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

 

 

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Champions League – Three Key Moments

Might things be different had Zlatan Ibrahimović not picked up an injury?

Might things be different had Zlatan Ibrahimović not picked up an injury?

As Lisbon’s Éstadio da Luz prepares to welcome Madrid’s biggest clubs for this season’s Champions League final, Betting Instinct takes a look at some of the flashpoints which have defined this season’s competition.

 

Champions League outright betting odds:

Real Madrid – 1.48

Atlético Madrid – 2.52

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

 

  1. Henrikh Mhkitaryan hits the post, 8 April

Last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund had all but been written off as long-term defensive injuries left them fighting an uphill battle since the early stages of the season. They edged a three-way tie at the top of their group and managed to sneak unconvincingly past Zenit St Petersburg in the last 16, meaning a 3-0 first-leg defeat in their quarter final first leg in Madrid was disappointing but not unexpected.

Real Madrid were themselves not at full-strength for the return game at Signal Iduna Park, with Cristiano Ronaldo only fit enough for the bench and Marcelo also missing, but few expected the Germans to cause too many problems. That was until two first half goals from Marco Reus shook things up.

There was always a sense that a chance for an equaliser would arrive, and when that moment came it fell to record signing Mhkitaryan, a replacement for last year’s star Mario Götze. The Armenian showed great composure to round Iker Casillas but could only find the foot of the post with a shot from a narrow angle. Real held on and didn’t receive anything like as big a scare in their comprehensive semi-final victory over Dortmund’s domestic vanquishers Bayern Munich.

 

  1. Adrián keeps calm, 30 April

Atlético Madrid’s phenomenal season has largely been attributed to the two Diegos – manager Simeone and 36-goal forward Costa. However it was one of the club’s less illustrious names who played a big part in their progress to the final.

In discussions of Atlético’s firepower, Adrián is essentially ‘the other one’. The former Deportivo forward has just one league goal this campaign, and both Costa and Spanish record scorer David Villa have claimed more of the plaudits. The first of his Champions League goals this campaign – the opener in a 1-1 draw with Zenit – was just the appetiser for one far more significant.

After a goalless semi-final first leg against Chelsea, Atléti went behind to their former star Fernando Torres in the return leg. However just a minute before half time Tiago floated a ball to the back post, Juanfran reached it and as Chelsea’s goalkeeper and defenders panicked Adrián kept his cool to direct the ball low into the corner of the net. It came at a perfect time for Simeone’s side, who then went on to score twice more after the break to seal their place in Lisbon.

 

 

  1. Zlatan Ibrahimović injures his hamstring, 3 April

While there is little doubting that the two remaining teams both deserve their place in the final, it’s always fun to adopt a Butterfly Effect approach to a certain player’s absence from a key game.

Despite Sweden’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, 2013-14 has been a sensational season for Zlatan Ibrahimović, who has scored 40 times in 44 games, winning Ligue 1 player of the season as he led Paris Saint-Germain to a second successive title. However the club will ask themselves whether they might have got further in Europe had he not been injured in the first leg of their quarter-final against Chelsea – indeed The Guardian‘s Daniel Taylor described the injury as “the most encouraging news [for Chelsea] from the first leg”.

PSG won that game 3-1, but the absence of the Swede for the return game in London prompted an overly cautious approach from coach Laurent Blanc, without a comparable attacking outlet to take the game to their opponents or even just to relieve some of Chelsea’s pressure. Ultimately a timid PSG went out on away goals and missed the chance to take on Atléti for a place in the final – who knows what kind of difference a healthy Zlatan could have made.

 

Betting Instinct tip – in what looks likely to be a tense encounter in Lisbon, less than 2.5 goals can be backed at 1.69 with GR88.com

If a goal is scored in the 88th minute or less in Saturday’s final then GR88.com will refund selected losing bets which were winning before the goal went in. For full details, visit http://www.gr88.com/promotions.

 

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 or Google+.

Champions League Quarter Finals: Chelsea and United on the Brink

Will the return of Samuel Eto'o inspire Chelsea to victory?

Will the return of Samuel Eto’o inspire Chelsea to victory?

‘I believe and my players believe. That’s the most important thing.’

 

José Mourinho was in bullish mood in his pre-match press conference, hashtag fodder (#BELIEVE #CHAMPIONSOFEUROPE) spewing from the Portuguese before his side’s attempt to overturn a two-goal deficit against Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge tonight.

Confidence, of course, has never been a problem for José, even if it has been tempered this season by the improbable assertion, made when Chelsea sat atop the Premier League table, that they were out of the title race, or the weirdly public protestation that the strikers at his disposal were either aging (to the point of elderly), incompetent, or both. Perhaps Johan Cruijff was right when he told De Telegraaf this week, ‘It’s always the same with [Mourinho]. When things are going well, it’s the result of his good work, but the players are to blame when things are going badly.’

 

Chelsea v Paris Saint-Germain Betting Odds:

Chelsea to qualify – 3.20

PSG to qualify – 1.34

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

 

More often than not, though, that confidence is justified. And so while the task at hand is great, Chelsea fans, like their manager, do ‘believe’. In 2012, the year of their Champions League triumph, Chelsea faced Napoli in the last 16. Then, as now, they sank to a 3-1 defeat in the first leg. But a 4-1 victory at Stamford Bridge followed, and Chelsea progressed. PSG will prove a sterner test—they can boast 11 straight wins and a strong European away record—and there is no Didier Drogba this time to drag the team through by sheer force of will. But the precedent is there.

Samuel Eto’o is in line for a return for Chelsea, injured soon after scoring in March’s 6-0 mauling of Arsenal, and much will depend on his sharpness. PSG, meanwhile, have their own missing striker; Zlatan Ibrahimović’s absence, however, is no disaster, allowing Edinson Cavani to move into a more central role and opening up a space for Lucas Moura in the starting lineup. Yohan Cabaye might also start in place of Marco Verratti, in part for his experience against English opposition, in part for his rugged handsomeness.

Even with a firing Eto’o, stopping such a side from scoring will be a big ask. Glorious (aggregate) defeat, then, is the most likely outcome, after which Cruijff might once more be proved right.

—————-

Manchester United, too, ‘believe’, or at least Patrice Evra does: ‘We always believe when you play for Manchester United,’ he said after a belief-boosting 4-0 win away at a Dan Gosling-‘inspired’ Newcastle side whose manager is still banned from the touchline after head butting a player. Heady days for both clubs.

What Evra ‘believes’ is that the seventh best team in England, two points behind Tim Sherwood’s Spurs, can beat the best team in the world, 20 points ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund. In Munich.

 

He’s not the only one, either. Bayern are technically on their worst run in years, losing to Augsburg at the weekend and drawing with Man United and Hoffenheim the week before. Jeff Stelling and men of his ilk are crowing about how all the ‘momentum’ is with David Moyes’s side, as if the Augsburg defeat wasn’t Bayern’s only one in 53 league games, or as if they hadn’t won the title by March, or as if Marouane Fellaini’s flailing limbs (mostly elbows) really were a match for Philipp Lahm’s actual footballing ability.

 

Which is not to say they have no chance. Bayern’s ‘poor form’ does count for something, though not as much as some are making out. As does Man United’s ‘good form’, with the same caveat. The absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, both through suspension, is a boost for the away team. But the midfield they face will still be better than the black hole that is their own, Lahm holding expertly and Toni Kroos playing with a point to prove.

Man United have absentees of their own, of course, with Robin van Persie definitely out, Juan Mata cup tied, and Wayne Rooney struggling. Rooney, however, looks as if he will play, despite not being 100% fit (because that’s worked so well for England in the past – ed.). Moyes has revealed how staff have ‘worked him hard… in the swimming pool’, managing to distract him from the water slides and wave machines for just long enough to do some aerobic work. But even if he does start, their chances of victory are slim at best.

 

We have, at least, moved past the stage where Man United losing every week is considered comedy gold. Everyone by now is used to their weakness, and, in a way, this stands them in good stead. It means that Moyes can set up as he did at Old Trafford without any negative reaction, limiting Bayern to long shots and harmless possession in the first two thirds of the pitch. It means that anything but a comfortable Bayern win can be considered a success for the manager and his players. And it means, for once, that the majority of football fans will be supporting Man United tomorrow night. For that would be the real comedy gold: an Alexander Büttner winner at the Allianz Arena. #BELIEVE.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – With United likely to set out in a defensive formation, we suggest backing Bayern to win to nil at 2.08 with GR88.com

 

Kieran avatar KIERAN DODDS (kierandodds) is a history student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and  current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and  others.

Barcelona v Valencia: They played for both

David Villa enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona and Valencia before moving to current club Atlético Madrid

David Villa enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona and Valencia before moving to current club Atlético Madrid

On Saturday evening Barcelona will look to maintain their grip on La Liga’s top spot when Valencia visit the Camp Nou.

It was not so long ago that Los Ches were among Spain’s elite, dining at the same table as both Barça and Real Madrid.

Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side may currently sit 10th in the standings, but they still possess players that could potentially trouble what has not always been a water-tight Barca rearguard.

Ahead of the meeting, Betting Instinct has picked out five of the great talents who have played for both clubs.

 

Barcelona v Valencia Betting Odds

Barcelona to win – 1.13

Draw – 9.00

Valencia to win – 23.00

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

 

Jordi Alba

Having honed his potential at Barça’s famous La Masia academy, full-back Alba was released as a youngster in 2005. He eventually found his way south to Valencia, for whom he made his debut in 2009. It was there where his rampaging runs down the left flank attracted the attention of Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque, who included him in his squad for the 2012 European Championships.

With Barca looking for a long-term replacement for veteran defensive mainstay Eric Abidal, they turned to Alba, seven years after they had dispensed with his services. Still only 24, he went on to score five goals in all competitions as Barca regained the La Liga title during his first campaign as a senior player with the club.

David Villa

‘The Kid’ found goals relatively easily to come by with Sporting Gijon and Real Zaragoza, but it was the 2005 switch to Valencia that really saw his stock start to rise. He would go on to form a near telepathic understanding with David Silva and Juan Mata and it was that trio that helped Valencia topple Barça en route to success in the 2008 Copa del Rey.

By 2010, Pep Guardiola needed a new attacker. Thierry Henry was heading for New York, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic wanted to share the spotlight with Lionel Messi. Guardiola wanted a player that would sacrifice himself for the team and Messi – an offer which Villa duly accepted. He won eight trophies during his three-year spell with Barça, but he found it difficult to rediscover his touch after suffering a broken leg in a Club World Cup clash in December 2011. Last summer he was sold to Atlético Madrid, and his 10 league goals this season have helped Diego Simeone’s side mount a serious title challenge.

Gaizka Mendieta

Having risen through the ranks at the Mestalla, Mendieta was regarded as Valencia’s blue-eyed boy. Indeed, having forged himself a reputation as a free-scoring midfielder, the Spanish international was a key cog as Valencia won the Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and reached two Champions League finals in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

Such form earned him a big-money switch to Lazio, who were seeking a replacement for Manchester United-bound Juan Sebastian Veron, in 2001. One year was enough in Italy, though, and he returned to Spain 12 months later on a loan basis with Barça. Despite being a regular with the Catalans, their sixth-placed finish meant that Blaugrana could not afford to fund a permanent return and he eventually ended up joining Middlesbrough on loan.

Patrick Kluivert

Following goal-laden spells with Ajax and AC Milan, Kluivert was reunited with his former mentor Louis van Gaal at Barcelona in 1998. Forming an instantly profitable partnership with Rivaldo, the pair fired their side to the La Liga title. However, despite 120 goals for the club in 255 outings, that would be only the trophy that he lifted before he was released and headed for Newcastle United in 2004.

The spell on Tyneside lasted just one year, with a return to Spain and Valencia sealed in 2005. Fitness, weight and attitude problems were all said to have contributed to an unsuccessful time with the club, scoring just the one goal prior to his departure in 2006.

Oriol Romeu

To feature regularly in Barça’s midfield, you have to possess an extraordinary talent. Romeu, who arrived at La Masia in 2004, would, in time, discover that. Initially it appeared that he could force his way into Guardiola’s thinking when he was included in the squad for the 2009 Club World Cup, but he would ultimately make just two senior appearances in a red and blue shirt.

Chelsea came calling in 2011, but after a positive start to life at Stamford Bridge, a knee injury limited his playing time. Last summer he was loaned out to Valencia and despite suffering further injuries, he has impressed during his 13 outings.

Betting Instinct Tip Barcelona to repeat last year’s 1-0 home win is 8.50 with AllYouBet.ag

 

liam_avatar   LIAM APICELLA (liamapicella88) has worked for a number of publications on a freelance basis, including Footy Matters, Football Italiano and the Ibiza Paper. He is currently the features editor and reporter for Sports Mole.