Newcastle United cannot claim Premier League relegation would be undeserved

 

If there’s any justice in the world’, crooned British neo-soul sensation Lemar in his 2004 chart smash, ‘Louis van Gaal would recognise that his greatness doesn’t deserve to prevail over John Carver’s atrociousness, accordingly throw Manchester United’s game against Hull, and thus condemn Newcastle to the most well earned relegation of the Premier League era.’

 

For once, the post-1993 qualifier is not so arbitrary. Newcastle’s current incarnation is as Premier League as Premier League can be, existing – just about – not to serve its city, its community, nor even its matchgoing fans. Newcastle’s current incarnation exists – just about – solely to serve the interests of the rapacious mega-capitalist who bought a club in 2008 and who owns a 50,000-seater Sports Direct billboard in 2015. Newcastle’s current incarnation is Michael James Wallace ‘Mike’ Ashley.

All of which explains the (not so) curious absence of, well, everything in the run-up to their final-day ‘decider’ with West Ham. Newcastle go into the match in need of something they won’t have achieved in 85 days, or more than 2,000 hours, by kick off on Sunday. They need a win. Don’t get it, and Hull take three points against the more or less settled in fourth Man United, and at least another year in the Championship beckons. Beyond a loss of prestige, however, Newcastle have little to lose by relegation: what difference, ultimately, between a top-tier and a second-tier season of dirge, without even a tilt at cup competitions? At least with the latter, some fans hopefully contend, their owner might be more tempted to cut and run.

 

Newcastle United v West Ham United Betting Odds:

Newcastle win 7/10

West Ham win 333/100

Draw 57/20

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

 

Carver will plead that Newcastle treat their ‘clash’ with West Ham like any other game. The reality is that it is just another game, part 38 (to be generous) of a black-and-white meander into mediocrity. There are no ‘high stakes’; there aren’t even stakes. A match isn’t ‘do or die’ if the home side already contains 11 zombies, 7 replacement zombies, a Geordie zombie in a ‘technical area’ whose name his very presence undermines, and HRH, The UK’s #1, King Zombie of Sports Retail and Zero-Hours Employment.

Newcastle’s relegation rivals, of course, have their own rapacious mega-capitalists to be dealing with. Assem Allam, the Labour Party donor who hates Ed Miliband’s ‘communism’ and is by his support for a Hull City-to-Hull ‘Tigers’ rebrand pledging to water down another great working class institution, will be hoping that Steve Bruce can end a 17-year hoodoo against his old club. This looks a tall order, not because it’s fated, not because of any off-field ‘revelations’ – but because Hull are proper, proper rubbish. Not quite Newcastle’s clogged, Shawshank-river-of-sh*t, unfiltered sewage, but rubbish all the same. And yet, should Ahmed Elmohamady continue to inexplicably do Good Things (or, as is more likely, should Van Gaal’s men just genuinely not give a toss with their end-of-season awards already been and gone), anything is possible.

 

Sunderland are predatory in their own way, their longstanding tradition of profiting from the unskilled labour of others time and again mischaracterised as ‘Great Escapes’. Thanks to a battling 0-0 draw with Arsenal and another few admittedly decent scalps, they’ve done it again this year. So too Aston Villa, who despite their tanking at Southampton are safe, and with the added consolation that Tim Sherwood is no longer the most laughable coach in the English top flight. That leaves a straight shootout between a team so bad that John Carver is in the dugout, and a team so bad that they were beaten by a team with John Carver in the dugout.

 

There are other mini-battles set to take place on Sunday. Liverpool, Tottenham, and Southampton will compete for a Europa League spot that none really want. Arsenal will be hoping to avoid an eight-goal swing that would see them drop out of third place. And Alan Pardew will look to consolidate Crystal Palace’s place in mid-table, mostly so he can look down on, and gleefully mock, his former employers. Best wishes to them.

All eyes, however, will be on that bottom three – and For Football’s Sake, it ought to be Newcastle joining Burnley and Queen’s Park Rangers at the season’s end. Come friendly MK Dons, and fall on Town; they aren’t even fit for Pulis now…

 

Betting Instinct tip Hull to beat Manchester United, putting the pressure on Carver’s side, is 43/20 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.

Liverpool and Manchester United battle for Champions League place

Liverpool come full circle on Sunday as Manchester United visit Anfield – a grudge match in every sense of the word – and yet intensified by what lies at stake. When the sides met at Old Trafford in the middle of December Brendan Rodgers debuted his innovative 3-4-2-1 formation, but his team still ended the game on the wrong side of a 3-0 thrashing. The Reds dropped to 10th in the table and 10 points behind their arch-rivals, and at that stage their prospects of a top four finish looked incredibly bleak.

But the seeds of Liverpool’s revival were sown in those harrowing 90 minutes at Old Trafford. The 3-4-2-1 has been an ever-present since, it has led to greater defensive solidity and allowed Liverpool to replicate a hint of their attacking zest from last season; most importantly they haven’t suffered defeat in the league since, and they now sit two points behind their fourth-placed rivals with nine games remaining.

 

Liverpool v Manchester United Betting Odds:

Liverpool win 21/20

Manchester United win 12/5

Draw 12/5

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

 

The system may have come by design, but the personnel in the eleven that will probably start at Anfield very much by accident. Brad Jones infamously displaced Simon Mignolet in goal and his novel trait of playing dodgeball, rather than, say, goalkeeping, lasted until a Boxing Day injury picked up at Burnley. The Belgian has subsequently found his best form since his move to Merseyside behind the settled back three of Emre Can, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho.

Can’s elevation to a ball-playing right-sided centre-half came in that trip to Turf Moor, after an injury to Glen Johnson and half-time substitution of Kolo Toure. Sakho’s opportunity on the left finally came after Rodgers’ patience with £20million summer recruit Dejan Lovren wore thin. Those three and Mignolet have formed an effective defensive unit and underpinned Liverpool’s surge up the table since the turn of the year.

 

P 13 W 10 D 3 L 0 F 24 A 8

Those are the numbers behind the Reds’ transformation since the bleakest of midwinters; a season that looked a write-off is now full of opportunity and progression. The highlight of their current five-game winning streak came with Philippe Coutinho’s stunning winner against Manchester City, but it has also included important victories against Tottenham and Southampton, teams that they have left behind in pursuit of Champions League football next season.

A similar outcome against Louis van Gaal’s Man United on Sunday will see Liverpool enter the top four for the first time since August. United fans may have feared retribution from their Red rivals on Sunday, but the manner of their 3-0 win over Spurs last weekend has changed the conversation somewhat. It was easily their best performance since the turn of the year and has soothed the heavy criticism of the manager and his playing style in the wake of the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal.

It hinted at a reinvigoration at both ends of the pitch; David de Gea remains in fine form while Wayne Rooney, restored to the strike force, has struck four goals in as many games. While results have remained mostly positive throughout the season, a progressive style of play has mostly eluded van Gaal. The Spurs result is a small sample size, granted, but it had United playing fluid football, quicker in tempo and largely to their strengths.

 

The increasing use of Marouane Fellaini has been a lightning rod for criticism of van Gaal and his tiresomely lampooned “philosophy”, but it’s a red herring. United have failed to convince this season not because of a perceived over-reliance on long-balls, but because of painfully slow build-up play that made them pedestrian and predictable. Against Spurs they combined Fellaini’s physical presence with quick counter-attacking – it was, for the first 45 minutes, brutally effective, and could well cause problems at Anfield.

While Liverpool are not the defensively brittle side they were earlier in the season, the first half of their 1-0 win at Swansea on Monday night was their most unconvincing defensive performance in months. Garry Monk’s men cut off the attacking supply line from deep and repeatedly got in behind their backline. The Reds have discovered, though, what United have thrived on this season – ways to win football matches.

 

Problem-solving has come to define both teams in recent months. A head-to-head joust for the fourth Champions League spot is not where either side wants to be in the long-term, but this is a defining game in what will prove a defining end to the season for both Brendan Rodgers and Louis van Gaal.

 

Betting Instinct tip – With both teams aware of the cost of defeat, consider backing fewer than 2.5 goals at 9/10 with Intertops.eu.

 

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football. Follow him on Twitter.

What We’ll Learn In The Transfer Window

Will Wilfried Bony to Man City be the biggest Premier League transfer this month?

Will Wilfried Bony to Man City be the biggest Premier League transfer this month?

A little change of pace this month, as we look ahead to what will happen during the transfer window. And as we all know transfers and the accompanying rumour mill with it’s glorious highs and crushing lows is far superior to the drudgery of actual football. Handily because nothing really happens until the last few weeks my tardiness isn’t that much of an issue.

 

Premier League Outright Betting Odds:

Chelsea 3/5

Manchester City 3/2

Manchester United 18/1

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

 

One thing (at the time of writing) that might possible already have happened/be in the process of happening is the transfer of Wilfried Bony to Manchester City. A devastatingly direct attacker with a deft first touch and a fierce strike, he can’t be anything other than great. His on-pitch time will be dependent on Sergio Aguero and his hamstrings but they’re made of rubber bands so Bony should get plenty of chances to impress.

On the other side of the city Louis van Gaal will do whatever he damn well likes. However he should probably look into sorting a defence that is, well it has, I mean…….it’s a bit crap really. He’s already brought in Victor Valdes, and might follow that up by buying his countryman Ron Vlaar who once got a 2! (out of 10!) for me on Football Manager. Make of that what you will (as I type this he’s just been ruled out for 4 weeks but I have a word count to hit so he’s staying in the article)

 

Arsenal will do what Arsenal do, there will be opinion pieces, banners and possibly some booing. At the end of it Arsenal will finish fourth and every single one of us will be ever so slightly closer to the blessed release of death.

Chelsea have completed the ‘transfers’ level of football so unless they fancy trying to beat their own high score we can ignore them during January.

 

Tottenham will sign a midfielder. He’ll pretend to be good for a bit, then it’ll turn out he’s rubbish. Aaron Lennon might leave, possibly for QPR where………..

*insert your own ‘dawwnn to the bare bones’ Harry Redknapp joke here*

 

Aston Villa are obviously far too boring for any of us to care about. Even if they do sign someone mildly interesting that poor soul will be subsumed by the overwhelming force of mediocrity that resides at Villa Park.

Nobody knows who is in charge of transfers at West Ham but let’s hope it’s the new fun loving version of Big Sam and he brings in Jay Jay Okocha, you know just for old times sake. Oh and they’ll sell Winston Reid to someone, maybe Arsenal.

 

The Anfield transfer committee will gather round the table, amalgamate their thoughts, you know some real blue sky thinking ‘there’s no such thing as a bad idea here, this is a safe space where we reshape the rules and turn dreams into reality’ and decide to spend twenty million quid on a center back who somehow manages to make their defence worse. Liverpool might try and punt Mario, but he’s performing so admirably in the role of scapegoat that that would surely be a grave error.

 

Southampton will sell someone who isn’t as good as people think he is for more money than he’s worth and will replace him with a better player from the Netherlands, their youth team or Celtic.

The only Leicester player I know is Esteban Cambiasso so it’s very hard for me to take much of a guess at their transfer activity. I’ll save any embarrassment by not bothering.

 

Stoke might sell Peter Crouch to West Brom now that Tony Pulis is in charge. I might make veggie burgers for tea tomorrow.

Now that he’s swapped Newcastle for Palace Alan Pardew will celebrate not being forced to exclusively sign French players with high sell on value by signing someone quintessentially English with no sell on value. Possibly the Queen, or some sort of Duke.

 

All I’ve got to say about Sunderland is that my mate met Gus Poyet once, I forgot to ask what he was like. I bet he’s a dick.

Everton should sign a defensive coach but they’ll probably sign someone from Wigan, Shaun Maloney maybe.

 

Burnley will continue their attempt to prove that a Championship team full of Championship players can survive in the Premier League by signing a Championship player.

Going to level with you here – I’m writing this on a train and my stop is coming up. So if I’ve forgotten your team then I’m sorry but you’re just not important enough (sorry Hull fans – ed.).

 

Follow me on Twitter where I occasionally RT something funny

 

Betting Instinct tip – with few transfers likely to go through before this weekend’s games, back a London treble: Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham all to win is 3.59 with AllYouBet.ag.

 

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.

Old Trafford trip highlights Liverpool’s season of decline

Defeat this weekend will increase the pressure on Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers

Defeat this weekend will increase the pressure on Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers

As we approach the half-way stage of the 2014-15 Premier League season, once again Liverpool fans are being bombarded by the Groundhog day sensation. The visit of Chelsea and the trip to Selhurst Park last month were reminders of where last season’s title challenge disintegrated, but Sunday’s encounter with Manchester United at Old Trafford promises to be the most harrowing reminder yet of how far Brendan Rodgers’ side have plummeted.

Last March Old Trafford reverberated with the sounds of Poetry in Motion as the revelling hordes of travelling Liverpool fans lauded their side – “We’re gonna win the League”. Their title chances then still looked unlikely, but the swaggering momentum they were building up was undeniable and at times irresistible.

The 3-0 victory that afternoon was one of control and precision, not the swift counter-attacking that came to define them, and that it came at the home of their decaying neighbours made it ever sweeter. How Liverpool fans must wish they could bottle the mood of that afternoon and carry it with them this weekend.

But there will be no repeat of that this Sunday; David Moyes has gone, much to the chagrin of United’s rival fan bases, and the club are in a significantly healthier position this December. Liverpool’s win in Manchester back March was their fifth in succession and they won another six in a row afterward; Louis van Gaal’s United have won their last five and shoved their way into the top three – they could be there for some time now.

 

Manchester United v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Manchester United win 4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 13/5

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

 

Besides the intrigue of their respective fluctuating fortunes, is the resumption of what remains England’s greatest fixture and club rivalry as it enters a new era. The departure of Luis Suarez removes the most volatile character in its recent history, but the arrival of Van Gaal guarantees that the rivalry cycle continues.

The 63 year-old is no stranger to rivalries and the importance associated to it by supporters. Watching his end-of-season victory speech at Bayern Munich in 2010, where he claimed his side not only to be the champions of Munich and Germany, but of Gelsenkirchen, Bremen and Hamburg too, you can imagine he would require little encouragement to proclaim Manchester United as the champions of Liverpool.

 

His revival of United has been in stark contrast to the slapstick moments of August; they have not quite gone down the route of simply trying to outscore opponents. The defence remains makeshift and rarely convinces, but it is nowhere near as porous as many make out; since the second-half collapse at Leicester in September, West Brom are the only team to score more than once past them. The improved form of David de Gea, who is playing at his most consistent peak since joining three years ago, is an undoubtedly strong factor behind this.

The integration of Marouane Fellaini higher up the pitch has given the Red Devils more than just an aerial reference point, and he doesn’t look quite the £28m waste of space that he did under Moyes last season. The entire side looks to be regaining a presence and purpose under their new Dutch manager, a knowhow for winning all manner of football matches no matter the circumstance and situation – for all of Southampton’s endeavour against them on Monday night, United’s victory felt somewhat inevitable.

 

How Brendan Rodgers desires that winning habit that has so deserted him and his team since the spring. The sight of Martin Skrtel operating as an emergency centre-forward as Liverpool limped out of the Champions League on Tuesday was a painful one for supporters and highlighted the disintegration of the attack that had carried them there in the first place.

In the light of a harrowing run of form in the autumn, which culminated in a fourth successive defeat at Crystal Palace last month, Rodgers has abandoned his idealism and resorted to pragmatic football, selecting the players he trusts most and bringing short-term gains. Play is not built from the back, full backs have stopped rampaging forward and midfielders are charged with stopping the opposition resulting in a static rather than fluid attack. Seven points from the last nine available in the league suggests it’s had some effect, but it did not prevent Champions League elimination.

The autumnal slump has been arrested to some degree – Liverpool have not lost since last month’s aberration at Selhurst Park – but they remain in the full grip of a malaise, and on the precipice of a deeper crisis. If the midweek disappointment is followed by defeats at Old Trafford, away to Bournemouth next week and against Arsenal the weekend after – not out of the question for a team with three wins in 12 – then the pressure on Rodgers could grow insurmountable.

 

There is still time for Rodgers to turn this around and the next three fixtures can be viewed as opportunities to regain pride for himself and his team; to do that he must trust in and accentuate the qualities of his players not fear the opposition’s. It is impossible to say in this day and age without sounding like a glib Alan Hansen rehash, but Liverpool still possess the one weapon that can truly unsettle opposition defences; pace.

If the manager decides again to lead the line with a 32 year-old and a 34 year-old, with the combined pace of a bowl of porridge, it will play right into the hands of van Gaal. Failure to pressurise another changed backline, with Chris Smalling now joining Phil Jones and Luke Shaw on the United treatment table, would be another illustration of the fear that has overcome Rodgers and Liverpool.

 

Betting Instinct tip – With Liverpool having only a few days to recover from their Champions League exit, the hosts can take advantage. Manchester United to win by two or more is 2/1 with AllYouBet.ag

 

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football

Things we’ll learn in the Premier League this month – December

Will Aleks Kolarov get into the Christmas spirit once more? (photo credit: YouTube/Manchester City FC)

Will Aleks Kolarov get into the Christmas spirit once more? (photo credit: YouTube/Manchester City FC)

Goodness me it’s December already, and amongst other things that means the traditionally packed Christmas schedule. With it being a bumper month for football you’d think that would mean a bumper column, but I’m getting paid the same for this as I would on a normal month so that won’t be happening.

 

We get an early Xmas present (yes there will be a festive theme running throughout, deal with it) with the first round of fixtures in December being played mid-week. What better way to break up the drudgery of our miserable lives than a televised feast of Leicester vs Liverpool on a Tuesday and Arsenal vs Southampton on a Wednesday. Both clashes are tricky to predict as Leicester pretended to be good for a bit before discovering they were actually rubbish and Liverpool pretended to be really good for a bit before discovering they were actually rubbish. It’s a similar dynamic in the Arsenal vs Southampton game as Wenger’s men are pretending to be rubbish (they’ll get better soon) and Southampton are pretending to be good (they’ll get less good soon). Now none of that might make much sense to you right now but don’t worry it’ll become clear in time.

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool and Arsenal to both win is 3.51 with Intertops.eu

 

The first weekend of the month throws up a set of fixtures that are surely designed to let us get our Christmas shopping done. So head to the high street my friends and spend more money than you can afford on unwanted gifts for people you don’t even like. It’s what Jesus would have wanted*.

* My editor insists that I make it clear I do not speak for Jesus and have no way of knowing what he would want us to do with our weekends.

 

Come the middle of the month we have two of the Premier League’s flagship fixtures. First up it’s Arsenal hosting Newcastle, now at the time of writing Arsenal are the club in turmoil, but by the time this game comes around both clubs could conceivably have been in and out of a season defining crisis on three or four occasions. Also the two managers really don’t like each other, so that’s worth keeping an eye on. Then on Sunday it’s Man Utd vs Liverpool, English football’s one true firecracker of a fixture and it’s a game both teams will be even more desperate than usual to win. Last season Liverpool, high on the scent of a potential first title in decades, ripped through a hesitant and meek United, but this time it’s Liverpool who look primed for a doing. Louis van Gaal hasn’t got things right quite yet but his side are brimming with talent and are going to run up a big score against someone soon, it may as well be their fiercest rivals.

It doesn’t get much easier for Brendan and his merry men as the week after the trip to Old Trafford they welcome Arsenal to Anfield/A bit of relief for Brendan and his merry men as the week after the trip to Old Trafford they welcome Arsenal to Anfield**.

** Delete as appropriate taking into account the current Arsenal crisis level.

 

It matters little that the Boxing Day fixtures aren’t up to much, we have a full Premier League card the day after Christmas. Who cares if the televised matches are two middling London derbies, you can spend a full day gorging on chocolate and leftovers slumped in front of Sky Sports basking in the glory of your existence, it’s what Jesus would have wanted (we’ve already been over this – ed.). Alternatively you could actually go to a game, work of some of the holiday excesses by cheering on your chosen side. Keep in mind it will be cold and your side will probably lose on account of your left back being even more sluggish than usual thanks to a serving or two too many of trifle the day before

Just to add to the anarchical nature of the days between Christmas and New Year there is another round of games on the Sunday, just two days after the Boxing Day extravaganza. How anyone is supposed to know what day it is and where they’re meant to be is beyond me. As long as you don’t accidentally go to work you have Southampton vs Chelsea to look forward to, at the time of writing this is a top of the table clash but that may not be the case come the end of December depending on how quickly Southampton regress to the mean.

 

Anyway that’s enough from me, I hope your December is full of wonder and joy and that your football team doesn’t extinguish that wonder and joy with their ineptitude.

 

Come wish me a Merry Christmas over on Twitter https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

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.

 

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+.

Things We’ll Learn This Month – October

Arsenal's Mesut Özil has underwhelmed as former captain Cesc Fàbregas has impressed at Chelsea. The two square up this weekend

Arsenal’s Mesut Özil has underwhelmed as former captain Cesc Fàbregas has impressed at Chelsea. The two square up this weekend

So we come to October with the Premier League table still in a state of flux, as new signings and new coaching methodologies begin to click into gear there is intrigue wherever you look. Which makes it all the more annoying that there is another one of those international ‘week of football’ things in the middle of the month. Being generous there are possibly three games a human being in charge of their cognitive processes would consider watching, and one of them is Scotland vs Poland. So for the good of all our souls they will not be mentioned here.

 

The first Premier League weekend of October does throw up a few tasty fixtures, most of them are on Sunday though, so you have no excuses not to do something community spirited on Saturday, maybe mow an elderly neighbour’s lawn? On Sunday the oldies can do their own gardening (they love that kind of thing anyway) as we have Louis Van Gaal who continues to channel the spirit of Kevin Keegan (Keegan is not dead – ed.) with his ‘buy loads of great attackers and hope the defence somehow sorts itself’ strategy facing up against Roberto Martinez whose Everton team have gone a bit Wigan this season, there will be goals, there just has to be. After that it’s Arsenal taking their traditional injury crisis on the road to Stamford Bridge where they will receive their traditional spanking from Chelsea, the only difference this time is that they get to have their hearts broken by watching Cesc Fàbregas, their former idol looking really rather good in royal blue.

Betting Instinct tip The Manchester United/Chelsea double is 9/5 with AllYouBet.ag

 

*INTERNATIONAL WEEK KLAXON*

 

With the unpleasantness of European Championship qualifying out of the way for a while it’s not the most exciting set of fixtures to return to. QPR vs Liverpool might be fun, if only to see how Richard Dunne deals with the electrified scampering of Raheem Sterling, you would guess not well.

 

At the end of the month we get to witness the first meeting on English soil of Van Gaal and Mourinho (I can’t be bothered to check if they’ve met on any nationality of soil, to be honest I just don’t care). The one thing missing from the Premier League in recent years is a genuinely bitter managerial rivalry. This is by far our best chance to get back to the peak years where the heavyweight showdowns of Mourinho vs Benitez and Ferguson vs Wenger were box office entertainment. Now that Mourinho has presumably given up on the Manchester United job (remember when they hired David Moyes ahead of him!?) he might finally aim some of his verbal jousts in the direction of the not exactly shy Van Gaal. It promises to be spectacular. Oh and the game might be decent as well.

 

Burnley are in the Premier League apparently, without checking their fixtures I think we can safely assume that they will collect at best one point during October, they are possibly the most Championship side ever to play in the top flight, it’s a miracle Sean Dyche took them up, if he keeps them there he should be made Pope.

 

The standout Champions League tie this month is of course Liverpool entertaining Real Madrid. It’s not been the best of starts for Brendan ‘Brendan’ Rodgers post-Suarez, the defensive cracks covered up by the (possibly) evil Uruguayan are now cavernous in their obviousness and if he’s in the mood you’d expect that Portuguese lad Real have could score about a dozen. Anfield on European nights is often a quite magical spectacle though and this is about as glamorous an opposition as you can get, the old place will be rocking and whilst anything other than a Madrid victory would be considered a massive surprise football isn’t as simple as that. Of course what will actually happen is that Ronaldo will strut about like the prettiest peacock in the zoo, only stopping to batter in a couple of goals and extravagantly ‘shush’ the locals. Also Sterling will play quite well and will then be linked with a move to the Bernabeu for the rest of time.

Betting Instinct tip – Real Madrid to retain the Champions League this season is 7/2 with Intertops.eu

 

In fairness October looks a bit rubbish but it is the month of Halloween so we can look forward to lots of pictures of footballers in fancy dress, which is nice as long as no one ‘blacks up’, I’m looking at you *REDACTED*

 

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.

Manchester United need a response against West Ham

Marcos Rojo could feature in an unfamiliar centre-back pairing

Marcos Rojo could feature in an unfamiliar centre-back pairing

The show must go on.

I tried to see the funny side of Leicester’s 5-3 comeback victory over Manchester United, but this was no MK Dons (at which I was in convulsions).  This was genuinely frustrating.  Forget growing pains and forget patience; it is pretty much unacceptable for any side to squander a two-goal lead over a newly-promoted team, never mind concede another two afterwards.  Saturday’s tie with West Ham isn’t a ‘bounce back’ fixture.  The Leicester game was like dropping an egg – no bounce and a small mess.  What United now must do is forget about that mess and turn their attention to the recipe.  There are plenty of eggs left in the carton.

 

Manchester United v West Ham United Betting Odds:

Manchester United win 3/10

West Ham United win 7/1

Draw 17/4

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

 

No matter how bad things got under David Moyes, and they got pretty bad, the most widespread criticism from United fans was the style, or lack thereof.  Last year United limped and sputtered through games, sometimes appearing to resign themselves to mediocre results.  Individual performances were often just that, and more often not enough.  This season, or in the last two games at least, they have already shown enough to be labelled a juggernaut going forward.  Swagger has replaced stagnation, and United are once again the most exciting team in the league to watch.

Usually we have to wait for new signings to ‘click’, but Ángel di María has been electrifying in his last two appearances and Falcao looks sharp as a tack.  The latter’s movement and cross in the buildup to Robin van Persie’s opener were impeccable, while the former’s goal was genius of the sort not seen in red since Cristiano Ronaldo.  After the first few months of Moyes’s reign had passed, I rarely found myself looking forward to watching a match.  Now I can hardly wait for the next one and I’m certainly not alone.  Need to sort out that defence though.

 

Liability Insurance

When Jonny Evans limped off early against Leicester, it was no doubt worrying, but we assumed it would be something to worry about after the final whistle.  Instead, United’s makeshift defence, with Phil Jones injured and Luke Shaw on the bench, was short of both quality and leadership.  Chris Smalling became something of a scapegoat after the game, but in truth Marcos Rojo and Rafael were both awful at full back as well, even if the penalty given against the Brazilian was a soft one.  Tyler Blackett was probably United’s best defender before Cambiasso’s goal, but then the capitulation began.  The youngster eventually showed his inexperience and Daley Blind was simply overrun in the second half.

All eyes will be on United’s defence against a West Ham side that looked good in their 3-1 win over Liverpool.  Evans’s scan has ruled him out for about a month, while Smalling picked up a thigh injury in training, further limiting van Gaal’s options at the back.  If Smalling is deemed fit, he will be partnered by Rojo at centre half, allowing Shaw to make his competitive debut at left-back.  If not, United will have to look at the bottom of the barrel for someone to pair with Rojo.  With go-to makeshift defender, Michael Carrick also an injury doubt, van Gaal could call on a youngster or even Darren Fletcher.

 

Nothing to Shout About

Many, myself included, were never in favour of making Rooney captain.  He held the club to ransom twice and was welcomed back with open chequebooks on both occasions.  If anything, agent Paul Stretford should be wearing the armband – at least he’s resourceful.  Rooney showed his idea of crisis management on Sunday when, after his failed clearance led to a Leicester goal, he screamed at anyone within earshot in a show of authoritah.  Rooney lent nothing to the team’s performance, but will of course be preferred to Juan Mata on Saturday in spite of recent form or, y’know, ability.

But one problem at a time.  Going forward, the team has played well in spite of Rooney, not because of him.  If van Gaal can assemble a back four for Saturday’s game, his side should be able to dispatch of West Ham.  I can still remember when United fans didn’t use the word ‘if’.

 

Betting Instinct tip – With United strong in attack and porous in defence, more than 3.5 goals looks good value at 5/4 with Intertops.eu

 

Cathal avatar CATHAL LOUGHRAN (cathalloughran) is a student and writer from Ireland, based in London.  He  writes about  college basketball and the NBA for Betting Instinct. Follow him on Twitter.

Chilean and Dutch defences will succumb to Brazil and Mexico in World Cup second round

Javier Hernandez celebratesBrazil managed to avoid the proverbial cat-amongst-the-pigeons in the shape of Cameroon on Monday night and continued the long line of hosts to book a place in the second phase of their own World Cup where they will face the media’s current dark-horse-that-actually-isn’t-one in the shape of Chile.

Neymar is now on top of the scoring charts following the 4-1 demolition of the first African side to be knocked out of the tournament and Fred even managed to bundle one in but should Brazil have let the foot off the gas to try and set up a tie with Holland?

In a word, no. Although Chile look like a tasty proposition through the sumptuous ball play combined with their trademark toughness, the team just doesn’t know when to stick and not continually twist, to borrow some terms from poker. The side plays so high up the pitch when ahead in games it certainly looks as though a team that can get in behind, such as a Brazil led by Neymar, can take advantage.

Looking at the three games so far, Spain was by far the easiest game they had mainly down to the fact that the Iberians resorted to the usual tiki-taka style that has become their trademark for the last three tournament successes. Looking at the goals the Chileans conceded shows two flaws in the side’s back-line:

1)    They don’t deal with balls in the air very comfortably, as is illustrated by the goals scored by Leroy Fer and Tim Cahill.

2)    The defence is often too far up and this will lead to goals, like the Memphis Depay winner for Holland, or even disciplinary problems from players trying to stop an attack succeeding.

Brazil, meanwhile, have certain problems of their own and chief among them is the ridiculously high expectations of the home fans.

Anyone that has watched A Seleção won’t have missed the amount of emotion present within the ranks and a snippet from the national anthem illustrates this perfectly. Looming even larger than this is the fact Brazilians love to boo everything…even their own team. This was present during the pre-tournament friendlies and you can imagine come the 60 minute mark in Saturday’s game that if the team isn’t performing to the correct standard, the boos will get started and who knows what effect this will have on the team in the tournament proper.

The hosts’ defence, which has looked shaky at times in a poor group, shouldn’t be too much of a problem against Chile given the fact what is at the other end should see the team through. Later on in the tournament is when that can and perhaps will get unstuck.

Betting Instinct tip – Brazil v Chile to see over 3.5 goals is +190 with AllYouBet.ag

Another side with a defence that is entirely questionable is a Dutch team that has won the right to face Group A runner-up Mexico and its excitable manager Miguel Herrera.

Holland are the team that no-one gave a chance in Group B. Louis van Gaal’s side was supposed to succumb to the mercurial talents of both Spain and Chile before departing in a rage. That was before they smashed that plan to pieces by battering Spain and became the first side to finish the group stage on the maximum nine points.

Dutch fans should be worried about facing an unfancied Mexican side that failed to light up qualifying but has really found its feet under Herrera in the World Cup. The kind of speed and quickness on the break that has been exhibited by the central American side is something that will trouble the Dutch defence in the same way that Arjen Robben will do at the other end.

You feel that this one could well come down to the team that scores the most goals or the goalkeeper performs best, which at the moment hints at Mexico possibly stealing a path to the next round.

Betting Instinct tip – Mexico to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Quarter Final is 2.60 with Intertops.eu

 

 JAMIE HINKSb134431a32f9f238467cd75e1b0b3454 (jamiehinks) is an experienced content writer who has focused on the gambling industry   and technology, and has an obsession with football and all US sports. You can follow him  on Twitter here and  on Google+ here.

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.