Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Red Devils to win the title

Three of the four Tuesday's games turned out draws, hope it turned into a nice payout for those that fancied it as well. Villa lost at home, which turned out to be a wrong selection.

I believe it is worth starting to take a position on Man Utd to win the league this year. I just cannot see them blowing it away again this year. Their main rivals for the title will again be Man City and the Citizens don't look to have the hunger to keep the trophy this year. Yesterday's goalless draw at QPR was good enough proof that this is a team that, although still formidable, is not incisive or sharp enough to win important games when they matter. Something is broken in this team; Silva cannot do everything on his own, they are missing Yaya Toure to run the midfield; Aguero and Tevez are shadows of their old selves. The team is simply not clicking and I don't think that booting away Ballotelli to Milan will cure their problems.

I still believe that Man Utd are a step behind their past teams of the treble year or of the Christiano Ronaldo years. But they are good enough to last all the way to the title. Their manager will guide them to it through sheer will. Sure, their defence is dismal but their attack is so good that they can outscore Premier League opponents at will. Last but not least, they already have a 4-point cushion with tonight's game in hand; given that they are best during the second half of the season, there's every reason to believe this gap will increase.

I firmly believe that Man Utd will win the league this year, so it's a case of accumulating position week-in, week-out, even when they lose points. They inevitably will drop points along the way, just like the rest, but the value lies in keeping the confidence and getting in as their odds go up after such off-days and nights.

For tonight's games, I like Arsenal at home to Liverpool. I think Arsenal will get better as the season goes along and they should have too much class for the Kops. Arsenal is a draw-no-bet selection.

I see Tottenham as good value as draw-no-bet at Norwich. The Canaries are struggling at the moment and Spurs will be welcoming the return of talismanic striker Defoe. Villa-Boas has surprised me with some good results since the start of the season and I expect them to win or draw at Norwich.

Draw-no-bet: Arsenal, Tottenham

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

EPL Wednesday

Tough-looking EPL games on Wednesday where the forms of many of the teams involved are very exposed. It would not be surprising if at least two of the four scheduled games ended up in draws.

Aston Villa v/s Newcastle. These teams are going through some tough patch lately and both managers are under severe pressure to start getting results. There are not worse teams in the league and they both should really be in mid-division and not fighting to stave off relegation. At some point, they are bound to embark on string of successful results after a prolonged poor sequence. This could very well end up with a draw or in Aston Villa's favour. They have a very good budding striker in Benteke who has the power and talent to exploit the weaknesses of the visitors' defence. Newcastle has added to their ranks in the transfer window and while this might help in the long run, the new recruits are bound to need some acclimatisation time to fit it. At current value, it looks worth to have the hosts at draw-no-bet.

QPR v/s Man City. I have a rising belief that Man City will not win the league again this season and that it will go to the red part of Manchester. That said, Man City should prove too good for the hosts in this one. The latter got dumped out of the FA Cup by a low level team, which prompted manager Redknapp to concede that his team was a shambles. The indications are there that even himself will not be able to turn around the club and relegation is a distinct possibility. The arrival of the Citizens can only complicate things; City are finding their form at the moment and were convincing winners at Stoke in the FA Cup over the week-end. They look to be a safe draw-no-bet.

The other 2 games, Stoke v/s Wigan and Sunderland v/s Swansea are really up for grabs. Stoke have been horrible of late and cannot be backed on recent form. Swansea will pose Sunderland problems with marksman Michu always a goal-scoring threat. A draw looks very probable on the cards for both matches in my opinion.

Draw-no-bet: Man City, Aston Villa

Friday, January 25, 2013

Football, National Hunt, Tennis

The EPL takes a backseat to the FA Cup this week-end. The only certainty looks to be Man Utd going through to the next round as they host Fulham. The Red Devils should win this no problem.

In Spain, Barcelona host Osasuna in what should be another 3 full points towards their march to the title. Real Madrid host Getafe, a game that they should also win even though Mourinho is bound to not play his best team given that the league is not their priority anymore. I see both giants winning their games this week-end.

National Hunt is not my main code of racing to follow, but I know that Sprinter Sacre is as safe a certainty as there is. He is a straight win recommendation in the Victor Chandler Chase Group 1 on Saturday.

Finally, the Australian Open will deliver its verdict on Sunday between the 2 best players in men tennis. If Andy Murray can overcome Novak Djokovic, he will have confirmed his US Open tennis consecration of last year and be the designated best player on tour and the one to beat in future tournaments. If the Serb wins, he will have shown he is still the undisputed No 1. I have a feeling Nole will win this but punting on any one of them would be pure speculation.

Win: Man Utd, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sprinter Sacre

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Friday football and ball boy

Borussia Dortmund should be too good for visiting Nurnberg in Bundesliga's Friday game and are a Win selection. I expect Dortmund to have a better second half of the season than its inconsistent first one, but it's probably too much to expect them to retain the title this year; Bayern look strong and have a decent enough cushion to last to the title.

The January transfer activity has been rather tepid and although things look to pick up in that regard as the deadline looms, there probably will not be too much to crow about possible mega transfers. However, the ball boy incident involving Hazard during the Swansea v/s Chelsea return semi-final match on Wednesday is good fodder for the front and back pages. I am 110% with the Chelsea midfielder on this one and certainly think that his red card should be rescinded. The obvious instigator of the whole episode is the silly ball boy. He happened to mention before the game that he would time waste. Ball boys can very much time waste as long as they don't obstruct the game. Silly boy should have stuck to his job. Arguably, Hazard looked to want to toe poke the ball under silly boy, not assault him. I don't think he merits any suspension from a rather misfortune red card, and he certainly does not deserve the flak he's getting on this.

In the end, Swansea are through to the league Cup final and they look near a certainty to win it all. I cannot see Bradford City stopping them, but we'll get to the final in due time.

Win: Borussia Dortmund

Friday, January 18, 2013

Week-end football

For this week-end's fixtures, I do not anticipate as many drawn matches as last week although there is no doubt that there are some favoured teams that will be made to work to get the full points. Here are some selections.

Liverpool v/s Norwich. The Reds got themselves a good striker in Sturridge from Chelsea. He can be lethal when full of confidence and he will have gotten some of that after scoring on his debut at Old Trafford. Norwich are a well-organized team that plays good counter-attacking football. If the score is still level late on, they might see themselves snatching a winning goal to steal the points. They have lost 4 of their last 5 league games, so it seems stretching to see the Canaries winning this all out. I would go for Liverpool as a draw-no-bet.

Man City v/s Fulham. Straight win for the hosts here. They should win this with their B team. They have lost the Toure brothers to the African Nations Cup but this should not matter against Fulham. Man City is a win selection.

Newcastle v/s Reading. I will give the Magpies home advantage here. They are on a poor run but have shown signs of regaining some form and confidence lately. There is no doubt that they are weaker force without Demba Ba, but his departure will give the likes of Cisse and Amoebi to shine. Reading are very vulnerable on the road and it's thus hard to warm to their chances. Newcastle is a draw-no-bet.

Swansea v/s Stoke. It is hard to find someone with a more nightmarish games than Stoke's Walters last week. Two own goals and one penalty miss against Chelsea that led to a 0-4 drubbing at home. It must be said that Tony Pulis' team is showing a very patchy form in the past few games. Swansea will rely on the exploits of Michu to do the damage again. The Spaniard is the find of the season and will be keen to add to this impressive goal tally against the stumbling visitors. This could go either way and I believe it will be decided by a goal, so I'll sit on the fence on this one.

West Brom v/s Villa. Got to go with the home team here even though I have been wrong on my last 2 selections regarding them. I side with them here because they are facing a Villa team in crisis. The Villains have the most terrible record of the past 6 weeks, leaking goals in abundance. West Brom are not in the best of shapes either having lost their last 3 league games. This is a great chance for them to start a winning sequence and they are a draw-no-bet selection.

In Spain, I like Malaga and Atletico Madrid as Wins at home to Celta Vigo and Levante respectively.

In Germany, Bayern Munich should easily win its home game against Greuther.

In Italy, AC Milan looks a safe draw-no-bet against Bologna.

Win: Man City, Malaga, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich
Draw-no-bet: Liverpool, Newcastle, West Brom, AC Milan

Friday, January 11, 2013

EPL Preview

Finally, the EPL is back! No offence to the FA Cup, but there are no certainties when punting on the Cup games, and punting can turn out to be a very speculative exercise.

This week-end will be as competitive a fixture as I can remember. There aren't much between the opposing teams and it would be no surprise to see a lot of drawn matches or one single goal settling many results.

Fulham v/s Wigan. This is a battle between 2 teams with some amount of injury problems. I fancy the visitors to get a result here. They are a disciplined side who excel in breaking down an opponent's attack. They are well capable of exposing Fulham's failings at the back, particularly on the counter-attack. I will go for Wigan with a +1 goal Handicap.

Reading v/s West Brom. Reading's best chance of survival this season is to get maximal amount of points at home where they have proved to be prolific scorers. West Brom are one of the over-achieving teams of the year and they have a decent record on the road. They could win this game if they can keep the hosts quiet for a long duration of the game. For safety here, I will select the Baggies with a +1 goal Handicap.

QPR v/s Tottenham. Rangers are a tough team to predict. They can lose silly games at home against the likes of West Brom and Liverpool, then stun Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. They are a team loaded with problems and lack of depth and cohesion, and I am not certain that even Harry Redknapp can keep them afloat this year. My feeling is that if Spurs are at the very best, they should win this game. They have no injury worries and Gareth Bale could have a very big game here. Spurs is a draw-no-bet selection.

Stoke v/s Chelsea. I watched Chelsea's defeat at home to Swansea on Wednesday. What a woeful performance and the worrying fact is that Benitez had fielded his first team. Torres is not even worth a tenth of his 50 million pound tag. In fact, he's not even worth newcomer Demba Ba. When the Senegalese came on, he enlivened the Blues' attack and created their only chances of the game. Chelsea have to start with Ba to have any chance of winning this game. Still, a full-strength Stoke will make things difficult for them at the Britannia stadium. I believe there's value going with Stoke as a draw-no-bet.

Man Utd v/s Liverpool. It will be surprising if this game does not deliver fireworks; it's between the fiercest rivals in English soccer, even though Liverpool haven't won the league for the past 25 years or so! They will have to rely on Suarez to get something out of this game. The Uruguayan is in tremendous form and will be keen to wreak havoc in the generous Man Utd defence. As they've done all year long, the hosts will rely on Van Persie to settle things and he's been an absolute bargain buy for the Red Devils. He's scored the winner against Man City and it would not be stretching to see him net again in this derby. Man Utd is a draw-no-bet selection; they will particularly not want to lose at home to their rivals and have the attack to outscore them. The hosts just need to stay away from red cards and neutralize Suarez.

Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Stoke, Tottenham
+1 Handicap: West Brom, Wigan

Friday, January 4, 2013

La Liga resumes

This is going to be a quiet week-end with the Cup game match-ups I'm not particularly fond of. Too many risks of upsets and top teams not fielding their starting eleven. Fortunately, La Liga resumes duties and both giants Barcelona and Real Madrid have seemingly easy fixtures at home.

The Catalans are a certainty to win the title this year. No way Real or Atletico can join them. The question at Madrid is whether manager Mourinho will finish the season with them. Considering the continuing deterioration of his relationships with players and executives over there, it might not be farfetched to think that he'll be out soon. Much of Madrid's chances to overcome Man Utd in the Champions League depends on him staying. Just like much of the Red Devils' chances of advancing will depend on the availability of captain Vidic to strengthen their defence. More on that in due time. For the moment, it looks safe to have Barcelona and Madrid as winners on their Sunday comeback.

Win: Barcelona, Real Madrid