Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cracks appear in the Camp Nou

Barcelona have made a stumbling start to their title defence in Spain.

A clean sweep of domestic and European trophies last season could not have been better for Barcelona and their new manager Luis Enrique, but after seven games and two defeats, the 2015/16 season has shown there are hairline cracks beneath the façade. 

Fourth position in La Liga just will not do for the club's expectant mountain of fans and even more demanding hierarchy, although the faults in the architecture started to show in pre-season as Barça crashed shockingly 4-0 to Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.

A limp effort at clawing back the deficit at the Camp Nou ended in a 1-1 draw and an embarrassing aggregate score overall.

The defence of their title began slowly adequately with 1-0 wins over Athletic Bilbao and Malaga before their first real test away to Atletico Madrid.

Lionel Messi was strangely dropped from the starting lineup for the visit to the Manzanares, a first hint perhaps of waning powers, but the magician returned in the second half and cast his old spells to help the Blaugrana k.o. one of their closest rivals. So far so good, winning while playing badly, the hallmark of champions.

That crucial away win seemed to spell another season of Catalan conquest, an impression Real added to by drawing at home to Gijon and away to Malaga.

A 4-1 win over Levante followed before a result no-one foresaw, a 4-1 thrashing at Celta Vigo.
The Galicians tore their visitors apart and left Gerard Pique and colleagues looking slow and lacking appetite.

Then Messi succumbed to injury and Barcelona lost 2-1 at Sevilla to slip into fourth. The Europa League winners are no slouches it must be said, and Celta have been a revelation too so far, riding as high as second behind league leaders Villareal.

In the Champions League, Barça have been scarcely more impressive. They were held 1-1 away to Roma before two late goals saved their bacon at home to Bayer Leverkusen.

So what has changed this season at Barça?

Injuries to Andres Iniesta and Messi, and the first full season without Xavi, who has gone to pastures, or perhaps sand dunes, new in Qatar have removed the holy trinity from the midfield.

Selling the highly talented but consistently underused Pedro to Chelsea left a gap in attacking options while big money signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal cannot pull on the blaugrana until 2016 when their club's transfer ban expires.

Keeping the ball at will is no longer a given for the side, and replacements Marc Bartra, Munir and Sandro are not of the same calibre as the missing stars.

This means Barça have been on the back foot more than usual, coping with unfamiliar territory. Enrique too has been less keen to use substitutes than he was last season, implying his squad is not as deep as it should be. Barcelona B's pathetic relegation from the second flight last season confirmed there is not much to chew on after the first layer is exhausted.

It seems Barça are trying to haul themselves over the finish line of the Christmas break, after which they can unleash new blood in the form of Turan, Vidal and any new players they can pluck from the January transfer window.

Luckily for them, Luis Suarez is still wearing his scoring boots and Real Madrid have fluffed their lines and failed to hit top spot, hampered as they have been by injuries to Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez.

It is much too early to talk of a Catalan crisis but that never stopped the media hitting their familiar response button when Barcelona or Real Madrid fail to win any match impressively.

Barça are only one point off the lead it must be stressed, but the narrative of an empire beginning to creak at the seams is an unavoidable one.

A large chunk of Enrique's team are employed elsewhere in the international break before the rest of October hands them a welcome opportunity to catch Villareal up with home games against lowly Rayo Vallecano and Eibar as well as two clashes with Bate Borisov in the Champions League. Life could be worse.

From mid-November things hot up with the visit of early league-leaders Villareal, the first clásico
at the Bernabeu and the Roma in the Champions League at the Camp Nou. In reality, any game where less than three points are accrued sharpens the knife for Enrique.

The Asturian knows his job is one of the most demanding in world football and nothing less than perfection is required. 

Like Rafael Benitez, he signed up for an impossible job. Yet in his maiden season he handled the media attacks with acumen and shut up his critics with a full house of cups. 

Should Barça stumble in the Champions League this campaign however, as looks increasingly likely, or maintain their wins to losses ratio domestically, the cava of last season will lose its fizz all too quickly.

For the neutral, this title race is already much more interesting than last season's.

Friday, October 2, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions October 3 2015

The Premiership rolls on after a week of mixed fortunes for English clubs in Europe. The Manchester clubs both had narrow 2-1 wins against German opposition but London's Arsenal and Chelsea both lost.

In the Europa League there were 1-1 draws for both Liverpool and Spurs.

In the Premiership this weekend Manchester United travel to face Arsenal where a defeat for the hosts could heap more pressure on Arsene Wenger. Manchester United won this fixture last season and have a good record away at Arsenal.

Chelsea need to halt their slide at home to Southampton who will be difficult opponents. We are backing another slight upset for Mourinho's struggling Blues, a draw.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers says Liverpool are bigger than city rivals Everton. All the form points to Everton having the bragging rights after this weekend's encounter but the draw remains the favourite.

Manchester City should be too good for Newcastle, but the Magpies got a point the last time they were in Manchester in August at Old Trafford. That was in a scoreless draw. We think City will score and win 1-0.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Crystal Palace 2 v West Brom 0
Aston Villa 1 v Stoke 1
Bournemouth 1 v Watford 1
Man City 1 v Newcastle 0
Norwich 2 v Leicester 1
Sunderland 1 v West Ham 1
Chelsea 2 v Southampton 2

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Everton 2 v Liverpool 1
Arsenal 1 v Man Utd 2

Swansea 1 v Tottenham 1

Rooney 7/1 To Outscore Arsenal As bet365 In-Play Offer Returns

Wayne Rooney broke his Premier League duck versus Sunderland last weekend, and the striker, who scored his 1st Premier League goal, 1st Man Utd league goal and 100th top flight career goal against Arsenal, is 7/1 to outscore the Gunners on his own on Sunday.

Arsenal v Man Utd Sun 4th Oct
Who Will Score More Goals (Rooney must start)
Arsenal 2/5 Tie 3/1 Wayne Rooney 7/1
90 Minutes Betting
Arsenal Evs Draw 14/5 Man Utd 14/5

bet365 will also be running their risk free In-Play bet offer on the clash at the Emirates.
Place a pre-match bet on the Arsenal v Man Utd game and we'll give you a risk free In-Play bet to the same stake on the big match.

To qualify for your risk free In-Play bet, simply place a bet before kick-off then, once the game starts, place another bet on any In-Play market. If your FIRST In-Play bet loses we will refund this stake, up to the same value as your largest pre-match bet (max refund £50*). *or currency equivalent – full terms & conditions

Soccer - Barcelona reeling from Iniesta injury

Andres Iniesta will not travel with Barcelona to the Sanchez Pizjuan to face Sevilla in La Liga on Saturday because of a hamstring injury. Barca coach Luis Enrique described early reports suggesting the decorated Spain playmaker could be out for two months as "terrible news" and the veteran midfielder will now join Argentina superstar Lionel Messi on the sidelines. Rafinha, Claudio Bravo, Adriano and Thomas Vermaelen are also expected to miss Saturday's return to La Liga. Last season's Treble winners were subjected to boos from a section of Camp Nou supporters on Tuesday when Kyriakos Papadopoulos gave Bayer Leverkusen a shock lead before the Catalans sealed a 2-1 win in the Champions League, and Enrique felt the reaction was unfair. "These are thorns in our side we have to shake off," Enrique told reporters. "My players deserve a huge amount of credit for turning around a very difficult situation. It was a tough night - the second game without our best player [Messi] and our second win." Sevilla are currently priced 3/1 by bet365 in the match betting and the draw outcome is quoted 13/5. Barcelona are available to back in the 90 minutes market at 10/11.

Soccer - Rodgers won't go looking for sympathy

Brendan Rodgers has said there should be some "perspective" about Liverpool's start to the new season and insisted he will be not be seeking assurances over his future from the club's owners. An underwhelming start to the Premier League, which has yielded three wins from the opening seven games, was compounded by a second successive draw in the Europa League on Thursday against Sion. Now the attention turns to Sunday's Merseyside derby and the chance to upset in-form hosts Everton, while Rodgers stressed his players are only five points adrift of leaders Manchester United. "It's about perspective. It's still very early. We're a couple of points off where we want to be, five points off the top with a lot of improvement left to come," he told reporters at his press conference on Friday. "Everton have done well. They are a point ahead of us. They've had a good start and we've had a disaster!" Rodgers said he did not need an arm around the shoulder from the club's owners and vowed to stick to his brief of trying to improve his players. "I don't seek reassurances. I love the club, I enjoy being here and the challenge of improving and developing," he said. Everton are currently priced 9/1 to finish in the top four in the Premier League, with Liverpool 11/4 with bet365.

Soccer - Martinez ramps up derby scrutiny

Roberto Martinez has attempted to diffuse some of the heat on his Everton players by suggesting the pressure of Sunday's Merseyside derby is on local rivals Liverpool. Everton are four places but only one point better off than Brendan Rodgers' side and Martinez does not subscribe to the opinion a six-match unbeaten run in all competitions about his team makes the result a formality. Liverpool's spending since the arrival of Rodgers from Swansea in 2012 is estimated to be close to £300 milliom and Martinez says that level of outlay only increases the burden on the visitors. "If you're looking at ... the amount of money that Liverpool have spent in the last three seasons, clearly they need to be the favourites," Martinez told his pre-match conference on Friday. Everton have not lost in the Premier League in four games since a 2-0 defeat by leaders Manchester City and Martinez has demanded his players make home advantage count. "It's about how good we can be," he said. "How well we can start the game. How consistent we can be throughout the 90 minutes. And how much we can use playing at home [to] our advantage." Everton are priced 17/10 by bet365

Last time's predictions

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fifa World Rankings October 2015

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for October 2015 were published on Thursday at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Losing Copa America finalists Argentina are top followed by Germany, Belgium, Colombia, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Wales, Copa America winners Chile and England.

Wales are remain of neighbors England for the second time since the rankings began as both teams seem odds-on to qualify for Euro 2016. Wales face Andorra at home in their next qualifying match.

Algeria are the top African team in 19th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 58th place; beaten quarter-finalists Japan are in 56th. Near neighbors South Korea are in 53rd place after making the final of the Asian Cup, where they lost narrowly to the hosts, Australia.

The USA are in 29th. Scotland are in 40th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 54th place, Northern Ireland are in 35th position.

1 Argentina
2 Germany
3 Belgium
4 Portugal
5 Colombia
6 Spain
7 Brazil
8 Wales
9 Chile
10 England
11 Austria
12 Switzerland
13 Romania
14 The Netherlands
15 Czech Republic
16 Croatia
17 Italy
18 Slovakia
19 Algeria
20 Urugua

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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Soccer Books & DVDs

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

FC United of Manchester v Brackley Town

FC United of Manchester recorded their first win in the National League North in their new home of Broadhurst Park back on August 22.

Nearly 3,000 fans were in attendance for what was an exciting match with the hosts coming through on a beautiful summer's day.

FC United of Manchester v Brackley Town.

The visitors took the lead early on through Steve Diggin before FCUM stormed into a 3-1 lead by the 70th minute with goals from Matt Wolfenden, Sam Madeley and Tom Greaves. A late David Mayo goal for Brackley with less than 10 minutes to go ensured a nervy finish but FC United held on to raise the roof at the new stadium.

FC United of Manchester v Brackley Town, Broadhurst Park.

Broadhurst Park in Moston was completed in May this year with a capacity of 4,400. The first competitive fixture at the stadium was a 1-2 loss to local rivals Stockport County following a 0-1 friendly loss to Portuguese giants Benfica to open the stadium.

FC United of Manchester v Brackley Town.

FC United sit mid-table and face a struggle to get into the play offs in this their first season in the National League North.

FC United of Manchester v Brackley Town.

FC United of Manchester
Broadhurst Park
Lightbowne Road
Manchester M40 0FJ
Tel: 0161 769 2005

FCUM in Seoul

Friday, September 25, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions September 26 2015

The Premiership continues this weekend after games in the Capital One Cup in midweek. The match of the weekend sees table toppers Manchester City travel south to take on Spurs at White Hart Lane.

Manchester City lost their 100% record at home to West Ham last time out, but should be backed to pick up the points against Tottenham, for whom Harry Kane has yet to find his form of last season.

Manchester United face Sunderland who sit at the bottom of the league along with neighbours Newcastle. The Red Devils are still not firing on all cylinders but should find a way to heap more misery on the Black Cats.

Chelsea beat Arsenal in a bad-tempered affair at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal are away at in-form Leicester while Chelsea make the long trek to Newcastle who can't buy a win at this point and are rock bottom.

Pressure is mounting on Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers, the bookies' favourite in the Premier League sack race. Aston Villa have been equally poor but we reckon the pressure may get to the players and a draw seems likely.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Tottenham 1 v Man City 3
Leicester City 2 v Arsenal 2
Liverpool 1 v Aston Villa 1
West Ham 1 v Norwich City 2
Southampton 2 v Swansea City 2
Stoke City 2 v Bournemouth 0
Man United 3 v Sunderland 0
Newcastle 1 v Chelsea 3

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Watford 1 v Crystal Palace 1

Monday, 28 September 2015

WBA 1 v Everton 0

Soccer - Remy keen for chance to shine

Chelsea striker Loic Remy hopes he will be handed a starting spot this weekend when last season's Premier League champions take on his former club Newcastle United. With Diego Costa suspended, Remy was among the scorers in a 4-1 Capital One Cup win over Walsall on Wednesday, and the France international is keen to start against the Magpies at St James' Park. He said: "It's very difficult, I can't lie. When you come in you have to do the best, but when you are not playing much it is more difficult. "I don't have any pressure, I just want to feel better and with the game which is coming I maybe have an opportunity to play more. We will see." Remy, who has scored seven Premier League goals for Jose Mourinho's team in 20 appearances, can be backed at 6/5 with bet365 to score at any time on Saturday, with Chelsea available at 7/1 to beat struggling Newcastle 2-0.

2015/16 Premier League Specials

Harry Kane to Score 20 or more Premier League Goals Yes 16/1 No 1/40

Premier League Match Bet - Who Finishes Higher

Arsenal 1/14 Spurs 8/1

Last time's predictions

FIFA Women’s World Ranking September 2015

FIFA Women’s World Ranking.
There is little movement in the FIFA Women's World Ranking published today. World champions the USA continue top the list ahead of Germany and France with Japan's Nadeshiko in 4th, just ahead of England.

2 Germany
3 France
4 Japan
5 England
6 Korea DPR
7 Brazil
8 Sweden
9 Australia
10 Norway
11 Canada
12 Netherlands
13 Italy
14 Denmark
15 China PR
16 New Zealand
17 Korea Republic
18 Spain
19 Iceland
20 Scotland

Full listing on

The next FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking is out on Friday, 18 December 2015.

Men's FIFA World Rankings

Friday, September 18, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions September 19 2015

The Premiership moves on after the midweek matches in Europe. Only Chelsea and Spurs out the Premiership teams actually won. Liverpool drew and the others all lost.

Manchester City will have every hope of continuing their 100% record with a home game against West Ham, who have won at both Arsenal and Liverpool.

Manchester United face Southampton in another tricky away fixture. The Reds lost 2-1 to Swansea in their last fixture on the road. United will be without ex-Saint Luke Shaw after the young full back broke his leg in the game against PSV.

The standout fixture over the weekend is Chelsea v Arsenal with Chelsea enjoying a morale-boosting win at home while Arsenal lost dismally at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Chelsea 2 v Arsenal 1
Aston Villa 1 v West Brom 1
Bournemouth 2 v Sunderland 1
Newcastle 1 v Watford 0
Stoke 2 v Leicester 0
Swansea 2 v Everton 1
Man City 3 v West Ham 1

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Tottenham 2 v Crystal Palace 1
Liverpool 2 v Norwich 1
Southampton 1 v Man Utd 1

Victor Ibarbo hopes he will be given the opportunity to show what he can do when Watford play Newcastle United this weekend. The 25-year-old Colombia international joined the Hornets on loan from Cagliari on transfer deadline day and was an unused substitute against Swansea City on Saturday. Ibarbo, who featured in three games for his country at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, said: "I'm always ready and hopefully soon I will play and show everybody what I can do. "I'm going to bring what my team-mates are already doing as I think they have started the season very well. I have a lot of pace and I think that is one of my main strengths as a player." Watford are available at 8/1 with bet365 to beat Newcastle 1-0, with Ibarbo 3/1 to score at any time against Steve McClaren's side.

Soccer - Martinez wary of in-form Ayew

Everton boss Roberto Martinez has been impressed with the signings Saturday's opponents Swansea City made in the summer. Andre Ayew in particular has caught Martinez's eye in the opening weeks of the campaign following his arrival at the Liberty Stadium from Marseille. The 42-year-old Martinez, who had a spell in charge of the Swans between February 2007 and June 2009, said of Ayew: "He has adapted to the physicality of the league. "He is a clever footballer, technically very gifted and he gets in very good goalscoring positions and is calm and composed." Everton have enjoyed a fine start to the season and last weekend beat Chelsea 3-1 at Goodison Park. They can be backed at 21/10 with bet365 to win at Swansea while Steven Naismith, who scored a hat-trick against Jose Mourinho's side, available at 3/1 to score at any time on Saturday.

Last time's predictions

Friday, September 11, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions September 12 2015

The Premiership is in to the fifth week of matches after the break for international matches.

Manchester City top the table with a 100% record and look early favourites to win back the title as Chelsea have struggled, losing at home to Palace the last time out.

Manchester United face Liverpool at Old Trafford, buoyed by news keeper David De Gea has signed a new contract. Neighbours City are away at second place Palace. Arsenal face Stoke at home while Chelsea are away at Everton.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Everton 1 v Chelsea 1
Arsenal 3 v Stoke 0
Crystal Palace 1 v Man City 2
Norwich 2 v Bournemouth 1
Watford 1 v Swansea 1
West Brom 0 v Southampton 1
Man Utd 2 v Liverpool 0

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Sunderland 1 v Tottenham 2
Leicester 3 v Aston Villa 1

Monday, 14 September 2015

West Ham 2 v Newcastle 1

Mourinho Evens To Record Most PL Losses - Chelsea 5/1 To Finish Outside Top 4

Champions Chelsea have made a slow start to retaining their crown, so much so that bet365 are even money about the pre-season favourites losing seven or more Premier League games this season and 5/1 that they finish fifth or lower.

Manchester City have no such problems and before their trip to fellow high-fliers Crystal Palace, bet365 have a market on their Premier League winning distance – the Citizens are also 50/1 to go through the season without tasting a top flight defeat.

2015/16 Premier League – Chelsea Finishing Position

1st 11/2 2nd 9/4 3rd 5/2
4th 9/2 5th+ 5/1

Total Chelsea 2015/16 Premier League Defeats

Over 6.5 Evs Under 6.5 8/11
Chelsea To Win A Major Trophy During 2015/16
Yes 6/5 No 8/13
2015/16 Premier League – Man City Winning Distance
GD 20/1 1 – 3 Pts 5/1 4 – 6 Pts 4/1
7 – 9 Pts 9/2 10+ Pts 8/1
Not Win Title 6/4
Manchester City to be unbeaten throughout 2015/16 PL season 50/1

Soccer - Koeman voices Wanyama support

Ronald Koeman is expecting midfielder Victor Wanyama to feature for Southampton against West Brom after a deadline day move failed to materialise. The 24-year-old former Celtic midfield powerhouse handed in a transfer request at St Mary's to try and secure a transfer away from the South Coast, but the Saints held firm with their line that Wanyama was not for sale. And head coach Koeman is confident that Wanyama now has his focus firmly on his immediate future with the Saints, with the Saints 6/4 with bet365 to win at The Hawthorns. Koeman told reporters: "We know the future, Victor knows the future and I spoke to Victor and he's back with a real focus for the team - if he's back like that, he's part of the team. "When I spoke to Victor, already it was a different person than he was in the last week of the transfer window. It's possible that Victor will start this weekend. "If the player shows real commitment to everybody at the club, I can forget what happened in the last week."

Soccer - Pulis hints at Berahino return

West Brom head coach Tony Pulis has hinted strongly that striker Saido Berahino could feature against Southampton this weekend. The England Under-21 frontman was eager to push through a deadline day move to Tottenham Hotspur, with Albion holding firm in their desire to keep him at the club for the time being. And, while Pulis remains none too pleased with his player's actions, he is content to move on and bring Berahino back into the Baggies fold. He told BBC Radio WM: "Saido's been exploited by a system I've said I don't like and I think it should be changed. "The fact that he wants to play for a top team, I wish most of the players here would have those expectations and ambitions. "The problem Saido has is in the way he's gone around it. He's not shown the respect to people around this club that he should have." West Brom are 11/5 with bet365 to defeat the Saints, with Pulis waiting to see if record signing Salomon Rondon has recovered fully from his midweek international duty with Venezuela.

Last time's predictions