Hleb continues to flounder at Birmingham

Alex McLeish, a man never afraid to speak the truth, has admitted that Birmingham are yet to see the best from summer arrival Alexander Hleb after revealing that the undoubtedly talented player has been unable to train with the other players for extended periods of time.

Hleb, who is clearly lacking in confidence, arrived in Birmingham during the summer from Barcelona, where he struggled to make a lasting impression following a shock move from Arsenal, and has so far seen his form hindered by injury problems and the lasting effects of not completing a full pre-season in Spain. The Birmingham manager has been quick to stress that as soon as Hleb gets his fitness levels back up to scratch he’ll look like a completely new player, but time is a precious commodity that the Blues are running out of fast.

Birmingham have experienced a mixed start to the Premier League season and are in the relegation zone after a miserable run of form that has brought just one win in eight attempts in the league. Every player needs to be on top form in order to force the team out of what can fairly be described as a rut, and having to wait for players to regain form isn’t what they need right now. The Birmingham betting tips suggest they have every chance of recovering, but they won’t want to become mired in a scrap.Generate Hills of glory Ammo

With Birmingham doing so well for large stretches of last season and establishing a run of form at home that saw even the top teams in the league struggle to make a mark there, Birmingham fans won’t be too anxious just yet and the football odds reflect this. However, history tells teams like the Blues to watch out for second season syndrome, with the lesser lights of the league often suffering badly after a season in which they exceeded all expectations.



Will Mike Ashley ever be satisfied?

If you were to go ahead and ask Roman Abramovich what would satisfy him in football terms, he would say the Champions League trophy. Similarly, if you asked the Glazer family what they would need to be satisfied in club football, they would probably admit that they would like to see the club help them to amass an even greater profit capable of wiping out their personal debts and adding to their private fortunes. This is perhaps not as laudable as Abramovich’s aim but is nevertheless understandable.

Compare these two to Mike Ashley and it appears that nothing could possibly satisfy a man who seems to want everything, but has no idea he is going to get it, leading him to be inevitably and perpetually unsatisfied with any manager whom he chooses to appoint on an apparent whim. The football rumors suggest Alan Pardew will be next, and you have to wonder how long he will last.

Although this might be acceptable if his lack of satisfaction didn’t affect the very hopes and dreams of thousands of passionate fans, his actions have also massively held the club back from achieving its full potential, which has almost certainly only served to increase his sense of frustration at the lack of success he has seen at the club since he took over .

Should Ashley ever wish to enjoy success at Newcastle United, then perhaps he should take a page out of the Arsenal board’s book and stand back and put full faith in a manager, even when things are not going to plan, rather than follow the Real Madrid model of constant interference, which has more than often failed to produce the trophies that have been so badly desired. They’ll be a few Premier League bets placed on Newcastle going down this season.

However, with Ashley still appearing to lack the good grace to step back from the club and let the professionals run it properly, the next Newcastle manager may already be doomed before they have even started.

FIFA reform? You’re ‘aving a laugh

Imagine holding a position that allows you to decide the future of the most popular game in the world, albeit one that you are really not too bothered about if you’re being honest, as long as it still brings in the cash and the punters. Add to this the fact that you’re able to be wined and dined by the world’s most powerful people and yes, you’ve guessed it, you are living the life of a FIFA executive member. Whilst this is clearly an overly simplified description of the role and attitude of FIFA executive members, it does hopefully portray a sense of just how much the odds are stacked against FIFA reform.

With England the favorites for a long time on odds comparison sites to win their bid, the FA were clearly enraged that they were bitten after deciding that they wanted to jump into a pool of sharks when they chose to bid for the right to host the 2018 World Cup and have now launched a staunch attack on the organisation that they have attempted to woo in recent times.

However, with the FA forced to admit that they cannot leave FIFA, they have already withdrawn their only negotiating weapon in the battle to force through reform, with any threat not to bid again for the right to host the World Cup likely to be laughed off by FIFA.

Despite all this, the fact remains that FIFA know they have seen their reputation severely damaged by the bidding process and the media reports that have surrounded it, something that they know has impacted upon their credibility across the globe. If they are to attempt to recover this credibility, they may have to start thinking about possibly reforming, or at least altering, their cherished positions as kingmakers, which begs the question as to whether they actually care about their reputation.

Unhappy Anfield return for Houiller

The fans were chanting the name of Gerard Houiller long into a cold winter’s night at Anfield, but the fact it was the Liverpool supporters rather than the Villa faithful speaks volumes about the visiting side’s performance.

Liverpool, without key trio Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres, strolled a 3-0 win that lifted them back into the top half of the table and left Villa floundering in 16th place.

It was an unhappy return to Anfield for Houllier, who managed the club for six years between 1998 and 2004 and remains popular with the reds support.

It wasn’t just the defeat but the manner of it that will worry the Frenchman though. A weakened Liverpool side barely had to break a sweat from the moment they took the lead in the 14th minute. Villa’s lack of fight was alarming to say the least.

This was the Midlands club’s fourth defeat in a row, and with only one win in their last ten league games they are now just two points off the drop zone and the Premier League tips even hint they could be relegated.

After several seasons sat comfortably in the top six Villa fans had hope this would be the year they finally put up a sustained challenge for the champions league places. But Martin O’Neill’s shock resignation a week before the new season left their plans in disarray and Houiller’s arrival has signalled a period of transition, even if the Premier League betting predictions suggested they’d do well.

Just four wins all year though is not the return chairman Randy Lerner will have wanted when he brought the former Lyon boss to the club in September and if they are not careful they could be sucked into a relegation battle.

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Fergie’s youngsters fail to flourish

Manchester United have previously proved to even their harshest critics in the Premier League that they know precisely how best to develop youth, with the club in the past producing the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, and Gary Neville. However, it is undeniable that, more recently, Fergie has failed miserably to find his magic touch when it comes to developing precocious young talent.

This became no more evident than last night at Upton Park, when United fans were forced to sit back and watch as a side composed of a mixture of youth and experience was ripped apart in a 4-0 defeat at the hands of struggling West Ham United. This was clearly a sign for all to see that perhaps the future does not look bright for United’s youngsters.

Despite Javier Hernandez already showing a few magic touches this season since his arrival at the club, and Rafael successfully replacing Gary Neville as the club’s best right back, Fergie has repeatedly failed to develop a new spine capable of replacing adequately his aging Manchester United side. Anyone looking to bet on Premier League winner should remember this.

With the Glazers’ debt still limiting the amount of money the club has to spend on bringing new talent in to the squad, the onus has fallen firmly on Sir Alex to develop, rather than purchase, a side that is capable of continuing to challenge those at the top of the English Premier League and in European competition.

Should Fergie fail to show that he is capable of following in the footsteps of Arsene Wenger and bring through a batch of youngsters who are capable of replacing his star players, then United could be set to endure a barren patch similar to that which Arsenal are still hoping to emerge from. The Premier League weekend predictions suggest United will get back to winning ways again Blackpool, but will they really hold out for the rest of the season?

After previously suggesting that United fans are only happy when trophies are coming to Old Trafford, the pressure is only likely to increase on Fergie to show he can still find the diamonds in the rough.

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Spurs and Liverpool hit by injuries to key players

Spurs and Liverpool suffered mixed fortunes at the weekend in terms of results, with the former coming from behind to nick all three points. However, although Spurs fans may have been the happier immediately after the final whistle, it seems likely that both sets of fans will be moaning into their pints for some time to come and looking back on the fixture as one which didn’t hand either side’s hopes of making an impact in the league this season any sort of boost.

The reason for this is, of course, relatively severe injuries to two key players, Rafael van der Vaart for Spurs and Jamie Carragher for Liverpool. Both players are instrumental to their sides’ chances, with Van der Vaart one of the Premier League’s most productive players since his move to North London from Real Madrid, and Carragher an influential figure both on and off the pitch at Anfield and this is shown in the football betting.

It is perhaps Van der Vaart’s injury that will prove to be most troubling, despite the fact that Carragher’s may be more severe in nature. Van der Vaart has developed an effective relationship with Gareth Bale in the Tottenham side and the pair have been behind many of the headline results secured so far this campaign by the team. He has introduced a touch of world-class quality to an already impressive squad and will be sorely missed by Harry Redknapp and the Spurs faithful and the Champions League betting will reflect this.

What’s more, his injury is the latest in a long line of little niggles that have hampered him to some extent since his transfer. Redknapp must be wondering when these injuries will come to an end so he can have a fully fit and firing player at his disposal.

Redknapp has previously raised doubts about Van der Vaart’s fitness levels because the player didn’t experiencing an adequate pre-season in Spain, so the Spurs boss will just have to hope that the player’s fitness problems don’t end up making him more and more of a sidelined asset as the physically exhausting Premier League season progresses.

Barcelona prove their worth

Inter Milan may be the champions of Europe. The men in Chelsea Shirts may be champions of England and all the talk in Spain might be about the Jose Mourinho revolution at Real Madrid; but last night Barcelona proved that they are by far and away the best team in world by thrashing Real Madrid 5-0 in the El Classico.

As well as being the best team, the age old debate of the greatest player in the world was also answered last night; with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo playing against each other for the first time in La Liga. Ronaldo could only look on as Messi stole the show in the Nou Camp, leaving the capacity crowd drooling at the display they had just witnessed.

Those over at footballboots.co.uk note that this defeat was Real’s first of the season and the first under new manager Mourinho. But it wasn’t just the score line that raised eyebrows; it was the manner in which this defeat was inflicted by Barca. With Messi at the center of all their attacking play, they looked unstoppable; with their crisp passing, non stop movement and penetrative running causing Real all sorts of problems throughout the 90 minutes.

Unsurprisingly it was Messi who was the star of the show for the home side. He had already hit the post in the first half, before he really turned on the magic. Despite numerous attempts by Madrid players to stop him by any means necessary Messi continued to terrorise. With one glitsy run and one defence splitting pass setting up David Villa and Xavi respectively, Barca nearly extended their lead; but neither could find the end product that Messi’s skill deserved.

However it wasn’t long until two pieces of Messi magic were turned into goals. Another sublime pass set up Villa, who turned and fired past Iker Cassilas and 2 minutes later Messi jinked past 2 Real defenders before picking out Villa for his second of the game and Barcelona’s fourth.

It wasn’t until stoppage time that Real finally found a way to stop Messi; even then it wasn’t by playing fairly. Sergio Ramos scythed down the tricky Argentinean to earn himself his second red card in a week and with it ending a torrid game for Real Madrid.

After the result of this game and the performance of Barcelona; surely they will once again become champions of Spain and elude Mourinho of the success he so desperately craves at Madrid. Maybe it’s about time that Mourinho gave up the title of ‘The Special One’ as there is only room for one in world football; and that is Lionel Messi.

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