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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2019 (August 17-19)

The first round of Premier League Fixtures are in the books and it can be very easy to get carried away from one set of results and make swe...

Monday, 19 August 2019

United Corner- New Season, New Hopes
At the start of the 2019/20 season it feels like the three of the top four places in the Premier League are going to be taken by Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, but Manchester United fans have to believe there have been enough changes at clubs below those three that can give them the edge to earn their way back into the Champions League.

Like the 2016/17 season, Manchester United have two paths back into the Champions League in front of them and I do think a similar approach should be taken to this season as United had under Jose Mourinho to that season. Simply put United have to make sure both avenues through to the Champions League remain alive going into the final couple of months of the season.

Finding the balance between the Premier League and Europa League won't be easy, but it should not be lost on the fans that two of the last three editions of this competition have been won by English clubs. With a battle expected for a top four spot, Manchester United have to make sure they have every opportunity available to them for a return to the Champions League.

The 4-0 win over Chelsea to open the season will definitely have given the whole squad a shot of belief as well as the fans who were not used to seeing clean sheets at Old Trafford, but no one wants to get too carried away about a single game. On another day Chelsea would have got plenty out of that fixture with the way the game was developing up until Anthony Martial scored Manchester United's second goal, and I think most will know United have to be much improved going forward to find the consistency they will need to move back into the top four.

The top four- there was a time when that was a given for Manchester United and the only concerns at the start of a season would have been regarding a title challenge.

Under the current ownership United couldn't be much further away from the last days of Sir Alex Ferguson and it can't be ignored that their finishing positions in the six seasons since he retired have been 7th, 4th, 5th, 6th, 2nd and 6th.

Let's be honest for a second- Sir Alex was extracting every last bit of magic he had to keep United punching way above their weight during a period when there was apparently 'no value in the market'. David Moyes came in and things began to fall apart pretty quickly as a overachieving squad didn't appreciate the new voice in the dressing room who had removed most links to the Ferguson era in terms of his backroom staff, but the focus should not only be on the manager.

Another big change that summer was the departure of David Gill and the incoming Dick 'Ed Woodward who as proved a disaster as far as the footballing side of the club is concerned. For some unknown reason Woodward has not only considered him a master negotiator, despite the clear evidence to the contrary over the last six years, but he always seems to believe he knows more about football than those he is appointing to manage the club.

David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have all come and gone and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the fourth manager of this club in the six seasons that have been completed since Sir Alex retired. The one overarching feature has been Woodward and most owners would have recognised the problem at the club, but the Glazer family are not like most owners.

Manchester United has long been seen as an investment in which they have spent very little of their own money and been able to take out fortunes to the detriment of the Stadium and the playing staff. Twelve months ago the master tactician Woodward didn't want to invest in the playing squad for Jose Mourinho because he didn't believe there were better defenders on the list given to him than those already at the club.

Yet twelve months later he buys the player that Mourinho had requested? It all points back to finding the cheapest way to get into the top four while a title challenge is clearly not something that the club are going to chase, but more hope that is something that may fall into their laps. Otherwise it makes no sense to not back your manager after he has guided the team to 2nd place in the Premier League, but clearly with a significant gap to the Champions Manchester City at the end of the 2017/18 season.

Too often those who don't have a deeper look talk about the money United have spent under the Glazers, but it is only a tiny fraction of what those people have taken out of the club through their debt management or dividends they feel they are entitled to at the end of the season. This off-season a club that finished over 30 points off the top four invested around 70 million pounds when you include the money that came back into the club and only a fool would believe that is designed to get closer to Liverpool and Manchester City rather than trying to close the gap to those chasing the top four places.

We have seen 'Glazers Out' and 'Woodward Out' trending at times on social media, but the former aren't going anywhere until they receive a huge bid and even then the new owners would likely come from backgrounds that won't impress everybody. And Dick 'Ed Woodward is very secure in his role considering he is making the Glazers money hand over fist and ultimately that is all they really care about rather than the level of performances Manchester United are producing week to week. With that in mind, it does point to a tough road to return to the top of English Football unless there is a touch of luck involved.

You would hope the fans will be able to do something about the ownership of the club and the clown that seems to be running the football side, but as I have said above I do feel both are very secure in their positions at the moment. The time came in 2005 when things may have been changed, but it has been too long now and I think we have to accept the way it is.

As a season ticket holder at Old Trafford I am not that impressed by people being critical of those who go to games- my love for United far outweighs my dislike of the Glazers and Woodward and I refuse to let those people force me to do something else with my weekends.

I do want to see United restored to their past glories and at the moment the only thing that can really be done is getting behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and hoping he can find the right formula to start turning the club back around.

I am not going to revise history though, I did not think Solskjaer was the right choice. His managerial career to this point has been below average at best and the only real claim he had to being manager was that he was a former player of the club, but Sir Matt Busby, Tommy Doherty and Sir Alex Ferguson didn't have those connections and all managed to turn United around when they came in during difficult periods.

Ultimately you need to be the right manager so I am hoping more than believing in Solskjaer at the moment, although I would love to be very wrong and will stick behind the manager for as long as he is in charge at Old Trafford. The poor run to end last season has to be a concern and I do think the remainder of August and early September will give us a real indication of what Solskjaer can achieve at the club.

Some will say he needs to be given a couple of years to really put his stamp on the squad, but I do feel Solskjaer will only be given that if Manchester United return to the Champions League at the end of this season. Over the next few weeks trips to Wolves, Southampton and West Ham United will be a real test for the manager and the club, especially considering United earned just a single point from those away games last season.

Home games against Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Arsenal round out the next six weeks and United only managed 5 points from those corresponding fixtures last season so we will learn plenty about the management team United have. Last weekend United did beat Chelsea, who earned a point at Old Trafford back in April, so that is a positive start, but I do feel Solskjaer needs to oversee at least 14 points from those six games coming up to make sure Manchester United remain on track for their ambitions to be achieved this season.

Even if United manage less than that, at this stage of the campaign the fans will stick behind the manager and rightly so. No matter our personal feelings about whether a player or manager is right for the club, I do think it is important to back them as United fans as we have done throughout our history.

There are going to be some obvious frustrations at times, but those should be focused on the board and above, even if ultimately the sword will fall on Solskjaer if things don't go as we would like. He might not have been my choice, but Solskjaer is our manager and I hope in nine months time I will regret ever doubting him.

The next few weeks are going to be very important for all United fans as the League settles down and we can really analyse where the team stands. I wasn't as happy as many that Romelu Lukaku was moved on, but we have to respect the fact that Solskjaer did not see a place for the Belgian in the way he wants his team to play and so it was better for both Lukaku and the club that he was sold.

It is a shame that money was not reinvested into a midfield that has lost Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera in recent months and I do think United look light there. There is going to be a sharp focus on the attackers to score enough goals to help United as I do think the midfield is going to struggle in plenty of games, especially when they come up against clever midfields that the likes of Wolves and Leicester City will employ.

Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka will help defensively, but Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof are yet to convince and I am not sure Manchester United are going to be vastly improved at the back. On another day Chelsea score two or three goals last week and games in the next few weeks will tell us a lot about where United stand as I have said a few times now.

I am hopeful that a top four place can be earned- I don't think Arsenal have improved significantly from a defensive point of view and Chelsea's loss of Eden Hazard will hurt. Even if the next few weeks don't go as well as I would hope, I think it will be a season long battle for the top four as all those teams chasing those places have some inconsistent moments and I could even include Tottenham Hotspur in that.

It does mean United will have their chances, but much depends on whether they can score enough goals and I would not get carried away by the capitulation Chelsea had last week. I feel United have been left short of numbers when it comes to attacking areas on the pitch and the midfield- there are some very promising youngsters coming through, but I am not sure they can be relied upon to carry the club just yet.

Comparison to the 'Class of '92' feel wide of the mark as those players came in to play alongside established, proven Premier League winners in Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane and Eric Cantona and I am not sure the United current squad has those kind of winning personalities. It will make it harder for young players to make the impact they would want and I also think it would be harsh on them to be asked to fill in the obvious gaps in the squad if they are not suited to those positions.

Last week some suggested Mason Greenwood should start on the right of the team- while I agree that is a problem position, asking a 17 year old to play there when he is clearly a centre forward that likes scoring goals is not going to be good for his development.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is going to be judged on all of these decisions though, I just hope he gets them right.

This is a new season though and over the last couple of months the stench of the poor ending to the 2018/19 campaign has been washed off. Like many fans, I do come into this one with renewed optimism despite a sub-par off-season when United did not come close to making the kind of investment they had been suggesting at the end of last season.

I do think Maguire and Wan-Bissaka will improve the team and Daniel James can learn and develop, but the midfield conundrum continues to be on that the club either can't, or refuse to, address. I am hoping Fred can come good after a season becoming accustomed to the League and Scott McTominay can hopefully kick on, but United look short in there as well as failing to address the right side of the attack.

Deep down I feel it is going to be an inconsistent year in front of Manchester United, but I do think the top four is a fairly open battle and I expect United to be there or thereabouts. The Europa League should offer the club a long run in a major European competition and Chelsea proved you can finish in the top four of the Premier League and win that trophy too.

There will be moments of frustration and there will be ups and downs, but that's part of the journey of being a football fan. Manchester United's road to recovery and bridging the gap to two of their biggest rivals is not going to be a short one, and it will be rocky at times, but the hope is that there is finally a plan in place as to how United will get there.

With the Glazer family and Woodward around, I wouldn't count on it and we can only hope Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can help this squad achieve their full potential.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Cincinnati Masters Tennis Picks 2019 (August 17th)

One winner and one loser was the outcome of the Quarter Final selections made as a third match that I had picked did not take to the court on Friday.

Now we are down to the final four in both the ATP and WTA event being played in Cincinnati with all roads directing towards the US Open which is now only days away.

That is not so good news for Naomi Osaka who had to withdraw from her Quarter Final in the final set against Sofia Kenin. An awkward landing on a serve jarred her knee and the defending US Open Champion has admitted she is concerned about how well she can perform in New York City even though she will do all she can to be ready for the tournament.

It is part of a pretty disappointing last few months on the Tour as Osaka has struggled with the expectations and headlines that come with being a World Number 1 and two time Grand Slam Champion. Some even suggested she could run the table in the Slams after winning the Australian Open, but Osaka herself has kind of falling out of love with tennis and perhaps a break will just reignite the spark she had.

I am almost sure I am in for a third straight losing week on the Tour which has been unheard of in 2019 and even over the last twelve months I can't find too many examples of this happening. As I said yesterday, a part of the issue was my own poor selections despite being quite hard about the criteria that I am looking for, but those early bits of poor fortune have also hurt on the North American hard courts over the last month.

There may be a few picks from Winston Salem and the Bronx tournaments being played next week, but the main focus is going to be on the US Open which begins in the final week of August. I am going to have daily Picks throughout that tournament with the first of those likely to be out by Sunday evening.

Before I get to that, there are some Picks from the Cincinnati Semi Final matches that you can read below.

Ashleigh Barty - 4.5 games v Svetlana Kuznetsova: This week I have been close to picking Svetlana Kuznetsova on at least two occasions, but have not quite been satisfied with her marks on the handicap to actually go through with putting her down on my daily Tennis Picks threads. Ultimately the veteran has proven me wrong, although she has needed to show some tremendous resiliency to come through some of her matches including breaking the Karolina Pliskova serve down 6-3, 5-4 in the Quarter Final on Friday.

It has been a difficult twelve months for Kuznetsova who has only played twenty-two matches in total in that time as injuries have held her back. To underline the lack of tennis, her opponent in this Semi Final has WON twenty-three hard court matches in 2019 alone, but Kuznetsova has been able to dig deep and turn back the clock.

The Russian has always been a solid hard court player and she has won the US Open before as well as reaching the Final there so has to be respected. However I have to wonder how much energy Kuznetsova has left having needed over two hours to win three of her four matches in Cincinnati this week and also being forced to play in the heat of the day yesterday.

Svetlana Kuznetsova has been on the brink of exiting the tournament twice already and I do think she could be perhaps lacking something in the early match scheduled on Saturday. The return has been a big weapon for her, but now she has to face Ashleigh Barty who can get plenty out of her serve and who will be happy to drag Kuznetsova into long rallies to sap anything she does have left in the gas tank.

It has not been the best few weeks on the Tour for Barty, but the former World Number 1 has already shown she is ready to retake her spot at the top of the WTA Tour. Resiliency has been evident as she has come from a set down to win her last two matches, and Barty will feel she is returning just well enough to keep Kuznetsova under pressure in this one.

If this match was being played earlier in the tournament I would consider moving past it considering the form of the underdog, but Kuznetsova just has to be feeling the tennis. Svetlana Kuznetsova has spent almost three hours longer on court this week and her match was affected by the heat rule on Friday which tells you all you need to know about the kind of taxing conditions she also had to deal with.

I like and respect Kuznetsova a lot, but Ashleigh Barty might be picking the bones here and has been performing at a consistently higher level than her opponent. Even this week her numbers have a slight edge over Kuznetsova in terms of the serve and I think Barty will get her teeth into enough return games to cover a big mark.

Madison Keys v Sofia Kenin: There are a couple of players on the WTA Tour that seem to find a few more wins than their raw numbers would suggest. One is Maria Sakkari and the other one I am picking up on is Sofia Kenin.

They have similarities with both being fiery competitors on the court and I do think Sakkari and Kenin have the same type of mental resolve to play the big points about as effectively as any player out on the Tour. It is the only way that slightly better than average numbers can see Kenin produce a 34-17 record on the hard courts over the last twelve months and has seen the young American reach back to back Semi Finals in Toronto and Cincinnati.

Even this week I look at the Kenin performances and she has won three tight matches, although was aided by Naomi Osaka's injury in the Quarter Final when things looked to be going against her. One strong win over Zarina Diyas has given Kenin's numbers a boot, but they remain fairly unimpressive for the most part, although the number she will be concerned about most is 4-0 so far this week in terms of wins-losses.

Sofia Kenin can get some pop out of the serve, but she has been producing an average return and that is going to be tested by Madison Keys. It was Kenin who won when these two players met on the clay in Rome, but the North American hard courts is when Keys has proven to be at her best and she is having a very good week so far.

A crushing win over Venus Williams in the Quarter Final has moved Keys into this match and she has stronger numbers than Kenin both in terms of the serve and the return. Much is going to depend on the Keys racquet as her highly aggressive game is well suited to the conditions in Cincinnati and I do think she should perhaps be a stronger favourite than she is in this match.

The last twelve months on the hard courts have not been that impressive from Keys considering the standards she has previously set on the surface, and that may be part of the reason she is not a bigger favourite in this one. However I do think her levels in Cincinnati have been a step above what Sofia Kenin has produced so far and I think Madison Keys will have enough of an edge to be worth a back here.

Novak Djokovic - 3.5 games v Daniil Medvedev: This is a big test for Daniil Medvedev to really see how much he has improved as well as whether he can cope with the mental pressure of taking on the very top players on the Tour. Last week a strong run in Montreal came to an end in a comprehensive defeat to Rafael Nadal while has also suffered relatively straight-forward losses to Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on the hard courts in 2019.

Take nothing away from the young Russian though as he has fully deserved his spot in the top 10 of the World Rankings and looks to be a player that will be able to have big impacts at the Grand Slams in the years ahead. He is talented, but I also think Daniil Medvedev perhaps has a bit more resiliency than some of his peers and that should hold him in good stead, even if the very top players have perhaps been a step too far up to now.

Daniil Medvedev's numbers over the last twelve months on the hard courts have been eye-catching and there is no doubt this is a player improving. This week in Cincinnati he is perhaps playing at elite level to dismiss opponents while barely being threatened and any player holding 88% of his own service games while breaking in 48% of return games is going to be very, very difficult to get close to let alone beat.

Novak Djokovic is an elite player though and the World Number 1 has been playing at a top level over the last twelve months which has led to the US Open and Australian Open added to an overflowing collection of trophies. In Australia he beat Medvedev on his way to the title and Djokovic has held 96% of service games played this week while breaking in 32% of return games which continues his level on the surface.

On the bare face of things Medvedev has the superior numbers, but I have mentioned his issues when facing the very best players on the Tour on the hard courts. Over the last twelve months he is 2-7 in hard court matches against top 10 Ranked opponents and 1-5 when you only consider the top 5.

His numbers have taken a serious dent on both the serve and return in the matches against the top players and I do think it is going to be an issue for Medvedev in this Semi Final. A win would really give the young Russian confidence to take into the US Open where his compatriot Marat Safin made his name just under twenty years ago, but it is hard to ignore that Medvedev only holds 68% of service games played on the hard courts against the top 5 Ranked opponents he has met over the last twelve months and he has broken in just 13% of return games.

I would be disappointed if Medvedev is not more competitive than he was in a defeat to Nadal last week, but I do think this is a big challenge for him and I give Novak Djokovic a real edge. I was anticipating the layers going at least one game higher than they have so I am willing to back the World Number 1 to continue to remind the rest of the Tour that he is the player to beat at Flushing Meadows over the next three weeks.

MY PICKS: Ashleigh Barty - 4.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Madison Keys @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Cincinnati Update: 10-12, - 5.46 Units (44 Units Staked, - 12.41% Yield)

Friday, 16 August 2019

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2019 (August 17-19)

The first round of Premier League Fixtures are in the books and it can be very easy to get carried away from one set of results and make sweeping statements behind them.

Rarely are the results alone reflective of the way a game developed and it would be foolish to read too much into those at this stage. A small sample, in this case a one game sample, is not the position from which you should ignore everything you perhaps thought before a ball had been kicked.

Wins for Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur won't have surprised too many people with all three tipped to be in the top four for much of the season, but the results achieved by Arsenal and Manchester United would have been very encouraging.

Some have already relegated Norwich City off the basis of a heavy loss at Anfield, but things can quickly change in terms of perceptions especially as The Canaries were much better than the 4-1 defeat suggested. They have a big game this weekend against Newcastle United and I do think we will see a reaction, while the other newly promoted clubs also make their Premier League bows in front of their watching faithful.

Watch out for another round of snap judgements from those you are reading on Monday morning, but that isn't all bad for those who are making selections off the basis of a deeper look into the way things have gone. Hopefully that will give me an edge going forward as I try and the best plays from the weekend.

Arsenal v Burnley Pick: You never want to read too much into an opening weekend performance, but both Arsenal and Burnley will be very happy with the results they achieved last time out.

Both teams have gotten off to winning starts, although neither was perhaps convincing enough to really deserve the full three points. That won't matter to Unai Emery or Sean Dyche who know the importance of trying to make a fast, positive start to the season after what had been an inconsistent end to the 2018/19 season.

Emery in particular would have been extremely satisfied with the defensive performance his Arsenal team put together. They earned just one away clean sheet in the Premier League last season so to match that on the opening day of the 2019/20 campaign is a huge boost, especially as they can now add David Luiz' experience to the backline.

Sead Kolasinac and Mesut Ozil could also be back, but the biggest boost would be if Dani Ceballos, Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette all can get a full week of training under their belts to be ready to make their first starts of the campaign. This is an Arsenal team who deservedly finished with the third most home goals in the Premier League last season and I do think the boost from those attacking players gives them a big edge over Burnley.

Like Unai Emery, Sean Dyche will be very pleased with an opening weekend win coupled with a clean sheet for Burnley, but this is a side who were much more vulnerable defensively when playing away from Turf Moor last season. The team is going to be settled and everyone is going to know what to expect from Arsenal and what they need to do, but Burnley conceded six goals in two Premier League games against them last season and have conceded in eleven in the last three versus The Gunners.

I expect the attacking arsenal available to Unai Emery to be a difference maker on the day, pardon the pun. Last weekend Arsenal were missing the really clever players in the final third, but I expect a number of those to be available this weekend and I think Arsenal will be able to maintain their 100% start to the new season.

12 of Arsenal's 14 home Premier League wins came by two more goals last season and 8 of Burnley's 10 away losses came by the same margin.

One concern has to be that Arsenal did struggle to see off the teams right at the bottom with narrow wins over Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town and a draw with Brighton at home, while Burnley did draw at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. However even with that in mind I can't ignore the fact that Arsenal have had too much firepower for Burnley in their recent matches and I will back the home team to win by at least two goals on the day.

Aston Villa v Bournemouth Pick: You can't really learn a lot about teams from the opening weekend of the season especially a newly promoted team like Aston Villa who faced a very difficult away game at a club that has become a consistent top four one. While fans can have excuses for the defeat there, they will be less forgiving when hosting a team like Bournemouth who could be a rival when it comes to avoiding relegation in May.

Last week Bournemouth could only earn a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United at home as both teams gave it a good go and it was a fair reflection of the game. Defensively there remain some big questions about Bournemouth who conceded 45 away Premier League goals last season and Aston Villa will believe they are a team with enough goals in the squad to earn their points at home.

Aston Villa only scored fewer than Norwich City and West Brom at home in the Championship last season and there was enough vibrancy in their attacking play at Tottenham Hotspur to be encouraged if you support them. Now they will be expected to get forward and challenge a Bournemouth team who only conceded less than two goals in 5 of their 19 away Premier League games.

However they can't afford to be gung-ho in their approach considering Bournemouth are still capable of creating their own chances in the final third. They finished as the 8th highest away scorers in the Division and Bournemouth were not unfortunate with that stat considering the chances they created on their travels.

It is pointing to a potentially high-scoring game at Villa Park on Saturday. 4 of the 6 away games Bournemouth played against teams that finished below them in the Premier League table ended with at least three goals shared out with the two exceptions both producing two goals. Last time here between these clubs we saw a game featuring three goals and I think the approach of both managers could set up this fixture to follow suit.

Brighton v West Ham United Pick: One team won 0-3 away from home and the other lost 0-5 at home, but it would be silly to think that is the way things are going to be for Brighton and West Ham United respectively.

Brighton were a touch fortunate last week to win, let alone win by such a margin. On the other hand West Ham United will know they are not going to face teams as strong as Manchester City every week and I expect a big reaction from them.

However it is The Seagulls who have won back to back home games against West Ham United since being promoted to the Premier League and so it feels this is a fixture that is worth a watching brief to add to the information we have on them. I can see all three results occurring, so I will move past this one.

Everton v Watford Pick: It was perhaps the biggest surprise result of the opening Premier League weekend when Watford's defeat to Brighton at home came through. Of course it is one thing losing, but another all together to be beaten 0-3, although the underlying statistics show that it was a harsh scoreline on The Hornets.

Javi Gracia has to pick his players up who have followed a poor end to last season with a poor start to this one. The three goals conceded to Brighton means Watford have conceded 18 goals in their last 5 in all competitions and that doesn't make for very good reading no matter which may you cut things up.

In recent years a trip to Goodison Park has been fairly productive for Watford who have been unlucky not to earn their first ever win on this ground. Last season they had to settle for a point thanks to Lucas Digne's injury time equaliser for Everton, while the season before they blew a 0-2 lead in an eventual 3-2 defeat.

Watford also led here until the 86th minute in August 2015 before having to settle for a point so Everton should have plenty of respect for the visitors.

However Everton have been in very strong form under Marco Silva in the latter stages of last season. There is still a worry that there are not enough goals in the squad despite the arrivals of Alex Iwobi and Moise Kean, but Everton fans know Goodison Park was a tough place to visit in the final months of last season having won 4 in a row here without conceding a goal.

Even Liverpool had to settle for a goalless draw as Everton followed that result in the Merseyside derby with comfortable wins over Chelsea, Manchester United and Burnley and a 1-0 win over Arsenal. Marco Silva has to believe his team are solid enough defensively to cope with Watford better than they did last season and Everton have been much better in front of goal here in the closing stages of the 2018/19 campaign.

My feeling is that we are going to see a lot better from Watford than what they produced last weekend, but I also think Everton have the edge being at home. It might need a couple of goals to earn the three points though and I think backing Everton to win a fixture with two or more goals produced is a decent looking price at odds against.

Everton's poor recent home record against Watford has to be in the back of the mind, but the home team might be playing with a little more confidence than their visitors and secure their first three points of the season.

Norwich City v Newcastle United Pick: I was hoping that the Norwich City result at Liverpool would have had the layers making this something of a pick 'em match, but instead Norwich City come into the weekend as a healthy favourite.

I considered backing them, but Norwich City have to show massive defensive improvements and Newcastle United have shown they can win games like this one in the last couple of years. It has been a key reason they have avoided the drop, but Rafael Benitez is gone and Steve Bruce will be under pressure to deliver.

I also considered backing over 2.5 goals after the way Norwich City played at Liverpool, but ultimately I feel like this is a game that could be the surprise result in the League. Newcastle United might be looking to bunker down and make life difficult for Norwich City and they might secure a positive result in a low-scoring game.

They have presented enough of a doubt to make me want to move past this one too.

Southampton v Liverpool Pick: If it was up to Jurgen Klopp I am sure Liverpool would have not travelled to Istanbul for the UEFA Super Cup between the first two Premier League games to be played in the 2019/20 season. Winning the trophy would have helped, but Liverpool won't have returned home until Thursday morning and have little time to prepare for a big League game at Southampton on Saturday afternoon.

If you simply looked at the results last week you would perhaps think Liverpool are in for a comfortable ride, but Southampton were a touch unfortunate to lose, let alone lose 3-0 at Burnley. They have been much better at home under Ralph Hasenhuttl, although Liverpool did come from behind to win 1-3 here in April.

I do think Southampton will cause problems for Liverpool who have looked rocky defensively even before Alisson went down with an injury. Now they have to rely on someone who was the backup goalkeeper at West Ham United last season and Liverpool have conceded in all 3 games they have played so far this month.

Southampton scored the vast majority of their home goals once Hasenhuttl took charge of the club and they are a team that will give it a go against Liverpool. It will take a much better effort than we have seen so far from Liverpool to keep a clean sheet and I do think Southampton have to be respected for scoring in every home Premier League game that Hasenhuttl has taken charge of.

Clean sheets were much more difficult to come by though and Southampton earned just one in the 13 games the Austrian has been in charge of at St Mary's. Last weekend we saw Southampton can be a little weak mentally if they fall behind, but I expect a much better showing this weekend and the fact that Liverpool are travelling back from Istanbul should most certainly help their cause.

It is hard to imagine Southampton keeping Liverpool out at the other end and I am going back to a market that I selected in April when these teams met and that is backing both teams to find the net.

Liverpool have been tough defensively over the last twelve months, but they have looked shaky to open this season. With the potential tiredness in the legs, I think Southampton will challenge them here and backing both teams to score looks the best approach to this fixture.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: By far and away the biggest game in the Premier League this weekend comes from the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City host Tottenham Hotspur so expect to hear plenty about the Champions League Quarter Final epic played between these teams a number of months ago.

Even though they have played in the Premier League since the Quarter Final, both clubs know how important that tie was.

Manchester City did win the Second Leg at home and they have won 3 in a row against Tottenham Hotspur here which should give them the mental edge. The absences of Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli are real blows to Tottenham Hotspur, especially the former who scored three of the four goals Spurs managed against Manchester City in the Champions League tie.

There is a real energy about Tottenham Hotspur even without those two players, but Christian Eriksen can't begin this one on the bench if Mauricio Pochettino really wants to oversee a stand out win. Last season Tottenham Hotspur lost here as well as Stamford Bridge, Anfield and the Emirates Stadium and I do think they can't really call themselves title contenders unless they do better in those big away games.

Manchester City simply have been dominant at home over the last couple of seasons with 34 League wins from 38 played here. At the end of last season they became pragmatic in their play with a number of 1-0 results secured, but Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all conceded at least twice here and Tottenham Hotspur conceded four in the Champions League Quarter Final.

I do think this will be a good game of football with Tottenham Hotspur likely to give it a go, but they have to show a better defensive resiliency than they did in big away games last season. Those issues were perhaps not highlighted as Spurs made a strong run in the Champions League to the Final, but they had conceded at least twice here and in Amsterdam before doing the same in the Final. They also did that in the Premier League at Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea and in the League Cup Semi Final at Stamford Bridge too.

Ultimately I do think the defensive side could let them down here and I will back Manchester City to cover the Asian Handicap as they remind the rest of the Premier League that they remain the team to beat in 2019/20.

Sheffield United v Crystal Palace Pick: The television cameras will arrive at Bramall Lane for the first time in the Premier League for over a decade. Sheffield United and Crystal Palace both picked up a point on the opening Saturday of the Premier League season and so there is something for them to build on here.

This looks a really tough game to call with both clubs looking like they have positives that could see them earn the victory. A draw would not surprise, but I have to respect how well Crystal Palace played away from home last season with plenty of wins on their travels.

Sheffield United were very strong at home in the Championship and will feel their home form will determine whether they can survive in the top flight and I think it is a game that could be interesting to watch.

It is definitely a tough one to have a strong feeling about, but I think it could be an intriguing watch ahead of the Chelsea-Leicester City game in the second half of Super Sunday.

Chelsea v Leicester City Pick: Like Liverpool, Chelsea have had to do a lot of travelling in the last seven days and they would have appreciated not having to have played Extra Time and then Penalties in their UEFA Super Cup defeat on Wednesday evening. At least Chelsea have an extra day before they are due to be out for Premier League action, but the negative side compared with Liverpool is suffering a defeat in Istanbul.

After the 4-0 defeat at Manchester United, Frank Lampard would have been much happier with the performance against Liverpool. To be fair Lampard wasn't critical of the performance at Old Trafford either and the big question for Chelsea through the next ten months is whether they have enough goals to really compete for a top four place.

In the first two games they have played Chelsea have impressed with the number of chances they have created, but the finishing touch has been lacking. I also think they have a few issues at the back to deal with, while the transition from attack to defence has been very poor.

That could be a really big issue for them on Sunday when they face Leicester City who are going to look to try and frustrate their hosts and hit them on the counter attack. There is plenty of pace in this Leicester City team and plenty of quality too which makes them a very dangerous opponent off a tough fixture in Eastern Europe as the one Chelsea just faced.

Leicester City have a decent recent record at Stamford Bridge too with a single defeat in their last 4 visits and I do like The Foxes in this spot. Before the thumping at Old Trafford Chelsea looked a very short price in this fixture, but even now I can't be having them at odds on to win this game.

A start with Leicester City on the Asian Handicap means a single goal loss will return half our stake and I would be surprised if Brendan Rodgers' team capitulates here. The counter attack should give them a chance of springing a surprise throughout this fixture and I will back the visitors to find a way to the upset result here.

Wolves v Manchester United Pick: The final game from the Premier League this weekend comes from Molineux on Monday evening in what is a big couple of weeks for Wolves. While most clubs will have one game a week at this stage, Wolves are playing between Europa League commitments and Nuno Espirito Santo knows he has to manage his squad very well before the international break in early September.

Hammering Pyunik away from home in the Europa League Third Qualifying Round First Leg meant the manager could rest the majority of his first team players so Wolves will have no excuses ahead of this League fixture. Motivation should not be a problem for fans and players in the Premier League opener, but those levels can only be added to as Wolves look for a third straight win over Manchester United.

Last season they beat United twice at home in the space of three weeks and both by the same 2-1 scoreline. After a solid opener to the season I am very surprised Wolves are considered such an underdog in this fixture, but a part of the issue may be the 4-0 scoreline Manchester United produced.

It was a fantastic result against Chelsea, but the game was much closer than the scoreline suggested and this is a really big challenge for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who noted the two losses he has managed at Wolves a few months ago. Defensively Manchester United will have to be better and I do think spaces won't be as free in this fixture as they were in the win over Chelsea.

Wolves have shown their methods are very effective against the top sides and if I didn't support Manchester United I would absolutely suggest they can be backed to win this one. Last season Manchester United (twice), Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea were all beaten at Molineux while only Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur left with wins.

On the other hand Manchester United lost 4 of 7 away fixtures at the top eight clubs in the Premier League and had that loss here in the FA Cup too. They did win at Chelsea and Arsenal in the FA Cup, but Manchester United are going to need to show considerable improvement to get a result here.

I know there will be plenty who will take Wolves with the start on the Asian Handicap that returns a profit if the home team avoids defeat and I couldn't really argue against that.

However my selection is going to be on at least three goals to be shared out.

The layers have set that as an odds against shot and 12 of Wolves' 19 home Premier League games finished with less than three goals shared out last season. However 4 of the 6 League games at Molineux against teams that finished above them in the League table all produced at least three goals, while Wolves had a 2-1 win over Liverpool and Manchester United in the FA Cup here too.

Manchester United saw 5 of the 7 away Premier League games at the top eight in the Premier League finish with at least three goals shared out last season. While Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka can make an impact on them defensively, United still looked vulnerable at the back in the win over Chelsea and the clean sheet perhaps glosses over the actual performance, one that Wolves will punish if a similar level is produced.

There were plenty of chances created in the Premier League game between these clubs here when Manchester United were unfortunate to lose considering chances they created. I expect both to do the same here and it should be the fourth consecutive fixture between these clubs that finish with at least both teams scoring.

I do think that both teams won't want to settle for a draw so we should see plenty of attacking football here and I will back at least three goals to be shared out for a third consecutive game at Molineux between Wolves and Manchester United.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Aston Villa-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.10 Coral (2 Units)
Southampton-Liverpool Both Teams to Score- YES @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Leicester City + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Wolves-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Season 2019/20 Update: 4-4-1, - 0.18 Units (18 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)

Fantasy Football (GameWeek 2)
I am sure I was not the only one out there that decided to make a last minute change to their Fantasy Football team in GW1 before the deadline meant we could no longer make unlimited changes.

My decision to move out Diogo Jota in favour of Joshua King didn't have the impact I desired, but I still finished with 84 points in GW1 thanks to Raheem Sterling's huge performance at the London Stadium.

Mohamed Salah, Anthony Martial, Ederson and Caglar Soyuncu all added multiple points, but it was the Sterling hat-trick that really motored the points forward.

Without a doubt the biggest disappointment was Bernardo Silva being left on the bench by Pep Guardiola. Riyad Mahrez had a big game which puts pressure on Bernardo, but I would be surprised if the Portuguese midfielder is not in the line up this weekend.

Below I will show you the team I am going with in GW2 having decided I will hold my transfers until next weekend when I will be able to make two.

However before that I will identify some players that you may feel could be targeted if you are thinking of making some changes this week.

The injury to Alisson would have had many fantasy managers ripping out their hair just minutes into a new season, but most will be looking to transfer the Liverpool goalkeeper out now he is expected to miss the remainder of the month.

He is the joint most expensive Goalkeeper in the game so plenty of options are available to replace him.

Adrian (4.5 Million- Liverpool): In usual circumstances I am guessing most would make the like for like change, but Jurgen Klopp's warning about an injury suffered by Adrian on Wednesday evening is a big concern. I would rather wait for Adrian than bring in Andy Lonergan as another change would need to be made very quickly and it would likely result in a hit to the the points tally.

Jordan Pickford (5.5 Million- Everton): A strong set of games to open the season and Everton have actually been a solid team defensively for months under Marco Silva. They have kept clean sheets in their last 5 League games here and Watford, Wolves and Sheffield United are the next three visitors. With away games at Aston Villa and Bournemouth in between those home games, Pickford has to be a big shout.

I have to admit I would be a touch concerned about the way Liverpool have opened this season defensively and there may be better options out there. Players I am monitoring are below.

Fabian Delph (5.5 Million- Everton): A potential player who will be playing much further up the pitch than his defender status in the game would suggest. I have mentioned Everton's run of clean sheets and the fixtures that are in front of them, plus it would give me the chance to reinvest funds elsewhere if removing a Liverpool defender.

Harry Maguire/Aaron Wan-Bissaka (5.5 Million- Man United): The clean sheet against Chelsea was a boost and both could offer some attacking threat too.

However I would keep a watching brief on the way United perform defensively even though the fixtures look decent on paper. Might be worth bringing in one next weekend for the remaining August fixtures against Crystal Palace and Southampton.

Riyad Mahrez (8.5 Million- Man City): After Leroy Sane was ruled out for the next several months, it was interesting to see Mahrez get the nod in one of the three forward spots. His performance against West Ham United won't be ignored by Pep Guardiola and I am going to have a watching brief as to the kind of main starting line up that the Spaniard will be using.

Paul Pogba (8.5 Million- Man United): While the European transfer window is open you do wonder if Paul Pogba will try and force a move out of Old Trafford. I doubt that at this stage, but until then I will keep the Frenchman on my watch list. It is a blow that he is seemingly off penalties this season.

Gylfi Sigurdsson (8 Million- Everton): A third Everton player is on the list thanks to their strong early set of fixtures. The Icelandic midfielder scored 13 goals last season and came closest for Everton at Crystal Palace last week.

Ashley Barnes (6.5 Million- Burnley): They are not a fashionable team but I had Barnes on my solid performer list for much of last season, especially at this price. The August fixtures are far from easy, but from September I think Barnes will be joining my team as Burnley get set to face Brighton, Norwich City, Aston Villa, Everton and Leicester City between games against Liverpool and Chelsea.

Teemu Puuki (6.5 Million- Norwich City): Scored last week so showed he can take his form up a level. Norwich City look like an attacking team and Puuki could have chances in the next few weeks to add to his total. Definitely a player worth considering.

Roberto Firmino (9.5 Million- Liverpool): If you find space for a third Liverpool player after removing a defender, Firmino could be the man to target. Looked in hot form in the first three games played and looks a source of goals and assists.

GameWeek 2 Team
Like I said, I am holding onto my squad this week with the knowledge that I can make two transfers next week. I had put a Fantasy squad together that I did not want to change in the first couple of weeks and the injury to Alisson has perhaps meant a change in having multiple Liverpool defenders. I have a feeling they won't be able to keep Southampton out this weekend and then face an attacking Arsenal team before a trip to Burnley.

However I don't like making snap judgements on a team and so I want to see how they perform this week before deciding on moves to improve the squad with multiple transfers in GW3 or GW4.

The eleven I am starting with this weekend is below:

Ederson- Manchester City had two clean sheets against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League last season and Ederson has been picked as my firm Goalkeeper considering the back up is a cheap option who won't start.

Virgil Van Dijk- a threat from set pieces even if Liverpool concede.

Andrew Robertson- another Liverpool defender despite my feeling that Southampton will score this weekend. Andrew Robertson always an attacking threat and assists are a big part of his game.

John Lundstram- Sheffield United defender who started much higher up the pitch and created a couple of good chances for his team. Home game with Crystal Palace is a chance for what may be a rare clean sheet for The Blades.

Youri Tielemans- it is a tough away game at Stamford Bridge for the Leicester City midfielder, but Chelsea have looked far from watertight. He plays in an advanced position and will be key to any upset Leicester City earn here.

Mohamed Salah (C)- the Egyptian has scored in the Premier League opener and has looked very threatening in all three games played for Liverpool. Hard to ignore his claims to be Captain considering he scored in both League games against Southampton last season.

Raheem Sterling (VC)- hat-trick to open the season and almost the first choice on the Manchester City team-sheet. Has scored twice in two of the last three home Manchester City games against Tottenham Hotspur.

Bernardo Silva- missed out last week, but I think Bernardo will be back in action this weekend and always involved in either producing or scoring goals. Expect a big game in response to Riyad Mahrez' performance last week.

Che Adams- he had his chances last week for Southampton and could be the biggest threat to a Liverpool team that may be down to a third choice goalkeeper. I do believe he is a striker who will score goals at this level.

Josh King- I made a last minute decision to pick King ahead of Diogo Jota. It didn't work out last weekend, but he should have space to operate in against an attacking Aston Villa team and is one of the top choices for penalties.

Bench- Michael McGovern (Norwich City back up), Tyrone Mings (could have a clean sheet chance, but Bournemouth have a strong attack), Caglar Soyuncu (Chelsea have looked good going forward, clean sheet unlikely), Xande Silva (West Ham back up).

Cincinnati Masters Tennis Picks 2019 (August 16th)

Earlier this week I had some poor luck with some of the selections made, but on Thursday it was my own fault as I allowed a couple of Picks to slip through that I should not have.

Those involving Roger Federer and Simona Halep broke the rules that have been successful in 2019 and I have to hold my hands up and say that's on me. I would still have picked the other three as I did even though two of those selections were losing ones on the day, but I have to say I am disappointed with myself for breaking my own rules.

On Friday we are into the Quarter Finals of both the ATP and WTA event being played this week in Cincinnati. We have had some upsets in Cincinnati which bode well for the way the US Open could go from an entertainment point of view, although Novak Djokovic continues to look like the man to beat.

In the women's draw I think a strong case could be made for almost ten different players at the final Grand Slam of the season, but it does mean the draw is going to be all-important there as players look to lay down a final marker in the final few days at Cincinnati.

Roberto Bautista Agut - 4.5 games v Richard Gasquet: 2019 continues to be a very special year for Roberto Bautista Agut who is getting married later in the year and producing his best tennis of his career on the courts. Another strong run in Cincinnati has taken him through to the Quarter Final and the Spaniard is a pretty big favourite to see off Richard Gasquet.

The latter has to be respected as he begins to round back into form after injury meant a later start to 2019 than the rest of the Tour. Richard Gasquet reached the Third Round last week in Montreal but it was Bautista Agut who ended that run and the layers don't really believe it is going to be much different this time around.

The Frenchman has been in decent form over the last couple of weeks with 84% of his service games being held and finding a break in 22% of return games. Richard Gasquet has a very similar number in terms of his serve over the last twelve months on the hard courts, although he has been returning a little more effectively.

It is the case here in Cincinnati too where Gasquet has produced some impressive numbers, although this match looks to to be the toughest he would have faced in this Masters event. There will be confidence in his play, but Roberto Bautista Agut has some very strong numbers of his own and has the mental edge thanks to the head to head between these players.

Over the course of 2019, Bautista Agut has held 88% of his service games played on the hard courts and broken in 24% of return games. This week the Spaniard is at 93% and 33% respectively in those categories and I think his win in the Third Round was very, very impressive and makes the Spaniard a deserved favourite.

In their four previous hard court matches, Roberto Bautista Agut has held 86% of his service games played compared with Richard Gasquet who is at 67%. Last week in Montreal it was only a poor conversion rate when it came to break points that prevented Bautista Agut winning by a more comfortable scoreline than the 7-5, 7-5 he produced.

The head to head and the 2019 form gives Roberto Bautista Agut the edge in this match and I do think he can cover what is a big handicap on paper. He can be backed at odds against to do that and I will look for the higher Ranked player to be more effective when it comes to the break points that sees him through to the Semi Final.

David Goffin - 2.5 games v Yoshihito Nishioka: These two players met at the end of last month when the Tour was visiting Washington and it was Yoshihito Nishioka who worked his way past David Goffin in three sets. The young Japanese player deserved his win that day having been the slightly stronger returner, but there isn't a big difference between them and I do think the Belgian has been playing the stronger tennis so far this week in Cincinnati.

It has been a solid 2019 for Nishioka, but his numbers have been bolstered by his performance in Cincinnati where he came through the Qualifiers. However it does have to be said that the numbers are fairly standard with 61% of points won behind serve and 40% of return points won which means Nishioka is always in potentially tight matches.

This week Yoshihito Nishioka has won 84% of the service games played in Cincinnati and he has broken in 23% of return games. Those are good numbers, but he has played a lot of tennis already and Nishioka has won three tight matches which suggests there isn't a lot of margin for error in this match against someone who has improved Round by Round in Cincinnati.

David Goffin has not enjoyed a very good 2019 as I mentioned yesterday, but he has put some wins together which will give him confidence as he looks to match the Semi Final run achieved in this event twelve months ago. The serve has not been as effective as Goffin would have liked in this season, but he has held 85% of his service games through the first three matches here and broken in 32% of return games.

Consecutive straight sets wins will help the belief in the Belgian who has underachieved so far in 2019 and I think the edge can be with him in terms of the potential fatigue that his opponent is feeling. Add in the slightly superior serving numbers this week and I think David Goffin can edge out Yoshihito Nishioka in this Quarter Final.

Daniil Medvedev - 3.5 games v Andrey Rublev: He has never been beyond the Fourth Round of any Grand Slam event, but Daniil Medvedev has joined the top 10 of the World Rankings and continues to produce some stunning tennis on the North American hard courts. Over the last month he has reached the Final in Washington and the Semi Final in Montreal and Medvedev is not stopping there with a strong run to the Quarter Final in Cincinnati.

At this point I would say it would be a huge disappointment if Medvedev is not able to make the Quarter Final at the US Open regardless of the draw he receives. He should be Seeded to the point that he avoids the very biggest names on the Tour and Medvedev is playing with the kind of confidence that should see him feel confident in beating most put in front of him.

It was Novak Djokovic who beat Medvedev in the Fourth Round at the Australian Open, but the Russian has not allowed the disappointment to linger while producing a 28-8 record on the hard courts in 2019. Daniil Medvedev's numbers in 2019 and have been impressive, but they hold true for the last twelve months on the hard courts which suggests he has found a consistent level having held 86% of service games played in that time and broken in 29% of return games.

He has been even more impressive since Wimbledon came to a conclusion as Medvedev has held 89% of service games played in Washington, Montreal and Cincinnati combined. At the same time Daniil Medvedev has improved to breaks in 35% of return games played and he has lost just seventeen games in three Rounds here.

It is going to very difficult to beat Medvedev on his current form, but his young compatriot has to be feeling very good too after Andrey Rublev beat Roger Federer in the Third Round in straight sets. That was far from a lucky win as Rublev dominated in most aspects of the match and he has a solid number of 79% of service games being held on the hard courts over the last twelve months while breaking in 24% of return games.

Those make him dangerous and Rublev has been in fine form in Cincinnati having come through the Qualifiers. He has held 96% of service games played this week and broken in 22% of return games so the form is comparable to what Daniil Medvedev is producing, although I do wonder how he will have handled such a huge win over Roger Federer on Thursday.

I do expect Medvedev to challenge the Rublev serve more than most considering his performances on the hard courts over the last twelve months. He does have a slight mental edge having won their sole previous match on the Tour, although I do think Rublev and Medvedev have likely seen plenty of the other to at least not allow the Quarter Final status of this match affect the performances too much.

Backing up a huge win like the one Rublev had is always a difficult challenge and I will back Medvedev to continue his dominant form by producing a big win in this Quarter Final.

MY PICKS: Roberto Bautista Agut - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
David Goffin - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Daniil Medvedev - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)

Cincinnati Update: 9-11, - 5.28 Units (40 Units Staked, - 13.20% Yield)

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Cincinnati Masters Tennis Picks 2019 (August 15th)

A solid set of results on Wednesday have turned this Masters tournament back around as far as the Tennis Picks go, but the Third Round is to be played in full on Thursday which means there is still plenty of work to do to earn a profit from the event.

For the most part the Tennis Picks have performed as I would have expected with very few really bad performances, although one of those did come about on Wednesday when Denis Shapovalov was dismissed very easily by Karen Khachanov.

There are sixteen matches scheduled for Thursday, but I have limited my selections from less than half of those matches. You can see those below.

Ashleigh Barty - 4.5 games v Anett Kontaveit: Out of all the first time Grand Slam Winners and newly crowned Number 1's on the WTA Tour I have to say the one I thought would handle the new expectations the best would have been Ashleigh Barty. Since winning the French Open, the Australian has also won a grass court title, but relatively early losses at Wimbledon and in Toronto last week has just had me wondering about whether Barty is also feeling the pressure of the commitments that come with reaching the pinnacle of her sport.

A strong win over Maria Sharapova in the Second Round in Cincinnati shows that Barty has just had a couple of difficult losses, but nothing that should overly concern her supporters with the beginning of the US Open now in sight. She was very unfortunate to lose to Sofia Kenin last week in Toronto and Ashleigh Barty has been one of the best performers on the hard courts over the last twelve months on the WTA Tour.

The foundation for her success comes from a strong serving department and it is going to be key for Barty in this Third Round match. The first serve is a particular weapon for her and it was a key in helping Barty beat Anett Kontaveit when they met on the hard courts in Miami earlier this year, while the World Number 2 has also been finding a little more out of her return game which has seen her produce a strong 21-4 record on the surface in 2019.

Now I don't want to disrespect Anett Kontaveit who has two solid wins already in Cincinnati and who did work her way through to the Semi Final in Miami before finding Ashleigh Barty a little too hot to handle. Over the last twelve months the Estonian has been a solid, if not spectacular, hard court player but she tends to beat those she is expected to and that saw Kontaveit climb to a career best Number 14 in the World Rankings back in April which followed the run in Miami.

Anett Kontaveit does have a couple of top 10 wins under her belt on the hard courts over the last twelve months. That makes her a potential threat to Ashleigh Barty especially if she is serving well, but I do see in her numbers that Kontaveit does struggle with her return in those matches.

I think that may be the case here and it should mean Barty can keep her under some pressure. It might be the reason she is able to wear Kontaveit down as Barty did against Sharapova and I will back the Australian to find a way to cover what looks to be a big number on paper.

Aryna Sabalenka - 2.5 games v Maria Sakkari: I can count on one hand the number of times I have backed Aryna Sabalenka this season as she tended to be vastly overrated during the early part of the year. That isn't a big surprise considering the hot form the Belarusian showed to end 2018, but Sabalenka was going into a couple of portions of the season when it was going to be hard to play her game with the kind of effectiveness she would like.

It tends to be a different story at this time of the year on the North American hard courts which have historically favoured those players who want to play aggressive tennis. After reaching the Final in San Jose, Sabalenka would have been disappointed with her early defeat in Toronto, but the young player looks to be in fine form through her first couple of wins in Cincinnati.

There is still room for Sabalenka to improve if she is going to have a big impact at the final Grand Slam of the season, especially when it comes to the way she is serving. This should be a really big weapon for her, but Sabalenka does not always play the big points behind that shot as effectively as she would like and that is a concern when facing an average Maria Sakkari who seems to be very good at the most pressurised points in matches.

We saw more of the same from her in the Second Round as she recovered from being a break down in the final set against Petra Kvitova to win the match despite looking like the second best player for large portions of the match. No matter what kind of timeframe you judge her on, Sakkari has some very average hard court numbers, although the Greek player has to be given some credit for the way she has performed over the last month.

In a very small sample of matches Sakkari has shown to be very good when it comes to breaking the serve from the limited chances she has compared with her opponent's conversion rate. It says something that Sakkari is 5-2 in the last month on this surface, but she has earned more break points in less than half of those matches.

This is a dangerous player who continues to win matches when she is being outplayed and Sakkari's mental resilience has to be applauded and also respected. Ultimately it is not sustainable and I do think it is a major reason she is just 14-16 on the hard courts over the last twelve months.

Much will depend on the racquet of Sabalenka in this match despite the superior movement that Sakkari can offer. If Sabalenka is hitting her marks it will be very difficult for Sakkari to stop her and I think the Belarusian is playing the better tennis of the two which all leads to me backing her to win and cover in this Third Round match.

Simona Halep - 2.5 games v Madison Keys: It would be foolish for people to completely ignore the head to head between these players, but I also would not put a lot of stock into those matches considering the last was almost three years ago. I do think Simona Halep would have been less bothered if she had the losing record though and Madison Keys has proven to be someone who can sometimes struggle with the mental aspect of a tennis match and a pressurised situation.

Last week Simona Halep did withdraw mid-match at the tournament in Toronto, but the fact she has taken to the court here should mean she is good to go. In recent years the Romanian has really enjoyed the Cincinnati event and she has reached the Final in three of her last four appearances here although is yet to take the title home.

As a multiple Grand Slam Champion following her success at Wimbledon last month, Simona Halep has to be feeling very confident about her chances of adding to her major titles. The tendon issue has to be a concern when you get into the long, drawn out Grand Slam events, but it is something that Halep has managed before and I think her withdrawal last week was a precaution.

It is unlikely that her tendons will be pushed for too long in this match considering the aggressive approach Madison Keys has. With that in mind I am anticipating short rallies with Keys taking a win or bust attitude that has sometimes seen her fall away in matches.

The American had a good looking win on Wednesday over Daria Kasatkina, but she has been having a poor year on the hard courts which will come as a surprise to most. Her numbers remain solid, but the slip in the points won behind the potent first serve has to be a real worry for Keys who won't want to see Simona Halep find her rhythm on the return and have to beat her on the ground over multiple shots per rally.

We have seen that the Romanian is at her most vulnerable on the hard courts, but she gets enough out of her serve to at least test the Keys return game which can be erratic to say the least. Simona Halep is a quality returner and I think that is going to be a difference maker for her in this Third Round match at a tournament she enjoys.

In their past meetings on the hard courts, Simona Halep has really limited the kind of damage Madison Keys has been able to do behind her serve. If she can get her teeth into the return games here, I would make Halep a slightly more convincing favourite here.

David Goffin - 3.5 games v Adrian Mannarino: It hasn't been that long since David Goffin was actually more than a decent hard court player, but the last twelve months have been difficult for the Belgian. He is just 10-10 on this surface in 2019 and his numbers have been fairly unimpressive from the kind of standards he had set for himself in 2017 and 2018.

Even a deeper look at the last twelve months have shown a player who has moved from a strong hard court player to a fairly average one and it is going to be tough for Goffin to reverse those trends if he can't find some confidence from somewhere. Maybe being back in Cincinnati will help as Goffin reached the Semi Final here in 2018, but an exit before that Round leaves him vulnerable to slipping out of the top 20 of the World Rankings.

The Belgian had lost early in Washington and Montreal prior to the tournament in Cincinnati and Goffin is finding himself under more pressure thanks to a slip in his serving numbers. At least on Thursday he is facing an opponent he has largely gotten the better of and David Goffin has held 86% of his service games played on the hard courts in four previous matches against Adrian Mannarino.

The veteran Frenchman is having a relatively good month on the Tour having won a few matches in Washington, Montreal and now in Cincinnati to rebuild some of the lost confidence he has to have had. A poor season has seen Mannarino slip down to Number 59 in the World Rankings, while he is just 14-20 on the hard courts over the last twelve months.

Like Goffin, Mannarino has a vulnerable serve but an effective return game which makes him dangerous for opponents. It also suggests we could see a few twists and turns in this Third Round match, although Mannarino has struggled to deal with the Goffin serve in their hard court meetings.

That has not been the case the other way around with Mannarino only holding in 64% of his own service games in those matches. He might have a little more success in this one with the confidence that would have come from a few wins on the Tour, but my edge has to be with Goffin even if he is a player I have rarely wanted to back as one that is still a little overrated with the layers.

There is no doubt that this is a big number for him to cover considering the form he has displayed over a number of months, but I expect Goffin to get the better of the serving day and that can lead to a win here.

MY PICKS: Ashleigh Barty - 4.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Aryna Sabalenka - 2.5 Games @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Simona Halep - 2.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
David Goffin - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Cincinnati Update: 8-7, + 0.72 Units (30 Units Staked, + 2.40% Yield)