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Midweek Football Picks 2016 (August 23-25)

This week is all about concluding the Qualifiers in the Champions League and Europa League and we will be seeing the Group Stage draws later...

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (August 23-25)

This week is all about concluding the Qualifiers in the Champions League and Europa League and we will be seeing the Group Stage draws later on. On Thursday evening it will be the Champions League Group Stage that is decided, while the Europa League participants will have to wait until Friday morning.

We also have the Second Round of the English Football League Cup played during the week with the draw for the Third Round expected to be made on Wednesday evening.

This will lead into the final weekend in August of domestic football before a two week break to account for the World Cup Qualifiers.

So far the picks are still in good shape, but it was a difficult weekend with a few upsets and less than exciting matches. Late goals didn't help, but it happens and I am looking for two big threads to give this season a boost at the beginning that I haven't had too often.

Hopefully this midweek selection of games can have the same impact as we saw last week to give me some momentum to take into the final weekend of August.

Monaco v Villarreal PickDespite a fairly turbulent summer where expectations might have lessened for Villarreal, I did think they might have won last week to hold a narrow edge over Monaco in the Second Leg. Instead all credit has to be given to Monaco for coming away from Spain with a 1-2 win and that means they are in pole position to make it back to the Champions League Group Stage.

You wouldn't argue with anyone that makes Monaco a fairly strong favourite to do that considering they have been tough to beat at home in recent European games. Monaco have won their last 3 Champions League Qualifiers at home over the last twelve months against the likes of Young Boys, Valencia and Fenerbahce and so playing Villarreal won't hold any fear for them.

They will respect Villarreal who did reach the Semi Final of the Europa League in each of the last two seasons, but there have been some key departures since they finished 4th in the Primera Division in May. This is also a side that haven't been as strong on their travels as they have at home in European games and Villarreal have won just 2 of their last 8 away games in the Europa League.

It really couldn't be much simpler for Villarreal in this Second Leg which should make putting a game plan together a little easier. They have to score at least twice to have any chance of progressing so at some point Villarreal will be willing to take risks to try and be rewarded with a Champions League Group Stage.

For Monaco it is a little more difficult as they try to figure out if they should twist or stick. Two seasons ago they did lose 0-2 at home in the Second Leg of the Second Round meeting with Arsenal after beating The Gunners 1-3 in London, so the victory in Spain is not a guarantee Monaco can progress.

They have shown they can score goals though and Monaco will have some chances of their own in this one as Villarreal come forward in numbers. Monaco have the edge with a slightly more settled mentality coming into the Second Leg and back to back wins will have given them confidence. However I do think Villarreal can create chances too and backing at least three goals to be shared out in the Second Leg like we saw in the First Leg is the call.

Roma v Porto PickThis Second Leg could not have been more finely balanced after the 1-1 draw in Portugal last week although Porto might feel they should have done better against a Roma team who had been reduced to ten men for much of the game. That result does mean Roma will be going in as favourites to reach the Champions League Group Stage, but they don't have a dominant home record in Europe which keeps this one very interesting.

Porto might not have scored in losses at Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund in their last 2 European away games, but they scored at least twice in their other 2 away games in Europe. On another night Porto might have had a lead to take to Italy if they had taken the chances that did come their way and I can see them causing some problems for Roma again.

However the right team is being favoured as Roma looked very strong last week when the teams both had eleven men on the pitch. The Thomas Vermaelan sending off changed the First Leg, but Roma will believe home advantage can give them the edge in this one.

It should be an entertaining game like the First Leg was.

Roma are not a team that can sit back and hope a clean sheet is enough to put them into the Group Stage, but instead they will look to take the game to Porto as they did last week in Portugal. With Porto needing at least one goal to give themselves a chance to progress to the Group Stage, they will likely send numbers forward in this one and I can see goals being the outcome.

Only 1 of the 4 Roma home games in the Champions League ended with three goals or more being shared out, but there should be enough chances in this one to provide goals in this Second Leg. The 1-1 final score is a real player in this one too, but I think we will see the teams playing with enough confidence and freedom to combine for at least three goals in this huge game.

Hapoel Be'er Sheva v Celtic Pick: Last week was a rollercoaster ride for Brendan Rodgers and his Celtic players and fans in the First Leg as they threw away a 3-0 lead to be pulled back to 3-2. Two late goals have given Celtic the big edge in the tie having won 5-2 at Celtic Park, but Hapoel Be'er Sheva have been talking up a big game heading into the Second Leg.

Goals might be the order of the day in the Second Leg with Hapoel Be'er Sheva forced to go on the attack and Celtic having plenty of counter attacking ability. In 4 of the last 5 Hapoel Be'er Sheva games there have been at least three goals shared out, while Rodgers has been talking up the attacking potential his side have displayed so far.

The last 5 Celtic games have all produced at least three goals but it does have to be noted that only 1 of Celtic's last 6 away games in the Champions League have hit that target. However this is a rare occasion when the Celtic's opponents have to be a little gung-ho in their attacking performance to try and get back into the tie as soon as possible knowing they need to score three times without reply to get them through to the Group Stage.

2 of the 3 Celtic away games in the Europa League Group Stage did see three or more goals shared out and I think that is the most likely situation in this one. There should be plenty of chances at both ends if the First Leg is anything to go by and late goals might be in play when one of the teams are pushing forward in search of goals which leaves them vulnerable to the counter attack.

Legia Warsaw v Dundalk Pick: A late goal in Dublin has given Legia Warsaw a 2-0 lead over Dundalk going into the Second Leg of this Champions League Play Off tie and the Polish side are now in a very strong position to progress to the Group Stage. The run to this Round from Dundalk has come in surprising fashion and a place in the Europa League Group Stage will be the reward for them.

I imagine the dream draw would be to face Manchester United, but Dundalk are not going to roll over and allow Legia Warsaw to embarrass them in the Second Leg. Unfortunately there is a clear difference in quality and even though Legia Warsaw don't need to win this game, I do think they can go on and prove they are the better side.

The recent form displayed by Legia Warsaw has not been the best, but neither have Dundalk and I just think their run has come to an end. They will give plenty of effort and work hard but Dundalk have to also take some risks during the match and I think Legia Warsaw will be able to win this one by a couple of goals.

Burton Albion v Liverpool PickThe television cameras will arrive at the Pirelli Stadium in anticipation of an upset as Burton Albion look to beat Liverpool in this English Football League Cup Second Round. Nigel Clough has helped his team make a solid start to the new season at the Championship level which is a big leap for Burton Albion who had been playing in the fourth tier just two seasons ago.

Defensively there is room for improvement for Burton Albion, but that same charge can be levelled at the Liverpool first team defence. It is unlikely that Burton Albion will be facing that first team here and that will give them a chance as they have already scored ten goals in five games played this season.

Liverpool will feel they will have their joy going forward too but the five goals conceded by the first choice defence coupled with the changes likely to be made makes Liverpool a vulnerable team here in my opinion.

They look very short in the market when you think how Jurgen Klopp is likely to approach this Second Round game, but I am going to focus on Burton Albion and their chances of scoring at least one goal. This Liverpool defence will be unfamiliar and Burton Albion have been scoring plenty of goals so backing them to score at least once looks a big price.

Chelsea v Bristol Rovers PickThere will be changes made to the Chelsea first team as Antonio Conte rotates the squad, but the Italian has made it clear he still expects a winning performance on the day. Momentum is the key for Conte who will be looking for two more wins this week which will take Chelsea into September with confidence behind them after a difficult 2015/16 season.

It is a big ask for Bristol Rovers to challenge a Chelsea team from the Premier League when you think this club was in the Conference just two seasons ago. They are another team that have earned back to back promotions to now play at a level which is going to be very challenging for them.

That level is still two below the Premier League and there will be plenty of players in the home team who are trying to show the manager they are perhaps deserving of regular starting places. It should mean Chelsea are plenty motivated when taking to the field for a rare Second Round League Cup game and I think The Blues will be far too strong for Bristol Rovers.

Bristol Rovers have won just 1 of their last 6 away games in either League One or League Two and I think Chelsea will take control as their superior fitness begins to tell. I will back Chelsea to cover this Asian Handicap and move through to the Third Round.

Luton Town v Leeds United PickLuton Town showed tremendous character to come from a goal down to beat Championship Aston Villa in the English Football League Cup First Round and their reward is to face another of the big names from that Division. Leeds United are not as strong as Aston Villa on the pitch though and I can see Luton Town perhaps upsetting them, although not convinced enough to back them.

The Leeds United win at Sheffield Wednesday has played a part in that thinking while they have only lost 1 of their last 6 on their travels going back to last season.

Instead of picking a winner, I think these teams can combine for at least three goals as both teams will give this Second Round match a go. 4 of 5 Luton Town games have ended with at least three goals scored this season and they won't be overawed if they fall behind in this one having come back from that deficit to beat Aston Villa.

Leeds United have tended to play higher scoring games away from home over the last twelve months and they have conceded when facing lower League opposition in this Cup in recent seasons. The 1-1 scoreline is the big concern for my pick, but I think we will see a winner in normal time and I believe that will be 2-1 either way.

Millwall v Nottingham Forest PickThe English Football League Cup can be a difficult competition to read with even teams in the lower Leagues making changes to their starting line ups. That might not be the case for Millwall and Nottingham Forest in this Second Round match and I think both teams will feel they have enough going forward to trouble their opponents.

Britt Assombalonga could be missing for Nottingham Forest who have scored eight goals in two home games in the League, but failed to score in two away games. Nottingham Forest did beat League Two Doncaster Rovers in the First Round of the League Cup, but they conceded in that one too and have yet to keep a clean sheet.

Millwall have scored and conceded in three straight games themselves and I think there is plenty to suggest we will see goals in this one.

The 1-1 scoreline could be a real player, but I am looking for attacking football to be produced by both Millwall and Nottingham Forest which should lead to at least three goals being shared out.

Wolves v Cambridge United PickIt has been a really poor start to the season for Cambridge United, but they are far from out on contention before the first month of the 2016/17 season is in the books.

For Wolves it has been a surprisingly solid start to the new season and I wouldn't be shocked if both teams are looking ahead to big League games this weekend. However a place in the Third Round of the English Football League Cup is up for grabs along with some of the biggest clubs in English football and home advantage looks very important for Wolves.

I would not be expecting Cambridge United to roll over and they have shown they can compete with Championship clubs after beating Sheffield Wednesday in the First Round. However they have not scored in their last 3 away games and have lost both on their travels this season which is another edge to Wolves.

Wolves have won 3 of their last 4 games to start putting the momentum together and I think they will be too strong on the day and cover the Asian Handicap.

APOEL v Copenhagen Pick: The 1-0 home win for Copenhagen has given them the edge in this Champions League Play Off Round tie, but the layers believe APOEL are the more likely winners of the Second Leg. However I think a small interest on Copenhagen to win in Cyprus has to be taken as I look for them to make the Group Stage with another win under their belt.

Copenhagen have won 3 of their last 4 away games in European football and they are unbeaten in all 11 games they have played in all competitions in the new season. It does have to be said they have not been at their strongest away from home but Copenhagen don't need to win this one and look in stronger shape than APOEL.

There has been a week for APOEL to prepare for this game, but that doesn't take away from the fact they have lost 3 of their last 4 games in all competitions. In the last Round they scored three times in injury time to beat Rosenborg 3-0 here which helped them overturn a First Leg deficit, but anyone who saw that game will tell you that it was much closer than the final scoreline.

In fact it could be argued that Rosenborg had the best chances to win the game and I think Copenhagen can take those chances if they come up again as APOEL push to get back into the tie. APOEL only won 1 of their last 6 home games in European competition last season and they were beaten here by Danish club Midtjylland in the Champions League here last season.

As well as APOEL played in their game against Rosenborg, the feeling was that the Norwegian Champions let themselves down with a lack of composure in front of goal. At a big price I will have a small interest on Copenhagen winning this Second Leg and moving into the Group Stage of the Champions League.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Young Boys PickThe First Leg has placed Borussia Monchengladbach firmly in control of this Champions League Play Off tie and I think Young Boys will struggle to contain them in the Second Leg too. Of course Borussia Monchengladbach don't 'need' to win, but this is the opening home game of the new season and that should see them plenty motivated to give the fans something to enjoy.

They might only have won 1 of their last 4 home games in European football, but Borussia Monchengladbach have played the likes of Sevilla (twice), Manchester City and Juventus. All of those sides are significantly better than Young Boys and I am looking for the German side to move into the Group Stage with another impressive win under their belt.

The style of play means Borussia Monchengladbach will get forward to try and score goals and win this Second Leg. The fact they are 3-1 up from the First Leg means their opponents have to come forward and I can see Borussia Monchengladbach having plenty of spaces to exploit on the counter attack.

I also can't ignore the fact that Young Boys have been a poor travelling team in recent European games with the two goals conceded at Shakhtar Donetsk the fewest they have conceded in 6 away games. All of those 6 straight losses suffered have come by at least two goals and Young Boys have lost by three or more goals in half of those defeats.

Recently they have also been beaten 3-0 at Basel and Young Boys might struggle to contain Borussia Monchengladbach in the Second Leg. I will back the German side to go through to the Group Stage with another strong win under their belt and will back Borussia Monchengladbach to cover the Asian Handicap at home.

Salzburg v Dinamo Zagreb PickThe 1-1 draw in Croatia might have given Salzburg the edge in the Play Off tie, but they can't rule out Dinamo Zagreb who have a very strong record at the Qualifier level in recent years.

Dinamo Zagreb are already assured of maintaining their run of getting to the Group Stage of one of the European competitions with this being their tenth time in a row achieving that feat. However they would love to turn around this tie and make it back into the Champions League Group Stage for the fourth time in six seasons although they have to win at a ground that has been tough in recent times.

It is Salzburg who have won 4 in a row at home in European competition and they have also won their last 5 home Champions League games but without being able to make it through to the Group Stage. Those wins will give them confidence, but Dinamo Zagreb are unbeaten in 14 away European Qualifiers in the Champions League and Europa League and the side have won 12 of those games.

Two seasons ago Dinamo Zagreb were hammered in both games played against Salzburg in the Europa League Group Stage, but the home team will have to deal with their nerves having missed good chances to reach the Champions League Groups in recent seasons. However, I think Salzburg won't have had too many better opportunities than this and I wouldn't be surprised if they finish Dinamo Zagreb off with a late goal to win this Second Leg and cover the one goal Asian Handicap.

Manchester City v Steaua Bucharest PickThe tie has already been won by Manchester City and the layers are not giving anything away by asking them to cover two goals on the Asian Handicap. However I think there is still an excitement under the new guidance of Pep Guardiola and I imagine the manager will use a spine of the players that will likely play a huge part through the season.

There is a suggestion Sergio Aguero will be rested, but Manchester City don't play in the Premier League until Sunday and I think Guardiola will give a few players more minutes to get used to what he wants from them. Those on the fringes might have some more opportunities, but Guardiola has made it clear he expects his Manchester City team to keep winning.

Having a 5-0 lead from the First Leg means Manchester City don't need to win, but that should ease the pressure and let them play their game. Last week they showed they are considerably stronger than Steaua Bucharest who looked naive defensively and gave up too many chances to give me much belief that things will change in the Second Leg.

I don't think Manchester City will get back up to five goals this week but I do think they will show their superiority on the scoreboard again. They looked far too good for Steaua Bucharest and I think the need to impress Guardiola will keep the fires burning as I look for Manchester City to record another comfortable win over their visitors.

MY PICKS: Monaco-Villarreal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Coral (2 Units)
Roma-Porto Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Hapoel Be'er Sheva-Celtic Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 BWin (2 Units)
Legia Warsaw - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burton Albion Over 0.5 Team Goals @ 1.91 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Chelsea - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.70 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Luton Town-Leeds United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Millwall-Nottingham Forest Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Wolves - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Copenhagen @ 2.88 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Borussia Monchengladbach - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Salzburg - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)

August Update17-17, + 2.65 Units (61 Units Staked, + 4.34% Yield)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2016 (August 23rd)

The final week before a Grand Slam event can see weaker fields take to the courts as the top players have refocused their effort on heading to New York City.

There will still be some decent angles to have this week as the events in Winston Salem and New Haven are usually stronger than the other events prior to Grand Slam tournaments around the world. Plenty of the players in action will think they can earn decent Ranking points as well as build some momentum to take into the US Open although it would be a surprise to see them reaching the very business end of the tournament.

On Monday I didn't really see any angles that appealed but I have got three picks from the host of matches to be played on Tuesday and will be looking for a strong week after breaking my run of winning weeks last week in Cincinnati.

Timea Bacsinszky - 4.5 games v Johanna Larsson: The First Round match in New Haven is between Timea Bacsinszky and Johanna Larsson and it is the Swiss player who has won all four of their previous matches. She is a big favourite to make it five in a row against Larsson who has entered the draw as a 'Lucky Loser', the second tournament in a row she has been fortunate to do that having lost in the Qualifiers.

The match up with Bacsinszky has been a difficult one for Larsson in the past as she doesn't get the free points off of serve as she can from other opponents. Bacsinszky is good enough defensively to make sure she gets plenty of balls back in play against Larsson and wait for the inevitable mistakes to be made.

The last two matches between the players have been on the clay courts, but the hard courts should be a surface that appeals to Larsson a little more. It might give her an opportunity to hit through the court and penetrate some of the Bacsinszky defences, but the closer Larsson has to hit to the lines will see mistakes come off her racquet.

Larsson has shown she can be a competitive opponent on the hard courts in 2016, but this is a match up that will take a mental toll knowing how much she has struggled against Bacsinszky. I think the Swiss player will eventually pull away as the unforced errors come from the other side of the court a little more frequently and she can move through with a 64, 63 win.

Marcos Baghdatis - 1.5 games v Donald Young: This is the first match that Marcos Baghdatis is going to have played in Winston Salem having come through the First Round with a bye. That will make Donald Young more dangerous with a win under his belt and the layers are expecting a close match between the two players.

Baghdatis lost early in Winston Salem last year and hasn't had a lot of tennis this summer on the hard courts which is an issue. However he played well last week in Cincinnati for three sets before falling apart against an in-form Gael Monfils and I think Baghdatis can get the better of Young in this Second Round contest.

A win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the First Round was a solid result for Young, but the American has been a mixed bag on the hard courts this summer. He did reach the Quarter Final in Atlanta but defeats to the likes of Bernard Tomic and Jack Sock perhaps highlight the difference in level that Young has compared with some of the higher Ranked players on the Tour.

Young is just 8-9 on the hard courts this season and he has a number of relatively early losses in Winston Salem in recent years. I think Baghdatis might need three sets to come through this one, but I am looking for the Cypriot to have a little too much for Young and cover this number.

Sam Querrey - 2.5 games v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: The run to the Wimbledon Quarter Final has perhaps seen Sam Querrey a little over-rated in the markets over the last few weeks on the hard courts. He has failed to back up that performance in Wimbledon and has now lost four of his last five matches on what should be his favourite surface.

To be honest I have done well to not be sucked in by the Querrey performances and so have not been hurt by his failures to perform. In fact this will be the first time I will back him to cover a spread during the hard court swing this summer and I have to like his chances against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who has not been in strong form himself.

The Spaniard did win his First Round match against Damir Dzumhur fairly comfortably but that means he has only improved to 2-2 over the last few weeks on this surface. Garcia-Lopez is 7-8 on the hard courts in 2016 and he was beaten early in Winston Salem last year while the previous two defeats in this tournament had come at the hands of Querrey.

It is Querrey who has won all five of their previous hard court matches and I think his serve does put the pressure on Garcia-Lopez. There are times Garcia-Lopez will roll through his service games, but he will also allow opponents to get into his serve and that does lead to a few break points being offered to them. I think Querrey will win a rare match this summer and move through with a 76, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Timea Bacsinszky - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Marcos Baghdatis - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sam Querrey - 2.5 Games @ 1.73 William Hill (2 Units)

Season 2016- 22.58 Units (1469 Units Staked, - 1.54% Yield)
Season 2015- 21.81 Units (1812 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
Season 2014+ 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)
Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Cincinnati Tennis Picks 2016 (August 20th)

The picks might have gone 2-1 on Friday to make a little dent in the losses for the week in Cincinnati, but how frustrating that Borna Coric decided he had nothing left to give after dropping the first set to Marin Cilic 6-2.

That would have helped make a serious dent in the losses for the week and give me a chance to perhaps even turn the last two days into a winning record for the totals in Cincinnati. That looks unlikely now with a maximum of six matches left to go, but if I can reduce the losses, it will keep some of the momentum going as we head into the final two tournaments before the last Grand Slam of the 2016 season begins at the US Open.

On Saturday we have the four Semi Final matches in Cincinnati and the top three Seeds in the women's draw have made it there, while the men's draw has four well known names make the Semi Finals even if they were not Seeded to get there.

Hopefully it will be a clear day of tennis with the rain that has affected the tournament here and I am looking for more winners to get this tournament turned around.

Garbine Muguruza - 2.5 games v Karolina Pliskova: Two big hitters on the WTA Tour meet for a place in the Cincinnati Masters Final on Sunday and I expect to see a lot of big serving and heavy groundstrokes through this match. I will admit I was a little surprised Karolina Pliskova leads the head to head over Garbine Muguruza with her two wins both coming in the 2015 season on hard courts.

The three set win over Muguruza in Dubai might give Pliskova a little more confidence as those courts probably rival Cincinnati in terms of speed. Both matches have been competitive but it is Pliskova who has won the big points to take the wins, but I think Muguruza has looked very strong this week and can reverse those fortunes.

The serve has been working very effectively for Muguruza which has given her the chance to come through her three matches without dropping a set. As I said yesterday, Muguruza definitely gets plenty of confidence when the serve is working and that makes her even more dangerous when returning as she will feel she can take plenty of swings knowing her own serve is looking after itself.

I do have to say that Pliskova has looked very good too this week, but her backhand is definitely a weakness compared with Muguruza who looks solid off both wings. If Muguruza is able to continue serving as well as she has all week, I think she will find her way to a 75, 46, 63 kind of win to move into the Final.

Simona Halep-Angelique Kerber over 21.5 games: Matches between Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber have been very competitive which isn't a surprise when you think where both players have been Ranked in the last couple of years. Both players have reached the business end of big tournaments, but Halep has just hit the wall when facing Kerber.

That might have changed with Halep's win over Kerber in Montreal earlier this month, but she had lost two in a row against the German before that including in the Wimbledon Semi Final in July. However the last two matches have been keenly contested and there hasn't been a lot between the players and I do think that might be the case again in this Semi Final.

Both players have shown considerably good form since the third Grand Slam of the season finished up at Wimbledon, but Halep is coming in on a 13 match winning run. Kerber has got to the business end of a couple of tournaments since finishing Runner Up to Serena Williams at Wimbledon, but title wins means Halep has to have the edge in terms of confidence.

However these matches have been competitive and that isn't a surprise with both players better returning players than serving ones. It will be a battle again and figuring out a winner is much tougher than looking for these players to combine to cover this total games as they have done in the last two matches they have played. I would not be surprised if we see three sets again in this Semi Final and will look for Halep and Kerber to combine to surpass these games.

Milos Raonic + 2.5 games v Andy Murray: Bernard Tomic has not beaten Andy Murray before in his career but he might not have had a better chance than Friday against a player that looked like he was suffering with a niggling injury. Someone like Milos Raonic has previous wins over Andy Murray and the court should aid him in his bid to upset the World Number 2.

Murray has won all four matches with Raonic in 2016 which includes a Semi Final win at the Australian Open and beating him in the Wimbledon Final which will give him the World Number 2 the mental edge. However the back issue was clearly bothering Murray on Friday and the quick courts in Cincinnati makes the Raonic serve that much bigger than usual.

Of course Murray is one of the best returners on the Tour, but a back problem might mean there is a little problem in terms of movement as well on the serve and Raonic is certainly a little stronger mentally than Tomic to take advantage.

It isn't a lot of games for Raonic to be given, but it is enough for me to back the Canadian to reach the Final on Sunday where he will be the favourite to win the title if he can see off Murray. I am looking for this one to remain competitive and Raonic to perhaps win this one outright.

Marin Cilic - 2.5 games v Grigor Dimitrov: For the second Masters event in a row, Grigor Dimitrov has perhaps shown he has turned a corner as he reaches the Semi Final in Cincinnati back up the Quarter Final run in Toronto earlier this month. Wins over Feliciano Lopez, Stan Wawrinka and Steve Johnson this week will have given Dimitrov more confidence, but I think Marin Cilic will still have too much for him.

Cilic came through a short match on Friday as Borna Coric pulled out with an injury at the end of the first set. However Cilic has looked very good this week as he gets ready to head back to New York City where he won the US Open in 2014.

The Croatian will also know he beat Grigor Dimitrov fairly easily at the Olympic Games tournament last week and I am looking for Cilic to frank that form. He is serving with confidence, but the aggressive returns will give Dimitrov plenty to think about and that can make a big difference in this match.

As well as Dimitrov has done so far, I am interested to see how he handles the pressure that Cilic will put on his game, especially behind his own serve. I do think Cilic is going to be clearer in thought at the big moments and he can reach the Final thanks to a 64, 64 win in this second Semi Final.

MY PICKS: Garbine Muguruza - 2.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Simona Halep-Angelique Kerber Over 21.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Milos Raonic + 2.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 2.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet365 (2 Units)

Cincinnati Update: 12-15, - 9.26 Units (54 Units Staked, - 17.15% Yield)

Friday, 19 August 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (August 19-21)

The first month of the 2016/17 season is already fast approaching a close although there are still two more rounds of Premier League fixtures to be played before the first international matches of the new season.

Usually I say you can't read too much into opening day results as some teams are not quite as fit as others while surprises seem to be common place. It was no different than usual in that regards as Hull City upset defending Champions Leicester City as a big home underdog, and Liverpool won at The Emirates Stadium as a big away underdog.

Diego Costa is still being vilified, defences in the Premier League still look short of the expected quality and the Division remains a competitive one in which any team can beat any other.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool all made winning starts to the new season and Manchester City also looked impressive in seeing off what was a clearly overwhelmed Steaua Bucharest side on Tuesday in the Champions League Play Off.

Next week we will see the draws for the Group Stages of the Champions League and Europa League, but let's crack on with the picks for this weekend.

The last two Augusts have put me behind the black ball when it comes to the season totals and while I have eventually recovered both times, I did not want to open with another poor month. Last weekend saw the picks produce a mixed result as the first three lost on Saturday, but the three made for Sunday and Monday all returned as winners.

That winning feeling continued during the midweek set of fixtures which saw the picks go 11-4 and give us a platform for a rare winning August.

I don't want to give anything away now so will be looking to keep the positives going through this weekend which also sees the Spanish and Italian top flights open their campaigns.

Of course we have Friday night football for the first time in England so this post will be the 'Featured Post' through the weekend for all the picks being made over the Leagues from Friday to Sunday.

Manchester United v Southampton Pick: This is a huge game to open the Premier League weekend as Jose Mourinho comes out at Old Trafford as the Manchester United manager for the first time in a competitive game. It should also be the second debut of Paul Pogba who returns from a suspension, while the likes of Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are also in line for home debuts for their new club.

There should be plenty of positive feelings going into the game for Manchester United fans after an impressive 1-3 win at Bournemouth on the opening day, although this is a much tougher test on paper. No one will be underestimating Southampton who are unbeaten in 3 League visits to Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager of Manchester United and The Saints have won their last two by the same 0-1 scoreline.

Southampton also beat Jose Mourinho's Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season so the manager and Manchester United players will be well aware of the quality in the away dressing room. However it does have to be stated that Ronald Koeman has moved on as Southampton manager and Claude Puel is the new voice that needs to get the best out of a squad that has lost the likes of Victor Wanyama, Sado Mane and Graziano Pelle in the transfer window.

The last couple of years has seen plenty of talent leave St Mary's but Koeman's presence has kept things ticking along. With a new manager it is less clear as to whether Southampton can replace the quality they have lost and they did look a little short of confidence in their 1-1 home draw with Watford last weekend.

Playing at Old Trafford should get the best out of the players still at Southampton and the basis for their success will be a solid defensive platform. Keeping Jose Fonte would be huge for Southampton, while they do have the pace of Shane Long and Nathan Redmond to cause Manchester United problems on the counter attack.

Manchester United did have the 2nd best home record last season in the Premier League but only half of their 12 League wins came by more than a one goal margin. It did also take a big error from Simon Francis to help Manchester United open the scoring last week at The Vitality Stadium and I think Southampton will be better in defence than Bournemouth.

However I think the positives coming from the stands might just inspire Manchester United to finally break down Southampton and I will pick the home team to win by a single goal margin. Southampton have proved difficult for Manchester United to crack in recent seasons, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic might inspire a different result this time although I imagine it will be a tight game again.

Stoke City v Manchester City PickManchester City looked very good during the week as they hammered Steaua Bucharest and virtually put themselves into the Champions League Group Stage. It would take something special for them to fail to make it after winning 0-5 away from home, but that result and performance might make Manchester City a little overrated for this one.

You have to credit to Pep Guardiola for helping Manchester City open the season with back to back wins but neither Sunderland or Steaua Bucharest are really going to be the tests by which he is judged. This week is a much bigger test for Manchester City at a ground where they have regularly struggled in the last few years and against a team that will give their defence a thorough examination.

It does have to be said that Stoke City are not as strong at The Brittania Stadium as they used to be with their changing style meaning teams can play their football a little more freely here these days. However they only lost 3 home games against teams in the top 10 last season and only 1 of those came against teams in the top 5.

That is an impressive stat for Stoke City and I do think they are going to give Manchester City their most difficult game of the season. The layers have set Manchester City as odds ON to win here and I can't be having that for a team that has won 1 of their last 8 League visits to this ground.

Stoke City might not be as strong defensively as in the Tony Pulis heyday, but they are also a much more effective team going forward and it is in defence where Manchester City still have questions to answer. As strong as Manchester City looked going forward against Steaua Bucharest, I think they were aided by a naive performance from the Romanian side and Manchester City didn't look as creative in their narrow win over Sunderland.

There is so much quality in the Manchester City squad, but I am going to back Stoke City who I feel can surprise them. Even a one goal defeat for Stoke City will return half the stakes and I will back the home team on the Asian Handicap.

Swansea City v Hull City PickThere have been some changes in the Swansea City squad this summer with influential centre half Ashley Williams moving to Everton and Andre Ayew leaving to join West Ham United, but there still looks to be enough quality to keep the club in the Premier League for a sixth successive season.

The 0-1 win at Burnley last week was a very positive start for Swansea City and they will be looking to back that up against Hull City who became the first side in the Premier League to beat the defending Champions on opening day. That result was full of character and determination, but those are tough attributes to rely upon during the course of a long season and Hull City won't have the fans pushing them on as loudly as they did last weekend.

Results away from home were partly the reason Hull City had to go through the Play Offs in the Championship last season and they were beaten at Middlesbrough, Burnley, Brighton and Derby County in the League (although they did beat Derby County at the iPro Stadium in the Play Offs).

The Tigers also struggled away from home in the Premier League when relegated fifteen months ago and a small squad will be tested by Swansea City.

The form at The Liberty Stadium was good for 9th in the Premier League last season and Swansea City did beat 5 of the bottom 8 clubs at home to keep themselves clear of trouble. They ended last season with 4 straight wins here before Manchester City earned themselves the point that took them into the Champions League Play Offs and the squad looks settled even in the face of Williams and Ayew moving on.

As well as Hull City did last week, I still believe this will be a very difficult season for them barring a number of new bodies coming in to help before the close of the transfer window. The win over Leicester City was solid enough, but the defending Champions had plenty of chances in that game and Swansea City might punish Hull City this weekend if those are allowed to continue to come at the rate they did.

The Swansea City home record and Hull City's poor away record against the top Championship teams are enough for me to back Swansea City to make it two wins from two this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v Crystal Palace PickThe likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane were heavily criticised for poor showings at the Euro 2016 tournament for England and both still might have something to prove to their critics. They are key parts of the Tottenham Hotspur side this season and will be looking to help their team win their first Premier League game of the new campaign following a 1-1 draw at Everton last weekend.

It looks a good match for Tottenham Hotspur to get back to winning ways after a poor end to last season means they have not won any of their last 5 Premier League games. However that might have been a response to the fact the title had slipped from their grasp and the draw at Goodison Park is not a bad result.

Even with that poor end to the season, Tottenham Hotspur might be considered to be in better form than Crystal Palace who have had a terrible 2016 in the Premier League. The FA Cup form seemed to paper over the cracks, but Alan Pardew has to be feeling the pressure with the poor League form Crystal Palace displayed and a loss to West Brom in the books in the 2016/17 season.

Their away form was better than the record at Selhurst Park last season, but Crystal Palace did lose to 5 of the top 6 teams in the Premier League. Pardew is still trying to strengthen the squad by bringing in a goalscorer like Christian Benteke, but at this moment they do look short in the forward areas against the team that had the joint best defence in the League last season.

Last season might have produced a tight win for Tottenham Hotspur, but 7 out of 10 League wins came by at least two goals for the home team last season. The second half performance at Goodison Park saw Tottenham Hotspur begin to create more chances and I think they can be a rare team to beat Crystal Palace by more than a single goal margin at home.

Only 3 of Crystal Palace's 19 away games in the League saw them lose by more than a single goal margin, but 2 of their last 3 ended that way. I will back Tottenham Hotspur to cover the Asian Handicap in this one knowing half the stake will be returned if they do win by just one goal.

Watford v Chelsea Pick: Both Chelsea and Watford made decent starts to the season and this looks a very interesting match at Vicarage Road in only the second game of the 2016/17 season.

I can't see this being anything but a competitive match between the two teams and I don't think there will be a lot to separate them on Saturday. On paper the edge in quality still leans towards Chelsea, but both teams have new managers finding their feet in the Premier League and I really can't see a big gap developing between teams.

Both League games ended in draws last season and Chelsea at odds on look very short in the market to win this game.

I do think they are the more likely winners considering Watford did lose all 5 home games against the top five teams last season. However 4 of those losses came by one goal margins and 3 of those losses ended in a 1-2 scoreline and that looks the most likely result on Saturday as far as I am concerned.

Backing Chelsea to follow up their success against West Ham United looks the call, but I am going to have a small interest in The Blues winning by a single goal margin.

Leicester City v Arsenal PickThe boo boys were out in force again at The Emirates Stadium last week as Arsenal went down to a 3-4 defeat to Liverpool to once again drop points on the opening day of a new season. Once again the frustrated voices pointed to Arsene Wenger and the stubbornness that comes with refusing to spend money in the transfer market that could change Arsenal from also-rans to title challengers.

All the signs point to this being the last season Wenger will be in charge of Arsenal unless they win the Premier League, but the squad looks like it is missing some depth and injuries showed that last week in the loss to Liverpool.

It will take a long time for Leicester City fans to boo Claudio Ranieri after he delivered a top flight title to the club for the first time in their history. The 2-1 loss to Hull City would have been a disappointment for Leicester City who have kept their title winning squad together, bar N'Golo Kante, but this is a team that recovered from losses very well last season.

After their four outright losses last season, Leicester City won the next game three times and drew the other, but they have lost back to back games this season already. Leicester City also didn't win too many home games against the teams immediately below them in the Premier League table last season (1 win against teams in the top 7), although they are facing an Arsenal team that had won 1 away win against a top 10 team last season.

However that win did come here at the King Power Stadium when Arsenal won 2-5 against Leicester City and both defences looked very vulnerable in the first week of the season. Robert Huth is back for Leicester City which should shore them up somewhat, but Arsenal's best form of defence might be attack and I think this could lead to this being an open game.

Only 2 of the 6 home games Leicester City played against the top 7 teams ended with at least three goals shared out, but both League games against Arsenal hit that number. The likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez will expect to create chances against an Arsenal team that conceded four times last week even if Laurent Koscielny is back to offer some leadership, while Arsenal are better going forward than defending and will have key attacking players back including Mesut Ozil and possibly Olivier Giroud.

I am going to back these teams to combine for at least three goals for the fourth time in a row in the late afternoon live offering with the attacks likely to be in better shape than the defences on the day.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough Pick: Over recent seasons, the biggest derby in the North West has involved Newcastle United and Sunderland, but this season it is Middlesbrough who will replace Newcastle United in the Premier League. These two clubs might both dislike Newcastle United the most, but there isn't much love lost between them as they get set for their first League derby game in eight years.

In that time both Sunderland and Middlesbrough have had a Cup win over the other, although Sunderland have failed to win their last 2 against Middlesbrough at The Stadium of Light and were beaten in the League Cup by them a couple of years ago.

This is the kind of match that could prove pivotal in deciding which team survives in the Premier League and which ends in the drop, but both teams should be confident having played well on the opening day. Good performances are not enough and both Sunderland and Middlesbrough might have expected to have earned more than they did in their loss to Manchester City and draw with Stoke City respectively.

Sunderland are now listening to David Moyes' voice in the dressing room but they will be looking to continue a run which saw them lose none of their home games against the bottom seven Premier League clubs last season. Sunderland beat two of the three relegated teams here too, but they have to respect a Middlesbrough team that did win plenty of away games in the Championship.

I can see this being a tight game, but I like the way Sunderland have performed in recent derby games against Newcastle United. Hosting Middlesbrough should give them an edge and I think Sunderland can show their extra Premier League experience to earn the win in this one.

I am keeping stakes to a minimum as Middlesbrough have some real talent in the squad too, but Sunderland seemingly save their best for derby games in recent years and I will back The Black Cats to take the points for a small interest.

West Ham United v Bournemouth PickEddie Howe was linked with the vacant England managerial role in the summer, but he remains manager of Bournemouth with a real challenge on his hands to keep the club in the Premier League this time around. Second season syndrome has affected many promoted clubs over the last twenty seasons and the manner of their 1-3 home defeat to Manchester United had to be a concern.

On the other hand Howe was right to point out that only a mistake opened the door for Manchester United in what was a tight first half. That doesn't paper over the defensive cracks his team have shown in the last twelve months and they will be challenged by a West Ham United team who only scored fewer goals than three teams in the whole of last season.

It has been a slow start by West Ham United to the new season with a disappointing performance in the eventual 2-1 loss at Chelsea last Monday before a 1-1 draw in Astra in the Europa League. The likes of Dimitri Payet may finally make their return to the starting line up this week though after playing for France in Euro 2016 and the excitement of playing in the new London Stadium has to be inspiring the players.

I am looking forward to seeing how much of an atmosphere the West Ham United fans can create inside their new Stadium as we all knew how difficult they made things for teams travelling to Upton Park down the years. That was a key for them last season as The Hammers were only beaten at Upton Park by Champions Leicester City out of all the sides that finished in the top 12 League positions.

They were tempting at just short of odds against to beat a Bournemouth team that conceded plenty of goals last season. However I have to respect how much better Bournemouth seemed to play at home as well as the slow start West Ham United have made so far this season.

Instead of backing a winner, I think backing three goals might be a better option. Bournemouth showed last season they can score goals as well as concede and 11 of 19 West Ham United home games featured at least three goals shared out. Both League games between these teams also featured at least four goals in each game and I will look for a 2-1 scoreline being the most likely outcome from this one.

Bristol City v Newcastle United PickThis looks like a really difficult test for Newcastle United as they head to Ashton Gate for their fourth League game of the season, and it is a long journey for the players to undertake across the country. However the players have to be feeling a lot better after putting the first League win in the books this past week with their 4-1 win over Reading and that might spark a change in form for Newcastle United.

As positive as the start to the season has been for Bristol City, it has to be noted that they have beaten two teams that were promoted from League One. They needed 90th minute winners in both and Bristol City trailed Wigan Athletic here for long periods on the opening day before winning that game 2-1.

The Robins also had a tough time when hosting teams in the Championship last season as they finished with the 20th best home record in the League. Bristol City also lost to 3 of the top 5 last season at Ashton Gate and Premier League West Brom won here in the FA Cup, while their unbeaten run to the new season ended with a 1-0 defeat at Norwich City who were relegated along with Newcastle United last season.

My concerns have to be that Newcastle United have not won away from St James' Park for a long time and lost 11 of their last 13 on their travels. They are also going into a hostile environment as teams should give them their best effort every week and Newcastle United had to come back from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw at Bristol City when they played here in the Championship seven seasons ago.

However I think the win over Reading will have given Newcastle United a boost and they can back that up here. At the moment the layers are putting out very tempting prices on Newcastle United and I think this is a team that is better than they have shown so far while Bristol City's record looks stronger than it should thanks to two 90th minute winners. At odds against I am looking for Newcastle United to snap their long run without an away win this weekend.

Huddersfield Town v Barnsley PickI think both Huddersfield Town and Barnsley will be very pleased with their starts to the Championship season and this looks like a game that could produce a few goals on Saturday afternoon.

Huddersfield Town have had the tougher fixture list on paper through the first three games in the League, but they have scored in all of those games and have managed two goals twice. Barnsley might not have faced two relegated teams from the Premier League like Huddersfield Town have, but they have come up from League One and won 2 games already while scoring at least twice in every game League game played.

Both teams are in the top seven going into the fixture and picking a winner is not as clear cut as Huddersfield Town being odds on to win at home, especially as Barnsley had a very solid away record last season albeit in League One. The goals scored by Barnsley make them dangerous and they were unfortunate to lose 4-2 at Ipswich Town as they could have gone clear when leading 0-1 and dominating at Portman Road.

A similar level of performance will make Barnsley dangerous here and I think they can play their part in this one. The last 3 games at Huddersfield Town between these teams have featured at least three goals shared out while last season Barnsley's away games saw 14 out of 23 end with three goals or more shared out.

The home side had one of the better attacks last season and one of the poorer defences and I think we will see at least three goals in this one. Barnsley have been scoring plenty of goals to open the season, but they have also conceded at least twice in 2 of their 3 League games so far and backing goals looks a solid proposition.

Queens Park Rangers v Preston North End PickQueens Park Rangers and Preston North End have made contrasting starts to the new season, but the home team are coming in off a disappointing 3-2 defeat at Barnsley during the week.

I am expecting Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to help Queens Park Rangers bounce back and that is shown from the fact that this side have not lost back to back games since early January. Since then they have lost 5 times and my one concern is that Queens Park Rangers have drawn 3 of the games following a loss as the manager perhaps looks to make them harder to beat.

After conceding three times to Barnsley, Hasselbaink might have spent the last few days making sure his team are defensively sound in this one. That might take away some of the attacking potential, but this is a team that had the 5th best home attack last season and Queens Park Rangers have beaten Leeds United 3-0 at Loftus Road in their only League game here.

You also have to think Simon Grayson will turn things around at Preston North End as they did last season following a slow start. It took a little time for them to do that and I think Queens Park Rangers have the edge considering Preston North End lost the majority of their away games against teams from the top half last season.

It will be tight and I don't think there will be a lot between two teams that shared the points in both League games last season. They also finished next to one another in the final League table, but I think the confidence is with the Queens Park Rangers players and home advantage can be key for them. I will back them to once again bounce back from a defeat under Hasselbaink and get the win to keep Preston North End searching for their first points in the League in the new season.

Rotherham United v Brentford PickIt has been difficult to get a read on Rotherham United to open the season as new manager Alan Stubbs has come in to replace Neil Warnock. Last season Warnock barely kept Rotherham United in the Championship and they are looking to avoid relegation again this season so Stubbs will be desperate to get a first win on the board as soon as possible.

There were some inconsistent performances from Brentford last season, but they have now won 9 of their last 12 games in the Championship. That includes a run of 4 wins in their final 5 away games before the 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield Town to open the new season and yet I am still not sure what to think of Brentford.

A part of me does think they can challenge for a top six berth, but games like this will tell us a lot more about Brentford. Last season Brentford didn't struggle for away wins or away goals, but they did also finish with the joint 5th worst defensive record which is a surprise for a team that finished 9th in the League table.

Both Brentford and Rotherham United were amongst the poorer defences in the Championship last season and goals have been flowing in the Rotherham United matches so far this season. Amazingly 14 of the last 15 Brentford away games in the Championship have seen at least three goals shared out and there have been ten goals scored in the couple of Rotherham United home games this season.

Backing there being at least three goals in this one at odds against is too much to ignore especially when noticing both League games ended 2-1 last season.

Ipswich Town v Norwich City PickDerby games are always going to produce a different mindset for the players heading into those matches, but this feels a bigger game for Ipswich Town than Norwich City. The Tractor Boys have not made the kind of start they would have wanted to the new season, but beating a promotion rival at home in a game that means most to the fans can give them plenty of confidence going forward.

Of course it will mean plenty to Norwich City too, but at least Alex Neil can point to a strong start to this campaign as they made two seasons ago. He will be confident having led Norwich City to success over Ipswich Town two seasons ago and plenty of the Norwich City players will know what to expect in the derby so Ipswich Town can't rely on 'pampered' Premier League players to turn up for this 'High Noon Showdown'.

You have to respect the recent record Norwich City have had in the East Anglia derby, although I don't imagine this to be a free-flowing game of football. Norwich City have shown they can negotiate life in the Championship and while Ipswich Town have been in the top half, they have rarely threatened to really get involved in the Play Off shake up.

The feeling is that extra quality can come out for Norwich City against an Ipswich Town team who struggled for goals last season and I will back The Canaries to be flying high after this derby.

MY PICKS: Manchester United to Win by One Goal @ 3.75 Stan James (1 Unit)
Stoke City + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)
Swansea City @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Chelsea to Win by One Goal @ 3.60 Stan James (1 Unit)
Leicester City-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.70 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sunderland @ 2.60 Stan James (1 Unit)
West Ham United-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Newcastle United @ 2.35 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Huddersfield Town-Barnsley Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers @ 2.15 William Hill (1 Unit)
Rotherham United-Brentford Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Norwich City @ 2.25 Sky Bet (1 Unit)

August Update14-7, + 11.88 Units (41 Units Staked, + 28.98% Yield)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)