Lionel Messi set to pose Max Allegri an unsolvable problem

lionel-messi-01It was just last summer that Luis Enrique and Max Allegri came to be. A couple of months separated their arrivals at Barcelona and Juventus, but they drew familiarity in the immediate questions surrounding their promotions. While the Asturian was scrutinised in his ability to manage a top European club, Allegri was deemed a step down from the departing Antonio Conte; even ridiculed at times. And yet one year on, both men stand on the precipice of an historic treble.

Time has healed the apprehension surrounding the pair, while a triumph for either on Saturday night would take them to once unimaginable heights. Even the most diehard of detractors would have a job on then, though the fashion in which the game is won and lost will perhaps leave the biggest imprint.

With Barcelona heading into the contest as favourites, a dispatch of Juve akin to that of the Bayern and Paris St-Germain games would see the Catalans archived as another of Europe’s greatest ever teams, while Luis Enrique would converge the path of Pep Guardiola’s historic reign some years before. Though the front three of Messi, Neymar and Suárez will hog the billboards for as long as they are together, their coach and his associates are special talents too (as much as it continually appears taboo to say).

The sheer fitness, intensity and hunger displayed by Barcelona this year puts pay to the feelings that the coach doesn’t have a grip on his team. More than that, they are a renewed beast; boasting more tools than possibly ever before. Their transformation in terms of set pieces at the hands of Juan Carlos Unzué, perhaps a leading example of that.

The task for Max Allegri on Saturday night is a different one entirely though. For the Italian, preparing the most meticulous, ingenious game plan ever seen in a European final, could still see his team leave empty handed at this rate. For unlike his opposite number, Allegri can only hope that his team are spared in the German capital. “It’s practically impossible,” the Juventus manager said on Monday.

He was referring to the potential man-marking of Lionel Messi; a decision which he will have soon retracted had he been thinking of it before last weekend’s Copa del Rey final when the Argentine obliterated his Basque opposition. It’s not that Juventus don’t have potential match winners too, it’s just that they’re not Messi.

Juventus stalwart Gianluigi Buffon has since echoed Allegri’s sentiments too. “Messi is an alien that dedicates himself to playing with humans,” the captain said on Tuesday. “The only hope is that this Saturday he will be from earth, like the rest of us.”

It’s pertinent that Juventus’ inspiration, as well as the man who will be his team’s last port of call for stopping the little man, feels that way. But it only serves to reinforce the cyclone that the ‘Old Lady’ could be preparing to enter at 7.45 on Saturday night.

2015 has simply produced a monster in Messi; thanks to a changing of diet, a tinkering in his role, and a new-found measure in his work. He is far removed from the long-haired wild man who came to prominence almost a decade ago. Nowadays, he plays with the aura of realised genius and can kill you from anywhere, seemingly whenever he chooses at the moment.

Last weekend at the Camp Nou, he chose slaloming past four Athletic Bilbao defenders and hammering past Iago Herrerín with a run that began from a static position on the halfway line. Until then, Ernesto Valverde’s team were coping perfectly. After Messi had done, they were never the same.

For the weeks of preparation that both managers and teams will have undergone by the time the ball rolls in Berlin, the end result can be shaped by one man alone. And therein lies the difference for Luis Enrique and Max Allegri.

While both have proved themselves to be excellent organisers and tactically astute operators throughout the tournament, the Catalans hold the pawn. Allegri is capable of matching Luis Enrique stride-for-stride, except the one area; the one where Messi goes.

Television graphics tell you that’s on the right wing, but it’s not. There is no tracking his trail. It spreads like a raging wildfire, before there becomes too many flames to extinguish. If it’s not the man himself putting the ball away, he will supplement the equally insatiable appetite of those around him.

Of course, Messi is not solely responsible for Barcelona standing ninety minutes away from a treble. Nor are his partners in crime, Neymar and Suárez. The longevity and consistency of the team’s success could only have been born of an outstanding collective effort; one that has emanated from Luis Enrique and his associates, and gradually immersed within their ultra-talented squad. But when it comes down to ninety minutes, these are the ones who make the difference. Messi has done so in every Champions League final he’s been fortunate enough to feature.

In the German capital, Juventus will present themselves as the underdogs, though they would be unwise to think heart and desire will bridge the discrepancy in quality. Gifted beyond measure Luis Enrique’s team may be; uncompetitive they are not. Barcelona will not wilt, whatever the Italians throw at them. And that is an asset that can be directly credited to the young manager’s regime.

They will need to call on those qualities one more time this season, where the prize is bigger than ever. If Barcelona get their approach as accurate as they have done for pretty much the entirety of 2015, it is their game to lose. The work has been done, the criticism has evaporated, and the Catalans could not be in a better place on the eve of the final.

One more effort is required from Luis Enrique and his team, and there’s little evidence to suggest it won’t be forthcoming. If it’s business as usual for the Blaugrana in a collective sense, Juventus have problems. If it’s business as usual for Messi too, they have an unsolvable problem.

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 JAMIE KEMPjamie k avatar is a freelance football writer focusing on the Spanish game in particular. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

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Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich to see Guardiola turn pragmatist

Pep Guardiola returns to the Camp Nou. There’s little else to be said that will inflate the sense of event. Four ultra-successful years he spent managing his boyhood club, and now he’s back. Back in attempt to silence the Colosseum that he had always dreamed of igniting.

 

He still loves Catalunya and misses it from his Munich base, but his intended legacy requires that Bayern approach this tie with no sentiment whatsoever. With stars in the form of Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Franck Ribery all missing for tomorrow night’s game, a positive result will irrevocably take pride over place. Though he may be renowned as a serial perfectionist, he is a serial winner who will do whatever it takes to progress at this point.

The 44-year-old failed by his own admittance last year. Real Madrid blitzed Bayern in the semi-final, in a game he later describe as the ‘biggest mistake’ of his career. For his German escapade to have been worthwhile to this date, he can’t afford to not leave his mark on the Champions League for a successive season. It’s an almost incomprehensible reality for him. Barcelona must be stopped.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Barcelona 7/4

Real Madrid 2/1

Bayern Munich 5/2

Juventus 15/2

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

 

On Monday, Sport newspaper headlined ‘Obsesionado con Messi’. It was in reference to Guardiola’s on-going plans to stop the Argentine, which have no doubt occupied his mind ever since Bayern’s ball was pulled out of the hat in Nyon. He has seen Messi trample on teams at this stage of the tournament before, more often than not from the Camp Nou touchline. Guardiola stood slack-jawed like the rest of us when Messi demolished Bayern back in 2009.

Reports from the city suggest that his initial plan to combat him would have been a man-marking job done by David Alaba; a player he considers athletic and intelligent enough to have put the brakes on Messi. With the Austrian unavailable for selection through injury, however, it’s now anyone’s guess as to how they will go about it.

And as much as he knows the damage Messi can cause, he will also know that Barcelona still have the ability to serve him up a taste of his own medicine. Despite the front three of Neymar, Suárez and Messi taking the plaudits in 2015, Luis Enrique’s midfield area in particular have demonstrated a renewed ability to control and alter the tempo of games in their favour. In fact, many have said the current team is the closest model to Guardiola’s that we’ve seen since he left in 2012. “This Barça presses more, defends better and now they have Suárez too,” Javi Martínez said earlier in the week.

 

The Catalans have been in superb form over the past few months. Their preparation could hardly have gone better. They remain in the ascendency in La Liga, their strike trio are undoubtedly the finest in Europe at present, and unlike their rivals, their team doctor might have one of the easiest jobs in the city.

Elsewhere, Bayern may have already wrapped up the Bundesliga title, but they come into the game on the back of two consecutive losses. A defeat in the German Cup semi-final against Borussia Dortmund has been followed by a 2-0 slip against Bayer Leverkusen; a game which ex-midfielder Owen Hargreaves described as ‘the worst you will see [Bayern] play’. It may only be two games, but momentum shouldn’t be taken for granted when the stakes are so high.

 

With the Germans’ injury record, it appears to be advantage Barcelona ahead of tomorrow night. The timing of the meeting is undoubtedly favouring the first leg hosts but they should be wary. Guardiola failed last year and is back again – sharper, hungrier and desperate to right his wrongs. His affinity for Barcelona will not stand in his way of stepping on them. And regardless of that, his legacy demands that he does. But be sure in the fact that Luis Enrique is equally hungry to chop down his friend in the name of building his own.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Barcelona to win the first leg with both teams to score is 2.89 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Real Madrid and Barcelona see form fluctuate ahead of El Clasico

 

Lionel Messi was finished. Barcelona were in crisis. Luis Enrique in trouble. Now, they’re not. Barcelona are the league leaders, they’ve advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Enrique has figured out his best team. So of course, it’s Real Madrid’s turn.

Cristiano Ronaldo is done. Gareth Bale can’t score. Carlo Ancelotti is clueless. Real Madrid are firmly in what constitutes as a crisis these days. Which means that they are second in the league and have also advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. But there is some fire where the smoke is.

 

Barcelona v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Barcelona win 67/100

Real Madrid win 31/10

Draw 16/5

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

 

Real Madrid are struggling where Barcelona are rising. While Barca were rampant in their destruction of Manchester City, Real came deathly close to being knocked out by a fervent Schalke squad. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Leroy Sané especially tried to squeeze the life out of Los Merengues. This after Real lost 1-0 to a suffocating Athletic Bilbao side. The sky was falling.

Then they beat Levante 2-0 to get back on track, and Gareth Bale, maligned throughout the season, scored a brace. Luka Modric, who the team sorely missed, and whose absence create an imbalance in midfield, returned. Even if Sané broke him down during the Champions League game. Ronaldo may be spending most of his time throwing temper tantrums, but he’s still as dangerous as ever. Form is hardly ever an indication in this game.

 

So that brings us to the present. All signs point to a Barcelona win, even if Real is resurgent. Barcelona have seemingly fixed the issues that had them written off mere months ago. The Neymar-Luis Suarez-Lionel Messi trio are playing breathtaking football. While the former BBC of their rivals are finding goals harder to come by. Mixed in with the rumors that there is discord within their ranks and it’s a sure recipe for disaster.

The job on Ancelotti’s hands then is to get his troops on the same page as quickly as possible. This is still the same team that won La Decima a season ago. It’s still the same cast of men who ran out 3-1 winners against Barcelona earlier this season. Even if some of the players have fallen victim to the injury gods, the quality of the group is no less.

 

Barcelona are still fragile in defense and they are still beatable. Even in the game against Manchester City, the English had many chances to claw back into the tie. Chances that you would expect a squad of Real’s calibre to finish. Hope is abundant still. If not for any other reason than for the fact that Los Blancos are immensely talented.

From Barcelona’s point of view, all that needs to be done is to continue down the same path. Messi is in irrepressible form. Unplayable and creative. He’s in the same type of beast-mode that earned him 89 goals in 2012, except now he has more weapons. Not only his improved passing but his cast.

 

Neymar spends as much time scoring as he does embarrassing defenders. Luis Suarez has found his place within the team. Ivan Rakitic is much more suited to Barcelona’s current style than Cesc Fabregas, and he’s much more physical as well. Javier Mascherano is a steel curtain of a man and Gerard Pique has found his brain again.

If they play as they’ve been playing the latter part of the season, things look bright. But if Barcelona take their opponents for granted; if they miss the same chances presented to them against City, Real will punish them. El Clasico is an entity in itself and any mistake or hesitation can easily cost either team.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Barcelona to win and both teams to score is 2.34 with Intertops.eu

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter.

Messi and Suárez face tough trip to Mestalla to take on Valencia

Luis Suárez will look to push on after opening his account for Barcelona in Cyprus

Luis Suárez will look to push on after opening his account for Barcelona in Cyprus

It was a case of opposing fortunes for two of La Liga’s finest in Jornada 12. After watching Luis Enrique’s Barcelona steamroll Sevilla by five goals to one on Saturday night, in what was arguably their most convincing performance of the season to date, Nuno Espírito Santo’s Valencia succumbed to a stinging 2-1 derby defeat at Levante.

Valencia v Barcelona Betting Odds:

Valencia win 17/4

Barcelona win 57/100

Draw 3/1

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

Valencia’s red hot start to the season has suffered a few hiccups in recent weeks, which surely won’t be remedied too much by the arrival of Barcelona. Losses to La Liga strugglers Deportivo (a) and Levante (a) over the last month have raised questions about their prowess for a fourth place finish, after many were already pencilling them in for it at the start of October.

But despite that, while they returned to training after the weekend round of games, buoyed by the return of Paco Alcácer and an injury-free squad (at last), playing head tennis in their shorts under the still-relatively-warm East Coast sunshine, Barcelona were busy with European responsibilities out in Nicosia. First strike to Valencia then, eh?

Not quite so fast.

For this Barcelona team has recovered a lot of ground in a short space of time, following Luis Enrique’s first ‘mini crisis’ in the Barcelona dugout. To quickly recap — a convincing loss in October’s Clásico was quickly followed by a home loss at the hands of Celta Vigo (the first since Camp Nou was built). The dogged 2-1 win at Almería after that was hardly ‘champion material’ either (to put it kindly).

But two wins in two games since escaping their ‘rut’ is not as routine as it sounds. When Gianluca Rocchi blew his whistle for the last time in Nicosia on Tuesday night, it marked the end of what has been an extraordinary few days in the life of Lionel Messi (even by his reality-defying standards). Two matches, six goals, two long-standing records met. Sorry, obliterated.

In a week where the topic of commitment to his future at Barcelona resurfaced again, Messi put forward a resounding response in the only way he knows. Against Sevilla, one goal was needed to match Telmo Zarra’s 59-year-old La Liga record of 259 goals. Messi took three for his troubles. A couple of days later in Nicosia, again, one goal was needed to match Raúl González’s Champions League record of 71 goals. He snatched another three. Club Captain Xavi Hernández spoke with simple, yet precise conviction, when he recapped it by declaring: “If Leo is happy, then Barcelona is happy.” And that he certainly is.

As well as putting the icing on Messi’s cake of football domination in Cyprus, there were plenty of other positives to take from the game for Luis Enrique and his staff. Another four goals were added to the five notched at the expense of Sevilla, Luis Suárez got off the mark for the club, Jeremy Mathieu and Neymar were completely rested, and the tempo of the game was about as favourable as Barcelona could have wished for, despite Enrique pulling out Alba, Rakitić and Suárez in the second half, just to be safe. So, stroll in the Mestalla park then?

Hold.

A ‘stroll in the Mestalla park’ doesn’t exist. Valencia might have floundered a couple of times away from home, but that doesn’t apply in more familiar surroundings. Through 6 league games at home; they have won 5, drawn 1, scored 15 goals and conceded 3. Even the champions Atlético Madrid have been rolled over by Nuno Espírito Santo’s team, and you can count on one hand how many times that’s happened to Diego Simeone’s army in recent times.

Despite finding an alluring rhythm to their play at home so far, things have changed from last season off the field too. An 8th place finish last season was their worst since the 2007/08 campaign, as they missed out on qualifying for Europe for the first time in a good while. It was one to forget for the club; losing more games than they won, and conceding more goals than they scored.

But the summer brought renewed optimism on the East Coast of Spain. With Singapore billionaire Peter Lim now in the door, the cobwebs of Mestalla have been blasted off to devastating effect thus far. Attendances are back up, the songs are more frequent, louder. Fans now wait outside the ground in their thousands to welcome the team coach, as if every game is a cup final. Flares, songs, drums, raw passion. Good news for everyone but the opposition. To put it simply  — facing Valencia on their own turf is an entirely different proposal to welcoming them to your place.

In regards to team news ahead of Barcelona’s arrival, Valencia will be absolutely delighted to see their captain Dani Parejo back up to speed. The 25-year-old has been the heartbeat of the team so far, while his absence over the last few weeks has had a noticeable effect. Especially in the 2-1 defeat at Levante, where his team found themselves struggling 1-0 down after 70 minutes, only for Parejo to come on and immediately strike his team back into the game. As well as the skipper, joint top scorer Paco Alcácer also resumed training this week after a hamstring injury – another man who has been so influential to Valencia’s fortunes so far, especially at home.

Barcelona may have found their most satisfying patch of form in recent weeks, as well as being the proprietors of a red hot, record-breaking maniac — but make no mistake — they are coming into the Lion’s Den on Sunday night. Lion’s that are hungry from a painful derby defeat, in a Den where even the spirit of Atlético Madrid was pulverised.

Betting Instinct tip – Valencia to win or draw is 2.27 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Spanish/European Football Writer for Inside La Liga, uMAXITFootball and a host of others. He  is  also an FA Licensed Football Coach with a passion for youth development. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Can Athletic Bilbao Cast A Shadow On Barcelona’s New Dawn?

Spanish international Iker Muniain could cause real problems for a new-look Barcelona

Spanish international Iker Muniain could cause real problems for a new-look Barcelona

Anyone who has seen Spike Lee’s film 25th Hour will see parallels between Ed Norton’s last day before incarceration and Barcelona’s summer activity.

As of now the Catalan giants are essentially in transfer prison, unable to make any deals until 2016 due to breaches of FIFA regulations, and so has ended a frantic few months of getting all their affairs in order. Their first call of business was finding temporary homes for their fringe players, similar to Norton seeking shelter for his beloved pet pooch.

“Porto, can you take care of Tello for us? He’s well trained but look out for him weeing on the carpet”

Then came the headline-makers.

 

A raft of big-name departures and arrivals have given Barcelona an unfamiliar feeling of flux following a philosophy that was famously founded on a slow, stable build to invincibility and this upheaval is extended beyond the pitch with a change of president and a new coach in the form of club legend Luis Enrique.

Puyol, their lion, has retired from the pride and the selling of Fabregas and Sanchez surprised but their replacements have been astute and ruthlessly attained in Vermaelen, Rakitic, and the man employed to add some fight and bite to the tiki-taka, Suarez. Rampaging full-back Douglas, the experienced Mathieu, and two new keepers competing for the number one jersey completes an expensive hoard to see them through their transfer purgatory and it’s reasonable to assume it will be some time before we witness the same settled side appearing each week.

 

Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao Betting Odds:

Barcelona win 3/10

Athletic win 7/1

Draw 9/2

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

 

Enrique hasn’t been assisted in this regard by injuries, individual bans, and stars still shaking off the World Cup and the opening weeks have seen some La Masia schooled wonderkids breaking through and announcing their potential. One such teenage talent Sandro Ramirez crucially broke the deadlock at Villarreal to make it consecutive opening wins in their 2014/15 campaign and these kids are going to be invaluable to light up the Camp Nou until some sense of order is restored.

And what order is could ultimately be when Neymar fully recovers from his broken vertebra and Suarez sucks up his bite punishment to complete an attacking trio akin to a ten year olds on Football Manager. The third in that otherworldly triumvirate is of course Lionel Messi and the multiple Ballon D’Or winning genius wasted no time in ripping apart Elche on day one to banish any doubts of a Brazil hangover.

These have been turbulent, extraordinary times even by Barca standards and so it is vital they amass as many points as possible amidst the chaos. Once the dust settles you feel they will be unstoppable.

 

So it probably doesn’t help that week three sees them host an Athletic Bilbao side still buzzing from their Champions League qualification after an impressive play-off mauling of Napoli. Los Leones will be relishing their first group stage fixture for sixteen years when they face Shakhtar Donetsk three days hence – in their stunning new stadium to boot – but it is inconceivable they will weaken their admittedly slim chances of success here by ‘resting’ Iker Muniain and co. Quite the opposite: Ernesto Valverde’s men will be confident of taking advantage of any glitches in the new Barcelona matrix and in Aritz Aduriz they have a striker in the form of his life who will lead the line superbly and intelligently use any scraps of possession that comes his way. Though now 33, Aduriz has just this week been offered a contract extension and is enjoying nationwide calls to add to his single international cap.

Another key figure who makes an impossible result at least imaginable is Beñat Etxebarria whose combination of craft and graft in the middle is so indispensable for Bilbao. A fine season from the schemer and the sale of Herrera this summer becomes a distant memory for the Basque public. Blessed with guile and the ability to pick out a catalogue of passes it is Beñat’s willingness to run himself into the ground for the cause that makes him so priceless in a daunting fixture such as this.

 

Granted the visitors haven’t won in Catalonia since November 2001 but let’s not forget it was Athletic who derailed Barca’s express train last year with a 1-0 victory at the San Mames to end a fourteen game unbeaten run. They will be prepared for the possession stats to be heavily against them. They will be ready for Messi to mesmerise. But they will be undoubtedly up for the upset.

Should that occur then the optimism of Barcelona’s new dawn will see its first shadow cast.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Athletic to avoid defeat at Camp Nou is 3.26 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Germany vs Argentina: the final that nobody wanted

After struggling through the knockout stages, will this be one game too far for Argentina?

After struggling through the knockout stages, will this be one game too far for Argentina?

Why do we love football? There’s the superficial answer, of course: that perfectly-timed slide tackle from Javier Mascherano, that sublime finish on the bounce from Andre Schurrle, and, yes, that entire German humiliation of Brazil, one not characterised by mere ‘efficiency’, as BBC commentators and pundits erroneously argued in the clichéd and mildly xenophobic tones to which we are accustomed, but by an intoxicating mix of the aesthetic and the ruthless.

Sometimes, that’s good enough. Sometimes, players’ individual brilliance shines through, and that’s sufficient to placate us, the demanding fans. Sometimes, teams simply put on that kind of show, or, in the case of the hosts, collapse entirely, in which case we’re drawn to the spectacle like so many passers-by to a motorway pile-up. In other cases, it isn’t. The second semi-final was a case in point: a dreadful match in which two of the best players in the world, Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben, were for the most part anonymous; an abject 0-0 after an abject 120 minutes. Football can delight like no other sport yet invented, but—let’s face it—sometimes, just sometimes, it can be crap.

 

When that happens, we need something else to sustain our interest. In fact, we need that most annoying of think-piece buzzwords: we need #NARRATIVE. Kevin Keegan wrongly (but wonderfully) framed things geographically when he said that Newcastle fans go to St James’ Park ‘like the people down South go to a theatre.’ His sentiment, however, was sound. It isn’t that ‘goals are overrated’: not since 1974 has a World Cup third-place playoff (a #NARRATIVE-less match if ever there was one) finished with less than three goals, which alone justifies its presence in the tournament. Goals are great. But when there aren’t any goals—what then?

 

Germany v Argentina Betting Odds:

Germany to win the World Cup – 1.65

Argentina to win the World Cup – 2.20

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

 

Nobody wanted this final. Spain aside, perhaps, Germany and Argentina are the strongest two teams in the world, and still nobody wanted this final. Argentina haven’t scored more than once since the group stages, relying on extra time and penalties to sneak through to their fifth World Cup Final. And Germany knocked out Rais M’Bolhi’s Algeria, which is reason enough to will for their demise. With Germany’s demolition of Brazil fresh in the memory, Argentina might well channel the playing style of their neighbours, who resorted to kicking and spoiling in their quarter-final with Colombia. There’s also the small matter of this being the single most important match in every one of these players’ careers, a scenario that inevitably leads to caution.

This would be fine if there were only a #NARRATIVE to cushion the blow, but there isn’t. The best we can come up with is a Battle of the Living Popes, which sounds more like a Syfy B-movie than it does a football match. Continuing the religious theme, there’s the fact that this is the first World Cup held during Ramadan since 1986, when Argentina and Germany also contested the final. And there’s the moral dilemma that the match will throw up for reactionary English football fans, the two countries involved being historical enemies of our Green and Pleasant Land. As one fan so stirringly tweeted (since deleted, strangely): ‘Any British person supporting Argentina should be dragged to the Cenotaph and made to read the names of those who died in the Falklands.’ Right.

 

It didn’t have to be this way. It could’ve been perfect, in fact, the semis giving life to a glorious set of possibilities for the next and final phase, the draw’s branches so nearly extending to two of the biggest rivalries in international football. Oh, for Brazil vs Argentina, at the Maracana, in a World Cup Final: a match in which the brilliant and/or bizarre is almost guaranteed, a rerun of the Italia ’90 knockout game in which the Brazilian Branco claimed to have been given water spiked with tranquilisers by the Argentinian coaching staff. Or for a Germany vs Netherlands, a wartime rivalry that continues to linger: think Gerd Muller putting the kibosh on Total Football in 1974; think Frank Rijkaard’s phlegm; think Ronald Koeman pretending to wipe his backside with the shirt of Olaf Thon, smiling as he goes.

Football wouldn’t be football without such moments, illogical and indefensible as they are. Football isn’t all slide tackles, or goals, or complete performances. Football is #NARRATIVE, whether we like it or not: it’s cheating, it’s fighting, it’s spitting in another man’s hair—twice. Only one avenue remains open to us, then, if we are to spare ourselves Sunday’s coming boredom: we milk the Battle of the Living Popes, and we milk it for all it’s worth.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Germany to win with less than 2.5 goals in the game is 3.37 with Intertops.eu.

Unsure about how decimal odds work? Let our free odds calculation guide do the work for you.

Kieran avatar KIERAN DODDS (kierandodds) is a history 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 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.

Knack of the Bet: Cristiano Ronaldo going for gold in Brazil

Can Lionel Messi transfer his club form to the World Cup stage?

Can Lionel Messi transfer his club form to the World Cup stage?

In a new satirical section, Back of the Net’s John Foster takes a sideways look at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. While the odds are very real, he may have taken some artistic licence elsewhere.

With the 2014 World Cup just days away, it’s time to take a close look at the candidates to be the tournament’s top scorer. In just over a month, a new hero will be leaving Brazil with the coveted Golden Boot, assuming 2010 winner Thomas Müller remembers to bring it with him.

 

Lionel Messi (8.00 with Intertops.eu to end the tournament as top scorer)

Leo Messi has scored just twenty-one goals in his past twenty-three international appearances, leading many to wonder if he will ever be effective for Argentina. The 26-year old is yet to score at a World Cup, having been underused in 2006 by José Pekerman and mistrusted in 2010 by Diego Maradona, who thought Messi was a mystical forest spirit only he could see. Most pundits agree that the Barcelona star cannot truly be considered El Diego’s heir until he shoots a journalist with an air rifle.

Neymar (11.00 with AllYouBet.ag)

Brazil’s golden boy will be carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, despite Hulk’s objections that Hulk’s shoulders would be far better suited to the task. Neymar hasn’t quite set the world alight at Barcelona, having got as far as Xavi’s jacket and Cesc Fabregas’ pants before being told to stop it, and much will depend on whether he can respond to being called ‘the New Pelé’ in the same way that Pelé did in 1958 after being dubbed ‘the Old Neymar’.

Cristiano Ronaldo (15.00 with Intertops.eu)

The Portugal captain will be desperate to display the World Cup Golden Boot next to his Premier League Golden Boot, his Ballon d’Or, his other Ballon d’Or, his three UEFA Golden Shoes, his golden tamarind monkey, and the bust of his own head made from solid gold. It was widely reported last week that Ronaldo had been cursed by a Ghanaian witch doctor, who told him that he would achieve great fame and wealth but never get past the twelfth-level boss in Assassin’s Creed IV.

Fernando Torres (34.00 with AllYouBet.ag)

The Chelsea frontman is having a miserable 2014, following a poor 2013, a bad 2012, and an unsuccessful two-year period before that. He has been included in the Spain squad thanks to his tendency to be top scorer at international tournaments, a record that stretches back nearly two tournaments. Vicente Del Bosque’s side is likely to line up without a recognized striker, a role that Torres has made his own.

Wayne Rooney (41.00 with Intertops.eu)

England’s main offensive weapon has struggled for goals recently, though he continues to be offensive and is clearly a bit of a weapon. The Manchester United man has a tendency to get overheated in big matches, and when playing for England, and in the heat, so expect strike partner Danny Welbeck to take to the field carrying buckets of ice-cold water. Rooney may also be hampered by a massive luxury hamper featuring a selection of cured meats and rich, creamy cheeses, a pre-tournament gift from the Uruguayan FA.

Josip Drmic (3.75 with AllYouBet.ag to finish as Switzerland’s top scorer)

Swiss striker Drmic became a household name at Nürnberg this season despite a crippling lack of vowels. The 21-year old owes his success to a relentless work rate and a lethal instinct for goal, and also to his faithful companion Khyrax, a giant eagle who carries off defenders with her vicious eight-inch talons and consumes them on the stadium roof. Khyrax picked up a beak injury in Switzerland’s friendly with Peru, and Ottmar Hitzfeld will be praying she recovers in time to terrorize the Ecuadorian back four.

Not used to decimal betting odds? Check out Betting Instinct’s brand new odds calculation guide.

 

John_F avatar JOHN FOSTER is a freelance football writer and one part of the Back of the Net team. He has  written for FourFourTwo and The Daily Mash. Follow Back of the Net on FacebookTwitter or  Google+.

Germany’s Miroslav Klose chasing a second World Cup Golden Boot

Klose, who top-scored in 2002, is back in the Germany squad for this summer's tournament

Klose, who top-scored in 2002, is back in the Germany squad for this summer’s tournament

The sought after Golden Boot is perhaps the most prestigious and well-known of the individual awards handed out the World Cup. Current holder – Thomas Muller – will be looking to add to his 13 league goals this club season in an effort to retain the cherish Golden Boot. He won the award with a respectable but not quite emphatic 5 goal haul last time. David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan all matched the German’s tally, but Muller was awarded the prize based on having a higher number of assists (3).

Top goalscorer is always difficult to gauge at major tournaments as a player is only as strong as the whole team. The opening games have a massive impact on this too; a hat-trick in the first couple of games makes you – statistically, based on the last 6 tournaments – already at least halfway to the required number of goals to top the charts.

 

World Cup top scorer betting odds:

Lionel Messi – 8.00

Neymar – 11.00

Cristiano Ronaldo – 15.00

Sergio Aguero – 15.00

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

 

So, let’s look at our favourites. Unsurprisingly, Leo Messi is most people’s tip to be the top scorer this year. Last season was widely considered to be his worst in years, yet the mercurial Argentine still bagged 41 goals in all competitions. His form at international level has been questioned, but the Argentinian team itself has a desultory rhythm in terms of form. I’m not going to waste anyone’s time by describing how he plays or what he is good at; it’s very much public knowledge. With 10 goals during the qualifying campaign, this could be Messi’s best chance of international glory at a personal and a team level.

Messi’s esteemed fellow countryman Sergio Aguero will also be looking to make his mark. Despite suffering a few injuries during the season, Aguero produced a host of fantastic displays in the Premier League and showed to the English audience that he has a lot more to his game than sheer goalscoring and dribbling. His vision and general awareness of teammates was pivotal in Manchester City’s re-capturing of the league title this year, whilst also showing that he can handle the more potent physical side that the Premier League offers.

 

Another player whom once famously showcased similar attributes and has yet to receive full recognition for his international work is, of course, everyone’s favourite personification of modesty – Cristiano Ronaldo! The Portuguese star was in fine form once again this year for Real Madrid, ending the season by netting a goal in their Champions League final victory against Ateltico Madrid. He even earned a round of applause from fellow shy person Zlatan Ibrahimovic after his hat-trick against Sweden sealed Portugal’s qualification into the world cup. At the ripe age of 29, CR7 won’t have his devastating pace come the next World Cup (though I dare say he will be no slouch) and will look to add to his ever growing catalogue of individual awards with a WC Golden Boot trophy. It’s unlikely that Portugal will progress to the latter stages of the tournament and with Ghana, USA and Germany in their group, they are far from promised a place out of the group stages at all. That being said, Ronaldo can change games on his own and will be looking to exploit any weakness shown by the two weaker sides (USA and Ghana respectively).

After a relatively expensive and somewhat unremarkable opening season for Barcelona, Neymar will be hoping to continue producing his scintillating displays for the Brazilian national team. The youngster has 31 goals in 49 games for his country already, which is impressive however you look at it. A lot of them are quite spectacular too. He will flourish playing in his homeland and with said host nation being frontrunners to win the tournament, it’s quite easy to deduce that Neymar is likely to score a lot of goals this tournament.

 

Quite often, it can be a bit of s surprise name as to who scores the most goals in a tournament. Particularly at international level. An erudite outside bet can prove very profitable, so let’s analyse some of the players who aren’t quite expected to produce a magnanimous amount of goals. I’ll start with Belgian giant Romelu Lukaku, who showed this season that he has an extremely well rounded set of skills, more so than most other 21 year old strikers. He bagged 15 league goals and orchestrated some fantastic performances for Everton. He is exceptionally strong, but – unlike most powerful strikers – is also very quick to move across the ground. His ability is only going to improve over the next decade, will this year be the year he announces himself amongst the best forwards in the world?

Germany’s all-time leading scorer Miroslav Klose joins us for another World Cup, no doubt eliminating some poor team’s hopes with an obligatory headed goal. Klose has been prolific at international level and is truly one of the those players that can score from any situation. His World Cup experience will be crucial to the younger German players and might well prove to be the differnce in a close match against similarly top opposition. A lot of this depends on how the team is lined up, but you can be sure that Klose will be having his say at some point.

 

For the patriotic English readers, I feel obliged to include an English player. Who better than the highest scoring English player in the Premier League last year? Daniel Sturridge has been a revelation since signing for Liverpool. He’s been prolific, consistent and has scored a lot of said goals in spectacular fashion. His curling effort against Peru a reminder as to what he can produce from outside the box. England have a tough group in the shape of Uruguay, Italy and Cost Rica; they will be relying on Sturridge’s performances to help them proceed into the knockout stages. He certainly is capable of scoring against venerable opposition, if he finds his form from the first game in then he could certainly be worth an outsider’s bet.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Romelu Lukaku to top-score offers value at 26.00 with AllYouBet.ag, while Klose (33.00) and Sturridge (51.00) could also be worth a punt

Not used to decimal betting odds? Check out Betting Instinct’s brand new odds calculation guide.

 

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

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.