Posts by stethedaisycutter

Zenit chasing consolation prize in Europa League

 

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

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

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

 

UEFA Europa League Outright Betting Odds:

Wolfsburg 3/1

Sevilla 9/2

Napoli 9/2

Fiorentina 5/1

Zenit 7/1

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

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Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in fine fettle: Champions League last 16

Of the sixteen teams left in this season’s Champion’s League only seven have previously hoisted aloft the impressive trophy so – statistically at least – it bodes well for a newbie to step up and join the elite.

What skews the odds back to the tiresomely familiar however is that among those former champions lurk the monopolising trio of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and the ever-dominant Bayern.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Bayern Munich 11/4

Real Madrid 11/4

Barcelona 33/10

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

 

Between them these behemoths have won the most prestigious club accolade of them all a mind-boggling 19 times and with all in fine fettle it is difficult to see far past them when envisioning the fireworks and bastardised Zadok the Priest blaring out in Berlin on May 27th.

All three artfully negotiated tricky aways in their first leg ties with Madrid all-but securing safe passage to the quarter-finals with a 2-0 win at Schalke. Cristiano Ronaldo and co will be seething following their shock reverse to Athletic Bilbao at the weekend but with the Germans now forced to go gung-ho a slick, polished dismissal at the Bernabéu is expected.

 

Barcelona, meanwhile, took full advantage of Manuel Pellegrini’s adventurous midfield two at the Etihad and though Manchester City will have gained hope from Lionel Messi’s bizarre last-minute penalty miss the need for a clean sheet surely makes it mission impossible for the Blues. After some initial hum and crackle Barcelona’s magical front three have finally tuned onto the same wavelength thus forging a Harlem Globetrotters’ level of exhibition greatness that we all feared was inevitable. A 6-1 trouncing of Rayo Vallecano on Sunday was all the more ominous with the ease in which it was administered and all the more impressive as it marked the sixth consecutive season the other-worldly Messi has bagged 40+ goals. Joe Hart and a City defence that has struggled for cohesiveness have our best regards.

 

Lastly there is Bayern Munich who showed typical reserves of fortitude and nous to come away from Shakhtar Donetsk with a goalless stalemate. The Ukrainians looked rusty from their winter break and resorted to dragging the visitors down to tetchy attrition. Such tactics won’t wash at the Allianz Arena and despite the absence of orchestrator-in-chief Xabi Alonso through suspension the Germans predictably start as clear favourites. Arch poacher Robert Lewandowski’s four strikes in the previous four games makes him a good shout for first goal-scorer but in truth Bayern’s array of attacking talent means the breakthrough could come from anywhere.

So it is difficult to see far past this trio of behemoths but let’s try not least because the remaining five fixtures throw up some intriguing propositions.

 

Perhaps the most finely poised clash in this last 16 round can be found in Dortmund where Jürgen Klopp’s revitalised troops look to overcome a goal deficit to Juventus. The black and yellows face an unenviable task of breaking down a mean Juve rearguard with Buffon, Chiellini, and Bonucci pulling down the shutters across Serie A and Europe. But with a priceless away goal attained in Turin under their belt, and a guaranteed high-voltage atmosphere electrifying Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund have every chance to cap their recent turnaround with a famous victory.

 

Let’s not forget at this point that it is not solely progress to the quarters that is at stake this week and next; a bounty of coefficient points are up for grabs while a prize of just shy of four million Euros for reaching the last eight is not to be sniffed at either.

With that in mind Monaco – who realistically have little hope for ultimate glory – will not be cutting a Cuban for Berbatov just yet despite a healthy 3-1 advantage procured from the Emirates while Basel and Bayer Leverkusen can expect 90 minutes apiece of examining bombast from Porto and Atletico Madrid respectively.

 

Two clubs that presumably aren’t too fussed with the riches on offer are Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain and in a repeat of last season’s quarter-final pairing – where the English side narrowly triumphed – Mourinho’s men take on Zlatan the Magnificent and ten of his team-mates in a fascinating duel at the Bridge.

Chelsea remain unbeaten in Europe so far this season but the significance of their away goal obtained in the 1-1 draw at the Parc De Princes last month presents Jose with an awkward dilemma: Do they stick or do they twist? The former is the Special One’s speciality but is an awfully dangerous strategy to enforce considering Ibrahimovic has struck 68 times in 85 appearances for the French champions.

It’s an astonishing hit-rate to make Messi feel positively wasteful.

 

Betting Instinct tip Bayern, Real and Barcelona to all win their second legs is 2.07 with Intertops.eu

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Roma v Juventus: Can the pretenders stop the Ju-Ju train?

Since September 11th 2011 Juventus have lost only eight league games and taken exclusive residence atop Serie A. Five of those defeats came in the 2012/13 campaign where they would occasionally succumb to ennui at their whole shtick of going in front, controlling the game, seeing it out, then shaking hands and wishing their vanquished all the best. You know, that predictable old winning thing.

The previous season – when monopoly was still a fresh, intriguing proposition – they were invincible.

Roma v Juventus Betting Odds:

Roma win 2/1

Juventus win 13/10

Draw 11/5

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

Since September 11th 2011 – that’s 138 games in case you were wondering – the Old Lady has crushed its nearest and dearest with iron-fisted dominance. And now, after extending their already-healthy lead over second placed Roma last weekend, the ruthless Bianconeri scent a fourth consecutive title.

They have done this before: Given their rivals a glimmer of hope, showed a bit of ankle, then raced away with half a season to spare. Now, with a nine point lead looking unassailable following Totti and co’s draw in Verona surely it’s all now a formality?
Surely we are all better off concentrating our attentions on a terrific scrap for European qualification or a bitter relegation dogfight involving Verona, Cagliari, Chievo, and Atalanta? The tussle for the top is over. The champions-elect may as well be crowned before March blossoms its blooms.

Unless…

Unless there is one particular fixture scheduled for this one particular time and rather wonderfully there is.
Juve – Tevez, Pogba and all – head to the Stadio Olimpico this Monday evening knowing the avoidance of defeat will put them out of sight. A stalemate will more than suffice but while Bonucci and Chiellini will typically be in lockdown mode, don’t expect classic catenaccio. For one thing it is impossible to curtail the scurrying adventure of Tevez while Pirlo’s pearler last week demonstrated once again that any set-pieces attained within his scud missile range are potentially priceless. Moreso the knowledge that Roma will have to unleash hell lends the perfect opportunity to be brave, allow the magnificent Pogba the freedom of the park, and hurt the home side when stretched.

And Roma WILL have to unleash hell; an opening up of their usual cat-and-mouse caginess that has seen them draw eight from their previous eleven games, only scoring more than once on a couple of those occasions.
Coach Rudi Garcia must dispense with conservatism and entrust the cute creativity of Ljajic to pick the Juventus padlock and perhaps add to his eight league goals this term. Pjanic’s pinpoint probing meanwhile must take priority over work-rate.
So much of Roma’s success this season has been built on solid foundations. The experienced De Sanctis has been in the form of his long career with Astori ahead of him a calm colossus. Now though we get to see what i giallorossi have to offer when all guns blazing. They will certainly be battle-hardened after coming through a highly charged trip to Feyenoord on Thursday evening, a Europa League clash that was suspended for ten minutes after objects were thrown onto the pitch including, depressingly, an inflatable banana.

The wounded whippet Iturbe will be a big loss as too, possibly, Maicon who is a doubt. But personnel plays secondary importance for such a clash. It is mentality – or more pertinently a change of mentality – that matters here.
For the neutral a repeat scoreline – either way – from the corresponding fixture in Turin last October will be welcomed. That barmy evening saw five goals, two reds, and three penalties.

Whether it’s a tight affair though or an incident-packed thriller one thing is for certain – if it goes Juve’s way the old lady will put on weight and start to sing.

Betting Instinct tip – with Juve content to keep things tight early on, we could well see the game being level at half-time. You can back this at 21/20 with Intertops.eu

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Romance Is Dead. Long Live The FA Cup 4th Round

Marko Arnautović helped spare Stoke's blushes in the third round against Wrexham

Marko Arnautović helped spare Stoke’s blushes in the third round against Wrexham

While the third round has become hamstrung by cliché and mythology and never fails to disappoint, all the cool kids know the fourth round is where it’s really at. It’s the orange to the third round’s black. Chia seeds to quinoa.

Let the hopeless romantics delude themselves that a postman will score a late winner against a Premier League side. Let them evoke nostalgia from Motty’s sheepskin coat. Let them revel in sepia-tinged David and Goliath fables of yesteryear.

For those of us who Andy Townsend might describe as ‘having something about them’ it is this weekend that offers the true promise of upset and drama as the gene pool gets stronger and the vague notion of a cup run becomes a genuine possibility.

FA Cup Outright Odds:

Chelsea 17/4

Manchester City 9/2

Manchester United 5/1

Arsenal 7/1

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

Take Rochdale’s (15/4 with Intertops.eu) hosting of Stoke (13/20) on Monday evening. The Potters’ previous opponents were Conference side Wrexham at the Britannia and though the Welshmen applied themselves outstandingly – ‘plucky’ I believe is the obligatory term – was there any doubt as to whether the top flight club would ultimately prevail? They always do. Class tells as legs tire and all that.

This time out Mark Hughes’ men travel to Spotland to face a side contesting a League One play-off place who have brushed aside a Christmas blip and rediscovered some fine form. In a tight hostile environment packed to the rafters with fervent believers – and presumably some snowy conditions levelling the field – even Hughes’ battle-hardened eleven will struggle to impose their superiority.

 

At Villa Park Bournemouth (19/10 with AllYouBet.ag) almost go into the tie as favourites having scored more goals in the Midlands in a single game this term (their 8-0 drubbing of Brum at St Andrews in October) than a misfiring Aston Villa (5/4) have managed in 11 attempts (having notched just seven at home). It’s a mind-boggling statistic that aptly illustrates the gulf in attacking freedom shown by both sides and you almost feel sorry for Paul Lambert that the hat threw up this no-win clash for a game that might decide his managerial fate.

Elsewhere high-flying Bristol City (13/5) will fancy their chances against West Ham (19/20) while draw-specialists Brighton (4/1) will see the visit of Arsenal (57/100) as a blessed relief from relegation concerns (all odds via AllYouBet.ag).

 

For those among us who still believe in the magic of the cup – aww bless – please brace yourselves for this but what really takes the fourth round up a notch on its quixotic cousin is the increasing likelihood of an all-Premier League affair. Oh and while we’re at it Santa Claus doesn’t exist either.

Unusually this year however there are only two top flight clashes in Tottenham v Leicester and Southampton v Palace and while neither are exactly an all-Merseyside derby or top four grudge-match both offer intriguing narratives. Victory at the Lane will give Foxes fans a rare glimpse of Wembley on the horizon to accompany a spirit-sapping fight for survival while Alan Pardew will scent the opportunity to cement his place back in Eagles folklore should Southampton prioritise their Champion’s League dream. The odds for either club going all the way this year are generous across the board – especially considering their onerous away trips this weekend – but bear in mind the recent trend for relegation-battlers reaching the final.

Another long-shot for cup glory lies in the victor from Birmingham v West Brom, a tasty Midlands encounter that is given extra titillation with each side being turned around by new managers. Since his appointment in late-October – following their eight goal humiliation as it goes – Gary Rowett has performed superbly in revitalising the Blues fortunes while new Baggies gaffer Tony Pulis may not usually value a distracting cup run but is intent on imposing winning ways to his new club.
Okay, so you want one ceding to FA Cup magic? It of course comes in the form of Cambridge squaring up to the slightly more famous United. Televised this Friday evening – how traditional – it will give the U’s some welcome exposure, some even more welcome revenue, and their players a chance to swap shirts with Wayne Rooney and co.

They won’t win naturally because romance is dead but all the very best to them.

Long live the 4th round. Motty, put away your sheepskin, things just got real.

 

Betting Instinct tip Manchester United to crush Cambridge dreams with a 4-0 win is 9/1 with AllYouBet.ag

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Strikerless Manchester City Look To Boing The Baggies

James Milner looks set to feature as a false nine for a second straight Manchester City game

James Milner looks set to feature as a false nine for a second straight Manchester City game

Manchester City head to the Hawthorns on Boxing Day with six straight league wins under their belt, a run that has seen them return to title contention.

It is a game considered their most difficult in an otherwise favourable Christmas schedule. Indeed it could potentially have been a festive breeze were it not for losing all three of their recognised forwards, one of whom has been so sensational he virtually counts as four.

 

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City Betting Odds:

West Brom win 19/4

Man City win 1/2

Draw 16/5

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

 

The loss of Sergio Aguero, in addition to Dzeko and Jovetic, has forced Manuel Pellegrini into employing a Barcelona-style 4-6-0 formation that clicked ominously last weekend against Crystal Palace with three goals, 656 completed passes, and 73% of possession. You do wonder though whether in private moments the Engineer rues his decision to offload Alvaro Negredo in the summer now that his striking options consist of rookie teens or the versatile James Milner in the ‘false 9’ role.

The latter will presumably start again on Friday and one would expect him to run his socks off in typical fashion. While ex-Blue Joleon Lescott will certainly be glad of Aguero’s absence, he will struggle with the unfamiliar movement of an interchangeable attack made up of an array of mini-marvels.

The relentless probing for pockets of space from Milner, the rejuventated Nasri and fit-again Silva are integral to this unusual formation’s success but equally so is the forceful runs of Kolorov and Zabaleta out wide.

 

If the Baggies have any hope of enjoying their post-game turkey sarnies their own full-backs must be brave, take risks, and dare to venture forward at every opportunity. All too often when facing the current champions the opposition look to stem the tide and hold out against a constant barrage of tiki-taka magic and driving runs from deep with a breakthrough always imminent. Pinned back inevitably that breakthrough arrives.

So it falls upon Andre Wisdom and Sebastien Pocognoli to offer support and speculative overlaps further afield knowing that should City break there is no killer instinct up front to punish them quickly. More so it puts doubt into Kolorov and Zabaleta’s minds every time they ‘go’.

For this strategy to be employed the home side must show more adventure than they’ve mustered this season. The supporters are growing tired of Alan Irvine’s negativity and baffling team selections and their capitulation to QPR on Saturday after being two goals to the good has meant whispers for his dismissal have noticeably increased in volume. Yet their recent 1-0 triumph over local rivals Aston Villa and an exhilarating opening twenty minutes of attacking intent at Loftus Road hints at a coach willing to loosen his cautious ways. West Brom were largely undone by three poor pieces of defending and each can hopefully be remedied on the training pitch ahead of three extremely tricky fixtures that Irvine would certainly not have requested from Santa. After hosting City they face daunting trips to Stoke and West Ham.

 

As for the visitors the expected return of Vincent Kompany will boost them further and the manner in which they have overcome adversity of late seems to have re-energised the whole squad. Since Aguero pulled up early in the game against Everton – prompting one well-known pundit to prematurely declare Chelsea champions-elect – they have shared out the goalscoring duties admirably with Yaya Toure, Silva, Zabaleta, and Frank Lampard all mucking in. They will go into this encounter full of rediscovered confidence.

No team has ever won the league or avoided the drop at Christmas time but City know the immense value in momentum coming into a new year while Irvine will be acutely aware there are two kinds of sack in December. One contains presents in the form of much-needed points. The other is a P45 some claim is already in the post.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Man City to win both halves is 13/10 with AllYouBet.ag

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Reborn Manchester City threaten to flatten struggling Everton

Can the returning Eliaquim Mangala keep out Romelu Lukaku?

Can the returning Eliaquim Mangala keep out Romelu Lukaku?

After months of under-par struggling that has baffled supporters, pundits, and – you suspect – Manuel Pellegrini himself Manchester City seem finally to have found the high gears that secured them the title last season.

Their slick passing and fluid movement has returned, and a quartet of consecutive victories – two of which laid to rest long-standing ‘bogey’ fixtures – have hauled them back to within striking distance of a Chelsea side that seem incapable of losing.

 

Manchester City v Everton Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 1/2

Everton win 5/1

Draw 3/1

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

 

The sensational form of Sergio Aguero aside it is difficult to pinpoint what has caused this dramatic turnaround but evidence lends itself to a team spirit rediscovered as they trailed to Bayern Munich with just minutes to go during their last Champion’s League encounter. The free-scoring Argentine may have bagged an impressive hat-trick that evening – prompting accusations of City being a one-man side – but the collective energy, fight, and pride that coursed through the Etihad on the final whistle acted as a release valve on months of pent-up frustration. City suddenly remembered who they were, what they are capable of and, most importantly, how to set about dismantling opposition with lethal disdain.

Southampton and Sunderland both suffered the ensuing backlash and it’s logical to assume Everton will be similarly punished this Saturday teatime especially in light of the Toffees’ own prolonged dip in form.

 

The visitors, though, boast a very credible record against City. Indeed it wasn’t long ago when they too were considered a bogey team of the current champions, winning nine of the fourteen previous encounters. Defeats both home and away last term appear to have ended that curse and it’s worth noting that the majority of Everton victories were presided over by David Moyes, a man who appeared to take personal exception to City’s fancy ways and consequently fortified his men for battle. At times it was Braveheart vs The Age Of Innocence with the inevitable conclusion being a pumped-up Tim Cahill punching a corner flag in goal celebration.

Under Martinez the Merseysiders have opened up, attempting to play their way through the phases, and this more genteel style is much more in keeping with City’s ideal.

They still possess Romelu Lukaku however, a combination of brawn and touch that will trouble a City rearguard missing their leader Vincent Kompany and the pacy striker will look to exploit any uncertainties in the unfamiliar partnership of Mangala and Demichelis. With McGeady and Mirallas offering intelligent support there’s plenty of scope for Everton to break quick and hard.

 

Dealing with such counters has been City’s Achilles heel this season so it’s critical Pellegrini is brave and starts once more with a rejuvenated Fernandinho in the holding role despite a crucial Champions League showdown with Roma being only four days away. Elsewhere Milner is expected to pip Jovetic for a spot with his forceful endeavour favouring cute flicks to weary a congested Everton midfield.

Where this game may be won tactically resides in which pair of full-backs pins back the other. Both sides are blessed with wingers in all-but-name and should Baines and Colman cede to away etiquette and attempt to keep a solid back four Clichy and Zabaleta – both reborn of late – will surely capitalise and run riot out wide.

 

Then there’s Aguero. A devastating one-man spree of muscle, trickery, and intent ‘Kun’ has exploded into a stratosphere only inhabited by a select handful of sublime talents who seem to have this football lark mastered. So far fourteen goals have been haughtily slotted home and now that his team-mates have raised their game he’s even prepared to help them onto the score-sheet too with three assists in the last two games. All this in addition to his relentless probing and expertly seeking out a yard of space means it’s safe to assume Phil Jagielka will have a sleep-deprived Friday night.

That goes double for Tim Howard who has become a shadow of his former self, uncharacteristically shaky behind a defence who have already shipped in 22 goals this season, more than any other side bar those in genuine relegation plight.

With this in mind Sergio and co must be licking their lips and even without the artful magician Silva pulling the strings and Kompany the warrior leading from the back it’s hard to see past anything other than a continuation of Manchester City’s rebirth.

The wheels are back on the juggernaut and Everton will do well to not be flattened.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Against a porous Everton defence, Manchester City to win both halves is 13/10 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Can Athletic Bilbao Cast A Shadow On Barcelona’s New Dawn?

Spanish international Iker Muniain could cause real problems for a new-look Barcelona

Spanish international Iker Muniain could cause real problems for a new-look Barcelona

Anyone who has seen Spike Lee’s film 25th Hour will see parallels between Ed Norton’s last day before incarceration and Barcelona’s summer activity.

As of now the Catalan giants are essentially in transfer prison, unable to make any deals until 2016 due to breaches of FIFA regulations, and so has ended a frantic few months of getting all their affairs in order. Their first call of business was finding temporary homes for their fringe players, similar to Norton seeking shelter for his beloved pet pooch.

“Porto, can you take care of Tello for us? He’s well trained but look out for him weeing on the carpet”

Then came the headline-makers.

 

A raft of big-name departures and arrivals have given Barcelona an unfamiliar feeling of flux following a philosophy that was famously founded on a slow, stable build to invincibility and this upheaval is extended beyond the pitch with a change of president and a new coach in the form of club legend Luis Enrique.

Puyol, their lion, has retired from the pride and the selling of Fabregas and Sanchez surprised but their replacements have been astute and ruthlessly attained in Vermaelen, Rakitic, and the man employed to add some fight and bite to the tiki-taka, Suarez. Rampaging full-back Douglas, the experienced Mathieu, and two new keepers competing for the number one jersey completes an expensive hoard to see them through their transfer purgatory and it’s reasonable to assume it will be some time before we witness the same settled side appearing each week.

 

Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao Betting Odds:

Barcelona win 3/10

Athletic win 7/1

Draw 9/2

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

 

Enrique hasn’t been assisted in this regard by injuries, individual bans, and stars still shaking off the World Cup and the opening weeks have seen some La Masia schooled wonderkids breaking through and announcing their potential. One such teenage talent Sandro Ramirez crucially broke the deadlock at Villarreal to make it consecutive opening wins in their 2014/15 campaign and these kids are going to be invaluable to light up the Camp Nou until some sense of order is restored.

And what order is could ultimately be when Neymar fully recovers from his broken vertebra and Suarez sucks up his bite punishment to complete an attacking trio akin to a ten year olds on Football Manager. The third in that otherworldly triumvirate is of course Lionel Messi and the multiple Ballon D’Or winning genius wasted no time in ripping apart Elche on day one to banish any doubts of a Brazil hangover.

These have been turbulent, extraordinary times even by Barca standards and so it is vital they amass as many points as possible amidst the chaos. Once the dust settles you feel they will be unstoppable.

 

So it probably doesn’t help that week three sees them host an Athletic Bilbao side still buzzing from their Champions League qualification after an impressive play-off mauling of Napoli. Los Leones will be relishing their first group stage fixture for sixteen years when they face Shakhtar Donetsk three days hence – in their stunning new stadium to boot – but it is inconceivable they will weaken their admittedly slim chances of success here by ‘resting’ Iker Muniain and co. Quite the opposite: Ernesto Valverde’s men will be confident of taking advantage of any glitches in the new Barcelona matrix and in Aritz Aduriz they have a striker in the form of his life who will lead the line superbly and intelligently use any scraps of possession that comes his way. Though now 33, Aduriz has just this week been offered a contract extension and is enjoying nationwide calls to add to his single international cap.

Another key figure who makes an impossible result at least imaginable is Beñat Etxebarria whose combination of craft and graft in the middle is so indispensable for Bilbao. A fine season from the schemer and the sale of Herrera this summer becomes a distant memory for the Basque public. Blessed with guile and the ability to pick out a catalogue of passes it is Beñat’s willingness to run himself into the ground for the cause that makes him so priceless in a daunting fixture such as this.

 

Granted the visitors haven’t won in Catalonia since November 2001 but let’s not forget it was Athletic who derailed Barca’s express train last year with a 1-0 victory at the San Mames to end a fourteen game unbeaten run. They will be prepared for the possession stats to be heavily against them. They will be ready for Messi to mesmerise. But they will be undoubtedly up for the upset.

Should that occur then the optimism of Barcelona’s new dawn will see its first shadow cast.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Athletic to avoid defeat at Camp Nou is 3.26 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Sunderland v Manchester United: A must-win in August

Ander Herrera was one of few bright sparks for Manchester United in their season opener

Ander Herrera was one of few bright sparks for Manchester United in their season opener

The Stadium of Light will aptly shine some answers this Sunday afternoon on two clubs presently in the dark.

Sunderland’s miraculous rescue mission last season – including shock triumphs at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and a tremendous point at Manchester City – certainly reinvigorated a side that lay fractious and shredded of confidence after Paulo Di Canio’s reign of madness, but a nothing-to-lose charge is one thing: now we uncover the true extent of the damage the erratic Italian caused and whether indeed Gus Poyet is the man to bring stability and standing back to Wearside.

An encouraging opening day draw at the Hawthorns bodes well and arguably a passionate home clash against the thirteen times Premier League champions is the perfect early opportunity to measure how far down the road to convalescence they are.

Sunderland v Manchester United Betting Odds:

Sunderland win – 15/4

Manchester United win – 7/10

Draw – 5/2

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
This is equally true – and seemingly when is it not? – of Jack Rodwell, Sunderland’s £10m summer acquisition, who should benefit from an hour’s workout at West Brom and will hope for similar this weekend partnered alongside the fiery Lee Cattermole.

Cattermole is guilty at times of resembling a headless chicken that has staggered its way into a pair of boots but the onus falls on him this term to bolster an otherwise lightweight midfield since the unexpected north-east defection of Jack Colback. A huge season awaits the fan’s favourite and it is imperative that he finally curbs his infamous disciplinary problems that averages a red for every 27 games and has led to the second most dismissals since the Premier League formed. These are damning and startling stats for a 26 year old.

Unless Poyet can turn around a frustrating transfer window and strengthen the spine Cattermole will be as instrumental to Sunderland’s fortunes as the calm assurance provided by Brown and O’Shea who will both be once again looking to show their former employer that they’ve aged like fine wine or George Clooney’s face. The duo have forged an impressive bedrock of experience at the back for the Black Cats and boast a decent 2014 record against United, winning two and drawing one of their three encounters. It’s a record they will want to continue.

 

From a neutral’s point of view most eyes will be on the visitors this Sunday with a million ABUs (‘anyone but United’) desperately hoping to share yet more gifs of David Moyes manically laughing.

This very fixture two years ago was the most defining in Manchester United’s recent history leading to a chain of events that took in short-term success, upheaval, catastrophe, and ultimately the temporary loss of their famed fear factor.
Despite the Reds disposing of Sunderland on the final day of 2012 their bitter city rivals achieved last-gasp immortality and perceivably wrestled a large chunk of the power and prestige long-held in Salford across to the blue half of Manchester.

This forced a wounded Sir Alex Ferguson to postpone his retirement for a final campaign and the proud Govan man was never going to risk his personal quest for departing glory by making the necessary overhauling of an aging, mediocre squad. After somehow bullying and cajoling the tired limbs of Ferdinand and limited vision of Cleverley to a title he then handed over the shambles-in-waiting to Moyes. Faced with a daunting task of dismantling a clique of established superstars whilst attempting to fill impossibly large shoes Moyes’ fate as the chosen scapegoat was sealed the minute he took the job.

 

Which brings us to the here and now of Louis Van Gaal, a Champions League winner with the stature and arrogance to carry the oppressive demands of bossing United snug in his suit breast pocket.

The narrative of this summer is that the Dutchman will bring attacking adventure and imperious swagger back to Old Trafford and both the supporters and media have been keen to depict him as Ferguson 2.0. But a shock 2-1 reverse to Swansea last week pricked the confidence and allowed doubts to seep in that one individual – no matter how savvy and worldly-wise – is not the instant solution to fundamental shortcomings.

 

For all the talk of Van Gaal mirroring his United side on his Holland team that nearly stole the show in Brazil – with three at the back and incisive moment – the likes of Young, Valencia and the up-and-coming Januzaj are not fit to grace Arjen Robben’s jet-heels while a trio of Jones, Smalling and Blackett as a defensive foundation are, quite frankly, perfectly ordinary.

There will be as much interest in his line-up this Sunday as the performance and result and even more interest in any transfer movement that urgently needs to happen.

So will Sunderland’s great escape last May prove to be nothing more than a stay of execution? Or has Poyet steadied the ship as they sail to mid-table calm waters?

Will Van Gaal bring glory, glory back to United or will a second defeat hint at continued crisis and the distant sound of knives sharpening?

Ninety minutes at the Stadium of Light won’t provide all of the answers. But there will be clues aplenty.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Sunderland to avoid defeat and increase the pressure on their visitors is 2.02 with Intertops.eu

 

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.