It’s been a little bit of a bumpy ride for several Euro soccer powerhouses at the beginning of the 2012-13 domestic campaign. While order can eventually be expected to be restored around the continent, not even the shrewdest of analysts are sure when the “cream” will eventually rise to the top.
Early action in England and Spain has been indicative in the first month of the new season. We’ll see if the form chart begins to take on a more familiar look this weekend.
In the EPL, while there are some familiar names (Chelsea, Man United, Man City, Arsenal) near the top of the table, Liverpool is nowhere to be found among them. Instead, the Reds are languishing just above the drop zone as the situation has planted seeds of panic among the Anfield faithful.
Sunday marks a chance for Liverpool to make a much-needed early-season statement as the longtime tormentor Manchester United makes the short trip to Anfield.
A check with European wagering outlets notes that this match is regarded as close to a toss-up, with United ever-so-slightly favored and priced at 13/8 on the win, with the take-back on a Liverpool win at 17/10. The draw price is an interesting 23/10 for the 8:30 a.m. (ET) kickoff, to be televised live in the states by the FOX Soccer Channel.
Liverpool could certainly use a win after managing just two draws in four outings at the outset of the EPL campaign. Entering the weekend, the Reds sit just above the drop-zone on goal differential at a measly two points. Although it is still early days in the season, and no one expects the Reds to be involved in the relegation fight, Liverpool has already put itself into catch-up mode regarding European placement for next term.
Problems early for the Reds have had to do with scoring, or lack thereof in Liverpool’s case. The addition of former Roma hit man Fabio Borini over the summer has yet to ignite the attack, with Borini yet to find the back of the net in four games. In fact, Liverpool has scored just three goals in four games, and needed Uruguayan Luis Suarez to convert in the 71st minute last weekend to merely salvage a 1-1 draw vs. punchless Sunderland.
New manager Brendan Rodgers, after a successful run at Swansea, is having a tough time making the pieces fit, and the shortage of striker options after Andy Carroll’s summer loan to West Ham has made it imperative for Borini or Suarez to pick up the scoring slack. Thus far, results are quite inconclusive.
Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man U has recovered rather nicely from its 1-0 season-opening loss at the other corner of Stanley Park against Everton. The Red Devils have run off three straight EPL wins since and have scored 10 goals in the process.
As if Man U needed more attack options, the summer addition of ex-Arsenal Dutch striker Robin Van Persie, who led EPL goalscorers last term, is already paying dividends. Van Persie has set a torrid pace with four goals in the first four games, and expect Wayne Rooney to pass a fitness test and be available after missing some early action.
One angle to watch this season at Man U is Ferguson’s apparent desire to rotate goalies David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard, who have each been told that for the moment there will be no number one keeper at Old Trafford this term. Both will be seeing action as the Red Devils proceed in the EPL mand Champs League throughout the fall.
Liverpool played Man U tough, as usual, last season, forcing a 1-1 draw at Anfield before losing a bitter 2-1 decision at Old Trafford later in the 2011-12 term.
Meanwhile, action in Spain on Sunday focuses upon Madrid, but not in the usual high-profile locales of Estadio Santiago Bernabeu or Estadio Vicente Calderon. Instead, eyes will be on the small Estadio Campo de Futbol Vallecas in the southeast portion of town where upstart Rayo Vallecano plays host to all-mighty Real Madrid.
A check with European wagering outlets notes the Bernabeu crew to be priced rather prohibitively on the win at 3/10, with the take-back on Rayo at 8/1. Draw prices are posted at 9/2 for the 2:30 p.m. (ET) kickoff.
When speaking of Euro heavyweight sides struggling in the early stages of the current campaign, Real Madrid is one of the entries to which we refer. Jose Mourinho’s club is off to an extremely slow start in Liga, with only a win and a draw to show for the first four matches, good for only 12th place in the domestic table heading into this weekend. Last weekend was another difficult one for Mourinho’s troops as they lost 1-0 vs. Sevilla.
Controversy, no stranger to the Bernabeu, has been raging the past couple of weeks, first with Cristiano Ronaldo’s reprisal of his age-old diva act after complaining about not feeling “comfortable” in Madrid. As for Mourinho, he seems intent to carry through on his threat to bench star players who are underperforming; first-team defender Sergio Ramos did not see the pitch in last Tuesday’s 3-2 Champs League win over Man City, although Mourinho did not indicate the move was anything more than a one-off.
Mourinho is hoping that win over Man City might jump-start the Los Blancos, especially the dramatic manner in which it was earned after Cristiano Ronaldo’s late strike in the 86th minute proved the match-winner. Plenty of firepower still exists within the lineup beyond Ronaldo, as the likes of Gonzalo Huguain and Karim Benzema are still in the fold. The strike force figures to have even more bite after the summer addition of attacking midfielder Luka Modric from Tottenham.
But Rayo is nothing if not scrappy, and in fact sits above Real Madrid in the Liga table entering this weekend. Rayo has two wins and a draw from its first four matches, good for seven points and a respectable sixth place in the early-season Liga table.
Rayo is also proving lively, able to score goals, reflected in last weekend’s 4-3 loss to Euro Super Cup winner Atletico Madrid. Rayo was almost able to match Atletico goal-for-goal thanks to efforts from Serbian striker Andrija Debilasic and the precocious 20-year-old Leo, who have each scored two goals in the early going.
Real Madrid won both meetings vs. its crosstown foe a year ago, but had a lot more trouble in Vallecas when struggling for a 1-0 victory. Mourinho’s side had less trouble at the Bernabeu earlier in the season when rolling to a 6-2 triumph.