Preview: Midweek action EPL

With the FA Cup being the centre of focus at the weekend, the Premier League faces a busy midweek schedule of games with all of the twenty teams in action in a busy fixture list on Tuesday and Wednesday night. To further add spice to the occasion, there are some huge encounters due to be played, particularly on Wednesday, which could well have a major say in who eventually lifts the title, who claims the third and fourth place spots and which teams really are pushing on towards the top half of the table and which ones are likely to be embroiled in a relegation battle come the end of the season.

After an already busy weekend of key matches, you can bet that many betting sites online will be taking major money from Thursday onward as the picture and the overall shape of the EPL could become a lot clearer by Thursday morning. The action begins Tuesday night with several intriguing encounters. Portsmouth take on Sunderland in a clash of two of the Premier league’s out of form sides with both needing the points desperately. Wigan take on Stoke, though few will be betting on Maynor Figueroa repeating his stunning free kick from his own half during the clash earlier on this season at the Britannia stadium. Fulham will be confident of securing three points against Burnley at Craven Cottage while Manchester City will be looking to bounce back to form with three points at home to Bolton.

However it is Wednesday where some of the really big games will take place, none more so than at the Emirates Stadium where an improving Liverpool will be hoping to continue their better recent form (and avenge their 2-1 loss at Anfield) against Arsenal. The Gunners will know that another defeat would not only rule them out of title contention completely but would move the clubs beneath them, including Liverpool, into striking distance of third position. It looks like being a huge clash in North London and while the Gunners will start favourites, Liverpool will know that they will seldom face a better chance to get three points from an encounter that they have, traditionally, under performed in.

In the Midlands there is another huge clash with repercussions at the top of the table as Aston Villa take on Manchester United at Villa Park. The two teams have had contrasting fortunes of late, Villa have struggled to score goals and win games, whereas Manchester United have been banging goals in at a frightening rate. However it is a game neither team can afford to lose, or really draw, such is the tightness at the top of the table and this bodes well for another night of high drama at Villa Park.

There will also be great interest on Merseyside as Everton will be hoping to bounce back from their derby day disappointment at Anfield by recording a win over Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea. The Londoners will know they are in for a stern test at Goodison Park against a side which has improved a great deal since the season began.

West Ham face Birmingham in a six pointer at Upton Park and it is a game that Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola must feel his side must get something from, even against the in-form Blues. Spurs travel to relegation threatened Wolves with both sides needing nothing less than a victory to nurture their aspirations for the season and finally Hull take on Blackburn in a real relegation six pointer at the KC Stadium.

Which is why come Thursday morning, the bookies odds may be a little more refined and we may well have a better idea of which teams will be contesting the major prizes and those who will be strongly involved in a relegation battle, for the rest of the season.

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The weekend´s best sporting tips

As we roll gently into another weekend, the world of sport once again provides us with plenty of opportunities for us to have a little flutter on some major sporting events. So log into your best betting sites and have a look at these markets for a bit of value and you never know, come Monday, you may end up with a bit more money in your back pocket!

The Six Nations continues at the weekend with two seemingly one-sided clashes and the prospect of a classic. Wales will host Scotland at the Millennium stadium in what is a must win games for both sides after they lost their opening fixture. The Welsh will be strong favourites, backed by a fervent home crowd and although Scotland are improving, they won’t be strong enough to defeat the Dragons on home soil.

England look a strong bet to defeat Italy in Rome. The Italians are improving quickly as a team but the extra power of the English front eight and the return of key players such as Ricky Flutey from injury means that the English team should be too strong for the Italians. A double on the Welsh and English team to win is something worthy of considering.
The third game of the weekend is too close to call as Ireland travel to Paris to take on France in what could be a classic. The

Irish, last year’s Grand Slam winners, will know that this will arguably be their toughest test of the competition and the French will know that anything less than a victory here will make their chances of Six Nations success all the more difficult. This really is too close to call and home advantage could be crucial for the French.

Horse Racing fans will get the chance to see one of the Cheltenham Gold Cup favourites Denman in action at Newbury in the Aon Chase. Paul Nicholls mount will be ridden by Tony McCoy and is the class act in a strong field in the traditional Gold Cup warm up. Fans of the Irish horse will be hoping it can produce a repeat of its 2008 form, where Denman won the Aon Chase before going on to take the Gold Cup in style a few weeks later at Cheltenham.

The focus shifts from the Premier League to the FA Cup this weekend in England but with a twist as several big name teams, such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool find themselves eliminated from the competition. Chelsea are rightly the favourites for the competition and should have few problems getting past Cardiff, even without defensive duo John Terry and Ashley Cole.

Few would bet against Manchester City having enough to see off Stoke. However those looking for a bit more value in their bets may wish to consider an in form Derby who take on an out of sorts Birmingham at Pride Park. 9/4 on the Rams looks good value, especially after their 3-0 hammering of Newcastle mid-week.

Another good bet looks Southampton at home to Portsmouth with the Saints a current 15/8 shot for the win. Given it is a derby game, Saints excellent home form and Portsmouth’s dismal away record, this is a game that could well end in a shock.

But my choice for punt of the weekend would be to take Napoli to defeat Inter in Serie A on Sunday evening. Inter’s form of late has been sketchy and Napoli sit in a very strong fourth place in Serie A. The San Paolo is always intimidating with its passionate home crowd and I fancy the pacy Napoli youth to give Inter real problems.

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Pompey chimes a death knell

Portsmouth FC have 11 days to secure further investment and pay off the estimated £12.1m that they owe Revenue and Customs, or the club faces being placed into administration , or worse still, a winding up order after the Companies Court granted a temporary adjournment of the winding-up petition brought by HMRC.

In a nutshell, this means that Portsmouth have until next Wednesday to find funding of over £12m to pay off the full debt owed to HMRC. Should they fail to do that, then the club will either enter administration, which will immediately see it docked 9 points by the Premier League and thus without doubt be relegated at the end of the season. Worse still is the prospect that the club could be issued with a winding up order, in which case it would go out of business immediately.

Gregory Mitchell, QC, who represented HMRC stated “It’s quite clear beyond any doubt at all that this company is insolven. They have failed to provide any evidence at all as to their solvency. There are many debts and they continue to accrue.”

The scale of Pompey’s debts can be broken down into the following terms;

£28m is owed to former owner Alexandre Gaydamak

£17m is owed to Balram Chainrai, the current owner of the club.

£12.1m is owed to Revenue and Customs

£6.8m is owed in VAT and surcharges incurred. (which the club is appealing against)

£5.3m is owed in PAYE and National Insurance payments

£3m is owed to a variety of football agents and

£1.8m is outstanding on instalments on transfer fees for players.

Portsmouth’s request to have the ruling put back until they had their appeal against the VAT bill heard, was dismissed by HMRC as a “delaying tactic” and that even if the appeal was successful, their other debts would remain outstanding. A similar request for a 28 day adjournment was also turned down by Registrat Christine Derrett who warned;

“I am very concerned about the financial status of this company. It seems to me there is a very real risk that this company is undoubtedly trading while it is insolvent. I’m obviously conscious that, by making a winding-up order, it would have very severe consequences not only for the company as a business but for the supporters,” before adding ominously “but that’s not a consideration that I can strictly take into account.”

Unless further investment can be found by next week’s deadline, the game with Stoke City on the 20th February could be the last the club can fulfil in the Premier League.
It is a tragic situation, however it is one that has been predicted by financial experts for many years now as clubs have lived far beyond their means. Indeed former Premier League clubs such as Southampton and Leeds United have suffered similar financial collapses in the past, which has led to a rapid demotion through the divisions and a radical overhaul of the financial situation at the club in order to afford itself a degree of sustainability.

Of course Portsmouth’s loyal fans don’t deserve this, it is the folly of a succession of owners and managers, overpaid players and their agents that have brought about such a collapse and while the people involved over the years may wash their hands of the current situation, they are every bit as culpable for the mess the club finds itself in now as any of the current staff.

Let’s hope for Portsmouth fan’s sake, that the next time we here the Pompey chimes, it won’t be the death knell for this proud and historic football club.

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Milan vs Man U

David Beckham has admitted he will find facing former team Manchester United ‘emotional’ as he aims for a place in the Milan side that will take on Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in the knockout phase of the Champions League. Speaking before the game to reporters Beckham admitted;

“It’s going to be an emotional game, but as a Manchester United fan it is probably going to be the first time I want Manchester United to lose. I’m a Milan player and I want us to play well in the game and I want us to progress into the next stage of the Champions League.”

Beckham has done well for Milan since agreeing his second loan spell at the club after the MLS season finished in December. Many Milan fans were sceptical that Beckham would be able to contribute to the team, but his performances for the club in both of his loan deals have seen him cement his place in the team, in Fabio Capello’s England set up and won him an army of new fans who have been impressed by his skills as a player and his tireless work ethic.

While much of the focus has been on Beckham lining up against his old team, it has somewhat detracted away from the players who are more likely to decide the tie. Such as Milan’s young striker Alexandre Pato and Manchester United’s bundle of perpetual angst and motion Wayne Rooney, both of whom lead the goalscorer markets with most betting sites online.

Certainly Pato has the talent to cause a weakened United defence, who will start without the injured Nemanja Vidic who didn’t even make the trip to Italy, all sorts of problems. The young Brazilian, who was linked with a £30m move to Chelsea earlier this season, has been a key performer for Milan this year and as he gains experience and strength, he is growing into an imposing forward, capable of leading the line for Milan in much the same way that Andriy Shevchenko once did.

United have their own threat in Wayne Rooney. The England star has been in sensational form for his club this season and his performances have driven the club on at times. Rooney will no doubt be expecting close attention from an experienced Milan back line, but the England man needs to show his doubters that he can perform against the best in the latter stages of competititions.

While Pato and Rooney may provide the striking threat and Beckham the eyes of the media, there will be one player whom Sir Alex Ferguson will have special plans for, the resurgent Brazilian Ronaldinho.
For most of the past two years, the former Barcelona man has been something of a forgotten figure in football. His move from Barcelona to Milan didn’t work out initially, he has been dropped from Carlos Dunga’s Brazilian squad and his form took a nosedive to such an extent that many commentators felt he was finished before the age of 30. However this year the Brazilian has, at times, been back to his brilliant best and Manchester United will be well aware of the problems he could cause them if he is given too much room in advanced areas.

Certainly United have reason to strive for victory. The defeat in the 2007 semi finals to a Kaka inspired Milan hurt United greatly and Sir Alex will want to avenge that loss in the best way possible, by setting themselves up for the second leg in Old Trafford in three weeks time by securing a strong result in the San Siro.

David Beckham and his magical right foot, notwithstanding of course.

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Another Night

Is the 2009-2010 season going to be one remembered for dazzling skill, or crippling ineptitude because last night there was relatively little of the former and plenty of the latter.

Take the Porto – Arsenal clash. What started, on paper, being an interesting clash of styles between two talented attack minded teams, turned somewhat into farce by the goalkeeping performance of Lukasz Fabianski. On 11 minutes the 24 year old, lauded in the press previous to the game by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as a true European goalkeeping great in years to come, gave the home side a lift by turning Varela’s mishit right wing cross into his own net. Of course you can argue he was wrong footed and diving back towards his goal is never easy. However the inescapable fact is that most goalkeepers tend to realise that palming the ball into your own net is never a particularly good idea.

That blunder paled into insignificance in the second half however when after Sol Campbell had equalised for the Gunners and they were looking somewhat comfortable, a hopeful punt saw Campbell touch the ball slightly back to Fabianski. Rather than clear it away with his feet, the Pole picked the ball up. The referee rightly awarded an indirect free kick to Porto inside the box. Fabianski gave the referee the ball, the ref passed it on to a Porto player while Fabianski turned and ambled back to goal with his back to the action. The Porto player took the free kick quickly (the referee Martin Hansson helpfully blocking Sol Campbell’s attempts to get back and defend) and Falcao rolled the ball past the dazed Fabianski.

It was scarcely believable, as evidenced by the hysteric tones of the ITV commentary team and the rather bemused look of Arsenal defenders trying to chase back.

Arsene Wenger has, of course, blamed the referee for the debacle. Wenger argued Sol Campbell’s back pass was accidental (it wasn’t) and that the referee should not have allowed the free kick to have taken place. It seems somewhat odd then that Arsene seems to have forgotten Thierry Henry’s quick free kick, which led to Arsenal scoring a goal against Chelsea at Highbury back in 2004.

I can’t wait for the second leg. What are the betting sites online going to offer as markets for the game? “Time of first Fabianski Cock up?”, “Number of Porto goals down to Arsenal goalkeeping ineptitude?”? I’d bet on them.

But it wasn’t just in Portugal where the official was in hot water. In Germany, Didier Drogba’s best friend, Norwegian referee Tommy Henning Ovrebo had another night filled with somewhat peculiar decisions.

Firstly, his award of a penalty for Bayern, ostensibly for a foul by Kroldrup on Ribery, not only was questionable, but in doing so he robbed Bayern of scoring a legitimate goal by playing the advantage as Klose tucked the ball away. However in Ovrebo’s world, this crass decision of the awarding of a penalty was further compounded by him not giving Bayern the advantage. Fortunately Robben tucked away the penalty.

The second half was equally baffling for most football fans, after Fiorentina had equalised, Kroldrup making amends for the penalty with a scrappy leveller, Ovrebo then sent off Massimo Gobbi for a challenge on Arjen Robben that was frankly laughable, yet a nasty two-footed challenge by Miroslav Klose just a few minutes later, worthy perhaps of a red card, went unpunished. Indeed Klose must now be adding Ovrebo to his Christmas Card list as on full time he was allowed to be at least five yards offside to score the goal that put Bayern in front.

It wasn’t a decision that any sane person would have got wrong. But then again, we had Tom Henning Ovrebo in charge of the game, so perhaps we should have expected it.

Even Bayern Munich manager Louis Van Gaal could scarcely believe the decision stating:

“Fiorentina played tactically very well. They changed their system and we could not work them out.

“That was a shame. At least we did then score a goal in the end, which was clearly offside.

“Therefore, we have been a bit lucky.”

Or it could just be that the official was inept.

You decide.

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