Friday, October 21, 2016

EPL 2016/17 - Week 9

Bournemouth v/s Tottenham - Home win
Arsenal v/s Middlesbrough - Home win
Burnley v/s Everton - Away win
Hull v/s Stoke - Home win
Leicester v/s Crystal Palace - Home win
Swansea v/s Watford - Home win
West Ham v/s Sunderland - Home win
Liverpool v/s WBA - Home win
Man City v/s Southampton - Home win
Chelsea v/s Man Utd - Away win

I see some value siding with a few outsiders here. Bournemouth are big underdogs at home to visiting Spurs and it would be no surprise if the home team wins this match. They blitzed Hull last week and their home form so far is more or less solid. Spurs are still unbeaten but there's definitely the feeling that that streak won't hold long. They have scraped draws lately and look vulnerable particularly after playing away mid-week in the UCL. For value, a win or draw-no-bet with the Cherries could reap big rewards.

I also see Swansea having a good result as they host Watford. New manager Bob Bradley is a good manager who will definitely up the fortunes of the Swans. They came close against Arsenal for his baptism of fire but I see them getting better results as the season progresses. Watford is well within their grasp and again here, an outright win or draw-no-bet should be a winning ticket.

Finally, Man City should overcome the Saints to put an end to their win-less streak. The fact that both teams played in mid-week nullifies any fitness advantage but Aguero will be all guns blazing as he was mostly on the bench against Barcelona. Southampton are a tough team to overcome but City should have too much firepower in this one.

Win: Man City, Bournemouth, Swansea

Friday, October 14, 2016

EPL 2016/17 - Week 8

Chelsea v/s Leicester City - Home win
Bournemouth v/s Hull - Home win
Arsenal v/s Swansea - Home win
Man City v/s Everton - Home win
Stoke v/s Sunderland - Home win
WBA v/s Tottenham - Draw
Crystal Palace v/s West Ham - Home win
Middlesbrough v/s Watford - Home win
Southampton v/s Burnley - Home win
Liverpool v/s Man Utd - Home win

You will have seen that I foresee a lot of home wins this week-end. Coming back from the international break is always treacherous but the fixture list has really pit many strong teams playing at home, hence the bias. There might be more value in doing some exotics or multiples here; Southampton and Man City look bankers on paper as they host Burnley and Everton respectively. Bournemouth to beat Hull is by no means certain, but can pay good dividends if coupled with the bankers.

Stoke looks a value punt on its own as Mark Hughes' men try to get their season started against Sunderland. If they can hit the same kind of home form as last year's, the Potters should comfortably overcome the equally-struggling visitors.

Multiples: Man City / Southampton / Bournemouth 
Value win: Stoke

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Arc de Triomphe 2016 - Postponed to the test

This year's Arc looks wide open with a few that have legitimate aspirations to win and the fact that Chantilly will be the temporary venue to the world's greatest race, only adds to the intrigue. I will pick 4 names from the 16-runner race, the quartet from which I believe the winner will emerge. Postponed, Found, Makahiki and Harzand.

Postponed is the deserved favourite going into the race; the son of Dubawi is unbeaten in 4 races this year and has proven himself the world's best middle-distance performer. This 5-year old is clearly flourishing with age and has been showing consistent top-class form over the past couple of years that makes him a difficult one to oppose in any race. There are not many chinks in his armor and it's pretty much a guarantee that he will be in the thereabouts at the finish. I cannot see him out of the first 4.

It is a staggering fact that Found has been runner-up in 9 Group 1 races. Much was expected of the daughter of Galileo this year after she had blown away Golden Horn in last year's Breeders' Cup. While she has only won one race out of her seven races this year, she has mostly been in the thereabouts to finish runner-up in most of them. Her not being good enough, or just being an unlucky second is a matter of interpretation, but what is beyond doubt is that she is of the top drawer and can land this race. It could very well be that she is an autumn filly; after all she was third in this race last year before brilliantly lowering Golden Horn's colours in the US. A big player in my books.

Is Makahiki the one to break Japan's curse in the Arc? Will he be the one redeeming his illustrious sire's defeat ten years ago to this day? Japan's best have always fallen short in dramatic circumstances at Longchamp and the roof will come down if Makahiki can end years of Nippon hurt. He seemed to win the Prix Niel in hand but I would have been more convinced if he had won more with more to spare; in other words, I wasn't as impressed as others were. I can't see him at the level of his sire or Orfevre but if he produces a career best and no-one else is showing on the day, maybe he is the blessed one from the land of the rising sun.

Harzand is the subject of ultra-confident whispers from the Dermot Weld camp and that is enough to decipher that the Derby winner will be at the peak of his powers on Sunday. He came out injured in his last race at ten furlongs but this will ideally suit him. A 3-year old, he will benefit from a non-negligible 3 pound allowance. He is a serious grinder and I see him punching his way through the field in the last 200 yards as the others run out of stamina. 

As mentioned, I believe the winner will come from the above. Unless some kind of Solemia strikes again. A top performance from Postponed will make him difficult to beat. On form, he should prevail and another plus is that he is drawn best of the four. Makahiki has the class to cause an upset should things fall rightly into place for him and it is by no means a stretch to think that the son of Deep Impact will finally deliver to the Japanese their Holy Grail.

Win: Postponed
Win (value): Makahiki

Friday, September 30, 2016

EPL 2016/17 - Week 7

Everton v/s Crystal Palace - Home win
Swansea v/s Liverpool - Away win
Hull v/s Chelsea - Away win
Sunderland v/s WBA - Home win
Watford v/s Bournemouth - Home win
West Ham v/s Middlesbrough - Home win
Man Utd v/s Stoke - Home win
Leicester v/s Southampton - Draw
Tottenham v/s Man City - Draw
Burnley v/s Arsenal - Draw

I think Chelsea has a good opportunity to get back on track as they make the travel to Hull. Conte's men are coming off losses to tough teams Liverpool and Arsenal and should find the Tigers more to their liking. The Blues will need to pounce on any counter-attacking chances they are offered and the likes of Hazard and Costa, who have been conspicuously silent of late, have enough class to tilt the result in the visitors' favour.

As a value punt, I also like West Ham's chances against Middlesbrough. The Hammers are not as bad as their horrendous start of the season suggests, and can start off some kind of form against the promoted team. As expected, Karanka's men are struggling to find their foot in the EPL and the Hammers have the firepower to blow past the visitors and claim a much-needed win.

Win: Chelsea
Win: West Ham

Friday, September 23, 2016

EPL 2016/17 - Week 6

Man Utd v/s Leicester - Home win
Bournemouth v/s Everton - Away win
Liverpool v/s Hull - Home win
Middlesbrough v/s Tottenham - Draw
Stoke v/s WBA - Draw
Sunderland v/s Crystal Palace - Draw
Swansea v/s Man City - Away
Arsenal v/s Chelsea - Draw
West Ham v/s Southampton - Away
Burnley v/s Watford - Home

The team in form at the moment is Liverpool and they seem to have an easy task this week-end against Hull. Klopp has re-invigorated the Kops by leaps and bounds and with some consistency, they can go very far this year. They seem to be as dangerous as in the Suarez-Sterling-Gerrard days as they are suffocating teams at the moment as Leicester could attest last week. Home win without much doubt.

I will side with Southampton as my value punt of the week. I must say that I was seeing the Saints struggling this year with the departure of Koeman and some first-team regulars. But French coach Puel has imposed his methods that seem to be working well and they are a team can will cause problems to any opponent. They are travelling at the right time to the London Stadium to face a West Ham team in crisis. Slaven Bilic is running out of options with his under-performing squad and they have worryingly conceded 8 goals in their last 2 league meetings. The well-organized Saints can definitely pounce on the Hammer's defensive frailties and snatch at least a point in this encounter.

Win: Liverpool
Win (or draw-no-bet): Southampton

Friday, September 16, 2016

EPL 2016/17 - Week 5

Chelsea v/s Liverpool - Draw
Hull v/s Arsenal - Draw
Leicester v/s Burnley - Home win
Man City v/s Bournemouth - Home win
WBA v/s West Ham - Away win
Everton v/s Middlesbrough - Home win
Watford v/s Man Utd - Away win
Crystal Palace v/s Stoke - Home win
Southampton v/s Swansea - Away win
Tottenham v/s Sunderland - Home win

Man Utd are on a 2-game losing streak under Mourinho but I cannot see it going to 3. Against City, they were second best and deserved to lose. Against Feyenood in the Europa League, they did not field their best XI, and were entitled to come back empty-handed. It will be different business as they travel to Watford where they were lucky to come out with full points under Van Gaal last season. This Watford team is nowhere as good as last year's team under Kiko Sanchez. They scored 4 unanswered goals to shock West Ham last week but having been 2 goals down early shows that they are will be apt to concede against heavy firepower. Zlatan could have a field day there. Man Utd look value for the win.

The long punt of the week goes to West Ham who are having a difficult start to the season. I expect things to improve now that Payet is fully back after his Euro exertions. The Hammers should have beaten Watford last week after going 2 goals up before melting down in the stretch and conceding 4. If they can muster some of their mental resolve from last season, they can surprise this average West Brom side that have also started hesitantly. Under Pulis, WBA will always be hard to break at home but the Hammers have the ability to play big spoilers here. An outright win or draw-no-bet on them could pay dividends.

Win: Man Utd.
Win (or draw-no-bet): West Ham

Friday, September 9, 2016

EPL 2016/17 - Week 4

Man Utd v/s Man City - Home win
Bournemouth v/s West Brom - Away win
Arsenal v/s Southampton - Home win
Burnley v/s Hull - Draw
Middlesbrough v/s Crystal Palace - Home win
Stoke v/s Tottenham - Draw
West Ham v/s Watford - Home win
Liverpool v/s Leicester - Home win
Swansea v/s Chelsea - Draw
Sunderland v/s Everton - Away win

The Manchester Derby easily dominates this game week. Although it's too early in the season to gauge the significance of a win or defeat for both, this is a 6-pointer match that will impact the confidence of the winner and loser going forward, not least right to bragging rights in the city of Manchester!  I give home advantage to the Red Devils here. First, Mourinho rarely loses a home fixture, so Old Trafford will definitely be made a formidable fortress for the occasion. Second, it is obvious that this City team is not a finished product under Guardiola and will find the hosts as different material to the lesser teams they have overcome through sheer class in the opening fixtures. The Red Devils defence will be relieved not to face Aguero with the Argentinian striker missing the next few games through suspension. It all points towards either a draw or a win for the hosts and a draw-no-bet on them looks great value.

For a value bet, I like the chances of Everton as they visit Sunderland. Koeman is a top coach and I see better things for the Toffees compared to last year. He will inject tight defence and dynamic play into this talented Everton team and I see them getting better as the season progresses. I certainly think they won't lose this match and for some risk it might be worth going with them winning outright, or have them as a safer draw-no-bet.

Draw-no-bet: Man Utd.
Win (or draw-no-bet): Everton

Sunday, September 4, 2016

England - Road to recovery or further failure?

Back blogging after a good holiday break!

England starts a new era with Allardyce as new manager in a few hours as they visit Slovakia for the World Cup qualifier. Allardyce for England? I might have to eat my words in the future but the news of this got me thinking that this is one of the worst and reckless decisions, among many others, made by the FA. What has he won? Has he ever played or managed in a Champions League match? How many England caps? Anything he won as a manager or player? Nothing. Arguably, his greatest achievements have been to avoid relegation with Bolton and Sunderland and throwing long bombs in order not to lose to Arsenal. The decision to hire Big Sam seems short-sighted and desperate. It had to be an Englishman and among the candidates, he must have been the least worst in the eyes of the pickers.

But could it be that this is exactly what this England team needs after years of failure with supposedly talented teams? Keegan, Capello, Ericksson, Hodgson to name a few, all failed. So maybe getting a manager on the opposite side of the spectrum, i.e, one that has never managed any star-studded squad, is what this under-achieving team needs? Maybe he is the one to put in some mental toughness that seems to be lacking in the current squad? These qualifiers will tell.

It would be a sight seeing England throwing long balls or parking the bus to get a result against nations like Belgium and Germany. It could very well be the new mantra is to focus on the result and let the talent or football go to waste. The nation won't care of the football if it wins some silverware. But Allardyce's selection is a mighty gamble that raises a lot of questions and the spectre of even more hardships for the national team. We will get an indication of whether hope or despair is in sight against Slovakia today.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

EPL 2016/17 - Week1

Hull v/s Leicester - Away
Burnley v/s Swansea - Away
Crystal Palace v/s West Brom - Home
Everton v/s Spurs - Home
Middlesbrough v/s Stoke - Home
Southampton v/s Watford - Draw
Man City v/s Sunderland - Home
Bournemouth v/s Man Utd _ Away
Arsenal v/s Liverpool - Away
Chelsea v/s West Ham - Home

Caution is the name of the game on every debut week; there is really no form book to get an inkling of the readiness of the teams. The pre-season friendlies can be misguiding. But Guardiola's first game looks something within his grasp as Sunderland visit the Etihaad. The Black Cats are under new manager Moyes and the Scot is bound to have a period of adjustment before getting to know his team. Class should tell here and with the non-negligible home advantage, Man City are heavily favored in this one.

I also like Man Utd's chances as they visit Bournemouth. They lost this fixture last year but this means nothing this season. Mourinho will be keen to start on a positive note and since I don't see the Cherries as having a better season than the last, I think the Red Devils are fully capable of getting full points here.

As value, Livepool might be the best pick of the week. Arsenal are short in the central defending position and the Kops have definitely in them to shock Arsene's team.

Win: Man City, Man Utd,
Value pick: Liverpool

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

EPL 2016/2017 - The Battle of Manchester

Here we go again for what promises to be a spectacular season in the EPL. The world's best players might be playing in Spain but the elite of managers is here; Guardiola, Mourinho, Klopp, Conte to name a few...

Here is the first prediction; one of the Manchester teams will win it. That means that Leicester won't repeat. Great work last year Ranieri and co but lightning will most probably not strike twice. The Foxes are still a very good team but another sustained run from them looks highly improbable. Arsenal will struggle to last the distance as usual. They need some world-class reinforcements in there and they don't seem to be getting any. Liverpool have an admirable attacking force but their suspect defence is bound to let them down. As for Chelsea, Conte will make them a better defensive team but the legs are getting old and they will rely too much on Hazard to produce.

This leaves the Manchester clubs that will definitely be on the upgrade from last year. Take Man City. The arrival of Guardiola will have brought confidence, energy and more importantly a winning mentality to the squad. The talent has always been there in the last few years but the mental toughness of the players has always been a question mark. Probably Guardiola can rectify that. De Bryune had a great season last year and could yet elevate to newer heights. The old guard Aguero, Toure, Silva have a last big hurrah season in them. Sterling can go back terrorizing defences if given the boost in confidence. And the additions of Stones and Jesus add worth to a deeply-talented squad. Guardiola will have his rough introduction to the EPL, particularly during the winter months when there is no break, but if they can get through this spell unscathed, they have the best squad in the league to last them through.

The club with the greatest overhaul is Man Utd. Cometh at the helm Mourinho, typically their greatest managerial enemy. The Portugese talked about the mystique of the club during his introduction; core fans will have argued that some of the mystique had gone with his appointment; throughout his career, he clearly has shown a disdain for values that the club so cherishes. But he is a proven winner of championships and if the end result is getting back their winning mojo, then realistic fans will view this as a necessary appointment. Then, there's the coming of Zlatan. At 35, maybe his best days are behind him. But he was still a dominant force at PSG over the last few years. It looks like he can carry at the highest level for a couple more years and if he adapts well to the rigours of the Premiership, he could be one of the best free buys ever. Imagine Zlatan and Fellaini towering a bunch of defenders in the opposing penalty area as Man Utd search for a goal... Then, there's Pogba. The ex-Man Utd reject went to Juventus for free and now is back with the club out of the pocket for 89 million pounds? This is indecent. He doesn't (and will never) score like Ronaldo, Messi or Bale or Neymar. What has he won besides titles at a dominating Juventus in a poor Italian league? He's a great midfielder and talent but this could be one of the worst buys in the history of football. But he still enhances the Red Devils midfield by a large margin. Maybe he could be the Roy Keane or Paul Scholes that every Man Utd fan has been looking for since the retirements of the 2 Old Trafford legends. What is for sure, United will be better than last year and Mourinho usually self-destructs on the 3rd year, so things are looking very rosy for this campaign.

It's Guardiola v/s Mourinho again. It's the battle of Manchester again for the supremacy of English football. My feeling is that the Red part of Manchester will be the ones partying in the end. This is going to be a wild ride of a season; thanks for tuning for the weekly fixtures.

Win: Man Utd

Friday, July 29, 2016

Qatar Nassau Stakes - Minding in a league of her own

Who's the best middle-distance filly in Europe, never mind the age? Minding, it is.
The 3-year old superstar is gunning for yet another Group 1 when she takes on 4 rivals that look overmatched in the Nassau Stakes. Having taken the 1000 Guineas, she was unlucky to get beat by a bob in the Irish equivalent, before easily trouncing the Oaks field at Epsom. She confirmed her superiority by winning the Pretty Polly in another procession. Any reproduction of that kind of form should see her easily land this race.

Maybe the elder filly Beautiful Romance could offer some pretensions should Minding fail to fire. The Godolphin team would love to get one against their Ballydoyle rivals and it would not be the first time that they play spoilers in the legendary skirmishes between the 2 superpowers; think of the battle between Fantastic Light and Galileo, the Ascot duel between Rewilding and So You Think, both occasions where Godolphin came out on top.

Minding is however impossible to oppose. Bar accident, she should win.

Win: Minding

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Qatar Sussex Stakes - The 3 Musketeers at it again

The 3 Guineas winners are at it again in the Sussex Stakes. When they last met, Galileo Gold prevailed but it was The Gurkha that made the strongest impression in defeat when running on late. The way that The Gurkha drove past Awtaad as he went in pursuit of Galileo Gold before the post caught him on, suggested that he had the best engine of the 3.

While Galileo Gold and Awtaad have been rested since that race, The Gurkha made a foray in the Coral-Eclipse, finishing second to Hawkbill, the mile and a quarter race proving a little too much of a stretch for him. The main question for the Sussex is whether the son of Galileo will be at a disadvantage fitness-wise compared to his rested rivals.

Galileo Gold has rarely put a foot wrong and the good to firm ground should be to his liking. Not so much for Awtaad who prefers a certain amount of give underfoot. The only thing with Galileo Gold is that after his first winning outing, he has alternated defeats and wins. So, he might possibly be vulnerable to a newcomer. Might that 4th musketeer be Ribchester, winner of the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot? The Godolphin representative is on an upward curve and is definitely a live chance for at least a finish in the frame here.

I am siding with Galileo Gold because of his consistency but if The Gurkha is at 100% and does not show any ill-effect from his Coral-Eclipse outing, he will be the one to beat.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sky Bet York Stakes (Group 2) - Time Test will be hard to beat

The focus of Saturday's racing is at Ascot with the Group 1 King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. However, the value seems to be at York in the Group 2 York Stakes where Time Test seems to have this race well within his grasp. The son of Dubawi won on his season re-appearance and came out a good 3rd in the Eclipse Stakes a few weeks back on unsuitably-soft ground. Saturday's race will give him the fast under-foot conditions on which he has shown sparkling form before. Jockey Pat Smullen has made the journey across the Irish Sea for this. Among the opponents, Mahsoob from the Gosden yard seems to offer the better form but this Dansili colt is really running for second place here.

Win: Time Test

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Euro 2016 - France hard to beat

I penned down at the start of the tournament that France have an enviable record when hosting a major championship; winners in the 1984 Euros and winners in the 1998 World Cup in Paris. So it very much looks a case of Never 2 without 3 for Les Bleus in this year's Euros. It is not just the historical aspect as much as the relative strength of this French team that makes me tilt the odds seriously in their favor.

They comprehensively beat the Germans in the semi-finals. Granted, German capatin Schweinsteiger changed the match by conceding a rather silly penalty in what seemed a very tight match. But the French looked solid and were playing at equal strength against their mighty opponents. Since the start of the tournament, they have displayed resolute energy, well-organized play and mental strength on their way to the final. With players like Griezmann, Pogba and Payet showing strong form and motivation, the French have an outstanding chance to lift the trophy.

Against them stands Ronaldo and the creative talents of Nani and Quaresma. This is most probably the last chance of these stars to make their mark and win something of significance at the international level. It would also be a first for Portugal, provider of so many great footballers over the years. No doubt that much of their chance will depend on Ronaldo. When he's on top form, he's the most lethal striker in football. I would say right now he's not 100% but is still capable of getting a goal if given the space. Most of the work for the French will be to successfully shut him down,

It seems to me that Les Bleus will be celebrating on Sunday. They are a superior team playing at home. Tactics could get Portugal to a penalty shootout where they would have a live chance but I don't think it will get that far. From what they have shown, France are good enough to make the difference in normal time.

To win Euro 2016: France

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Euro 2016 - German stress test for France

It is no secret that France has a mental issue when it plays Germany in major semi-finals. Think Espana 1982 when they were dumped in controversial circumstances on penalties; a match most remembered by the karate butt-kick of keeper Schumacher on France's Battiston. Ouch! Think Mexico 1986 when again Platini's team suffered at the hands of the Germans in the last four.

This new France generation may not carry as much inferiority complex but if they are to banish the old demons, they will have to overcome a German team touted as the best in the world. Not just because they are current holders of the World Cup but because they are solid from back to front and can adapt to any type of tempo in a game. Let's face it, there are no real superstar outfield player in there; maybe keeper Neuer is the best in the world, but while Ozil, Kroos, Muller can be very good, they are not among the creme de la creme by any means. But the Germans play on song as a unit and are very difficult to break down particularly with Neuer in nets.  They can break any defence; just ask Italy. They have been the most consistent and impressive team in the tournament and deserve to go into the match as favourites.

Compared to the after-Zidane years, the French are a very strong team, no doubt. They are no longer just big names on the team sheet, they play well as a unit. The big thing about them is that they have a few match winners that can turn a match on its head. Payet, Griezmann, Pogba and Martial can come up with something brilliant at the most crucial moment. Even much-maligned Giroud can find the net if given the space and some luck. The back four is their Achilles tendon but keeper Lloris is usually there as a reliable last resort.

This is going to be a tight chess match and the winner is probably going to edge this one by the odd goal if it does not go to penalties. France has the benefit of the home crowd but the Germans thrive in such inauspicious environments. It's a toss of a coin but I think Germany will make their way to the final.

To qualify: Germany