Saturday, December 10, 2011
SATURDAY ..... THE HOLIDAY SEASON STARTS HERE ....
I discussed seven of today's matches in my daily notes, putting up three selections and one is reproduced below. This is an important stage of the season for so many teams, the crowded holiday fixtures are fast approaching and they are always regarded as key for every club, but I feel these matches just before are of , at least, equal importance, as they set the tone for the busy fortnight ahead, when there is little time to do anything other than play and recover.
Manchester City will get a real examination of their title aspirations in the next eight days, going to Stamford Bridge on Monday and then hosting the Gunners next Sunday. If they slip up, Tottenham Hotspur might be one the biggest beneficiaries and continue their run towards the top with an "easy" run of fixtures in the next month. I highlighted their mid season fixture list a few weeks back and suggested that 2.50 to claim a top four spot looked big and a price that you could definitely trade out for a profit short term and they are now a general 1.40 .
Aside from hosting Chelsea in 12 days time, seven of their next eight fixtures come against teams outside the top 7, with an average league position of 13th, so if you favour them to win at the Britannia Stadium tomorrow, the 18-1 for them to win the title could also halve very quickly, however hard it might be to envisage them as eventual champions.
In La Liga tonight we have El Clasico with Real Madrid hosting Barcelona, a match half the world will be watching. The boot is on the other foot this time round, with Barce not daring to lose this match, in recent seasons it has been Real coming into the game in that situation and seemingly unable to play their normal game. This time round the hosts will still have a lead ( game in hand) at the top of the table, regardless of what happens tonight and that takes off much of the pressure IMO, last season, even at the Bernabeu, Jose Mourinho was too cautious to really go after Barce, but he learned from the numerous meetings since that frightful 5-0 loss in November 2010 and in six h2h games this year, they been very competitive in all bar one. I hope JM throws off the shackles tonight and goes for it, Barcelona have looked vunerable on the road this season and their only two domestic wins have come at Gijon and Granada, both by the minimal margin. However, we all know that they if the visitors have "one of those nights" then no team can live them. This is one game I am happy to watch without a financial interest, but if you pushed me to pick, it would have to be Real off level ball.
In League 1 with the Scunthorpe United - Carlisle United fixture, the visitors sit eleven places and the same number of points ahead of their hosts, but I do not feel that is the a true reflection of their ability and I certainly expect that gap to close, maybe even turn around before the end of the season. Scunny and boss Alan Knill have had a very tough time of things injury wise , they have really struggled for consistency, at times being woeful, like in most of their last five games, at others, like in the four matches before that sequence when they drew at Brentford and MK Dons and played two strong teams Tranmere Rovers ( 4-2) and Huddersfield Town ( 2-2) off the park here at Glanford Park, they should have been the team to end the Terriers record breaking unbeaten run, but missed not one, but two penalties in that game ! Carlisle have not scored in four road starts against League 1 teams, but as two of those came at league leaders Charlton Athletic ( one in the FA Cup), I suppose we can cut them a little slack, but goals are a problem for the visitors and the mood amongst supporters of the club is poor, especially for a club on the playoff fringes and they are hyper critical of boss Greg Abbott and especially his negative tactics and team selection, this is another club desperately trying to add a striker asap, but one operating on a very tight budget.
Scunthorpe have had the most attempts on goal on any League 1 team this season ( 251) and the highest number on target ( 136), they have also been denied by the woodwork a division high eight times, which, when you add in the missed penalties, it doesn't take a genius to work out that they could/should be much higher up the league.They have targeted today as a must win fixture and I believe they will have benefitted from the 13 day break, that has enabled them to clear the treatment room slightly and put in a lot of work on the practice ground. I understand that this has gone really well and coach Knill has focused on his team keeping their shape, something that has been a problem with several youngsters and loanees coming into the squad and also working on pressing when his side lose possession
Jimmy Ryan, Jordan Robertson, Sam Togwell and Andrew Wright all return today, Cliff Byrne is also a possible and the hugely talented Damien Moziaka probably needs one more week on the sidelines, but his return to training has been a huge boost and now at least, there is real competition for starting places.Hosts have three of their next four starts at Glanford Park and this is a real and probably last chance to kick start their season, they have a terrific record in this series and are considered Carlisle's bogey yeam, with a 6-0-1 record here and 6-1-1 in the reverse fixture. I like their chances of adding to that today. I almost forgot, after taking training last saturday morning ( no game remember) Knill then drove personally to London to watch Carlisle play at Charlton in the cup, he could have sent a coach or scout, so that shows how importantly he views this game, either that or he didn't want to go home to his wife ! Scunthorpe United -0.25 ball 2.11 asian line.