Part 2: ‘A Fan Diary – 10 Positives from the World Cup’.

And, we’re back again… Have you recovered from the lack of football yet? Thankfully the EFL season starts in just a couple of weeks, and transfer speculation is in the process of hitting fever pitch.

Meanwhile though, here is Part 2 of our ‘A Fan Diary:10 Positives from the World Cup’. If you haven’t already, make sure you enjoy Part 1 first!

6) 3-5-2

There was much discussion heading into the tournament, sealed by our friendly games against Nigeria and Costa Rica, as to whether the anticipated decision to play with 3 centre-halves would be wise. Safe to say those questions have fairly solidly been answered now.

An excellent performance in the Quarter-Final victory over Sweden, showed precisely why allowing an extra centre-half meant you could have one sweeping round the back with pace covering the long ball (hello Kyle Walker), one pushing forward with possession (hello Harry Maguire), without either sacrificing an extra man in Central Midfield, or playing up front.

The fact that both of England’s wing-backs made it into FIFA’s official team of the tournament also pays testament to how the set-up made best use of the resources available to them. Harry Kane, John Stones, Jordan Pickford, and Harry Maguire can also consider themselves at least a little bit unlucky to have not made the Team of the Tournament too.

7) Harry Maguire

Ah slabhead, you beautiful man. His arm draped lovingly over the barrier – it made a wonderful meme to see one of England’s best centre-halves just acting like a teenager in a nightclub. And you know what, it fitted. No doubt in years gone by, the Sheffield-born lad had done exactly that in West Street Live, Plug or Leadmill.

His Northern everyman qualities made him all the more endearing. That his CV includes Hull City and Sheffield United, whilst he has brothers playing for Chesterfield and Gainsborough Trinity is just a bonus. I bet you he has scraps with his chips, and remembers to thank the bus driver.

But also, he put to rest the inferiority complex that envelops English football sometimes. Why can’t our centre-halves dribbled out from the back? Harry can. If Beckenbauer was from South Yorkshire.

And as a key part of England’s famed ‘love train’ from set-pieces, he was an integral part of our attacking output too. With 75% of our goals coming from set pieces – almost all of them were down to either a Maguire assist flick on, him just causing havoc generally, or powering home the kind of header that made you whelp with delight. Take that Sweden.

His consistently assured performances indicate that he’s going to have one hell of a future for England. The next Tony Adams or Terry Butcher. If he has a good season for Leicester – watch the vultures begin to sniff round.

8) Russia

Look, don’t get me wrong. Russia is bonkers. The Cyrillic alphabet is ridiculous, the level of spoken English was quite low, and the police / border guards were just generally terrifying (often without doing much). They’re always the villains in Bond films for a good reason!

But you know what? There were no hooligans jumping out with AK-47s, everyone I had the joy of meeting there always wanted to be helpful (even when they didn’t speak English), and there wasn’t even the vaguest hint of trouble. I had no problem arranging for my FAN ID, and whilst the immigration-related bureaucracy did seem excessive at times – as long as you didn’t lose anything, it was fine.

Government laws were passed to prevent hotels from scalping tourists, and when you were partying out on the streets – the police left you alone (unlike the French constabulary from Euro 2016, who were very hands on). There wasn’t even the vaguest hint of trouble.

Which begs the question, what happened? We all remember the crazy scenes in Marseille 2 years ago. Well – the stories and rumours vary… But it really does seem that if you *properly* take no prisoners as an entire government, that you can stop a violent minority from ruining things for the rest of us.

Moscow is a fascinating place, full of absolutely amazing history (if that’s your bag). St Basil’s Cathedral is one of the prettiest buildings on the planet, and not even the Coca Cola signs everywhere could take the atmosphere away. If you ever get the chance, go and visit. There’s even a McDonalds in Red Square nowadays!

9) Euro 2020

It’s never the failure that kills you, it’s the hope. But you know what? It’s time to get helpful.

England are officially the 4th best side in the World (and Europe). Which is convenient – ahead of the upcoming 2020 European Championships. There are plenty of painful memories to banish – and with the ridiculous 24-team format set to continue, there is surely a place for England at the next festival of football.

And heaven forbid if England were to do as well as we did this Summer; then it won’t be trips to Moscow we’ll be worrying about… There is no one host country for the whole tournament; with 12 host cities looking after a number of games. Namely; Baku (that’s in Azerbaijan in case you’re wondering); Copenhagen, Munich, Budapest, Rome, Amsterdam, Bucharest, St Petersburg, Bilbao, London, Glasgow, and Dublin.

And rather conveniently / dangerously, London will be taking a centre-stage role in this travelling circus; hosting both of the Semi-Finals, and also the Final. Wouldn’t that be something eh?

10) Football Came Home

No really, it did. The memes were absolutely everywhere – and this is just one of my favourites.

With this being England’s first good tournament in the age of social media, it was perhaps to be expected that the whole country seemed to lose its mind for a little bit. But it was fun whilst it lasted.

And that’s the thing – is that football coming home, was only ever about fun. It became acceptable to like the national team again. There were no under-performing superstars running wild with their WAGs, no captains having affairs with a teammate’s wife, and nobody racially abusing the brother of their centre-half partner. Jesus, that was all just John Terry!

So you know what, football was already home the second we were celebrating. The second that viewing figures went through the roof, the second national happiness went through the roof, the second we really did start to believe again. To see my 9-year-old brother fall in love with his country’s team for the first time – that was more than worth the inevitable heartbreak, just on its own!

And after this Summer, it transpires that Three Lions is the only song in British history to reach Number 1 on 4 (yes, four!), separate occasions with the same artist line-up. That might just sum up exactly how wonderful, yet utterly eccentric this country is.

Football came home. And wasn’t it bloody great?

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Thoughts On Marouane Fellaini’s Contract Extension At Manchester United

Marouane Fellaini’s Manchester United career has been…  interesting. With plenty of highs but just as many lows, it would be fair to state that the Belgium international has struggled to endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful. Fellaini has been a decent ‘Plan B’ for United at times but he is very much a last resort at best if the Red Devils are chasing a goal.

According to WhoScored, the Belgium midfielder made 16 Premier League appearances for United last season – 11 of those coming from the substitute’s bench. Fellaini has struggled for regular game time under Jose Mourinho and that looks set to continue with the arrival of Brazilian Fred. Fellaini still has a reduced role to play at Old Trafford, though, and he isn’t going anywhere just yet.

Fellaini is now contracted to the club for the next two years, with the option to add a third year in 2020. The Belgium man is like marmite; you either love him or you hate him – and it would be fair to claim that there was a mixed response to that news. Fellaini can do a job for United at times but he isn’t the most reliable and he will always be the main scapegoat from the David Moyes era.

To be fair to him, Fellaini has had a positive impact for Belgium at the World Cup 2018 this summer. Trailing 2-0 to Japan in the last-16, Roberto Martinez turned to Fellaini and the United man helped his side get back on level terms – notching the equaliser less than 15 minutes after coming onto the pitch. United fans will be keeping a close eye on his efforts throughout the rest of the tournament.

At the time of writing, Belgium are preparing for their quarter-final clash with Brazil and the European outfit are 6/1 in the latest World Cup Betfair odds ahead of that fixture. Fellaini will almost certainly start on the bench again but he could profit in the second half. Brazil’s main weakness is in the air and Martinez may turn to Fellaini if Belgium fall behind in the early stages.

Fellaini could head back to Old Trafford as a World Cup winner if everything goes to plan and United will benefit directly from his experience next season. Despite his obvious flaws on the pitch in terms of creativity and work ethic, Fellaini has played at a very high level for most of his professional career and he can help a few of the younger, newer players on the training ground.

Was tying Marouane Fellaini down a new contract a risky move from Manchester United? Not really. He is a bit-part player and most fans know that – Fellaini is not going to take centre stage in Jose Mourinho’s squad. He has a unique ability to make an impact off the substitute’s bench and United can always turn to him if needed. Mourinho will be hoping that he doesn’t need to turn to Fellaini quite as often next season.

Barcelona legend Iniesta heads to Vissel Kobe in Japan

Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta has been anounced as the latest signing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe, after leaving Barcelona following an illustrious career at Camp Nou.

The 34-year-old left the Catalan side this week after clinching his ninth LaLiga title with the club.

Iniesta was a World Cup winner with Spain in 2010, and captained Barcelona during his final three seasons with the club.

Vissel Kobe, coached by Takayuki Yoshida, currently hold sixth position in the Japanese top flight, with 15 games of the season gone.

The club are already 15 points behind the runaway leaders, but anyone that fancies backing them to come good after the arrival of Iniesta should use a comeon free bet to do so.

Vissel Kobe chairman Hiroshi Mikitani told reporters at a press conference: “I am pleased to announce that Andres Iniesta will be signing up to play for Vissel Kobe after his historic career at FC Barcelona.

“Iniesta is a top global player. Many of us will recall Iniesta’s astounding goal in the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that brought Spain its first title in the tournament.

“Since 2015, Iniesta has also led FC Barcelona as captain and last year he was the first player to sign a lifetime contract with the club.”

Mikitani added: “I am confident Iniesta’s philosophy, leadership and DNA will be a terrific inspiration, not only for Vissel Kobe but all Japanese football society.

“We look forward to Andres Iniesta not only strengthening the team’s performance but also contributing to the development of the next generation of players through the introduction of the Iniesta methodology to the youth academy.

“We believe his decision to come to Japan will have a major impact, not just on Vissel Kobe, but on football in Japan and Asia.”

Man City to Cap Title-Winning Season with Home Win over Brighton

Manchester City may have fallen short on the continent this season but Pep Guardiola’s side have been simply sublime en route to securing the Premier League title.

Winning 30 and drawing three of their first 35 matches Cityzens left the chasing pack for dust and fans expect the free-spending side to dominate English football for the foreseeable future.

City hammered West Ham 4-1 to bring April to a close and as well as putting the match beyond their opponents, Fernandinho’s goal on 64 minutes at the London Stadium was his employer’s 102nd of the season. To put that into context, 2016/17 champions Chelsea scored 85 goals with 2015/16 kings Leicester managing 68.

Pre-season favourites with bookmakers in the Premier League betting last year’s bronze medalists lived up to the hype and will be eager to shine in their final home match of the season to thank followers for their continued support.

Lowly Brighton provide the opposition on Wednesday May 9th as the pair meet in an 8.00pm kick-off. There’s little doubt among traders that Manchester City will sign-off with a big win and punters looking to support the champions must make do with bet365’s 1/8. Short, but that’s currently the market best.

That’ll push backers into the specials but there’s thankfully no lack of markets available to football lovers looking for a lively interest. With the stands packed and a party atmosphere in the air to close the show goals are expected from a side who scored 14 in six starts last month. That includes the four against West Ham and a stunning 5-0 win over Swansea at the Etihad Stadium; this match producing more than three goals is even money.

This will be the second fixture of the season involving Manchester City and Brighton with the reverse leg ending in a 2-0 away win at Falmer Stadium back in August. Tighter than many expected, it took until the 70th minute before the victors were able to break the deadlock with Sergio Aguero on target. Lewis Dunk turned the ball into his own net five minutes later for an unfortunate own-goal that put the game to bed.

Pep Guardiola 2
Source: BBC Sport via Twitter

Fancy more of the same? Man City to do the double over Brighton with another win to nil makes plenty of appeal at 4/7 or -1 goal on the handicap trades around the 2/5 mark which should make it popular in accumulators. 4/9 has no in the both teams to score market favourite but the head-to-head stats tell us it may be worth chancing the bigger price.

Three of the last four meetings of these rivals has seen both find the net at least once, including a 2-1 City win when last facing off in Manchester. Both to score is 13/8. Chris Hughton’s side will finish outside of the prizes following last season’s promotion from the Championship but they have already notched goals against the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham this year.

Roby staying on at St Helens for 16th season

England hooker James Roby will continue his St Helens career into a 16th season, after the Betfred Super League leaders revealed they had taken up an option on his contract for 2019.

The 32-year-old has won every domestic title whilst with his home-town club.

Roby made his debut as an 18-year-old in 2004, and recently reached 400 appearances for the club.

Roby, who was awarded the award for Steve Prescott Man of Steel in 2007, was appointed as St Helens captain at the start of the 2017 campaign, and has helped them on their way to the top of the table at the halfway mark for the season.

“I’m really happy to stay at my home-town club,” Roby said. “Although there is a long way to go this season, everything is going well and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year and next.

“I’m proud to have played at the Saints my whole career and I’m really looking forward to the future.”

Mourinho given Lukaku boost; Talks Fellaini’s future

Jose Mourinho is confident about Romelu Lukaku’s chances of being fit for the FA Cup final, and believes Marouane Fellaini will sign a new deal with Manchester United.

Utd travel to Brighton on Friday aiming to tighten their grip on second place in the Premier League, although the Portuguese manager will have to make do without his first-choice striker for the encounter.

Lukaku limped off during the game with Arsenal last weekend with an ankle niggle, and is currently back in Belgium, where he was captured on film moving with ease in a medicine ball exercise on Thursday.

Those images have led many to believe the 24-year-old’s injury is not as bad as first feared, and Mourinho confirmed the forward should be fit enough to take part in some form against Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 19.

“I don’t know (how he is),” Mourinho said. “I just know that, of course, (he is) not (available) tomorrow. Apart from that, we need to wait for more scans, more time but not tomorrow.”

Asked if there was a chance for the FA Cup final, Mourinho added: “Hope so. Looks positive.”

When discussing the future of Fellaini, Mourinho said: “In Marouane’s case, destiny is in his hands and he will decide what makes him happier.

“He knows that I want him to stay, he knows that the club wants him to stay. He has an offer from us and it’s up to him now to (say) yes or no.

“I am still positive because I feel that he likes to be here, I feel that he likes the feeling of the manager trusting him and I think there is a good chance for him to stay. But if he leaves, so be it and be happy.”

 

Edmund hopeful of Davis Cup involvement

Australian Open semi-finalist Kyle Edmund has revealed he still intends to participate in the Davis Cup on Friday, when Great Britain face Spain.

The 23-year-old had struggled with a minor hip problem endured during the semi-final defeat to Marin Cilic – a result that halted his incredible run in Melbourne.

The new world number 26 is still hopeful he can represent GB, and released a statement in advance: “Since arriving in Marbella on Monday I have been doing my best to get match-ready for the tie.

“My intention is to play as I love Davis Cup and representing my country. My body has a few niggles and the transition from any surface to clay is not an easy one.

“Things are improving and I’m taking a day at a time at the moment. I wanted to keep you informed of the latest news and thanks to everyone for all the support.”

Should Edmund deem himself not fit enough to play in the first-round tie, Britain would be forced to take on Spain with two players ranking outside the top 100 (Cameron Norrie and Liam Broady) involved.

Play is scheduled to get under way at Club de Tenis Puente Romano on Friday.

Ozil set to sign new deal with Gunners

Arsenal have been handed a huge boost after it emerged that Mesut Ozil is expected to sign a contract extension with the club.

The German’s current deal expires in the summer, and there had been huge speculation suggesting his future was to lie elsewhere.

Manchester United was just one of the big name clubs that were touted to be keen on making a move.

The news follows the announcement that the club had agreed a club-record deal to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund on transfer deadline day.

The BBC report that the new deal would run through until 2021, and would be worth £350,000 a week before tax – making him the highest-paid Arsenal player in the club’s history.

Ozil joined the Gunners from Real Madrid in 2013, for a then club-record £42m transfer fee.

The Magic Of The Cup: Five Classic FA Cup Finals

The FA Cup is the oldest football competition still in existence throughout the world today. It may have been superseded by the Premier League and Champions League in terms of importance by some clubs across the country but for many its romance and history reigns supreme still to this day.

The ‘magic’ of the cup may be diminished in comparison to its former standing as the greatest knockout competition in the world but in what other competition can you witness the likes of non-league Hereford Town, Ronnie Radford et al beating the mighty Newcastle United (1972), minnows Sutton United knocking out 1987 Cup winners Coventry City (1989), and lowly Wrexham dumping reigning league champions Arsenal out of the cup at the Racecourse (1992)? Nowhere.

More recently we’ve witnessed relegated Wigan Athletic beating mega-wealthy Manchester City against all the odds in the 2013 final, League One outfit Bradford City recovering from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Premier League leaders Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge in 2015 and just last February Lincoln City shocking Premier League Burnley to become the first non-league club since 1914 to reach the cup quarter-finals.

Here we take a moment to remind ourselves of five of the greatest FA Cup finals in the competition’s long and illustrious 137-year history.

Blackpool 4 Bolton Wanderers 3 – 1953

Nicknamed the ‘Matthews final’ after the great Blackpool and England winger Stanley Matthews match-of-the-match performance, this was the first great Cup Final captured live on television. And what a final it was, pitching 38-year-old Matthews and Stan Mortensen up against the great Bolton and England forward Nat Lofthouse.

And it was Lofthouse who would draw first blood, firing home through Blackpool keeper George Farm’s hands from the edge of the area after barely a minute’s play to continue his run of scoring a goal in every round of the cup. The Seasiders drew level courtesy of a cross-shot from Mortensen before another error from Farm allowed Willie Moir to put the Trotters back in front before the interval. And 10 minutes after the restart, Bolton increased their advantage courtesy of the hobbling Eric Bell.

3-1 down and with just 22 minutes left to play, Matthews came into his own, first crossing for Mortensen to reduce the arrears before the Tangerines centre-forward equalised direct from a free-kick to complete his hat-trick with less than two minutes to play. And with seconds remaining on the clock an amazing turnaround was completed when Bill Perry fired home another Matthews cross to win the cup for Blackpool and atone for their previous losses in 1948 and 1951.

Arsenal 3 Manchester United 2 – 1979

Having waved a fond farewell to legendary manager Bertie Mee the previous summer, Arsenal entered the 1979 final against cup holders Manchester United under the tutelage of former player Terry Neill. The 3-2 victory over their northern rivals would prove to be Neill’s only trophy at the helm of the Gunners, but what a dramatic way it was to win their first cup since 1971.

Midfielder Brian Talbot from close range and a Frank Stapleton header from a Liam Brady cross put Arsenal two-up and coasting towards cup glory before half-time. But following a less than entertaining second half, with four minutes of the final remaining, United’s giant Scot Gordon McQueen restored some hope for the travelling Mancunian supporters with a left-footed shot from inside the area. And incredibly just two minutes later Northern Ireland international Sammy McIlroy, after evading two challenges, scuffed home past Pat Jennings to bring the Red Devils level to keep their hopes of retaining the trophy they won 12 months earlier against Liverpool firmly alive.

But with the match seemingly set to enter 30 minutes of extra time, Neill’s men made one last attack through Brady and latching onto a superb Graham Rix cross, Alan Sunderland stretched to volley home the winning goal in a match that would later be affectionately dubbed ‘the five minute final.’

Coventry City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1987

What a match this proved to be, one of the best FA Cup finals ever according to many experts. It pitted seven-time Cup winners Tottenham against first-time finalists Coventry with the North Londoner’s having never lost a final previously and going for a record eighth triumph.

With just two minutes on the clock, David Pleat’s Lilywhites were already living up to their tag as overwhelming favourites, Clive Allen heading home Chris Waddle’s delicious right wing cross to put Spurs one up, his 49th goal of a stellar season. However, with just eight minutes of the final played, John Sillett’s Sky Blues were level, winger Dave Bennett rounding Spurs goalkeeper Ray Clemence to fire home.

Spurs regained their lead before the interval, captain Gary Mabbutt deflecting home after Coventry’s Cyrille Regis had seen a header disallowed at the opposite end. With just over an hour played however, Sillett’s stubborn charges were back on level terms when forward Keith Houchen scored an iconic equaliser, a diving header from Bennett’s tantalising centre. The scores remained level for the rest of normal time but just six minutes into extra time the unfortunate Mabbutt deflected a Lloyd McGrath cross up and over a stranded Clemence for the match-winning goal. The Sky Blues had broken their duck, ending Tottenham’s unbeaten run in finals and with it spoiled Glenn Hoddle’s last appearance for the North London giants.

Liverpool 3 Everton 2 – 1989

Played just five weeks after the devastating Hillsborough disaster, the red and blue sides of Merseyside descended upon the English capital determined to produce a final worthy of dedicating to the memory of all those affected by the tragic events in Sheffield.

Following a moving rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ led by Gerry Marsden, the match kicked off and within four minutes Liverpool were one ahead, John Aldridge confidently dispatching Steve McMahon’s pass into the top corner of the net. The game remained 1-0 with the full time whistle imminent, only for Everton substitute Stuart McCall to snatch an equaliser from close range with the last kick of the game to prompt a mini pitch invasion from delighted Everton supporters.

Five minutes into extra time Liverpool striker Ian Rush, on as a replacement having returned from a brief season-long sojourn to Italy with Juventus, swivelled to volley Kenny Dalglish’s men back in front. However, within five minutes, McCall had dragged the Colin Harvey’s men level once more with a superb volley from the edge of the area to leave Bruce Grobbelaar helpless in the Reds goal. Yet Liverpool were not to be denied and Rush, so often the nemesis of Everton over the years including in the 1986 Cup final, would once again be the one to break Evertonian hearts as he stooped low to flick home John Barnes’ cross past an exposed Neville Southall and seal Liverpool’s fourth and most emotional cup final victory.

Liverpool 3 West Ham United 3 (3-1 on penalties) – 2006

Better known as ‘the Gerrard final,’ Liverpool emerged victorious from the 2006 FA Cup final following a 3-3 draw and a penalty shoot out win over Alan Pardew’s West Ham. On a gloriously sunny afternoon at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, the venue for all cup finals during Wembley’s rebuild, the Reds skipper just as he had done 12 months earlier in Istanbul, inspired his teammate’s recovery after falling behind.

West Ham took a two-goal first half lead thanks to an own goal from Jamie Carragher and a poacher’s goal from Dean Ashton, but before half-time a sumptuous lofted pass from Gerrard enabled Djibril Cisse to halve the deficit. Gerrard himself slammed home an equaliser from a Peter Crouch knockdown with nine minutes of the second half played, but just past the hour mark future Liverpool left-back Paul Konchesky watched his lofted cross sail over Pepe Reina and into the Reds goal to put the Irons back in the lead.

And the score remained the same right up until the last seconds of the match when Gerrard with a thunderbolt of a half-volley from fully 35 yards scored one of the best FA Cup final goals ever seen to draw his boyhood club level at the death. Reina would prove the hero in the resulting shoot out following two goalless periods of extra time saving from Konchesky, Bobby Zamora and Anton Ferdinand. But the real hero of the hour, not for the first time in the club’s history would be captain fantastic Gerrard who would lift Liverpool’s seventh FA Cup trophy.

The Magic Of The Cup

The magic of the FA Cup is well and truly alive as Wigan’s victory over West Ham and Newport County’s heroic efforts against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday proved. The Cup has produced some truly wonderful moments over the last 137 years but what new memories will this year’s competition inspire? You can find all the best fourth round replay, fifth round match and overall competition odds at Sun Bets.

Spurs boost as Alderweireld nears return

Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld could be set to make his return to first team action when his side face Newport in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday.

The defender has been sidelined since the beginning of November with a hamstring injury.

The Belgian did, however, join back in with full training this week, following in the footsteps of Danny Rose who has also recovered from an injury.

Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris will both be given every chance of playing despite suffering from an illness.

Serge Aurier will be missing with a calf problem, whilst Harry Winks and Erik Lamela are both doubts.