Friday, April 29, 2011

Week-end preview

Laughing gave a disappointingly laughable run and was never a factor at Dundalk. A bad recommendation.

In the EPL this week-end, I like the 2 Manchester teams to either win or draw. Man Utd visit Arsenal and this game could very well end in a tie. It's hard to predict what kind of team Arsene Wenger will show up with. A reinvigorated one, or a depressed one? Man Utd are on a roll and provided their minds are focused on the game and not on the Champions League final, they should be tough to handle. I recommend the Mancunians as draw-no-bet. Man City host West Ham and there shouldn't be an easier way to get 3 points. I see City winning this to keep alive their race for the Champions League berth and recommend them as a Win.

In the Serie A, Napoli should be able to dispatch Genoa at home. The hosts lost the race for the title by losing their last 2 games, but are still up for a Champions League qualification berth. With the return of some key players, they should be able to overcome a Genoa team that on the other hand will be missing first-team players due to suspension. I see Napoli winning this outright and this is my recommendation. Milan can wrap up the title this week-end and will be tough to beat when hosting Bologna. I believe they will win as well and recommend them as a Win.

In La Liga, same old story. Madrid should win against Zaragoza at home. Barcelona travel to Real Sociedad and might be without Messi. Even so, I cannot see them being defeated. For both giants, next week's return Champions League game will be on top of their minds, so it won't be surprising if Mourinho and Guardiola field their second teams. I recommend Madrid as outright Win, and a draw-no-bet looks safe on Barcelona.

In Germany, I like Dortmund's chances at home to Nurnberg. The hosts seem to be having a nervy time wrapping up the title, and have seen their lead at the top shrink like melted ice lately. I cannot see them beaten but they might have trouble getting the 3 points. A draw-no-bet on them is recommended. Bayern Munich host Schalke, and look like another good draw-no-bet option.

In France, Lille and PSG should not be losing their home games against Arles-Avignon and Valenciennes respectively. A draw-no-bet on them look safe as well.

In Holland, FC Twente and PSV Eindhoven make a lot of appeal against Willem and Vitesse. I see them as good draw-no-bets.

Finally, the best punt of the week-end seems to be in racing where Frankel looks to take all the beating in the 2000 Guineas. All the vibes from the Henry Cecil yard are positive and there does not seem to be any horse in the race that could stop the Galileo superstar. Unless Pathfork and Casamento have dramatically improved from last year, it's hard to see anything past Frankel. He's the recommendation of the week-end for a Win.

Win: Man City, Napoli, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Frankel.
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Lille, Paris-St-Germain, PSV Eindhoven, FC Twente.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friday Dundalk racing

Benfica beat fellow compatriots Braga 2-1 for a good winning recommendation. Porto is virtually assured of going through the final by thrashing Villareal 5-1, which means the final will be all-Portuguese.

On Friday, it might be worth to side with Laughing in the first race at Dundalk. This daughter of Dansili caught the eye in a mile race a fortnight ago at the same venue by running on to the wire but failiing by a short head into second place. The 7-furlong distance might be on the short side tomorrow, but she will have come on from her first outing. With the reliable Johnny Murtagh on board, she should be given every chance to be among the finishers of the race. I recommend her as a Place.

Place: Laughing

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Another Messi spectacular

As feared, the Real Madrid v/s Barcelona game never hit the heights, and the Catalans have now taken a serious option for the final. In fact, I cannot see how the Los Blancos can overturn this tie, given the way they were shackled at the Bernabeu. We are going towards a Barcelona v/s Man Utd final, which is a great advert for football as long as Barcelona play football without the persistent player-acting and bickering and ranting to referees. Regarding Pepe's red-card, at first, I thought it was harsh, but then looking at the replay, it seems a deserved one. Obviously Dani Alves made the most of it, just like show experts Sergio and Pedro, but I don't think the referee can be blamed on that one.  The game itself was decided by the genius of Lionel Messi. That second goal was just a cracker. I don't think anyone in the game today can do such zig-zag runs with the ball at that speed.

On Thursday, the semi-finals of the Europa League start, with the best 3 Portuguese teams in action. I like Benfica's chances at home to Braga. Both clubs are a notch behind Porto, but Braga's away form is not particularly good. So I recommend Benfica as a draw-no-bet.

Draw-no-bet: Benfica

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Just finished watching the Schalke-Man Utd game... I don't think there's ever been a gulf of class between 2 semi-finalists! Could Schalke be that bad or did they choke? Or was Man Utd too good? Amazing really, but to say that Man Utd was dominating would be an understatement! Without the excellent keeper Neuer, Schalke could have been hit by 6 or 7! Maybe the Schalke coach got tactics wrong, or maybe the Red Devils were too much to handle, as Valencia had the leisure to pick on his poor left-back opponent all night long. Whatever the reason, Man Utd is going to Wembley. I was wrong mentioning it was going to be tight. I was right saying Man Utd is in good form. In fact, I think they are in devastating form right now.

So, good winning recommendation on the Red Devils, which atones for the 2 bad racing calls on Asraab and Wolfgang which both finished 4th, and therefore out of placings.

Tomorrow is the first leg of the Real Madrid v/s Barcelona clash. The farce of the Copa del Rey game from both sides still leaves me with a sour taste of disappointment. The theatrics of both teams made a mockery of what should have been a football celebration. I don't know what they have in store tomorrow, maybe more player acting, referee bashing and defensive tactics. I believe Real Madrid have come out with the momentum from the Cup final. As visitors, Barcelona and Messi in particular, seem to have trouble solving Mourinho's tactics, so I believe Real Madrid will either win or draw this game. A draw-no-bet on Madrid is recommended if you really fancy a bet. Going against Barcelona is however never a sure thing.

Draw-no-bet: Real Madrid

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tuesday preview

A fantastic week-end really where 8 out of 9 recommendations won and the remaining one was voided. Dick Turpin,  Nadal, Ajax, Athletico Madrid, Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona all won, while Bayern Munich (luckily) drew for a voided bet.

In the Premier League, Man Utd won impressively against a resolute and well-organized Everton team. The Red Devils deserved the win, and Chicharito did not have a necessarily good game but still scored when it mattered. Chelsea gave themselves a chance as title pursuers by beating West Ham as expected, but I don't think they'll catch Man Utd. Arsenal, oh dear, are out of it.

This week is much about the Champions League semi-finals. Mostly everyone seems to be writing off Schalke. Even the players themselves see Man Utd as overwhelming favourites to go through, probably to ease the pressure off themselves. The reality is that this is by no means a done deal and Schalke is a really good team that has the capacity to beat the Mancunians. It's true that it looks like Man Utd has a sort of mini-mental blockage when it comes to German opposition in European semi-finals; Dortmund, Leverkusen, Munich (although last year, Man Utd were simply unlucky not to go through). But I don't think any type of such blockage will play into effect in this year's semi-finals. The more realistic of the 2 teams will win, as I think both matches will be very tight. If Man Utd play like it did in Munich last year, it will have every chance to win the first leg; on that night, they outclassed Bayern only to go down on defensive mistakes. Same for the return leg. The current form of the Red Devils right now makes me sway in their favour, and I recommend them as a draw-no-bet.

In racing, at Wolves 17:45, I like Wolfgang from the Hannon yard. This two year-old Amadeus Wolf colt is described as small but speedy by his patrons, and looks the one to beat among a string of maidens and newcomers. The yard can always have one ready first-time out, so I recommend Wolfgang as a Place bet.

At Yarmouth 16:10, Asraab from the Godolphin yard makes a lot of appeal on his seasonal return. This Oasis Dream colt has shown a lot of potential in his 2 starts, posting a win and a second. He should take all the beating in this handicap contest, and I put a Win recommendation on him.

Win: Asraab
Place: Wolfgang
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd

Friday, April 22, 2011

Week-end preview

My selections for the week-end.

In the Premier League, Man Utd will be keen to get maximum points in their remaining home games. They host Everton against which they have an excellent home record in recent years. The Toffees are a very good team and if the hosts are sloppy, they could be in for a surprise. However, I think they will be well aware of the high stakes and unless there is a bad luck hanging over the team (like against Man City where they deserved at least a draw in the FA Cup semi-final), they should prevail. I cannot see them getting beaten so I recommend them as draw-no-bet. Same for pursuers Chelsea who seem to have hit some consistent form and should overcome West Ham at Stamford Bridge. The Hammers are quite mediocre on the road, and should not be of much opposition to Malouda and co. I also like Liverpool's chances at home against Birmingham. Kenny Dalglish is doing fine things for his beloved club and I must admit I was not expecting the success that he's getting. They should be too much for Birmingham at Anfield as the visitors are lacking firepower in the striking department with the injuries to Zigic and possibly Martins as well. Liverpool as draw-no-bet looks safe.

In La Liga, Barcelona will try to put its midweek despair to rest by beating Osasuna at home. I cannot see them getting defeated at the Nou Camp but I am not sure what kind of team will be fielded by Guardiola, particularly in light of the upcoming Champions League games against Madrid. I recommend Barcelona as draw-no-bet. I like Athletico Madrid's chances at home against Levante. Aguero and his teammates have posted solid games recently and are on a good consistent run. I see them overcoming Levante and are recommended as Win.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich have found a new lease of life under new coach Jonker. Even without suspended Robben, I can't see them losing on their visit to lowly Frankfurt. Bayern as draw-no-bet is recommended.

In the Dutch league, I like Ajax as it hosts Excelsior. A straightforward win on the hosts is recommended.

Finally, in racing, Dick Turpin makes his seasonal debut in the Bet365 Mile at Sandown. The Hannon stable has won the race in the past 4 years, and I expect it to win again tomorrow. Dick Turpin looks in great form according to the trainer and is a class above the rest of this field.. He should be in the first 2 and is recommended as a Place.

Win: Ajax, Athletico Madrid
Draw-no-bet: Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd, Bayern Munich
Place: Dick Turpin

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A breach in Barcelona's armour

A football festival as I tried to juggle the 2 fascinating matches yesterday; Tottenham v/s Arsenal and Barcelona v/s Madrid. The London derby ended in a 3-3 stalemate with goals aplenty as I was mentioning it would yesterday. A really thrilling match and the Gunners will rue throwing away another 2-goal lead. During the first half of the season, it looked like Man Utd was the one giving away points, but the way the Gunners have been surpassing them in this category, is just mind-boggling. Chelsea won, and they seem to have taken the mantle of being Man Utd's main opponents for the title. With 6 points to overcome, their mini-resurgence will prove a little too late, I believe.

In the Copa del Rey, Mourinho did it to the Catalans again! Switching between those 2 games clearly shows the difference between the English and Spanish leagues. While the game at White Hart Lane was an enthralling end-to-end affair that gave football fans something to cheer about, the Spanish final was a poor sight of constant bickering from players of both teams to the referee. If referees in the Premier League think they are under lots of pressure, then they should check this match to see the kind of pressure their Spanish counterparts are subject to. A shameful advertisement from the 2 supposedly best teams in the world. Maybe the stakes couldn't have been higher between  the fiercest rivals of all. But poor spectacle indeed. In the end, Real Madrid won the spoils in extra-time; Mourinho is really a Cup final magician and I wonder if yesterday was the start of the downfall of  Barcelona. Remains to be seen, but the Champions League clashes between the 2 teams will be explosive. There is so much bad blood between those teams that it probably won't be a football spectacle; I can see a flourish of yellow/red cards being handed already.

I mentioned the ramifications from the Masters that Tiger Woods was close to be back at his best. Tennis superstar Rafael Nadal seems to be in dominant form again, particularly on his favorite clay surface. He just won his last tournament as expected, and I reckon he'll do so again at the Barcelona Open on clay this week-end. He looks a safe recommendation to win the tournament again.

Win: Rafael Nadal

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dream final

Man Utd just finished drawing with Newcastle for a voided recommendation. The Red Devils are now 7 points clear of Arsenal with an extra game played. Can the Gunners cut the gap to 4 on Wednesday? I doubt it. Going to Tottenham is never easy, and I reckon Harry Redknapp's men will be up for the battle against their arch-enemies tomorrow. I suspect there will be lots of goals with Spurs prevailing at the end. A draw-no-bet on Tottenham is recommended.

In the other Premier League game, Chelsea should win at home against Birmingham. Chelsea are playing for automatic qualification for next season's Champions League and will be keen to bag the 3 points against their lowly opponents. Will Torres score? May be. I just cannot see Birmingham snatching the win here with the absences of main strikers Zigic and Martins. Chelsea are recommended as draw-no-bet.

Finally, the Copa del Rey final between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Final between the 2 giants of Spanish football, arguably the 2 best sides in the world right now, both with managers having never lost a Cup final. Only their upcoming semi-final Champions League matches can trump this match between the arch rivals. In my opinion, the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu gave very little away into how things are going to unfold for this match. The objective is different, the teams will be somewhat altered, and more importantly tactics will be different.

One thing for certain is that Mourinho will come up with tactics so as not to lose in 90 minutes or extra time. After all, he's not just a football manager, and as Johann Cryuff would have it, he's a manager of winning titles. To beat a Barcelona team that is superior on all accounts, going to the lottery of penalties with Casillas in goal should seem a decent proposition to the Los Blancos, I believe. So there'll be no surprise if Madrid start with more than 7 defensively minded players as they did over the week-end. They will also rely on dead ball situations where Ronaldo's free-kicks can be decisive. If they get an early goal, then think of it as not 1, but 2 buses will be parked in front of goal!

Barcelona showed on Saturday that they are still one notch above Madrid. Over 70% possession, for a game that they led for a good, is just staggering. It's true they played with an extra man, and were stretched at times by Madrid, but they were still the visiting team at the Bernabeu. They were actually unlucky not to win the match with the bad decision on Marcelo's penalty (the small Brazilian is actually proving to be quite an annoyingly good actor on the pitch, after his theatrics against Crouch in the Champions League).

I think this game will end in a draw and Madrid will nick it on penalties. But no recommendation on that one, it can really go either way.

Draw-no-bet: Tottenham, Chelsea

Monday, April 18, 2011

This title race is almost over

2 wins, 2 losses and 2 voids, not really great week-end as far as my recommendations went. Man Utd lost and Strong Suit was unplaced. Dortmund and Milan won, and Wolfsburg and Madrid drew late in the game for voided punts.

There were not many things of worthy mention that captivated my mind over the week-end. Until the famous 1-1 draw between Arsenal and Liverpool, that is. I am running out of adjectives describing this Arsenal team. Really, their title challenge is bordering on the farcical. The penalty on Fabregas was right, the penalty on Lucas was not. That, I agree with Wenger. But the actions that led to the Liverpool penalty in the dying seconds of the game, are just beyond belief. Instead of parking the bus, the Gunners allow Liverpool space and bam! Liverpool earn a free-kick at the edge of the box, and the Arsenal are feeling "lucky" that the referee did not give a penalty. But they don't learn. Suarez's free-kick is deflected, and Eboue gets tricked like a novice with Lucas' dummy play and there goes Arsenal hopes. This team has too many things lacking from top to bottom before it can be called championship caliber, in my opinion. A very talented team, but one needing better management and a real Roy Keane-type to keep players on their toes and keep focus.

In La Liga, the Clasico ended in a draw as many pundits thought it would. I don't see why Mourinho is complaining here, Real are very lucky to get a draw out of that game. Barcelona are being as ever impressive, and it still remains to be seen what type of tactics the Portuguese maestro will employ in the upcoming Clasicos.

The more refreshing news came out of racing really. Frankel was dominant again and seems to have lost none of his ability or reputation. From a racing, as well as punting, point of view, I really hope he's THAT good. Also, great news on Sunday when Overdose, the Budapest Bullet, easily won on his return from injury. He seems to have none of his ability either, and broke the track record. Again here, if he could finally bring his best to Royal Ascot and take on the Black Caviar, Rocket Man etc, what a spectacle to behold ahead!

Back to football where Man Utd take on Newcastle on Tuesday. The Red Devils have a pretty awesome history at St James Park in recent years, and they are clear favourites to take the 3 points again. Provided they are unperturbed by the loss to Man City, they should have too much fire-power against the hosts. Rooney is back, Valencia and Nani are firing from the flanks, Ferdinand and Vidic are holding things tight at the back. A draw-no-bet on the Red Devils is recommended as they march towards the title.

Draw-no-bet: Man Utd

Friday, April 15, 2011

Weekend preview

Field of Miracles won her race on Thursday at Kempton for a nice winning recommendation. The Gosden stable is on fire currently as it again won with Imperial Pippin at Newbury today, and is to be followed. Lots to look forward to this week-end in both football and racing.

The matches in the Premier League look quite competitive, and I can't really find any sure-fire bets. Even Chelsea is exposed when visiting West Brom, who've become a resurgent team under Roy Hodgson. There seems to be better value looking at the semi-final FA Cup match between the 2 Manchester teams. Man City will be massively disadvantaged with the loss of Carlos Tevez to injury. Their best player could have caused problems in the Utd defence. On the other hand, Man Utd are on a roll right now, and it's always been hard to stop them once they have that kind of momentum. The Red Devils have been overwhelming City in the last few years in the Premier League although that one could argue that City have ridden some hard luck in a few of those games. I don't put much emphasis on history but it's hard to go against Utd with the vein of form they are in. They should win or draw this match even without Wayne Rooney. I recommend them as draw-no-bet.

This was supposed to be THE Clasico game in La Liga which everyone had been looking forward to since the 5-0 drubbing of Madrid at the Nou Camp some months back. It turns out Saturday's Clasico has lost some of the luster because not only are Barcelona 8 points ahead, but there are 3 more Clasicos of higher importance to be played in the few weeks; the Copa del Rey final and the semi-final matches of the Champions League! So, tomorrow's league match has paled in significance given that even a Madrid win would probably still not have an impact on the championship race. The theory brewing in both of the managers' minds is how can they win tomorrow's game without giving much away in terms of tactics and strategy for the remaining 3 games. As a result, both teams are probably not going to be playing desperation football tomorrow. Madrid will certainly have more urgency since they haven't beaten their opponents in 6 seasons, and will feel tomorrow might be the time to do so. Losing however, will only aggravate the mental barrier they've trying to overcome against their arch-rivals. For this reason, Mourinho will try not to lose this game. If someone really needs to have a punt on this one, I would recommend Real Madrid as a draw-no-bet.

In Italy, I think Milan is a good draw-no-bet at home against Sampdoria. In the Bundesliga, I like Wolfsburg's and Borussia Dortmund's chances at home to St Pauli and Freiburg respectively, so they are good draw-no-bets.

In racing, it's the return of much-vaunted Frankel, the potential superstar for this Flat season. There was disappointment a couple of weeks ago when another much-talked-about star St Nicholas Abbey petered out on his seasonal debut at the Curragh. Hopefully for racing, Frankel won't disappoint. It's tough to gauge his chances on Saturday; the vibes from the Henry Cecil camp is that he's wintered well and in good form. However, the yard is hardly in form itself and has seen quite a few well-fancied representatives disappoint lately; Twice Over in the DWC, Bullet Train, Midsummer Fun, All Time among others, have been well-fancied but finished far from the podium. The main opposition I believe will come from Strong Suit from the Hannon yard that is starting to fire on all cylinders. He will like the fast ground and the fast pace that seems to be a given with the inclusion of Picture Editor as pacemaker. I like Strong Suit as a Place punt.

Place: Strong Suit
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg, AC Milan

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kempton Thursday preview

The current Flat season is in full swing with the Craven meeting at Newmarket. The 3-year old prospects are being sharpened for the upcoming Classics, and it will be fascinating to see if some of them can confirm their juvenile form. Like every season, there are always one or two late bloomers (or backward types as they say) that show nothing in their first season but turn out to be stars one year later.

On Thursday, it's mainly in Kempton that I see some value; in the 19:15 race, Field of Miracles runs for the Gosden stable. This daughter of Galileo caught the eye in her only appearance last year when keeping on for fourth at Newmarket. The opposition looks very ordinary and the race seems right for her to nail on her season debut. With William Buick on board, the Gosden filly is bound to take all the beating and should be in the first 3; should she need to get rid of the cobwebs after the layoff, for safety she is recommended as a Place.

Place: Field of Miracles

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Man Utd laughing at Chelsea again!

Man Utd just finished beating Chelsea to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League for a winning recommendation. The two Utd goals were again assists from the ever-green Giggs. The guy is just amazing; at 36, he's as, or even more decisive now than he was a few years ago! Stuff of legends, really. As for Chelsea, the season is over, and the critics already have their knives out; Torres, 50-million dollar man, no goal. The rebuilding process should be starting soon, I reckon. At least, Terry will stop his non-sense talk that Chelsea still have a successful season ahead of them, something he's been repeating after they've been out of contention from every competition!

Tomorrow, Real Madrid and Schalke should book the remaining spots of the semi-finals. More non-sense talk as some voices from Tottenham talk of possibility of advancing... I suppose, to be fair, they have to believe in something, or else what's the point of playing? But the chances of them advancing are really nil (unless Real get disqualified for some reason). They might win the match, they might beat some other team by 4 goals (e.g., Inter), but they won't beat a team coached by Mourinho by 4 goals. There is no manager better at managing a  result and parking the bus than the Portuguese. Even Barcelona with one extra man could only put 1 against Inter last year at the Nou Camp. So how can Spurs, whose coach has never beaten Mourinho in 6 tries, do it? No, Real will qualify and any odds on offer for this is really free money. As for the final result of the match, any of the 2 teams can win this game, so no recommendation on the outcome.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rory fades but the Roar is back

A quite superb week-end it was with 6 out of 7 recommendations winning, and 1 voided for a draw. Inter, Barcelona, Man Utd, Lyon, Aston Villa and Chelsea all won, while Marseille drew at home to Toulouse.

Not much to take anew from the world of football where the major protagonists in English, Italian, and Spanish Leagues won. Man Utd look rock solid, their deep squad coming through when needed. Having only the League to play for should give Arsenal the necessary focus and energy to handle their remaining games better than usual. In La Liga, Barcelona and Madrid are sharpening their knives ahead of the clasico's ahead. The return to form of Kaka is a massive boost for the Los Blancos. We'll see if that's enough to derail Messi and company.

For me, the main story of the week-end was Tiger's performance at the Masters, particularly the last round on Sunday. Too bad Rory McIlroy capitulated at the end, but it looks like Tiger's finally back! And that's great news for punters because at his best, there's probably no more dominating athlete in any sport besides Tiger! It's time to take a close tab on his next tournaments, that's for sure.

Going back to football, on Tuesday, Man Utd host Chelsea for the return leg of the Champions League. I can't see Utd losing this game. This is potentially the last meaningful game of the season for Chelsea to play for, and that will surely drive them. But Man Utd have the form, the youth, the hunger, the first-game result, and the fans on their side. Rio Ferdinand is back to tighten things at the back with Vidic. Hard to see a declining Blues team getting a result at Old Trafford. A draw-no-bet on Rooney and his teammates is recommended.

Draw-no-bet: Man Utd

Friday, April 8, 2011

Week-end Preview

Las Verglas Star came out second for a winning Place recommendation. A lot of interesting things going on in the world of sports this week-end with the golf Masters (can Rory do it?), the Grand National (will McCoy win again?), and of course the usual football and racing.

I was mentioning earlier this week that I thought La Liga was over. I can't see Barcelona losing the title with an 8-point advantage at this stage of the season. I think it is obvious for both teams as well that the race is over and that there are "better fish to fry", notably the Copa del Rey and Champions League where both teams look assured to clash again. So, this makes it a little tricky to analyze their remaining League matches because they will obviously not be fielding their best teams. So, as Real Madrid travel to Bilbao, Mourinho might feel the time is right to experiment with his team selection and give a rest to some players. I would not be surprised if Bilbao get a draw or even take the spoils there. Too unpredictable to forecast this game. Barcelona host Almeira. Again here, it looks certain that Guardiola will freshen things up and give a chance to fringe players. Even so, I cannot see them missing the golden 3 points available here. Barcelona as a Win is recommended.

The Premier League looks a more interesting proposition to follow as although Man Utd have a seven point lead (with an extra game played than Arsenal), their road to the title is somewhat more difficult than Barcelona. That's the competitive nature of the league, where even the lowest-ranked teams can spring shock results as they wage their own relegation battle. There is no doubt that Man Utd got a huge boost by beating Chelsea in mid-week, and their confidence will have soared with the return of centre-half Rio Ferdinand. They entertain Fulham who are by means an easy team to deal with. Mark Hughes teams always have character and will have a go at the hosts. Still, Man Utd should prevail in this one and should they fail to win the 3 points, a draw is a minimum result for them. A draw-no-bet on Man Utd is recommended.

In the other Premier League games, Chelsea should overcome Wigan. If they were in the thick of the title race, it would be a sure Chelsea win. Since they are (mostly) out of it, and that the Champions League return leg at Old Trafford will be on their minds, Carlos Ancelotti is bound to rest key players now that he has a full-squad at his disposal. Chelsea is a draw-no-bet recommendation. I like Aston Villa's chances against Newcastle on Sunday. Villa have to pick up points as they try to distance themselves from the relegation zone. Obviously the quality available in this squad means that they shouldn't be there in the first place. The positive vibe from the Villains is that Darren Bent is scoring. To me, he's one of the top 5 strikers in the league, and should score enough goals till the end of the season to get his team out of its precarious position. A draw-no-bet on Villa is recommended.

In the Serie A, Inter play host to Chievo. The big question is what kind of Inter will show up; a demolarised one after consecutive thumpings from Milan and Schalke at the San Siro? Or a re-energized one that is solely focused on retaining its Serie A title, now that they almost have both feet out of the Champions League? I see Inter grinding a win out of this, or a draw in case Chievo prove resilient. A draw-no-bet on Inter is the recommendation.

In France, Lyon and Marseille should either win or draw their home matches. Both of their title aspirations are slim as Lille is looking like a runaway winner, but they are working on maximizing points in their battle for Champions League/European spots.

Win: Barcelona
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Inter Milan, Marseille, Lyon

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Newcastle Thursday preview

That was a bad call on Monitor Closely who came out 3rd out of the 5-horse race for a losing recommendation. Both him and King's Gambit were surprised by St Moritz, the Medicean gelding from the Nicholls yard.

On Thursday, the best chance of the day seems to be with Las Verglas Star in the Newcastle 17:15 Handicap. The 3-year old gelding from the Richard Fahey yard easily won his seasonal opener at Musselburg last week, and should be taking all the beating in this race. He seems to be benefiting from being gelded and the yard is in very good form. So Las Verglas Star is a recommendation for a Place.

The Masters has started today and Rory McIlroy has started superbly with a -7. It would be great if he could go all the way. I'm still waiting for Tiger to show that he's completely back to his old self. Once he does, there won't be many better punts than on him, no matter the sport. Until he gets his swagger back, it makes sense to take a pass on him.

Place: Last Verglas Star

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thursday Ripon racing

Barcelona just finished obliterating Shakhtar and Man Utd won the battle of England by winning at Stamford Bridge. Good winning recommendation on Barcelona and good feeling about the Red Devils winning. Man Utd might have a less-talented team (on paper) than Chelsea, but they have a younger team and the better manager, who instills that winning drive in them. It looks like we are going towards Barcelona-Madrid and Schalke-Man Utd semi-finals. Absolutely juicy, particularly the Spanish Clasico. There is still the return leg to go at Old Trafford though before I rush to premature conclusions about semi-final match-ups.

On Thursday, I like Monitor Closely in the 15:20 Ripon race-card. According to his trainer Michael Bell, he seems to be in great form, and in my opinion, should be amongst the finishers in this 5-horse field. I recommend him to Place in the first 2, his most serious opponent probably being King's Gambit who has a similar official rating. On their best form, these 2 horses should be a cut above the rest of the field. Too bad Hayley Turner is suspended, but George Baker can deliver the goods on Monitor Closely.

Place: Monitor Closely.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Man Utd to pile more misery on Chelsea?

Real Madrid just thrashed Tottenham 4-0 and there shouldn't be any doubt that they've already qualified for the next round. The recommendation on them was a winning one as soon as Crouch was ejected from the game. Schalke have stunned holders Inter in the other quarter-final game and the Germans continue to be a surprising force to reckon with in the competition.

Obviously, on Wednesday, Barcelona are huge favourites to overcome Shakhtar Donesk at home. The  Ukrainians actually stunned the Spaniards a few years back by winning at the Nou Camp, but it's tough to see a repeat of that given the current stakes and the form of the Blaugrana. Shakhtar have a good mix of Brazilian players, particularly a jewel of a midfielder in Douglas Costa, but I can't see them beating Barcelona. I recommend the Spaniards as a draw-no-bet.

The other quarter-final sees Man Utd travelling to Chelsea for an all-English battle. Peter Cech stoked the flames  of the rivalry yesterday by declaring that Man Utd did not "really win it" when they beat Chelsea on penalties in the Moscow final a few years back. Sour grapes from a sore loser. Whichever team you support or hate, the result has to be respected and the winners acclaimed at the end of a match, particularly that the outcome was not decided by a referee or dubious error. Absolutely class-less Cech. Getting back to the game, it can go either way really. Even though Man Utd lost at Chelsea a few weeks ago, they left everyone with the impression that the result could easily have gone their way. I don't think Chelsea will be more motivated than the Red Devils because they lost that final. At this stage of the competition, motivation and hunger should not be lacking in any of the 2 teams. I have a feeling Man Utd will be happier team once the game is over; whether they win it, or whether they get a draw with a crucial goal, I don't know. No recommendation on this one, I just hope the referee does not mess up this clash by unnecessarily sanctioning tackles that would otherwise be "fine" in the Premier League.

Draw-no-bet: Barcelona.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Leaders steer clear

Strangely enough, this was a pivotal week-end in the 3 major European leagues namely EPL, La Liga and Serie A. The leaders ran away while most, including myself, were expecting some sort narrowing the gap at the top. The recommendations on Man City and Bayern were good, Arsenal and Wolfsburg were drawn and voided, and the Real Madrid one was a losing shocker to say the least.

In the EPL, Man Utd played comeback kings yet again and are forging their way towards the title. If I thought they looked good to win it in last Friday's blog, today I feel only a meltdown of catastrophic proportions can stop them this year. In Ferguson's rule at Old Trafford, no such catastrophe has ever happened and I don't think it will happen, even for a team that is still considered not-vintage material. There might be some blips on some of their away games, but things seem to indicate they will prevail at the end, considering the miserable opposition from the Gunners.

La Liga is over, in my opinion. Barcelona have won it this week-end, and consider any remaining short odds on offer for them as interest returns come the official season end. Deserving champions they are too. Going to beat Villareal with key men missing and not conceding any goal shows the deep talent of this squad. Madrid have the Copa del Rey and possibly 2 semi-final matches against the mighty Blaugrana to prevent a complete stream-rolling from their arch-rivals.

This week will be dominated by the Champions League match-ups. Tomorrow, Inter welcome Shalke, and Real Madrid welcome Tottenham. Missing Ronaldo and Benzema was clearly the reason Madrid could not score against a resolutely defensive Gijon team. Even if these 2 are still missing for tomorrow's game, they will have chances to score against a depleted Spurs defence. Plus, let's face it, even though they did it over the week-end against Wigan, Spurs are not famed for clean sheets. Their main weapon is their multi-faceted offense with the likes of Bale, Van der Vaart, Lennon etc. For statisticians, Redknapp is 0-5 against Mourinho during the latter's Chelsea days. Advantage to the Spaniards on this one, they will take advantage of Spurs' inexperience and injury problems; I recommend Real Madrid as a draw-no-bet.

Draw-no-bet: Real Madrid

Friday, April 1, 2011

Weekend football preview

A huge week-end of football coming up in the major European leagues after the international break.

I like Arsenal's chances against Blackburn. The Gunners do not have any margin for error and they won't come any easier than Blackburn. I can't see them failing to get the 3 points here, although you never know with them. A draw-no-bet on Arsenal is recommended. Man Utd face a very tough road at West Ham. They might escape with the 3 points at the end, but West Ham will give them all they can handle. This match can go either way, and is impossible to predict. On Sunday, Man City should dispatch Sunderland even without defenders Micah Richards and Boateng. A draw-no-bet is recommended on the Citizens.

In the Serie A, it's the Milan Derby which is going to play a massive role in the outcome of the title race. I believe Inter is the strongest team in the league and should not fear Milan at the San Siro. I still have reservations about Leonardo as a coach. I give Inter a slight advantage even though they are the "away" team, but this game can go either way. This is a clearly 6-point game for both teams.

This week-end could also see some defining developments in La Liga. Barcelona at Villareal; this is as tough as it gets for the Blaugrana, particularly without Xavi and most probably Messi. This game represents the second most difficult remaining league game for them after the Real Madrid game in some week's time. If they get the 3 points, it would be just massive. Real Madrid welcome Sporting Gijon. This is a straight 3 points for Mourinho's men even with the absence of Ronaldo and Benzema. A win is recommended on the Los Blancos.

In Germany, although they are a team in turmoil, Bayern Munich should beat Monchengladbach at home. A win is recommended on the hosts. I like Wolfsburg chances at home to Frankfurt. With the return of Magath as coach, the hosts should be looking forward to a better remainder of the season and most importantly get out of the relegation zone. A draw-no-bet on Wolfsburg  is recommended.

Win: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich
Draw-no-bet: Arsenal, Man City, Wolfsburg.