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
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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.

Can United blast City’s title hopes into oblivion?

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

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

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

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

 

Manchester City v Manchester United Betting Odds:

City win 4/5

United win 3/1

Draw 13/5

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Weakened Man City look to pour misery on Spurs

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

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

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

 

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 1.45

Spurs win 6.5

Draw 4.15

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Liverpool v Manchester City – A Potential Premier League Title Decider

Steven Gerrard will be looking to add to his 13 goals this season

Steven Gerrard will be looking to add to his 13 goals this season

 

Liverpool have been the irresistible force of 2014 in the Barclays Premier League. Brendan Rodgers and his players have notched up nine wins in a row in the league, the first team to do so in the last four years of the English top flight, and are steadily earning the tag of title favourites, never mind just being title contenders.

Sunday’s opponents were the unstoppable force of 2013. Manuel Pellegrini hit the ground running as Manchester City and could seemingly do very little wrong, a defeat at the Etihad Stadium to Bayern Munich aside, as his side romped to a string of impressive victories and scored hatful’s of goals as they went.

The meeting of the two this weekend makes for the most anticipated contest of the Premier League season so far. Both teams like to attack. Both teams like to score goals. And everything points to both teams showing up at Anfield on Sunday with the intention of winning the game.

 

Liverpool v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Liverpool win – 2.32

Manchester City win – 2.72

Draw – 3.40

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Liverpool have shown that they don’t know any other way since Brendan Rodgers took over at the club. They don’t have the defence solidity to frustrate the attacking talents of Yaya Touré, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Agüero for 90 minutes. As such, it’s better for them to play with their front-foot forward. So what if they concede three goals away to Stoke? They’ll reply with five of their own.

As Chelsea and José Mourinho are starting to churn out a string of daunting home clean sheets, Brendan Rodgers has got his team playing with pace, verve and cutting edge. They go out, score early, sit on the lead and attempt to pick off their opponents through the pace of Luis Suárez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. The Reds lead the division for first half goals and had – up until recent handsome victories for David Moyes’ side – scored as many in the opening 45 minutes as Manchester United had managed in total in the Premier League.

 

Conversely, Manchester City are the highest scorers in the second half of Premier League matches this season. Manuel Pellegrini has been able to get the best out of the exceptional Yaya Touré and been rewarded with 18 league goals already this season. The Ivorian has been deadly from set-pieces, scoring free-kicks and converting penalties at will.

And what of a penalty to opening the scoring? Steven Gerrard is having his best goalscoring season since 2008/09 even though his campaign has been spent operating in a new, deeper, more disciplined midfield role than the England captain is used to. That’s thanks to the sheer number of penalties that Liverpool’s attacking trio have been able to earn. All three are quick off the mark and possess lightning fast feet that make pressuring them in the area a difficult task for fear of a clumsy challenge.

 

The match itself is hard to predict as Manchester City head to Liverpool needing to win. They have games in hand that make them title favourites but they can’t allow Liverpool to open up the gap to as many as seven points. Even a draw, leaving the difference at four points, isn’t ideal as it ramps up the pressure on the City squad to take maximum points from their remaining games.

An away victory will help deflate Liverpool’s title ambitions and just do enough to place doubt in their minds that they aren’t ready to compete with the very best in the Premier League.

 

For Liverpool, the possibilities that come with claiming all three points are only to be whispered around Anfield for now. On an emotional weekend, with every major game across England kicking off seven minutes later than normal to commemorate the 96 men, women and children that passed on that fateful day at Hillsborough, the Reds can take a huge step towards an unexpected league championship.

The decision for Brendan Rodgers will not be about trying to stop Manchester City. He has enough arrogance to support his own style of football and too much confidence in his attacking players to score goals that he’ll not revert from type, not even for these visitors. However, he may just err on the side of caution in midfield. Philippe Coutinho may miss out in midfield at the expense of Joe Allen or Lucas, in a similar fashion to the team that started at Old Trafford. But even then, it’ll just be to ensure his three flowing attackers have a platform to build off.

 

All I can promise you is goals – and plenty of them. Jose Mourinho has shown in big games so far this season that he is happy to kill the flow, speed and momentum of the game in favour of not losing. Thankfully both Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers are still interested in entertaining while winning. Their clashes with the other teams around them this season have produced a slew of goals.

Whichever way the game goes on Sunday afternoon and no matter the team that continues to have “destiny in their own hands” at the final whistle, they are sure to both find the back of the net. Even if Touré or Gerrard have to do it from the penalty spot.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Back there being more than 3.5 goals at 2.25 with Intertops.eu

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (RyanKeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with  sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona.

Manchester United vs. Manchester City: United doomed as Rooney lob comes too early

Should Rooney have held a bit back at the weekend?

Should Rooney have held a bit back at the weekend?

David Moyes may have enjoyed watching his team win by routine against West Ham, but in truth it was a Pyrrhic victory for the visitors at Upton Park. Now Manchester United must somehow rally to face Manchester City in midweek, burdened by the knowledge that their last remaining hope has been extinguished by the lustful boot of Wayne Rooney.

What a goal his opener at the weekend was: a thwacked, searching goblet of an artillery round that looped over the scrambling Adrián’s head and into the goal. It was so good, Steve Bruce had to call a break mid-press conference to indulge himself in its execution.

Yet though it may well go down as a strike for the ages, it arrived three days earlier than expected, like a missed delivery to a house you haven’t quite moved into yet, or a cavalry charge through the wrong battlefield before the right war has been able to break out.

Manchester United v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Manchester United win – 3.15

Manchester City win – 2.10

Draw – 3.30

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

And now Rooney’s energies are spent; his special move wasted on a relatively meaningless fixture, leaving nothing left in the tank for taking into the City game. I mean, did you really think that shinned, upside down bicycle kick goal from a couple of years back was merely the product of good fortune, timing and a bit of creativity? Of course not.

Ryan Giggs, misunderstood by the football press to be sulking and scheming behind Moyes’ back, has actually been spending the last few weeks hidden away in a Carrington backroom, using his tantric yoga abilities to build up a reservoir of karma to fuel another derby day weapon for Wayne.

Unfortunately, just as when faced with the temptations of unattended, high-calorie pastry products, and red-lit establishments catering to a more mature demographic, Rooney’s lack of self-control saw that potential match-winner go off in his right sock as Big Sam & Co. looked on bemused. Now United will have to resort to trying to best their crosstown rivals at football, which will only end one way: defeat.

After all, City have now assimilated the Moyesian United model and bested it in every category. They have the better quality manager with spooky eyes and a haunted face, a fancy new way of spelling and saying “United” (Etihad), a more evil and successful brand of distant, foreign owner, and a slightly greater meaningless trophy win this year (Not sure the Community Shield even counts as a trophy – ed.). They’re also quite good at scoring goals and generally being more than just one-dimensional when going forward.

Without his supply of mojo, Rooney will be reduced to running around and playing well for his team, which we all know is an anathema to his best work in such high profile fixtures. There’s little chance that he will trudge about the field all sullen for 80 minutes before fluking the goal of the season, as the script requires during these encounters. No one ever won a derby, cup final or title decider with the necessary dramatic clout by being really good and consistent, and even if they did, who would want to watch that?

So, United fans, sadly it all looks to be over for the foreseeable. Rooney spurted away his load a stroke too early while well out of range of Manuel Pellegrini’s men, leaving his teammates high and dry, and ready for a beating. City can now travel to Old Trafford without fear of an unlikely bombshell cascading down from on high via the laces of the home side’s star forward.

Not even the planned blood sacrifice of Tom Cleverley to the old gods can help them now, though as a form of half-time entertainment that wouldn’t go amiss.

Betting Instinct Tip – City’s Yaya Touré is in fine goalscoring form after netting a hat-trick at the weekend, and Touré is 4.80 to score first in tomorrow’s derby with GR88.com

 

Greg avatarGREG 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.

Manchester City v Wigan Athletic – The Key Battles

One of last year's FA Cup finalists will be eliminated this weekend

One of last year’s FA Cup finalists will be eliminated this weekend

For a few years it looked like the magic had gone out of the FA Cup. It had been five years since a team from outside the Premier League’s top four had won the trophy, while 2008 also marked the last time a second-tier side reached the final four.

However this changed last season as underdogs Wigan – in the midst of an ultimately fruitless battle to avoid relegation – shocked Premier League runners-up ManchesterCity with a 1-0 victory at Wembley.

 

Manchester City v Wigan Athletic Betting Odds

Manchester City win – 1.15

Wigan win – 17.50

Draw – 7.40

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Wigan’s relegation means the sides have only met once since – City cruising to a 5-0 win in the League Cup third round (before going on to win the trophy last week). However the Latics have since appointed a new manager, Uwe Rösler, who has won more than 60% of his games in charge and reignited a play-off push in the Championship. Rösler, who turned out more than 150 times for City in his playing career, will certainly be up for this one.

Ahead of the meeting, Betting Instinct looks at some of the key battles:

 

 

  1. Sergio Agüero v Emmerson Boyce

Agüero’s absence through injury has been cited as the main reason for City’s slump, with the side losing at home in crucial matches against Chelsea and Barcelona without the Argentine. Yes, they won all but one of the games played during his spell out of action around the turn of the year, but a strikeforce of Álvaro Negredo and Edin Džeko has looked short on ideas at key moments.

Agüero has the ability to test the world’s best defenders, so one can imagine how he’ll fare against the worst player with the middle name Orlando to have played in the Premier League. Boyce misplaced a Premier League-high 109 passes in his own half in the 2012-13 season, a statistic he’s sought to improve upon by playing in a different division. And it’s worked, with no misplaced Premier League passes so far this campaign.

 

  1. Yaya Touré v James MacArthur

While Wigan’s Ben Watson was the comeback story of last year’s competition, returning from a broken leg to score the winning goal in the final Touré did the same in 2011 (apart from the broken leg bit), netting the only goal of the game as City saw off Tony Pulis’ Stoke to earn the club its first trophy in the Sheikh Mansour era.

With Watson out injured again, MacArthur will be crucial to Wigan’s chances. Proving this season that he and James McCarthy are in fact different people, the Scotsman will look to protect the defence in what will likely resemble an impression of a protester in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Still, they said the 2013 final would be one-sided too, so who knows.

 

  1. Manuel Pellegrini v  Uwe Rösler

After garnering a reputation for struggling to win trophies – somewhat unfairly considering much of his managerial career has been spent at Spanish clubs that are not Real Madrid or Barcelona – Pellegrini silence some critics by winning the League Cup last week.

Rösler’s managerial résumé is even less illustrious, with Wigan his fifth club after spells in Norway and Brentford, but he will be up for the occasion after spending several years at City back when they had more in common with Wigan’s current league standing. However it remains to be seen whether emotion and willpower will be enough – my guess is no.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – After a 5-0 win in the League Cup, City are understandably heavy favourites. The hosts to score three or more goals is 1.78 with GR88.com.

 

tvTOM 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.