Friday, May 22, 2015

EPL 2014/15 - Week 38

The curtain comes down on the EPL this Sunday. Suffice to say that all the excitement had petered out several weeks ago when Chelsea was the only team able to maintain the tempo at the top. The Blues were tipped to win it all at the start of the season in these columns and it was pleasing to see them justify the confidence. The only question that remains now is which of Newcastle or Hull will go down. The Magpies need a draw in their last home match to secure survival in the EPL and whether they get it or not, I still think they will hang on to their advantage over the Tigers.

Since most teams will be playing for nothing at stake, it would not be surprising to see wholesale changes in starting elevens. So caution is warranted and surprises will certainly be on the offing.

Arsenal v/s WBA. Wenger could decide to rest star players here for the upcoming FA Cup final. They looked to be badly in need of a break after their last 3 woeful performances against Swansea, Man Utd and Sunderland. West Brom will be playing their part to stifle opponents as they usually do. It is of no surprise that they have done well since Pulis' arrival. The Gunners haven't lost in their last 9 last-day matches but although this stat means nothing, they should still look for a favourable result to confidently tackle Aston Villa at Wembley. I think they will just edge this. Home win.

Aston Villa v/s Burnley. Villa need to put their woeful performance at Southampton behind them and players will probably be looking for redemption in order to secure their places for the FA Cup final. Tim Sherwood might rest some players here although he mentioned otherwise. Burnley are toast and going back to the Championship and have nothing to play for. This match could end in a draw goal-less draw. Draw.

Chelsea v/s Sunderland. One thing that I am certain is that Chelsea will not lose this match like they did last year. The Blues will want to end this campaign on a high. Sunderland are already secure and have nothing to play for; they will have celebrated this week after getting that crucial saving point at Arsenal on Monday. That's hardly the best mindset to confront the Chelsea juggernaut; they could get trounced here. Home win.

Crystal Palace v/s Swansea. Two strong mid-table teams that can look back at this season as being positive. A draw is a good possibility. Draw.

Everton v/s Tottenham. This match could go any way. Sitting on the fence with a draw. Draw.

Hull v/s Man Utd. The hosts need an absolute win here and they will need to take their chances. With Jelavic up front, they can secure at least a goal. Man Utd don't have anything at stake and even with their first team, they would still not be certainties for the win. I think the Tigers can surprise here and can edge this encounter. Home win.

Leicester v/s QPR. I think there will be many goals in this match and most of it will be Leicester's. They should have too much speed for this Rangers team in urgent need of surgery. Home win.

Man City v/s Southampton. I can't see the hosts losing this. They will probably get the win although they have let opponents claw back in many matches before. Home win.

Newcastle v/s West Ham. It's interesting to read about conspiracy theories leading to this match. Will Allardyce try to sink the team that sacked him? Will Kevin Nolan want to see his childhood team relegated? All I know is that Newcastle are just terrible and that West Ham have the capacity to beat them at St James Park on their best day. I think they will do get the 3 points and have the Magpies fans eagerly await the Hull v/s Man Utd result. Away win.

Stoke v/s Liverpool. The Kops are in dire straits with all the talk this week having been Sterling's future at Anfield. Sterling is England's best player and Liverpool will certainly be a weaker team without him. Steven Gerrard will also be saying his goodbyes to the EPL after this match. Stoke are one of the best, although quiet, stories of this year and Mark Hughes has done wonders with this team. The hosts have a lot of upside and are strong at home, so I see them winning this. Home win.

Friday, May 15, 2015

EPL 2014/15 - Week 37

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of irrelevant matches during the last 2 weeks of EPL football given that Chelsea have bagged the title and QPR and Burnley are the known clubs for relegation. There is only one last spot left for the drop and that is where the rest of the excitement lies as there are 5 teams that are potentially liable to be caught out.

Southampton v/s Villa. Soton are huffing and puffing at the moment. They have enjoyed a successful season and have a shout at the Europa League. Villa need a point to be totally safe and I think they will not have any problem getting it. A draw cannot be ruled out with 2 teams going in seemingly opposite directions. Draw.

Burnley v/s Stoke. The hosts are toast and will go down after a dreadful spell over the past few weeks. They have performed admirably in many matches over the season  but their lack of goals, particularly over the above-mentioned spell, have broken them. Stoke are solid but don't have much to play for. This could go any result but for selection sake, I will go for an away win because Mark Hughes' team are superior. Away win.

QPR v/s Newcastle. Rangers are down but Newcastle still have lots to play for in their remaining 2 matches. No-one thought they would be real candidates for the drop a few months ago when Pardew was at the helm. Even when caretaker manager Carver took over, they looked like a mid-table team until the day they lost striker Papiss Cisse for a long period, in rather silly fashion. They will have to go for full points here because their last match against West Ham looks tricky. I don't think they will get the win but a share of the spoils could be likely. Draw.

Sunderland v/s Leicester. This is the 6-pointer of the week-end without a doubt. The winner of this match will very likely be out of the woods. The home team surprised and won at Everton last week-end and will need to display a similar disposition to overcome a less formidable but resurgent Leicester, winners of 6 of their last 7 matches. The Foxes are on an amazing run and their form has been equally good on the road as at home. I think this could be a high-scoring affair and I wouldn't be surprised if it ended in a draw, that however would not be the best outcome for both teams. Draw.

Tottenham v/s Hull. Much of this match will depend on how Spurs tackle this match, as they don't have much to play for except for the Europa League. Naysayers are stating that they are not interested getting in that league again, as in the past few years. That remains to be seen, but Hull for sure, will need 3 big points to try to avoid the drop. They need a result at White Hart Lane to set up their last home match against Man Utd. I think they will squeeze at least a point out of this and will luck might get the win. Draw.

West Ham v/s Everton. This is a meaningless match and with Everton having seemingly applied the brakes lately, I think the hosts will probably edge this. Home win.

Liverpool v/s Crystal Palace. This will be captain Gerrard's last match at Anfield. The Kops' hopes for UCL football next year are hinging on a thread and need a win at the very least to keep the hopes alive. Palace have nothing to play for, which is why I tip to get a royal send-off from Anfield at the end of the 90 minutes. Home win.

Swansea v/s Man City. Both teams have nothing to play for, but with City in such rampant, albeit too late form, I will go with the away team just edging this. Away win.

Man Utd v/s Arsenal. This is more a match for bragging rights as Arsenal are secure for UCL football while Man Utd need a point to officially get theirs. The hosts will be missing Rooney. The Gunners got an FA Cup win earlier at Old Trafford, a result that rather flattered them as the Red Devils looked value for at least a draw. Arsenal left their foot off the pedal against Swansea in their last match and I wonder whether the upcoming FA Cup final is weighing on their minds. A draw looks very likely here. Draw.

WBA v/s Chelsea. Another meaningless match and if the odds for a home win are near double digits, I'd say go for it. Home win.

Friday, May 8, 2015

EPL 2014/15 - Week 36

Quickly, my selections for the matches this week-end.

Everton v/s Sunderland. Home win.
Aston Villa v/s West Ham. Home win.
Hull v/s Burnley: Home win.
Leicester v/s Southampton. Away win.
Newcastle v/s WBA. Draw.
Stoke v/s Spurs. Draw.
Crystal Palace v/s Man Utd. Draw.
Chelsea v/s Liverpool. Draw.
Man City v/s QPR. (Blowout) Home win.
Arsenal v/s Swansea. Home win.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Racing, Football and Boxing Galore

The first week-end of May promises to be spectacular with the usual football being eclipsed by the Guineas, Kentucky Derby and above all the fight of the century between Pacquiao and Mayweather. Some quick thoughts on those events.

In the EPL, I expect Chelsea to be officially crowned champions on Sunday. They need to beat Crystal Palace and I believe they will have enough in them to do so. I also see wins for Liverpool, Swansea, West Ham, Man Utd and Tottenham. The rest are draw selections (obviously).

The 2000 Guineas looks wide open but a few names stick out; Estidhkaar, Gleneagles, Intilaaq, Territories and Ivawood. Sheikh Hamdan looks to have a strong pair in Estidhkaar and Intilaaq; the former was a good second in the Craven and has reportedly improved since then according to connections. Intilaaq was an impressive maiden winner a fortnight ago and has been supplemented for the race. He's got unusual speed for a Dynaformer colt and the mile will be his minimum trip. Gleneagles was the best 2-year old of the lot and the main question regarding the Ballydoyle representative is his fitness as this will be his seasonal reappearance. If he has progressed accordingly during the winter season, he could be the best of the Classic bunch. Territories represent the Godolphin stable under the care of Andre Fabre. The manner he won his first race of the season indicates that a strong showing can again be expected of him. After all, master Fabre does not usually cross the Channel unless the potential for success is there. Finally, Ivawood is another from the Hannon yard backed with confidence by connections. He was clearly beaten by stable companion Estidhkaar on his seasonal reappearance and I find it difficult for him to reverse the places. I will go for Estidhkaar to prevail, with Territories and Intilaaq pursuing him home.

The Kentucky Derby also is a strong and open affair. I will retain this quartet; American Pharoah, Dortmund, Carpe Diem and Mubtaahij. The first two are from Baffert's barn and will probably go as the market leaders before the stalls open. AP was arguably last season's best 2-year old in the US and missed his Breeders Cup date due to injury. He has mightily won his 2 races this year which means that the ability is there. Unless he encounters traffic problems, I expect him to play a big part at the finish. Dortmund is battle-hardened and undefeated in 6 races. He's had to duke it out a few times to keep his record intact and has so far come out on top every time. He's most dangerous if given a soft lead and it will be interesting to see the tactics between him and the other front-runners in a race that usually livened by a suicidal pace on the let go. Carpe Diem is the main hope of leading trainer Pletcher. I think this son of Giant's Causeway is one of the best of the Classic lot but am intrigued as to his aptitude in a big field as this; a strong contender on paper but he might show his limits in this race. Mubtaahij hails from the de Kock stable and booked his ticket to the big race after winning the UAE Derby in an impressive fashion. For certain, what he beat in Dubai is nowhere as good as what he will encounter at Churchill Downs. He has shown tough resilience though and looks sure to figure among the best of the day rather the trailers. I think the best horse will win this and it will be the Pharoah.

Pacman v/s Money, the fight of the century. Bigger than Ali v/s Frazier, Sugar Ray v/s Hearns, Lewis v/s Tyson. The best 2 fighters of their generation, although both are at the twilight of their careers. Mayweather is un-defeated in 47 matches. He's quick, evasive and hard to be caught. Pacman is a punching machine. The heart says Pacman because he's the better person, by far. The mind says Money because he's the agile boxer with the perfect movement and deadly connect. It looks to be one for the ages. Go Pacman!