Gonzo Sports Weird News Digest; Manny Pacquiao, Cristiano Ronaldo and a Hull City flop

Manny Pacquiao has been in the news lately after voicing some pretty questionable opinions, he’s the lead story in my weird news digest.

Manny Pacquiao

It shouldn’t really have come as a huge surprise to hear Manny Pacquiao isn’t a massive fan of the gay community, indeed it wasn’t really new information either but nevertheless it made headlines when he made the following comments.

“Do you see animals mating with the same sex? Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female. If men mate with men and women mate with women they are worse than animals.”

He’s been dropped by some sponsors as a result but as I say, given that he’s running as a conservative Christian for a seat in the Philippines senate in May’s elections, it is no shock.  I don’t really want to judge the 37-year-old too much, obviously I disagree with his stance but I don’t like the idea of blindly condemning everyone who holds a different viewpoint to my own.

Manny Pacquiao, a humble man and a true gent, will go down as a boxing legend regardless. You can’t expect everyone on the planet to share all the same opinions when it comes to any issue, people forget that as recently as the 1980s homosexuality was illegal in parts of the UK and we haven’t written off everyone in history pre-that period as some kind of evil bigot, we put it down to the context of the times and in 2016 globally we’re still not all on the same page.  Having said that, the Philippines is apparently a fairly gay-friendly nation, which came as a bit of a surprise to me but there you go.  Spain and the Netherlands tie for first place in a poll run by Gallup with what seems to be somewhat vague criteria.  They suggest 87% of the populations in those countries are gay-friendly, which in a way backs up my point – is Pacquiao some kind of monster simply because he has some homophobic views (granted, pretty strong ones), regardless of whatever else he does?  If so does that mean 13% of the population of Holland (23% in the UK, 99% in Senegal…) are all horrendous people?  Nope. When you factor in that some of the LGBT contingent and gay-friendlies could also be ‘horrendous’ in that Venn diagram for one reason or another, that’s a big chunk of the seven billion people on this rock.

Call me a dreamer but I just don’t want to believe that many people are inherently bad, 5-10% I could manage but any more and it becomes a scary proposition. Whenever a person of note gets pulled up for holding prejudiced views I see it as an opportunity to publicly get them to alter their perspective through a coherent argument, rather than  bask in an assumed moral superiority through outright derision.  We may believe ourselves to be a progressive and enlightened society but we are prone to sensationalism, so rather than looking at this kind of thing rationally it gets overblown, and as a result Pacquiao simply releases a quick apology, one lacking in any integrity, and for him that’s the end of the matter I’d imagine.

Education and questioning people’s beliefs with a reasoned argument is, I find, much more effective than smug moral outrage so I thought I’d offer a zoology lesson for the champ.  Because, ignoring any cultural or religious teachings that he has been influenced by, the science he’s used to back up his argument is massively flawed – and that’s as good a place to start as any

You do see animals mating with the same sex, or at least getting their rocks off as mating has a reproduction implication.  Indeed, the good people at Wikipedia have an entry on the subject.

The Bonobo apes are apparently a ‘fully bisexual species’, while male giraffes are more likely to mount a fellow dude than a female for nsa fun times.  Even the super macho lion, a predator Pacquiao has been likened to in the past, isn’t adverse to a bit of boy on boy action (pictured above is a lion who may or may not be gay, perhaps he doesn’t want to put a label on his sexuality, who knows?). By far the freakiest thing wiki threw up is blowhole penetration – both hetro and homo – among captive Amazon dolphins, which would equate to nose-banging in humans and I’m not sure that’s even a thing.  Gerard Depardieu and Lea Michelle aside, few are blessed with the correct apparatus to indulge… but then again it could easily exist, there are some very strange people out there.

Former Hull City ‘star’ axed for exposing himself

Remember former Hull City striker Nick Proschwitz?  No me neither particularly, I recall a bit of fanfare when he first arrived back in 2012 but not any of his performances. He also had unremarkable spells with Barnsley, Brentford and Coventry, or at least I don’t remember them. The now 29-year-old returned to German outfit Paderborn ahead of the current season but was fired at the end of January for exposing himself to a female employee during a training camp after a night on the piss in January, according to German rag BILD who ran it with the excellent headline ‘Penis Shown? Fired Player’ (somehow it sounds more comical in German ‘Penis gezeigt? Spieler gefeuert’).

“Nick Proschwitz is not part of our squad. I can confirm the incident and drew the necessary conclusions,” Paderborn president Wilfried Finke told BILD.

“A player who exposes himself as a guest abroad before a lady, we can and will not tolerate.”

Fortunately for Proschwitz his antics haven’t resulted in the end of his career, as he’s since been taken on by Belgian outfit Sint-Truidense, presumably with a ‘keep the mouse in the house’ clause written into his contract.

Finally, Cristiano Ronaldo draws comparisons with LeBron James

While Steph Curry is being heralded as basketball’s version of Lionel Messi, check out this utterly shite Daily Mail article if you can be bothered, Ronaldo is starting to remind me of Cleveland Cavaliers whinger LeBron James.

James has hit out at his team-mates on various occasions over the course of his career and earlier this season he labelled their efforts ‘half-ass’, as well as questioning their motivation at relatively frequent intervals. In a LeBron-esque moan, Ronaldo threw his toys out of the pram this weekend saying “If we [his team-mates] were all at my level, maybe we would be [La Liga] leaders.”

I’ve got a bit of sympathy for him, but hitting out at his colleagues probably isn’t going to motivate them too much.  He has since said he was talking about fitness levels rather than quality but I’m not sure that necessarily helps matters, it is a bit like saying “I wasn’t calling them shit, just lazy”. Is being lazy better than being shit? I don’t know but probably not.

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Gonzo’s Betting Diary; back to it

 

After a short break the betting diary is back, sometimes when stuff isn’t going your way you’ve just got to take a step back.  Rather than go for a football treble this weekend there are a few things that look enticing so I’m taking a slightly different approach.

Carl Frampton to beat Scott Quigg on points

This is being billed as the very definition of a 50-50 fight by some pundits out there and maybe it is, but for me I think Frampton is the classier of the two and he may just shade it.  Frampton by decision or technical decision is a top price 15/8, or for the braver a split decision win in the Irishman’s favour is 9/1 with Ladbrokes and may be worth a cheeky dabble.

Stuttgart to beat Hannover to nil

Hannover just can’t score at the moment and have managed just one goal in their last five games, and none in their last four.  Stuttgart are in decent form and although they’re not clean-sheet specialists they might just keep one and take all three points tomorrow at 15/8.

Ireland to beat England

Ireland look hugely overpriced at 7/2 in this one, granted they’ve not won in the Six Nations yet but they’ve not played particularly badly either. England have won two but this will be the real test, as Scotland and Italy have been their previous opponents. If you want to keep it safe 11/10 with a +8 handicap is a gift but I’m prepared to take the risk.

As a treble that pays out at just over 34/1 using all the top prices.  Paddy Power stands out for this particular bet as they offer the best odds on both Ireland and Stuttgart, with a Frampton points win 7/4.  As always I’ll be backing this as singles and the multiple for the purposes of this diary even though I’ve not bothered to work out just how down I am in a while.

I’ve used Oddschecker for the best prices but I am not affiliated with them or any bookmakers in anyway.

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Gonzo Sports Digest; Pep Guardiola and a New Manchester City Era

Pep Guardiola, the world’s most coveted manager, he’s definitely going to lead Manchester City to multiple trophies, the Champions League and perhaps be the man who gives the blue half of Manchester real supremacy over rivals United for the first time in living memory.

Or at least my living memory. City have had the edge both in terms of silverware won and derbies of late.  But it has been fairly close, and given the ‘project’ at the Etihad and the upheaval at Old Trafford in recent years that gap should be wider.

But it isn’t, and City want a real dynasty.  Now they’ve made a bold move and put all their eggs in Pep Guardiola’s basket.  There is even the thinking they hired Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano specifically to snare Guardiola as manager, those guys arrived in 2012 so if that’s true the long game has worked out there.

There may be more than a smidgen of truth to that but it’s also unfair. Having done the same jobs at Barcelona; they had the pedigree, any help in future managerial appointments would be seen as just an added bonus at the point of hiring.  Maybe, that’s what I’d do if I was running a football club… I wouldn’t put key decisions in the hands of people I considered inadequate simply on the basis that years down the line their talented buddy might turn up.

If it was by design, forever destined to happen since Sheikh Mansour set sights on the Catalan, the pressure will be immense on the current Bayern boss.  Even if it wasn’t the demands aren’t particularly lowered.  The day after he arrived as City boss local paper the Manchester Evening News published an opinion piece entitled ‘Pep Guardiola’s arrival marks pivotal moment for Manchester as a football capital’ – make no mistake the expectation levels are through the roof, and this is his toughest gig to date.

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team was incredible

There is absolutely no denying that.  He coached that side to four La Liga titles, two Champions League crowns, the Copa del Rey twice… we all know the good points but it is the negatives people will point to if/when things hit the skids.

For one thing, it wasn’t necessarily a team he built.  The undeniable stars of Guardiola’s side were Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, all of whom had been with the Camp Nou club long before his arrival as manager.  His best signings were probably Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Javier Mascherano, and he knew the former pair from his time with the club as a player when they were in the youth ranks.  He’s also the man who allowed Yaya Toure to leave, and I doubt there are many City fans who think that was a great idea.

For another, Guardiola knew the club through and through; he is Catalan (he was a Catalonia international as well as a Spanish one), he came through the youth system and in total spent 17 years as a player there. Add to that he was already coaching the B team before he became the main man and it starts to feel as if destiny had decreed he was always going to take that role and achieve something remarkable.

I don’t want to take anything away from his achievements – all trophies aside that team is without question the greatest club side I’ve ever witnessed.  But there were certain mitigating factors that helped that process and advantages unique to that particular situation.

He knew that squad inside out, they were his people and he saw a beautiful moment to take that further.  It was an historic, momentous and unprecedented period in modern football – that team broke the mold, then ground it up into tiny pieces that blew away in the wind.  It was perhaps so divine it can never be repeated but everywhere he goes people will want him too.

Bayern Munich offers little insight on Pep Guardiola

I see Bayern Munich as both a gift from above and a poisoned chalice for a manager.  On the one hand, it is hard to see anyone else winning the Bundesliga title, but on the other the Champions League is the only real target as a result.  There are no legitimate rivals domestically for the Bavarians at present and anything other than a league win will be seen as a monumental fuck up.  Previous bosses had Borussia Dortmund to deal with but they faltered as Guardiola arrived and no one filled that void.

It couldn’t have gone any better for Guardiola in some ways but in another it robbed him of a chance to prove himself.  Europe at this time is the true barometer for Bayern and that hasn’t come easy, in his first year they were the holders and no one has ever successfully defended that title, while last year Bayern had big injuries at the wrong time.

But no one cares about excuses, so if he doesn’t win it this year he won’t go down as a true Bayern legend. Regardless of whatever records he sets/has set along the way.  He’ll go down as a success but not a legend. The manner of his exit hasn’t really helped in that respect either.

His transfer record will again be scrutinised but not necessarily in terms of whether or not his captures were successes.  Guardiola made some great signings for Bayern such as Douglas Costa, Robert Lewandowski and Xabi Alonso, but his activity has been fairly limited as he inherited a fantastic squad anyway, so instead chose to make small improvements rather than big changes.  That may not be an option at City, and even if it is it might not be one he wants to take up.

At Bayern the league title was almost a ‘granted’ every year he was there, any further silverware was a bonus.  He took over from Jupp Heykes after a treble that included Europe’s crown, matching that would be hard but losing that amount of ground would have been careless.  History will view it as a safe gig for Guardiola even if that is slightly unfair, unless Carlo Ancelotti screws it up when he takes over and I’m going to suggest that’s unlikely.

The problems the Premier League and Manchester City pose for Guardiola

City are by no means a safe choice for Guardiola, I’m not sure they’re even the safest Premier League side to go for.  At Barcelona and Bayern the squads needed tweaking upon his arrival, at City they need an overhaul.  Toure will seemingly be gone, the thinking is he doesn’t want to play under Guardiola and in any case the new boss may think it is time for a change in regards to the Ivorian.

Vincent Kompany’s injury problems of late mean a new centre-half is needed in the summer, indeed it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise to see the whole defence overhauled.  Essentially I’m expecting the biggest rebuilding job Guardiola has ever faced. He then has to get his new players integrated into the team and working as a unit before the new season,  which of course brings his first experience of Premier League football.

At Barcelona he only had Real Madrid as true rivals, they were admittedly formidable foes but there is only one Real Madrid.  At Bayern there were no major challengers, and that had as much to do with the shortcomings of the other Bundesliga sides, if not more, as it did with Guardiola’s own efforts.  In the Premier League there could be four or five teams still in the title mix by December quite comfortably in any given season, he hasn’t experienced that kind of rivalry before.

This may be viewed as a criticism of Guardiola but it shouldn’t be seen that way, my point is he has a tough task ahead of him and I’m already sensing a few getting carried away.  There is every reason to both expect and demand success but walking into English football and dominating from the offset is easier said than done.  It goes without saying that I’m looking forward to Pep Guardiola gracing the Premier League, and I’d love to see him build something special at City – but there are reasons to be cautious, other than Bayern winning the Bundesliga there are never any guarantees in football.

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Gonzo Sports Digest; Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 Conundrum

Being the England manager is a pretty thankless task.  Everyone has an opinion, expectation levels are through the roof and inevitably you’re going to have to make some tough calls when picking a final 23 for a tournament.

Roy Hodgson has been England boss since 2012 and I’d argue his squad selection for Euro 2016 will be the toughest of his international tenure so far.  In 2012 he’d only just arrived for the Championships after Fabio Capello resigned and no one really fancied the Three Lions in the build-up.  The last World Cup was a total bust, but again few gave England much of a shot of winning it over in Brazil and here we go again, another tournament with Hodgson in charge.

This time though, he’s got some incredibly hard choices to make and there is a belief England can do something in France, or at least give a good account of themselves. I think the general public are slightly more optimistic than pre 2012 or 2014; they’ve got a favourable draw (arguably as good as it could have been aside from having Wales in the group), players in form and the tournament is taking place in a neighbouring country.

But this particular tournament doesn’t just give Hodgson his toughest squad selection, I’d suggest this is the hardest job any England manager has had for a long time.  Gone are the stalwarts like Beckham, Terry, Ferdinand, Lampard and Gerrard, with Wayne Rooney almost a sole reminder of that period when a core of players were simply undroppable. Wilshere, Sturridge and probably Welbeck should be in that bracket but all are injury doubts ahead of Euro 2016, or at the very least Hodgson could voice legitimate fears over fitness and match practice as a reason not to include them.

Everyone has an opinion on the national team and in the build-up to and aftermath of his squad announcement the dissenting voices will be heard across the board, from pundits and ex-players and journalists/media types to anyone with Twitter and anyone in the pub.  There is a thinking that expectations have dropped considerably among the England support, highlighted in this Telegraph article about Hodgson’s appearance on Match of the Day, and that may be so – but that will change as we get closer to Euro 2016.  I’m a massively pessimistic England fan, but even I can’t help but think ‘what if?’ as we get closer to a big event in my weaker moments. And if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.

Granted, the choices he has to make are fairly good ones to have, in terms of there are a few players available for most positions. To come up with his best 23 he may well need some intense moments of clarity, the kind that only come a during a hallucinogen heavy spirit quest, but I doubt that’s Roy’s thing… and it could lead to the conclusion England have no chance whoever he calls on, we can’t risk that.

Anyway, let’s get down to his probably selection issues.

Goalkeepers

This is the one area that looks pretty straightforward; Manchester City’s Joe Hart, Southampton’s Fraser Forster and Stoke’s Jack Butland.  Burnley stopper Tom Heaton will be unlucky to miss out but you can’t really argue with Forster’s form since his return for Saints – some will probably want him as first-choice ahead of Hart – and Butland’s been consistent, and at times excellent, for the Potters throughout the season.

Defenders

Here is gets a little trickier for Roy, we may have a rough idea of who he will take – but his starting four are less certain.  Luke Shaw’s injury keeps him out of the picture but there are a loads of options at left-back – Leighton Baines, Ryan Bertrand, Kieran Gibbs and Danny Rose.  The two who miss out there will be unlucky, as will the one who ends up as the back-up.

If both stay fit Kyle Walker and Nathaniel Clyne will probably be his right-backs, but at centre-half Hodgson has some tough calls to make.  His choice, or at least the justification for one of, has been made somewhat easier by Kurt Zouma’s injury at Chelsea.  Zouma had taken Gary Cahill’s spot and I’m fairly sure Hodgson would have gone for the former Bolton man regardless of whether or not he was an automatic starter at Chelsea, but the fact he is now a regular again, albeit through default, makes it simpler.

Everton pair Phil Jagielka and John Stones will also probably go, but the final spot is harder to fill.  Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are seemingly battling each other for that place but Scott Dann and Ryan Shawcross should be a part of the conversation and West Brom’s Craig Dawson deserves a mention.  That aside the bigger questions regarding his central defence will be on the first-choice pairing rather than the four he actually decides to take, and that debate will rumble on from the Euro 2016 kick-off until their elimination.

Midfield

This is where Hodgson’s mindfuck really starts, with a rich pool of talent to choose from and a lot of it largely untested (in the most recent squad only one midfielder, Raheem Sterling, had reached 20 caps) .   If fit, Jack Wilshere should probably go but with the form of others this term that’s going to rile a big section of the England fans even if he starts Arsenal’s next game and is a regular starter for the rest of the season.  Other than Wilshere there aren’t any ‘well he’s definitely in’ type of players in midfield.  James Milner probably is but would there be an outcry if he missed out?  I’m not so sure.  Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana have been in and around the squad for ages but they’re hardly battle-hardened mainstays just yet, and that not only opens the door it knocks if off its hinges when it comes to whittling down to eight or nine.

Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater has been quietly instrumental in their title charge but is there a place for him?  He hasn’t had a look in yet and if he isn’t in the squad for the upcoming friendly games he almost certainly won’t get one regardless of what he does for the Foxes in the rest of the season.  I’d argue he’s having a better year than some who are likely to be called upon and it is interesting to see what risks Hodgson will take.  Dele Alli has forced his way in now can any other can do the same? There are a few tempting gambles for Roy out there in the midfield area.

Strikers

While the midfield might be a conundrum, the striking choices are clearer – but that doesn’t make them any easier.  There are calls from some quarters for Wayne Rooney to get the chop but I just cannot see that happening.  For one thing, he’s Hodgson’s captain, he’s been capped over 100 times and he’s the all-time record goalscorer, those stats may inflate his current importance a tad but they hold more than enough weight to ensure he’ll be going.  Rooney does owe us one and this is probably his last chance. I can envisage him going to Russia in 2018 but I can’t imagine him being viewed as a potentially talismanic figure by that stage if he is in that squad, if anyone still sees that in him now.  For me he’s only really had one good tournament and that was his first, Euro 2004, he’s also only scored one World Cup goal in 11 matches. The romantic in me thinks he’ll want to put that right, the other 99.99% of me is preparing for another abject showing.

Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck would normally be automatic calls but there are huge injury doubts over the duo.  Welbeck may have scored the winner against Leicester but let’s not get too carried away… those minutes were his first competitively since April and that goal was more about Mesut Ozil’s delivery than a back-to-his-best Welbeck at the top of his game.  Sturridge is pure quality but his issues are more concerning, considering he’s come back and then disappeared again during his recovery, and until he’s had a good run of games can’t be counted on just yet.

What about Theo Walcott? Does he go as a forward or is he put in as a midfielder, if he goes at all. I suspect the Arsenal man might go in as a midfielder, which adds to the difficulty in that area for the boss.  If Rooney, Welbeck and Sturridge are deemed fit and selected it could lead to a straight call between Spurs man Harry Kane and man-of-the-moment Jamie Vardy.

If it does boil down to this; this is one of Hodgson’s ‘good choices’, but an incredibly tough one.  Like being told you can take a free shot and punch either Piers Morgan or Donald Trump full on in the face, but you can’t smack both.  I’ve not even mentioned Troy Deeney or Jermain Defoe but can either be completely ruled out?  I don’t think so just yet, although I doubt they’ll be heading to France personally.

This is already far too long so I’ll leave it here. With injury issues, and uncapped in-form players making statements Roy Hodgson has got more thinking to do than he’s ever had as we await that final 23 for Euro 2016.

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Gonzo Sports Digest; hold tight

I’ve got a few articles in the pipeline but unfortunately I’m a bit too busy with paid work at the moment to get down to it.  In the meantime, here are a few things worth reading/checking out and hopefully I’ll be able to get something decent done in the next few days.

Adam Johnson trial

I was thinking about doing something on former Sunderland winger Adam Johnson but it’s all a bit too depressing, besides there’s enough stuff out there anyway.  If you are keen to follow the soon-to-be convicted sex offender’s trial (that’s cool to say yeah? he’s plead guilty to two charges… fuck it – his legal team are probably too busy to deal with the likes of me at the moment) this Guardian reporter is live tweeting from the trial.  Be warned, it is pretty dark.

Euro 2016

Wondering how France got such an easy ride in terms of the draw?  I’m not, that’s because the Irish Independent published a cracking article about how it works before the draw was actually made.  You can read it here.

NFL

I’m not really an NFL fan but ‘Deflategate’ captured my attention.  Why does everyone hate the New England Patriots? What’s going on with Tom Brady?  How can his wife be both super-hot and look a bit like a dude?  The Rolling Stone answers two of those three questions here.

Footballers robbing a casino

Some Hannover 96 youth players tried to rob a casino, madness, but chickened out.  Here is the story via ESPN.  If I was to hazard a guess I’d say perhaps they lost a shit load at said casino and tried to get their money back the only way they knew how, by breaking in and fucking stuff up.  I’ve been tempted before, hell I’d probably have done it myself if actual casinos let me in – most of my gambling is done from my couch in my pants and you can’t commit an armed robbery on your own laptop.

That’s all for now, hold tight I’ll be back with something more substantial soon.

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Gonzo’s Betting Diary; again, so close

Only Swansea let me down last time for what would have been a decent treble, but again backing all as singles as well as the accumulator yielded a small profit so I am getting closer.  Again I’m going to be brave this week and go with three odds against away picks.

Norwich v West Ham

I’m starting to worry about the Canaries.  They’ve hit a sticky patch at the wrong time and have lost their last seven games in succession, including their previous three at Carrow Road.  The Hammers were taken the distance by Liverpool in midweek but that was on Tuesday and they shouldn’t be too fatigued by their cup exploits by the time 3pm on Saturday rolls around.  I’ll admit I’m not massively confident on this one but at a top price 9/4 West Ham are worth a punt for me.

Blackburn v Hull

Blackburn are in terrible form and FA Cup wins over Newport and Oxford don’t detract from the fact they’re without a victory in the Championship since early December.  Hull saw a six match winning run come to an end at Burnley last weekend but I expect them to bounce back with all three points at Ewood Park at a top price 7/5.

Reading v Burnley

The Royals are unbeaten in five at home but Burnley look like a side with their eye on the prize and I think the Clarets may just shade this one.  The away side are pushing for a top two spot and Reading’s season is petering out now, with the promotion places a bit too far away and relegation not really a worry either.  Burnley are a top price 11/5 and worth a go at those odds.

As a multiple that pays out at a very tidy 23/1 or thereabouts. As always I’ve used Oddschecker for the best prices but am not affiliated with them in any way.

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Championship Relegation Contenders

A couple of weeks ago it looked like there was only one relegation spot in the Championship left to avoid, now it could be any three from six or seven.  Bolton looked doomed and an anticipated January exodus could have been the final nail in the coffin.  Aside from more points on the board, Charlton appeared almost as safe a bet but the Wanderers and Addicks have given themselves a fighting chance and their causes have been aided by rivals dropping points.

I’d suggest Blackburn may just be out of it with two games in hand over most and 31 points, six clear of third-from-bottom Rotherham, despite the exit of Jordan Rhodes. It is worth mentioning the Rovers are without a win in the league since December 11th and if that kind of form continues they could yet find themselves in trouble, but for now they’ve got a bit of breathing space.

Fulham

The Cottagers have 29 points and a game in hand over all five of the sides below them, but like Blackburn their form has to be a cause for concern – they’ve taken just nine points from the last 45 available.  Fulham do have a bit of talent in their squad and keeping hold of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele last month can’t have hurt their survival chances.  My gut feeling is they’ll be ok, and facing a few of their relegation rivals at home in the run-in could work in their favour.

Key remaining fixtures; Blackburn (a), Charlton (h), Bristol City (h), MK Dons (h), Bolton (h).

Relegation odds; 8/1

MK Dons

I had MK Dons down as relegation fodder at the start of the season but they’re making a decent fight of it and before a ball had been kicked in the Championship the Dons would probably have been fairly happy to be three points clear at this stage.  Boss Karl Robinson has got a tight-knit group together but from what I’ve seen there isn’t a huge amount of quality there, but then again they’re not carrying anyone either.  They’ve responded well to defeat at Bolton and a heavy loss to Chelsea by drawing with Cardiff and Middlesbrough – having been agonisingly close to winning in the latter.  Home form will be the key if they do avoid an immediate return, because they’ve been pretty woeful on the road.

Key remaining fixtures; Bristol City (h), Blackburn (a), Charlton (a), Rotherham (h).

Relegation odds; 3/1 (with NetBet, most are around 2/1)

Bristol City

With money behind them Bristol City will be very much a club on the up if they survive this season but at the moment that looks to be a very big if.  The Robins tried to make a few deals happen in January but as it transpired the biggest change was a switch in manager, with former midfielder Lee Johnson coming in for the axed Steve Cotterill (technically Johnson was appointed in February). They picked up a very important win at Charlton last time out and perhaps a new boss burst will see them pull clear in the next few weeks.  In Luke Freeman they’ve got a game-changer in midfield but there are big holes in the squad and goals have been hard to come by, as have wins on home soil. As things are I think they’ll be in the second tier next season but they are in a precarious position.

Key remaining fixtures; MK Dons (a), Bolton (h), Rotherham (h), Blackburn (a).

Relegation odds; 9/2

In the danger zone…

Rotherham United

Like Bristol City immediately above them, the Millers have decided to make a change at the top with the sacking of Neil Redfearn following a damaging defeat at Bolton.  There is a very fine line between satisfactory and disastrous at the wrong end of the Championship and Rotherham were incredibly close to getting a decent result last time out but ended up with a bad one.  After going behind early on, they probably had the better of the chances and were hit with a killer blow late on.  Defeats to the Addicks and Wanderers could prove costly, as well as giving the bottom two a lifeline, and the million dollar question is what impact will whoever succeeds Redfearn have?  Until that question is answered, any kind of guess on their fate would be nothing more than a stab in the dark.

They do have some quality in the squad, whether they have enough to stay-up remains to be seen and they arguably have the toughest run-in of all the struggling teams with the likes of Hull, Middlesbrough and Burnley – the current top three – still to come.

Key remaining fixtures; Bristol City (a), MK Dons (a), Blackburn (h).

Relegation odds; 19/20 (this is a huge anomaly with Winner, most have the Millers at around 1/2 to go down)

Bolton Wanderers

At the start of January the Wanderers looked destined for League One.  There was no prospect of any new arrivals to aid their cause, the threat of administration and a points deduction loomed large, manager Neil Lennon was in the tabloids and many expected their squad to be decimated. Zach Clough was close to Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday wanted Mark Davies and Charlton had an eye on Liam Feeney but somehow all three remained with football’s latest crisis club.

However, seven points from the last nine available gives cause for optimism and they’re now just four points adrift of safety.  There may be some quality in the squad, the aforementioned Clough and Davies for example, but the lack of a goalscorer and a run-in to rival Rotherham’s has to be a huge worry.  My head is telling me they’re going down, but stranger things have happened than this team surviving and they’re not such a lost cause anymore.  Administration remains a possibility and that would be the end of any survival bid, but until then they’ve got a puncher’s chance at the very least.

Key remaining fixtures; Bristol City (a), Charlton (h), Fulham (a).

Relegation odds; 2/9

Charlton Athletic

The Addicks had been on a torrid run with just four points from 30 available but a win over Rotherham has at least kept them in the fight.  Like Bolton there are some off-field issues having an impact on the pitch at the Valley, and a home defeat to Bristol City last time out was a big blow as they failed to build on that win over the Millers.  However, they did strengthen in January with the captures of the comically named Rod Fanni and Arsenal starlet Yaya Sanogo (‘starlet’ has been used loosely, he’s 23).  Fanni was playing for Marseille last season before a move to Al-Arabi and was a tidy midfielder in his day, but I’ve not seen the veteran play for a good few years so can’t really make any kind of guess as to what kind of impact he will have.  Sanogo looked decent in patches at Crystal Palace last season and may prove to be a shrewd addition, at the very least he provides another option in attack for a frontline who have struggled for goals this term.

That said, it still doesn’t look good and they have some tough games to go, but it isn’t over yet for the south Londoners.

Key remaining fixtures; Fulham (a), Mk Dons (h), Bolton (a).

Relegation odds; 1/7

I was going to put my neck on the line and go for the three I think will go down but after writing this I’m less sure than when I started.  I still think Bolton and Charlton have left themselves too much to do but am not prepared to give up on either just yet, either way we could be set for a battle in the second tier that looked highly unlikely not too long ago.

Championship relegation odds (Oddschecker)

Championship table, form and fixtures (SoccerSTATS)

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Gonzo’s Betting Diary; so close

Only Crystal Palace let me down in midweek but I still made a small profit given the prices for both Leicester and West Ham.  Maybe that elusive win is close, anyway here we go.

Swansea v Crystal Palace

The Swans head into this one unbeaten in three and looking like a team making a real survival push after their early season struggles.  Palace, meanwhile, are bottom of the form table with no points from their last five games and have been hit with a double injury blow this week, with James McArthur out for the season and Jason Puncheon facing a spell on the sidelines.

Swansea are 13/10 to take all three points and I’ll be adding them to my treble.

Stoke v Everton

I find it hard to back against the Potters at home but they’ve endured a difficult few weeks.  Stoke were knocked out of both cups in the space of a couple of days and then outclassed at Manchester United in midweek, and Everton could add to their woes on Saturday.  Ross Barkley is in good form and Romelu Lukaku should be involved, although he is a concern with a back injury.

Everton have been inconsistent all season and they’ve managed to wreck a few of my bets but like the fool I am I can’t resist them at 15/8 at the Britannia.

Burnley v Hull

This should be a cracker in the Championship on Saturday between two sides battling for promotion.  Hull have the advantage at the top of the table with a four point lead over the Clarets in third spot but the fact this one is at Turf Moor might swing it in Burnley’s favour.

Hull have won their last three on the road but those games weren’t against anyone with the class of Burnley.  The Clarets humbled Derby 4-1 in their last home game and could pick up another big win at 45/23 this weekend.

As always I’ve used Oddschecker for the top prices and as a treble this comes in at 18.45.

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Gonzo Sports Zine; Leicester City played a blinder in January

Leicester City are bona-fide title contenders, you don’t go into February as the league leaders without being so, but even now people aren’t fully backing the Foxes.  Perhaps they’re right, maybe the greater strength in depth at the Emirates and Etihad stadiums will prove the difference over the course of the season, time will tell but I think they’ve been done the right thing in the January window.

A striker was ‘understood’ to be the target, based on the assumption you can’t rely on Jamie Vardy alone to get the goals.  A lazy conclusion in this case, they’ve got players chipping in with the odd goal or two from various positions, but there were credible claims of interest in Chelsea’s Loic Remy, while Southampton’s Graziano Pelle, AC Milan’s M’Baye Niang and Eder, who eventually joined Inter from Sampdoria, were all mooted as targets along with a few others.

Some big names indeed, but instead the Foxes snared two up and comers in midfielder Daniel Armartey, 21, and 19-year-old winger Demarai Gray from FC Copenhagen and Birmingham City respectively in their only January deals.  The former has been scouted by loads of top level European clubs but its Leicester who have decided to take the plunge with a £5million swoop, while Gray was incredibly highly-rated by the Blues and came in for just under £4million.  Both are signings for the long-term, rather than players who are expected to make an impact this season and that may seem strange considering what Leicester are going for.

There is always a temptation to recruit in January regardless of where you are in the table.  Near the bottom and the thinking is the current squad could do with a boost, at the top and its ‘maybe one or two could be just what we need to keep this up’.  Instead Leicester have made what could prove to be shrewd moves, or calculated risks, with a focus on the future.  Gray and Amartey will play some part this season, maybe even become regulars – but the expectation levels on the pair are modest for what’s left of the campaign.

This tells me that manager Claudio Ranieri has decided he has either inherited or managed to build a harmonious dressing room and with what they’ve achieved so far he isn’t going to risk fucking that up.  Some pundits may be a bit afraid to actually tip them for the title but they’ve just beaten Liverpool 2-0 and are showing no signs of slowing down.  I’ve actually been reasonably impressed with Remy, to use an example of one of their apparent ‘targets’, this season – despite not being given a look in he has still put the effort in and probably done about as much as he can with the few minutes that have been thrown his way.  Maybe he would have been a good a fit, but then again maybe he wouldn’t and Ranieri didn’t want to take that risk.

Like many neutrals I’m willing Leicester to keep going and am amazed by what they’ve done so far.  The Premier League may be a little bit more unpredictable than most of Europe’s other top leagues but it is still the usual suspects who fight for the title, until now – what the Foxes are doing at the moment would have been unthinkable in August. Admittedly, the pessimist in me is still aware they could quite easily drop well out of the race and even out of the top four in a short space of time if they do lose a bit of form or a few key men.  That is why team spirit and a togetherness is so important in this battle for the east Midlanders, and you don’t want to ruin that by bringing in someone you’re not sure about.  Whether Leicester have their eye on the prize, the top four or are just taking it game by game it doesn’t really matter, what matters is Ranieri feels he has already got the balance bang on.  This Leicester side is what you might call a ‘proper team’, they all play for each other and there are no egos.

I said before either inherited or built the harmony but that was just to pay lip service to Nigel Pearson’s previous tenure.  I have a lot of respect for the former Leicester boss, this is essentially his team and they pulled off an incredible escape under his guidance last term – but perhaps that escape wouldn’t have been needed with a different coach.  That’s what I took from their run at the end of 2014/15 and the title fight has only strengthened that belief.  At the other end of the spectrum and now in the dugout is Ranieri; a fairly relaxed guy, who doesn’t get drawn into things and has a calm and collected head.

This is exactly what is needed in a manager in the scenario Leicester find themselves in; a grounding and reassuring influence.  Don’t believe the hype, believe in what you’re doing and the results will come.  Now cast your mind back to last season and think about Pearson grasping Crystal Palace’s James McArthur in some kind of bizarre choke hold because he accidentally slid into him (or just watch the video below).  In his post-match interview I recall the then Foxes boss as saying something along the lines of he ‘knew how to handle himself’, but it was painstakingly obvious he didn’t, albeit in a broader sense than he meant at the time.  There would have been some kind if Kevin Keegan “I’d love it if we beat them” moment, or worse, from him by now and that would have been the end of any title hopes.

Back in the summer when Ranieri was appointed the Leicester fans seemed fairly sceptical over the hiring of the Italian.  Those fears were long gone way before now, and he has played another managerial masterstroke in the January window.  By resisting the pressure to make some kind of marquee move he has kept his faith in his squad, and that has to bring further confidence to a team who are already flying.

Gray and Amartey will push the players in their positions and maybe get in the team, but if they do it will be on merit rather than ‘they paid money for him to he has to play’. As far as can be expected in the Premier League there’s no pressure on those guys, nor have they arrived anticipating automatic selection.  That could well prove to be a good thing come the end of the season.

A lot of January deals have a knee jerk feeling about them; if Leicester couldn’t get the striker they wanted would it be better to go for maybe a second, third or fourth choice option or to keep the faith with the players who have got them to this point in the first place?  For me, Ranieri has made the correct call by resisting the urge to splurge and if Leicester do finish in the top four, or even claim the title, that decision will be vindicated.

I may have drifted off course a bit during this but the overall picture I’m trying to create is that of a siege mentality within the Leicester City dressing room.  Ranieri has the role of the general and at the moment all his troops are pulling in the same direction.  Bringing in new faces could have reinforced his squad or they could have destabilised it, and the wily old fox has been brave by sticking rather than twisting in a display of courage that deserves to be rewarded come the end of the campaign.

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Gonzo’s Betting Diary; flogging a dead horse

All in all my weekend picks weren’t too bad, well two of the four came in anyway.  I got it wrong with Oxford, they were easily brushed aside by Blackburn, and Rotherham were hammered by Charlton so the two that didn’t come in failed spectacularly.

Which is pretty fitting… seeing as how this whole enterprise is going. I’m either too stubborn or too stupid to give up so here we go again.

Leicester v Liverpool

Liverpool have played twice since Leicester’s last game, a 3-0 crushing of Stoke, and one of those went the distance as Stoke pushed them to penalties.  A trip to the league leaders is probably exactly what the Anfield side don’t want on Tuesday but that’s the hand they’ve been dealt.  The Foxes are 17/10 and worth a dabble at that price.

West Ham v Aston Villa

Villa took a battering at home to Man City in the FA Cup at the weekend and now face another tough game at West Ham.  The Hammers have actually performed better against the bigger teams this season but they should be too good for Villa, especially at home.  The hosts are unbeaten in 10 at Upton Park in all competitions and three of their last five in east London have been wins.  At 19/20 they’re good value to pick up another three points as they continue their European push.

Crystal Palace v Bournemouth

Palace have been in a sticky patch recently but a win over Stoke at the weekend may have been the start of a resurgence.  The Cherries are no mugs away from home and this could be a close one but at 13/8 I reckon Pardew’s men are worth a punt.

As a treble this comes in at just under 13/1, as per I’ve used Oddschecker for the best prices but have no affiliation with them.

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