Thursday, 28 August 2014

College Football Week 1 Picks 2014 (August 28-31)

Last season proved to be a very successful one for the picks from College Football and the NFL, although I would have dearly loved to have had a much stronger Bowl Season when the profit from the season was almost cut in half.

It feels like only yesterday that the Florida State Seminoles were winning the National Championship, but eight months on and we are ready for the new College Play Off system as Week One gets ready to go. Unlike the NFL, there are usually more drastic changes in the College game with players concluding their time in school, while others make the early jump to the professional ranks.

This time we do see the 'big names' all being spoken about as potential National Champions, but the regular season does feel more important than ever. Even so, it would be a surprise if the winner of the SEC, Pac-12 Conferences are not making up two of the teams in the College Play Off with the other expected to be Florida State who should win the ACC.

That would mean either the Big Ten Champion or the Big 12 Champion being forced to sit out the inaugural Play Off system, which would bring its own questions if those two teams are unbeaten, or if there are three or more teams all with just one loss for the year.

I am interested to see how things play out this season as the College game gets set to begin a week before the start of the NFL season. The next nine months are expected to be fascinating all around as fans and players just want to see some live, meaningful action (I am not a fan of the NFL pre-season games at all).

Even fans on this side of the Atlantic are getting in on College Football this season with Ireland hosting the Croke Park Classic between Penn State and UCF on the first weekend of the season and it seems fans on this side of the pond can't get enough of American Football these days. Of course the NFL will be sending three games to Wembley Stadium during the course of the regular season too and it is simply time to start tossing the pigskin all around the field.

After a really disappointing 2012 season, the picks returned to the land of profit in 2013, but I am still hopeful of avoiding those weeks where 'everything' seems to go wrong. The 2012 season started horrifically with a number of backdoor covers as the 'big teams' rested players with scores in hand.

It is a long season so even a poor start isn't the end of the world, but let's face facts for a moment- it always feels good to get ahead of the curve and try to build momentum for another strong year.

Texas A&M Aggies @ South Carolina Gamecocks Pick: The College Football season kicks off with a huge SEC game between two teams that have lost a number of big Draft picks as well as some top names in both offensive and defensive positions.

The spread has come down since the opening lines with South Carolina favoured by less than double digits, but I was most interested in the total points and feel the 59.5 points offered at William Hill could be considered a touch low.

Both teams will feel their offenses are capable of putting up plenty of points and I think both Offensive Lines will feel they can win the war in the trenches that should set up the teams to move up and down the field.

Out of the two of them, it is South Carolina that are projected to have a bigger season, possibly even getting into the Play Offs at the end of the season and they should have prepared well enough to win the game. However, that may come while the total points are surpassed and I feel better about that than picking a team to cover the spread.

Tulane Green Wave @ Tulsa Golden Hurricane Pick: The two teams may both be moving into the American Atlantic Conference this season, but they are familiar with one another and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane are looking for a bit of revenge for an upset loss last season.

The experience for the coming season lands on the side of Tulsa and there is more expectation of them compared with Tulane in the move to a better Conference.

While Tulsa are expected to improve, Tulane are not expected to earn another winning record this time around after a number of upsets assisted them 7 wins in 2013. The Green Wave also have an awful record when travelling to Oklahoma having lost their last 4 visits and those have come at an average of 37 points per game.

Even in the Green Wave win last season, they were actually outgained in terms of yards but won the turnover battle and I am expecting the Golden Hurricane to win this one by a touchdown at least.

MY PICKS: South Carolina Gamecocks-Texas A&M Aggies Over 59.5 Total Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
Tulsa Golden Hurricane - 6 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)

Season 201365-49-2, + 8.49 Units (124 Units Staked, + 6.85% Yield)
Season 201254-59-1 - 7.11 Units (114 Units Staked, - 6.24% Yield)
Season 201163-36, + 23.25 Units (99 Units Staked, + 23.5% Yield)

US Open Day 4 Picks 2014 (August 28th)

So suffice to say that Day 3 at the US Open was a strange one for the picks with two of the matches ending in the void column thanks to retirements, while the two completed matches saw one find a way to lose when it looked like it would win and the other find a way to win when it looked like heading in a losing direction.

It does mean that Day 3 turned a positive number, but it was a long way to get to that point.

Day 3 was also notable for a number of big name players exiting the draw as the heavy wind that usually accompanies the US Open were evident, especially earlier in the day. A couple of players escaped with final set wins and the Second Round will be concluded on Thursday as the tournament begins to pick up some pace.

Kei Nishikori - 6.5 games v Pablo Andujar: One of the top players in the men's game that I don't have full trust in is Kei Nishikori, especially when it comes to these big number of games to cover.

Nishikori's serve won't intimidate too many people and that means he has to work harder to hold on to that aspect of his game and I do think that has contributed to some of the health issues he has had. The Japanese star has to stay out on the court longer than necessary as he is forced to dig deep at times, but I do like the match up with Pablo Andujar.

Andujar also has a serve that needs protecting so Nishikori will have the chance to recover any breaks of serve, while I also feel the hard courts are going to favour the higher Ranked player. Andujar is just 7-17 on the hard courts over the last two seasons, and there is little doubt the Spaniard feels more comfortable on the clay courts.

That should give Nishikori enough of an edge to come through with a 76, 64, 62 win.

Sam Querrey win 3-1 v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: Once seen as the future of men's American tennis, Sam Querrey has struggled with injury and form and now lies just 57 in the World Rankings.

He struggled through in five sets in the First Round, but has been given time to recover from those exploits and Querrey has matched up well with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the past.

I was surprised to see Garcia-Lopez dismiss Yen-Hsun Lu so comfortably in the First Round, but he has lost all four matches against Querrey including in three sets in Winston Salem last week. The bigger serve and heavier shots lie with Querrey, although I have noted that the last three matches between the players have needed all gone the distance.

Those came in best of three set matches and it wouldn't surprise me if Querrey needs four sets to see off Garcia-Lopez here after splitting the first two sets played.

Victoria Azarenka - 4.5 games v Christina McHale: You'd have to be a fool to not recognise that we haven't seen the best of Victoria Azarenka since her injury issues at the start of 2014 and it is the main reason she has dropped to number 17 in the World Rankings.

She has struggled for consistency since returning to the Tour and made heavy weather of her First Round win, but I think Azarenka can find things a little more straight-forward against home hope Christina McHale on Thursday.

McHale has struggled against some of the better players she has faced in recent weeks, but she was inspired enough to take Ana Ivanovic to three sets twelve months ago here. However, McHale really had to battle deep within herself to win her First Round match and I am interested to know how much she left out there.

It was a double bagel for Azarenka when these players last met and, while I expect this will be much more competitive, I think she can move through with a 64, 63 win in this one.

Ekaterina Makarova - 5.5 games v Polona Hercog: Ekaterina Makarova was one of the more frustrating players on the WTA Tour as she seemed to have all the talent to perform better than she was. Outside of the Australian Open, Makarova made sporadic impacts on the Tour, but her recent form suggests that could be changing.

Only the biggest names on the WTA Tour have prevented Makarova from going all the way in tournaments during the summer hard court swing and her 23 hard court wins already this season has surpassed what she managed in each of the last two seasons.

This is a much more confident player in the midst of her best season on the Tour and I think Makarova can use her power to get past Polona Hercog in this Second Round match. Makarova dismissed her in the First Round twelve months ago and Hercog hasn't had much success on the hard courts coming into the US Open.

Hercog did surprise with her First Round win but it is unlikely that she can back that up here against an in-form Makarova ad I like the latter to come through 64, 62.

Eugenie Bouchard - 4.5 games v Sorana Cirstea: I don't know whether we can read too much into Sorana Cirstea's First Round dismantling of Heather Watson as that was down to as much poor play from the Brit as quality stuff from Cirstea.

I think the Romanian will find a lot tougher against Eugenie Bouchard despite the struggles the latter has had in the summer hard court swing. It feels like Bouchard is finding it hard to motivate herself in the 'smaller' tournaments after her success in the Grand Slam events in 2014 and I am expecting another big showing.

Despite some of the terrible beatings Bouchard has suffered over the last six weeks, she still should have enough consistency to force Cirstea to search for a little more. I also feel Cirstea has struggled to back up wins all season and she hasn't done that since the French Open, while looking set for her fewest wins on the Tour since 2011.

Both are heavy hitters so the second serves could take some punishment in this Second Round match, but I do think Bouchard digs deep enough for a 75, 63 win.

MY PICKS: Kei Nishikori - 6.5 Games @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Sam Querrey Win 3-1 @ 4.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Victoria Azarenka - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ekaterina Makarova - 5.5 Games @ 1.92 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Eugenie Bouchard - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)

US Open Update: 1-3, - 3.5 Units (8 Units Staked, - 43.75% Yield)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

US Open Day 3 Picks 2014 (August 27th)

The US Open concludes some of the First Round matches that are still to be played on the third day of the tournament and I remain a little baffled by the decision to split this round over three days.

It makes so little sense to me, especially if the rain plays havoc on the schedule, but this year has seen some beautiful weather to open Flushing Meadows.

The hold over of some First Round matches and the start of the Second Round means another full schedule on Wednesday as the final Grand Slam tournament of the season really gets underway.

Kevin Anderson - 6.5 games v Pablo Cuevas: In normal circumstances, this would be a very big number for Kevin Anderson to cover, but I think the big South African will get the better of Pablo Cuevas fairly comfortably in this First Round match.

Anderson has a big serve and heavy groundstrokes that make him very dangerous on the hard courts, although his form can be described as inconsistent at best over the North American hard court swing this summer.

However, he is playing an opponent who hasn't played a single hard court tournament in 2014. In fact, Cuevas has played one tournament away from the clay courts this season and was subsequently dismissed in straight sets by Radek Stepanek at Wimbledon.

I am not sure how much belief Cuevas brings into the match on the surface and this looks like a fairly straight-forward 63, 64, 64 win for Anderson.

Feliciano Lopez - 1.5 sets v Ivan Dodig: The key to this match is determining which Feliciano Lopez is going to turn up, especially as he has a 1-2 record against Ivan Dodig including a straights set loss in Barcelona on the clay earlier this season.

Unlike a lot of Spaniards, Lopez is actually more comfortable off the slower clay courts with his serve becoming more of a weapon and he can also open up for aggressive forehands. His weakness has always been the lack of a decent backhand with an over-reliance on the slice, a shot that won't ever really scare opponents.

I can also understand why Dodig has the winning record between the pair as he also has a decent serve and the aggressive play off both wings to cause problems. The match may simply come down to which of these guys is capable of dictating points the best, while Lopez can also point to a few more wins over the summer during this hard court swing.

I can see the match having a couple of key tie-breakers in the middle of the match that could determine the winner, but I do think Lopez has shown enough form since the French Open to get through in four sets at least.

Marin Cilic - 5.5 games v Marcos Baghdatis: You can perhaps argue that Marin Cilic has had his most consistent success at the US Open and the Croatian can come through a tough opening Round to give himself some momentum going forward.

Cilic has won the most matches at the Australian Open, but has also had two more appearances there than at Flushing Meadows, while this is the only Grand Slam where Cilic has reached two Quarter Finals.

He missed out last season so he can really boost his Ranking with another strong showing and I think he has too much in the locker for a Marcos Baghdatis who has won back to back Challenger titles. These two players met at Wimbledon where it was surprisingly straight-forward for Cilic who has won 4 of the last 5 matches they have competed against one another.

Baghdatis can certainly get a lot of momentum behind himself to cause a lot of problems, but I wouldn't be surprised if Marin Cilic wins this 76, 64, 67, 62.

Grigor Dimitrov - 7.5 games v Ryan Harrison: Grigor Dimitrov will be one of the latest players to get his US Open underway and I think he can prove to be too good for American Ryan Harrison again at this level following a win over him at Wimbledon.

There is no doubt that Harrison will be given a lot of support from the locals and he has a decent serve and shot-making skills that could see him rattle through games. However, there will be pressure with the home expectation and Harrison has had a tough 2014 in general.

Harrison also hasn't had a lot of tennis this summer and I do wonder how mentally ready he is for a best of five set match- that could lead to him perhaps losing his focus if he falls behind and Dimitrov may be able to take control of the match.

The Bulgarian may have expected more from the summer hard court swing as he looks to finish in a position to play at the ATP World Tour Finals, but I think he moves through this First Round match with a 75, 63, 63 win.

MY PICKS: Kevin Anderson - 6.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Feliciano Lopez - 1.5 Sets @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 7.5 Games @ 2.25 Pinnacle (2 Units)

US Open Update: 0-2, - 4 Units (4 Units Staked, - 100% Yield)

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (August 26-28)

Last August was pretty miserable for the season picks and, despite the recovery over the next eight months to end with a profitable campaign, I was desperate to avoid that scenario this time around.

The Arsenal fightback from 2-0 down in the last eight minutes of the game against Everton was frustrating to say the least, but this weekend was the first shoots of recovery.

There are two more 'matchdays' in August to boost that recovery, although the Capital One Cup can be a minefield to negotiate and I will have to tread carefully. The Champions League and Europa League Group Stage will be finalised this week too and the draw for that stage takes place later this week, not that I'll have any interest from a fan perspective.

I am still personally on my own 'recovery' timeline from the weekend activities, but hopefully these picks will be making me feel a lot better going forward.

Celtic v Maribor Pick: The 1-1 result from the game in Maribor last week has given Celtic the inside track in moving through to the Group Stage and taking advantage of the bad luck Legia Warsaw suffered in the last round.

Celtic caused Maribor plenty of problems, but also conceded a poor goal from a defensive standpoint. However, the away goal has given the edge and returning to Celtic Park for this game rather than Murrayfield gives them more of an advantage as far as I am concerned.

It won't be easy for Celtic who are coming off a loss when Ronny Deila rested ten starters from last week at Inverness, but the Scottish Champions should be able to ride the home crowd to a positive result.

Maribor could also be punished if they begin to push forward when chasing the game too so Celtic to cover the one goal Asian Handicap is the call.

BATE Borisov v Slovan Bratislava Pick: BATE Borisov have battled their way into a strong position to earn their place in the Champions League Group Stagae and the 1-1 draw away from home sets them up for this second leg.

BATE are in a slightly awkward position of knowing that a clean sheet will put them through no matter if they win or draw this evening, but there are positive sounds being made that the team will look to win the game. The side also snapped their 4 game run without a home in the Champions League with a convincing 3-1 win over Debrecen in the last round and BATE will feel they proved enough last week that they can cope with Slovan Bratislava.

The Slovakian Champions are unlikely to be a pushover despite 1 win from their last 7 away games in the Champions League and they are also in a tough position of needing to score, but trying not to be overly gung-ho about it.

This is a huge game for both teams with financial boosts the Champions League Group Stage can provide, but the edge seems to be with BATE Borisov and I believe they win this game as they book a place with the elite of European football.

MK Dons v Manchester United Pick: There are expected to be wholesale changes at Manchester United and I am not talking about before the end of the transfer window this time. The League Cup might have been a small priority for the club in recent years, but a good Cup run may give this team the confidence they are sorely lacking, especially in the absence of any European football.

It hasn't been the start that some United fans would have been hoping for, but those who have put so much stock into pre-season FRIENDLY results are probably the most surprised. The rest of us have known about the limitations of the squad, but even the most pessimistic of supporters would have been expecting more than 1 point from League games against Swansea and Sunderland.

What has been even more disappointing is the absolute dross on the pitch that was blamed on David Moyes last season, but shown little sign of changing this time around. Earning a win, even against limited opposition that MK Dons should represent, might give United a timely boost going into the weekend.

The MK Dons have nothing to lose to be fair and they have won 2 of their 3 home games in all competitions this season, and they can expected to test a back three for United that will have changes and are still becoming accustomed to a new formation.

It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if the MK Dons threaten a surprise and score in this game, but I think Manchester United earn their first win of this new season in a game where both teams hit the back of the net.

Arsenal v Besiktas Pick: While I do think Arsenal are going to prove too good and book their place in the Group Stage, their defensive issues to open the season would be a concern, especially if Besiktas score first and have something to defend.

Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud are both big misses, especially with the two players both scoring at the weekend at Everton, but there should be enough attacking talent for Arsenal to win this game.

The Asian Handicap did have me leaning both ways because of the Arsenal defence which has struggled for clean sheets and the amount of chances Besiktas created last week. However, if the Gunners score first, they will be allowed to play the counter-attacking game as Besiktas press for an equaliser as the game develops and I think that will help Arsenal put this one away and win the game by a couple of goals at least.

Athletic Bilbao v Napoli Pick: This game has been set up from the first leg and could be the most entertaining one of the night with both teams likely to be set up in attacking formations. Athletic Bilbao are a side that don't really know how to play another way, while Napoli know they need to score at least once if they are to make it through to the Group Stage of the Champions League.

The game would also really open up no matter who scores first and there should be chances at both ends of the pitch with every reason to also believe this game could go the distance.

However, I have a feeling a winner is going to be decided in normal time with both teams a little fitter than last week and both likely to employ attacking formations. Both will counter as well as the space opens up, although the 1-1 draw is a fear as they could settle for that in fear of losing the time and instead opt for extra time.

Still, I do think there will be goals in this one and will back there being at least three at odds against.

Bayer Leverkusen v Copenhagen Pick: Bayer Leverkusen just have to avoid defeat to book their place in the Champions League Group Stage and even a 0-1 or 1-2 loss would be enough to see them through. However, I would be surprised if they wanted to lose the momentum of the early season and I expect them to back up their win over Borussia Dortmund from the weekend.

The team clearly have a few goals in the side after scoring 11 in the first 3 games they have played, although the number in each game has been going down in each of those results. I still expect Bayer Leverkusen to expose the Copenhagen defence that has conceded 8 goals in their last 3 games, all at home, and the feeling is that Leverkusen book their place in the next stage with some style.

I am not at all suggesting Leverkusen will be pushing on recklessly now they have a lead from the first leg, but the attacking style should still pay dividends during the 90 minute game and I believe the German side win by a couple of goals at least.

MY PICKS: Celtic - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
BATE Borisov @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United Win and Both Teams to Score @ 2.88 Coral (1 Unit)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.45 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Athletic Bilbao-Napoli Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.14 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Bayer Leverkusen - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Pinnacle (2 Units)

August Update4-14, - 14.40 Units (30 Units Staked, - 48% Yield)

Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

US Open Day 2 Picks 2014 (August 26th)

Coming into the US Open, it was a long week for myself with a close family wedding to attend and that meant a lot of drinking and partying!

It also meant that I knew Day One picks from the final Grand Slam event of the season were not going to be possible, although I usually make a slow start into these events.

The euphoria of the last few days has left an almost empty feeling as things begin to settle down and it has really made me appreciate the mental toughness that the top players on both Tours have to display on a weekly basis.

It also highlights the difficulty for players like Stan Wawrinka who have struggled to back up 'breakthroughs' on the main Tour, while others like Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard don't perform half as well away from the Grand Slams as they have in the big, eye-catching tournaments.

You just feel flat after a busy and exciting time and while the tennis players are at a much higher level of stress and invest a lot more emotionally, this last week has given me a small idea of how difficult it is for those outside of the very biggest names on the Tour.

Yen-Hsun Lu - 1.5 sets v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: The early week of a Grand Slam means there are a lot of matches being played, but a lot of them are considered 'mismatches' so it can be hard to find the picks that I am comfortable with.

The first one I will make this week is Yen-Hsun Lu to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez by three or four sets in their First Round clash.

Neither player will be considered a threat to win this Grand Slam, but Lu has been showing a little more consistency than his Spanish opponent, although both strung together some wins at Winston Salem last week.

That snapped a run of five consecutive losses for Garcia-Lopez and I don't know if he will still have the belief that he is capable of winning a match against a solid, if unspectacular, opponent like Lu. Garcia-Lopez has won two of their three previous meetings, but they haven't met in five years and Lu's recent form suggests he can get the better of the Spaniard on Tuesday.

Adrian Mannarino - 7.5 games v Pere Riba: I don't think it is ever easy to feel comfortable when you are backing someone like Adrian Mannarino, a player whose serve can be a huge weakness. However, I expect he will get joy when trying to break the Pere Riba serve too so this is a match the Frenchman will definitely expect himself to win comfortably.

The two players met at Wimbledon a couple of months ago in a routine win for Mannarino, although the latter needed five tough sets to see off Riba here at the US Open in 2010.

Riba just doesn't play a lot of tennis on the hard courts and Mannarino recently won a Challenger title on the surface so the edge here should be on the Frenchman's side. He protected his serve very well in beating Riba at Wimbledon and I do think he is likely to dominate this match.

As long as Mannarino doesn't decide to play too many loose service games, a 63, 64, 63 win is certainly on the cards.

MY PICKS: Yen-Hsun Lu - 1.5 Sets @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Adrian Mannarino - 7.5 Games @ 2.14 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Friday, 22 August 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (August 23-25)

This is an important weekend for me with a first cousin getting married which means this post is shortened between the drinking, recovering, and getting back to the drinking.

Thankfully there is also the time between the wedding ceremony and settling down to watch Manchester United so everyone is a winner.

Hopefully the August of last season is going to be replicated when I had a hard time getting on board with the picks, but it hasn't been a good start to the new season for me personally and I will be looking for a bounce back weekend.

Aston Villa v Newcastle United Pick: Both Paul Lambert and Alan Pardew will have been very happy with the performances their Aston Villa and Newcastle United sides put out on the opening weekend of the new season. While Villa were rewarded with the three points, Newcastle were very unfortunate to lose to the Champions Manchester City.

I am sure both managers will have been telling their players all week that similar levels of performances will result in more wins than losses and I think both sets of players will come into the game with confidence.

It will be interesting to see how much Aston Villa have improved at home considering they have been a counter-attacking team for some time and struggle with the onus on them to move forward. However, they will feel they can create chances against Newcastle and I do think they will score.

On the other hand, Newcastle United created a few opportunities against Manchester City and will feel a touch more composure in the final third will result in better chances to score. Picking the right pass in that area of the pitch is just as important as a strong finish and there were a few rash moments from the new faces who are eager to impress.

Still, it would be a surprise if Newcastle didn't trouble Brad Guzan and I do believe both teams can get on the scoreboard in this one.

Chelsea v Leicester City Pick: There were some awkward moments for Chelsea in the visit to Burnley on Monday night, but I think a lot of teams will find Turf Moor a tough place to play. I was impressed with how well Chelsea played after falling behind early in that game and they have a potential Player of the Year candidate in Cesc Fabregas. The Spanish international played like he had never been away from the Premier League and I expect he will settle very quickly back in London, albeit West not North.

I am expecting Chelsea to be very difficult to beat at Stamford Bridge again this season and they finished with the joint best home defence last season. With Jose Mourinho at the helm, I would expect Chelsea to be in the top two in that category again this season and I expect they can make life difficult for a Leicester City team that has a few injury problems in a small squad.

Nigel Pearson's men are unlikely to roll over for any team in the Premier League, but I think they will have to get through an awful lot of defending if they are to earn a result at Chelsea this weekend.

Set pieces could be their best avenue to score, but I expect Chelsea will have worked on that this weekend after the problems Burnley posed for them and I think the home side win this with a clean sheet to boot.

Southampton v West Brom Pick: The first weekend of the season was a strange one and I do wonder how many of the big teams were affected by the limited time between the World Cup ending and the Premier League beginning.

That is the only reason I don't know whether to think Southampton will be better than expected or whether they ran into a game with Liverpool at the right time while teams were still getting the fitness just right.

Southampton were impressive, particularly in the second half when they created two or three great chances to score and earn something from the game at Anfield. Better composure/finishing and I think the Saints may have won the game and I do think they will create chances against this West Brom defence that was punctured twice by Sunderland at The Hawthornes.

Defensive injury problems means Alan Irvine can't make a lot of changes at the back for this second game of the season and the Baggies struggled away from home at the back end of last season. If Southampton come close to the level of last Sunday, I think they can win their first Premier League game under Ronald Koeman and take the three points on Saturday.

Everton v Arsenal Pick: Everton look a big price to beat Arsenal at Goodison Park this weekend, although I wouldn't have more than a small interest in that happening considering the defensive problems that Everton had in coping with Leicester City.

Everton are strong under Roberto Martinez and play the kind of football that makes them a threat to beat any team in the Premier League, especially in front of their own fans. They beat 2 of the top four here last season, including a crushing win over the Gunners and won 13 of their 19 home games in the Premier League.

Of course Arsenal look improved with the return of Aaron Ramsey and the signing of Alexis Sanchez, but they rode their luck against Besiktas in the Champions League and they might just be caught by Everton off the back of that game and before the second leg.

This should be a very interesting game on Saturday afternoon, but I do think Everton can take the three points at a big price.

Tottenham Hotspur v Queens Park Rangers Pick: I like the impact that Mauricio Pochettino has made in the short term at White Hart Lane and I do think he will get the best out of an under-performing squad from last season.

His Southampton side were well organised and used their creativity to ensure they win games and that kind of tactic should work well for Tottenham Hotspur and I think they prove to be too good for Queens Park Rangers and former manager Harry Redknapp.

There is a lack of pace in the QPR defence that can be exposed by the balls played behind the lines and I think Spurs are going to find the goals to win this game. I do think Rangers will show more than in the loss to Hull City going forward, but it might not start this week and Spurs to win by more than a goal is the call.

Sunderland v Manchester United Pick: When the fixture list came out for Louis Van Gaal, many believed the computer had done the Dutchman a favour that it did not afford David Moyes from twelve months ago. However, the 1-2 home loss to Swansea has shown that there isn't a team in the Premier League that Manchester United can expect to beat 'easy' and I expect Sunday's live showing won't be any different.

There isn't a doubt that Sunderland have improved under Gus Poyet, although the Uruguayan didn't quite figure out how to find the consistency at the Stadium of Light that he seemingly got from the team on their travels.

Sunderland were rarely outclassed at home by the best teams in the Premier League, but they couldn't find a way to avoid the mistakes that costs teams at this level. The Black Cats have a brilliant record against Manchester City at home, which was extended, but they lost to the other top teams and generally by a single goal.

As poor as Manchester United played for much of the game against Swansea, I don't believe Sunderland have the same pace in forward positions as the Swansea squad does and that might give United a little more breathing room to perform. They have to find a way to get the best out of Juan Mata who was such an influential figure at Chelsea prior to Jose Mourinho's appointment, while there are few more regular faces back in training.

Manchester United have a very strong League record at the Stadium of Light in recent years and I do think they have maintained form away from home where they do have more spaces to exploit than at Old Trafford. It was a bad result to open the new season, but I can see Manchester United recovering this weekend and winning this game, although it might come by a single goal margin.

Manchester City v Liverpool Pick: Before last weekend, Manchester City looked a massive price to beat Liverpool at odds against, but results over the last week have changed perceptions of what is to be expected in this game.

In the Premier League, Manchester City shouldn't be odds against to beat anyone other than Chelsea as far as I am concerned and I still don't believe the layers have got the price right for this game. Manchester City look a team that is healthy, got the main players back in contention and one that should be able to pose a vulnerable Liverpool defence some real questions.

I don't believe City have the best defence in the world, but I do think they are capable of containing Liverpool more effectively than the other way around and so it does point to a home win as far as I am concerned.

Manchester City have won 3 of their last 4 at home against Liverpool in the Premier League and I like them to win this one too.

MY PICKS: Aston Villa-Newcastle United Both To Score @ 1.92 Coral (2 Units)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Southampton @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Everton @ 2.80 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Manchester United to Win by One Goal @ 3.75 Stan James (1 Unit)
Manchester City @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (August 19-21)

That was a troubled opening weekend of the new football season for the picks and one that escalated quickly with the poor results. If it wasn't for an injury-time goal from Sergio Aguero, it really would have been a torrid start for the picks.

Some of the blame has to be taken by me, but there were some real surprising results, none more so than the terrible display put forth by Manchester United after all the promise of pre-season. There were a number of injuries to contend with, but that would be a big excuse for Louis Van Gaal and not one he is likely to employ as United started with players that had been performing in pre-season games.

Stoke City's home loss to Aston Villa was another disappointing result, the second season in a row that Villa have started with an upset on their travels in the Premier League. And then both Arsenal and Liverpool scored late winners, but edged over the line in games against Crystal Palace and Southampton respectively.

A portion of the poor performances could be played on the tiredness that some players may have felt from the World Cup and I do think there was a real argument to put the League campaign back one more weekend as they have done in Spain and Italy. I think that was partially the reason that Arsenal and Liverpool laboured as much as they did, although the first day/month of the season can be a little stop-start for the players as they regain their form and fitness.

In a weekend where Manchester United disappointed so greatly, I was casting some envious glances at Chelsea where Cesc Fabregas returned to the Premier League as if he had never been away. Fabregas is suited so well to the Premier League and was in fantastic form against Burnley as he pulled the strings from the middle of the park, an area where United need improvement.

Why they didn't pursue the Spanish international as they did last summer is beyond me? If I had to put my finger on a reason though, I would hazard a guess that Fabregas told United he isn't interested in coming to the club and thus the statements made to the media are more of a face-saving exercise than a genuine 'we didn't want him'.

The next two weeks are going to be critical for Manchester United as they look to bring in reinforcements that were supposed to be wrapped up weeks before the start of the season. Unfortunately, this window is beginning to look more and more like last summer which should mean fingers are pointed at Ed Woodward and the Glaziers even in light of their grand declarations that we can spend whatever we like.

Anyone with a semblance of knowledge of how the Glaziers have run United over the last ten years will be more than a little dubious about those claims and they have two weeks to prove us all wrong and bring in the faces that will ensure a bid for a top four place. Failure to do that could be catastrophic for a team and a quick look down the M62 will show United fans how difficult it is to return to the elite in the Premier League in the face of financial restraints and a poor squad that needs an injection of new blood to get them moving in the right direction again.

This week is another Champions League/Europa League qualifying week and it is the final one before the Group Stage begins in both of those competitions. There are some big teams in action and some big Play Off matches that will be played over the next eight days as the likes of Arsenal, Napoli, Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur all play this week.

Hopefully this August month will pick up and not follow the trend of twelve months ago when I really struggled early in the season with my picks before turning the season around for a profitable one.

Besiktas v Arsenal Pick: As much as I believe that Arsenal are a big favourite to beat Besiktas over two legs to move back into the Champions League Group Stage, I can't help but feel they are very short to win the first leg in Turkey.

I do think Arsenal are a much better team than Besiktas, even with the latter signing Demba Ba this summer, and I think the pressure is on the Turkish side to get something out of this game. Previous matches in England have ended badly for Besiktas more often than not so anything other than having something to defend next week could be curtains for them already.

Arsenal also have the benefit of the experience of winning in the Play Off Rounds and also beat Fenerbache of Turkey last season in the first leg- that came after a disappointing performance at home in the Premier League so there isn't a lot for the fans to worry about as they head to Turkey.

The Gunners have won all 12 games played at this stage of the Champions League and I do think they are capable of winning this one too. However, they may have to ride out an early Besiktas storm and Arsenal might have to wait until after the break before they take control.

Their last 3 away wins in the Champions League have all come after Arsenal have gone into the break level, while Arsenal also haven't been ahead in 3 of their last 4 away Play Off games in the Champions League, but have won all of those. That means the value may be in backing Arsenal to win a game after it goes in level at the break.

Napoli v Athletic Bilbao Pick: Out of all the ties that are to be played in the Champions League this week, Napoli versus Athletic Bilbao looks to be the most exciting one, although I do think the experience of the Italians may win the day.

Napoli have performed very well in the Champions League in their appearances over the last three seasons and they were very unlucky not to split Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in the top two places of their Group last season. That follows their campaign in 2011/12 where they did help knock out Manchester City and it is the home games that have provided the winning platform.

The side have won 6 of their 7 home games in the Champions League, including the last 5 in a row and that means they should be plenty confident of beating Athletic Bilbao. In Rafa Benitez, Napoli also have a manager that has had a lot of success in European games, particularly knock out ties and I believe the former Liverpool manager will have the team tactically and mentally ready for this one.

One factor going against Napoli is that they have had a lot more players coming back from the World Cup than Athletic Bilbao and we have seen teams struggle with that aspect in the Premier League. However, Athletic Bilbao's Ernesto Valverde admitted that shows that Napoli have the higher quality and his team need to use their work ethic to win this game.

It'll be tough for Athletic Bilbao who haven't had the best recent away record in European competition to get a result here and I do believe Napoli can have a lead to take to Spain next week. I expect to see some very good football over the next 180 minutes played by these teams, but this is a game that I think Napoli can win and give themselves a platform to move back into the Group Stage.

Lille v Porto Pick: This looks like a tight European Champions League Play Off and the layers clearly are feeling the same about this first leg with both teams at big prices to earn the advantage ahead of the second leg in Portugal.

I am much the same in trying to separate the teams and their chances to win this game and I think the draw is a major player in this first leg where both teams would believe that gives them a real chance to progress.

Lille have been tough to beat at home, but they draw plenty of games as they can sometimes struggle against stubborn teams. Their home record in the Champions League at the highest level is not the best in recent season, but on the other hand Porto have struggled to win games on their travels too.

With just 1 win from their last 9 away games in all competitions and just 1 win from their last 9 away games in Europe, Porto might be quite content to take this tie back home to complete the job. Porto did struggle at home last season in the Group Stage, but prior to that had won 6 of 8 home games in the Champions League and were unbeaten in those games, while the team also won their last 2 home games in the Europa League last season.

Everything seems to be pointing to a tight battle on Wednesday too and I think the draw is the most pleasing result for both managers with all to play for next week in Portugal.

Maribor v Celtic Pick: After the controversy of the last round, Celtic will be looking to take full advantage of their reprieve in the Champions League. However, the defeat to Legia Warsaw at least highlighted to the fans that Celtic are not a guarantee to beat the Slovenian Champions Maribor who will also be familiar of breaking Glaswegian hearts.

Maribor knocked Rangers out of the Europa League three years ago in a Play Off, while they have also beaten Hibernian from Scotland the year before that. This is a side that has generally found the Champions League a happy hunting ground until they have reached this stage, but Maribor won't look at Celtic as a team that has earned their place at this stage through their performances on the field.

That isn't to say that they will take Celtic lightly, but Maribor do look a big price to win the first leg- it was only twelve months ago that Shakhter Karagandy surprised Celtic with a 2-0 home win in Kazakhstan and Maribor have been very strong at home in recent Champions League home ties.

The concern is that Maribor have lost their last 2 home games in the Champions League Play Offs, but I don't believe Celtic are better than Dinamo Zagreb and Viktoria Plzen, especially with the players that have departed this summer.

I actually think Celtic would accept a draw and try to complete the win at Celtic Park next week, but that may give Maribor enough of an incentive to push on and earn a first leg advantage. The price just looks out of sync from what we have seen from Celtic so far this season and Maribor have won their last 2 home games when Scottish teams have visited them.

Add in the strong home form in the European competitions, over the last three seasons and Maribor may just become the latest European team that surprises the Scottish Champions.

MY PICKS: Draw HT-Arsenal FT @ 5.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Napoli @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lille-Porto Draw @ 3.30 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Maribor @ 3.00 Bet Fred (1 Unit)

August Update: 1-6, - 8.8 Units (13 Units Staked, - 67.69% Yield)

Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)