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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Can Liverpool see off a second Tottenham manager?

 

Raheem Sterling was among the goals as Liverpool beat Tottenham 5-0 in December

Raheem Sterling was among the goals as Liverpool beat Tottenham 5-0 in December

How times can change – for some – in the Premier League.

 

Without a doubt, this has been the most enthralling season in recent years and that doesn’t look set to change any time soon. Liverpool have already won 4 more games than in the whole previous league campaign and are – and please, leave your pants on for this one Liverpool fans – genuinely in with a chance of winning the league.

Tottenham on the other hand, are very much in a similar position to how they ended up last season. They currently sit in 6th, a solitary point being the 5th position they found themselves in last year, albeit with 5th place Everton having a game in hand over them.

 

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur Betting Odds:

Liverpool win – 1.45

Tottenham win – 6.40

Draw – 4.40

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

 

After their promising finish last year, breaking their record points tally for a single Premier League campaign Spurs have struggled to consistently look like real contenders for the top four. While a change in management has brought in a more attack minded brand of football, the results and league position haven’t really altered all that much.

Much was expected of Spurs after they spent a lot of money on new recruits over the summer, but – other than brief flashes – the new arrivals haven’t really hit the ground running. Roberto Soldado has probably drawn the most attention for this, the £26M signing having only scored 6 league goals with the majority of these goals coming from the penalty spot. However midfielder Christian Eriksen has looked a tidy player with some great technical ability, and Spurs will be hoping he can show some more of that promise against Liverpool – a club he was linked with earlier in his career – this coming Sunday.

With the arrival of new manager Tim Sherwood, Emmanuel Adebayor has had one of those spells which makes you wonder why he couldn’t produce the same form over the previous 18 months. When he is in the right frame of mind, Adebayor is absolutely unplayable and Liverpool’s defence has struggled to deal with physicality in recent years. Spurs are likely to pack out the midfield with 5 men in an effort to combat Liverpool’s energetic midfield, while still keeping the back-line busy with Adebayor’s strength and pace. Spurs haven’t beaten any of the current top four in the league this year and have lost three of their last five games.

They were embarrassed by Liverpool at White Hart Lane in a 5-0 hammering which brought about Andre Villas-Boas’ exit, and another defeat of a similar magnitude will hardly help Sherwood as he tries to make his case for being given the managerial position on a full-time basis. Still, Spurs may take heart from the fact that no team has more league away wins than the London club this campaign.

 

Liverpool, meanwhile, have improved dramatically this season under Brendan Rodgers. After limping to 7th place last year, they look an entirely new team, suggeting last season’s squad needed time to gel. Whilst some defensive frailties remain, they’ve now looked comfortable against the best teams in the league whilst also starting to exert more control over those towards the bottom of the table.

They’re in a great run of form at the moment – putting 6 past Cardiff and beating Manchester United at Old Trafford – so will be full of confidence, especially considering how easily they brushed Spurs aside in December. Liverpool’s success this year has come from several places: the obvious attacking threat of the front 3 (Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez being the two highest scorers in the league thus far), the emergence of Jordan Henderson’s and Steven Gerrard’s understanding in the middle of the park, and Rodgers’ tactical nous.

 

They haven’t made many changes to the system as the season has continued, sticking with a successful formula that is as entertaining as it is effective.   If Spurs play with the same high line they did in the reverse fixture – something AVB saw as an ostensibly useful system – they will no doubt suffer another defeat. I’d expect Raheem Sterling to play in anticipation of this, though Liverpool have plenty of other options in midfield, and the passing range of Philippe Coutinho could also be put to good use.

All things considered, I think Liverpool will get the win they need to keep pace with Chelsea at the top of the table. Tottenham have enough technical ability in their locker but they are conceding too many goals and don’t have two prolific forwards like Liverpool do. My prediction is a 3-1 Liverpool win, with Adebayor scoring a goal for Spurs after bench-pressing Martin Skrtel.

 

Betting Instinct Tip Liverpool to win 3-1 is 9.60 with GR88.com. Odds on Adebayor bench-pressing Skrtel are unavailable at the time of writing.

 

 JAKE COLLINS (jcollins91) is passionate about literature, music and sports. He currently works in  London and lives in Essex. Read more of his work in Jake’s blog.

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

______________________________________________

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.

Manchester City to Continue Impressive Home Form Against Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool Betting Odds

Tottenham Hotspur to win – 2.40

Draw – 3.25

Liverpool to win – 2.80

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

 

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

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.