Red card in El Classico 2/1 – Won
Over 6 cards Real vs Barca 11/10 – Won
Lionel Messi’s 51st goal of the season was a bit special. In fact it was out of the Maradona locker for amazing individual goals in big games amongst controversial circumstances. Sadly the quality of Messi’s goal was overshadowed by the circus which surrounded the fixture. In my last post it was outlined the approach Mourinho was likely to take; robust and pragmatic attempting to nullify Barcelona’s flair and class. For the first 45 minutes it had worked. Sure Mourinho had lived up to a reputation some have given him as the ‘enemy of football’ – for his somewhat negative approach, but in the back of his mind the 5-0 loss at the Nou Camp may well still be hurting and he is a winner. The half time brawl was ugly and the feel of the game minus the goals was everything football shouldn’t be from two of its supposed flag bearers. The constant diving, arguing, niggling, complaining, fouling, and scrapping illustrated that maybe spanish football isn’t always the beautiful game for which it is often portrayed. I refute the idea that Mourinho got his tactics all wrong but with some of the players he has at his disposal he could have been more offensive particularly at home. Having said that Barca tired away from home against Arsenal and maybe Mourinho was waiting for the last quarter to pounce? We will never know. Employing Pepe in midfield was the potential mistake but sports leviathan’s followers weren’t complaining as the match yielded 5 yellow and 3 red cards including Pepe’s, for a mistimed and rash tackle that potentially could have been a yellow. Either way another two selections cantering off to victory in the Berbnabeu! A note on the selection of Real Madrid to win the Champions League; I was sure there would be a sending off and fully expected it to be a Real player. Therefore it seems weird to post up a Real victory. I just felt Mourinho would get it right eventually and with Iniesta out I thought they might capitalise, but the red card came quite early and Barca clinically trod on Real’s throat. In Mourinho’s own words “We have zero chance of being in the final” – But we can live in hope.
Sadly the big game was a disappointment. Read More…
It is difficult to assess just how impressive Man United were last night. Rooney was excellent and it is clear his relationship with Hernandez is blossoming into a very prosperous one. His reaction towards the little pea when predator turned provider shows the admiration Rooney has for his Mexican teammate. Maybe Fabio Cappello could learn a few things about the type of player required to bring the best out of England’s prodigious talent.
United were probably most impressive in midfield. Giggs continues to defy the fact that every 30-year-old woman had a picture of him bare chested on their door when they were 12. His contributions, particularly in the big games have been exceptional. United had over 600 passes to Schalke’s 300 and a lot of them came through their conductor Michael Carrick. Carrick is somewhat of a marmite player; you either love him or hate him. Some Tottenham fans I know cited Carrick’s loss in their midfield as nigh on irreplaceable “you don’t realise how good he is until he isn’t playing” they said. Players like Makelele had the same effect and sometimes their impact is difficult to quantify. They are not extravagant or flash but Carrick plays a very important “Quarterback” (as Harry Redknapp refers to it) role. What I can’t understand is if Carrick is that good and able to hold down a regular place in United’s league winning and Champions League final team, how he is not in line for an England place. Imagine Xavi not even being considered for Spanish duty! I personally am still not sure about Carrick. I feel he lacks something, particularly compared to Jack Wilshere but a time will come when his record will speak for himself and maybe the England selectors will have to sit up and take note.
‘El Classico’ the Champions league version is a game that has had most people drooling at the mouth. The best footballing side on the planet appeases the purists, two bright, young, successful managers pleasing the tactical whizz kids who can analyse Mourino’s pragmatic yet clever approach. Compared with Guardiola’s ‘total football’ where passing and pressing are king and long balls live in a banished land. The sports writers will get a great two legged affair, the neutral should be entertained and hey even the wives and girlfriends will be happy with the eye candy on show from the Iberian gaffas.
I love watching Barcelona, as do most football fans. Never under Guardiola have they played a football match and not completed the 90 minutes not having the majority of possession. It is no surprise they win a lot! However possession isn’t everything as Real Madrid recently showed in the Copa del Rey final and it is this victory, which may sow the seed of doubt in Barca player’s minds. In terms of a winner it is a tricky one and could go either way with Barcelona rightly favourites. However the Real Madrid bandwagon is gathering speed and is becoming a dangerous entity. I personally feel Real have a little more strength in depth of their squad. Not just because they destroyed Valcncia 6-3 away at the weekend with a team full of players often warming the Recaro seats in the Bernabeu, but because Barcelona rely very heavily on their big four players and I am fearful they may just burnout in what is becoming a long season. Below is the amount of minutes the Spanish giants have played their most regular players in the last 10 games
Di Maria 556
The stats illustrate Real Madrid’s squad is far less stretched than Barcelona’s and seeing as Barca need their best players available to win (it seems) then it will be interesting in the second leg should they lose any of their big 4 through injury or suspension
The next stat, which is of interest, is to do with Mourinho’s pragmatic approach. I actually like the way Mourinho picks a side for an occasion and chops and changes his tactics to suit the opponents they play. I think it shows a versatility that most managers don’t have in the world game. The way he employed Balotelli and Eto against Chelsea last year on the wings along with packing the midefield with industry and strength saw Inter not only sweep Chelsea aside but also Barcelona on their way to claim Euro glory. He seems to have a trick for every occasion. The amount he has watched and played Barcelona leads me to think he has another up his sleeve tonight and I suspect, from watching the past matches it will rely on breaking the play down with niggly fouls and disrupting Barca’s rhythm and fluency. Add to this the fact Mourinho has had players sent off against Barca for Chelsea, Inter and Real a red card in this leg, the next or both looks a decent bet. I also suspect there will be plenty of cards due to the style of game; First leg , a little edgy, with a lot of bite and not much love lost. Throw in the fact that there has been a red card in all 5 of the last ‘El classic’ meetings I strongly feel bookings are way forward from a betting perspective. Mourinho’s recent comments about Guardiola were retorted with a volley of expletives from the Barca boss adding an extra edge to this game. It seems Jose has learnt more than his fair share from his potential champions league final opponent, when it comes to mind games!
Real Madrid to win the Champions league at 3/1 (General)
A red card in ‘El Classico’ at 2-1 (paddy power)
Over 6 cards shown at 11/10 (William Hill)
One of Sports Leviathan’s contributors ‘Old Boy’ shares his wisdom on the Newmarket 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas at the weekend as well as some interesting long term advice for the Derby. The Old Boy will give you a rare insight into his horse racing knowledge gained over the last 40 odd years having seen all the big races during that time.
This years classics are fast approaching, as always ones plans may need changing on the day due to ground conditions. This years 2000 is one not to get involved in you are either a Frankel fan or not. Where the value does lay with him is that he is fav for the Derby, this precious son of Galileo out of 5f/6f listed winner will not stay the derby trip. One horse that will is O’brien seville another Galileo offspring out of french dual group 3 winner at 1m 4f. His form in the racing post trophy is rock solid and the extra half mile will suit him down to the ground. At 10-1 he is great value snap it up now if Frankel flops on saturday he will be half those odds. I do have great respect for world Domination he is out of the very good Reams of Verse who herself won the oaks and another who is sure to stay. His Newbury win was satisfactory but the race was just an average maiden and he will need substantial improvement to match the form of Seville.
The 1000 this year looks very open. I like Freddie Head french horse Moonlight Cloud. Invincible spirit has become a Stallion to follow he seems to inpart speed to his offsring, The dam was a decent miler and her dam was a very decent 7f horse. Moonlight Cloud only defeat came in very soft ground at Longchamp If you forgive her that performance she has a great chance at 6-1.
Stoute has a decent horse with Havant but its female pedigree worries me. The dam was only modest at middle distances not the type to produce a guineas winner, she will improve for a step up in trip.
The OLD BOY
Both Teams to score Blackpool vs Newcastle 4/7 – Won
Wolves vs Fulham 23/10 – Won
Phillipe Gilbert to Win Liege Bastogne Liege – 5/4 – Won
Andy Schleck E/W 16/1 in Liege Bastogne Liege – Place
The Sports Leviathan enjoyed a successful weekend slaying the bookies with the tips posted up on Saturday morning. Late goals, Non league trophies and an inspiring short game have been the highlights of a sun kissed Easter weekend.
The ball began rolling on Friday. 11am kick off in the South West Peninsular league saw the two big Exeter rivals Alphington and Exeter Civil Service lock horns. Two strikes from Harry Taylor wasn’t enough as Alphington swooped late to claim a point through Grant Lesley in stoppage time. The Non league Easter groundhop continued on Saturday where the Sports Leviathan saw himself at a very picturesque Trinity Sports Club on Croydon. Beautiful weather was contrasted with a scrappy game. And despite the linesman clearly flouting his divine powers “I can do whatever I want “he bufooned whilst trying to disallow penalties from the sideline. Goals from, Carson and Chandler set up a dramatic late win to see Project Clapham cruise to League and Cup double glory.
But the success was only just beginning. Peter Lovenkrands and DJ Campbell had the first selection wrapped up inside 32 minutes as Blackpool’s home fans got their ritual serving of goals from both sides. It was just as well Mark Hughes wasn’t up front for Fulham,! His three attempts to bury a lucozade bottle into row Z was as embarrassing as Wolves’ defending when Andy Johnson popped up with his first touch to bring home the bacon in SL’s second selection. Interestingly enough the advice for Leighton Baines didn’t hold up and in hindsight hoping for an away penalty at Old Trafford was always unlikely. However Everton had two decent appeals which could have gone either way and provided some serious satchel filling.
As posted in this blog before Hernandez is a high class player and again proved his worth on Saturday. His movement was superb for the goal and a good header from a tight angle. Wayne Rooney’s twitter account (yet to be officially verified) quoted “Loving playing with Hernandez, what a player. The buy of the century and a top bloke too”High praise indeed. High enough for Fergie to be able to leave Berbatov at home playing Pro Evo on Tuesday night instead of facing Schalke in the semi final of the champions league!
Chelsea still have a glimmer of hope at the title but need Arsenal to snap out of their routine ‘last 10 games of the season self destruct mode’ and somehow beat United instead of churning out another draw! And Torres, he scored at last! Chelsea’s celebrations were similar to the time Makelele scored his scuffed penalty against Charlton at the second attempt. Currently it stands at Makelele 2 Torres 1 from 159 games – Prolific.
The Heritage tournament was heart breaking for Luke Donald who came within a Snedekers Mullet of winning the tournament but ultimately was outplayed in the Playoff which finished on the 3rd extra hole. It was a brave effort from Donald who is surely going to add a major to his honours roll soon. His short game is so good. His bunker play is outstanding and the stat of 55/55 putts from inside 5 feet is unreal. WGC winner, top ten at Augusta and this near miss have to put him at the forefront of our mind for future tournaments – Maybe at Wentworth where SL backed him last year only for him to implode late on. He is a much better player now and will surely dethrone Lee Westwood, who to his credit closed out a win in Indonesia to regain his grasp on the World No.1 spot. This is a tussle, which has a lot of mileage in it and is excellent for the players, fans, tournament organisers and sponsors alike. In fact the Sports Leviathan found his own success on the course this weekend defeating a pro golfer at the Leviathans Lair – Lavender Park. SL carded a sublimely consistent 1 over par round to take the bragging rights for some time to come!
Sussex pulled off an unlikely victory and fantastic century from youngster Luke Wells saw Durham surprisingly defeated. I will be interested to see how the match vs Lancashire is now priced up. Furthermore surely Wells will keep his place when Yardy and Wright return? An interesting one! Cricket is only just into its swing but already the buzz is beginning to hit.
The Liege Bastogne Liege classic on Sunday wasn’t quite a classic. But with 5 Km left and Gilbert and Schleck out in front (Gilbert is the much better sprinter too) SL knew it was going to be another winning selection. Gilbert has shown he is unbelievably powerful and one of the great classic riders of the last decade. No-one can live with him at the moment. Sure enough the best rider did win – as he predicted! Kolbnev rode a brave race and almost rode himself into contention but having selected the winner and a nice each way place Sports Leviathans’ two wheeled followers will be pedaling away as happy as a Frenchman with pannier full of chocolate croissants.
This week is set to be a thrilling one; Champions league action is set to cast a vicious cloud over the Royal Wedding, Chelsea play Spurs and Arsenal face Man United in the Premier league. We will be a lot clearer who will be taking home some silverware in 7 days time. One thing is for sure as long as the Spartans from Clapham don’t throw their league trophy under a parade bus they will be a step ahead of Real Madrid!
Sadly this post is more of a rant than anything else. The 23rd April marks St. Georges day. For an English person or indeed a English resident it is a proud day.
The story of St. George as with lots of stories 1700 years old is subject to some inconsistencies. Whatever the truth St. George was a military man and a member of the Roman Army famed in Golden Legend for slaying a dragon with his trusty sword Ascalon. It is not the story which people remember or realistically even care about it is the symbolism of having a patron saint, the promotion of nationalism and a pride of being part of a community. It is a relgious celebration after all and in the 15th century the celebration was as big as Christmas in England. As the popularity of religion has declined as has St. George’s days importance; but are we at a point know where people simply don’t seem to care. I hope not. Read More…
With a gorgeous weekend forecast and the Sports Leviathan off to an epic non-league clash today it really does illustrate the joys of a packed sporting weekend. Subsequently it sparked me into putting forward a few things to follow from a betting perspective.
Football – Blackpool have been involved in 22 games this season where both teams have scored. Add to this the fact no team has kept a clean sheet in 16 Premier league matches at Bloomfield road this year 4/7 with Sky Bet, William Hill and Victor Chandler seems an excellent price. Essentially they are laying 4/7 on a bet which has come in 16 times in a row this season. Being on this bet has been very profitable and with Newcastle in decent form it looks set to continue. Of other bets after commenting on Wolves’ poor form against teams in the bottom half of the table I fancy Fulham to get a result at Molineux – I was thinking a Fulham win at 2/1 however on closer inspection Fulham have only won 1 away game all season! (They have the worst away record of any club – in terms of wins, 2nd worst in points accumulated). Then I looked at their last 6 results – Fulham and Wolves sit joint 8th on 8 points from 6 matches, so they are in simialr form. Add to that 3 of Fulhams last 6 away games have been draws and the draw is 23/10 with Victor Chandler, Bet Fred and Totesport I think this represents some value.
Seeing as there is a big lunchtime kick off too I will put a selection forward for the Man Utd vs Everton match. Everton look depleted and Man Utd have a phenomenal hme record. Man Utd at 1/2 seems very fair. Everton haven’t beaten United at Old Trafford since Peter Beardsley scored in a 3-1 win in 1992. However Everton are on a good run (14 points out of last 18) and they sit second in the form table over the last six games. I am putting forward Leighton Baines as a long shot for an Everton goalscorer. Baines is Everton’s penalty taker and is 10/1 to score any time with Bet365. Also back him to score first each way at 28/1 with Bet 365 and Blue Square. I still think United will win but Everton may start brightly and cause an early shock. Read More…
With the race for the title hotting up Sports Leviathan asks ‘Should it be Wolves who top the tree?’
Lunatic would be the first word to spring into any straight thinking football fans head when such an outrageous notion is banded around, but as this column often likes to mention the stats don’t lie. Granted Wolves are bottom and have the worst record in the premier league and therefore deserve to be there. However on closer inspection it does seem to me that Mick Mcarthy’s straight talking northern… (ahem I mean Irish) approach should be leading them to safety, instead of, off the premier league cliff with only a parachute of money to soften the blow of playing away at Barnsley on a Baltic Tuesday evening next season.
With all good quests for answers we begin at the top with Manchester United. A stuttering start to the season, which saw them, save 6 vital points with scratchy draws away at Fulham, Bolton and Everton. In fact it has not been a great year for the top four on the road; Man United have only won 5 games all season! Chelsea have lost 5 games away from home, in fact it is Arsenal who have the best away record in the whole league, but despite their move to ‘fortress Emirates’ they have won 5 less games at home than their Manchester rivals, needless to say, dropping 15 points more than your title rivals at home is always going to cause a problem when attempting to win the league. The long and short of it is that Arsenal must improve their home form, Chelsea must be more resilient and lose less games (particularly away from home) and Man United can continue to have an average away record and get away with winning the league. Having said all that, United’s home record is almost flawless. They have won 15 out of 16 with one draw. This quite frankly has become the difference. It is no surprise that ‘the special one’ Jose Mourinho targeted home supremacy as the fulcrum for his success. His astounding record (sadly gone now after defeat to Sporting Gijon) of 9 years (150 matches) without losing a home game for Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid ( Won 125 Drawn 25 ) yielded 6 League titles, 8 domestic cups, UEFA cup and 2 Champions leagues. Two rules; be difficult to beat away from home and be impossible to beat at home.
It does appear to be United’s title and I genuinely feel the blip Chelsea had around Christmas has meant their late surge is too little too late. There could still be a twist with the top 3 all locking horns in some capacity between now and the end of the season, but ultimately I would be surprised if United didn’t get over the line. Drawing Schalke could potentially be a real boost for them. Had they had two tough games against say Barcelona as well as their run in, things may have been different. Having said that there will need to come a time for prioritising and with players suspended and injured United (who play Schalke twice , Arsenal and Chelsea all in 13 days) will do incredibly well to win a league and be in the Champions league final. Watch this space.
On closer inspection of the results so far this season an interesting trend seems to have emerged. Of all the teams in the league there seems to be some teams that do better against the top four (collectively) than others. This could be down to numerous factors; motivation to succeed and perform against the top teams (shop window for a transfer), looking for a scalp (raising your game against the big teams), players available, injuries, tiredness, previous fixtures… the list could go on, however it is not by chance that the same names crop up. Below is a summary
(In all the following statistics results of the top four teams Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City against each other are not counted).
Liverpool – MU – Win , CH – Win x 2 , AR – Draw , MC – Win = 13 points ( 14 dropped by top 4)
Totenham – MU – Draw , CH – Draw, AR – Win and Draw , MC – Draw = 7 points ( 11 Dropped)
Sunderland – MU –Draw , CH – Win , AR – Draw x 2 MC – Win = 9 points (12 dropped)
Brimingham – MU – Draw , CH Win , AR (lost in league but won Carling Cup) MC – Draw x2 = 6 points ( and a cup!) – 9 points dropped
Aston Villa – MU – Draw CH – Draw x 2, AR – lost (still 1 to play) MC – Win = 6 Points ( 9 dropped)
These statistics show ( as you would expect because they are placed 5th and 6th respectively) that Tottenham and Liverpool are the most destructive to the top fours title hopes. Given they are both vying for a top four spot maybe they should be discounted from the reckoning. Other than them it is Sunderland (14th) Birmingham (15th) and Aston Villa (10th) who appear to be causing the big guns most bother and it really interests me how they seem to be able to consistently get a result against each of the top four sides.
There is of course one team we have overlooked in all our excitement of correlations between top teams dropping points or even losing cup finals to teams of perceived lower ability; Wolves. Popular literature has us believe Wolves hunt in packs and it seems the football team conform to modern stereotype. Their form against the big clubs defies belief for a club rooted to the bottom of the premier league beanstalk. This season they were denied twice by Man Utd in league and cup by injury time goals – the league game would have seen United’s 100% home record blown had it not been for Ji Sun Park to pop up 3 minutes into injury time. If’s and but’s however don’t cut it for Wolves, they deal in results. They have beaten Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City in the league this year. Having only won 9 games for 3 to be against top four opposition is impressive. But it doesn’t stop there. They drew with Tottenham (5th ) and beat Liverpool (6th) – Now accumulating 13 points against the top 6. As if this wasn’t impressive enough they have also beaten …Sunderland, Birmingham, Aston Villa and FA cup finalists Stoke (and Blackpool). This amazing record of beating (take away Spurs and Arsenal) the top 7 teams based on form against the best four teams in the league is an odd coincence. Do top teams and managers see Wolves as a poorer side? and prepare less thoroughly or psychologically ‘not get up for it’? Or do Wolves play better when challenged to up their game by better teams. My suspicion is the former but either way they are a team who could have potentially wrecked Chelsea’s title chance for example but yet can’t produce the results at the business end to get them out of relegation trouble. Wolves find themselves in a similar situation to Arsenal and Chelsea; good results give them confidence and when opportunities (like Manchester United constantly leaving the door open all season) they aren’t prepared to walk through it. Soon that door will slam shut.
As a final piece of betting advice, given that Wolves haven’t got any of the top teams left to play in fact they play the teams that they notoriously can’t beat - 10/11 with William Hill and Victor Chandler for them to be playing Barnsley away on a Baltic Tuesday night next season seems pretty reasonable – Actually scrap that…It looks a certainty.
Well I don’t think anyone saw 5-0 on the horizon when predictions were being floated around in the build up to Bolton vs Stoke. I for one thought it would be a tight, cagey affair with maybe extra time required. The Sports Leviathan feared it was going to be a day of hitting the woodwork when no sooner had tipped up centre half Robert Huth doubled Stoke’s lead, Kenwyne Jones trebled it. Still, as the statistics were stacked in our favour there was sure to be a goal after the 71st minute (as predicted in the last post) and we were all set to add a few pennies to the Leviathans scaly satchel. But when Republic of Ireland striker Jon Walters made in four nil in the 68th minute the doubt did creep in…might the rout be over? Thankfully Bolton continued to capitulate and Walters sent Leviathans’ followers home as happy as a Stoke fan on Wembley way when he made it five in the 81st minute. Having flagged up the likleyhood of late goals on Sunday I was still amazed at the late drama at the Emirates. Two penalties, one in the 8th! minute of injury time and the other in the 12th!! must be a record for late late goals and just illustrates when you are tired you either make silly mistakes or you are called Emmanuel Eboue – what were you thinking? Read More…
Aside from the farcical planning, this weekend has the potential for some absolutely superb live sporting action. The London Marathon on Sunday, which I must admit isn’t the greatest spectacle for a television spectator is fun and a real festival feature of the years sporting calendar and fantastic for raising money. However I suspect Football will be the apple of most peoples eye this weekend and with El Classico (Real Madrid vs Barcerlona) on Saturday night we are in for a treat. This is ably accompanied by two FA cup semi finals; The first a Manchester derby and the second a north western clash where the football clubs typify their city and town respectively; the players much like their 18th and 19th Century counterparts are industrious, hard working and very much conform to the orders of two very able managers – who in this analogy take on the role as Wedgwood or Arkwright as the innovators of their clubs future. Despite two mouth watering derbies in prospect I am a sucker for the romance of the FA cup and the focus is on the trotters and the potters!
I must at this point nail my colours to the mast and vent my frustration at Wembley semi finals. Read More…
Chicarito or ‘Little pea’ as the Spanish translates showed tonight he has arrived on the world stage and if he hadn’t already made his case with 18 goals this season his first half finish cemented his claim. Sure it wasn’t his best goal but fewer will be more special to him and it can’t be underplayed just how good a player this young man could be. Jamie Redknapp admittedly can sometimes get swept away with emotion with his analysis and at half time he described Hernandez as “potentially the buy of the century” . Redknapp knows a thing or two about rash comments but he also knows his stuff…”"Peter Schmeichel will be like a father figure to Kasper Schmeichel.” – Genius! Just as well Sky have snapped Gary Neville up to keep the studio banter high!?
Having said that Chicarito looks like a real star; he has pace and guile and is a defenders worst nightmare. He is good in the air but his movement is outstanding leaving the Chelsea defenders chasing shadows at times. What I like about him is he has heart and he loves football. He runs himself into the ground, chasing lost causes and in the first leg he was still chasing and tackling back right up until the final whistle. Marry all of this with the most important attribute of all; he scores goals. Mexico and Man Utd have themselves a gem. In contrast Chelsea seem to have bought their precious stone from Cash Converters and appear pretty angry that it doesn’t seem to be the same model they saw in the shop window. Compared to Hernandez, Torres looks lethargic, lacking endeavour or passion and the most important attribute of all; goals. 11 Games and counting. In 2009 I was at Stamford Bridge to witness one of the greatest ever European games. Chelsea 4 Liverpool 4 it ended and I watched Torres closely. He was dynamite. Sharp, quick, stockier and more robust and powerful than I had expected; a real handful. The same Torres that hand the countries best defender Nemanja Vidic all at sea on several occasions leading to red cards and red faces from the Man Utd defender. I don’t know what has happened and suspect there will be improvement but when? If I was Roman Abramovic I would have rather had Hernandez, in fact he could have had 7!