Friday, October 31, 2014

EPL 2014/15 - Week 10

With Man City's recent woes, Chelsea is about to widen the gap at the top and the excitement of the race to the top could be put to bed sooner than expected. Of course, there will be twists and bounds and it's too early to declare a winner but Chelsea are in a very strong position at the moment.

Newcastle v/s Liverpool. The Magpies comprehensively beat Man City in the Carling Cup in mid-week and they are in resurgence mode. This is bad news for Liverpool who are nowhere near optimal form. They are badly lacking Sturridge up-front and they look vulnerable here. This should end in a home win or draw and I favour the former. Home win.

Arsenal v/s Burnley. No ingeniosity into thinking that this will be a Gunners win. The main question is by how much. Walcott might return for this game and give the home side some much-needed impetus. Home win.

Chelsea v/s QPR. Another home win here. Can't see Chelsea giving away the 3 easy points on offer. Home win.

Everton v/s Swansea. Everton have started a good run but will be put to the test by a good Swansea side. The visitors nearly won at Anfield in mid-week and they are giving the habit of proving resilient opponents to whoever they play. This should be a tight game which might very well end in a draw, but I suspect that the home side will just edge this in the end. Home win.

Hull v/s Southampton. These 2 teams are enjoying a good spell at the moment. Southampton have found a gem of a striker in Pelle. Hull are a solid team and difficult to break down. This should be an even battle with a draw looks the likeliest result. Draw.

Leicester v/s WBA. The Foxes have to rack up the points at home in they are to avoid relegation as they are simply too weak on the road. WBA are an on-off team but on their best day can take all the points here. This can go any result with the draw the most probable outcome. Draw.

Stoke v/s West Ham. Another possible draw on the cards. Stoke have good form at home and the confidence of the Hammers should be high after dominating Man City in their last home win. A dra 0-0 that will satisfy both parties, should not be a surprise here. Draw.

Man City v/s Man Utd. The Manchester derby does not look as lopsided as it would have looked a couple of weeks back. City are reeling at the moment after back-to-back defeats against West Ham and Newcastle. The theory of second-season blues for Pellegrini could be very well founded. The absence of Silva for the Citizens makes their task more complicated as the little Spanish genius has been one of their brightest sparks of late. Rivals Man Utd managed to tie Chelsea in the dying seconds at Old Trafford last week-end and it will have brought back some much needed swagger to the team. The Red Devils needed that kind of impetus and this could kick-start a good run for them. However, going to beat City at the Etihaad could be out of their reach. For all their woes, Man City still have the deepest squad in the league and should again be formidable at home. I think the hosts will edge this. Home win.

Aston Villa v/s Tottenham. Villa are due a win very soon and this could come against a Spurs team that are still finding their feet under Pochettino. The hosts are relying much on striker Benteke but he's been struggling since returning from long-term injury. Spurs were shocked at home to Newcastle last week-end and I find it tough to see them as winners here. It looks more probable that Villa will prevail in front of their front crowd. Home win.

Crystal Palace v/s Sunderland. The last 2 Sunderland games have been rather extraordinary. First, there was their 0-8 bomb at Southampton, where they committed more errors than a first grader. They  kept their error rate high against Arsenal last week, with keeper Mannone blundering on the Gunners' second goal. Palace are strong at home and they look set to pounce on a team that is in much need of confidence. Home win.

Friday, October 24, 2014

EPL 2014/15 - Week 9

West Ham v/s Man City. This is a tough one for the visitors because the Hammers are sporting good form and are not easy to be broken down. City had trouble to overcome Villa on their last away match a few weeks ago and this is a similar sort of challenge. They will rely on in-form Aguero again and the sooner they get on the score-sheet, the better for them. Class should tell at the end, but I expect nervy moments for the away fans. Away win.

Liverpool v/s Hull. If there is going to be a major upset this week-end, I think it will be this match. Liverpool were thrashed in mid-week in the UCL and are a team in poor confidence at the moment. They are greatly missing Sturridge to steer them out of trouble. Raheem Sterling is the only Kop playing consistently and well. Hull almost stole 3 points at the Emirates last week-end and they will certainly not be intimidated by an arguably weaker team than the Gunners. The value might be going with the away team but a draw is as likely a result as well. Draw.

Southampton v/s Stoke. The Saints blitzed sorry Sunderland in an amazing 8-0 win last Saturday. Stoke were lucky to edge Swansea as their tying penalty was clearly a dive by Moses. Stoke did the business at the Etihaad a few weeks ago and it would not be a shock if they were to win here. However, Southampton has the momentum and they are fancied to win this one. Home win.

Sunderland v/s Arsenal. Both team don't inspire any confidence at the moment. Sunderland were the victims of one of the worst outings ever when thrashed at St Mary's by a whopping eight goals to none. Arsenal failed to beat Hull last Saturday and then had to rely on 2 goals in the dying minutes to beat Anderlecht in their UCL mid-week match. They might edge this one as well, although the odds seem to be very much in favour of a draw. Draw.

WBA v/s Crystal Palace. WBA held Man Utd to a draw on Monday with 2 very well-taken goals. Palace were comprehensively beaten at home to Chelsea, as expected. The result could go any way here as these teams are closely matched. Draw.

Swansea v/s Leicester. I see the home team getting back to winning ways here. They were unlucky not to get something out of their last match against Stoke. Leicester don't inspire any confidence on their road travels. I think Swansea have a long overdue win in them and they should win this one. Home win.

Burnley v/s Everton. Burnley's season is coming to shreds. Everton is getting better and better. They had a hard away match in mid-week but I still expect them to be competitive in this one. Away win.

Tottenham v/s Newcastle. Spurs got an impressive win in the Europa league on Thursday but the opposition was inferior to even the lowly Newcastle. The Magpies stole this match last year following keeper Krul's heroics. I don't see such a scenario happening again and I think Spurs can double up another win in 4 days. Home win.

Man Utd v/s Chelsea. The way both teams are playing, Chelsea will definitely be fancying full points here. The hosts are weak at the back and Mourinho will seek to exploit on those weaknesses. The Blues are strong enough on defence to withstand the Utd onslaught and keep their goals-against to a minimum. I think Chelsea will either win or draw this. Away win.

QPR v/s Villa. Both teams are in urgent need of points after a disastrous few weeks. How Rangers lost to Liverpool last week is mind-blowing. This match looks relatively easier for the visitors after having tackled heavy guns lately. A draw seems likely here unless Redknapp goes for the jugular again at the end. Draw.

Friday, October 17, 2014

EPL 2014/15 - Week 8

As is very common after international breaks, there are bound to be surprise results in this week-end's matches, so not throwing caution to the wind is probably a good idea. Here are my selections.

Man City v/s Tottenham. The champions were on a good roll before the break, and will be keen to keep the momentum going to keep in the touch with the pace set by Chelsea. They were made to work hard in their last win at Villa and moments of brilliance from Toure and Aguero, as expected, made the difference. That they did not panic during the long spells of sterile domination attests to the state of mind analogous to champions. Spurs are still finding their feet with their new coach and new players settling in. They will certainly be resilient but should eventually be broken down by the mighty attacking prowess of the home team. It could be close but Man City should prevail in the end. Home win.

Arsenal v/s Hull. The Gunners lost Ozil for a couple of months, which is a huge blow, although some think that it might be positive given the German's indifferent form. Truth is, Ozil is a game-changer and the Gunners badly need one at the moment with the absence of Walcott and Ramsey. The Gunners really need a win here to get on the title-charging bandwagon. They will huff and puff against a compact Hull side but once they can open the scoring, they should be in for a badly-needed win. Home win.

Burnley v/s West Ham. This is an ideal spot for the Hammers to claim full points, with Burnley yet to record a win. It seems whoever scores first will have a distinct advantage here. I think a share of the spoils is a real possibility here. Draw.

Crystal Palace v/s Chelsea. The Blues saw their title hopes evaporate last year when they lost this fixture in the title run-in. You can expect Mourinho to have learnt from that. This Palace team will be slightly different though, as Warnock has replaced Pulis as manager. With Costa at the forefront, Chelsea are always a threat to score at any time. The Eagles will give it a go, but class should tell here and the visitors will certainly be gunning for another valuable 3 points in the bag. Away win.

Everton v/s Aston Villa. One thing that is obvious but not too much so when looking at the standings, is that Everton are certainly better than their 17th ranking. With their current squad, they should be on a good run soon and that could very well start against the visiting Villains. The latter are having a horrible run of their own following a run of brutal encounters with the top teams. A hungry home team should add to their woes. Home win.

Newcastle v/s Leicester. Manager Pardew will probably not last much longer at Tyneside but this match gives him and his men an excellent opportunity to get their first win of the season. Striker Papiss Cisse has been the lone bright spot for the Magpies with some fine goals in recent matches and he will certainly relish taking on one of the worst defences in the league. Leicester have shown admirable tenacity in all their matches but I doubt they will be able to keep their momentum; a reality check might be more in the offing for them. Home win.

Southampton v/s Sunderland. I see Southampton getting back to winning ways here. They are playing well as a cohesive unit and will only get better as the season progresses. Although Sunderland got their first win in their last match, they do not inspire confidence as to replicate the same vein of form, week-in week-out. Striker Steve Fletcher seems to be hitting good form for them, but Southampton have my vote for the win. Home win.

QPR v/s Liverpool. Relegation expert Harry Redknapp is certainly not getting the job done at Rangers so far. They will be missing influential Mutch and Barton. Their displays have been listless, to say the least. The coming of Liverpool does not bode well for them. Sturridge might return to give their attack much-needed impetus. Sterling is always a threat and is developing into a top winger. Liverpool need the win to catch up with the leaders and I think they will get the 3 points. Away win.

Stoke v/s Swansea. This is a match between 2 teams of even strength that will end in the middle of table come May next year. None are in a rich vein of form or lack of, and a draw could be the likeliest result. Draw.

WBA v/s Man Utd. The Red Devils owed their last win to the heroics of keeper De Gea in the dying minutes of the match against Everton. Need to see those top-class saves from this budding star goalkeeper to understand how good he's becoming. Falcao got his first Premiership goal in that match as well, and has again scored for Columbia during the international break. If he's on a streak, then the WBA defenders are in for a tough encounter. WBA have a young starlet striker in Berahino but this week again, I see the Red Devils outscoring their opponents and get another win under Van Gaal. Away win.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Arc de triomphe 2014 - Can a Prince upset the fillies, the Japanese, and the odds?

The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, my favourite race, as regular readers will know. Sure, there won't be Australia or Sea The Moon, but this year's race is without doubt a vintage one regrouping several top-class horses with a chance to enter racing folklore by winning the world's most prestigious prize. Here are my thoughts on those I consider the main protagonists as well as those that are at the forefront of the market but which I don't give much of chance.

Taghrooda, Britain's best filly, is the rightful favourite for the race.  Three-year old fillies have a fantastic record in this race, notably because of the generous weight allowance in their favour. She's only been floored once in her career and the word from trainer John Gosden is that she was in season when beaten by Tapestry on that occasion. She has beaten males and her elders in the King George and is by far the best middle-distance filly in the world in my opinion. She has such great tactical speed that her bad draw should not be a factor. Provided she's not in season again, she should play a leading role here and I see her in the first 3.

Ectot is clearly Hurricane Run's best progeny to date. The mile and a half is his optimum distance. A winner of 6 of his 7 races, his Classic career has been beset by injuries. He won the Prix Niel three weeks ago after several months layoff. On his best day, he should be in with a leading chance. My only worry about him is whether he will bounce from his last race, having come up with a big winning effort after a long layoff. If he does not bounce, don't be surprised if he wins this.

Harp Star. The best Classic filly from Japan and definitely one with a live chance if she takes to the Longchamp track. As with other 3-year old fillies, the weight allowance will play to her advantage. By Deep Impact, she should relish the distance. She's top-class and could be the one to realize the Japanese dream of finally winning the Arc.

Just A Way. The highest-rated horse in the world and possibly the best horse going up to a mile and a quarter. He is not proven at the mile and a half distance and that is a big negative for me. Although he is a live chance for many, in my books he's the one with the least prospect of winning among the Japanese raiders. He thrashed them all in the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan but the added distance will have others see him out.

Avenir Certain. Unbeaten in 6 career races, she is the best Classic filly in France having won the French Guineas and Oaks. The only un-certainty regarding her is the distance and being by Le Havre does not dispel doubts about her stamina. The way she won her 2 races at a mile and a quarter seems to indicate that she will have enough class to see out the twelve-furlong distance. She's been drawn in stall 1 and will need to ensure that she finds the necessary passage at the right time. I think she's top-class and will be in the first 3.

Treve. 3 outings and 3 defeats this year, no-one thought that she would have gone downhill to that extent after winning this race a year ago. This week, her connections gave yet another round of positive vibes about her, but after 3 comprehensive defeats, it's hard to take those with confidence. Dettori, her jocked-off rider says she's gone, and I will concur with him. I think she is no longer the same filly as last year and retirement will be the route to take with her.

Tapestry. Supplemented with a hefty sum at the final declaration of the race, so the Coolmore boys must be confident. They have every reason to be after she shocked Tahgrooda on her last outing although there seems to be excuses from the beaten connections (see above). Still, she race a fantastic race on that occasion. She's been beaten since then but at an unsuitable mile distance. With everything said, I am camping with the thought that Taghrooda is the one to side with and thus I don't see Coolmore celebrating in the end.

Gold Ship. A top-class Japanese middle-distance performer who is capable of some quirky races, not no to the extent of Orfevre's follies. His chances should be similar to Harp Star and the two dug out a closely-fought duel this year with the filly coming out on top by a slight margin. Cannot be dismissed by any means and many Japanese will be rooting for him to break their duck.

Ruler of the World. He is a Derby winner and recent of the Prix Foy, one of the main Arc trials. Will be ridden by Dettori who's very bullish on him. I am not. I think he's overhyped and will find the others much too good.

Kingston Hill. The St Leger winner should be out of depth here. Many Leger winners have failed and he's destined to be the same.

Prince Gibraltar. He is 40/1 as I write this. A summary of him will be as follows: he's been a favourite of the French Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris and got beaten (with excuse) on both of them. He was then heavy favourite of a Group 2 race and was again beaten. Is he an over-hyped horse or just unlucky? The truth seems somewhere in between. He is no easy mount, usually hangs left at the finish, and has had back problems. Provided his trainer has worked on those, this is a horse that has a fantastic turn of foot and for whom the distance will not be a problem. If he shows up on his best day, he should be thereabouts at the finish. I think he's the dark horse going in this race and under the radar for that matter at 40/1.

Prince Gibraltar is an each-way selection and I will have him, Taghrooda and Avenir Certain in the first 3.

Friday, October 3, 2014

EPL 2014/15 - Week 7

Huge huge strike last week-end with bulls-eye hit on 8 of the 10 predictions, so hoping to keep riding the momentum wave and upholding the form.

Hull v/s Crystal Palace. Palace are enjoying the better form of the two and playing with great confidence at the moment, be it at home or on the road. I don't anticipate many goals in this one and last year's matches between the two resulted in 1-nil outcomes. A draw looks highly probable here. Draw.

Leicester v/s Burnley. This is a match between 2 teams tipped largely by the general population to go down, so this is an important 6-pointer for both. Home advantage to the host team here, who will also try to benefit from the fact that Burnley haven't been able to score in their last 4 matches. Home win.

Liverpool v/s WBA. Liverpool won't win the league this year, it's really stating the obvious. I said this last season too and almost ate my words, but I am pretty confident they will not challenge this year, given the poor way they've started the season. They lost in the UCL at Basel but should be able to regroup to beat West Brom. The Baggies shocked Spurs at White Hart Lane last week-end but lightning does not strike twice. Home win.

Sunderland v/s Stoke. It would be amazing if Sunderland snatched yet another draw. I think they are due a win shortly. Stoke can be resilient and their last away win at Man City shows that they are not to be under-estimated by any means. Still, I think the Black Cats are up for a win and this could be the match for them to break their duck. Home win.

Swansea v/s Newcastle. Needless to say that Pardew's tenure at Newcastle is hanging by a thread and defeat at Swansea will only lower the already-low odds for his sack. However, this match does not bode well for the Magpies as Swansea have good form at home. The loss of Papiss Cisse might be too much for the visitors to overcome and I see the crisis deepening on Tyneside. Home win.

Aston Villa v/s Man City. The Villains could welcome back striker Benteke but that might not be enough to stop the champions. The hosts will still be missing captain and defensive rock Vlaar. The Citizens were unlucky not to get full points against Roman in the UCL over the week but they are starting to hit good form; Lampard and Aguero, in particular, are on a good scoring trend. I don't think City will lose this match and the most Villa can hope here is a draw. Still, I think going with a win for the visitors, is the preferred selection. Away win.

Man Utd v/s Everton. Rooney will be missing the match against his old team due to suspension. Come in Mata and it will be interesting to see the dynamic with him as the offensive midfield commander. The Red Devils are fragile at the back and Toffees striker Lukaku could very well lighten the score sheet here. Everton had to play an Europa match in mid-week which might take its toll at the end of the match. I think the United strikeforce will pounce again and the hosts will outscore their opponents in the end. Home win.

Chelsea v/s Arsenal. Both played in mid-week but let's look at the main fact here; Wenger has never beaten a Mourinho team and there is only animosity between the 2 managers. Wellbeck might have scored a hat trick against Galatasaray but the Chelsea defence is something else. Arsenal are in ok form right now, nothing more. They lost this fixture 6-to-nil last year and although there is hardly any chance that there will a similar scoreline, everything points to another Chelsea win. Home win.

Tottenham v/s Southampton. It will be a battle between manager Pochettino and his previous team. Spurs were arguably unlucky to be held to a draw in their mid-week match against Besiktas. They are in a poor vein of form with only a win in their last 7 matches. Southampton are riding a good wave at the moment, led by striker Pelle. They will cause Spurs trouble but I fancy the hosts to bounce back and get a much-needed win in the end.

West Ham v/s QPR. This looks like a drab London Derby and I have no confidence backing either of them at the present. If QPR can snatch an away win this year, this match could represent a good start for them. However, their leaky defence will certainly present the Hammers opportunities to put the contest to bed. For value, going with a QPR win might be very rewarding, but a draw could be the likelier result. Draw.