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.

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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.

Manchester United trip presents golden opportunity for Danny Welbeck and Arsenal

While fixtures between Manchester United and Arsenal aren’t what they used to be, there is still a sense that an awful lot rests on Monday night’s FA Cup Quarter Final. For the winners, it’s a chance to condemn their old rivals to an almost certain trophyless season, whilst also maintaining momentum in the all-important race for the top four.

 

FA Cup Outright Betting Odds:

Liverpool 19/10

Manchester United 5/2

Arsenal 3/1

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

 

The game will be Danny Welbeck’s first at Old Trafford since he left United for Arsenal last summer. Welbeck made a promising start to his Arsenal career, performing well as a lone striker in place of the injured Olivier Giroud. His hard work and enthusiasm resonated well with his new supporters too, as it had done in Manchester previously. An impressive showing for England in the Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland in September, where he scored a brace, also supported the view that at £16 million Welbeck had been a great signing. A hat-trick in the Champions League against Galatasaray followed and Arsenal fans were starting to believe Ravel Morrison’s infamous words that Welbz was indeed “dat guy”.

However, a combination of injuries, big game misses and the return of Giroud have made the second half of this season more difficult for Welbeck. A little of the early positivity surrounding him has perhaps dried up and since Giroud’s reinstatement as Arsenal’s principal striker, Welbeck has had to make do with playing on the wing or starting on the bench. Neither player gave a good account of themselves against Monaco but it was Giroud who received Arsene Wenger’s backing in the next game against Everton and repaid that faith with a goal. This continued into the week, with the French striker scoring the opener against QPR on Wednesday night.

 

What counts in Giroud’s favour, as well as his goals, is his ability to win the ball in the air and to hold up play, enabling Arsenal’s cohort of talented midfielders to be brought into play more. Welbeck has proven to be a little lightweight in this role but on the other hand he is better at getting behind the defence with his pace.  As such, recent appearances have tended to come out wide.

It is always difficult to predict how players will perform against their former clubs, but it is worth remembering that Welbeck built a reputation at United as a big game player. He rarely shirked responsibility and performances like the one at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid two seasons ago stand out as evidence of rising to the grand occasion. He is a young player, still developing his game and the prospect of maturing alongside other English players like Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is an exciting one.

United themselves still look like a side in transition. Until recently, they had been above Arsenal in the table but Louis van Gaal is yet to pull off many truly convincing displays. David de Gea has saved them many points this season and should Welbeck start, he is likely to enjoy running at his former teammates. They are without ex-Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, who has had no qualms seeing off the Gunners in the past.

 

Finally, Monday night represents a massive opportunity for Wenger to prove that Arsenal’s performance at Manchester City earlier this year was not a one-off. So long berated for his record in big games, victory for Arsenal would break a real hoodoo. Wenger has not won at Old Trafford since September 2006 – out of Arsenal’s starting line-up that day, only Tomas Rosicky remains at the club. Since then, there’s not been much to enjoy for Wenger in the red half of Manchester. Memories of being sent to the stands and abused by the United fans in August 2009 and the humiliating 8-2 defeat two years later are still fresh in the memory.

And yet, Wenger has remained one of the few constants in English football. The FA Cup has always been a trophy dear to the Frenchman and if Arsenal can see off United on Monday, Wenger could well be on course for a historic sixth. This would draw him level with the great Aston Villa manager George Ramsay and overtake Sir Alex Ferguson. With Fergie out of the picture, it is really time for Wenger to show what his Arsenal side are capable of.

 

Betting Instinct tip Arsenal to win on Monday night is 39/20 with AllYouBet.ag

 

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

Manchester United and Sunderland face potential giant-killings in FA Cup 5th Round

Love is in the air this weekend, and I don’t mean the cheap Valentines Day booze-up and romp you regret nine months later. No, open your hearts, put down those homemade 50 Shades-inspired whips and chains, and rejoice as the magic of the FA Cup comes hurtling back with all the mystique of a Silent Witness episode.

In truth, last time out proved to be quite the upset as Chelsea were felled at home by League One opposition Bradford City (more on them soon), and the number of Premier League teams left in the competition were reduced to 10.

 

Out are big-hitters Chelsea and Manchester City, who have appeared in five of the last six finals, concentrating their efforts on league glory instead.

And now, just two rounds away from the Wembley showpiece, thoughts of the smaller clubs will start to turn towards the rare possibility of following in the footsteps of recent finalists Millwall and Cardiff. Two teams in particular will be hoping to do their best David impersonation as they take on top tier Goliaths.

 

Bradford City v Sunderland Betting Odds:

Bradford win 5/2

Sunderland win 19/20

Draw 23/10

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

 

Bradford welcome Sunderland to Valley Parade for the first game between the two teams in 12 years. While the visitors’ ability should see them through, Bradford have pedigree in similar situations to these. In 2013 they overcame Premier League clubs Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan to reach the League Cup final. Although that proved a bridge too far, with the Bantams losing to Swansea 5-0, Bradford’s capacity to cause a shock result should not be doubted, having beaten Chelsea in the previous round.

Currently two places outside the League One play-offs, the Yorkshire club has lost only two of its last 17 games across all competitions, winning 10. And if they come out swinging like their co-chairman over the BBC’s decision not to show the tie, then we should be in for a full-blooded slugfest on Sunday afternoon.

 

In Sunderland’s case, this fixture could offer the respite needed from the doom surrounding their league campaign. Sitting a mere two points off the bottom three, Tuesday night’s loss to relegation rivals Queens Park Rangers will have dented their confidence further heading into the sell-out away FA Cup fixture.

But a game against lower league challengers provides the perfect opportunity for retribution, and a chance to improve their mind-set with a convincing win ahead of a crucial couple of months.

In all likelihood, it’ll be an attritional contest, fought out on a pitch resembling a tattered old rug won by the side with greater fitness and talent. Yet with Sunderland in need of shoring up their defensive errors that have seen them slip in the new year following a defiant November run, and struggles at the other end – even the January arrival of 32-year-old striker Jermain Defoe hasn’t mended Sunderland’s goal-woes – there’s every chance of a surprise.

 

Monday night’s prospect of Preston North End versus Manchester United should finish predictably too, but Preston’s manager Simon Grayson has form when it comes to defeating United. Five years on from his League One Leeds side stunning Manchester United thanks to a Jermaine Beckford winner, Grayson is hoping to repeat the feat.

Preston may not be on the kind of form Leeds were then, where they went into the game unbeaten in 17 matches, however they do reside comfortably in fourth place of League One with the third tightest defence in the third tier. Although struggling for goals in the league, Preston forward Paul Gallagher is the Cup’s leading scorer, and with United having conceded in six of their last eight league matches, he may well add to that tally.

 

For United the FA Cup has been a kind affair, though unnecessarily difficult to progress in, requiring a replay to defeat Cambridge United. In the midst of journalists and supporters bickering over whether they are a long-ball side and limp wins, United have crawled their way to third in the division. They have lost just once in 18 games in all competitions and manager Louis van Gaal seems content now to use a Plan B where essential.

It may well be another tough watch, but we can’t see past United leaving victorious and through to the quarter-finals having jinked past Premier League draws en route.

Betting Instinct tip – Paul Gallagher to score at any time is 10/3 with Coral.co.uk

 

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

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

Arsenal’s England stars can overcome Manchester United

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will look to add to his goal for England in midweek

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will look to add to his goal for England in midweek

There was a time when an Arsenal-Manchester United game would provide a strong indication as to which of these two teams would go on to win the title. But those days are long gone; Arsenal’s decline from the very elite of English football has been slow and painful while United’s has been far more pronounced, swift and, dare I say, far more entertaining (from the outside looking in, at least). This lowering of the stakes in recent times has contributed to the feeling that the fixture isn’t what it once was.

However, one gets the impression that more has changed than just the league positions of the sides. Arsenal and United used to provide fiery contests; there existed a real rivalry and a deep-seated hatred between the two. Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira would engage in ninety minute-long sledging matches, both managers would constantly seek to get the upper hand over the other and even a young Cesc Fàbregas once threw a slice of pizza across the tunnel! It was the Premier League at its most intense and, arguably, its most fun and we’ve certainly lost something as, one by one, the protagonists of those fantastic games have departed.

 

Arsenal v Manchester United Betting Odds:

Arsenal win 23/20

Manchester United win 11/5

Draw 23/10

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

 

While far from the big ticket it once was, the fixture remains among the most eagerly-anticipated of the season. And while these two massive clubs are no longer fighting one another for the title, the games are perhaps more intriguing than ever, with this Saturday’s match at the Emirates a case in point. The visitors Manchester United go into the game just a point behind Arsenal in seventh and only two adrift of a Champions League berth. It seems perverse to think that, after such a turbulent start to the season, United should be so close. Manchester City appear the only side capable of mounting a credible title challenge to José Mourinho’s rampant Chelsea so a top-four finish and a return to Europe’s top table for Louis van Gaal’s men this season would surely constitute a success.

The hosts, though, head into the game at something of a crossroads. They have made a disappointing, although not completely disastrous, start to the season and while yet another top-four finish is well within their grasp it looks like any league-winning aspirations they harboured have all but disappeared by mid-November. A red-hot run of form will be required to turn the Gunners into even an outside bet for the title and it’s hard to see where they can acquire that sort of consistency.

 

Still, there would be nothing like a win over United to finally kickstart their season and beside long-term absentees Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy, Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck is the only fresh injury doubt for Arsène Wenger to contend with after the international break while Theo Walcott could make his long-awaited return to the starting line-up. What’s more, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play off the back of excellent performances for England at Celtic Park on Tuesday and Alexis Sánchez will seek to continue his breathtaking form. He has been without doubt the brightest light for Arsenal this season and if Wenger can get Welsh lynchpin Aaron Ramsey back to anywhere near his best by Saturday teatime, their fans will be confident of getting a result. The team certainly owes them a performance after the catastrophic collapse at Swansea a fortnight ago.

They are likely to face a significantly weakened Manchester United side too. The Red Devils will definitely be without Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard while van Gaal will have to check on the fitness of no fewer than eight of his players. Luke Shaw, Michael Carrick, David de Gea and Ángel dí Maria all picked up problems whilst on international duty and face a race against time while Phil Jones, Rafael, Radamel Falcao and Jonny Evans are all returning from longer-term injuries and will have to be assessed closer to the game. At least Chris Smalling is back from suspension though, eh?

 

As for the outcome of the game itself, it is of course extremely difficult to call as with any contest of this magnitude. United have the offensive players to outscore any opposition when they’re in the mood, it’s just hard to gauge when they are going to click. Juan Mata will hope to start in light of United’s injury problems and will have a point to prove having only played a peripheral role so far this term. But it is impossible to ignore the aforementioned injuries; United’s defence in particular has been decimated and it is hard to see how a potential back-five of Lindegaard, Valencia, Smalling, McNair and Blackett would be able to cope with a strong Arsenal side.

There is no doubt that on their day Arsenal possess one of the division’s most potent attacks and this, coupled with United’s crippling injury list, surely makes them favourites. But write United off at your peril; if history has taught us anything it is that games between these two sides can often decided by the tightest of margins.

Don’t expect the most blood-and-thunder of clashes on Saturday. The mood on the pitch at the Emirates is likely to be more cordial than in recent years and we are certainly more likely to see a heartfelt Robin van Persie-focussed reunion in the tunnel before the game than any Keown-esque taunts during it. But we can expect a fantastic match and one which could provide the victor with valuable momentum as we approach a hectic winter schedule.

 

Betting Instinct tip – The last three league meetings between the sides have produced a combined three goals. Back fewer than 2.5 goals at 21/20 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Jack C avatarJACK CHATTERTON is a student and long-suffering Spurs fan, who has written for In Bed With Maradona and  Sabotage Times, among others. You can read his miscellaneous and quite modest blog, or follow him 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.

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.