Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend Outlook (26 Feb 2006)

Manchester United vs Wigan Athletic

"... I think Benitez is a stupid idiot..." - JayWalk, 25 feb 2006

Oh how has the status of the Carling Cup has risen this year. This often discard and snubbed Cup tournament which has always been treated condescendingly to that of a Mickey Mouse status, has this year, risen from the ashes like a resurrected Phoenix.

ManUtd wants it this year and wants it really badly. It was a miscalculation on my part thinking that Liverpool will throw the FA Cup game. They, which I incidentally think that they are downright stupid, paid the price for not resting up and going down 0-1 to Benfica 3 days later.

Tell me this, was it worth it for the sake of the FA Cup to risk losing out on the more lucrative Champions League?

I ask for forgiveness from the Liverpool fans but I think Benitez is a stupid idiot.

Form-wise, it is a bleak picture for Wigan who has not won since Arsenal. That is a total of 6 consecutive games without a win. ManUtd, on the other hand, other than the recent hiccups last week and against Blackburn, has won all the other 6 games.

Total number of goals in the last 8 games is 21 for ManUtd and only 9 for Wigan which exposes the current weakness of the Wigan side. Still, a single goal may be enough to win the cup and as such, I will not write off Wigan based solely on this lone statistic.

I guess it all boils down to who is hungrier to win. Expectation is very much higher for ManUtd who cannot afford to finish yet another season empty handed while Wigan on the other, whom pundits were predicting earlier of relegation, just reach the 40-point safety mark with the draw against Tottenham Hotspur last week.

From past statistics, 40 points marks the point where a team is virtually guaranteed another season in the EPL. Wigan just reached that last week and I won't be surprised if they eased off the pedal a little bit at the cross road where they decide if they want to achieve more or start their holiday early.

This is a very unfair deal for ManUtd in this David-vs-Goliath episode. If ManUtd wins it, then everybody would say it's expected lah. The if Wigan wins it, then WHOA! What an upset! What a victory for the underdogs! blah blah blah.... Haiz.

JayWalk The Talk: Squad-wise, Wigan has got the clean sheet although their forwards have been pretty short of goals. ManUtd list of injured players just grew by one with the horrific broken leg suffered by Alan Smith. Just when we are already short of midfielders, we lose yet another one. If Wigan wants to win ManUtd, they would need to exploit ManUtd's midfield to the fullest. However, we need to remember that most of Wigan's players are Nationwide Championship League calibre only a season ago and one must be reminded that while they are in the EPL now, their difference in class, against the likes of ManUtd, is still pretty evident. You cannot ignore that just because they are currently 8th in the league with a shot for a space in Europe next season.

Just look at Ipswich a few seasons back and you will understand what I am talking about.

JayWalk The Walk: Other than the fact that ManUtd is the hungrier side, I think the main factor that will win the Cup is that of experience in big-match settings. I can't recall if Wigan has ever step foot into Millenium Stadium (or Wembly) for a cup final. This in contrast to ManUtd who has been there season in, season out.

At 1-ball handicap, I think it is safe to take ManUtd. I think a win for them is pretty certain and even if it is by a single goal, you get to get your stakes back. However, decimal odds is 2.00 for ManUtd and 1.90 for Wigan under the 1-ball handicap which means to proceed with caution.

Bet small.

Disclaimer: The above views are purely my own two-cents' worth. In other words, I cannot and will not guarantee that my predictions are accurate. If you want to bet on the game, do so at your own risk. Also, please bet responsibly and within your means regardless of how "sure thing" that game may appear to be. As the old saying goes, "The Ball Is Round". Good luck.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

86th's The Charm After All

I think a part of me just died after watching the goddamned match.

Now, if you'll excuse me for wasting your reading time and this blog's space, I shall go curl up in some dark isolated corner and cry for a few hours first before coming back to write a proper match review.

Weekend Outlook (18 Feb 2006)

Liverpool vs Manchester United

"...We have never heard of 86th's the charm, have we?..." - JayWalk, 18 Feb 2006

The time has finally come for the BIG game. Yes, it's the FA Cup 5th round tie against Liverpool at Anfield.

Liverpool has never beaten ManUtd in a FA Cup game since 1921. Just like the fact where ManUtd has never lost a FA Cup semi-final fixture ever. A lesson Arsenal painfully learnt, when they went down 2 years ago. These histories are there for a reason and I seriously doubt if Liverpool would be able to break the jinx here. If they could, it would have been done long ago, like perhaps on the 3rd attempt. We have never heard of 86th the charm, have we?

When we look at a game ahead, we always look at games before and games after in order to more or less get a feel of the direction where the team is heading. After breaking a winless streak, Liverpool strung together back-to-back victories over Wigan and Arsenal prior to this game. One would ask if a lost against Arsenal in midweek would be better news for ManUtd? Not really. The real answer is that the outcome of the match against Arsenal will not matter much. What's more important is that Liverpool had committed an extra game prior to meeting a well-rested ManUtd. The proverbial cherry-on-top would be the fact that Liverpool does not have the option of an all-out "Last Burst" effort against us, as they still have to conserve some energy against Benfica 3 days from now.

I really don't envy Liverpool's position right now as they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Of all the teams in the EPL, Liverpool, by far, leads in the number of games required to play as they also had the Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Championship tournament to play.

As far as stretching of resources is concerned, Liverpool is taking a severe beating. Mark my words, Liverpool will collapse eventually as a result of exhuastion. Players like Steven Gerrard, even if he managed to finish the season strongly, may end up paying the price of fatique when the World Cup starts.

ManUtd, on the other hand, isn't really a perfect picture of peaches and honey either. We are very aware of the fact that we have an weaker midfield than our opponents today. Winner of today's match would be decided on which side has the better midfield. We fluked it the last time with Ferdinand heading the winner out from nowhere. Seriously, what are the chances we are going to be able to fluke it again and at Anfield to boot?

With a weak midfield, our defence are bound to be tested more often then normal. The real problem with ManUtd is that we have this tendency to leak silly goals from out of the blue. This is akin to the lone bullet in the Russian Roulette. You know is in there somewhere and it will go off at some point in time. The question is when? Would this be the match where the fatal bullet finally gets loaded into the chamber?

JayWalk The Talk: Squad-wise, both sides are pretty healthy with ManUtd having the edge in the "Fresh Legs" department. Fowler and Crouch will not be featured today, leaving only Morientes and Cisse to start. The picture is bleak for them as the striking duo have not scored in their last 9 games. I think they will need their midfield of Gerrard, Garcia and Kewell to win this.

ManUtd on the other hand, discounting the usual absentees of O'Shea, Scholes, Fortune and Heinze, is in the pink of health. We missed Smith the last time and I wonder if we are going to get him back on the starting line-up today. I also hope to see Park getting some playing minutes if he is not on the starting sheet already.

JayWalk The Walk: Even ball today and I wouldn't ask for anything more. The truth of the matter is that a draw is all ManUtd need to win the ticket to the next round. Not that there is a change in rules but ManUtd, in the event of a draw will earn a replay back at Old Trafford at a time where it is smack in the middle of Liverpool's ECL second round campaign.

Still I think both sides are shooting for the game to be settled in 90 minutes in their respective favours, of course.

I think a draw is on the cards here and ManUtd will lure them back to Old Trafford for the kill in 2 week's time. At even ball, there really is no point betting here if winning money is your primary objective. Otherwise, place a small wager on your favourite team, just to spice up watching the game a little bit.

Disclaimer: The above views are purely my own two-cents' worth. In other words, I cannot and will not guarantee that my predictions are accurate. If you want to bet on the game, do so at your own risk. Also, please bet responsibly and within your means regardless of how "sure thing" that game may appear to be. As the old saying goes, "The Ball Is Round". Good luck.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Weekend Outlook (11 Feb 2006)

Portsmouth vs Manchester United

"3 goals and van Nistelrooy shall join the ranks of Charlton, Best and Law."
- JayWalk, 11 Feb 2006

I had a dream last week.

That we were 3-0 up against Liverpool at half-time.

Too bad, I woke up before the start of the "second half" but it certainly got me out of bed with a smile on my face.

While we may be playing Portsmouth today, our real opponent is actually Liverpool and here's why:

1) The Challenge For Second Place
Certainly good news to hear that Liverpool has fallen to Charlton in midweek. It certainly exposed the over-reliance on Steven Gerrard as their most critical weakness.

After squandering the match-in-hand against Charlton, Liverpool is 6 points behind with one more game-in-hand. Unfortunately, the "game-in-hand" is against Arsenal which I think would be a difficult task to earn 3 full points, even if Arsenal has been terrible away from Highbury this season. A ManUtd win today will ease the pressure of us from the challenger as we keep our fingers crossed in the hope that Liverpool's dismal form will extend beyond today's match against Wigan.

2) The Challenge For the FA Cup
The fixtures are certainly in our favour, leading up to the 5th Round FA Cup clash. Liverpool faces a tricky match against Wigan not so much that Wigan is a tough team to deal with but more so of the overhanging dark cloud of a clash against Arsenal, 3 days later. The situation is further aggravated when Liverpool will be facing ManUtd, 4 days after that. The FA Cup encounter looks to be there for ManUtd's taking as Liverpool has to travel to Benfica 3 days after that.

So here's the situation. Liverpool meets ManUtd in the FA Cup 5th Round clash. A match that is sandwiched between an EPL fixture against Arsenal and an ECL fixture against Benfica. All these in a span of mere 8 days. I seriously doubt if any team (perhaps except Chelsea) has the resources to withstand such an onslaught of fixture punishment. Surely one of these 3 matches will be the proverbial sacrficial lamb and I am thinking that it would most likely be the FA Cup encounter against ManUtd.

Earlier, I said that the 2nd EPL spot has been 99% signed, sealed and delivered to Anfield. I guess I have to eat my words now that the remaining 1% is shining brightly for ManUtd when the Reds went down 0-2 to the Addicks.

In that same entry, I also spoke of the Spiral Concept and the defeat of Liverpool by ManUtd on 22 Jan 2006 illustrated just that, as Liverpool won just once in their 4 games thereafter.

The Gods are not smiling on Liverpool.

JayWalk The Talk: One of the 2 parks that ManUtd always find themselves struggling. Ewood Park and Fratton Park, of which the latter is where ManUtd will be playing today. Harry Redknapp may have done well for Pompey during his first stint a few years back but he seems to be struggling this time round, in his current second shot at managing Portsmouth.

Portsmouth has not won in their last 5 games and conceding a total of 11 goals in the process.

However, before we get too cocky, it must be said that ManUtd's picture isn't as rosy either. It has come to the point for ManUtd that we have to "score one goal more than the opponent" in order to win. I doubt if we are going to see a clean sheet today. A glaring mark highlighting our deficiency in the midfield department.

We have no problem in the fire-power department as long as midfield can support them. We have Rooney, van Nistelrooy and Saha in good shape. Even Park and Ronaldo look likely to get on the scoresheet easily as well. I was about to throw in Ferdinand's name as well but let's not get carried away, shall we?

Scholes, Heinze and Fortune are still out but expect Giggs to make a return, although I think the subs bench will be as far as Fergie will allow.

Stefanovic will be missing from the Portsmouth line-up today with an injury that is likely to rule him out of this season. Lua Lua will be the man to watch today but I am sure the recent African Nations Cup would have robbed him of his freshness of legs by a little bit.

JayWalk The Walk: Bookies offer ManUtd to give up a 1-ball handicap. A good and favourable odds for ManUtd-supporting punters. van Nistelrooy will be hoping to get a hat-trick in order to get his 150-goal mark, a feat where only 7 players in the entire ManUtd's history has achieved so far. 3 goals and van Nistelrooy shall join the ranks of Charlton, Best and Law.

ManUtd to beat the handicap and van Nistelrooy to get onto the scoresheet.

Disclaimer: The above views are purely my own two-cents' worth. In other words, I cannot and will not guarantee that my predictions are accurate. If you want to bet on the game, do so at your own risk. Also, please bet responsibly and within your means regardless of how "sure thing" that game may appear to be. As the old saying goes, "The Ball Is Round". Good luck.