Monday, January 30, 2012

Highlights all over

5 out of 7 selections obliged with Igugu, Milan, Palermo, Real and Lyon all winning, but Inter and Barcelona disappointing against lowly opposition. The week-end was not short of highlights in many departments.

In La Liga, it is almost done deal for Real who have shot 7 points clear at the top. They look a certainty to win the title and only a cataclysmic occurrence (like Mourinho quitting before the season end) will stop them. It is looking sweet right now, having recommended piling on them a couple of months ago.

In tennis, what else to say about Djokovic beating Nadal yet again in a Major final? He's got his sights on Roland Garros already and Nadal has a few weeks to figure out how to stop the Serbian machine. After all, Paris is the Spaniard's hunting ground and it will be interesting to see if Nole has the ammunition to topple him on his favourite surface. We'll get there in due time.

In golf, Tiger let go of the win in the final round in Abu Dhabi to an English journeyman golfer. It used to be that Tiger would always make the difference in the last round if leading after 3 rounds, but his defeat shows that he's not quite at his best level yet. Still a third place finish looks honorable as he continues his comeback assault.

In racing, the Kenilworth meeting in South Africa was a treat to watch. What a beautiful mover Jackson, the winner of the Cape Investec Derby, is. Definitely one to watch in future middle-distance races. Ebony Flyer, who I have been gloating about in these pages but who flopped badly in the Queen's Plate, redeemed herself and won the Group 1 mile race on the card. But the star of the evening was Igugu, no doubt. She produced a jaw-dropping finishing kick to win when all observers had her beaten. Super Igugu, she would beat any filly on this planet from 10-12 furlongs, in my opinion.

Tuesday sees a rare Premier League fixture and I see Man Utd and Tottenham keeping the pressure on leaders Man City. They should dispatch Stoke and Wigan respectively at home; a Win on Man Utd is recommended, while a conservative draw-no-bet on Spurs looks safer than an outright win (there's always the disruptive effects of manager Redknapp's off-field issues on the functioning of the team).

Win: Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Tottenham

Friday, January 27, 2012

Busy week-end

Terrific last couple of days with African Story and Musir winning the plaudits in Meydan and Djokovic reaching the Australian Open Final as recommended.

The EPL leaves the stage to the FA Cup this week-end, with a Liverpool v/s Man Utd as the highlight match. Cup matches rarely have anything to do with EPL form so it is pointless for me to try to find teams that will go through. I will rather focus on La Liga where Real and Barcelona go back to battle for the title after their epic Cup showdown. With eyes closed, the recommendation is on Real to overcome last-place Zaragoza. It will be a matter of how many goals the Los Blancos will score against a club that looks destined for relegation.

Barcelona have an arguably more difficult match against Villareal, who are the disappointing team of the league. This is a team that was contending in the Champions League not long ago and who now find themselves fighting for survival in the top flight. The Catalans cannot afford to lose any points in this match and provided they do not suffer from the absences of Iniesta and Sanchez, they should get the Win in the end. They are recommended as a Win as well.

In Serie A, I like draw-no-bets for AC Milan, Inter and Palermo as they are playing inferior opposition.
In La Ligue 1, Lyon looks a safe draw-no-bet against Dijon.

South African racing has a big Saturday with no less than 3 Group 1's and 1 Group 2 up for grabs. The main race is the J&B Met in which superstar filly Igugu is the big favourite. The main question is whether she has fully recovered from the throat infection that had affected her, and the subsequent tough quarantine to which she had been subjected. If she's back to her best, she'll win. Throat infections can destroy a career; the one that comes to mind is Discreet Cat's in the DWC. The horse never came back to his best again. Although Igugu's problem does not look as serious as that of the former Godolphin star, it will still be interesting if that could have had any effect on her. I think as odds-against, she's worth the punt as a Win as she is better than anything in the field by far. With those risks in mind, the recommendation is for her to Win.

Win: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Igugu
Draw-no-bet: Milan, Inter, Palermo, Lyon

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Meydan Week 4

Moataz came in a game second, fairly beaten by 3 lengths. It was a case of the winner being too good.

Thursday is the 4th round of the Dubai Carnival and overall, it looks to be a quiet week for the Mike de Kock stable (besides Musir's race) since the conditioner is probably more focused on this Saturday's J&B Met meeting in Cape Town! Godolphin send out some decent types and although they don't seem as intimidating as those in previous weeks, they still have a stronghold on the market. Here are my views of the races.

The first race looks to be a very competitive handicap with nothing standing out clearly; so it would be speculative to guess on the outcome, better stay away.

The second race sees the first run of African Story under the Blue colors. He's previously been under the Andre Fabre care and has relatively good form in Pattern races,  having been close to Moonlight Cloud and Sahpresa. This looks a decent contest for his seasonal return and I recommend him as a Place.

I would caution against going all out on favourite Time Prisoner in the third race. Looking at last year's form, he alternates the good and the bad races. Each of his wins was followed by an unplaced finish. He won a fortnight ago, and could still win or place tomorrow, but just be wary of these blemishes in his track record.

Races No 5 and 7 are thoroughly-competitive handicaps that can go to several, so I'll abstain again.

The main race of the day is the Group 2 Dubai Duty Free in race 6 where Musir will lock horns with the high-class Presvis, City Style and Rajsaman. I believe the 9 furlongs distance is the optimum trip for Musir. Having shown he's still a top horse 2 weeks ago, he's again the horse to beat and I cannot see him out of the first 3. Presvis is possibly one of the most difficult horses to ride. He can only be asked for action at the right time at the finish so that he does not idle after having burst through the pack; a top horse that cannot be always trusted to produce given his non-versatility.Ryan Moore knows him to perfection and has a fantastic record with him, but they are still dependent on the right pace going for them. I believe the City Style will be stretched by the distance and Rajsaman will have lots to prove for his new connections. A Place on Musir looks safe and I think going for the outright Win looks a worthy risk as well.

Win: Musir
Place: African Story

Monday, January 23, 2012

Southwell Tuesday

A very quiet by normal standards, but a winning one with Real and Barcelona both winning. Dubawi Cheetah was scratched and did not run.

It was Manchester 2 London 0 in the match-up of the top teams in the Premier League. Man City were lucky to get the 3 points with a last-gap penalty kick taken by Balotelli. The result could so easily have swung in Tottenham's favour had Defoe not missed a gaping open goal minutes before City's game winner. These 3 points could prove decisive in the end, no doubt.

Man Utd played like champions in winning at the Emirates Stadium. They certainly won't give up the title fight until the end and man-handled Arsenal for a deserved win. The after-match talk was all about the controversial substitution of Arsenal's arguably best player on the pitch Alex Chamberlain after their goal. I agree with those that maintain that Wenger got it wrong (again) there. The young phenom was one of the few players able to cause some havoc in the Mancunian defence and should have continued the game if they were serious of getting the badly-needed 3 points out of the game. Just reading Wenger's post-match analysis would make an Arsenal fan want to cry; he felt they could have won the game comfortably in the second-half. I don't know which game he was looking at, but Man Utd should have easily buried a couple of goals on his Gunners; the visitors were by far the most menacing throughout the game.

In La Liga, Real and Barcelona won as expected and it was another no-event at the top. Ramblings of squad conflict at the Bernabeu are surfacing and it will be interesting if these unsettle the Los Blancos. At the present, Madrid are playing as good professionally as they can in La Liga and I cannot see any reason why they are not to be followed.

On Tuesday, back to racing where the 15:50 race at Southwell looks a good place for Moataz to strike again in the space of 3 days. The Mark Johnston stable is on fire and Moataz looks to be ahead of the handicapper in this average handicap. If the Elusive Quality gelding takes well to the fibresand surface, he should play a major role at the finish. I recommend him as an each-way punt.

Each-way: Moataz

Friday, January 20, 2012

Week-end preview

What a big difference 2 short heads can make. Measuring Time and Mahbooba got touched off by the slimmest of margins just when they looked to bring the big bacon home. You win some and you lose some at the photo finish, and what could have been a great race day turned into a rather tepid one.

The Club Oceanic/Measuring Time each-way couple worked great as the latter came second at great odds. It would have been even better if he had won. The Prince Bishop/Spring of Fame each-way couple also worked wonders as they finished 1-2. Mutahadee beat Viscount Nelson for a 1-2 for the de Kock team, but the stable was not so lucky as Mahbooba got pipped on the line by First City in the Cape Verdi. Finally, Disa Leader did not show much in his first race in Dubai as he flattened in the straight when well-placed throughout.

On Saturday, I like Dubawi Cheetah in the 12:50 maiden mile race. He finished an encouraging second in his debut twelve days ago and he is entitled to further improvement. Unless one of the newcomers is out of the ordinary, this runner from the Fahey stable should have no trouble winning this race. I recommend him as a straight Win.

In football, I cannot see any certainties in the Premier League. Obviously, the 2 games of interest at the top pit the 2 Manchester teams against Londoners Arsenal and Tottenham. The results of these matches can go either
way, so it would be speculation to try to find the winners.

In La Liga, Real Madrid should resume winning ways as it hosts Athletic Bilbao. This should be a straigtht win for the Los Blancos provided they have recovered from the mid-week defeat at the hands of Barcelona. A Win recommendation is placed on the hosts. Barcelona travel to Malaga and they should at least get a point of that game; so I recommend them as a draw-no-bet.

Win: Dubawi Cheetah, Real Madrid
Draw-no-bet: Barcelona

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Meydan Week 3

Hats off to Barcelona; they have Madrid and Mourinho in their pocket in direct encounters. They know how to beat them whether it is on the road or at home. It's a lesson learned not to go against Guardiola's men when they are up against their fierce rivals these days.

Let's focus on racing at Meydan where, touch wood, the selections have been pretty good and very satisfying for the initial couple of weeks. Godolphin are out in force this week and it would not surprise me that they rack up the bulk of the races.

The first race certainly gives them a great chance to strike with their double entry of Club Oceanic and Measuring Time. The 11-furlong distance should suit both horses and I see recommend them as an each-way couple. It will pay if one of them wins.

Ditto for Godolphin for the second race. I like both Prince Bishop and Spring of Fame and I think one of them will win the race. Coupling them each-way is the recommendation as well.

The 12:10 Handicap in the 3rd race will go to either of the powerhouses of Godolphin (again) or Mike de Kock. Viscount Nelson comes from Ballydoyle and has solid European form. He should do well for de Kock and it remains to be seen how fit he is after a layoff. Same for his stablemate Mutahadee. The Blues are represented by the Emerald Commander who has good form behind him as well, and Sea Lord who came up an interesting 4th a fortnight ago. The winner will come from one of these 4 horses and it's a tough call choosing, so I'll abstain giving a recommendation here.

The 6-furlong Conditions fourth race is very much open, so there are no certainties there as well.

The Group 2 Cape Verdi Stakes looks weak and Mahbooba stands out. I just cannot see her out of the first 3. If she runs to form, she should win this. She is worth the confidence for a straight Win and that's the recommendation.

The Handicap in the last race looks open and I will pay particular attention to Disa Leader, the champion from Mauritius. The last champion from Mauritius to go to Dubai was Mr Brock and he certainly flew the flag high for the local fans there. Disa Leader is widely acknowledged to be even better than Mr Brock, so he carries serious form with him. If he's fit and takes to the left-handed track (Mauritius has a right-handed track), he should be in the placings. His odds suggest that he might be the value bet of the day as Place. Certainly worth a punt if the evening up to that point has been rewarding. Let's hope it is!

Win: Mahbooba
Each-way: Club Oceanic/Measuring Time
Place: Disa Leader

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Real value

Real Madrid v/s Barcelona; an El Clasico that only last year would have been the top sports story of the day. After a few of these last year, all loaded with a never-before-seen prevalence of abject anti-sporting behaviour from both teams, the expectations have whittled down markedly. These rivals can be the 2 best in the world, but they are infected with a few class-less players that pours shame on the beautiful game.

That said, although today's match is about the first leg of a Copa del Rey round, it could also be a turning point in the fortunes of La Liga. A Madrid win could remove the mental block that its players are suffering whenever they are on the same field as the Blaugrana. A Madrid win would give them confidence to hold on their lead in La Liga. All to say that if Madrid can win tonight, Barcelona's stranghold on the Spanish and world football could finally be rocked.

Barcelona won at the Bernabeu a few weeks ago. In my mind, their 3-1 win flattered them because the score could easily have gone in the opposite direction. Had Ronaldo not missed 2 sitters at crucial moments of the game? The Blaugrana took their chances and came up with the 3 big points. There is never any certainty in opposing Barcelona. Once they turn on the engine, they can load it up against the best teams. But their form is patchy lately; their last win at home against Betis was not convincing at all. Against Madrid, they might miss the presence of their prolific injured striker David Villa.

I see value in backing Real at 1/1 draw-no-bet. There does not seem to be a better time to play Barcelona and the hosts will be well aware of it. With some obvious risk in mind, the recommendation is a draw-no-bet on Madrid. It is certain they will not be available at those odds again anytime soon.

Draw-no-bet: Real Madrid.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Joker back in business

Not a great week-end with only 4 punts winning out of 7, with 1 void and 2 losses. The big guns of Barcelona, Real, and Manchester teams won, but Juventus could only draw for a void, while Fiorentina and Valencia got shocking losses at home.

It's been a quiet last few days on the racing and football front. The news that So You Think is being considered for a Dubai World Cup bid is interesting. He'll be a deserving big favourite if he starts the race. I just cannot see a horse at this time that will have the class to challenge him. But this is more than 2 months away, so I'll get to that in due time.

Havre de Grace won the coveted Horse of the Year Eclipse award yesterday night. Truth be told, last year's racing form in the US was sketchy at best. There was no superstar or horse to be mentioned in the same breath as Zenyatta or Curlin. Havre de Grace is a deserving winner but she's no Zenyatta.

The Australian Open started this week and I cannot see past Djokovic here. He's just a step above the rest and his fans will be feel assured that he has kept last year's form after his first game yesterday. Chances are he will add another Major in a fortnight, and what looks certain is that he will at least reach the final. I cannot see Andy Murray blocking his way to get there. So that's the recommendation.

To Reach Final: Djokovic

Friday, January 13, 2012

Week-end football

Don't want to be blowing the trumpet too loud, but Thursday's results at Meydan gave way to massive cheers all afternoon. Musir won and easily beat Mendip in the match-bet. Master of Hounds was second at odds of 7/1 for Place at the exchanges. Fantastic to hear that several of you followed the selections; hopefully the current vein of form continues going into this week-end.

It's another round of football on the European scene; in England, Man Utd welcome Bolton and it's hard to argue the hosts at the Theatre of Dreams, even though they can throw the odd clanker like against Blackburn a few weeks back. Their injury list seems to be easing and Rooney looks to be back on form. Bolton are a disappointing bunch and manager Owen Coyle is on the hot seat at the moment. Man Utd certainly won't lose this game, and are a draw-no-bet recommendation.

There is no doubt that Man City is feeling the pressure. They have lost another home game in mid-week, in the Carling Cup to Liverpool. They have lost their captain Kompany for 4 games. They will still have too much class when they visit struggling Wigan on Monday. It is the perfect game for them to get their confidence back. Man City is recommended as a draw-no-bet as well.

In La Liga, Barcelona welcome Real Betis in what is a must-win game if they are to keep pace with a flee-ing Real Madrid. The hosts should win this game and are an easy Win selection. Real Madrid face a more difficult encounter when they visit Mallorca. I think Mourinho will have his players spot on for getting the 3 points and I expect them to win this match. They are also recommended as a straight Win.

Third-place Valencia host struggling side Real Sociedad and the hosts have to be very well-fancied here. Both teams lost in mid-week in the Copa del Rey, with Sociedad getting thrashed 6-1 at Mallorca. The visitors are in a precarious situation, being only 2 points above the relegation zone and I expect Valencia to deepen their woes further on Saturday. A draw-no-bet on Valencia looks safe.

In Italy, the competition is heating up at the top of the table with at least 5 clubs within an 8-point gap. There is no clear dominant team in the Serie A. Juventus will look for maximum points as they host Cagliari and I expect them to get at least a draw. So they are advised as a draw-no-bet. Same for Fiorentina as they host bottom-of-table Lecce. The hosts have solid form at home and should recover from their 3-0 drubbing at Roma in the Coppa Italia in mid-week.

Win: Barcelona, Real Madrid
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Man City, Valenci, Juventus, Fiorentina

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Meydan Week 2

It's the second week of the Carnival at Meydan and as expected the Thursday card looks very competitive. No question that the attraction of the night is the Group 3 Maktoum Challenge race which features possible starters for the Dubai World Cup; i.e., much of it will depend on how they fare in this race first.

My pick in this race is Musir; it's simple, if he's top fit and near his best, he will win the race.He's coming off a 130-day break, so he's bound to be ring-rusty, but he's done very well coming back from a layoff before. There are 3 horses that could potentially outsmart Mike de Kock's colt; Master of Hounds, the stable's second-string which is bound to have a new lease of life under the South African trainer, having joined from the Ballydoyle camp. I've written many times how horse careers get transformed when they go through that transition and Master of Hounds looks up to great things under the care of de Kock. I have a feeling the trainer will use this race to gauge MOH's actual abilities, with a potential tilt at the DWC race itself should he show enough class.

Xin Xu Lin is being touted by Godolphin this year and it will not surprise me if he makes the frame.This is a high-class South American champion that was rushed to race in Meydan last year, and seems in much better condition to race this year. Al Zarooni looks bullish on his prospects and that usually means that the horse is expected to deliver. He can be a top contender if the others are not fully wound-up.

Finally, Mendip has serious form on the Meydan race-track. I have reservations about him since he was well beaten by Musir before and I find it hard to see him reversing the roles. His near-300 day layoff in such a competitive race looks to put him at a disadvantage as well. His No 1 stall should have him well placed in the race as long as he does not get caught on the rails.

My recommendation is a Place on Musir. Coming from stall No 4 should put him in good stalking position. If his form shines through, he should be right at the finish.

For anyone wanting a match-bet punt, I would go for Musir over Mendip. I also believe either Xin Xu Lin or Master of Hounds (or both) will be in the first 3, so a couple Place on both could be rewarding as well.

Place: Musir

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Turning point?

This was a week-end full of story-lines to say the least...

Let's start with racing where Ebony Flyer flopped badly in the Queen's Plate. There have been no real official excuses for her tame effort from the connections. There are a couple of things that could have undone her. First, her high draw could have taken a bit out of her as she tried to angle for a stalking spot from the start. Second, the hard race might have come too soon for her. Sure, she came out second in her prep race 3 weeks before, but maybe she needed more recuperation time in between races, particularly coming back from a wind operation. Anyways, her no-show was disappointing, and I would need to re-assess her real chances in her future races.

In football, Real won and Barcelona only drew; I am convinced that the silly points that the Blaugrana are losing on the road (think Sevilla, Espanol) will prove their undermining at the end. My recommendation in previous posts to load on Real for the title is looking good at the present.

But the football news of the week-end were the returns of legends Paul Scholes and Thierry Henry to their respective clubs. Scholes' return was necessary to fill the void left by a missing playmaker in the Red Devil's midfield. It remains to be seen if the red-headed genius still has the legs to perform at this level. Henry's return was fairy-tale as he notched the winner on his return. His game is no longer about speed, so it remains to be seen how he fits in the Arsenal attack.

How Man Utd's win at the Etihaad against neighbours Man City in the FA Cup, will affect the title run-in will be interesting. The Red Devils were on a 2-game slide and their mental strength would have been seriously rocked if they had faltered again. Clearly, the game was changed when Kompany was red-carded. If City can cope with his 4-game absence, they will get out of it full of belief and confidence. If not, this could be the turning point of the season. Mancini can complain all he wants about not having a complete squad. Like everyone, he knows has got the best in the Premier League. The title is still theirs to lose.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Start to the Second Half

Muck'n'Brass was spot on as he comfortably dispatched the weak field.

Sticking with racing, Saturday sees the running of the Queen's Plate, one of South Africa's most prestigious races. Ebony Flyer is the horse I strongly fancy in that race as I rate her as one of the best mares in the country at the distance. She's a superstar in her own right, having taken the scalp of wonder filly Igugu before. Her prep in a sprint 3 weeks ago will have her prime for the race. I cannot see her out of the places, and her main opponent looks to be Variety Club, a rising 3-year old star. I recommend Ebony Flyer as a strong Place.

This week-end sees the return of league football in Spain and Italy. Real Madrid host Granada and although Jose Mourinho was far from happy of the Los Blancos' last match against Malaga in the Copa del Rey during the week, they should have too much firepower for the visitors. A straight Win is the recommendation on the hosts. Barcelona will face a Catalan duel when they visit Espanol. The Blaugrana should prove too strong as well and get the 3 points to maintain the gap with Madrid. A Win on Guardiola's men is also recommended.

Win: Real Madrid, Barcelona
Place: Ebony Flyer

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Friday racing at Dundalk

Great start to the racing year as Honour System obliged with a convincing win.

Let's continue with racing as on Friday, the first race at Dundalk looks to go to Muck'n'Brass, an Aussie Rules colt who finished a promising a course and distance third on his debut. With the experience garnered, he should be hard to beat in this weak maiden race.The selection will be ridden by Johnny Murtagh and is recommended as a Win.

Win: Muck'n'Brass

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Meydan Carnival start

Tottenham edge past West Brom to keep pace atop the table. Harry Redknapp's men will definitely need to grind out such kinds of results if they hope to challenge the Manchester teams for the title.

Meydan racing starts on Thursday and Godolphin look to be taking matters very seriously this year. Both bin Suroor and Al Zaroori are loading up the gates. I am not sure about the overall strategy of the Blue team here. Starting their best horses so early in Dubai will obviously rule them out for the important late European races of the year. The global picture regarding the goals of the stable has been fuzzy for some time; global domination does not seem to be top of the agenda anymore.

The Thursday card looks very competitive and I look at Honour System to offer the best forecast of the night, in the second handicap race. The Godolphin outfit has won in a handicap race at Meydan last year and the race looks within his grasp. Dettori takes the ride and I put a Place recommendation on the King Best gelding.

Place: Honour System

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Honour Roll 2011

Looking back at 2011 in which human or equine athletes made their marks; as usual, some disappointed, others confirmed on their promises, while a few others surpassed all expectations of them. These are my 3 stars of 2011 in sports.

Frankel - the Galileo colt, regarded on every handicap scale, as the best horse of  2011, went unbeaten in 5 races. His greatness was confirmed by the manner of his win in the 2000 Guineas where he literally hammered the race in a visually-awesome catch-me-if-you-can style. He went on to dispose of the then king-miler Canford Cliffs in convincing fashion. Described as the best ever by none other than his trainer, Henry Cecil, Frankel will remain in training as a 4-year old, to the obvious delight of racing fans. I rate him as the best miler to have ever raced on turf and can't wait for him to show he's the best ever at 10 furlongs this year. His sire being Galileo, I don't foresee him having any problems at the distance. Should he still be dominant, I would love to see him have a crack at either the Arc or the Breeders Cup Classic on dirt; more something of hope than confidence, as I am not so sure that is the planned plot by connections.

Black Caviar - the Australian superstar mare, quite simply the greatest sprinter in the world today, went 8 for 8 in 2011. Lifetime, she's undefeated in a staggering 16 races. I just cannot wait for her to step on European shores, particularly at Ascot, to show her greatness. No sprinter in Australia comes close to her; as a matter of fact, they try to avoid her. Since the horses Down Under have been dominating the Ascot sprint races for years, one can only imagine the effect she will have coming here. Ascot might never have seen the likes of it ever before; she will bring down the roof!

Novak Djokovic - my athlete of the year. Such displays of dominance in an unforgettable season where he notched 3 Grand Slam tournaments with a 70-6 record. The undisputed No1 in the world today as he looks to have locked mastery over Federer and Nadal. I thought Nadal was showing that he was THE one to follow, but the Serb has turned up the notch ever higher and crushed Nadal every time they met. His dominance has been surprising to say the least, but it certainly looks set to continue in 2012 if he stays healthy. Rafael Nadal has a big mental hurdle to overcome if he's to usurp Djokovic this year.

Football Wednesday

Both Manchester teams faltered spectacularly as my recommendations to follow these 2 teams went dismally awry. Man Utd losing to Blackburn had more the kamikaze look that the Red Devils fans have been accustomed to in small parcels over the years, even more so this year. Man City losing to Sunderland 24 hours later pours cold water on the actual mental strength of the cash-rich club and on their ability to last the whole way to the top. Could a day of thinking over extending their lead at the top gotten to the heads of the players so that they come up with a no-show? Time will tell. But when players lose a match that their manager considers as must-win, serious doubts will rightly be raised.

The fact that the pursuing teams are also dropping points shows again that there is not much that much of a gulf in class  in between clubs in the top flight, as in previous years. Tottenham is one such pursuer who seem to genuinely think they have a shot at the title. I think their title challenge will eventually peter out but I see them with a good chance to get maximum points as they host West Brom on Wednesday. Spurs have a Gareth Bale in top form as the Welsh wizard seems to be scoring goals for fun lately. His more advanced position in the Spurs setup means that he is a more direct threat to the opposing goal and he seems to have taken heart to his new role. Tottenham have been playing brilliantly of late. West Brom will prove a tough nut to crack, like all teams managed by Roy Hodgson. But it's hard to see the Baggies getting out of London with 3 points with the form that Spurs are in. I recommend the hosts as a draw-no-bet.

Draw-no-bet: Tottenham