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NFL Play Off Picks 2018- Championship Games (January 21st)

There are now only three games left in the 2017 NFL season and this weekend we will get to see both AFC and NFC Champions crowned and the Su...

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Australian Open Tennis Day 8 Picks 2018 (January 22nd)

The second week of the Australian Open got off to a flyer with some top matches on Sunday and that includes what was a really intriguing contest between Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios.

I am a fan of the Australian, although recognise many are not, and I think Kyrgios played a really good match and perhaps was a little unfortunate not to get the better of Dimitrov. On the other hand, Dimitrov deserves a lot of credit for the way he managed himself through a tough one and he will be a big favourite to make it back to the Semi Final at the Australian Open for a second season in a row.

Rafael Nadal, Marin Cilic and Kyle Edmund round out the top of the men's draw as we get down to the business end of the tournament.

The bottom half of the women's draw does look to be a straight fight between Caroline Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina who are in two different Quarter Finals. Both play opponents who could make life difficult if the top names are off their games, but that Semi Final looks like it could be a really good match to watch.

Day 8 at the Australian Open sees the remaining Fourth Round matches to be played and it should be another fascinating day. I am hoping both Roger Federer and Angelique Kerber can make it four of five outright picks into the Quarter Final and both are big favourites to progress into the next Round.

That will at least put a positive spin on what has been a tough tournament with little going the way I would have hoped to this point.

Fabio Fognini-Tomas Berdych under 37.5 games: The Fourth Round match between Fabio Fognini and Tomas Berdych looks an interesting one on paper with the two veterans perhaps viewing this Grand Slam as the last real opportunity to have a big run at this level.

Despite the performances to get through to the Fourth Round, decline is clear from both players.

Fognini has always been something of a tough player to read with an ability to play the top players very close when feeling his tennis, but also just as likely to go on a stretch of games where he drops two sets in a blink of an eye.

Matches between these two have been close in the past with both having two wins against each other, but you would have to favour Berdych on the hard courts. The courts at the Australian Open have played fast this year and Berdych has the serve to set up a few more easy points, although there are more sloppy games thrown in than there would have been a few years ago.

Berdych has enjoyed playing at Melbourne Park too and I do favour him to win this match, but backing him to cover this number of games has become a chore these days. There is no doubt that Fognini can play good enough tennis to steal a set if feeling things, but he is also someone who could drop a couple of sets by a comfortable margin which makes me believe the total games line is a touch on the high side.

The lean is towards the Czech player on this surface especially as he should have a little more in the tank than Fognini who has had some tough matches to come through. It wouldn't be a huge surprise to me if Fognini slips away in the match once getting into a tough position on the scoreboard and I will look for this match to finish with thirty-seven games or fewer.

Roger Federer - 8.5 games v Martin Fucsovics: There were some sloppy moments in the Roger Federer performance in the win over Richard Gasquet, but he never looked in danger of losing the match. He is yet to drop a set in the defence of the Australian Open title he won last year and Federer will be a big favourite to go on and perhaps win yet another title in Melbourne.

He won't be taking anything for granted after doubting his position as the favourite at the start of the Australian Open despite playing some really good tennis at the Hopman Cup in preparation for the tournament.

While some won't know Martin Fucsovics that well, Federer has actually practiced with him before and that familiarity should help the former World Number 1 settle into the match. Fucsovics reached the Final in Canberra in the week before the Australian Open begun, and he has rode that confidence into the first Grand Slam of the season.

The draw has been kind to an extent, but Fucscovics still had to take advantage and has to be credited for that. The serve has been an effective weapon for him this week, but Fucsovics has been facing players with limited return games and I would expect Federer to exert a lot more pressure on him during this match.

A bigger problem for the Hungarian is how well Federer has been serving so far this week and that is another avenue through which the defending Champion can put some pressure on this opponent. 

It feels like this will be a relatively straight-forward match for Federer and he is playing in the first day session of the week which should mean the extra focus to try and get off court as soon as possible. Keeping energy in reserve is a huge key for Federer and I do like his chances to have the majority of the play in this one and use that to cover what is a big handicap.

So far this week I haven't had a lot of luck with the break point conversion rate of the players I have picked, and Federer is being asked to cover a very big number. However I do think this is a match that could be make Federer feel very comfortable and it will be difficult for Fucsovics if he can't get his teeth into the Federer service games.

I expect that to be the outcome and Federer should be able to get into a position where he can produce a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win to move into yet another Grand Slam Quarter Final.

Dominic Thiem to win 3-1 v Tennys Sandgren: The Fourth Round always brings a couple of surprises with players making an unexpected run in a Grand Slam event. Tennys Sandgren, whose name I think I am in love with, has worked his way up the Rankings to make a direct entry into his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open and taken full advantage to say the least.

It has been a tough road for Sandren since turning professional and for the most part he had struggled to really assert himself on the Tour. 2017 proved a good year as he got to grips with the Challenger level to the point of making his way into the top 100 of the World Rankings and the American is set for another big leap forwards.

Sandgren has won three matches to get into the Fourth Round including an upset of Stan Wawrinka in the Second Round, although it has to be noted that the Swiss player is returning off a tough injury. The win over Jeremy Chardy also saw the American impress, but it is a different ask against a top 10 player like Dominic Thiem.

The hard courts might not be the greatest of surfaces for Thiem but he has shown resilience and an ability to turn matches in his favour. Another solid run at the Australian Open and now Thiem is focused on working through to his first Quarter Final at a Slam outside of the French Open where he has been a Semi Finalist twice.

That experience edge should help Thiem, but I do think Sandgren will have his moments in the match too. He has played with the confidence to take a set and force the Austrian to dig deep to win this match although Sandgren will have to bring his best form to the table to do that.

The most likely outcome is a Thiem win in straight sets in this match, but I think his game does offer up chances and I am looking for Sandgren to take a couple that come his way. This is the best surface for Sandgren to try and do that and he was good enough to win a set from Marin Cilic when playing him at the US Open.

Dominic Thiem has been serving well enough to win this very comfortably, but I do think Sandgren will fancy his chances in this match too. I like the American's own performances on serve this week and I will look for Thiem to have a lapse in one set and allow Sandgren to leave Melbourne with his head held high.

Novak Djokovic - 5.5 games v Hyeon Chung: There are some questions about the Novak Djokovic health having needed to use a medical time out in the Third Round win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas. The former World Number 1 dismissed any concerns and put it down to simply being off the competitive circuit for six months, but Djokovic can't afford to have a lull in his play when he meets Hyeon Chung in the Fourth Round.

The 'Next Gen' Finals winner in Milan looks like he can make a big impact on the Tour this season and beating Alexander Zverev in the Third Round having been down 2-1 in sets was an impressive performance from Chung.

Lots of people have had Chung down as potentially the best of the young talent on the ATP Tour, but he will have to show he can handle the pressure of a big occasion. Facing a six time former Australian Open Champion in the night session of the Fourth Round is a huge test for Chung, but one that will have his backers believe has come at the right time.

Chung is a tough competitor as he showed in the win over Zverev and he won't lose heart if he falls behind. The serve has been working magnificently so far this week and Chung will be hoping that can put him in a position to win the match, although the Djokovic return looks to be in great shape as long as the moment is not limited by the issues he has been having.

I imagine both players will have their chances to break the serve and it will be down to how well each player can try and impose themselves on this match. The experience edge is clearly in favour of Djokovic, and he did crush Chung here in the Australian Open two years ago, but the much improved youngster will feel the boost that the win over Zverev has given him.

However I can't help but feel the match has come slightly early for Chung and this is the biggest match he would have played in his young career. The temperament looks a good one, but Djokovic should exert enough pressure from the return to take down Chung who was beaten by Kyle Edmund and David Ferrer in events prior to the start of the Australian Open.

I do tend to believe Djokovic when he says he isn't feeling too bad about how his body has reacted to the tennis played this week. Now he is in the second week of the Australian Open, I can see Djokovic feeling a lot better about things and the return has been as effective as ever so far to lead him through to the Fourth Round.

That return may prove to be a difference maker in a close match and I will look for Novak Djokovic to just pull away as the match gets away from the youngster in this one.

Madison Keys - 2.5 games v Caroline Garcia: Two players who have long been considered as Grand Slam Champions in the making meet in the Fourth Round at the Australian Open. Both Madison Keys and Caroline Garcia have had success at this level in the past, but it was Keys who may have broken through with a run to the US Open Final even if she ultimately came up short against Sloane Stephens.

There hasn't been a lot of tennis played by Keys since that defeat in New York City but she has looked in fine form so far in the Australian Open as she has been able to fly under the radar to reach the Fourth Round. The American is yet to drop a set in the draw, but Keys will know the challenges pick up now she has reached the second week of the draw.

The first of those is Garcia with the Frenchwoman showing some battling character to come through a couple of final set deciders already this week. There had been some concerns about the Garcia fitness having retired in her one match prior to the Australian Open, but coming through the matches in the manner she has will have given Garcia the confidence to think she can go very deep into the draw.

Garcia's serve is the weapon that will give her a chance for success in this match, but she has to find a much better return game if she is going to have her chances. Both players will be heavily reliant on the serve, but I think Keys transitions into the return game more effectively.

You'll be able to see how this match is going to go very early on- Keys is a confidence player who needs the serve to be firing to get the rest of her game going. If she is feeling comfortable, she will take the chances to break the Garcia serve and I think that this match is very much on the racquet of the American despite how well Garcia can play.

Fitness is also a key and Garcia has had back to back long matches which could have taken something out of the tank. On the other hand Keys has made serene progress through the draw and I think she can get this done in straight sets.

Simona Halep-Naomi Osaka over 21.5 games: No one will dismiss the heart and character Simona Halep displayed in an incredible Third Round win over Lauren Davis which matched the longest match in terms of games at the Australian Open. Winning 15-13 in the final set is a huge boost in confidence, but is tough on the Halep body whose ankle was already sore prior to that match.

It has to have some effect on the gas tank for Halep going into the second week and I think the challenge Naomi Osaka provides in the Fourth Round is a tough one.

Osaka has big potential and she may be a dark horse in a loaded top half of the women's draw. The wins this week have been very impressive and there will be plenty of support for Osaka in this match, while she has also pushed Halep in a couple of previous matches they have played against one another.

The questions about the Halep fitness is a concern considering that could see Osaka overpower here without the defensive skills that the Romanian usually brings to the court. However I think there will have been the time for Halep to make sure she is ready to go in a big match for her as she tries to justify her position as the World Number 1 and also to hold onto that through the Australian Open.

I have to say that Osaka have been serving very well in the tournament and could use that shot to pressure Halep from the off in the rallies. She will feel she can power back a few returns too and I would not at all be surprised if we have to see Halep in another final set decider in this one.

There wasn't much between them when they played in Miami last March and I think this is another that will be very close. I like Osaka's chances of the upset, but I can't rule a line through Halep completely and instead will look for this match to be either a tight two setter or one that needs a decider in the final set.

Karolina Pliskova - 4.5 games v Barbora Strycova: The tour of beating her Fed Cup team mates continues for Karolina Pliskova as she takes on Barbora Strycova in the Fourth Round after beating Lucie Safarova in the Third Round.

Some toughness was shown in beating Safarova who had been serving so well throughout that match, although I was also a little critical of the way Pliskova approached the return. She certainly won't be faced with the same type of firepower that Safarova brought in the Third Round, although Strycova can be very tough on her day.

Strycova has been a comfortable winner through the first three Rounds of the tournament but this is significantly the toughest challenge she would have faced. Looking after the serve as well as she has so far has been a big foundation for Strycova but I would imagine Pliskova is going to be able to at least present a much bigger challenge than the previous opponents have.

However Pliskova will be aware of how well Strycova can play having been stunned by her on the grass courts in 2016. That surface may not be one that Pliskova is as comfortable with compared with the hard courts and that is perhaps underlined with the way the Czech Number 1 was able to handle Strycova when these two played in Miami last March.

Pliskova's serve has been a big weapon so far this week and I think that is going to set her up for success in this one. While the return was not as effective as Pliskova would have liked against Safarova, I do think the additional time she will have to get a good look at the Strycova serve can help Pliskova to be much more dangerous on the return in this one and I do think she will be too strong.

A fast start will be needed to put Strycova under pressure to play keep up, but I would expect Pliskova's power to be a telling factor in the match as she heads into another Grand Slam Quarter Final.

MY PICKS: Fabio Fognini-Tomas Berdych Under 37.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 8.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Dominic Thiem Win 3-1 @ 3.75 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Novak Djokovic - 5.5 Games @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Madison Keys - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Simona Halep-Naomi Osaka Over 21.5 Games @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 25-30, - 10.22 Units (112 Units Staked, - 9.13% Yield)

Saturday, 20 January 2018

NFL Play Off Picks 2018- Championship Games (January 21st)

There are now only three games left in the 2017 NFL season and this weekend we will get to see both AFC and NFC Champions crowned and the Super Bowl set up in two weeks time.

The Divisional Round was better than I thought it was going to be with a fantastic Sunday as the two games played went down to the wire.

It will take a long time to see a better finish than the one in the Minnesota Vikings game against the New Orleans Saints, even if I was a little disappointed to see the Saints going down the way they did.

Now it feels like the New England Patriots are clear favourites to win the Super Bowl and defend the Championship they won last season. However the Minnesota Vikings will feel confident with the Super Bowl being played in their home Stadium, while both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles have shown they can upset the odds by simply making it to the Championship Game.

Hopefully we will see a couple of games that come close to the quality games we saw last Sunday.

Onto the NFL Championship Game picks.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots Pick: I only had myself to blame for believing in the Pittsburgh Steelers to want to bounce back from the regular season loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and finding their way into the Championship Game. It became very clear in their loss to the Jaguars that the Pittsburgh Defensive unit was not going to be good enough to get off the field and the Steelers did all they could Offensively before coming up short.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will head to the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship Game after the Patriots recovered from a slow start to crush the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. The Titans finished behind the Jaguars in the AFC South in the regular season, but it was the Titans who won both gams and that should underline the size of the task in front of the Jaguars.

That is perhaps not represented by the spread which sees the New England Patriots come in as the same size favourite to beat the Jaguars as the Pittsburgh Steelers were.

Much of that may be down to the fact that Tom Brady suffered a hand injury during the week which had the Patriots scrambling for a MRI to determine how bad things were for their Quarter Back. Losing Brady would be a huge blow for the Patriots, but it sounds like it was a big scare and one where Brady has avoided a serious injury.

The doubt around his status has perhaps contributed to the number in this Championship Game, but it does feel weird that the Patriots are only considered a point better than the Jaguars. Last week the New England Patriots were asked to cover almost two Touchdown worth of points against the Tennessee Titans and this number looks out of sync.

Of course Brady and the Patriots have to respect the Defensive unit they are playing against, but the Jaguars did give up some big plays against the Steelers last week. While the Patriots don't have the same level of talent as Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and the Running Back committee have played well enough to keep the chains moving for New England in this one.

Some will look at the pass rush that the Jaguars have as a strong means of slowing down New England and I do think they will have success rattling Tom Brady. However this is a player with so much experience to find the holes that Pittsburgh exploited last week and I do think the Patriots can have a big day Offensively.

Jacksonville will need the Defensive unit to bounce back from what was a rougher than expected outing in the Divisional Round. It is hard to think Blake Bortles and the Jaguars are going to have as much success as they did against the Pittsburgh Steelers in this game against a Bill Belichick Defensive unit.

There is little doubt that New England have given up some big yards at times, but they are a bend, don't break, Defensive unit and there are reasons to believe they can force Bortles into a couple of key mistakes. Overall this season the Patriots have struggled against the run, but that has been an area of improvement and right now they are playing so well on the Defensive Line that the Patriots will believe they can win up front.

With Leonard Fournette banged up and being limited in practice, the Running Back may struggle to move the chains as well as he did last week in Pittsburgh. That is only going to increase the pressure on Bortles who can't expect to have the clear gaps in the New England Defensive unit that he saw at Heinz Field.

For starters the Patriots have a very strong Secondary who have found a way to be very effective against the pass, and this Jacksonville Receiving corps will have a tough time beating them out. Add in a strong pass rush that demolished the Tennessee Titans last week and I think the Jaguars could have difficulties moving the chains with any consistency in this one.

Bortles has yet to make a really bad mistake in the Play Offs, but I can see Belichick setting up for a couple in this game and I am going to assume Tom Brady is good to go for the New England Patriots.

It is a big number when you think of how well Jacksonville have played Defensively and there has been some big talk coming from a young unit. However I don't think they played well enough in the Divisional Round to think that would be good enough again and I think Tom Brady will find the holes to exploit them.

I like the Patriots here and I think they can win this one by double digits with a late Bortles Interception sealing yet another trip to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles Pick: They have already upset one team as a home underdog in the Play Offs and the Philadelphia Eagles will be trying to use the motivation of 'no one believing in us' to help them make the Super Bowl at the expense of the Minnesota Vikings.

The win over the Atlanta Falcons was a huge one for the Eagles, but they needed a goal line stand at the end of the game to secure the victory. Much of that was down to the Defensive unit holding the Falcons to just 10 points and the Eagles will be looking for that unit to lead the way to any success they have in the NFC Championship Game.

While the Eagles won a tight game on Saturday with a huge stand, the Minnesota Vikings were almost certainly out of the Play Offs with time ticking down and one play to go. Somehow the 'Miracle of Minneapolis' took place as Case Keenum found a pass to Stefon Diggs who was completely missed by Safety Marcus Williams on the tackle and ran the ball into the End Zone for the game winning Touchdown.

It has to be the most remarkable finish to any NFL game in a long time, perhaps since the New England Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks. Picking yourself emotionally from such a performance can be difficult, but I imagine the Minnesota Vikings will be keen to become the first team to play a Super Bowl at home and snap a 0-5 record in the Championship Game since 1977.

Like the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings will believe their Defensive unit is strong enough to lay the foundations for success in this Championship Game. The difference will come through the successes of the two Offenses that will take to the field.

There is little doubt that Philadelphia have not looked the same with Nick Foles at Quarter Back instead of Carson Wentz and they were limited to 15 points in the win over the Falcons a week ago. Scoring points against this Vikings Defense will be an even tougher test and I am not going to worry about the way Drew Brees moved the chains as he is vastly superior at Quarter Back than Foles.

The Vikings begin on the Defensive Line and making sure they are not allowing teams to establish the run against them. Last week it was the Brees success throwing the ball in the second half which got the run game back on track. but the Eagles first thought will be to run the ball and that is not going to be easy.

This time there is no Brees to worry about in the passing game and the Vikings will feel they can get pressure on Foles and force some errant throws. Maybe the short passes to the Running Backs coming out of the backfield can have some success, but ultimately there won't be a lot of consistency from the Eagles Offensively and so the pressure will be on the Defensive unit to make the big plays.

Case Keenum didn't have a huge game last week against New Orleans, but he made some top throws during the Divisional Round Game and the winning one to Stefon Diggs will always be remembered, especially if the Vikings can go all the way and win the Super Bowl. Not much was expected from Keenum this season, but he has come in and taken over the starting Quarter Back job and this feels like a game that will come down on his shoulders.

Like the Minnesota Vikings, the Philadelphia Defensive Line have been strong against the run and they will believe they can force the Quarter Back to try and beat them through the air. The Eagles have a tough Secondary too so it will up to Diggs and Adam Thielen to make the big catches and create the separation from the Defensive Backs to aid Keenum in this one.

It really feels like a close game and last season the Vikings did come to the Philadelphia Eagles as a 3 point favourite only to lose the game. The Eagles Defensive Line created havoc that day, but I think Keenum is able to escape some of the pressure with his scrambles better than Foles will be able to do for the Eagles.

That slight difference may change the entire complexion of the Championship Game and I do think the Vikings will be able to beat the Eagles. The Minnesota Defensive unit can make some big plays to help win the field battle and I think Case Keenum and the team will play with a confidence that comes from the big play that ended the Divisional Round Game.

Maybe the Vikings feel it is their destiny to play in the home Super Bowl after the crazy finish to the win over New Orleans and I think they have the better Offensive unit on the field in this one. It'll be close and nip and tuck for a while, but I like the Vikings to just have the bigger plays in a win and a cover on the road.

Philadelphia used the motivation of being the home underdog to a success last week and they remain dangerous with that mind set going into the weekend. However I can't see the Offense having a lot of success and the Vikings can make their way into the Super Bowl for the first time in a generation.

MY PICKS: New England Patriots - 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Minnesota Vikings - 3 Points @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)

Australian Open Tennis Day 7 Picks 2018 (January 21st)

We have entered the second week of the Australian Open and the women's draw continues to look wide open while the Number 1 and Number 2 Seeds in the men's draw remain the players to beat.

A lot can change in the next few days as we head towards the first Grand Slam Finals of the 2018 season and the quality of matches should also increase as the top names begin to face one another.

The Fourth Round will provide some good looking matches as we get into the meat of the draw and the match between Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios will be the one the fans look forward to the most on Sunday.

It is definitely worth noting that the weather is supposed to become a lot cooler this weekend in Melbourne and there is plenty of rain expected in the area on Day 7. That isn't a problem for the players with the three main courts in Australia all having roofs that can keep play going, but consider the conditions will be different for those who get to play under the roof.

With the way the weather is expected to turn, it is feasible to think that all of the Fourth Round matches scheduled for Sunday will be played under in indoor conditions.

Kyle Edmund-Andreas Seppi under 38.5 games: He may have had to beat a Seeded player in the First Round, but Kyle Edmund has to be excited by how the draw has opened up for him since beating Kevin Anderson. Playing Denis Istomin and Nikoloz Basilashvili to reach the second week of a Grand Slam is not a bad path to trod and Edmund is a strong favourite to beat Andreas Seppi for a maiden Quarter Final appearance at this level.

A lot of this is going to come down to how well Edmund handles the pressure of expectation that he has to be feeling. I think that contributed to a tougher than expected Third Round match which was played in horrible conditions with the heat picking up in Melbourne.

At least Sunday will be cooler and even though Edmund had to go deep into a fifth set, his opponent Seppi had to go even further to knock out Ivo Karlovic having blown a two set lead in that match. That will have taken something out of both physically and I think that may also lead to a match which features quite a few chances for both to break serve.

Seppi also had a long week in Canberra in the week prior to the Australian Open where he won the title and at some point you would imagine all the tennis will catch up with him. On the other hand I think Edmund has to have left something out on the court emotionally having come from 2-1 down in sets to win a five setter for the second time already this week.

It does introduce a compelling angle to the match with some doubts over how both will be feeling, but I do think the returning that will be on display favours Edmund as he has the superior serve. I can see a situation where one of these players ends up running away with the match as the opponent perhaps drains their energy tank for the final time, while the sets could easily have swings with both Edmund and Seppi capable of producing a couple of breaks to win sets by comfortable margins.

Both are also capable of losing sets in that manner and I think this match may not reach the total games line unless it goes into a fifth set. Fighting back after the effort both put in on Friday will be difficult for whoever loses two sets first, and I would expect that player to win this in three or four sets. With the sets likely to see one of the players run away with things and the opponent looking to conserve energy, I will look for this total games line to be a little too high for the players to combine and cover.

Marin Cilic - 5.5 games v Pablo Carreno Busta: You have to credit the way Pablo Carreno Busta has played to reach the second week of yet another Grand Slam and for the second time in a row on the hard courts. This is not the favourite surface of the Spaniard, but he has found some real belief in his game which has made it very difficult to break him down.

That is something of a surprise when you consider how poorly Carreno Busta has played since reaching the US Open Semi Final. He hasn't just barely won matches since then, but he has also barely won sets and yet here he is through to another Fourth Round at a Grand Slam.

The early draw wasn't a bad one for Carreno Busta, while he was definitely on the edge in the Third Round win over Gilles Muller. The Spaniard stole the third set in a tight match which looked to be leaning towards his opponent and Carreno Busta was able to secure a late break in the fourth set too, although it has to be said that he will need to improve if he is going to beat Marin Cilic.

Cilic did not dominate on the scoreboard, but he was clearly the more convincing player in the Third Round win over Ryan Harrison and he has to be feeling good about his game. The serve is a big weapon, but Cilic also backs it up much more effectively than someone like Muller can, while he is also a far superior returning player and that will put a lot more pressure on Carreno Busta.

For all the competitive spirit and ability to rally with the best players on the Tour, ultimately Carreno Busta will try and out-hustle his opponents and look for them to make mistakes. However his game is one that can be attacked by aggressive players like Cilic and it will need a huge serving day for Carreno Busta to keep the Croatian off him.

He can do that for a while, but I would imagine this match is more comfortable for Cilic than the last one and he should be able to be in a position to put a lot more balls in play. Cilic was comfortable in the win over Harrison, but the latter was able to produce a strong serving day to help him through tough moments and that is not something that Carreno Busta can really rely upon.

Carreno Busta also looked a little fatigued at times in his over Muller, especially when it looked like all the momentum was with his opponent. He was unfortunate in having to play in the heat of the day which is going to be tough to recover from, while indoor conditions would favour Cilic significantly.

I expect the former US Open to start to break down the Carreno Busta game and I do like Cilic to win this one and cover the number.

Rafael Nadal - 8.5 games v Diego Sebastian Schwartzman: What more can you say about Diego Sebastian Schwartzman than you have to have full respect of a player that is squeezing every ounce out of his game on the main Tour. The performances over the last twelve months has seen Schwartzman move into a position to be Seeded at Grand Slam level, which is very impressive, and he has every chance of surpassing his career high World Ranking at the end of the Australian Open.

Reaching the second week of another Slam on the hard courts is really good stuff from Schwartzman who was a Quarter Finalist at the US Open in September 2017. He came through a really tough First Round match and has played better and better heading into this Fourth Round match.

However Schwartzman will be the first to tell you how much better he will need to be if he is going to be Rafael Nadal.

The World Number 1 has been in dominant form at the Australian Open and any fears about his health have been pushed firmly out of the mind. Nadal continues to open matches with strong starts to put the pressure on opponents immediately and you have to think he will look to get on top of Schwartzman early in this one too.

Nadal should have plenty of respect for Schwartzman who pushed him to two tough sets when they met on the clay courts last season. Both players are very happy on that surface, but I do think Nadal is much more accomplished on the hard courts and Schwartzman can't expect to have as many chances to break serve as he did when these two met Monte Carlo.

It was a poor serving day from Nadal in Monte Carlo, but he did get on top of the Schwartzman serve and I would expect the Spaniard to do that again. I also have to believe that his serve will be much more effective on these hard courts in Australia and so far that has been a strong weapon for Nadal to ease him through the first three Rounds in the draw.

This does look the most testing match he would have faced so far but I am expecting Nadal to come through with another strong showing. While the number of games looks very big on paper, Nadal has a habit of dominating a set or two and his fast starts this week have been clear with two of his three opponents handed a breadstick in the opening set.

With Schwartzman having to work hard to protect serve, I would expect Nadal to have plenty of joy on the return as he dictates behind an all around heavier game. The diminutive Argentinian does get some pop off the ground that can't be underestimated, but Nadal is a very capable defender too and can wear down this opponent over three sets.

I love the way Schwartzman competes with players that he should not be able to, but I do think he may have troubles against a strong Nadal who looks to be peaking nicely. I don't think the scoreboard will reflect some of the close and tough rallies these two will play but Nadal should be able to convert enough of his opportunities to cover a big number.

Grigor Dimitrov-Nick Kyrgios over 40.5 games: This was the match that most would have been hoping to see in the Fourth Round when the draw was made and both Nick Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov have made it through the draw to set it up. There have been a couple of scares for both players, although none more so than when Dimitrov was on the brink of going out of the tournament in the Second Round.

Coming through in five sets will have given Dimitrov a bit more belief that he is ready to win his first Grand Slam having won the ATP Finals in London to end 2017. He hasn't always convinced me that he is capable of doing that though and winning this match will be far from easy for Dimitrov, especially when you think he was beaten by Kyrgios in the Brisbane Semi Final already this month.

That might be part of the reason there has been a switch in favourite from that match to this one. Nick Kyrgios is someone I love to watch, but no one will deny he can be an erratic player although he has looked pretty happy so far this week.

Winning the title in Brisbane has given Kyrgios a boost and it has also led to a number of people tipping him to become the first home Grand Slam winner of the Australian Open for a long time. There is no doubting the talent he possesses with a booming serve putting plenty of pressure on his opponents, and it was that serve that helped him get past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Third Round despite losing more points than the Frenchman.

The Kyrgios serve is definitely a bigger weapon than the Dimitrov one, but it has to be said that the Bulgarian is perhaps the more effective returner. He will also look to get forward and use the slice to try and extract errors out of the Kyrgios game and Dimitrov has shown he is able to do that in the past with wins over the Australian in the two matches prior to this season.

Trying to factor in which of these players is more likely to handle the occasion is difficult. Yet that is likely to be a huge factor in the outcome of this match which has all the hallmarks of a really close one.

It could go very deep too and while I like Dimitrov as the value pick, I will look for the two players to combine to get over this total games line.

Caroline Wozniacki - 5.5 games v Magdalena Rybarikova: 2017 proved to be a really good year for Magdalena Rybarikova who came from way outside the top 100 in the World Rankings and into the top 20 thanks to a huge run at Wimbledon. Rybarikova is on another good run at a Grand Slam as she has worked her way through to the Fourth Round here in Melbourne, but she is a big underdog to see that continue.

On Sunday Rybarikova takes on the Number 2 Seeded Caroline Wozniacki who has already come through one difficult moment in the draw. The Dane came back from 5-1 down and a couple of match points down to beat Jana Fett in the Second Round and she was much more comfortable in the Third Round as Wozniacki looks to take advantage of what looks like an incredibly open portion of the draw.

The extra aggression being used by Wozniacki is certainly helping her cause on a court which is playing pretty quick this year. She has been serving well enough to keep the pressure on her opponents, while the Wozniacki return remains the strength of her game.

It also has to be noted that Rybarikova took a medical time out in the Third Round and she has been pushed to three sets in each of her last two matches. That can take a toll on a player and I do wonder if Rybarikova is completely fit to play a match where Wozniacki will be happy to keep her out on the court as long as is necessary to break her down.

Rybarikova will need to improve massively from the last two Rounds to be competitive against Wozniacki as far as I am concerned. The serve has been erratic, while her return game has also been a little up and down and I can see Wozniacki wearing her down over the course of a couple of sets.

The Wozniacki numbers have been the more impressive of the two in the tournament and the Number 2 Seed is also in better form coming into the Australian Open. I imagine one of the sets will be very competitive as you can get after Wozniacki's serve at times, but overall her aggression and superior conditioning is likely to be a factor that sees her beat Rybarikova by a comfortable margin on the scoreboard.

Elise Mertens - 3.5 games v Petra Martic: The bottom half of the women's draw looked incredibly open at the start of the Australian Open and that is underlined by Petra Martic taking on Elise Mertens for a spot in the Quarter Final of the first Grand Slam of the season.

In fairness to Mertens, she did win the title in Sydney prior to this event and she does look to be one of the improving names on the Tour. Her opponent is also making a positive move in the World Rankings, but Martic has perhaps had the 'easier' route through to the Fourth Round and I am not sure how well she is playing.

Both players have had issues behind the serve, but both have also returned effectively enough to make sure they have gotten through the Rounds. Mertens wins over Daria Gavrilova and Alize Cornet are quality ones and she has shown the confidence that comes with winning a lot of matches to get through some difficult moments in both of those matches.

The Belgian is also yet to lose a set in the tournament and so the mental edge may just be given to her, although both Mertens and Martic have to deal with the occasion. Neither player has ever reached the Quarter Final of a Grand Slam, but Martic did at least play in a couple of Fourth Round matches at the French Open and at Wimbledon in 2017.

On the other hand this is already the best Grand Slam performance from the younger player and I can imagine plenty of breaks of serve in this match as the tension rises. Both players have had some difficulties on the serve and solid returning numbers suggest it will be the returner having plenty of joy in this one.

The winning feeling Mertens is having at the moment could prove decisive. At critical moments in this match I can feel her playing the right tennis to get into a position for a vital hold or a late break to win sets and I like Mertens to begin fulfilling the potential that so many believe she holds.

That feeling has helped Mertens come through some tough examinations and I will look for her to get the better of Martic with late breaks in a straight sets win.

Elina Svitolina - 5.5 games v Denisa Allertova: There are always a couple of crazy runs in the Grand Slam events that are played throughout the year in a tennis season, and one of those is taking place a little under the radar at the Australian Open. Now we have reached the Fourth Round, Denisa Allertova won't be able to do that anymore, but she has to be feeling good about her game with the number of wins it has taken to get to this stage.

Allertova began in the Qualifiers and she has won six matches in a row without dropping a set to reach the Fourth Round. The run hasn't been against the very best on the Tour, but it is still worthy of respect to win so many matches without dropping a set and Allertova also has the confidence of having beaten Elina Svitolina in their one previous match.

That came on the hard courts of Doha in 2016, but I don't think it is a big stretch to say that the Ukrainian is a much improved player since then. Elina Svitolina came through one tough test already this week in the Second Round against Katerina Siniakova, but this is a confident player and one who has to understand the opportunity in front of her.

Of course that means a different pressure of expectation on Svitolina with what looks a clear path towards a first Grand Slam Final. You can't always know how someone will deal with the spotlight being shone on them, but Svitolina has handled the favourite tag going into the Australian Open and so it would be a big disappointment if she suddenly got really tight.

Svitolina has previously reached the Quarter Final twice at the French Open, but she can break through to that stage for the first time outside of Roland Garros. The serve has been working well enough and the conditions in Melbourne should be cooler on Sunday which will be music to the ears of the Ukrainian.

She can't overlook Allertova who does possess a big game which can be tough to contain when she is feeling her tennis. It is clearly the case this week in Melbourne and I can see her being very competitive in one of the sets played, but ultimately I would expect Svitolina to put pressure on Allertova like no one else has done this week.

The higher Ranked player has to make sure she doesn't give Allertova a lot of encouragement in this one by playing too many loose games. At the moment I don't think Svitolina is going to be doing that in the form she is in and I can see her pulling away from Allertova during the course of this match.

MY PICKS: Kyle Edmund-Andreas Seppi Under 38.5 Games @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 8.5 Games @ 2.05 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov-Nick Kyrgios Over 41.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Caroline Wozniacki - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Elise Mertens - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Elina Svitolina - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 22-26, - 8.24 Units (98 Units Staked, - 8.41% Yield)

Boxing Picks 2018- Errol Spence Jr vs Lamont Peterson (January 20th)

There was a time in recent years when being a boxing fan meant having to defend the sport from those who had begun to like other forms of combat sports.

The best were simply not fighting the best and so those stars who could be recognised outside of the sport were perhaps lacking compared with years gone by.

Without a doubt the sport has been moving with a positive trend over the last couple of years and it feels like 2018 will be another really strong year in the ring.

We are getting more unification fights, some big grudge fights and also seeing boxers prepared to take the risks with their careers to further their legacy rather than there to protect an unbeaten record. It is great news for the fans and already in 2018 we have some huge fights lined up before we hit the halfway mark of 2018.

The World Boxing Super Series has been a success so far as the fans have really fallen in love with the tournament bracket style and seeing the best fight the fight. The Cruiserweight Semi Finals come up first and who is going to back off from watching those and then we will get to see the Super-Middleweight Semi Finals including the one that everyone in the United Kingdom should be looking forward to when George Groves meets Chris Eubank Jr in Manchester in the middle of February.

The Finals of both events take place in May and there should be at least six very good fights to look forward to in the next five months.

Add in the increasing interest in the Heavyweight Division where both Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder continue to be on a path that will lead to one of the biggest fights that can be made in 2018. Both have decent looking fights in March as Joshua takes on Joseph Parker in a unification fight just three weeks after Wilder has taken on the dangerous Cuban Luis Ortiz.

Tyson Fury is also set to return having put his UKAD issues behind him and set to be given a new license by the British Board of Control to resume his unbeaten career. Dillian Whyte, Lucas Browne and Alexander Povetkin will be hoping to line up to meet Joshua at some point this year too and we also get to the see the grudge rematch between David Haye and Tony Bellew which is scheduled for early May.

That is set to occur on the same day as the Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin rematch with Billy Joe Saunders and Danny Jacobs hoping to fight the winner in September.

New stars are being made and there could be some epic fights between the likes of Mikey Garcia, Vasyl Lomachenko, Jorge Linares and perhaps Terence Crawford.

And last, but not least, there is the increasing hope that this is the year we will see Kell Brook and Amir Khan finally settle their differences in the ring.

It's easy to forget we are only in January and yet another strong year of Boxing looks to be on the cards, one where I hope there is a little less controversy attached to the very big fights.

On Saturday it is the first big event of the boxing year when pound for pound king Errol Spence Jr continues trying to blaze a path through to a unification with Keith Thurman. So far Thurman has not wanted to know at all, but Spence Jr is someone who looks capable of clearing out the Division and forcing Thurman to have no where left to move.

Chief support on the card comes from Robert Easter Jr who is an unbeaten fighter at Lightweight who is avoided by the majority of fighters in his Division. He will be looking to make sure he continues to give the other Champions no where to go too and both Easter Jr and Spence Jr come in as big favourites despite facing a couple of hardy professionals.

Robert Easter Jr vs Javier Fortuna
The fight is going to happen on the undercard of the Errol Spence Jr and Lamont Peterson card and that is despite Javier Fortuna missing the weight limit.

It is a strange situation to see Fortuna miss weight considering he had never fought higher than 135 before, while his suggestion it was something to do with the cold weather in New York is... just plain weird.

Putting that aside, Fortuna has to be respected having won thirty-three of his thirty-five previous fights. He is on a four fight winning run having rebuilt following his loss to Jason Sosa, but this is a significant step up in class compared to what Fortuna has been dealing with in that four fight winning run.

Not many people will be lining up to face Robert Easter Jr who makes weight comfortably but has some very tough physical attributes to deal with. He is a tall fighter at almost 6 foot despite being in the Lightweight Division and it is no surprise that none of the other Champions really speak about Easter Jr as someone they would like to face sooner rather than later.

The resume has a couple of decent enough names on it, but Easter Jr is trying to make it hard for the other Champions to continue to avoid him. His win over Denis Shafikov last time out is the best win for Easter Jr and I think he is going to use his size in this one to jab and keep Fortuna at arm's length.

Will Easter Jr perhaps take a few risks as the fight wears on to earn the stoppage? I am not too sure about. I actually think he would be happy to keep this fight at the tempo he likes and try and frustrate Fortuna behind a long jab and the 8 inch arm length advantage has to be one that Easter Jr will look to make full use of.

Fortuna is a decent fighter and the southpaw stance can cause problems, while he was winning his fight with Jason Sosa on the cards before being stopped. However Easter Jr doesn't lose too many Rounds and I can see him take control in the second half of the fight with my biggest issue perhaps being a corner pulling out Fortuna if the fight is beyond him at that point.

I think the first half of the fight will be close enough to mean Fortuna is allowed to push for a win until the end of the 12 scheduled Rounds. I can see Easter Jr keeping Fortuna at the end of the jab to put a few more Rounds in the bank though and I am expecting the American to be given the Decision in this one.

Errol Spence Jr vs Lamont Peterson
You don't always need trash talk between fighters to recognise a good bout, and it is no surprise that two friends like Errol Spence Jr and Lamont Peterson have refrained from going down that path to sell this fight.

There should be plenty of eyes on Spence Jr these days with many considering him the pound for pound king alongside Terence Crawford since Andre Ward retired. Spence Jr himself is very willing to prove himself, but has struggled to entice some of the bigger names in the Welterweight Division into proving that he is the man to beat at this weight.

The win over Kell Brook on the road cannot be underestimated and Spence Jr makes his return to the ring for the first time as he begins to chase down Keith Thurman for a huge unification fight between two unbeaten fighters.

Spence Jr is not someone who overlooks opponents though and he seems a calm character who will take it step by step until he gives Thurman no where left to turn. That fight is likely to be made in 2019, but Spence Jr has to keep winning and getting the fans pushing for him to entice Thurman into what could be the stand out fight next year.

For now Spence Jr will concentrate on Lamont Peterson who is a tough opponent, but one expected to be a level below what the younger man can bring to the ring. Peterson has proven to be a durable opponent with only one stoppage on his resume in three career defeats.

No one will be critical of losses to the likes of Timothy Bradley, Lucas Matthysse or Danny Garcia, especially when you think how close he came to taking away Garcia's unbeaten record. Peterson has also beaten Amir Khan in a controversial Decision and this is a man with plenty of confidence in his own ability, even if I think ultimately Peterson has come up short at the very top level where Spence Jr resides.

Peterson had to give up the WBA World Welterweight Title so he had a chance to take this fight and he won that the last time he was in the ring in February last year. That is some lay off for Peterson and I think this is going to be a step above the level that Peterson can produce.

Spence Jr has spoken about tough this fight could be and I certainly think it will be very competitive early on as he works out what Peterson is trying to do. They do know each other well so it might be a little quicker for Spence Jr to figure it out, but I think he will have to break Peterson down and I am not expecting him to rush through this opponent like Matthysse did.

Instead I can this fight developing like the Kell Brook fight with Spence Jr did- that is namely that Spence Jr will perhaps have a few issues early on, but will make the adjustments and by the mid-Rounds he will begin to exert his control. I will look for Spence Jr to break Peterson down in the second half and eventually have his punching power tell as either the referee or the corner pull out the older fighter.

The last nine Spence Jr fights have ended with a stoppage and I think the accuracy and power will be telling again as he becomes only the second person to prevent Peterson hearing the final bell. There is no doubt that Spence Jr has the power to end this fight early, but I think the most likely time is around Round 8 or 9 as he wears Peterson down so I will back a second half stoppage here.

MY PICKS: Robert Easter Jr  to Win by Decision/Technical Decision @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Errol Spence Jr to Win Between 7-12 @ 2.40 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Friday, 19 January 2018

Weekend Football Picks 2018 (January 20-22)

The Premier League is back for another round of fixtures this weekend and I have to say I am feeling better about that as the FA Cup continues to kick my backside.

It wouldn't have been a problem if Chelsea had not conceded a last minute goal against Norwich City, but that is just the way the things have been rolling for me so far in that competition.

The transfer of Alexis Sanchez is still up in the air as I write this, although Arsene Wenger suggested it could have been done by Friday to ensure Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are both able to be registered in time to play this weekend.

Personally it always felt like the Manchester United game with Yeovil Town would have been the more likely debut spot for Sanchez IF the deal does cross the line. Reports continue to say Mkhitaryan is dragging his feet and I am not sure that's a good thing for a player I do really like.

Failing to move will surely mean an end to his season as I am not sure Jose Mourinho will be someone who easily forgives Mkhitaryan, while it will put a few fans' noses out of joint. No one should be forced to move to any club, but Mkhitaryan could potentially thrive at Arsenal and will be available for the suddenly important Europa League.

That was a competition in which Mkhitaryan excelled last season and the move seems to make sense for all parties. However, any time a transfer drags on as long as this one has done then there is always the possibility for a late breakdown.

There are some important games in the League this weekend as the race for the top four heats up with five contenders going into those spots. I'll assume Manchester City have locked up one of those which means Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are all looking to build some momentum ahead of the resumption of the Champions League.

With Tottenham Hotspur hosting Manchester United in ten days time, both clubs will want to make sure they don't drop points in tough away games this weekend. For Tottenham Hotspur it's more important, perhaps, as they face Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in three consecutive games in February.

You wouldn't expect the three other clubs in the top five to drop points, but Chelsea's form is leaving a lot to be desired.

Arsenal fans could wonder why I am now talking about a top five, but slipping 8 points off the top four is a tough road to tread. I imagine the Europa League is building importance in each passing week for Arsene Wenger as he will try and emulate Manchester United with a second path into the Champions League next season.

Fail to beat Crystal Palace this weekend and you would say the Europa League is the priority for Arsene Wenger going into February.

Brighton v Chelsea Pick: Most of the headlines out of the FA Cup Third Round Replay would have been about the non-use of the VAR system for what looked a clear penalty for Chelsea in extra time. However you can’t ignore the fact that The Blues remain firmly out of form and now travel down to the south coast with both Pedro and Alvaro Morata out through suspension.

The games keep coming thick and fast for Chelsea who can’t afford to keep slipping up in the Premier League in a tight race for top four places. They have two more Cup games in the eight days after this League game and Antonio Conte’s future plans remain up in the air.

It all feels like Chelsea are ripe for being upset by Brighton who are unbeaten in 4 home games in all competitions and have won half of those games. However that is still asking a lot of Brighton as far as I am concerned as they have found the best teams in the Premier League a little too good for them so far this season.

Brighton are also struggling for form and Chelsea have remained tough enough defensively to feel they can limit what the home side are able to do.

Personally I was hoping the layers would have underestimated the chance of seeing two or fewer goals in this match or the potential for one, or both, of these teams not to score but that is not to be. Those prices are all short enough to ignore and instead I think it may pay to back Chelsea to win here.

Both Manchester City and Liverpool have done that this season, while Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Chelsea have all beaten Brighton at home. Brighton have managed to score just a single goal in that time and I think Conte is going to set up his team to be hard to beat and look for Eden Hazard to play the ‘false nine’ position as he did to strong effect at Huddersfield Town.

For all the negative feelings at Chelsea at the moment, they still have plenty of quality and they did have enough chances to win some of the games they have drawn of late. I considered backing Chelsea to win this game with a clean sheet which is a very big price, but the better angle may be backing the away side to win a game where fewer than four goals are scored.

Only Liverpool have managed to blow Brighton away this season and I don’t think Chelsea are playing with enough confidence to do the same. Antonio Conte will just want to find any sort of win and I think Chelsea will use a defensive base to provide the chance to do that.

This also covers any Brighton goal, which would scupper the win to nil, as I am not convinced Chelsea will score more than two goals here. Not after playing extra time on Wednesday and looking a little fatigued at times.

Brighton have had 6 games against the top six this season and 5 of those have ended with fewer than three goals scored and all 6 have ended in losses. At odds against I will back Chelsea to win a game featuring three or fewer goals.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace Pick: 
I can’t imagine there will be a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere for the home manager Arsene Wenger on Saturday as the fans are likely to be ready to vent their anger. A poor run of form coupled with Alexis Sanchez likely moving to a Premier League rival will be putting pressure on Wenger and Arsenal are desperate to get back in touch with the top four places.

An 8 point gap has developed between Arsenal in 6th place and Chelsea in 4th place and failing to beat Crystal Palace will not go down well with the locals.

It is a tough game for Arsenal as Roy Hodgson has got Crystal Palace well organised and hard to beat. They are unbeaten in 5 away games in the Premier League and Crystal Palace have shown they can battle through all the injury issues they are having.

The defensive injuries are a blow for Crystal Palace, but they will feel they can be well organised and make life as difficult as possible for the home team. With the speed of Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace will offer a threat going the other way too and this does look a tough test for Arsenal on paper.

It has been a long time since Arsenal would be the kind of price they are to beat a team in the bottom half of the table at home. That says a lot about how The Gunners have been playing and they have lacked a bit of creativity in the final third in recent games.

Defensively Arsenal do tend to be better at home and they did have a couple of narrow wins over the likes of Newcastle United and West Ham United in recent weeks. That looks the best case scenario for Arsenal on Saturday especially with the fans likely to be itching to get on the backs of the players on the field.

The game a couple of weeks ago between these two teams produced fireworks in the final third, but that has not really been the case under Roy Hodgson for Crystal Palace against top clubs. Recently they have narrowly lost at Tottenham Hotspur and held Manchester City to a goalless draw and I do think goals could be at a premium on Saturday.

A narrow Arsenal win is perhaps the most likely result, but I will take a chance on seeing less than three goals at odds against. I think Roy Hodgson will want Crystal Palace to frustrate Arsenal as long as possible and then break in the second half and so a tight game feels like it is in the offing.

The last two fixtures between these teams at the Emirates Stadium have ended with two goals exactly and I will back fewer than three to feature in this one.

Burnley v Manchester United Pick: The big question ahead of this League fixture is whether or not Alexis Sanchez has signed for Manchester United from Arsenal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way? At the time of writing the deal is supposed to be hours away from being announced, but whether the paperwork is in by noon on Friday to see both players registered for this round of fixtures is up for debate.

Jose Mourinho won’t be worrying about that with his focus on making sure Manchester United keep the momentum behind them after 3 successive wins. That includes an impressive display at Goodison Park, but Manchester United will be well aware of the challenge in facing Burnley.

It has only been three weeks since Burnley were leading 0-2 at Old Trafford in a game that eventually ended 2-2. That will give the players confidence, but Burnley have not been in the best of form of late and that has to play a part in this one.

As long as Manchester United don’t come out and gift Burnley a two goal start as they did at Old Trafford, the away side should prove to be too good. Goals have not been a problem for Manchester United away from home although Mourinho will want to see better defensive performances having dropped points at Leicester City and allowed Watford, Arsenal and West Brom back into games Manchester United led 0-2.

Burnley have shown they can score goals, but they have also been beaten in their 3 home games against the top six this season. Granted two of those came deep in injury time against Arsenal and Liverpool, but Burnley do feel like they have hit a wall of late and Manchester United are playing well enough to punish them.

Last season United won by a couple of goals here and I would expect the same on Saturday. With a team rounding into form and with the potential signing of Alexis Sanchez giving them another boost, I like Manchester United to win by a two goal margin here.

However there have been some problems for Manchester United defensively that Burnley will look to exploit too and I would not be surprised if this game produces at least three goals. Manchester United did get a rare clean sheet at Everton in their last away game, but Burnley can do enough to be involved in this one and I will take a big price on Manchester United winning in a game that features at least three goals.

Both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool won games with that many goals at Turf Moor in the last month and Manchester United can become the latest. Before the Everton game, the last 5 Manchester United away games had featured at least three goals and I will look for that to be the outcome in a winning effort for Jose Mourinho’s men on Saturday.

Everton v West Brom Pick: Both Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew look to keep their teams well organised and use that as a platform for success and this could be one of the less entertaining games of the weekend.

A point for West Brom would be seen as a good result so I am not convinced Pardew will want them opening up while the game is level. On the other hand Sam Allardyce has admitted he is going to go back to basics after Everton have lost 4 games in a row in all competitions and so there won't be too many risks taken by the home team either.

There is an onus on Everton to make a little more of the play though and Allardyce has added some solid pieces to his team in this transfer window. Theo Walcott is the latest to come in, although I am not convinced he will start this game as he builds match fitness after limited opportunities at Arsenal.

Walcott could come on and make an impact in a match that won't have a lot between these teams. You do have to say that Everton look to have a little more about them compared with West Brom and they won't be the only team to fail to beat Chelsea and Manchester United at home.

Prior to that Allardyce had found the right formula to keep the points ticking over and I can see Everton winning a narrow one this weekend. One goal could be enough to win this for either team, but I will look for Everton to get that and back them to win at odds against.

Leicester City v Watford Pick: This should be a decent game of football at the King Power Stadium on Saturday with two teams who have liked to play attacking football. The Leicester City performances in recent weeks will be really encouraging and they made their way through to the FA Cup Fourth Round comfortably enough with a win on Tuesday.

Peterborough United are next for Leicester City and Claude Puel will believe his side are capable of a big run, but the Premier League and finishing in the top seven is a key goal for the club too.

The Burnley stumble has given Leicester City a chance to move up behind them and the side are going to feel good about making it 3 wins in a row in front of their own fans. Defensively Leicester City have been much improved too with 4 clean sheets and it will be tough for Watford here.

Watford have started to pick up their form again and their 2-2 home draw with Southampton in a game they trailed 0-2 will be seen as a positive point. However it has been much more difficult for The Hornets away from home and I think that may be a difference maker in the outcome of this fixture.

Leicester City have won 3 of their last 4 at home against Watford and I will back them to earn another win here. It won't be an easy game, but Leicester City are playing with a little more positivity than Watford at the moment and I think they can earn the three points in this one.

West Ham United v Bournemouth Pick: Both West Ham United and Bournemouth earned a big Premier League win last weekend before having contrasting results in the FA Cup Third Round Replays played during the week. If both had won this would have been the first of two meetings between the clubs over the next eight days, but Bournemouth exited the competition and now can focus on the Premier League.

The Premier League is the priority for David Moyes too, but he will be happy his West Ham United team have kept the momentum going with a 6 game unbeaten run coming into this fixture.

Recent weeks have been more difficult in finding wins, but the same could be said for Bournemouth before both clubs won last weekend.

Both teams will have looked at this fixture as a big chance to add another three points towards survival and that could mean another game with plenty of chances is in the offing.

West Ham United have scored and conceded goals in recent games as they have struggled through injury, while Bournemouth do score goals on their travels. The Cherries have struggled to avoid losses though and I think my lean is towards West Ham United winning a high scoring contest.

5 of the 6 matches between these clubs have finished with three or more goals scored since Bournemouth earned promotion to the Premier League. The one exception was here last season, but I think the defensive concerns of both clubs is hard to ignore and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Manchester City v Newcastle United Pick: The Premier League unbeaten run is over for Manchester City but they still have a healthy lead at the top of the table and have the perfect run of fixtures to bounce back.

First up is Newcastle United and then it is West Brom who come to the Etihad Stadium and Manchester City will be expected to beat both. In between the two games are two Cup ties in the League Cup and FA Cup and Pep Guardiola will have been happy to have given his players six days to recover and get ready for this fixture.

You have to feel that Newcastle United will play this the same way they did at the end of December when they hosted Manchester City. Rafa Benitez was looking to make his team as hard to beat as possible and I think the team will defend in numbers and try and frustrate the home team.

That may be difficult against a City team who will want to bounce back from the defeat against Liverpool last Sunday. Manchester City have been tough to contain at the Etihad Stadium and I do think they can win this fixture and perhaps even win by a wide margin.

However the best option may be to look for Manchester City to control the match to the extent of being able to limit the chances Newcastle United can create. That should help them earn a rare clean sheet in recent weeks and backing the home team to win to nil looks the way to go.

Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This is a big game at the top and the bottom of the Premier League table as the television cameras arrive at St Mary's on Sunday afternoon. The form guide is only pointing in one direction with Tottenham Hotspur having won 5 of their last 6 and Southampton struggling for results in the Premier League.

The Saints have not won any of their last 4 home games in the League and have suffered losses in half of those games as they slipped to just outside the bottom three. Losing Virgil Van Dijk is a blow and Southampton have yet to bring in the new faces to turn things around.

A confident Tottenham Hotspur come to town having won at Turf Moor and the Liberty Stadium in their last couple of away League games. The goals are flowing and the team look to be rounding into form ahead of a tough February when they face three of the top six as well as Juventus in the Champions League.

Prior to the wins at Burnley and Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur had been in poor form away from home and that raises some questions about how they can do here. However they have won on 4 of their last 5 away games at Southampton and they have scored plenty of goals in that time.

Tottenham Hotspur hammered Southampton at Wembley Stadium on Boxing Day and I think they will be too strong again. The handicap market is a tight one with Spurs needing to win by more than a single goal margin to earn a full pay out and that's difficult when you think Southampton have scored in their last 5 at home.

However I think Tottenham Hotspur will find a way to win here and you can back them at close to odds against to win a game that features at least two goals. The side have scored at least twice in back to back away wins and they have scored at least twice in their last 5 trips to St Mary's.

Games between these two have been high-scoring and I will back Spurs to win a game with two or more goals shared out.

Swansea City v Liverpool Pick: There will be plenty of excitement in the Liverpool fan base after seeing their side end the unbeaten run of Manchester City in the Premier League last time out. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping his team can kick on from that as they try and maintain the push for a top four finish.

Liverpool do kick off last this weekend which may put some additional pressure on them if the rest of the top five teams have won. However the match up with Swansea City should be one they enjoy as the home team will allow Liverpool to play their football.

It has been tough for Swansea City when coming up against teams who are in the top half of the Premier League table and this looks another tough test for them. While earning some positive results under Carlos Carvalhal, Swansea City's performances have to improve to compete with the best teams in the Premier League.

The style is one that the top Premier League clubs will enjoy playing against and Manchester United (twice), Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have all won here by a couple of goals.

Liverpool did need a late goal to win at Burnley last time out, but they have been free scoring away from home in their 7 game unbeaten run on their travels. They had scored at least three times in 6 away games before the 1-2 win at Turf Moor and I think Liverpool will have the chances to become the latest top five club to visit here and win by a comfortable margin.

Even the doubts around Mo Salah won't put me off and I am expecting Liverpool to show their class in this one. Defensively they have not been as strong away from home which would be a concern when you think of this handicap, but I think Liverpool will find a way to win here by a couple of goals on the night.

MY PICKS: Chelsea to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 2.15 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Arsenal-Crystal Palace Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.40 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester United to Win & Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.87 Coral (2 Units)
Everton @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 1.86 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Ham United-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet365 (2 Units)