Tuesday, December 31, 2013

EPL Week 20

Happy New Year 2014 everyone! Wishing everyone a successful coming year, in and outside the punting arena. Some thoughts on the New Year's EPL matches.

Swansea v/s Man City. Swansea are currently on a winless streak that is mostly due to a horrendous injury list that includes their star striker Michu. They have been missing an out-and-out striker that can poach crucial goals like the Spaniard used to last season. Man City have been doing a lot better on their travels of late after having compiled a very poor away record during the first months. They will be missing playmaker Silva but their squad is big enough to cope with any loss at any position. I think it might be worth playing it from a tight-match angle and have the visitors as a draw-no-bet and have Swansea with a +1 goal handicap (draw is void).

Arsenal v/s Cardiff. This should end in a home win no matter what resilience Cardiff can come up with.

Crystal Palace v/s Norwich. I am probably of a minority, but I seriously believe that Crystal Palace are going to avoid relegation this season. The reason is new manager Pulis who's managed to get 3 wins already since his appointment. This is a 6-pointer for both teams, and I fancy the hosts as a draw-no-bet.

Fulham v/s West Ham. This will probably end in a draw or a home win. Best to avoid as the forms of both teams cannot be relied in any way.

Liverpool v/s Hull City. Suarez has been blanked for the past 2 matches and it would take a brave man to see him off the score-sheet in this one. Hull are mighty at home and well organized on the road. However, class should prevail here and it's hard to see the Kops being beaten at home, after 2 tough away defeats. Liverpool is a home win selection.

Southampton v/s Chelsea. This looks set to be a close one and I don't think there will be more than a goal separating the teams. Best to avoid as the result can go any way.

Sunderland v/s Aston Villa. The hosts are enjoying a revival under Poyet and this is a match they will be keen to get full points to avoid staying in the relegation limelight. Villa are woeful at the moment and cannot be backed in any way. I like Sunderland as a draw-no-bet in this one.

West Brom v/s Newcastle. I think the Baggies are under-valued in the current market. Last game week, I went against Newcastle when they hosted Arsenal and I think it worth to lay against them again this week. West Brom are a solid team at home and they look to be good value as draw-no-bet.

Man Utd v/s Tottenham.  The fortunes of the Red Devils seems to have turned for the better for the past weeks and they seem to be getting the rubber of the green, something they lacked in the prior games. I cannot see them lose this match and if Rooney makes it in the starting line-up, they could very well get full points. They are a win selection for good value, but if a safe route is preferred, then a draw-no-bet looks a safe selection.

Win: Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Man City, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, West Brom
+1: Swansea

Friday, December 27, 2013

EPL Week 19

This is the part of the season where having a real squad can make a difference in winning and losing matches. With so many games in such a short span and injuries invariably mounting, managers need to get their rotations right.

West Ham v/s West Brom. This looks like a drab draw in the making. The Hammers are beset by injuries and goals look set to be hard to come by. The Baggies are still manager-less but would have been happy to snatch a point at White Hart Lane on Boxing Day. If this game is to decide a winner, it looks to be by the minimum goal but chances are that a draw is the likeliest result.

Aston Villa v/s Swansea. Another game with 2 teams with awful form. Both are playing without their star players in Benteke and Michu. Best to avoid.

Man City v/s Crystal Palace. Although the Eagles are enjoying a renewal since Pulis took over, there isn't a more difficult place to go than the Etihad. They will retain some hope to get at least something out of the game with the knowledge that they almost kept Chelsea in check at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago. After beating Liverpool, the hosts will need to retain their focus to play a weaker team and get the necessary full points. It might be easier said than done, but in the end, City have the best squad in the league and should have the necessary resources to get the win.

Norwich v/s Man Utd. I think the Red Devils are a little exposed here. They had to tough it out to win at Hull on Boxing Day and this is going to be another hard game. They will be thin at right-back with Valencia picking up a rather stupid late red card. Carrow Road is a place they have struggled over the past years. The Canaries are beset by a few injuries at the moment but they still battle hard at home. I think it might be worth to go with the hosts with a +1 handicap at current market odds.

Cardiff v/s Sunderland. Cardiff have just lost their manager and this does not bode well for the visit of Black Cats who will be invigorated after their latest away win at Everton. The momentum is clearly with Sunderland and I see them as a value draw-no-bet selection.

Newcastle v/s Arsenal. Newcastle are in flying form and I might be wrong, but I believe their current 5th position flatters them a bit. They are a Top 10 side, but definitely not Top 6. The Gunners can make them crash down to earth on any day, but they will be missing mercurial midfielder Aaron Ramsey, their best player since the start of the season. The good news for Arsenal is the return of striker Podolski after a 4-month absence. At current market odds, I like Arsenal as a draw-no-bet.

Chelsea v/s Liverpool. Can Brendan Rodgers, an old assistant to Mourinho, be the one to end the Portuguese's invincible league record at Stamford Bridge? On paper, it looks tough for that to happen since they will be missing Gerrard and Sturridge. The Kops came out enhanced in their Boxing Day defeat at the Etihad and they will have to produce another strong performance to overcome the hosts. I think a draw is the likeliest outcome and if there is to be a winner, it will probably be the hosts. Chelsea is a draw-no-bet selection.

Tottenham v/s Stoke. Still undecided on this Spurs side under Tim Sherwood, so will stay on the fence watching their next few games to come up on an opinion on which direction their season will be going.

Win: Man City
Draw-no-bet: Sunderland, Arsenal, Chelsea
+1 Goal: Norwich.

Friday, December 20, 2013

EPL Week 17

The games will be coming fast and furious during the festive season; bring'em on!

Liverpool v/s Cardiff. The Kops look to be the banker of the week-end. Even without Gerrard and Sturridge, they are in flying form thanks to Suarez. Cardiff, on the other hand, are rocked by a severe off-field dispute between manager and owner. Once the 90 mins are over, they could very well be manager-less. The Kops should win this by a margin and no need to mention who's most apt to score.

Crystal Palace v/s Newcastle. Many are giving the in-form Magpies a strong chance here. I will go the other way and make the Eagles the value draw-no-bet of the week-end. Under Pulis they are a becoming a resilient team that is difficult to break down. They've won 2 of the past 3 and came out with honours intact in last defeat at Stamford Bridge. I think Palace can avoid the drop with the kind of work ethic Pulis is instilling in the team.

Fulham v/s Man City. The news that Dempsey is to re-join Fulham on-loan is definitely a plus in its fight to stave off relegation. However, the visit of EPL favourites Man City, does not bode well for the hosts. Even without main striker Aguero, City has the best squad in the league and can manage goal-scoring threats from many other sources. Their recent win at Munich in particular, will give them the confidence to overcome their currently poor away league record. Man City are a Win selection.

Man Utd v/s West Ham. I think Man Utd is on a winning streak here after 2 dismal and well-documented home defeats. Should be a win for the Red Devils.

Stoke v/s Aston Villa. Mark Hughes seems to have finally impregnated the team with his footprint and they are now a difficult team to break down. They must have a great chance against the struggling Villains. I like the hosts as a safe draw-no-bet proposition.

Sunderland v/s Norwich. On paper, Sunderland should edge this although I am not sure how much a toll their extra-time win against Chelsea in mid-week will affect them. Norwich are very vulnerable on their away travels, and are hard to warrant any kind of confidence. This could very well end in a draw and better to sit on the fence.

Southampton v/s Tottenham. I just read that Tim Sherwood wants to be permanent manager of Spurs. Who? I mean, the guy has no managerial experience and has only won one piece of silverware in his career. Spurs are a team in disarray at the moment, and their mid-week loss at home to West Ham proves that unless they get the right, world-class manager at the helm as soon as possible, their season will turn for the worst. I thought they would be a top 6 team this year but unless they come up with someone good quick, they might not even get a European spot. The Saints' form hasn't been brilliant of late, but they have a good record at home and will be keen to pounce on a wounded opponent. The hosts are definitely a draw-no-bet recommendation.

Arsenal v/s Chelsea. I think the result can go any way, but I'd rather watch than have a punt on this one. Mourinho has a great record against Wenger teams, particularly as he has a knack of shackling teams that play offensive football. This is a 6-pointer game for both, and it won't be surprising if it ends in a draw.

Win: Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Crystal Palace, Stoke, Southampton

Friday, December 13, 2013

EPL Week 16

Back after a short early break, the mind definitely freshened-up and ready to tackle the rumble and tumble of festive December football.

Man City v/s Arsenal. This is a 6-pointer, no doubt, with the 2 main contenders for the title according to the bookies. City are a formidable fortress at home but if there is team that can breach them, it is the Gunners. The mid-week away win at Bayern Munich could be the turning point of the Citizens' season because there is no doubt that it will have given them a huge confidence boost with the know-how that they went to beat the best team in the world at the moment. They have been stuttering in their EPL away games but a win in Munich can eliminate the mental barriers. On the other hand, Arsenal lost at Napoli in the UCL but still secured qualification. My concern is not the defeat in itself but rather the exertions they had to put in the game, especially having had to play with 10 men with the sending off of Arteta. So from a fitness point of view, the advantage is clearly with Man City and that tips the balance for me to the hosts. I see a draw-no-bet on the hosts as a safe and value selection.

Chelsea v/s Crystal Palace. Not sure which type of Chelsea team will show up on the day but I cannot see Mourinho's unbeaten home record being wrecked by the Eagles. The Blues should win this to keep their title hopes live.

Everton v/s Fulham. This should end in a home win. The Toffees have been impressive in winning at Old Trafford and securing a draw at Arsenal. This is a team growing in confidence under a good manager in Martinez. Fulham won last week but they can expect an entirely different proposition at Goodison Park. Everton is a Win selection.

Aston Villa v/s Man Utd. The bad news keep on piling for Man Utd as RVP will be missing a month because of a thigh injury. If they did not have Rooney in front, they would be in a worse situation than they are. They should however, have too much quality for the Villains who struggle to come up with good consistent performances week-in, week-out. Benteke is a non-factor at the moment. The selection is Man Utd as a draw-no-bet.

Tottenham v/s Liverpool. Spurs seem to be righting the ship after their calamitous 6-goal drubbing at the Etihaad a few weeks ago. Soldado scored a hat-trick in the Europa on Thursday and this could be the match he needed to finally start scoring on a regular basis. Liverpool have been rocked this week of the absence of Gerrard for more than a month. This is bad news for the Kops who are already missing striker Sturridge. That leaves Suarez as the only plausible man apt to score in this team. December could be a make or break month for Rodgers and his team. I see value going with Spurs as a draw-no-bet here.

Win: Everton, Chelsea
Draw-no-bet: Man City, Man Utd, Tottenham

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

EPL Week 14

My thoughts on some of the mid-week matches.

Arsenal v/s Hull. The visitors proved me wrong by beating Liverpool over the week-end. I don't think they will have another giant kill in the space of 4 days. Ozil seems to have waken up from his slight slumber in the last game and Ramsey is just unplayable at the moment. Should be a Gunners win.

Liverpool v/s Norwich. Whether it was a blip or it was a team badly missing Sturridge, but Liverpool were poor against Hull in their last match. To continue their UCL aspirations for a Top 4, they need to get maximum points against teams like Norwich. I think they will if Suarez can show he is as dangerous up-front without strike partner Sturridge. Should be worth going straight for the Kop win here.

Man Utd v/s Everton. Interesting match-up that pits Moyes against his old team. The Toffees are actually doing very well under Martinez and although they are going to miss Leighton Baines for a while, they are still a strong team to overcome without the England left-back. The Red Devils are on a good un-beaten run although they have dropped 4 crucial points in their last 2 games. I cannot see them lose this game and all indications are that they should win this in the end. Probably safest to go draw-no-bet with the hosts.

Southampton v/s Villa. The Saints will be missing goalkeeper Boruc for quite a while due to a broken hand. Their home record is pretty daunting and I expect them to overcome a Villa team that is average at best when Benteke is not scoring. At current odds, the hosts look good value as a win.

Swansea v/s Newcastle. The Magpies are running high and are in a surprise 6th position. I think the buck stops for them at Swansea this week. Although the Swans will be without Michu and Bony, they are still a quality side that can present challenges to any team  on their playground. I see Swansea as a strong draw-no-bet at current odds.

Fulham v/s Tottenham. I see a visitor win or draw here. New Fulham manager Meulensteen has proved a top coach at Man Utd but managing a team is an entirely different story. The side is poor and this is a good opportunity for Spurs to get back in the win column after some poor form of late. Their 2-2 draw against Man Utd will have brought back some good level of confidence to the side and I see them as a value draw-no-bet as well.

Win: Arsenal, Liverpool, Southampton
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Swansea, Tottenham

Friday, November 29, 2013

EPL Week 13

It will not be surprising to see some of the leading teams lose points again this week-end, but I think that the results on overall, will be favourable to the big teams.

Aston Villa v/s Sunderland. I see a Villa win here although they are not the best team to have complete faith with. Benteke is just disappointing at the moment and the team needs him to start firing if they are to compete for the upper half of the table. Sunderland are just awful and are destined for a relegation scrap until the end. I see home comforts for the Villains, and a straight Win looks good value.

Hull v/s Liverpool. That should be 3 full points for the Kops and another bag of goals for the SAS strikeforce.

Chelsea v/s Southampton. The Saints can play spoilers here and Chelsea have a game on their hands. This match could go any result, so there is no certainty there.

Man City v/s Swansea. City are almost unbeatable at home and I cannot see a Swansea team that was in action and beaten in the Europa League in mid-week playing an upset. The Citizens should win this.

Everton v/s Stoke. I like the hosts as draw-no-bet here although they will be missing Baines. It will not be surprising to see the Potters steal a point but it looks far-fetched to see them get all three.

Norwich v/s Crystal Palace. I cannot see the Eagles getting 2 away wins in a row. Norwich have a good record at home and will be looking to maximize points at Carrow Road to offset their poor road record. Norwich is selected as a straight win.

Tottenham v/s Man Utd. It is staggering to see that Spurs have a -3 goal difference at this stage, thanks to their 0-6 drubbing against Man City last week. They are clearly a club in crisis and the pressure is on AVB to right the ship asap. On the other hand, the Red Devils are in ascending form and their mid-week demolition of Leverkusen in the UCL will have given the team huge confidence. I see it safe to have Man Utd as a draw-no-bet, but the value is to go for the outright Win with them.

Win: Aston Villa, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Everton

Friday, November 22, 2013

EPL preview

Back from the bore of international breaks and to the resumption of an ever exciting EPL. Some thoughts on some of the matches:

Everton v/s Liverpool. The Merseyside Derby looks to produce fireworks and it would not be surprising if it ended up in a draw. The Toffees are enjoying a good spell under Martinez and will certainly have the benefit of home advantage. Liverpool will be relying on Suarez as usual and the fact that he has been rushed from international duty from the Southern Hemisphere is a concern regarding mental and physical sharpness for such an explosive game. The value is to have Everton as a draw-no-bet, in my opinion.

Arsenal v/s Southampton. The hosts will be all too aware that the Saints cannot be underestimated at any cost. Southampton have garnered points at Anfield and Old Trafford and can foil the best teams in the league. The Gunners will again count on the explosive duo of Ozil and Ramsey to make the difference. They will also benefit from the return of Walcott on the flanks. I think the Gunners will definitely get something out of the game and a confident draw-no-bet proposition as well.

Fulham v/s Swansea. The home side has been the major disappointment of the campaign so far. It remains to be seen whether the arrival of ex-coach Muelensteen will make the desired impact. Swansea have shown disappointing form of late and will be keen to end a run of 3 EPL games without a win. At current odds and with some element of risk, the visitors look good value as draw-no-bet.

Hull v/s Crystal Palace. Hull needs to get maximum points out of encounters of this sort if they are to survive relegation. They look for draws on their away travels but at home they will not get easier opponents than the manager-less Eagles. It might be close, but in the end, I see the Tigers getting full points. They are a Win selection.

Stoke v/s Sunderland. If ever there is a game that is to go goal-less or draw during the week-end, it's this one. If there is to be a winner, it could be any of them. To avoid or to play it as a draw.

Cardiff v/s Man Utd. Cardiff has scraped through a couple of wins at home thanks to goals from set-pieces. The Red Devils will have to ensure they disable the threats of dead ball situations to get away with 3 valuable points here. They must if they are to keep in touch with the league leaders and confirm the renaissance of the last couple of weeks. Rooney and RVP are in great form and although they might be a little short in central midfield, the Red Devils should have too much fire-power for the Welsh outfit. The visitors are a Win selection.

Win: Man Utd, Hull
Draw-no-bet: Swansea, Arsenal, Everton

Friday, November 8, 2013

My views on some EPL games this week-end.

Aston Villa v/s Cardiff. Finally a game that the Villains have a chance to get a few points and I expect Benteke to have a big game here. He's got near-misses in his previous matches but quality should prevail here. I see a Villa win with Benteke on the score-sheet.

Chelsea v/s WBA. It's Mourinho against his former No 2 Clarke. Got to go with Chelsea because they are so far invicible at home in the EPL with the Portuguese. WBA will go look for a point, so might be worth making it safe through a draw-no-bet.

Liverpool v/s Fulham. The visitors are woeful and their manager is under pressure of getting fired any time. I cannot see them win this. The S & S strikefore of Suarez and Sturridge will be certainly be hoping to enhance their goalscoring records. This should end in a Liverpool win.

Southampton v/s Hull. The Tigers are beset by injury problems at the moment but they are a well-organized unit that can make it hard for any team to break down. Southampton are on a good run and should make it 3 points, although an upset from the visitors should not be ruled out if they are taken too lightly by the hosts. Better go the safe route and go for a draw-no-bet with the Saints.

Swansea v/s Stoke. The hosts seem to be in a rut of form of late but I expect them to get back to winning ways as they welcome Stoke. At current odds, Swansea look good value for the win.

Man Utd v/s Arsenal. That's the big game of the week-end. Ramsey is just being amazing for the Gunners. I can't recall a midfielder being in such goal-scoring form for the Gunners; he's just a goal scoring machine at the moment. He could still score against the Devils but I don't think Arsenal will win this match. I see the hosts being pumped up and will be working their sleeves up so as not to concede a fourth defeat in the League. Moyes has a quite good record against Arsenal in his Evertonian days and knows the style required to foil the Gunners. The selection is for a draw-no-bet with Man Utd and a lay of Arsenal.

Win: Aston Villa, Liverpool, Swansea
Draw-no-bet: Chelsea, Southampton, Man Utd
Lay: Arsenal
To Score: Benteke

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Breeders Cup 2013: 5 horses to follow

Although they've lost their lustre for the past few years, the Breeders Cup championship is still a great spectacle that regroups quality horses from Europe and the best that the USA can offer. Here are 5 horses it might be of benefit to follow.

#1 Wise Dan. Last year's horse of the year still looks formidable in the Turf Mile despite having lost his last race. It certainly looks as if this year's race is of lesser quality than last year's and Wise Dan looks a value selection at even odds. I can't see the main European runner Olympic Glory being a real danger as the bends of Santa Anita and the fast ground will be to his disadvantage. Wise Dan for the Win.

#2 The Fugue. Europe's best middle-distance filly should be very difficult to beat in the Turf. She was unlucky to meet traffic trouble last year and if she gets a free trip, she will certainly be in the whereabouts. She will relish the fast ground and with the connections being very bullish, she is a Win selection as well.

#3 Bobby's Kitten. This is the best "kitten" he's got,  in owner Ramsey's own words. The colorful owner obviously has had other smart kittens from his stallion Kitten's Joy and since this one is supposed to be the best of the lot, he's got to be considered. He won his last race impressively over 6 lengths and looks ready to fire another top performance. The European contingent is headed by Outstrip and Giovanni Boldini but I have a feeling that Bobby's Kitten has home advantage here. He looks good value for the Win.

#4 Romantica. Dank is the obvious big favourite given her dominating win at Arlington a few weeks back. But I rate Romantica from the Andre Fabre stable to be good enough to aspire for a top 3 spot here. The daughter of Banks Hills, herself a winner at the BC championships, will relish the fast ground, something that she has not always been getting in France. Fabre rarely makes the travel unless he sees a big opportunity and I think he's found one in the Filly & Mare Turf. Romantica is a Place selection.

#5 Declaration of War. Ever since Giant's Causeway came agonizingly close to hand Ballydoyle a first win in the Classic, the race they probably aspire the most, many of their superstars have failed on the dirt surface. DOW looks to be their best chance since GC since he's dirt-bred and has the profile to do well, being a strong galloper and the right tactical speed needed for American racing. This could finally be Ballydoyle's year when they bring home the Holy Grail. If he adheres to the surface as I believe he will, I see DOW being a major contender in America's most prestigious race. At current odds, DOW is a value Win selection.

Win: Wise Dan, The Fugue, Bobby's Kitten, Declaration of War
Place: Romantica

Friday, October 25, 2013

Football Preview

A couple of great match-ups dominate the EPL and La Liga this week-end. Chelsea and Man City, the 2 front-runners for the Premier League, at least from the bookies standpoint, clash at Stamford Bridge, while the El Clasico is the un-missable feature in Spain. Here are some picks.

Crystal Palace v/s Arsenal. There is no basis to back the Eagles here. They lost manager Halloway during the week and I can't see the caretaker manager making a marked difference to the squad, particularly that other managers are being publicly sought after. Arsenal lost against Dortmund in the Champions League and will be keen to resume their winning ways against lesser opposition. Arsenal is a Win selection.

Aston Villa v/s Everton. I like the hosts' chances here with the possible return of Benteke in the starting eleven. Everton can be deemed lucky to have scraped past Hull last week and they are certainly a work in progress under Martinez. This could very well end up in a draw and I fancy to nick it if there is to be a winner. So, the Villains are a  draw-no-bet selection.

Liverpool v/s West Brom. I can't believe Liverpool are near evens to land a top 4 spot and in the 9's to win the league. I say lay on both, because in my mind, they are not good enough to finish in the first 4. Granted, it's still early in the season, but the prices are attractive enough to lay at the moment. WBA's visit is a good occasion for the Kops to land another 3 points although if there is to be a shocking result this week-end, it could be with WBA taking the spoils. I'll avoid this one.

Man Utd v/s Stoke. This should end with a home win to get the Red Devils back on track in the league.

Tottenham v/s Hull. Spurs shouldn't take Hull for easy victims as the visitors are a good disciplined side that is hard to break down. I can't see the Tigers winning this but they will definitely battle to get at least a draw from the match. Spurs look to be safe draw-no-bet selection.

Chelsea v/s Man City. History has it that Mourinho has never lost an EPL game at Stamford Bridge. They are in good form and went to thrash Shalke in Germany during the week. Man City finally won on the road last Saturday but this is going to be one of their toughest visits of the season. This is a 6-pointer game and this game will probably be decided with a moment of genius or inattention from either side. With Mourinho's record, it's hard to go against Chelsea as hosts, so the Blues are a strong draw-no-bet selection at current odds.

Finally, the El Clasico in Spain is an intriguing one with the 2 giant clubs under the helm of new management. There is no doubt that Ancelotti and Martino are still working the kinks of their side and won't have their typical A-team. Neymar is still finding his feet at Barca and Bale is far from showing his real weapons at Madrid. Being the hosts and with the return of Messi, the Catalans hold a slight advantage and look good value with current draw-no-bet odds.

Win: Arsenal, Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Barcelona, Chelsea, Tottenham, Aston Villa

Friday, October 18, 2013

EPL Preview

Back to the grind of the EPL this week-end after the international break.

Newcastle v/s Liverpool. The Kops have a very good record going to Tyneside over the years and with their good start of the season under the belt, they must be high on confidence on Saturday's visit. Sturridge and Suarez arguably form the hottest strikeforce in the country at the moment. Unlike many, I don't think Liverpool are genuine title contenders this season but they can still pose problems to any team. Newcastle are a mid-table team at best and will rely on their French duo of Cabaye and Ben Arfa to create opportunities. At current odds, I like Liverpool's chances of a draw-no-bet.

Arsenal v/s Norwich. A lot of Arsenal's chances for a straight win will depend on Ozil's availability for this match. On current news, he seems to have recuperated from his mid-week injury playing for Germany. He is possibly the classiest midfielder in the league. If Ozil is on the team-sheet, I say go for a Gunners win.

Chelsea v/s Cardiff. That should be a straight win for the hosts.

Everton v/s Hull. Lukaku seems to be like a fish in water at Everton, in sharp contrast to his days at Stamford Bridge. This should end in a home win.

Man Utd v/s Southampton. This is going to be a tough one for the Red Devils. Soton are in awesome form and are no push overs. It will be interesting to see if newly-acclaimed wonder-kid Januzaj can confirm his spectacular debut and impose himself as the long-awaited maestro of the Man Utd midfield. At current odds, I believe the value is to have the hosts as a draw-no-bet.

Stoke v/s WBA. This promises to be a yawner. Not many goals in store and best to avoid.

Swansea v/s Sunderland. It so often happens that a team wins against the odds under a new manager, as the players give the extra effort to make first impressions to the new boss. I don't think it will happen for Sunderland under Poyet's first match in charge. Swansea are a draw-no-bet selection.

West Ham v/s Man City. I don't believe that Pellegrini has gotten the touch for Man City's visits so far. They've lost twice already on the road. This looks set to be a nail-biter and a draw could be the likely outcome. This could really end up in any result.

Win: Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton
Draw-no-bet: Liverpool, Man Utd, Swansea

Friday, October 4, 2013

Arc de Triomphe 2013 - The Revenge of Orfevre?

Sunday's Arc de Triomphe is the highlight of the racing calendar for me and it looks set to be a fascinating renewal with some major contenders on the line. But the main question has to be with Orfevre, the Japanese mega-star and unlucky runner-up of last year's edition. To me, if the "Crazy Horse" is in top form and in the right frame of mind on the day, there will be no race; he has the potential to crush the field, he is that good.

Here are some of my thoughts on the main aspirants to the throne.

Orfevre. Much has been written about his heartbreak loss last year. Trainer Ikee somewhat gave closure to why he threw the race away this week. No, it was not a lack of stamina or a running out of gas as many speculated, since he accelerated and galloped away after the finish line. It was the flawed genius with his antics again. His prep Prix Foy win a few weeks ago looked convincing, allowing for the premise that he has retained his ability and might even be a better horse this year with an enhanced mental. This year, he has an ideal post and the soft ground will be of no detriment, unlike with some others. Unless he has an off-day and fails to fire, I cannot see him out of the first 3. He is head-and-shoulders the best horse in the race.

Treve. Unless she turns out to have Zarkava-like abilities, I cannot put her on a pedestal that many others are inclined to do. She is unbeaten in 4 and has looked dominant in the Prix Diane and Prix Vermeille but I have some reservations on the form book there. Soft ground won't be a problem to her but her very wide draw should be of concern to her backers. Orfevre easily overcame that issue last year but it won't be easy for a 3-year old filly running first time against males. I don't believe the switch of mount from Dettori to Jarnet will make a difference as she's won with the latter on 3 occasions. She is classy and can make the frame, but she's a definite lay in my books for the win.

Novellist. He rose to the top of the European middle-distance division by trouncing the King George in record-time. Then, he labored to win at Baden Baden prompting many questions about his real quality. Again here, my view is somewhat contrarian to most. While I cannot argue that he lowered the time scale by 2 seconds at Ascot, I've got to ask who he beat; Trading Leather, Universal, Hillstar are certainly not genuine Group 1 performers. Jockey Murtagh says he was impressed with the horse at Ascot and though I certainly respect his views on most matters, I've got to wonder whether his view is distorted by the fact that the facile win was against average opposition. At Baden Baden, his hard-fought win was dismissed as a prep for the Arc but it could very well be that he was either past his peak form or the race was a reflection of his true ability. Still, having won 9 out of 11 races and being a strong German-bred, he's got to be respected, but while he might be in the placings, he's another lay for the win for me.

Kizuna. He's a Japanese Derby winner by Deep Impact and won the Prix Niel by a nose. I have him several notches behind Orfevre at this point and his current odds are way too short. I am willing to lay him for both the win and placings.

Ruler of the World. The Derby winner looked an unlucky second to Kizuna in the Niel, having endured a torrid trip to the finish line. The main question is how good he really is? The form at Epsom is certainly  not transpiring very well and he could be just a good horse. The fact that stablemate Leaing Light has been supplemented indicates that connections must not be too confident either. He will have to benefit from exceptional circumstances to win this. I don't think he will make the frame.

Al Kazeem.  He will relish the soft ground but the extreme-wide draw killed most of his chances today. He is a solid top-class horse that has done well since the start of the season but he hasn't faced horses like this before. Certainly a big lay for the win at current odds

Intello. He's the big question mark of the race for me. There are doubts about his stamina based on his pedigree, being by a Danehill sprinter mare. He's definitely top drawer and if his class can carry him through, he will be a major player. The indications are strong that he was not initially prepared for the race and was destined for the major 8 to 10 furlong Group races where he's excelled. However, the flop of flag bearer Flintshire in the Niel probably prompted trainer Fabre to divert his course to the Arc. I cannot have him as a Win based on his preparation but it wouldn't surprised me if he finished in the frame.

Flintshire. He was the major disappointment of the Prix Niel where he was supposed to show his credentials as a major player in the Arc. It could be that the soft ground played to his disadvantage on the day but the ground will not get any better on Sunday. Trainer Fabre has opined that Intello is his best chance, so it's hard to side with this representative of Juddmonte stables.

Leading Light. St Leger winner but I doubt he is good enough to win this. Being by Montjeu and having been supplemented, he's got to be respected but I don't share the confidence of the connections. He's a big lay for me.

It's got to be Orfevre for me, with the hope that he shows his true best on Sunday. If he succeeds where every Japanese runner, including the mighty Deep Impact, has failed, you can expect the roof to come down with the staunch army of Japanese supporters at Longchamp. It could be an Arc for the ages and Orfevre carries the hope of a nation. The "Crazy Horse" can do it. For the placings, I will go with Novellist and Intello.

Win: Orfevre
Place: Novellist, Intello
Lay for Win: Kizuna, Al Kazeem, Treve, Novellist, Ruler of the World, Leading Light

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

UCL Round 2 Wednesday

A couple of recommendations on tonight's matches.

Shakhtar v/s Man Utd. I think Man Utd are in for a tough one tonight. The Ukrainian outfits are a strong team and they will be like hungry wolves on a wounded prey as the Red Devils are reeling at the moment. Their poor show against WBA at Old Trafford shows that they are nowhere playing as a confident team yet. This match could very well end up in a draw and I definitely cannot see the hosts losing this one. They represent good draw-no-bet, and if one fancies a long flutter, I see them finishing top of this group in the end.

Real Madrid v/s Copenhagen. This is going to be a straight win for the hosts, eyes wide shut.

Win: Real Madrid
Draw-no-bet: Shakhtar

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

UCL Round 2

Here are some of my views on a few of  today's UCL matches.

Basel v/s Shalke. The Swiss outfit were quite impressive coming out deserved winners at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago. They must have a great chance against the struggling Germans who are in a precarious bottom part of the table in the Bundesliga. I like Basel at market draw-no-bet odds and that is the selection.

Stueaua Bucharest v/s Chelsea. I cannot fathom the Blues not going through in this group and after their shocking loss in the opening round, they must be going out for the all-out win here. Nothing other than 3 invaluable points will do and I strongly feel that's what they will get out of there.

Porto v/s Atletico Madrid. The Spaniards will feel invincible after taking the scalp of bitter rivals Real Madrid at the Bernabeu over the week-end. Truly, this Atletico team is dangerous to any opposition at the moment. Porto are solid at home but there is a feeling that they are not top-notch. I strongly value the visitors' odds as draw-no-bet.

Win: Chelsea
Draw-no-bet: Basel, Atletico Madrid

Friday, September 27, 2013

European Week-end Football

Some of my thoughts on this week-end's matches.

Tottenham v/s Chelsea. The reunion of Mourinho and ex-staffer Villas-Boas. The press might have tried, but no-one knows the level of break-down between the 2 managers. Maybe they'll give a better clue during the pre-match or post-match handshakes. On the pitch, I think Chelsea will be in for a torrid time. Spurs are no slouch at home and given their level of form, I like their chances to get at least a point out of this game. They are the draw-no-bet selection of this week-end.

Aston Villa v/s Man City. The hosts will be missing their key weapon Benteke for the next few games and that is not a good omen for them. Man City are currently firing on all cylinders and their demolition of neighbours Man Utd last week-end will have given a mighty spring in their step. They should get out of Villa Park with full points. Straight win for the Citizens.

Fulham v/s Cardiff. It's been a up and down start of the season so far for the Cottagers and they will relish the visit of Cardiff for some much-needed 3 points. Berbatov and Bent can do serious damage on their best day, and I reckon the hosts represent great value for the win at current odds here.

Man Utd v/s West Brom. The probability of WBA coming out of Old Trafford looks bleak. Now that their matches against the big runs are over, this could be the start of a winning run for the Red Devils. They should win this, particularly with RVP back.

Southampton v/s Crystal Palace. Soton are a tough team to break down at home and there is no reason to believe that Palace will reverse poor opposition records at the St Mary's. The hosts should build on last Saturday's impressive win at Anfield and get the 3 points.

Sunderland v/s Liverpool. The Black Cats are a team in disarray. Obviously, Di Canio was never going to be a long-term fit. Suarez and Sturridge will relish this clash; I cannot see Liverpool getting beaten in this one. I see value backing them with a straight win.

In Spain, I see wins for Barcelona and Valencia. I like Real Sociedad as a draw-no-bet against Sevilla.

In the Bundesliga, Dortmund and Bayern should get full points and continue their duel at the top of the table.

Win: Man City, Fulham, Man Utd, Southampton, Liverpool, Barcelona, Valencia, Dortmund, Bayern
Draw-no-bet: Tottenham, Real Sociedad.

Monday, September 16, 2013

UCL - Round 1

Champions League football starts on Tuesday and this year's competition looks wide open now that many of the leading clubs are under new management. There are certainly bound to be a few surprises out of the preliminary stages. Here are my thoughts on some of Tuesday's matches.

Man Utd v/s Leverkusen. I am probably one of just a handful that think that Man Utd are thoroughly exposed Group A. I don't think it's as easy a group for them and the fact that they are odds-against to land the group looks too short to me. Let's not forget that it will be Moyes' only second venture at this level and as his predecessor SAF would say, experience is the key. They might go through to the knockout stages but I doubt it will be plain sailing. Their opponents Leverkusen, Shakhtar and Sociedad will all be tough cookies. Tomorrow's opponents Leverkusen are in very good form in the Bundesliga, having won 4 of their first 5 games. They have a dangerous striker in Kiessling who will be a goal scoring threat at Old Trafford. I think this will be a really close game and wouldn't be surprised if it ended in a draw. Still, Man Utd are always formidable at home on these European nights and could very well nick it at the end. The Red Devils are a draw-no-bet selection.

Real Sociedad v/s Shahktar. I really fancy the Spaniards to finish in the top 2 of this group. They are a real talented team that ended up 4th in La Liga and knocked off French outfit Lyon in convincing fashion in the qualifying round. They will aim to get maximum points at home to further their aspirations for the next round. Shakhtar are on their 4th consecutive UCL season but have lost arguably their best player in Willian to Chelsea. At current odds, I really like Real Sociedad as a draw-no-bet.

FC Kobenhavn v/s Juventus. No contest here, this looks like 3 straight easy points for Juve.

Benfica v/s Anderlecht. The hosts look good value to land the spoils. I have reservations about the quality of this Belgian side, which does not seem anywhere as good as its predecessors. One of these 2 teams should accompany favourites PSG to the next round, so the Portuguese will want to get maximum points from this encounter.

Olympiakos v/s PSG. The French should get at least a point out of this if they fail to win, so they are a draw-no-bet selection.

Bayern v/s CSKA Moscow. Straight win for the defending champions.

Viktoria v/s Man City. Pellegrini knows UCL better than Mancini, so I expect City to do well in the competition this season. They should very well go through to the next round. They will have Kompany back for the game and should be difficult to score against. Viktoria are a decent team that actually managed to tie Milan at home a couple of years ago. So the Citizens should be on their guard on this one and it's safest to stick with them as a draw-no-bet.

Win: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Benfica
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Real Sociedad, Man City, PSG

Friday, September 13, 2013

EPL Week 4

This week-end will give a good indication of the impact of the transfer window on the conditions of the teams in the EPL. New acquisitions will need to settle in and some will do it quicker than others. The play and performance of the teams should give some direction as to expectations of them in the months ahead. Here's my view of the week-end matches.

Man Utd v/s Crystal Palace. Home win. This Man Utd team is still a work in progress under Moyes but they cannot afford to lose points at home to the visitors. There is no doubt that the Red Devils had a disappointing transfer window after their setbacks in recruiting some big names, but I think they did very well in getting Fellaini from Everton. He should give a tonic to a placid central midfield. RVP has been banging goals for the Netherlands during the international qualifiers, and there is little doubt that he will be on the score-sheet again on Saturday.

Aston Villa v/s Newcastle. This could be ripe for a draw, although Villa should be able to test the resolve of a suspect Newcastle defence. Cabaye makes his anticipated return for the Magpies after failing to secure a switch to Arsenal and Ben Arfa is always capable of springing a magical moment for the visitors. But this is a match Villains star striker Benteke must look forward to banging goals and if he's on song, the balance could tilt in favour of the hosts. Villa as draw-no-bet is the selection.

Fulham v/s West Brom. The Cottagers dropped their last two games and WBA have yet to record a win. They lost striker Odemwinge during the transfer window and I was surprised that they did not go all out for Chelsea's Lukaku. I give Fulham the edge here and a draw-no-bet on them look safe and value at current odds.

Hull v/s Cardiff. This could very well be a low-scoring affair with possibly a goal deciding this match, should there be a winner. Could go any result.

Stoke v/s Man City. The problem with giving full confidence to Man City these days is due to the absence of their captain and rock at the back, Vincent Kompany. His absence was clearly evident in their loss at Cardiff where they gave up 2 goals on corners. Although Stoke will certainly make life difficult for them, the Citizens have enough quality to settle this tie. They just cannot afford to lose this game after their recent debacle at Cardiff. Man City as draw-no-bet is the selection.

Sunderland v/s Arsenal. Ozil is the main name for the Gunners. I don't know if he's worth the amount of money they paid for him but the German is pure class and looks set to be a major playmaker for them. His arrival will have given confidence to the entire squad that they are a team that can aim high. Arsenal should win this and are a straight Win selection.

Tottenham v/s Norwich. No team has been affected more than Tottenham during this transfer window. They lost their soul in Bale and the main question is how his absence and the arrival of seven new players have affected the quality of the team. The pressure is on Villas-Boas to mould this new team into an equally-good or better team than last year's. Their first 3 matches have been laborious, having won 2 matches by the minimum score on 2 penalties and being blanked out at Arsenal. Norwich could not have found a better time to visit White Hart Lane and will definitely see to snatching at least a point out of this encounter. At current odds, Spurs look a decent draw-no-bet proposal.

Everton v/s Chelsea. If Chelsea play like they did against Bayern in the Super Cup, they should win this match in hand. Everton have yet to win this season and although their manager is saying the contrary, the departure of Fellaini is a blow for them (at least on the field). The fact that the Toffees are still not firing on all cylinders at the presenet means that Chelsea will certainly be looking for the win here. I think they'll succeed and are a Win selection.

Southampton v/s West Ham. The Hammers will do without striker Carroll and playmaker Joe Cole. It looks very much that manager Allardyce will try to park the bus and be content with a point. Southampton should have all its players from international duty in good condition and their good record at home points to either a win or draw in this match. I have them as a good draw-no-bet.

Swansea v/s Liverpool. How much valuable is Sturridge to Liverpool? Well, he scored the only 3 goals in their first 3 games, and all his goals have been match-winners. I think their good form is going to be hit hard when they travel to Swansea. I like the look of Laudrup's team. They play good football and are always a goalscoring threat to any team.  I selected them for an away win at WBA last week and I have confidence in them again to put an end to the Kops' winning record. Swansea is the value draw-no-bet of the week-end.

Win: Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea
Draw-no-bet: Southampton, Swansea, Tottenham, Man City, Fulham, Aston Villa

Friday, August 30, 2013

EPL Week 3

My thoughts on this week-end's football matches.

Cardiff v/s Everton. Obviously, like everyone else, I was shocked that Cardiff got all 3 points against Man City last week. They capitalized on their corner kicks late in the game to make the difference. But I seriously think it was more a case of the visitors gifting victory to them; their defending in the absence of defensive rock Kompany was just a shambles. That said, the Bluebirds have shown great fighting spirit and will be a force to reckon with when playing at home. Everton were pegged back by a stubborn West Brom side last week and are somewhat distracted by the bids for Fellaini and Baines from Man Utd. No doubt that they will be weakened if they lose one or both of their star players. However, the duo have been sparkling in the opening games, so there does not seem to be any problem with their actual states of mind. I see value going with the Toffees as a draw-no-bet here.

Crystal Palace v/s Sunderland. Both teams came close to their first wins of the season last week, only to be pegged back late in the second half. They look poised to do battle at the wrong end of the table and will appreciate getting full points from the match. This should be a low scoring affair with the possible winner edging it by a single goal. Better to stay on the sidelines on this one.

Man City v/s Hull. Even without their captain Kompany, the hosts should win this one. They cannot afford to drop silly points like in Cardiff last week.

Newcastle v/s Fulham. It is understandable that the Magpies want Demba Ba back in some capacity, because they are truly lacking up front. On the positive side, they will have their playmaker Cabaye back for this match. How settled or unsettled he is after interest from Arsenal, remains to be seen. Although Fulham will be missing goalkeeper Stekelenburg, I do fancy their chances to get at least a point from this match. In Berbatov, Rodallega and Bent, they have enough firepower to cause damage to put Pardew's men on the backfoot. They are the value draw-no-bet selection of the week-end.

Norwich v/s Southampton. I need to see more of these 2 sides to make an honest opinion of the quality of the sides. Norwich are always potent at home. Southampton was slightly disappointing in not overcoming Sunderland in the last round and it is possibly a case of getting some of the new players settling in. On the fence.

West Ham v/s Stoke. Hard to see Stoke stealing this after their rather laborious start to the season. I expected more of them against Crystal Palace last week as they had to really dig in to overcome the Eagles. The Cottages should be a tough nut to crack at home this year and they should either land or share the spoils. I have them as draw-no-bet.

Arsenal v/s Tottenham. The Gunners have racked 3 wins in a row after their opening day debacle. Spurs have won all their 4 games without conceding any goal. Their first 2 EPL games have been game winners by newcomer Soldado on penalties. Unlike many of the previous editions, I think this match looks set to be a low scoring affair. Spurs will be missing Bale again, but I like their current odds with a 1-goal advantage.

Liverpool v/s Man Utd. The Kops got match winners from Sturridge in their opening games and it will be a good test to see where the team is really at when they take on the champions. If Sturridge is shackled, it is not clear where the goals will come from the hosts. I thought Man Utd was very solid defensively against Chelsea on Monday. No doubt that with the presence of captain Vidic, they are more secure at the back and can initiate their flowing football more confidently. Rooney seems to have put to bed his resignation to leave the club and with his spirits in good order, can create havoc to Liverpool. Unlike many others, I have yet to be convinced of the quality of this Liverpool side. I don't think they are among the top 5 teams yet. At current odds, I see value in siding with Man Utd as draw-no-bet.

West Brom v/s Swansea. Anelka should return to bolster the Baggies line-up but they will dearly be missing goalkeeper Foster. Like WBA, Swansea are still looking for their first win and I believe they can capitalize on the injury issues facing the hosts to conjure up the 3 points. I think it great value to chancing with Laudrup's men for the straight win.

Win: Man City, Swansea
Draw-no-bet: Fulham, West Ham, Man Utd.
+1 Handicap: Tottenham

Friday, August 23, 2013

EPL Week 2

The main question this week-end is whether Chelsea can land a title blow to Man Utd's hopes early in the season. Although it's only the second week, it's still a 6-pointer game. Mourinho has traditionally found it hard to beat Moyes' old Everton team and I think that he will encounter similar resilience on Monday. I believe there's every reason for this match to end in a draw.

Here's my view of other matches.

Aston Villa v/s Liverpool. Benteke is on fire and Villa have impressed against the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea. Liverpool have been impressive at home as well against Stoke. I think this game comes a tad too early for the hosts following their midweek exertions at Stamford Bridge. It might be worth chancing with Liverpool as a draw-no-bet at current odds.

Everton v/s West Brom. This is a good chance for the Toffees to open their home debut with a win here. West Brom will be reeling from the bombshell news regarding striker Anelka in mid-week. It's still unknown whether he's terminated his career or if he's only out for this game but the fact that he was the club's main attacking weapon means that they could be well short in this area for the game. Everton should edge this.

Fulham v/s Arsenal. I fancy Fulham to do well this year and think they will be in the first 10. Martin Jol can lead them well and they are a good force at home. Arsenal have had a topsy-turvy week; after having been rocked in their opening game, they went to dominate Fenerbache in Turkey. The Gunners will be keen not to let themselves too much early on in the season. I think they are a good draw-no-bet selection despite missing a few key players.

Hull v's Norwich. The hosts will certainly be more attack-minded than during their trip at Chelsea. I still think that will not be enough against the Canaries that managed to put 2 past Everton last week-end. I see Norwich as another good draw-no-bet selection.

Newcastle v's West Ham. This looks to go straight as a bore draw but I have no confidence in the prediction since it could be edged one way or the other as well.

Southampton v/s Sunderland. The Saints look as good and enterprising team as last year and should be a force to reckon with at home again. Sunderland lost their first match at home and it would be no surprise if they found the hosts too much to handle. Quality should prevail in this one and Southampton are backed to pick up 3 full points.

Stoke v/s Crystal Palace. Got to go with the Potters here as they should be able to show the same resilience at home under new boss Mark Hughes as in previous seasons. I have a feeling that Palace's chances to stay up will principally depend on points picked up at home as they won't get too many on their travels. I'll go for the Win for the hosts.

Cardiff v/s Man City. It would be a brave person to go against Man City here. They were rampant against Newcastle on Monday, and this team is going to get better and better under Pellegrini. Dzeko is due to score after missing so many chances in their last match. The Citizens should prevail comfortably in this one.

Tottenham v/s Swansea. Both teams registered easy wins in the Europa League in mid-week. Spurs have home advantage but will definitely not have an easy game against Laudrup's men. It would not be surprising if the visitors caused a minor surprise here. Better to avoid.

Man Utd v/s Chelsea. As mentioned above, it might be worth chancing a draw here if one has to punt.

Win: Everton, Southampton, Stoke, Man City
Draw-no-bet: Liverpool, Arsenal, Norwich.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Juddmonte International - Al Kazeem needs to overcome Toronado

There are only 2 names to remember for Wednesday's Juddmonte International at York; Al Kazeem and Toronado. I cannot see any of the other contenders preventing one of these 2 landing the main prize.
AK will be aiming for a 4th successive Group 1 win. It is amazing that the 5-year old son of Dubawi was not even a Group 1 winner until this year, although there was little doubt that he was high-class. The vibes from connections are very positive and the fact that he's coming in after 46 days of rest should have him optimally fit. I cannot see him out of the first 2.

Toronado will be the one to play spoilers. Officially the best miler in Europe on ratings, he will be adventuring at the 10 furlong distance for the first time. Being by High Chaparral, there is every chance that he has the distance in him. The way he won the Sussex Stakes leaves room for confidence that the distance is within his cords. But it is also true that trainer Richard Hannon's main successes have mostly been with races up to a mile. So that leaves a big question mark as to how well prepared or trained has Toronado been for a mile and a quarter showdown with a top-class and battle-tested horse like AK. On the positive side, he will be in receipt of 7 pounds from AK, so that could aid his cause in making the difference.

I strongly think those 2 will share the first 2 spots. I have a slight preference for AK for the win but won't be surprised if Toronado just edged the battle in a photo. At current odds, both look good Place values as well.

Win: Al Kazeem
Place: Al Kazeem, Toronado

Friday, August 16, 2013

EPL Week 1

My takes on the first week-end of this new EPL season.

Arsenal v/s Aston Villa. Although they will be without Arteta and possibly Walcott, I cannot see Arsenal losing their opener at the Emirates. They should be able to edge this encounter and use it as a confidence builder.

Liverpool v/s Stoke. This is a new era for Stokes under Mark Hughes. It remains to be seen whether keeping clean sheets remains a reference for the Potters. Liverpool will be without Suarez to suspension and will rely on a minorly-crocked Sturridge for ammunition. It will be more a matter of watch and learn on this one but if one really needs a punt, a Liverpool win looks the likelier outcome.

Norwich v/s Everton. This looks to be one of the most even games of the week-end and it would be no surprise if this ended into a draw.

Sunderland v/s Fulham. Same as above. Draw prediction.

Swansea v/s Man Utd. Last year's fixture ended in a draw, although the Red Devils should have won the game in a canter. It's going to be tougher for them this year. At current odds, I am inclined to go with Swansea with a +1 goal advantage so that it would take Man Utd to win by 2 goals for the proposition to fail. I just cannot see Laudrup's team going down by that many goals at home.

West Brom v/s Southampton. Staying on the sidelines on this one as it's hard to assess how the Baggies will do without Lukaku although they now have Anelka in their ranks. Southampton are nursing a few major injuries, so it remains to be seen in what kind of disposition their current team is compared to last year.

West Ham v/s Cardiff. This match can go either way. To avoid.

Chelsea v/s Hull. It would be mad to go anywhere against Chelsea here. Straight win, and it should be a big one too, for the hosts.

Crystal Palace v/s Tottenham. Although most of the summer news about Spurs has been about the departure of Bale, they are still a strong squad. They should have too much firepower for the hosts and should start the season on a winning note.

Man City v/s Newcastle. Straight win for the Citizens.

Win: Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Man City
+1 Handicap: Swansea.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Premier League 2014 - Battle of the Blues

Back from a good holiday break. Just in time for the new EPL season.

This new Premier League season is as intriguing as it's ever been. The best 3 teams in the country, Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea will start with new managers. That means that many of the assumptions regarding those teams in the past years can be thrown out of the window. The Mancunians will be the most heavily hit as they cannot rely on the massive Ferguson factor. After last year's debacle in Madrid, Mourinho will look for redemption at Chelsea and it remains to be seen if he can guide the Blues back to glory in conditions that look quite different to the ones he enjoyed in his first stint. Man City are still beefing up and they will look up to Pellegrini's management skills to bring success where ex-manager Mancini failed.

Although it might seem too early to have any certainty, I am very inclined to take a couple of positions. First, the winner will be out of these 3 teams mentioned above. I cannot see Arsenal, Tottenham or Liverpool or any other big club contending for the main prize. Arsenal will probably do better than last season, but as usual will find it unable to sustain any kind of serious challenge. They will falter at some point, as they've always been doing in the past few years. Tottenham does not have a big enough squad to go all the way through. Worse, they might lose the league's best player, in Gareth Bale. With or without the Welsh superstar, they cannot be considered a serious title contender. Liverpool also face losing their best player in Suarez. Even with him, I cannot see them in the first 4.

My second certainty is that Man Utd will not repeat as champions. I've talked about the loss of the Ferguson factor above and before. There are many other reasons. While he might be talented, new manager Moyes will need a period of adaptation. The pre-season friendlies have been hardly encouraging as they results have been far from convincing. The Red Devils have a tough schedule start. Games against Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool in the first weeks can destroy the chances of the team early, and can make it particularly tough for a new manager needing time to adapt. Then, there's the Rooney factor. Should Van Persie be missing from injury and Rooney not available, this Man Utd team will be reeling against tough opposition. Finally, their failure to secure a playmaker like Fabregas at this stage means that the team still needs improvement in midfield. Although things can change with new reinforcements, I think Man Utd fans will be right not to have too high hopes for this year. Don't get me wrong, Utd are still a force to reckon with as they have a strong squad and a certain Robin Van Persie, but there is more downside to them than the likes of Chelsea and Man City this year. Laying the Red Devils before the season starts because their tough start to the season means that they look set to drop points very early.

Yes, I think it will be a battle of the blue shirts for the title. It's a toss-up between Chelsea and Man City. On paper, City's squad is better balanced. They lost Tevez but the incomings of Fernandinho, Jovetic, Navas and Negredo will add to an already-explosive offence. But their best new asset might be new manager Pellegrini. A very successful manager in La Liga, if the Chilean can manage the egos of his star-studded squad and re-energize the old guard from the debacle of Mancini's days, Man City will have a great shout to the tile.

Chelsea will be counting on Mourinho to bring back success. If Man City were only a fictitious team, then there's no doubt that Chelsea would have been a shoo-in for the title. Under the Portuguese, they will do close to full points at Stamford Bridge. It remains to be seen how well they do on their travels. It might be worth comparing the quality of the current Chelsea squad to the one Mourinho had during this title winning years. There will be no more Drogba and the likes of Terry and Lampard will have aged for the worse. But Mata, Oscar and Hazard bring first-class offence to the team. I think if Man City were to fail for any reason, Chelsea will be ready to pick up the pieces.

So, that's my point of view; Man City and Chelsea will duke it out. It will be interesting to watch for any mental battles between Mourinho and Pellegrini. Mou already started the confrontation when he replaced the Chilean at Real Madrid. In his customary ways, he will certainly pepper things up when things are not going as planned. I cannot see Man Utd repeat as champions. Enjoy the season!

Win Title: Chelsea/Man City
Lay: Man Utd

Friday, July 19, 2013

Irish Oaks 2013 - Crowning achievement for Riposte?

What a cracking edition of the Irish Oaks this year with all of the 8 contenders having a proper shot on paper. It's too bad Ralph Beckett's Secret Gesture could not make the trip as she would have been one of the main contenders to land the prize.

The initial process of elimination is a tough one but I'm inclined to discard all three representatives from the Ballydoyle camp in Just Pretending, Magical Dream and Venus de Milo. I think they are a touch below the rest of the field and certainly not at the level of some of their illustrious predecessors like Alexandrova and Peeping Fawn. I will also take Scintillula out from the Bolger yard out of the contenders' list as she has yet to prove herself at that level. This leaves Alive Alive Oh, Chicquita, Riposte and Talent.

Alive Alive Oh could be anything of a filly, having won her 2 races, out of 3 outings, in a canter. Her races have all been on give in the ground and the main question about her is how she will act on the Curragh's firm ground. There is a good possibility that being by Duke of Marmalade that she should relish fast ground but she will have to confirm on that to have a decent crack on Saturday.

Chicquita is the French raider from the Royer Dupre stable. She closed very well in the Prix Diane as runner-up to Treve and the 12 furlong distance will suit her to bits. After all she's a Montjeu. She has shown quirkiness, flashing her tail and has a tendency to hang when asked to deliver. If Johnny Murtagh can steer her right, she could play a role at the finish.

Riposte is this year's outstanding Ribblesdale winner and is a close relative of Frankel. She definitely has stardom in the genes. She's proven at the distance and on the fast ground. She should be well rested from her last Royal Ascot outing and ready to fire. She should be in the first 3.

Talent surprised even her trainer Beckett by beating stablemate Secret Gesture in this year's Oaks. Although it's unclear as to the exact quality of the Oaks form, she's clearly from the top drawer having won 3 out of her 4 races. She will have no issues on the fast ground, and will rely mainly on the fast pace to unleash her turn of foot. Unless she gets stuck in traffic, she should be among the finishers as well.

Riposte is definitely on the up and the race seems to come at the right time for her. The field looks very level, so going each-way on the daughter of Dansili is the preferred selection. This looks to be a very hotly-contested race, unless a real superstar emerges from the pack.

Each-way: Riposte

Friday, July 12, 2013

Marengo and Ocovango battle for Paris

For many purists, the Grand Prix de Paris is the unofficial French Derby that pits the best 3 year-olds at the 12 furlong Classic distance. The claim that the official holder of the title, the Prix du Jockey-Club, favours more milers than stamina players at its shortened 11 furlong distance, seems to hold much water with every passing year.

At the forefront of this year's edition are Ocovango and Battle of Marengo, two colts that lost their unbeaten records at the Epsom Classic without demerit. Both look to be evenly-matched from the outcome and the winner will very possibly from one of the two. I believe that fitness will be the deciding factor. BOM had another racecourse outing at Royal Ascot running a creditable second to Hillstar in the King Edward VII Stakes. Saturday's race might be coming too soon for the son of Galileo. On the other hand, Ocovango makes his comeback from his English raid having enjoyed more than 6 weeks of rest. That definitely gives him the upper hand in terms of recovery. Trainer Andre Fabre is a renowned master for getting his 3-year olds primed for the big targeted races and for a person of a few words, is looking very confident on his colt's chances.

The selection is to go with Ocovango over BOM in any match-bet and for the Win as well.

Win: Ocovango
Match-bet: Ocovango

Friday, July 5, 2013

Coral Eclipse - The Fugue can test Al Kazeem

Saturday's Coral Eclipse is an opportunity for Al Kazeem to confirm his Royal Ascot win and proclaim himself the best middle-distance horse in England. The main question is whether he can bag his third Group 1 win in a row in a short span of 6 weeks. He is clearly the best-rated horse in the race and if he is 100% fit, there is no doubt in my mind that the rest are running for the places.

I think the market has it right and the winner will come out of these; Al Kazeem, Declaration of War and The Fugue. Mukhadram had AK dig deep at Ascot but my feeling is that the margin between the two will only enlarge given the same amount of days rest. Mars is an interesting contender but being a 3-year old and lightly-raced, I believe his lack of experience will be detrimental on the day. Pastorius is coming back from a disappointing raid in Singapore and there are question marks as to how well he's recuperated from his trip. On his best form, he can be a danger in a Group 1, but I feel that this race might be coming a little too soon for him after his Far East venture.

DOW bounced back fantastically in landing the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot after flopping badly in the Lockinge. The dilemma is knowing what condition Aidan O'Brien has him now; is he under-cooked, over-cooked or spot on? That's the problem with the Ballydoyle genius trainer, he can get them spot on or he can wreck them big time (I won't go over the So You Think episodes again). Although he's won at the distance and further, I still think that he would be better suited and more dangerous at the mile. He cannot be discarded though particularly if AK and The Fugue don't run their race.

The Fugue ran a cracking third in the Prince of Wales after a long layoff. She stayed on very well and there is no doubt that she will go into the Eclipse in far better shape. 11 furlongs is possibly her best trip. She will absolutely love the fast ground conditions at Sandown. I think there will be less than the 3.5 lengths separation at Ascot between her and AK this time. In my cards, she's the second favourite of the race.

AK has proven to be top-class and I believe only a short time of recuperation from his last run can stop him on Saturday. On level terms and adequate rest, he would dominate this field. The Fugue is on the ascendancy and will pounce on any weakness from AK. At current odds, the latter looks very short, while The Fugue looks good each-way value. That is my selection.

Each-way: The Fugue

Friday, June 28, 2013

Irish Derby 2013 - Ruler to convince the world

Although he won the Epsom Derby quite convincingly, Ruler of the World still has doubters about whether he is the real deal and is indeed the creme de la creme of the Classic division. He will have the opportunity to put the question to bed in Saturday's Irish Derby.

Some would say that Battle of Marengo was unleashed too soon at Epsom which ruined his chances at the finish. The way that ROTW stormed by in the closing stages seems to indicate that he still had the race in control had the sprint to the finish line started later than actual. The fact that ROTW is still undefeated in 3 races and looks a progressive type means that he is the deserved favourite for the Curragh Classic. At evens, he might be a little short, but he definitely should be in the first 3, albeit without regular partner Ryan Moore in the saddle.

I believe the main challenge will come from Libertarian, Sugar Boy or Trading Leather. Derby runner-up Libertarian looked a very good closer at Epsom which looked to indicate that the St Leger might be up his alley. He will certainly appreciate the less-undulating Curragh track and cannot be dismissed in any trifecta.

There is a slight question mark on Trading Leather at a mile and a half distance. He's produced high-class races at a mile and ten furlongs this year and he might have too much speed for the Classic distance. He's from the top drawer though and very possibly the best 3-year old in Jim Bolger's care after Dawn Approach. If he gets the distance, he represents a good value each-way chance.

Sugar Boy beat Libertarian in the Sandown Classic Trial at ten furlongs. He's been either in first or second places in his last 6 races, and has made the frame in all 8 of his outings. He will relish the distance. It remains to be seen how to interpret his 64 day absence from the tracks; will he be too fresh or just fresh enough to run down quite a few opponents that might still not fully recovered from the Epsom race?

I think that if ROTW runs his race, he should win. For the placings, I see value in both Sugar Boy and Trading Leather. One stands not to lose if at least one of them makes it in the first 3.

Win: Ruler of the World
Place: Trading Leather/Sugar Boy 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Royal Ascot - Day 2 Prince of Wales' Stakes

I can think of only 5 names to retain in Wednesday's feature race, the Prince of Wales' Stakes at 10 furlongs; Al Kazeem, Camelot, The Fugue and the 2 French raiders Maxios and Saint Baudolino. I believe the winner should come out of that lot.

Al Kazeem is the favourite of the race and if he has retained the form that saw him beat Camelot last time, I think he will be a big player. He's only been outside of the placings once in 10 outings, and that happened on his racing debut and on soft ground. He will be getting his preferred good ground on Tuesday and the way he mastered Camelot at the Curragh a few weeks ago shows his mettle as a genuine Group 1 runner and one of the best middle-distance horses around.

Camelot disappointed when beaten to Al Kazeem and it remains to be seen if he's still the same horse after his surgery during the winter. I still believe that his best distance is 12 furlongs, being a son of Montjeu. It's hard to see him reverse the form against Roger Charlton's colt.

I rate The Fugue as a top filly but I have doubts of her winning on Wednesday after more than 200 days of layoff. Her stablemate Elusive Kate floundered in the latter parts of the Queen Anne Stakes after a similar lengthy spell on the sidelines, possibly due to a lack of fitness. There isn't much confidence in backing her with the lack of a prep run.

Maxios has been a revelation in France this year having notched 2 wins and a second place out of 3 top races. It seems that trainer Jonathan's Pease has found the solution to the 5-year old half-brother of Bago after a rather start-stop career to date. Maxios needs plenty of rain to be at his most effective but it does not seem that there will be plenty or any of that in the weather forecasts. He's got to be considered if it starts pouring on the day.

Saint Baudolino can never be counted out as the son of Pivotal is blessed with a smart turn of foot that can help him make the difference against this field on his best day. This lightly raced colt is the dark horse of the race as he's very unexposed. It remains to be seen how his transfer from Fabre to Godolphin has panned out because many of similar transfers have ended up in rather catastrophic fashion. It would not be surprising if the mount of Barzalona snatched up a place.

All roads seem to be going back to Al Kazeem in this one. He almost never runs a bad race and if he is true to form, he should be very close at the finish. I cannot see him out of the first 3, and he looks a good value Win selection.

Win: Al Kazeem

Monday, June 17, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013 - Day 1

Animal Kingdom towers above the field in the opening race Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot. If he is anywhere near his true form and has no problem adapting to the undulations of the track, there is really nothing in the field that can beat him. Signs from connections have been positive throughout his preparations so it looks like he will be tough to beat. Should he fail to fire, I see Elusive Kate and Trade Storm as his nearest pursuers. The former runs very well fresh and has had good form in Group 1 races last year. Trade Storm has been a revelation in Dubai and if he gets the firm ground that he relishes, he has strong claims to be in the placings. Animal Kingdom is short-priced but he should win.

The King's Stand Stakes is an intriguing contest with Shea Shea, the Mike de Kock representative, being another short-priced favourite. This is a big field of 19 runners, so it won't be a surprise if he's turned over. The Aussies have a great record in the race and will be represented by Shamexpress, who although does not seem to have the star power or reputation of Choisir, Takeover Target and Miss Andretti, should be be respected. I think Reckless Abandon represents tremendous value in this race. The son of Exchange rate lost  his unbeaten tag on this seasonal return this year when a good third to Kingsgate Native in the Betfred Temple Stakes a few weeks ago. This race will have brought him on nicely and he's shown very good speed in all his races to suggest that he can be one of the premier sprinters in the country if kept at the 5-6 furlong distance. I see value in having him in the placings.

Finally, the St James Palace stakes looks set to be a dandy. The rather shocking return of Dawn Approach has turned the race upside down. If he's truly recovered from the disastrous Derby and is still the horse that won the Guineas, then he must have a live chance to win. Magician is a top-drawer horse in his own right and his backers will be eager to see if the setback in his preparation will have any effect on race day. Despite his Guineas flop, Toronado is still highly regarded in the Richard Hannon camp. I think we can throw away that race. He showed great speed and the way he floundered in the end definitely meant that something had bothered him. Very possibly his newly-fitted spoon-bit might be the solution to the issue. The vibes from the connections are most positive and I think there is a great chance that he will run to his full potential. I think he's the value Place punt of the race.

Win: Animal Kingdom
Place: Reckless Abandon, Toronado

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

US Open - Tiger can end drought

Sad news in racing yesterday with the passing of Sir Henry Cecil, without any doubt,one of the greatest trainers in the history of Flat racing. I got the bug of racing following the likes of Oh So Sharp, the Triple Crown winner which he masterfully trained like so many other champions over the years. The Frankel story might not be as unblemished and memorably told today had it been in the hands of another trainer. A genius of a horseman he was. RIP Sir Henry.

The US Open golf gets underway tomorrow and looks a tricky affair as the conditions prevailing are far from optimal. The latest downpour looks set to make the course slow and soggy. I think this sets Tiger Woods pretty well here. It is hard to believe that Tiger hasn't won a Major tournament for the past 5 years. He's definitely come close of late and although he had a stinker tournament last week, his game is definitely back. I believe he just needs that ounce of luck to win a big one again and that would open the floodgates for many more Major glories. He's won the US Open in these kinds of conditions before and even had a practice round at this year's venue in the rain. Looking at the odds on the exchanges, his even odds for a Top 10 look appealing. He might not win but I definitely think he should be in the whereabouts on Sunday.

Top 10: Tiger Woods

Friday, May 31, 2013

C's and T's: Dawn Approach's challenge

New Approach made his mark as a serious Classic sire today after Talent's surprising victory in the Oaks. The question is whether he can make it a bis repetita celebration when his son Dawn Approach guns for Derby victory as a heavy favourite.

It seems to be a unanimous feeling that if Dawn Approach gets the 12-furlong distance, he will win. Based on form, there is not much in the race that comes close to Godolphin's representative. The answer to his stamina concerns lies in a momentous discovery in thoroughbred racing central of which is no other than his trainer Jim Bolger himself. It is his company that made the breakthrough that racehorses can be empirically categorized as pure sprinters, stayers and a mixture of both based on samplings of their DNA. To simplify a long story, if C stands for a sprinter-type and T for a stayer-type, then a CC-horse is bound to be primarily a short-distance specialist having received the C genes from both the dam and sire. On the same note, a TT-type horse will be more apt for stamina-challenging races. CT or TC-type horses can turn out to be in either part of the spectrum; they can become great sprinters, milers or stayers.

If Jim Bolger did not have Dawn Approach in the Derby preliminary entries, it is for the simple reason that he had empirical evidence that the colt is a CC-type horse, i.e, a sprinting type not suited for the Derby distance. The story goes that it is the colt's other owner, Godolphin's Sheikh Mohammed that decided to go for the Classic.

Given the above, it is clear that for Dawn Approach to win the Derby, 2 things must happen. First, he must have the class that will carry him through the distance. He will need to find every bit of it in the last furlong to the post, where many other champions (Dubai Millenium is the prime example) have floundered. The manner of all his wins lead me to think that Dawn Approach has that amount of required class. Second, much depends on the quality of his opponents. From what most of them have shown, their forms are very exposed. Battle of Marengo was workmanlike in the Derrinstown Derby Trial. Although unbeaten in 3 races, Ocovango is no Pour Moi although many pundits try to find similarities. Ocovango looks more like a galloper and lacks the burst of acceleration of the Derby winner. He can be in the thereabouts but at current odds, I think he's a great one to lay. The winner could come out of the rest of the pack with the likes of Mars, Ruler of the World or the unbeaten Chopin, but none of them would be a confident pick. It seems that whichever acts more on the Epsom undulations will have a chance of usurping the favourite.

My confident selection is Dawn Approach to be in the first 3. If he takes to the distance, he could rout this field. If not, there might be a dark horse among the rest waiting to bask in Epsom's glory. I don't think it will be Battle of Marengo or Ocovango, so they would be my lays of the race.

Place: Dawn Approach
Lay: Battle of Marengo, Ocovango

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Moth to fly in Oaks

In what seems to be a common pattern in today's racing, Friday's Oaks seems to be a battle between Galileo's fillies; Secret Gesture is the one with the market support after her awesome demonstration in the Lingfield Oaks Trial. Moth is the other serious contender representing the Ballydoyle contingent. Galileo's sons and daughters really look set to rule the Classics to come for the foreseeable future.

It is true that the form of the Oaks Trial can be deemed suspect. The runner-up Miss You Too runs in Friday's Classic as well and is the long-shot of the field at over 100/1. That means to say that there is the real possibility that the visually impressive 10-length demolition of Secret Gesture in that race should be taken at face value and might not be the best form on show for the race. There is no doubt Ralph Beckett's filly is high-class but she will find the Classic race a much more competitive affair.

I really like the way Moth closed up the 1000 Guineas in finishing third. She finished best of the field and there is no doubt that the 12 furlong distance will be right up her alley. Her fans will have been delighted that she's the stable jockey's pick. She must have a big chance particularly if Secret Gesture's Oaks Trial form is exposed on the day.

Of the rest, I think Liber Nauticus will miss some seasoning for the race. She's undefeated in 2 races but I believe the Oaks comes too early for her. She's definitely over-priced in my books.

I can easily see Moth in the first three. She looks a safe and value Place punt at current odds.

Place: Moth

Friday, May 24, 2013

Choker tag on the line

The UCL final at Wembley is the main event of the week-end, pitting the 2 German teams Bayern Munich and Dortmund. On paper and based on form, Bayern looks difficult to beat and is the overwhelming favourite. But looks are very deceiving. For those that think that the Munich team will win it easily, consider this; Bayern have not beaten Dortmund in a league game for the past couple of years. They have lost more UCL finals than they've won. They lost when to Porto in 1987 when practically no-one thought the Portuguese had the slightest chance. Last year, they lost the final to Chelsea when playing at their vaunted Allianz Arena. They also lost to Man Utd during the Red Devils' Triple Crown coronation in 1999, and again to Mourinho's Inter Milan in the 2010 Final. In comparison, Dortmund's sole UCL final appearance and victory came as a massive under-dog against Juventus in 1997.

So, the word "choker" springs to mind when The Bavarians get to the final. But that's not to say that this year  might not be different; Bayern really look overwhelmingly strong this year. They crushed the Bundesliga early and annihilated Barcelona on their way to Wembley. This is a team that is really on the ascendancy and will be peaking in the coming years, provided upcoming coach Guardiola does not wreck them.

Against them is a strong Dortmund team that has the belief that this Cup is theirs for the taking. They were nearly dead and buried against Malaga, yet conjured up 2 goals in injury-time to make it through. They were not supposed to overcome mighty Real Madrid, yet they outplayed and outscored them. On its best day, this team can beat anyone, even Bayern. They are led by a maestro motivator in manager Klopp. They have world-class players like Lewandowski, Reus and Gotze that can open up any defence. But here's one thing; Gotze will miss the final due to a hamstring injury. That's a massive blow for Dortmund. He's their playmaker and although he's Bayern-bound next year, he would have been a real threat for the men in yellow.

The pressure will definitely be more on Bayern. They have to score first and preferably early to settle their nerves. Their ability to impose their game will be instrumental. They have beaten their opponents in the German Cup this season which will have given them belief that they can win the game in 90 minutes. Dortmund will most probably sit back and rely on their deadly counter-attack. Anything can happen in a final; the team that makes of the most of its chances will win. There's no certainty here; but I think that with some luck, Bayern is ready to dispel the myths and confirm the current thinking that they are indeed the best in Europe. Whether in full or injury-time, or on penalties, my feeling is that the Bavarians will prevail.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Changing Landscape

This end of football season in the European leagues looks set to be the watershed to the impending massive changes to bestow upon them next year. With the great SAF retiring, Man Utd will be under a new manager after 27 years. But the winds of change have affected many other European powerhouses as well; in England, Chelsea looks set for the second coming of Mourinho and Pellegrini has apparently been given the reins at Man City. The best 3 teams in England will be under new leaders. In Italy, Milan is on the verge of getting rid of Allegri after a so-so first season. Inter are on the look-out for a new coach as well. In Spain, the much-maligned Mourinho has finally been booted out of Madrid, to the delight of Spanish fans in general. Malaga will also look for a new manager after the departure of Pellegrini. In Germany, Guardiola is taking over the powerful Bayern Munich. Finally, so far, in France, PSG are looking to replace want-away Ancelotti for whom Real Madrid came calling.

We are talking here of 8 big teams that played in this year's Champions League. This is bound to affect not only their domestic leagues but next year's dynamics in the UCL as well. It is too early to say whether teams like Barcelona will have the advantage of continuity with them. After all, much of it will depend on player personnel as well. Rooney looks to be out of Man Utd, Dortmund will be losing some key players, Real Madrid is already working on their list of surplus to requirements. And probably more importantly, Neymar will make his European debut, quite possibly under a Barcelona shirt.

English football itself is moving into a new era with the retirement of Scholes, Beckham and Owen. While their careers were already on the wane for the past few years, there is no doubt that their names are etched forever in England folklore for their contributions to the game. They were some of the finest to ever don a Lions shirt and have made their indelible mark.

The carousel round of managers and players will make for a hectic transfer summer season . A new dawn of football will start in August. The retired ones will be missed but football will hold its intrigue more than ever.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cup consolation for Real

First, a salute to Beckham who's decided his boots at the end of the year. Same year as SAF, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville, who have defined Man Utd for the past 20 years. Becks is simply the best crosser of the ball I have ever seen. No-one can bend it like Beckham. Also, Becks is the best free-kick taker in the 25-30 yard range I have ever seen. Zidane could have been the best below 25 yards but Becks had deadly aim at longer ranges. Although he's won in 4 different leagues, I'm pretty sure he would be as equally happy or more so playing all his career at Old Trafford, like Giggs and Scholes. The fact that he's really stayed a humble guys throughout his massive on and off-field successes say a lot about the man. A real rare true icon.

Tonight sees the Copa del Rey final between Real and Atletico Madrid. On one hand, there's a divided Real team whose manager Mourinho has burnt all of his bridges to the club and is on his way out. On the other, Atletico will try to use these apparent conflicts to finally secure a win over their city rivals. This final also pits 2 men who've never lost a final, I believe; Mourinho and Falcao have been in quite a few important ones and always found a way to win. Falcao always seems pumped for these kinds of occasions.

My verdict is that Real Madrid will prevail. The final being at their home Bernabeu gives them a massive advantage. It is a mountain to climb for Atletico. I don't give much credence to the theory that Real will be hampered by the stories of disarray in which the club seems to embroiled; that Mourinho has lost the locker room etc. He may have lost the players' esteem but they are still a strong force that can cause damage when playing in unison. They can still rely on CR7 to put them on the score sheet. Atletico's best chance will be for it to go to the lottery of penalties. I think Real will settle this game sooner than that.

Win Copa: Real Madrid

Friday, May 10, 2013

Celebrations in Manchester

Old Trafford will be the the theatre of a special ending Saturday when SAF manages his last Man Utd home game. It is bound to be emotional. There's every reason to believe the players will show nerves on the occasion. The hosts will have experienced a week out of the ordinary. Their training will have been disrupted. So typically, you'd expect Man Utd to start slowly and possibly struggle. Against them is a Swansea team with nothing to play for except maybe as spoilers, as they did against Wigan last week. Although they won that game, they never showed any glimpse of doing so for most of the match and were lucky to capitalize on 2 Latics errors. That said, I think it is written somewhere that the Red Devils will give SAF the send-off he deserves. It might take time, but I think that once they get on the score sheet, the hosts could spend the evening banging goals to their manager's delight. Once the nerves are settled, the Fergie's players will be giving their all in one of the games of their lives.

I am not sure I am a fan of the FA Cup being played before the season end, but it's hard to visualize anything other than a Man City win. Wigan is involved in a serious relegation fight and they will not be entirely focused on the game. Man City should have too much firepower for the Latics. It might take extra-time or penalites, but in the end, the Citizens should prevail.

Win: Man Utd
Win FA Cup: Man City