Posts Tagged ‘ Fernando Torres ’

World Cup 2014: The Favourites

worldcup2014

2014 is shaping up to be a great year for football. With exciting finishes ahead in the Premier League and La Liga, both of whom are currently topped by pre-season outsiders with only a few games to go, and a couple of exciting ties remaining in the Champions League, it will be a year to remember. There is, of course, a World Cup coming straight after the end of the club season, so quality football will continue well into the middle of the summer. Here, in the first of a two part special, we will examine the favourites for the competition, who look set to take Brazil 2014 by storm. Continue reading

Chelsea To Overcome Home Blues Against Gunners

FELLAINIFor all the exciting build up to last weekend’s fixtures, many of the matches turned out to be dull spectacles with disappointingly unsurprising results. In the most anticipated matches, United looked comfortable for most of the match when dispatching Liverpool, while City were easy victors against Arsenal after Laurent Koscielny had been sent off early in the game. So looking at the table going into this weekend, the two Manchester clubs have distanced themselves further from the also-rans, with Chelsea hanging onto their coattails six points adrift of second place and a depressing thirteen points off top spot. So on Sunday, for the good of the league, let’s hope that Tottenham can claim three points against Man United and thus complete the double over them, having beaten them already at Old Trafford earlier this season.

For the good of our pockets however, we’re going to have a look at a 12/1 treble, kicking off at the DW Stadium where Wigan host a rejuvenated Sunderland side, who have been quite good this season in beating the teams around them at the lower end of the table. Since December, they have recorded important wins against West Ham, Fulham, Reading and Southampton, consequently improving their league position steadily. Both sides have only 4 days to recover from their Tuesday night FA Cup replays, but whereas a weakened Wigan side overcame Bournemouth, Sunderland had an altogether different experience as their full strength team succumbed 2-0 at home to Championship side Bolton. However a major boost for the Black Cats during this game was the substitute appearance of Lee Cattermole and he should return to the team against Wigan at the weekend and he should bolster their defensive play even further. Contrarily, centre-back Ivan Ramis has suffered a knee-ligament injury and is out for the rest of the season for Wigan. Sunderland, erratic as they may be, have been strong in recent games against bottom-half teams, and I will be backing them at 5/2 to win.

Chelsea are another team who had to play during the week, registering a miserable draw against Southampton on Wednesday evening. They face another tough test on Sunday when they welcome Arsenal to Stamford Bridge. The Blues’ away form has been outstanding of late, culminating last week with a 4-0 thumping of home rulers Stoke City. Their home form has been less consistent. Having knocked eight past Aston Villa, their next home game proved a goalless outing for the Blues and they fell victim to a Shaun Wright-Phillips goal and dropping two points against Southampton is hardly ideal. The shrewd purchasing of Demba Ba should reduce the chances of more fruitless endeavours and he will prove a handful for the weakened Arsenal defence if he once again starts ahead of Fernando Torres. Along with Koscielny, who is absent through suspension, Mikel Arteta will be sorely missed by the Gunners for this game as he is injured. Abou Diaby made a welcome return to the team and he will have his work cut out in his defensive-midfield position if he is to hinder the influence of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and the evergreen Frank Lampard. Arsenal’s performances against stronger opposition is notoriously bad, they haven’t picked up a single point from their meetings with the top three teams this season, so I’m sticking with Chelsea at 5/6 to pick up the three points.

Our three bets this weekend are all spread out, so far one from Saturday, one from Sunday and to round it up, we’re looking at the Monday night game when Southampton take on Everton at St. Mary’s. The home side are unbeaten in their last five matches, recording notable draws against Fulham, Stoke, Arsenal and Chelsea and beating Aston Villa but I think this good run will come to an end when the Toffees come to town. The away side were very unlucky not to beat Swansea at the weekend, Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic looking particularly dangerous but just failing to score. With Kevin Mirallas on the brink of return after a long spell out with injury, the situation for David Moyes’ side is only looking rosy. If the manager can hold on to his big Belgian afro-man during the January transfer window, Everton should be playing European football next season and they can continue on this prosperous road on Monday night with victory over Southampton. They are priced at even money to do so.

Four Games That Could Earn You Big Bucks

Fernando TorresThis weekend we’re going to play by the rules. We’re going to take our beatings and learn from them as the 33/1 and 50/1 bets we previously unsuccessfully attempted are not going to be emulated. We dared to dream of getting rich quick but paid the price and so it is with a heavy heart that we desert the bet of the day which is Swansea to beat Arsenal at 4/1 (draw no bet), or 6/1 for those brave enough to back Michu, Hernandez and co. to stuff the gunners at the Emirates. Not us however, nor are we brave enough to include Swansea in our moderately big bucks accumulator this weekend. Instead we’re going to point our prayers to backing a paltry 18/1 accumulator which, for the most part, comprises of sure things.

We’re starting at the Hawthorns where West Brom face Stoke. The Baggies really should be utterly disappointed with their display on Wednesday and I fancy them to bounce back from this dismal performance. Fan favourite Shane Long is due to return to the starting eleven to bolster their attack against a team who are on the back of two successive home wins, but away form would suggest that Stoke will be on the wrong side of the result this time. West Brom are available at evens to beat the Potters who could be without their main man Peter Crouch.

Onwards and predictably upwards towards the top of the table and we’re going to back both Man City and Chelsea to win their games this weekend. There are quiet whispers of City developing their 14 game unbeaten start into an unbeaten season. Despite the fact that they haven’t been setting the world on fire, they are now looking defensively solid now and have more than enough names up front to bag them a goal or two to secure the three points against Everton, who as it turns out, were the last team to beat them at home. We’re going to conveniently ignore this stat though and back them at 1/2 to reverse that result.

Rafa Benitez is still looking for his first goal as Chelsea manager and, while he has also yet to concede a goal, the Spaniard will be hoping that his infamous number 9 can do something, anything to inspire his fellow team mates to their first win since beating Tottenham in October. I think they should be able to pull it off away to West Ham in the 12.45 kick off on Saturday. Juan Mata should start after being left on the bench against Fulham, and another big plus for the Blues is that the blunder-prone David Luiz will not be available for selection – that’s encouragement enough to back Chelsea at 5/6 to win.

The final leg of this accumulator for those of us who won’t be including the Swansea factor focuses our attention on Fulham’s home tie with Tottenham. We’re going to stick our money on a draw in a fixture which sees two sides who this season have been very effective going forward but not so much when defending.  Both sides had a good result during the weekend and even though Spurs did beat Liverpool 2-1, they were not all that convincing and I don’t feel that they will take all three points off Fulham. The draw is generally priced at 12/5.

Putting those 4 bets together still gives us decent accumulator odds of 18/1 – not the most ridiculous 18/1 bet you could have this weekend. Other bets that could be worth a gamble would be, as mentioned above, Swansea 4/1 to beat Arsenal (draw no bet) and over 2.5 goals in the Fulham match at 4/6.

That’s the Premiership accumulator for this weekend my fellow punters, maybe it’s not as adventurous as other weeks but will you really care when your 18/1 bet comes in and you’re finally able to afford that solid gold house? I think not.

A Tale of Nine Managers

The furore over Chelsea sacking Roberto Di Matteo following the club’s recent slip down the Premier League and in Europe and cemented by Tuesday night’s embarrassing defeat to Juventus was greeted with no great surprise and amazement as what was expected finally came to pass. Stan Collymore, Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand have all registered their amazement at the move, with Newcastle boss Alan Pardew branding the sacking ‘unbelievable’. BBC presenter Dan Walker probably provided the best summation of events, saying “Binning Di Matteo seems harsh, brutal, a bit daft but sadly inevitable. What Abramovich wants…”

It’s a little hard to believe when recalling that only last May Di Matteo was celebrating Chelsea’s historic Champions League triumph on a pitch in Munich. Of course of great importance now is that we are living in and moving ever increasingly into the era of not just the great players and the legendary managers who set the course for clubs, but also the owners. As football becomes a sport where money and bucket loads of it is needed to remain competitive and challenge for trophies, clubs are relying more and more on owners with plenty of cash, and, unfortunately, owners who in some cases believe they know more about football than the managers they’ve paid to do the job.

The surprise isn’t that di Matteo has been sacked. That has always been on the cards, with Chelsea it’s expected and a two-year contract proved that the faith simply wasn’t there, despite being a manager who had guided a team in disarray during the early part of the year to Champions League and FA Cup glory. No, the only surprise is that Roman Abramovich hasn’t followed his own ego and misplaced faith in his own football knowledge and simply installed himself as manager. He really calls the shots at the football club, they know it and we know it too. Why not just be open about it?

The most successful teams in football are those who have that one vital component – stability. At Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson often speaks about the need to build a club rather than a team, and the first thing he did upon his arrival at the club was to reorganise the club’s youth structures. Many of the players developed during this time went on to become standout players at the club – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and David Beckham amongst them. And while of late Manchester United hasn’t been exactly living up to their fearsome reputation, the building is well underway again, as Sir Alex combines foreign acquisitions with homegrown talent. “The first thought for 99 percent of newly appointed managers is to make sure they win—to survive,” Sir Alex said, speaking to the Harvard Business School. “They bring experienced players in, often from their previous clubs. But I think it is important to build a structure for a football club—not just a football team. You need a foundation. And there is nothing better than seeing a young player make it to the first team.” At Barcelona, a similar approach is followed; while the managers do change somewhat often, the team ethos is what has kept the club elevated for such a long period of time – the tika taka style of play is embedded in the club from the youths to the first team.

What have Chelsea got? There is no set way they really play – managers haven’t had the time to put a stamp on the club, an established way in which they play because they simply haven’t been given a real opportunity. Managers come and go at Chelsea, each bringing their own brand of experience to the job, each bringing their own tactical ideas and player wishlists, and a gelling together of coach and club doesn’t always happen straight away. Some bad first results might have very well ended in the sacking of Sir Alex Ferguson all those years ago; if that had happened would Manchester United have enjoyed all of that success they’ve experienced over the years? Chelsea have a few trophies, some certainly very talented players, especially those brought in this past summer, and undoubtedly the money is there. But they need a manager to combine all of those positive aspects, and to do that definitively, they need time. And several of the more recent managers haven’t even had a full year at the helm. True success takes time. Where might Chelsea be if Mourinho had been left to his own devices and Abramovich had taken a back seat role consisting of signing the cheques and enjoying the success? At least that is something Manchester City are getting right – despite some pretty dismal performances over the past two Champions League seasons, Mancini has been given the owners trust along with their money and is experimenting, trying to find the Manchester City way, while building a solid base for the club in terms of the youth system. Managers need to be given time but in this day and age immediate returns on investments are expected, as manager’s terms in office are being measured in months rather than years.

It’s hard to see why any manager with any care for his reputation would come to Chelsea other than the impressive pay package coupled with the inevitable generous settlement when their tenure comes to an acrimonious end. Why would anyone come to a club as manager when they’re third in the pecking order, behind the Russian owner and senior players such as John Terry and Ashley Cole? Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail has recently revealed the conditions under which Di Matteo was forced to operate, chief amongst which was the constant and repetitive urging to play Torres, a wish on the part of the owner which impacted negatively on Di Matteo’s plans for the team, regarding proposed transfers.

Former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has already been confirmed as the ‘interim’ manager, a term which must surely fill the Spaniard with a world of confidence as he must realise the Russian oligarch trusts him at the steering wheel for just a little while as he makes his search for a more long- term sacrificial lamb.

Is Van Persie Made Of Manchester United ‘Stuff’?

Recent transfer speculation has placed Arsenal star Robin Van Persie in the sights of several of Europe’s top clubs; Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus being chief among his potential suitors. It’s not exactly difficult to imagine why he would want to leave. After all, he boasts only two trophies from his days at Arsenal; an FA Cup medal from 2005 and one slightly less momentous Community Shield from 2004. Arsenal, whose financial model makes sense yet is so far removed from the outrageous wages and expenditure so favoured by world football and the Premier League and thus is failing, are looking more and more like a feeder club to those at the top, rather than one looking to seriously challenge for domestic and European honours.

This speculation has favoured Manchester United to capture the Dutch forward and one of the most recent revelations declares that Van Persie is seeking wages similar to those of Wayne Rooney, if he is to join the Red Devils. While United do have the financial clout to meet his demands, the questions is not can they, but should they.

The thing is, Rooney is 26 and van Persie has three years on him. And while the Dutchman may have a similar amount of playing time, due to several bouts of injuries, the fact remains that the clock is beginning to tick. 28, going on 29 may not be exactly old, but paying such a large transfer fee for an older player can be somewhat of a risk. Take Berbatov, for example, whose £30 million transfer to United from Spurs hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses. It all hinges on whether Van Persie is only getting going, or if this is his peak. There’s no denying that he is an extremely talented footballer. But there are still a number of things that go against him. His injury record, for example, which may or may not be a worry to the manager, who would doubtfully want another Owen Hargreaves. His record too is a little short. He has had really only one great season at Arsenal, though it has to be said, what a season it was. Talisman is a word used often and certainly not sparingly by the press, yet a talisman for Arsenal he was, joining the ranks of a handful of players who managed to score 30 goals in a solitary league season. But he’s only done it the once. Can he do it again? Or has he reached the peak, the summit of his skill and is it simply downhill from here? Nobody can really predict what’s going to happen. Who could have foreseen, for example, Fernando Torres’ remarkable slump into mediocrity?

Then of course there is the wage demand. Sir Alex seems to prefer the type of footballer who comes to Old Trafford seeking to play with and for the best, whose passion lies out on the pitch rather than with a pay cheque. With his rather exorbitant wage demands, Van Persie comes across like a footballing mercenary, (Samir Nasri springs to mind) looking for money rather than a club to be passionate about. Sure, footballers should be able to demand what they feel they are worth, though that opens up yet another can of worms regarding how much the profession is paid these days. United don’t need another like Tevez. Sure, mercenaries are part and parcel of our game, just like diving and whinging is, but United are one of those clubs, like Barcelona and a handful of others, who are able to attract a certain type of player which exhibits a quality possessed by the rarest of footballers – loyalty. Really, he should stay another year and prove himself worthy of the recognition he’s getting. Then again, if Arsenal have any sense, they’ll offload him now rather than have him see out his contract then leave at the end of next season on a free transfer.

United have plenty of talent up front, in the form of Rooney, Chicharito, Macheda, Welbeck, even the much maligned Dimitar Berbatov, who may or may not be on the way out this summer. Should van Persie join then he is just another name taking away valuable playing time from those younger potential stars who need regular games not just to ensure fitness, but one of the most important things a footballer can possess – confidence. Not to mention the small prospect of the financial aspect to this transfer. For wages alone, on a three-year deal, should United offer Van Persie the same £220,000 a week Rooney is on, it would cost the club a little over £34 million. That’s not even including the £30 million transfer fee Wenger is reportedly looking for. And of course the figure rises should the contract extend any further. £64 million is quite a huge investment in a player who will turn 29 by the time the Premier League starts again, who has had quite a number of injury concerns over his career and who has had only one really great season for Arsenal.

No, midfield is where they should concentrate on; a long-term replacement for Paul Scholes, and one or two other potentials besides. Lucas Moura or Modric would be nice names to feature on the United team sheet but there are many other young players like young Nick Powell out there, because big transfer fees and solid reputations don’t always ensure value on the pitch. So on the surface, a move for one of football’s hottest talents might be the right one but under that surface it doesn’t seem quite so attractive.

Euro 2012-The Favourites

Euro 2012 is almost upon us. Over 24 days, 16 teams will play 31 games in eight stadiums to earn the right to lift the European Championship Trophy. Over the duration of the tournament, upsets will occur, incidents will happen, controversy is expected, the top attacking players in European Football will go against the top defenders, but only one team will win. Here Irish News Review assesses our top three contenders for the Henri Delaunay trophy.

Spain: 

The first to be looked at and heavy favourites, as expected are Spain. The reigning European and World champions go into this tournament with heavy expectations on their shoulders. Despite missing the injured Barcelona duo Carles Puyol and David Villa, the Spanish squad still contain an exceptional number of talent such as Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres at their disposal. To say they have the most talented squad would be an understatement.

They have a difficult group on paper, Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland should prove difficult opposition, but Spain having been in this position and come out on top twice, should have more than enough to win the group. The players will expect to be playing teams who keep ten men behind the ball and Euro 2012 should be no different. Both Italy and the Republic of Ireland have defensive mentalities and will attempt to stifle Spain in those games. Even Croatia, normally at team of an attacking nature will surely adopt a more defensive approach when going up against the number one team in the world.

The Spanish nation as well as the players and staff will be expecting a third international trophy in a row; it would take an exceptional team on top of their game to beat the Spanish. Bet against them at your Peril.

Holland: 

The Dutch had their hearts broken two years ago in South Africa, when a late Andres Iniesta goal handed Spain the world Cup at the expense of Holland, leaving the Dutch without an International trophy since 1988. Like Spain they have a number of extremely talented players including Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Rafael Van der Vaart, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt and Robin Van Persie. Where Holland struggle and where coach Bert Van Marwijk will need to be at his best is turning what is normally a group of individuals into a team. He succeeded at the World Cup, but not without a price, sacrificing their normal attacking football style for a more defensive approach and despite it getting them to the final, they were criticised.

Holland are faced with the most difficult group in the competition, the “group of death” along with Germany, Portugal and Denmark. Despite the obvious difficulties of the group Holland should overcome Denmark and Portugal and then tussle with Germany for position of group winner. It will of course depend on the form of their attacking players and whether they can duplicate their performances of two years previously, but if Van Marwijk can combine their toughness of 2010 with a little more attacking freedom this time around then Holland more than capable of going all the way.

Holland have a lot to prove in international tournaments. With the exception of 1988, the country that gave us total football have usually been the bridesmaid rather than the bride. This squad will be determined to erase the World Cup Final, but can they?

Germany: 

Germany were the surprise package in South Africa in 2010, Joachim Loew had selected a very young side full of potential, who combined and very attack minded philosophy with German efficiency to great effect. Two years later the surprise factor may be gone, but the players in that young German side have evolved into very good players in their own right. Players such as Mezut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira excelled at the World Cup and have established themselves in the first 11 because of it. Those four combined with Lukas Podolski, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm, Mario Gomez, veteran striker Miroslav Klose and new additions such as Mats Hummels and Mario Gotze make Germany one of the clear favourites for Euro 2012.

Germany joins Holland, Portugal and Denmark in the Euro 2012 “group of death”. Given the quality the Germans posses and their penchant for tournament football, it is fully expected that they will get out of the group.  The only question is in what position. The key fixture in Group B takes place on June 13th when Germany face Holland in the game that more then likely decide the outcome of the group as a whole and will more then likely avoid Spain until the final. Once out of the group, it will be fully expected that Germany will get to at least the semi-finals if not the final itself.

If history has showed anything, it’s you never right off the Germans. The longest they have gone without a trophy is 20 years; it has been 16 years since they last won in 1996. It is doubtful they will have to wait much longer.

Spotlight On Spain

Ireland’s second game at Euro 2012 is against the current World and European champions, Spain. The game takes place on the 14th June in Gdansk and is seen as a daunting task for Ireland with Spain going into this tournament as favourites to regain their European title. Spain have the chance to be the first team in international football to win three tournaments in a row and nobody would put it past them with the extremely talented group of players they have at their disposal. 

Vincente Del Bosque leads his team into this tournament after easing through qualifying, winning all eight of their games. The Spaniards have won 14 consecutive competitive games in a row which is a joint world record. Their playing style remains the same attacking brand of football that won them their last two trophies and it is an extremely difficult style for some teams to deal with. Many people could be of the opinion that the Barcelona contingent amongst the squad will want to win this tournament even more after a relatively disappointing season by their standards. 

The Barcelona contingent in the Spain squad, however, has been cut by two members due to the absence of their captain Carles Puyol and goal scorer supreme David Villa. Puyol, a hugely influential leader, misses out after undergoing knee surgery and his presence will be missed in the Spanish camp. Villa, who became Spain’s all time record goal scorer during qualifying will not be able to add to his impressive tally this summer. The striker suffered a broken tibia during the Club World Cup in December and failed in his battle to be fit in time to be added to the 23-man squad. 

Previous Meetings: The last time the two sides met was at the 2002 World Cup when Spain knocked Ireland out on penalties in the last sixteen. In twenty-four previous meetings between the two teams, Ireland have only won four times with the Spaniards winning on thirteen occasions and seven games being drawn. Ireland will hope to have more success in their twenty-fifth meeting with Spain and cause an upset which is not unusual for an Irish team to do. 

Strengths: Spain’s style of football is easy on the eye and can prove very hard to deal with it. Their passing game can tire teams out and leads to so many chances. Spain go into this tournament as champions and have proven experience of winning big tournaments. 

Weaknesses: The omission of two key players in the shape of Carles Puyol and David Villa. The Barcelona duo were vital to Spain winning Euro 2008 and the World Cup in 2010. Fernando Torres’ form is something of a worry for Vincente Del Bosque who will hope the Chelsea striker isn’t there to make up the numbers. His form has improved somewhat lately but he seems to be a shadow of the player who scored the winner against Germany in the Euro 2008 final. 

Key Player : Xavi 

Xavi has the ability to control any game with his endless supply of unbelievably accurate passes. The Barcelona man has seemed to get better with age and will again play a pivotal role in Spain’s quest to regain their European crown. He is a strikers dream to play with as he can find space anywhere and create chances that not many other players could see. Xavi was named as player of the tournament at Euro 2008 and is considered as one of Spain’s greatest ever players.

By Andrew Harte