Beating Mourinho’s Chelsea would cap off a season of improvement for Arsenal

ozil fabregas

 

Last weekend, there was the small distraction of an FA Cup Semi-Final to take Arsenal minds off Chelsea’s clash against Manchester United. United offered a decent enough challenge but ultimately the 1-0 result was all too routine for this well-drilled, resilient Chelsea team who are proving to be the most Mourinho of Mourinho sides since his Inter of 2009/10. Even if Arsenal do beat Chelsea this Sunday, the gap will still be seven points. It does seem that their “title challenge” is over before it even began.

 

Arsenal v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Arsenal win 27/20

Chelsea win 2/1

Draw 43/20

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

 

However, this does not take anything away from the game’s wider significance. Sunday’s London Derby presents a real opportunity for Arsene Wenger to show that his side have made a meaningful stride forward since last season. In the first few months of this season, many critics rightfully questioned whether Arsenal were actually any better off despite the acquisition of starman Alexis Sanchez who at that point was firing on all cylinders amidst a team of underachievers. Yet Arsenal have rallied since the start of 2015 and a 2nd place finish, along with an FA Cup Final, are just rewards for their respectable turnaround.

Chelsea’s inevitable title on the other hand has come across as rather unremarkable due to the lack of serious contenders. This is somewhat unfair given how impressive and one-sided Chelsea’s early season performances were. From Thibaut Cortois between the sticks to Diego Costa up top, complemented by Eden Hazard’s consistent excellence, this Chelsea team may yet be considered one of the Premier League’s best, if only there had been some decent competition to show it as such.

 

The reason why both media and neutrals alike have been slow to praise Chelsea’s feats this season is because they are so set up in the eye of their maker.  Despite an attractive start, they have reverted to a more functional, strength-based approach that Mourinho favours. This can be seen quite clearly in the introduction of the titanic Kurt Zouma as a defensive midfielder for Chelsea’s big games. Mourinho has also engrained a siege mentality, in which the world and his wife are anti-Chelsea and also attempts to question the regime are met with little attention.

Wenger would love to end his unfortunate run and finally record a victory against Mourinho. The “specialist in failure” jibes still sting deep for the Frenchman, who is yet to beat Mourinho’s Chelsea in 12 attempts. There should be some cause for optimism this year as Wenger has broken the hoodoo of playing the big clubs. The victories away at Man City, at home to Liverpool as well as against United in the Cup, showed different strings to Arsenal’s bow. They also demonstrated that other personnel such as Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil were capable of stepping to the level that Sanchez had set from the off.

 

Sunday’s game will also mark Cesc Fabregas’ return to the Emirates for the first time since his departure to Barcelona in 2011. Had Fabregas ever played against Arsenal for Barca, he might have expected a fond reception from the home crowd but there will be no civilities this time around. While it was difficult to begrudge him a move back to his boyhood club, the subsequent transfer to Chelsea has left a sour taste in the mouths of the Arsenal fan base. This has been aggravated by the fact that Wenger turned down the chance to re-sign him and the visual evidence that he is quite clearly still up to scratch as the Premier League’s top provider, with 16 assists.

Intriguingly, Wenger is likely to employ his surprise of the season Francis Coquelin to marshal Fabregas in the middle of the park.  While Coquelin joined Arsenal in 2008, he did not make his Premier League debut until the fateful 8-2 defeat against Manchester United in August 2011 by which time Fabregas had just signed for Barcelona. After such a baptism by fire, it is pleasing to see that he has not given up the fight to be a top flight footballer following a series of loan spells.

 

On paper Sunday’s result will count for very little. However, if Arsenal can record a convincing victory with the performance to boot, they can lay down the gauntlet for next season and show that it needn’t be a one-horse race again.

 

 

Betting Instinct tip – with Chelsea preferring to keep things tight, the Gunners could all but seal second place with victory this weekend. Arsenal to win 1-0 is 13/2 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Hugo avatarHUGO GREENHALGH is co-founder and editor of The False Nineand a contributor to Eurosport and When Saturday Comes. He can be found following his favourite clubs: Arsenal and Dulwich Hamlet. Follow Hugo on Twitter.

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Chelsea to continue their march to the title with victory over Spurs

 

Tottenham may need another man-of-the-match performance from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris

Tottenham may need another man-of-the-match performance from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris

First, a disclaimer: this preview was written in 2014 – that’s right, an entire year before Tottenham and Chelsea will play on New Years’ Day of 2015. And who knows what 2015 has in store for the world, much less this football match? I’ll go for drones with better stability, an iPhone 7 and, if we’re lucky, an iPhone 7S. We can hope for something space-related, too, but it’ll probably only be a robot finding ice particles on Mars, which I doubt really excites the scientists who launched the thing to begin with. A man on the moon would be better and, all jokes aside, is probably our best shot at achieving world peace – you can’t aim a gun if you’re staring up at the sky (not well, anyway).

 

No, 2015 will roll right on from 2014, as years tend to do, and Chelsea will still be the immovable force that everyone knew would win the Premier League after the first two or three games of the season. Worse than the inevitability of it all is that they’re threatening to be likeable, too. Roman Abramovich found an oily £85 million to spend on Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Felipe Luis and Loic Remy over the summer, but Jose Mourinho has his team playing consistently watchable football despite John Terry’s continued involvement, and has instilled in them a work ethic bordering on Germanic. Ruthless, efficient, and pretty damn focused on the finish line, Chelsea have the mentality and depth to swat aside any half-decent side with relative ease.

 

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Tottenham win 7/2

Chelsea win 3/4

Draw 5/2

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

 

Seemingly incapable of achieving anything better or worse than top-half mediocrity, Tottenham are the epitome of half-decency. It makes sense that they drew with Manchester United, a team balanced out to half-decency by a very good forward line and a terrible defense, and so it makes sense that Chelsea should swat them aside with relative ease.

Tottenham have maintained typically indifferent home form this season (four wins and four losses in ten) while Chelsea have been impressive on the road (the recent loss to Newcastle their only defeat in ten), though records might point to a closer game than current form: Chelsea have won only once at White Hart Lane since the 2005/06 season, a 4-2 win in late 2012. Take from that what you will – it’s a statistic stretched out over nine years, taking in a time when Andre Villas-Boas, Avram Grant and Juande Ramos were still relevant – and the 3-0 loss Spurs suffered at Stamford Bridge less than a month ago seems to be a better indicator of the way this match might go.

 

This match is Chelsea’s to lose, and they don’t lose often – only once this season, and four times in the league in all of 2014. Even then, they’ve been losses that can only really be described as straight up weird: 1-0 to Aston Villa, 1-0 to Crystal Palace, 2-1 to Sunderland, and then this season’s sole defeat, 2-1 to Newcastle – they’re anomalies more than anything. It’s harder to pick that kind of pattern with Spurs, and easier to say that they lose whenever the mood takes them: Liverpool, West Brom, Newcastle and Stoke have all won at White Hart Lane this season. That goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was named man of the match in the 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Sunday is as good an indication as any that they should’ve lost that match, too, and Chelsea are unlikely to be as forgiving in front of goal.

Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are the obvious threats for the away side; Hazard having opened the scoring in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Spurs at Stamford Bridge at the start of December, and Diego Costa having been able to stick a leg out and score at a rate of nearly a goal a game to date. Spurs have struggled for clean sheets, having only recorded five this season so far, and Lloris will need to be at his unassumingly competent best, as he was against United, to keep Spurs from falling behind – they have come from behind to win three times this season, but Chelsea have only twice dropped points from a winning position in the league, in 1-1 draws with the two sides from Manchester.

 

What does it all mean? Both sides have had unbeaten runs over the Christmas period, and while a draw would probably suit Spurs just fine, Chelsea will be wary of Manchester City behind them, chasing down their lead at the top of the league. Jose Mourinho will know that he can’t rely on Manuel Pellegrini’s side to throw away 2-0 leads against Burnley every week (and rightly so, given that they only play each other twice a season). I’ll go for a 3-1 Chelsea win.

 

Betting Instinct tip Tottenham 1-3 Chelsea is 12/1 with AllYouBet.ag

Max avatar MAX GRIEVE (maxjgri) 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. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

Five results to put your money on for Manchester United versus Chelsea

Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj could be surprisingly influential against Chelsea

Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj could be surprisingly influential against Chelsea

With Manchester United still struggling to wake up to the realities of the post-Ferguson era at Old Trafford, their old stronghold, the so-called Theatre Of Dreams, has never been more fittingly named. The yawning gaps at the back of Louis Van Gaal’s system remains the stuff of nightmares, with the stilted boredom-ball of David Moyes’ era replaced by humiliating away defeats to Leicester City and MK Dons.

Chelsea on the other hand look like a team bang on schedule. Last season, Jose Mourinho arrived to find a club that, to his mind, looked a bit too casual in how it rose itself from its own slumber. This season, the Portuguese and his devastating new duo of attacking talent—Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas—have acted like an extra strong shot of coffee fired straight down the gullets of Eden Hazard and co. Already five points clear of their title rivals, Manchester City, after just eight games, the Blues can boast a total of 22 points from their furious start to their campaign. Still undefeated, the worst result they’ve managed to record so far has been a draw, and that was against City at the Etihad: arguably their most testing game of the season.

Yet their second trip up to Manchester comes with a hefty dose of uncertainty over the fitness of Costa and his dodgy hamstring. He may not be bed-ridden, but if his problems are as severe as many of the papers believe, it’s unlikely that he will be able to make it onto the field to face United. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mourinho has massaged the state of a player’s injury in order to keep an opponent guessing however.

 

Manchester United v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Manchester United win 17/10

Chelsea win 7/5

Draw 12/5

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

 

Given the confusion over the state of his talismanic striker’s leg muscle, here’s five potential outcomes of Chelsea’s away visit to Old Trafford to mull over, and the odds you need to look out for if any of them take your fancy.

If you’ve been watching much of Brian Cox’s new series, and believe in multi-verse theory, then we can’t be wrong. Somewhere in another reality these will all take place. Unfortunately, we only have access to markets that relate to happenings in this universe. Which is a shame.

 

Result #1: Manchester United 0-2 Chelsea (9/1 with Intertops.eu)

A shadowy robed figure approaches the matchday officials holding Chelsea’s official team sheet. As the receivers eyes roam down the list, the name of a certain Brazilian-born, Spanish striker’s name rolls into view.

“Diego Costa is…” they begin, before the man throws off his cloak and announces “Yes! It is I: Diego Costa!” before promptly trying to get a rise out of the refereeing team by sticking a wet finger in his ear, tweaking his nipple and generally trying to be as obnoxiously macho and irritating as possible.

On the pitch, his desire to distress those around him produces two wonderfully taken goals to puncture Van Gaal’s pre-match talk about his team raising their game to defeat their in-form foe; his defence buckling once again thanks to some slapdash positioning by Phil Jones and a numerical disadvantage in their own half.

 

Result #2: Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea (12/1 with AllYouBet.ag)

A shadowy robed figure approaches the match day officials and tries to same schtick but this time is reprimanded by Phil Dowd and ruled unavailable to play the match for being a bit of a dick.

Loic Remy, Chelsea’s other walking wounded scorer of the occasional wonder goal, replaces his team mate up front, scores the Blues first goal and then once again breaks down with just 15 minutes played. Didier Drogba replaces him.

With Mourinho’s plans doubley disrupted, United’s attackers show their individual class with Robin van Persie peeling away from Filipe Luis to slip a silky shot past Thibaut Courtois. Radamel Falcao soon follows, getting on the end of a wonderfully crafted scoop pass from Angel di Maria.

However, with four minutes of injury time to play, Chelsea win a corner. Fabregas sends in a wicked delivery and who else but Drogba, the man himself, rises highest to greet the ball and send it crashing down over the line and past David De Gea.

Van Gaal shakes his head and raps his notepad in frustration. It’s a draw.

 

Result #3 Manchester United 3-2 Chelsea (25/1 with Intertops.eu)

There is no shadowy figure. Costa hasn’t made it, and turns up in stands looking understandably upset at not being able to play against United. Those around him bear the brunt of his irritatible mood through Chinese burns and a barrage of popcorn kernels to the back of their heads.

Remy again starts but struggles through the first half and isn’t able to continue into the second. United are already 1-0 up from a long range strike from Angel Di Maria. Drogba replaces the Frenchman for the final 45 minutes.

Yet it’s not the Ivorian who makes the biggest impact in the second half, as Hazard takes it upon himself to expose the fraudulent defending of Jones and Marco Rojo to run through United’s backline in search of an equaliser, which he finds with just five minutes of the second period played.

The hosts respond through Falcao, a one time Chelsea target, who runs clear of John Terry to chip Cech who is surprised off his line. Again, the Blues comeback though, this time through Branislav Ivanovic, who tears Luke Shaw apart on his way into the box for an emphatic net-breaker from just inside De Gea’s area.

Just as the narrative predicted however, the man cast away by Mourinho comes back to haunt him, and on the 87th minute, Juan Mata steps up to take a freekick from a dangerous position, and just like how he used to be Chelsea’s decisive man versus United with a dead ball, he curls his shot home to score the winner.

 

Result #4: Manchester United 5-1 Chelsea (150/1 with Coral.co.uk)

Daley Blind lines up at left wing-back with Van Persie up front, Adnan Januzaj behind him, and a midfield made up of Mata, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, as United suprise everyone by going back to playing the 3-5-2 that served Van Gaal so well at the World Cup.

Early on, it looks like a bad idea however, with Chelsea scoring first through Costa after Fabregas set free his countryman with a beautiful long ball over the top. However, the tide soon changes as Blind arcs a fantastic effort from left-back onto the head of Van Persie. Everyone in the press box, the stands and in the technical areas double blinks. Something has been changed in The Matrix.

Shell-shocked by this recycled act from recent history, Chelsea fall apart as Januzaj goes all Arjen Robben and runs the Blues to pieces. It ends 5-1. Everybody is too terrified by what they have just witnessed to celebrate.

 

Result #5: Manchester United P-P Chelsea

Roman Abramovich pilots a drone carrying a mural of Peter Kenyon and himself shaking over an image of Manchester shaded in Chelsea blue. The fans lose it and storm the pitch while the visitors become incensed when Januzaj decides to pull down the flag.

Phil Dowd sends the players to the tunnel. The match is postponed, although it is later ruled as a 3-0 victory for United, who are also docked three points for their part in the fiasco.

 

BONUS BALL: Manchester United vs. Chelsea – Match abandoned due to vacuum meta-instability event

After having perfected our multi-verse accumulator with the first five predictions, the structural integrity of our reality begins to buckle, because nobody—not even the unseen spectral super-beings who control dark matter—likes a smart arse.

Phil Dowd looks up to the sky as a swirling vortex of purple lightning and crimson clouds appears above Old Trafford. The whistle drops from his mouth before he can blow it as his jaw and eyes gape in terrified awe at the sight of the heavens in flux.

Unfortunately for the Premier League title race, and wider human interests, existence is about to come to an end as a tear within the fabric of reality envelopes our world, and all worlds, along with everything else in every universe, all at once. Rooney stamps the ground in anger. City enter the apocalypse as the last champions of England, with Chelsea top of the table. If only he’d seen through one of his transfer requests to the bitter end, he might have had a chance to enter oblivion at the top of his game.

Somewhere in the Far East, a canny member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement wins millions in a niche underground betting market. Today was his lucky day!

 

And that, children, is why Brian Cox isn’t keen on football.

 

Greg avatar GREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to  FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football  blog and podcast. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

Former Chelsea strikers could come back to haunt Mourinho

Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto'o may feel they have unfinished business against Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o may feel they have unfinished business against Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku will be looking to make his mark against former club Chelsea when his current side goes head to head with the West London outfit this Saturday. Many questioned Mourinho when he sold the exceptionally promising 21 year old to Everton, however with the arrival of Diego Costa after his scintillating season in Spain last year, it makes sense economically for Chelsea and also for the sake of Lukaku’s personal development. The Belgian is yet to get off the mark yet this season and has perhaps looked a little rusty in his opening two games. His ‘replacement’ of sorts has scored in both of his competitive games, helping to win over the Chelsea fans early on in his career in England. Costa’s two goals have – with the greatest respect – only come against newly promoted teams, so it’ll be interesting to see how he copes against a more organised and disciplined defence in the shape of Everton. The likes of Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines have played against the top players the Premier League has to offer for years (with varying success), so we can help gauge how successful the tenacious Costa is likely to be over the rest of the season.

 

Everton v Chelsea Betting Odds:

Everton win – 5/2

Chelsea win – Evens

Draw – 47/20

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

 

Everton also made the move of Gareth Barry permanent after his promising loan spell for The Toffees last season. Though he doesn’t have too many seasons left in the tank, Barry is a dependable and consistent performer who also boasts European and International experience. It must be said, he is more of a ‘7/10′ in most areas, as opposed to being someone who particularly excels at any one part of the game. He managed to bag 3 goals last year (his highest tally for the last 5 seasons), but used to score more freely in his time at Aston Villa and will certainly hope to improve on that this year. Everton’s other acquisitions are 18 year old Brendan Galloway from MK Dons and highly rated Bosnian midfielder Muhamed Besic, while they were joined last night by another former Chelsea frontman, Samuel Eto’o. The Cameroonian found the net nine times in the Premier League last season, and while at 33 years of age and with no goals away from Stamford Bridge last year,  he will hope to thrive on Merseyside in a similar manner to experienced strikers like Louis Saha in the past.  With Lukaku looking to match or improve upon his 15 league goals last year and Arouna Kone close to a return from injury, a potentially uninspiring transfer window is now looking far more positive for the Toffees.

Unsurprisingly, Chelsea have invested the money made from the extortionate sale of David Luiz and the aforementioned Lukaku. Costa was the real marquee signing, despite last season being his first real prolific campaign in terms of his goal return. Another forward who has already won the Chelsea faithful a thousand times over also returns. Getting Dider Drogba in on a free could turn out to be a spectacular piece of business. He won’t be expected to weigh in with breathtaking performances, but the guidance he can offer to the younger players in the squad – and even the more senior ones – will be profusely beneficial going forward. Chelsea also raided Atletico Madrid for their left-back Filipe Luis. With the departure of neutral fan favourite (ahem) Ashley Cole, another top class left-back was required. Luis had a great season last year and was instrumental in Atletico’s transformation into a major contender at European level. There’s also the small matter of Cesc Fabregas’ return to the Premier League. Whilst he had some fiercely positive displays for Barca, he was never really able to assert himself as a consistent regular. Already providing a spectacular pass in the opening game to help create a goal against Burnley, Fabregas is another top class option to have within Chelsea’s midfield. This may disjoint the progression of Oscar, or it may spurn him on to try harder to reclaim his place in the middle of the park for Chelsea.

Out of the two clubs, Chelsea’s signings naturally stand out more. They have already hit the ground running in their opening games and will be expecting stellar performances like that for the rest of this year. However, places are far less secure at Stamford Bridge and the demand is much higher; being a big name doesn’t ensure you’ll live up to the hype. Everton have helped secure the future of their squad and have invested sagaciously. Time will tell if either overpaid for their famed strikers or if they have turned out to be an absolute steal.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Romelu Lukaku to score the first goal against Chelsea is 7/1 with Coral.

 

 JAKE COLLINS  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, or follow Jake on Twitter and Google+.

Race for Premier League Golden Boot is wide open

Will we see a new name atop the Premier League goalscoring charts this season?

Will we see a new name atop the Premier League goalscoring charts this season?

As is often the case in the summer following a World Cup, the clubs at the top of the Premier League have been busy in the transfer market.

Last year’s top four have each made a high-profile purchase or two, while some interesting business has taken place involving clubs further down the table. And with last season’s top goalscorer Luis Suárez now plying his trade abroad (well he will be once his worldwide ban is over), the stage is set for a new name to lay claim to the Golden Boot.

 

Premier League Outright Betting Odds:

Chelsea – 37/20

Manchester City – 2/1

Manchester United – 19/4

Arsenal – 6/1

Liverpool – 9/1

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

 

Will one of the big names top the charts in 2014/15, or will an unlikely contender rise to the top? Here are just a few in with a shot at the Golden Boot (all odds courtesy of Coral are accurate as of today and subject to change).

 

Sergio Agüero (Manchester City) – 7/2

The Argentinean forward struggled with injuries last season but still managed to score 17 goals in 23 league appearances. After heartbreak in the World Cup final, Agüero will look to reignite the partnership with Álvaro Negredo which played a huge part in Manuel Pellegrini’s side winning the Premier League last season.

 

Robin van Persie (Manchester United) – 9/2

Van Persie endured a frustrating campaign under David Moyes last season, but looked reinvigorated at the World Cup under incoming Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. With a coach who may be prepared to play to the 30-year-old’s strengths rather than marginalising him to accommodate Wayne Rooney, van Persie could be on course for a third Golden Boot in four years.

 

Diego Costa (Chelsea) – 11/2

Many believe Chelsea would have won the Premier League last season with a prolific striker, and indeed Costa’s 27 goals helped fire Atlético Madrid to an unlikely La Liga title. With Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o both departing, responsibility will lie with the Spain international to justify José Mourinho’s decision to meet the striker’s £32m release clause.

 

Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) – 11/2

With Suárez moving to Barcelona, there will be more pressure than ever on the man who finished second in the goalscoring charts in the last campaign. Sturridge looked like the complete forward at times last season, but time will tell whether the exit of his strike partner and the added pressure of Champions League football will take their toll.

 

Romelu Lukaku (Everton) – 18/1

Lukaku became Everton’s record signing after completing his £28m move last night, and will look to build on the 15 goals he scored on loan at the Merseyside club last season. With fellow frontman Arouna Koné returning from injury, Belgian international Lukaku could benefit from not needing to carry goalscoring responsibility all on his own.

 

Roberto Soldado (Tottenham) – 50/1

Much was expected of Soldado when he briefly became Tottenham’s record signing last summer, but the Spaniard struggled in the league under both André Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood. The former Real Madrid youngster will hope this season has more in common with his final year in Spain with Valencia, as new coach Mauricio Pochettino looks to mount a challenge for the top four.

 

Graziano Pellè (Southampton) – 80/1

While much of the talk this summer has surrounded the players leaving Southampton, one of the new arrivals at St Mary’s could make a transitional season a whole lot easier. Italian striker Pellè scored 50 goals in the last two seasons for Feyenoord, and it is no surprise that his Eredivisie coash Ronald Koeman brought the 29-year-old with him to the south coast.

 —

This season Coral has introduced a new way to bet, SuperLive by Metric Gaming. Bet on hundreds of new in-play micro markets such as whether a player will score from the next free-kick, or whether there will be a goal within 60 seconds of the next set piece.

Unfamiliar with fractional odds? Let our odds calculation guide help you out

 

tv TOM VICTOR (editor) is the editor and co-founder of Betting Instinct. He has written for a variety of    sports sites in the past, including JustFootball, Footy Matters and BeNeFoot. You can follow him  on Twitter or Google+.

World Cup Opener Should be Easy Win for Brazil but Can the Home Team Go All the Way?!

Can the World Cup home team handle the pressure to go all the way?

Can the World Cup home team handle the pressure to go all the way?

Brazil has won five World Cup titles, more than any other country. They’ll also enjoy home-advantage this time around. So the heat is really on Brazil to win the 2014 tourney.

World Cup bookmakers seem confident the home team (-303) will beat Croatia (+900) in the World Cup opening match tomorrow, but they aren’t so sure the Selecao can live up to the enormous pressure to win the title.

————————————————————————-
World Cup Betting Odds – Opening Match June 12th
Brazil -303
Croatia +900

Odds provided by Intertops Sportsbook, subject to change.
————————————————————————-

“Brazil does, of course, have a good chance of going all the way,” observed one bookmaker, “But their South American rivals, Argentina, will also be a big threat, especially if superstar Lionel Messi can find his top form again after his rather disappointing end to the season. Who knows – but I somehow doubt the Cup will be coming back to Europe this year!”

No European team has won the title in South America and several top European players are struggling with injuries that could seriously affect their country’s chances, including reigning World Footballer of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Spain’s prolific goalscorer Diego Costa. Another title hopeful France has already lost the services of Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery with a back injury.

“One European team we’ll really be watching is Belgium,” he said. “They haven’t made a splash in big tournaments since the 1980 European Championships, but have a highly talented team full of players who star for top clubs across Europe. Much is expected of them!”

————————————————————————-
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The Gamblogger gambling blogGAMBLOGGER (gamblogger) is one of the editors of BettingInstinct. He talks mainly about poker and casino games in his gambling blog and on his YouTube channel but can’t help but get caught up in sports betting during World Cup, Super Bowl and March Madness.

Will Atletico Madrid be the new Bayer Leverkusen?

Will Atletico Madrid get the draw they need at Camp Nou?

Can Atletico Madrid get the draw they need at Camp Nou?

Liverpool v Arsenal. Lewis Hamilton v Felipe Massa. Scott Pilgrim v Gideon. There’s nothing like a great winner-takes-all battle.

 

This weekend Atlético Madrid travel to Camp Nou to face Barcelona, knowing that their destiny is in their hands over the coming weeks. Less than 10-days from now they could be La Liga and European champions against all the odds. Alternatively they could be trophiless and poised to lose their most prized asset Diego Costa.

As Diego Simeone’s Rojiblancos prepare for the double-header against Barça and Real Madrid, parallels can be drawn with Klaus Toppmöller’s famous Bayer Leverkusen side of the 2001-02 season. At this stage in the campaign they were still on course for a potential treble – top of the Bundesliga and with domestic and European finals around the corner – but they lost it all.

 

Barcelona v Atlético Madrid Betting Odds:

Barcelona win – 1.79

Atlético win – 4.10

Draw – 3.50

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

 

The last decade and a half in German football has not quite been dominated by Bayern Munich, but when the Bavarian club have been at there best it has been tough for anyone to stop them. The likes of Stuttgart and Werder Bremen saw off an under-par Bayern during the 2000s, but only two sides have come close to stopping the 24-time champions: Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund and Toppmöller’s Leverkusen.

Captained by Germany international Carsten Ramelow, Leverkusen would have five players in the Nationalmannschaft the World Cup and a further six (Yıldıray Baştürk, Frankie Hejduk, Lúcio, Diego Placente, Jurica Vranješ and Boris Živković) also involved in Japan and South Korea over the summer. Atlético are likely to have just one fewer going to Brazil this year, if you include on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

 

With four games remaining the title looked sewn up – a penalty from goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt set up a 2-0 win over local rivals 1. FC Köln, leaving them four points clear of second-placed Dortmund, and the following week the gap would extend to five. Two years prior an own goal from midfielder Michael Ballack in the final game had cost Leverkusen the title, but surely it couldn’t slip again, especially with Bayern out of the picture.

However a dramatic collapse, highlighted by defeats at home to Werder Bremen and away in Nürnberg, meant Dortmund could even afford to lose a game en route to stealing the title from Toppmöller’s men via a nervy final-day win. However all was not lost for the runners-up – they still had finals coming up in the DFB-Pokal and Champions League.

First came the domestic cup and a 4-2 defeat to Schalke, with a first-half goal from young striker Dimitar Berbatov being cancelled out by Jorg Böhme on the stroke of half-time before three second-half strikes ended the contest. However if Leverkusen were partly responsible for their own domestic failings, defeat on the European stage was hardly their fault. A majestic volley from Zinedine Zidane clinched a 2-1 victory for Real, handing the Spanish side their ninth European Cup, and they will continue to chase that elusive Decima this month against Atlético.

 

 

Like Leverkusen in 2002, if Simeone’s side are unable to clinch the title they will only have themselves to blame. They have been top since late March but have recently begun to slip with defeat to Levante and a draw at home to Málaga. A point will be enough to help them stumble over the line, but failure to do so may well impact upon the following weekend’s encounter with Real Madrid in Lisbon.

As with Leverkusen, there is danger of this Atlético side being dismantled after the season ends. They had already lost Falcao last summer but Diego Costa and David Villa have proved more than capable of filling the Colombian’s shoes. Whether they will be able to start again if Costa completes a mooted move to Chelsea this summer is the question on everyone’s lips.

Both Ballack and Zé Roberto moved to Bayern after the 2002 World Cup, while the next couple of years also saw talismanic striker Ulf Kirsten hang up his boots and Lúcio and Živković also depart. Similarly, Atléti may well lose out-of-contract midfielders Diego and Tiago this summer in addition to Costa.

 

While this is unlikely to be the end of the road for the individual members of the squad, 2014 could be Atlético Madrid’s last chance to break up the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have the ability, but can they pull out the performances when it really matters?

 

Betting Instinct tip – Diego Costa to sign off with the first goal in what could be his last La Liga appearance is 5.00 with GR88.com

 

GR88.com will refund selected losing pre-match bets in La Liga if the game in question ends goalless. Full terms and conditions can be found at http://www.gr88.com/promotions.

 

tv TOM VICTOR (editor) is the editor and co-founder of Betting Instinct. He has written for a variety of    sports sites in the past, including JustFootball, Footy Matters and BeNeFoot. You can follow him  on Twitter or Google+.

El Derbi madrileño – They played for both

Raúl joined Real Madrid from their rivals' academy and never looked back

Raúl joined Real Madrid from their rivals’ academy and never looked back

Atlético Madrid take on city rivals Real this weekend in the most significant Madrid derbies in recent years.

Diego Simeone’s Atléti have emerged as shock title contenders this season, starting the campaign with eight wins from eight including a 1-0 victory at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the only time Carlo Ancelotti’s Real have failed to score in the league this campaign.

Helped by the goalscoring form of Diego Costa they moved top with a 4-0 win over Real Sociedad at the start of the month, however defeats to Almería and Osasuna have seen the club lose ground to Real, who moved three points clear at the top last weekend.

While the rivalry between the two Madrid clubs has played second fiddle to Real’s battle for supremacy with Barcelona in recent years, only a handful of players have represented both clubs. However those who have done so include some of the game’s biggest names.

Atlético Madrid v Real Madrid Betting odds

Atlético to win – 3.45

Real to win – 2.04

Draw – 3.20

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

Bernd Schuster

One of the most gifted players of his generation, West Germany international Schuster spent the bulk of his career in La Liga at the competition’s three most successful clubs.

After making more than 200 appearances for Barcelona, the creative midfielder switched to the white of Real in 1988 in one of the most contentious transfers until Luis Figo made the same move more than a decade later. However he was rewarded with back-to-back league titles before moving across the city for a three-year stint with Atléti where he helped the club end a six-year trophy drought under the stewardship of big-spending chairman Jesús Gil.

Schuster’s enigmatic talents on the pitch were reflected in his managerial career, where he won La Liga in his only full season in charge of Real before quitting the following December. He is currently in charge of struggling Málaga.

José Antonio Reyes

Just like Schuster before him, Reyes is a player likely to look back at his career with a nagging feeling that it could have been so much more.

As a teenager he burst onto the scene with Sevilla, earning a club-record move to Arsenal in 2004. However a failure to settle in London saw the winger loaned out to Fabio Capello’s Real Madrid for the 2006-07 season before joining Atlético the following summer in a permanent deal, ironically after Capello was replaced at the Bernabéu by Schuster.

Reyes’ four seasons at the Estadio Vicente Calderón came either side of a loan spell at Benfica and brought two Europa League winner’s medals. Now 30 years of age, he finds himself back at Sevilla, chasing European qualification while his former team-mates battle it out for the league title. Even more spookily, his international record of 21 appearances and four goals is identical to that of Schuster.

 

Raúl

For half of the Spanish capital, Raúl González Blanco is a hero. For the other half he’s the one who got away.

When Jesús Gil closed down the Atléti youth academy in 1992 it acted as an open invitation for Real to pick up the Rojiblancos’ most prized talents, and that number included a 15-year-old Raúl. It is not quite on the scale of Leeds United’s sale of Eric Cantona to Manchester United that same year – Gil could not have known what Raúl would go on to achieve – but it comes close.

In more than a decade and a half with Los Merengues the Madrid-born player clocked up north of 500 league appearances, breaking club records for overall appearances (741) and goals (323). Spells in Germany and Qatar followed an emotional departure from Real, and he is still going strong with Al Sadd at the age of 36.

Betting Instinct Tip – Real Madrid to win and both teams to score is 3.41 with GR88.com

tvTOM VICTOR (editor)  is the editor and co-founder of Betting Instinct. He has written for a variety of sports sites in the past, including JustFootball, Footy Matters and BeNeFoot.