Friday, May 22, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions May 23 2015

bet365
The Premiership reaches its final Saturday with only one real issue to be settled. Who is going down to the Championship with already relegated Burnley and QPR.

The odds are on Hull City to join them as they need to get something out of their last home game with Manchester United.

Manager Steve Bruce has not enjoyed much success against his former club and with a clearly out-of-sorts West Ham United the visitors at Newcastle, it would seem the Magpies are going to survive at the expense of the Tigers.
Sunderland have survived and will take their foot off the pedal to lose at Chelsea, Man City should beat Southampton and Stoke to beat Liverpool.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Arsenal 2 v West Brom 0
Aston Villa 1 v Burnley 1
Chelsea 2 v Sunderland 0
Crystal Palace 2 v Swansea 1
Everton 2 v Tottenham 1
Hull 1 v Man Utd 3
Leicester 2 v QPR 1
Man City 3 v Southampton 2
Newcastle 0 v West Ham 0
Stoke 2 v Liverpool 0

PNE Clear Favs - Little To Separate Other Play-Off Finalists

Preston North End will start this weekend’s League One play-off final as clear favourites, whilst bet365 are finding it tougher to separate the teams in the Championship/League Two Wembley showpieces.

bet365’s Steve Freeth “The twin threat of Garner and Beckford are more than capable of causing havoc at Wembley, but Mark Cooper’s easy on the eye outfit will fancy their chances of extending Preston’s poor play-off record.”

Preston are also fancied to be the top scoring side over the three play-off clashes with Norwich v Middlesbrough rated at 13/8 to be the highest scoring game and bet365 quoting 11/10 about any final being decided by a penalty shoot-out.

bet365 Play Off Specials

To Be Promoted
Norwich 4/5 Middlesbrough Evs
Preston 8/13 Swindon 5/4
Southend 4/5 Wycombe Evs
Highest Scoring Team E/W 1/3 1,2 - 90 minutes only

Preston 7/2 Norwich 4/1
Southend 9/2 Middlesbrough 9/2
Wycombe 11/2 Swindon 6/1

Highest Scoring Game (90 minutes only)
M’Boro v Norwich 13/8 PNE v Swindon 7/4
Southend v Wyc’ 2/1
Combined Goals In Three Games (90 minutes)
Over 6.5 8/11 Under 6.5 Evs
Any final to be decided by a penalty shoot-out 11/10

Fonte targets winning finale
Southampton defender Jose Fonte does not expect to be handed any favours as Ronald Koeman's side attempt to clinch a place in next season's Europa League. Saints are seventh after thrashing Aston Villa 6-1 last weekend and, if they are in the same position after their final game of the campaign against Manchester City, their fate will be dependent on the outcome of the FA Cup final between Aston Villa and Arsenal. Southampton are 8/1 with bet365 to keep a clean sheet against City and 25/1 to win the match 1-0. A Gunners victory against Villa at Wembley would ensure the side finishing seventh enters the third qualifying round of the Europa League. "Everything is in our hands," said Fonte. "We are not expecting favours from anyone. We're still in the position that will mean we will qualify for the Europa League if Arsenal win the cup, but, obviously, we don't want to wait for them. "We want to make sure we are in the Europa League on our own merits and, for that, we need to win against Man City."

Soccer - Kane in no rush to leave Spurs

Harry Kane is keen to stay at Tottenham despite being linked with a summer transfer to Manchester United. The 21-year-old has enjoyed an outstanding season, scoring 30 goals in all competitions for Spurs, as well as netting on his England debut in the 4-0 Euro 2016 qualifying victory against Lithuania in March. He has also been named as the PFA's Young Player of the Year and is 5/4 with bet365 to score at any time when Spurs visit Everton for their final game of the campaign on Sunday. Kane said: "Spurs is where I'm at and where I plan to be for a very long time. "We'll be looking to win some good trophies in the future. I want to keep progressing and keep getting better. "This season has been crazy and more than what I ever expected to do so early on but it's happened, and it's how you deal with it." Spurs are available at 15/8 to beat Everton.

Last time's predictions

Monday, May 18, 2015

Barça take the league and reach Berlin

Barça secure La Liga and reach the European Cup Final, Sevilla are in the Europa League Final


THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW


Five days of triumph for FC Barcelona - winning the Spanish league and reaching the Champions League Final, and tragedy for Real Madrid, losing the league and getting knocked out of Europe.

The big two went their separate ways in Europe first. Barça lost 3-2 in Munich but advanced 5-3 overall while Real could only draw 1-1 at home to Juventus and left the competition 3-2 on aggregate.

A weird yet entertaining match at the Allianz Arena saw Barcelona lose yet come away victorious, thanks to Messi's minutes of magic in the first leg.

The game was very open and five goals could well have been more. Mehdi Benatia's opener for Bayern in the seventh minute briefly gave Bayern hope of overturning the 3-0 first leg lead but then a Neymar brace put Barça out of reach at 5-1 on aggregate with two away goals.

Luis Suarez set up both strikes unselfishly, confirming how well the two South Americans are gelling with another Latin lyricist Lionel Messi pulling the strings close behind them.

With the tie out of sight, attention turned to Pep Guardiola and the strange figure he cut on the touchline. What was going through his head as his former proteges dismissed his current crop with such ease?

Was he contemplating eating his words and returning to his spiritual home? How long will it take to bring the German champions up to the same level? And will Munich even give him the time...?

The fact Germany's top side, featuring five World Cup winners, had been so comprehensively dismissed is proof enough this is a fine Barcelona side, albeit not as revolutionary as Guardiola's.

Bayern salvaged some pride with two second half goals to secure a victory, but left confounded at the overall gulf in class.

*Real's season ended in all but name on Wednesday evening as they drew 1-1 at home to Juventus and exited the Champions League 3-2 on aggregate.

The holders only needed a 1-0 result to set up a relishing final against Barcelona in Berlin but allowed the Serie A champions to grab a precious away goal and then shut up shop Italian-style and see out the minutes.

Real ran and ran in pursuit of a winner following Juve's leveller but Gianluigi Buffon was never put under sustained pressure, so well-drilled was the back four in front of him. Despite their panoply of attacking talents, Carlo Ancelotti's team ran out of ideas and sweated their way to a draw.

Iker Casillas was possibly at fault for not saving Alvaro Morata's shot but he might have been unsighted in a crowded box for a fatal split-second.

Casillas then kept Real in the game with a crucial save from a breakaway, though finished by using up the last minute of extra-time by making a silly foul throw.

It was not all doom and gloom for the home side. Marcelo, so often at fault in losing the ball in previous matches, had an impressive game with plenty of attacking contributions and distribution.

Gareth Bale enjoyed the lion's share of Real chances but fired wide or headed high. Only once in the first half did his old magic fleetingly return when a swerving rocket into the top corner was tipped away by Buffon.

The Welshman certainly could not be faulted for trying, but again seemed to be on a different wavelength at times and the angrier elements of the Bernabeu duly slated him once again.

Real missed Luka Modric's invention in the middle; Toni Kroos did little more than hold his position and make simple lay-offs; the returning Karim Benzema showed flashes of danger in the first-half but tired and was subbed in the second.

Cristiano Ronaldo coolly out-thought Buffon for the penalty but started to disappear after the break and his colleagues should have made more of his electric acceleration and heading prowess.

Isco was stuck out wide and unable to cause as much trouble as he had done before, but when James Rodriguez cannot find the space to invade, you know you are up against a master defence.

At least as much credit has to go to Juve for their masterful tactics and defensive nous as blame to Real for not scoring more.

Yet in the end, Real's 'BBC' attack did not have the cutting edge and deadly firepower of Barcelona's three-pronged vanguard of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

So, we will not have a clasico final to the Champions League after all and after last year's all-Spanish final, there will be only one La Liga representative in Berlin.

A Barca v Real final would have been billed as the match of the century here. Now instead there will be a more sober prognosis of the Italian/Spanish tactical clash which awaits.

Real fans might have felt sheepish cheering their conquerors in the final, but when the opposition is their biggest rivals and merengues old boy Morata showed such dignity by not celebrating twice when scoring against his former club, they should come down heavily in favour of La Vecchia Signora.

Ancelotti meanwhile will be having a sleepless night or two over Real President Florentino Perez polishing the axe of dismissal now there are no more cups to play for.

* Predicatably the Madrid press went into meltdown. Marca had 'The fiasco of the century' as its banner headline, calling it a 'failure to reach 'the mother of all finals.'

AS more soberly splashed, 'Morata should have been there'.

* Real Madrid's team bus was met by 5,000 ecstatic, cheering supporters with flares and fireworks in an extraordinary pre-match welcome before the Juventus encounter. Talk about counting chickens before they are hatched...

The players needed protecting by police from Madridista hotheads as they drove away from the Bernabeu after the match. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad...

* Sevilla maintained their unsung hero status, dispatching Fiorentina 2-0 in Italy to advance 5-0 on aggregate to the Europa League final, where they will play Dnipro of Ukraine.

Carlos Bacca got the show going with a goal in the 22nd minute and Daniel Carrico made it 5-0 to the holders on aggregate five minutes later. Fiorentina enjoyed two-thirds of the ball but could not score, missing a second-half penalty as well, leaving Unai Emery's side to advance impressively to their fourth Europa League final in ten years.

Dnipro, who beat Napoli in the semi-finals, await in the final on the 27th of May in Warsaw. The first Ukrainian side to reach a European final since Shakhtar Donetsk in 2009 will have a short hop to Poland for the match, though Sevilla should start as favourites.

EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL - Sevilla v Dnipro, Warsaw, 27th May
COPA DEL REY FINAL - Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona, 30th May
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL - Barcelona v Juventus, Berlin, 6th June



*It was no surprise that Sunday saw Barça clinch the league and kill off Real's season definitively, but for Los Merengues at least the end was swift. Leo Messi, who else, scored the only goal of the game at Atletico Madrid with a beautifully disguised shot after combining with Pedro.

That was enough to keep the gap at four points with one game to play.

Real did their best to be fair, winning 4-1 at Espanyol with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging another hat-trick with an ease he never found against Juventus, but it was a phyrric victory. The only silver linings were that Real bounced back from their midweek heartache with aplomb and CR7 moved two goals ahead of Messi in the Pichichi race.

LA LIGA TITLES


  1. Real Madrid 32
  2. Barcelona 23
  3. Atletico Madrid 10
  4. Athletic Bilbao 8
  5. Valencia 6
  6. Real Sociedad 2
  7. Deportivo La Coruna 1
  8. Sevilla 1
  9. Real Betis 1


*Valencia could yet pip Atletico for third place on goal difference, which would mean they go into the Champions League group stages automatically. Valencia must win at Almeria and hope Granada magically win at home to Los Colchoneros.

Over their shoulder, Sevilla could grab fourth spot and a Champions League place if they win at Malaga and Almeria draw with or beat Valencia. Fifth place qualifies for the Europa League.

* Deportivo La Coruna and Granada both won to sensationally lift themselves out of the drop zone with a game to play. Deportivo won 2-0 at home to Levante and Granada 3-0 away to Real Sociedad. Granada host Atletico and La Coruna must travel to Barcelona next however.

* After a second sucker punch in a week, the pro-Real Madrid press (AS & Marca) consoled themselves by cheering Real Madrid's basketball team winning the Euro League over Olimpiakos of Greece, for page after page.

PICHICHI race:

Cristiano Ronaldo 45, Lionel Messi 41, Antoine Griezmann & Neymar 22, Carlos Bacca 20


MOST HAT-TRICKS IN LA LIGA HISTORY:

Cristiano Ronaldo 26, Lionel Messi 24, Telmo Zarra 22

Telmo Zarra (1921-2006) played for Athletic Bilbao in the 1940s and '50s.

* Real Betis stay top of the Liga Adelante beating Lugo 5-1. Pepe Mel's team have a six-point lead over Girona and Sporting Gijon, who will duel for the second automatic promotion spot.

Las Palmas, Real Valladolid and Real Zaragoza occupy the remaining play-off spots.


* Spain will play Costa Rica on the 11th of June in Leon.

* Spain's U-17 side were knocked out of the European Championship on penalties by Germany.

*This week's transfer rumours centred around David De Gea's will-he, won't-he vacillation. According to which day you read, he is staying at Old Trafford or heading to the Bernabeu but nothing is for sure, other than that Real Madrid is a tempting offer for the former Atletico man.

"I don't know why he has not taken a decision yet," said Louis Van Gaal, admitting the club nevertheless had a list of replacements to hand.

West Ham are said to be still interested in Rafael Benitez as their new boss. Napoli's exit from the Europa League may make that more likely, although Real Madrid are also said to have sounded him out if they decide to fire Ancelotti.

Real Madrid have also spoken to Jose Mourinho about a sensational return to the Bernabeu, it was claimed, although Zinedine Zidane and Porto coach Julen Lopetegui remain in poll position should Florentino Perez choose to wield the axe.

Gareth Bale's latest 'failure' to guide his club to victory means rumours of his departure will not subside. The latest chit-chat is that Man City and Man Utd are in a bidding war.

Arsenal and Sevilla are interested in Juve's Spanish target man Fernando Llorente.

Liverpool are looking to tie up a deal for Real midfielder Asier Illarramendi, whose appearances have been limited at the Bernabeu. A fee of £15 million has been mentioned.

The Reds are said to have had a £14 offer for Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez rebuffed and are mulling over a £20 approach instead.

Man City have quashed rumours they could sell Sergio Aguero to Real Madrid.

Barcelona were once again strongly linked with Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.

Real are said to be interested in Chelsea's Petr Cech if they cannot land David De Gea.

Los Merengues are also pondering buying back Alvaro Morata from Bayern after his goals kkocked them out of Europe. This could pave the way for Karim Benzema's departure, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd all interested.

Chelsea were linked again with Atletico goleador Antoine Griezmann, as were Bayern Munich.
The Frenchman's departure could open the door for Erik Lamela to move from Tottenham to Madrid for a fee of around €20 million.

Atletico are also interested in Napoli's former Real marksman Gonzalo Higuain, and Elche's Brazilian defender Jonathas.

Everton have been told to bid £13 million if they want to sign Celta Vigo winger Nolito.

Valencia's Nicolas Otamendi has a £36 million contract clause allowing his departure. Man Utd are said to be after the Argentine centre-back.

Atletico Madrid and Valencia are both trying to land PSG's Uruguayan star Edinson Cavani.

Sevilla will buy out the contract of striker Iago Aspas, on loan from Liverpool.

Rayo Vallecano boss Paco Jemez has said he expects to work in England before long. "The issue is when," he told Marca, "but for now I'm very happy in Spain; however if tomorrow or in three years I have to pack my suitcase then I will."

THE FINAL DAY'S BIG GAMES:

Saturday, 23rd May LA LIGA 5.30pm GMT

3rd place and Champions League:
Granada v Atletico Madrid
Almeria v Valencia

4th place and Champions League:
Malaga v Sevilla
Granada v Atletico Madrid
Almeria v Valencia

5th place and Europa League:
Almeria v Valencia
Malaga v Sevilla

Race to escape the drop:
Almeria v Valencia
Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna
Eibar v Cordoba
Granada v Atletico Madrid

Top Five: Barcelona 93 pointsReal Madrid 89, Atletico Madrid 77Valencia 74, Sevilla 73
Bottom Five: Deportivo La Coruna 34 pts Granada 34, Eibar 32, Almeria 32, Cordoba 20


(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A hot afternoon in the Spanish Segunda

Ponferradina 0:1 Llagostera   

Liga Adelante, El Toralin Stadium, Ponferrada, Spain

4,078


This afternoon I took a trip to Ponferradina, seventh in Spain's second division, the Liga Adelante

The Blue & Whites are located in a former coal-mining town of around 70,000 people on the edge of Galicia in north-west Spain, part of the Way of St James pilgrimage route which is gaining renown among tourists.

Founded in 1922, 'Ponfe' have never tasted the big time of La Primera and came into the game four points from the play-offs with five games left. The goal is of course a place in the top six and the end of season showdown.

With the nearest town of any size an hour and a half's drive away, Ponferradina have a captive market of fans and a nice centrally-located stadium opened in the year 2000. This potential attracted manager manager Manolo Diaz, who coached Real Madrid reserves when Jose Mourinho was in charge at the Bernabeu. 

Mourinho's assistant team from back then have some pedigree: Pepe Mel went on to coach in England with West Brom and now his Real Betis side lead the second division, while Aitor Karanka has got Middlesbrough into the Championship playoffs in his first season at the Riverside.

Visiting the 8,000 capacity El Toralin amid the colourful hills today was Llagostera, a club from a Catalan coastal town around a tenth the size of Ponferrada, 56 miles (90km) from Barcelona.

Llagostera were one place and two points behind their hosts before kick-off, meaning this match was close to a six-pointer with the season's sand fast running out.

The day felt hot, officially 25C but certainly the year's warmest matchday so far. The players grabbed water breaks in the shade when they could. I was high in the roof in the press box, squeezed into a tight plastic cabin designed for radio broadcasts, vaguely reminiscent of those at Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park.

I am sure they keep the chill mountain winds out for most of the season, but on a glorious day like today I would have enjoyed a gentle breeze to cool me.

The Spanish second flight, one of only two professional leagues in the country, has average crowds of 8,000, one thousand more than England's League One, though less than half that of the Championship's 17,857.

The quality of football is closer to the Championship however, but that said, you won't see many Leo Messis or silky skills as much as fierce competition, quick, long clearances, fast channels balls and hopeful crosses: Like England's old Second Division, this is a scrappers' league with escape the pressing priority.

Added to that, the clubs' crowds and TV incomes are way below their English equivalents and a country mile behind most of La Primera's, let alone the golden duo of Real and Barça.

As regards the atmosphere, the heat probably sapped a lot of organised enthusiasm today, like it does back home. There was a home end, the 'Frente Norte' with around 200 hardcore fans, happily on their feet and chanting, while a distant drum beat out a rhythm.

I could not see any away supporters. Spain's vast distances and the smallness of the visiting team probably did for that. From an English perspective it seemed odd to see more travelling journalists than fans.

Llagostera midfielder Tito, who should be marshalling the midfield with a name like that, got the action going in the sixth minute when he thumped a shot goalward, tipped over by Ponferrada's Spanish U21 keeper Kepa, another aptly named.

Ponfe's star is their Brazilian-born forward Yuri de Souza, their top scorer this season with 15 and voted the best player from the Americas in the Liga Adelante last season. He was the only non-Spaniard on the pitch today, another sign of the gulf between England and Spain's second flights.

A Yuri breakaway was easily saved in the 20th minute before a near-post effort was mauled by the Llagostera goalie Rene a few moments later. The 32 year-old then closed the first half with a couple of near misses to get everyone eager for the restart.

Firstly a textbook falling bicycle kick in the 46th saw Llagostera goalie Rene save and fall with the ball agonisingly hugging the line. Then Yuri tumbled over in the box but the referee waved the appeals away, much to the Brazilian's chagrin.

In the last action of the first half a raiding Acoran tried to round the last man and went to ground. It never looked a penalty but the home crowd sensed an excuse for some manufactured rage and howled wildly at the match officials as they trooped off the field with their police escort, as is the custom in Spain.

On the hour mark, Diaz made his move and brought on Pablo Infante, a bald bank manager no less but blessed with attacking fervour and good close control.

Five minutes later Yuri was withdrawn, shaking his head as he trudged off. Another day...

Maybe the heat was playing tricks on me but for a split-second I thought there were more than 22 players on the pitch, until I swifly realised the reflections from the press cabins were creating a trompe l'oeil reminiscent of the ghost armies in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Ponfe probably wished they had some phantoms on their side as for all their attacking intent they did not look like finding the net alone.

If the stalemate needed a kick it got in the 74th when Llagostera's Aimar not so much impeded as mugged Acoran as he would not let go until he handed him his wallet. A red card was the only outcome. Game on.

From the resulting free kick Pablo chipped an exquisite ball over the wall but Andy guided his shot wide from what looked like a golden chance to score.

Ponferradina looked more assured now with the subs on. Pablo was making dangerous incursions from the left and Tete, a pint-sized raider with fast feet, motored down the middle.

But as the minutes wore on the Spanish afternoon heat took its sapping effect and a well-fought 0-0 scoreline looked imminent.

Some fans headed for the exit kicking their heels and cursing their team's lack of luck once more.

Then out of nowhere, a sting in the tail. As the clock crept to 94 minutes, Llagostera substitute Alberto Perea danced through a tiring Ponferrada backline and fired a killer winner into the far corner.

Ponfe kicked off and the referee blew for full time. A sucker punch indeed which nobody in the ground had expected. Football, the ever-unpredictable game of surprises.

The Catalan commentator on my left went into full crazy Latino gooaaall mode. A woman a few rows in front turned and shouted abuse at him before a man whose hair was almost white climbed a few steps before thumping the plastic partition with some equally fruity epithets. Now I understand why they cage the hacks in.

Diaz should have been feeling the pressure as his team look odds-on to miss the play-offs and leave the dream of the first division and the likes of Barcelona for another year.

But the congenial Madrid-born manager was instead philosophical at his side falling to a last-gasp winner.

"We have all seen a lot of football and we know that these things happen," mused Diaz. 

"I have to congratulate the players, They are some of the best we have had here," he said. "We created the chances. It is rare that we don't score. I don't know what happened this game."

Inevitably a journalist asked him about his future, a stock theme of press conferences this stage of the season wherever you are.

As expected, Diaz replied he felt comfortable and wished to continue but that he accepts the club must have the final say. No surprise there.

It was an enjoyable afternoon all in all, despite the shock of a late defeat for the home side. A warm summer's day, the flowers in bloom and the colourful hills around could not make it otherwise. Ponfe will miss the playoffs? There is always next season.

As Ponferradina striker Ruben Sobrino, another Real Madrid product, said in his post-match interview,

"Who knows, everything is possible in football."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, May 15, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions May 16 2015

bet365
The Premiership is all but done and dusted. Chelsea are champions and the top four basically settled: Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.

The latter two square up at Old Trafford with third place possibly at stake.

Elsewhere Europa League hopefuls Southampton take on FA Cup finalists Aston Villa. Two sides near the foot of the table clash as Sunderland play host to Leicester and Liverpool welcome Crystal Palace, who will be hoping to complete an unlikely league double over the Reds.

On Sunday, Man City travel to South Wales looking for a fourth successive victory over Swansea, before Man Utd battle old enemies Arsenal in the pick of the weekend's fixtures.

Proceedings draw to a close on Monday night as West Brom meet Chelsea at the Hawthorns in a basically dead rubber.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Southampton 0 v Aston Villa 1
Burnley 1 v Stoke 1
QPR 1 v Newcastle 2
Sunderland 2 v Leicester 1
Tottenham 2 v Hull 2
West Ham 2 v Everton 0
Liverpool 1 v Crystal Palace 0

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Swansea 1 v Man City 3
Man United 2 v Arsenal 1

Monday, 18th May 2015

West Brom 0 v Chelsea 2

Stevie Glee In Anfield Wrap?

Steven Gerrard will be bidding an emotional farewell to The Kop on Saturday night and bet365 are betting on his performance against Crystal Palace.

bet365’s Steve Freeth "An iconic player such as Steven Gerrard waving goodbye to The Kop is bound to attract betting attention, and the fact he's scored in the last two games, plus takes free kicks and penalties, can only further punters' case for a perfect Anfield ending."

Gerrard is 8/5 to hit the back of the net, 11/2 to score a penalty and 16/1 to score directly from a free-kick. The inspirational skipper is also priced at 4/1 to outscore Crystal Palace on his own.

Liverpool v Crystal Palace 16th May

Steven Gerrard Specials To Score 8/5 To Score 2+ 9/1 Score Hat-Trick 40/1 Score Own Goal 66/1 Booked 4/1 Sent Off 50/1 Score Free Kick 16/1 Score a Penalty 11/2 (Free kick - pens not included)

90 Minute Goals Match Bet – Who Will Score More Goals (Gerrard must start) Steven Gerrard 4/1 Tie 6/4 Crystal Palace Evs

Soccer - Veteran Friedel opts to call it a day

Brad Friedel has admitted that, at the age of almost 44, it is the right time for him to retire from the game. The former USA international has featured in almost 500 Premier League matches since joining Liverpool in 1997. He was Blackburn's regular first-choice shot-stopper between 2000 and 2008 and went on to start more than 100 league games for Aston Villa before moving to White Hart Lane in the summer of 2011. He was an ever-present for Spurs in the 2011/12 campaign but has been used as a back-up keeper to Hugo Lloris for the last three seasons. "I'm incredibly proud of what I've achieved in my career," said Friedel. "But my 44th birthday is almost here so I think it is a good time to call it a day." Spurs are 13/8 with bet365 to keep a clean sheet on Saturday against a Hull City side that is 2/5 to be relegated this season following their home defeat to Burnley.

Soccer - Baines endures ankle surgery

Everton boss Roberto Martinez believes this week was the perfect time for Leighton Baines to have an ankle operation. The former Wigan Athletic left-back has been struggling with the injury for some time and had to be substituted during Saturday's 2-0 home loss to Sunderland, 4/1 with bet365 to be relegated this season. Baines had the surgery on Wednesday but should have recovered in time for the start of pre-season training. Martinez said: "Leighton had a little bit of instability in his ankle that flared up in the last two weeks and was really painful in the last game, so we got it checked and he needed a little bit of repair work so he had surgery. "He will be out now until the start of pre-season but it is exactly what he needed. He was trying to play through the pain barrier." Everton are 8/5 to beat West Ham in their penultimate game of the season on Saturday.

Last time's predictions

Monday, May 11, 2015

Real trip up in the home straight

THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW


Real Madrid draw hands Barça a four-point lead, while Messi weaves his magic wand to curse Guardiola's return 


Things got a whole lot clearer in the race for La Liga: After Barcelona maintained their momentum with a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad, Real Madrid could only draw 2-2 at home to Valencia.

The gap at the top is thus now four points with two games to play and Barcelona have not lost for 19 matches or conceded a goal in eight. In other words, barring an incredible miracle, the title will be heading to Catalonia.

BARCELONA  90 +88
REAL MADR.  86 +73

GAMES TO PLAY:

17/05/15       Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, Espanyol v Real Madrid
23/05/15       Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna, Real Madrid v Getafe

The Manzanares is not an easy place to come away with three points from of course but even if Atletico win that one and Real beat Espanyol, the blaugrana would enter their final game with a one-point advantage.

A draw at home to relegation-fighting Deportivo therefore and a win for Real would send the title to Madrid.

But Deportivo are sitting third from bottom and have not won for fifteen games. The idea that they could draw or win at on-fire Barcelona when the blaugrana have all to play for appears fanciful.

Real had hopes that David Moyes' Real Sociedad could take points off Barça having beaten them at the Anoeta Donastia earlier in the season.

Indeed, the Basque side held out for 50 minutes before Neymar gave the home side the lead when Mikel Gonzalez inadvertently back-headed a Messi cross into his path.

Pedro added a second with a bicycle kick in the 84th after work from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The triangulated attack Barça have used to effect this season once more bore fruit, creating space and confusion in an opposition defence forced to twist and turn.

The clinching goal had a familiar ring to it as Barça chalked up another win in a seemingly inexorable march to the finish.

Real meanwhile, perhaps wilting from the fact they were starting second again and playing catch-up, entered the dressing-rooms two goals down at the break thanks to Alcacer and Javi Fuego. A well-organised Valencia found Real's weak spot to be diagonal balls whipped in to just outside the six-yard box and found the net twice from them.

Cristiano Ronaldo's lacklustre penalty in first-half injury time capped the first half disaster. His run-up lacked confidence, his body language made the kick predictable and it was blocked comfortably by Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves. To cap it all he mis-kicked what had been a fortunate rebound.

Watching the title evaporate before their eyes, Carlo Ancelotti's men came out fighting in the second half but Valencia's massed ranks were not giving them any space and a comeback looked unlikely.

Pepe headed a simple goal back in the 56th minute but it took until the 84th minute for an equaliser. While Ronaldo was failing to shine and Gareth Bale looked shackled by the system once more, Isco shone to score an individual golazo with a delightful turn and curling shot past the diving Alves.

Bale to be fair had won the penalty Ronaldo missed and supplied Isco with the pass to score. He also drew a fingertip save from Alves, who also saved twice from Chicharito and once from Sergio Ramos.

Iker Casillas was getting stick from the home fans and the camera caught him abusing them back. All in all a far from successful night despite the two-goal fightback.

Valencia too were in a battle with Sevilla for the last Champions League spot and were not merely playing for pride. 2-2 seemed about right.

Sevilla worked wonders in Europe on Thursday but could only draw 1-1 with Celta Vigo on Sunday, meaning they stay fifth, three points behind Valencia and headed for the Europa League again.

Atletico Madrid drew 2-2 at lowly Levante with Fernando Torres rescuing a point ten minutes from time, his third goal of the season. A a point was useful to both sides. Diego Simeone's men are four points clear of Valencia in the race for third and a passage to the Champions League group stages, while Levante moved five above the drop zone.

With Sevilla's draw at Celta on Sunday night, Atletico are now guaranteed Champions League football next season.

Villareal qualified for next season's Europa League by beating Elche 1-0. The Yellow Submarine were La Liga runners-up in 2008 and Champions League semi-finalists two years earlier.

Down at the bottom, Granada beat already relegated Cordoba 2-0 in the Andalusian derby to give them a glimmer of hope of survival.

Deportivo La Coruna meanwhile, claimed what might prove to have been a valuable point away to Athletic Bilbao by Alberto Lopo's 94th minute leveller.

THE RACE TO ESCAPE:

14. Getafe                 36
15. Levante               36
16. Almeria                32
17. Eibar                   31
--------------------------
18. Dep. La Coruna  31
19. Granada              31
20. Cordoba              20

It is possible that three Andalucian sides could go down if Almeria swap places with Deportivo.

As it stands, Spain's regions are represented thus in La Primera:

ANDALUCIA - 5 - Almeria, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Sevilla
BASQUE COUNTRY - 3 - Athletic Bilbao, Eibar, Real Sociedad
CATALONIA - 2 - Barcelona, Espanyol
GALICIA - 2 - Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruna
MADRID - 4 - Atletico Madrid, Getafe, Rayo Vallecano, Real Madrid
VALENCIA - 4 - Elche, Levante, Valencia, Villareal

Aragon, Asturias, Cantabria, Castille La Mancha, Castille & Leon, Extremadura and Murcia have no representation in the top flight.

Real Betis from Andalucia and Girona from Catalonia look set to ascend to the first division next season. The other place is currently between Las Palmas (Mallorca), Real Valladolid (Castille & Leon), Real Zaragoza (Aragon) and Sporting Gijon (Asturias).

PICHICHI race (goals):

1. Cristiano Ronaldo 42
2. Lionel Messi 40
3. Antoine Griezmann 22
    Neymar 22
5. Carlos Bacca 20

*Football in Spain could sensationally come to a standstill this weekend however as the Spanish Football Federation (FFE) have weighed in against the government forcing a redistributive TV contract on La Liga clubs and called a halt to proceedings.

The Spanish League was meeting on Monday morning to discuss its course of action, with the players' union also complaining the new collective bargaining agreement does not help second division clubs enough.

The directive demands a fairer share of TV money for clubs outside the big two, who up until now have taken the lion's share.

The FFE's intervention seems curious given the grotesque gap between Barcelona, Real Madrid and the others, but they obviously have sympathies for them.

Plus with the egregious Angel Maria "all the fish are sold" Villar in charge, any madness is possible.

We should know by Thursday if the strike will go ahead or not, but it is hard to see the league stopping for long with little time between now and end of the season commitments such as the Champions League and Copa del Rey conclusions.

*The big two were in Champions League action as well of course and their respective results only underlined Barça are having the better of this season.

Real kicked off on Tuesday in Turin, where they lost 2-1 to Juventus but scored a vital away goal.
Alvaro Morata grabbed a poacher's goal in the eighth minute when he tapped in at the far post after Iker Casillas saved from a classic Carlos Tevez drive.

The Spanish international did not celebrate scoring against his old team, but gestured to the visiting fans who had been taunting him.

Juve's marking went astray in the 27th minute however as an unchallenged Cristiano Ronaldo headed in a vital leveller. Juve were back in front ten minutes after the break when Tevez charged down the field on a breakaway only to be hacked down by Daniel Carvajal.

The former Man City and Man Utd man hit the penalty down the middle to dig the knife in, but Ronaldo's goal means a 1-0 win at the Bernabeu will be enough. Yet Juve's attacking intent and traditionally mean Italian defence means it is by no means guaranteed.

Karim Benzema missed out for Real, for whom the returning Gareth Bale once more did his invisible man impression.

Barcelona's 3-0 win over Bayern Munich was a mirror of the scoreline two seasons ago when Jupp Heynckes men won at the Camp Nou.

That game, part of a 7-0 aggregate thrashing of Tito Vilanova's side, appeared to signal the end of tiki-taka and Catalan Euro dominance.

In the event, with much of the same personnel, Barça have successfully reinvented their playing style and returned to the top again.

Luis Enrique may not have the suave sophistication of former teammate Pep Guardiola and the press were on his back earlier this season, but the Asturian could end up with a clean sweep of league, cup and European Cup in his first season in charge despite a transfer ban, which surely puts him on a par with Pep.

The prodigal son's relished return to the Camp Nou seemed to be headed for a 0-0 finish. Bayern's wide spacing - they began with a 3-3-2-2 shape, led to a very open game but the Germans denied Barça any goals and looked headed for a point.

Suarez fluffed a one-on-one in the 12th minute and Robert Lewandowksi five minutes later but neither side looked likely to score until Leo Messi cast some magic spells thirteen minutes from time.

The warning signs had been there when Messi and Neymar combined on the edge of the box in the 56th and the Argentinian fired into Manuel Neuer's arms.

In the 77th Dani Alves found the Argentinian again in that danger area around the D. A quick sidestep of a defender and a rifled shot inside the post finally billowed the net.

With the pressure released, Messi then scored a fabulous second, putting Jerome Boateng on his back before chipping the advancing Neuer delicately. Neymar's breakaway third seems to have clinched the tie, a three-goal shower from nowhere, which left Guardiola grimacing.

Bayern finished up with more possession than Barça but without their clinical strikes. Barça had seven shots on target to none, a clear illustation of the gap between the two teams.

Ominously, before the match, Guardiola had said of Messi, "He is too good. There is no way to stop him." Quite.

Spain met Italy again in the Europa League on Thursday but Iberia emerged triumphant as Sevilla won decisively 3-0 in their semi-final first leg.

Aleix Vidal scored a brace and Kevin Gameiro added a third to send the Andalucians to Florence confident of yet another Europa League final.

* With Real losing in Europe this week and effectively blowing their title chances, talk of replacing Carlo Ancelotti has surfaced once again.

Should Real president Florentino Perez choose to give the Italian the heave-ho, the Spanish bookies have installed the following in order as favourites to replace him:

1. Zinedine Zidane
2. Juergen Klopp
3. Jogi Low
4. Fernando Hierro
5. Arsene Wenger

* Spain remained tenth in FIFA's World Rankings for May. La Roja play Costa Rica on the 11th of June in a friendly in Madrid before travelling to Belarus for a European qualifier on the 14th.

*In this week's transfer rumours, Pep Guardiola was claimed to have inked a deal to join Manchester City this summer, but the club quickly denied it.

AC Milan were also claimed to be recruiting the Bayern boss.

Manchester City could pip Arsenal to Karim Benzema with a £40 million carrot for Real Madrid, but Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd are also interested.

Chelsea are said to have opened talks with Atletico over Diego Godin and Koke moving to London in the summer.

Blues full-back Cesar Azpilicueta has denied he wishes to return to Spain, with the big two reputed suitors.

Barcelona could recruit German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan from Borussia Dortmund in time for next January's transfer window.

England's Daily Mail is convinced Luis Enrique will leave Barcelona in the summer, as pigs fly past their windows.

Sevilla's ride in the Europa League has not gone unnoticed in Italy, where Milan could make coach Unai Emery an offer.

Atletico Madrid are hoping to pip Liverpool to Villareal's Argentine striker Luciano Vietto.

Chelsea were also linked with a £40 million deal for Atletico's Spanish international midfielder Koke.

Deportivo goalie Fabricio Agosto is attracting the attentions of Aston Villa and Everton.

Real Madrid assistant coach, Englishman Paul Clement could be offered the manager's job at QPR.

Chelsea and Liverpool were once more said to be on the trail of Barcelona's Pedro.

Liverpool are following Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez and Barcelona right-back Martin Montoya.

Atletico's Toby Alderweireld, on loan at Southampton, could be heading to Tottenham.

Man Utd could offer Angel Di Maria back to Real Madrid in the summer, taking Gareth Bale in the opposite direction.

THIS WEEK'S BIG GAMES - kick-off times GMT

Tue 12th May CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Bayern Munich (0) v (3) Barcelona 7.45pm

Wed 13th May CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Real Madrid (1) v (2) Juventus 7.45pm

Thu 14th May EUROPA LEAGUE
Fiorentina (0) v (3) Sevilla 8.05pm

Sun 17th May 2015 LA LIGA all 6pm
Deportivo La Coruna v Levante
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona
Real Sociedad v Granada
Getafe v Eibar
Espanyol v Real Madrid
Valencia v Celta Vigo
Sevilla v Almeria

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, May 9, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions May 9 2015

bet365
Chelsea have clinched the league title as expected after beating Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge last weekend.

All the remains to play for are the other 3 Champions League spots and relegation to the Championship.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Everton 1 v Sunderland 0
Aston Villa 2 v West Ham 0
Hull 1 v Burnley 1
Leicester 1 v Southampton 1
Newcastle 0 v West Brom 2
Stoke 2 v Tottenham 1
Crystal Palace 2 v Man Utd 2

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Man City 2 v QPR 1
Chelsea 1 v Liverpool 0

Monday, 11th May 2015

Arsenal 3 v Swansea 0

Barcelona are bet365’s 9/5 favourites to win the Champions League this season with Spanish rivals Real Madrid at 9/4 – it’s 11/8 they meet at the final in Berlin.

2014/15 Champions League Outright

Barcelona 9/5 Real Madrid 9/4
Bayern Munich 5/2 Juventus 8/1
To Qualify

Juventus 21/10 Real Madrid 4/11
Barcelona 4/6 Bayern Munich 5/4
Finalists

Real Madrid & Barcelona 11/8 Bayern Munich & Real Madrid 2/1
Barcelona & Juventus 15/4 Bayern Munich & Juventus 6/1

Soccer - Sturridge sidelined until September

Daniel Sturridge is set to miss the start of next season after Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers confirmed that the striker is unlikely to play again until September following hip surgery. "It's a period of time out, but we're hopeful the problems and issues he's had have been resolved with the operation," said Rodgers. "We're anticipating it's going to be around September before he can actually start training and then it's about getting his fitness up." The 25-year-old scored 24 goals last term but his career has been dogged by a series of injuries. He missed virtually all of pre-season in 2013 after suffering ankle ligament damage on England duty and last summer he was sent home early from the Reds’ tour of America due to a hamstring strain. He has scored four goals in eight league starts for Liverpool this season. Liverpool can be backed at 13/5 with bet365 to beat Chelsea on Sunday, with the draw available at 5/2.

Soccer - Koeman keen for Rodriguez to stay

Southampton head coach Ronald Koeman hopes Jay Rodriguez will pen a new and improved contract with the club this summer. The former Burnley star has not played for more than a year because of a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and only has a season left on his contract at St Mary's. "He was talking to the club," said Koeman. "He's a good player and I think he will be an important player for next season. "If he stays, I think that is a good signal to the club, to everybody." Southampton face a Leicester City side this weekend that have won five of their last six game to move out of the relegation zone. The Foxes are 6/4 with bet365 to beat Southampton while a draw can be backed at 23/10.

Last time's predictions

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fifa World Rankings May 2015

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for May 2015 2014 were published on Thursday at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

2014 world cup champions Germany remain at the top of the Fifa rankings followed by Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, the Netherlands, Portugal, Uruguay, Switzerland and Spain.

England are in 14th place.

Algeria are the top African team and are in 20th place.

1 Germany
2 Argentina
3 Belgium
4 Colombia
5 Brazil
6 The Netherlands
7 Portugal
8 Uruguay
9 Switzerland
10 Spain
11 France
12 Romania
13 Italy
14 England
15 Costa Rica
16 Chile
17 Croatia
18 Czech Republic
19 Slovakia
20 Algeria

Full world rankings

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