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League Cup Fever

by Guest...

Sunday's League Cup final gives Sunderland and Manchester City a welcome break from their vastly different respective Premier League ambitions, the welcome distraction of a showpiece final, and of course gives their fans an even more welcome Wembley day out. Beyond that, it offers Sunderland the opportunity to earn Europa League football next season, although that is almost guaranteed anyway, given the more than likely prospect of City earning a Champions League spot.

While not blessed with the same romance and sense of history as the FA Cup, it has thrown up just as many exciting and unexpected triumphs, especially in the earlier years when the more glamourous clubs deemed it not worth entering, the first two losing finalists being Rotherham United and Rochdale.

As a child, my first encounter with the competition was a grainy black and white highlights package on ITV's Star Soccer on a wet Sunday afternoon in March ( no blanket live footie in those days - only the FA  and European Cup finals and the Home Internationals received such an honour). It was 1969 and the mighty Arsenal (yes, they of Double-winning glory only two years later), were humbled by then Third Division side Swindon Town 3-1 on a Wembley quagmire, after the pitch had staged the Horse of the Year Show the week before, and the two-goal extra-time hero Don Rogers became forever a hero in the annals of Swindon history. Another quirk of antiquated rules denied Swindon the chance to compete in the following season's Inter-cities Fairs Cup (subsequently the UEFA Cup and now the Europa League) because such a privilege was only bestowed on top division sides in those days.

Lower division underdogs have met with disproportional success in this competition. As a fledgling Aston Villa fan in the 1970's, I was rewarded with my team reaching three finals in six years, losing to Tottenham 2-0 as a Third Division side in 1971 (after beating the mighty Manchester United in a memorable two-legged semi), and then winning it in 1975 as a Second Division team, and then again two years later as a top-flight outfit in a thrilling 3-2 Old Trafford second replay (remember cup final replays, anyone?) after dour 0-0 and 1-1 draws against Everton. Anyone who saw it will never forget no-nonense centre-half Chris Nicholl letting fly from 35 yards, the ball still rising as it hit the back of the net. Ahhh, happy days.

The eighties saw the big clubs get more interested in the competition as a path to European riches, with Liverpool making the cup their own for four consecutive seasons, but nevertheless the proliferation of less prestigious clubs in the honours lists (Norwich City, Oxford United, Luton Town, Sheffield Wednesday et al) kept the lower leagues interested, and indeed Manchester United and Chelsea only once each graced any of the first 30 League Cup Finals. Things have changed a little since the turn of the millennium, with United, Chelsea and Liverpool sharing eight of the 13 cup wins, but even as recently as the last two years, Cardiff City and Bradford City have represented the lower divisons in the final, albeit unsuccessfully, while it is only three years since the unlikely and unfancied (and soon to be relegated) Birmingham City toppled the mighty Arsenal with a memorable last-minute winner.

So while Manchester City might be odds-on to claim the first leg of their much-vaunted "quadruple" - although Barcelona might have something more to say about that next week - Sunderland can cling to the fact that many a giant has stumbled at this stage before them, and with nothing to lose they might just upset the Sky Blue applecart on Sunday.   

  

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Bet365 In Play Offer - Man City v Barcelona

Today we have another opportunity to guarantee a nice free bet for tonight's Champions League fixture at the Etihad between Man City and Barcelona. Bet365 are offering a 100% risk free £50 in play bet to all users that stake £50 on the Man City v Barcelona game in a pre match market too. There is only one correct way to use this promotion to your benefit...

All you need is funds in your bet365 account (get a bet365 account here) - £100 to be precise. You need to stake £50 before the match and £50 during the match - should the in-play bet lose, bet365 will refund it as CASH, not as a free bet. From experience, they are busy immediately after the game so this process can take up to 2 hours, although it is usually resolved within 20 minutes of the final whistle...

OK, so here is the juicy information - how to get a £50 bet for less than £2 liability:

How to get a £50 free bet for less than £2

  • Bet £50 on over 0.5 goals at Bet365 (odds: 1.03*)
  • Use another account such as Bet Victor and back 0-0 correct score (odds: 16.00) for £3.34.
  • If the game ends 0-0, you return £53.44 (+£0.10)
  • If there is 1 goal or more, you return £51.50 (-£1.84)

Doing the above limits your liability to £1.84 maximum, but means that your first in-play bet (up to £50 in value) is no-risk and will be refunded should it lose!!

You can then use the bet on bet365's in-play markets, of which there are over 70. You could go for a correct score, first goalscorer, anytime scorer, or a simple bet on the Home/Draw/Away (1X2) market. The £50 is as close to risk free as you will likely get, so make the most of it! 

Be sure to let me know what you have gone for on Twitter

*odds were valid at the time of publishing this article

n.b. Some people suggest using the £50 in play to bet against your pre-match bet, but this is against Bet365 terms and conditions. This means they would be within their rights to cancel your participation in the promotion - which would ultimately leave you out of pocket.

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A season of Two Halves?

The Premier League's half-term report shows it to be a league of two halves, with already a seemingly insurmountable divide between those teams chasing Champions League glory and those likely to immersed in a relegation dogfight, and any attempts to predict the outcome at either end are likely to be about as accurate as a Jason Puncheon spot kick.

For probably the first time in Premier league history, the breakaway pack at the top comprises arguably the "Big Eight"" in terms of success, tradition, fanbase and financial clout: namely the two rivals from Manchester and Merseyside respectively, the London glamour club triumvirate, with plucky Newcastle tugging desperately at their shirt tails like a needy child.

Perhaps the only club missing that could possibly feel it has a claim to gatecrash that elite party might be fallen giants Leeds United, but their decade of decline into lower division obscurity has dulled the memory of their history and potential for now.

The top of the Premier League is excitingly and refreshingly tight, with Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal each occupying top spot at some point over last weekend, while Liverpool and Everton are constantly leapfrogging over each other in their quest to turn a promising first half of the season into long overdue tangible success. Manchester United still lie behind Tottenham (themselves with genuine European aspirations), and The Chosen One, although looking like a deer in the headlights at times when watching his team underachieving on the pitch, will no doubt cling onto the fact that United have overturned an 11-point deficit before at this stage (albeit not with six clubs ahead of them), and clearly any team missing the quality of Rooney and van Persie can only hope for an upturn in fortunes upon their return.

Of the twenty Premier League clubs, it would appear that only Newcastle United and Southampton are destined for that stale marriage of midtable mediocrity and meaningless games, both settled in that safe pocket of 30+ points in the bag without ever looking likely to upset the big boys above them, although both would argue that they are only a sustained good run away from muscling themselves back into the title-chasing pack.

At the other end, the tightness of the bottom half can be shown by the fact that Southampton in 9th place lie 7 points clear of Hull City in 10th, a margin that is actually larger than the meagre six points separating the Tigers from the Eagles in bottom spot, and while no doubt happy to be currently in the top half, Steve Bruce will be well aware that he is only one bad month away from slipping towards the bottom three precipice.

Never has the division between top and bottom halves been so distinct, and never has the fight to stay up been so interestingly poised, littered with teams with recent Championship experience, and indeed with more established teams that wouldn't be out of place in that division either. All the usual suspects are back in the fray again, although after their relative successes of last season, the bosses of Swansea and West Brom might be scratching their heads in befuddlement at where it all went wrong so far this campaign.
With an 11-club struggle for survival to go with a 7-team battle for Champions league glory, there are going to be thrills and spills and six-pointers galore, and just about every game (with the possible exception of Southampton v Newcastle) seems likely to have some bearing on title and/or survival hopes.

With such an exciting second half to the season in prospect, it is likely to get uncomfortably warm in some of the managerial hot seats between now and May, but it's should make great viewing for us from the stands or the comfort of our armchair.

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