Friday, September 28, 2012

Week-end preview

A jam-packed week-end of football and golf is looming on the horizon. The Ryder Cup is under-way and based on the odds, Europe are under-dogs. Their current odds look somewhat appealing considering that player-to-player, they don't have anything to envy to the Americans. If the same tournament were to be staged in Europe, it's the same European team that would have started favourites. Home crowds bring in a huge advantage. My feeling is that Europe will retain the Cup but it's just me making a judgement call; there are no certainties and the resullt can really go either way.

Let's get to the week-end's matches.

Arsenal v/s Chelsea. The big London Derby with 2 teams in good form. Got to go with the home advantage of the Gunners here; Arsene's team is getting more confident with every game and Santi Cazorla is an absolute gem of a playmaker. With the upcoming return in a few weeks of Wilshere, the Gunners should get stronger on the field and they just need to avoid getting into a considerable win-less streak, the like of which has wreaked havoc on their title hopes in recent years. They will oppose a Chelsea team whose mental strength will be tested given the weekly distraction of captain Terry's trial and guilty verdict in Anton Ferdinand's race case. I think Chelsea got somehow lucky to snatch victory last week at the expense of Stoke and they would do well to ride their luck again. I think Arsenal is a great draw-no-bet selection.

Fulham v/s Man City. The Cottagers are very good at home and City look vulnerable at the moment. This could be the best time to face the defending champions. Unfortunately for the hosts, they will be missing Berbatov who's brought their attack to life. Man City still have quality but it might pay to side with Fulham with +1 goal Handicap since should City win, it would be by the strict minimum.

Everton v/s Southampton. The Toffees look the banker of the week-end. They have been consistent this year and can hold their own at home against any team, as Man Utd found out. I think Soton can at most hope for a point here, but it should end up in a home win really.

Reading v/s Newcastle. Much of Newcaste's chances will rest on the scoring prowess of striker Ba. Will Pardew finally have full confidence in starting him? I am not sure what is going on behind the scenes at St James Park, but for me Ba is one of the premier strikers of the league and it doesn't make much sense that Cisse starts in front of him. This match is best avoided as the result can go any way.

Stoke v/s Swansea. Great chance for Stoke to get 3 points here against a struggling Swansea team. After having started strong, Laudrup's men have suffered 2 bad defeats in which they failed to score. It doesn't get any easier going to Stoke who have an enviable record at home. A draw-no-bet on the Potters looks safe.

Sunderland v/s Wigan. This should be the Cats' first win of the season. They have been arguably unlucky in drawing a couple of their past games, conceding goals in the last minutes. I will go for the outright win for the hosts.

Norwich v/s Liverpool. This game is too close to call. The Canaries can really prolong Liverpool's misery and I have the feeling if this game ends in a winner, it will be by the minimum margin. To avoid.

Man Utd v/s Tottenham. This looks set to pit 2 attacking-minded teams, so goals could be galore. Last year, AVB's Chelsea were thrased 3-1 at Old Trafford. I think the result could very well be similar again; it's hard to see Spurs going to snatch a win on this travel. Man Utd looks a good draw-no-bet.

Aston Villa v/s West Brom. Although they went to win at the Etihaad over the week, I still have reservations about this Villa team. West Brom are poor travellers. Can go either way this one.

QPR v/s West Ham. If the hosts were not missing their centre-halfs, I would have given them a great chance. With their current injuries, it's safer to go draw-no-bet with them.

Real Madrid v/s Deportivo. Straight win for Ronaldo and co, who should embark on a good winning streak after their much-publicized recent stumbles.

Win: Sunderland, Real Madrid
Draw-no-bet: Arsenal, Stoke, Man Utd, QPR
Handicap +1: Fulham

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mark Hasley got it right

Relatively good week-end with 5 winners, 2 voids and 1 loser out of 8 selections. Barcelona, Porto, Chelsea, Southampton, Sunderland (+1 Handicap) won, Man City and Liverpool (+1 handicap) games voided but Swansea was thrashed at home to Everton.

On the overall 90 minutes, I think everyone agrees that Liverpool deserved to get at least a point out of the game. As expected, they wanted to win that game badly and were better for the most part against their arch-rivals. The Kops and many others feel aggrieved that referee Halsey cost the hosts the game on 2 controversial decisions; the first one regarding the sending off of Shelvey and the second one the penalty awarded at the end of the match. In my previous post my selection was Livepool, yet I have no qualms about the referee's decisions on both cases; Mark Halsey was right.

Shelvey goes in two-footed in his challenge with Evans. Remember the same Evans went two-footed in an Old Trafford game last year and was rightly dismissed.The action is a dangerous one, the contact is made, the rashness has to be cautioned with an automatic red card. In any other league other than EPL, people would not even be discussing this decision. Some are questioning the color of the card because of the impact on the match; it does not matter if it is a match of the highest importance or a normal League match; two-footed tackles, be it without intent to injure, are automatic red cards.

The penalty is questionable only when viewed on replay or slow motion. It is clear that on his retreat, Glen Johnson somehow unbalances Valencia. It is true that the Ecuadorian goes to the ground tamely but the England defender clearly clips him, however light the trip is. The referee does not have the benefit of replay to see how much contact has been made or how well Valencia reacts to the play. Once he sees that the contact, hence foul, has been made, he has to call the penalty. Even on replay, the hardest Kop fan must admit that there have been worse calls for a penalty. Some football analysts have called for referees to have access to tv replays to overrule such kinds of decisions. I welcome that approach, but even in that case, the penalty would have stood. Take it from the NFL where a team has a number of chances during a match to challenge a referee-ing call. If the referees cannot conclusively come to a different decision than the call they made, based on tv replays etc, in 1 minute, their decision stands. The penalty decision would have stood at Anfield because none of the replays conclusively showed beyond any doubt that Valencia went to the ground by himself.

Tough luck Liverpool or anti-Man Utd fans (from what I've seen, there are a lot of them among so-called tv analysts!), Mark Hasley was spot on during these controversial moments that turned the match upside down. I can say it even if it is clear that a favourable result for Liverpool would have been better for my coffers.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Week-end preview

Not a great second night of UCL on Wednesday as only Barcelona and Man Utd won, Braga and Lille lost at home and Benfica drew with Celtic. From the results of the week's UCL matches, it certainly looks like there are hardly any minnows anymore and that the gap between the usual elite teams and small teams is getting smaller every year. Even Barcelona had to dig deep to overcome Spartak Moscow.

Here we go for a preview of some of the week-end's matches.

Swansea v/s Everton. I like the hosts here. They should have a few missing players from last week back and I expect them to give a better showing. They can carve out the most persistent of opponents at home and should either bag 1 or 3 points here. Swansea is a draw-no-bet.

Chelsea v/s Stoke. Again, this will either go to the hosts or a draw. Chelsea have tied with Juventus in mid-week and have a strong enough squad to cope with the short rest. Stoke are no push-overs and it will be interesting to see what part Michael Owen plays for them during the season. I don't fancy many goals in this one and at current odds, Chelsea are a good draw-no-bet.

Southampton v/s Villa. It all depends what kind of Southampton team that will show up. The one that almost tied the Manchester teams, or the one that was very tame at Arsenal and Wigan. This is a perfect opportunity for the Saints to get their first points on the counter as Villa looks to be one of the 5 weakest teams in this league, in my estimate. It might be rewarding to be adventurous here and have the hosts at least as a draw-no-bet. I see them getting at least a point out of this encounter.

West Ham v/s Sunderland. This can go either way but I'm tempted to go for Sunderland with a +1 goal Handicap. The Hammers are good at home under Sam Allardyce but it will be tough for them to put a few by Martin O'Neil's organized defence. So +1 for the Cats is my choice here.

Liverpool v/s Man Utd. Both have played in mid-week although the Kops played their second team. I think they will be primed for this. They need to get their campaign started with a win and what better occasion than beating Man Utd and commemorating the Hillsborough tragedy. Obviously, it's always a risk going against Man Utd, but I see value in Liverpool either as a draw-no-bet or +1 goal handicap. Both offer good value at current odds.

Man City v/s Arsenal. This is the first serious test for the Gunners. Much has been said about their defence having conceded only 1 goal so far, but it remains how it can cope with the big guns of City. The latter are coming off a tough loss to Real Madrid but they have such a strong squad that they will not feel the ill-effects of that defeat. It's hard to see the hosts losing this, so I'll go draw-no-bet with them as well.

The Win certainties for the week-ends are Barcelona and Porto.

Win: Barcelona, Porto
Draw-no-bet: Man City, Southampton, Swansea, Chelsea
Handicap +1: Sunderland, Liverpool

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

UCL Part 2

Man City was oh-so-close to win at the Bernabeu and instead were left empty-handed. The +1 goal Handicap looked good until Ronaldo's injury-time goal voided it. In reality, Real Madrid deserved to win the game by a mile. They were dangerous from start to finish and although they conceded 2 goals, they must be given credit for coming back each time. Much has been said about their lack of conviction and commitment in their previous matches but there was none of that yesterday. At their best, they are still the second-best team in the world behind Barcelona.

Today's matches look a little more predictable. Man Utd will either win or draw against Galatasaray; I cannot see them lose this game. The Turks are no push-overs, being unbeaten in their domestic league and have a very manager in Tehrim. However, I expect the host to unleash the big runs in an attempt to erase last year's debacle when they failed to go by the preliminary stage. Man Utd should win, or at worst come out with a draw, so they are a draw-no-bet selection.

Same prediction for Braga who will host Cluj. The Portuguese have a great home record and they will want to get maximum points from this encounter with the outsiders of the group.

Barcelona should win against Spartak Moscow and I like Lille as a draw-no-bet against Borisov. Celtic is in for a difficult night against Benfica at Hampden Park. I've said it before, the Scottish league is very poor and it got even poorer with the demotion of Rangers. Celtic will battle to get something out of the game, but it would not be surprising if Benfica won or at least comes away with a draw from their trip.

Win: Barcelona
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Braga, Lille, Benfica

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Heavyweight clash

So it starts today, the quest for pinnacle of European glory, the Champions League. And it does not get any better than this with the match-up between the champions of Spain and England. It's Real Madrid v/s Man City, Ronaldo v/s Tevez, Mourinho v/s Mancini; 2 teams loaded with superstars that can change the game with a moment of brilliance.

It is crisis time in Madrid; the Los Blancos are struggling, having been beaten again over the week-end. Their league title hopes are clinging by a thread already. Mourinho admits that at the present, he has 'no team'. Their last match against Stoke showed that Man City are close to good form. They had some good chances to win the match and could arguably have deserved the 3 points. So, Mancini and his troops go to the Bernabeu with confidence and will be well aware of the current struggles of the home side. This is the perfect time to face Mourinho's men in a most difficult group. I think Man City +1 goal Handicap is good value at the exchanges.

Handicap +1: Man City

Monday, September 17, 2012

Black-type performers

Fantastic week-end of sports that was. Liverpool were lucky to draw with Sunderland while Stoke's +1 Handicap against Man City proved a nice winner. In racing, were in not for the exploits of outsider Encke, Camelot and Michelangelo would have provided with a very good return. As it is, Camelot did not win but a Placed Michelangelo was good enough to bring the bacon home.

It was an exquisite week-end of racing really. Godolphin again played the spoils to the ambitions of Coolmore by denying Camelot of the Triple Crown. The son of Montjeu stayed on but just lacked the finishing kick to reach his conqueror at the finish. It was another big-race win for jockey Barzalona who seems to have a knack of landing big-money races and Classics. It will be interesting if Camelot is given the green light for the Arc.

Speaking of the prestigious race, Orfevre, the Japanese superstar labored to win the Prix Foy, one of the major prep races. While many were left disappointed with his workmanlike win, he did beat a high-class colt in Meandre. It was also his first race after a long layoff. I think he's a genuine Arc contender; whether he wins it or not will depend on a load of factors. But he certainly looks the most talented Japanese representative after Deep Impact.

Shareta won the Prix Vermeille impressively by dispatching a high-class field and on that form, must be given a leading chance for the October show-piece. She came out second last year to Danedream and she seems to be hitting top form at the right moment again. She is definitely the best representative from the Aga Khan contingent.

Moonlight Cloud beat Farrh in the Prix Moulin. Freddy Head's filly is just an a tough sort that runs her heart out every time. She might be the only lateral link between Frankel and Black Caviar! She came a head off second to the Australian superstar at Royal Ascot, but beat Farrh in turn who's been trounced many lengths a couple of times by Frankel. I cannot wait for the next run from the French filly because she's among the best from 6 furlongs to a mile.

The Woodbine Mile on Canadian soil saw Wise Dan from the US stroll to a comfortable win over some good European sorts such as Cityscape. Obviously, it is widely agreed that Europeans are better than the US-trained ones on turf but this son of Wiseman Ferry could prove to be the exception come the Breeders Cup Mile in November. Wise Dan is by far the best miler from the US and unless Excelebration or Moonlight Cloud make the trip to Santa Anita, the race could be a shoe-in for the US champion.

This week is all about the 1st round of the Champions League and there are quite a few interesting match-ups on the go. I'll get to some previews tomorrow.

Friday, September 14, 2012

EPL value selections

Just a quick couple of selections of the week-end EPL matches, which I believe could be very rewarding here.

Sunderland v/s Liverpool. This is the value match of the week-end. I like Sunderland's chances here. I think they are an ideal draw-no-bet as I cannot see them lose this match at home. Liverpool are toiling and I expect them to struggle against Martin O'Neill's side.

Stoke v/s Man City. I expect Stoke to give Mancini's men a run for their money. Stoke have a great record at home and are always tough to break down. City are not going full-steam yet and will have an eye on their upcoming Champions League game next Tuesday. The CL is their priority this year and it would not be surprising if Mancini did not field his strongest team against the Potters. At current odds, I very much like the host team with a +1.0 goal Handicap.

Draw-no-bet: Sunderland
Handicap +1: Stoke

St Leger 2012 Preview

This week-end looks loaded, the highlight of which might be the history-in-the-making of Camelot who will attempt to complete the Triple Crown of British racing. In any ordinary year, this would have been the major talking point of the racing community and unbeaten Ballydoyle superstar would have drawn comparisons with the greatest to have graced the turf, among the likes of Nijinski, Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard. But understandably, with his spectacular exploits, it is Frankel who's magnetized public hearts. A victory on Saturday will give some credence to his growing legion of fans that he deserves to be considered in the same breadth as the Juddmonte superstar and the almighty that have ever raced.

Many pundits agree that only the distance can beat Camelot; i.e, he will win if he stays the 1m6f trip. The way he's won his races, I strongly believe that the extra 2 furlongs from the Derby trip will not cause him any problem. I have no stamina concerns for this son of Montjeu; he should have enough class to run the Doncaster classic fast. The field looks strong and even; here are my views on the other contenders.

Dartford - pacemaker, no chance.

Encke is the Godolphin representative. He looks better suited for the mile and a half, and has not shown enough to be a leading contender here. He will be flattered by a place spot at best.

Guarantee is a winner of 3 out of 4 races from the Highclere connections. This is a big step up in class for this distance winner but it would not be surprising if he got into the placings. If one is looking for a Place long-shot, he's the one, but it's hard to see him past Camelot if the latter runs his race.

Main Sequence is one that the market fancies a lot, but which is a lay for me. He came out second in the Derby and is inferior to Camelot. Given his pedigree, I have strong reservations he's going to last the distance. The layers should pounce on it.

Michelangelo will be ridden by Dettori after being out-preferred by Buick. I believe he's the horse that can cause an upset. He's clearly a progressive high-class colt that will get better with time. He came out a disappointing third in his last race at Goodwood, deterred by the undulations of the course, according to his trainer. After Camelot, he looks to be the best talented horse in the race. I think he's a live Place chance.

From what he's shown so far, Thomas Chippendale is not sure to last the distance. I think he's several pounds behind many of the contenders and will be flattered to be in the first 4 here.

Thoughtworthy, John Gosden's main string, is the full-brother to Lucarno who won this race a few years ago. Distance should not be a problem. He won the Great Volitgeur stakes, the main trial for this race, beating a few of his challengers quite impressively. He must be considered in any exotic, but I personally don't think he'll win.

Ursa Major comes from the Irish shores having won the Irish St Leger trial and will not start beaten. He's not entitled to get the soft conditions on which he's always run on turf. He will have no problem distance-wise but it remains to be seen how much class he's got. The dark horse of the race.

His connections look quietly bullish, his jockey seems level-headed and accomplished enough not to be taken by the stakes at hand. Camelot is no ordinary horse. The conditions look set for him to stamp his name among the all-time greats. It will take an exceptional horse to beat him on Saturday. I don't think there is one besides him in the race, so I think he will win. For the places, Michelangelo looks value at current odds.

Win: Camelot
Place: Michelangelo

Monday, September 10, 2012

In dominant mood

It was a relatively quiet week-end with the domestic leagues giving way to the world cup qualifiers until next week-end. A few events of note however in the varied world of sports.

Snow Fairy winning the Irish Champion Stakes. What an amazing filly she is, and she could very well surpass Ouija Board as Ed Dunlop's best filly. She's won  in UK, Ireland, Japan and Hong Kong, and I would not be surprised if she added France to her conquests when she tackles the Arc in a few weeks time. She's all heart and if I am to truly rate this filly, I only have to look at the 2 races she faced So You Think. In last year's edition of the same Irish Champion Stakes, she was second, only a length behind the Coolmore superstar. In the Arc, she was this time a length in front, although SYT was not given a judicious ride. So in my books, she is weighted a length or two behind the High Chaparral beast, which puts her in a league of only a select few. If Camelot does not make it to the Arc, Snow Fairy must be given a leading chance.

Speaking of Camelot, he looks all set for his big day in destiny on Saturday for the St Leger. It would be great if he makes history, not least for the reason that it would be great for me to witness a Triple Crown in my time. With the way commercial breeding is going, this looks to be a once in a lifetime occurrence, and the Coolmore people need to be lauded for taking this route.

Then, there was Rory Mc Ilroy's win in the BMW Championship, his 3rd title in his last 4 outings. Definitely Rory is back, and he's thrashed Tiger Woods (and the rest) on each occasion. Rory is simply the best golfer in the world at the moment and could remain so if Tiger does not get his mojo back. Rory has a winning chance each time he gets on a tournament, something that was said of Tiger years ago.

Tonight is the US Open final between Djokovic and Murray. Clearly the 2 best players in the world today, with the injury to Nadal. The head says Nole, and the heart says Murray, as I would like the Scot to get the monkey off his back regarding Majors. Djokovic looks strong and definitely knows how to tackle such finals. No recommendation on this one, but I cannot see any wrong punting for the Serb to win.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Countdown to the St Leger

Fantastic week-end it was with mostly everything on target, with a couple of voided draw-no-bets. The big one came at Anfield where the Gunners did what was expected of them to beat a sorry Liverpool side. Man City, Man Utd, Real Madrid all won and Atletico Madrid pounded on Chelsea in the Super Cup on Friday. Tottenham and Newcastle snatched draws for voids.

Radamel Falcao, what a striker. He always scores in a final; I actually can't recall a final in which he hasn't scored. Fantastic finisher, one that Chelsea will rue to have missed during the transfer season. He will cost a lot in January. One team that probably won't look for his services is Man Utd. They are loaded in that department and their new recruit RVP got his own superb hat-trick against the Saints on Sunday. The fact that he scored 2 brilliant goals after missing a penalty in the last third of the game, shows that he's got mettle. With the services from Utd's awesome wingers, RVP is certainly an early favourite for best EPL scorer again this year.

Christiano Ronaldo, what do you call something worse than a prima donna? The supremely-talented but moody spoiled brat came up with his bombshell "sad" state of affairs that has everyone speculating what is the professional reason for his self-evoked sadness. Money it isn't, he denies. It's very hard to think otherwise. He knows his tantrums will make the headlines and whatever the reason, this guy has redefined the word prima donna. The second-best player in the world, but too manipulative and no class. His late antics show why people prefer Messi.

 Finally, in racing, the run down to this week culminates to the last Classic of the season, the St Leger. Will Camelot do the Triple Crown? All indications from connections is that he's spot on. In his words, Aidan O'Brien says his superstar is the most incredible horse he's trained. What does that mean? Is he the best? Better than Galileo, So You Think, High Chaparral? As usual, there's nothing precise in his words. Didn't he say that he thought highly of St Nicholas Abbey that he could "walk on water", so to speak? i.e, do incredible things. Now Frankel is the closest thing to that, but not St Nick Abbey, from what we've seen.

What is for certain is that Camelot is really good, and looking at his opponents at this time, it looks like his path to immortality will only be thwarted by the Gosden stable, who've actually won the last 2 editions of the race. His colt Michaelangelo looks the main danger. I'll get to the review in due time, but that's my feeling at the moment.