Posts by Ryan Keaney

West Ham want to win the FA Cup; does anyone else?

The fifth round of the FA Cup is just about the time of the competition when neutrals begin to hope that the plucky underdogs are all sent packing. With the semi-finals and final a mere 180 minutes away for some teams, the prospect of a third tier side rolling into Wembley with the intent of killing a game so they can snatch a 1-0 win leaves few salivating at the prospect. Instead the desire is for teams that genuinely want to win a trophy finding a way into the hat for the last eight of the world’s oldest cup competition.

 

FA Cup Outright Betting Odds:

Arsenal 5/2

Manchester United 13/5

Liverpool 19/4

West Ham United 10/1

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

 

Hull and Wigan have shown in recent seasons that second-string teams can make it all the way to Wembley, even when their managers show absolutely no desire to mastermind a cup run. And it’s for that very reason that West Ham United have to beat West Bromwich Albion in Saturday’s early kick-off.

Sam Allardyce’s side were in fourth position in the Barclays Premier League on Christmas Day and some fans were allowing themselves to think of the Champions League as an actual possibility. Seven points from eight league games since December 25th have killed those hopes dead; but replaced them with dreams of a trip all the way to Wembley.

 

The Hammers have got 38 points to their name. They aren’t going down. And though Allardyce isn’t going to let his side slack off – Big Sam is well aware of the difference in prize money (both actual tournament winnings and television revenue) that comes from finishing just one place higher – he has made it clear that he fancies a go at winning some silverware; especially without the baggage of having Andy Carroll in his side.

Allardyce can instead focus his side on playing the vibrant, attacking brand of football that delighted so many of us in the opening weeks of the season; rather than relying on finding the target man with long balls. Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia have been two excellent signings and without Carroll inclusion forcing them to play wider than they would like, both should be able to take on the mantle as West Ham’s main attacking options for the rest of the season.

In their way stand a West Brom side just four points clear of safety. Regardless of how switched on they will pretend to be when Tony Pulis sends them onto the pitch, the whole group have their minds on the trip to fellow strugglers Sunderland in the Premier League next week.

 

Sadly, there isn’t such a simple case to be made in the instance of Arsenal taking on Middlesbrough on Sunday. Neither side would have too many complaints if they ended up going out of the competition this weekend.

With the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League against Monaco looming and Southampton refusing to budge from the top four of the Premier League, Arsenal really don’t need a cup run. Arsene Wenger won a trophy last season so he’s got another five or six years before he really has to win another and his focus will wander elsewhere. He’ll still be able to pick a strong squad but don’t expect to see Ozil, Cazorla and Sanchez all starting together.

The Frenchman will, one would expect, prioritise European qualification for next season and the chance of European glory over the FA Cup. Unfortunately the competition will also fall down the pecking order for the visitors.

 

Middlesbrough are top of the Football League Championship. That’s normally enough to suggest a side as capable of taking a Premier League scalp in the fifth round. However Boro are set to play three league matches in the 10 days after Sunday’s match and with the promised land of the Premier League moving onto the horizon, Aitor Karanka may want to re-evaluate his hopes for the season.

Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Blackpool did see the Spaniard shuffle his pack a little and give a few of his important players a rest, so he may be planning to have a go at Arsenal. But if his side find themselves 1-2 behind with six minutes to go; a late goal to take things back to the Riverside Stadium for a replay won’t be chased as passionately as it could be.

It won’t finish in a draw; that’s the only thing both managers will be keen for. Neither team needs another fixture added to their schedule.

Betting Instinct tip Draw at half-time/Arsenal at full-time is 11/4 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data.  He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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Tough Group Could Hinder Algeria’s Quest for Africa Cup of Nations Glory

Algeria will hope Yacine Brahimi translates his Champions League form to the international stage

Algeria will hope Yacine Brahimi translates his Champions League form to the international stage

After some doubts about the tournament towards the tail-end of 2014, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nation is here – perhaps against the better judgement of many. Due to the threat of the Ebola virus, Morocco withdrew themselves as hosts in October and were replaced by Equatorial Guinea in November. Despite being co-hosts in 2012, the country have not had long to prepare and there are some doubt about the pitches at the two of the stadiums.

However, here we are and there is a tournament to discuss.

 

Africa Cup of Nations Outright Betting Odds:

Côte d’Ivoire 7/2

Algeria 9/2

Ghana 8/1

Tunisia 8/1

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

 

There are two distinct halves to the draw and will make for some really interesting semi-final match-ups when we eventually get down to the last four. Groups C and D are full of potential winners of the competition and that ultimately means none of the teams in those groups will be able to enjoy anything close to an easy game at the beginning of the competition.

Ghana, Algeria, South Africa and Senegal will battle for two places in Group C while Mali, Cameroon, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire have been drawn together in Group D. Trying to pick the four teams that will reach the quarter-finals out of those eight would be nothing more than a punt in the dark; and with both pairs of qualifiers due to face each other in the last eight, there is a real chance for the teams in Group A and B to build up real momentum ahead of the semi-finals.

 

2013 finalists Burkina Faso may just fancy themselves for a repeat run in 2015 thanks to a favourable draw in Group A. Jonathan Pitroipa continues to be an important player for his nation and a repeat of his performances two years ago would ensure safe passage through the group. Paul Put, the man that masterminded the run to the final defeat against Nigeria two years ago, remains in charge and will be confident of a similar run for his hard-working team. They don’t have the same star as other teams heading into the competition but they will be buoyed by their showing in 2013.

In Group B, we can’t help but wonder that 2012 victors Zambia’s current squad has evolved too much from the group that pulled off the emotional victory three years ago. The rest of the teams will be looking at the top seeds as a side they can eliminate from the competition. Georges Leekens has built a hard-working Tunisia side that may capitalise in the same way as the recent victors of the competition. Both Zambia in 2012 and Nigeria in 2013 profited thanks to disciplined, structured line-ups with players who stuck to their jobs. Leekens should be able to get the same from his squad this time around and they might just be the team to beat in Group B.

 

Betting Instinct tip Burkina Faso and Tunisia to both win their opening games is 5.91 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Both Tunisia and Burkina Faso could be the two big problems for the pre-tournament favourites Algeria and the Ivory Coast in the semi-finals should they all make it that far. Christian Gourcuff and his Fennec Foxes are probably the best squad in the competition but with all three teams in Group C well aware of the ability of Sofiane Feghouli, Yacine Brahimi and company, no-one will be happy to give them an easy game. That said, we still fancy them Gourcuff and his squad to find a way of topping the group.

 

The one thing we aren’t expecting is goals.

A tournament in the middle of the European season, in warmer clients, with a vast majority of the players having just enjoyed a brief winter break should breed goals – you would think. It makes sense that the attacking players are predominantly at the peak of their powers but recent tournaments suggest otherwise, even if the World Cup in Brazil bucked that trend. 2013 produced 69 goals in 32 games, seven below 2012’s haul of 76. Neither tournament averaged more than 2.5 goals per game and backing the final now at under 2.5 goals would be a wise investment. Only two of the last 10 AFCON finals have produced three goals or more. They are usually tense affairs, as are most finals in football, and goals are not an easy currency to come by.

 

That said, we can’t wait for our January and February evenings to be brightened up by some meaningful international football. A perfect tonic for the cold winter nights of the United Kingdom and North America.

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data.  He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

It’ll be tight at Celtic Park between Scotland and Ireland

ireland

Glasgow-born James McCarthy (left) is injured, but Ireland winger Aiden McGeady could still feature against the country of his birth

 

Three match days into the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 and UEFA are ready to pat themselves on the back. The group leaders include Iceland, Wales, Slovakia, Northern Ireland and Austria as a string of surprise results suggest some of Europe’s smaller nations are relishing the idea of finding their way into the expanded tournament.

However, some of the shock results haven’t worked in the favour of teams that would have originally been seen as solid bets to at least make the Play-Offs. Poland’s first ever victory over Germany mixed in with the Republic of Ireland’s draw with the World Cup winners means that Scotland have lost ground to their two rivals in Group D.

 

Scotland v Republic of Ireland Betting Odds:

Scotland win 13/10

Ireland win 11/5

Draw 2/1

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

 

Rather than seeing the Germans run off into the distance with a pristine record for far, Gordon Strachan’s men are the only yet to take points off Jogi Low and his all-conquering side from the summer. That will surely change when Gibraltar do their best to avoid a world record score against the Germans.

For Scotland it makes their clash on Friday night with Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland all the more important. Before the campaign had begun, Strachan and his coaches will have surely focused in on the team’s home form as the key to success. In the last three games played on Scottish soil, the Tartan Army have seen their side keep three consecutive clean sheets. A fourth is very much on the cards against an Irish side that have managed just four goals in their last nine on the road.

Overall, the clash between near neighbours promises to be a tight affair. With O’Neill returning to Celtic Park and the potential for some Scottish-born players in the Ireland side, it will mix for a special line-up at Celtic Park; and probably not one that encourages flowing football.

Betting Instinct tip – Less than 2.5 goals is 1/2 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Saturday night allows Group G to take centre with the matches split across two kick-off times. Inspired by two David Alaba penalties, Austria are leading the group from heavyweights Sweden and Russia, who have both won just one of their opening three games.

Boasting a hard-working squad made-up predominantly of players from the German and Austrian Bundesliga, we’re going to put our faith in a side that have won four and lost none of their last seven matches; especially against a team that are supposedly struggling to pay the wages of their highly-acclaimed manager.

Fabio Capello’s relationship with the Russian Football Union has never looked like the easiest of situations. Drafted in to ready a team for the impending 2018 World Cup and ensure that the host nation do everything they can to lift the trophy on home soil, Capello has failed to capture the imagination. Without a stream of exciting youngsters lighting up the Russian Premier League or any other European competition for that matter, he’s been left to pick experienced pros who will be too old for the next FIFA showcase and elect for tactics that can be described as “solid” at best.

With seven points from their opening three games and a decent enough recent home record – five wins, three draws and one defeat from the last nine – Austria may just have enough to put a little bit of daylight between them and Capello’s side.

Betting Instinct tip Austria to win is 9/5 with AllYouBet.ag

 

For Belgium, there is the chance to grind their way towards top gear with a match-up against Gareth Bale’s Wales. It is terrifying just how much stock Chris Coleman appears to put in Bale’s influence on his team. So far it’s working. They have won two of their opening three games and lead the way from Israel and their opponents on Sunday.

The Red Devils’ only weakness of note is at full-back where Bale might look to exploit matters if he were playing for Real Madrid. For Wales, he moves centrally and right into the waiting arms of Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini and the Belgian’s centre-backs, who will in truth be far from first-choice.

It shouldn’t matter. Sadly for Wales, Gareth Bale is just one man. Even with Aaron Ramsey, there are pretty far from a full team and even further from being able to compete with the list of names that Marc Wilmots will be picking from on Sunday.

Ramsey and Bale have scored nine of Wales’ last 10 goals away from home. If Belgium can do their jobs to stop the lavish stars, they’ll stop the entire team in their tracks.

Betting Instinct tip – Belgium -1 is 4/5 with Intertops.eu

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data.  He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

The Netherlands will get back on track in Euro 2016 qualifying

Kazakhstan's defence will struggle to deal with Arjen Robben

Kazakhstan’s defence will struggle to deal with Arjen Robben

UEFA’s “Week of Football”, or weak of football if you want to be mean, is finally upon us after being rolled out by European football’s governing body at the time of the draw for the Euro 2016 qualifying groups.

 

The opening set of fixtures in the qualifying campaign offered fans a taste of what to expect but with the majority of teams set to play twice in the next week, Michel Platini’s grand plan for football spread across six nights, to ensure maximum television revenue for the biggest nations, may take some getting used to.

It might prove harder for the casual fan to say no to Belgium versus Andorra on a wintry Friday night or it may simply pass a lot of people by when their own nation isn’t in qualifying action. However, it does allow those that want to the chance to catch anyone and everyone in action across the weekend.

Sadly, the make-up of the groups doesn’t exactly make for mouth-watering clashes. With guaranteed spots at Euro 2016 available to everyone that finishes in the top two places of their group, the continent’s biggest sides are set to stroll towards booking their place in France. The only thing that might keep them honest through their 10 groups will be the need to retain a high coefficient score and maintain their easy life of Pot 1 seedings and favourable group draws.

 

There are some interesting clashes lined up for this weekend; but there are others that perhaps need a little spicing up.
Take the Netherlands; a team that rarely fails to qualify in spectacular fashion for a major competition. Usually that is followed by an implosion at said major tournament but given that they have reached the last four of the last two World Cups, we’re happy to allow that tag to drop away, especially as they started their campaign with defeat to the Czech Republic.

On their way to the World Cup in Brazil, the Netherlands scored 21 times in their five home group games. That included an 8-1 thumping of Hungary at Amsterdam Arena. We assume the nature of the victory was punishment for Balázs Dzsudzsák daring to be the only player to score against them on their own turf.

Kazakhstan are unlikely to offer much resistance to the Dutch and it should be a case of how many Guus Hiddink’s players can rack up as they look to bounce back from their troubles on Matchday One. Five or six isn’t asking too much, especially if one of the Kazakh players dares to threaten Jasper Cillessen’s goal.

Betting Instinct tip The Netherlands to win by two or more, with more than 3.5 total goals in the game, is available at 1.88 with Intertops.eu

 

Elsewhere in Group A, there is the potentially mouth-watering clash between Turkey and the Czech Republic. Having claimed victory over the Dutch, the Czech side will want to cement their strong start in a difficult group. With an exciting Icelandic side littered with players from across Europe’s biggest leagues also battling for a qualification spot, the places will be decided by who does a better job of taking points away from their rivals.

The Turkish side actually had a better time away from home during their unsuccessful campaign to reach the World Cup. They have just one of their last four competitive games at home, losing two and drawing the other.

Buoyed by victory over the runaway group favourites and free of too much expectation for now, Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and their cohorts may just be able to pull off another relative surprise.

In Group H, Friday night should be an easy one for Italy. The Azzurri are unbeaten in 41 qualifying matches for both the World Cup and European Championship, winning 31 of those. Azerbaijan won’t be the team to break that streak.

Betting Instinct tip – Italy and the Czech Republic both to win is 64/25 with AllYouBet.ag

 

This weekend will see our first clash of group leaders with Albania, surprise 1-0 winners over Portugal on matchday one, hosting Denmark, 2-1 victory over Armenia. Whereas we’ve complimented both Italy and the Netherlands on the professional manner of their qualifying campaigns, the Portuguese are a shambles.

They ended up in the play-offs of entirely winnable groups during both the Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 qualifying campaigns and have started in predictably inauspicious circumstances once again.

Therein lies the temptation for Denmark and even Albania. With Lasse Schone sparking for Ajax, Christian Eriksen looking more and more a top-level player for Tottenham and Nicklas Bendtner being a willing target man in Germany, the Danish will pose plenty of threats to the Albanian defence and they won’t look entirely confused without Cristiano Ronaldo around to save the day as the Portuguese did on the opening matchday.

Morten Olsen helped Denmark to finish above Portugal less than four years ago, and we suspect he’ll have the wherewithal to do it again. He might even help Bendtner find his scoring boots along the way.

Betting Instinct tip Nicklas Bendtner to score first is 11/2 with Coral

 

Across the other option is to back the favourites. Germany are going to beat Poland, the Republic of Ireland will thump Gibraltar, Belgium will beat Andorra, Spain will dominate Slovakia, England will hammer San Marino and you can add the Dutch and Italians to that party too.

It may not return much; but a winning feeling is always nice.

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data.  He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Mexico or Croatia to join Brazil in the last 16?

Embed from Getty Images

Seven days into the World Cup and Group A is rather finely poised after two games. Mexico proved to be the battling opponents that everyone expected them to be and that has left Brazil needing a win in their final game to top the group.

That victory will come. There had been some suggestion that with Group B playing their final round of games a couple of hours before Brazil kick-off against Cameroon, the home team may be able to “choose” their opponents in the second round. The winners of the Chile versus Netherlands clash will top the group also featuring the 2010 World Cup winners, Spain. However, such a ploy from Brazil offers too much risk. Were they to lose against Samuel Eto’o’s Lions – an unlikely prospect given their lacklustre showings so far – then a draw in Group A’s other match would dump the Seleção out of the competition. That doesn’t bear thinking about.

That also gives Cameroon credit that they don’t deserve. Wednesday night’s 0-4 drubbing at the hands of Croatia means that The Indomitable Lions have now lost their last six World Cup matches in a row. You have to go back to El Salvador’s run in 1982 for the last time a team had such a poor run; and there has been little to suggest that they can turn it around for their final group game.

Before the Cameroon squad arrived in Brazil they were complaining about the bonuses they were due from their Football Association. The players just haven’t looked motivated to chase either of the games so far, and it’s unlikely to be any different against a Brazilian side with their eyes on an important victory. If Brazil don’t win to nil, it’ll be incredibly surprising. If Neymar or Fred find a way to break the deadlock in the opening 10-15 minutes, they could run up a cricket score.

Betting Instinct tip Brazil to win by three or more goals is 1.88 with Intertops.eu

 

The real action on Monday evening will be in the game that decides who will join Brazil in the knock-out stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Mexico and Croatia will be staring across from the team they need to overcome to set-up a clash with either Chile or the Netherlands; but they will both be wary that events that have already occurred in the competition won’t be repeated.

Guillermo Ochoa won’t repeat his performance against Brazil. The 28 year-old was the star of the Mexican resistance as he repelled a string of Brazilian efforts and held on to an unlikely clean sheet. However, Ochoa is know as a hit-and-miss ‘keeper. He would be playing at a level above AC Ajaccio in Ligue 1 if he were able to produce such displays on anything close to a regular basis. Unfortunately for Mexico, that’ll mean they can’t rely on Ochoa to dig them out of a hole.

For Croatia, it means that they are unlikely to concede a penalty as soft as the one given for Brazil in the opening match of the tournament. The European side were more than competitive against the tournament hosts until Fred was controversially felled in the area and Neymar stroked them into the lead. They could have replicated Mexico’s result against Luis Felipe Scolari’s team and can feel hard done by to be the side entering the final game with a point to make up.

 

Croatia need to win. Their 4-0 victory over Cameroon will be proof enough for their players that the Lions aren’t going to upset Brazil. A draw – taking them to four points for the group – won’t be enough. They’ll need to be positive from off and they’ll need to score goals. Ivan Perišić has transitioned wonderfully from a bit-part player in Borussia Dortmund’s squad to a stand-out in Wolfsburg’s midfield. He’s been excellent for Croatia so far, creating a string of chances and putting an opportunity on a plate for Ivica Olic to finish.

Of course with Niko Kovač’s men forced to be positive, things will play into the hands of Mexico and the pace they possess in attack. Javier Hernandez will probably still be held in reserve with Oribe Peralta once again partnering Giovani dos Santos, although there is a temptation to unleash the Manchester United forward’s speed from the start of the game. If Mexico can catch Croatia as the European side commit bodies forward, they can pick them off and secure a spot in the last 16 for the sixth successive World Cup.

It’d be a bold man that tried to pick a winner. The strength of the Croatian side and the fine seasons that they all enjoyed probably means that Mario Mandžukić and company are just about favourites to win. It’ll be easier to just go into it expecting goals. Based on the exploits of the 2014 World Cup so far, at least two each isn’t a ridiculous thing to look for.

Betting Instinct tip More than 3.5 goals in Mexico v Croatia is 3.75 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Not used to decimal odds? Check out our odds conversion guide.

Ryan avatarRYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter or Google+.

Champions League semi-finals: Goals on Tuesday, tight and tense on Wednesday

Chelsea's Fernando Torres will hope to feature against his former club

Chelsea’s Fernando Torres will hope to feature against his former club

 

Four teams are just one match away from the 2014 UEFA Champions League final. Neither of the first legs were riveting affairs as the teams made sure they didn’t lose the tie before it had really begun. That should lend itself to more attacking football in both of this week’s return matches.

Real Madrid are the only team with a telling advantage over the two clashes. Having never lost to Bayern Munich as manager of AC Milan, winning four and drawing two of the six previous clashes, Carlo Ancelotti had a clear and evident game plan for stopping the reigning European Champions. The Madrid side kept bodies at the back, restricted Munich’s space on the ball and looked to hit them on the break.

 

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Bayern Munich to qualify – 2.42

Real Madrid to qualify – 1.60

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

 

The pace in the Madrid side, exemplified by a swift move that lead to a chance for Cristiano Ronaldo in the first half, will be a real worry for Bayern Munich. Madrid can move up the pitch in a matter of seconds, having made no more than a handful of passes.

Teams arriving to the Allianz Arena and setting up to frustrate Bayern Munich is nothing new. The German giants have been gifted the lion’s share of possession by many visitors in recent seasons. However, they don’t usually have to worry about the likes of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale being poised and ready to do damage at the other end.

 

Bayern Munich have to score. Real Madrid will be licking their lips at the prospect of an away goal that will leave Guardiola’s side needing three. Both teams will attack and we should see the goals that were missing from the first leg. Bayern playing on the front foot will play nicely into Madrid’s hands. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that the Spanish side will want to soak up as much pressure as they can, while breaking at speed when given the chance.

An early goal then it could spark the two teams into playing out a goal fest. Otherwise, we may just have to hold on for a frantic finish.

However, I think we might be lucky to see more than a couple of goals in Wednesday’s decider between Chelsea and Atlético Madrid.

 

Chelsea v Atlético Madrid Betting Odds:

Chelsea to qualify – 1.93

Atlético Madrid to qualify – 1.88

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

 

José Mourinho’s team went to Spain last week with the intention of nicking a 1-0 win. However, after losing both Petr Cech and John Terry to injury, the plan was re-evaluated to focus purely on retaining their clean sheet.

The result retained Chelsea’s recent unbeaten run in the Champions League against Spanish sides. They have won six and draw 10 of their last 16 against teams from La Liga. However, a draw won’t be good enough for the Blues on Wednesday night.

Without an away goal, Mourinho needs to mastermind a victory. Although don’t hold your breath hoping for a rip-roaring, rampaging brand of football.

 

In the last week Mourinho has employed tactics in two matches that have been all about earning the result. Tuesday’s 0-0 draw was followed up by a near perfect display on Sunday as Chelsea secured a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Liverpool in a match that blew the Premier League title race wide open. Neither performance has been the prettiest but Mourinho has never been a manager to be expansive in a clinch contest.

The Blues’ record at Stamford Bridge in Europe is exceptional. They have never lost a semi-final leg in any European competition at home, winning eight of 12.

Atlético Madrid should expect a frustrating evening. Chelsea will be well drilled and concentrated. The La Liga leaders, who may just have on eye on a potential title win this weekend, won’t be able to create too many chances against the London side. They’ll need to take at least one of them, and as early as possible, to force Chelsea into something other than shutting the game down.

 

Whereas we’d think the game in Germany could produce a hatful of goals, the clash in London will be settled by the odd goal. Jose taking on his former club in the final is our bet but with armfuls of match winners on show, all four teams will feel confident of getting the result they need.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Wednesday promises to be a tight affair, and Chelsea to win 1-0 is available at 6.20 with GR88.com

 

Ryan avatarRyan Keaney (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona.

Liverpool v Manchester City – A Potential Premier League Title Decider

Steven Gerrard will be looking to add to his 13 goals this season

Steven Gerrard will be looking to add to his 13 goals this season

 

Liverpool have been the irresistible force of 2014 in the Barclays Premier League. Brendan Rodgers and his players have notched up nine wins in a row in the league, the first team to do so in the last four years of the English top flight, and are steadily earning the tag of title favourites, never mind just being title contenders.

Sunday’s opponents were the unstoppable force of 2013. Manuel Pellegrini hit the ground running as Manchester City and could seemingly do very little wrong, a defeat at the Etihad Stadium to Bayern Munich aside, as his side romped to a string of impressive victories and scored hatful’s of goals as they went.

The meeting of the two this weekend makes for the most anticipated contest of the Premier League season so far. Both teams like to attack. Both teams like to score goals. And everything points to both teams showing up at Anfield on Sunday with the intention of winning the game.

 

Liverpool v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Liverpool win – 2.32

Manchester City win – 2.72

Draw – 3.40

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

 

Liverpool have shown that they don’t know any other way since Brendan Rodgers took over at the club. They don’t have the defence solidity to frustrate the attacking talents of Yaya Touré, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Agüero for 90 minutes. As such, it’s better for them to play with their front-foot forward. So what if they concede three goals away to Stoke? They’ll reply with five of their own.

As Chelsea and José Mourinho are starting to churn out a string of daunting home clean sheets, Brendan Rodgers has got his team playing with pace, verve and cutting edge. They go out, score early, sit on the lead and attempt to pick off their opponents through the pace of Luis Suárez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. The Reds lead the division for first half goals and had – up until recent handsome victories for David Moyes’ side – scored as many in the opening 45 minutes as Manchester United had managed in total in the Premier League.

 

Conversely, Manchester City are the highest scorers in the second half of Premier League matches this season. Manuel Pellegrini has been able to get the best out of the exceptional Yaya Touré and been rewarded with 18 league goals already this season. The Ivorian has been deadly from set-pieces, scoring free-kicks and converting penalties at will.

And what of a penalty to opening the scoring? Steven Gerrard is having his best goalscoring season since 2008/09 even though his campaign has been spent operating in a new, deeper, more disciplined midfield role than the England captain is used to. That’s thanks to the sheer number of penalties that Liverpool’s attacking trio have been able to earn. All three are quick off the mark and possess lightning fast feet that make pressuring them in the area a difficult task for fear of a clumsy challenge.

 

The match itself is hard to predict as Manchester City head to Liverpool needing to win. They have games in hand that make them title favourites but they can’t allow Liverpool to open up the gap to as many as seven points. Even a draw, leaving the difference at four points, isn’t ideal as it ramps up the pressure on the City squad to take maximum points from their remaining games.

An away victory will help deflate Liverpool’s title ambitions and just do enough to place doubt in their minds that they aren’t ready to compete with the very best in the Premier League.

 

For Liverpool, the possibilities that come with claiming all three points are only to be whispered around Anfield for now. On an emotional weekend, with every major game across England kicking off seven minutes later than normal to commemorate the 96 men, women and children that passed on that fateful day at Hillsborough, the Reds can take a huge step towards an unexpected league championship.

The decision for Brendan Rodgers will not be about trying to stop Manchester City. He has enough arrogance to support his own style of football and too much confidence in his attacking players to score goals that he’ll not revert from type, not even for these visitors. However, he may just err on the side of caution in midfield. Philippe Coutinho may miss out in midfield at the expense of Joe Allen or Lucas, in a similar fashion to the team that started at Old Trafford. But even then, it’ll just be to ensure his three flowing attackers have a platform to build off.

 

All I can promise you is goals – and plenty of them. Jose Mourinho has shown in big games so far this season that he is happy to kill the flow, speed and momentum of the game in favour of not losing. Thankfully both Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers are still interested in entertaining while winning. Their clashes with the other teams around them this season have produced a slew of goals.

Whichever way the game goes on Sunday afternoon and no matter the team that continues to have “destiny in their own hands” at the final whistle, they are sure to both find the back of the net. Even if Touré or Gerrard have to do it from the penalty spot.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Back there being more than 3.5 goals at 2.25 with Intertops.eu

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (RyanKeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with  sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona.

Swansea City could profit from Manchester United’s continued struggles

Wilfried Bony scored the winner when these teams met last week

Wilfried Bony scored the winner for Swansea when these teams met last week

Manchester United’s recent run of form does not make happy reading for fans of the club. Four defeats in six home matches for the first time since 1985. Three consecutive defeats to start a calendar year for the first time since 1932. There is no way to paint a pretty picture of things for David Moyes and his players. They’ve made abject failure in the last few weeks looking utterly boring while do it.

 

Manchester United v Swansea City Betting Odds

Manchester United win – 1.55

Draw – 3.75

Swansea City win – 6.00

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

 

There has been little notable fight from the squad of players as they have slumped to three 1-2 defeats at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City and Sunderland in all three of the domestic competitions. Swansea are back for second helpings this weekend in the Premier League and after winning at Old Trafford for the very first time in their history with a victory in the FA Cup, they’d be right to fancy their chances of a second victory all inside the same week.

Manchester United are not the way they were last season. Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have struggled of late with injuries and without them, the Old Trafford club are totally different when they go forward. Unsurprisingly, they don’t score too often without their big name forwards. Unfortunately, the back four isn’t strong enough to be relied upon for a defensive, tight Plan B that might see the club grinding out a string of wins.

Teams visiting Old Trafford are no longer just hoping to nick a goal and do their best to avoid a roaring defeat. For the last two seasons, so even before Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement, teams have spotted opportunities to get at United early. They have conceded the first goal on 26 occasions in the last two Premier League seasons.

 

Last year, the presence of the manager on the touchline and the firepower up front gave them the confidence to fight their way back into the matches. Robin van Persie featured in all 38 league games and was usually on hand to score goals that ignited the comeback.

With Ferguson no longer looming in the dugout and without RVP and Rooney upfront, United aren’t the high tempo, balls-to-the-wall force that they have been. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez can’t be relied on for goals and there isn’t the regular service from behind.

It’s clear David Moyes doesn’t have a preferred pivot for his midfield and from there; his ideal system just isn’t going to fly. Without a regular duo to set his plans in motion, the Red Devils don’t move the ball quick enough or with enough precision to cut teams open before they have a chance to set-up camp. After that, the pedestrian rate of passing only helps to concentrate the defensive minds.

 

Obviously, Man Utd are a side that needs investment. As shown by Moyes’ apparent interest in more than a handful of players during his first summer window at his new club, he knows where the weaknesses are in the squad. Ideally, he’d try to avoid deals in January. Prices are inflated, players are usually cup-tied for European competitions and they aren’t afforded time to settle in.

However, new signings are needed. Even to just get the fans back on side, United could do worse than throw more money than they should at a player to guarantee their signature.

 

In the short term, David Moyes could really do with a win. Swansea, despite their FA Cup win, have not been in good form on the road this season. Sunday is likely to go down as an exception rather than an upturn in their immediate fortunes. They’ve won just twice in their 11 on the road and failed to keep a clean sheet in any of those matches.

Plus the Manchester United squad are better than they have shown in recent weeks. A reaction to the recent slump can’t be far away and if Swansea are sluggish in the opening 20, an invigorated team should ease to a home win.

Of course, I’ve thought that ever since the home defeat to Everton and they still haven’t produced anything close to a complete display. For now just have confidence that we’ll almost certainly see both teams score.

 

Betting Instinct Tip Both teams to score is 1.83 with Bulldog777.com

 

Ryan avatarRYAN KEANEY (RyanKeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona.

Tottenham aren’t in a lull, Manchester United haven’t turned the corner

Nani scored the pick of the goals in Manchester United's midweek win

Nani scored the pick of the goals in Manchester United’s emphatic midweek win

One match is seemingly a long time in football. Whereas teams used to be allowed weeks to get up a head of steam, players were allowed months to return from injury and everyone tried to avoid too many kneejerk reactions; that is no longer the case.

Tottenham Hotspur are a club in apparent turmoil after their 6-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City on Sunday. The fact that Spurs had conceded only six goals in their previous 11 league games or that they went into the match ahead of Manchester City in the table after a steady start has been forgotten.

On the flip side, Manchester United – just two places and one point ahead of Tottenham – are a club that have finally “turned the corner” under their new manager David Moyes after their 5-0 win over a disappointing Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.

(It’s at this point that we would like to clarify that the Europa League doesn’t count. We don’t know why; but it just doesn’t.)

Both reactions to recent results are kneejerk; plain and simple. Manchester United are not back to the “team of old” nor are Tottenham Hotspur a club in disarray with a buffoon for a manager. They are two teams with Champions League ambition and as such, victories over each other are necessary.

Despite a comprehensive win on the opening day, David Moyes’ Manchester United have failed to sparkle so far. After many years under the control of Sir Alex Ferguson, the change to a new boss was always going to take time. The players are still getting used to the change in system and the change in management style. Wednesday was the first sign of a “United team” still remaining at the club.

The selection was under-strength but they went out and got the result they needed. Leverkusen failed to show up and United profited with swift, attacking moves. It marked the first occasion since the beginning of last season that the Red Devils scored more than four in the Premier League or Champions League without needing Robin van Persie on the pitch. Fixed? No; but showing signs that Moyes has what it to takes the keep the players performing.

The same problems are affecting Spurs; and only a string of confidence boosting performances will help matters. After spending the summer improving the overall quality of the squad, Andre Villas-Boas is having a tough time integrating the new bodies into his system. It doesn’t help that he can no longer call on Gareth Bale to haul the club through a tricky situation.

Instead, he has to continue to work with the attacking players at his disposal and hope they can finally piece together their abilities. Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli are far too good to be part of a squad that has contributed just nine goals in 12 league matches. However, it may simply be that Tottenham aren’t quite playing to their individual strengths.

Soldado doesn’t come alive until inside the penalty area. He doesn’t make runs beyond the defenders or into the channels. As such, Eriksen’s vision and ability to thread a pass is rarely seen by the Tottenham faithful. Instead, the former Valencia comes alive when presented with wide deliveries that he can put himself on the end of. Sadly, the only “out-and-out winger” that Tottenham possess is Aaron Lennon and he’s only played 500 minutes of Tottenham’s season so far.

The rest prefer to cut inside and look for the movement ahead. For now, that isn’t Soldado’s game. His scoring figures are only able to remain relatively impressive thanks to the three penalties that he has dispatched.

As for Sunday, it’s unlikely both teams will continue to fulfil the apparent narrative based on their last result.

We’d expect goals. Manchester United have kept three clean sheets in their last four games (all competitions); but two of those results were in the Champions League. Seven of their last eight league games have seen both teams find the back of the net.

At home, Tottenham aren’t going to concede six goals as they did last week but they’ll be feeling the pressure to respond with a strong performance for their fans. That’ll mean scoring goals against Manchester United, which hasn’t proved tricky to do so far this season for other teams.

Betting Instinct tip: Both teams to score is 1.71 with Bulldog777.com, while over 3.5 goals is 3.30

Ryan avatarRyan Keaney is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona.