Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Tottenham v Arsenal (Carling Cup)
An intriguing North London derby in the Carling Cup. Both sides are set to field weakened teams, with Wenger not deviating from his policy of playing the youth in this competition.
Tottenham have the Champions League to concern themselves with this season, meaning they may focus less on the domestic cup competition. However, the likes of Wilson Palacios, Roman Pavyluchenko, David Bentley, Giovanni Dos Santos, Sandro and Nico Kranjcar are expected to start, so there is plenty of quality and experience in the Spurs outfit.
Arsenal look set to keep faith with the youth players, with the likes of Kyle Eastmond, Henri Lansbury, Kieron Gibbs, Carlos Vela and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas likely to start. The youngsters have impressed in recent years, but this will be a big challenge for them. Fabianski in goal has hardly inspired confidence in recent times, whilst an expected central defence of Johan Djorou and Sebastien Squallaci will be busy against a dangerous Spurs attack.
In a north London derby, anything can happen, but the Arsenal team is very inexperienced, and up against a strong looking Spurs reserve side, they may struggle.
Bet: Tottenham -1AH @ 3.55
Portsmouth v Leicester (Carling Cup)
After a poor start in the league, Portsmouth find themselves in a familiar position – bottom of the table. However, they were much improved against Sheffield United last time out, and the addition of Liam Lawrence and Dave Kitson looks like a smart move. They are unchanged from the weekend, so field a full-strength team.
Leicester have started the season poorly after a good first season in this division last season. A win against Cardiff recently looked to have turned the corner, but defeat against leaders QPR followed. Paulo Sousa may make a few changes to try and improve their fortunes.
Portsmouth look better last time out and are against a team similarly low in confidence at the moment.
Bet: Portsmouth to win @ 2.8
Sunderland v West Ham (Carling Cup)
Sunderland played a strong side in the last round, and are expected to give £13m signing, Asamoah Gyan, his first start tonight in place of the rested Darren Bent. Bolo Zenden and Andy Reid are likely to be given rare starts as well. However, the likes of Kieron Richardson, Ahmed El-Mohammady and Anton Ferdinand should beef up the side.
West Ham have had a fairly disastrous start to the season in the league, and needed a last minute winner to beat Oxford in the last round. However, they were much improved against Stoke and are likely to field a full-strength side in a bid to boost confidence ahead of the match with Spurs this weekend.
Sunderland have a relatively strong side out, and Asamoah Gyan will be looking to prove a point. West Ham will be looking for a confidence boost, but will have more than one eye on the more important league game at the weekend.
Bet: Sunderland to win @ 1.8
Brentford v Everton (Carling Cup)
Brentford have been relatively strong at the back so far in League 1 this season, conceding only 8 goals in 7 games, with four consecutive clean sheets. At home, they will look to contain Everton, and try and hit them on the break. However, they have only scored 3 goals this season, suggesting they have been struggling up front.
As usual, Everton are proving themselves to be slow starters. Somewhat unexpectedly, they find themselves in 19th place and struggling. Goals have been a problem with a host of injuries up front, although Yakubu is expected to return tonight. If you exclude the Manchester United game, they have only scored once this season.
Both teams are strong in defence, but are struggling up front. Brentford will set up defensively and look to frustrate Everton, and goals look likely to be at a premium.
Bet: Under 2.5 goals @ 2.04
Lions v Royal Challengers Bangalore (ICC Twenty20 Champions League)
Whichever team wins this match will join South Australia in the semi-finals, so the pressure is on.
After stunning the Mumbai Indians in the opening game, they were beaten by South Australia before hammering Guyana in their last game. However, in neither of their first two games were they big six hitters. Only four against Mumbai, and five against South Australia meant they were outsixed in both those games. However, against Guyana, Richard Cameron hit an extraordinary six sixes in a scintillating innings, but the Bangalore bowling attack is far superior to that of Guyana.
Bangalore started well by hammering Guyana with 46 balls to spare. However, a poor batting performances against South Australia and Mumbai, with the odd exceptions has hampered their bid for the semi-finals. However, their bowling attack of Dale Steyn, Anil Kumble, Jaques Kallis and Praveen Kumar is full of experience, and they will hope to keep things tight.
Neither side are particularly big six hitters, but I would expect the likes of Taylor, Kohli, White and Utappa for Bangalore to find the big shots more often than the likes of McKenzie, De Bruyn and Van Jaarsveld.
Bet: Bangalore most sixes @ 2.1
Thursday, 16 September 2010
Liverpool v Steaua Bucharest
For Liverpool, the Europa League is a secondary concern to the Premiership. Despite this, they have racked up four victories in the tournament with a weakened side, scoring 7 goals and conceding only 1. Reina will start in front of Agger and Kyrgiakos, with Jay Spearing and Raul Meireles in midfield. This should provide a solid base for the likes of Ryan Babel, Joe Cole and David N’Gog to find the goals to give them the three points.
Steaua Bucharest were poor against a weak Grasshoppers side in the last round, and lost against a Unirea team that is in crisis at the moment. They have a number of injuries, as well as five new players who failed to be registered in time for this competition.
Liverpool will see this as a good chance to get back to winning ways, even with a weakened team. It would be a surprise to see the likes of Torres and Gerrard, particularly with a huge match against Manchester United at the weekend, but they should be strong enough in defence to restrict Steaua.
Bet: Liverpool to keep a clean sheet @ 1.83
Porto v Rapid Vienna
Porto have started the season in excellent form, winning 7 out of 7 competitive fixtures so far, scoring 18 and conceding only 4. They lost Raul Meireles to Liverpool, but brought in Joao Moutinho from rivals Sporting as a replacement. They have only lost 2 games at home since October 2008, against Manchester United and Chelsea, and will fancy themselves to win again here.
Rapid Vienna shocked Aston Villa for the second year running to reach the Group Stages. They looked relatively poor, and it was only a series of defensive errors that helped them. They have lost their best striker, Nenad Jelavic, and are without Heikkinen, Pehlivan, Eder and Vennegoor of Hesselink. They have lost their last two matches in the league.
Porto should win this comfortably, and will look to Hulk to get the goals, having scored 6 in his last 3 games.
Bet: Porto -1.5AH @ 1.87
Bet: Hulk to score first @ 6
Besiktas v CSKA Sofia
Besiktas have been in sparkling form recently, cruising through the qualifying rounds for this tournament, scoring 17 goals and conceding only 1. They have scored 4 goals in each of their last three games in all competitions. Turkey is a notoriously difficult place to go and play, and players such as Ricardo Quaresma, Guti and Nihat, combined with the managerial ability of Bernt Schuster, mean that they will be a hard team to overcome. However, they have a big derby with Fenerbahce at the weekend, so may have one eye on that game.
CSKA Sofia beat Cliftonville and The New Saints to reach this stage. In both ties, they wrapped it up with a 3-0 win in the home leg, but an unconvincing 2-1 win in Cliftonville, and a 2-2 draw with TNS suggests they struggle away from Sofia. They have had an uncertain start to the season, and lie in midtable ahead of this tie.
Besiktas will look for an early goal, and if that comes, they could open up as they have done in recent games. CSKA Sofia have admitted they will look for goals, and this could leave them open at the back.
Bet: Besiktas -1.5AH @ 1.96
Juventus v Lech Poznan
Juventus have started poorly, with a defeat at Bari, and a 3-3 draw at Sampdoria, and pressure is beginning to mount already. They may rest players here in preparation for Udinese at the weekend, being a more important match. They have come through two rounds of qualifying to reach this stage, but have only scored 6 goals in 4 matches against Shamrock Rovers and Sturm Graz.
Lech Poznan will look to keep it tight and maybe try to nick something against the odds. They tend to keep things low-scoring, as we saw in the previous round where there was only a single goal over the two legs against Dnipro. Under Zielinski, they lack creativity, but have all their first choice defenders back and fit again.
In front of only around 8,000 fans, we shouldn’t expect this to be a classic. Juventus should win, but even if they grab one goal, it would be a surprise to see them go all out to win by any more.
Bet: Under 2.5 goals @ 2.32
Dinamo Zagreb v Villarreal
Dinamo Zagreb are in good form, being undefeated in 7 games since their shock exit from the Champions League to Moldovan side, Sheriff. They scored twice home and away against Gyor in the last round, and key player Sammir is in excellent form at the moment. They will look to pick up as many points at home, so this means they need to attack and score goals.
Villarreal destroyed Espanyol 4-0 at the weekend to continue their excellent goal-scoring start to the season. They hit seven goals in two ties against Dnepr in the last round, and hit another 4 against Tottenham in a pre-season friendly. The likes of Giuseppe Rossi, Santi Cazorla and Joan Capdevila should start alongside several reserve players for this match.
Villarreal have the quality to win this game, but their squad selection raises questions about their motivation. Dinamo should be encouraged by a strong home support, and will look for an important victory to give them a chance of qualifying.
Bet: Over 2.5 goals @ 2.14
Guyana v Mumbai Indians
Guyana were pretty awful in their opening match against Royal Bangalore, being bowled out for only 103 runs, before going on to lose the match by 9 wickets. The Bangalore bowling attack was impressive, but Guyana have a number of internationals in their upper order, so should be able to play better than they showed.
Mumbai Indians scored an impressive 180, hitting an enormous ten sixes during their innings. They have plenty of big hitters in Kieron Pollard, Saurabh Tiwary, Ambati Ravadu and Harbhajan Singh, and the boundaries should be under constant bombardment. They did also concede 9 sixes during the South Australia innings suggesting their bowling was a little sub-standard, as they allowed the Australians to chase down their mammoth total.
The boundaries in Durban are fairly short, and there were 19 sixes in the last match, and ten in the match before that, despite Central District only making 94. The over 9.5 sixes looks a high line, but it is quite achievable, especially if we see the Mumbai Indians batting first.
Bet: Over 9.5 sixes @ 1.83
Sunday, 12 September 2010
For many, the FA Cup begins in early November with the first round proper. For more, it does not begin until early January, when the Championship and Premiership teams enter the tournament. However, for the true lower league fans, the magic of the cup begins early in September. Before we even reach the first round proper, there are four qualifying rounds. The first of those qualifying rounds took place this weekend.
Being a Villa fan, I have to admit that I am no great expert on the true lower leagues. And by lower leagues, I don’t mean League 2. Not even the Conference (or the Blue Square Premiership as it has now been renamed to try and make it sound more professional). No, we are talking far lower. This weekend, an epic FA Cup adventure began. I decided to begin a voyage of discovery through the cup from the lowest levels of football in England, travelling throughout the country until this adventure ends at the home of football, the dream of all clubs entering the competition – Wembley. With almost 800 teams entering, the possibilities are endless.
So how is this adventure going to go? This weekend, I headed down to the Riverside Stadium (no, not the famous one) to see the first FA Cup match of the season – the mighty Thatcham Town taking on their local rivals, Thame United. In the second round of qualifying, I would head to watch the winning team. And so on. Each round, I would travel to see the side that I watched win in the previous round. And with each game, I would experience new grounds, see new teams, and potentially see a whole different side of the beautiful game than that which we see on the television.
The first stop was the Riverside Stadium in Thatcham. The first observation is that the name is a little misleading – there is a small waterway flowing by the stadium, but to call it a river is pushing things. However, despite this, the sun was shining on this early season fixture. The crowd was milling around in the approximately half a stand. Around 100 people had turned out for the fixture – not quite the 42,000 people that pack out Villa Park each week, but it has a certain charm.
The players emerged from the tunnel (despite barely having a stand, there was surprisingly a tunnel) into the bright sunshine and went through the ridiculous ceremony of the photographs and the handshakes. No recognisable names on the team-sheet, but rather the fans shouted to the likes of Will, Hughesy and Chappers, whilst discussing the half-time raffle – a prize of a £25 voucher for the local pub was a tempting prize for only a £1 ticket.
As the teams kicked off the game, the first noticeable thing was that the visitors – Thame United – had a giant of a player up front. A good four inches or so taller than any other player on the pitch, it was not difficult to predict their tactics. As I discovered, Alex Stewart was his name. But it was Thatcham who got off to a decent start, and thought they had taken the lead, until their early strike was ruled out for offside. It was at the far end of the pitch, and unsurprisingly there was no form of replay, so I have no idea whether it was actually offside or not. Another one of the joys of lower league football – there are no replays to prove the officials wrong.
However, the giant number 9 of Thame was causing problems for the Thatcham defence, and he should have given them the lead on 17 minutes, heading wide from a corner. Unsurprisingly, when the goal came, he was involved. A long free-kick was delivered into the area, he used his strength well to bring the ball down on his chest, before a beautiful piece of skill that would not have been out of place on Match of the Day. He flicked the ball over the head of the defender, before volleying beyond the reach of the keeper. Thatcham’s best chance came just before halftime when Cyprus-born sales assistant, Gareth, found himself unmarked in the Thame area, but headed the ball wide of the target.
Other than that, the football was a bit of a midfield battle. Plenty of long balls, but little in the way of quality. Not overly surprising really considering we are talking about the eighth tier of English football. And the happiest man of the day was the lucky chap who won the raffle. But a nice day out in the sun, and I’ll be eagerly waiting for the 25th September, when the next stage of the adventure begins. I’ll be off to see Thame United, but where and against whom is still a mystery.