Muscat pleased with draw

Coach Kevin Muscat was delighted with Melbourne Victory's commitment in their 1-1 draw with Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champions League.

Jai Ingham cancelled out Huang Bowen's opener in the first half at AAMI Park as the home side collected their first point in Group F.

With the reigning A-League champions making eight changes from their 1-0 defeat at Adelaide United at the weekend, Muscat fielded an inexperienced team against the Chinese side.

Victory had conceded nine goals and scored just two across their first three games in the ACL this year. Four of them had come in the first meeting of the teams in Guangzhou two weeks earlier but this time they performed well to secure a point.

"I'm really pleased for the players that were out there obviously; they worked really hard, understanding the quality of the opponent," said Muscat.

"We changed things a little bit in the way we set up and we created enough chances to obviously get the goal and had some more opportunities as well so it was a pleasing night."

The coach was delighted with the way Victory stuck to their game plan against Guangzhou, who are second in the group two points behind Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

"We were very disciplined and understood how we were going to try and gain ascendancy and gain an advantage tonight and with a plan, if you haven't got a certain amount of desire and a maximum commitment, a plan is worth nothing so tonight, very pleasing," he added.

"There's a challenge to some of the boys that are going to have to back up on Saturday and there's a lot of players who, there'll be players who come into the team and the challenge is laid down to everybody now."

Melbourne Victory are 5/1 to win the A-League Grand Final and 7/4 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 11/8 with the draw 13/5.

Ingham earns point for Victory

Melbourne Victory fielded an inexperienced side for their Asian Champions League home clash with Guangzhou Evergrande but were able to pick up their first point of the competition with a 1-1 draw.

Kevin Muscat's side are out of contention to qualify for the knockout phase, having lost their first three games including a 4-0 thrashing in Guangzhou earlier this month.

Muscat made eight changes from the team that lost their A-League game with Adelaide United four days earlier, saving both Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen for A-League finals duty.

Terry Antonis, who had missed the China trip with a knee injury, set up the first chance of the match in the opening two minutes at AAMI Park but saw Kenny Athiu head wide.

Antonis then tested keeper Liu Dianzuo with a well-struck shot after linking up with Elvis Kamsoba and Josh Hope.

Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas, restored to the starting side, did well to deny former Tottenham and Barcelona midfielder Paulinho but Guangzhou took the lead midway through the first half.

Paulinho picked up the ball deep in his own half and drove forward before cutting the ball back for Huang Bowen to slot past Thomas.

The home side were level within two minutes, thanks to Jai Ingham. The forward, who has only started one of Victory's 26 A-League games this season, grabbed his chance to fire home when Antoni's pass to Athiu was deflected into his path by defender Gao Zhunyi.

Thomas gathered at the second attempt as he dealt with a cross from He Chao before the interval and, in the second half, parried a drive from Yang Liyu before Zhang Linpeng fired into the side-netting.

Paulinho headed wide five minutes from time, with Guangzhou's final chance seeing Talisca scrape the post with a free-kick.

Melbourne Victory are 5/1 to win the A-League Grand Final and 7/4 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 11/8 with the draw 13/5.

Sky Blues still in the hunt

Sydney FC kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the Asian Champions League knockout phase when they held Shanghai SIPG to a 2-2 draw in China.

Steve Corica's side have yet to win after four rounds of the group stages but have drawn three games, including back-to-back clashes with the Chinese team.

Adam le Fondre, who scored in the 3-3 draw with the Chinese Super League champions at Jubilee Oval earlier in the month, earned them a point with his second-half header this time.

The Sky Blues remain two points behind Shanghai SIPG, who are in the second qualifying spot in Group H, with two rounds left.

They are likely to have to win both of their remaining matches, away to Ulsan Hyundai and at home to Kawasaki Frontale, next month to have any chance of progressing.

Corica had named an unchanged team from the one that beat Perth Glory 1-0 in their last outing but star midfielder Milos Ninkovic felt unwell in the warm-up so he was withdrawn from the side.

Goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne made early saves from Brazilians Hulk and Oscar before Sydney FC made the breakthrough on 33 minutes.

The move started with Rhyan Grant's run down the right and, after Reza Ghoochannejhad fed Anthony Caceres, he played in Brandon O'Neill who had made a run from deep. O'Neill directed his low shot perfectly behind keeper Yan Jungling into the corner of the net.

The home side made a switch at the break, sending on Elkeson, and coach Vitor Pereira was rewarded for the move just two minutes into the second half when the substitute beat le Fondre in the air to head home Oscar's corner.

Shanghai took the lead just before the hour mark when Wang Shenchao slammed home a cross from Zhang Wei on the volley. But three minutes later Sydney FC got back on terms, Siem De Jong's powerful cross being glanced home by the head of le Fondre.

Sydney FC are 2/1 to win the A-League Grand Final and 21/10 to win their next game against Newcastle Jets, who are 6/5 with the draw 5/2.

Castro pens new Glory deal

Captain Diego Castro has signed a new two-year deal with newly-crowned minor premiers Perth Glory.

The Spaniard, whose current two-season contract was due to expire next month, has opted to extend his spell in the West until the end of 2020/21.

His decision to stay has been greeted by Perth's football director Jacob Burns, who said the former Johnny Warren Medal winner was one of the greatest players ever to represent the Glory.

"His legacy is already assured but we all hope that he can further embellish that legacy by helping the club complete the championship-premiership double this season and secure more silverware in the seasons to come," said Burns.

"This signing is another clear indication of the club's ambition to achieve sustained success and a testament to the owner's continued support in pursuit of that goal."

Castro has scored 34 goals in his 84 appearances for the club since arriving in 2015.

"I have had a fantastic emotional relationship with the members and fans since the first day I arrived here and I want to keep that love story with the fans going," said the 36-year-old former Sporting Gijon and Getafe player.

"Now I want to help the club add another trophy to the Premiers' Plate. With Tony Popovic here, the future of the club is in the best hands possible and I'm so grateful for all the help that he has provided me with this year."

Perth have clinched their first A-League Premiers' Plate this season under Popovic after missing out on the Finals Series last term when Kenny Lowe was coach.

Perth are 13/10 to win the Grand Final and 4/7 to win their next game against Wellington Phoenix, who are 9/2 with the draw 16/5.

Almiron misses final three games

Newcastle United have confirmed that Paraguay forward Miguel Almiron will miss the remaining three games of their Premier League season due to a hamstring injury.

The 25-year-old has been hugely impressive for the Magpies since his arrival in January from MLS outfit Atlanta United.

Almiron has yet to score for the Tynesiders but his influence has helped Rafa Benitez's side win seven league games since the turn of the year to ensure that they will be playing top-flight football again next season.

However, the pacy left-footer will now have to sit out the games against Brighton, Liverpool and Fulham, while hoping to be fit to feature for his country at the Copa America.

An official statement from the Magpies read: "Miguel will miss the rest of the season after suffering a hamstring injury in Saturday's 3-1 win over Southampton.

"He was withdrawn in the 64th minute against the Saints and, having been assessed by the club's medical staff, it has been confirmed that he will not be fit for the Magpies' final three matches of the campaign."

Benitez had earlier told the Chronicle while waiting on the verdict on Almiron: "He was massive for us from day one. He was giving everybody a lift with his pace, work-rate and his assists.

"We signed Almiron, then Rondon was playing better and Ayoze was playing better. Why? Because Almiron can run in behind, provide assists and then Rondon has more time – Ayoze is the same."

Without Almiron, Newcastle are 5/2 to win at Brighton on Saturday, with Perez 3/1 to score at any time in the game, while Rondon can be backed at 13/5.

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Hasenhuttl calls for final effort

Southampton head coach Ralph Hasenhuttl has urged his players to finally ensure their Premier League survival by winning at home to Bournemouth on Saturday.

The Saints are six points clear of the bottom three with three games to play, meaning that they are all but safe, despite conceding a last-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Watford on Tuesday evening.

However, Hasenhuttl refuses to take anything for granted, telling reporters at vicarage Road: "We have 37 points and until we have 40 we do not speak about being safe.

"Now we have a home game against Bournemouth and if you'd told me that we'd have a chance to secure safety in that game when I took over, I'd have taken that.

"I am always positive because I see how our team plays. We have showed we can take points off every opponent."

Southampton are priced at 21/20 to defeat Bournemouth and are 17/2 to do so by a 2-1 scoreline, with a 2-2 draw available at 14/1.

Meanwhile, Hasenhuttl praised striker Shane Long, who netted after less than eight seconds against the Hornets and who has now scored three times in his last four appearances.

The Austrian added: "He was quick, too quick for the centre-back and it was a fantastic start.

"It shows that he can score and it's important for that we play a style that fits him well, because he's very quick."

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Hughton talks up Magpies clash

Brighton boss Chris Hughton accepts that his side now face a massive game at home to Newcastle United on Saturday, having narrowly lost 1-0 at Spurs.

A late Christian Eriksen strike denied Albion of a point at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and left the Seagulls just three points clear of the Premier League drop zone with three games to play.

And, with clashes with Arsenal and Manchester City to follow the visit of the Magpies, Hughton is only too well aware that a win is something of a necessity at the weekend.

He told reporters: "From our point of view, perhaps if we made a few better choices on the ball and managed the game a little bit better in the last period, then I think we come away with a result.

"To come here and put in a performance, albeit a gritty, defensive performance, it speaks volumes.

"We know we have to take that into Saturday's game, which now becomes our biggest game. We'll be up against a Newcastle team that have been good away from home and have a system they use very well.

"We'll need goals and what we'll need to do is win the game in whichever way possible."

Brighton, who have now failed to score in any of their last seven games in all competitions, are 6/5 to win on Saturday, with the draw priced at 21/10 and a 1-1 final scoreline available at 11/2.

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Pochettino hopeful of Eriksen stay

Mauricio Pochettino remains hopeful that Tottenham will be able to agree a new contract with playmaker Christian Eriksen, who was the matchwinner against Brighton.

The 27-year-old Denmark international netted an 88th minute winner in the 1-0 home victory over the Seagulls, a result which gave a huge boost to Spurs' hopes of finishing in the top four of the Premier League.

Eriksen is out of contract at the end of next season and has been linked with interest from both Real Madrid and Barcelona, but Pochettino believes talks about the player's future have yet to really get started.

He said: "It is a situation that is a very special situation, Christian is a special person, I think we are all special, different and we need to understand that.

"The timing for him or for the club to be agreeing something is maybe different to another player.

"I hope and I wish Christian can be with us in the future, but I think Christian and us, we are so open to talk and we will see what happens.

"I think it is so close to the end of the season, a lot of time to talk after and I think the most important thing now is for all the players to be focused and try to achieve the things we want.

"We have a lot of big things ahead and we need to be focused only to try and recover, train and compete."

Next up for Spurs is a visit from West Ham on Saturday, with the hosts 2/5 to win the game, 8/1 to do so by a 2-0 scoreline and 11/8 to keep a clean sheet.

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Premier League: These Two Really Don’t Like Each Other!

Tottenham Hotspur vs West Ham United

Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. Two proud football clubs but also two names which conjure loathing between rival supporters.

Both sets of supporters dislike their rivals with a passion and my word it has resulted in some fierce clashes down the years.

If you don’t believe me us fans, go to any search engine and type Spurs-West Ham rivalry.

The Premier League era has done little to ease that tension.

They may only be 12 miles apart but a rivalry stretching back to the late 1890 cannot be rewritten.

Just ask any players of yesteryear or modern day who have played for both clubs – Jimmy Greaves, Martin Peters, Les Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe to name a few – to share their experiences.

Talking Points

Their meetings have produced Premier League highlights aplenty over the years and this contest could be yet another.

The importance is unlikely to be lost either on bosses Mauricio Pochettino or Manuel Pellegrini who will likely have been told about the rivalry soon after their respective appointments.

Form suggests a home banker.

West Ham’s last two outings have resulted in one point and lots of frustration.

West Ham United are aiming to produce Premier League highlights as they visit Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Manuel Pellegrini is preparing West Ham Players ahead their match against rivals Tottenham Hotspur

Only the woodwork and brilliance of David de Gea prevented them from getting at least a point at Old Trafford and they then conceded a last-gasp equaliser at home to Leicester last weekend, again a match in which they should have collected more than a point.

Three defeats and one draw in four games have possibly ruined their chances of a seventh place finish, not that Pellegrini will give up on that now Michail Antonio has returned and if the inconsistent Marko Arnautovic can show his effective side.

Spurs, meanwhile, are thriving, just edged out at champions Manchester City on Easter Saturday, days after seeing off the same opponents in a Champions League thriller.

West Ham would love to rain on Spurs’ parade and inflict a first defeat on them at their new stadium, yet even against a side missing their captain Harry Kane, they will need to improve defensively.

Since the turn of the year, the Hammers have leaked 26 goals in just 16 games, including at least two goals in each of their last six Premier League games and their record since the turn of the year is particularly poor.

Improve that and they may just cause a surprise.

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History

Aside from a fierce rivalry, this is a history steeped in tradition, prestige and attacking football.

West Ham have proven a bit of a bogey for Spurs in big games over the last decade or so (both Premier League and League Cup), although you have to go back to October 2013 to the last time they defeated Tottenham on their own turf in the top flight.

On that occasion, a 3-0 win was secured by goals from Winston Reid, Ricardo Vaz Te and Ravel Morrison – remember him? – in a blistering 13 minute spell.

That remains their only league victory at Spurs since 1999 when, among the young Hammers’ line-up that day, were young guns Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard and veteran forward Ian Wright.

Spurs are chasing a treble over West Ham this term having already won twice at the London Stadium this season.

An Erik Lamela goal settled the Premier League contest in October before they repeated the victory just over a week later with a 3-1 success in the League Cup, courtesy of Son Heung-Min (two) and Fernando Llorente.

Traditionally, Spurs have won 96 of their meetings with West Ham winning 63 and the other 52 ending with honours even.

Betting Tip

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Tottenham Hotspur vs West Ham United First Half Asian Handicap Tottenham Hotspur -0.75 @ 2.35
April 27 19:30 (GMT+8)

Spurs are firm favourites with 1X2 odds on offer @ 1.44 in contrast to West Ham @ 7.00.

The draw @ 4.30 will appeal, however, especially with the pride of a London derby at stake and Spurs also forgiven for perhaps having one eye on their Champions League semi-final against Ajax little over 72 hours later.

Premier League betting odds with Asian Handicap also favour the home side, priced -1.25 @ 1.97, compared to the Hammers +1.00 @ 2.28.

I must admit that under 3.00 goal @ 2.07 has caught my eye, as has Double Chance West Ham or Draw @ 2.65.

It’s interesting to look at the total goal options too – 0-1 @ 5.20, 2-3 @ 2.11 and 4-6 @ 2.53.

The law of probabilities suggest Spurs will not beat West Ham three times in the same campaign, yet I do expect them to edge this.

I think they will want to try and get the game sewn up as quickly as possible too, given their upcoming semi-final.

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?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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La Liga: Real Out to Dent Neighbours’ Champions League Dreams

Getafe vs Real Madrid

As things currently stand in La Liga, not one, not two, but three Madrid clubs will be headed to the Champions League next season. That’s because surprise package Getafe are still up in fourth place, right behind their more illustrious neighbours, Atletico and Real.

Getafe strengthened their grip on fourth with a convincing 3-0 win over Sevilla, who are one of their main rivals for that final Champions League place.

With fifth-placed Valencia visiting Atletico in midweek, Getafe have a chance to extend their two-point lead. But the Azulones also have a tough test in the form of Real, who will make the short trip to visit the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

While Real have no more trophies left to play for this season, they should still be eager to win in order to keep pace with rivals Atletico for second in the standings.

Talking Points

Getafe going great guns at home

When Getafe were flying high earlier in the season, many expected them to fade later in the campaign. But instead, the opposite has occurred; they have arguably grown stronger as the year has gone on.

With their win over Sevilla, Getafe have now gone undefeated in 11 of their last 12 La Liga matches (six wins, five draws).

Getafe’s La Liga 2019 results at home have been especially impressive. They’ve won six of their last seven at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, with their lone defeat coming against mid-table Leganes.

Although, it should be noted that three of their other four losses have come against the other members of the current top five: Atletico Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona.

Getafe will likely look to keep it relatively tight at the back and make it hard for Real to break them down. They have allowed just 11 goals at home this season, which is tied for third-best in the league.

Getafe’s attack admittedly isn’t all that special — two of their three goals against 10-man Sevilla came from penalties — but they at least have two capable forwards in Jaime Mata and Jorge Moreno.

The two have combined for 27 of the team’s 43 league goals this season and are both in the top 10 of the goalscoring charts.

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Zidane still waiting for an away win

Zinedine Zidane’s second stint as Real Madrid manager is now six games old, and while it’s still pretty early, a certain pattern of results has emerged.

Real remain undefeated in their four home matches with Zidane back. They thumped Athletic Bilbao 3-0 at the Bernabeu last time out, with Karim Benzema firing home a terrific hat-trick.

Benzema has been in absolutely brilliant form of late. He’s now scored 10 goals in his last seven games and has added three assists as well.

After the match, Zidane even went so far as to say that Benzema is the best No. 9 in the world. And based on his current play at the moment, Benzema is proving that at the very least, he should be part of that conversation.

But despite Benzema’s brilliance, Real remain winless away from home under Zizou. While a 2-1 defeat at Valencia was somewhat understandable, they also dropped points away to Leganes, which was less so.

Prior to Zidane’s return, Real had gone seven matches undefeated away from home in La Liga, with six wins and a draw.

With Real’s undoubted quality, though, it’s just a matter of time before they return to winning ways away from home. And the history between them and their city neighbours suggests that Real should finally get that first away win.

La Liga Getafe vs Real Madrid: Zinedine Zidane's men are set to face face a tough opponent

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane watching his team play during their match against Eibar

History

To say Getafe’s head-to-head record against Real Madrid isn’t great would be a massive understatement. The Azulones have lost each of their last 10 La Liga fixtures against Real, and 17 of the last 18. Real beat Getafe in this season’s opening game 2-0, with Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale scoring the goals.

But it should be noted that this Getafe side is much better than the ones who suffered all those losses over the past few years, which is why the La Liga 2019 betting odds for this match are somewhat close. And of the five wins, Getafe have had over Madrid in the last 14 years, four have been at home.

Betting Tip

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Getafe vs Real Madrid Real Madrid 1X2 @ 1.98
April 26, 03:30 (GMT+8)

Getafe have had a brilliant season and will clearly be no pushover at home. us odds have a Getafe home win priced at 3.85 and a draw at 3.45 in the 1X2 market.

But Real are just too good to continue dropping points away from home. With Benzema in incredible form, they should have just enough to eke out their first away win since Zidane’s return — and continue their amazing dominance over their neighbours.

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?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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