Champions Chelsea can punish complacent Liverpool

A week is a long time in politics. By the time Chelsea and Liverpool take to the field on Sunday there could well be a new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Or, as is more likely, the political parties will remain locked in darkened rooms, thrashing out deals and compromises to form another coalition government. As for the two football clubs, you could hardly drive a larger political wedge between them, with Chelsea sitting in the Conservative safe seat of Kensington – the only Tory club in the Premier League – and Liverpool a notorious Labour heartland.

 

Chelsea v Liverpool Betting Odds:

Chelsea win 21/20

Liverpool win 5/2

Draw 9/4

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

 

If a week is a long time in the political world, then a year in football is an eternity. These two faced each other with three games remaining last season in what is now a well run story; Steven Gerrard slipped, Demba Ba scored, Liverpool capitulated and Manchester City won the title. The Reds sold Luis Suarez and recruited poorly, the Blues sold David Luiz and recruited well.

With three games to go in 2014-15 Chelsea have already wrapped up the title and with nine points left to play for sit 13 ahead of second placed Man City, with Brendan Rodgers’ side a further 22 points back. The momentum that his side took into this fixture in April last year has well and truly evaporated after a chastening year, and defeat at Stamford Bridge would represent their 11th of the season, well and truly extinguishing their slim hopes of retaining their Champions League status for a second campaign.

 

Chelsea will be overwhelming favourites in a fixture that has so much less riding on it than would have been predictable even a month ago. Jose Mourinho’s team have strolled to the league title, barely breaking sweat in the second half of the season and undefeated since a 5-3 reverse at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day, while three defeats in Liverpool’s last six have cost them hugely in their unlikely bid to make the top four.

While some managers would see the visit of the Reds as a chance to put down a marker, to emphasise your superiority in this league, for Mourinho only victory matters as their 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace showed last Sunday. After taking the lead on half time, every substitution was designed to make sure of victory and deny the opposition a way back; John Obi Mikel for Juan Cuadrado, Kurt Zouma for Willian and Filipe Luis for Eden Hazard. “Boring” it may be to some, but no one can deny the effectiveness of Mourinho’s tactics this year.

So entrenched in negativity have been perceptions of Mourinho’s side since the new year that many have overlooked their stellar start to the year, when they attacked with verve and dynamism, spearheaded by summer signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. Their second, and so far final, league defeat of the season came in that loss to Tottenham in January. It was viewed then as a sign of complacency creeping into their game, of defensive frailties and vulnerabilities that other sides had failed to pick up on.

 

Conversely it was the best thing to happen to them. It has led to the pragmatic approach, the defensive lockdown that has been behind their title victory. Only Hull have scored more than once against them in the past four months. The Blues may have the best eleven in the league, but they have a manager who saw the problems and addressed them, where others may have ignored them. It is as much Mourinho’s win as Eden Hazard’s, Diego Costa’s or John Terry’s.

Pragmatic has become a dirty word in footballing circles, its connotations with negative, defensive football too readily assumed. Instead it is the mark of doing what it takes to win, it is perhaps the ultimate skill set a manager can learn. It is what separates the best from the rest. While Mourinho has it in spades, his opposite number and former apprentice Brendan Rodgers, is still learning it. It would be lazy to accuse the Liverpool manager of being too idealistic for he is more pragmatic now than when he took over the Reds in June 2012.

 

The move to the three at the back midway through this season, the use of the midfield diamond last season, all manoeuvres that point to a coach who can be pragmatic. However that’s not to say he couldn’t have been more pragmatic. The 3-4-2-1 could have been hooked earlier, the 4-3-2-1 of the autumn should have been abandoned almost immediately, while the need to prioritise goals over defensive solidity has not been properly addressed.

As we enter the denouement of the 2014-15 season, the sense of regret and a missed opportunity abounds on Merseyside. Liverpool took their foot off the gas after a dire FA Cup semi-final showing against Aston Villa, taking just one point off West Brom and Hull City. Victories would see them sitting in fourth now, given the three consecutive defeats suffered by Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United; instead complacency crept in.

 

Brendan Rodgers has a poor record against top four sides this season, with only a home win against a disinterested Manchester City to shout about. But this isn’t where Liverpool have fallen short this year, it’s in failing to beat the bottom ten teams home and away; they’ve only done that over Burnley and QPR, the weakest two sides in the division.

Liverpool do not deserve to finish in the top four, and they will lose at Stamford Bridge on Sunday because fear has replaced bravado at Anfield, ever since Steven Gerrard slipped over and Demba Ba scored that goal.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool not to score is 31/20 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.

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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.

 

 

Burnley Could Be The Team to End Arsenal’s Sequence Of Victories

 

It’s April, Arsenal are second in the Premier League table and have won seven games in a row. Before we begin, it’s probably worth taking a second to let that sink in. After a pretty dreadful start to the campaign, they have somehow managed to string together an impressive amount of victories and, for the most part, performances to match. However, all things must pass.

There’s a reason why a big team away at plucky newly-promoted minnows from Up North is on TV – there’s the hope of an upset. Of course, your dual narrative kills two birds with one stone pretty effectively, but this game is a 5.30 kick-off rather than a lunchtime one for a reason; the floodlights, the chill in the air, the slightly more intoxicated and subsequently louder home crowd – the whole thing is set up rather nicely for a Burnley result.

 

Burnley v Arsenal Betting Odds:

Burnley win 19/4

Arsenal win 53/100

Draw 31/10

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

 

This isn’t to say there is some conspiracy against Arsenal of course – this isn’t that type of website. Both Chelsea and Manchester City already found themselves in similar situations at Turf Moor, with the results rather conveniently reflecting both sides’ respective seasons. Chelsea were exciting to begin with, Diego Costa scored without playing particularly well, then Mourinho went and Mourinho-ed – making his side see out the victory in a more professional, yet unspectacular fashion. Manchester City, meanwhile, were underwhelming and failed to match the standards they set last season.

So what kind of game would be representative of Arsenal’s season? Definitely not a handsome win – certainly not as good as Chelsea’s. Probably a 3-2 win or a 2-2 draw, with the Gunners falling a couple of goals behind early on before roaring back in the second half rather surprisingly.

 

And Arsenal have unquestionably been playing well. With 10 wins in their last 11 league outings, Arsene Wenger’s team have finally played themselves into form and last Saturday was probably the first time that their three best players – Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez – all played well in the same game at the same time. However, they’ve also been playing opponents at the right time over the last couple of months.

 

Liverpool were in good form before Manchester United visited Anfield and put a hole in their boat, which enabled Martin Skrtel and captain Steven Gerrard to nobly go down with the ship – both earning themselves three-game suspensions for violent conduct. All this, added to Daniel Sturridge’s injury, allowed Arsenal to steamroller a much weaker Liverpool team than one that would have shown up at The Emirates, say, four weeks earlier.

Everton and QPR were also playing pretty badly prior to their respective fixtures with the Gunners last month. And since Newcastle and West Ham both achieved all their goals (getting enough points to avoid relegation) in the first half of the season, they saw no need for a second, and both allowed Arsenal to stroll away with three points.

 

After spending what felt like the entire Easter weekend trying to bore Tottenham into submission, it’s pretty safe to acknowledge that, comparatively, Burnley aren’t so out-of-form. This isn’t to say they are actually good, mind – they are still second bottom – but as a relatively well-drilled, two-banks-of-four team who have something to play for and aren’t as desperately low on confidence, they may well prove to be Arsenal’s toughest opponents since the North London Derby.

Sean Dyche’s side have unexpectedly tried to fill the spot vacated by Middlesbrough and, more recently, Wigan Athletic, of that side who only seem to take points off big teams. Their record of 10 points against teams in the top seven this season is at least twice the total of anyone else the wrong side of 15th. Despite Sean Dyche having the constant expression of a bouncer of nightclub that’s reached full-capacity before midnight, it’s almost as if Burnley are, in fact, just happy to be here.

 

There aren’t many things more dangerous to a title challenge than a team who seemingly cares more about treasuring their time in the top flight, rather than extending it. Playing Crystal Palace or Hull is meaningless to Burnley – it’ll probably end up being a Championship play-off semi-final in a few seasons anyway – so hosting Arsenal is far more mouth-watering.

Being Arsenal, however, especially in April, is probably one of those few things more dangerous to a title challenge. It was all going so well too. While the rather unrealistic nature of this particular pursuit of the league leaders may be a useful dry-run for next spring, Wenger’s side seem to have developed a bad habit of wetting themselves every time they get within a moderate distance of silverware. This late-season charge from the Gunners really does seem to mirror much of Liverpool’s form at the end of last term, and while the “This Does Not Slip” episode really did set a new bar for hilarious title-bottling, if anyone can better it, Arsenal can.

 

Betting Instinct tip – The score draw is 7.38 with Intertops.eu

 

caolan_avatar CAOLAN COSGROVE writes about football, especially all things Arsenal-related, for BendtOverBackwards, Sabotage   Times and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – April

 

April is a glorious month, the days get warmer and longer, outside boozing become socially acceptable and I can start my now annual crusade to be allowed to wear shorts to work. The football season also approaches what that Football Cliches bloke on Twitter would call the ‘business end’ (or are we there already? – ed.).

 

March finishes with the bleak nothingness of an international fortnight so thank the Lord above that April has an absolute cracker of a game to get us started. Brendan Rodgers and his band of merry men travel to face Arsenal, where they really have to win to keep their top 4 hopes alive. They do of course make this trip minus their captain, which in most cases would be a disadvantage but in all honesty when your central midfielder is so busy raging against the dying of the light that the physical act of football becomes an irrelevance in his tortured mind then maybe it’s for the best if he takes his place in the stand. Arsenal are in form and at the stage of the season where they traditionally win games so are heavy favourites. Their form is such that there has even been talk of a title challenge, that obviously won’t happen but they could conceivably finish in the top two, which would represent progress of a sort and save any awkward early season ventures to deepest darkest Europe in the name of Champions League qualification.

 

Arsenal v Liverpool Betting Odds: 

Arsenal win  4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 53/20

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

 

The other stand out game that first weekend is the Tyne Wear derby, Sunderland (29/20 with Intertops.eu) have terrible players and are terrible so they will lose, but then again Newcastle (19/10) gave up on their season a couple of months ago and have a terrible manager so they’ll probably lose as well. Sunderland have a new manager who is in theory less terrible than the last one so that might help. Honestly unless you support either of the sides you’re only watching this one for the inevitable comedy violence.

 

The following weekend we get to witness the sight of Tottenham’s greatest ever manager returning to the scene of both his glorious triumph and the scandalous betrayal that ended his White Hart Lane reign. It is never wise to speculate on how history will remember a man and his deeds but in the case of Tim Sherwood we can rest assured that future generations will speak of him with the reverence reserved for only the truly great. He does have to be a bit careful that for all his undeniable majesty and grace he doesn’t end up forgetting to stop Villa getting relegated. A win at Spurs would be handy.

 

On Sunday we have the Manchester Derby and although United have spent the majority of the season grinding out results whilst playing suspiciously Moyesish football their recent upturn coupled with City’s recent malaise probably makes them favourites. United might have Van Persie back but he probably won’t get in the side ahead of Marouane Fellaini. Which when you think about it is a bit odd.

 

The season is actually in real danger of petering out, the top 4 looks familiar and unlikely to change save for a bit of jostling. The teams occupying the relegation zone all have a very Championshipy look about them, Burnley might just drag themselves out and haul someone back in, with Sunderland looking most likely. Leicester have played quite well at points this season without ever looking like they might still be here come next August and QPR are a shambles both on and off the pitch. I’m not saying I’m struggling to find things to write about as we approach the conclusion of another campaign but we could really do with a good handshake/non-handshake scandal to keep things interesting over the next few weeks.

 

The only saving grace may come in the remaining cup competitions where the Champions League despite/because of (delete as appropriate) its lack of English participants looks particularly well poised for a brilliant last few rounds. We get repeat of last years final where Atletico (8/5 to qualify with AllYouBet.ag)will be looking for revenge against their city neighbours (11/25) and if there’s one man on this planet you’d bet on to exact his revenge it would be Diego Simeone. His rebuilding of the second Madrid club is one of the great stories of modern football and rarely can one team have been created to resemble so closely the mould of its master. That’s probably the pick of the ties but Zlatan visiting any club he feels he has been wronged by is always entertaining, so Barcelona vs PSG should be fun.

 

There’s also the FA Cup where we’d all like to see Steven Gerrard sign off as a champion/fall over and gift the opposition a goal in the last minute (delete as appropriate). Arsenal will probably win the thing for the second year running but it’s been a while since they spectacularly imploded against lower league opposition so maybe they have one of those in store for us.

 

Betting Instinct tip Liverpool to beat Blackburn in their FA Cup replay and move closer to that dream final is 3/5 with Intertops.eu

 

 

Anyway that’s enough filling, see you next month. Or maybe I’ll see you over on Twitter where I recently got 250+ RTs on a tweet with a typo which I thought was the type of thing that only happened in horror stories designed to frighten grammatically substandard children https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

 

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.

Things we’ll learn in football this month – March

Nothing much usually happens in March, it’s the most unremarkable of months. This March however might just be different, this could be the month where the race for the top four finally starts to take shape. The importance placed on finishing in the top 20% of the league is often used as a stick with which to beat the league (and Arsenal) but for all it’s modern football awfulness it does at least provide an element of genuine interest and drama that would otherwise be missing. If we’re lucky a bit of that drama will explode into our lives during the month of March.

 

On the very first day (pinch punch and all that) we have Liverpool vs Man City and Arsenal vs Everton. We also have the League Cup final but I’ve got a theme going this month and I’m sticking to it. Liverpool’s heroic but unsuccessful tint at the title is long forgotten but with Sturridge back and a tactical switch bringing about an element of defensive stability they might just force a route back into the Champions League, where they’ll presumably look to do slightly less badly than they did this year. Their recent good form means they’ll fancy their chances against a Man City side who every now and again look like they really can’t be bothered. City of course are almost assured their place in the top four, unless there’s a spontaneous African Cup of Nations and they have to do without Yaya again. It’s a game that has the potential to be an absolute peach and for all CIty’s occasional malaise they are still the best team in the country on their day so it should be a good test of those Scouse Champions League aspirations. It’ll probably be a draw, a score one.

Betting Instinct tip Back the score draw at 5.44 with Intertops.eu

 

On the very same day it’s Arsenal (1/2 with AllYouBet.ag) vs Everton (5/1) which would have been a game significant to the theme of this column last season but Everton are rubbish now. Still though, they’re not as rubbish as their league position would suggest so Arsenal will need to be at their best if they’re to keep their top 4 bid on track.

 

There is a full mid-week card in the first week of the month and the most intriguing of the fixtures it throws up is Manchester United’s trip to play Newcastle. There’s a school of thought (well I tweeted it once) that once you factor in the cost of removing Moyes, hiring Van Gaal and the fees and wages that have been lavished at the Dutchman’s behest that never in the course of human history has so much money been spent to achieve so little. Now I am prone to hyperbole but the fact remains that at best United have been underwhelming, so far Van Gaal has had an easy ride with the assumption that he’ll secure Champions League football protecting him from any real scrutiny. If that Champions League place starts to look doubtful then that will swiftly change. Dropping points to a team managed by John Carver would not go down well, not well at all. Now of course Van Gaal has pedigree so deserves time to get things right but he also has an unsettling haircut so maybe he’s had enough time and needs to be moved on.

 

As we reach the middle of the month it’s time for Tottenham to have their say as they visit Old Trafford. Spurs have an excellent first XI where everybody is super fit and knows their role, if they leave Manchester with all three points it’ll be one of those shocks that isn’t really a shock but is still a bit shocking. Both teams have brilliant goalkeepers, which is nice.

Earlier that day it’s Chelsea who will win the league vs Southampton who will not finish in the top four but might come quite close. Like all Southampton’s games against the leagues biggest and best it should be an intriguing if ultimately pointless clash.

 

March ends with some of that international nonsense we all hate so the final Premier League games take place over the weekend of the 21st/22nd. Once again we have a game that will have a massive say on who gets to take on the European elite next season and once again it involves Manchester United and their unsettlingly coiffured manager. This time it’s a trip to face their old enemies Liverpool and their unsettlingly unsettling manager (I’m not sure what I mean by that). There will always be something special about this fixture and for all these two clubs would prefer to be battling each other for top spot their respective and relative mediocrity won’t dim the ferocity of this one. History teaches us that Arsenal always finish in the top 4 and logic tells us that Chelsea and City will this season, so it might just be between these two old foes and their clash at the end of March could very well prove pivotal.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Get on Chelsea to win the Premier League while you still can. They’re currently 1/4 with Intertops.eu

 

You should follow me on twitter where I’m occasionally funny https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

Ally avatarALLY MONCRIEFF is a freelance football writer and editor of All or Nothing magazine. Sometimes even he can’t tell if he’s being serious or not. Follow Ally on Twitter and maybe he’ll be your friend.

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

Things We’ll Learn in Football This Month – February

So the month many of us thought would never end has done what we least expected and ended, how cunning of it. January with its abandoned diets and stretched paychecks is no more and February is upon us. Apart from the exquisite agony of exchanging Valentines gifts with someone you stopped loving years ago, February is shaping up to be a pretty good month. By that I of course mean there are some decent games on – you’re not going to finally rekindle your failing romance or anything like that. To be honest most of you reading this will probably die alone or at best end up trapped in a loveless sexless hell. It’s not all bad though because the first weekend in February serves up not one but two derbies to distract you from the loneliness.

 

First up it’s the North London derby which is a frequent source of goals, glory and comedy. Basically all you want from a football match. Both sides are in good nick coming into this one, Mauricio Pochettino seems to have finally got his Spurs side playing the way he wants and in Christian Eriksen they have one of the leagues form players, plus with Harry Kane defying all logic and actually turning into an incredibly effective attacker they’ll fancy their chances. Arsenal, however, will be equally confident as all of a sudden the injuries have cleared up and they have an attack that is packed with craft and speed. Plus they’ve got Alexis Sanchez and well, he’s just great at football. If we’re lucky it’ll be a high scoring draw, 16 all or something like that.

Betting Instinct tip A score draw of 2-2 or higher is 9.35 with Intertops.eu

 

Later that day it’s the turn of the Merseyside clubs, now whilst there is a school of thought that says any derby calling itself ‘the friendly derby’ should be outlawed swiftly and all records of it stricken from the history books there is enough at stake for both clubs that we might just get a decent game. Liverpool’s title charge of last year, like Everton’s run at the top four, seems a distant memory, but due to the crapness (not sure that’s a word – ed.) of everyone else it’s not impossible that Liverpool could salvage a Champions League spot from what threatened to be a disastrous season, whereas Everton seem to have contrived to end up in some sort of relegation scrap. I mean they obviously won’t go down (have you seen some of the teams in this league?) but they could do with picking up a few points. Also it will almost certainly be Stevie G’s last derby before he moves to Los Angeles.

Betting Instinct tip – Liverpool to keep their top four hopes alive with a win at Goodison Park is 5/4 with AllYouBet.ag

 

There’s some midweek action as well but the only game that looks mildly interesting is Liverpool vs Spurs, unfortunately I’ve just written about both of them and I’d only be repeating myself, go back and read the previous paragraphs if you really want. That said, nothing breaks up the drudgery of the working week like midweek league football, so in this context we should celebrate Hull vs Villa like its the World Cup final.

 

The following weekend it’s not only Valentines day but also the FA Cup 5th round, my goodness this might just be the most romantically charged weekend in the history of the world. Ah I can feel the magic in the air already it’s going to be………… *checks fixtures* *files lawsuit against whoever decided to televise West Brom vs West Ham and Villa vs Leicester*.

 

Assuming you manage to avoid slipping into an Aston Villa-related coma then you’ll be able to watch the resumption of European competition after its extended break. If Arsenal can recover from the shock of not drawing Bayern Munich or Barcelona then they should cruise past a Monaco side whose uber rich benefactor appears to have got bored and given up. Oh well at least the Monaco fans (all 14 of them) get to enjoy the nonchalant brilliance of Dimitar Berbatov on a weekly basis. Man City and Chelsea have much tougher tasks and even though neither Barcelona or PSG are at the level they were a few years ago England’s top two will need to be at the top of their game to progress. Man City probably won’t.

Betting Instinct tip – Arsenal to win with less than 2.5 goals in the game is 2.7 with Intertops.eu

 

None of you care about the Europa League and that’s fair enough but as a Celtic fan (9/5 with AllYouBet.ag) the draw against Internazionale (29/20) is an absolute peach. Both sides are shadows of their former selves, in fact both sides are a bit crap but it’s a glamour tie nonetheless, it’s steeped in history and glory and Celtic Park will for the first time this season feel like its old self again.

 

February finishes with me on a train heading down to London, maybe I’ll see some of you in the pub (not you), I’ll be the drunk Scottish guy complaining about the price of a pint.

Before I go, you should follow me on Twitter, or at least send me recommendations for good Malaysian restaurants in North London.

 

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.

 

Arsenal after revenge for last season’s mauling at the Etihad

City will rely on David Silva to unlock the Arsenal defence yet again

City will rely on David Silva to unlock the Arsenal defence yet again

The month of January can be make or break for sides fighting at the top of the table. Title-challenging Manchester City host Arsenal on Sunday afternoon and while the visitors’ ambitions have taken a bruising since the start of the season, they find themselves in a scrap to secure Champions League qualification. Every game from now until the end of the season will be vitally important for both these sides, with City locked in a close battle with Chelsea at the summit and Arsenal tussling for third or fourth place along with Southampton, Manchester United, Spurs and West Ham.

 

Manchester City v Arsenal Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 73/100

Arsenal win 33/10

Draw 53/20

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

 

The Citizens go into the game on the back of a blistering run of form that has lifted them right back into contention for the league, as well as guaranteeing progress into the Champions League knockout stage. A 2-2 draw at Loftus Road in early November left them eight points adrift of a then-rampant Chelsea and their title seemed to be fading away. But a nine-match winning run in league and cup has salvaged City’s season. They have faltered slightly in the last few weeks, relinquishing leads late on against Burnley and Everton, but nevertheless remain in a strong position as the run-in draws closer; just two points off top spot.

They have hardly even been hindered by a striker crisis which saw them have to play the (admittedly superbly versatile) James Milner in a false nine role for a considerable stretch of games. It is testament to the firepower of this City side that they did not wilt after losing Sergio Agüero, who had seven goals in five before his injury in early December.

Their recent run of form has been typical of a resilient side with individuals who can step up to the plate in the absence of a key player, but the heartbeat of City’s team has been ever-present throughout this period. David Silva, arguably the best player in the Premier League, has been immense all season and came into his own as the winter arrived. It is upon his narrow shoulders that a sizeable portion of City’s hopes this season rest.

 

As he has done in so many games already this campaign, Silva could well make the difference at the Etihad on Sunday. However, Arsenal have a player of their own in top form. Alexis Sánchez produced yet another wonderful display in last Sunday’s 3-0 win over Stoke, scoring two and setting up the other, and it is hard to describe quite how crucial he has been to the Gunners’ hopes this season. He’s bagged 18 goals since his summer switch from Barcelona and has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other player this term.

And yet despite possessing such a talented, effective forward as Sánchez in the form of his life, Arsenal lag far behind the top sides (13 points behind leaders Chelsea) in fifth place. They face a fight to secure Champions League football at the Emirates next season and, although history tells us they are likely to get their act together in time, these are frustrating times for Arsenal fans as we pass the halfway point of a season that promised so much more.

 

And their collective mood could still have taken a further turn for the worse by Monday after playing a City side who, despite the aforementioned recent slip-ups, have the bit firmly between their teeth. With close rivals Manchester United, Southampton, Spurs and West Ham all having winnable games this weekend, the table could make for grim reading for the Gunners should they fail to take a positive result from the Etihad. And it hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for them of late, with last season’s 6-3 defeat the fifth in their last seven trips to the stadium.

Their form in recent weeks has been patchy and for them to take anything back to north London, Arsenal will have to cut out the errors that have blighted their season. With a sizeable injury list which includes Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere (by contrast City have no injury concerns, though Yaya Touré is away at the Africa Cup of Nations), their task will not be made any easier. However, with Sánchez, as well as a rejuvenated Santi Cazorla, in their ranks you could never truly rule them out from causing a surprise.

 

Still, the smart money is most surely on Manchester City taking maximum points and keeping up the pressure on Chelsea. It was in January of last year that they really began to seize control of the league and put together a run that would ultimately win them the title. Sunday’s game will be a test of how likely they are to repeat that trick, and many will back them to pass with flying colours, but could it possibly be Arsenal who, for once, stand up to be counted and set the tone for the remainder of their season.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Manchester City to win and both teams to score is 2.65 with Intertops.eu

 

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

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.