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Weekend Football Picks 2018 (February 16-19)

The Premier League takes another short break this weekend as the FA Cup Fifth Round games have been scheduled for four days from Friday thro...

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (February 18th)

I said in the Saturday thread for the Tennis Picks that this has been a good week already and that was underlined with two more winners yesterday.

The other Pick ended with a retirement after David Goffin suffered a really unfortunate injury in his Semi Final against Grigor Dimitrov. An attempted volley ricocheted off the racquet and into Goffin's eye and it was not surprise that the Belgian player decided to pull out at that moment.

However both Petra Kvitova and Dominic Thiem returned as winners and it has made a strong week possible, one that I needed just to restore some belief in the numbers. To be fair the numbers have been great indicators, but I just hadn't had a lot of luck earlier in the 2018 season and at the end of the 2017 season and so this week is one that I feel I have deserved.

On Sunday the Finals of the four tournaments played this week will be played before we move on to five new tournaments on Monday.

Roger Federer - 3.5 games v Grigor Dimitrov: The new World Number 1 will be looking to underline his status in that position by winning the title in Rotterdam on Sunday and Roger Federer is a strong favourite to do that. He won't have things completely his own way against Grigor Dimitrov, but Federer is playing at a very high level at the moment and I am not sure 'Baby Fed' will be able to stay with him.

The service numbers have been impressive from both players, although Dimitrov was being put under a lot of pressure by David Goffin in the Semi Final before injury ended that match unexpectedly.

Dimitrov should have success behind his serve, but I think Federer's return numbers have been more impressive so far in 2018 and that is going to be the difference between these two players on Sunday.

Ultimately I would expect Federer to create a few more break point opportunities with his returns of serve proving to be a little more effective of the two players. I don't doubt Dimitrov will be able to cause a few problems of his own, but I think the Federer serve has been working very well and can get Federer out of a few tough spots.

Matches between Federer and Dimitrov can be close and the latter has shown he can raise his performances against the best players. However I think Federer may open the door for success with a late break in the first set and then go on from there to record a fairly routine win while covering this number of games.

MY PICKS: Roger Federer - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 16-6, + 17.22 Units (44 Units Staked, + 39.14% Yield)

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Boxing Picks 2018 (February 17th)

The World Boxing Super Series looked an exciting format when it was first announced and so far it has lived up to and perhaps exceeded its billing.

Two unbelievably good Cruiserweight Semi Final fights are in the books and I don't know many boxing fans who won't be looking forward to May 11th when Oleksandr Usyk takes on Murat Gassiev for all of the belts. The winner is going to raise their profile and likely move up to the Heavyweight Division which means some huge fights ahead, while the losing fighter will already have enhanced their reputation and can come again.

Who's to say that there won't be a rematch of the Final if it is as good as we expect the fight to be in Jeddah in early May?

The Super-Middleweight Semi Final fights take the limelight over the next couple of weeks with a real British presence- three of the four fighters left are from the United Kingdom and it is no surprise that the O2 Arena has been announced as the venue for the Super-Middleweight Final in early June.

Callum Smith heads to Germany next weekend, but most of the eyes of the Boxing family will be on the Manchester Arena when George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr meet in a fight everyone I know is looking forward to.

Later on in the evening, Danny Garcia resurfaces for the first time since losing to Keith Thurman last year, but all eyes will be on Groves vs Eubank Jr which has split fans and experts alike.

Tommy Langford vs Jack Arnfield
This is on the undercard of the Groves-Eubank Jr fight at the Manchester Arena as both Tommy Langford and Jack Arnfield look to prove they are the best domestic level British Middleweight.

That British Title currently held by Langford is on the line and it is a fairly close looking fight.

Neither fighter is really known for their KO power and this is going to come down to which of the two has the better boxing ability. Both are tall for the Middleweight limit and both are comfortable boxing, but I do give the slight edge to Langford there and am expecting him to come through with a win on a Decision.

I actually backed Arnfield in his win over Brian Rose last time out, but I thought the fight was closer than the cards and Rose could easily have nicked it. However Rose is on the back end of his career and I think Langford still has enough in the tank to win a fight of this level.

Langford was beaten by Avtandil Khurtsidze in his step up from domestic level, but he does say he has learned from that and I am expecting him to avoid getting dragged into a brawl and instead use the skill he possesses. That approach will show Langford has indeed taken a positive out of his first professional loss and this is a fight in which he doesn't have to worry about the power that is coming from the other fighter.

All credit has to be given to Arnfield for coming in with a six fight winning run since losing to Nick Blackwell when challenging for the British Middleweight Title. He has shown he can make use of his height to try and box to a success, but I think the skill is with Langford in this one and I am expecting him to do enough to win this one on Points.

George Groves vs Chris Eubank Jr
When the Super-Middleweight tournament was put together and the brackets were released, I expected to see George Groves and Callum Smith compete for the Muhammad Ali Trophy.

From the first day that George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr confirmed their place in the Semi Final I have leaned towards Groves winning this one, although I will admit there have been a couple of moments where I have wavered.

I think most are just happy we have got to this stage and there have been no late withdrawals.

That was the concern with Eubank Jr who has seemingly been linked with some huge fights over the last two or three years but has yet to see any of those materialise. Some even suggested this fight would never happen as Eubank Jr would decide to pull out of the tournament, but he has looked confident in the build up and that has seen the odds shift on the fight with Groves now the underdog.

While it has made me think, I am still favouring the only legitimate World Champion in this huge fight which has captured the public's interest.

Groves has had some huge fights already in his career and I think his natural size and strength is a big advantage. The power in the punch is coupled by a boxing brain which sees him work very well, although some will say that his biggest win is a controversial one over James DeGale and Groves has lost to the two best fighters he has faced in Carl Froch and Badou Jack.

That's probably true, but using that to knock Groves is to suggest Eubank Jr is on the same level as those two fighters. Team Eubank will say he is, but proof is always in the pudding and this is the biggest fight Eubank Jr has had since losing to Billy Joe Saunders at the Middleweight level.

Now he is in with a naturally bigger man who can punch hard and I do wonder if Eubank Jr is going to be able to get off with the flashy combinations he did against an old Arthur Abraham and Avni Yilidrim.

Fatigue is a concern with Groves and if Eubank Jr is able to set a fast tempo and able to maintain that over twelve Rounds then I think he can win the fight. Ultimately I have never seen Eubank Jr able to do that against someone who can box as well and hit as hard as Groves and that is why I am leaning towards the latter.

Groves has to make a positive start- he has to be at least 4-2 up through the first half of the fight and I will be looking for him to show that there is more in the tank these days than there was when he fought Froch and DeGale. I actually thought Groves had beaten Badou Jack despite a flash Knock Down in the First Round and I think that and his performance against Martin Murray makes me feel he will have enough in the tank to see off a rallying Eubank Jr.

I find it hard to see Groves stop Eubank Jr, but I think he will hit hard enough to make the latter think about how quickly he wants to get involved in a brawl and I like the way Groves can box.

He didn't look great in the early going against Jamie Cox and Chris Eubank Jr looked very good in his win over Yilidrim which has perhaps seen the odds flip like they have. However I think Groves is very motivated for this one and I liked the way he has looked quietly confident so far so taking a small interest in the legitimate World Champion to win a narrow, and possibly controversial, Decision is the call.

Devon Alexander vs Victor Ortiz
A few years ago this would have been a huge fight in the Light-Welterweight Division, but Devon Alexander and Victor Ortiz are not the same as they once were.

This is clearly a crossroads fight for the pair of them with the losing fighter likely to have a very real think about retiring.

Devon Alexander has blamed some personal problems for his fall from the top of the Division and he has had just one fight in the last two and a half years. He still believes he is capable of challenging the very best fighters at 140 and 147, although I think Alexander is a long shot to really get back into a position to fight for another World Title.

The same can be said for Victor Ortiz who at one time was a huge prospect but has since faced plenty of criticism for the 'lack of heart' he has displayed at times. He has hardly been much more active than Alexander and I think Ortiz is going to be looking for a big shot to end this fight but that is not really something I expect to work against Alexander who have never been stopped before.

Instead I fancy Alexander will win by a wide margin on the cards as Ortiz tries but fails to catch up to him over the 12 Rounds scheduled. There is no doubting that Alexander is the superior boxer and my only doubt would be Ortiz being pulled from the fight or calling it a day if he is not having any success in hurting Alexander.

Ortiz has not gone the full 12 Rounds since an upset win over previously unbeaten Andre Berto in 2011, but Alexander is someone who will look to box his way to a success. I don't think Alexander will be hurting Ortiz to force him to quit, but there is always some reason for Ortiz calling it a day and it will be a mental shut down which stops this fight as far as I am concerned.

Backing Alexander to at least put his name in the headlines with a Decision win is my pick from this bout.

Danny Garcia vs Brandon Rios
This is the first time in over eleven months that Danny Garcia is back in a boxing ring having taken a break following a first professional loss to Keith Thurman. That Unification bout was very close and some have called for a rematch, including Garcia who felt he won the fight, but Thurman has been out of action himself and any potential rematch will have to wait until the end of 2018 at the earliest.

The Welterweight Division is loaded with talent and Danny Garcia returns to try and reclaim his place at the very top of the pile.

Some will argue against Garcia's credentials as he has sometimes flattered to deceive, while others will look at Thurman and Errol Spence Jr as the kings of the Division.

This is the time for Garcia to get back on the right track to force those big fights in the months ahead and he takes on a former contender in Brandon Rios.

Rios' best days were at the Lightweight and Light-Welterweight limits and this is a fighter who hasn't had many fights in recent years. This is only the second fight since Rios was stopped by Tim Bradley in 2015 and I think he is pretty much made to order for Garcia.

He won't want to hear that, but Rios is a come forward aggressive fighter who is going to be set up to take one of the signature left hook counters from Garcia and I think that is going to find its mark and set up the end of this fight. Rios has only been stopped once before in that fight by Bradley, but he is not the same fighter he once was and I can see Garcia breaking him down at the bigger weight.

One of the criticisms of Garcia has been his tendency to fight up and down to the level of his opponent, but he is looking to return with a bang. That will get people talking about him facing the very best in the Division and I can see Garcia finding a stoppage during the course of the 12 Rounds in this one.

MY PICKS: Tommy Langford to Win Decision/Technical Decision @ 2.00 Stan James (2 Units)
George Groves by Decision/Technical Decision @ 5.50 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Devon Alexander by Decision/Technical Decision @ 2.62 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Danny Garcia by KO, TKO or Disqualification @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Boxing 2018 Update: 4-2, + 6.12 Units (11 Units Staked, + 55.64% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2018 (February 17th)

The four tournaments that have been played this week come down to the business end on Saturday with the Semi Final matches in Buenos Aires, Doha, New York and Rotterdam all scheduled to be played.

One of those Semi Finals, at the time of writing, has already been concluded with Simona Halep pulling out of the tournament in Doha and leaving Garbine Muguruza to take her place in Sunday's Final.

The rest of the matches are still set to go and I am looking to put an exclamation mark at the end of the best week of the 2018 season so far.

Petra Kvitova v Caroline Wozniacki: The Semi Final that is still to be played in Doha looks a really good one on paper as both Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki have been in fine form.

Wozniacki is playing with the confidence of having won the Australian Open and that helped her through a very tough Quarter Final against Angelique Kerber. On the other hand, Kvitova has been in dominant form since her early exit in Melbourne by winning the title in St Petersburg and looking very strong in Doha to follow that up.

Both players have produced some very strong numbers in 2018 and both have been in good form which suggests this is going to be a very close match. However I do like Kvitova as the underdog in this one having beaten Wozniacki at the end of 2017 in Beijing, while she has the power to hit through Wozniacki.

The longer match played by Wozniacki on Friday may play a part too and I am going to back the underdog to come through with the win.

Kvitova's power and superior serving should make the difference in this match, although it would not surprise me if she needs three sets to finally see off Wozniacki.

Grigor Dimitrov - 1.5 games v David Goffin: There is no denying how well David Goffin has been playing to open 2018, and he is well rested for this Semi Final having seen Tomas Berdych withdraw prior to their Quarter Final.

Even with the positive results, it is hard to ignore that Goffin never seems far away from a poorer performance which makes him vulnerable to be beaten. He is also facing an opponent in this Semi Final who has had his number and who beat him twice at the ATP Finals back in November.

Grigor Dimitrov has some decent wins in 2018, although the Bulgarian has not been anything like as dominant in his wins as Goffin has been. There is a real room for improvement when it comes to the return of serve, but Dimitrov has enjoyed this match up and I expect he will feel comfortable in it.

One question mark for Dimitrov is his sole loss to Goffin in nine previous professional matches came in Rotterdam twelve months ago. That could play a part mentally, but I think Dimitrov's wins over Goffin in London in the ATP Finals will be fresh in the mind and he can find a way to get past this opponent and move onto Sunday's Final.

It could be a close match that goes the distance, but I do like Dimitrov to find a way to cover this number of games in this win.

Dominic Thiem - 2.5 games v Gael Monfils: I am adding this pick from Buenos Aires where the winner of this Semi Final will feel they are favourites to go on and win the title in Argentina.

Both Dominic Thiem and Gael Monfils have played well to get through to the final four, although the edge has to be given to Thiem for the more serene progress. That may not be a surprise as a I think he is one of the top clay courters in the world and arguably just behind Rafael Nadal when it comes to favouritism to win the French Open.

Thiem also holds a strong head to head with Monfils and I think he can show that again when they meet on Saturday.

The Frenchman has played well on the clay courts in his career, but I think his serve is not as effective as Thiem's and both players are very good returners. That means Thiem is likely to get through a few more service games without being put under immense pressure and that can play a huge part in his success in this Semi Final.

I imagine the match will be closely contested, but Thiem does hold the advantages and I will look for him to move through to the Sunday Final with a win and a cover in this one.

MY PICKS: Petra Kvitova @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Dominic Thiem - 2.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 14-6, + 13.48 Units (40 Units Staked, + 33.70% Yield)

Friday, 16 February 2018

Weekend Football Picks 2018 (February 16-19)

The Premier League takes another short break this weekend as the FA Cup Fifth Round games have been scheduled for four days from Friday through to Monday.

One of the weirder aspects of the Cup this weekend is the draw is taking place on Saturday evening at around 8pm- that is almost an hour after the last FA Cup tie of the day is played and before two other Fifth Round ties are to kick off.

And yet the fans moan that clubs don't take the FA Cup as seriously as they would like(!)

At least the majority of the top Premier League clubs are still involved going into this Fifth Round, although Manchester United have the toughest of the ties with a trip to Huddersfield Town. I would expect Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City to make up three of the final eight teams in the FA Cup this season and the competition looks like it could produce some big ties in the last couple of months of the season.

I said during the week that I would have a short piece about Manchester United and the problems in getting the best out of our top players at Old Trafford. I posted that on Thursday and you can read it here.

Now onto the FA Cup Fifth Round Picks, even if this competition has kicked my behind so far this season.

Leicester City v Sheffield United Pick: There will be a few teams who have been humbled by Manchester City this season so I am not expecting a long malaise from Leicester City as they look to progress to the FA Cup Quarter Final on Friday.

Claude Puel knows the importance of a deep Cup run having taken Southampton to the League Cup Final last season, and I expect him to pick a stronger team than he has in the last couple of Rounds.

Firstly that is down to the quality of Sheffield United who are in a decent position in the Championship compared with the League One opposition Leicester City have faced so far. Secondly this fixture comes at a good time in the calendar with Leicester City's key players well rested and it would be a surprise if the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy are not called upon in forward areas.

The FA Cup is very important for a Leicester City team who are in no danger of being relegated and I expect Puel's team to underline that point with no game set for seven days after this one.

Sheffield United have to be respected as a team who will work hard and try to remain organised defensively to try and frustrate the Leicester City players. However they have already been beaten 1-4 by Leicester City at home in the League Cup and the Championship is a bigger priority for The Blades who are fighting to get back into the top six.

I would still expect Chris Wilder to pick a strong team for this Fifth Round tie, but Leicester City should have a little too much for them. The Foxes have been scoring plenty of goals at the King Power Stadium recently, while the return of Mahrez can only be a boost to the team who want to add silverware to sit alongside the Premier League trophy they won two years ago.

I think Leicester City will prove a little too good and can score a killer goal when Sheffield United begin to chase a way back into this one. I will back the home side to win and cover the Asian Handicap on their way through to the Quarter Final.

Chelsea v Hull City Pick: The first live game from the FA Cup Fifth Round this weekend is played on Friday night at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea host Hull City.

Unsurprisingly Chelsea are considerable favourites to win this tie and Antonio Conte has to be hoping the 3-0 win over West Brom on Monday night will have given his players a boost in confidence. The scoreline was flattering for Chelsea and they will have to better in the days ahead with some big games to come, but that win over West Brom has to at least give Chelsea the confidence to win this kind of fixture.

As well as Hull City have played in the last couple of weeks, they are a team who have struggled on their travels for the last eighteen months. Prior to the win at Nottingham Forest, Hull City had lost 5 straight away Championship games and only scored a single goal in that run.

Chelsea have found a way to earn clean sheets at home and that could be the foundation to their success in this Fifth Round tie. Trying to guess the Antonio Conte team is more difficult with the Barcelona Champions League tie on deck, but I think momentum is important and having this game on a Friday helps the Italian pick a strong team.

I would anticipate Eden Hazard being given a start and he has been a big part of Chelsea's play in recent weeks having another starring outing on Monday. Conte will want his team to get into a position where he can begin to rest the likes of Hazard for the Barcelona game and I think Chelsea will be able to be too good for Hull City in this Fifth Round tie.

I will look for Chelsea to also improve their run of 6 clean sheets in their last 8 games at Stamford Bridge in all competitions. Backing the home team to win to nil is the call from this tie as Chelsea reach yet another FA Cup Quarter Final in recent years.

Sheffield Wednesday v Swansea City Pick: Much of the intrigue around this fixture is surrounding the return of Carlos Carvalhal to Hillsborough having been sacked as manager of Sheffield Wednesday and days later taking over at Swansea City.

While Carvalhal's time at Sheffield Wednesday came to an end because of an underachieving season, he has surpassed all expectations with Swansea City by giving them a real chance of avoiding the drop in the Premier League.

The players at the Liberty Stadium look much happier under the Spaniard's guidance and Swansea City have become tough to beat as they have played well over the last few weeks. Strong teams have been picked to help Swansea City make it through to the FA Cup Fifth Round too and I would be surprised if Carvalhal suddenly decides to make wholesale changes to his starting eleven for this one.

Momentum can be so important for teams at this time of the season and Swansea City have plenty of that behind them. However they have not played as well away from home as at the Liberty Stadium and Swansea City have drawn 4 consecutive away games including in both initial ties in the FA Cup at Wolves and Notts County.

Sheffield Wednesday may be turning a corner themselves and you have to think the fans are itching for this game to kick off. They can give the home players a real boost and I think Sheffield Wednesday can cause problems for this Swansea City team who have not had many clean sheets away from home.

The Owls have won both home games in the FA Cup this season and I think this is going to be a tight game where both teams have their opportunities to win it. I think the 1-1 is also a real player and backing both teams to score at close to odds against is the likely outcome of this one.

Both teams have scored in 4 of the 5 away games Swansea City have played under Carvalhal, and Sheffield Wednesday had seen both teams score in consecutive games at Hillsborough before the 2-0 win over Derby County this past week.

Brighton v Coventry City Pick: The lowest club left in the FA Cup this season are Coventry City and they have been rewarded with an away tie at a Premier League opponent in the FA Cup Fifth Round.

No doubt the fans and players would have hoped for a 'bigger' name in the Fifth Round, but Coventry City will still look to head to Brighton and earn another upset having already beaten Stoke City in the FA Cup this season.

Chris Hughton will also recognise the opportunity in front of Brighton although he is still likely to make changes to keep his top players fresh for the key Premier League challenges ahead. That shouldn't affect Brighton's performance too much and they have begun to score goals regularly at the Amex Stadium which should be enough to see off an opponent who are playing significantly lower down the League standings.

While Brighton have shown improvement at home, Coventry City have struggled on their travels in League Two. They have lost their last 3 away games in the League and Coventry City will have to be careful with fitness issues against the Premier League trained Brighton who also have the fans firmly behind them.

Ultimately I do think being at home will be enough for Brighton to win this tie and win it by a couple of goals on the day. Even with the expected changes, Brighton have a squad that are used to playing at a higher level than these Coventry City players and the chance to reach the FA Cup Quarter Final should be a big motivating factor for the home players.

Coventry City have to be respected for beating Premier League Stoke City, but that came at home and was a game that could have gone very differently if The Potters had taken their chances. With Brighton scoring at least twice in 3 of their last 4 games at the Amex Stadium, I don't think they will be as poor in front of goal as Stoke City were in the FA Cup Third Round and I will back Brighton to win and cover the Asian Handicap.

West Brom v Southampton Pick: Both West Brom and Southampton would take a deal where they are out of the FA Cup and guaranteed a place in the Premier League next season, but for one weekend the players can release themselves from the tension of trying to earn big League points.

The two teams come into the FA Cup Fifth Round inside the bottom three of the Premier League and it is West Brom who look in a much bigger hole. They are now 7 points from safety compared with Southampton who are just a point behind 17th placed Huddersfield Town.

Both Alan Pardew and Mauricio Pellegrino have decided to play strong teams in the FA Cup in a bid to improve the confidence of the players and that makes this a potentially big game for both West Brom and Southampton. The winner could earn some momentum to take into big League games, while the losing team may just start to get that sinking feeling.

However neither team is going to want to accept a draw in this fixture and add another game to their schedule at the end of the month. That should see both West Brom and Southampton look to produce some attacking football and follow a similar path to the 2-3 win Southampton recorded at the start of the month.

West Brom have struggled in front of goal all season which perhaps is a concern, but they have created chances under Alan Pardew. Losing Daniel Sturridge is a blow, but West Brom should be able to create opportunities in front of goal against a Southampton team who have conceded 4 goals in their last 2 away games.

On the other side, Southampton have scored 5 goals in those same couple of away games and I can see these two teams producing at least three goals for the second time inside two weeks. The layers don't tend to agree, but I think both Southampton and West Brom are likely to play with attacking intent to try and win this tie at the first time of asking and that could lead to a more open game than most anticipate.

Recent performances of both teams suggest they can get on the front foot in this one and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Huddersfield Town v Manchester United Pick: There was little doubt this fixture was going to be picked for television coverage and Jose Mourinho has to at least be satisfied that Manchester United can play on Saturday evening.

It is the start of a big weekend for Manchester United who play the First Leg of their Champions League Second Round tie at Sevilla on Wednesday before hosting Chelsea in a huge Premier League game next Sunday. The FA Cup is also important to the manager and the players and this game represents a chance to make up for a particular low point of the season.

Back in October Manchester United were beaten 2-1 at Huddersfield Town in the Premier League which was a big upset. A similar result would be an upset, but perhaps not as unexpected considering the back to back away losses Manchester United have suffered coming into this one.

Huddersfield Town had a confidence boosting 4-1 win over Bournemouth last weekend and scored 4, albeit after extra time, in their win at Birmingham City in the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay too. David Wagner is hoping his team can build on the performance from last weekend against Bournemouth, but that came at a time when The Terriers had been struggling in the Premier League.

In recent weeks the likes of West Ham United and Liverpool have won comfortably at the John Smith's Stadium and both teams managed to score at least three times in those wins. With the changes that Huddersfield Town are expected to make, Manchester United should be able to create their opportunities in this one and I do expect a strong away team to begin this one.

The deeper Manchester United squad should mean any changes should not really be a problem for Jose Mourinho's men. I don't think those changes will be made in attacking areas so Manchester United should remain dangerous, while the likes of Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw are able players to come into defensive areas.

I expect a reaction from Manchester United after the result at St James' Park last weekend and I do think they can get the better of Huddersfield Town on Saturday. Manchester United remain one of the better away teams in the Premier League despite the recent setbacks and I will back them to become the latest team to leave Huddersfield Town with a comfortable win recorded.

Rochdale v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The Spotland surface looked to be in terrible shape when Rochdale beat Millwall in the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay and it took a lot of criticism from outsiders including Mauricio Pochettino who is bringing his Tottenham Hotspur side to town.

The pitch has been relaid since that match, but it has also meant Rochdale home games have been forced to be postponed. Some have even suggested the surface could be dangerous for players, although Keith Hill rounded on Pochettino for making those suggestions in a press conference a few days ago.

It certainly feels like the pitch will be something of a leveller and Rochdale would have seen the way Tottenham Hotspur struggled at Rodney Parade in the Fourth Round when needing a late goal to secure a 1-1 draw at Newport County. The home team will try and make this Tottenham Hotspur team uncomfortable and it will be a challenge for the Premier League club who will make some rotations to their starting eleven.

Ultimately the team should still be good enough to beat the team at the foot of League One and it will be about getting used to some of the bounces and bobbles on the surface. If Tottenham Hotspur can just work their way into this fixture, I would expect they can show their class at some point and win this tie without the need to add a Replay to their busy schedule.

Games at Spotland have not featured a lot of goals in recent weeks as the playing surface has made it difficult. That could be the case again on Sunday even though a Premier League team is the visitor this time, and I am looking for a professional job from Tottenham Hotspur.

Rochdale can make life difficult with more familiarity with the conditions on their home surface, but I think Tottenham Hotspur will find a couple of goals to win this one and I will back them to win a lower scoring game than expected.

Wigan Athletic v Manchester City Pick: I will expect this live televised FA Cup Fifth Round to be preceded by lots of video of Wigan Athletic upsetting Manchester City in this competition in both 2013 and 2014.

This would be an even bigger upset than those two occasions if The Latics can take a third consecutive Premier League scalp in the FA Cup. After beating both Bournemouth and West Ham United at home, Wigan Athletic shouldn't be overawed by the occasion, but it is a totally different test taking on clubs who will make changes compared to a Manchester City team looking to win every competition they have entered.

With six days between their last game and a further six before Manchester City are playing again, Pep Guardiola will likely pick a strong team. I would expect some changes to keep things fresh, but the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero should also be supported by Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva which will give Manchester City a huge threat going forward.

Wigan Athletic will give this a go and they have scored 5 home goals against the Premier League clubs they have faced in the FA Cup this season. However, Wigan Athletic have also failed to score in 4 of their last 5 home League One games and I think they will have difficulties in trying to breach a Manchester City team who dominate the ball as much as they do.

On the other side it has proven to be a really difficult task to contain this Manchester City attack and I don't think Wigan Athletic will have a lot of joy doing that despite being a solid defensive outfit in League One. Manchester City have scored at least twice in the last month at Cardiff City and Bristol City who are playing at the top of the Championship and I think they are going to be good for at least a couple of strikes here.

I imagine there will be some sticky moments at the back for Manchester City with the way Wigan Athletic will approach things, but I think they can ride those out and then dominate much of the play as they have in many games this season. The lack of goals Wigan Athletic have produced in League One games recently has to be a concern for them and I will back Manchester City to win with a clean sheet here.

MY PICKS: Leicester City - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.07 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 1.83 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Sheffield Wednesday-Swansea City Both Teams to Score @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Brighton - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Brom-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.11 Bet365 (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur & Under 3.5 Goals @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Tennis Picks 2018 (February 16th)

The Quarter Final matches in the four tournaments being played this week have been set for Friday and I am looking to build on a strong Thursday.

It was a good enough day where I managed to find a player who covered the number of games being asked despite LOSING the match, which is quite incredible. Pablo Carreno Busta was beaten 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, but that was enough to cover the 2.5 handicap and I think that has at least made up for some of the poorer luck I had earlier in the week and and at the end of last week.

I have been able to look through the Quarter Final matches to be played in Doha and Rotterdam on Friday, but any picks from Buenos Aires and New York will have to be added during the day.

Garbine Muguruza - 2.5 games v Caroline Garcia: There should be plenty of big hitting tennis on display on Friday in this Quarter Final when Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Garcia meet in Doha.

The difference for me is the superior returning that Muguruza has displayed and I think that can be the inches that separates players on any given day on a tennis court.

Both Muguruza and Garcia have solid serves which are going to generate cheap points, but I just feel Garcia will have to work a little harder a little more often than Muguruza. That builds a pressure on a player especially when they know break point opportunities are going to be rare during the course of a match.

I have to also say that Muguruza has looked slightly stronger in her wins this week than the ones Garcia has produced and I like the Spaniard here.

There will be some tight moments that Muguruza will have to work through, but I give her enough of an edge to ask her to win and cover this number of games in the match.

Simona Halep - 4.5 games v Catherine Bellis: An impressive win over Karolina Pliskova has taken Catherine Bellis through to the Quarter Final in Doha after coming through the Qualifiers. This is a different kind of test for her and Simona Halep has looked in good shape in her first appearance since losing the Australian Open Final.

Bellis had to face an aggressive, big serving game in the Third Round, but this time she plays an opponent who can look to outlast her opponents in long rallies. The young American will be asked to generate some of her own power and will also be forced into playing a lot of awkward balls if Halep is on her game and I think that is a tough challenge fo her.

I have been impressed with the way Halep has found her consistency this week to keep opponents in awkward positions on the court and her numbers on the serve and return have shown improvement from 2017.

Halep is a player that can see her serve become a little vulnerable when not hitting her marks and that always makes this kind of handicap difficult for her to cover. However the way she has been returning so far is impressive and I think she will put Bellis under immense pressure off the return.

Ultimately I think Halep's movement around the court and ability to turn defence into attack is going to be enough to beat Bellis. The latter can make it difficult at times, but Halep can do enough to clear this number of games as long as she serves to the standard she has been so far in Doha.

Petra Kvitova v Julia Goerges: This is the second tournament in a row that Petra Kvitova and Julia Goerges are meeting and they played a really close match in St Petersburg.

Kvitova won on that day and went on to win the tournament and I think she can frank that form despite how well Goerges is clearly playing at this moment in her career.

There was a clear difference in the return performances of the two players when they met in St Petersburg and I think that is going to be a difference in this match too. Kvitova seems to get a little more from her return game and in a match featuring two big servers that is all that it takes to separate two players.

It will be close again because of the tough path Kvitova has had through the draw compared with Georges.

That could mean tiredness is a potential issue for Kvitova who won the tournament in St Petersburg, but I do like the way she has been playing. I would have had her down as a stronger favourite than she is in this Quarter Final and I am going to back Kvitova to frank her win over Georges by earning another here.

Kei Nishikori - 4.5 games v Radu Albot: At the moment the only thing that concerns Kei Nishikori is to make sure he is feeling as healthy as possible and winning the Challenger tournament in Dallas followed by a couple of wins in the New York Open will have helped the confidence.

There is no doubt he is the stand out player in the draw when at his full fitness, but that has always been something that has held Nishikori back from perhaps winning a Grand Slam or two already.

He is playing well as he takes advantage of those players that are simply not on his level and his numbers have shown that with a strong hold and a better break percentage on the hard courts than he has had over the last twelve months.

Nishikori should have a few chances to improve those numbers further when taking on Radu Albot who has surprisingly made his way through to the Quarter Final. Albot had a big win over John Isner in the Second Round, but ultimately he is a player who has to work hard to protect his serve and I am not convinced he can get the better of Nishikori in enough rallies to make this a very competitive match.

Obviously I could be wrong, but I would expect Nishikori to have the bulk of the break point opportunities in this one. Albot has not returned as well on the surface as Nishikori and I like the former top 10 player to continue on his road to recovery with a straight-forward 6-3, 6-4 win in this Quarter Final.

MY PICKS: Garbine Muguruza - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Simona Halep - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Petra Kvitova @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Kei Nishikori - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 10-6, + 6.20 Units (32 Units Staked, + 19.38% Yield)

Thursday, 15 February 2018

United Corner- Time for Big Decision for Mourinho (February 15th)

United Corner- Time for Big Decisions for Jose Mourinho (February 15th)

Valentine's Day is a time to spend with loved ones, but those who love Manchester United will still have been dissecting what has gone wrong in the last couple of Premier League away games at Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United.

The results is one thing, but the manner of the defeats hurt all the more as Manchester United didn't play anything like how we would have expected.

It means big decisions for the manager ahead of a very important week for Manchester United with an FA Cup Fifth Round tie followed by the resumption of the Champions League and then a big Premier League game against Chelsea next Sunday.

At this stage you would have hoped Mourinho would know the best formation and system for his team, but the signing of Alexis Sanchez in the January transfer window has provided another option for the attack. However the lack of real cohesion in the attacking play at Wembley Stadium and St James' Park has to be a concern for the fans.

Ultimately the choice is going to come down to Mourinho and how he wants to play his team, but I have to say I am stunned that he has not found a way to get the best out of the likes of Paul Pogba who has been at the club for eighteen months.

As much as I have admired Mourinho's work down the years and at Old Trafford, I have to say the time has come where you have to wonder if he can get this team taking the next step in his development. My concern comes out of the fact that he seemingly is not finding a way to get the best out of the best players he has at his disposal and that has to be a negative over his reign.

The best players United have are David De Gea, Pogba and Alexis and the team should be built around them.

One of my more recent criticisms of the United tactics have been the way Anthony Martial has been shifted into an unfamiliar position to accommodate Jesse Lingard.

And the bottom line for me is that Lingard is not good enough to be a Number 10 for any top club, let alone Manchester United.

I don't hate Lingard like some supporters seem to do, but I do recognise what he is. For me he is a player that seems to find a big goal and is in the right place at the right time, which is a positive and not a criticism, but picking a pass and making the right decisions in the final third are not his forte.

A real Number 10 has to be able to do that and Alexis has made it clear that he would prefer that spot in the team so why is Lingard starting in that position?

Play your best players in their best positions!

If Jose Mourinho is insisting on sticking with his 4-2-3-1 system, then that is much more like how I would have United line up in Sevilla (assuming Bailly is not fit to play).

I don't think Chris Smalling or Ashley Young are playing well enough to start that game with Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo (or Bailly) ready to come in and it puts Alexis and Martial into positions where they feel they can contribute their best.

And you want those two to be at their best rather than Lingard who can still play well enough on the problematic right side of the team. If he isn't comfortable, Juan Mata can play that position and I just think it makes United look more effective going forward.

Does that get the best out of Paul Pogba though? Not as far as I am concerned and I think Jose Mourinho has two other options for the game in Sevilla and perhaps even the home League games against Chelsea and Liverpool to come.

These two teams are essentially the same with minor differences, but both have the three man midfield which can open things up for Pogba to operate much further up the pitch.

Pogba's best performances for both club and country have been in that position where he can turn and run at the defensive players while finding options all around him. His best 
game for Manchester United recently came in that position in the 0-2 win at Goodison Park and I have no idea why Jose Mourinho would not want to play the best centre midfielder in a position where he would be most effective.

I love Anthony Martial, but he would have to be sacrificed in this system because he isn't a right winger as far as I can see. However he could be used if Mourinho wants more movement and quality right up top with Alexis replacing Lukaku and then using Martial from the left side.

Having that option would make United very, very dangerous on the counter attack while also having the strong defensive base that Jose Mourinho wants.

I don't mind Lukaku as the focal point either, but Alexis does give you options and is someone who feels more threatening in the middle of the park. Sometimes you have to accommodate that by also keeping Paul Pogba in a strong position and that means making sacrifices.

Mourinho has spent a lot of money on Lukaku so using Alexis in a position on the left where he has thrived since coming to England is feasible to me. I just don't want the rest of the team to be shoehorned into unfamiliar positions and then asked to be very comfortable in big games.

Martial as an impact player is not a bad option off the bench and I prefer that than him starting on the right side where he has never looked his best.

Out of the three options above I would most definitely go with the second and then look to Pogba and Alexis to produce their best. It's also one that can be changed if United need to bring in another attacker in games against 'weaker' teams, but over the next week I would play that formation and personnel against the likes of Sevilla and Chelsea.

It gives Mourinho the strong defensive shape, while also opening things up for the top players in the squad to make the big positive impact we fans are all hoping for.

I am just praying Mourinho does not start the same XI that have played so poorly at Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United in the last couple of weeks as that won't inspire confidence.

Instead of dragging Pogba off and giving the critics more to sink their teeth into, I hope the manager can put him in what has clearly been his best position for United and France.

These are big decisions for Mourinho to make, but ultimately they could determine if this season is a success or a real failure with the top four far from secured.