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Europa League Final Pick 2017- Ajax vs Manchester United (May 24th)

It has been a difficult twenty-four hours in Manchester after the latest act of terror in Western Europe and some of the images have been he...

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (May 24th)

There won't be any tennis picks on Thursday as I will be away for the Europa League Final until late Thursday evening, but I will look through the schedule for Friday and see if anything stands out.

So far this week there haven't been too many picks as I have not seen a lot of options, but Wednesday looks to be a busier day with the majority of tournaments looking to get their Second Round matches completed so the events can be concluded on Saturday.

The draw for the French Open main draw will also be made on Friday and we should have the schedule of play for Sunday released on Saturday when the outright picks and Day 1 Picks should be ready to go.

Before that I will have a thread for the FA Cup Final and the big boxing night at Bramall Lane where Kell Brook defends his World Welterweight Title against Errol Spence Jr in what looks a cracking fight.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas - 1.5 games v Andrey Kuznetsov: Going into the clay court season, Albert Ramos-Vinolas may have been one of those players people would have picked for a really strong showing. He did reach the Final at the Monte Carlo Masters, but there have been some disappointing early losses too and the Spaniard is going to have to defend a lot of points in Paris next week.

Back to back losses to Diego Sebastian Schwartzman and John Isner would have been matches that Ramos-Vinolas may have expected to win. That has got to have knocked some confidence and there is no doubting the danger that Andrey Kuznetsov brings to the court in this one.

The Russian has talent and has previously enjoyed his time in Geneva with some solid wins behind him. Kuznetsov came from a set down to beat Thomaz Bellucci in the First Round although he has been inconsistent on the clay courts at this level in his career.

There are times Kuznetsov is picking all the right shots and he can be very tough to break with the way he approaches the match. That will give Ramos-Vinolas something to think about, but I do think the Spaniard is the better clay court player and I would expect him to showcase that over the course of the match.

It might need three sets to determine the winner, but I am looking for Ramos-Vinolas to come through with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 kind of win in a topsy-turvy Second Round encounter.

Qiang Wang - 1.5 games v Shelby Rogers: There might be something that I don't know about how Qiang Wang is feeling, but I would have her as a much bigger favourite to win this match than the layers have in this Second Round encounter. Wang has been playing really well over the last few weeks and I think Shelby Rogers might be over-rated for a win over Caroline Wozniacki who had to retire in the second set of their match.

Rogers did play well at the French Open last season but she hasn't had a lot of matches under belt thanks to injury and early losses in a number of tournaments in preparation for Roland Garros this year.

The American is capable on the clay courts with the added time allowing her to power past opponents but I think she is not playing with the consistency or had enough matches for the rhythm that will be needed to beat Wang.

Wang is 9-3 on the clay courts this year, although a few of those have been on the Qualifiers, and that comes at the end of a title win in Zhengzhou on the hard courts which have clearly given her more belief. I think that carries over here and she can beat Rogers in two tight sets which will be enough to cover this number.

Oceane Dodin - 2.5 games v Misaki Doi: There is a lot to like about Oceane Dodin's game and the young Frenchwoman has the chance to put together a strong week in Nuremberg in preparation for the French Open next week. Some inconsistencies still come through, but Dodin is able to hit the ball very hard through the clay courts and can have the patience to win this match.

She will need to be patient against Misaki Doi who is a solid enough defensive player that will look for the mistakes to be made against her. However her lack of real punch off the ground does mean that opponents are able to get the upper hand in rallies and staying in the match from a mental point of view is the key for Dodin in this one.

If she starts getting frustrated with the Doi defences, it is going to lead to more and more unforced errors and that is a surefire way to lose a match. However, Dodin will have the edge in the rallies with the chances she will have the first strike more often than not and her confidence can improve if she is able to restrict those mistakes and ultimately win the points.

It is a match up of contrasting styles, but one where I think the power and aggression of Dodin can see her get the better of Doi in the Second Round. Dodin should be able to get her teeth into the Doi service games and that can lead to a 6-4, 6-4 kind of win for the younger player and a place in the Quarter Final on Thursday.

Tomas Berdych - 2.5 games v Hyeon Chung: There is no doubting that Tomas Berdych is not the player he once was, but he is still a solid enough clay court player to win matches like this. When Berdych has been beaten, he has tended to be beaten fairly comfortably over the last few weeks on the clay courts, but he does have a 6-3 record on the surface.

Only one of his losses might be looked at as one he shouldn't have taken and Berdych would have covered this number of games in all six wins on the clay since April.

Hyeon Chung has to be respected as he has won three matches here in Lyon and this is the first match that Berdych will be playing. The win over Alexander Zverev in Barcelona looks a very good one for the youngster who has yet to really find the consistency to be playing in the biggest events on the Tour having missed out in Madrid and Rome.

Chung also had a strong run in Munich in his last tournament so you can see why the layers don't want to give too much away on the handicap in this one. The wins have been solid enough over the last couple of months, but I think Berdych has been beating those players he should be some comfort and I can see him doing the same on Wednesday.

It won't be easy for Berdych who has to play close to his best level to see off Chung in the Second Round. However I think he can do that in a 7-6, 6-4 win here in Lyon and I will back him to cover the games.

MY PICKS: Albert Ramos-Vinolas - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Qiang Wang - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Oceane Dodin - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych - 2.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 2-2, - 0.36 Units (8 Units Staked, - 4.5% Yield)

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Europa League Final Pick 2017- Ajax vs Manchester United (May 24th)

It has been a difficult twenty-four hours in Manchester after the latest act of terror in Western Europe and some of the images have been heartbreaking.

The fact that so many kids were actively targeted is sickening and there are going to be a lot of questions to answer in the coming weeks and months as the authorities get to work in figuring out whether this was a 'lone wolf' issue or something deeper and more threatening.

You've got to feel for the families who have lost loved ones.

Football does take a back seat when things like this happen, but this is part of our lives and we should not allow any set of idiots to dictate the way we should enjoy our lives.

Manchester will be united and will remain strong in the face of what has happened.

This is my thread for the Europa League Final Pick as Ajax get set to take on Manchester United in Stockholm on Wednesday 24th May. I will be in Stockholm and so this will be the featured post until I return on Thursday evening.

Ajax vs Manchester United Europa League Final 2017

A young Ajax team have guided their club to the first European Final since playing in the Champions League Final in 1996 and they will believe they have nothing to lose in the Europa League Final. They have fallen short in the Dutch top flight by missing out on the title to Feyenoord, but Ajax have had a whole week to get that disappointment out of the system which should be easy enough when you think of what is coming up for them.

A four time European Cup winning club should not be considered a dark horse for a competition they enter, but things have changed for Ajax with the majority of young Dutch talent moving into the bigger Leagues much earlier than in the past. That made this run to the Europa League Final unexpected and Ajax were considered underdogs in the Quarter Final win over Schalke and in the Semi Final win over Lyon.

Ajax have won 3 of their last 4 games in all competitions, although looking a little further shows they have lost half of their last 6. All of those defeats have come away from the Amsterdam Arena and Ajax have not won any of their last 6 away Europa League games, while they have lost their last 3 in the Knock Out Rounds at Copenhagen, Schalke and Lyon.

Nick Viergever is suspended having been sent off at Lyon in the Semi Final Second Leg.

Expected Ajax Starting Line Up: Onana, Veltman, Sanchez, de Ligt, Riedewald, Schone, Ziyech, Klaassen, Younes, Traore, Dolberg.

Manchester United
At the moment you would probably look at this season and consider it a decent one for Manchester United, but the overall grade is going to depend on whether they can win the Europa League or not. Win the competition and you would consider two trophies and a place back in the Champions League a success, but lose and the English League Cup Final success won't be enough for people to accept the 6th place finish in the Premier League.

Some of the better performances for Manchester United have come in the Europa League this season, but there have been some nerves in the narrow wins over Anderlecht and Celta Vigo in the last two Rounds. Ever since this competition began, Manchester United have been considered the favourites to win it, although that means nothing ahead of the Final in Stockholm.

Manchester United had won none of their 4 games in all competitions since beating Celta Vigo 0-1 in the Europa League Semi Final First Leg, but they did beat Crystal Palace 2-0 to sign off in the Premier League on Sunday. They have only won 1 of their last 5 away games in all competitions, but Manchester United have won 3 of their last 5 on their travels in the Europa League.

Eric Bailly is suspended after being sent off in the Europa League Semi Final Second Leg, while the likes of Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are long-term absentees.

ExpectedManchester United Starting Line Up: Romero, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian, Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Rashford.

Ajax vs Manchester United Head to Head
Manchester United and Ajax met in the 1976/77 UEFA Cup and the 2011/12 Europa League and on both occasions Manchester United won the tie on aggregate.

However, the 4 previous matches have been split with both teams winning twice each.

The Europa League Final comes from Stockholm on Wednesday and both Ajax and Manchester United have a chance to add silverware to their season as well as earning a spot in the Champions League Group Stage for the 2017/18 season.

It is a match up of the experience of Manchester United against a youthful Ajax side who have played with exuberance and the freedom of inexperience to help them through to the Final. While Manchester United have been winning ties 'professionally', Ajax have looked to push forward and score goals which has left them vulnerable at times.

The Dutch side have also been much stronger at the Amsterdam Arena than they have been on their travels in the Europa League and that could potentially be in play here. While this isn't an official away game, the fact is that Ajax have really enjoyed themselves in their own surroundings and have lost their last 3 Knock Out ties away from home at Copenhagen, Schalke and Lyon.

The inexperience which has seen Ajax play with an attacking verve akin to what Monaco have produced in the Champions League has almost caught them out in the last two Rounds of the Europa League. They were fortunate to beat Schalke in extra time in the Quarter Final and Lyon almost came all the way back from 5-1 down on aggregate in falling short 4-5 in their Semi Final.

Monaco ended up finding the defensive shape and strength of Juventus too much in their Champions League Semi Final and I can see Manchester United and Jose Mourinho try to do the same to Ajax in the Final of the Europa League. The defensive shape from Manchester United has been decent for the most part this season and Mourinho will most certainly feel Manchester United will create chances with the quality they do bring in the final third.

They have played really well away from Old Trafford in the last couple of Europa League ties, far better than they have in Manchester in those Rounds. With the quality and pace Manchester United can provide in this one in the final third, I do think they can create chances against an Ajax defence that has been vulnerable away from the Amsterdam Arena.

Don't be surprised at all to see goals in this one as Ajax won't be afraid to send a lot of men forward even if they are chasing the game. The youngsters will have plenty of pace and energy themselves to give Manchester United some problems too, especially with the defensive injuries they are dealing with, and Ajax will create their own chances.

I do think there will be goals and Manchester United might be very dangerous on the counter attack as long as they can show some of the clinical finishing that has been lacking at times. Ajax won't ever give this one up, but I think they could be undone one more time late in the game as Manchester United kill them off and win the one trophy that has been missing off their 'Roll of Honour'.

I will look for Manchester United to win this game and I will also have a separate pick on there being at least three goals shared out between these clubs in what could be a very entertaining Europa League Final.

MY PICKS: Manchester United @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ajax-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

Monday, 22 May 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (May 23rd)

The four tournaments being played this week move into the Second Round in a few cases as they want to make sure they are completed before the French Open begins on Sunday.

The First Round at Roland Garros is played over the first three days of that event which is the only Grand Slam to begin on a Sunday. That means the pressure is on the events this week to make sure they can complete the tournaments on a Saturday so avoiding poor weather is the key.

It does feel like a very good week for tennis in Europe though which is extending into next week in Paris where the Qualifiers are being played at the moment.

Eugenie Bouchard - 1.5 games v Yulia Putintseva: The tournament in Madrid was an important one for Eugenie Bouchard who has had a couple of really average years on the WTA Tour. I was never as high on the Canadian as some people when she did produce some of her best tennis in the Grand Slams, but that was now back in 2014 and it is not a stretch to say that Bouchard has been nothing better than average in that time.

Her wins in Madrid may give her some confidence in what has been another poor five months on the Tour compared to the press time Bouchard is afforded. Bouchard is just 8-10 on the clay courts since reaching the Semi Final at Roland Garros and I don't think many will be backing her to have a strong run at the French Open next week.

In saying all that, I do think Bouchard can get the better of Yulia Putintseva in this First Round match in Nuremberg, a player who has been underachieving on the clay courts this past six weeks. She has had success in the past, but Putintseva is generally outgunned at this level and it is hard to win matches when fighting so hard to hold onto your own service games.

Someone like Bouchard will throw in some sloppy games of her own though which makes this a tight match and I do think it will likely go into a third set to decide the winner.

However I do think Bouchard can just get the better of Putintseva behind the heavier groundstrokes and with the added confidence of a decent run in Madrid. It could end up with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 kind of win for the Canadian to move through to the Second Round.

Samantha Stosur - 3.5 games v Madison Brengle: It hasn't been a vintage season for Samantha Stosur who simply isn't the player she was a few years ago, but I would still heavily favour her to get the better of Madison Brengle on the clay courts.

It was a decent win for Brengle in the First Round after winning a couple of Qualifiers to get into the main draw in Strasbourg, but she is just 5-11 in main draw clay court matches. Her style of play should not really be one that transfers onto the clay courts that well as she will use a lot of defensive shots that simply sit up on the surface and allow opponents to dominate.

I am not that surprised that she is beaten quite comfortably when she does get beaten on the surface, but Brengle will likely extract some errors from the Stosur game especially when she can force her into backhand to backhand rallies.

The difference here is Stosur's serve should set her up much more effectively than it does for Brengle and I do think that is going to decide the course of the match. While Brengle is likely going to have to dig deep in the majority of her service games to hold, the Stosur serve can set up short returns for the Australian to dominate the rally and effectively hold with much more 'ease' than her opponent.

That should see Stosur have enough to earn a break more in each set of a straights set win and I will back her to cover this number.

Kyle Edmund - 3.5 games v Thiago Monteiro: Late decisions to enter tournaments can sometimes mean a lower Ranked player enters a main draw when the higher Ranked player had come through the Qualifiers. That is the case in Lyon where Kyle Edmund had to win a couple of Qualifiers before entering the main draw where he will be favoured to beat Thiago Monteiro.

I don't think Edmund will mind having to play a couple of Qualifiers just for the additional clay court matches to put under his belt in what has been a mixed portion of the season for him. There have been signs that Edmund can very much produce his best tennis on the clay courts, but he is still very inconsistent with his results which can make it difficult to trust him.

However it should be said that Monteiro does tend to play his best tennis in South America rather than on the European clay courts and he has not exactly been producing the results to build the confidence. The Brazilian has been able to push a couple of opponents, but he didn't play well in a loss to Daniel Evans and will have to be significantly better to beat Edmund.

Even if an inconsistent Edmund shows up, I think he will likely win a close one. However Edmund is 5-4 during this clay court swing heading into the French Open and would have covered this number in all five wins he has had.

I think he can put enough pressure on the Monteiro game to come through with a relatively straight-forward 6-3, 6-4 kind of win in this one and I will back the British player here.

MY PICKS: Eugenie Bouchard - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Samantha Stosur - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kyle Edmund - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 1-1, - 0.18 Units (4 Units Staked, - 4.5% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2017 (May 22nd)

The final week before any Grand Slam tournament is usually one where the top names decide to skip out and keep the energy fresh for the major event ahead. That is the case for the most part this week with the French Open due to begin next Sunday, although there are still plenty of recognisable names in the events being played across four tournaments this week.

In saying that, it can be the attempt to ride some treacherous seas when negotiating picks through weeks like this and is certainly one of caution for myself.

While I am planning to make picks, I do think there will be the potential for not really seeing anything worth backing with the fact that the French Open is beginning this weekend in my mind. Some of the tournaments have already got into the main draw on Sunday and I didn't have any picks from the events and we will see how it goes over the week.

Oceane Dodin - 1.5 games v Shuai Zhang: It has been a tough battle on the clay courts for Shuai Zhang and confidence is going to have been damaged having lost five in a row on the surface. In general it has been a disappointing season for Zhang so far and this First Round match looks a tough one on paper for her.

Oceane Dodin has yet to really put together the consistency she would like on the WTA Tour but she has improved her World Ranking and looks to be a player capable of fulfilling the potential she clearly has. Playing on the clay courts shouldn't be an issue for a player that has grown up on the surface, although the inconsistency already mentioned makes it tough to really believe in her fully.

However, I do think Dodin has had enough wins over the last few weeks to believe in her game a little more than Zhang does at this moment. It can be argued that Dodin has the more 'respectable' losses on the clay over the last few weeks and I think she can get the better of Zhang even if it takes three sets to get the job done.

Zhang's last eight losses on the clay courts would have failed to see her get within this number and I will look for Dodin to play just big enough to come through with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win.

Alize Cornet v Shuai Peng: This has been set as a pick 'em contest by the layers and I think that says a lot about the inconsistency that Alize Cornet continues to produce on a week by week basis. Her home Grand Slam is coming up next week and Cornet has to show some form to build momentum to take into the French Open, although failing to reach her standards will give Shuai Peng the edge to win the match.

The clay court season has not been one that Cornet has enjoyed so far, although her loss to Elina Svitolina came in two tough sets last week in Rome against the eventual winner of that Premier Event.

Peng is not really on that level, especially not on the clay courts and I think she may be on the wrong end of another narrow loss. Both of her clay court losses in 2017 have come in three sets against very strong opponents, but Peng may not have the same nous on the clay courts as the Frenchwoman she faces in the First Round.

I have little doubt there will be shifts of momentum during the match on the way to a Cornet win, which is never straightforward. However I do think Cornet should have the superior clay court game compared with Peng and she can win here this week in another three set match.

MY PICKS: Oceane Dodin - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Alize Cornet @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (May 21st)

The final weekend of the Premier League 2016/17 season is played on Sunday before a few Cup Finals and a round of World Cup Qualifiers completes the campaign.

Only four days after the Scotland v England World Cup Qualifier the fixtures for the 2017/18 Premier League season will be released, although the two months wait for the new season will feel like a long time.

Arsenal v Everton Pick: They might have beaten Watford 1-0 at home last weekend, but Everton have not been at their best in the final weeks of the season as the players have achieved all of their goals for the current campaign. That doesn't mean they are going to roll over for Arsenal in this one, but Everton have looked like they have been struggling for motivation at times.

Everton haven't been that good away from home this season either and the lack of motivation compared with Arsenal might prove to be a difference maker.

Like many times in recent seasons, The Gunners are finishing the season with a flourish, but this time it looks like they are not going to do enough to finish in the top four. Arsene Wenger will urge his team to focus on their own matters and win this game to force Liverpool to do the same when they host Middlesbrough, but an early lead for Liverpool is likely to see the supporters turn on the manager.

The players have at least responded for their manager and I think Arsenal will have the majority of the play as they look to end the season with a fifth consecutive home win. Arsenal still have the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to open the door against a stubborn Everton team who are missing some key defensive faces and I think they can win this game.

Only two teams, Chelsea and Liverpool, have beaten Everton by more than a single goal margin this season, but I will look for Arsenal to do that this weekend against a demotivated opponent.

Burnley v West Ham United Pick: There is no doubt that a number of the players in both squads will be looking forward to the end of the season in which Burnley have overachieved and West Ham United have underachieved. While Sean Dyche is preparing for the new season already, Slaven Bilic is under big pressure as manager of West Ham United with the raised expectations there.

It is important that Bilic sees a reaction from his players after the awful display in the second half of the 0-4 loss to Liverpool. West Ham United looked disorganised and offered very little resistance to the speed and creativity that Liverpool produced on Sunday.

That is not going to be the way that Burnley approach things and so it may be a little easier for West Ham United to defend this weekend. They had been looking solid in the new three at the back system before being ripped apart by Liverpool, and goals may be at a premium when you think how Burnley have just lost their edge down the stretch.

I do think Burnley have the slight edge in terms of motivation playing at home, and a narrow success for the home team would not surprise me here. However I think there could be a real end of season feel to this one and I am backing fewer than three goals to be shared out between Burnley and West Ham United in this one.

Chelsea v Sunderland Pick: There will be another party atmosphere at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea will be given the Premier League trophy at the end of this fixture. However this time the fans will likely be given a chance to thank the majority of players who led the way for the triumph in the League this season and that doesn't bode well for this Sunderland side.

It was yet another away loss for Sunderland during the week and they can thank goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for only losing by a couple of goals at Arsenal. The team looks tired and not up to the standard of the Premier League and it feels like it will be a long afternoon for them against a Chelsea team who will want to sign off at Stamford Bridge in style.

The 'win to nil' is not as attractive as it was for Arsenal to beat Sunderland on Tuesday and instead I am looking for Chelsea to win this one by a wide margin.

They did concede some sloppy goals against Watford on Monday, but Chelsea should have the key players back in the defensive unit and Sunderland have simply not shown they can score a lot of goals.

With the attacking players likely to enjoy some spaces, Chelsea can win this one with a slightly easier margin than Arsenal produced on Tuesday.

Hull City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The last couple of weeks have been difficult for Hull City as what looked like being a positive fight against relegation were ended in unceremonious fashion. The 0-2 home loss to Sunderland seems to have deflated all confidence and belief that Marco Silva had built up and following that up with a 4-0 loss at Crystal Palace underlined that.

It will be difficult for the players to go out on a high on Sunday despite their really strong record at home under Silva’s watch. The problem for Hull City is they are facing a Tottenham Hotspur team who have been in rampant form and are making a serious bid to make sure they end this season with positive momentum behind them unlike last season.

On the final day last season Tottenham Hotspur visited the North East against an already relegated opponent and were humbled 5-1 at Newcastle United. That is unlikely to happen again this weekend and it is more likely that Tottenham Hotspur will reverse that scoreline if their 1-6 win at Leicester City on Thursday is anything to go by.

A team playing with the confidence Tottenham Hotspur have is going to be tough to slow down and I am not sure I can see how Hull City will be able to compete with them. While Hull City have had some really good results at home under Silva, including beating Manchester United and Liverpool, confidence has to be shot.

I can only see another strong Tottenham Hotspur win on Sunday to sign off on another season of improvement and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Leicester City v Bournemouth Pick: 10th place looks to be on the line when Leicester City and Bournemouth meet in the final fixture for both clubs on Sunday and that might initially sound like an almost meaningless achievement. However there is no doubt the difference in feeling when ending with a top half finish compared with a bottom half finish and so both Leicester City and Bournemouth should be motivated enough.

Leicester City are coming off a humbling experience from Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday and there has to be some tiredness in the legs. That is an area Bournemouth will look to expose with their passing game keeping the home players on the move and chasing the game.

However The Foxes have been very good at home under Craig Shakespeare and I think Thursday might just be an exception to the rule. Leicester City have scored plenty of goals since Shakespeare took over from Claudio Ranieri, but defensive injuries means there will be chances for Bournemouth too.

It does feel like both clubs will create opportunities for the likes of Jamie Vardy and Josh King and I am going to look for the season to finish with a flourish at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

I backed goals when Leicester City hosted Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday and I think there will be goals in this one as two attacking teams meet.

Liverpool v Middlesbrough Pick: This is a huge game for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool for the development of the club as they are on the brink of getting back into the Champions League. The financial aspect is one element, but being able to offer big name players the chance to compete in the premier European competition is huge for Liverpool as they try and bridge the gap to the teams above them in England.

Failure is simply not an option for Liverpool and the only way they can guarantee their place in the top four of the Premier League is by winning this fixture. The concern for the fans has to be the fact that Liverpool have not won any of their last 3 at Anfield against the likes of Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Southampton, and that will open the door for Arsenal.

However, I think facing Middlesbrough or Sunderland would have been the ideal situation for Liverpool and I think an early goal could potentially see Middlesbrough crumble. They have tried to be more positive under Steve Agnew, but that has seen the side concede 11 goals in their last 3 away games and at least three times in each game.

Middlesbrough have looked disinterested and lacking belief in their losses to Chelsea and Southampton over the last two weeks and I am not sure they can pick themselves up to dent the Liverpool bid to make the top four.

The one thing Liverpool can do is score goals and I expect they are going to be able to breach the Middlesbrough defences a few times. It could be nervy if there is a narrow lead being protected by the home team, but I can see Liverpool putting Middlesbrough to the sword early and creating enough chances to win this game by a comfortable margin to ensure Champions League Football is back at Anfield in August.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Pick: This is clearly a game that both Manchester United and Crystal Palace would likely happily set aside and move on to more important matters. After confirming their place in the Premier League last weekend, the Crystal Palace players may easily have booked their holiday plans for the coming couple of weeks before the World Cup Qualifiers for some and the focus and intensity might not be there.

On the other hand, Manchester United are not playing a recognised team in this final game with the Europa League Final just days away and Jose Mourinho has already stated he hoped Crystal Palace will take it easy against his young team.

It does make the prices on a Crystal Palace win attractive to a point, but those have shortened in the last week as Mourinho's intentions have been made clear. Now that Crystal Palace have secured their place, it is also hard to know how much the players will really push forward to win here even if someone like Wilfried Zaha would love to show the Old Trafford crowd what didn't work in his time with Manchester United.

The young Manchester United players will have an education trying to break down a Crystal Palace team organised by Sam Allardyce and this feels like it could have a pre-season kind of feel for both teams.

That usually means limited goals and the fans at Old Trafford may have to sit through another 1-1 scoreline which has been grating on so many over the course of the season. That scoreline is the one that worries me when it comes to opposing both teams scoring here like I did when Manchester United travelled down to St Mary's during the week, but I will look for this game to feature fewer than three goals on Sunday.

Southampton v Stoke City Pick: With the season ending on Sunday, it is hard to know what the future holds for Southampton and Stoke City who have both struggled down the stretch which won't have pleased the fans. It would be a huge surprise if Stoke City didn't give Mark Hughes another transfer window to bring in the players he wants to improve this squad, but Southampton are almost certainly going to be looking for someone to replace Claude Puel.

A lack of goals has been the complaint for both Southampton and Stoke City and all the signs are pointing to another game which will send the fans to sleep at St Mary's. There is a lot of endeavour in the Southampton side, but they can lack a cutting edge, while Stoke City's flair players just simply don't play as well away from the Bet365 Stadium.

There are many an occasion at the end of season when teams loosen up and produce fireworks and that could happen here if an early goal is scored by either. However it feels much more likely that the teams could sleepwalk through the ninety minutes with limited chances at both ends and so I will go back to the same pick I had when Southampton hosted Manchester United on Wednesday.

Southampton have failed to scored in 5 of their last 6 home League games, but they have also had 3 goalless draws in that time including on Wednesday. Stoke City had failed to score in 6 straight away games before the 2-2 draw at Bournemouth last time out and I will back one, if not both, team to fail to score on Sunday.

Swansea City v West Brom Pick: Instead of the tension filled final day of the season that Paul Clement and the Swansea City supporters must have been expecting, this game at the Liberty Stadium is a chance for the fans to show their appreciation of their club which has avoided relegation to the Championship.

The hard work will begin on Monday for Clement, but for now he will send the players out to enjoy their relative successes. It should mean Swansea City can play with some freedom and enjoyment in front of their fans where they have won 5 of their last 7 Premier League games.

That has been vital to their achievement of escaping the bottom three and another win looks to be on the cards on Sunday against a West Brom team who have been demotivated since March. The lack of intensity has seen West Brom lose 6 of their last 7 Premier League games and the players may struggle to match Swansea City in this final game.

It is what I am expecting on Sunday and I can see Swansea City winning another home game under Paul Clement which will give them plenty of belief going into the new season. Home form is likely going to be important for them again in the 2017/18 campaign and I will back The Swans at odds against to earn the three points on offer on Sunday.

Watford v Manchester City Pick: The decision to announce Walter Mazzarri's sacking days before the end of the season is an interesting one from Watford and I am not sure he is going to get the reaction from the players he would want. There have been suggestions that the players and the manager have not seen eye to eye for some time and now he is going, the current team may decide they can perhaps ease off.

That would be a huge danger against this Manchester City team who have looked rampant at times over the last few games of the season. They can score plenty of goals and being away from home has suited Manchester City with the expectation that opponents will come onto them at some stage and leave spaces open.

Watford will feel they can create chances against this defence, but the lack of motivation could be a real problem for them.

On the other hand, Manchester City will be searching for the three points that will take them into the Champions League Group Stage next season and I expect they will earn those. Manchester City have won 11 times away from home in the Premier League, which only trails Chelsea's 13 away wins, and 8 of those have come by at least two goals.

The majority of those have come against teams in the bottom half of the Premier League table and I can only see one winner this weekend when these teams conclude their campaigns.

I just don't think the Watford players will be able to match the intensity that Manchester City will come in with, nor deal with the pace and creativity in the final third considering all the defensive absences in the home team's squad. I will look for Manchester City to conclude the season with a bang and cover the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Burnley-West Ham United Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-Bournemouth Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.50 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Liverpool - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United-Crystal Palace Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Southampton-Stoke City Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Swansea City @ 2.05 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Rome Masters Tennis Picks 2017 (May 20th)

The rain finally arrived in a big way in Rome on Friday evening and the forecast is not that great on Saturday either, although we have got three of the four Semi Finals already in place.

I am not sure if all the matches will be completed on Saturday and I am mainly taking a watching brief anyway with the two WTA Premier Event Semi Finals close to call. However I am going to have a pick from the sole ATP Masters Semi Final which has been set that you can read below.

Alexander Zverev - 2.5 games v John Isner: There is a difference in the height from which the John Isner serve comes down from compared with the Milos Raonic one, but Alexander Zverev will have gotten some idea of what he is going to face in the Semi Final. The young German was a strong winner in the Quarter Final against Raonic and Zverev has two wins over John Isner on the hard courts in his career.

The clay courts should favour Zverev even more and I think he can complete the job that Marin Cilic should really have done on Friday. Cilic had the better of the last two sets against Isner, but the big serve bailed out the American and that is the weapon that can be a threat on any surface.

However Zverev is in fine form and, like Cilic, he has the long levers to get enough of the serves back in play and force Isner to win the point in the rallies. Isner has been playing well enough to do that in this match, but I think Zverev's experience of playing Raonic will mean he is focused and ready to win this match and move into a Masters Final.

Zverev looked after his serve well enough in the Quarter Final win over Raonic to think he won't give too much away to Isner and I will be looking for him to win a tie-breaker before finding the breaks of serve to come through the match. I am expecting Zverev to earn his way to a 7-6, 6-4 win and cover this number that Cilic barely missed out on on Friday.

MY PICKS: Alexander Zverev - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)

Rome Update: 16-10, + 9.34 Units (52 Units Staked, + 17.96% Yield)

Friday, 19 May 2017

Rome Masters Tennis Picks 2017 (May 19th)

We have reached the Quarter Finals at the Rome Masters/Premier Event taking place this week and familiar names have once again gotten to the business end of a clay court tournament.

It has become clear who should be leading the way as the top contenders at the French Open in both the men's and women's events to be played there, although the question marks about the mental strength and the composure for a couple of the players in the women's draw are going to be much harder to determine.

The draw takes place in a week on Friday and that is going to be a key as to which players could be backed for a long bid to win a Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. That is a matter for another day and I am focusing on the eight matches that are due to be played in Rome on Friday.

Simona Halep - 4.5 games v Anett Kontaveit: The clay court season has been a memorable one for Anett Kontaveit who has beaten some of the big names on the WTA Tour in the last few weeks. Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber are the biggest names Kontaveit has beaten, but facing off against Simona Halep may be the ultimate test for her at this moment.

It looks like Halep will head into the French Open as the favourite to win the women's title there having come close to Grand Slam success in the past. She has furthered her claims by winning the title in Madrid last week and the two wins Halep has produced this week, especially in the manner she has won those matches, will only have more and more people expecting the Romanian to win her maiden Grand Slam title.

This is not going to be an easy Quarter Final with the way Kontaveit has been playing and fatigue won't be an excuse for either player with the amount of tennis both have played. There is plenty of power that comes off the Kontaveit racquet, but Halep has the better movement and I do think she is the superior clay court player which should see her find her way into strong positions throughout this match.

The heavy win Halep had over Kontaveit in Miami a couple of months ago might also play a part when the pressurised moments arrive and I think Halep is going to be too strong on the day. It will be closer than their match in Miami was, but I would expect Halep to have enough in her game to come back with a 6-4, 6-3 win.

Kiki Bertens - 2.5 games v Daria Gavrilova: It was another impressive fightback from Daria Gavrilova to come through her Third Round match against Svetlana Kuznetsova, but there has to be some fatigue in play when you get to this Quarter Final. She has battled her way through the draw, but I am still not completely convinced about her comfort on the clay and there were some special shots needed to turn this match in her favour in the third set.

There are only so many times you can go to the well and Gavrilova is likely going to need to that again on Friday when taking on Kiki Bertens who has been very comfortable back on the clay courts.

The Dutchwoman has perhaps not been as strong as she would have liked, but Bertens is showing plenty of consistency over the last couple of weeks as she backs up a strong run in Madrid with another Quarter Final showing in Rome. Bertens has played well in the last couple of Rounds and she has the power to really push Gavrilova back in this one, although the feisty Australian is never going to be a pushover.

I am expecting there will be some tight moments between these two as both are able to earn the break points to put themselves in a strong position in the match. It would be a bigger surprise to me if we didn't see a number of breaks of serve, but I do think Bertens is the superior server and that can give her the edge in the match, even if it needs three sets to separate them.

After a tough match, I will be backing Bertens to come through with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 kind of win.

Marin Cilic - 2.5 games v John Isner: There is no doubt that we are going to see a lot of big serving whenever Marin Cilic and John Isner meet, but the Croatian has generally found a way to get enough balls back in play to crack Isner's game. Cilic is big enough to get to more balls than many others on the Tour and he will always feel he can get the better of the rallies once they develop.

It is a big reason Cilic is 6-1 up in the head to head between these two players, although it should be noted that the most recent match ended with Isner snapping his run of losses against the Croatian. That came on the fast indoor courts at the Paris Masters, but the conditions won't be anything near that quick in Rome on the clay courts.

The heat that has been around in Rome will mean the Isner serve still travels through the court and the big American has a couple of solid wins so far including beating Stan Wawrinka. However I have to say that Cilic is showing a lot more form than Wawrinka at this moment and I don't think he will be as loose with his game as Wawrinka was.

Cilic has also found a way to get into break point positions against the Isner serve and has the patience to wait for his moment and I think that is important for him in this Quarter Final. While there will be moments when Isner is throwing down unplayable bombs, Cilic will have his moments making enough returns to get some mistakes from the Isner game and I think that is where he will take control of the match.

The Istanbul Champion has looked good so far this week and I think he can get the better of Isner with a 7-6, 6-4 kind of win to help him through to the Semi Final.

Alexander Zverev v Milos Raonic: This has been set as a pick 'em contest, but I am really surprised that Alexander Zverev has been set as the underdog between these two players. He has been playing with some consistency on the clay courts and Milos Raonic does prefer the faster surfaces despite his solid run in the draw in Rome.

Raonic has reached the Semi Final in Rome before, but that is an outlier to his usual performances here and this season is actually his second best run. The conditions simply do not favour Raonic whose serve can be nullified by players while the patience you need to really perform on the clay courts is not the game that the Canadian wants to bring to the court.

He did reach the Final in Istanbul during the clay court swing, but there haven't been a lot of stand out wins for Raonic. His losses to Marin Cilic and David Goffin are against players who are around the same level as Zverev on the clay courts and I think the young German can continue what has been a fine 2017 so far.

Only one of the losses on the clay have been disappointing for Zverev with the others having real reasons behind them. He is playing with the confidence which saw him dominate Fabio Fognini in the Third Round and the key for the youngster is not allowing emotion to overcome him if Raonic does hit a few big serves which is what you have to expect from him.

Zverev has won a title on the clay courts already this season and he looks like someone who is getting more comfortable on the surface. This is unlikely to ever be Raonic's favourite surface and I think the underdog can find a way to win this one and move into the Semi Final.

Rafael Nadal - 4.5 games v Dominic Thiem: This is the third tournament in a row on the clay courts that Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal will play one another, although the last two matches have both been in the Final in Barcelona and Madrid. This time it is a Quarter Final match and we will get to see what Thiem has learned from his last two experiences against the 'King of Clay'.

The first meeting in Barcelona ended in one sided fashion for Nadal, but the Final in Madrid was much more competitive. However that might have something to do with the faster clay court conditions that don't suit Nadal as much as they will in Rome and I think the Spaniard will be able to win this by a couple of games clearer than he did in Madrid.

Fatigue has to be an issue for Thiem who had to go deep into a third set to beat Sam Querrey on Thursday and had a tight two set win over Pablo Cuevas on Wednesday. While both reached the same stage in Madrid last week, Nadal has been able to basically have a walkover in one Round and was a much more comfortable winner over Jack Sock in the Third Round.

I've got so much time for Dominic Thiem and I really do enjoy the way he plays, but I can't escape the fact that he has to be feeling all the tennis he has played. Someone like Rafael Nadal is going to play every point with the intention of wearing down his opponent and I think he will ultimately be able to do that against the young and upcoming star of the ATP Tour.

I do think this one might go in the direction of their meeting in Barcelona rather than the one in Madrid. That means the first set could be very competitive but that is when Thiem may begin to feel the fatigue build up and Nadal can come away with a 6-4, 6-3 win and move into yet another Semi Final on the clay courts and further strengthen his position as favourite to win the French Open.

Novak Djokovic win 2-1 v Juan Martin Del Potro: Over the years matches between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro have been incredibly tight and competitive affairs. That was even happening off Del Potro's return to the Tour during the peak Djokovic years and I simply think this is a match up that will always give the Serb problems.

As well as Djokovic may return, Del Potro possesses a serve that can bring up short balls and he has the power and consistency to penetrate the famed Djokovic defences. Not many players can replicate that from Del Potro over the course of two hours like the Argentinian can and that is enough to make him very tough for Djokovic to handle.

The clay courts arguably favour Djokovic enough to help him have the edge in this match, but he has not played with the confidence of twelve months ago. It should mean Del Potro is able to get a foot hold in the match too and push this match the distance which has not been uncommon when these players have met.

Twice already in 2017 Djokovic has been able to see off Del Potro but both times he has needed to go the distance to do that. Five of their last six matches in a best of three environment have gone the distance and all of those have been won by Djokovic with the exception being won by Del Potro at the Olympic Games last summer.

I think this is another that will enter the third set and both players will have their chances to win in that decider. However I think Djokovic will just show a little more at the key moments in that set and I will have a small interest in him winning this in three sets.

MY PICKS: Simona Halep - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kiki Bertens - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Alexander Zverev @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 4.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic Win 2-1 in Sets @ 3.75 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Rome Update: 13-8, + 7.92 Units (42 Units Staked, + 18.86% Yield)