Koreans playing tiki-taka at the World Cup anytime soon. I found the North Korean update wedged between one story headlined “New Kinds of Paint Developed in DPRK” and another about a “New Species of Seedless Sweet Grape,” but I digress. The point is that the World Cup isn’t just about countries that still have a shot of winning it, and with that in mind we move onto the last few games of the group stage.

 

World Cup Group E Qualification odds:

France first and Switzerland second -333

France first and Ecuador second +200

France first and Honduras second +6600

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

 

In Group E, Switzerland will probably beat Honduras to leave Ecuador needing a win against France to progress to the round of sixteen. It’s hard to gauge just how deep France can go in the competition – their goal difference just about ensures them of their spot in the first knockout round, but Switzerland and Honduras hardly represent the same challenges as Germany and the Netherlands have faced, and hell, it’s France, the same guys who made the final in 2006, then really, really didn’t in 2010. Weirdly, this time they seem to have their act together.

The French should win their group, motivated by the likelihood of a game against Nigeria or Iran in the next round. Argentina are first in Group F, and will play Nigeria for top spot while Iran will hope to beat an already eliminated Bosnia-Herzegovina and have the South Americans knock the Africans out for them. The maths is hard, so don’t worry about it – Messi should take care of Nigeria by himself ahead of the serious part of the tournament, and Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina seems like the kind of game that’ll be a draw because Asian teams don’t look capable of a win in Brazil.

 

Group G is a little bit more difficult to call. I tried a sentence-long paragraph that read, “It’s the World Cup, baby, anything can happen,” but I couldn’t be sure that my editor wanted me to be so concise (good decision – ed.). Germany stalled against Ghana but only need to avoid defeat against the English language’s last hope, the United States, to finish top of a bruising group . It’s easy to say that Germany will win purely because they’re better than the US, so let’s go with that – the Americans looked drained by their draw against Portugal, and they’re not as good at football as their opponents can be. Portugal, meanwhile, need a five goal swing and Sepp Blatter’s blessing to overtake Jurgen Klinsmann’s men in second place, while Germany and the US can decide to draw to take them both through and we won’t even need to watch Portugal’s win over Ghana. The Germans and the Portuguese should win, but the US are favourites to progress – it’s the World Cup, baby, anything can happen!

Betting Instinct tip – The Germany-Portugal double is 3.83 with Intertops.eu

 

I’ve just remembered that Group H is also going on. Russia have been underwhelming at best and need to win against Algeria for the opportunity to play tired football against whoever makes it out of Group G, while South Korea should ensure Belgium run out unbeaten by letting things happen as they usually do and losing what will almost certainly be their last match in Brazil. Belgium have two fairly unconvincing wins so far and would take a third, but the darkest horse in this World Cup’s midnight stable will still want to show that they’re capable of living up to everyone’s expectations by winning every game from here to the final by at least five goals to nil.

 

The group stage of the 2014 World Cup is almost over, but they’re throwing us Wimbledon now and the cycling in a week to ease us into the comedown. Enjoy the last of half of the field as you will – I’ll go with the North Koreans on this one, calling up my local newspaper to “express my feelings or propose creative opinions on developing the football of the nation.” Exciting times ahead.

 

Unfamiliar with American or decimal odds? Check out our handy conversion guide.

 

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

Champions League Final – Atletico Madrid Hope to Benefit from Underdog Status

Can Cristiano Ronaldo (left) find a way past Thibaut Courtois?

Can Cristiano Ronaldo (left) find a way past Thibaut Courtois?

 

I’ve been to Madrid. I went in 2010, not 2014. I went in January, not June. And I went to Madrid, not Lisbon, and that’s where my stumbling lead-in towards serious analysis of the Champions League final, this season held in the Portuguese capital, falls apart. Onwards and upwards. Well, onwards, anyway.

To try and cut down on the narrative, it’s Real Madrid v. Atletico Madrid this year, and— huh? They’re both from Madrid? Oh, so they are! This is actually a big deal – Atletico have only won two of their last 30 games against Real one of those wins coming this season. Real have lost in four of the five Copa Del Rey they have played against Atletico. Atletico won La Liga this season, and Real finished third. And Atletico are looking to win their first ever Champions League, and Real want to win their tenth. It’s a real shame it’s not being played in Madrid – my first paragraph might’ve been better, too.

 

Champions League Final Betting Odds:

Real Madrid to win in 90 minutes – 1.92

Atletico Madrid to win in 90 minutes – 4.00

Scores level after 90 minutes – 3.20

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

 

There was a point in this season’s competition when things started to feel pre-determined. It might’ve been after Atletico upset some sort of odds to beat Milan, and Real rolled over a German team, or maybe when Atletico upset actual odds to beat Barcelona, and Real rolled over another German team, or maybe it was when Atletico half-upset the odds to beat Chelsea, and Real rolled over another German team. Diego Simeone will worry that their stunning La Liga victory might be overshadowed if the trophy sits in the Real bus back to the Spanish capital, and Carlo Ancelotti will worry that there are no more German teams left to play.

A little unsure of what to make of this game, I asked my Chelsea-supporting friend Michael to give me the tactical lowdown. Here’s what he thinks: “Expect Atletico’s main attacking outlet to be early/diagonal crosses into the box which shows how stingy this team is – attacking without any major commitment forward. They’re like those vines in Harry Potter, the more you struggle the worse it gets. If Real can keep a balance for 90 minutes and not lose their heads should they go a goal down, there’s no reason why they can’t produce the quality to beat Atletico.”

 

Time will tell if Michael knows what he’s talking about, but I like his ideas, and a rare Harry Potter reference in the world of tactical analysis. Atletico have come this far doing generally the same thing – pressing hard when play is high up the field, then locking things down when it crosses the halfway line. Real, the fastest football team this side of a football team of racing cars (someone should make one of these if it doesn’t already exist – ed), will be given more of the ball as Atletico look to sit deep and hit on the counter, which might frustrate them until everyone remembers Cristiano Ronaldo can do anything, and is always a decent shout to score. Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema look likely to make up the front line, with Xabi Alonso the notable absence in Ancelotti’s squad due to a suspension.

Across the city, Atletico are in a bit of trouble. Arda Turan is struggling for fitness, and Chelsea-bound Diego Costa is holed up in Serbia having afterbirth being rubbed up and down his leg – without going into too much detail about a procedure in which placenta fluid is massaged onto the skin around the affected area, things aren’t great. But look, nobody expected Atletico to make it this far, and if you know someone who says they did, then you know a liar.

 

Selection headaches aside, it’ll be tense as hell and twice as Spanish. Diego Simeone doesn’t present himself as the kind of guy who’d accept defeat, and fans of Real Madrid expect a win – and this might work in Atletico’s favour. Leading the underdogs again, Simeone must know that a defeat for Real would be more disastrous than a defeat for his side, and Atletico could well frustrate their way deep enough into the game that Los Merengues lose their nerve.

I’d lean towards a narrow win for Real – Atletico will miss Costa if he doesn’t play – but given what these sides have offered already this season, it’s hard to call with any certainty. Is there a market for a winner from Madrid? That’d be way easier to predict.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Either team to win by a one-goal margin is 2.32 with GR88.com

 

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

Champions League Quarter-Finals – Everything Still to Play For

Can Edinson Cavani help Paris Saint-Germain improve on last year's quarter-final exit?

Can Edinson Cavani help Paris Saint-Germain improve on last year’s quarter-final exit?

 

It’s taken far too long to get to this point. The thing about giving everyone a chance at winning something is that it takes a while to narrow the field down to the real contenders – you think it’s bad now, just wait until Michel Platini properly loses it and we’re left with a 48-nation Euro 2024.

There’s a lot of mucking around until anything serious happens in the Champions League, but after a few months of trips to previously unheard-of cities with impossible names, we’re finally left with eight teams. Seven of them can win the competition, and the other is Manchester United.

 

Champions League – Outright Winner Betting Odds:

Bayern Munich – 2.52

Real Madrid – 3.85

FC Barcelona – 4.40

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

 

The good news for United is that they’re playing at home. The bad news is that it’s not 2009. The good news is that they’re playing at home in the Champions League, which they seem to like doing. The bad news is that they’re playing at home in the Champions League against Bayern Munich, so let’s give up.

I’m not sure how much I really need to tell you about this one – Bayern haven’t lost since December last year, and are up against a United side that most agree is the weakest still in the competition. David Moyes desperately needs his team to extract the digit and give him a hope of making it through the summer. “I suppose we will be underdogs in the draw,” he said following United’s 3-0 win over Olympiakos, “but I genuinely believe this club is capable of winning it,” but he doesn’t genuinely believe that, because it’s genuinely wrong.

With so much disbelief surrounding Manchester United’s current position, Bayern Munich come to Old Trafford offering the kind of reality check that you just can’t get from an unreal home loss to West Brom. And to think – if United had really chased Pep Guardiola back when he was there for the chasing, David Moyes would still be a respected manager.

 

Barcelona v Atlético Madrid Betting Odds:

Barcelona win – 1.50

Atlético win – 6.25

Draw – 4.25

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

 

Elsewhere, Barcelona play Atlético Madrid in a match that they should win because they’re Barcelona, but won’t necessarily win because Atlético Madrid are top of La Liga, and things are seemingly different now in Spain. Atlético haven’t won at the Camp Nou since Fernando Torres was scoring goals, but bring an in-form Spanish-Brazilian Chelsea-bound Diego Costa to Barcelona – he has scored six goals in his last five games.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have Lionel Messi, a good record against Atletico Madrid, and far more experience at this stage of the Champions League, which probably counts for something. They’re apparently in crisis, but given that they’re second in the league and favourites in a European quarter final, it’s the kind of crisis we’d all like to have.

 

Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea

Elsewhere again, PSG, or Paris Saint Germain if I’m trying to reach a word count, take on Chelsea in a match that requires more serious analysis than I’m capable of, so I asked my Chelsea-supporting friend, Michael, for help. Michael says, “Chelsea will park the bus and if PSG are good enough, they will win. Chelsea are hard to score against but without Matić in midfield it will be easier for PSG.”

Look at how clever he is there. Michael is employing a classic Jose Mourinho strategy, condemning his side to defeat before it’s even happened so as to cover himself if they lose, while leaving it open for him to claim a heroic victory if they win. Chelsea are fresh from a loss away to Crystal Palace – a real skills festival in reverse – and PSG have Zlatan Ibrahimović. Michael doesn’t always walk his talk, but he’s probably right this time.

Betting Instinct tip – Paris Saint-Germain to emulate Crystal Palace with a 1-0 win is 5.90 with GR88.com

 

Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund

Finally, Dortmund (or Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund if you’re cultured and drink wine and read books and speak languages), 23 points off the top of the Bundesliga and relatively unremarkable in the group stage will be the team to roll over for Real Madrid this week.

Ok, so copying, pasting and updating the same Real Madrid paragraph as last time might be cheating in some eyes, but it’s also a real time-saver, because Dortmund simply aren’t the same team that beat Madrid 4-1 in the semis of last season’s competition. In fact, they’re probably a bit more like the team that lost to Madrid 2-0 in the semis of last season’s competition, in the reverse leg of the same tie. Dortmund keep haemorrhaging players to Bayern Munich, and Madrid keep getting faster, stronger, and sometimes better –  while it wouldn’t be outrageous for the Germans to go through over two legs, it would be a surprise for them to win at the Bernabeu.

Betting Instinct tip – Another 2-0 win for Real is 6.50 with Intertops.eu

 

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

Manchester United can dent Liverpool’s title bid at Old Trafford

Daniel Sturridge scored the only goal when these teams met at Anfield in September

Daniel Sturridge scored the only goal when these teams met at Anfield in September

Everything is wrong. Not wrong in the sense that the way everything is shouldn’t be that way, but wrong in the sense that it doesn’t feel right.  Manchester United won the league last season and are a Belgian and a Spaniard stronger, yet – and look away now if you don’t want to see me get real – they won’t qualify for the Champions League. The days of Alex Ferguson must feel like a lifetime ago, especially for those born after the days of Alex Ferguson. Given that failure to attain Champions League qualification begets failure to attain Champions League qualification, the future looks grim for Manchester United fans, and everything is wrong.

Manchester United v Liverpool Betting Odds

Manchester United win – 2.40

Liverpool win – 2.85

Draw – 3.20

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

Everything is also wrong because Liverpool are doing quite well, which hasn’t been the case for about five years (kind of goes back to that failure to attain Champions League qualification begets failure to attain Champions League qualification point – ed.). In fact, it was at this point in the 2008/09 season when, a few days after hitting four past Real Madrid in Europe, they met Manchester United at Old Trafford and did the same again. The omens are looking good, if you believe in that kind of thing, and I do.

Back at the beginning of this season, when the world was innocent and David Moyes looked his age, Liverpool won this fixture at Anfield, a solitary Daniel Sturridge goal the difference. Of course, we’re well and truly through the looking glass now. Manchester United are capable of the relatively routine, but then they’ll lose to Stoke. Conversely, Liverpool throw away chances against lesser opposition, yet are second in the league.

“We already know this Max!” you cry. “Get onto the hard statistical analysis, the fact-based assessment of the coming match, and the well-conceived prediction grounded in reality and probability!”

Ok, well, don’t say you didn’t ask for it. Manchester United have won eight of the last nine home league games against Liverpool, but these are two very different teams now. Robin van Persie has scored six goals in his last seven starts against Liverpool, but these are two very different teams now. There’s a pattern here, one which should demonstrate just how useless the statistics are – there will be two teams playing football, and without stretching out the word count by listing other certainties, that’s about all we know for sure.

Everything else is conjecture, but I need to help you out and tell you what I think will happen. Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge are both still around, so Liverpool will probably score. Therefore, if Manchester United want to avoid losing, then they’ll probably want to score as well, and this is where the difficulty in predicting this match lies. Nobody is really sure how good or bad this United side is – they won the league last season, which they had to be good to do, and with the addition of Mata and Fellaini it would be foolish to say that United are a bad side. On the other hand, they’re seventh, and deservedly so.

These are two clubs that inexplicably rise to this particular occasion despite respective circumstance, so you should expect a close game, or at the very least a violent one. My personal bias towards Liverpool is mitigated by an unshakeable belief that they will always lose their next game, but I think that they’ll win this time – everything may well be wrong, but there’s absolutey no reason why they shouldn’t.

Betting Instinct Tip – Either team to win by a one-goal margin is 2.30 with GR88.com

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

Manchester United’s Champions League Run to Offer a Welcome Break From the League

Galatasaray's Didier Drogba will face Chelsea for the first time since leaving the club

Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba will face Chelsea for the first time since leaving the club

Brendan Rodgers has a saying, naturally: “Per aspera ad astra”, which, says Brendan, is Latin for “through adversity to the stars.” And what we wouldn’t give for the Americans to roll up at Old Trafford with their lights and cameras and start shooting the long-awaited sequel to the series that brought us Brendan “Brendan” Rodgers, if only to know which dead language David Moyes is using to motivate his players.

But we’ll come back to United in a moment. I’m not going to lie and say I watch the Greek Super League, so I’m just going to state facts: Olympiakos enjoy a cruel level of success domestically, but haven’t yet progressed beyond the first knockout round in the Champions League. They came in second to PSG in the group stage, level with Benfica but ahead on goal difference. They also sold their top scorer and star player, Konstantinos Mitroglou, to Fulham, because why not? Those are the facts about Olympiakos, who are up against a United side that is curiously functional in Europe.

Olympiakos v Manchester United Betting Odds

Olympiakos to win – 3.40

Draw – 3.30

Manchester United to win – 2.15

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

David Moyes says the Liverpool side of 2005 “gives United hope”. Nemanja Vidić, with one foot in a metaphorical lifeboat and the other on the metaphorical sinking ship, says United are capable of “something special” – which we know they are, but we also know they are not. It all depends on which Manchester United turns up: if it’s the same side that drew with Fulham and lost to Stoke then they could find themselves in trouble; if it’s the side that beat Bayern Munich in Barcelona 15 years ago then they should be fine.

Beneath the cloud of rhetoric is reality. Manchester United should progress (over two legs) against a side that isn’t quite as good as them, which is the natural order of things. Yet this is a side that’s 11 points and a bomb threat off the Champions League places, and is without the cup-tied Juan Mata. I’ll go for a draw in this first leg. It’s not an exciting prediction, nor is it particularly risky, but it’s a prediction that’s somehow in keeping with the spirit of the week’s fixtures – predictable. Es fortis, David, es fortis. Keep looking at the stars.

Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho exists, and Chelsea (1.92 with GR88.com) will be in the quarter-finals soon enough. While Galatasaray (4.00) are an increasingly fun team to play with on FIFA, they beat mathematical possibility and qualified for the knockout stage having lost 10-2 to Real Madrid on aggregate, and only after a late goal in a weird, frozen and broken-up match against Juventus – it’s a UEFA conspiracy that goes right to the top or something (if it is a conspiracy then they might have chosen something more interesting – ed.). Expect Drogba and Mourinho to greet each other warmly before the match, then expect the Portuguese to narrow his eyes, forget about friendship and gesticulate his way towards a reasonably comfortable away win.

Zenit Saint Petersburg (or Zenit St Petersburg for short; 4.30 with AllYouBet.ag) went one better than Galatasaray by winning even fewer games in the group stage, somehow scraping through in second place with three home draws, one away win, and 5 goals in total. It’s almost unfair that they should have any chance at winning this competition, but here we are. They play Borussia Dortmund (1.80) at home in one of those weird, frozen Russian matches that kick off early and where literally anything can happen, except sustained periods of good football. Predicting a result is tricky here, but Dortmund should score – I’m sure of that much. Finally, Schalke (or Schalke 04 if you’re cultured and drink wine and read books and speak languages), 21 points off the top of the Bundesliga and relatively unremarkable in the group stage (and 6.80 with GEObet.com), will be the team to roll over for Real Madrid (1.45) this week.

(All odds are subject to change)

Betting Instinct Tip – A Chelsea and Real Madrid double is 2.78 with GR88.com

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

Tough to Look Past Djokovic and Nadal For the Australian Open

With Andy Murray returning from injury, Djokovic and Nadal are the outstanding favourites

With Andy Murray returning from injury, Djokovic and Nadal are the outstanding favourites

There are essentially three groups of players in men’s tennis at the moment: the three actual contenders, the five or six who will come close but lose out in the quarter or semi finals, and then the other 3.5 billion males on the planet. It’s very hard to see anyone outside of that top group winning.

Australian Open Betting Odds

Novak Djokovic – 1.80

Rafael Nadal – 3.50

Andy Murray – 8.00

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

Heatwaves of temperatures above 30°C, such as those seen at Wimbledon, would melt in the heatwaves here. They broke an egg open and fried it on a court a few years ago– usually you’ve got to do that in a pan, and we know how hot those need to be to fry an egg.

Naturally, it takes endurance to advance, and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic literally, but not literally, have endurance in bucketloads. It’s difficult to pick between the two, but I’d go with Djokovic – he’s making a habit of winning in Melbourne, and finished last year off nicely with a win at the ATP World Tour Finals.

The other man, returning from back surgery, is three-time runner-up Andy Murray. Indeed, the Scot has said that he didn’t “come back [from injury] just to play a match. If I come back I want to be in the shape to win it.” Given his condition coming into the tournament, and a propensity to come up second here, he’s likelier to lose an epic in the semis than go all the way and win the thing.

Roger Federer’s win at Wimbledon in 2012 was impressive, but didn’t quite spark the renaissance that everyone was hoping for. The Swiss continued his decline in 2013, maintaining his record of ten consecutive Australian Open semi-final appearances since 2004 but failing to impress at any other Grand Slam, crashing out in the second round at Wimbledon and only reaching the quarter finals in New York. In unpredictable form, Federer is an outside bet to reach the final, but will likely struggle against Nadal or Djokovic if – and let’s face it, when – he meets them earlier in the tournament.

Beyond the main contenders are the perennial semi-finalists, Del Potro, Wawrinka, Tsonga, Berdych and Ferrer – the Spaniard is the third seed, but it’s something of a false position. You can guarantee one of the five will come up against Lleyton Hewitt, and it’s a damn-near certainty that one of them will make up the numbers in the semis.

They’re all long shots for a reason. When the Australian Open has thrown up those underdog finals over the last ten years – think Federer v. Gonzalez and Baghdatis, or Djokovic v. Tsonga – the favourite has always won. And so onto the Australian. Hewitt, held together by weekly surgeries and the hope of a nation, is usually good for a shock win over a seed in the second round, and then an entirely predictable loss to a household name from a country that doesn’t have many houses in the third.

If Hewitt is set for a matchup with any recognisable name in the second round, he’s worth backing. If nothing else, there are worse ways to spend a few hours than watching Lleyton Hewitt slog out a five setter in front of a raucous Melbourne crowd, an Australian Open tradition stretching back to the early Mesozoic. Said Hewitt in November, “With the right draw and a bit of luck, you never know.” And why not? On the day Australia reclaimed the Ashes – 5-0, thanks for coming – Hewitt beat Roger Federer in Brisbane. That has to count for something. Yeah, I know that it doesn’t.

The other Australian hopeful is the “mercurial” [read: the next Mark Philippoussis] Bernard Tomic – “The next best [Australian] player,” according to an entirely serious Hewitt. A lazily stylish Tomic, straddling the line between becoming the next Australian in the top ten and the next former tennis star to feature on a reality television dating show,  faces a tough first round match against Nadal, though he can be dangerous with his tail up.

The women’s field, like most of the WTA tournaments, isn’t easy to pick. Simply, if one or two real contenders go out – and every second tournament the commentators will lament the fall of the favourites – anyone can win. Those two contenders must surely be Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams: Azarenka grinds her way to finals unless she collapses spectacularly at an earlier stage, while Williams grinds her way to finals unless she collapses spectacularly at an earlier stage – it’s shaping up to be a thrilling tournament of quality tennis, and we’ll all be wondering where the days went when Williams lifts the cup and thanks Jehovah at the end of it all.

The local favourite is Samantha Stosur, who has shown indifferent form since her success in New York in 2011, and win or lose is certain to frustrate the Australian public out of loving her at some stage. Here’s the tip with Stosur: if a match looks like it will be ludicrously easy for her, you can probably count on her to lose it.

Betting Instinct Tip – Victoria Azarenka to win the Australian Open women’s tournament is 5.00 with AllYouBet.ag

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

Manchester City to Continue Impressive Home Form Against Arsenal

Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City are chasing a sixth win in seven games

Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City side are chasing a sixth win in seven games

To be fair to Manuel Pellegrini, I doubt anyone except journalists with hindsight knew that the Champions League group standings were decided on head-to-head rather than goal difference – it’s a stupid rule that makes it hard for people who can’t add up/remember stupid rules. That said, while the rest of us don’t really have to know these things, it’s part of Pellegrini’s job to understand exactly what kind of game he’s playing. Thankfully, the Premier League is a little easier: if his side scores more goals than Arsenal, they’ll win.

Manchester City are favourites – indeed, almost all the statistics seem to point in their favour. Pellegrini’s men have won their last seven home matches, scoring four goals or more against Newcastle, Manchester United, Norwich and Tottenham. Throw in an impressive win away in Munich midweek, consider that Arsenal didn’t get an impressive away win in Napoli, or Munich, or anywhere midweek, and you can start to make a solid case for a home win. Arsenal shouldn’t be written off – they have the best away attack and defence in the Premier League – but City’s form at the Etihad – they have the best home attack and defence in the Premier League – should be the difference.

Betting Instinct tip – Manchester City win and both teams to score is 2.80 with Bulldog777.com

Tottenham have yet to make up their minds as to whether they want to be part of a title race, or part of an inelegant stumble towards fifth. For all the money spent, for all the new players with exotic names and nationalities, it’s not really working for AVB. They’ve ground out a few good results at home – Soldado (pen) – but Liverpool are arguably better than any of the other visitors to White Hart Lane in the league this season – Chelsea aside, perhaps. Spurs are struggling for goals here, but against a Liverpool side that place an emphasis on attack over defence, you’d expect them to score somehow. And what about Liverpool? Hey, they’ve got Luis Suarez.

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool Betting Odds

Tottenham Hotspur to win – 2.40

Draw – 3.25

Liverpool to win – 2.80

(Odds provided by Intertops Sportsbook are current as of today but subject to change)

 

Max avatarMAX GRIEVE is Australian, but keep reading. He likes football, rugby union and tennis, though has given up on his dream of being a tri-sport athlete/exciting millionaire. He supports Liverpool, and is ashamed for doing so.

Manchester United Manager Moyes Can See Off Threat of Former Club Everton

Everton's Romelu Lukaku (left) scored a hat-trick on his last visit to Old Trafford

Everton’s Romelu Lukaku (left) scored a hat-trick on his last visit to Old Trafford

Before I start, I’d like everyone to know that only the other day I picked more than 2.5 goals in both the Manchester City v. Swansea and Hull v. Liverpool games, Sporting Lisbon and Rubin Kazan to win, and a draw in the Tottenham v. Manchester United match. Fifty whole dollars richer, I think I know a thing or two about sports betting. I’d have recommended you bet on those games, but giving tips for games that have already been played isn’t allowed. Onwards and upwards. Well, onwards, anyway.

Manchester United v Everton

David Moyes never beat Manchester United while manager of Everton, but that doesn’t matter because now he manages Manchester United. Robin van Persie should be the difference at Old Trafford, with six goals and five assists in 10 starts against the Toffees, though he is not a certainty to start. It should be a close match: Romelu Lukaku is an obvious threat, scoring a hat-trick in his last game against Manchester United, and Everton have a good away record under Roberto Martinez. Having completed a short appraisal of Everton’s credentials, United’s home record against the boys formerly known as David Moyes’ boys – no defeats in their last 20 games – points towards an almost inevitable result. United win.

Manchester United v Everton Betting Odds
Manchester United to win – 1.67
Draw – 3.75
Everton to win – 4.75
Quoted odds are posted by Intertops Sportsbook as of today.

Liverpool v Norwich City

Liverpool are odds on to beat Norwich at Anfield, but then it’s going to take a few more games in the league/seasons of Being Liverpool before we all figure out whether we’re looking at the Liverpool of 2011, or the Liverpool of a few weeks ago when they were good. Fail to beat Norwich, and we shouldn’t worry about the sky falling in – this is Liverpool, after all. They’ve conceded six in their last two games to Everton and Hull, but Brendan Rodgers’ men have a strong defensive record at home and most would expect Luis “Seven in Three Matches Against Norwich” Suarez to find the net, especially against opposition who can’t score goals, but are good at letting them in. Liverpool win.

Betting Instinct Tip: Liverpool to win and keep a clean sheet is 2.10 with GEObet.com

Max avatarMAX GRIEVE is Australian, but keep reading. He likes football, rugby union and tennis, though has given up on his dream of being a tri-sport athlete/exciting millionaire. He supports Liverpool, and is ashamed for doing so.