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.”

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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.

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.”

 

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.

Swansea appoint ex-Wednesday boss Carvalhal

Swansea City have announced that Carlos Carvalhal will take over as the club’s first team manager for the remainder of the season.

Carvalhal was sacked by Sky Bet Championship side Sheffield Wednesday on the 24th, which made the announcement that he would be taking over at the Premier League club a surprise.

Swansea sit bottom of the table on 13 points from the first 20 games, a record which cost Paul Clement his job with the club earlier in the month.

The only goal handed to the Portuguese manager will be to do the unthinkable and save the Swans from relegation.

The Welsh club have said that their new manager’s contract included the option of an extension when the season ends.

Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins said in a statement: “We are very pleased with the appointment.

“We felt we needed to get the managerial situation resolved as soon as possible and while the timing is not always perfect, we can look forward to the second half of the campaign with renewed optimism.

“Carlos’ time at Sheffield Wednesday, which included securing two consecutive play-off places, highlighted that he has great character and personality to lead the squad and the football club, which is vital at such a crucial time.

“He has built up a lot of experience over the years which will ensure the team is structured and organised.

“He is driven and ambitious and, while he has a big challenge ahead of him, I know he will tackle it without fear.”

Freebets.org is the place to go to use a free bet to back Carvalhal to save Swansea from relegation from the Premier League this season.

Shay Given’s seven favourite PL goalkeepers

Former Premier League star Shay Given has teamed up with BetStars to select his top seven goalkeepers in the Premier League.

Most notably, ahead of West Ham’s Carabao Cup game against Arsenal this evening, Given believes Joe Hart is still England’s number one keeper ahead of the World Cup in Russia next summer.

DAVID DE GEA

De Gea is an amazing goalkeeper. He is one of the best in the world, not just in the Premier League. Season after season he seems to be getting better and better. He is making saves using both of his feet as well as his hands! He makes things look easy. There was talk about him leaving in the summer to go to Real Madrid and even next summer, I think they’ll come back knocking on the door trying to get him away from Manchester United. He’s been United’s Player of the Season for the last number of seasons and he’s a fantastic goalkeeper.

EDERSON

Ederson was unknown to some people when he signed for Man City in the summer, but we all know now how good a goalkeeper he is! He can be the club’s long term option as he’s very young for a goalkeeper at 23. He’s got his best years ahead of him and his distribution is phenomenal. People talk about how good he is with his feet – short passes and long passes – but he’s good with his hands as well. He’s probably not been overly tested because Man City have been so dominant, but he adds composure and I’ve been very impressed with his all-round game

PETR CECH

Petr has been around for a long time now. I’ve played against him on numerous occasions and built up a friendship with him over the years. He’s still a fantastic goalkeeper, making some massive saves for Arsenal and I think he deserves a lot more credit as he’s still right up there at the top. I think he’ll play on for as long as he can, similar to myself. I know Petr, he’s a fantastic professional and he works ever so hard away from the pitch in the gym. He’ll play for a few good years yet!

JACK BUTLAND

I played with Jack Butland at Stoke and Joe Hart at Man City. I think both of them will be challenging for the number one England spot next year. Jack Butland’s a fantastic goalkeeper, he’s had a few injury problems this last couple of seasons but if he can get a full run of fitness I think he’ll be the England number one for many years, so it is a big decision for Southgate next summer, who will play – Butland or Hart.

JOE HART

Joe has come in for a bit of stick this year, but I think that’s to do with the team. West Ham are struggling a bit in the lower part of the league and I think Joe gets a lot of the grief. He’s still a fantastic goalkeeper, he’s still England’s number one goalkeeper and he will probably play next summer in Russia.

THIBAUT COURTOIS

Courtois is Belgium’s number one and the current goalkeeper of the Champions of England. He had a great season last year and he’s taken that on again to the next level. He is making some great saves and is a huge presence in goal with his size and stature.

HUGO LLORIS

He is very sharp off his line, very quick off his line, and very agile as well. The French captain, the Tottenham captain, what a fantastic goalkeeper and a leader of men.

Loftus-Cheek won’t let injury dampen positives from England bow

Ruben Loftus-Cheek will remain positive after a back injury cruely cut short his second appearance for the England national team, during the goalless draw with Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday.

Loftus-Cheek, who is currently on loan with Crystal Palace from Chelsea, put in an eye-catching performance on his debut for the national side against Germany last week.

The 21-year-old was then rewarded for that positive display by being given the chance to start for England when they faced Brazil.

However, the midfielder was only able to complete 35 minutes of the game with the South Americans, when a lower back problem flared up.

After the match, Southgate said he expected the issue to “settle down fairly quickly” and praised the contribution of Loftus-Cheek, whom he coached in the under-21s, as “absolutely outstanding”.

In a post on his personal Twitter account after the game, Loftus-Cheek wrote: “Disappointing to have my night cut short after being on the pitch with some amazing players. Will stay positive after a good week.”

An update on whether Loftus-Cheek will be available for Palace’s upcoming Premier League match is expected when Roy Hodgson holds a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

The Eagles currently sit bottom of the table, and have picked up just one point since recording their first and only league win of the season, when they defeated Chelsea on October 14.

‘I’m a work in progress’ – Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku has sent a message directly to any of his critics, saying he should not be judged right now as the ‘finished article’.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was left gobsmacked by the lack of support for his striker following last weekend’s vital victory over Tottenham at Old Trafford.

The £75m price that the forward cost United has clearly left some of the fanbase expecting more, despite Lukaku having scored 12 goals in his first 11 games.

Despite the electric start, the Belgian has, however, gone six games without scoring. That shouldn’t stop punters from backing the striker to find the net on Sunday against his old club Chelsea, which means it could be a good time to use betulator.com to work out your maximum winnings.

During an interview with Sky Sports, Lukaku asked for the patience of United fans, and insisted he wasn’t close to being the finished product.

“I’m just focused on improving year in, year out. That’s the most important thing. Every time I try to add something to my game that wasn’t there.

“I think a lot of people are judging me as the finished article. I’m 24. You can’t judge me as the finished article. I’d rather have a career where year after year I improve rather than going to the top and decline.

“I know I have a lot of talent, I know I can do a lot of stuff. I can score goals with my left, with my right, with the head but I want to be a creator, I want to have more assists, I want to make sure that when my team is in difficulties that they can count on me.

“I want to be a winner. It’s not about me as an individual, I want to win, and I think here I’m at the perfect stage and at the perfect age where I can take my career to the next level.”

Sunday sees United head to Stamford Bridge to face the Premier League champions Chelsea, as they look to prevent allowing leaders Manchester City from opening a larger gap at the top than the five-point advantage they already possess.

Mourinho won’t be the only familiar face to make a return to Chelsea, with Nemanja Matic set to play against his former side.

The Portuguese manager admitted he was surprised when he was given the opportunity to sign the midfielder, during an interview with Sky Sports.

“I was surprised when (Matic’s) agent called me to say, ‘Do you want him?’

“I was surprised, but he’s an agent I know well. Normally he’s very direct and objective, he doesn’t waste time, he doesn’t try to get people to be interested in his players to improve their situation at their club.

“So when he told me, ‘You can have him if you want’, of course I want.”