Relegation riot: who will be playing Championship football next season?

While the battle for the Premier League title usually grabs the imagination of football fans, it is often the case that the fight to avoid relegation is equally compelling.

This year’s relegation fight promises to be particularly fascinating. Usually, the tussle at the bottom involves perhaps six or seven teams, but this time around, we can make a plausible case for as many as 12 sides to end up in the Championship. Part of the reason for this is the increasing dominance of the big teams. Over the last few seasons, the typical Big Four of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea has expanded to include Liverpool and Tottenham, and these six are engaged in what is almost a separate league.

In the current season, Manchester City have been hoovering up all of the points on offer, while the chasing five have done their best to keep pace, and in the absence of one or two clearly inferior teams, the remaining points have been shared out more or less equally among the bottom 12. With 11 games to go, the gap between Watford in 11th and West Brom at the bottom is just ten points. How will this relegation battle develop? Here, we take a look at the main candidates to drop into the Championship.

 

The favourites

West Brom began the season with a couple of wins, but a run of six defeats in ten games saw the club act to remove manager Tony Pulis and replace him with Alan Pardew. Results, however, have not improved, and Albion’s problem is that they’ve already called on two men renowned for saving clubs from relegation – Pulis and Roy Hodgson. Meanwhile, they have continued to find goals hard to come by. In a typical year, they might be down already.

If anything is going to save West Brom, it could be the ineptitude of their rivals, the closest of which is another former Pulis side – Stoke City. Like Albion, the Potters pulled the plug on the incumbent manager, but Paul Lambert has not proven much more successful than Mark Hughes, though he has managed to make them a little stronger defensively. One thing in Stoke’s favour is that they have enough winnable fixtures remaining to survive.

If Stoke’s combative defensiveness under Lambert gives them a chance, the same cannot be said for Southampton. They secured a priceless 3-2 win at Albion last month, but that was their first win since November, and they’ve drawn too many games. Having stuck with manager Mauricio Pellegrino, it’s too late for the club to make a change now, and this inability to turn draws into victories could prove costly.

Southampton’s plight is made starker by the recent improvements at Huddersfield and Swansea. After a solid start to life in the Premiership, the Terriers appeared to be heading back to the Championship following a run of six straight defeats in 2018, but a stunning 4-1 home win over Bournemouth stopped the rot, and if David Wagner’s players can continue to show that level of spirit, they can yet survive.

The other bottom-five side who appear to be heading in the right direction are Swansea. Having dispensed with Paul Clement when the Swans were bottom of the table, they moved quickly for former Sheffield Wednesday boss Carlos Carvalhal, who has masterminded a stunning turnaround. Under his leadership, Swansea have lost one in seven, beaten Arsenal and Liverpool, and moved decisively out of the bottom three.

 

The other contenders

It has taken Roy Hodgson slightly longer than Carvalhal to turn around his relegation-threatened team, but he seems to have Crystal Palace well organised, and they will surely be too tough to get sucked back into the relegation mire – comments that also apply to West Ham, who under David Moyes have only lost once this year.

Brighton have proven to be a surprise package this season, and have managed to pull out enough good results to keep themselves clear of the relegation zone. What could count against them in a close-run battle is their fixture schedule, which pits them against Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United in their last four games. If they aren’t safe by then, things could be getting very tense on the South Coast.

Bournemouth’s shock 4-1 defeat at Huddersfield may have rattled the Cherries’ supporters, but they have enough in their squad to avoid slipping into the relegation zone, and the same can probably be said for Watford and Everton.

Newcastle’s safety, however, is very much up for grabs. The ongoing saga of the club’s sale and the lack of transfer investment has left the Magpies perilously close to the drop. What may count in their favour is the expertise of manager Rafa Benítez, who was able to engineer a crucial victory over Manchester United and is likely to have one or two more tricks up his sleeve that could keep them safe.

Even if your club isn’t involved in the struggle, the desperate tussle to avoid slipping out of the Premier League basement offers plenty of drama and spectacle, and those who like to play the sports betting markets at this time of year are well aware that the fight to avoid relegation can sometimes lead to surprising results at big odds as lowly teams find an extra gear or an extra level of effort as they scrap for every single point.

With so many teams potentially involved, almost every match from now to the end of the season will have relevance to the relegation picture, which should make for a thoroughly gripping and entertaining close to the season – unless, of course, your team is involved!

Is Harry Kane the Best Striker in World Football?

Source: Harry Kane via Facebook

Love him or hate him, Harry Kane is one of the most dangerous forwards in world football. The Tottenham Hotspur striker isn’t going to earn plaudits for audacity or skill but he is arguably the best in the business when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net. With a number of Europe’s elite clubs now sniffing about for his signature, Spurs will be keen to tie the England international down to an extended deal.

Kane has scored 31 goals in 33 competitive games for Tottenham this season – a record that puts him at the forefront of European football. Only Mo Salah comes close to his Premier League goals tally and Spurs will hope that he can keep it up for the rest of the campaign. With a Champions League double header against Juventus approaching, Kane has the chance to send a timely reminder to any lingering doubters.

In order to enhance his status further, Kane must sparkle on the biggest stage of all. He could lead England to World Cup glory this summer; Gareth Southgate’s side were sensational during the qualifying campaign, avoiding defeat in all ten of their group stage fixtures. At the time of writing, England are priced at 20/1 to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy this summer and fans will be expecting Kane to make a positive impact.

In addition, the Spurs striker is priced at an industry best 25/1 to win the Golden Boot. Given his efforts so far this season, Kane deserves to be considered seriously and he could flourish against Tunisia and Panama in the group stages. The Three Lions have struggled at major tournaments in recent years but an in-form Kane may give Southgate’s men that added boost as they try to reach the latter stages of the competition.

Secondly, Kane could move to an elite club in the summer. Playing at the top level for a Real Madrid or a Manchester United would certainly cement his standing as the best striker on the planet. It would be hard to turn down a transfer to Santiago Bernabeu but a move to one of England’s biggest clubs may be preferable. He has Alan Shearer’s top-flight record of 260 goals well and truly in his sights and he is still just 24 years old.

Tottenham’s main man has already scored 22 Premier League goals this season and he will be looking to eclipse the 25-goal mark for the third year in a row. Plenty of punters will be tempted by Kane’s odds ahead of the World Cup and you can keep up with the latest betting news and odds via https://www.freebets.com in the build-up to, during and following, the 2018 World Cup.

Harry Kane is the ultimate goal scorer and Tottenham will be desperately trying to fend off any advances to sign the 24-year-old in the upcoming transfer window. If Kane shines at the World Cup this summer, Real Madrid may come knocking and shrewd operator Daniel Levy may enter negotiations. Is he the best in world football? You’d be hard-pressed to make a serious case against him at this moment in time.

Underdogs worth a punt on World Cup 2018

Picture Source: https://www.fifa.com

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is only a few months away and already millions of fans from across the world are beginning to experience the first effects of World Cup fever.

With all 8 groups determined last December in the official draw, fans are now spending their time speculating about their team’s road to the final, going over thousands of stats, filling out brackets, and dreaming of World Cup glory.

Meanwhile, bettors of every sort are also getting some action on the tournament. While for casino players that mainly means playing football themed slots offered by sites like www.ninjacasino.com such as ‘Football Star’, ‘Golden Goal’ and ‘Football Champions Cup’ in hopes of winning the jackpot, most gamblers rather win their big payout by placing bets on underdog teams that offer huge odds to lift the cup.

With teams like Costa Rica and Iceland having hugely defied expectations in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros respectively – not to mention Leicester City’s absolutely unimaginable Premiere League title in 2016 – it’s worth having a look at some long shots to lift that title that might pay out a small fortune if they manage the heroic feat of lifting the cup.

Mexico

Perhaps the most perpetually promising side on this list, Mexico has been hailed as a hopeful for a deep World Cup run for the past 5 or 6 tournaments, but has been knocked out at the Round of 16 stages at every single one.

This time around, Juan Carlos Osorio’s squad consists of one of the most solid that Mexico has seen in a long time, including several Olympic gold medal winners and Under 17 World Champions. Having breezed through the CONCACAF qualifiers and produced a hugely encouraging display at last year’s Confederations Cup- until they were dressed down by Germany’s second team 4-1 that is – Mexico recently also proved they are a serious contender by drawing 3-3 in a friendly match against Belgium’s golden generation, as well as inflicting a rare loss at home to a strong Polish side.

While Mexico were dealt a tough hand by being drawn into a group containing the world champions and favorite team to lift the cup, as well as a Swedish side that left Italy out of the competition for the first time in 60 years, there is reasonably expectation that they will progress from their group and test their might against the winner of Group E.

With youngster Hirving Lozano in bright hot form at PSV since his move last summer, at odds of 125 to 1 to lift the trophy, Mexico is certainly seems worthy of a punt.

Iceland

Iceland were the sensation of the last European Championship after a dream run that saw them blasting their way into the Quarterfinals, defeating England along the way before ultimately succumbing to hosts France.

But their amazing performance at Euro 2016 was proven to be no fluke, as after the cup they went on to top a tricky World Cup qualification group that included Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey amongst others. Despite being drawn into the group that most are referring to as the “Group of Death” alongside Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia, Iceland cannot be counted out as a true contender to escape the group and go on another impressive run.

If that run were to take them all the way to lifting the cup, you can manage yourself a fantastic payout of 250 to 1.

Costa Rica

Speaking of escaping the “Group of Death”, very few people gave the tiny Central American nation of Costa Rica a chance after they were drawn into a group populated by former World Cup winners Italy, England and Uruguay four years ago. And yet Costa Rica didn’t only manage to qualify ahead of England and Uruguay, but they even topped the toughest group in the competition. From then, they went on to beat Greece before finally succumbing to Netherlands in a dramatic series of penalties in the Quarterfinals.

While Costa Rica has been experiencing a change in generations in the past few years, they managed to qualify in second place in the CONCACAF region, trailing only Mexico. Led by Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas at the back, Costa Rica are solid defensively and will pose a difficult challenge for any rival.

While few people would ever expect them to replicate their run from 2014 this time around, particularly after drawing a complicated group that includes Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland, Costa Rica has already shown its critics what it can do when everyone least expects it.

Costa Rica improving on their 2016 fairytale run and lifting the trophy pays out 500 to 1.

Croatia

Another team that found itself drawn into the “Group of Death”, Croatia has not fared well in the biggest stages in the past few years, being eliminated in the Group stage in the last World Cup and succumbing to eventual champions Portugal at Euro 2016. Not only that, but they were also forced to win their ticket to this year’s competition in a playoff against Greece, after failing to top their group and gain a direct ticket.

While all of that makes it seem like Croatia is not a viable candidate for a surprise run at the cup, that could not be further from the truth. Only a fool would rule out a Balkan team that boasts a fantastic squad which includes not only Mario Mandzukic up top, but one of the best midfield partnerships in the competition with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic controlling the game.

Ranked as the 15th best team in the world by www.fifa.com, you can bet on Croatia to lift the cup at a juicy price of 41 to 1.

Sweden

Away from football’s greatest stage since the 2006 edition, Sweden made quite a splash after their famous playoff victory against Italy. In a hard fought couple of matches they managed to out-Italy Italy, scoring one goal and defending their slight lead with a solid defensive display.

But their famous victory doesn’t tell the full story of this Swedish team, who most ruled out the moment that Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his retirement from the national side. In hindsight, that was exactly what the Swedes needed, as his departure forced them to find a completely different style that they quickly settled into, allowing them to come ahead of Netherlands and only a few points behind leaders France.

While most take it as a given that Germany will top Group F and Mexico is favorite to clasp the second spot, Sweden could easily manage to snag their entry into the next round and forward with solid tactics and fantastic teamwork. If you don’t believe it, just ask the Italians…

Sweden winning their first ever World Cup pay out at odds of 125 to 1.

How Much Longer Can Cech Keep Going?

Source: Petr Cech via Facebook

Petr Cech is one of the great goalkeepers of the Premier League era, and has been plying his trade in England’s top flight since Chelsea signed him from Rennes in 2004. At 35 years old, it’s a wonder how long the Czech can carry on being Arsenal’s stalwart between the sticks, but for now at least, he’s showing no signs of stopping. The question is, can he emulate his Stamford Bridge success at the Emirates?

Cech played 333 games for Chelsea and became one of the legends of the Roman Abramovich era, alongside players like John Terry and Frank Lampard. However, during Jose Mourinho’s second spell at the London club, the Portuguese decided to bring in the younger Thibaut Courtois to be the Blues’ first-choice goalkeeper. This meant that Cech only played a small part in the Premier League win of the 2014-15 season, which ended up being his last at the club. During his time in West London, the goalkeeper picked up four top-flight winners’ medals, lifted the FA Cup on four occasions, the League Cup three times, and was a key component of the Champions League winning team of the 2011-12 season.

When Mourinho relegated Cech to the bench, it seemed that the legend’s playing days may have been about to come to an end. But luckily for the player and for Arsenal, Arsene Wenger wisely snapped him up and installed him as the first choice shot-stopper at the Emirates. This has easily been one of the Frenchman’s greatest transfer decisions in recent years, as the 35-year-old has slotted in seamlessly and recaptured his best form in North London. The question is how long Cech can keep going for, and whether he can help guide the Gunners to success.

Now in his third season at Arsenal, Cech has managed to win the Community Shield twice in 2015 and 2017, along with the FA Cup at the end of the 2016-17 campaign. Whether Cech can claim silverware this term remains to be seen. Football tips have Arsenal as 100/1 outsiders to win the Premier League due to Manchester City’s domination of the division, but there is a chance that Wenger’s men may claim a prize in Europe. The Gunners topped their Europa League group by some margin, and are easily one of the stronger sides in the competition.

Since joining Arsenal, Cech has produced just over 35 clean sheet performances for the club and, in each season, has averaged over 2.2 saves per game. He is showing no signs of slowing down, and at this rate, he could easily be playing for the club for another five years.

Cech has the opportunity to improve on the legendary status he earned at Chelsea and become a hero for Arsenal. Goalkeepers have a tendency to stay in the game much longer than outfield players, with the likes of Edwin Van Der Sar, Shay Given, and David Seamen all playing past the age of 40. For the Gunners, it would be excellent news if Cech was able to follow in their footsteps.

Will the Addition of Cenk Tosun Help Allardyce Begin Writing Everton Legacy?

Source: Everton Football Club via Facebook

When Sam Allardyce signed Cenk Tosun in the January transfer window, Everton’s hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top six this season were slim. There was a 12-point gap between the Merseyside outfit and Arsenal in sixth, who are unlikely to give up that position and are hoping to climb. But there is a chance that Everton can end the season on a high, and finish as the best team outside of the big six. This would stand Allardyce in good stead to continue at the club for the foreseeable future and possibly begin to write his own legacy there.

Considering that Everton were facing a relegation battle in the early stages of the campaign when Ronald Koeman was at the helm, the turnaround under Allardyce has been extraordinary. The manager who has famously never overseen a side dumped out of the top flight arrested the Toffees’ decline immediately after arriving at Goodison Park. In Allardyce’s first seven games in charge across all competitions, Everton’s goal was only breached twice. The former Sunderland manager picked up vital wins against fellow basement-dwellers Newcastle United and Swansea City, and managed to hold top four hopefuls Liverpool and Chelsea to draws.

Since this dramatic upturn in form, Everton are now facing up the table rather than down, and are no longer considered among the Championship-threatened sides. It’s Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, and Swansea City who are now favoured for the drop and, at the time of writing, the Swans are odds-on at 10/11 in the football betting to finish rock bottom.

Now that Allardyce has seemingly already fulfilled his job as “Fireman Sam” with Everton out of the danger zone, the 63-year-old may be looking to build a legacy in the Northwest. He has frequently been seen as a saviour to clubs in the top flight, but rarely a long-term prospect. If he can get Everton playing some attractive football and winning a high proportion of games in the second half of the season, Farhad Moshiri may be wise to keep the Englishman at the helm in the next campaign.

This is where new signing Tosun should come in. The Toffees have been crying out for a prolific goal scorer since they sold Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United for £75 million last summer. Since then, and prior to the arrival of the Turkish striker, Everton had only managed to notch 25 goals in the league – nine fewer than Leicester City who were one place above them.

Everton acquired Tosun from Besiktas for a reported £27 million, and if he managed to fill the big Belgian’s shoes it will be an excellent bit of business. Allardyce claims that the 26-year-old is the hottest property in Europe right now in that price bracket, and the Germany-born forward racked up 41 goals in 96 league appearances at his former club.

Toffees supporters will want to see their side continue to keep clean sheets, but also to impress at the other end of the pitch. Tosun has the potential to make an instant impact at Goodison and, if he manages to hit the ground running, could help to shape Allardyce’s long-term future at the club.