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.

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Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – April

 

April is a glorious month, the days get warmer and longer, outside boozing become socially acceptable and I can start my now annual crusade to be allowed to wear shorts to work. The football season also approaches what that Football Cliches bloke on Twitter would call the ‘business end’ (or are we there already? – ed.).

 

March finishes with the bleak nothingness of an international fortnight so thank the Lord above that April has an absolute cracker of a game to get us started. Brendan Rodgers and his band of merry men travel to face Arsenal, where they really have to win to keep their top 4 hopes alive. They do of course make this trip minus their captain, which in most cases would be a disadvantage but in all honesty when your central midfielder is so busy raging against the dying of the light that the physical act of football becomes an irrelevance in his tortured mind then maybe it’s for the best if he takes his place in the stand. Arsenal are in form and at the stage of the season where they traditionally win games so are heavy favourites. Their form is such that there has even been talk of a title challenge, that obviously won’t happen but they could conceivably finish in the top two, which would represent progress of a sort and save any awkward early season ventures to deepest darkest Europe in the name of Champions League qualification.

 

Arsenal v Liverpool Betting Odds: 

Arsenal win  4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 53/20

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

 

The other stand out game that first weekend is the Tyne Wear derby, Sunderland (29/20 with Intertops.eu) have terrible players and are terrible so they will lose, but then again Newcastle (19/10) gave up on their season a couple of months ago and have a terrible manager so they’ll probably lose as well. Sunderland have a new manager who is in theory less terrible than the last one so that might help. Honestly unless you support either of the sides you’re only watching this one for the inevitable comedy violence.

 

The following weekend we get to witness the sight of Tottenham’s greatest ever manager returning to the scene of both his glorious triumph and the scandalous betrayal that ended his White Hart Lane reign. It is never wise to speculate on how history will remember a man and his deeds but in the case of Tim Sherwood we can rest assured that future generations will speak of him with the reverence reserved for only the truly great. He does have to be a bit careful that for all his undeniable majesty and grace he doesn’t end up forgetting to stop Villa getting relegated. A win at Spurs would be handy.

 

On Sunday we have the Manchester Derby and although United have spent the majority of the season grinding out results whilst playing suspiciously Moyesish football their recent upturn coupled with City’s recent malaise probably makes them favourites. United might have Van Persie back but he probably won’t get in the side ahead of Marouane Fellaini. Which when you think about it is a bit odd.

 

The season is actually in real danger of petering out, the top 4 looks familiar and unlikely to change save for a bit of jostling. The teams occupying the relegation zone all have a very Championshipy look about them, Burnley might just drag themselves out and haul someone back in, with Sunderland looking most likely. Leicester have played quite well at points this season without ever looking like they might still be here come next August and QPR are a shambles both on and off the pitch. I’m not saying I’m struggling to find things to write about as we approach the conclusion of another campaign but we could really do with a good handshake/non-handshake scandal to keep things interesting over the next few weeks.

 

The only saving grace may come in the remaining cup competitions where the Champions League despite/because of (delete as appropriate) its lack of English participants looks particularly well poised for a brilliant last few rounds. We get repeat of last years final where Atletico (8/5 to qualify with AllYouBet.ag)will be looking for revenge against their city neighbours (11/25) and if there’s one man on this planet you’d bet on to exact his revenge it would be Diego Simeone. His rebuilding of the second Madrid club is one of the great stories of modern football and rarely can one team have been created to resemble so closely the mould of its master. That’s probably the pick of the ties but Zlatan visiting any club he feels he has been wronged by is always entertaining, so Barcelona vs PSG should be fun.

 

There’s also the FA Cup where we’d all like to see Steven Gerrard sign off as a champion/fall over and gift the opposition a goal in the last minute (delete as appropriate). Arsenal will probably win the thing for the second year running but it’s been a while since they spectacularly imploded against lower league opposition so maybe they have one of those in store for us.

 

Betting Instinct tip Liverpool to beat Blackburn in their FA Cup replay and move closer to that dream final is 3/5 with Intertops.eu

 

 

Anyway that’s enough filling, see you next month. Or maybe I’ll see you over on Twitter where I recently got 250+ RTs on a tweet with a typo which I thought was the type of thing that only happened in horror stories designed to frighten grammatically substandard children https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

 

West Ham want to win the FA Cup; does anyone else?

The fifth round of the FA Cup is just about the time of the competition when neutrals begin to hope that the plucky underdogs are all sent packing. With the semi-finals and final a mere 180 minutes away for some teams, the prospect of a third tier side rolling into Wembley with the intent of killing a game so they can snatch a 1-0 win leaves few salivating at the prospect. Instead the desire is for teams that genuinely want to win a trophy finding a way into the hat for the last eight of the world’s oldest cup competition.

 

FA Cup Outright Betting Odds:

Arsenal 5/2

Manchester United 13/5

Liverpool 19/4

West Ham United 10/1

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

 

Hull and Wigan have shown in recent seasons that second-string teams can make it all the way to Wembley, even when their managers show absolutely no desire to mastermind a cup run. And it’s for that very reason that West Ham United have to beat West Bromwich Albion in Saturday’s early kick-off.

Sam Allardyce’s side were in fourth position in the Barclays Premier League on Christmas Day and some fans were allowing themselves to think of the Champions League as an actual possibility. Seven points from eight league games since December 25th have killed those hopes dead; but replaced them with dreams of a trip all the way to Wembley.

 

The Hammers have got 38 points to their name. They aren’t going down. And though Allardyce isn’t going to let his side slack off – Big Sam is well aware of the difference in prize money (both actual tournament winnings and television revenue) that comes from finishing just one place higher – he has made it clear that he fancies a go at winning some silverware; especially without the baggage of having Andy Carroll in his side.

Allardyce can instead focus his side on playing the vibrant, attacking brand of football that delighted so many of us in the opening weeks of the season; rather than relying on finding the target man with long balls. Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia have been two excellent signings and without Carroll inclusion forcing them to play wider than they would like, both should be able to take on the mantle as West Ham’s main attacking options for the rest of the season.

In their way stand a West Brom side just four points clear of safety. Regardless of how switched on they will pretend to be when Tony Pulis sends them onto the pitch, the whole group have their minds on the trip to fellow strugglers Sunderland in the Premier League next week.

 

Sadly, there isn’t such a simple case to be made in the instance of Arsenal taking on Middlesbrough on Sunday. Neither side would have too many complaints if they ended up going out of the competition this weekend.

With the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League against Monaco looming and Southampton refusing to budge from the top four of the Premier League, Arsenal really don’t need a cup run. Arsene Wenger won a trophy last season so he’s got another five or six years before he really has to win another and his focus will wander elsewhere. He’ll still be able to pick a strong squad but don’t expect to see Ozil, Cazorla and Sanchez all starting together.

The Frenchman will, one would expect, prioritise European qualification for next season and the chance of European glory over the FA Cup. Unfortunately the competition will also fall down the pecking order for the visitors.

 

Middlesbrough are top of the Football League Championship. That’s normally enough to suggest a side as capable of taking a Premier League scalp in the fifth round. However Boro are set to play three league matches in the 10 days after Sunday’s match and with the promised land of the Premier League moving onto the horizon, Aitor Karanka may want to re-evaluate his hopes for the season.

Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Blackpool did see the Spaniard shuffle his pack a little and give a few of his important players a rest, so he may be planning to have a go at Arsenal. But if his side find themselves 1-2 behind with six minutes to go; a late goal to take things back to the Riverside Stadium for a replay won’t be chased as passionately as it could be.

It won’t finish in a draw; that’s the only thing both managers will be keen for. Neither team needs another fixture added to their schedule.

Betting Instinct tip Draw at half-time/Arsenal at full-time is 11/4 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) 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. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Things We’ll Learn in Football This Month – February

So the month many of us thought would never end has done what we least expected and ended, how cunning of it. January with its abandoned diets and stretched paychecks is no more and February is upon us. Apart from the exquisite agony of exchanging Valentines gifts with someone you stopped loving years ago, February is shaping up to be a pretty good month. By that I of course mean there are some decent games on – you’re not going to finally rekindle your failing romance or anything like that. To be honest most of you reading this will probably die alone or at best end up trapped in a loveless sexless hell. It’s not all bad though because the first weekend in February serves up not one but two derbies to distract you from the loneliness.

 

First up it’s the North London derby which is a frequent source of goals, glory and comedy. Basically all you want from a football match. Both sides are in good nick coming into this one, Mauricio Pochettino seems to have finally got his Spurs side playing the way he wants and in Christian Eriksen they have one of the leagues form players, plus with Harry Kane defying all logic and actually turning into an incredibly effective attacker they’ll fancy their chances. Arsenal, however, will be equally confident as all of a sudden the injuries have cleared up and they have an attack that is packed with craft and speed. Plus they’ve got Alexis Sanchez and well, he’s just great at football. If we’re lucky it’ll be a high scoring draw, 16 all or something like that.

Betting Instinct tip A score draw of 2-2 or higher is 9.35 with Intertops.eu

 

Later that day it’s the turn of the Merseyside clubs, now whilst there is a school of thought that says any derby calling itself ‘the friendly derby’ should be outlawed swiftly and all records of it stricken from the history books there is enough at stake for both clubs that we might just get a decent game. Liverpool’s title charge of last year, like Everton’s run at the top four, seems a distant memory, but due to the crapness (not sure that’s a word – ed.) of everyone else it’s not impossible that Liverpool could salvage a Champions League spot from what threatened to be a disastrous season, whereas Everton seem to have contrived to end up in some sort of relegation scrap. I mean they obviously won’t go down (have you seen some of the teams in this league?) but they could do with picking up a few points. Also it will almost certainly be Stevie G’s last derby before he moves to Los Angeles.

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool to keep their top four hopes alive with a win at Goodison Park is 5/4 with AllYouBet.ag

 

There’s some midweek action as well but the only game that looks mildly interesting is Liverpool vs Spurs, unfortunately I’ve just written about both of them and I’d only be repeating myself, go back and read the previous paragraphs if you really want. That said, nothing breaks up the drudgery of the working week like midweek league football, so in this context we should celebrate Hull vs Villa like its the World Cup final.

 

The following weekend it’s not only Valentines day but also the FA Cup 5th round, my goodness this might just be the most romantically charged weekend in the history of the world. Ah I can feel the magic in the air already it’s going to be………… *checks fixtures* *files lawsuit against whoever decided to televise West Brom vs West Ham and Villa vs Leicester*.

 

Assuming you manage to avoid slipping into an Aston Villa-related coma then you’ll be able to watch the resumption of European competition after its extended break. If Arsenal can recover from the shock of not drawing Bayern Munich or Barcelona then they should cruise past a Monaco side whose uber rich benefactor appears to have got bored and given up. Oh well at least the Monaco fans (all 14 of them) get to enjoy the nonchalant brilliance of Dimitar Berbatov on a weekly basis. Man City and Chelsea have much tougher tasks and even though neither Barcelona or PSG are at the level they were a few years ago England’s top two will need to be at the top of their game to progress. Man City probably won’t.

Betting Instinct tip – Arsenal to win with less than 2.5 goals in the game is 2.7 with Intertops.eu

 

None of you care about the Europa League and that’s fair enough but as a Celtic fan (9/5 with AllYouBet.ag) the draw against Internazionale (29/20) is an absolute peach. Both sides are shadows of their former selves, in fact both sides are a bit crap but it’s a glamour tie nonetheless, it’s steeped in history and glory and Celtic Park will for the first time this season feel like its old self again.

 

February finishes with me on a train heading down to London, maybe I’ll see some of you in the pub (not you), I’ll be the drunk Scottish guy complaining about the price of a pint.

Before I go, you should follow me on Twitter, or at least send me recommendations for good Malaysian restaurants in North London.

 

Ally avatarALLY 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.