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Top 10 Under-performing Premier League players

February 28th, 2013 by Michael Cox

Samir Nasri, Manchester City

10 underperforming premier league playersFrom nearly five years in the Premier League, Nasri has only played consistently well for half a campaign – the first part of 2010/11. “A player of this quality could be one of the best players in Europe, but it’s not happening,” a rueful Roberto Mancini told The Guardian last week. Nasri’s purpose in Mancini’s side is unclear – David Silva expertly plays the Frenchman’s natural role, and City look superior when James Milner offers mobility and clever runs to compliment Silva’s incision.

Nasri’s laughable understanding of what constitutes a defensive wall against Manchester United probably won’t turn out to be mathematically crucial – United will win the league by a distance – but it could be the defining moment of the season.

Nikica Jelavic, Everton

Jelavic was a revelation following his arrival last January, scoring 11 in 13 games. This season, his form has been worrying – sometimes he gets into good positions but misses chances, at other times he barely offers any threat whatsoever. David Moyes has voiced his concern, and his January pursuit of Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo was a recognition that Everton desperately need a reliable source of goals.

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Balotelli set to renew acquaintances in Milan derby

February 22nd, 2013 by Michael Cox

balotelli gets ready for milan derbyEven when Mario Balotelli isn’t on the pitch, he’s still the centre of attention. Milan’s 2-0 victory over Barcelona on Wednesday night depended upon extraordinary effort from the eleven players, and a superb tactical plan from coach Max Allegri – but even as Milan celebrated at full-time, television pictures flashed to a pitchside Balotelli, celebrating with friends.

Milan might have been better off without Balotelli against Barcelona. Their tactical plan depended upon discipline and commitment from all ten outfielders, with Stephan El Shaarawy playing high up on the left trying to break in behind Daniel Alves, and Kevin-Prince Boateng tucked inside on the right. Giampaolo Pazzini provided the target for long balls, but also dropped back to help Milan get men behind the ball. At times this season, Milan have often lacked the excitement and invention their new signing offers – but Wednesday wasn’t a night for Balotelli.

This Sunday certainly is. The Milan derby is a fixture of enormous importance for both sides, and Balotelli’s appearance against his former side brings added anticipation. It’s relatively common for players to represent both clubs – the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Christian Vieri switched from Inter to Milan without playing elsewhere, and Pazzini swapped clubs with Antonio Cassano last summer with little controversy.

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Prizefighter International Heavyweights III Preview

February 22nd, 2013 by Paul Wilson

betfair prizefighter international iii previewAudley Harrison makes a return to boxing alongside seven other heavyweights when they compete for the Prizefighter International Heavyweights III title. The tournament will be shown live on Sky Sports from the York Hall, Bethnal Green on Saturday night (February the 23rd).

Audley ‘A-Force’ Harrison (28W, 21KO, 6L) is a previous Prizefighter champion (he won Prizefighter Heavyweights III back in 2009) was last seen (not for very long mind you) in the ring with World heavyweight hope David Price.

His addition to this latest Matchroom Sport Prizefighter series has astounded many of his critics by defying the call to hang up his gloves and continue to box on. Despite losing two of his last three defeats the bookies have Harrison as second favourite to win this contest with BetVictor offering odds of 9/2.

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Betfair Ascot Chase Betting Preview

February 14th, 2013 by Paul Wilson

captain chris favourite for the betfair ascot chaseAfter just being pipped on the line by Long Run in the King George VI Chase, Captain Chris will start as ante-post favourite for the big race this weekend – the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase (2m 5f 110y).

Nine year old Captain Chris, trained by Philip Hobbs, is one of six horses declared to take part in the Betfair Ascot Chase.

Stan James are offering odds of 11/4 that this Irish jumper can go one better when he just lost out to Long Run in the Kempton mud on Boxing Day.

He’ll be up against stiff opposition though with the likes of Cue Card and Finians Rainbow also in contention.

Cue Card was another who raced in those energy-sapping, heavy conditions for the King George VI Chase (3m). He could do no better than finish 5th on that day, unable to make any sort of challenge and ended 20 lengths behind Captain Chris. Coral are offering similar odds of 11/4 on Cue Card.

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Zenit St Petersburg v Liverpool preview

February 13th, 2013 by Michael Cox

zenit st petersburg vs liverpool previewAs always, the key to Russian sides’ performance in the knockout stage of European competition is how they react to their winter break. The scheduling of the Russian Premier League has changed for this season, but Zenit St Petersburg haven’t played a competitive game since early December – only a succession of friendlies. Will they benefit from the rest, or lack match sharpness?

Liverpool might naturally want to test Zenit’s fitness by pressing high up and making the game energetic – and with the Petrovsky Stadium likely to be at sub-zero temperatures, few players will want to stand still. But that would be a dangerous game against one of Europe’s finest counter-attacking sides – even in this home leg, Luciano Spalletti’s side will want to play predominantly on the break.

That means Liverpool must be disciplined, organised and patient in this tie. On many occasions this season, Brendan Rodgers has instructed his players to press high up, and Liverpool have dominated the opening stages as a result – but it’s a danger to leave his defence unprotected against a fearsome frontline that attacks at incredible speed. Zenit are used to breaking through the opposition lines quickly and transferring the ball into attack immediately, and Liverpool’s defence has looked extremely nervous in recent weeks, making it dangerous to allow opponents to run at them.

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Carl Frampton v Kiko Martinez Preview

February 8th, 2013 by Paul Wilson

carl frampton vs kiko martinez previewThe Odyssey Arena in Belfast this Saturday night is the venue for the long-awaited fight between current EBU Super-Bantamweight champion Kiko Martinez and the challenger Carl Frampton. It’s a fight which was scheduled to have taken place 18 months ago but was cancelled for a second time due to the champs personal problems.

Spaniard, Kiko Martinez (27W, 19KO, 3L) is barely three years older than his Belfast born challenger but he’s fought twice as many times as current Commonwealth Super-Bantamweight champion Carl Frampton (15W, 15KO).

Martinez isn’t a stranger to Irish shores either having fought a previous three times in Dublin, one of those times for the vacant EBU Super-Bantamweight title against Ireland’s own Bernard Dunne back in 2007. Martinez won the fight after knocking Dunne to the canvas for the third time in the first round.

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Scolari faces up to Brazil tactics dilemma

February 6th, 2013 by Michael Cox

scolari faces up to brazil tactics dilemmaLuiz Felipe Scolari has arguably taken on the biggest job in the history of international football. Managing any hosts at a World Cup is an incredible task – limitless expectations, mixed with a lack of competitive games to serve as adequate preparation – but when it’s Brazil, with the added pressure and history, there’s an obligation to succeed.

Scolari also takes over following two disappointing World Cup campaigns, and an underwhelming period under his predecessor Mano Menezes. Scolari has been out of the Brazil job for just over a decade, having won the World Cup in 2002, but his recent managerial history does little to inspire confidence of a repeat performance.

This century, amongst various managers and a multitude of playing styles and systems, there’s been an ongoing dilemma about whether Brazil should play four attacking players, or simply three. Brazil famously used a 4-2-4 system to great effect in the 1970 World Cup, while more recently the 4-2-2-2 has become highly popular (and was the foundation for the 1994 World Cup win) despite being an alien system to Europeans. Part of Scolari’s task – and that of his predecessors – is how to adapt that style of football for the modern international game. Can four attackers together work?

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