Friday, August 31, 2012

Super Cup and Week-end preview.

A couple of hours before the Super Cup between Chelsea and Athletico Madrid gets under way and I really fancy the Spaniards here. Gauging by their La Liga start, they look to be in great form. Much of their goal scoring  lays at the feet of their awesome striker Radamel Falcao, who has a knack of scoring on the big occasions and finals. At current odds, Athletico Madrid at +1.0 Handicap looks a steal as I see them either winning this or drawing in 90 minutes.

Some preview of some of the upcoming week-end games.

Tottenham v/s Norwich. The Canaries won this fixture last year but Spurs will be particularly keen to get their first win of the season here. Villa-Boas will be under big pressure should they fail to lose this. I fancy both teams to do worse than last year, and Tottenham should ride the home advantage here. They are a good draw-no-bet selection.

Man City v/s QPR. Straight win for the home side here although they are not in full flow yet, and did get a huge scare in this game last year.

Liverpool v/s Arsenal. Liverpool are riding the good and the bad and this shouldn't be surprising as new manager Rogers experiments with what his squad has to offer. Their 2 sub-par games against Hearts in Europe sandwiched a really good performance against Man City where they should have bagged 3 points. Arsenal need a goal and win quick to dispel any notion of post-RVP crisis. It might be adventurous to see Arsenal win this but it won't be surprising and I see great value in their odds as draw-no-bet.

Newcastle v/s Aston Villa. It will be rewarding to go against Villa this season and Newcastle will see them as easy fodder. Draw-no-bet should be safe with the hosts here.

Southampton v/s Man Utd. On paper, this should be a straight win for the Red Devils. However, they will be without Rooney and with a suspect defence. Traditionally, they don't have a great record when visiting Southampton of old, but these are different times. Provided they are effective on goal, Alex Ferguson's men should come away with 3 important points.

Real Madrid v/s Granada. Buoyed by their Spanish Super Cup win and their need to catch up in the league, this should be the start of a winning sequence for the Los Blancos.

Win: Man City, Man Utd, Real Madrid.
Handicap: Athletico Madrid +1.
Draw-no-bet: Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

US Open 2012

Barcelona, Man Utd, Swansea were up to the task, Sunderland's match was postponed but the real shocker came at Getafe where Real Madrid got upset in a match labelled as unadmissible from their manager. Leading by a goal at the half, I wouldn't have given much of Getafe reversing the score in the second half, and they did. A few more defeats like this so early in the season and you'd suspect that Mourinho's tenure in Spain will be put in question.

The US Open tennis got underway and at first glance, it looks, that with Nadal missing, the Big 3 of Djokovic, Federer and Murray look set to trounce their way to the semi-finals. The caveat this year might be the impact of the London Olympics to the schedule, hence fitness, of the players that participated. Without a medal, Djokovic went straight to Toronto to win the Canadian Open, then got rocked in the final at Cincinnati. He could be undone by having had no break at all. Federer skipped Toronto and looked fresher in beating the Serb in Cincinnati. It remains to be seen in what kind of disposition Murray is after his gold medal win. Almost expectedly, he got knocked out early in Toronto but the extra time of rest looks to set him up nicely for this last Major. More importantly, his London win will possibly have given the belief that he can win a major tournament. We'll see.

Looking at the draw, Djokovic seems to have a clear path to the semi-finals, at least. Possibly, Juan Potro will meet him there. So, Nole to reach at least the semi's looks a safe punt. A rejuvenated Federer should breeze to the other semi's as well. Murray should be meeting him there but at this point, the Swiss looks the more assured one to have faith on.

Reach or past semi-finals: Federer, Djokovic

Friday, August 24, 2012

Week-end Preview

My week-end preview of some of this week-end's matches in Europe.

Man Utd v/s Fulham. This looks to be a hard game for the Red Devils and the danger is there that they could be shocked by the visitors if they haven't synced well as a team yet; i.e, much will depend on how the players play with Van Persie and how the make-shift defence is able to withstand the potent Fulham attack. It is very probable however that if Man Utd get some flow in their attacking game and get on the score sheet, they could open the floodgates. Man Utd as a draw-no-bet looks the safest form of punt, but it won't shock me if Fulham get at least a point from this game by exploiting weaknesses in a team that has yet to gel with some big-name newcomers.

Sunderland v/s Reading. I mentioned last week that Sunderland would be difficult to tame at the Emirates and so they proved. I really expect expect them to do well this year and possibly squeeze a Europa spot. They won't get chances of an easier 3 points than when they host Reading, who've lost in mid-week at Chelsea. At current odds, Sunderland as a draw-no-bet looks great value.

Swansea v/s West Ham. Swansea were amazing in their opening match against QPR, trouncing Mark Hughes' men with 5 unanswered goals. The hosts have made some good signings over the summer but their best signing has been their manager Michael Laudrup. He's got a great football brain and will certainly help them play good intelligent football. Provided they are not suffering from over confidence from last week's win, they should continue on their winning ways against West Ham. A draw-no-bet on the hosts looks safe as well.

Valencia v/s Deportivo. Deportivo have started their campaign well by beating Osasuna by a pair of goals while Valencia have gotten merit in drawing at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid. In fact, Soldado and could be counted as unlucky to have a valid goal ruled out for offside. The home advantage should be favourable to Valencia here although it is a team that will only get better as the season prolongs given the number of new faces in the squad. Valencia is a good draw-no-bet here.

Osasuna v/s Barcelona. The Catalans beat arch-rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup during the week and don't seem to have lost any of their awesome style of play under new coach Villanova. Messi is already in great form and that does not bode well for the hosts. That should be an easy 3 points for the Blaugrana who cannot afford to let go of such favourable pickings. Straight win for Barca.

Getafe v/s Real Madrid. Real have possibly played their 2 toughest opponents in Spain in the last week and have failed to win in both; a draw against Valencia and a defeat at Barcelona. The team is not at its cohesive best yet since the regulars have missed much of the pre-season. However, Mourinho will be gunning for 3 important points against Getafe, who've logically lost their first match away at Sevilla. A close to must-win game for Real Madrid to keep in touch with Barcelona and I see them winning this game.

Win: Barcelona, Real Madrid
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Sunderland, Swansea

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Frankel, what next?

Lady of Shamrock won as expected, but it was not a great start to the EPL or La Liga seasons as Real Madrid failed to win and Man Utd lost. Barcelona and Man City won as expected but City had to dig deep down to overcome newcomers Southampton.

Back to racing where Frankel gave yet another peer-less demonstration in the Juddmonte International, dismantling the likes of St Nicholas Abbey and Farhh. Now that he's proved his authority at a mile and a quarter against quality opposition, what is next for him? The Champion Stakes at the same distance on Champions Day seems to be the preferred destination for connections. This will not enhance his rating or reputation. There are 3 things that remain for him to show before he's unequivocally called the best thoroughbred to have ever run, to put any debate to rest, to surpass the Sea The Stars, Ribot, and Secretariat in all minds. To prove to any racing goer beyond any doubt.

For purits like me, he needs to win at a mile and a half. This is the ultimate distance for European racing and breeding. This is the Classic distance that separated the greats like Dancing Brave, Montjeu, Sinndar, to very good ones that tried but didn't stay like Dubai Millenium.

He needs to win outside of England. Black Caviar has come to Royal Ascot to show her greatness and Frankel needs to step outside of these shores to show he can travel and adapt to a new environment whether it's in France or the States. Or Dubai.

Finally, the ultimate would be to win on dirt. Giant's Causeway and Sakhee, turf champions in their own right, almost did it on dirt in their Breeders Cup ventures. To show to the racing world, particularly the American public, that he's the uncontested champion on either surface.

In other words, to achieve the greatest of all feats, he needs to win the Arc and the Breeders Cup Classic. The Coolmore connections have to be lauded to have tried So You Think in both, plus in the Dubai World Cup. They had the horse to do it, but not the trainer. Frankel, I believe he can achieve both, but I don't think the connections will run in any of these 2 races. His place among the greats is already secured, the risk of him losing his undefeated tag is too big to take. As is, he's the best there has ever run in most minds. Whether it's an uncontested or undisputed fact, is not something that will concern the connections. It looks like Champions Day Champion Stakes is the remaining race for all of us to look forward to savoring this amazing thoroughbred that is Frankel.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Kickstart to the season

This is it, start of what promises to be another cracker of an EPL season. Spanish La Liga starts too on Saturday with the expectation that Barcelona and Real Madrid will run away from the pack, a la Frankel. Here are some of my predictions for the first week-end.

Arsenal v/s Sunderland. This is a first serious test for Arsene Wenger and his team. Not just because it's their first match post-RVP, it's also against Martin O'Neil, who's a master giant killer. If the Gunners haven't fully recuperated from the departure of their talisman, they will be made to pay by the visitors. It's a real tricky match for the hosts and there's no certainty that they will come up with the 3 points.

Man City v/s Southampton. The Citizens start their championship defence with a rather easy game against newly-promoted Southampton. Easy 3 points for the hosts here, with in-form Tevez certain to be at the fore-front of things.

Everton v/s Man Utd. The Red Devils always have a hard game at Goodison Park and it will certainly be the case again for their opening game. They might be lucky if they catch an Everton that is not in full-flow at this stage. But the reverse might be true as well. The RVP transfer will certainly have given the squad a big boost. They should either draw or win this game, so a draw-no-bet on the Red Devils looks safe.

Real Madrid v/s Valencia. Real had a really good pre-season winning all their games State-side, but this is not going to be an easy 3 points for the hosts. Their core players have only recently started serious training, so Mourinho will count on a few fringe players to make their mark. Still, their quality should be enough to overcome a Valencia team that is in a rebuilding stage this year. They have at least 6 new acquisitions and will take time to gel as well. Madrid should be able to get the vital 3 points here.

Barcelona v/s Real Sociedad. This is the league debut for new Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova. It is widely expected that the previous assistant coach will continue the highly-successful and formidable system of play of the Blaugrana. That being the case, Barcelona should be headed for the easy win. A note of prudence though that Guardiola lost his first league game in charge of Barcelona. Lightning rarely happens twice though!

The value of the week-end is in racing State-side where Lady of Shamrock looks hard to beat in Saturday's Del Mar Oaks. The winner of the American Oaks is a leading player among the Classic female contingent on turf, having been only beaten once on the surface after a rough trip. She should be in the first 3 and is a Place recommendation.

Win: Man City, Real Madrid, Barcelona

Draw-no-bet: Man Utd
Place: Lady of Shamrock

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Premier League 2012/13 Preview

In one swift move, that can be characterized as another moment of brilliance, Alex Ferguson has tilted the balance of power for the coming Premier League season. This is the move that everyone else did not want happen but which the Utd boss desperately needed to catch up with the might of neighbours City. Robin Van Persie's move to Utd is clearly a game changer for both the EPL and Champions League as the Red Devils can now boast about having the best strike force in the world; Rooney, RVP, Chicharito, Kagawa, and Wellbeck, not to mention that the equally good Berbatov is ailing on the sidelines. Since the massive news of the transfer of the Dutchman, rumours are abounding about the parting of Chicharito, and even if that were to happen, the strike force would still be most fearsome. Goals will be bountiful.

I don't have much doubt in my mind that the EPL crown will stay in Manchester this season. On paper, City are still a little better than Utd. They however need to show they can retain the title. It is always so much easier to get to the top than to stay there, as the saying goes. On the managerial side, there is no problem in that regard as Mancini has notched 3 consecutive titles in the Serie A with Inter Milan. The distraction of the Champions League should still leave him focused enough for the EPL challenge. Their main challenge he will face is keeping the team together and minimize off-pitch issues with the likes of Tevez and Balotelli. Although they have been rather muted on the transfer market so far, this City squad is most impressive and can beat any team on any day.

Going back to Utd, their weaknesses lie in defence and midfield, just like last year. Much of their hopes relies on the availability of captain Vidic. His non-availability last year was what caused their demise and they will be destined to the same fate if he spends much time on the sidelines again. He is irreplaceable. In midfield, there is a clear lack of playmaker; Paul Scholes is still high-class but he can only be used sparingly. It is clear that Ferguson wanted upcoming Eden Hazard or Lucas Moura to fill in that gap and the fact that he lost out on both counts will enliven the debate as to who will rule the Utd midfield. If Brazilian Anderson stays fit, he could be the one, but he's too often prone to injuries.

The title will certainly be between Utd and City and Londoners Chelsea or Arsenal should challenge for third place. Chelsea are an enigma team as they have players on the wane and interesting newcomers like Hazard. Di Matteo is a good coach and he's possibly their best permanent signing of the season. If Arsenal stay consistent the whole season, they are my favourites to get that remaining podium spot, even without RVP. Time and again, Arsene Wenger has shown that he can replace the players that have left, and the arrivals of Giroud, Cazorla and Podolski will possibly fill much of the gap. The problem with Arsenal, as I have been writing, is that there is a missing ingredient in Arsene's management that keeps them from reaching the top; that inherent will to win that Ferguson and Mourinho have, that filters through to the whole team and give them 10 extra points during a season. It's not about just pretty football or massive profit targets, it's about winning games when everything is on the line and bringing trophies and making winners out of players.

I see Tottenham under-achieving compared to last year. Clearly getting rid of Redknapp, one of the 5 best managers in the league, is a step down. Villa Boas is good, but does not compare. Liverpool are a re-building side and the arrival of new manager Rogers from Swansea will not make them title contenders.

For those that have an appetite for ante-post or such markets that take months to settle, the following below are my value punts for the EPL given the odds available today. Of course, the season flows and ebbs and prices change significantly during the year but at this stage, those odds look under-priced on the exchanges.

Winner: Man Utd/Man City
Top 2: Man Utd
Top 3: Man City, Man City
Top 4: Arsenal
Lay: Tottenham Top 3, Liverpool Top 4

Monday, August 13, 2012

No time-out

The one-two punch of Bolt/Blake have proved great for punting, great for the Games and great for Jamaica.

These Games have really been glorious and spectacular. No drug story was scandalous or big enough to mar them; I thought the Opening and Closing ceremonies were just brilliant. Rio de Janeiro will really need to over-achieve to top that. With its record medal haul, Great Britain obviously must consider itself very successful on the sporting side as well. It will be hugely interesting to see how the Sports Personality of the Year will pan out this year. So many names to consider; Wiggins, winner of bicycling Holy Grail in the Tour de France and Olympic gold, Mo Farah's amazing 1000 & 5000-metre wins, Andy Murray, Sir Chris Hoy, Jennifer Ennis etc would all be deserving winners in any year.

The Olympics really does eclipse every other sporting event. Rory Mc Ilroy just won a Golf Major in the PGA Championship over the week-end and no-one seems to have noticed. Excelebration also won the Jacques Prix Le Marois at Deauville in a star-studded field, in the absence of Frankel, but the Closing ceremonies were Sunday's only talking point. In the euphoria of London's glowing moment, everything else takes a backseat. Such has been these past months; a very unusual, incessant and sport-filled Summer. Only a few months ago, the EPL ended on a thrilling note as the Manchester heavyweights battled to the finish line, followed by Spain re-coronation at the Euros, then came the Olympics, deemed one of the most fabulous ever, and already next week the cycle begins again with the start of the new EPL season. Sports fanatics never had it so good. We are rolling again.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Double Bolt

Izzi Top would not have won, but lost her Place finish when hampered by winner The Fugue in the dying stages of the race. Had this race been in France, The Fugue would have lost the race in the steward's room. The daughter of Dansili is one of the better 3-year old fillies around and is certainly an improving type that needs to be followed in her future races.

One of the most anticipated moments of the Olympics takes place this evening with the 200 metres final in athletics. Can Usain Bolt do the unprecedented double-double of winning the 100 & 200 metres in 2 consecutive Olympics? Clearly, his only opponent in the race is compatriot Yohan Blake who did beat him at the Jamaican trials a couple of months ago in both 100 & 200 metres. This promises to be a Jamaican 1-2 and the order at the finish is the only question mark. After seeing the 100-metre final in which Bolt seemed to have regained his explosive dash, it is hard to go against him here. He looks to be back to his best and if he reproduces this type of form later today, he will be unstoppable. I will go for the exotics here with Bolt coming out first followed by Blake.

Win: Bolt
Top 3: Blake
Specials: Jamaica 1-2, Bolt 100/200.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nassau Stakes 2012

Frankel is a machine, a money machine. His odds might be prohibitive but at least there is the certainty of a return. The exotics with Farhh was certainly very forthcoming. Like the handicappers are saying, Frankel won't improve his 140-rating until he moves to ten furlongs. That's where everyone wants to see him run, against the likes of Cirrus des Aigles and Nathaniel. Game on.

Glorious Goodwood closes on Saturday with the Nassau Stakes being the main attraction. To my mind, the best ten furlong filly in training today is Izzi Top from the John Gosden stable and I think she'll be tough to beat in the Group 1 race. She's undefeated in 3 races this year and is the clear form pick of the race. The Fugue and Nahrain seem to be her main opponents, but if she's on song, the Pivotal filly is certain to be in the first 3. Izzi Top as an each-way looks the certainty of the week-end, and it might be worth going all out for her win.

Win: Izzi Top
Each-way: Izzi Top