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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Who will win the Premier League?

This is a follow up to the post last week trying to predict who will be relegated from the top flight in England this season. With a few days to go until the final furlong is run in the title race, I thought this would be the perfect time to finish the predictions and see if there is any value left in any markets.

Without further ado,

Manchester United, 63 points
West Ham United (A)- a tough fixture for United with injury worries, bad away form and playing against a team who are fighting for their lives. May have to settle for 1 point

Fulham (H)- I expect Mark Hughes to make life difficult for his former club, but United are too strong at Old Trafford, even with the Champions League games with Chelsea on either side of this game, 3 points

Newcastle (A)- again I worry about United's away form, but they do have a strong record at St James' Park and I expect a reaction from the FA Cup Semi Final with Manchester City regardless of the result, 3 points

Everton (H)- a really tough home fixture, but Everton are a little toothless up front so close home win, 3 points

Arsenal (A)- this game could come between a potential Champions League Semi Final, which may make it harder. United do have a good record in this part of London, 1 point

Chelsea (H)- Chelsea seem to have an edge over United in recent games, and could become only the 2nd team to pick up something from Old Trafford, 1 point

Blackburn (A)- a local derby that was the beginning of the end of United's title challenge last season when the game ended 0-0 here. United learn from their mistakes against a potentially relegated rival, 3 points

Blackpool (H)- I would take it now if someone said United have to win this game to win the title for a record 19th time. Entertaining 3 points

Manchester United = 81 points

Arsenal, 58 points
Blackburn (H)- the potential loss of Robin Van Persie will effect the side in the long term, but not for this game, 3 points

Blackpool (A)- much like Arsenal are made for Barcelona's style of football, Blackpool are made for Arsenal's,  3 points

Liverpool (H)- could be a tougher assignment for Arsenal than it may look at first glance, especially with Andy Carroll, Luiz Suarez and Steven Gerrard in the away line up and a surprise drop of 2 points,  1 point

Tottenham (A)- Spurs may only be playing for a top 4 berth by now, and have enough matchwinners to hurt Arsenal as proven in their last 2 League games against one another, 0 points

Bolton (A)- Bolton play good football under Owen Coyle, but the players may be thinking about a FA Cup Final by now, 3 points

Manchester United (H)- 1 point, see United

Stoke (A)- Tony Pulis has no love lost for Arsene Wenger and fires up his side to end the Gunners' title challenge, 1 point

Aston Villa (H)- Arsenal are far too good for a Villa side who have players looking forward to holidays and perhaps moves away from Villa Park in the Summer, 3 points

Fulham (A)- Fulham can make life difficult for any sides at home, and Arsenal have had a tough season, 1 point

Arsenal = 74 points

Chelsea, 54 points
Stoke (A)- Chelsea make a few changes to their line up with the game against Manchester United in mind, but still have enough to match the physicality of Stoke and pick up 3 points

Wigan (H)- Chelsea still have work to do at Old Trafford in the 2nd leg of the Champions League QF, but are too strong for Wigan, 3 points

West Brom (A)- the home side make things difficult, but Chelsea have momentum behind them and pick up yet another 3 points

Birmingham (H)- the home side start believing they can retain the title and grab another 3 points

West Ham (H)- it has to be another 3 points

Tottenham (H)- this game could come between a Semi Final meeting with Inter/Schalke in the Champions League, and Spurs cause a surprise, 1 point

Manchester United (A)- 1 point, see United

Newcastle (H)- Chelsea are too strong again, 3 points

Everton (A)- the title is gone, but Chelsea can still finish above Arsenal with a win. They get 1 point and look to West London rivals Fulham to help out. Now on to Wembley for the Champions League Final with Barcelona

Chelsea = 75 points

Manchester City, 53 points
Sunderland (H)- the two weeks International break helps bring some bodies back and the away side is struggling, 3 points

Liverpool (A)- Liverpool have outside chances of making it to the Champions League place with a win. Roberto Mancini sets his side out to be difficult to beat and grab 1 point

Blackburn (A)- North West Derby a week after the FA Cup Semi Final with United... Tough spot for City, 1 point

West Ham (H)- Carlos Tevez haunts his former club, 3 points

Everton (A)- the home side give City a lot of problems and take the win, 0 points

Tottenham (H)- same scenario as last season as City play NOT TO LOSE rather than win and this comes back to bite them, 0 points

Stoke (H)- Stoke have nothing left to play for, and could have just enjoyed the FA Cup Final, 3 points

Bolton (A)- Bolton's season is over but the home fans demand the best against their North West Rivals, 1 point

Manchester City = 65 points

Tottenham, 49 points
Wigan (A)- Spurs are looking ahead to the Real Madrid game on Tuesday and take their eyes of the ball, 1 point

Stoke (H)- its a difficult game, especially with the 2nd leg with Real Madrid to come on Wednesday at White Hart Lane, but Spurs do enough for 3 points

Arsenal (H), 3 points, see Arsenal

West Brom (H)- the Baggies concede too many goals and are punished here, 3 points

Chelsea (A)- 1 point, see Chelsea

Blackpool (H)- Spurs dont miss the chances they did at Bloomfield Road, 3 points

Manchester City (A)- 3 points, see City

Liverpool (A)- Spurs put in so much effort at City, but cant repeat the trick here as the players are feeling a little tired, 0 points

Birmingham (H)- a week off to refresh, and one final push to try and grab a Champions League spot, 3 points

Tottenham = 69 points

Liverpool, 45 points
West Brom (A)- the surprise return of Steven Gerrard and the lively front two of Luiz Suarez and Andy Carroll  lead to 3 points

Manchester City (H)- 1 point, see City

Arsenal (A)- 1 point, see Arsenal

Birmingham (H)- the Reds have too much in front of the Kop, 3 points

Newcastle (H)- Andy Carroll sends his former club closer to the trapdoor, 3 points

Fulham (A)- Fulham are still fighting for their lives and have enough to take 1 point

Tottenham (H)- 3 points, see Tottenham

Aston Villa (A)- Villa are safe and not focused, Kenny Dalglish just wants his side to give the owners something to think about when they discuss money on his permanent contract, 3 points

Liverpool = 63 points

I would be over the moon if this was to happen as it would mean my beloved Manchester United would be Champions for a record 19th time, while the likes of City and Liverpool remained out of the Champions League.

Don't get me wrong, I genuinely picked the results independently without adding up to make sure City and Liverpool failed and United won the title. I dont have a crystal ball so could be way off, and I have not factored in injuries that could hurt teams (Rooney out for the season, Bale/Van der Vaart, Van Persie, etc).

However, the only pick I will make from this is 1 Unit on Tottenham to finish in the top 4.

Tottenham Hotspur to finish in top 4 @ 3.75 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Let us all hope for an exciting 7 weeks to end this topsy-turvy season!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Update to 'Who is getting relegated from the Premier League?'

I was thinking back to my predictions yesterday, and it dawned on me that I had missed a vital piece of the relegation puzzle... Newcastle United.

The Magpies play 4 teams who are below them in the League, and I was not too favourable of their chances to get the necessary points to survive. Take a look why:

Newcastle United, 36 Points
Wolves (H)- 1 Point, see Wolves

Aston Villa (A)- 0 Points, see Aston Villa

Manchester United (H)- the game takes place 3 days after the Cup Semi Final between United and Manchester City, so there is a chance here for Newcastle to cause a surprise. I just think United will be more focused, regardless of the City result, and pick up a big win at a venue they enjoy, 0 Points

Blackpool (A)- 0 Points, see Blackpool

Liverpool (A)- Liverpool will still be fighting for a top 5 berth, and I can see Andy Carroll haunting his former club, o Points

Birmingham (H)- 1 Point, see Birmingham

Chelsea (A)- the Blues should be too good and may still be in the title race if they have got a result at Old Trafford the week before, 0 Points

West Brom (H)- 1 Point, see West Brom

Newcastle 39 Points

Now that would mean the Newcastle-West Brom game on the final day could decide who goes down. Newcastle's goal difference is vastly superior at the moment so would survive on goal difference if my predictions are correct, BUT you can back Newcastle at 15.0 to go down right at this moment.

I can assure you that that price will be far shorter if it does indeed come to a last day shootout between Newcastle and West Brom and so surely a unit on the Magpies going down is not a bad shout.

They may beat Wolves next week at home and all of this will be a moot point, but they are struggling for form, just got thumped 4-0 at Stoke, are having problems in defence and scoring goals, and could be the side dragged down into a relegation battle from what looks like a position of safety.

Newcastle to be relegated @ 15.0 (1 Unit)

Friday, 25 March 2011

Who is getting relegated from the Premier League?

I love this time of the season, because it is the perfect time to try and figure out who is going down from the Premier League. It also allows those with ante-post punts to perhaps back a couple of different horses, or to protect those they have already backed for the dreaded drop.

You will also see many newspaper columns being filled in with predictions as to how the both ends of the table will shape up. I decided to do the same as I really enjoyed reading such columns.

I will begin with the bottom of the table and then focus on the top end next week. Predictions are based on what I THINK will happen and I will be start with bottom placed Wigan and work my way up the table. The points underlined are what the team is currently on, and the italics at the bottom is what I feel they will end up with:

Wigan Athletic, 30 Points
Tottenham (H)- fancy Wigan may grab a draw against a team that could be more interested in the game at Real Madrid than one in the North West of England, 1 Point

Chelsea (A)- lost here 9-1 last season, Chelsea playing a lot better now than 3 months ago... The only thing Wigan can hold onto is the fact this game comes between the big Champions League QF tie Chelsea have with Manchester United so maybe they can... No, 0 Points

Blackpool (A)- this is a big game for both teams, and I can see the term 'relegation six pointer' being used all through the week leading to this game. Blackpool have not been playing that well, and both play attractive football. Could end up sharing the points that helps nobody, 1 Point

Sunderland (A)- the Black Cats are pretty much safe already and have recently come off the rails a little. Wigan may just feel they can pull an upset here and pick up the full complement of points, I just think they may have to settle for 1 Point

Everton (H)- Everton really will have the Summer holidays to look forward to by this time and Wigan may just catch them at the right time. While David Moyes will expect his side to finish as high as possible, I feel Wigan may nick the 3 Points

Aston Villa (A)- Villa are struggling no ends and this is another one of those 'six pointers'. Houllier is not the man the fans want in charge and everything could be pear-shaped by this point at Villa Park... Wigan won here last season in a surprise, it may be less of one if they pick up 1 Point

West Ham (H)- West Ham should still be in the mixer at this point, but they are playing much better at the moment. I feel their quality will show up here and Wigan will be left hoping for something special on the last day at Stoke, 0 Points

Stoke City (A)- Stoke City could have taken part in a FA Cup Final by this point and will be safe for another season. They are still tough to beat at the Brittania, so I fancy Wigan can get 1 Point and not quite enough for all 3.

Wigan 38 Points

Birmingham City, 31 Points
Bolton (H)- Bolton beat Birmingham in the FA Cup here with a last minute goal, but I think the international break would have done the home team the world of good and they can nick 1 point

Blackburn (A)- there are so many teams at the bottom of the League that are in danger that all of these 'six pointers' are around. Blackburn have been in horrible form, so much so that Rafa Benitez is favourite to take the Manager's job from Steve Kean. However, that hasn't happened yet and right now I would think the sides share the points, 1 Point

Sunderland (H)- as mentioned, Sunderland have been in a really bad run of form, and I think the players may just be looking at the Summer holidays. That will be enough to give the home team 3 Points

Chelsea (A)- cant see beyond the home win, 0 Points

Liverpool (A)- Kenny Dalglish expects his side to finish as high up the table as possible and still have real intentions of catching Tottenham in 5th for the Europa League place, 0 Points

Wolves (H)- a local derby will see a cracking atmosphere at St Andrews. Wolves look like a really solid team at the moment and will do enough to share the points, 1 Point

Newcastle (A)- Birmingham's strength is relying on a strong defence and I imagine they can pose plenty of difficulties for a Newcastle team struggling for goals. They could possibly get all the points, but may settle for 1 Point

Fulham (H)- the Cottagers could be safe by this point, and Alex McCleish will fire up his troops for one big effort here, 3 Points

Tottenham (A)- I just feel Spurs' fate will be sealed by this point, and they might not be at the top of their game. Expect Birmingham to make life difficult and snare 1 Point

Birmingham 42 Points

Wolves, 32 Points
Newcastle (A)- Wolves have been in solid enough form, and as long as the international break has not taken away too much momentum, they can pick up 1 Point

Everton (H)- the Goodison Park club are the kind of team that will cause Wolves problems as they are physically capable of standing up to the home teams pressure, and I think Wolves may struggle to get more than 0 Points

Fulham (H)- Fulham do not have the best record away from home, and Wolves will feel they can pick up a vital 3 points here. It could be tight, but I would agree with them, 3 Points

Stoke (A)- the home team may just be looking to secure their own status in the top flight and could be boosted by a potential Cup Final to look forward to by this point, 0 Points

Birmingham (A)- 1 Point, see Birmingham

West Brom (H)- another local derby a week after Birmingham. It should be tough, but I feel Wolves show too much here and get the big win, 3 Points

Sunderland (A)- with 2 games left, I fancy Sunderland will not be focused here, not like Wolves, and the away side get another big 3 Points

Blackburn (H)- the way things are going for Blackburn, this might be irrelevant to their future at this point and relegation may already be a reality. Expect Wolves to send their fans off happy, 3 Points

Wolves 46 Points

West Ham United, 32 Points
Manchester United (H)- United do not have the best away record, West Ham are playing a lot better now than earlier in the season. United also have defensive problems that could be a little clearer by April 2nd, but both will get 1 Point

Bolton (A)- maybe some of the Bolton players will be looking forward to the Cup Semi Final a week later and so do not want to risk injury. That gives West Ham enough to grab 1 Point

Aston Villa (H)- Villa can take advantage of some of West Ham's vulnerabilities in defence, but the Hammers will also fancy their chances against a Villa team that is imploding. West Ham to grab 3 Points in a high scoring game

Chelsea (A)- Chelsea may lose focus with a potential Champions League Semi Final in midweek, but they still have designs on the Premier League title, 0 Points

Manchester City (A)- City also will have a great deal to play for at this point with the top 4 in mind, 0 Points

Blackburn (H)- after a couple of games without points, West Ham will rise to the pressure and secure a big win over a struggling rival, 3 Points

Wigan (A)- 1 Point, see Wigan

Sunderland (H)- after Sunderland allow Wolves to grab a win at the Stadium of Light, the players have all but taken their holidays and fall to another defeat, 3 Points

West Ham 44 Points

West Brom, 33 Points
Liverpool (H)- three weeks ago I would have fancied Roy Hodgson's men to get something from this game, but think they will struggle to deal with Luiz Suarez and Andy Carroll and get nothing in a close game, 0 Points

Sunderland (A)- expect Hodgson to get his side to try and make it difficult for Sunderland, but a lack of clean sheets hurts West Brom and they only get 1 Point

Chelsea (H)- the Baggies will be hoping the 2nd leg of Chelsea's Champions League Quarter Final has sapped their energies, but might not be enough, 0 Points

Tottenham (A)- the lack of clean sheets again hurt West Brom, 0 Points

Aston Villa (H)- Villa definitely have the better players on paper, but West Brom are working more as a team. Could be another high scoring game with the points shared, 1 Point

Wolves (A)- 0 Points, see Wolves

Everton (H)- Everton will have nothing to play for here, and the Baggies motivation gets them fired up enough to grab a vital 3 Points

Newcastle (A)- West Brom will need a win here to have any chance of staying up. They give it their all, but its not enough, 1 Point

West Brom 39 Points

Blackpool, 33 Points
Fulham (A)- Blackpool play their normal method of attacking at all costs, but their defence lets them down and they fail to get the 3 points, 1 Point

Arsenal (H)- Ian Holloway's side are tailor-made for Arsenal and an entertaining game finished with praise, not points, for the home team, 0 Points

Wigan (H)- 1 Point, see Wigan

Newcastle (H)- Blackpool give up the usual chances, but the toothless Magpies cannot take full advantage while Charlie Adam inspires the Seasiders to 3 Points

Stoke (H)- Stoke should be safe by now, but their physical game causes problems. Some could perhaps be looking to avoid injuries for the Cup Final, Blackpool do enough to take advantage, 3 Points

Tottenham (A)- Blackpool were fortunate to meet Spurs on an off day when winning 3-1 at Bloomfield Road, not again, 0 Points

Bolton (H)- Bolton will be safe, but this is still a North West Derby. Both teams to share the spoils, 1 Point

Manchester United (A)- United might still need the points to win the title, should be too good, 0 Points

Blackpool 42 Points

Aston Villa, 33 Points
Everton (A)- Everton are playing much better at the moment although will miss Mikel Arteta and Louis Saha. Villa do enough to grab 1 Point

Newcastle (H)- Villa will be hoping for the support of the home crowd here, and can get a big 3 Points

West Ham (A)- 0 Points, see West Ham

Stoke (H)- Stoke will have just played an FA Cup Semi Final the week before, so this is the perfect time for Villa to get them at home, 3 Points

West Brom (A)- 1 Point, see West Brom

Wigan (H)- 1 Point, see Wigan

Arsenal (A)- the Gunners should still be in contention for the title, nothing here for Villa, 0 Points

Liverpool (H)- the Reds could be in line to steal a top 5 finish here, while Houllier's love for his former club could see the fans getting upset with him again. Villa may already be safe by now, 0 Points

Aston Villa 42 Points

Blackburn Rovers, 33 Points
Arsenal (A)- Arsenal should be ready to go with the return of Cesc Fabregas, and Blackburn are in a bad state at the moment, 0 Points

Birmingham (H)- 1 Point, see Birmingham

Everton (A)- Blackburn have been having a hard time away from home anyway, Everton still have David Moyes inspiring them to a close win, 0 Points

Manchester City (H)- City will have come off the FA Cup Semi Final with United, and that might give Blackburn a chance to pick up 1 Point

Bolton (H)- this is a North West rivalry and you can expect the Bolton fans to fire their team up to leave Blackburn in deep trouble. However, the home side should do enough to grab 1 Point

West Ham (A)- 0 Points, see West Ham

Manchester United (H)- United will still be fighting for the Premier League title, and I think they can find a way to win this game, 0 Points

Wolves (A)- 0 Points, see Wolves

Blackburn Rovers 36 Points

I think Fulham and above will be safe from relegation, and the three relegated teams will be Blackburn Rovers, West Brom and Wigan .

A lot of things can change, for example the sacking of Steve Kean at Blackburn (if it happens) may allow for a honeymoon period that keeps Blackburn up. However, at this moment I dont like their chances.

Wigan are plenty short to go down at the bookmakers, but West Brom at 2.88 must be worth 2 Units.

Even more appealing is the current 3.2 on offer for Blackburn to go down and I will have 2 Units on that too.

It might also be prudent to pick Blackburn to finish bottom of the pile at prices of 11.0- they have a tough set of fixtures and do not look like they are going anywhere at the moment. The only issue I have with the Blackburn pick is that they will sack Steve Kean and receive a boost from a new manager, as can happen.

West Brom to go down @ 2.88 (2 Units)
Blackburn to go down @ 3.2 (2 Units)
Blackburn to finish bottom @ 11.0 (1 Unit)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Recap of the Week and Picks Update

It has been a very good March so far, although we are reaching the stage where we have to be careful in giving back too much back to the greedy bookmakers.

The English Premier League, and the other top European Leagues, have shut down for a 2 week International break. I hate the fact that this seems to sap the momentum being built up as the season draws to a close, but I am extremely happy as a Manchester United fan that we have this time to get some defenders back up to speed with a tough looking trip to Upton Park next on the schedule.

Talking about United, a quiet piece of news was that Red Holdings, the company in control of United, made a loss of over 100 million pounds during the last year. The lack of a superstar being sold, as Cristiano Ronaldo was 18 months ago, makes me suspicious of what the Glazers are getting up to at Old Trafford. They maintain there is 100 million sitting in a bank waiting to be spent when there is 'value in the market'- I am just beginning to wonder when this 'value' will appear as the squad is ageing and definitely needs reinvestment.

Watching Cheltenham last week reminded me of how the Premier League title race is shaping up this season. While the public concentrates on the two horses leading the way, the eye is taken off the old timer powering behind them on the rails. Chelsea are looking more and more dangerous with each passing game, and I am beginning to believe that they are the biggest threat to United winning the record 19th top flight title. The game at Old Trafford on May 7th may just be the title decider, not the May 1st meeting between Arsenal and United at the Emirates.

I just cannot wait for the Internationals to get out of the way and we can then enjoy an April packed with big games and moments.

The NBA will always have its doubters as to how legitimate teams are playing. The minute you see a team blow a big lead and fail to cover a spread, there are a number of people on message boards, blogs and websites disputing the validity of the performances. I do not agree with them- teams are playing for one thing and one thing only, the W. They dont care if they fail to cover as long as the game is in the bag and they take one more step towards the Play Offs.

The teams that are looking particularly dangerous as we get to less than a month to go in the regular season are the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West and the Chicago Bulls in the East. Both are already playing with Play Off intensity and will be tough to knock off- while it is still too early to be talking about who will make the Finals in June, I am sure no one is looking forward to playing those two teams.

On the other hand, whoever finishes 8th in the East are going to struggle, while the New York Knicks look like they will not be making the impact in the Play Offs that fans will have expected. If the Knicks draw Boston, I would say get ready for next season New Yorkers.

The NHL is another League drawing to a close for the regular season. The hits being dished out and taken have really come under the microscope in recent weeks as the issues surrounding concussions become clearer day by day. At the end of the day, I dont want to watch a hockey game where the star players are on the sidelines with injuries, or take limited part as they are targeted with vicious hits.

The San Jose Sharks have been in hot form in recent weeks, and could end up being a dangerous lower seed in the loaded Western Conference. There are a bunch of teams that can beat one another in both Conferences, and it is really hard to find a standout team. I wont even guess at a pick to win the whole thing until the Play Off seedings are completed.

Finally, there has been a lot of discussions in recent weeks about what constitutes a good record for the various people picking games all over the Net. The bottom line is this- no one can possibly pick at greater than 70% for spread betting in any League over the course of a season. However, if you can play your bank in the correct manner, it is possible, along with a 55-60% strike rate, to make plenty of profit.

My only advice would be to use units to distinguish your picks, keep a record of your tips, and do not get too disheartened if you suffer a couple of losses- remember to research your picks and you should come good. If not, check your research, whether you are looking at the correct angles for games and use it in trial and error. NEVER bet your life savings, or more than you can afford to lose.

Picks Update for March
Football (Soccer) + 10.72 Units

NBA + 17.98 Units

NHL + 1.1 Units

Latest Picks
Remember to check http://www.goonersguide.com/ for picks every day (mine are under Auls)

Today I have:
Miami Heat - 8.5 points @ Detroit Pistons
Houston Rockets - 8.5 points v Golden State Warriors

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Champions League Draw

So the Champions League draw took place this morning and I have spent most of the day trying to decide if I am happy with the draw from a fans' perspective and also about some of the prospective games we will see. I will break down the games as I see them in order they came out of the hat (or pot in this case).

Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur
Real Madrid were actually the one team that I wanted to avoid with my Manchester United hat on- I think their brand of football would actually pose many more problems than Barcelona and they are much harder to defend against. In saying all that, I actually felt Tottenham were actually the best equipped English side to give themselves a chance against the 9 time European Cup winners.

It should be a tie full of goals in both legs as we have two teams that are better going towards the opposite goal than defending the one behind them. The first leg is all important- if Spurs can come back with at least one goal and a close defeat at the very worst, they will fancy their chances of causing an upset.

However, I feel Real Madrid may end up being a little too strong and seeing themselves through to the Semi Finals.

Chelsea v Manchester United
The tie of the round is a rematch of the 2008 Champions League Final, a game that will forever be etched in the memory of a certain John Terry unless the ghosts are exorcised at Wembley in May this season.

I think it was the one draw that neither team would have wanted, and the bookies dont really know which way to turn after pricing the tie as a pick 'em. The first leg being at Stamford Bridge could be the factor that tips the tie in favour of Chelsea- I am sure Carlo Ancelotti will feel his side can go through if they can keep a clean sheet in that game and take it back to Old Trafford. Ask the Italian if he would take a 0-0 in that game now and I truly feel he would accept and take his chances in scoring what could be a crucial away goal in Manchester.

It also could favour the Blues in terms of personnel being available with United suffering a number of injuries to their defence. We have to remember the game is only a little over 2 weeks away and there is no telling what shape Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Rafael will be at that stage.

It looks like a tough tie to call, but I have this sneaky feeling Chelsea will come through on away goals.

Barcelona v Shakhtar
Josep Guardiola was playing an interesting brand of mind games when he suggested he did NOT want to play Shakhtar in the last 8 of this competition because he 'does not like them'. While a trip to the Ukraine is going to be tough, I am sure the Catalan giants will expect to take a comfortable lead over to that part of Europe with the first leg at the Nou Camp.

Barcelona have not travelled that well in Europe, but I dont think I am being controversial if I feel that tie could be over after the first leg, making the trip to Donetsk a moot point.

Inter Milan v Schalke
The other side teams would have been looking out for was Schalke, especially after the Germans fired Felix Magath earlier this week.

It is a testament to Schalke that they reached this stage of the competition, but they look like they may have gone as far as they can although they will not fear an Inter Milan side that looks very vulnerable at the back.

Inter were also a little fortunate to beat Bayern Munich in the last 16, but I would expect the reigning European Champions to have a little too much class and experience for Schalke, and come through the tie.

Potential Semi Finals
If the results go as I have predicted (at this moment in time), the Semi Final line up would see Inter take on Chelsea, and Real Madrid take on Barcelona.

I would then favour Chelsea and Barcelona to get through those ties respectively and meet in the Final at Wembley on May 28th.

I have had a sneaky feeling about Chelsea winning the big prize for a while now, and I think the draw has panned out in such a way that they will feel they can get to the Final and have that opportunity if they beat Manchester United.

The draw seems to favour Barcelona the most, and I truly think they will reach the Final as they avoid the 3 teams that have given them a really tough time over the last 3 seasons. Manchester United beat Barcelona 1-0 on aggregate in 2008 in the Semi Finals, Inter Milan did the same 3-2 last season, while we all should remember Didier Drogba describing the 1-1 Semi Final draw at Stamford Bridge a 'fucking disgrace' when Chelsea were clearly robbed of the game by some suspect refereeing.

The likes of Shakhtar, Real Madrid and Tottenham do not have the defensive shape and understanding that the likes of Chelsea, United and Inter all did, and so I feel Barcelona will be in London on May 28th.

While I guess Chelsea will be their opponents, I am secretly hoping to be completely wrong and the Final will actually be Manchester United beating Shakhtar Donetsk to complete another Treble.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

NBA Things We Have Learned March 1st-15th

I am using this post to just recap on a few things we could have taken from recent NBA games and how we can use them to our advantage as we go forward. I will also update my profit/loss for the month each time I recap.

1- The LA Lakers are still the team to beat
The LA Lakers were being criticised from all angles as we entered the All-Star break last month, but surely everyone should have realised that this team is all about rings and gearing up for the Play Offs.

The Lakers had struggled against the elite teams in the NBA before the break, but have returned with a vengeance, winning 10 of 11 games overall. A closer look at the results show they are 7-1 in that time against teams that will be in the Play Offs come April, and they have beaten their big Western rivals, Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio on the road in that stretch.

LA might not end with the Number 1 seed in the Western Conference, but someone is going to have to play exceptionally well to knock this team off from three-peating this season.

2- The Miami Heat can beat the best
We had all seen the record- Miami were 1-9 against the elite teams in the NBA and were 1-15 in games decided by 3 points or less so there was no way the Heat could be considered a serious threat come Play Off time. 5 defeats in a row seemed to back that up, more so when considering all those losses came to Play Off bound teams.

However, things are looking brighter on South Beach after the team knocked off the LA Lakers and San Antonio Spurs in recent games and now people are slowly falling back in line.

The Heat have lost a lot of close games this season, but this looks like an anomoly rather than Miami struggling. Granted there have been some stunning losses, like the 24 point lead they blew while losing to Orlando, but the Big Three look like they have found a niche for their individual roles and the returning Udonis Haslem will provide a further boost to the team.

Miami are definitely a dangerous team, and now they have the belief and proof they can beat the best.

3- New York are at least 1 year away from being a real threat in the East
The Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony and all New York fans were rejoicing that the team was back in contention in the suddenly loaded East. Dont get me wrong, I marked out too!!

However, a lot of the pieces that had given the Knicks such a solid foundation this season were moved on in the trade and there is a real lack of depth in the rotation.

The deal was a good one for New York and should work out well for the future of this franchise but this season looks too soon for an inconsistent team.

The Knicks might push one of the top teams to 6 games at best in the Play Offs, but I fear a 1st Round loss this season, although that is a total improvement on the last 5 seasons put together.

4- Oklahoma City can whip the worst, but what about the best?
Oklahoma City made one of the best trades when bringing in Kendrick Perkins from the Boston Celtics to improve their Defense. The loss of Jeff Green has been unnoticed so far thanks to the supreme play of James Harden while we all know what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook bring to the party.

This makes the Thunder a real threat in the West this season, one year after pushing the Lakers to 6 games in the 2nd Round, but they have to prove they can compete with the better teams in the NBA.

Oklahoma City have been thumping the sub .500 teams all season, and they continued that trend with double digit wins at Detroit, Cleveland and Washington recently, but they have lost their last 5 games played against Miami, Orlando, San Antonio and the LA Lakers and they need to prove they can compete with those teams on a regular basis.

5- Are the Boston Celtics showing their age?
While Oklahoma City have to be praised for trading for Perkins, Boston left many scratching their heads as they gave away the one piece that gave them a real edge over Miami in the East.

The Celtics have been struggling of late, but I would not be too concerned as the veterans certainly showed last season that they can show up for the Play Offs.

What would be a concern is they have fallen out of the Number 1 seed in the East, and that means no home court advantage throughout the Play Offs- this is a big deal for a team that truly felt they would have won the Championship last season if Game 7 was played in Boston rather than Los Angeles.

They do need to start winning, but I might steer clear of picking the Celtics in the next couple of weeks until I have more of a feel for them.

6- The LA Clippers are much better than their record suggests
The final thing that looks clear to me is the how dangerous the LA Clippers are at the moment. They are a much better team than their record suggests and look set to play spoiler in the Western Conference if wins over Houston and Denver in the last couple of weeks is anything to go by.

When you have players like Mo Williams, Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin, you are certain to cause teams problems, and I will be keeping an eye out on this progressing team.

Profit for March = + 5.83 Units

Sunday, 13 March 2011

European Champions League Recap March 8th-9th

Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (4-3 aggregate)
It was an interesting game at the Nou Camp where Barcelona dominated possession and Arsenal failed to muster a shot on goal (even though they did manage to get on the scoresheet). The fallout from the game was all about the crazy sending off of Robin Van Persie for kicking the ball away 1 second after the referee had whistled the play dead from over 40 yards away.

Obviously Arsene Wenger, Van Persie himself, and many of the Arsenal team were upset at the referee's decison following the game, with Wenger and Samir Nasri being asked to contest a UEFA charge. The ending of the game was very similar to Didier Drogba's response to the Chelsea defeat in the Semi Final to the Catalan club 2 seasons ago, and I just wonder what kind of action will be taken on the Arsenal personnel involved.

In real terms, the sending off did change the game- I have heard people showing off the statistics and domination of Barcelona in the game, but the bottom line is the game was poised at 1-1 when the decision was made and Arsenal were leading on aggregate. Would Arsenal have definitely gone through as Arsene Wenger suggested after the game? I dont think I would go even close to that far, but who can definitely say now.

Most disappointing was the reaction of Graeme Souness in his role as pundit- now I believe he is one of the better pundit's in the game, but he has been slightly strange in reactions recently, most obviously with his disparaging remarks about Gennaro Gattuso in the Milan-Spurs game at the San Siro.

Souness went as far as to suggest the sending off did NOT change the game in any way, shape or form, and then almost accepted the decision because the better team went through!! Wow, that is some analysis.

I bet Souness was spewing with anger when Barcelona, a team he describes as the best he has ever seen, just failed to beat Inter Milan in last season's Semi Final. Souness must have been extremely happy with Sergei Busquets reaction in getting Thiago Motta sent off, feigning injury and peeping through his hands to make sure the referee was sending off the Brazilian, and must have hoped they could have got a couple more players in trouble with that kind of play.

Now I am not suggesting that the Van Persie incident was the same as the cheating to get Motta sent off last season, BUT at what stage do the ends justify the means? If Souness thinks the sending off didnt matter this time because the best team ultimately got through, he cant surely have any issues with Barcelona 'fooling' referees into giving them an advantage if it ultimately leads to the Catalans winning?

I just expected better from a man who has been involved in this game for a lot longer than I have!!

Ironic Moment of the Week: Now I love finding these little moments of irony in a week of football. I cant promise one every week, but I did find the comments Barcelona made about Arsenal particularly ironic as the quotes could have been picked up from any number of Arsenal games when they play lesser British clubs.

Pep Guardiola implied there was a lot of bitterness in the Arsenal reaction to the loss claiming the Gunners could not string 3 passes together.

Xavi was disappointed with the tactics Arsenal employed, claiming they should play 'the beautiful game' and not defensive way they set up to play- I am sure Arsenal have used this many times when English teams defend well and prevent Arsenal playing.

It is always funny seeing a bully get their noses tweaked by the bigger kids in the yard, and this was one of those moments!! I wonder how many Arsenal fans enjoyed being patronised about their style of football, something they do many times when it comes to the likes of Stoke and Blackburn.

Are Barcelona the best of all time? Listening to the pundits reach levels of giddy-ness normally reserved for the best of Brazilian National teams, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a slam dunk answer- YES...

I dont agree- I truly feel the blueprint for beating this team has been set out in the last few seasons by the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Inter Milan, all teams that have had success in knocking Barcelona out in 2 legged ties in the Champions League since 2007. Even Chelsea in 2009 had Barcelona all but out, sufficing to a 90th minute goal from Andres Iniesta amongst controversial refereeing.

The teams I have mentioned all have 1 thing in common- they defend very well and with discipline. All make sure the middle of the park is clogged up enough to force Barcelona to use their full backs in wide positions. None of these teams fear Barcelona crossing balls into the box, all with size advantage over one of the smallest teams in Europe.

All teams can also attack on the counter with vigour to test a Barcelona team with some vulnerabilities at the back. The final thing all these teams have in common is the belief that they can survive without the ball for much of the game, and prove their effectiveness in the limited moments they do have it.

This leads me to my simple conclusion- I dont think this Barcelona team would have been able to match up with the dominating Milan team in the late 80s and early 90s... That Milan team was one of the best defensive teams of all time, yet they had the flair and creativity to score goals at will. Just take a video of what they did to the Barcelona 'Dream Team' of 1994 in the final of the Champions League, a game where Milan were the underdogs.

I truly believe those Milan teams would have beaten this Barcelona team in 7 out of 10 games, because they have the tactics that would cause the Catalans fits... Barcelona may play some of the prettiest football seen in a long time, but best team ever? Not until they prove on a consistent basis that the tactics employed by United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Inter are tactics they can find the solutions to.

Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 AS Roma (6-2 aggregate)
I actually tipped Shakhtar to come through this tie as the underdogs because I dont believe the Italians are the same team they have been over the last few seasons, while Shakhtar have been improving.

Shakhtar have now won every home game this season, and I dont think anyone will want to draw them simply because of the travel time involved for the game in Ukraine. They have a great blend of steel and Brazilian flair and are a dangerous team, although that 5-1 loss at the Emirates Stadium to Arsenal will be a concern.

This could be a potentially tough tie for anyone.

Tottenham 0-0 AC Milan (1-0 aggregate)
Harry Redknapp becomes the first English Manager to reach the last 8 of the European Champions League in any of its forms since Terry Venables at his time with Barcelona. Spurs had to ride their luck a little in this game to come through with Milan playing with a different intensity and class from the first leg.

Tottenham are another side that are potentially dangerous on their day, although I think they will need a really nice draw if they are to reach the Final this season. Coupling this competition with the pressure of trying to reach the top 4 in England may also be too much, although they have returning Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart to boost their attacking potential.

However, their defence still concerns me, even with 2 clean sheets against Milan, and I just feel this will let them down at some point.

Schalke 3-1 Valencia (4-2 aggregate)
Schalke completed the sweep for the Group winners in this last 16 tie as they fought from a 0-1 deficit to go through with a bit to spare. The Germans are very inconsistent in their play, but have to be respected after topping a group containing Lyon, Benfica and Hapoel Tel-Aviv, and this win over Valencia boosts their credibility further.

They have a keen goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer, and with players like Raul and Jefferson Farfan, they are sure to be dangerous going the other way.

However, I do think they are one of the teams that the 'bigger', more established European names will be looking at as a potential Quarter Final draw and I would be surprised if they were to reach much further after an impressive campaign so far.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Weekend Football: Do English players/managers get treated differently than the Foreigners?

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United: Did Carragher escape much criticism from the press because he is English?

Its taken me a little longer to actually get down to writing something down after the debacle of Sunday's loss at Anfield. It was disappointing from the United boys to say the least, especially the lack of effort in the face of a fired up Liverpool side. Maybe the game at Stamford Bridge had taken too much out of the side, but it is now time to get back on the horse for the Red Devils.

At the end of the day, the side still leads the Premier League by 3 points, although they may just have left the door ajar for a late Chelsea push- personally I think the West London club have left it too late and the 1 point gained from a game at Fulham and the home game with Liverpool was where they lost too much ground.

However, the basis for what I am writing is down to the one thing that infuriated me more than any other at Anfield on Sunday- the 'tackle' Jamie Carragher made on Nani that left the Portuguese star with a 'very deep gash' in his leg.

It was reckless, it was high, it was late, and I still haven't quite figured out what Phil Dowd was thinking to ONLY award a yellow card. Would it have affected the end result? No one can honestly answer that because United were so poor in the first half, but what I do know is that they would have fancied their chances of getting something more from 10 men with 45 minutes left to play.

It was also amusing seeing the lack of criticism of the tackle- yes, the pundits labelled it a sending off offence and they said Carragher was lucky to get away with it, but reading through match reports following the game and you could be forgiven that such a pivotal moment had taken place.

Now maybe this was down to the media blackout imposed by Sir Alex Ferguson after the game? I am sure the manager would have made it a point to mention the reckless nature of the tackle and perhaps the media would have made more of it. BUT I am beginning to think there is something else happening here:

I find the English media is quick to label any foreign players as 'dirty', 'diving', 'cheats', who have been brought up in a 'different' way to English and British players- the British on the other hand are as 'honest' as the day is long and only use tactics like diving because the foreigners do. A frequently heard phrase is 'diving has only been brought into our game since the foreigners started arriving with more regularity'.

What pretentious bullshit! Take a look at games in the 70s and 80s and you see people diving and trying to 'con' referees- the only difference is that now we have almost 400 cameras at every game and analyse tackles from every angle, back then you would be lucky to have 1 camera to capture any diving.

I also began to wonder what the reaction of the media would have been if, for example, Manual de Pereira Costa made that lunging knee high tackle on Joe Smith, an England International? I'm pretty sure the Tower of London would once more have been open for business as hangings commenced.

Is this the lack of criticism aimed at Jamie Carragher a direct result of said Carragher acting as pundit for the company that showed the game live on TV? I think you can make your own minds up about that.

Ironic Moment of the Week: Kenny Dalglish on Friday said 'If you do something stupid you deserve to be sent off... You have to compete but it is a fine line as to how you do it, but it's got to be within the rules of the game'- Regarding the Wayne Rooney incident from the week prior involving James McCarthy

After the Manchester United game his view had become 'Football is more important than an incident in the football match'- Sidestepping the issue of whether or not Jamie Carragher should have been sent off for the tackle on Nani

So either he thinks the tackle was 'within the rules of the game' or now it doesn't matter because the referee has made his decision and Liverpool won? Perhaps 'King Kenny' should just concentrate on his own house from now on rather than having sly digs at the team from up the M62.

Harry Redknapp Complaining about a lack of funds to challenge the top 4: Are you sure Mr Redknapp?

It really caught my eye when I saw an article where Harry Redknapp was complaining about a lack of funds to challenge the top 4 in the Premier League- I wasn't sure whether the article was being ironic or geniune!!

But it does seem this is a genuine gripe Mr Redknapp has, but how can this be so? Tottenham have backed him to the hilt since he joined the club, spending sizeable sums on the likes of Wilson Palacious, Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch and Rafael Van der Vaart to name just some.

OK, I will say they don't have the same funding as a Chelsea or a Manchester City, but those two are the exceptions in recent seasons for the amounts they have spent, and even the former had been much quieter in the market up until the £70 million outlay on Fernando Torres and David Luiz in January.

Both Manchester United and Arsenal are a step ahead of Spurs in terms of experience and having their squad become familiar with one another over time, but both clubs have not outspent Spurs since Redknapp took over at White Hart Lane.

Arsene Wenger certainly has not spent as much as Redknapp, yet has his side challenging for honours and consistently in the top 4. Yes, Arsenal are further up the line than Spurs, but should Tottenham really be 9 points behind them considering the Gunners have dropped 27 points so far this season?

It also seems the media love building up the success Redknapp is having at the moment- yes, Tottenham are going places, but surely the attempts to purchase Midfielder Number 500, 501 and 502 (Mark Van Bommel, David Beckham and Charlie Adam) during the transfer window would have been a misuse of whatever funds Tottenham have? There is clearly a need for a couple of full backs, and another striker in my opinion rather than adding to a midfield that has the likes of Modric, Van der Vaart, Huddlestone, Lennon, Bale, Palacious and Krankjar already vying for places. I very much doubt that the three players he bid for would have been an improvement on what he has already.

Therefore, this complaint that Harry does not have enough money stinks to me as a way to get fans on his side. We have to remember that fans dont care about financial profit/loss sheets, but they do care about silverware. They will always back the manager who is enjoying success, especially when he claims he cant get to the next level because of a lack of money being made available to him, but Tottenham are a well run club and I dont think they will be bullied to 'do a Leeds' and break the back trying to achieve something that may just be beyond their means until they move to a new Stadium.

Tottenham fans should also be grateful they have a strong Chairman in Daniel Levy to limit the 'ambitions' of a manager that clearly has the England job in mind following Euro 2012- just take a quick look at the state of Southampton and Portsmouth, 2 clubs that allowed Redknapp to have his own way in recent seasons, and their financial problems? The Portsmouth one can be linked directly to the overspending Redknapp did at the club (he also seemed to have around 504 Midfielders there), yet good old 'Arry wont take the blame but send people towards a Chairman who let him spend the money.

Remember one thing Spurs fans- Daniel Levy will be there keeping your club going in the right direction long after 'Arry is turned into some sort of vegetable by the media following England's failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Monday, 7 March 2011


Hello to all who are reading,

Many of you will know me as 'Auls' from Goonersguide.com, a place where I put up a number of previews from the world of sports as well as any betting angles and tips I have.

I have decided to create this blog as my little place on the net where I can talk about sports events and stories from a personal perspective. I will also update records from my sports picks over the weeks and months so you guys can perhaps follow as we all make a little bit of cash from the bookies.

The reporting from sports events have become a lot easier over the last 15 years as the internet took off, but there are still times when I feel certain events are overlooked and issues arising from games around the World are ignored.

I hope to have enough to interest you to come back and have a look at what I have. I look forward to hearing what you think of the blog and how I can possibly improve it.

I dont hold back on opinions, even if some are a little controversial, and I hope to at least spark some debate for those that read any updates I have.