Posts by zitov2

Real Madrid and Barcelona see form fluctuate ahead of El Clasico

 

Lionel Messi was finished. Barcelona were in crisis. Luis Enrique in trouble. Now, they’re not. Barcelona are the league leaders, they’ve advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Enrique has figured out his best team. So of course, it’s Real Madrid’s turn.

Cristiano Ronaldo is done. Gareth Bale can’t score. Carlo Ancelotti is clueless. Real Madrid are firmly in what constitutes as a crisis these days. Which means that they are second in the league and have also advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. But there is some fire where the smoke is.

 

Barcelona v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Barcelona win 67/100

Real Madrid win 31/10

Draw 16/5

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

 

Real Madrid are struggling where Barcelona are rising. While Barca were rampant in their destruction of Manchester City, Real came deathly close to being knocked out by a fervent Schalke squad. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Leroy Sané especially tried to squeeze the life out of Los Merengues. This after Real lost 1-0 to a suffocating Athletic Bilbao side. The sky was falling.

Then they beat Levante 2-0 to get back on track, and Gareth Bale, maligned throughout the season, scored a brace. Luka Modric, who the team sorely missed, and whose absence create an imbalance in midfield, returned. Even if Sané broke him down during the Champions League game. Ronaldo may be spending most of his time throwing temper tantrums, but he’s still as dangerous as ever. Form is hardly ever an indication in this game.

 

So that brings us to the present. All signs point to a Barcelona win, even if Real is resurgent. Barcelona have seemingly fixed the issues that had them written off mere months ago. The Neymar-Luis Suarez-Lionel Messi trio are playing breathtaking football. While the former BBC of their rivals are finding goals harder to come by. Mixed in with the rumors that there is discord within their ranks and it’s a sure recipe for disaster.

The job on Ancelotti’s hands then is to get his troops on the same page as quickly as possible. This is still the same team that won La Decima a season ago. It’s still the same cast of men who ran out 3-1 winners against Barcelona earlier this season. Even if some of the players have fallen victim to the injury gods, the quality of the group is no less.

 

Barcelona are still fragile in defense and they are still beatable. Even in the game against Manchester City, the English had many chances to claw back into the tie. Chances that you would expect a squad of Real’s calibre to finish. Hope is abundant still. If not for any other reason than for the fact that Los Blancos are immensely talented.

From Barcelona’s point of view, all that needs to be done is to continue down the same path. Messi is in irrepressible form. Unplayable and creative. He’s in the same type of beast-mode that earned him 89 goals in 2012, except now he has more weapons. Not only his improved passing but his cast.

 

Neymar spends as much time scoring as he does embarrassing defenders. Luis Suarez has found his place within the team. Ivan Rakitic is much more suited to Barcelona’s current style than Cesc Fabregas, and he’s much more physical as well. Javier Mascherano is a steel curtain of a man and Gerard Pique has found his brain again.

If they play as they’ve been playing the latter part of the season, things look bright. But if Barcelona take their opponents for granted; if they miss the same chances presented to them against City, Real will punish them. El Clasico is an entity in itself and any mistake or hesitation can easily cost either team.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Barcelona to win and both teams to score is 2.34 with Intertops.eu

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter.

Carlos Vela returns for Mexico revenge mission against Arjen Robben’s Netherlands

A controversial late penalty, won by Arjen Robben decided the last meeting between these two sides

A controversial late penalty, won by Arjen Robben, decided the last meeting between these two sides

The Netherlands has beaten Mexico by a score-line of 2-1 in their last three meetings. The most recent defeat can easily take the title of the most dubious. Mexico stood on the verge of making it into the last eight of the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986 until substitute Klass-Jan Huntelaar set up a Wesley Sneijder equalizer in the 88th minute. What followed next won’t easily be forgotten by Mexican fans as Arjen Robben won a last minute penalty in what, if not the worst dive of his career, was certainly his most contentions..

Netherlands advanced to the next round and Robben explained that sometimes he goes down easily to prevent injury– reasoning that would earn few sympathizers. It meant the end of Mexico’s impressive World Cup run that belied expectations. Guided by the energetic Miguel Herrera, El Tri stormed through the competition, pressing and hassling opponents relentlessly while confident in the saving grace of Saint Guillermo Ochoa.

 

Netherlands v Mexico Betting Odds:

Netherlands win 17/20

Mexico win 57/20

Draw 23/10

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

 

The two enemies are now facing each other in what only the aloof would classify as a friendly. The Dutch are going through a wretched run of form after losing two of their first three Euro 2016 qualifiers with new boss Guus Hiddink, who has quickly come under intense scrutiny and has vowed to resign if he fails to engineer a victory over Latvia in their next match. The Dutch will be without Ajax’s Davy Klaassen, Milan’s Nigel De Jong and Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie.

Mexico on the other hand has been in great form: El Tri has not lost in four matches since they were knocked out of the world cup. There’s also specialness to this game besides for the vengeance sub-plot: Carlos Vela, the exiled and then self-exiled volatile striker is returning to the national team fold. Easily one of the best Mexican players of the current generation, the forward has found his form after leaving Arsenal for Real Sociedad in Spain. Though he has routinely denied the advances of the national team after an incident that saw him suspended for six months and lambasted by the media, he has seemingly had a change of heart; a decision that has been welcomed by his fans and critics alike.

Mexico will only be without Enrique Perez, who is ruled out through injury and has been replaced by Carlos Rodriguez.

 

Huntelaar has decreed that the Dutch will win all of their next matches not only for their own sake but for the sake of the coach, but with Mexico on the path of vengeance that could be a premature prediction. As their last match took place last than five months ago, the wound of the supposed injustice is still fresh, and Herrera has been quoted saying:

“If you then lose and in the way that happened to us, you go broke. At least I do. A win [on Wednesday] should be the first important step towards the real revenge over the next four years.”

Friendly may just be a loose term to describe this one. An ensuing battle seems more accurate.

 

Betting Instinct tip – A reverse of the last three scoreline, with Mexico winning 2-1, is 14/1 with AllYouBet.ag

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

Seattle Seahawks begin chase for back-to-back Super Bowls

Can the Seahawks make it two in a row?

Can the Seahawks make it two in a row?

The Green Bay Packers will start off the new NFL season by facing the one team that no one really wants to; The Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are of course the defending Super Bowl champions after decimating the best offense that the NFL has ever seen in the Denver Broncos, holding Peyton Manning and company scoreless till the dying stages of the game as they ran out 43-8 winners. This puts the Seahawks confidently on the “Best team in the league” pedestal until anyone can prove otherwise. The Packers may not have the same offensive firepower as the Broncos but they’re damn close.

Aaron Rodgers is a name that often features in the argument about the best quarterbacks in the league, and were it not for an untimely injury last season, he was on pace to argue his case to be considered the very best. Eddie Lacy’s development was fast-tracked by the injury to Rodgers and when his number was called, the young running back proved to be more than capable of carrying the weight of the hopes of the Cheesehead Nation, running for 1178 yards on 284 attempts and winning rookie of the season honors. Jordy Nelson and James Jones were their exemplary selves, with Jarrett Boykin and Randall Cobb filling in perfectly as third and fourth options as the team finished a respectable 8-7-1.

 

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Betting Odds:

Seattle Seahawks -265

Green Bay Packers +225

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

 

The defense always seems to be the weak point for the Packers; for all of their ability to score a dizzying amount of points, they’re also capable of giving up just as much and though they have managed to get better this offseason –including Julius Peppers to the new look defense – the loss of BJ Raji to a torn bicep is a calamity that the Packers can hardly afford. The Packers also have a new host of problems to worry about now on the other side of the football. A worrying trend for the offense has been the inability to keep Rodgers safe and upright, a task that has grown more daunting with injuries to center JC Tretter and Don Barclay, Tretter being out indefinitely and Barclay set to miss the whole season thanks to an ACL injury.
The Seahawks, as impossible as it seems, are actually improving. Those should be words that scare any NFL team since the Hawks were already an excellent team, in fact. Super Bowl winners excellent. Each year since his inception into the league, Russell Wilson has been allowed more and more freedom within the offense and this year, the offense will look to greatly expand and maximize his capabilities with a wide array of perimeter plays and formations that were kept hidden before. Throw in a healthy Percy Harvin, Christine Michael backing up “beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch and you have a recipe for an offense that will look to match the intensity of their lauded defense. The team offense lost Golden Tate and Sidney Rice but Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse have made the implied decline an afterthought. Protecting Wilson will also be much easier with the return of left tackle Russell Okung, right tackle Breno Giacomini and center Max Unger.

Speaking of the defense, they’re just as formidable as before. If preseason is any indication –or the last few years really—Richard Sherman is improving, which should boggle belief but is a real thing that’s happening. The Legion of Boom plays with too much pride to allow any complacency to creep in as they look to repeat as Superbowl champions, a feat that hasn’t been done since the Patriots almost a decade ago.

 

The last time the teams met, the Seahawks won in controversial fashion in what was dubbed the “Fail Mary” game when a hail mary that seemed to be an interception was called as a touchdown since Golden Tate had his hands on the ball. This time around, there are no replacement officials but the Seahawks will not need a similar play to win either. They have shown that they can shut down any and every offense and as great as Aaron Rodgers is, he will find it incredibly difficult to not only stay upright but to find an open receiver.

 

Betting Instinct tip – The Seahawks to win the NFC Championship is +300 with AllYouBet.ag

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

Arsenal start Premier League season with tricky test against Crystal Palace

Alexis Sanchez is expected to make his Premier League debut on Saturday

Alexis Sanchez is expected to make his Premier League debut on Saturday

The 2014-2015 Premier League season will kick off with what promises to be a feisty encounter as Crystal Palace travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal in one of the first London derbies of the season. Tony Pulis, a manager well known for his baseball caps and his distaste for all things Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, will look to employ the same hard tactics against the North Londoners as he did during his Stoke days. After taking over from Ian Holloway last season and helping Palace to relegation survival, Pulis has helped transform what was once a floundering side out of ideas, into a staunch, defensive contingent capable of frustrating the big boys.

 

Arsenal v Crystal Palace Betting Odds:

Arsenal win – 1.25

Crystal Palace win – 10.00

Draw – 5.50

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

 

Palace started off their pre-season tour by demolishing amateur outfit GAK Graz 13-1 before drawing 2-2 with a respectable Columbus Crew side. The Eagles then beat the Philadelphia Union 1-0 and USL-Pro side Richmond Kickers 3-0, before losing to Brentford 3-2 and closing out by drawing 0-0 with German side FC Augsburg. Pulis’ famed defensive solidity have been in evidence, while the Eagles showed promise in their performances against two MLS sides in midseason form in what were surely fitness exercises.

As far as transfer business this summer goes, Palace has managed to bring in Fraizer Campbell from Cardiff City, young goalkeeper Chris Kettings from Blackpool and Brede Hangeland from Fulham. Campbell will most likely team up with former Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh, with Hangeland playing beside Scott Dann in what could be a very formidable center-pack pairing.

 

Arsenal will be looking for an easy win to start off their season, but will face a tough opponent in Palace. The Gunners have impressed –while admittedly not looking fully fit—during their preseason ventures. Arsene Wenger’s men started out by beating Boreham Wood 2-0 just to loosen the legs before traveling to the United States and losing 1-0 against the New York Red Bulls in a match that was missing many first team players. They returned to England for the Emirates Cup, trumping Benfica 5-1 in what was a rampant display of incisive football before losing narrowly to AS Monaco. Recently, they were able to dispatch the current EPL champions Manchester City with a 3-0 victory in the Community Shield.

Transfer-wise Arsenal have made a big splash this summer. Finally free of their seemingly self-imposed financial restrictions, they have made what is seemingly the signing of the season in former Barcelona man Alexis Sanchez. They also got in on the Southampton fire sale by bringing in a surprisingly ready Calum Chambers. Also signed were Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle to replace the departing Bacary Sagna and David Ospina to take over second goalkeeper duties after Lukas Fabianski left the club for a starting place at Swansea.

As well as the loss of Sagna and Fabianski, a host of youth team players have departed as well as the confident Nicklas Bendtner, and former captain Thomas Vermaelen who finalized his transfer to Barcelona recently.

 

All in all, the Gunners and the Eagles are both stronger this year than the last but history will be on Arsenal’s side. In the 33 games played against Arsenal, the South London side have only managed three wins, losing 22 of those encounters, with Arsenal doing the double over Saturday’s opponents last season. There is no reason to think the pattern will change in this match, Arsenal look poised to dispatch the Eagles once again, though it will not be as easy as in previous years.

 

Betting Instinct tip Arsenal to win with less than 2.5 goals in the game is 2.63 with Intertops.eu

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

MLS: New England desperate to end losing run

Columbus is chasing a first win at Gillette Stadium since 2011

Columbus is chasing a first win at Gillette Stadium since 2011

This Saturday, New England Revolution will play host to Columbus Crew after being decimated 5-1 by the Galaxy last weekend and 2-0 by FC Dallas in midweek. The blowout loss in California was orchestrated by Robbie Keane who was not only able to end his scoring drought with two goals, but was able to assist Gyasi Zardes for two strikes as well against an increasingly despairing New England team. The Galaxy and FC Dallas loss meant that New England have lost their last seven matches (six in MLS and one in the US Open Cup), their longest streak since 2001.

 

 

While Columbus Crew managed to win their previous game against the Montreal Impact, their record is just as abysmal as the Revolution’s. The 2-1 win against the Impact is their first victory in 8 games, while the game was decided by a Bernando Anor brace, the Venezuelan’s first goals since Opening day. The goals and the win came on the back of another game where the Crew dominated possession and yet still had to settle for long range shots and a David Moyes-esque number of crosses –though they did have Adam Bedell as striker, so that could be understandable. The win is the Crew’s first in league play since late May and though it comes at a relief, it should still be noted that the Impact – dead last in the Eastern Conference standings – aren’t the worthiest of opponents at the moment.

 

New England Revolution v Columbus Crew Betting Odds:

New England win 1.90

Columbus win 3.75

Draw 3.25

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

 

One problem that both teams seem to share is the lack of a reliable center forward at this moment, though the reasons differ. The Revolution have gone through all of their options in attack, landing at Charlie Davies, who has managed to disappoint as much as those before him. The former United States international, whose top-level career is yet to recover from a serious car accident in 2009, is yet to find the net since moving back to MLS with the Revs in 2013.

As things stand, the team is essentially trapped in a conundrum of either Davies or Teal Bunbury, who has two goals and a listless amount of ineffective and frankly counter-productive games to his name. The Crew, meanwhile, have been victims of their own thinning forward line, which leaves them in the position of starting the aforementioned Bedell, an MLS rookie, as their striker. While Bedell has impressed in his substitute appearances, the last game suggested he may not be ready to be the starting striker, a burden that he should not have had to bear so soon to begin with.

 

The stats for both teams are eerily similar: New England has scored 24 total goals compared to the Crew’s 23 while conceding 31 and 26 goals respectively. The Revolution have had 91 shots on target while Columbus has had 86, taking 186 and 211 total. Though they seem similar in many ways, New England has won the last four out of five meetings between the two teams, though the other resulted in a thrilling 4-3 win for the Crew.

The Crew could continue their rebirth against the Revolution, as they’re coming up against an honestly hopeless team that has showed few signs of ending their losing streak. In the 5-1 loss to LA Galaxy, were it not for a penalty and a few near misses, the scoreline of the game would have been exceedingly worse. Columbus, with their reputation of being able to dominate possession could easily exploit a Revolution team that has to find a way to stop the bleeding quickly.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Columbus Crew to be winning at half-time and full-time is +450 with Intertops.eu

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter.

Champions League: Returning Ronaldo can give Real first-leg lead

Can Cristiano Ronaldo add to his 14 goals in 8 Champions League games this season?

Can Cristiano Ronaldo add to his 14 goals in 8 Champions League games this season?

Cristiano Ronaldo is set to return for the first leg of Real Madrid’s semifinal match against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The 29-year who missed the Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona has been suffering from an apparent hamstring injury but returned to full training a few days ago. Gareth Bale, the hero of the final against Barcelona, was reported earlier this week to be suffering from the effects of the flu, but he has also seemingly recovered in time to welcome Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich to the Bernabeu.

 

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich Betting Odds:

Real Madrid win – 2.38

Bayern Munich win – 2.74

Draw – 3.30

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

 

Real Madrid enter the game aiming for their first Champions League final berth in 12 years, though they have famously won the trophy nine times so far. History is not on the side of Los Blancos as they have lost four out of the last five semi-final matches against Bayern and Guardiola was also responsible for breaking the stranglehold of Real Madrid in Spain –not losing in any of six visits to the Bernabeu– during his time at Barcelona. Though most of the team is healthy for Madrid, Marcelo is set to miss out, leaving Fabio Coentrao to start in his place and Álvaro Arbeloa’s injury woes means that Daniel Carvajal will retain his starting spot. These issues leave Real Madrid vulnerable in Bayern’s strongest position, the wings, where Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry ply their trade.

Real Madrid’s last match in the Champions League suggests that they will have a hard time dealing with the pace of Bayern, as they were exploited by Borussia Dortmund’s pace numerous times as they went on to lose 2-0 to the Germans in the second leg of their quarter-final. While they were able to hold on and progress, the loss against Dortmund was a shock as they were able to dispatch their opponents very easily during the first leg, and in the second leg, completely collapsed as Dortmund threatened throughout, with only the width of the post preventing them from forcing extra-time.

Bayern are to all intents and purposes a better team than Dortmund, and have more weapons while retaining the same intense pace. Ronaldo’s return and Bale’s good health will be welcome news for Real but the more important factor will be if their defence can stand up against their German opponents.

 

Bayern are also welcoming back a talisman of their own in the form of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was serving a suspension for a red card offense in the last round. The Germans were held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester United in the first leg of the quarterfinals before coming from behind to eventually run out 3-1 winners in the second leg. They wrapped up the Bundesliga title in record time but have become complacent in the league in recent weeks, suffering uncharacteristic losses to Augsburg and at home to Dortmund, though this seems to have been remedied by their most recent performances, winning 5-1 against Kaiserslautern and 2-0 against TSV Eintracht Braunschweig. This suggests that they are over there complacency issues and are back to their winning ways, something that should be concerning to Real Madrid fans everywhere.

If the Bavarians have a weakness it is their response to counter-attacking play, something that Dortmund feasted on as they ran out 3-0 winners recently, and something that has been a running problem in Guardiola teams. Their defenders push up very high and the fullbacks do a great deal of attacking, leaving them exposed if their opponents are able to form a quick, incisive counter. This plays into the hands of Real Madrid who are the best counter-attacking team in Europe, with the triple threat of Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema. Angel Di Maria’s resurrection in the midfield will always be critical to the match-up, the energy of the Argentine is a big reason for Real’s effectiveness on the counter and his energy is essential for hassling midfielders and retrieving possession –all while he is still able to create chances with his dribbling skills.

 

Bayern will most likely dominate possession and with arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, will be bailed out a few times when they are caught on the break. Real Madrid however, will look to break quickly when Bayern do concede possession and with their ferocious attack, they should be able to muster a few clear cut chances and test Manuel Neuer. His opposite number Iker Casillas, meanwhile, is having a record-breaking season as the cup keeper for Madrid and will be on hand to thwart the efforts of the Germans who are always a safe bet to manage a few shots on goal.

The game will likely come down to which defense breaks first, with both teams having topped 100 goals this season in all competitions. If both teams’ attacks behave as they have for the season, the game will be a goal-fest and the winner might come down to whoever has the last shot on goal.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – With two of the most formidable forward-lines in world football going head-to-head, we can expect goals. More than 3.5 goals can be backed at 2.60 with GR88.com.

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter.

Arsenal Need to Rebound Quickly in North London Derby

Tottenham will be grateful to welcome back Younes Kaboul after his suspension was overturned

Tottenham will be grateful to welcome back Younes Kaboul after his suspension was overturned

Tottenham welcome Arsenal to White Hart Lane for the second Premier League edition of the North London Derby this Sunday. The stories of both teams have changed dramatically since Arsenal’s statement-making one-nil win at the beginning of the season. Arsenal had managed a prolonged run at the top of the table for most of the season before a rash of injuries and bad form to key players have brought them down to third, tied with Liverpool in points.

Tottenham on the other hand have enjoyed a tough season after their 100 million shopping spree in the summer. The Lilywhites have suffered their fair share of injuries, most noticeably to midfielder Sandro and record signing Erik Lamela, hindering their top four ambitions. They have also managed to sack  André Villas-Boas and replace him with Tim Sherwood, who tip-toes the line between able manager and insane chancer much too often.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal Betting Odds

Tottenham win – 2.84

Arsenal win – 2.36

Draw – 3.15

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

Both teams enter the game in the back of poor results, though in different circumstances. Arsenal managed a 1-1 draw away at Bayern Munich for the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal after losing 2-0 in the first leg. The game was not without consequence as not only were they knocked out of the competition but they have lost marquee signing Mesut Özil for several weeks to a hamstring injury. Spurs themselves suffered a heavy 4-nil defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this past weekend, as the team capitulated and handed Chelsea goal after goal. Younes Kaboul was handed a three match ban after receiving a red card in the game but it has since been appealed and rescinded and the defender should be available for the derby.

Though the injury list is extensive for both teams, the game should be as competitive as history has suggested. Not only will Özil be unavailable for Arsenal but Aaron Ramsey looks unlikely to be fit in time for the match, while Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal also remain on the sidelines. Tottenham will be without Vlad Chiriches, Étienne Capoue, Erik Lamela and Michael Dawson. Danny Rose, Christian Eriksen, and Mousa Dembélé will go through late fitness tests before the match. There is good news for the teams though, Tomáš Rosický of Arsenal who was just handed an extension on his contract and should replace Ozil in the starting line-up, while the inclusion of Kaboul will be a big boost to a Spurs defense stretched thin.

Arsenal should be motivated by their draw at Bayern as they were last year after their second leg win, and will look to finish the season off strongly despite facing difficult upcoming fixtures. The Gunners still boast incredible midfield options in Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who will pose a difficult problem for a Spurs defence that has conceded 1.18 goals per game under Sherwood compared to 0.92 under previous manager Villas-Boas. Tottenham will be also looking to end the campaign on a high and defeating their rivals could boost their confidence and propel them to Champions League football, if their manager doesn’t lose his mind before then (that ship might have sailed – ed.).

Tim Sherwood has noted that he doesn’t want his players to be out-hustled and out-desired on the field, lambasting his side for their failings in recent games. Hustle and desire might prove not to be enough as Arsenal still have the superior squad and will be confident of dispatching Spurs once again this season as they fight to catch Chelsea at the top of the table.

Betting Instinct Tip – Arsenal to win after being level at half-time is 5.50 with Intertops.eu

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BdykNApCQAEQ_-tZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol, and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter.

Napoli to provide Clarence Seedorf’s first proper test as Milan coach

Marek Hamšík could return to the starting line-up for Napoli

Marek Hamšík could return to the starting line-up for Napoli

A resurgent AC Milan side travel to face Napoli in the 23rd round of Serie A.

Milan, with a 3-1-1 record in their last five Serie A games and unbeaten in the league since the appointment of Clarence Seedorf, will look to continue their good form as they face a powerful Napoli. Rafa Benitez’s side occupy the coveted 3rd position on the league table but are coming off back to back losses to AS Roma and Atalanta, the 3-0 defeat to Atalanta being particularly deflating.

 

SSC Napoli v AC Milan Betting Odds

Napoli to win – 1.95

Draw – 3.40

Milan to win – 3.60

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

 

Napoli are fifteen points above their challengers, but just three points ahead of Fiorentina who will be closely watching this match as they continue their push for Champions League football. Manager Benitez will surely be looking to get his team back on track as soon as possible, most likely uncaging the recently benched Marek Hamšík, whose exclusion from matches are as puzzling as Napoli’s recent defeats.

Milan on the other hand are coming to terms with the views of Clarence Seedorf and have been playing better football than under Allegri. The attack, while not potent enough considering the weapons at their disposal, have started to play better generally and have managed to pull out some last minute wins. Mario Balotelli looks motivated, Pazzini is returning to form after an eternity on the injury table and January signing Keisuke Honda builds chemistry with his teammates every match.

 

Before the Seedorf appointment, Napoli would have been clear favourites for this match. However after recent developments, while Benitez’s men remain favoured by bookmakers, Milan’s chances of victory have increased.

Napoli’s defenders must be cautious to not make any individual errors against a side that has numerous talents capable of taking opponents one on one and creating scoring chances. Milan, meanwhile, will have to be on guard against a team that’s excellent on the counter, especially with slow defenders and a midfield that doesn’t always track back. Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli’s top scorer with 10 league goals, will be looking to feast on a pair of centre-backs who lack concentration.

 

With both teams stronger in attack than defence (with 32 conceded, Milan have a worse defensive record than 16th-place Chievo), a low-scoring game is unlikely. Napoli should have enough to win on home turf, but with Seedorf at the helm, Milan ought to run them close.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – Napoli to win 2-1 is 8.20 with GR88.com

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BdykNApCQAEQ_-tZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol, and numerous other sports sites

Battle of the Quarterbacks Dominates Playoff Schedule

Will Andrew Luck (#12) come out on top against Tom Brady?

Will Andrew Luck (#12) come out on top against Tom Brady?

Betting Instinct blogger Zito Madu previews all four of the NFL divisional matchups

Indianapolis @ New England

The match-up between two marquee Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, the all-American Golden Boy (Man) of New England, 3-time Superbowl champion and Uggs model. Against Andrew Luck, a legend in the making, accurate and undeterred in the face of the seemingly impossible with a forest-like neck beard. Both of these quarterbacks have made miracles an everyday thing this season, Brady with numerous last minute wins in the regular season, and Luck, more recently, showing that the Colts are never truly out of a game with him at the QB position against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend.

Both teams offenses come down to these two players, with New England’s situation at receiver making national headlines during the course of the regular season: Aaron Hernandez arrested for murder, Rob Gronkowski’s surgery, return and then subsequent knee injury taking him out for the rest of the season and a very long time, the injury prone-ness of Danny Amendola and the inexperience of the rookies. There’s also questions at running back for The Patriots with Steven Ridley willing to give the ball to the opposing team by the way of fumbles and Shane Vereen’s inability to stay healthy leaving only Blount (and Bolden) as the most dependable of the group.
On the Indianapolis side of things, you have the fact that they traded a first round pick for Trent Richardson (who wants to make a statement in this game), master of the 2 yard run, who lost his starting place to Donald Brown who seems to be a star on the rise. The Colts best weapon besides for Andrew Luck’s brain, T.Y Hilton, has been on a tear lately. Matched against an ailing New England defense he looks poised for a big game unless Aqib Talib rediscovers his early season form (which was, to be fair cut short by injury. Having a bye week is sure to be a big boost for him). For the rest of the receiving corps, it’s nothing to write home about with Coby Fleener being the standout of the group as Darrius Heyward-Bey seems to be suffering from injury as well.

New England comes in suffering injuries to many key defensive players: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes recently, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Adrian Wilson, so on and so forth. The Colts on the other hand, while not suffering from the same injury bug as New England are abysmal in defending the run (as the Patriots have been after losing Wilfork and Mayo), ranking 26th and generally ranking 20th in pass yards allowed with 357.1 yards a game.
With all of the injuries and plain ineffectiveness of the offense and defense of both teams, this game looks set to come down to which Quarterback plays better or which one decides to lead another miraculous comeback in the final few minutes of the game.

Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots Betting Odds

Indianapolis win – 3.55

New England win – 1.36

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

Saints @ Seahawks

The last time these two met, the Seahawks didn’t just win against the Saints, they beat them down 34-7 and limited Drew Brees to 147 yards passing. Of course, this was in the regular season and before the Saints became the Road Warriors (They finally won a road playoff game after a 0-9 start) they are today. Sean Payton has been doing the best that he can, short of kidnapping the Seahawks starters, to replicate the environment that the Saints will encounter, though it’s not yet quite clear if painting the Seahawks logo on their practice field will prepare them well enough for the real thing.

The Saints will be hoping Drew Brees plays like his usual self in the matchup and not his road version, who is prone to turnovers and wobbly passes. The Seahawks of course, have the best young Quarterback in the league and arguably one of the best as of right now in Russell Wilson, who can make plays with his arm and his feet but is not as run happy as many other mobile quarterbacks of his age. And now with the returning Percy Harvin, he welcomes in another weapon to an offense that was desperately needing of passing weapons.

The Seahawks also have a defense that was ranked first in points given up, yards conceded, and pass yards conceded, falling short to 7th on rush yards (which the Saints should look to exploit with their rejuvenated running game and a motivated Mark Ingram), and lets not forget the 12th man who also add a different dimension to their defense.

The key to this game will come down to how the Saints deal with the multi-faceted offense of Seattle and if they will be able to crack a defense that is seemingly impregnable.

New Orleans @ Seattle Betting odds

New Orleans Saints – 3.85

Seattle Seahawks – 1.26

(Odds supplied by Bulldog777.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

San Diego @ Denver

This game looks as if it should be a blowout in Denver’s favor. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the exploits of Peyton Manning this season, who shattered Tom Brady’s record for most passing touchdowns in a single season and then also Drew Brees’ record for most passing yards in a single season.

He leads an offense that’s ranked first in everything but rushing yards and even that seems to be coming along well, an offense that broke the record for most points in a season and one that seems poised to lay waste to any team in its path. Except for apparently San Diego. The Chargers who barely made the playoffs (thanks to the Chiefs reserves and Succop), are one of the few teams that have beaten the Broncos this season.

More than that, the Chargers seem to always find a way to be near perfect in order to beat Peyton Manning, whether in a Colts uniform or a Broncos and Philip Rivers will once more need to play perfectly in order to keep up with Manning as there’s almost no way that;s ranked 29th in pass yards will be able to cop with the unlimited weapons on offense that the Broncos have.
Philip Rivers can take heed that the Broncos defense has steadily fallen off since the injury to Von Miller and the rise of Keenan Allen as a potential rookie of the year will be a boost against a team that doesn’t deal too well with the pass. After handling Cincy, the Chargers have shown that they belong in the playoffs and will be looking to conjure old whatever magic they have to once again stop Peyton Manning.

Betting Instinct Tip – Denver -9 is 1.91 with AllYouBet.ag

San Francisco @ Carolina

One and two of the NFC West face off in a battle between two dynamic QBs with incredible arm strength and game winning speed with each team boasting a top ranked defense. Carolina in 2nd in points given up, 2nd in yards total given up, 6th in pass yards and 2nd in rush yards while the Niners are 3rd in points, 5th in yards 7th in pass yards and 4th against rush yards. San Francisco has the edge on offense ranking 11th in points to Carolina’s 18th and with the return of the “Greatest catcher of all time” Michael Crabtree, their offense has finally hit its stride.

Now Carolina has to deal with the receivers, the ageless Frank Gore and the unpredictable Colin Kaepernick. That’s not to say that San Francisco will not have their hands full with Cam Newton seemingly becoming the unstoppable quarterback that many envisioned he would be. An accurate passer, Newton has learned to pick his spots with his runs, trust his receivers and trust that Ron Rivera will not hinder him anymore with conservative playcalling.

He will also be welcoming back the evergreen Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart back in this game so this game seems as if it’s going to come down to which team will grind it out more. The front seven of the Panthers have stopped Kaepernick before and will be looking for a repeat performance but the first year starter will be out for revenge for their embarrassing early season loss.

Betting Instinct Tip Carolina +2 is 1.73 with GR88.com

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e8erHZO3ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol, and numerous other sports sites