Thursday, 29 January 2009

No retreat in Rafa's "crazy" world

Sir Alex Ferguson once famously declared that the Premier League title race reaches "squeeky bum time" about March but for his new adversary down the East Lancs Road it would appear paranoia has already set in.

The wily Scot coined his now well-worn maxim back in 2003 when Arsene Wenger's Arsenal dared to challenge Ferguson en route to collecting his eighth domestic crown.

And it would appear the cracks are beginning to show on Rafael Benitez, who complained about things "you cannot control" after his Liverpool side were held 1-1 by Wigan on Wednesday.

Liverpool were seven points clear of new leaders Manchester United at the beginning of January when Benitez launched a bizarre tirade against Ferguson that ranged from his supposed influence with referees to the FA lenience towards the Old Trafford club.

The Merseysiders have managed three draws in succession since Benitez imploded and have since been eased out to 10/1 in the latest football odds to win their first league title since 1990.

United, by contrast, have won four on the spin, scored 10 goals and conceded none to see their betting odds for their 11th crown come in as short as 4/9.

You do the math.

Conjecture about the future of striker Robbie Keane - and the decision to buy him in the first place - and complications surrounding Benitez's contract situation, confusion about the club's ownership, as well as the decision to take off star men Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres against Wigan, has led to raised eyebrows among match-going Liverpool supporters.

And if the Spaniard was hoping to draw breath then he has the small matter of the visit of Chelsea to contend with on Sunday.

The correct score of 0-0 at about 8/1 could be the way forward here in what, on paper at least, looks an even contest, although hardened Kopites seeking a morale-boosting 1-0 home win may find 7/1 of more interest.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Injuries should not prove too much of a distraction for the Manchester United juggernaut when Sir Alex Ferguson takes his decimated squad to The Hawthorns on Tuesday.

Albion last beat United on home soil 25 years ago when Steve Mackenzie and Cyrille Regis were on target and the visitors have the added incentive of claiming a sixth successive Premier League maximum and a new record of 11 successive clean sheets if they manage to keep Tony Mowbray's men at bay.

United hold a 100% record at The Hawthorns, having won three of three, and this is reflected in the football odds, with the champions as short as 2/5 to continue their title charge.

Albion have also been hit by injuries and manager Mowbray will be without four centre-backs in Abdoulaye Meite, Jonas Olsson, Leon Barnett and long-term casualty Neil Clement.

The big loss to Mowbray will be skipper and United old-boy Jonathan Greening because of a strained medial ligament in his left knee and this has had an impact on the home side's betting odds, with Albion as big as 11/1 to derail the Old Trafford giants.

Mowbray has made the right noises by promising to give United "an uncomfortable night" and he will have the backing of a boisterous home crowd as Albion go about inflicting revenge for a 4-0 drubbing by Ferguson's men at Old Trafford earlier this season.

Albion have not lost at home in the Premier League since a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea on November 15 last year – drawing once and winning three on the spin since – but sill find themselves entrenched in a basement battle at the foot of the table on 21 points with four other teams.

United, however, tend to hit their straps at this stage of the season and will know they cannot afford to lose momentum with bitter rivals Liverpool breathing down their neck.