Barcelona and Atléti hope to continue Spanish dominance of Champions League

 

Ahead of the weekend, Barcelona had won eleven consecutive games in all competitions, and Luis Enrique was on the verge of breaking Pep Guardiola’s best winning streak in his time at the club. Meanwhile, Premier League champions Manchester City had won just once in their last six games, including two comprehensive losses on the way.

However by the time weekend was over, the landscape for their Champions League meeting had taken a rather surprising turn. The Catalans were beaten 1-0 at home by Málaga on Saturday, in what was one of the Blaugrana’s worst performances of the season. Over in Manchester just an hour or so later, Manuel Pellegrini’s team obliterated Newcastle United by five goals, while it could easily have been more.

 

Manchester City v Barcelona Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 9/4

Barcelona win 11/10

Draw 9/5

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

 

These two teams faced each other in the same round last year, meaning their impending reunion has been met with considerably less enthusiasm than last time. Barcelona won 4-1 on aggregate on that occasion, which came as a surprise to few. And considering the form of both sides coming into the weekend, a similar outcome wouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone.

Luis Enrique’s time in the Barça dugout has been interesting to say the least so far. At times, the magnitude of the job has looked daunting for him. On occasions, almost as if the role was feeling like a chore. But from faltering against the likes of Getafe and Real Sociedad over the turn of the year, Barça had begun to carve the figure of a team capable of winning honours through January and February. The Camp Nou had even begun to sing Luis Enrique’s name on match days – an often-clear sign that things are certainly going well.

The Málaga defeat has drawn flashbacks to a duller time in his tenure, however – a time when the machine was not working as it should. Knowing the furor that can quickly envelope a team with such a spotlight, one loss can rapidly turn into much more. “The losses hurt and it takes effort to get over them. We have a spectacular challenge ahead of us in three days,” said Enrique on Saturday evening.

A flicker of doubt has begun to ember again, and it’s Barça’s job to ensure it doesn’t become a fire. They have more than enough to do so. Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez may very well be the best front three in world football, and not just on paper.

But for Manchester City, it’s their job to add fuel to that Barça ember tomorrow night. If the Catalans’ reaction is half-hearted, Manuel Pellegrini’s side may have enough to ignite it on home soil.

_______

2010 was the last time, and only time, Atlético Madrid (3/2 to win the first leg with AllYouBet.ag) and Bayer Leverkusen (37/20) have met in their history. They faced each other twice in the Europa League group stages that year, playing out 1-1 draws on both occasions. The Germans topped Group B in the competition, while the team from the Spanish capital missed out on qualification behind Greek side Aris Saloniki. Atlético compounded a Europa League exit with a 7th place league finish in the 2010/11 campaign. Over in the Bundesliga, Leverkusen finished 2nd above Bayern Munich.

Cut to present day and the Diego Simeone-led Atlético are a different beast entirely. Only Real Madrid could halt them in Europe last season, and even then, they were less than a minute away from Champions League glory. At this stage last year, they swept past AC Milan by five goals to one on their route to the quarter-final. Leverkusen were hammered 6-1 by Paris St-Germain.

The Germans have quite arguably been handed the most daunting draw of all. Not the most dangerous, but quite certainly the toughest. Getting a result at the BayArena is near imperative for Leverkusen, considering Atlético haven’t lost a Champions League game at home since Simeone arrived. And unfortunately for Schmidt’s side, November was the last time they won at home in any competition.

Many had seen the losses of Thibaut Courtois, Filipe Luis and Diego Costa as the beginning of Atlético’s downfall: the end of their flutter at the helm of European football. But Diego Simeone and co have kept the show rolling at the Calderón, with new stars being impressively embedded. The strike duo of Mario Mandžukić and Antoine Griezmann has been a resounding success so far – with the latter bringing immeasurable ability to the capital, as well as a new-found hunger and work rate. 14 goals in his last 14 games means the diminutive Frenchman is indeed the man to watch in this tie.

“The Champions League is always special. Now we begin the challenging part – it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a game we’ve been waiting for for weeks,” said Atlético goalkeeper Miguel Ángel Moyá over the weekend. Last year’s finalists are back to accomplish what they couldn’t last year, and Leverkusen are in their way.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Atlético Madrid to take a 1-0 lead back to the Spanish capital is 6/1 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.

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Absence of key names could hinder Chelsea in potential early title-decider

January 1, 2015

  1. Chelsea P20 W 14 D 4 L 2 GF 44 GA 19 PTS 46
  2. Man City P20 W 14 D 4 L 2 GF 44 GA 19 PTS 46
On New Year’s Day it was tempting to look at this weekend’s clash between Chelsea and Manchester City as the titanic title tussle that we thought this Premier League season would never get. But City being City, the winner-takes-all tag has disappeared and a five point gap has resurfaced between the two ahead of Saturday evening’s Showdown at the Bridge.

 

January 31 is no time to be having the final top-of-the-table clash of the season, with there remaining 15 games still to play even as the dust settles after the Stamford Bridge match. That quirk is not just the fault of the fixture list but everyone else in the league failing to consistently test either side, whose fallibilities and vulnerabilities have crept to the surface since the turn of the year.

 

 

Chelsea win – Evens
Man City win – 13/5
Draw – 23/10

 

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

 

City’s seven-game winning sequence from late November to Boxing Day whittled away Chelsea’s eight-point lead at the table summit. On New Year’s Day the pair sat neck-and-neck with only alphabetical order separating first from second. But City’s flimsiness when expectancy rears its head has one again crept in.

 

There is no shame in drawing 1-1 at Everton, but failing to hold on for three points after taking a 74th minute lead against a side who had suffered four straight defeats is unforgivable. That was then followed by a lethargic, tempo-less performance against a disciplined Arsenal, where they crumbled to a 2-0 defeat. Only 24 hours previously Chelsea had demolished Swansea 5-0, a performance that Jose Mourinho hailed as “perfect”.

 

But both sides enter the weekend game against a peculiar backdrop. City’s horrendous run of form since the New Year has clouded their preparation, and Chelsea have had their own soul-searching to do after a week of mixed cup fortunes and the acrimony of Jose Mourinho’s siege mentality. Manuel Pellegrini’s side look in dire need of attacking inspiration, with David Silva and Sergio Aguero yet to get going after their respective returns from injury.

 

The embarrassing truth that has been peddled out most frequently this month is that City have failed to win a game without Yaya Toure since January last year. The desperation to field their dynamic midfielder, and £30million new boy Wilfried Bony for that matter, was underlined by the fact that Pellegrini wanted them in the squad if Cote d’Ivoire crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday. As it is the Chilean must make do without them again, and face that Toure-less record head on again, if new life is to be injected into the title race.

 

Defeat – and an eight point lead for Chelsea – will surely leave City with too much to do, given the kinder fixtures remaining for Mourinho’s men in the second-half of the season.

 

Chelsea have won each of their 10 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge this season, scoring at least twice on each occasion, and will be confident of keeping that record up given that City have conceded at least two goals in four of their last five league fixtures, and with Vincent Kompany looking extremely shaky since his return form injury.

 

Yet one can not escape the feeling that Mourinho will approach this game from a damage limitation viewpoint. He will know that he has the kinder fixture list, with City still to travel to Anfield, Old Trafford and White Hart Lane before the end of the season, and may as a result look to keep the five-point lead intact, rather than risk losing it again.

 

It is not an approach that Mourinho tends to go with at home, usually saving it for away games as he did last season in grinding out goalless draws at Old Trafford and the Emirates. But don’t be surprised if he favours a Mikel-Matic axis in defensive midfield, given the attacking riches that they will likely be missing. Cesc Fabregas limped out of Tuesday night’s win over Liverpool and much will rest also on the outcome of Diego Costa’s FA charge of violent conduct for stamping on Emre Can; and Chelsea are a very different prospect without their snarling Spaniard leading the line.

 

It is not just his goalscoring record they’ll miss – eight different times he’s struck at Stamford Bridge this season – but his sheer presence, will to win and the way he upsets the rhythm of opposing defenders. Without Toure, Fabregas and Costa the fixture will lack that extra class and spice; but the presence of Frank Lampard – back at Stamford Bridge after leaving Chelsea in the summer – will at least distract the media narrative.

 

Betting Instinct tip – with plenty of attacking talent sidelined, it could be worth backing fewer than 1.5 goals at 23/10 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

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.

Resurgent Lukaku can help Everton shock Man City

Has Romelu Lukaku rediscovered his goalscoring touch?

Has Romelu Lukaku rediscovered his goalscoring touch?

The first half of this season has not been kind to Romelu Lukaku. Everton’s record signing, purchased for £28m from Chelsea over the summer, has failed to hit the heights of the last two seasons, when back-to-back 15-goal hauls pushed him towards the top of the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.

As the Belgian has struggled, so have his club. The Toffees’ 21-point total is 17 shy of this time last season, and Roberto Martinez’s side have scored three fewer goals than in their first 20 games last campaign while conceding 14 more. An FA Cup third round exit looked set to add to the club’s misery, however a stoppage time equaliser from Lukaku earned a replay against West Ham United. Perhaps it can spark a turnaround for both player and club, ahead of this weekend’s fixture against Manchester City.

Everton v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Everton win 16/5

Manchester City win 4/5

Draw 12/5

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

 

All logic points towards a comfortable away win at Goodison Park on Saturday. The Merseyside club have lost their last four league games and five of the last six, the only exception being a home victory over a QPR side that has lost all nine of its away games this campaign. Indeed they were beaten 1-0 by this weekend’s opponents at the start of that six-game run, with a Yaya Touré penalty the difference.

City, in contrast, have shaken off the absence through injury of top scorer Sergio Agüero, picking up an impressive 29 points out of a possible 33 since the start of November. However this weekend they will be without Touré as well as Agüero, with the Ivorian having joined up with his national side in Equatorial Guinea for the Africa Cup of Nations.

With a forward-line stretched by injuries in recent weeks (Edin Džeko is still absent, while Stevan Jovetić has only recently returned from a spell on the sidelines), City have been grateful for their captain’s goals from midfield: Touré has found the net in four of the last six games, and the absence of him, Džeko and Agüero means that the scorers of more than half of the club’s 44 league goals will be unavailable for the trip to Merseyside.

Touré’s international team-mate Wilfried Bony is seemingly poised to move to the Etihad, and his arrival will surely help City’s title challenge in the latter part of the season, but for now this weekend’s fixture could prove challenging. Everton have injuries of their own to contend with, not least the calf problem that continues to rule out goalkeeper Tim Howard, but they finally have options up front with Lukaku, Samuel Eto’o and Arouna Koné all available for selection.

While Martinez’s side does not have too enviable a home record – just 12 points accrued and 15 goals conceded – they have lost just once at Goodison Park since September, and that came courtesy of a Bojan penalty for Stoke City.

If Lukaku can build on Tuesday’s crucial goal, with the support of his team mates, then he could help kickstart his club’s season while handing former employers Chelsea a huge boost in the race for the title.

Betting Instinct tip – Everton to win or draw is 9/10 with AllYouBet.ag

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

Strikerless Manchester City Look To Boing The Baggies

James Milner looks set to feature as a false nine for a second straight Manchester City game

James Milner looks set to feature as a false nine for a second straight Manchester City game

Manchester City head to the Hawthorns on Boxing Day with six straight league wins under their belt, a run that has seen them return to title contention.

It is a game considered their most difficult in an otherwise favourable Christmas schedule. Indeed it could potentially have been a festive breeze were it not for losing all three of their recognised forwards, one of whom has been so sensational he virtually counts as four.

 

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City Betting Odds:

West Brom win 19/4

Man City win 1/2

Draw 16/5

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

 

The loss of Sergio Aguero, in addition to Dzeko and Jovetic, has forced Manuel Pellegrini into employing a Barcelona-style 4-6-0 formation that clicked ominously last weekend against Crystal Palace with three goals, 656 completed passes, and 73% of possession. You do wonder though whether in private moments the Engineer rues his decision to offload Alvaro Negredo in the summer now that his striking options consist of rookie teens or the versatile James Milner in the ‘false 9’ role.

The latter will presumably start again on Friday and one would expect him to run his socks off in typical fashion. While ex-Blue Joleon Lescott will certainly be glad of Aguero’s absence, he will struggle with the unfamiliar movement of an interchangeable attack made up of an array of mini-marvels.

The relentless probing for pockets of space from Milner, the rejuventated Nasri and fit-again Silva are integral to this unusual formation’s success but equally so is the forceful runs of Kolorov and Zabaleta out wide.

 

If the Baggies have any hope of enjoying their post-game turkey sarnies their own full-backs must be brave, take risks, and dare to venture forward at every opportunity. All too often when facing the current champions the opposition look to stem the tide and hold out against a constant barrage of tiki-taka magic and driving runs from deep with a breakthrough always imminent. Pinned back inevitably that breakthrough arrives.

So it falls upon Andre Wisdom and Sebastien Pocognoli to offer support and speculative overlaps further afield knowing that should City break there is no killer instinct up front to punish them quickly. More so it puts doubt into Kolorov and Zabaleta’s minds every time they ‘go’.

For this strategy to be employed the home side must show more adventure than they’ve mustered this season. The supporters are growing tired of Alan Irvine’s negativity and baffling team selections and their capitulation to QPR on Saturday after being two goals to the good has meant whispers for his dismissal have noticeably increased in volume. Yet their recent 1-0 triumph over local rivals Aston Villa and an exhilarating opening twenty minutes of attacking intent at Loftus Road hints at a coach willing to loosen his cautious ways. West Brom were largely undone by three poor pieces of defending and each can hopefully be remedied on the training pitch ahead of three extremely tricky fixtures that Irvine would certainly not have requested from Santa. After hosting City they face daunting trips to Stoke and West Ham.

 

As for the visitors the expected return of Vincent Kompany will boost them further and the manner in which they have overcome adversity of late seems to have re-energised the whole squad. Since Aguero pulled up early in the game against Everton – prompting one well-known pundit to prematurely declare Chelsea champions-elect – they have shared out the goalscoring duties admirably with Yaya Toure, Silva, Zabaleta, and Frank Lampard all mucking in. They will go into this encounter full of rediscovered confidence.

No team has ever won the league or avoided the drop at Christmas time but City know the immense value in momentum coming into a new year while Irvine will be acutely aware there are two kinds of sack in December. One contains presents in the form of much-needed points. The other is a P45 some claim is already in the post.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Man City to win both halves is 13/10 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.

Will Liverpool and Man City miss key men in Champions League showdowns?

Who will be missed more, Sergio Aguero or Daniel Sturridge?

Who will be missed more, Sergio Aguero or Daniel Sturridge?

While Chelsea and Arsenal have sealed their progress to the Champions League second round with a game to spare, things are not so simple for the remaining two Premier League representatives.

A combination of tough opponents and underwhelming performances have left Liverpool and Manchester City with a tough task to qualify, but both have their fate in their own hands going into matchday 6.

Liverpool v FC Basel Betting Odds:

Liverpool win 7/10

Basel win 7/2

Draw 53/20

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

Liverpool’s return to European football’s top table for the first time in five years has been overshadowed by attacking woes, with Daniel Sturridge’s absence through injury adding to the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona. Strikers Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert have scored just once each in the five group games so far, with Brendan Rodgers’ side picking up just one more point after a narrow win over Ludogorets in their opening game.

However victory over FC Basel would be enough to ensure progress behind group winners Real Madrid. The Swiss champions edged past the Reds at home thanks to a Marco Streller goal, but have won just one of their last five away games in the competition. That was in England, though, when a Streller winner made the difference against Chelsea last season.

An absent striker is the main story for Manchester City as well, with the injury picked up by Sergio Aguero in Saturday’s victory over Everton ruling the Argentine out of Wednesday’s trip to Roma. And after his hat-trick in a last-gasp win over Bayern Munich, it is fair to say that Aguero will be missed, with Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko both yet to score in the competition this season.

Like their fellow Premier League club, City have just one win from five games so far. However, due to a quirk in the Champions League’s head-to-head tiebreaker, Manuel Pellegrini’s men could progress with six points or exit with eight. All they know is defeat in the Italian capital (or a goalless draw) would see them eliminated.

Will we have a repeat of 2012-13, where two English sides failed to make it past the group stage, or could we still see the perfect qualification record enjoyed by Premier League outfits last season?

Betting Instinct tip Liverpool to win and Manchester City to win or draw is 2.6 with Intertops.eu

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

Reborn Manchester City threaten to flatten struggling Everton

Can the returning Eliaquim Mangala keep out Romelu Lukaku?

Can the returning Eliaquim Mangala keep out Romelu Lukaku?

After months of under-par struggling that has baffled supporters, pundits, and – you suspect – Manuel Pellegrini himself Manchester City seem finally to have found the high gears that secured them the title last season.

Their slick passing and fluid movement has returned, and a quartet of consecutive victories – two of which laid to rest long-standing ‘bogey’ fixtures – have hauled them back to within striking distance of a Chelsea side that seem incapable of losing.

 

Manchester City v Everton Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 1/2

Everton win 5/1

Draw 3/1

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

 

The sensational form of Sergio Aguero aside it is difficult to pinpoint what has caused this dramatic turnaround but evidence lends itself to a team spirit rediscovered as they trailed to Bayern Munich with just minutes to go during their last Champion’s League encounter. The free-scoring Argentine may have bagged an impressive hat-trick that evening – prompting accusations of City being a one-man side – but the collective energy, fight, and pride that coursed through the Etihad on the final whistle acted as a release valve on months of pent-up frustration. City suddenly remembered who they were, what they are capable of and, most importantly, how to set about dismantling opposition with lethal disdain.

Southampton and Sunderland both suffered the ensuing backlash and it’s logical to assume Everton will be similarly punished this Saturday teatime especially in light of the Toffees’ own prolonged dip in form.

 

The visitors, though, boast a very credible record against City. Indeed it wasn’t long ago when they too were considered a bogey team of the current champions, winning nine of the fourteen previous encounters. Defeats both home and away last term appear to have ended that curse and it’s worth noting that the majority of Everton victories were presided over by David Moyes, a man who appeared to take personal exception to City’s fancy ways and consequently fortified his men for battle. At times it was Braveheart vs The Age Of Innocence with the inevitable conclusion being a pumped-up Tim Cahill punching a corner flag in goal celebration.

Under Martinez the Merseysiders have opened up, attempting to play their way through the phases, and this more genteel style is much more in keeping with City’s ideal.

They still possess Romelu Lukaku however, a combination of brawn and touch that will trouble a City rearguard missing their leader Vincent Kompany and the pacy striker will look to exploit any uncertainties in the unfamiliar partnership of Mangala and Demichelis. With McGeady and Mirallas offering intelligent support there’s plenty of scope for Everton to break quick and hard.

 

Dealing with such counters has been City’s Achilles heel this season so it’s critical Pellegrini is brave and starts once more with a rejuvenated Fernandinho in the holding role despite a crucial Champions League showdown with Roma being only four days away. Elsewhere Milner is expected to pip Jovetic for a spot with his forceful endeavour favouring cute flicks to weary a congested Everton midfield.

Where this game may be won tactically resides in which pair of full-backs pins back the other. Both sides are blessed with wingers in all-but-name and should Baines and Colman cede to away etiquette and attempt to keep a solid back four Clichy and Zabaleta – both reborn of late – will surely capitalise and run riot out wide.

 

Then there’s Aguero. A devastating one-man spree of muscle, trickery, and intent ‘Kun’ has exploded into a stratosphere only inhabited by a select handful of sublime talents who seem to have this football lark mastered. So far fourteen goals have been haughtily slotted home and now that his team-mates have raised their game he’s even prepared to help them onto the score-sheet too with three assists in the last two games. All this in addition to his relentless probing and expertly seeking out a yard of space means it’s safe to assume Phil Jagielka will have a sleep-deprived Friday night.

That goes double for Tim Howard who has become a shadow of his former self, uncharacteristically shaky behind a defence who have already shipped in 22 goals this season, more than any other side bar those in genuine relegation plight.

With this in mind Sergio and co must be licking their lips and even without the artful magician Silva pulling the strings and Kompany the warrior leading from the back it’s hard to see past anything other than a continuation of Manchester City’s rebirth.

The wheels are back on the juggernaut and Everton will do well to not be flattened.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Against a porous Everton defence, Manchester City to win both halves is 13/10 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.

Southampton to set Manchester City stern test in race for Champions League places

Ronald Koeman has silenced those who tipped his Southampton side for relegation

Ronald Koeman has silenced those who tipped his Southampton side for relegation

Twelve matches into the season and Chelsea’s six-point lead at the top of the table already looks impenetrable, likely handing Jose Mourinho his third Premier League title. Yet if Manchester City want to fulfill their dream of retaining the championship, they will need to start a charge now, toppling second place Southampton on Sunday.

Southampton v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Southampton win 21/10

Manchester City win 6/5

Draw 23/10

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

Intermittent form and a blight of injuries to the team’s core has decimated City’s hopes of challenging on two fronts productively. Even after a summer of spending and repointing of gaps identified last season the absence of experienced hands has caused Manuel Pellegrini’s side to slip up too often.

Tuesday’s Champions League outing gave them a lifeline in Europe and while the possibility of success continues their attention to the title race will be mooted. Beating Bayern Munich, City’s first European win of the season, means a score draw when they visit the Olympic Stadium in Rome will be enough for them to pass through to the knockout round.

A daring, ferocious thrill of a win, City achieved it without first-teamers David Silva, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, albeit against 10 men. The result masks concerns about Pellegrini’s team but their tenacity to score late and a will to persevere is admirable. Indiscretions at home to Stoke and on their travels at Queens Park Rangers will be rued come May, however, with the new found strength following the Bayern victory maybe the corner has been turned.

At the heart of City’s resistance is Sergio Aguero. Casting a diminutive appearance from afar, the pugnacious, muscle-bound striker is in the form of his life. The Argentinean’s midweek display, scoring the crucial winning hat-trick, reinforced his position as one of the world’s greatest strikers. His last-gasp heroics may be required again on Sunday, when City face the tightest defence in England.

Leading the top-scorers chart so far, sitting one goal ahead of Chelsea’s Diego Costa with 12, Aguero’s tenacious approach has seen him score a quarter of his goals in the final 10 minutes of games. Reminiscent, in part, of Luis Suarez’s impact at Liverpool last season, where the Uruguayan almost single-handedly delivered them their first league title in 24 years, Aguero’s sparkling form is keeping City in the hunt.

For Southampton, their position at the crest of the Premier League is unexpected. Losing manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham Hotspur and five members of the first team – Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovern and Calum Chambers – in wallet-busting moves during the transfer window, the Saints were understandably predicted a torrid time.

How they have dealt with those departures, bringing in a number of replacements and incorporating them so swiftly after a summer of upheaval is outstanding. New boss Ronald Koeman’s ability to introduce a redesigned strike force while maintaining the discipline at the back has deservedly got them up to second. How they fare for the rest of the season, and whether they will be able to maintain their form, is the quandary.

While they face both Manchester sides and an away tie at Arsenal over the next month, Southampton know all three are beatable. If the Saints are to progress for a third season in a row, this tough pre-Christmas fixture list is the perfect opportunity to state their intentions. And this comes after they were defeated just twice through 2013/14 against the three sides.

Now with a team capable of scoring multiple times against table-topping opponents, an issue they were unable to overcome last year, Southampton have created an unyielding squad: defiant in defence, convincing in attack. Importantly, Koeman has galvanized a resolute defence with the additions of Fraser Forster, Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand. By utilising the full-backs fully, encouraging them to plow forward, reward has come by the way of Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne chipping in with three goals.

Conceding once in five matches, Southampton, are a demanding test for City to face after a zapping European game, if they want the title, this is the opportunity to show it.

Betting Instinct tip – Southampton have shown their mettle this season conceding just six goals, up against a tired Man City side from midweek back fewer than 2.5 goals at 2/1 with intertops.eu

 FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter

Can United blast City’s title hopes into oblivion?

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

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

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

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

 

Manchester City v Manchester United Betting Odds:

City win 4/5

United win 3/1

Draw 13/5

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Weakened Man City look to pour misery on Spurs

Yaya Touré has sometimes struggled to find his form after international duty

Yaya Touré has sometimes struggled to find his form after international duty

Thirteen seconds. That’s all it took. Manchester City required no more time. Giant flags adorning the golden eagle motif were still being hauled over the crowd as the ball crossed the line; chants ditched mid-chorus for euphoric celebrations. A Hugo Lloris miskick here, a palmed Sergio Agüero shot there, and Jesus Navas sent the rebound exquisitely over the French goalkeeper to give City the lead.  The goal, less than a quarter of a minute into the game, was the joint quickest in Premier League history. Manager André Villas Boas watched on, unable to motivate his Spurs side, who eventually conceded another five.

 

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 1.45

Spurs win 6.5

Draw 4.15

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

 

That high-tempo, destructive dismantling by Manuel Pellergrini’s team last November was uncharacteristic in nature for the previously rational coach.

After a summer of defensive reinforcements, though, he looks to have returned to type. An average of 2.68 goals a game in 2013/14 has now dropped to 2, as City stumbled through the opening barrages of the season. A home defeat to Stoke preceded draws against Arsenal and Chelsea, before victories over Hull and Aston Villa put them second before the international break.

Although already five points behind Chelsea, City are realistically the London side’s only title rivals. Considering they are yet to ‘click’, it bodes well they are still in a position to chase. The Champions League, however, is once again proving a chastising experience for City, where they currently sit third in Group E on one point. Injuries and energy consuming continental trips, combined with the late return of Yaya Touré from Ivory Coast duties, have caused selection problems for Pellegrini.

 

Part of the side to lose 4-3 in their Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier to the D.R. Congo, Touré continued his goal-scoring form, drawing level early on for The Elephants through a thunderous 25-yard strike. But with his arrival back in Manchester possibly as close as 24 hours before Saturday’s midday kick-off, and then a trip to Russia for Tuesday’s match against CSKA Moscow, Pellegrini will have to deliberate whether to rest the midfielder or not.

After a slow start, following a difficult summer, Touré began to show glimpses of his previous best away to Villa, bursting forward late on and disrupting tired back lines. It is a role that’s proved rewarding against Tottenham this season, as Liverpool exploited in August, highlighting Spurs’ defensive weaknesses when facing two upfront, using quick transitions and overlaps from an advancing midfielder.

City’s preferred 4-4-2 formation gives them the advantage of being able to run directly at the centre-backs, and with Fernando expected to be fit they do not have to worry about leaving space in the centre of midfield. The ability to adapt, though, especially in the closing stages, moving to a 4-3-3, has been one of City’s great traits. Pellegrini’s side have scored nine of their 14 Premier League tally in the second half so far this season, seven coming in the final ten minutes.

 

For Tottenham, the match 11 months ago propelled the calls for Villas-Boas’s dismissal, and within three weeks he was out, sacked following another shellacking, on this occasion 5-0 to Liverpool. Tim Sherwood’s gilet-inspired tenure turned out as expected, hindering the club and slowing the integration of so many new players.

More is predicted of Mauricio Pochettino, however. While the football has not been to everyone’s liking, and at times as turgid as that played previously, the high-pressing, possession-based philosophy he wants to set down will take time. Injuries to goalkeeper-cum-sweeper Lloris and top-scorer Nacer Chadli, who are both possible absentees on Saturday, may slow that progress even further.

But as we reach a busy section of fixtures for City, and injuries of their own accumulate, Spurs have the chance to build on their nerve-wracking 1-0 win at home to Southampton. If they are to achieve their top four dream, then this is the best opportunity to prove they’re capable of overcoming like-minded opposition.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Draw half-time and Manchester City to win full-time is 4.25 with AllYouBet.ag

 

FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter