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Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Australian Open Tennis Day 10 Picks 2019 (January 23rd)

The first men's and women's Semi Final matches were set on Tuesday at the Australian Open and it features a couple of the leading contenders facing upstarts who have had their best success at a Grand Slam event in the relatively young careers.

Rafael Nadal has been relentless throughout the Australian Open and it has looked clear enough for a few days that he is going to be very hard to beat in his current form. The Spaniard has not had the same type of consistent success on the hard courts as he has on the clay courts, but he has proven time and time again that he can be very strong in this surface as long as his body holds up.

He dismissed 'Next Gen' Francis Tiafoe in the Quarter Final with a thoroughly professional performance and Nadal goes on to face Stefanos Tsitsipas who once again held himself together at pivotal moments throughout his win over Roberto Bautista Agut.

The young Greek star actually gave away the first break in each of the first three sets played, but in two of them he managed to turns things around before winning a Fourth Set tie-breaker to move into his maiden Grand Slam Semi Final. I am sure many more are to come for Tsitsipas, but he is going to need to have a monster serving day to win this one as far as I am concerned.

Either that or have Nadal's body let him down as it did twelve months ago in a defeat to Marin Cilic in Melbourne.

There is a real heartwarming story in the women's draw and you would have to be made of stone to not appreciate Petra Kvitova.

The two time Wimbledon Champion suffered a knife injury a little over two years ago and it has taken time for her to really return to the kind of form the Czech player can play. I've always enjoyed watching Kvitova play, especially when she is playing as well as she is in Australia and it is going to take something special to beat her.

Ashleigh Barty has nothing to be ashamed of having made it to a Grand Slam Quarter Final for the first time and the Australian should have plenty more to give as the 2019 season develops.

Petra Kvitova will face one of the players who has newly entered my favourite list- Danielle Collins.

The American is not your normal tennis interview and while that seems to rub some people up the wrong way, I love the fact that Collins is not shy to admit where she sees herself.

Confidence and brashness together can be hard for many to see, but I loved Muhammad Ali and Collins is backing up her own talk in a big way. She is great to watch on the court with emotion being worn on her sleeve and I hope the smart player coming out of College can use this tournament as a springboard for much better over the course of 2019.

Beating Petra Kvitova is going to be very difficult, but I know Collins will believe she can do that and her fight shown so far in this tournament suggests she won't crumble or give this one up easily. Unfortunately Kvitova doesn't ask to dictate on the court and this could be a really fun match for thos who like big hitting tennis.

On Day 10 we complete the Semi Final line up with Rod Laver Arena hosting the remaining four Quarter Final matches in succession. It is a great day for the fans, but a long day with a Night Session in place too, although I think the fans will get a lot of bang for their buck.

In my opinion the two women's matches are better than the two men's on paper, but tennis is played on the court and not on paper so hopefully it is another strong day.

Day 11 is the last where multiple Singles matches are played on the same day and the last three days of the tournament see the Singles match scheduled for the Night Session which is great news for those who have been staying up through the night to watch the tennis in the United Kingdom.

A strong Day 9 has kept the tournament ticking along in the way I would have hoped ten days ago, but there is still work to do to lock in a positive event to open 2019.

Milos Raonic - 5.5 games v Lucas Pouille: You could have been forgiven for thinking the Australian Open may have come too early for Milos Raonic who is returning from an injury hit 2018, while Lucas Pouille had never performed well at this Grand Slam. Yet here we are with these two men making the Quarter Final of the tournament and I can guarantee both Raonic and Pouille recognise the path that has opened to them.

It can put some pressure on players when they realise how much they can achieve by winning a match, but Raonic and Pouille have both played in Quarter Final matches at Slams before so they should understand what is expected of them.

Out of the two players it is Milos Raonic who has made the Semi Final and Final of Grand Slams before so he may feel a little less pressure than his opponent. The run to this Quarter Final would have likely surpassed many expectations Raonic has had for himself and it is very difficult to ignore the head to head record against Pouille which has seen Raonic win all three previous matches including at the Australian Open in straight sets in 2016.

The Raonic serve has been working to almost perfection and he has only faced five break points in his four matches here. However the Canadian will want to have played the big points a little better as he has been broken four times from those five break points faced, but I am not sure Pouille's average return game is going to get much joy out of the Raonic serve here.

The Frenchman has linked up with former Grand Slam Champion Amelie Mauresmo, but his return game at the Australian Open has remained average with just 16% of those games resulting in a break of serve. That return has been a real weakness for Pouille for some time and it says a lot that he has only created two break points against Raonic in three matches against the Canadian and the big server has held at over 97% of the time.

It puts some real pressure on Pouille and while he has been serving well and Raonic is not exactly Novak Djokovic when it comes to returning, mentally it will be a challenge to keep things going if he can't get near the Raonic serve. Even in the run to the Quarter Final and including the devastating win over Alexander Zverev, the Raonic return numbers are not that impressive.

They haven't needed to be to win matches though and you may think one or two breaks of serve is all Raonic is going to need to win this match relatively comfortably. Milos Raonic has had success attacking the Pouille serve in their three previous matches, although the one in 2018 on the grass courts of Stuttgart was unsurprisingly serve orientated.

Even then Raonic broke serve and he does have a break number of over 23% against Pouille and I do think the Canadian is serving well enough to win this match by a good margin.

Trusting Raonic to break serve and cover big spreads is not easy, but he has been in fine form in Australia and I would not be surprised if Pouille was to offer some lapses of concentration on which the Canadian can pounce upon.

Novak Djokovic - 7.5 games v Kei Nishikori: There were some uncomfortable signs from Novak Djokovic at the end of his gruelling win over Daniil Medvedev and the World Number 1 admitted he will need some time to recover. He clutched his back and looked to be short of energy in a tough encounter against a young, hungry opponent who pushed Djokovic all the way to the finish line.

Ultimately Djokovic came through and will have had almost a full 48 hours before he is being asked to come back to the court. The match with Kei Nishikori should hold no surprises for Novak Djokovic with these two being paired together for the eighteenth time and more importantly is the fact that Nishikori has needed five sets in three of his four matches at the Australian Open.

Confidence will be high having made an unbeaten start to the 2019 season, but Nishikori has twice needed to come from two sets down including in the last Round against Pablo Carreno Busta. His opponent left the court steaming after a controversial point was awarded to Nishikori in the final set breaker, but you could see how much the win meant to Nishikori and his team.

Picking themselves up emotionally and physically won't be easy for Nishikori whose game does not match up well with Djokovic's. If the World Number 1 is close to 100% it really is going to be very difficult for Nishikori who was beaten at Wimbledon and the US Open by Djokovic in 2018 and both times relatively comfortably and by a wide enough margin to cover the games being asked of the Serb in this Quarter Final.

In the Grand Slam matches between these two, Djokovic holds at just under 85% of the time while Nishikori is down at 63%. That's a huge margin and I don't know how the Japanese star bridges that while those numbers become 83% and 53% for those players respectively when they have played on the hard courts.

Novak Djokovic has been in very good form throughout this tournament and while these players are holding at about the same rate, it is Djokovic who is breaking at almost a 20% higher rate.

The fitness issues for the Number 1 Seed are a concern, but there is no way Nishikori can be in great physical shape for this one. The match with Pablo Carreno Busta was a long one with intense rallies and I will back Novak Djokovic to continue his dominance of this opponent with the assumption he is relatively in good shape to compete.

Naomi Osaka - 2.5 games v Elina Svitolina: This looks to be a very interesting Quarter Final match between the current US Open Champion and a player who has flattered to deceive in the Grand Slam events. Naomi Osaka is playing at her home Grand Slam with the Australian Open representing Asia and the Pacific, but she seems to be very level headed and her experiences of the US Open just a few months ago will stand her in good stead.

For Elina Svitolina winning the WTA Finals in Singapore was expected to be the big breakthrough she needed to show she can handle the pressure of playing at these huge tournaments. She has a chance to show what she has learned but you can't ignore the fact Svitolina has never been beyond the Quarter Final at any Grand Slam and she has really fallen away in her three previous matches played at this stage of a Slam.

In the last couple of Rounds Svitolina could have easily crumbled in her matches against Shuai Zhang and Madison Keys, but both times she was able to rally and then show some toughness to go through. I do think the win in Singapore will have helped her, but this is another big test against someone who hits the ball very hard and can take the racquet out of Svitolina's hands.

Naomi Osaka has needed three sets in each of the last couple of Rounds and she has fallen a set down in both of those matches before fighting back. That is impressive enough, but I have to say I have really admired the fact she has worked out two very awkward opponents and not allowed the defensive skills of Su-Wei Hsieh and Anastasija Sevastova to rattle her.

In this tournament Osaka has been producing slightly better numbers on both the serve and return but this does feel like a close match. It is Elina Svitolina who won both their head to head matches on the hard courts in 2018 in Dubai and Miami and she did have the better of the return of serve out of the two players and that could be a critical factor in such a close looking match.

My slightest of edges goes to Naomi Osaka though who I think can have the power to dictate the direction this match goes. Both Zhang and Keys showed you can rattle the Svitolina game if you start hitting through the court and the Ukrainian is under some pressure to show she is capable of winning a Slam having never been beyond this stage before.

The pressure has gotten to her in those matches previously and I will back Naomi Osaka to move through to another Grand Slam Semi Final.

Serena Williams-Karolina Pliskova over 21.5 games: This is the Quarter Final I am looking forward to the most on Wednesday when Serena Williams takes on big hitting Karolina Pliskova. The top half of the women's draw is loaded with talent and all three matches left to play to determine the Finalist from his half of the draw look like they could be special on paper, but let's first focus on this Quarter Final.

In the 2016 US Open, Karolina Pliskova stunned Serena Williams in the Semi Final, but in 2018 Serena had some revenge when beating the Czech player in the Quarter Final. Both matches could have easily gone the other way too and I do think this is could be another real battle.

Both players are very much relying on a big first serve and then being able to play first strike tennis. Neither of these two players will want to offer up too many second serves for the other to attack while taking the break point opportunities when they come up will be very important, especially for Karolina Pliskova.

She only took 2/12 at the US Open in September, but Pliskova has been very strong on the return in this tournament and taken 20/43 break points created in her four matches. A crushing win over Garbine Muguruza in the Fourth Round has kept the roll going after the Czech player won the title in Brisbane while the serve has been firing as she would like.

Of course Serena Williams will test both of those areas of Pliskova's game, but the American is coming off a tough Fourth Round win over Simona Halep when she only just held herself together in the final set. That might be the low point of this tournament for Serena Williams who continues to produce big serves, but I do think she is perhaps more vulnerable than she has been in throughout her career.

Players are not overawed by Williams as they once were and Pliskova has to feel her best tennis will give her every chance of success. I am not sure to be honest, but I do think she has the capability of winning at least one set in this match which should help push the match over the total games line set.

If they both serve as well as they can, I can see this match having two tight sets being competed and there is every chance they need a decider to work out the outcome. None of their previous three matches have gone the distance which would be a concern, but I do think both players are performing at a very high level that suggests neither will allow themselves to be steamrolled out of the way.

There is always a fear Serena Williams will do that to any opponent when she really feels her tennis, but I will back at least twenty-two games to be needed in this Quarter Final that should excite the fans.

MY PICKS: Milos Raonic - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Naomi Osaka - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Serena Williams-Karolina Pliskova Over 21.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)

Australian Open 2019: 53-42, + 15.65 Units (187 Units Staked, + 8.37% Yield)

Monday, 21 January 2019

Australian Open Tennis Day 9 Picks 2019 (January 22nd)

The Australian Open is really heating up now with the Quarter Final line up set in both the men's and women's draws and a number of the big names still involved in trying to add to the Grand Slam titles they have won previously.

However it has been a good tournament for some young players, while others have reached the latter stages of a Grand Slam in a bid to perhaps win one of these major tournaments before their window closes.

It should make for a fascinating couple of days and I have to say I have mainly enjoyed the tennis that I have been able to see over the last nine days. I do still feel it would be a major surprise if the winner of the men's tournament did come out of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, while Serena Williams is the player to beat in the women's draw but ultimately this will all be played out on the court in the next few days as the first Grand Slam of the 2019 season comes to an end.

Day 8 proved to be better than Day 7 and the positive position of this tournament remains, but things could still change with some poor selections and bad luck in the next few days.

I am going to keep chugging along and looking to make the right plays as I focus on the bottom half of the men's and women's draws and the four Quarter Finals to be played on this day.

Roberto Bautista Agut v Stefanos Tsitsipas: There will be an element of surprise in seeing these two players competing for a spot in the Australian Open Semi Final and the absence of Roger Federer from his section of the draw is an unfamiliar sight at this tournament in recent years. The two time defending Champion was dumped out by Stefanos Tsitsipas after missing a host of break points and it is going to be up to the Greek to regain his energy and to level out his physical and emotional effort put into the Fourth Round win over Federer.

So many have compared it to Federer's own big moment back in 2001 when he was able to beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in the Fourth Round, but what is less likely to be put out is that Federer actually lost his next match at that tournament. He wouldn't go on and win his first Grand Slam until two years later when beating Mark Philippoussis at that same tournament.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is going to receive plenty of support in this Quarter Final which may make things easier for him to deal with the emotion of beating Federer in the last Round. Back in 2001 Federer had to play local hope Tim Henman in the Wimbledon Quarter Final after beating Sampras, but it is still a huge test for Tsitsipas to back up his biggest Grand Slam win when many suggest it could be a passing of the torch moment.

He may also benefit from the fact he is playing Roberto Bautista Agut who at 30 years old is playing in his first Grand Slam Quarter Final too. It has been a very difficult tournament for the Spaniard as he has needed to dig deep three times already to win a deciding fifth set to move through the Rounds, but confidence has to be high having won the title in Doha prior to the four wins he has put together at the Australian Open.

Fatigue and accumulation of the time spent on court is an obvious concern for Roberto Bautista Agut, but I do think he is playing at an incredible standard and can ride the momentum to success. Both players have been superb when it comes to serving at this tournament, but Bautista Agut has a real advantage when it comes to the return of serve having broken at 24.7% this week compared with Tsitsipas who is down at 13.3%.

The Spaniard has created at least ten break points in every match he has played and is clearly the more comfortable returner on the hard courts. Some may say the number of break points created is not a major factor considering the time Bautista Agut has spent on court, but he has only played two more sets than Tsitsipas who has not created more than seven break points in three of the four matches he has played.

Tsitsipas was doing something similar in his run to the Canadian Masters Final back in August 2018 and he does seem to have a knack for playing the big points very, very well. He is going to need all of that to win this one though and I think his opponent is playing at a very high standard and looks to have the real edge when it comes to the return of serve that can see him win this as the underdog in the match.

Rafael Nadal - 8.5 games v Francis Tiafoe: The headlines might have been taken by Stefanos Tsitsipas in his win over Roger Federer, but another very young and talented player from the ATP Tour made his first big impact at a Grand Slam event. While the Greek player is still 20 years old, Francis Tiafoe was beating Grigor Dimitrov on the day of his 21st birthday to make it through to his first Grand Slam Quarter Final.

It was clearly an emotional moment for the American who had not shown much form going into the Australian Open to think this run was about to happen. Beating Kevin Anderson and Dimitrov will have given Tiafoe a lot of belief that is he is going to be able to compete with the best players on the Tour, but in this Quarter Final Tiafoe is facing one of the very best.

Rafael Nadal might have had some fitness concerns coming into the Australian Open, but those have not really been evident as he has breezed through four Rounds at the tournament. The crushing wins over Alex de Minaur and Tomas Berdych in the last couple of Rounds have been very impressive and Nadal is a big favourite to reach the Final when you think of the four names left in the bottom half of the draw.

If you think Nadal is going to have that in his mind you have another think coming because the Spaniard has based his career on making sure he works for every point and treats every point like it is the last he is going to play.

You always have to expect young players are going to show improvement, but Tiafoe's service numbers have been considerably higher than 2018. It is a small sample though so I am expecting to get a much better idea as to where his serving is when he faces Nadal who has broken opponents 41.2% of the time in this tournament as he has comfortably move through the draw.

The change in the service action has also reaped rewards during the Australian Open and Nadal has only been broken twice in the tournament. Both of those breaks came in the opening match and he has held serve 96.2% of the time in this event which should mean he is going to exert plenty of pressure on Tiafoe throughout this match.

Francis Tiafoe is going to have to improve his return if he is going to offer some sort of resistance to Nadal and this will have to be a day when he produces his very best serving. Picking himself up from an emotional win just two days ago is going to be very tough and his overall numbers against top 10 Ranked opponents on the hard courts have shown there is still plenty of room for improvement for Tiafoe.

I don't think it will all go Nadal's way with Tiafoe plenty talented to at least give the veteran something to think about, but I think this match is going to see Nadal eventually start wearing down an opponent and pulling away for a good looking win and a place in the Semi Final.

Danielle Collins v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: I might have picked Danielle Collins with the start on the handicap against Angelique Kerber, but even I was not ready to see the American crush a multiple time Grand Slam Champion for the loss of just two games. After spending time on the College circuit in her home nation, Collins is making up for lost time and her hard court pedigree makes her a very dangerous opponent for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Before this tournament Collins had only ever played in the main draw of five previous Grand Slam events and her combined record was 0-5 from those tournaments. She suffered three First Round losses last season while she failed to make the main draw in Melbourne having lost in the final Qualifying Round.

Even with that in mind Collins has managed to get inside the top 40 of the World Rankings and is set for a move further up at the end of this tournament. Her numbers in Melbourne have been improving in each passing match and having to break Julia Goerges to stay in the tournament on Day 1 seems a long time ago now.

It is hard to see how Collins can maintain this level and that is what Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will be thinking as she enters this match as the favourite. While her numbers are better than 2018 on the hard courts, the Russian has not massively exceeded the kind of level she had been producing in the early 2019 matches in order to make it through the draw and the same cannot be said for Collins.

There is a different pressure on Pavlyuchenkova though she bids to make a Grand Slam Semi Final for the first time. She has suffered number of Quarter Final defeats over the years, but she may feel there isn't much of a window left for Pavlyuchenkova to potentially win a Grand Slam title whereas Collins should be able to play this match with a nothing to lose attitude having surpassed all expectations to get here.

Over the last couple of years Collins has shown a little more form on the hard courts than Pavlyuchenkova and coupled with the hotter performances in Melbourne I do think she can be backed as the underdog. Both possess strong first serves, which are going to be very important, but it is Collins who has the slightly better ability to protect the second serve that may prove decisive.

They have similar return numbers from this tournament but I do think Collins has been protecting serve a little better and I will look to ride the American's momentum into the Semi Final as the underdog.

Petra Kvitova - 2.5 games v Ashleigh Barty: These two players contested the Final in Sydney a couple of days before the Australian Open begun and both players have taken the confidence from that tournament into this one.

On that occasion it was Petra Kvitova who came from a set down to beat Ashleigh Barty and that will help her hold the mental advantage in this match as the Czech player is now 3-0 against Barty in her career.

Like in Sydney it will be Barty who receives the large majority of the backing from the crowd, but Kvitova doesn't really strike me as someone who will be that bothered by that. Instead she should be focused on having the chance to match her best ever run at the Australian Open and being in a position to win a third Grand Slam title having previously won twice at Wimbledon.

The performances have been scary from Kvitova who has bludgeoned her way past her opponents and not really been threatened at all. In her eight sets won at the Australian Open, only Belinda Bencic managed to reach four games in a single set, while it was Bencic and Magdalena Ryabrikova who have had the most success against Kvitova with five games won in their defeats to her.

Ashleigh Barty has not been much less impressive and her win over Maria Sharapova in the Fourth Round despite dropping the first set will really help her belief. After leaving tennis to play cricket for two years, Barty has come back and looked like one of the best players on the WTA Tour, but reaching a Quarter Final for the first time will feel like a real breakthrough for her.

There are still some questions about Barty's ability to challenge the best players on the Tour and her record against top 10 Ranked opponents is not that impressive. She has gone 2-1 in that spot in 2019, but Barty was just 1-4 in 2018 and her numbers really took a significant dent when playing those opponents.

On the bare numbers there isn't much between these players, but Kvitova may just have the slight edge on both the serve and return. In matches like this one that can make all the difference while the head to head can't be ignored as I would surely expect Kvitova to come into this match knowing she can find a win no matter what situation arises early in the match.

It is much more imperative for Barty to get off to a good start to give herself a shot of confidence that she can compete at this level against a player in some of the best form she has shown on a tennis court. Ultimately I have a little bit more faith in the Petra Kvitova serve and this is a player who is going to dictate the direction of the match with her big hitting.

At times that has let Kvitova down as she won't shy away from looking for winners even when making unforced errors galore, but the form and confidence should give the higher Ranked player enough of an edge in the sets played to win and cover this number.

MY PICKS: Roberto Bautista Agut @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 8.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Danielle Collins @ 2.05 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Petra Kvitova - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Australian Open 2019: 50-41, + 11.73 Units (179 Units Staked, + 6.55% Yield)

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Australian Open Tennis Day 8 Picks 2019 (January 21st)

The Quarter Final line up is beginning to take shape with half of the matches in both the men's and women's half of the draw.

One surprise is the fact that Roger Federer is not going to be one of the eight remaining players in the men's draw after he was beaten in four sets in the Fourth Round against Stefanos Tsitsipas. It was a huge effort from the young Greek player, but Federer was right to be critical of himself and the failure to take any of a host of break points secured in the second set and that really did feel like the key part of the match.

I also tend to agree with Federer in calling this a changing of the guard would be premature especially with both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal favourites to make it through to the Final from this point.

Rafael Nadal in particular has looked very, very good so far in the tournament and the exit of Federer has opened up the bottom half of the draw for him. The Spaniard helped himself by crushing Tomas Berdych in the Fourth Round and it is hard to see which of the other three players in his half of the draw can stop him reaching another Australian Open Final.

The women's draw didn't escape the upsets on Sunday with both Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber exiting the tournament. The winner of the Petra Kvitova versus Ashleigh Barty Quarter Final will be a big favourite to reach the Final, but Danielle Collins and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova have nothing to lose having surpassed all expectations by making the last eight.

On Day 8 the remaining Quarter Final matches will be set as the Fourth Round comes to a conclusion. There are some top matches to come on Monday as we begin to get closer and closer to the business end of the tournament.

Will there be more upsets? It is obviously possible, but the I am not so sure about it compared to the bottom half of the draw where those upsets have mainly resided.

Alexander Zverev-Milos Raonic over 44.5 games: Once you get to the Fourth Round of any of the Grand Slams that are played over the course of a season you have to expect to see some really good looking matches being put together.

The Australian Open is no different and this match between Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev really has all the makings of being a classic.

Both players have been in very strong form in Australia and both possess a very big serve that can offer up plenty of short balls and cheap points that makes them hard to beat. Alexander Zverev is yet to have the same kind of impact at the Grand Slam level as opponent Milos Raonic has been able to have, but he is coming into the match as a narrow favourite although I am really finding it very difficult to separate the players.

One key difference between Zverev and Raonic is the performances against top 20 Ranked opponents on the hard courts in 2018. The former had a 10-5 winning record, while Raonic was 2-4 in those matches, but the numbers for the two players were very similar and this has the feeling of a match that will need at least four sets and possibly go the distance as it did when Zverev and Raonic met at Wimbledon in 2017.

Over the last week both Zverev and Raonic have very strong serving numbers with the German holding 88% of his service games and Raonic up at 93%. One difference is Zverev seems to have gotten more out of his return game, and I do think that may end up being what separates the two, but the serving should lead the day and I would not be surprised if we are going to see a couple of tie-breakers and potentially a match going the distance.

These two are playing each other for the third time and the numbers from the previous two matches shows how evenly they have been matches. Neither of those matches came on the hard courts though and I do think the serving could be a bigger weapon for both players in this big Fourth Round match.

The total games have been set on the high side, which is not a surprise, but I do think there is a real chance this number would be covered as long as the match goes at least four sets.

Borna Coric - 4.5 games v Lucas Pouille: The majority of headlines at the Australian Open would have been earned by the big names and those creating the big upsets, but these two players have just focused on working their way through the draw. While Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev are perhaps leading the way for the next generation of men's players, Borna Coric may be the best of the lot and the Croatian has already matched his best Grand Slam run and looking for a first Quarter Final at this level.

Lucas Pouille has been more familiar with featuring in the second week of a Grand Slam compared with Coric, but his back to back Quarter Final runs came at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2016. Since then Pouille has only reached a single Fourth Round in eight Slam appearances so his run to the second week has perhaps been even more surprising than Coric's.

It has to be said that Pouille was perhaps overachieving by reaching back to back Slam Quarter Finals back in 2016 and his numbers have remained pretty average on the hard courts. There is no doubting that the Frenchman has some talent, but he is perhaps still a little over-rated by some of the layers after some eye-catching runs in tournaments, but Pouille is far from consistent.

Last week was a tougher run through the first three Rounds than what Coric experienced and Pouille did need five sets in the last Round. The serve remains the key weapon for Pouille but there has been little to suggest he will maintain the numbers he has been producing in Melbourne over a long term.

There is also a pressure on the Frenchman's shoulders considering his return game is one of the poorer ones out there, especially amongst those in the top 50 of the World Rankings. I would fully expect Borna Coric to keep the pressure on Pouille having held 91% of service games in Australia and also breaking at over 28%.

Borna Coric is also perhaps serving better than expected, but he has shown improvement behind that shot in each of the last three seasons on the hard courts and is a player on the rise. It is the return of serve that the Croatian possesses which I expect to impact this match the most and the head to head is also 2-0 in favour of Coric with both of those wins coming on the hard courts.

He has managed to break the Pouille serve at just under 35% of the return games played in those two matches and I think the match up does work for Coric. As long as he can keep his nerves in check I would think Coric is good enough to win and cover this number.

Kei Nishikori - 5.5 games v Pablo Carreno Busta: An injury suffered by Pablo Carreno Busta at the US Open saw the backend of his 2018 season fall away and the run of losses continued in Auckland to open 2019. The Spaniard has been surprisingly effective in the Grand Slams played on the hard courts in the last couple of years though and perhaps the return to the longer format of the sport was exactly what he needed.

Pablo Carreno Busta has won three matches in a row for the first time since the tournament in Winston Salem in the week prior to the US Open beginning. There clearly must have been some confidence earned from coming from 0-2 down to beat Luca Vanni in the First Round of the Australian Open and Carreno Busta has played well since then.

He has been playing some strong tennis behind the serve and there is no doubt that the Spaniard is going to need to be at his best on that side of his game if he is going to upset the odds here.

While Carreno Busta came through some hard times to win in the First Round, Kei Nishikori had to dig deep in his first two Rounds before comfortably dismissing Joao Sousa in the Third Round. Those wins means Nishikori is now up to 7-0 for 2019 having won the title in Brisbane to open 2019 and his serving numbers have been stronger than Carreno Busta's in the tournament while having a similar break number and that despite playing against the monster serve possesses by Ivo Karlovic.

Nishikori has been winning 8% more points behind serve than Carreno Busta in the first three Rounds of the tournament while there really isn't much in the returning statistics between them.

The match is not going to be straight-forward because there will be some long, gruelling rallies to deal with as neither player can really hope to earn too many easy points behind the serve. With some fitness doubts about Carreno Busta going into the tournament, those could show up the longer this match goes and I do think the superior play of Nishikori will eventually come to the fore.

It shouldn't matter if this needs four sets either as I can see Nishikori wearing down Carreno Busta and potentially putting up a set with a couple of breaks secured in it. That should give him every chance of covering this number in a victory.

Novak Djokovic - 6.5 games v Daniil Medvedev: If anyone thinks the veterans are going to have an easy time holding off the 'Next Gen' of men's tennis then Stefanos Tsitsipas' win over Roger Federer on Sunday would have perhaps changed some opinions.

I also expect that win to be a very important to the old guard to perhaps refocus and double down on the efforts. On Tuesday Rafael Nadal will take on 21 year old Francis Tiafoe in the Quarter Final, but before that the World Number 1 Novak Djokovic takes on Daniil Medvedev who recently reached the Final in Brisbane.

The Russian youngster has been in great form in 2019 and he has built on a very successful time on the hard courts over the last six months of 2018. Daniil Medvedev has been strong behind the serve and his numbers at the Australian Open have been pretty incredible to put it frankly.

Any player holding serve at over 92% of the time and breaking at 47% is going to be winning matches very easily and that is what Medvedev has done. Sometimes those numbers can be skewed because of a kind draw, but Medvedev has beaten Ryan Harrison and David Goffin in the last couple of Rounds and confidence has to be at an extremely high level.

This does mark a step up for Medvedev who has not beaten any player inside the top 10 of the World Rankings on the hard courts since the beginning of last season. He is 0-6 in that time but I can only respect the fact that Medvedev has won at least one set in four of those matches even if his serve and return of serve have not been quite as effective in those matches.

I expect Novak Djokovic to offer the sternest of tests for Medvedev and you can't ignore how well the World Number 1 is playing at a tournament he has won six times before. With Roger Federer out, Novak Djokovic is the only player left in the men's tournament who can become the first to win the Australian Open seven times and he has been in dominant form in Melbourne.

Outside of 'Floodgate-gate', Djokovic has looked very comfortable and this is a player who has been one of the toughest returners to face. He might not have quite the same level of success as Medvedev, but Djokovic has broken in 43% of return games in the tournament and I think he is going to prove too much for his young opponent.

They have met twice before, but Medvedev is a much improved player since those matches in 2017. However what can't be ignored is the fact that Djokovic was really struggling during their two previous matches and still broke serve often in those two matches with Medvedev yet now is back to the level of World Number 1.

I do have a lot of time for Medvedev and he is developing into a top player like many expected of him. However I think Djokovic is going to be ready for this match after seeing what happened to Federer and I think he is playing at a level that will be hard for Medvedev to match.

This is a big spread, but Djokovic showed how strong the return of serve can be in his wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Denis Shapovalov and I think he is going to break down the Medvedev game and pull away from his opponent.

Karolina Pliskova - 1.5 games v Garbine Muguruza: Two players who have been a regular feature of the top 10 of the WTA World Rankings meet in the Fourth Round at the Australian Open. The reason for that is Garbine Muguruza, a two time Grand Slam Champion, has struggled over the last year and see her Ranking drop down to Number 18.

The Spaniard has been in really good form in Melbourne over the last week and Muguruza is one of those players that can get very hot the deeper she gets into the tournament. Her title win at Wimbledon in 2017 really came out of left-field so I would not be too concerned about her overall form going into the Australian Open.

2018 did prove to be a tough year for Muguruza but some of that is down to the standards she has set for herself and perception of how she has played. Her numbers are solid enough on the hard courts to think she is going to be tough to beat, but Muguruza has to overcome a poor head to head record against Karolina Pliskova to get through to the Quarter Final.

While Muguruza would have been disappointed with her 2018 season, Karolina Pliskova really did have a tough season. You would expect the Czech player to be much more effective on the hard courts than she was in 2018, but the turn of the calendar year might have been all she needed to get back to a more realistic level.

So far 2019 has been a very productive time for Pliskova who has won all seven matches played having won the title in Brisbane to open the new season. Karolina Pliskova has needed three sets to win her last couple of matches here against Madison Brengle and Camila Giorgi, but she has been playing better than those dropped sets would suggest.

Both players have been in good nick and I do think this is going to be a close match, but that is where the Pliskova 7-2 head to head advantage over Muguruza could make the difference in the tight moments. Eight of those matches have been played on the hard courts and Pliskova has won seven of those although I won't ignore the fact that they have not played each other in 2018.

In previous matches the Pliskova serve has been stronger than the Muguruza delivery and proved to be the difference in matches. The Spaniard has not been able to generate nearly as many break point chances as Pliskova and I think the bigger serve of the Czech player will make the difference in a match that could go the distance on Monday.

Serena Williams - 3.5 games v Simona Halep: Not many players have been able to beat both Williams sisters at Grand Slam events, but Simona Halep will be looking to add her name to that list. After beating Venus Williams in the Third Round, the World Number 1 faces Australian Open favourite Serena Williams in the Fourth Round and this time Simona Halep is the underdog.

You can't blame the layers for thinking that way considering the form that Serena Williams has produced at the Australian Open. She has dominated all three players she has faced, while Serena also has an incredibly strong record against Halep although the two players are meeting for the first time since September 2016.

In that time Halep has become a Grand Slam Champion and she also reached the Final at the Australian Open so I don't imagine the Romanian will feel she is the same player that has lost eight of nine matches against Serena Williams.

There were some worries about the Halep fitness going into the Australian Open but she has been playing well in Melbourne. While the serve may not be as big a weapon as the one that Williams possesses, Halep has been using the angles on the delivery effectively and she does back it up with some very consistent tennis off the ground.

It is the return of serve that has really helped Halep come through three Rounds at the Australian Open, but facing the Serena serve is the biggest challenge in women's tennis. In three matches Serena has faced just three break points and she has been as close to perfect on the serve as you could ask of any player either male or female.

Serena Williams will know about the qualities of Halep and she has to make sure her powerful groundstrokes are not gifting too many unforced errors away. So far she has been doing that and Williams has also been winning an incredible 57% of points AGAINST the serve.

I do think Halep is going to offer challenges to Serena Williams that the American has not seen so far in the Australian Open. However I am not sure it will be enough to win the match and Williams has been playing to a level that should see her break the Halep serve on enough occasions to cover this spread even if she needs three sets to beat the World Number 1 like she did when these players last met.

MY PICKS: Alexander Zverev-Milos Raonic Over 44.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Borna Coric - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kei Nishikori - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Serena Williams - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Elina Svitolina + 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Naomi Osaka - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open 2019: 45-38, + 8.67 Units (163 Units Staked, + 5.32% Yield)

NFL Play Offs Championship Game Picks 2019 (January 20th)

I had a pretty awful Divisional Round of the Play Offs for the second season in a row and I know exactly where I went wrong.

If I do the same next season I deserve to go 0-4 for the third year in a row.

Idiot selections aside, we have reached the NFL Championship Games and I think the four most deserving teams make up the final quartet. Home Field should be the difference maker, but you can see how closely the teams are matched that the layers are hesitant to give the home team more than the three points that is standard practice when beginning to compile spreads.

I do think both games will be fascinating and we won't see the blow outs like we did in a couple of the Play Off Games played in the Divisional Round.

Below you can read my selections for the Championship Games.

Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints Pick: Back in Week 9 of the regular season the New Orleans Saints beat the Los Angeles Rams at home and that not only ended the unbeaten run of the visitors, but it also meant the Saints were able to secure home field advantage through the Play Offs. Even after the game in Week 9 the feeling was that the two teams would meet again in the NFC Championship Game and that has proven to be the case.

Both received a Bye in the Wild Card Round which would have been a huge help, but the Saints and Rams showed they are the two best teams in the NFC with the performances in the Divisional Round. The Rams dominated the Dallas Cowboys at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, while the New Orleans Saints survived being punched in the mouth early in the game with the Philadelphia Eagles and overcame a 0-14 deficit to earn their spot in the Championship Game.

Two Offensive minded Head Coaches will receive plenty of media attention during the week, but it is going to be the play of the Defensive units which decide this game. While the Saints and Rams have been capable of lighting up the scoreboard, the two Defensive units have played their part at pivotal moments and that is going to be all important in this one.

Beating the Saints in the SuperDome may be one of the biggest challenges in the NFL and they proved that through the season. A Week 1 upset to Tampa Bay and a Week 17 loss to the Carolina Panthers with rested starters should not cloud the difficulty the Los Angeles Rams have in winning here on Sunday afternoon.

The Rams Defensive Line was huge for them against the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round as they clamped down on Ezekiel Elliot. However Wade Phillips has seen his Defense struggle against the run all season and I don't think one game is enough to suggest things would have changed significantly.

When they played here in Week 9 Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara had big games for the Saints and I do think the two dynamic Running Backs can do the same here. Ultimately the Rams have to respect the quality Quarter Back Drew Brees and his ability to make plays through the air and that may lead to more holes for the New Orleans Offensive Line to exploit and set the team up in third and manageable situations.

Michael Thomas had a monster game in Week 9, but I think the Saints will be looking to other options with Aqib Talib back. Drew Brees has been able to throw many unfamiliar names open and I do think play-action and short passes to the likes of Kamara coming out of the backfield will keep the chains moving and put some pressure on Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams to keep up in what could be another shoot-out.

Last week the Rams were able to establish both Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson in their win over Dallas and they had some really long, time consuming drives which may be the game plan for this one too. Keeping Brees and company off the field and cooling them down would be huge for the Rams, but they are playing an under-rated New Orleans Defensive unit that may feel they have the talent to make some big plays.

There has been a key injury on the Saints Defensive Line which may have a big impact on the game. Sheldon Rankings is done for the season and is a big body in the middle of the Saints Defensive Line which helped them hold teams to 3.6 yards per carry through the season. Now the Saints have to face Gurley and Anderson without him having seen the two prove huge in the win over the Cowboys in the Divisional Round and that could be where this game is won and lost.

New Orleans will feel they have enough playmakers to win this game if they can stop the run like they have for the season, but it looks a big ask. That makes things a little more comfortable for Jared Goff who has not maintained his form from the first half of the season through to the second half.

Goff has not been asked to do a lot with the run game working as well as it has for the Rams and he will need all the support he can get again if they are going to win this game. There are holes in the New Orleans Secondary to exploit, but those are much easier to attack from third and manageable than third and long so Gurley and Anderson have to have a big game and Los Angeles can't afford to fall into a big hole on the scoreboard.

It is a difficult game to predict because you simply can't know how the loss of Rankings is going to affect the New Orleans Saints. If the Rams can run the ball effectively they will be very difficult to beat, but what I do think is that we are not going to get the same time of shoot out as we did in Week 9.

Both teams will look to run the ball and I don't think the Saints will get the chunk plays through the air as they did last time. Running the ball means the clock gets worn down that much quicker and long, effective drives will be the order of the day for the Rams.

It is a big total with many expecting the teams to pick up from where they left off in Week 9, but both Offensive units have not been as explosive in the back part of the season. The Championship Game looks a good one, but one where I will look for the total points line to be a touch on the high side.

New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: There is another rematch in the Championship Round of the Play Offs, but this time the Kansas City Chiefs will get to host the New England Patriots having lost in Foxboro in the regular season. This is the second of the Championship Games to be played on Sunday and the layers are finding it very difficult to split the teams with home field being given the three points that is the general rule for those layers creating the spreads.

It was the New England Patriots who won the regular season game in another shoot out, but the second half performance from the Kansas City Chiefs will be a big encouragement to them. Patrick Mahomes grew in that game and has proven to be a level headed Quarter Back that can play at a very high level no matter the intense nature of the NFL.

The Chiefs comfortably handled the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round at home and having the chance to host this one at Arrowhead is a huge advantage for them. They have won eight of their nine games played at home in the 2018 season and Kansas City will be very confident against a New England Patriots team that were only 3-5 on the road.

There were a lot of people writing off the Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers were a popular pick to beat them last week in the Divisional Round. It was never a contest though and the Patriots dismissed the Chargers, but for once they are not hosting the AFC Championship Game and that does feel like a difference maker.

In recent years the Patriots have been very vulnerable when losing home advantage in the Play Offs and I really do think that could be the case again. I don't want to write off Bill Belichick and his brilliant mind especially as he has seen Patrick Mahomes once this season and likely compiled a great game plan to limit the young Quarter Back, but I love the way Mahomes has handled all situations.

There is no doubt that there has been an improvement in the levels the New England Defensive unit have been operating at, but those performances have been with home comforts. It has been a very different story on the road and I do think the Chiefs can find a very good balance on the Offensive side of the ball which will make it very difficult to stop them.

Damien Williams and Spencer Ware are not as good as Kareem Hunt, but both are solid enough Running Backs who should be able to have success in this one. Andy Reid is someone who will look to establish the run in different ways so Tyreek Hill running a jet sweep will also have an impact on this game, while Mahomes is an athletic Quarter Back too, but I would expect Williams and Ware to have success against the Patriots Defensive Line despite the recent strength shown up front.

Patrick Mahomes has been put under pressure at times by the opposing pass rush and that may be the case again in this one, but third and long doesn't faze him. There have been too many occasions when those have been converted into First Downs to think he is 'lucky' so I do think Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will have success moving the chains as they did when these teams met in the regular season.

Beating Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the Play Offs is a huge test for any team in the NFL and you know these two men are unlikely to put New England in a spot where they beat themselves. You just know Brady is itching to keep proving the doubters wrong after hearing his thoughts following the dominant win over the Chargers and the Patriots did score 43 points against the Chiefs at home.

With Josh Gordon gone, New England have been happy to lean on their Running Backs either as Receivers coming out of the backfield or pounding the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Sony Michel has been a huge success for the Patriots and have a big game in the Divisional Round, but both James White and Rex Burkhead get their touches too and the Patriots will feel they can establish the run.

This is huge for New England who know that the one thing Kansas City do very well is rushing the passer and putting them under intense pressure. It has proven that the best way to beat Brady in the Play Offs is with a strong pass rush which leads to the future Hall of Famer just getting a little edgy inside the pocket and perhaps makes him feel some phantom pressure that lead to mistakes.

That pressure for the Chiefs has been a key reason the Secondary have improved as the weeks have gone on in the NFL. While Brady will have some success, I do think the Chiefs have the edge with the pass rush that can at least stall some drives and give Patrick Mahomes and the Offensive unit every chance of reaching the Super Bowl.

As you can tell I do like Kansas City, although some of the enthusiasm is taken away when you think of the Coaching battle. I like Andy Reid, but he has Coached some poor Play Off games which would concern me against someone like Bill Belichick.

However Reid seems to hold all the Aces in this one and my favourite to win the Super Bowl is Kansas City so I do believe they win this one. Backing the home team to cover against the Patriots in the Play Offs may seem dangerous, but New England are 1-4 in their last five road Play Off games and they are also 1-4 against the spread in that time.

MY PICKS: New Orleans Saints-Los Angeles Rams Under 56.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Kansas City Chiefs - 3 Points @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Australian Open Tennis Day 7 Picks 2019 (January 20th)

It's been a busy day so the Day 7 selections from the Australian Open can be seen below.

Marin Cilic - 1.5 games v Roberto Bautista Agut: Two players who had had to dig deep in the Australian Open meet in the Fourth Round and it is not the first time that Marin Cilic and Roberto Bautista Agut have met at this Grand Slam. In fact the only win Bautista Agut has over Cilic came at the Australian Open in the Third Round three years ago and it was a stunning result with the Spaniard coming through in straight sets.

He was a dominant winner over the talented youngster Karen Khachanov in the Third Round and Bautista Agut will have appreciated a straight sets win after needing five sets to win each of the first two matches in the draw. Any fatigue was not evident and Bautista Agut is playing with extreme confidence that comes from winning the title in Doha and then backing it up with some tough wins here.

This time the question about tiredness will be aimed at Marin Cilic who had to come from 0-2 down to beat Fernando Verdasco in five sets in the Third Round. It wasn't an extremely late finish like the one Johanna Konta and Garbine Muguruza had to go through, but Cilic needs to show strong recovery in the day between the Third Round and Fourth Round.

It does have the making of a close match with both players showing strong form on the hard courts in the last couple of years. However that is where the 4-1 head to head lead for Marin Cilic may just give him a mental edge in the match and his slightly superior serving could be the difference maker.

In previous matches Cilic has a record of holding serve at almost 90% of the time, while Roberto Bautista Agut's percentage is at 81% and it could be the tiny difference on the day. In a match where the small percentages could make the big differences I do think the Cilic superior serve can just put him in a position where he can win the match even if it goes very deep.

I did have a look at Cilic's history in Grand Slams played on the hard courts to see if there was any worrying trend after he has won a match in five sets. However nothing has stood out with a 7-5 record in his next match following a five set win, but at least the winning record does not put me off backing him to get a measure of revenge on Bautista Agut for the loss at the Australian Open in 2016.

The Spaniard won't go quietly, but Cilic has found a comfort level playing him and I think he can dig deep enough to win this one.

Grigor Dimitrov Win 3-1 v Francis Tiafoe: After a poor 2018 Grigor Dimitrov made some changes to his support team towards the end of the campaign knowing he would hopefully be receiving some of the benefits going into the 2019 season.

One of those changes was the arrival of Andre Agassi who had previously worked with Novak Djokovic and so far Dimitrov does look happier around the court. It is only a small sample, but the Bulgarian has played well in the two tournaments he has entered in 2019 although he has yet to be really tested outside of the loss to Kei Nishikori in Brisbane.

I expect this Fourth Round match to be a much more difficult match than any Dimitrov has faced so far here in Melbourne and Francis Tiafoe is coming in with plenty of confidence of his own. It is also the 20th birthday for the young American so you have to think that brings an additional motivation for him although the numbers have yet to find the consistency Tiafoe would like on the hard courts.

He has enjoyed a good week with a big win over Kevin Anderson and coming back from 1-2 down to beat Andreas Seppi, but Tiafoe has to recover physically from that match. At 20 years old it will be easy for the American to not be able to produce his best tennis, but I expect the energy of youth to help Tiafoe give Dimitrov some problems.

When they met at the Canadian Masters in 2018 it was a very close match played between Dimitrov and Tiafoe which was won by the Bulgarian in three tight sets. The numbers on the hard courts are actually pretty similar in 2018 and while Dimitrov has been in good form this week, Tiafoe has also produced some very good tennis.

I do have to give Dimitrov the slight edge in the match, but I am not sure he is going to be able to win this in straight sets. I would expect Francis Tiafoe to at least win one set although he may lose a couple of tight sets that puts him under the cosh and sees the Bulgarian push on and win this match to take his place in the Australian Open Quarter Final.

Having a small interest on Dimitrov winning this in four sets is the call.

MY PICKS: Marin Cilic - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov Win 3-1 @ 4.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Rafael Nadal - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 5.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Petra Kvitova - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Maria Sharapova @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Danielle Collins + 5.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Sloane Stephens - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Australian Open 2019: 42-33, + 12.47 Units (148 Units Staked, + 8.43% Yield)

Weekend Football Picks 2019 (January 19-20)

The Premier League continues this weekend, but for some teams this will be the last fixture before having around ten days to prepare for the next fixture as the following weekend is reserved for the FA Cup Fourth Round.

A full Premier League round of fixtures is played in the midweek following those Cup fixtures so expect to see plenty of rotation to keep players fresh, but that shouldn't be the case this weekend as we are getting closer to entering the final stretch towards the finish line.

Wolves v Leicester City Pick: The first game in the Premier League this weekend is the televised Midlands derby between Wolves and Leicester City and I really don't know what to expect from these two teams.

At their best they have shown they can compete with, and beat, the best teams in the Premier League, but when they are having an off day they can be seriously poor.

The results back that up with both Wolves and Leicester City having decent enough records against the top six, but also capable of losing games to those inside the bottom five.

With that in mind it does make it hard to know what they are going to produce on Saturday- in recent games taking the underdog in matches involving Wolves and Leicester City would have turned a huge profit. The last 6 matches played by Leicester City have seen the underdog win as they have beaten Chelsea and Everton away and Manchester City at home, but during the same run have lost to both Cardiff City and Southampton at home and at Newport County in the FA Cup.

Out of principle you may want to back Leicester City as the outsider in this one, but I am not getting a great read on which of these sides will come out on top. The Foxes recently won a televised game at Everton, but they generally have a poor record on TV and that can't be ignored when trying to pick a winner.

Instead I am going to pick one of these teams to fail to score- they have played twice this season and on both occasions that would have been a winner.

That selection would have been a winner in 6 of the last 8 home Premier League games Wolves have played and also in the last 3 away Premier League games Leicester City have played and is my pick from the live game to open the weekend fixtures.

Fantasy Star: Jamie Vardy- I think Leicester City may pull the surprise and any goal scored is likely going to feature the Englishman.

Bournemouth v West Ham United Pick: Both Eddie Howe and Manuel Pellegrini would love to have the transfer window closing sooner rather than later with both having their star strikers linked with moves away from their respective clubs.

On Saturday they will try and ignore speculation and instead focus on the Premier League fixture between Bournemouth and West Ham United which usually produces plenty of goals.

That could be the case in this one too as the two teams look much more comfortable going forward than they do defending. West Ham United have improved at the back, but they are still an inconsistent team and Bournemouth have been playing much better at home than on their travels.

Games at the Vitality Stadium have been high-scoring for much of the season and these teams can combine to continue that. In the three previous games between these clubs on the south coast there have been a total of fifteen goals scored and in each of those games there have been at least four per game.

I would be surprised if we didn't see at least three goals between these teams on Saturday with the approach both Bournemouth and West Ham United take to games, but I think I will follow the trend and look for at least one more than that to be shared out.

Fantasy Star: David Brooks- cheap midfield option who gets forward for the home team and likely an important player to chip in for goals with Callum Wilson ruled out.

Alternative: Felipe Anderson- he has looked very good in recent weeks and the biggest West Ham United threat with Marko Arnautovic ruled out. Andy Carroll is another player I considered here, but Anderson looks more nailed on as a starter.

Liverpool v Crystal Palace Pick: At this stage of the season Liverpool fans care less about quality but more about the actual results their team is earning as they look to maintain a lead over Manchester City in the Premier League title race. With injuries mounting up in the same defensive areas of the pitch, Liverpool will just be looking for a way to churn out some big wins and make sure the pressure is on the defending Champions to respond.

With that in mind I am not sure Liverpool are going to secure a big win at Anfield on Saturday despite scoring twelve goals in their last 3 Premier League games here. Jurgen Klopp has to recognise the threat that Crystal Palace can pose on the counter attack having seen them exploit Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, while the Crystal Palace players have to be excited by what has been a strong recent record at Anfield.

The pace in the final third can really be very dangerous on the counter attack and games like this almost suit Crystal Palace more than facing a team at home who will sit in and restrict spaces.

Winning here is obviously an incredibly long shot considering how Liverpool have played at Anfield all season. Even through the injuries they restricted Brighton to very little last week so defensively this is a team that continues to earn its respect.

However, I do think Crystal Palace are also defensively well organised by Roy Hodgson and they can make life a little more awkward for their hosts. Before the 1-0 loss at Anfield last season, Crystal Palace had won on 3 straight visits to this part of the North West and they scored at least two goals in each of those.

Liverpool will recognise how difficult Crystal Palace can make life and they can be a functional team which makes the Asian Handicap look very big for the visitors. If they can score here it will be very difficult for Liverpool to cover it and I will back the away side with the start of two full goals.

Fantasy Star: Mohamed Salah- no surprise there is a rush to bring the Egyptian star into Fantasy teams with Liverpool's main goalscorer on penalty duty too.

Manchester United v Brighton Pick: Ole's at the wheel and everything feels very rosy in the Manchester United garden at the moment with 6 straight wins in all competitions likely going to pick up most fans. The atmosphere at Old Trafford is much more positive since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought in a very attacking style of play and the players have responded in exactly the manner the Norwegian would have hoped.

Expectation will be increasing in each passing match that ends with a win, but Solskjaer looks like someone who thrives in that position and he is reminding the players that they play for Manchester United who expect to win everything.

The attacking players have been unleashed and Manchester United have been scoring plenty of goals and creating plenty of chances.

This will be tested by a Brighton team who are so well organised under Chris Hughton and who have not suffered big losses too often. In fact only 4 of their 10 Premier League losses have come by more than a single goal margin and Brighton showed they can be hard to break down by losing by the same 1-0 scoreline twice to leaders Liverpool this season.

Chris Hughton will look to make it hard to break down his team, but Manchester United are playing with a confidence and swagger at home and have scored at least twice in all 3 games played here under the interim manager. In the two League games Manchester United have beaten Huddersfield Town and Bournemouth by at least two goals and I think they can continue that here.

It will be important to score in the first half and not allow Brighton to settle into their shape, but I can see that happening with Manchester United coming out of the traps very well in recent games. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer demands players get in the box and into a position to score goals and I think the positive momentum rides through another week as Manchester United get a measure of revenge over a Brighton team who have won the last two games played between these clubs.

Both of those have come at the Amex Stadium and it has to be noted that while Brighton have only lost 4 of 10 League games by two or more goals, all of those have been away from home.

Fantasy Star: Marcus Rashford- been given the chance to lead the Manchester United line and responded with four goals in five games. Main threat for the home team in a game they should dominate in attacking areas.

Alternative: Anthony Martial- looks to be about to sign a new long-term contract at the club and could celebrate with a goal.

Newcastle United v Cardiff City Pick: There is going to be a lot of tension in and around the Stadium prior to kick off and once this fixture begins with 18th placed Newcastle United hosting 17th placed Cardiff City and just a single point separating these relegation rivals.

In the last couple of seasons this is the kind of game where Rafa Benitez manages to extract a big performance out of his players, but injuries are hitting Newcastle United very hard at the moment. They look short at both ends of the field, but the same can be said for Cardiff City and both Benitez and Neil Warnock are likely going to set their teams up to be hard to beat.

The onus is on Benitez with Newcastle United hosting this fixture, but the pressure of the big home support has made this a very difficult environment in which the players can thrive. A poor home run where goals have been hard to come by makes it very difficult to trust Newcastle United, but they will be boosted by the fact that Cardiff City have arguably had even more issues in the final third.

Oumar Niasse is the first of two players that Warnock is looking to sign to change that, but he will need time to rebuild match sharpness and I think it is going to be a game in which the Cardiff City manager would take a point right now.

I am finding it very difficult to pick a winner in a match that literally may need a single goal to decide it. Neither team is blessed with a lot of goals and the two managers can set their teams up to be very difficult to break down so I do feel one, or perhaps even both, of these teams will fail to score.

They already had one goalless draw this season so backing at least one to fail to net is my selection here.

Fantasy Star: Nathan Etheridge- Cardiff City can thank their goalkeeper for some big performances this season and they will need another from him to earn a point here.

Southampton v Everton Pick: Ralph Hasenhuttl has definitely had an impact on the way Southampton have been playing in a little over a month he has been at the club and some of the results have been eye-catching. Wins over Huddersfield Town, Arsenal and Leicester City have given Southampton new impetus and they also showed they can get their hands dirty by battling for a goalless draw at Chelsea.

At home they are still finding the right balance between attack and defence and I think that has contributed to the continued erratic results here. There is also some residue left over from the fact that Southampton have not won many games at home for a calendar year and the players can be vulnerable even when they have taken the lead in games.

Everton will be looking to expose that vulnerability but this is yet another club in mid-table who really can't be read on a week to week basis. Sometimes Everton look like a team that can chase the top six and others they struggle to look like a top ten club but I think the win over Bournemouth last Sunday helps the confidence.

Ultimately they haven't looked completely secure at the back like their hosts and that may result in yet another high-scoring game between these clubs. Both teams will look to get forward and it is very difficult to imagine a clean sheet being secured by either team on their current form.

Backing at least three goals to be shared out is a decent enough price here.

Fantasy Star: Nathan Redmond- the winger is enjoying a special time under Ralph Hasenhuttl and scoring plenty of goals. Should have chances in this one.

Alternative: Richarlison- Southampton have been conceding goals for fun and the Brazilian may be due getting back on the scoresheet.

Watford v Burnley Pick: The momentum looks to be behind Burnley going into this fixture with 4 straight wins in all competitions and they have a decent record at Vicarage Road which suggests the players should arrive with plenty of confidence.

In recent games it has been a struggle for Watford in front of their own fans, but they have not been helped by a tough fixture list and they have been competitive in losses. Against the lesser teams Watford have remained strong though and they have beaten the likes of Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City here, while Newcastle United escaped with a draw.

The come from behind win over Crystal Palace showed this could be a Watford team that does more than coast in the second half of the season once they get close to the 40 points that almost guarantees another season in the Premier League.

The FA Cup will be a big competition for Watford and there is every chance they could earn a Europa League spot with a strong end.

You have to respect Burnley though having won those 4 games in a row and I expect they will make it tough for Watford here. However they are a team that have not been the best travellers and I think that gives Watford the edge to earn a rare victory over this opponent.

Watford may need at least two goals to do that though so backing them to win a game with two or more goals featured is the pick.

Fantasy Star: Troy Deeney- Watford are a hard team to pick from considering the chopping and changing in the starting line up, but Deeney looks to be in favour and should have chances.

Arsenal v Chelsea Pick: The biggest game of the Premier League weekend comes from the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon and it could be the day when Arsenal decide their best route back into the Champions League will be by winning the Europa League.

A 6 point gap has developed between Arsenal and the top four places and a defeat to the team immediately above them would surely mean Chelsea are out of reach for The Gunners. Recent form has been inconsistent at best and so there is some pressure on Arsenal to find their best in this fixture.

They can do that though as they have been much stronger at home than on their travels and that has to be respected by Chelsea. Arsenal have won 4 in a row at home and have drawn with Liverpool and beaten Tottenham Hotspur here so facing this Chelsea team should not be an intimidation for them.

Chelsea have won 4 of their last 6 games in all competitions, but they have looked anything but convincing and I think they are looking very short as the favourite here. Lacking a focal point up front has made Chelsea a little predictable when they go forward and even a porous Arsenal defence can at least give their team the foundation for success.

Unai Emery's team have been much tougher to play at the Emirates Stadium too and I do think Chelsea are a team that can be got at as Tottenham Hotspur proved in the Premier League a couple of months ago. This Arsenal team is still very talented in the final third and I think that can help them make a difference in the match and I do think the home team are appealing with the start on the Asian Handicap.

Other top clubs have struggled here and Chelsea have not been at their best in recent weeks despite the wins produced. I think that shows up here and Arsenal avoid defeat at the very worst.

Fantasy Star: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang- like many of his team mates, he is a real handful at the Emirates Stadium.

Alternative: Eden Hazard- is expensive in Fantasy Football but Arsenal's defence is suspect to say the least and the Belgian is by far the most dangerous player Chelsea have.

Huddersfield Town v Manchester City Pick: David Wagner surprisingly left his job as Huddersfield Town manager last week and it means preparations for this fixture against the defending Champions have perhaps been a little disrupted.

It sounds like Wagner decided to leave rather than being pushed as Huddersfield Town look certain to be relegated at this stage of the season. The club look like they have accepted their fate and instead will begin work on making sure they can challenge for an immediate return to the Premier League.

There may be some trepidation with which the players approach this game knowing what Manchester City have just done to Rotherham United and Burton Albion from a lower League. Huddersfield Town are effectively lower League opposition too and they will sympathise with those clubs having lost 6-1 at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season.

They won't lose by that many again as Huddersfield Town have been much more solid defensively at home. Chelsea did win 0-3 here on the opening weekend, but both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool won by narrower margins than that and Huddersfield Town will look to contain Manchester City for as long as possible.

Unfortunately they look to be playing Manchester City at a time when their attacking players are confident and firing in front of goals. An early goal for the visitors could really open things up for Manchester City and Pep Guardiola will be demanding his players make this much more comfortable than wins at the likes of Watford and Southampton have been in the last couple of months.

In both games Manchester City allowed an opponent to hang around, but the form of late suggests they won't let that happen and I think they can match the margin that Chelsea won by at this ground. It is a very big spread which Manchester City have only covered in 2 of their 6 away wins, but this looks a good chance for them to do that.

Fantasy Star: Gabriel Jesus- the Brazilian is on fire in front of goal and should get the nod ahead of Sergio Aguero as long as he didn't suffer any lingering issues from hitting his head on the post on Monday Night Football.

Alternative: David Silva- has been a more frequent goal-scorer this season and should find himself in advanced positions against a struggling Huddersfield Town team.

Fulham v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: To say Fulham are in a desperate spot is an understatement, but the fans have to be fearing the worst when their team loses a game against a relegation rival in which they were leading.

To make matters worse, Fulham were undone by two own goals at Burnley and the home team didn't have a shot on target yet came away with a 2-1 win.

Claudio Ranieri just can't seem to get a consistent run out of his games and even the signings he wants to make look desperate to say the least. Ryan Babel and Gary Cahill were good players in their day, but are they really good enough to get Fulham out of a deep hole now?

Fulham could feel they are playing Tottenham Hotspur at the right time with injuries and international duty trimming the away squad. The loss of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son at the same time is poor timing to say the least, but Tottenham Hotspur score plenty of goals and I don't think they will be affected too negatively i a fixture like this one.

In recent years Tottenham Hotspur have loved playing at Craven Cottage, while they have a very impressive away record in the Premier League this season too. There is a drift on the Spurs price to win because of the uncertainty of how they will play without both Kane and Son, but Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen can step up and inspire a win here and I like Tottenham Hotspur to win a game featuring two or more goals.

Fantasy Star: Dele Alli- no Harry Kane or Heung-Min Son means someone has to step up and suggestions Dele Alli will be pushed into an advanced role alongside Fernando Llorente.

Alternative: Aleksander Mitrovic- Fulham may not have a better chance to snap their poor recent home record against Spurs and the Serbian striker will be key to any success the home team have.

MY PICKS: Wolves-Leicester Both Teams to Score- No @ 1.85 Bet Victor 
Bournemouth-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.60 Bet Victor
Crystal Palace + 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Fred 
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Fred
Newcastle United-Cardiff City Both Teams to Score- No @ 1.80 Bet Victor
Southampton-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred
Watford & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Fred 
Arsenal + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor
Manchester City - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Fred
Tottenham Hotspur & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Fred