Friday, January 30, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions January 31 2015

This weekend the big game is Chelsea v Manchester City as first plays second in something of a Premiership show down as third and fourth place Southampton and Manchester United seem too far behind to join the championship race.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Hull 1 v Newcastle 1
Crystal Palace 2 v Everton 1
Liverpool 2 v West Ham 0
Man Utd 2 v Leicester 0
Stoke 2 v QPR 0
Sunderland 1 v Burnley 1
West Brom 1 v Tottenham 2
Chelsea 0 v Man City 0

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Southampton 3 v Swansea 1
Arsenal 2 v Aston Villa 0

Soccer - Under-fire Martinez happy with his squad

Everton boss Roberto Martinez says he has no intention of signing a replacement for Samuel Eto'o before the transfer window closes on Monday. Eto'o was allowed to join Sampdoria earlier this week and Martinez insists he is content with his squad even though they are currently in the bottom half of the Premier League table after finishing fifth last season. Martinez has been criticised by many Everton fans this term but the former Swansea City and Wigan Athletic manager said: "We are not looking at this window to find solutions. The work is to get players back in their confident mood. "Arouna Kone is ready to offer a lot and we have plenty of options in the number 10 role, so I don't feel we necessarily need to replace Eto'o." Everton, 4/5 with bet365 to finish in the bottom half of the Premier League table this season, are available at 12/1 to beat Crystal Palace 2-0 at Selhurst Park this weekend.

Last time's predictions

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Presidential D-day, Socceroos & Spurs into finals, Crazy night in Madrid

* Hosts Australia ended the UAE's fairytale run by winning 2-0 in their Asian Cup semifinal in Newcastle, NSW. Trent Sainsbsury and Jason Davidson sent the Socceroos into a mouth-watering final against South Korea on Saturday in Sydney.

* Today is deadline day in the FIFA Presidential application process. Candidates must have the support of five national associations and have been active in the game for the past two years. The applicants so far are:

  • Sepp Blatter
  • Jerome Champagne
  • Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein
  • David Ginola
  • Michael Van Praag
  • Luis Figo
Domenico Scala of FIFA's Electoral Committee will oversee the applications. The presidential vote is on the 29th of May this year.

* Barcelona reached the semi-final of the Copa del Rey defeating Atletico Madrid 3-2 away last night, winning 4-2 on aggregate. The most astonishing moment of a dramatic night was when Atletico's Turkish midfielder Arda Turan threw his boot at the linesman and was shown only a yellow card, one of a dozen (and two reds) handed out at the Manzares.

* Tottenham will play Chelsea in England's League Cup Final on the 1st of March after overcoming Sheffield United 3-2 on aggregate last night. Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 the night before.

This all-London cup final should be a fiery affair. The two are old, if not bitter foes of course. Here's Spurs taking on the Blues 85 years ago.

* FIFA have all but confirmed the Qatar World Cup will not take place in the summer. General Secretary Jerome Valcke told French radio the choice was now between the start and end of 2022

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Week in Spain January 24 2015

*The big two both won so Real Madrid stay a point clear of Barcelona put the Merengues made heavy weather of winning 2-1 at Cordoba. They went behind to the 14th placed team in the third minute and although Karim Benzema pulled Real level on 27 minutes, disaster struck when Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off with eight minutes to go. Gareth Bale saved Real's blushes with a penalty a minute from time but the FIFA World Player of the Year faces a three-match ban for swinging an arm and aiming a kick at his over-attentive markers.

The Week in Spain January 24 2015.

* Lowly Elche must be sick of Barça by now after they were overwhelmed 6-0 at home by Luis Enrique's team. The Catalans have now put 15 goals past them this month after winning 10-0 on aggregate in the Copa del Rey. Leo Messi and Neymar both scored twice, while Pedro and Gerard Piqué added the rest.

With six straight victories and a morale-boosting win over Atletico in midweek, the mood is brightening at the Camp Nou. That said, Luis Suarez was benched today despite a vote of confidence from Enrique and has scored only five in seventeen outings.

*Atletico Madrid tried to keep it a three horse race by winning 3-1 at home to Rayo Vallecano to stay six points behind Barça with a game in hand. French forward Antoine Griezmann netted twice for the Colchoneros and the rejuvenated Fernando Torres played the last 20 minutes.

National coach Vicente Del Bosque has praised the returning Atletico hero and has said he is open to recalling El Niño to his next Spain squad. Their next outing is a Group C Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Ukraine on the 27th of March.

*With Barcelona banned from the transfer market until next year, Real Madrid have capitalised by signing two promising young midfielders. Brazil U21 international Lucas Silva Borges has put pen to paper on a four and a half year deal rumoured to be around £9.7 million.

The 21 year-old Silva was voted best defensive midfielder in last season's Brasileiro Serie A campaign for Cruzeiro.

Martin Odegaard, the 15 year-old Norwegian prodigy, is more of a fantasista, a creative midifleder, and signed a contract at the Bernabeu which will pay him £80,000 per week. Press reports suggest the fee was in the range of £2-3 million rising to £6 million with appearances. How good is he? This is what he did in Norway:

*Carlo Ancelotti was named the best coach in the world by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics this week, with Atletico's Diego Simeone in second. Pep Guardiola came third, confirming Spain is still a big player in world soccer, with Jose Mourinho in fourth.

Personally, I would have given the gong to Simeone for breaking the Real-Barça hegemony to win the league and reach the Champions League final, all without anything like the resources of Atletico's big rivals. This might change in future however, as this week Wanda, the firm which belongs to China's second-richest man Wang Jianlin, snapped up a 20% stake in the club for only €45 million.

*Real's existing players meanwhile are the stars of a new video promoting tourism to the Spanish capital:

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Man U & Van Gaal stumble on

FA Cup 4th Round: Cambridge United 0:0 Manchester United

Manchester United's most surreal season goes on as the Red Devils failed to beat League Two Cambridge United in the F.A. Cup last night.

Cambridge, 75 places below United in the pyramid, forced a 0:0 draw at the Abbey Stadium after a classic all hands to the pump defensive effort for 90 minutes. They can now look forward to a £1.5 million windfall from the replay at Old Trafford.

Man U & Van Gaal stumble on

Louis Van Gaal chose a strong side but despite dominating possession, they failed to penetrate the mass of yellow shirts before them. Radamel Falcao, Daley Blind and Robin Van Persie all missed chances but Cambridge, eager for a draw, deserved a point for frustrating their monied opponents.

The David v Goliath script and humble setting made for a classic F.A. Cup atmosphere and the raucous home support celebrated at the final whistle as if they had landed a winning slingshot on the team Van Gaal called "The biggest club in the world" last summer.

Fans going home with a spring in their step and a lot to talk about is something all true supporters can identify with.

The contrast between the two sides was striking. Cambridge fielded ten Englishmen and a Scot, United three Englishmen and seven other nationalities. Cambridge's wage bill is £1.1m, United's £215m. Most of United's team had played at the World Cup in Brazil.

The Abbey Stadium, which I recall as one of the worst I have visited in England, was packed with 8,000 delirious supporters, while the replay at Old Trafford will host up to 76,000. The only similarity was that both coaches were European Cup winners - Richard Money as a Liverpool substitute in 1981, Van Gaal as Ajax manager in 1995.

After the match, Van Gaal referred to a substandard pitch and biased referee, but acknowledged the intimate atmosphere which helped Cambridge had been fantastic. "Everything is against us in such games", he said. After United's travails last night and their third round win at Yeovil Town, the former Barcelona and Bayern boss is having a crash course in lower league English football.

Another match will not worry United unduly, as with no European football this season, the F.A. Cup has taken on greater importance at Old Trafford.

But a fog of uncertainty still lingers around the Dutchman's Manchester project. While the occasion and conditions begged for a more English approach, Man U looked very continental last night, building gently from the back and passing horizontally even late in the game while ten yellow shirts bided their time patiently in front of them.

Yet Falcao, a physical number nine, was stranded up front without support, waving to his teammates to whip crosses in he could challenge for, instead of trying to infiltrate Cambridge's massed ranks ineffectively on the floor again.

Even with the attacking riches of Falcao, Van Persie, Antonio Valencia, Blind, Adnan Januzaj and Angel di Maria up against them, Cambridge never really looked like losing and that should be food for thought in Old Trafford's match analysis centre.

United's blank scoreline begs the question of how to break down a side who plainly had no intention of moving upfield, a style of play alien to the Premier League.

Perhaps an older English confrontation provides some clues. When Harold II's Anglo-Saxon shield-wall frustrated the Norman army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror feigned a retreat to lure the English soldiers down the hill before counter-attacking at speed with his cavalry.

The weakened English defence then succumbed, Harold was killed and the Normans won the day.

With the pace of Di Maria and Valencia to call upon, as well as the striking prowess of Falcao and Van Persie to perform the coup de grace, Man United surely had the tools to change tactics and win.

Van Gaal still seems unsure of his best eleven and having eschewed English football for years, is clearly finding his new surroundings hard to adapt to. He has toyed with formations and blooded youngsters encouragingly yet remains a fish out of water, albeit a big one with an even bigger reputation.

Many an eyebrow was raised when he recently said what he liked most about England was the food.

When asked to clarify, he cited the wine lists and Chinese dishes.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, January 23, 2015

More FIFA fans head for the exit

FIFA is set to lose three more World Cup sponsors

Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson were among eight second-tier sponsors for Brazil 2014, along with Budweiser, McDonalds, Moy Park, Oi and Yingli. But the three firms have joined Sony and Emirates in not renewing their sponsorship deals for Russia 2018.

More FIFA fans head for the exit.

Although the reasons for leaving are unconfirmed, it would be a surprise if their decisions were not connected to the never-ending bad press surrounding the sport's governing body.

Any financial support for a bent body like FIFA reflects badly on the brand image of a company but the temptation to have one's name so exposed across the globe must equally make it hard to turn the chance to sponsor a World Cup down.

Right now, the top tier sponsors are FIFA's old pal Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai-Kia and Visa, all of whom you might want to boycott, while Gazprom and Qatar Airways, two companies intimately linked with the next two World Cups, are strongly expected to join them soon.

FIFA will probably look to replace the three departing sponsors, who hail from Germany, the UK and the USA, with Asian companies, but the news is still cheering for anyone praying for a regime change in Zurich. With Sepp Blatter seemingly impregnable, cutting FIFA's funding sources off may well be the best route to an 'under new management' sign.

Coke and Visa have publicly ticked FIFA off but have shied away from withdrawing their money so far.

This latest news arrives as the 78-year old Blatter embarks on yet another presidential campaign. Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein is so far the only challenger, with Jerome Champagne and David Ginola apparently struggling to get the minimum five recommendations from FIFA nations before next week's deadline.

Blatter's power base remains the block of votes from Africa, then Asia and he also has pockets of support in the Caribbean, Jack Warner's former fiefdom, and South America, where his lieutenants Nicolas Leoz and Julio Grondona, swept up the votes for him until they finally left the stage in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

The presidential election is due to take place at the FIFA Congress in Zurich on the 29th of May.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Unforgiven 2 starring Danny Mills

Former England full-back Danny Mills made the BBC's normally soporific Saturday results show "Final Score" a little spicier than usual yesterday by dredging up an old feud he has kept burning with Nottingham Forest manager Stuart Pearce.

When coach of Manchester City eight years ago, Pearce had dropped Mills in favour of Micah Richards, and according to Mills, accused him of falsely claiming injury.

Mills had clearly never forgiven the former England captain for this slight and with Pearce under pressure with only two wins in 20 games in charge of Forest, Mills relished the chance of going in studs-up again, five years after hanging up his boots.

"He is not a great coach, not a great tactician and not a great motivator," Mills told the press earlier this week.

"He is very predictable. After 10 games people work him out," he went on. "He doesn't have the depth of football ability to back it up." Stuart Pearce.

Ouch! Revenge, the dish best served cold as ever. While the press often exaggerate and manufacture spats between managers or players, or players and managers, this feud does seem to be the real thing.

Pearce replied equally frostily, "I do apologise for putting Michah Richards in Mills' place at Manchester City."

Garth Crooks, the former Tottenham striker, sat alongside Mills, said nothing but smirked at two grown men bickering over the past. Handbags at ten paces, as they say.

Pearce was allegedly on the brink of the sack before yesterday's clash between Forest and local rivals Derby County, and when Henry Lansbury headed into his own net with a quarter of an hour gone, he must have been expecting the P45 form, while Mills must have been chuckling away.

Yet Forest, outplayed for most of the game, snatched an unlikely equaliser with a quarter of an hour to go and an even more astounding winner in injury time. Pearce exploded with cathartic joy on the touchline, an outburst on a par with his Euro 1996 penalty kick against Spain.

Pearce may well face the sack sooner or later at the club he famously skippered, and Mills may well be correct in his criticism. The two are not about to go dancing together, and while neither can crack open the champagne, this bout went to Pearce on points

Watching ancient and unresolved spats from a distance, now that's entertainment.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, January 16, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions January 17 2015

George was back on track last weekend with 6 correct predictions out of the ten games.

This weekend the big game is certainly Manchester City v Arsenal on Sunday. In other games QPR face Manchester United, Swansea play Chelsea and Aston Villa host Liverpool.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Aston Villa 1 v Liverpool 1
Burnley 1 v Crystal Palace 1
Leicester 1 v Stoke 0
QPR 1 v Man Utd 3
Swansea 1 v Chelsea 2
Tottenham 3 v Sunderland 0
Newcastle 1 v Southampton 1

Sunday, 18 January 2015

West Ham 2 v Hull 0
Manchester City 2 v Arsenal 1

Monday, 19 January 2015

Everton 2 v West Brom 1

Goal-Shy Villa 66/1 To Break Derby’s Unwanted Record

Aston Villa have managed just 11 Premier League goals in their 21 matches so far this season and bet365 are 66/1 about them failing to reach Derby County’s unwanted record total of 20.

Paul Lambert's side are favoured to score between 25 and 29 top flight goals this season with the Lions currently sixth favourites to be relegated at 11/4.

Total Aston Villa 2014/15 Premier League Goals

19 or Less 66/1 20 - 24 11/2 25 - 29 5/4
30 – 34 13/8 35+ 11/2

2014/15 Premier League – To Be Relegated

Yes No
Burnley 4/5 Evs
QPR 4/5 Evs
Leicester 10/11 5/6
Hull 13/8 1/2
Crystal Palace 2/1 2/5
Aston Villa 11/4 2/7
Sunderland 3/1 1/4
West Brom 10/3 2/9
Everton 25/1 1/80

Soccer - Schneiderlin targets Champions Leaguebr />
Midfield ace Morgan Schneiderlin believes that his Southampton side have got what it takes to qualify for the Champions League, with the Saints 6/4 with bet365 to finish in the top four. Schneiderlin and co are in buoyant mood following a 1-0 Premier League win at Manchester United at the weekend, with the victory over the Red Devils lifting Southampton up to third place in the Premier League. And France international midfielder Schneiderlin is eager to finish the job and secure a place in front of some of the very clubs who are reported to be interested in his signature. He told BBC Sport: "We want to put Southampton in the spotlight, that will be a shock for the country and the world. "We want to reach the Champions League. We want to change this tradition of it being all the big teams. "Hopefully we can do something special. We are believing we can, but if we don't, the most important thing is to get Europe for Southampton."

Last time's predictions

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Torres at the double ruins Real

Atletico win 4-2 on aggregate.

Fernando Torres scored his first goals for Atletico Madrid since 2007 tonight, bagging a brace at the Bernabeu to knock capital rivals Real out of the Copa del Rey.

Torres at the double ruins Real.

The Colchoneros led 2-0 from the first leg and Torres wasted little time in twisting the knife, scoring to make it 3-0 on aggregate after only 51 seconds.

Carlo Ancelotti had picked a strong eleven in the hope of overturning the first leg reverse, but the rub of the green tonight was with the visitors and their returning hero, who had been bought as back-up for Croatian striker Mario Mandžukić, who was missing tonight with flu.

Sergio Ramos headed Real level on 20 minutes before Torres restored Atletico's lead less than a minute into the second half to keep the aggregate gap at three goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo headed in Real's second on 54 minutes but the tie finished 2-2, Atletico advancing to the quarter-finals, where they will face Barcelona no less.

This elimination is Real's first setback since failing to win La Liga last season. In 2014 they won the UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey, European Super Cup and FIFA World Club Cup, a near clean sweep.

They have an intimate connection with the so-called King's Cup (Copa del Rey) as they are the Royal (Real) club of Madrid, a prefix awarded to them by King Alfonso XIII in 1920, and they have won the trophy 19 times.

Spain's oldest competition began as the Copa de la Coronacion in 1903, before becoming the Copa del Rey, Copa del Presidente and Copa del Generalisimo, reflecting the changes in Spain's 20th century politics, before reverting to Copa del Rey in 1977.

Copa del Rey QFs:

Malaga v Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol v Sevilla, Barcelona v Atletico Madrid, Villareal v Getafe.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile