Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – May

 

This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end.

 

Yes that’s right one of the most underwhelming Premier League seasons we’ve ever had to endure is spluttering its way toward some sort of unsatisfactory conclusion. The Champions League places are all but concluded with Chelsea impressively but unmemorably coming top of the pile, there is a bit of a scuffle to avoid the Europa League and in fairness to the dregs at the bottom of the league there is still a bit of a question mark as to who will drop down into the Championship. But in the overall scheme of things this has been a poor season in terms of quality, drama and laugh out loud incompetence.

 

The first weekend of the month has no interesting games, none, not one. It’s utter dross. Do some work in the garden or something, or maybe go swimming? It’s been ages since you’ve been at the pool and you always enjoy it when you go. Whatever you do don’t watch the football, especially Spurs (49/20 with Intertops.eu) vs Man City (19/20) which looks deceptively like a game that might be good but in reality both sides gave up weeks ago.

 

The second weekend starts terribly with the inexplicable decision to televise Everton vs Sunderland and doesn’t get much better after that. Hull vs Burnley is a big one down at the bottom of the table but the soul crushing inevitability of Burnley’s relegation and the fact that no one in the world cares about Hull mean that I’m going to stop writing about it now. There is a ‘Super Sunday’ of sorts, with Chelsea vs Liverpool, which if nothing else will be a nice ‘have a look at what you could have won’ moment for Steven Gerrard.

 

Stop press we’ve got a game that might be alright! Weekend number three is mostly awful meaningless nonsense but finishes with Manchester United hosting Arsenal. Louis van Gaal will be looking to overcome the handicap of his weird hair to exact revenge over Arsene Wenger for their FA Cup defeat. For the last 4 months Arsenal have looked like a side who can challenge for the title, there is a new found pragmatism to sit alongside the flair. Of course this could be (and probably is) just Arsenal being Arsenal and they’ll regress to the mean with a spectacular explosion of incompetence before we know it, however a fixture against a rejuvenated but still not all that good Manchester United might give us a better idea.

 

I care so little that I can’t even be bothered looking at the last day, so in an effort to end on a mildly entertaining note I’m going to abandon the formula and go rogue by paying tribute to those who for one reason or another won’t be with us next season.

 

Steven Gerrard – Heading for MLS. Either one of the greatest players of his generation or the worst human of all time, depending on who you ask, Stevie is a man that splits opinion. One thing you can’t deny though is he has very consistent hair.

 

Frank Lampard – Heading for MLS. Got called fat a lot even though he wasn’t fat (but is still a bit fat for a footballer). Scored loads of goals, rumours that he’s a Tory.

 

Manuel Pellegrini – Will probably get sacked. City want Pep so big Manuel is probably done for sooner or later. Got called a “f**kin old c**t” by Alan Pardew and once wore a hoodie like he was nipping to the shop for milk rather than managing one of the richest clubs in the world.

 

Sam Allardyce – West Ham will probably let his contract run out. There are few finer sights in football than the big man after he’s ‘out tacticed’ one of the league’s elite. If there was an instrument to measure smugness then he’d break it.

 

Radamel Falcao – Heading to the glue factory. Knee injuries and advancing years (some say they’ve advanced more than his passport is letting on) mean that the Colombian’s stay in England has been a massive anti-climax. Another name to add to the lost of South Americans who haven’t quite cut it at Old Trafford.

 

John Carver – Heading for the record books. In years to come when they talk of the worst managers in history, big John and his staggeringly bad stint at Newcastle will be right up there. Great stuff.

 

I’m sure there are others but we all have things to do so let’s wrap it up. Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the FA Cup but I’ve just found out I’m at a wedding that day so I’m pretending it isn’t happening.

 

Betting Instinct tip – defy Ally by betting on the very real FA Cup Final. Arsenal to win and both teams to score is 2.98 with Intertops.eu

 

Ally avatar ALLY MONCRIEFF is a freelance football writer and editor of All or Nothing magazine. Sometimes even he can’t  tell if he’s being serious or not. Follow Ally on Twitter and maybe he’ll be your friend.

 

 

Advertisements

Gerrard v Gilet: Should Liverpool’s captain start against Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa?

 

Signs and screams express Liverpool dreams; a community united in sticking by one of its own, celebrating his achievements, trying to give him that worthy once-and-for-all send off. But as the Kop club together to ‘GET GERRARD TO WEMBLEY’, the sentiment seems, more than sickly sweet, just a little bit strange.

 

Aston Villa v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Aston Villa win 9/2

Liverpool win 11/20

Draw 29/10

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

 

One can forgive the onus on Wembley, by which is of course meant the final proper, rather than Sunday’s capital-staged Aston Villa semi. Responsibility for that imprecision lies at the door of the FA, whose decision to move the semis to the panoptic National Stadium of Everything is only the latest move serving to sap all meaning from a once valued cup competition.

What’s more puzzling is the target audience for those signs and screams. Just who is supposed to ‘GET GERRARD TO WEMBLEY’? Is there an e-petition going around? Is this a call for Ed Miliband to include a ‘Gerrard Responsibility Lock’ in the Labour Party’s election manifesto? Or are they, as is more likely, talking to Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool players, a plea for them to Do it for Stevie! and no mistake?

 

If the latter, it’s striking that fans give Gerrard no agency whatsoever, and that it’s left up to the rest of the squad to do the captain’s job for him. In this sense, the Kop’s calls tell a revealing story about their club’s season so far. Steven Gerrard, Istanbul’s one-man band who so stunningly dragged his teammates to a Champions League trophy, is all lined up to be 2015’s Antonio Nunez, reaping the harvest without planting the seeds. Worse, in fact, given that it was his rush of blood against Manchester United that has allowed the FA Cup to become Liverpool’s sole focus.

Whether Gerrard should or shouldn’t start against Villa is, apparently, one of the semi-final’s biggest subplots. The case for? ‘The FA Cup stars are aligned for Gerrard’ (Mystic Meg meets Sun Fantasy Football), ‘He’s a big game player’ (cough…), and ‘He loves scoring against Aston Villa’ (frankly, who doesn’t?). And against? Actual evidence, like, you know, Liverpool Being Miles Better Without Him.

 

Should Rodgers leave his skipper at shore, to whom will he turn to fulfill the role of Mr Liverpool? It won’t be an actual Scouser, of course, the manager having long since tired of the bore-off blasphemy that was Jon Flanagan’s ‘Flani Alves’ rebrand. Preferred candidate Daniel ‘Doubtful’ Sturridge is struggling with, you guessed it, another niggling injury. And Raheem Sterling appears to be missing after setting off in search of his tattooed-boy-from-Birkenhead hippy crack dealer. We hope you get the help you so clearly and desperately need, Raheem.

Presenting, then, Mario Balotelli, atFinallyMario, whose overdue Anfield success would anger exactly the right kind of people – from the bigots whose intolerance is unmasked when their football team fails, to the newspapermen desperate to scandalise and shame the innocuous.

The bond between Balotelli and the Liverpool fans is real, its strong, it’s even Gerrard-like. Take the Manchester United match, where pitchside supporters reached out to their hero with hugs and warm words, comfort banishing the pain and ignominy of defeat. There’s a reason why the Italian is set to be voted Liverpool fans’ player of the season, and it’s nothing to do with extra-club conspiracy. No, he just gets it, like Louis van Gaal at his club’s big rivals.

To sink Sherwood, Liverpool, Mario’s your man.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool to not only win this weekend but to win the FA Cup itself – on Gerrard’s birthday no less – is 33/20 with Intertops.eu

Kieran avatar KIERAN DODDS  is a masters student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others. Follow Kieran on Twitter.

Optimism aplenty at Stoke as Bojan arrival signals intent

Bojan could prove a shrewd signing for an increasingly exciting Stoke side

Bojan could prove a shrewd signing for an increasingly exciting Stoke side

Interesting things are starting to happen at Stoke City. Perennial scrappers under old boss Tony Pulis, always good enough to survive comfortably but never quite exciting enough to totally appease their own fans, they have shown remarkable signs of evolution under the experienced watch of Mark Hughes and, if this Summer’s transfer dealings are anything to go by, that progress shows no sign of abating. Their best piece of business undoubtedly has to be the capture of forward Bojan Krkić from Barcelona.

A player with a quite astonishing youth record, Bojan was once considered the next Messi and as such broke into the Barca side at the age of just 17 in 2006. Big things were expected of the prodigious striker but they failed to materialise and after a transfer to Roma, loan to Milan, a bizarre move back to Catalonia and a spell at Ajax he has ended up in the Potteries for a fee rumoured to be around £3million.

For Stoke to land such a high-profile player is a huge coup but it isn’t a deal without risk. Bojan has often been accused of having a poor focus and temperament; this much is reflected in his inconsistent goalscoring form. Perhaps more worryingly, one of the main problems that blighted him in his early years in senior football was his slight physique and the propensity for him to be bullied out of games. Stoke will hope that at 23 he has bulked up but if there are any doubts about his strength, these will surely be exploited in the fearsome world of the Premier League.

And yet what a transfer this could prove to be for the Potters. If Bojan can rediscover the form that saw him become the most highly-rated young player in Europe then Stoke could reap monumental rewards. He has exquisite technique and a silky touch and if his manager and teammates can indulge him, there is no telling how influential he could prove to be. This isn’t just a brilliant transfer for Stoke; it’s a statement of intent. Under Pulis, a player like Bojan would have had no chance of being integrated into the side. Hughes has shown that he is prepared to play attractive, attacking football and as such Bojan could thrive under him.

 

Stoke City v Aston Villa Betting Odds:

Stoke win – 19/20

Aston Villa win – 14/5

Draw – 23/10

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

 

This evolution of the team was in evidence last season, especially after Christmas. He swapped Kenwyne Jones for the far more mobile and technically able Peter Odemwingie who flourished, finishing the season with five goals and many plaudits. The change ran deeper than this, though. Stoke began to play more expressively, more inventively and with more assurance on the ball. It allowed the team to build a momentum and showed that many of their players could actually play. The result was their best ever Premier League finish.

Next season Bojan will be supported in forward areas by Odemwingie and the wonderfully talented Marko Arnautović, as well as fellow new boys Mame Biram Diouf, who had a respectable scoring record at Hannover, and erm… Steve Sidwell (leave Sidwell alone – ed.). It is a surprisingly excellent-looking attacking group and that is without even mentioning the experienced and more physical Peter Crouch and Jon Walters who seem to be on the fringes of the first team – a further sign of the team’s technical development under Hughes. Defender Phil Bardsley is also an astute signing on a free transfer.

 

On paper, Stoke will have one of the more attractive and goal-friendly sides in the division. The top 7 seem streets ahead of the rest of the Premier League but Stoke will be battling the likes of Newcastle and Southampton for another top 10 finish. If they can show more progress this season and continue to develop their style then who knows, maybe they could challenge for a European place and begin to compete higher up the league. A cup run may be a more realistic ambition this term.

There is an element of pie-in-the-sky to all of this. There are no guarantees Bojan and Diouf will adapt well to the Premier League and Hughes may suffer in his second season, as he has done at previous clubs. For now, though, Potters fans will be filled with optimism for the coming season. If Bojan can recapture his scoring touch, their faith may well be vindicated.

 

Betting Instinct tip Bojan to score the first goal against Aston Villa is 6/1 with Coral

 

JACK CHATTERTONJack C avatar is a student and long-suffering Spurs fan, who has written for In Bed With Maradona and  Sabotage Times, among others. You can read his miscellaneous and quite modest blog, or follow him on Twitter  or Google+.

Man City favoured to grasp the Premier League trophy this evening!

Man City are favourites to lift the Premier League trophy once again after Liverpool's draw with Crystal Palace on Monday night

Man City are favourites to lift the Premier League trophy once again after Liverpool’s draw with Crystal Palace on Monday night

On paper it is a simple task for Manchester City to claim the 2013/14 Premier League trophy and become the champions for the second time in three years as they have to face Aston Villa and West Ham at the Etihad Stadium in their final pair of matches that, if won, will see them crowned kings of England, completing a Capital One Cup and league double. They start by welcoming the Midlanders to the blue half of Manchester this evening knowing that, thanks to Liverpool’s late concession of three goals to draw 3-3 with Crystal Palace on Monday night (something that cost me a winning bet – thanks Liverpool!), victory will see them two points clear going into the final round of matches this weekend. Can they thrive in the pressure where Liverpool failed so miserably?

Manchester City v Aston Villa Match Odds:

Man City Victory – 1.15

Draw – 8.40

Villa Victory – 16.00

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

After 17 home matches this season, City sit second in the home league table second only to Chelsea who have already completed their quota of matches at Stamford Bridge. City have two games in front of the cheering masses at the Etihad Stadium to make up two points on Jose Mourinho’s Londoners and having bagged 57 league goals this season, at an average of more than three a match, they will certainly be confident of victory this evening and to tighten their grasp on the Premier League trophy.

Villa have not had too bad of a season away from Villa Park during the 2013/14 season as they have collected 17 points from four wins and five draws – while also losing eight games – but with them averaging just a single goal per away match this season they could very well be in trouble at the Etihad this evening. They are safe from relegation, with their 3-1 win over FA Cup finalists Hull City at the weekend seeing them edge past the point that they could be reached by Norwich, but how will they react to this? Can they kick onwards or will they cruise through the final two games safe in the knowledge they have pulled it out of the fire?

I personally feel that the Villa players will feel that they have given their all during the season to ensure their safety and with this secured, as well as having lost six games in a row at the Etihad in Premier League action, they may not be as motivated for this game tonight as they may have been if they were not assured of another season in the top flight. City have certainly got more to play for tonight and I see them cruising past the floundering Midlanders on home soil tonight.

Back Manchester City to beat Aston Villa by at least three goals (City -2.5) @ 2.10 with GR88.com.

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Who’ll win in a big day at the bottom of the Premier League?

Villa will be looking for Christian Benteke to fire them to victory this weekend!

Villa will be looking for Christian Benteke to fire them to victory this weekend!

While the big draws in the Premier League this weekend are the Liverpool v Arsenal match at Anfield and the South Wales derby at the Liberty Stadium, both of which have been covered elsewhere on the site, Saturday sees a big day at the bottom of the Premier League for four sides in addition to Swansea and Cardiff.

I’m previewing the matches at Villa Park and Selhurst Park where Aston Villa welcome West Ham and Crystal Palace host West Bromwich Albion. The bottom ten sides from Villa in tenth to Fulham in 20th are separated by just eight points, so who’ll win these two vital Premier League relegation battle matches?

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

Aston Villa v West Ham Betting Odds:

Aston Villa – 2.06

Draw – 3.15

West Ham – 3.45

Tenth placed Villa have league position and an eight year unbeaten record at Villa Park over 18th placed West Ham this weekend, so they are rightly deserving of being favourites to win this vital match for both sides. They also ended a six game winless streak in front of their own fans in the Villa v West Brom Midlands derby match recently in a back and forth 4-3 victory that saw top scorer Christian Benteke score the winner.

Villa will be relying on the impressive Belgian to fire them to victory today, but after West Ham’s fine back to wall defensive display at Stamford Bridge to claim a point against Chelsea seeing them record back to back clean sheets on the road will they be able to prevent Villa from taking all three points this weekend?

The Hammers will certainly be more motivated to claim all three points, but without Andy Carroll following his controversial red card against Swansea, they may struggle to find a winner themselves. The two sides have scored 51 goals in 48 Premier League games this season, including drawing 0-0 at the Boleyn Ground in November, and I do not see this game being a goal fest, so I’m sticking my cash on few goals at Villa Park.

Back two or fewer goals at Villa Park in this Villa v West Ham game @ 1.81 with GR88.com.

Crystal Palace v West Brom Betting Odds:

Crystal Palace – 2.50

Draw – 2.98

West Brom – 2.84

Although Palace start this weekend in 17th place in the Premier League just four points above the bottom of the table, the fact that Tony Pulis was nominated for Manager of the Month in January shows how far they have come since his appointment. Both themselves and Sunderland have been in impressive form to move out of the bottom three positions in the league and for Palace is has been their form at Selhurst Park that has done it.

They have won four and drawn two of their last seven in front of their own fans and with West Brom without a win in nine away games since beating Manchester United at Old Trafford in September the home side in this Premier League relegation battle must fancy their chances of pushing up the table and going ahead of West Brom.

The Baggies have changed managers, but new boss Pepe Mel does not seem to be able to rouse his men from the slump they are in and they could be in big trouble if he does not get a handle on things shortly. They are known in parts as the ‘Boing Boing’ Baggies for their continual relegation and promotion cycle and I can see them as one of the favourites to go down this season. I see a defeat for West Brom today and this will not help their cause, but with 1-0 wins over Hull and Stoke for Palace in their last two home games I’m not confident in West Brom’s ability to find the net this weekend.

Back Crystal Palace to beat West Brom @ 2.50 with GR88.com.

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Aston Villa are now serious relegation candidates

Christian Benteke has failed to replicate last season's form for Villa

Christian Benteke has failed to replicate last season’s form for Villa

In the summer, I made what I thought was a perfectly sensible prediction: I chose Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Aston Villa the three clubs I thought would be relegated from the Premier League. Palace and Sunderland had Ian Holloway and Paolo di Canio in charge respectively, while Villa were terrible last season and hadn’t exactly spent big in the summer on reinforcements.

But no, apparently predicting Villa to go down was considered radical. I had a long argument on Twitter with a Villa fan who was convinced they were heading into the top half of the table, and that their signings, Luna, Okore, Bacuna et al, could potentially propel them into Europe. Even beyond the hardcore, very few people seemed to think they would go down this year.

And if you look at the table, you might think they were right. Villa lie 11th, a perfectly acceptable mid-table position. But this is deceptive. Villa are only six points above the relegation zone, where the trio of Cardiff, Palace and Sunderland currently reside. While I expect Palace and Sunderland to stay there, I should imagine that the likes of Cardiff, and West Ham – out of the bottom three on goal difference – will eventually get out of it.

Aston Villa v Arsenal Betting Odds

Aston Villa to win – 5.75

Draw – 3.80

Arsenal to win – 1.55

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

 

Around this time of year, there’s usually one team in a particularly negative spiral who still manage to pull out of it even when the odds are against them. Villa were that team last year, somehow clawing their way out of trouble in the spring with their host of Football Manager regens. West Ham may be terrible right now, but Sam Allardyce knows what he is doing (honestly, he does) and they will find a few improbable wins from somewhere.

Of the others, Cardiff are utilising the not-at-all-suspicious system of signing players with the same agent as their manager, so may yet improve. Swansea will kick on once they’ve got the burden of the Europa League off their backs. West Bromwich Albion now have a new manager, and Norwich will probably have one before the end of the season.

Villa’s form is still pretty inconsistent. They may have beaten Manchester City, Arsenal and Southampton this season, but that has tended to be the exception rather than the rule. You can’t expect those results to just appear when you’re in a relegation battle. They did at least beat Sunderland on New Year’s Day, but you would expect them to. But they have also lost to Palace, Stoke and Fulham since the start of December, though even that’s not quite as embarrassing as losing to League One relegation candidates Sheffield United.

While Paul Lambert draws attention away from his players by making comments about whether or not the FA Cup means anything, it’s worth considering that the squad, on an individual basis, isn’t very strong. Their summer signings, far from being the “bargain buys” it was implied they would be, have been just what you would expect them to be: average players who might be outstanding in the Championship but could easily be part of a relegation team in the Premier League. And then there is Christian Benteke, scorer of just five goals this season and without one since September, who has proven the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool right for not spending a ludicrous amount of money on him.

Villa are definitely in this relegation battle, perhaps even more so than some of the teams below them. They certainly shouldn’t expect much from the visit of Arsenal on Monday, who theoretically should demolish them. I’m obliged to say nice things about Arsenal as anything less than total 100% praise will inevitably lead to me being accused of being a “hater”.

After this, Villa’s next two away games are against Liverpool and Everton, but they also have winnable games against West Brom, West Ham and Norwich coming up in the next two months. It’s vital that they take points from these games, because after this they face Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United before the end of March, and, ignoring the jokes about David Moyes for a moment, you would not expect much from those three games.

Paul Lambert doesn’t seem to be under the same pressure as some of the other managers in the Premier League. And maybe that’s fair – maybe he’s doing all he can with the resources available. Randy Lerner seems to have just stopped backing his managers financially, and essentially justifying it as “austerity”. The problem is a football club basing its transfer policy around austerity is doomed: if you don’t seriously invest in the playing squad, in transfer fees and wages, you will be relegated. It’s the paradox of thrift in football: if you try and save money now by cutting it from the playing budget, it will cost you more in the long term when you’re playing at a lower level.

With the way Aston Villa has been run over the past few seasons, selling its stars and replacing them with faceless average youth team players or over-hyped youngsters from abroad, their fans should not be surprised that they are struggling year after year. At any level, some big clubs occasionally struggle despite spending big, but the clubs that never spend big nearly always struggle, and their complacency will eventually cost them. We can debate whether that’s morally right or not endlessly, but it’s beside the point: this is the reality of English football in 2014.

Aston Villa has enormous potential as a club: an ideal location, a large fanbase, a large stadium, and a great history. They ought to be a club regularly competing for the European spots. But if they continue to be run this way, they will be relegated. It may not be this year, it may not even be next year, but it will happen eventually. The club has totally stagnated and needs a total culture change, if not a change of ownership, to prevent it sliding into the second tier again. The problem is, with a conservative owner and a conservative manager in charge, I don’t see it coming.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – Arsenal to beat Aston Villa to nil is 2.70 with GR88.com

 

______________________________________________

Sports blogger JamesJAMES BENNETT (James) is a History MPhil/PhD student, who writes about soccer, Formula 1 and the NFL in his spare time to pay for his studies. He is also a Torquay United fan. He publishes articles in his sports blog, and you can follow him on Twitter and Google+.