Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – May

 

This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end.

 

Yes that’s right one of the most underwhelming Premier League seasons we’ve ever had to endure is spluttering its way toward some sort of unsatisfactory conclusion. The Champions League places are all but concluded with Chelsea impressively but unmemorably coming top of the pile, there is a bit of a scuffle to avoid the Europa League and in fairness to the dregs at the bottom of the league there is still a bit of a question mark as to who will drop down into the Championship. But in the overall scheme of things this has been a poor season in terms of quality, drama and laugh out loud incompetence.

 

The first weekend of the month has no interesting games, none, not one. It’s utter dross. Do some work in the garden or something, or maybe go swimming? It’s been ages since you’ve been at the pool and you always enjoy it when you go. Whatever you do don’t watch the football, especially Spurs (49/20 with Intertops.eu) vs Man City (19/20) which looks deceptively like a game that might be good but in reality both sides gave up weeks ago.

 

The second weekend starts terribly with the inexplicable decision to televise Everton vs Sunderland and doesn’t get much better after that. Hull vs Burnley is a big one down at the bottom of the table but the soul crushing inevitability of Burnley’s relegation and the fact that no one in the world cares about Hull mean that I’m going to stop writing about it now. There is a ‘Super Sunday’ of sorts, with Chelsea vs Liverpool, which if nothing else will be a nice ‘have a look at what you could have won’ moment for Steven Gerrard.

 

Stop press we’ve got a game that might be alright! Weekend number three is mostly awful meaningless nonsense but finishes with Manchester United hosting Arsenal. Louis van Gaal will be looking to overcome the handicap of his weird hair to exact revenge over Arsene Wenger for their FA Cup defeat. For the last 4 months Arsenal have looked like a side who can challenge for the title, there is a new found pragmatism to sit alongside the flair. Of course this could be (and probably is) just Arsenal being Arsenal and they’ll regress to the mean with a spectacular explosion of incompetence before we know it, however a fixture against a rejuvenated but still not all that good Manchester United might give us a better idea.

 

I care so little that I can’t even be bothered looking at the last day, so in an effort to end on a mildly entertaining note I’m going to abandon the formula and go rogue by paying tribute to those who for one reason or another won’t be with us next season.

 

Steven Gerrard – Heading for MLS. Either one of the greatest players of his generation or the worst human of all time, depending on who you ask, Stevie is a man that splits opinion. One thing you can’t deny though is he has very consistent hair.

 

Frank Lampard – Heading for MLS. Got called fat a lot even though he wasn’t fat (but is still a bit fat for a footballer). Scored loads of goals, rumours that he’s a Tory.

 

Manuel Pellegrini – Will probably get sacked. City want Pep so big Manuel is probably done for sooner or later. Got called a “f**kin old c**t” by Alan Pardew and once wore a hoodie like he was nipping to the shop for milk rather than managing one of the richest clubs in the world.

 

Sam Allardyce – West Ham will probably let his contract run out. There are few finer sights in football than the big man after he’s ‘out tacticed’ one of the league’s elite. If there was an instrument to measure smugness then he’d break it.

 

Radamel Falcao – Heading to the glue factory. Knee injuries and advancing years (some say they’ve advanced more than his passport is letting on) mean that the Colombian’s stay in England has been a massive anti-climax. Another name to add to the lost of South Americans who haven’t quite cut it at Old Trafford.

 

John Carver – Heading for the record books. In years to come when they talk of the worst managers in history, big John and his staggeringly bad stint at Newcastle will be right up there. Great stuff.

 

I’m sure there are others but we all have things to do so let’s wrap it up. Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the FA Cup but I’ve just found out I’m at a wedding that day so I’m pretending it isn’t happening.

 

Betting Instinct tip – defy Ally by betting on the very real FA Cup Final. Arsenal to win and both teams to score is 2.98 with Intertops.eu

 

Ally avatar ALLY 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.

 

 

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.

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

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.

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

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

 

Arsenal vs Manchester City: Another early test for both sides

nasri-welbeck

We were on a break! And now, finally, we are not. It’s a sad state of affairs that non-tournament international football has become such a chore but a Premier League hiatus so early in the season is an irritation by anyone’s standards. Thankfully, we’ve an absolute cracker of a game to thrust us back into the swing of things.

Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off sees the champions, Manchester City, travel to the Emirates to take on an Arsenal side who have suffered a stuttering start to the season. Despite a comparatively low-key transfer window, City’s is a squad still brimming with talent and although their early-season momentum was disrupted by a home defeat to Stoke, they remain formidable opponents. Arsenal, however, are yet to click into gear. They’ve collected a win and two draws from their league fixtures, and in none of those games have they looked particularly convincing.

 

Arsenal v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Arsenal win – 37/20

Manchester City win – 13/10

Draw – 12/5

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

 

But early results can be deceptive; Alexis Sánchez has enjoyed a steady start to his Arsenal career and has already begun to repay his £35 million transfer fee with two important goals. One senses he will only get better and better as the season wears on. Even aside from Sánchez, Arsenal possess an abundance of attacking talent. Although they are yet to hit top form, it is unlikely the likes of Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain will stay silent for long. Add a soon-to-return Theo Walcott to the mix and Arsenal have some of the most potent attacking options in the division. Olivier Giroud is admittedly a big miss for Arsenal, and it is unlikely he will play until the New Year, but Arsène Wenger will hope new signing Danny Welbeck replaces the Frenchman’s goals and provides the Gunners with a suitable line-leader.

Welbeck, fresh from a match winning performance in Basel on Monday, is set to make his debut against the Citizens on Saturday which should provide an interesting sub-plot to the game after his £16 million deadline-day switch from boyhood club Manchester United. While not prolific in his time at Old Trafford, Welbeck is a player who can play in a number of advanced positions and, in Giroud’s absence, is expected to be given the central-striker role he was so often denied at United. His pace in behind makes him a valuable asset in that position and, if he can discover a finishing touch, he could significantly improve his goal-scoring record – especially with such an array of creative talent behind him.

 

However, despite all the potential for fun and games in this Arsenal side, they will have to improve quickly to be able to live with City. Manuel Pellegrini’s squad are looking as invigorated as ever as they set about the task of trying to retain their Premier League crown and, after finally bolstering their occasionally-shaky centre of defence with the capture of Eliaquim Mangala, look in the perfect position to do so. Another new defensive recruit, Bacary Sagna, will expect a frosty reception on his first return to the Emirates since leaving Arsenal on a free transfer in the summer. Those sub-plots just keep on coming don’t they?

It isn’t City’s defence that will have kept them near the top of the league come season’s end though, it is their incredible range of attacking talent, perhaps one that eclipses even Arsenal’s. David Silva, Samir Nasri (human sub-plot) and Jesús Navas are all supreme creators and will provide chances for the returning Sergio Agüero and one of either Edin Džeko or Stevan Jovetić. And then there is the tour de force that is Yaya Touré. It is likely he will never better the sensational form he enjoyed last season, but his superb vision, power and ability to control games mean he is still very much City’s driving force.

 

Touré will be partnered by either Fernandinho or new addition Fernando and whichever central-midfield combination Pellegrini opts for may prove too much for Arsenal. For all their creativity, the London club has failed to strengthen in the only area it desperately needed to. They lack a high-quality holding midfielder who can protect the defence; Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta are not the answers. Once again, it appears it is Wenger’s dogged assertion that no problem, however big or small, can be solved with the addition of another attacking midfielder, that could put the kibosh on Arsenal’s ultimate ambitions.

But in all honesty, Saturday’s game is very hard to read. Both teams are yet to hit their stride and while Arsenal could find themselves vulnerable in midfield, they have more than enough to cause City problems of their own. This is a huge test for two sides with title ambitions and could provide an intriguing assessment about how well equipped they both are to achieve that. Whatever happens, I’m just glad I don’t have to watch England again for a little while.

 

Betting Instinct tip – With two formidable attacks and questions remaining over Arsenal’s defensive solidity, more than 3.5 goals can be backed at 7/4 with AllYouBet.ag.

 

 JACK CHATTERTONJack C avatar 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  or  Google+.

Five incidents bound to happen during Manchester City vs. Liverpool

David Silva's Premier League campaign is already an improvement on his World Cup

David Silva’s Premier League campaign is already an improvement on his World Cup

Remember the World Cup? How good was that! Remember all the big games that happened right at the start and all the goals that were scored to get everyone into the mood in record time?

Well turns out that the World Cup was such a good idea that the Premier League have gone and borrowed its best bits in order to make sure the beginning of the new season doesn’t disappoint after all the fun of the summer. By which I mean they’ve scheduled a really rather large fixture to be played in the second round of matches: last year’s champions, Manchester City, against last year’s runners-up Liverpool.

 

Manchester City v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Manchester City win – 1.85

Liverpool win – 4.00

Draw – 3.50

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

 

Clearly this game is set for yet more Brazil 2014-themed surprises to spice up the action, with kick-off scheduled for an appropriately trans-Atlantic 8pm on a Monday evening. If that’s not group stage scheduling, I don’t know what is.

So without further ado, here’s what’s probably, definitely, bound to happen as Manuel Pellegrini’s Premier League winners take on Brendan Rodgers’ Champions League returnees, for a chance to top Group A, which is the only group in this competition.

 

Someone will score a really good headed goal from a left-back’s cross

And that left-back will most likely be Glen Johnson, who started on his non-natural flank against Southampton in Liverpool’s opening game of the season.

With Daniel Sturridge set to start up front for the Reds, the displaced right-back will stumble upon some space, look up and see his England team mate dashing towards Joe Hart’s area.

We’ll then watch, disbelievingly, as Johnson produce the cross of his career with the part-time sandwich artist jumping up and flopping like a salmon (teriyaki, with extra green peppers? – Ed.) to head the ball into City’s net.

 

Luis Suarez will bite someone again

On Twitter anyway, because as far as English football goes, Luis don’t live here anymore.

That’s right, while the action takes place on the field of play, thousands of rehashed memes and tired, old jokes will surge forth onto various social media channels.

Liverpool will “lack bite”, according to the pictorial punchlines that are to come. Some will overreach in an attempt to force relevancy. A Uruguayan family will go hungry without a supply of Martin Demichelis’ shoulder meat, they’ll say. In text speak.

Maybe some will go for a different angle, trying to use Rickie Lambert’s lesser-known past as a beetroot technician to create an ethical, vegetarian friendly version of all this great new ‘comedy’ that will be taking place. It’ll be like football itself has taken the trapezium muscle of an Italian defender and won itself a transfer to BBC Three, to play alongside Nick Grimshaw and Russell Kane or something.

 

A physio will be injured

Gary Lewin’s stumble against Italy will not have happened in vain. The Premier League are already making plans for the fourth official to go behind one of the team’s physios during the game and take out their knees with a large spanner, as a loving tribute to the fallen England backroom staffer.

No word yet as to who the bookies think the man in the stands will target, but it’s sure to only add to the tense occasion that will be gripping the Etihad, as fans pour into the stadium to see who will be left standing at the end of 90 minutes.

 

Liverpool’s South Americans will sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” really loud for ages just before kick-off, which City’s Brazilians will boo mercilessly

One of the most endearing features of the World Cup was the heart, passion and a capella abilities shown by the South American fans prior to the start of their teams’ games.

Brazil and Chile in particularly showed off the intensity of feeling held by their players and fans during their national anthems. In order to bring some of that pre-match vibrancy to the Premier League, Liverpool’s South Americans will be encouraged by officials to belt out that Rogers & Hammerstein classic, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

As an added twist however, City’s Brazilians will be allowed to try and disrupt the singing without censor, much as their fellow countrymen in the stands did with boos and whistles when Chile and Brazil met in the second round this summer.

It’s at this point that the sponsors will begin to feel a little nervous over the whole charade.

 

Both sets of fans will peer into the future and realise that neither City or Liverpool can win this year due to their lack of Germans

Germany won the World Cup, so it stands to reason that they’ll also win the a post-World Cup, World Cup-themed Premier League. That’s logic.

Therefore, the title is between Chelsea and Arsenal, which means Jose Mourinho’s already won it.

City do have the best Argentinians in the league however, so second-place is theirs. Meanwhile, it’s doesn’t look good for English talent-laden Liverpool. Roy Hodgson’s team didn’t even make it out of their group in Brazil, which means the Reds will slip out of the Champions League this year, determined to do better in 2016.

 

A Chilean will invade the press room

Whatever the result on Monday, Manuel Pellegrini will storm the press room, flip the buffet table and ensure a couple of temporary walls fall onto the heads of some of the journalists present, in the spirit of the 150 Chileans who invaded the press centre at the Maracana.

It’s not been announced what the mild-mannered manager is expected to do once he’s caused the carnage, with many insiders suggesting he’ll just meekly walk away, ashamed of being dragged into the surreal affair, but anything could happen in the one-man melee that may ensue.

 

Betting Instinct tip – No bookmakers are offering odds on some of these more specific predictions, but more than 3.5 goals, in keeping with the early World Cup theme, is 2.75 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Unfamiliar with decimal betting odds? Check out our odds calculation guide to find out how to translate to decimal or fractional

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+.