Arsenal after revenge for last season’s mauling at the Etihad

City will rely on David Silva to unlock the Arsenal defence yet again

City will rely on David Silva to unlock the Arsenal defence yet again

The month of January can be make or break for sides fighting at the top of the table. Title-challenging Manchester City host Arsenal on Sunday afternoon and while the visitors’ ambitions have taken a bruising since the start of the season, they find themselves in a scrap to secure Champions League qualification. Every game from now until the end of the season will be vitally important for both these sides, with City locked in a close battle with Chelsea at the summit and Arsenal tussling for third or fourth place along with Southampton, Manchester United, Spurs and West Ham.

 

Manchester City v Arsenal Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 73/100

Arsenal win 33/10

Draw 53/20

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

 

The Citizens go into the game on the back of a blistering run of form that has lifted them right back into contention for the league, as well as guaranteeing progress into the Champions League knockout stage. A 2-2 draw at Loftus Road in early November left them eight points adrift of a then-rampant Chelsea and their title seemed to be fading away. But a nine-match winning run in league and cup has salvaged City’s season. They have faltered slightly in the last few weeks, relinquishing leads late on against Burnley and Everton, but nevertheless remain in a strong position as the run-in draws closer; just two points off top spot.

They have hardly even been hindered by a striker crisis which saw them have to play the (admittedly superbly versatile) James Milner in a false nine role for a considerable stretch of games. It is testament to the firepower of this City side that they did not wilt after losing Sergio Agüero, who had seven goals in five before his injury in early December.

Their recent run of form has been typical of a resilient side with individuals who can step up to the plate in the absence of a key player, but the heartbeat of City’s team has been ever-present throughout this period. David Silva, arguably the best player in the Premier League, has been immense all season and came into his own as the winter arrived. It is upon his narrow shoulders that a sizeable portion of City’s hopes this season rest.

 

As he has done in so many games already this campaign, Silva could well make the difference at the Etihad on Sunday. However, Arsenal have a player of their own in top form. Alexis Sánchez produced yet another wonderful display in last Sunday’s 3-0 win over Stoke, scoring two and setting up the other, and it is hard to describe quite how crucial he has been to the Gunners’ hopes this season. He’s bagged 18 goals since his summer switch from Barcelona and has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other player this term.

And yet despite possessing such a talented, effective forward as Sánchez in the form of his life, Arsenal lag far behind the top sides (13 points behind leaders Chelsea) in fifth place. They face a fight to secure Champions League football at the Emirates next season and, although history tells us they are likely to get their act together in time, these are frustrating times for Arsenal fans as we pass the halfway point of a season that promised so much more.

 

And their collective mood could still have taken a further turn for the worse by Monday after playing a City side who, despite the aforementioned recent slip-ups, have the bit firmly between their teeth. With close rivals Manchester United, Southampton, Spurs and West Ham all having winnable games this weekend, the table could make for grim reading for the Gunners should they fail to take a positive result from the Etihad. And it hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for them of late, with last season’s 6-3 defeat the fifth in their last seven trips to the stadium.

Their form in recent weeks has been patchy and for them to take anything back to north London, Arsenal will have to cut out the errors that have blighted their season. With a sizeable injury list which includes Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere (by contrast City have no injury concerns, though Yaya Touré is away at the Africa Cup of Nations), their task will not be made any easier. However, with Sánchez, as well as a rejuvenated Santi Cazorla, in their ranks you could never truly rule them out from causing a surprise.

 

Still, the smart money is most surely on Manchester City taking maximum points and keeping up the pressure on Chelsea. It was in January of last year that they really began to seize control of the league and put together a run that would ultimately win them the title. Sunday’s game will be a test of how likely they are to repeat that trick, and many will back them to pass with flying colours, but could it possibly be Arsenal who, for once, stand up to be counted and set the tone for the remainder of their season.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Manchester City to win and both teams to score is 2.65 with Intertops.eu

 

Jack C avatarJACK CHATTERTON 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

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Can United blast City’s title hopes into oblivion?

Can Angel di Maria (right) make Aleks Kolarov (left) eat his words this week?

Can Angel di Maria (right) make Aleks Kolarov (left) eat his words this week?

Somewhere hidden deep in the heart of Manchester, Louis van Gaal sharpens his sword, reaches for the war paint and perfects his war cry for the baying media. He’s ready for battle. Manuel Pellegrini, tucked away in his office, clutches his hands together and stares across his blueprints. He’s not ready to give up the pride of his adopted blue half of the city. The two men of mass experience will not leave this battle to chance with the allure of local dominance and vast ego massaging awaiting the victor.

It can only mean one thing: the Manchester Derby is back. And yes, it’s still pretty personal.

 

Manchester City v Manchester United Betting Odds:

City win 4/5

United win 3/1

Draw 13/5

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

 

The two sides head into Sundays encounter with differing objectives for the season. For City, anything less than a serious push for Premier League supremacy will not do, whilst United aim to revive the side blown apart over the last eighteen months and secure a vitally important Champions League qualification spot. There may not be the fierce title competition rivalry between the two that has existed previously but this is still a bitter affair.

City have been dominant in recent history over their neighbours with five out of the last six encounters between the two finishing in favour of the Citizens, scoring at least two goals a game across the previous four meets and achieving a 7-1 aggregate scoreline against their red opponents last season. United will take comfort from their solitude victory over that bleak run though, with a 3-2 victory at the Etihaad in December of 2012 demonstrating their ability to win on the road at even the toughest environments. Much of that same United matchday squad still remains at the club, though age and injury has taken its toll on many.

 

Gauging the recent league form of both sides is difficult, for their propensity to throw away winnable matches has been paramount to the collective failings occurred this season. It was only last week that City were completely outplayed by a resurgent West Ham side brimming with vigour and energy, qualities that last season champions simply failed to match for any sustained period, a trend continued midweek against Newcastle. United will be less disappointed with their home draw to Chelsea, though it remains the case that thirteen points from nine league games is a poor early season start from the Red Devils, especially considering that Chelsea represented the first real top four test they have had to face thus far.

What may stand hugely in United’s favour ahead of this clash is their free diary either side. Whilst United have had a week to prepare solely for this match and are gifted a week afterwards to recover, City fielded a strong side in their League Cup defeat against Newcastle. In addition to that they’ll also have to keep one eye on next weeks showdown with CSKA Moscow in a Champions League match they simply have to win to keep their qualification hopes alive and avoid dropping out of the competition at the group stage yet again.

 

City will be without Frank Lampard for Sunday’s clash, whilst United look set to miss the recently sidelined Phil Jones. Van Gaal will have to make a late fitness decision on Radamel Falcao, Antonio Valencia, Paddy McNair, Wayne Rooney and Jonny Evans, with all five battling to be fit in time for their most important game of the season to date, with Pellegrini awaiting further news on the status of Yaya Toure and David Silva, both injured in the midweek Capital One Cup defeat to Newcastle.

Whether Evans or McNair make it back in time will determine how United set up across the back, though Van Gaal is still yet to work out his favoured centre back pairing, having made more personnel changes than the Sugababes. This could be music to the ears of Sergio Aguero, City’s star man who will wish to continue his fine individual form return from injury and add to his current 9 goal tally (which currently places him atop the Premier League goalscoring charts).

However, Pellegrini will be desperately hoping to see the return to form of another player whose early season struggles have been well documented by the media, undoubtedly fuelled by memories of pre-season cake shenanigans. That man – Yaya Toure, should he return in time – has so far coasted through the start of use season rarely pushing out of first gear and is long overdue a domineering brute force display. Should Toure find his top form, coupled with the space that a fit David Silva may be able to utilise against United’s attacking set up, City could easily find themselves in the goals.

 

Nevertheless, City’s defence showed vulnerabilities against Tottenham, West Ham and Newcastle, teams with less firepower than that available to United. Angel Di Maria may therefore prove pivotal in finding the gaps and unlocking the opportunities for Van Persie and Falcao should the Colombian make it back in time. All the same, it’ll be important for the reds to remain disciplined, particularly on the flanks where City can cause damage with their overlapping full backs confident in supporting attacks.

City full back Aleksandar Kolarov stoked up the fire earlier this week by claiming that City had been superior to their opponents for the last five to six years. Comments like this will only fire up a Manchester United squad growing in confidence and belief week on week as demonstrated by Luke Shaw, who told journalists, “It has been a fight, but we talk in the dressing room and at training and we know we’ve still got the best to come. I don’t think we are playing our best at the moment, although you saw bits against Chelsea.”

 

Sunday will truly show just how far both sides have come and how far they need to go to achieve their respective season goals. A win for City here will place pressure on Chelsea in the title race, whilst victory for United will send out a message to the rest of the league that they are back in business. The stakes are high – how will the dice roll?

 

Betting Instinct tip – with firepower up front for two unconvincing sides, back the score draw at 5.51 with Intertops.eu

 

CONNOR JIPPSconnor avatar  is a young sports writer and student at De Montfort University. His main topics of focus when writing are tennis, rugby and soccer, with a particular focus on Tottenham Hotspur, editing his own blog www.SPURStalk.co.uk. Follow Connor on Twitter.

Barcelona v Valencia: They played for both

David Villa enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona and Valencia before moving to current club Atlético Madrid

David Villa enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona and Valencia before moving to current club Atlético Madrid

On Saturday evening Barcelona will look to maintain their grip on La Liga’s top spot when Valencia visit the Camp Nou.

It was not so long ago that Los Ches were among Spain’s elite, dining at the same table as both Barça and Real Madrid.

Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side may currently sit 10th in the standings, but they still possess players that could potentially trouble what has not always been a water-tight Barca rearguard.

Ahead of the meeting, Betting Instinct has picked out five of the great talents who have played for both clubs.

 

Barcelona v Valencia Betting Odds

Barcelona to win – 1.13

Draw – 9.00

Valencia to win – 23.00

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

 

Jordi Alba

Having honed his potential at Barça’s famous La Masia academy, full-back Alba was released as a youngster in 2005. He eventually found his way south to Valencia, for whom he made his debut in 2009. It was there where his rampaging runs down the left flank attracted the attention of Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque, who included him in his squad for the 2012 European Championships.

With Barca looking for a long-term replacement for veteran defensive mainstay Eric Abidal, they turned to Alba, seven years after they had dispensed with his services. Still only 24, he went on to score five goals in all competitions as Barca regained the La Liga title during his first campaign as a senior player with the club.

David Villa

‘The Kid’ found goals relatively easily to come by with Sporting Gijon and Real Zaragoza, but it was the 2005 switch to Valencia that really saw his stock start to rise. He would go on to form a near telepathic understanding with David Silva and Juan Mata and it was that trio that helped Valencia topple Barça en route to success in the 2008 Copa del Rey.

By 2010, Pep Guardiola needed a new attacker. Thierry Henry was heading for New York, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic wanted to share the spotlight with Lionel Messi. Guardiola wanted a player that would sacrifice himself for the team and Messi – an offer which Villa duly accepted. He won eight trophies during his three-year spell with Barça, but he found it difficult to rediscover his touch after suffering a broken leg in a Club World Cup clash in December 2011. Last summer he was sold to Atlético Madrid, and his 10 league goals this season have helped Diego Simeone’s side mount a serious title challenge.

Gaizka Mendieta

Having risen through the ranks at the Mestalla, Mendieta was regarded as Valencia’s blue-eyed boy. Indeed, having forged himself a reputation as a free-scoring midfielder, the Spanish international was a key cog as Valencia won the Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and reached two Champions League finals in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

Such form earned him a big-money switch to Lazio, who were seeking a replacement for Manchester United-bound Juan Sebastian Veron, in 2001. One year was enough in Italy, though, and he returned to Spain 12 months later on a loan basis with Barça. Despite being a regular with the Catalans, their sixth-placed finish meant that Blaugrana could not afford to fund a permanent return and he eventually ended up joining Middlesbrough on loan.

Patrick Kluivert

Following goal-laden spells with Ajax and AC Milan, Kluivert was reunited with his former mentor Louis van Gaal at Barcelona in 1998. Forming an instantly profitable partnership with Rivaldo, the pair fired their side to the La Liga title. However, despite 120 goals for the club in 255 outings, that would be only the trophy that he lifted before he was released and headed for Newcastle United in 2004.

The spell on Tyneside lasted just one year, with a return to Spain and Valencia sealed in 2005. Fitness, weight and attitude problems were all said to have contributed to an unsuccessful time with the club, scoring just the one goal prior to his departure in 2006.

Oriol Romeu

To feature regularly in Barça’s midfield, you have to possess an extraordinary talent. Romeu, who arrived at La Masia in 2004, would, in time, discover that. Initially it appeared that he could force his way into Guardiola’s thinking when he was included in the squad for the 2009 Club World Cup, but he would ultimately make just two senior appearances in a red and blue shirt.

Chelsea came calling in 2011, but after a positive start to life at Stamford Bridge, a knee injury limited his playing time. Last summer he was loaned out to Valencia and despite suffering further injuries, he has impressed during his 13 outings.

Betting Instinct Tip Barcelona to repeat last year’s 1-0 home win is 8.50 with AllYouBet.ag

 

liam_avatar   LIAM APICELLA (liamapicella88) has worked for a number of publications on a freelance basis, including Footy Matters, Football Italiano and the Ibiza Paper. He is currently the features editor and reporter for Sports Mole.

Man City Favoured to Top the EPL as 2014 Begins

 

Samir Nasri finds the net in a 3-0 City win over Swansea earlier this season.

Samir Nasri finds the net in a 3-0 City win over Swansea earlier this season.

The second half of the Premier League season kicks off this New Year’s Day with the clash of Swansea and Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium with the visitors knowing that they can go top of the league if they avoid defeat in this match. City would prefer to win this game to give themselves a two point gap over Arsenal, who face Cardiff in a 3pm kickoff, and give themselves the best chance at staying top should the Gunners slip up at The Emirates, but will they be able to do so having failed to win either of their two Premier League visits to the Liberty Stadium or even score a goal?

GR88.com certainly believe that the 2011/12 Premier League winners can win this match as they lean towards the away win in the opening match of 2014, but with City missing their injured top scorer Sergio Aguero and suspended David Silva for this game can they live up to their favourites billing and go to the summit of the league table?

Swansea v Man City Odds:

Home Victory – 5.00

Level at Full Time – 3.80

Away Win – 1.61

(Odds provided by GR88.com are current as of today but subject to change.)

Even though they are odds-on favourites to win this match I feel that City offer plenty of value in this Swansea v Man City game as they are in outstanding form both in general and away from home now that they have overcome their away day teething troubles under Manuel Pellegrini. They struggled at the start of the season away from the Etihad Stadium as they defeated only Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow in the Champions League as well as West Ham in the EPL in their first nine away games of the season. Since then though they have turned things around nicely and they have found the net on 14 occasions as they have won four and drawn one of their last five away games, including beating Champions League winners Bayern Munich in German. They only issue that I can see with City’s away form is that they are not tight enough defensively with eight conceded in their last five away trips and just one clean sheet in 11. Will their attacking abilities see them through this Swansea v Man City game though?

Swansea’s recent form does not make happy reading for fans of the Welsh club as they are without a victory in seven matches and at home they have claimed just five wins in 14 games, with three of those coming in the early stages of their Europa League campaign. In the Premier League they have defeated only Sunderland and Newcastle but on the other side of things they have lost just once in their last six Premier League games at the Liberty Stadium. The two wins against the Tyne and Wear derby combatants are joined by draws against West Ham, Stoke and Hull while their last home match saw them edged out by the impressive Everton.

Armed with this reasonable home record of late and two clean sheets in two matches against City in Premier League clashes at the Liberty Stadium can Swansea upset the odds in the first match of this new year and dent Man City’s chances at reclaiming their Premier League title? I am not convinced as this City side does not know how to stop scoring goals with an average of almost three goals a game this season in the league. I:see City outstripping this Swansea side in front of goal and cruising to an easy win as they begin 2014 in the same fashion that they ended 2013.

Back Man City to beat Swansea by at least two goals (Man City -0.75) and return to the top of the Premier League @ 1.77 in the GR88 Sportsbook!

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.