Greatest Games: The day that Lionel Messi came of age at Barcelona

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Barcelona 3-3 Real Madrid
La Liga 2006-07

It was a warm, sticky evening in Barcelona on March 10, 2007, and a completely nondescript Saturday aside from one reason. At 10:00pm that night, Lionel Messi would play in his first home Clasico.

It was to be only his 24th appearance at the Camp Nou in all competitions since his debut in the 2004/05 season. At just 19 years of age, the world was waking up to the mercurial genius that Barcelona had in their ranks, but this game was the one in which he made headlines across the world.

Barca began the match in second place, just behind leaders Sevilla, whilst Real Madrid were down in fourth. Frank Rijkaard began the game with a 3-4-3 formation, whilst Real’s Fabio Capello set his stall out with an attacking 4-3-3.

As the teams made their way out onto the pitch, 97,823 fans raised the coloured pieces of paper that had been left on each and every seat, making a wonderful mosaic that covered the entirety of the stadium.

The strains of ‘Tot el Camp,’ Barca’s hymn, blared out over the sound system, and behind the mosaic the Blaugrana choir joined in as one. It was spine-tingling and set the tone for what was destined to be one of the best Clasico’s for years.

Real couldn’t afford to lose

The stadium was still in full voice five minutes in, when a slip from Barca’s Lillian Thuram saw the ball deflect to Ruud van Nistelrooy stationed in the D on the edge of the area. A neatly placed opener saw the visitors go one up and you could’ve heard a pin drop.

The difference in the decibel levels before and after the goal was remarkable. In a game that Real couldn’t really afford to lose, it was just the start they needed, the Dutchman’s 13th of the season unlucky for the Catalans.

The intensity with which both sides were approaching the game hadn’t let up in the opening 10 minutes, with Samuel Eto’o bringing the best out of Iker Casillas in response to his side going a goal behind.

Some neat interplay a minute later between the Cameroonian, Deco and Ronaldinho bamboozled the Real defence, and by the time Messi received the ball on the right-hand-side of the area, there wasn’t a Los Blancos defender within five yards of him.

The Argentinian was left with the simple task of slipping it past the on-rushing Casillas.

If the Camp Nou had had a roof, it would’ve been taken off. What can only be described as an animalistic ‘Gooooooolllll’ reverberated around the stadium for what seemed like an eternity.

No quarter being asked or given

The joy was short-lived, however, as Real were awarded a penalty within two minutes, Barca’s Oleguer leaving a trailing leg for Guti to fall invitingly over.

A soft penalty it may have been, but it was the right decision from Undiano Mallenco, an experienced official who wasn’t going to be swayed by Barca’s protests or the defeaning boos and whistles from the stands.

Olegeur was handed a yellow for his trouble, which would prove to be crucial later in the game. Van Nistelrooy was calmness personified as he sent Victor Valdes the wrong way, and it was game on once more.

What made this game extra special was not just those three goals going in within 13 minutes of the first whistle, but it was clear that no quarter was being asked or given from either team.

They were just going for it, toe to toe like the Spanish gladiators they were. It was fantastic entertainment.

The game settled down to an extent, although both Ronaldinho and Eto’o were causing panic for the visitors every time they got the ball. Working down the left channel, it pulled Real across each time, leaving Messi isolated again on the right.

A roller coaster opening 45

They weren’t learning their lesson and on 28 minutes it happened once more. When the ball fell to Leo 10 yards out and centrally positioned in front of goal, only Miguel Torres was between him and equalising for the second time.

This time, Messi smashed the ball into the roof of the net as Casillas, Guti and Sergio Ramos scrambled to get back and block, all to no avail.

A roller coaster opening 45 still had more twists and turns to come, with Messi, Ronaldinho and Higuain all going close.

Right on half-time, Oleguer was late on Fernando Gago, and with the official just a few feet away, a second yellow saw Barca reduced to 10. Curtains it would seem for the hosts.

Though the pace of the game slowed after the break, more than enough goalmouth action, and scuffles off of the ball, kept things interesting.

Robinho replaced Raul just after the hour mark, and 13 minutes later the Brazilian went down theatrically under a challenge from Rafa Marquez, but still won a free-kick out on the touchline.

Guti’s delivery was inch-perfect for Sergio Ramos to guide a header home, and put Real into the lead for the third time in the match. It would be a long way back for Barca now, and the crowd sensed it.

The passion wasn’t quite so intense, the noise not as loud, the acceptance of defeat despite there being 17 minutes left, almost total. Supporters even began to file out well before full-time, a decision they’d come to regret.

The pass of the match

As the clock ticked into four minutes of injury time, Capello’s side still had their noses in front, but a lapse of concentration at the worst possible moment saw Barca grab a point.

Ronaldinho drew players to him as he wandered in-field, but with a packed pitch in front of him there was little to indicate he would pull off the pass of the match.

Threading a ball between five Real players, it landed at Messi’s feet, though the Argentinian still had it all to do. His first touch took him away from three defenders, his second evaded a challenge, and his third was a low driven shot out of Casillas’ reach as Ramos tried desperately to lunge and divert the shot away.

A first-ever career hat-trick. And against the eternal rival. Not bad for a 19-year-old! No wonder the chants of “Messi, Messi, Messi,” accompanied by bowing from the stands, continued long after the goal was scored.

Lionel Messi had arrived. Even now, 13 years later, that game is still known as the ‘Messi Clasico’ and with good reason.

It was the birth of the pint-sized genius.

Source: Betfair Spanish La Liga

    

Opta’s Premier League Prediction: Liverpool record breakers, Bournemouth go down

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With the Premier League on hold, the statistical wizards at Opta have crunched the numbers to simulate how the rest of the campaign would pan out.

Opta’s StatsPerform AI team created a simulation that estimated the probability of the outcome of all of the remaining Premier League matches, based on each team’s attacking and defensive prowess.

The rating of each club’s attacking and defensive qualities was based on their last four years of results, with more weighting given to recent results. This model also took into account the quality of the opposition, so a team that would normally score lots of goals would not necessarily be expected to do so against a defensively strong side like Liverpool.

Opta simulated the outcome of the Premier League season 10,000 times, in order to properly estimate the chances of each club finishing in each position. Based on their research, here’s how Opta predict the season will go, should the campaign be concluded.

Each club are placed in their predicted finishing position, with the number of points that Opta think that they will finish with. The red boxes displayes the percentage chance of the team finishing in their position, so Liverpool are rated as 99.9% certs to win the Premier League and the percentage likelihood of Norwich finishing bottom is 67.7%.

Liverpool are finally Premier League champs

Opta predicts that Liverpool will not only win the Premier League title, but do so with a mammoth points haul of 101. That would be an all-time English record. The only side to have ever scored more points in Europe’s top five leagues were Juventus, with 102 in the 2013-14 Serie A season.

Liverpool are [1.02] to win the Premier League, ahead of Manchester City at [42.0]. Pep Guardiola’s City side are expected to claim 80 points, which would be enough to have won the Premier League in six previous seasons.

Leicester and Chelsea make top four

Third placed Leicester and Chelsea in fourth are thought likely to remain in their positions. Leicester are [1.28] to finish third, while Chelsea look a decent bet at [1.7] to finish in the top four.

Just missing out on a place in the top four by two points are Manchester United. If Manchester City’s European ban is upheld that would be good enough to see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team qualify for the Champions League. United are [3.4] to do better than the simulation suggests and finish in the top four, which Opta calculates as a 20.6% chance of occurring.

Spurs in the Europa League

Currently eighth in the Premier League, with Sheffield United and Wolves above them, Opta nevertheless expects Tottenham to leapfrog both teams and finish sixth. This makes the available odds of [2.86] for Spurs to finish in the top six look pretty generous.

Another bet worth having in the top half of the table, is for Everton to finish in the top ten. Opta are predicting that Everton will move up from twelfth place and finish tenth and a top half finish can be backed at [1.74].

Watford and West Ham survive, but bad news for Cherry pickers

Opta are backing the current bottom three to remain the same, with Norwich bottom, Aston Villa in nineteenth and Bournemouth becoming the third team to be relegated. Bournemouth are [1.9] to go down, with Norwich at [1.4] to finish rock bottom.

Watford are [3.1] to be relegated. That might be worth backing, as Opta are only expecting them to survive on goal difference, having claimed the same points as Bournemouth.

Source: Betfair Premier League

    

Football Bet of the Day: Man with a plan to extend advantage

After a near-miss last night, Kev’s hoping for a better result in Nicaragua, as two championship contenders go head-to-head.

“Managua have already beaten Real Esteli this season, and the visitors have come up short against elite opposition this term.”

Back Managua to win at [2.14]

Hosts to edge title battle

Managua v Real Esteli
Thursday April 02, 02:00

A rollercoaster ride in Sweden last night, but sadly there was one last plunge that cost us our stake. Our boys Sodra Vings were 2-1 up at odds-on favourites Byttorps in the second half, but slid to a 3-2 defeat.

We head to Nicaragua now, because the Primera Division season continues apace, and we have a title battle on our hands between Managua and Real Esteli.

Real Esteli have dominated Nicaraguan football in the past decade-and-a-half. Since 2007 they have won 11 league titles, including the most recent Apertura championship, a season that saw them win a two-legged final against Managua. They are currently second in the Clausura standings, two points behind their old foes Managua. Real have won their last four games, but it’s worth bearing in mind that their two league defeats this term have come against title rivals Diriangen and Managua.

In fact, Managua have won two of the clubs’ last three meetings, and their home form is excellent. La Maquinaria Azul have won all five of their home games in the Clausura, and you have to go back to late September for their last league defeat at the Estadio Nacional de Futbol. Overall, Managua have won their last four league matches, and last time out they secured a dramatic and impressive 2-1 home victory against perennial title challengers Diriangen.

Managua have won the big games so far this season, and their 2-0 win at Real Esteli earlier this year made the rest of the league sit up and take notice. Real have been coming up short against elite opposition, and they have drawn a blank in two of their last three away games.

I’ll back the hosts to win here at [2.14].

Source: BetFair Tips

    

The Daily Acca: Leaders to move clear at the top

Defence to thwart attack at Chinandega

Bet 1: Back Under 2.5 Goals in Chinandega v Juventus Managua @ 17/20 – KO 22:00 BST

The hosts need to bounce back from a 7-0 mauling they received at the hands of Walter Ferretti on Sunday night, but in their defence, they were only 2-0 down when they had a man sent off after 45 minutes.

Prior to that their results hadn’t been great either, but eight of their previous 11 had seen this selection land. They have also not conceded more than once at home in the Clausura phase of the season.

Their opponents were also beaten on Sunday, but they at least only lost 2-0. They are two places higher in the table, but the points difference is only one.

Away from home they have fired blanks in four of their last five, and in only two of their six on the road this term have they conceded more than twice – a run which includes a pair of 0-0’s.

No clean sheets at Deportivo Las Sabanas

Bet 2: Back BTTS in Deportivo Las Sabanas v Real Madriz @ 3/4 – KO 22:00 BST

Deportivo Las Sabanas have gone 12 games without a win in all competitions, and they currently sit at the bottom of the Primera Division.

Real Madriz are in seventh (out of 10), and they ended a losing streak recently by winning their last two matches – both of which were at home though.

I can definitely see goals at both ends in this one, as despite their troubles, the hosts have drawn their last two at home in a 1-1 scoreline. The visitors meanwhile have a pretty wretched away record, but they have at least found the net in three of their last four on their travels.

Managua to beat another title rival

Bet 3: Back Managua @ 19/20 – KO 02:00 BST (Wed)

It’s the battle of the top two at Estadio Nacional de Fútbol tonight and I am backing the leaders to extend their advantage at the head of the Nicaragua Primera Division.

The selection have won their last four – including a 4-2 derby win over Juventus Mangua. They were impressive too against the teams who are currently third and fourth – beating them 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.

Real Estelli have also won four on the bounce, but they had a much easier run of things, with the highest rank team they faced being Municipal Jalapa, who are in fifth.

They have won just one of their last three away from home, and when they last played here in December, they were beaten 1-0.

Source: BetFair Tips

    

Southampton 19/20 Review: Hasenhuttl recovers to par

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When Leicester City thrashed Southampton 9-0 in October, leaving them in the bottom three on eight points from ten games, it looked as though Ralph Hasenhuttl’s days were numbered. He was a dead man walking.

And that’s why Southampton’s relatively average season is, in fact, a big success story. Hasenhuttl deserves enormous credit for reinstating a 4-2-2-2 formation and finding a way to lift the players after their humiliation against the Foxes, coming back from the brink with some absorbing and complex football.

Season so far

Saints were floundering in those early months, unable to create chances as Hasenhuttl began to deploy an awkward – and defensively leaky – 3-4-3 formation. They were resoundingly beaten by plenty of clubs prior to that 9-0, and even failed to win their next three league games after that infamous day.

And then, out of nowhere, Southampton won seven of their next 11 Premier League matches, starting with a 2-1 win against Watford in November 30 and culminating, fittingly, in revenge against Leicester in January.

Not much changed between these two distinct phases of the season, other than Danny Ings‘ brilliant upturn in form and improvements from James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond.

By the time the Premier League went on hiatus Southampton were safely in mid-table, playing Hasenhuttl’s brand of compressed, counter-attacking football to a decent level.

Highlights

Ings has scored 15 goals in 23 league starts this season, an outstanding return that has put him back in England contention and emphatically put years of injury problems behind him. Given the lack of creativity in the Southampton first 11, Ings’s ruthless finishing has been essential in the club’s revival.

There is no doubt the 2-1 win at Leicester is the season highlight, particularly after Dennis Praet actually gave the hosts the lead within the first 15 minutes. Goals from Stuart Armstrong and Ings flipped the game on its head and put to rest the ghosts of that diabolical day in October.

Elsewhere, a 2-0 home win against Aston Villa in February ended a worrying four-game run without victory, taking Saints to 34 points and ten points clear of the drop zone. It was at the final whistle that day when Southampton fans knew they would avoid a relegation battle.

Lowlights

Saints’ worst result was possibly the 3-1 loss at home to Bournemouth near the beginning of the campaign, although in terms of a shock result the more recent 3-1 defeat at West Ham might have hurt more. David Moyes’ side were in deep trouble when they played Hasenhuttl’s side off the park shortly before the hiatus began.

Although the £20 million gamble on Ings paid off spectacularly, Southampton were considerably less fortunate with their other summer signings. Moussa Djenepo began brightly but the 21-year-old, signed for £10 million, has fallen away, while Che Adams was supposed to set the division alight after his arrival from Birmingham City. He is yet to score a goal in 22 appearances.

What they can achieve in 19/20

Southampton probably have the least to play for out of all the Premier League clubs. With nine matches to go Saints are safely midtable, seven points off the drop but five points – and four places – short of a top ten finish, priced at [10.0] with Betfair Exchange.

Nevertheless Hasenhuttl will know the importance of a strong finish, should the campaign resume, to prevent another early collapse in 2020/21. Southampton have four of the six relegation candidates left to play, meaning they could yet top 46 points and make this their best year since 2015/16.

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What next: Summer transfers & 2020/21

Southampton desperately need to upgrade their goalkeeper, and that has to be the number one priority over the summer, along with getting a replacement for right-back Cedric Soares. Hasenhuttl should also be in the market for a playmaker with more guile.

However, even if they manage to improve in all the required areas it is hard to see how Southampton can jump to a higher level. Approaching the top ten is most likely their ceiling, at least until their recruitment team improves; they rarely buy lesser known players these days.

Summary

In spectacular fashion, Saints have achieved an unspectacular season. Hasenhuttl was heading for disaster as recently as October, before a flurry of wins lifted them back to par – a rollercoaster campaign that will draw to a close without much fanfare.

That’s fine, for now, but having finished sixth in 2016 it won’t be long before supporters are itching for more excitement.

Source: Betfair Premier League