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