Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hopes are more or less over for Madrid

Certainly not the week-end that I was expecting in term of results; 2 won and 2 lost for a rather disappointing outcome. PSV and Barcelona won, but Real Madrid lost at lowly Osasuna, and at Lingfield, Buaiteoir lost 3rd place by a nose.

With the surprising defeat of Madrid, it would take a mad or brave man to think that Barcelona won't win the league title. 7 points at this stage is a really large gap to overcome. Even if Madrid succeeds in beating Barcelona at the Bernabeu (and that's a big IF), it will still have to hope Barcelona lose an extra 4 points, and without it not losing any in the process. A tough ask really and a team that cannot win at Osasuna and Almeira can hardly aspire to be usurp the crown from Barcelona.

In tennis, Murray got trounced by Djokovic in an encounter that was not even close. This demoralizing loss for the Scot has opened up the real possibility that he might never win a Grand Slam tournament. I hope that's not the case, but it's not tough to imagine otherwise after he was not able to profit from the absence of the big 2 Nadal and Federer. On the other hand, Djokovic seems to be on the upside and if he continues on his progression, he might have more Grand Slams in him. Is Federer on the downside? Too early to say.

No predictions for Monday, but there are some good match-ups coming up in the Premier League in mid-week, and of course, I'll be analyzing the race cards to see if there is anything of value in all-weather racing. Have a good week, and punt safe.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week-end preview

An utterly disappointing pair of losing recommendations on the Thursday racing card at Meyday. Clearly Silver clearly did not like the blinkers, and Irish Flame was 4th which was not enough for a Place finish. While I was looking at the de Kock stable to power through the meeting, it came away empty-handed, and it was Godolphin that took the share of the spoils.

You will notice that I have made some changes to the blog contents and removed the history of recommendation page, as well as the strike rate count. It was really getting too time consuming to update these on a daily basis. That does not mean that I will stop giving predictions or have changed my approach to analyzing racing or football in any way. Far from it. I will still be focusing on writing what I believe are sure-fire punts, and will keep differentiating between hopeful and sure ones. The plan for me is to better the 87% strike rate achieved so far (minus the 2 failures yesterday), and it will be obvious if I am achieving the goal or largely deviating from it.

Saturday is the FA Cup and I can't find any match to recommend because FA Cup matches are a nest for surprises. In La Liga, Barcelona travel to Hercules for a tough match. Hercules are the only team to have beaten them in the League this season with a shock win at the Nou Camp. With their current devastating form, I believe Barcelona are poised to gain a measure of revenge; they should be winning this, and draw at worst. So a draw-no-bet on Guardiola's men is recommmended.

Real Madrid travel to Osasuna in a largely easier trip than Barcelona. I think they will win it, but will err with the side of caution and have them as draw-no-bet as well. What will the impact of Adebayor be? I think he definitely makes them more dangerous. Mourinho works well with seasoned forwards (Drogba, Benni McCarthy, Milito, Ibrahimovic, Eto'o), with the exception of Shevchenko. He will probably get the best out of Adebayor.

In the Dutch League, I like PSV Eidhoven as it hosts bottom-club Willem. They should be winning this handily as they march towards the title.

In horse racing, I like Buaiteoir in the Lingfield 13:25. He won going away his last race, and his current form should him among the first finishing 3. This Mineshaft gelding is a Place recommendation.

Finally, Andy Murray plays Djokovic in the Australian tennis final. I will surely be rooting for Murray to win his first Grand Slam. I think it will be very tight and it will simply be a matter of who gets the good breaks and is better on the day. It's too tight to call, but Go Murray!

Win: PSV Eidhoven
Draw-no-bet: Barcelona, Real Madrid
Place: Buaiteoir

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Return of the Champion

The 100th recommendation was a good one with Barcelona emphatically winning the corner match-up 10-3 against Almeira. This brings my strike rate to 87% for the first 100 recommendations which is satisfying overall as my target at the start was to be slightly above the 90% mark. 87% isn't bad and out of the 13 ones that I got wrong, there are certainly 4 or 5 that I could have used better judgement. Anyway, there are certainly positive things that I have learnt from some of the mistakes, and hopefully I'll be applying them to good use with the upcoming predictions.

It seems for the Copa del Rey, we are heading for a juicy Barcelona v/s Real Madrid final, after both won the first-leg semi-finals. Who's to complain? That's the best rivalry in football today, and the more match-ups we can get of those 2 teams, the better for the show.

On Thursday, Meydan is the centre of attention with the 3rd round of the Carnival. I like Clearly Silver in the second race. This de Kock gelding was staying on for 3rd in a 7-furlong race a fortnight ago. He is more typically a sprinter, and as long as he takes to the blinkers, he should be in the whereabouts. I recommend him as a Place.

Irish Flame is the horse everyone will be having their eyes on in the 17:45 Group 2 race. The South African horse of the year will be making his seasonal debut at distance that will be on the short side for him. From the trainer's mouth, "he will run well but we’re not expecting him to win.” as Irish Flame is obviously being targetted for the Schema Classic. Given that the field consists mainly of exposed runners, his class should be enough to see him through among the finishers. He might not win as his trainer indicated, but a top 3 finish should be within his compass; so I recommend him as a Place.

Place: Clearly Silver, Irish Flame

Barcelona on conquest path

Both of Tuesday's recommendations were good as Man Utd won at Blackpool, and Arsenal got more corner kicks than Ipswich. These were 3 huge points for Utd yesterday. The replacement of an out-of-sorts Rooney by the speedy Chicharito turned the game on its head. Blackpool had no legs towards the end and the old fox Ferguson again played his substitutions perfectly. Rafael da Silva got concussed but this is a warrior of a player. With his comparatively small stature, he was winning headers on the defensive and offensive ends of the field! If they win the league, the comeback win at Bloomfield Road will be remembered as one of the decisive ones.

In the Carling Cup, the floodgates opened for Arsenal in the middle of the second half, after they had so many chances going begging. I don't know if there is as good a passer of the ball today as Cesc Fabregas. He can give them pinpoint on half-volley, one touch, exterior of the foot. No doubt Barcelona would like to have him back in their fold; he would fit in nicely in their football spectacle.

Talking of Barcelona, they host Almeira today in the first-leg semi-final of the Copa del Rey. Guardiola has yet to announce his team, but I can't see them losing this at home. The best Almeira can hope for is a lucky draw. In my opinion, like on Tuesday, the value will be in the Corners-match-bet. Barcelona should win the corner match-up handily. So my 100th recommendation since the start of this blog, is a Barcelona win on Corners-match-bet.

Corners-match-bet: Barcelona

Monday, January 24, 2011

Arsenal and Man Utd on different missions

After its astonishing defeat in the first leg of the Carling Cup at Portman Road, Arsenal will need to overcome Ipswich at the Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger has already stated that he will rotate the squad, but I still think he will at least have his star players on the bench in case things are not going according to planned. I think it will be a case where once Arsenal start scoring, the floodgates will have opened for many more. But it will be crucial for the Gunners to get that first goal. I can't see any value betting on Arsenal outright. What is more certain, and more importantly will bring better returns, is the match-bet on corner kicks. Arsenal should easily win on this one as Ipswich will literally be camping in their own half, so a Corners match-bet on Arsenal is the recommendation.

In the Premier League, leaders Man Utd visit Blackpool. If that game were not postponed and were actually played on the intended date a few weeks back, I would have favoured Blackpool to at least share the spoils. Since then, the form has changed, and Utd have been playing solidly at home and on the road. Their away form is still littered with many drawn matches due to late goals they've uncharacteristically conceded. With the return of Van der Sar, their defence is back to its resilient self and that should provide a solid foundation to their offensive capabilities. Blackpool just got rocked yesterday by the transfer request from their best player, Charlie Adam. They will still have their threatening moments against the Red Devils because they have a good system under manager Holloway, but if Rooney and his teammates are on-song, this should be a no contest. Man Utd to draw-no-bet is the recommendation.

Corners match-bet: Arsenal
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd

Man City lose ground, so will Chelsea?

Barcelona, Man Utd, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid all won, and the only blot in the predictions was Blackpool losing at home to Sunderland. I have to say I messed up on that one and wrongly under-estimated Sunderland. It's true that their keeper was unbelievable into making those saves that kept Blackpool off the score sheet, but Steve Bruce's men must be given credit for scoring 2 goals without arguably their 2 best strikers.

The biggest loser this week-end was Man City which lost even more ground to its Utd neighbours. Bringing in superstars during the January window does not necessarily reap immediate dividends since there is always an adjustment to be made in the system, and it will be interesting to see whether the Dzeko-Tevez partnership will click. 

Today, Chelsea are visiting Bolton and this is going to be a real test for the Blues. Under the guidance of Owen Coyle, Bolton seem to have gained some identity and they never make it easy for anyone. It could mean more blues for Drogba and his team mates particularly that Lampard is certain to miss the game. No recommendations here as any of the 2 teams could snatch this, but in my opinion, Chelsea will need to be at is near-best or some assistance from Lady Luck for it not to lose points here.

There are a couple of matches in England in mid-week; particularly a savoury Blackpool v/s Man Utd, which could have some decisive impact on the final standings. In Spain there are the Copa del Rey matches with Real and Barcelona still involved. I'll definitely be taking a look; thanks for tuning in.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Week-end football preview

What a busy week-end of European football we have coming up.

In the Premier League, Man Utd won't lose at home to Birmingham. The Red Devils were unlucky not to bag 3 points on their visit to the Midlands club a few weeks back due to a controversial last-minute equalizer from the hosts. The difference in class is obvious and Rooney won't get a better chance to start scoring again. Man Utd as draw-no-bet is safely recommended. Arsenal host Wigan, and the Gunners seem to have hit form again, and should be taking 3 points from this encounter. Wigan is a hard team to predict, so a draw-no-bet is the safe option here again. I also like Blackpool's chances as it hosts Sunderland. There is no doubt that both these teams are overachieving from initial expectations this year. But this has been a particularly terrible week for Bruce's team as they lost Darren Bent through the transfer window, and also Danny Wellbeck through injury. Those are massive losses and this also means that Bruce will only have one recognized striker in Gyan to start with. Blackpool is very dangerous at home, and I think they will win this, and if Sunderland can hold the fort well, they can hope for a draw. So a draw-no-bet on Blackpool is recommended. If you wish, you can lay Sunderland as well.

In La Liga, Barcelona host Santander. No surprises expected here, and Barcelona will win. They are recommended without any reservation. Real Madrid host Mallorca who are seeing a dip in form lately. Ronaldo and his teammates won't lose this for sure, and although they most certainly will win, a draw-no-bet is the safest way to go. Mourinho's annoyance with upper management is obvious this week, but that shouldn't affect the team itself. As I write this, it looks that Van Nistelrooy might be back in Madrid. This would be a massive plus for them if that happened, although it remains to be seen what Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy make of their reunion on and off the pitch. Not the best of friends off the pitch and not the best chemistry on it during their Manchester days, if you see what I mean.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern host Kaiserlautern in a game that Van Gaal's men should win on paper. Robben and Klose are making their awaited comebacks from injury, which will make the team go from strength to strength in the upcoming weeks. They won't win the league this year, but they will still need to rack up points to secure a Champions League spot. A draw-no-bet on the hosts is recommended.

Win: Barcelona
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Arsenal, Blackpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Great horses of a lifetime...

Both of Thursday predictions won. Milan easily won against Bari and advanced to the next stage of the Coppa Italia and at Meydan, River Jetez was placed 3rd in her race.

The South African filly was very unlucky not to actually win her race as she was short of room at the rails. It reminded me very much a race at Meydan last year with Japanese champion Vodka also being stuck on the inside rails in a race she should have won. Anyway, River Jetez is certainly one to follow as the Carnival progresses. Also to follow is Godolphin's Simon de Montfort who won his race quite handily under Kieren Fallon; as I was writing in my previous post, this is a very classy colt and he does not seem to have lost any of his turn of foot. Godolphin and Mike de Kock are dominating proceedings as I mentioned they would, which is hopefully a good omen for my recommendations as long as I can pick their right horses.

I can't see anything of punting value for Friday. Japan is playing hosts Qatar in the Asian Cup in what should be an interesting match. The Australian Open is in full swing, and in my opinion, Nadal will at least reach the final. No punting or recommendations on this though as I haven't spent time assessing the main candidates to the trophy. I would think it will be between Nadal, Fed and Murray, but that's quite stating the obvious. No, I'm just bracing myself for this week-end's football and racing; in the meantime I'll finally go watch Secretariat the movie. I don't know much about the great horse besides it winning the Triple Crown and winning the Belmont by oh-so-many lengths, that seemed to have made its legend. Ahh, champion thoroughbreds... If I can leave the reality of punting a little bit, and fancy a 12-furlong race on a non-biased synthetic surface (say Meydan)...The Americans would bring Secretariat and Zenyatta, the British would come with Sea The Stars and Dancing Brave, the French with Zarkava and Peintre Celebre, the Japanese with Deep Impact, the South Americans with Invasor, the South Africans with Horse Chestnut and Pocket Power, the Australasians with So You Think and Makybe Diva, and the mighty Ribot would come for the Italians ... A wonder race for the ages... My trifecta would be... Sea The Stars, Deep Impact and Zarkava! and I am sure my selection will not be unanimous among other racing fans.

Ok, I'm off go to watch the movie about the great Secretariat...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Coppa Italia and Meydan

Inter confirmed predictions by winning against Cesena. It was actually a more difficult win than expected, and Cesena did have their chances to tie up the game. The visitors were dangerous on some occasions while playing with 10 men! I suppose this Inter team is still finding its feet with Leonardo.

Remaining in Italian football on Thursday, Milan host Bari in the Coppa Italia. It's really first against last place teams in Serie A and I will be tremendously surprised if Bari can win this encounter. Milan will field a strong team, and Bari will be more preoccupied with Saturday's league game to stave off relegation. I cannot see Milan losing this game in 90 minutes, so I recommend them as draw-no-bet.

Back to racing in Meydan and another really competitive race card on the agenda. In the 17:45 race, I like River Jetez, who's under the de Kock care for the festival. The full sister to Pocket Power seems to be training really well according to her trainer, so I can see her finishing in the first 3 in a field that seems not up to par with her abilities. Depending her form and fitness, she could very well win this, but I'll recommend the safe Place option on her.

In the last race, it will be interesting to see the return of Simon de Montfort. I think at his best, this colt has a ton of ability with a superb turn of foot. No recommendations on him, it will mainly for my knowledge base to see whether he's still the classy horse that gave out a lot of promise during the early part of the last season in France. There are some very good sorts in that race as well, in Peligroso and Zeitoper for what makes a very competitive handicap indeed.

Draw-no-bet: Milan
Place: River Jetez

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Inter to keep rolling

Man City, South Korea and Australia all won, which made for a perfect winning trifecta. After leaking 3 goals during the week-end against Wolves, City conceded 2 more against lowly Leicester. It seems their potent attack is bailing them out these days, so something to take note for their upcoming games. In racing, Zenyatta won the Eclipse award for Horse of the Year 2010. As I was mentioning previously, I thought Blame was more meritorious, but since there are no guidelines for these awards, I have no problem with this outcome. Like many, I strongly believe that her win had more to do with her popularity than actual track performance when compared to Blame.

On Wednesday, I like Inter's chances in the Serie A against Cesena. Leonardo has brought in a breath of fresh air to this Inter team that Benitez almost wrecked in the same style as Liverpool. Leonardo has still got a lot to prove as a coach, so I don't think Inter are anywhere close to their level in the Mourinho days. But the Serie A is a very average league by its past standards, and Inter has no team to fear in that league when playing with their newly-found confidence. Their winning form should continue and I like them as a safe draw-no-bet against struggling Cesena.

Draw-no-bet: Inter.

Monday, January 17, 2011

FA Cup and Asian Cup previews

Man City host Leicester in their FA Cup replay match. I am not sure what starting eleven that Mancini has in mind for his side, but it has to be good enough to overcome a Leicester team that is really poor on its travels. City are almost a complete squad with all positions filled in with back-ups, so they will be difficult to beat at home even if most of the team is rotated. Man City as draw-no-bet is the recommendation.

In the Asia Cup, South Korea play India. There is no chance that India will get a win or draw in this one. It will only be a matter of how many goals that the Koreans will win by. Goal difference will be of a particularly important matter to them since it will determine if they come top of their group in case Australia beat Bahrain. So South Korea as a win is a recommendation. As regards Australia, I cannot see them getting beaten by Bahrain, so I recommend a draw-no-bet on the Socceroos.

Win: South Korea
Draw-no-bet: Man City, Australia

The Greatest Not to Win.

It would have been a perfect week-end if Real Madrid had beaten Almeira, after the wins from Barcelona, Chelsea and Man City. But despite having over 60% of possession and out-shooting Almeira, they could only manage a draw. With Benzema on the bench on the first half, Real Madrid started the match without an orthodox striker! As I have overly mentioned before, the main worry with this Madrid team is their lack of cover in the forward department for the injured Higuain. Rightly or wrongly, Benzema does not really have the coach's confidence. But still, against lowly Almeira, I was still expecting their other offensive players to score, although Ronaldo did strike the woodwork in the last minute. It looks like it's going to be a clear passage to the title for Barcelona, as they can even contemplate a loss (however unlikely) and still remain leaders of the pack, with their 4-point advantage.

In the Premier League, Man Utd are still unbeaten having left White Hart Lane with a hard-earned point. Although this Utd team has been knocked down as being not-as-good as previous Ferguson teams (which I concur), they've got to be applauded for their resilience. They are solid and disciplined, they work hard, and unfortunately for the opposition, they are going to get better as the season progresses. If they stay healthy,  Rooney will eventually find form and hit the target, and Nani is developing into a really world-class performer. The short and long-term future looks bright for the Mancunians.

In racing, the Eclipse awards will be held tonight. They are the U.S equivalent of the European Cartier awards. The dominating talk for the past weeks has been who of Zenyatta or Blame will win the Horse of the Year. I really applaud the Zenyatta connections for having un-retired their super mare last year. Maybe it made sense from a financial viewpoint for them as well,  but from a sporting standpoint, it was a really class act. Maybe they could have done more by running against colts more often, so that her true rankings among the racing greats could be more easily determined. But it's pointless reminiscing on "ifs". Without going through a detailed analysis of their 2010 runs, on performance alone, Blame should win the award. The Grade 1's he won were of much better quality than the Grade 1's that Zenyatta won. Even Zenyatta fans will acknowledge that she only beat average fillies and mares in races deemed as Grade 1's. More importantly, Blame beat Zenyatta during that famous stretch-duel in the BC Classic. Sure, she could have won with an extra dash. But Blame won the race fair and square. Exactly at the same time last year, Zenyatta connections were petitioning for her in the 2009 edition of the award on the grounds that she won the BC Classic, "the Championship race", and Rachel Alexandra did not (even show up). They eventually lost that battle and if they applied the same reasoning, they would quickly come to the conclusion that Blame is the deserving HOY for 2010.

In my opinion, this should be the outcome and track performance should be the only criteria for the award. If voters decide to take into consideration the media and populous profile that Zenyatta raised during the year, then the result is bound to be different. After all, who can remember, besides Zenyatta, a horse that was profiled in the "60 Minutes" show? There is no doubt she has given an impulse to racing that no other horse in recent memory has. For me, she is the greatest mare to have run in the U.S, she is one of the greatest horses to have ever set foot on a track, and if there's any logic in the voting, she should be considered the greatest horse not to have won the award (second to Rachel and second to Blame). Let's see the voting tonight.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Week-end football preview

The Dubai Carnival started with a lot of expectancy on Thursday, and if the results of the first meeting are of any indication, it seems that the trend of Godolphin and Mike de Kock taking most of the headlines (and prizes) is set to continue. Godolphin bagged a treble and the South African stable got a double. As I was mentioning previously, this can be good from a punting point of view, as long as the right horses from these stables are picked (can't pick all of them obviously). Will surely be following the Carnival closely to look for good punting opportunities.

Back to football where there's another busy week-end in all the European leagues. Man City are hosting Wolves and I don't think Man City will lose this game. Wolves often keep games tight on their travels as they usually keep their discipline and it's hard to break them down. They play fast counter-attack football which sometimes can give them results as in Anfield some time back. But this City team is really coming together despite the off-field or training bust-ups that make the headlines for the wrong reasons. Man City are not Liverpool and will have too much quality for this Wolves side. Man City as a draw-no-bet is my recommendation.

I also like Chelsea's chances against Blackburn. I don't think a 7-0 rout against Ipswich means that they are totally back on track. They still have a confidence to build and winning consistency to find before they can regain their fear factor again. However, it can't get worse for them than the previous weeks, and they will have plenty of chances against this average Blackburn side. Chelsea is a draw-no-bet recommendation.

Tough game for Man Utd against Tottenham; a real test for Fergie's men and this can be the game the Red Devils lose their unbeaten tag. I think it will be an open game where both teams will have their chances. That's why it's impossible to predict the outcome on that one.

In Spain, Barcelona is hosting Malaga. I don't need to write much here, and Barcelona is favoured to win this. Real Madrid travel to second-bottom club Almeira and Ronaldo is probably relishing this encounter to augment his goal tally. Madrid legs might be tired after the Copa del Rey match against Athletico Madrid on Wednesday, but they have a full squad to rotate from, and should be able to prevail at the end. I recommend a win on Casillas and his teammates.

Win: Real Madrid, Barcelona
Draw-no-bet: Chelsea, Man City

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let the Dubai Carnival start

A totally lacklustre Arsenal side lost at Ipswich for an absolutely shocking result! I wonder what excuses Wenger will come out with this time... No excuses from me; my bad for having a totally misplaced faith in a team that does not seem to have the hunger to win when being under pressure, and giving out a bad recommendation on them. This result is as disappointing as they come. Fortunately "trusty" Barcelona easily won against Betis and limited the damage. Messi got another hat-trick and it's just amazing how easily he and Ronaldo are racking up hat-tricks. We are at a unique moment in the history of football where two phenomenons are at the peaks of their powers at the same time, and leaving everything in their wake. Whether you're a Madrid or Barcelona fan or none, it's just time to sit back and enjoy that spectacle.

Let's talk racing now and I'm pretty excited as the Dubai Carnival gets underway at Meydan on Thursday. From a punting point of view, the racing over there can be very hard to assess for many reasons; the horses are coming in from a long break and therefore it is hard to gauge their actual form and fitness, particularly during the first meetings;  it's also difficult to handicap many of the horses because they come from different places such as South America, South Africa, Europe etc; finally, the fields are usually very big and tactics and draw play an important role in the outcome of the races. Still, the main appeal of Dubai racing for me, is that Godolphin and Mike de Kock have been overly dominant for the past years, and I find value in identifying races where the horses from those 2 yards run against unmatched rivals. Easier said than done, but as long as this trend of domination continues, I think it will pay to follow those 2 powerful stables very closely. For, this year in particular, Mike de Kock is bringing his strongest team yet, with the likes of River Jetez, Our Giant, Irish Flame, Bold Silvano etc, as the big guy really wants to win the big race(Dubai World Cup) which so closely elluded him last year.

Consistent with my approach of avoiding punts where there are too many question marks, I will abstain from giving a recommendation on this first meeting. Tomorrow will be more a learning exercise as to which horses are already on song, which ones are nicely coming along, and which ones are close to or past their sell-by date.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Arsenal is spotting a trophy and normality to resume at Barcelona

Arsenal are travelling to Ipswich for the first leg of their semi-final Carling Cup. This year's Cup is certainly the best chance of silverware the Gunners have had for a long time. Arsene Wenger has been criticized for the drought of trophies that has plagued his team for over 5 years now, and he will be the first to realize that failure to land this very winnable prize will only fuel the pressure. Let's face it; West Ham, Birmingham and Ipswich have hardly any chance if Arsenal play their best team to win the Cup. Given this matter of urgency and importance, the Gunners will hardly need any extra motivation from their manager when visiting an Ipswich team that won't ooze confidence after their drubbing at the hands of Chelsea last week-end. I recommend Arsenal as a draw-no-bet because they can't lose that one.

Barcelona host Betis in the Copa del Rey. Following the distraction of the FIFA awards this week whereby their top 3 players were involved in the Player of the Year race, Barcelona should continue their winning ways and stride to the next round. I read some articles today about the Spanish press likening the Messi coronation to a national affront. Surely their expectations were high into thinking that either Iniesta or Xavi would win it. There was another article that was alluding to the start-of-the-end for Barcelona because the seeds of jealousy have been sewn among Messi and his 2 teammates after the award results. This remains to be seen, but I don't think so (unless these 3 players were called Balotelli!). Barcelona will lose its edge in Spain whenever Mourinho has his team ready to usurp them! Not sure how long this will take, this year? next year? That's what makes La Liga so exciting to follow these days. Anyway, back to the game on Wednesday, and I recommend Barcelona as draw-no-bet. They will most probably win the game but I'll stick with the draw-no-bet option because it's a Cup game and probably some first-team players will be rested (and in the last round, got burnt when they drew 0-0 at home against Bilbao).

Draw-no-bet: Barcelona, Arsenal

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bis repetita Messi!

Messi won the FIFA player of the year, followed by Iniesta and Xavi. My predictions on that one were just the opposite. So indeed, the panel did not take into consideration medals or cups won by the players. If a player shows that he's superior than the rest, then he will be picked as the champion-elect regardless of whether he ended up winning a trophy or not. That's fine if that is how the process works, but it brings me to this point; why isn't Ronaldo then in the top 3? I'm probably missing something, but hey, there's no science on this process and subjectivity plays a big part of it. Mourinho won the coach of the year as I mentioned he would, but I was really surprised by the small margin he won by against Del Bosque (35% to 33%). Can't believe that had a few votes changed hands here and there, he wouldn't have won it. Again, it's pointless trying to understand the workings behind the minds of voters. Losers or winners, these professionals will be none the poorer because of these awards.

I can't find any value bets in either all-weather racing or football for Tuesday. The Asian Cup is also in full-swing as from this week, so will be on the look-out on anything that catches the eye.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Crowning moment for Xavi?

Chelsea thrashed Ipswich and Real Madrid found a way to beat Villareal; so both recommendations for the week-end were spot on. Chelsea's win doesn't mean anything regarding its form because this Ipswich team is really in shambles. Frank Lampard needs to be at his best if Chelsea have any intention of making a charge in the Premier League, and the fact that he found the net will give him the confidence he has been lacking since his return from injury.

In La Liga, Real Madrid won thanks to Ronaldo again. Ronaldo is what North Americans would call the MVP (Most Valuable Player) to his team. While there is no argument that Messi is the best player in the world, Barcelona can still win without him because they are that good. Without Ronaldo, Madrid would certainly be nowhere as close to Barcelona in the title race. He's clearly more important to his team than Messi is, at this moment.

Talking of great players, on Monday, the FIFA World Player of the Year 2010 will be crowned. I already mentioned in my previous post that I believe Sneijder should have been shortlisted among the Top 3. In fact, he would have been my pick to win the award. I think it will be a battle of votes between Xavi and Iniesta. Messi was the best player in the world in 2010 but the Spaniards won the World Cup, so they will have the edge. There isn't much to separate the 2 Spaniards since they were both instrumental in the success of Barcelona and Spain. You could argue that Iniesta missed some part of the season for Barcelona because of injury. However, he did score the goal that won the World Cup. At the end, I have a hunch that Xavi will win this. He's considered the principal maestro for club and country; more so than Iniesta. No recommendations there (in fact, as I was mentioning before, I can't find bookies or exchanges offering any bets on this at this point), but just my opinion on how the result will go.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A tale of managers

Roy Hodgson's turbulent 7 months in charge of Liverpool came to the end many have been expecting last week with his resignation. In the opinion of most, me included, Roy Hodgson is a very good coach. Without mentioning his previous international achievements in his earlier managerial career, what he made of Fulham last year was just incredible, and he was rightfully crowned the EPL coach of the year. Fulham, which were always struggling near the bottom during the Coleman years, made meatloaf out of Man Utd and Liverpool of all at the Cottage, and nearly won the Europa Cup. His results at Liverpool are so far average, particularly for a team that is considered one of the "big" teams (whether it's still a big team is in itself debatable). In my opinion, it would have been hard on most managers to come in and make this Liverpool team an instant success. Besides Gerrard and Torres (and maybe Kuyt), Hodgson would probably have preferred 9 other players from his old Fulham side in his first team. He really did not have enough time at Liverpool to make it his team; he was playing with players left in shambles by Benitez. Can Dalglish work some magic over there? For someone who hasn't been behind the bench for years, I doubt it. He did not have to deal with 'prima donna' players during his successful management days at Blackburn. It's a totally different world of management. He will probably have more time than Benitez because he's the Kop, but success at Liverpool inevitably goes through a total clear-out.

On Monday, the FIFA coach of the year will be crowned. Can anyone really argue against Mourinho winning this? I suppose if the FIFA voters elected not to even shortlist Wesley Sneijder among the top 3 players in the world in 2010, then anything is possible! But what did Guardiola win more than Mourinho last year? Del Bosque won the World Cup, but is coaching a national team to become World champions more meritorious than leading a team to winning all club trophies in a calendar year? I don't think so. Mourinho should deservedly win the award, and if he doesn't, it would probably be because he's rubbed a considerable amount of  voters the wrong way with his famous "attitude" and legendary tirades. I still think he will win, and ironically I can't find any bookie or exchange that provide odds to these awards. The chances of the Portuguese would be of that of a striker facing an almost empty net.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Chelsea can't lose this one & La Liga Preview

Sure, Chelsea are in a rotten form and if they don't win against Ipswich this week-end, Ancelotti is most certainly gone as manager. But getting beaten by Ipswich at home in the FA Cup? No way, I would say. Ipswich just sacked their coach Roy Keane, and players always find extra motivation when playing for new or interim management for the first time. But Ipswich will be missing first-team players and the gulf in class will be all too evident. Chelsea is a wounded animal right now, and this game against Championship opposition comes at a good time for them to prove they can start being winners again. They are no longer the dominating side they were, and certainly no longer the best side in England (as ridiculously stipulated by Terry last week), but they are still a quality side that will want to defend their FA Cup trophy. They can't lose on Sunday.

In La Liga, Barcelona and Real Madrid are facing tough games. Barcelona visit Deportivo La Coruna in what I think will be a very tight encounter. I was not overly impressed with Barca in their Cup visit to Athletic Bilbao, but it was not their best team playing and it was only Messi's first game after the break. I can see Deportivo giving them all they can handle, but Barcelona will probably draw or win this. I will gather more from this game about the form of Barcelona, whatever the result; therefore, I will abstain from giving a recommendation on this one.

Real Madrid are at home to Villareal in what will be another difficult match for Ronaldo and co. The problem with Madrid is their lack of a proven striker due to the injury to Higuain. Benzema is talented and has flashes of brilliance but he's not at the stage where he can produce goals week in week out. So goals have to come from Ronaldo and their other offensive players like Ozil, Di Maria and soon Kaka. Villlareal are no slouch team and will be a threat. But it is a fact in football that Mourinho knows how not to lose at home and I can see this ending in a Madrid win or a drawn match. So Madrid as a draw-no-bet is the recommendation.

Draw-no-bet: Chelsea, Real Madrid

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Great Collapse

Canada leading 3-0 and a period of hockey to go, and you think punting does not get any easier than that. Take a nap and 20 minutes later, and realize that Russia has scored 5 unanswered goals to win the game and the gold medal... Amazing meltdown, the greatest collapse in the history of world junior hockey as the commentator was saying. If my hockey punting ego has taken a huge beating, I wonder how stunned real Canadian hockey fans must be! Congratulations Russia, well-deserved world champs, and that could be the turning point into the revival of Russian hockey.

Earlier, Barcelona drew with Bilbao for a voided bet. Again then, I had stopped watching after they scored, thinking they had the game in control, only to find out later that Bilbao tied the game five minutes from the end! Oh well, I suppose I can look at the outcome positively, and the draw-no-bet saved me there! On Thursday, Madrid are at Levante and although the coach is saying they will treat this seriously despite having won the first leg 7-0, the motivation will probably be with Levante to ease some of the humiliation. No recommendation there as this can go any way.

In the Premier League, Man Utd is just laughing its way towards the title. It got the perfect results possible on Wednesday with Chelsea and Tottenham losing and Arsenal and Man City fighting to a dull goal-less draw. I wonder if Paddy Power will soon consider the title race over and start paying out?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Barcelona to go through, and Gold for Canada!

Man Utd won their game after 2 brilliant plays from Nani. The guy has quite simply become the danger man for the Red Devils this year; to stop them, you've got to stop him first. With the paucity of available wingers as I was mentioning in the previous post, Man Utd's chances of success depend much on a fit Nani.

On Wednesday, it's the return leg of the Copa del Rey and Barcelona are at Athletic Bilbao. If the King's Cup is high enough on Guardiola's priorities (after the Champions League and La Liga), then Barcelona should field a team strong enough to win this encounter and go through. Indications from the Barcelona web site are that he is taking the game seriously although their number one keeper Valdes won't start. Barcelona has too much class, and a draw-no-bet on them is the recommendation.

Time to put on my ice hockey hat for the World Junior Ice Hockey Final between Canada and Russia. Quite simply, I cannot see the Canadian juniors lose this one. For many, Russia is extremely lucky to be in this final after overcoming the Finns and Swedes when they had their backs to the walls. You cannot deny there is some resilience in that team as well, but I doubt that will be enough against the might of the Canadian team, who also beat them 6-3 in the opening rounds. I have to mention this hockey match in this blog because all the ticks seem to be right for this Canadian team, and the only team which could have stopped them winning gold are the unluckily-eliminated Swedes (the only team to have beaten them). Canada to win gold on Wednesday night in Buffalo in front of a partisan crowd is the recommendation.

Win: Canada
Draw-no-bet: Barcelona

Monday, January 3, 2011

Man Utd beware: Stoke are no push-overs

Real Madrid won as they edged a tight game against Getafe. The fact that I had that as draw-no-bet meant it was never a concern even should Getafe had managed to pull level at any point in the match. I really like that kind of unfolding.

Back to the Premier League on Tuesday, and I might be in the minority saying this, but I think that it won't be 3 easy points for Man Utd against Stoke. My concern with this Utd team is their lack of cover of wingers, after the unavailabilities of Park and Nani. Valencia is out for long, Giggs can't take on half-backs at his age, and Obertan doesn't inspire confidence after a horrible game against West Brom. This should be a worry for a team whose mainstay has been relying on the pace of wide men to open up defences. On the road, they can afford to play with 3 centre midfielders, but they aren't as efficient using that scheme at Old Trafford because the other team is just packing their midfield in front of their defence. On the other hand, Stoke are no push-overs by any means, and have some good late form behind them. Kenwyne Jones is bound to be a handful for Utd's defence as he's been in the past. Unless the hosts score early, I can see this game going goal-less for a long while until either team scores the decisive winner. As I write this, Rooney, Evra and Nani are doubtful, so that's another negative for Fergie's men. Utd could still edge this at the end of 90 minutes because they still have lots of quality, but I reckon one or two plays could decide this match. No recommendation from me on this one, but I just wanted to caution those that are freely laying Stoke in this encounter, that they could be in for a nail-biting afternoon, in my opinion.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Monday football preview

Barcelona won, but Rangers were beaten at home against Celtic. No excuses or hard-luck stories there as Walter Smith's men gave out an inspiring performance, and it was a bad recommendation on my part.

On Monday, Real Madrid face a tricky encounter to Getafe. Maybe that's the best time for Mourinho's men to travel to Getafe, as they could use the winter break to try overturn the good form the hosts have been enjoying at home. I think Madrid will either eke out a draw or win this encounter, so a draw-no-bet on the visitors is the recommendation.

Draw-no-bet: Real Madrid

Saturday, January 1, 2011

La Liga returns, and Old Firm match-up

Man Utd scraped out a win, just like I was mentioning in my preview. If there is a current worry in the Mancunian side right now is the absence of 2 of their more enterprising players in Nani and Ji-Sung Park. It remains interesting to see if they can continue to eke out results without their dangerous wide men.

La Liga resumes on Sunday, and mighty Barcelona is back at home to Levante. It will just be a matter of how soon Barcelona can get back into their rhythm after the winter break. Will it take 45 minutes? or more? A few things of concern with the Blaugrana; their regular centre-backs Pique and Puyol won't play. Messi might not play as he just returned from Argentina. For sceptics, Barcelona have also lost points in past seasons after the winter break. Still, they should not lose to Levante, and although they will most probably win it at the end, a draw-no-bet on Guardiola's men is the safest option and is recommended.

In the Scottish League, Rangers host Celtic in what should be another explosive encounter. I mentioned before that the quality of SPL is very low compared to previous years. The current Rangers and Celtic teams would have trouble matching up with their predecessors. Although their home form of late has been patchy, I don't think Rangers will lose on Sunday. They should in fact prevail in this encounter, and take a big step towards winning the title. Based on form, this Celtic side is very exposed, and a draw-no-bet on Rangers is recommended.

Draw-no-bet: Barcelona, Rangers

Let's get started 2011.

A busy schedule in the Premier League to start the New Year. I like Man Utd's chances at West Brom, particularly because the Baggies are experiencing a mini-defensive crisis. This bodes well for Rooney and the red-hot Berbatov. Di Matteo's men stole a point at Old Trafford earlier this year, which means that they know how to cause problems to the Mancunians. I would expect a tight match, and this could be one of those matches when Utd so often sneak out a late winner. So a draw-no-bet on the Red Devils is the recommendation.

Draw-no-bet: Man Utd