Friday, 28 August 2015

Champions League Group Stage Draw Reaction 2015 (August 28th)

Champions League Group Stage Draw Reaction
The draw for the Champions League Group Stage is always highly anticipated despite the feeling that the 'big teams' are generally kept apart. However, the changing of the way the Pots are created with the Champions place in Pot 1 definitely gave the draw a different feel.

I am still not happy with the rules that are applied which makes the draw far less random than you may expect. For example you can't be drawn to play against a team in the same country, while television rules also means that teams from the same nation are kept on different sides of the A-D and E-H Group divides.

So the four English teams have to be split with two being placed in A-D Groups and the other two in E-F Groups which has led to teams being drawn with three clubs still to be picked only to be told by the UEFA Officials that they 'have' to be placed in a certain Group to make sure those rules are achieved.

Personally I think if you're not good enough to improve your co-efficient and thus the Pot position, you should have to deal with whatever team you're drawn against, but there is a lot of faffing about to make sure the 'random' draw passes the rules being set out at the beginning of the draw.

It is a complaint, but not one I am going to lose too much sleep over as it has been the case for years and perhaps the next move Michel Platini makes to improve this competition. I love the way the Qualifiers have been changed to allow some of the 'lesser' teams in European football to have a chance to dine on the top table of the continent and Platini has made those improvements so the Champions League is clearly in good hands.

I've just had a few reactions to the Groups that were drawn on Thursday with the Group Stage of the competition kicking off in just two and a half weeks.

Group A
There isn't much to say about the first Group as both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain looking like they will fight it out to top the section. Deciding that looks to be the most intriguing part of the Group with the Second Round in mind and the double header in the middle of the Group should be very good for the neutrals to watch.

My gut feeling is that Real Madrid will find a way to top Paris Saint-Germain over the head to head and will end up finishing in first place in the section while PSG are left with another big Second Round tie as they had with Chelsea last season.

Shakhtar Donetsk are no longer the force of even a couple of seasons ago with key players departing and Malmo will just appreciate being in the competition.

1. Real Madrid
2. Paris Saint-Germain
3. Shakhtar Donetsk
4. Malmo

Group B
If anyone in Pot 2 was going to hand pick an opponent from Pot 1, PSV Eindhoven would surely have been the one that they all wanted to play. If Barcelona hadn't won either the Champions League or Spanish La Liga last season, PSV wouldn't have been invited to take the eighth top Pot position and instead would have been in Pot 3.

So Manchester United fans have to be happy facing a team that has lost two key players to the English Premier League this summer, while Wolfsburg are also likely to be selling Kevin De Bruyne and both the German and Dutch teams look to have weakened from last season.

The games with CSKA Moscow can't be taken for granted when you think they beat Manchester City in the Group Stage last season at The Etihad Stadium and the travel to Moscow days before the Manchester derby is awkward.

However, it would be a big surprise if Manchester United didn't top this Group, while second place looks to be open for the remaining three teams to take advantage and move into the Second Round. Gun to the head I would pick Wolfsburg, but that isn't a confident pick at all.

1. Manchester United
2. Wolfsburg
3. CSKA Moscow
4. PSV Eindhoven

Group C
Another team coming out of Pot 2 that would have been very excited about their draw is Atletico Madrid who look head and shoulders better than Benfica, Galatasaray and Astana.

Experiences in the Champions League in recent seasons and the signing of Jackson Martinez should give Atletico Madrid too much for the other three teams to handle and it would take something very strange to happen if they weren't in the Last 16.

Benfica did lose Jorge Jesus, their experienced manager, in the summer to Sporting Lisbon and I do wonder if they are able to really produce the goods at this level having failed to do that in recent years. However, two Europa League Semi Finals in the last three years suggest they can get the better of Galatasaray and Astana to finish behind Atletico Madrid and move into the Second Round for the first time since the 2006 Champions League when they reached the Quarter Final.

1. Atletico Madrid
2. Benfica
3. Galatasaray
4. Astana

Group D
There must be Manchester City fans out there wondering if the club as a whole is being cursed by the Champions League Gods as they are once again placed in the 'Group of Death'. The last couple of times has come about because of their poor co-efficient, but even coming out of Pot 2 hasn't helped their cause.

However, it has to be said that it would be a huge disappointment if they are not able to negotiate this Group with the squad at Manuel Pellegrini's disposal, particularly if they can keep clear of injuries.

Juventus were the Champions League Finalists last season and Sevilla have won the Europa League twice in a row so you may wonder which of these teams I believe will make way for Manchester City?

Controversial as it may be, but I think Juventus haven't been the best travellers in the Champions League even after reaching the Final last season and I think that will cost them. Borussia Monchengladbach might not be having a great start to the new season, but they are going to be another tough away game for the three other teams in the Group and my gut feeling says Sevilla and Manchester City get more points out of them over the two games than Juventus will.

The key for Manchester City will be the first three games when they host both Sevilla and Juventus as well as travelling to Monchengladbach- get 9 points from those games and City will go through, anything less than 6 points and it will be very difficult with the games in Seville and Turin to come.

However, I think Manchester City have made a positive start to think they can win those three games and I think Sevilla's Europa League success sees them beat Juventus at home and finish behind the English team leaving the Italians with the Europa League a season after reaching the Champions League Final.

1. Manchester City
2. Sevilla
3. Juventus
4. Borussia Monchengladbach

Group E
In my opinion, Barcelona remain the team to beat in Europe this season and I think they will be very satisfied with the draw that sees them face Bayer Leverkusen, Roma and BATE Borisov.

Barcelona shouldn't just qualify, but they are good enough to have wrapped up top spot by the end of the fourth game in the Group.

Guessing which of the teams follows them is tougher, but Bayer Leverkusen have already dismissed one of the teams from Rome that were involved in the competition and I think they can just about see off Roma too. Bayer Leverkusen has reached the Second Round of the Champions League in three of the last four seasons and that experience may see them finish above Roma this time too.

It is also important that Bayer Leverkusen host Barcelona last and might be playing a team that has already wrapped up top spot which could see them earn bonus points to ensure they finish above Roma.

1. Barcelona
2. Bayer Leverkusen
3. Roma
4. BATE Borisov

Group F
When Bayern Munich and Arsenal were the first two teams paired in this Group, I thought the latter might finally be getting the kind of difficult Group they have seemingly avoided for years.

However, the rest of the section was made up by Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb and it does look like a Bayern Munich-Arsenal one-two finish in the Group.

Of course that could mean Arsenal enjoying what is becoming an annual Second Round exit against a team like Barcelona, but Olympiacos might feel they have something to say about that.

Arsenal haven't made the best start to the Premier League and Olympiacos gave both Atletico Madrid and Juventus a scare in the Group Stage last season having finished one point behind the eventual Finalist in the section. They are strong at home and a surprise result at The Emirates Stadium on Match Day 2 might just see Olympiacos surprise Arsenal by overtaking them into second place.

I am not really entertaining any thoughts of Bayern Munich finishing anywhere other than top of the Group, although their first game in Greece is a huge test of their early season form.

1. Bayern Munich
2. Arsenal
3. Olympiacos
4. Dinamo Zagreb

Group G
Chelsea must have been over the moon seeing the Group Stage develop in the manner it did and Jose Mourinho has to be thinking of wrapping up top spot as early as possible to put the competition aside until February.

Porto and Dynamo Kiev have strong histories in the Champions League, but neither team is the force of past years, while Maccabi Tel Aviv have overachieved just by reaching the Group Stage.

With Chelsea likely dominating the Group, I think the fight between Dynamo Kiev and Porto goes to the wire, but the edge might go to the Portuguese team who host Dynamo Kiev on Match Day 5 and could be playing a weakened Chelsea team at Stamford Bridge on Match Day 6.

Maccabi Tel Aviv are a potential danger for Porto and Dynamo Kiev if they can bring their nothing to lose attitude to the Group Stage and not be overawed by the names they are facing. However, I think they are defensively a little too weak to really upset the apple-cart consistently enough to reach the Second Round and even the consolation of the Europa League is likely beyond them.

1. Chelsea
2. Porto
3. Dynamo Kiev
4. Maccabi Tel Aviv

Group H
When you look at the Group that Manchester City are involved in and then you look at Group H, you have to understand why the Manchester City, Sevilla and Juventus fans might be a little annoyed by the luck of the draw.

Group H is consisted of Zenit St Petersburg, Valencia, Lyon and Gent and the feeling is that this is a Group that many teams coming out of the other Groups wouldn't mind being paired with in the Second Round.

Go back a few years and Lyon were considered a dark horse in the Champions League, but this is their first appearance in the Group Stage in four years. Valencia were twice Finalists in back to back years in 2000 and 2001, but didn't take part in European competition last season and were Europa League Semi Finalists the season before that, while Zenit St Petersburg have qualified for the Second Round twice and been dropped into the Europa League twice in the last four years.

Out of all the Groups, this is the one that looks most open for the two places for the Second Round, although I think Gent's best effort is likely to play spoiler rather than being involved in a top two chase.

I do think Valencia played well enough in La Liga last season to transfer that to the Champions League, particularly in this Group, and they can win their three home games to put one foot into the Second Round.

Zenit St Petersburg struggled badly in the Group Stage last season and a lack of goals saw them miss out of a place in the Second Round partly thanks to a French side. It might be something of deja vu for Zenit St Petersburg and their cautious manager Andre Villas-Boas who won't take that risk to get through and I think Lyon may come out of a difficult Group to pick from.

1. Valencia
2. Lyon
3. Zenit St Petersburg
4. Gent

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (August 27th)

The draw for the US Open is made on Thursday morning Eastern Time and so the attention has shifted to the final Grand Slam of the season, but the Quarter Finals in New Haven and Winston Salem are also set for Thursday.

There might be eight matches to be played today, but I can only find picks from two of them.

Thomaz Bellucci - 3.5 games v Malek Jaziri: Both of these players should have built some confidence this week having won at least a couple of matches to reach the Quarter Final and this is a good chance to pick up some vital Ranking points too.

Both Thomaz Bellucci and Malek Jaziri will see this as a very winnable Quarter Final and chances to reach the Semi Final of an ATP event have to be taken when presented like this. Bellucci has had the tougher summer on the North American hard courts, but that is also because he has been playing at a much higher level than Jaziri for the most part and dealing with the better quality should give him an edge in this match.

The Brazilian has had to dig deep to win his two matches this week which have both gone to three sets, but he should still have enough in the tank to see of Jaziri. However, I have to respect the fact that wins breed confidence and Jaziri has done a lot of winning over the last couple of weeks which makes him a dangerous opponent.

Even with that in mind, Bellucci has served well enough in his win over Jiri Vesely on Wednesday to think he can keep Jaziri under pressure and he will get chances to break serve. With a little more focus through the match, Bellucci can win this one 64, 64.

Karolina Pliskova - 3.5 games v Lesia Tsurenko: She might be a Lucky Loser, but Lesia Tsurenko is a very dangerous opponent for Karolina Pliskova having reached the Quarter Final in Cincinnati last week. She put together a couple of very good wins in Cincinnati and Tsurenko also won the title in Istanbul over the last six weeks so is clearly going into the US Open with a lot of momentum behind her.

The defeat in the final Qualifier to Yulia Putintseva was very disappointing in the manner it came about, but Tsurenko was back to form with her win over Barbora Strycova in the Second Round.

Karolina Pliskova has to know this isn't going to be an easy match for her, but the World Number 8 was an impressive winner herself on Wednesday and did reach the Final in Stanford over the last six weeks. The problem for Pliskova has come in the two Premier Events in Toronto and Cincinnati where she failed to really fire, but she is a momentum player and has that behind her here in New Haven.

A tough match is in prospect in this Quarter Final, but I think Tsurenko has played a lot of tennis of late and that might see a bit of fatigue set in. If that is the case, I expect Pliskova will find a way to battle through with a 64, 64 win and move into another Semi Final on the North American hard courts.

MY PICKS: Thomaz Bellucci - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 4-2, + 2.98 Units (12 Units Staked, + 24.83% Yield)

Weekend Football Thoughts 2015 (August 22-24)

This is out a little later than I wanted to this week simply because I was out at a wedding on Sunday evening and that needed some recuperation time on Monday evening.

I do have a few thoughts from the third round of Premier League fixtures which were played last weekend as pre-season begins to be shaken out of the players and quality begins to make a difference in matches.

Louis Van Gaal's tactical issues
Any time a team begins a Premier League season with three consecutive clean sheets and seven points from a possible nine has to be applauded, but I can't help feel that Louis Van Gaal missed a trick in Manchester United's game against Newcastle United.

First things first, on another day Manchester United win that game with the chances created, but the goalless draw does raise some questions which need to be answered.

The chances created suggests Van Gaal got most things right on Saturday and needed perhaps a little more luck, although the final ball from some of the attacking players had to be better too. So I can't criticise that at all.

However, I am not convinced by the two deep-lying centre midfielders that Van Gaal relies upon in some of the games against teams Manchester United should be beating at Old Trafford. Bastian Schweinsteiger at least gets up and down the pitch, but bringing on Michael Carrick rather than Ander Herrera was a poor decision as Manchester United began to take control and push Newcastle backwards.

Herrera is a goalscorer who wants to get the side ticking forward, whereas both Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin were not effective doing that. Neither is a goalscoring midfielder and I do feel Louis Van Gaal missed a trick by not employing the Spaniard in the second half to give Manchester United another attacking threat from midfield.

We can't always look back at the Sir Alex Ferguson years, but the gambles he took in tight games helped Manchester United become the force they are today and I just think Louis Van Gaal can take some of that element on board. It will be a big test for Manchester United at Swansea City next Sunday to show how much progression has been made at Old Trafford although I'd be happy to have the two shielding midfielders in an away game that is going to be very difficult to negotiate.

Slaven Bilic is under big pressure at Upton Park
I wonder how happy all those West Ham United fans that didn't like Sam Allardyce for not playing the 'West Ham way' are feeling at the moment? Slaven Bilic came in with a lot of positive sounds being made from the fans, but his opening weeks in charge have not been so good.

There were boos in the Europa League Qualifying Rounds, but Bilic had made it clear that competition was not his priority so I think some fans might have given their former player the benefit of the doubt.

A win at Arsenal seemed to justify Bilic's decision making in the Europa League, but back to back home losses to Leicester City and Bournemouth had the fans extremely upset. Those are bad losses for West Ham United who can't afford to be relegated before they move into their new Olympic Stadium and lose the huge financial rewards of the new television deal in the Premier League.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the West Ham United performances won't have helped how the fans perceive the team and I think Slaven Bilic is under big pressure already. The board can be a little nervy and they won't allow West Ham United to be sucked into a relegation battle while the next set of games are not exactly appealing with trips to Liverpool and Manchester City as well as a home game against Newcastle United to come.

Before he knows it, Slaven Bilic could be under immense pressure and perhaps fast hitting favouritism for next manager to leave his post.

Tottenham Hotspur need more attacking options to aid Harry Kane
I don't understand those clubs who wait until the final week of the transfer window to make a really serious move to address problem areas of their team, but that is where Tottenham Hotspur find themselves.

It is a particular concern when there is a particular weakness in the squad that everyone can see- with Spurs it was clearly finding goals outside of Harry Kane with both Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado either in the doghouse or leaving the club.

There is a lot of pressure on Kane to repeat his success of the 2014/15 season and Tottenham Hotspur have been linked with both Saido Berahino and Yannick Bolasie to give them speed and another player that can score goals for them. Berahino is the player that seems to be most sought after, but Tottenham Hotspur should really have gotten him brought in already instead of fighting for every penny against a stubborn club like West Brom.

Both Jeremy Peace and Daniel Levy are unlikely to back down and it has just left Mauricio Pochettino in an awkward position to try and help Spurs get into the top four this season. They have only earned 2 points from a possible 9 in the Premier League when the signings they wish to make could have trebled that number of points and those points could easily haunt them at the end of the season when you think Spurs were leading in their last two games.

I'd be surprised if new faces are not brought in before the window closes on Tuesday, but Tottenham Hotspur are desperate for more attacking options and should have had players in place before the season started.

Will Southampton have a season that many expected they would have last season?
When Southampton sold the likes of Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert last summer, a lot of people thought the side might have been in for a fight against relegation.

Instead Ronald Koeman came into the club as the new manager to replace Tottenham Hotspur bound Mauricio Pochettino and guided them to an incredible 7th placed finish in the Premier League. It was a really surprising season that ended with a place in the Europa League.

So when Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin moved on this summer, not many were concerned for Southampton after seeing how they dealt with things last season. However, the start to the season has been poor for The Saints who are trying to balance the Premier League with the Europa League and so have earned just 2 points from a possible 9 in the League.

There has been a lack of ideas in the final third and even some of the defensive strength looks to have taken a backwards move after Southampton conceded 5 goals in their first two Premier League games. Southampton are in danger of also being knocked out of the Europa League and need to turn things around quickly if they want to avoid having a season that many tipped for them twelve months ago.

Pedro is not a guaranteed success in the Premier League after one game
When Manchester United were linked with Pedro, I was excited about the move because I think he would improve the club. So when he signed for Chelsea there was disappointment and the 'meltdown' some Manchester United fans had following his one goal, one assist debut for The Blues was not really a surprise to me.

Once again, I would have signed Pedro because I think he would have given Manchester United a different type of threat in the final third and has decent pace and creativity that Louis Van Gaal has spoken about.

So why would I urge caution about his 'guaranteed' success in the Premier League? Because I have seen it happen to many others before him and only time will really tell what Pedro is going to achieve here.

Players like Angel Di Maria and Juan Sebastien Veron had such impressive starts before faltering, while even Mesut Ozil looked a world beater before slowing down. All of these players came in as 'world class' stars that would have been 'guaranteed' to end up as top Premier League players, but they were worn down by the physical nature of English football and perhaps lost some confidence.

Of course there are others that settle in quickly and just get better and better, for example Alexis Sanchez, but I would just urge the rush to make Pedro the next superstar in the League until I see the kind of form he is producing in three/four months and whether a 'hot start' is replaced by inconsistency or whether he has kicked on and embraced the League like Sanchez did following a move from Barcelona.

Manchester City might have a chance to turn the screw on title rivals
Three wins, three clean sheets and the only team with a 100% record in the Premier League coupled with the five dropped points that Arsenal and Chelsea have had already and you can understand why Manchester City are favourites to win the Premier League title.

Some Manchester United and Liverpool fans might feel they can challenge for the Premier League title, but I am sure Manchester City looked at Chelsea and Arsenal as their closest challengers before the season began.

The wins over Chelsea and Everton have been particularly impressive, while the 0-3 win at West Brom can't be underestimated even if Tony Pulis admitted he had made tactical errors.

Now Manchester City can turn the screw on their title rivals with games against Watford, Crystal Palace, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Bournemouth to come in the Premier League before a trip to Old Trafford in late October.

On current form I wouldn't pick any of those teams to surprise Manchester City by even taking a point, but of course the Champions League fixtures will be played between some of those games which can cause difficulty. However, this is a real chance for Manchester City to put themselves in a very strong position in the Premier League after just nine games, especially as their rivals have tougher matches to play in that time.

Manchester United play Swansea City, Liverpool, Southampton, Arsenal and Everton during that time; Liverpool play Manchester United, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur; Chelsea play Everton, Arsenal, Newcastle United and Southampton; Arsenal play Newcastle United, Chelsea, Leicester City and Manchester United.

With those sides looking like they might take points off one another, Manchester City could find themselves in a very healthy position as they head into the Manchester derby on October 25th. This is the time for them to prove they are not going to wilt like they did last season and the way Manchester City have come out this season suggests they are going to show that on the field too which is a big issue for their rivals.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (August 26th)

Sam Querrey just couldn't get anything going on the return of serve on Tuesday and that saw him lose his match against Simone Bolelli after three tie-breakers were played and without facing a break point in the match.

To be fair, Bolelli hadn't faced a break point in the first two sets himself, but he had to save two in the final set and that was the key to getting through to the Third Round despite struggling to have an impact on the Querrey serve.

The events in New Haven and Winston Salem will continue on Wednesday as the US Open Qualifying Rounds continue to be played in anticipation of the Grand Slam beginning on Monday. The draw for the US Open will be made at the end of the week and the players are starting to arrive in New York City for that Slam.

Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 games v Olga Savchuk: A solid run in Stanford saw Karolina Pliskova reach the Final there, but she struggled in the two Premier Events in Toronto and Cincinnati. With the US Open fast approaching, Pliskova is looking for a confidence boosting week in New Haven and showed she has the heart for the fight after coming through her First Round match despite dropping the first set.

It should be a good match up for Pliskova to reach the Quarter Final here as Olga Savchuk hasn't played too much hard court tennis on the North American courts this past month. Savchuk can't be underestimated because she has won four Singles matches to reach the Second Round having come through the qualifiers, but the standard of opponent has risen markedly.

For this to be the kind of match up that Pliskova can dominate, she has to get her serve working again as that shot has been letting her down over the last three weeks. When she is serving well, the confidence quickly filters through the rest of the Pliskova game and she should have a chance to have a real effort at breaking the Savchuk serve.

The Pliskova form is a concern, but she played well enough in Stanford to suggest she can turn things around and playing against an opponent that has shown little ambition on the North American hard courts has to be a positive. If Pliskova can serve well, I do think she wins this one 75, 62.

Madison Keys - 2.5 games v Petra Kvitova: This is as much to do with believing Madison Keys is going to be a player that is going to continue rising up the World Rankings as it is about Petra Kvitova struggling with her mono illness which has produced some difficult defeats.

It hasn't been the best time for Keys since Wimbledon as she has struggled to put together a series of wins on the North American hard courts which should favour her game. There have been some inconsistent results for Keys through the season, but she is in line to have her best year in terms of wins on the Tour and this is a great chance for Keys to beat Kvitova for the second time this season.

Kvitova admitted that she has been suffering with mono and she has lost both her matches on the hard courts this summer since that news has come out. The defeat to Victoria Azarenka might be forgivable, but a defeat to Caroline Garcia in three sets was unexpected and struggling with her serve is going to make it very difficult to beat Keys as long as the American is using her own serve to full effect.

It is hard to back Keys as a favourite in a match like this, but the circumstances look right to back her and I think she will cover this number once tiredness and mental fatigue sets in for Kvitova.

Kevin Anderson - 2.5 games v Jerzy Janowicz: Neither one of these players have too much in their game that the other will be unfamiliar with- Kevin Anderson will use the big serve to set up big shots from the baseline, while Jerzy Janowicz has a big serve but also has a tendency to go to the drop shot even if that shot is not exactly the most effective shot to take.

Those drop shots are a reason that he doesn't protect his serve as well as the Pole should considering his height and power he gets out of it. He is also very likely to throw in a number of double faults and giving Anderson a start will only mean this match is likely to go in one direction and that is towards the big South African.

A tie-breaker is not out of the question and their previous two matches have both featured at least one, but Kevin Anderson ran away with the match between these two at the US Open last year. Of course Janowicz might really enjoy the conditions in Winston Salem having reached the Final there last year and a win over Anderson will make him believe he can go one better this time around.

However, I think Anderson is the more solid player of the two and is unlikely to gift a break of serve in the same manner as Janowicz and I think Anderson moves on to the Quarter Final.

Borna Coric - 3.5 games v Diego Schwartzman: There is no surprise that there have been some ups and some downs in Borna Coric's first full year on the Tour, but the 18 year old has shown the talent which has many tipping him to go to the very top of the men's game. The hard courts should give him the edge over Diego Schwartzman in this Third Round match and help Coric reach another main Tour Quarter Final as he continues to improve his World Ranking.

Coric should considerable determination to come from a set down against Santiago Giraldo and beat the Colombian convincingly in the last Round. He also should have beaten Stan Wawrinka in Cincinnati last week and should be too good for Schwartzman who has had to dig deep to beat two clay courters this week.

The Coric forehand can break down at times, but I think his return of serve will keep Schwartzman under pressure and that will eventually wear down the latter both physically and mentally. Schwartzman was broken six times by Pablo Andujar in his last match and he does have to work hard for every service hold he manages, especially on the faster surfaces where players can use their power to hit through the court.

I expect there to be a few breaks of serve in this one too, but Coric to come out on top for the most part of the longer rallies. That should lead to a 63, 64 win for the higher Ranked player and a place in the Quarter Finals.

MY PICKS: Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Madison Keys - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kevin Anderson - 2.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Borna Coric - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 1-1, - 0.54 Units (4 Units Staked, - 13.5% Yield)

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (August 26th)

We are now just a few days out from the start of the US Open and the final week before a Grand Slam can be a tough proposition when it comes to picks. Motivation from players is simply not as high with the Grand Slam fast approaching, although most of the names out this week in Winston Salem don't really have big expectations to win the tournament at Flushing Meadows.

There are a few more contenders out in New Haven in the WTA event being held there, but picks this week will only be made if I feel they are worth making as the focus has shifted towards the US Open.

Caroline Garcia - 1.5 games v Magdalena Rybarikova: It has already been a strong week for Magdalena Rybarikova who has come through the qualifiers and won a match in the main draw. Four wins in a row will give Rybarikova some real confidence going into this Second Round match with Caroline Garcia, although it has to be said the Frenchwoman has been in better form of the two players.

Garcia has had some impressive wins over the last ten days having beaten Sabine Lisicki and Petra Kvitova in Cincinnati before dismissing Timea Bacsinszky for the loss of just four games in the First Round here. Her serve is a decent weapon on the faster surfaces and Garcia has managed to hold herself together pretty well, one of the main reasons she has failed to really move up the World Rankings as expected.

Mentally Garcia is never far away from throwing in a shocking set of games and that has to be a concern against an opponent like Rybarikova who is capable of putting together strong runs herself.

It won't be a big surprise if this match needs three sets to settle it with both Garcia and Rybarikova capable of strong momentum and poor play within short periods of time. Break points will come for both players and it will come down to which of them is a little more proactive at those opportunities, while I also think Garcia has the slightly more consistent serve to get out of jams. That might make all the difference in a 64, 26, 62 win for the Frenchwoman.

Sam Querrey - 2.5 games v Simone Bolelli: I am not the biggest fan of the Sam Querrey game because I think he struggles to really work out how to put together points once he has got past the 'big serve, big forehand' first couple of shots. I think that is a real reason he has struggled to really make a prolonged impact on the Tour as players have worked out they can out-rally him in the long run and a clay court expert like Simone Bolelli might feel he can expose that.

However, Querrey is playing on a fast surface that should aid his serve and Bolelli hasn't played too many matches on the hard courts this summer at all. That might be a key to his mindset for the upcoming US Open, although Bolelli has a decent pop on his own serve and was a convincing First Round winner over Federico Delbonis.

The problem that Bolelli has on the faster courts is his defence and I think Querrey will get to see enough second serves to put the Italian on the backfoot and put him under some pressure. If Querrey is serving well, Bolelli is going to feel it mentally to keep up with him and that is where he is likely to falter on serve and give the American a chance to take control.

It does feel like a match that is on the racquet of Querrey and how well he is serving. I just think Bolelli is always likely to offer break point chances despite a solid first serve and if Querrey is rolling through service games, it is more likely that Bolelli makes the mistakes under pressure. I can see Querrey finding his way to a 64, 64 win in this one.

MY PICKS: Caroline Garcia - 1.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Sam Querrey - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Cincinnati Masters Final8-8, + 0.34 Units (60 Units Staked, + 0.06% Yield)

Season 2015- 2.67 Units (1352 Units Staked, - 0.00% Yield)

Season 2014+ 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)
Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (August 25-27)

Wedding season means Sunday night was a bit of write off for me, while Monday was a day of recovery and recuperation from the previous night exploits.

It might be fun times, but it also means the picks come out a little later than normal.

Monaco v Valencia PickThe Second Leg of the Champions League Play Off ties have produced a number of high-scoring games in recent years much to do with the Knock Out nature of the ties. Teams will be a little more open as they look to get back into games and that is a big issue for Monaco who trail Valencia 3-1 after the First Leg in Spain.

Goals have been a problem for Monaco and this is a team that can't really push the tempo of a game as much as they would like, preferring to play on the counter-attack where possible. They did do it effectively against Young Boys in the Third Qualifying Round, but Valencia are a significant step up in terms of class and Monaco have to be aware that they could be caught on the counter themselves as they look to get back into the tie.

The layers are not really expecting this game to fire into life in terms of goals, but I do think they might be taking a risk with the price being offered for at least three goals being scored. Valencia have the players that can expose any defensive gaps Monaco may leave to get back into the game, while the home side have to attack.

Conceding the first goal might destroy Monaco's confidence of getting through and perhaps see them struggle to motivate themselves to get forward effectively, but the fans should keep the side going forward.

You can understand this game will be a little tense if Monaco score first as they will only need one more goal to progress and might feel they can bide their time. Valencia may then also feel they have something to protect and slow down the entire game, but there were plenty of attempts on goal in the First Leg and I do think the chance of goals has been under-estimated.

Maccabi Tel Aviv v Basel PickTwo late goals in the First Leg first shifted this tie in favour of Basel before the momentum moved back towards Maccabi Tel Aviv, but both clubs will know there is all to play for in this Second Leg.

Confidence should be high in both camps and I think this is going to lead to an exciting game in Tel Aviv with the opportunity for goals really coming to the fore. Maccabi Tel Aviv have goals in the team, although they don't have to push too many men forward early in the game as they have the two away goals which means a low scoring draw is good enough to progress.

However, they are facing a Basel team which has shown they are very confident away from home and the 1-3 win at Lech Poznan looked highly impressive. Basel have scored at least three goals in each of their five away games this season and that high production rate has led to three wins so they won't be heading to Israel thinking they are out of this tie.

With only one clean sheet in those five games, Basel will be put under pressure by Maccabi Tel Aviv too and spaces could open up as one of the teams begin to chase the game in the second half. The teams both should create chances in this one and this may be another of the Second Leg ties this week that produces at least three goals.

Malmo v Celtic PickThe late goal for Malmo in the First Leg could be absolutely critical in determining whether the Swedish or Scottish Champions get into the Champions League Group Stage. Instead of a 3-1 deficit which would have made Celtic a fairly strong favourite to progress, Malmo know a narrow home win is enough to see them into the Group Stage for the second season in a row.

Experiences of overcoming First Leg defeats away from home also gives Malmo the confidence to get this done and overturn the defeat in Glasgow. Over the last two seasons, Malmo have beaten Sparta Prague and Salzburg twice following defeats in the First Leg away from home and two of those ties saw Malmo two goals behind in the First Leg.

Malmo have won 4 in a row at home in all competitions and have scored at least two goals in each of those games so there will be the belief that Malmo can do enough to put themselves in a position to move past Celtic.

You can't underestimate the heart that Celtic have shown in losing just 1 of their last 5 away games in the Champions League, including going unbeaten in their 2 away ties this season. However, winning games has been more of a problem for Celtic and it is hard to see them sitting back and being able to defend the lead they have from the First Leg.

It does feel that Malmo are being offered at a very generous price to win this game when you think they have won 4 of their last 7 home games in the Champions League. They have beaten Sparta Prague and Salzburg, two teams that would be favoured to beat Celtic, as well as a powerhouse in Olympiacos in the Group Stage. Defeats to Atletico Madrid and Juventus are very understandable and Malmo do look a big price to win the Second Leg in all honesty.

Goals should also be in play in this one as teams perhaps open up to chase the game depending on the situation, but I think backing Malmo to win the game looks too big a price to ignore.

Club Brugge v Manchester United PickThe late goal from Marouane Fellaini in the First Leg looks like it had knocked the stuffing out of Michel Preud'homme in his post-game interview. There wasn't a lot of belief from the manager that Club Brugge can overcome all the injuries in the squad and the two goal deficit in the Second Leg, but Manchester United can't take anything for granted as an early goal for the home team will shift the pressure markedly.

It was an early goal for Club Brugge in the First Leg that stunned Manchester United and the Belgian side looked a threat on the break with the pace they have. However, the situation has changed and I expect Manchester United to make sure there is no space for that threat to develop in the Second Leg, while also trying to hit Club Brugge on the break when they push on looking for the goals to get back into the tie.

This is a team that Louis Van Gaal will have respect for having noted they have scored at least twice in each of their three home games this season and also beat Panathinaikos 3-0 in the Third Qualifying Round. Club Brugge are unbeaten in 10 European games at home and their experience of reaching the last eight in the Europa League but they have to show the right balance to get back into this tie and I think that is where Manchester United can take advantage.

For the most part this season, Manchester United have defended well and doing that will put them in a strong position to get through what can be a difficult Second Leg. As Club Brugge perhaps get a little desperate to find a way back in, I think the likes of Memphis Depay can offer Manchester United a real chance to exploit gaps that may open up and perhaps win the Second Leg too.

It won't be easy and there will be some really difficult moments, but Manchester United can book their place in the Group Stage with a narrow win in Belgium despite a poor recent record away from home in the Champions League.

CSKA Moscow v Sporting Lisbon PickThe First Leg of this tie was an entertaining game that saw both teams have their chances, but it was Sporting Lisbon who have managed to head to Russia for the Second Leg with a narrow advantage.

The tie is far from over at 2-1, especially when you think Sporting Lisbon have lost 6 of their last 7 away games in European competition, although it is an intriguing Second Leg because of CSKA Moscow's failures to get the job done at home. That was shown up in the Third Qualifying Round when CSKA Moscow had to settle for a 2-2 home draw with Sparta Prague despite leading twice and it does point to the fact we could see goals in the Second Leg to match the First Leg.

5 of the last 7 CSKA Moscow home games in the Champions League have featured at least three goals as they have continued to show defensive vulnerabilities. Sporting Lisbon last season saw 2 of their 3 away games in the Champions League also end with at least three goals shared by the teams and they scored in all 3 away games in the competition.

The situation of this tie is likely going to see some spaces open up as the game goes on and I think both teams are likely going to score in this one. I would not be surprised at all if it was to go into extra time and perhaps penalties, but it is finely balanced and really could go either way. However, it looks like a game that will provide goals for the neutrals and I will back this Second Leg to feature at least three goals too.

AZ Alkmaar v Astra PickBoth AZ Alkmaar and Astra have shown they are very good in front of goal in the early stages of their seasons, although AZ Alkmaar have failed to score in their last couple of home games in the Dutch Eredivisie.

The team they are facing have conceded plenty of goals though and Astra are unlikely to sit back and look to defend a 3-2 lead from the First Leg. They showed they are capable of scoring goals away from home even when they have gone up to the Europa League level and Astra have scored in all 7 away games in this competition since the beginning of last season.

However, it has to be pointed out that they have conceded at least twice in 5 of those 7 games too and so AZ Alkmaar will believe they will get the chances to get back into this tie in the Second Leg.

An early goal could again this spark a match between these two to life and there will likely be chances for one of the teams when the match becomes stretched in the second half. Either way, it does make the over 2.5 goals option look the call in this Second Leg at fairly generous odds.

Fenerbahce v Atromitos Athens PickThe goal scored by Robin Van Persie has given Fenerbahce the edge in this tie and I do expect them to complete the job in Istanbul.

As solid as Atromitos Athens have been in recent weeks, the majority of their successes have come at home and being defeated there in the First Leg gives them a mountain to climb. However, over the last three seasons Atromitos Athens have won 3 away ties in a row and they have scored the goals that would see them progress from this tie if they can manage to do that again.

However, Fenerbahce are a much tougher side than AZ Alkmaar, Sarajevo or AIK and it will be difficult for Atromitos Athens in the atmosphere they are likely to face. Fenerbahce couldn't get the win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the First Leg of their Champions League tie against them at home, but they had won 4 of 6 home games in European competition prior to that.

If Atromitos Athens start pushing forward to get back in the tie, Fenerbahce should be able to pick them off and win this game by a couple of goals and move into the Group Stage.

Panathinaikos v Qabala PickThe goalless draw in Baku last week has given Panathinaikos every chance to progress to the Group Stage of the Europa League as they did twelve months ago.

The poor form at home in European competition has to be a worry for Panathinaikos, but the game against Qabala is one they will be expecting to win. They showed they can battle when they beat Club Brugge despite playing with ten men for much of that game and the Greek side should have the quality in the final third to see off their Azerbaijan opponents.

Teams who perform well in their domestic League don't always have the quality to bridge the gap once they get into European competition and that is an issue for Qabala. They had lost all 3 away games in the Europa League over the last fourteen months before a late equaliser at Apollon, but the rise in quality they are facing is going to make it very difficult for Qabala.

Panathinaikos should win this one by a couple of goals to move into the Groups.

Salzburg v Dinamo Minsk PickA 2-0 defeat in Belarus has put Salzburg on the brink of exiting all European competitions before the end of August and it looks a big task for them to overturn that result in the Second Leg. Salzburg are at home though and they have played very well here in European competition which has seen them win 4 of their last 6 games at home.

The problem for Salzburg is trying to find the balance between attack and defence as a goal for Dinamo Minsk is likely going to be too much to overcome. They can't rush things and get caught, but there are goals in the Salzburg squad and they do have a chance if they can get in front and get the fans behind them.

You have to have a lot of respect for Dinamo Minsk who have been tough to play away from home in the Europa League and won impressively at Fiorentina and Zurich.

They have scored in 6 of their last 7 away games in the Europa League and will be a threat in this Second Leg, but Salzburg can out-score them in this one and I will back them to have a chance to overturn a big deficit and move into the Group Stage.

Midtjylland v Southampton PickThe First Leg was a tight and tense affair at times because of the lack of confidence that Southampton have been exhibiting, while Midtjylland were comfortable with the away goal they had earned and simply didn't want to lose. The Second Leg is one that many expect will go the same way, but this game could quickly change into a more attacking one if a team has to chase the game and gaps open up.

It also has to be said that Midtjylland have struggled a lot more at home than they have on their travels in recent European games. While they performed well last week in Southampton and won at APOEL, Midtjylland were beaten by APOEL here and last year Panathinaikos won in Denmark in the Play Off Round of the Europa League.

My concern is the lacklustre performances that Southampton have put in over their last three games, especially in the final third where they haven't created the chances they would have wanted. This is clearly a competition that Ronald Koeman is putting significant stock into, but Southampton have to find a way to get the ball into the final third quicker than they have, especially to break down a well organised Midtjylland defence.

However, Southampton had some success in the First Leg in the second half and I do think Midtjylland have had a harder time working the balance out at home where they are expected to attack. Three of their last four home games in European competition have seen at least three goals shared out as Midtjylland have struggled to find the right balance in front of their own fans against better opposition than they have seen in Denmark on a regular basis.

The layers are giving big odds on there being at least three goals in this one and I think there is a chance that this game is perhaps more open than the First Leg. The game should start of tense, but set pieces are a big opportunity for both teams to get going and spaces should open up once the first goal goes in and perhaps offer the opportunity for a big price on goals being taken.

MY PICKS: Monaco-Valencia Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Maccabi Tel Aviv-Basel Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Malmo @ 2.88 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
CSKA Moscow-Sporting Lisbon Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
AZ Alkmaar-Astra Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Fenerbahce - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Panathinaikos - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Salzburg - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Midtjylland-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)

August Update8-23, - 26.70 Units (61 Units Staked, - 43.77% Yield)

Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% 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)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Cincinnati Masters Tennis Picks 2015 (August 23rd)

The Final of the second Premier Event and Masters tournaments of the summer take place on Sunday and then it is full steam ahead to the US Open which begins in eight days time.

Of course there are still a couple of events being played next week with some big names in action, but the majority of the favourites for the US Open title in the men's draw will be on a rest week. The WTA event in New Haven is a lot stronger than the ATP event in Winston Salem, but both have decent fields.

For now the focus is on the two Finals to be played on Cincinnati on Sunday which has the top two players in the fields meeting one another in both.

Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic: I think it was important for Roger Federer to beat an exhausted Andy Murray in straight sets in the Semi Final on Saturday and he should have the physical freshness compared with Novak Djokovic. The latter reached the Final in Montreal last week and he has had to overcome difficult moments in both weeks while an elbow issue has taken a little something from the serve which has given opponents a chance.

Any issues with the serve will give Roger Federer every chance to earn a measure of revenge for his defeat in the Wimbledon Final. Federer has yet to see his serve broken this week, although Djokovic is the best returner he has faced all week, and Cincinnati has been his domain for many a year.

Federer is looking for his seventh title in Cincinnati and has won four of the last six editions of the tournament. Compare that to Djokovic who is yet to win the title here has he looks for a sweep of the Masters events in his career and I do think the quicker conditions in Cincinnati favour Federer who is capable of getting to the net as well as earning a few more cheap points from the serve.

I am just not convinced Djokovic is in prime position with his fitness and the moment and has had to dig deeper than Federer through the week. That can contribute to a third defeat in the Final of Cincinnati to Federer and importantly give the latter the chance to move back to World Number 2 and earn the bottom half of the draw at the US Open.

Serena Williams - 4.5 games v Simona Halep: There have been some doubts with how both Serena Williams and Simona Halep are dealing with some injuries and mental issues on the court at the moment. Both players have had their ups and downs this week and there are going to be some difficult moments for both to overcome.

Serena Williams has been struggling with an arm injury that has taken away some of the potency from the serve and perhaps makes her a vulnerable favourite at the US Open. On the other hand, Simona Halep has had a difficult time dealing with a leg injury, although she did have her best performance of the week with a comfortable win over Jelena Jankovic.

There didn't look to be any issues lingering then, but this match is played in the heat of the day and that could cause cramp issues for Halep to overcome. That was a big issue for her last week in Toronto and might be the factor that eventually allows Serena Williams to take control and win this match.

Of course the arm problems has made the serve vulnerable which is a concern, but Serena Williams can give herself a timely boost going into the US Open in eight days time. I like the American to win the Cincinnati Premier Event after a tough 64, 63 match.

MY PICKS: Roger Federer @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Serena Williams - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Cincinnati Tennis Update: 15-13, + 0.34 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.06% Yield)