Blackpool & QPR lead the Championship and remain unbeaten

Ahead of another busy night of international football, now is a good time to assess how the new season has started as far as the Sky Bet Championship is concerned.

Five games in and Blackpool & QPR (both on 13 points) lead the way as the only two unbeaten sides in the Championship.  Both have drop points with four wins and a draw a piece, with Blackpool sitting at the top of the pile by a single goal difference.

It’s a great start for Blackpool under the guidance of Paul Ince and his goal scoring son, Tom Ince.  Blackpool done well to keep hold of their top scoring England Under-21 midfielder as there was allegedly interest from several Premier League teams including Liverpool & Everton.

QPR were tipped by many critics as favourites to bounce straight back to the Premier League though I wasn’t so sure.  Firstly, manager Harry Redknapp had to address the ill-discipline and lack of commitment from some players, which appeared to be causing rifts behind the scenes; and thought Redknapp is known for his man-management, he isn’t overly qualified at getting teams promoted from the Championship. That is one of the reasons why I still consider Reading to be in with a shout for automatic promotion.  Manager Nigel Adkins gained promotion with Southampton before being sacked during the season, along with former Reading manager Brian McDermott (now managing Leeds United) after both managers had achieved promotion in the 2011/12 season.

Furthermore, Reading have kept the majority of their squad together from their previous season in the Championship whereas QPR can still boast several ‘big star’ names that hitherto were household Premier League players.  The likes of Shaun Wright-Philips, Niko Kranjcar, Jermaine Jenas, Bobby Zamora, Richard Dunne, Joey Barton and current England squad goalkeeper Robert Green. That is a lot of egos to massage, and Harry Redknapp may find that if QPR begin to slip a few points that some of his overpaid stars may go missing or not play as a team.

Below the two automatic promotion positions, currently occupying the play-off places (3rd – 6th) are Burnley, Nottm Forest, Leicester (10 points) followed by Bournemouth (9 points). The top 10 places are made up by Watford, Wigan, Reading & Leeds United all currently on 8 points.

This campaign will be no different to any other Championship season and the three teams to eventually get promoted to the Premier League next May could realistically be any of the aforementioned current top 10 teams, something I could have predicted before the start of the season with, if I’m being honest, the exception of Bournemouth who have had a positive start to the season. So if you’re feeling lucky, click here to bet on football.

There’s a return to normal service after the international break next Saturday with no 11 ties including mouth-watering ties Burnley v Blackburn, Bolton v Leeds, Leicester v Wigan, QPR v Birmingham and Bournemouth v Blackpool.  I predict QPR will be clear leaders after the weekend but the season is going to be a very hard, long battle between several teams, all hungry for the bigger prize.

England turn aside Denmark

There were a slew of international friendlies on Wednesday evening and one of the key results was England’s 2-1 victory over Denmark.

As per usual, the Three Lions made it interesting. Football betting fans know that England rarely make it easy on themselves and Wednesday’s friendly was no different.

The game was played in Copenhagen but just as it has been for quite some time now, England has the huge upper hand when it comes to talent on the field. With names like Wayne Rooney and Darren Bent, and captain Frank Lampard, there is huge talent differential between the teams.

Denmark struck early on in the seventh-minute when Christian Eriksen won a corner off of the aforementioned Lampard. The attempted cross was headed away by John Terry but Eriksen quickly regained control. He aimed for the box a second time and this time Daniel Agger’s diving header finished the job successfully.

Stop if you’ve heard this before but a number of English fans simultaneously groaned as their team fell behind early yet again.

England battled back quickly, though, as Ashley Cole worked the ball to Theo Walcott, who found Bent in the box and he tapped in an easy one.

As per usual, Denmark played their lockdown, defensive style and simply waited for opportunities. They earned plenty in the first half and even the better chances between the two teams. There’s no doubt that most of those opportunities came through Eriksen and while he’s talented, he’s just one of the few weapons that the Danish team has to offer.

And just as nerves set in throughout the first half, England found a way to break through in second half.

Stewart Downing came in for Walcott in the 68th minute and that proved to be the key substitution. Minutes later, he made a run with Glen Johnson down the left and after some deft passing, the ball came to Ashley Young and he sealed the deal.

Overall, it’s a meaningless game and nobody would have faulted England too much for losing but given how they played, nobody is lauding them too much for a win. It was about par for the course: competent and pleasing.

The shining star of this contest however was on the Danish side and if Eriksen can look this good in international company at the young age of 18, he’s going to have a bright future wherever he plays.

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Carling Nations Cup announce deal with Sky Sports 3D

Carling Nations Cup logo

The Carling Nations Cup which kicks of in February 2011, will become the first International tournament to be shown in its entirety in 3D, after the Football Association of Ireland announced a deal with Sky Sports to show all six games live.

The agreement will also include simultaneous live broadcast of the Welsh matches in the Welsh language on S4C.

The opening matches of the Carling Nations Cup will take place in Aviva Stadium on February 8 (Republic of Ireland v Wales) and February 9 (Northern Ireland v Scotland). The final dates of the May matches of the Carling Nations Cup have also been revised  under a new schedule agreed between the four competing Associations and the broadcast partners as follows:

Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland                   Tue, May 24 2011             Aviva Stadium KO 7.45pm

Scotland v Wales                                                              Wed, May 25 2011           Aviva Stadium KO 7.45pm

Wales v Northern Ireland                                             Fri, May 27 2011                Aviva Stadium KO 7.45pm

Republic of Ireland v Scotland                                    Sun, May 29 2011             Aviva Stadium KO 6.30pm

Euro 2012 Preview: Scotland v Spain & Slovakia v Republic Of Ireland

Given Scotland’s appalling display against the Czech Republic, particularly in the attacking department, Castrol Performance data shows that they could do far worse that including Blackpool’s Charlie Adams in the starting line up to face Spain tonight.

While you would expect Scotland to be under the cosh from the persistent Spanish team, Charlie Adams possesses the ability to catch Spain out on the counter particularly with his long range shooting ability.

Eleven of the 15 shots mustered by the former Rangers player this season have come from outside the box, which is not surprising considering that he held the record of most long-distance goals last season in the Championship (seven).

At the other end of the pitch and in contrast to what we have come to expect from Spain, the Scottish defence may be victims of an aerial onslaught as Castrol Performance research shows that 29 year-old Aritz Aduriz, called-up as a replacement for injured Fernando Torres, has scored more headed goals than any other player in the Spanish Liga this season.

The former Mallorca player has scored four goals in all competitions this term with his new club Valencia: all headers (three in La Liga and one in the Champions League). The Basque player has scored, on average, every 140 minutes this term in the league, a rate that none of his direct competitors can currently match. Fellow Spain striker Fernando Llorente may have been the match-winner against Lithuania with a brace on Friday, but Aduriz’ ability in the air makes him a potent alternative up front, especially against teams who defend in numbers and make short-passing in the final third of the pitch a difficult task.

Castrol Verdict:
Scotland win: 9%
Spain win: 71%
Draw: 20%

Slovakia v Republic Of Ireland

Castrol Performance research shows that Republic of Ireland winger Aiden McGeady has been in impressive form in the Russian Premier League since making the move to Spartak Moscow in the summer, with the tricky wideman embarking on the highest number of dribbles per game (on average) in Russia’s top tier this season.

The 24 year-old attacker moved to Spartak Moscow after having spent his entire career at Celtic and hit the ground running. Indeed, McGeady has already been involved in three goals after just four appearances in the Russian top flight (one goal and two assists), displaying an impressive 100% shooting accuracy and completing 85% of his passes.

The skillful Irish international has also attempted a league-high 6.5 dribbles per game. In the 3-2 defeat at the hands of Russia in Dublin on Friday, McGeady was one of the home side’s better performers, firing in a game-high three shots on target, with one of those attempts leading to Shane Long’s goal for the Irish. The former Celtic man will also be central to the Republic’s chance of success against Slovakia, in a game which now has increased significance following the defeat at the Aviva Stadium.

Although Slovakia captain Marek Hamsik failed to shine in a more defensive position at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, his form at club level – three goals and one assist in the opening six Serie A match days – suggests he performs best when operating higher up the pitch.

The playmaker failed to score in South Africa, registering just seven touches of the ball in the opposition penalty area and managing to test the opposition goalkeeper with just 20% of his attempts. His current Serie A statistics, however, are far superior.

Indeed, he has racked up 31 touches in the opposition box (5.2 on average), and posted a 60% shooting accuracy. Overall in his 113 Serie A appearances, Hamsik has scored 33 goals, showing his potency when he gets into the box. In Slovakia’s shock 3-1 defeat by Armenia on Friday, Hamsik was still his side’s best performer, providing an assist and a game-high four goal-scoring chances in total. Slovak boss Vladimir Weiss will now be hoping his captain can inspire his side to victory against the Irish on the 12th, and get their campaign to reach Poland and Ukraine back on track.

Castrol Verdict:
Slovakia win: 45%
Republic of Ireland win: 27%
Draw: 28%

The Carling Nations Cup Fixture List

Carling Nations Cup logo

The Carling Nations Cup which kicks off in Dublin in February 2011, has unveiled the fixture list and schedule for the upcoming tournament along with the competitions new logo.

The logo incorporates the colours of the four participating nations, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and highlights Carling’s long association with football throughout the UK and Ireland.

Managers of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland attended today’s event where it was announced that The Carling Nations Cup will kick off on Tuesday February 8 with a match between Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland and Wales.

The full list of fixtures are:

Tuesday February 8                            Republic of Ireland        v          Wales
Wednesday February 9                       Northern Ireland           v          Scotland
Monday May 23                                    Republic of Ireland        v          Northern Ireland
Tuesday May 24                                                 Wales                      v          Scotland
Thursday May 26                                               Wales                      v          Northern Ireland
Friday May 27                                       Republic of Ireland        v          Scotland

The Carling Nations Cup will be the first senior international tournament hosted in Ireland and will be played in a league format with six matches between the four neighbouring teams. Tickets will go on sale in November.

Craig Levein, Scotland National Team Manager said: “Now that the schedule has been announced we are really looking forward to our visit to Dublin next year. This exciting new competition brings together four groups of passionate fans and also allows me to test my squad, in a competitive environment, in the middle of our UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.”

Nigel Worthington, Northern Ireland manager said: “I am really looking forward to the Carling Nations Cup, as competitive games against our neighbouring countries don’t come around too often. There are bragging rights at stake here, not only for the fans but also for the players as no-one will want to lose against their closest rivals. Northern Ireland is more than capable of winning this tournament and we hope to get off to a good start against Scotland in February.”

Giovanni Trapattoni, Republic of Ireland manager said: “The Carling Nations Cup is a tournament that we would very much like to win, particularly playing at home in Dublin, but speaking to my colleagues from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland,  I know we are not alone in wanting to claim the trophy.  The matches will provide us with a good opportunity to see our players in games with a real competitive edge at an important time in our bid to qualify for 2012.”

Jonathan Ford, Chief Executive, Football Association of Wales (FAW) said “It will be fantastic to see these games taking place.  We can all remember great matches in the past in the Home Internationals, Championship qualifiers and friendlies.  I am sure they will be a huge success and we look forward to generating competitive matches but maintaining the friendly rivalry that exists between our respective countries.”