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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Davis Cup Tennis Picks 2014 (January 31st)

On a personal level, I had a pretty terrible first two weeks of the season, but the Australian Open proved to be a positive tournament despite two surprise winners in the shape of Na Li and Stanislas Wawrinka. The first of those was a threat that most would have suggested is in the tier below the Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka's in the tournament, but the Wawrinka success was the biggest surprise we have seen in a men's Grand Slam in over a decade.

The fact that Wawrinka beat the top two players in the World on the way to the title and has subsequently improved his own World Ranking to Number 3 means he deserves all the success he earned at Melbourne Park and the new Swiss Number 1 may also be a threat in tournaments through the rest of the year.

He proved his worth by pushing Novak Djokovic to five sets in two Slams last season, while he also has wins over Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in the last twelve months which should have the belief flowing in the Wawrinka game.

Of course, Wawrinka was aided by the back injury suffered by Nadal in the warm up but I don't want to take anything away from the player who deserves his success after learning to control his emotions in the last eighteen months. He looks effective off both wings now and his serve seems to be getting better and there won't be too many players happy to see Wawrinka in their side of the draw as we move through the rest of the Tour.

The surprise loss for Serena Williams in the Fourth Round also highlighted again that the American should not be short odds to win these Grand Slam tournaments despite being the best player on the WTA Tour. Getting through seven matches without a dip in form is almost impossible, but Serena has shown susceptibility to the shock result and not being able to find the form or belief to come through when she is not at her best.

I appreciate winning two out of four Grand Slam events, as Williams did last season, is an impressive feat and I do think she is rightly the favourite to win, but odds on quotes should not be justified as she has lost to the likes of Virginie Razzano, Sloane Stephens, Sabine Lisicki and Ana Ivanovic in Grand Slam tournaments over the last couple of years.

And even winning two out of four is seemingly not enough for Serena to be seen as a successful season else you wouldn't have read so many stories before the Australian Open began about being able to win all the Slams in the calendar year. In fact her coach and boyfriend, Patrick Mouratoglou, had said 'why not' to that suggestion as he said Williams was the best player on the Tour by some distance.

I think it also says a lot that a player that only lost four times through the course of the season in 2013 suffered two of them while playing at the Grand Slams and I wonder if those tournaments put too much pressure on her.

It is definitely something to keep in mind as we reach the French Open and Wimbledon during the middle of the season.

The WTA Tour has moved on to Paris and Pattaya City this week, but the ATP Tour has been preparing for the Davis Cup ties to be played this weekend. The Czech Republic are the two time defending Champions after Radek Stepanek became the first player to ever win two live fifth rubbers in the Final in back to back years.

This time around, the Czech Republic are the third favourites to win the tournament mainly because of the draw which sees them likely having to beat the French team that looks full of talent in the Semi Finals.

France can call on Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Julien Benneteau, Gilles Simon and Benoit Paire to name a few and there is a real belief that they can win their first Davis Cup title since 2001. They face Australia in the First Round, a team that doesn't have the same depth as they did a few years ago, while neither a weakened Spain nor Germany would intimidate the French in the Quarter Finals.

The French were beaten the last time they faced the Czech Republic in 2009 and that does look a close tie to call if Stepanek keeps saving his best performances for the competition to back up what Tomas Berdych brings to the court.

The other side of the draw doesn't present the same problem, especially if Roger Federer can make himself available to join Stanislas Wawrinka for the Swiss Davis Cup team- Federer has won almost everything there is to win on a tennis court, except the Davis Cup, and it could be his best chance to right that now Wawrinka is playing at an extremely high level too.

You have to remember these two were the Gold Medal winners at the Beijing Olympics in the Doubles tournament and they have the benefit of playing Serbia without their top three players in the First Round followed by a clash with either Belgium or Kazakhstan.

Argentina are not expected to have Juan Martin Del Potro this season, the United States are not the team of a few years ago when it comes to players that can play the Singles rubbers even if they do have the best Doubles team in the world, while Great Britain can only rely on Andy Murray as a genuine threat to win his rubbers over four Rounds.

My concern would be that Roger Federer has admitted that he hasn't planned for the full season of Davis Cup, but you would think he is going to be interested with the way the draw has panned out. Switzerland have not won the Davis Cup before which will give Federer and Wawrinka more motivation to go as far as they can and I can see why this team is the favourite to win the competition.

The Final would not be an easy match against either France or the Czech Republic, especially as it will come at the end of a gruelling season when both Federer and Wawrinka would be expecting to play at the World Tour Finals in London. However, Switzerland have the most straight-forward path to the Final as long as their top two players make themselves available through the year and I will back them to win the Davis Cup.

Most of the markets for the individual matches have yet to be placed by the layers so I will add to this tomorrow morning if there is anything that appeals.

MY PICKS: Switzerland to Win the Davis Cup @ 3.50 Paddy Power (3 Units)

Australian Open Daily Picks29-20, + 18.21 Units (89 Units Staked, + 20.46% Yield)
Australian Open Outright Picks1-3, - 6.25 Units (9 Units Staked, - 69.44% Yield)

Season 2014- 2.67 Units (155 Units Staked, - 1.72% Yield)

Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (January 28-29)

This week we have a full Premier League schedule to get through and two fantastic looking live games, although my personal interest will be on the Manchester United game against Cardiff City when Juan Mata makes his debut.

Unlike some in the media, I think the signing of Mata makes a statement for David Moyes and the club in the wake of the terrible summer transfer window and also shows that the club is still a major draw... Mata may not have been Jose Mourinho's cup of tea, but it has to be remembered that he was one of the top players in the Premier League in the previous two seasons and was twice voted the Chelsea Player of the Year by the fans.

He will offer United some real creativity further up the pitch, an area where they have struggled at times, while the returns of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie will feel like new signings as United look to get back into the top four. There is a lot of work for United to do to achieve those aims, but this signing shows the intent of the club to turn things around and I do think we have seen the lowest point at Old Trafford this season after the League Cup Semi Final defeat to Sunderland.

It is important for United to start winning games, particularly with the teams immediately in front of them all having tough looking fixtures this week- I said something similar at the beginning of December, but United really need to win their next three League games against Cardiff City, Stoke City and Fulham to build momentum ahead of the trip to Arsenal.

Games come thick and fast at this time of the year and this is the time to really start getting some steam built up behind a run to the finish line and this could still prove to be a respectable season for United if they can get back into the Champions League.

Manchester United v Cardiff City Pick: There has been an improving atmosphere at Old Trafford as the season has progressed with the fans really getting behind the team and showing that a few defeats will not exhaust their love for the club. Manchester United have needed all the support they can get in what has been a tough transition from Sir Alex Ferguson to David Moyes, but the arrival of Juan Mata will also renew belief for the remainder of this season.

Personally I think Juan Mata is a fantastic player that will at least give United some more creativity in the final third where they have looked a little one-dimensional and flat in recent weeks. They haven't been helped by the fact that Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie have been missing, but both players have a chance of being involved in this one and everything seems to be coming together that Manchester United are ready for a more comfortable evening at Old Trafford than they have had for much of the season.

Those chances may be enhanced by the fact that Cardiff City have struggled away from home in the Premier League and have lost their last 4 games all by at least two goals each. In fact, Cardiff have lost 7 away games in the Premier League this season and all of them have come by at least two goals, including at Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Cardiff fans can point to their performance at Manchester City, where they scored twice, as proof that they can potentially cut it against Manchester United and possibly earn a point or all three. They have scored at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium and Manchester United have struggled for clean sheets at home for much of the season, only having 2 in their last 9 home Premier League games.

However, the signing of Mata will give the crowd and hopefully the players enough of a boost to earn the three points, although it may come in a game where both teams score.

Southampton v Arsenal Pick: If this game had been played a couple of months ago, I think there would have been a lot of people ready to back Southampton to win the game with the form they had been displaying. I am not sure that will be the case this time around, although this won't be a straight-forward game for Arsenal either.

After a poor run of form at home, Southampton have at least won 3 straight games here and I think they will enjoy playing a side like Arsenal that will allow them to play their football in the fashion they have employed.

On the flip side, that will also be music to the ears of the Arsenal players and they will be able to create chances against this Southampton defence that conceded three goals against both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at home over the Christmas period. Add to that the fact that Aston Villa and Burnley also scored three goals here and I think there is every chance that Arsenal will score goals.

However, I think Southampton have restored some confidence in their play in recent weeks with a 4 game unbeaten run to protect and Arsenal have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 5 away games in all competitions. 

The home side should also have their chances and I think the over 2.5 goals could have a big opportunity to come in, even if the weather is as poor as it may be on Tuesday evening.

Swansea v Fulham Pick: There is some poor weather around the United Kingdom which can affect games, but this looks another game where both teams should create chances and look for the three points to move them away from the relegation issues that are developing in the Premier League.

Confidence can't be too high in either camp as Swansea have lost three in a row at the Liberty Stadium, while Fulham have failed to win any of their last four away games in all competitions and were crushed 6-0 at Hull City only a month ago.

The manager's will surely be telling their sides to expose the vulnerabilities in the other squad and I don't think either will expect their side to sit back. Swansea have seen at least three goals scored in 5 of their last 6 home League games, while Fulham have seen the same total surpassed 5 of their last 6 away League games.

This has all the making of a 2-1 scoreline either way and backing goals looks the right call.

Liverpool v Everton Pick: When the Champions League places are decided in May, this fixture could be on that the clubs look back on as to why they have, or haven't, finished in the top four. There is going to be some real confidence in both camps that Liverpool and Everton can pick up the three points in this one and give themselves a boost going forward, and I certainly think this could be an entertaining game to watch for the neutrals.

Liverpool have only scored fewer goals than Manchester City in their home games to this point and I think they will certainly cause problems for an Everton team that could be missing key defensive personnel. Even if the likes of Seamus Coleman, Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka are passed fit, they will need to be at their best to contain the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez at a ground where they have scored plenty of goals.

That's not to say that the game will be one-way traffic as Everton have shown themselves as one of the toughest teams in the Premier League to beat. They may have lost at Manchester City, as a lot of clubs have this season, but Everton won at Manchester United and drew at Arsenal to suggest they won't roll over for Liverpool either.

However, it is hard to ignore the amount of goals Liverpool have scored at Anfield this season and I think that will give them the edge in this one. They will likely have to score at least twice to secure the win with Everton posing problems going the other way, while Liverpool have managed to score at least three goals in 6 of their last 8 home games in the Premier League although failing to reach that target in the last two games.

Chelsea v West Ham United Pick: It will be interesting to see if Sam Allardyce approaches this game in any different manner knowing that West Ham United will be playing in the early Saturday game in a much more winnable contest against Swansea at Upton Park. Allardyce is not known for rolling over for any team in the Premier League, but I do wonder if his focus has been completely on this tough test at Stamford Bridge.

That may translate to the players who won't have a lot of confidence with a poor run of form behind them and also the some of the disruption that comes with other clubs bidding for players like Ravel Morrison in the squad.

To make matters that much tougher, West Ham United are facing a Chelsea team that have shown improving performances and results and a team that has found some consistency which has led to a number of wins at home and away in succession.

Chelsea still haven't shown the same defensive organisation that they became known for under Jose Mourinho in his first spell at the club and that does concern me when looking for a pick. The lack of goals in the West Ham United team in recent weeks, and away from home in general throughout the season, has pointed me in the direction of backing the home side to win with a clean sheet to boot.

However, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace have scored here in games this season and it will be interesting if Chelsea come out with more concentration for this one. They will have to defend better from set pieces, which has been a problem for Chelsea at times this season, and they can win this one with a clean sheet as they did on Sunday against Stoke City.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City Pick: I believe this game will be a very entertaining one as both managers seem to have the same approach to a football game and that is putting their best teams out there and asking them to play attacking football to in the game.

The onus is on Tottenham Hotspur to do the same thing as the fans can become restless if they sit back and let Manchester City come onto them, while the other factor is the much improved form shown by the latter away from home.

There are definitely vulnerabilities in the Manchester City defence that has been highlighted away from the Etihad Stadium and I think the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado and Christian Eriksson will have the chance to create opportunities and score goals.

On the other hand, Manchester City have shown they can quickly up the tempo and score goals, bringing their goal-scoring from their home games into recent away games. Spurs have been playing a little better at home under Tim Sherwood, but this is a big task for them and you can't ignore how well Manchester City have been playing in the last couple of months.

The opportunity to move to the top of the Premier League ahead of the big game against Chelsea is another motivation and I think City will out-score Tottenham in this one. I do think Spurs will score too, but Manchester City come out on top.

MY PICKS: Both Teams to Score and Manchester United to Win @ 3.25 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Southampton-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Liverpool to Win and Over 2.5 Goals Scored @ 2.45 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Swansea-Fulham Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Manchester City to Win @ 3.40 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

January Update14-21, - 4.23 Units (53 Units Staked, - 7.98% Yield)

December Final19-16-2, + 13.34 Units (66 Units Staked, + 20.21% Yield)
November Final17-19-1, + 0.50 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.09% Yield)
October Final20-16-1, + 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, + 25.37% Yield)
September Final13-12, + 1.24 Units (39 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
August Final13-26, - 12.13 Units (54 Units Staked, - 22.46% Yield)

Season 2013/1482-79-3, + 15.89 Units (266 Units Staked, + 5.97% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (January 25-26)

The Cup competitions haven't been much fun for me this month and it is results in those competitions that has resulted in a slight loss so far for the picks made in January, although a big performance last weekend has at least put that loss into the manageable category.

As I said last week, you can't win every month and it has been a solid season for the most part so you have to keep the same method that has been working for much of the season and just hope to come out of this month with something positive. At the end of the day, a small loss isn't the worst thing in the world as the season will still be in decent shape, although there are two rounds of fixtures left to improve the fortunes of January.

This weekend is where the Fourth Round of the FA Cup is to be played and there are a number of matches that look very one-sided, while some Premier League clubs have some intriguing ties where it will depend a lot on what team they pick as to the ease of them going through. However, there is a full fixture list to be played during the week which does put a few more doubts in the fixtures and whether teams are fully focused.

Bournemouth v Liverpool Pick: It will be interesting to see the kind of team that Liverpool start considering they are playing Everton on Tuesday, but I think a deep FA Cup run along with a top four position will be considered a very successful season for Liverpool fans.

That should inspire Brendan Rodgers to play a strong team here with the idea of getting the tie won before resting players in anticipation of the Merseyside derby later in the game. Liverpool have their front two strikers back together and they will create chances in this game against a Bournemouth team that does struggle for clean sheets.

Bournemouth will be very motivated in front of their own fans and I can see them working Liverpool over, but there looks to be too much talent in the away side and Bournemouth could be ripe for the counter-attack. That is where Liverpool thrive with the pace they have in the forward areas and I can see them being a little too strong for Bournemouth.

Of course, getting the first goal will be critical to this match, but if Liverpool manage to score that, I think they will get their place in the Fifth Round booked with some comfort.

Huddersfield Town v Charlton Athletic Pick: There is no doubt that no manager wants to see his side lose a game, but Chris Powell could be forgiven for perhaps overlooking this game and focusing on the huge League game against Doncaster Rovers, the side directly below Charlton Athletic in the table, which takes place in three days time.

That should hand another edge to Huddersfield Town who would already be the favourites with two home wins over Charlton already this season, including knocking them out of the Capital One Cup.

Recent form definitely points to the home team too, but I can't under-estimate how tough Charlton have been to beat in recent weeks and their 0-3 win at Oxford United was a decent performance. Again, I don't know how strong their motivation will be if they fall behind with that game with Doncaster Rovers next up on deck.

Charlton won't want another replay to add to the games they already have to negotiate, so this could be a more open game than a League game would be. Both previous games between these teams have seen a lot of goals scored and I think the over 2.5 goals could be the call in this game with both teams looking to end the tie on the first occasion.

Manchester City v Watford Pick: When Manchester City played their FA Cup replay against Blackburn Rovers, the away side actually played pretty well for the first 45 minutes but they switched off for a second to fall 1-0 down at half time.

Even without playing that well, Manchester City ended up winning that game 5-0 and they seemingly score at will and that makes it tough to see anything other than a comfortable home win in this one.

You have to credit Watford for being tough to play in recent weeks since the departure of Gianfranco Zola as manager, but recent games at Ipswich Town, Bristol City and Bournemouth will not be preparation for a visit to the toughest ground in English football. Watford have at least shown some defensive discipline in their games and will try and make things difficult for a Manchester City team that could be caught looking ahead to the game against Tottenham Hotspur during the week in the Premier League.

However, Manchester City have shown too much attacking intent in games to think Watford are able to hold out through the game and I think the home side can at least repeat the scoreline from last season and win this one by at least three goals.

Southampton v Yeovil Town Pick: This looks like a very good draw for Southampton in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup considering they have avoided the 'big' teams left and have been given a home game which is all the managers ever ask for.

Southampton played a strong team in the Third Round of the Cup and it is a competition that they should be taking seriously with a real chance of going pretty far with the right draw. They do have a big game against Arsenal on Tuesday which may some of the focus away from the players, but they should also be reminded that a chance to get to the Fifth Round and only two matches from Wembley Stadium is not one to be ignored either.

Goals have been a bit of a problem for Southampton at home in recent weeks, which has resulted in a lack of wins for them, but back to back victories over Burnley and West Brom should give them direction.

They should also have more joy against a Yeovil Town team that have taken some heavy losses on their travels as they get accustomed to playing against a higher level of opponent in the Championship. Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town both had big victories over Yeovil last month, while Burnley only escaped from Southampton with a 4-3 loss thanks to a late goal when the game was effectively decided.

With enough motivation on their side, I think Southampton will prove too strong for Yeovil Town in this tie and I think they go through with a couple of goals advantage.

Sunderland v Kidderminster Harriers Pick: The one factor that is hardest to read from this game is how much the League Cup Semi Final win for Sunderland has taken it out of their players, especially down to the fact that they had to go through 120 minutes and then the emotions of a penalty shoot-out before securing their place at Wembley Stadium in six weeks.

It can be tough to pick yourself for a match against a lower-League side just days later, but Gus Poyet is clearly trying to build League success off a foundation of success in the Cups and I don't think he will want his side to be on the wrong end of a surprise result in this one.

Sunderland played very well at Old Trafford even if they still look a little short of goals and weren't creating as many chances as they would have liked. However, that was against Manchester United and you have to think their Premier League class will really begin to pay dividends against Kidderminster Harriers.

Andy Thorn has urged his players to come and give this game a real go and I think Kidderminster will certainly do enough not to lie down and roll over for their opponents. The problem is the fitness levels, even after playing 120 minutes, may prove too much for Kidderminster and that is where Sunderland should be able to book their place in the Fifth Round with a win by at least a couple of goals.

MY PICKS: Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Huddersfield Town-Charlton Athletic Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Stan James (1 Unit)
Manchester City - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Southampton - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Sunderland - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (1 Unit)

January Update12-18, - 3.08 Units (48 Units Staked, - 6.42% Yield)

December Final19-16-2, + 13.34 Units (66 Units Staked, + 20.21% Yield)
November Final17-19-1, + 0.50 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.09% Yield)
October Final20-16-1, + 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, + 25.37% Yield)
September Final13-12, + 1.24 Units (39 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
August Final13-26, - 12.13 Units (54 Units Staked, - 22.46% Yield)

Season 2013/1482-79-3, + 15.89 Units (266 Units Staked, + 5.97% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Australian Open Day 12 Picks 2014 (January 24th)

The Australian Open 2014 women's Final was set up on Thursday with Na Li ready to take on Dominika Cibulkova on Saturday and you have to think Li is going to be a pretty strong favourite to win her second Grand Slam. There is a couple of mental barriers to get over with Li having lost twice at Melbourne Park in the Final, but her opponent has never been to a Grand Slam Final and that lack of experience may prove to be the difference in the match.

We also saw Stanislas Wawrinka reach his first major Final with a four set win over Tomas Berdych and I have to say I am very happy for the Swiss man as he has deserved to take the next step with his performances over the last twelve months. It was a tense Semi Final which could have been swayed the other way with a couple of key points, but I think it says a lot about Wawrinka's temperament that his serve held up throughout the match.

That is an area where he would have faltered in the past and I credit him for avoiding a break of serve throughout the match, although he will still be a big underdog no matter who he faces in the Final on Sunday.

That will be decided on Friday when Rafael Nadal takes on Roger Federer for the second spot and I think it will be a fascinating match to watch.

Rafael Nadal win 3-1 v Roger Federer: There are a couple of factors that are making this a far more intriguing match than it may have been over the last couple of years and that is the improved aggression of Roger Federer and the blisters on the left hand of Rafael Nadal.

Nadal has made it clear that he doesn't feel too much pain when he is playing points, but the blisters are affecting his serve which will be music to the ears of Federer fans. On the other hand, Federer has to keep up the aggressive tennis he has played so far the last couple of weeks, especially on the backhand side which has been the area most exploited by Nadal in the past.

It won't be a surprise to see the way this match is going to develop- Nadal will look to use his powerful left hand to expose the weakness in the Federer backhand and force the short ball... That is going to be a key to the whole match and whether Federer can make enough balls back off his weaker side will determine if he can win this one.

I think Federer's serve has been much improved from last season in the two weeks here and the former World Number 1 has looked after that aspect of his game by throwing in the serve-volley and also getting to the net very quickly after the points have been started. I believe the serve-volley will be an effective tactic against Nadal's backhand return which he does tend to chip back and forcing the Spaniard to hit through on the return from that wing should pay dividends.

While Federer is playing as well as he has for some time, it is hard to ignore the fact that Nadal has dominated their head to head and I still don't believe the backhand is effective enough to really trouble the World Number 1 over five sets. Nadal has won the last 5 matches between the players at the Grand Slams including a four set win here in Australia in 2012 and I think he is going to be able to replicate that result this year too.

MY PICKS: Rafael Nadal win 3-1 @ 4.33 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)

Australian Open Update: 29-19, + 19.21 Units (88 Units Staked, + 21.83% Yield)

Australian Open Day 11 Picks 2014 (January 23rd)

After a pretty average start to the tournament, the shocks have just kept coming at the Australian Open the last few days with exits for the likes of Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and, most recently, Victoria Azarenka.

I only saw bits and pieces of the Azarenka loss yesterday, but it seemed she was slightly off with her groundstrokes, while Agnieszka Radwanska made some incredible shots which just made it seem like it was going to be her day.

That also means we are going to see a new name on the trophy at Melbourne Park, while three of the four Semi Finalists in the women's draw have yet to win a Grand Slam title. The likes of Radwanska and Dominika Cibulkova may not get a better opportunity to win a Grand Slam, although I do think Eugenie Bouchard has the potential to take over at the top of the women's game when Serena Williams decides to hang up her racquet.

Of course the other major news from Day 10 was the setting up of the Semi Final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer who will meet in a major for the first time since reaching the same stage here two years ago. Federer has been playing very well this week, but getting over the obstacle that Nadal presents him is as big a challenge as he can have on a tennis court and I look forward to Friday morning and seeing which of the two players get through to Sunday's Final.

One player who will have come out of his Quarter Final defeat with a lot of confidence to take through to the rest of the season is Grigor Dimitrov- the youngster has made the breakthrough that everyone has expected of him at the Grand Slam level and his performance in pushing Nadal on the way in the Quarter Final will set him up for a great season.

I think there is every chance he can finish in the top ten if he can take the confidence from that match when he was literally centimetres from taking the third set and moving up 2-1 in sets during the tie break. To see himself go head to head with the World Number 1 and come pretty close to perhaps winning that match will be something that Dimitrov can work on, although it is a big test to go back to the regular tournaments and compete with lesser players than Nadal and continue to impose his own game on proceedings.

There was so much to like about the Dimitrov game though- the big serve, consistency and power off both wings and the confidence to rally with one of the best and also being comfortable coming to the net and finishing off points. Dimitrov has so many positives to take from this tournament including the Ranking points to get him moving up that ladder.

The only disappointing aspect of all the surprise losses is that my outright picks have both failed to get beyond the Quarter Final, although the daily picks have been in a strong enough position to ensure this is still going to be a strong tournament.

Eugenie Bouchard + 4.5 games v Na Li: I have been very impressed with Na Li in the last two Rounds as she has dominated Ekaterina Makarova and Flavia Pennetta and I do believe she is going to go on and win this tournament, but Eugenie Bouchard should at least make this a more competitive match for her.

All the headlines might be of the three big surprise exits in the women's draw with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka all being knocked out of the event, but Eugenie Bouchard breaking through to a Semi Final has been wonderful to see. The women's Tour needs new stars and this could be the start of Bouchard really motoring up the Rankings and I think she has the right mentality to at least push Li.

There is enough about Bouchard from the decent groundstrokes and first serve to think she will give Li more problems than her last two opponents have, although the spectre of getting to a Grand Slam Final is going to perhaps put too much pressure on the Canadian to win. That is where Li, who has won a major tournament and reached the Final here twice before, can use that added experience to just turn the screw and the opportune time which should lead her to the victory.

Can Bouchard push this to at least three sets? Possibly, but I wouldn't be surprised if Li comes through 76, 63 and I will take the games with Bouchard in this one.

Agnieszka Radwanska - 3.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: Both of these ladies may not ever get a better chance to crack their Grand Slam title chances and that could make this Semi Final a little more tense with that additional pressure in the back of the mind.

Out of the two players, I would have said Dominika Cibulkova was in the better form, but Agnieszka Radwanska had the most impressive win when beating Victoria Azarenka by frustrating the two time defending Champion here.

The biggest concern I have with this pick is the way Cibulkova has been using her aggression perfectly over the last couple of weeks- that aggression with the consistency she has shown has definitely helped her not only win matches, but dominate those matches.

The question is whether Cibulkova can continue to keep her cool against a player like Radwanska that can frustrate her? In their past meetings, it hasn't been the case for the most part, although Cibulkova did have her first win over Radwanska last season. However, the Pole has reached a Grand Slam Final in the past and I think that added experience at he business end of a Grand Slam may help her just absorb the power of Cibulkova and come through 64, 64.

Stanislas Wawrinka - 1.5 games v Tomas Berdych: When the draw was made, I, along with many others, did not see a situation where Novak Djokovic didn't at least get to this stage of the tournament, but Stanislas Wawrinka had other ideas with a five set win over the World Number 2.

That has set up this surprising Semi Final against Tomas Berdych and this is another situation where both men won't have too many better chances to get to a Grand Slam Final- Berdych has managed that before at Wimbledon, but has struggled against the players above him in the Rankings in the later stages of tournaments since then, while Wawrinka can underline his own improvements by reaching his first Slam Final.

Stanislas Wawrinka did reach the Semi Final at the last Grand Slam too so the added confidence coming from beating Djokovic gives him the edge in this match, especially as he has won the last 3 matches against Berdych too.

Both have a serve that can set up the easy points, while Wawrinka's improving forehand will give him a chance to rally with Berdych and set up the ridiculously good backhand. The confidence has improved over the last twelve months in the Wawrinka game and I think he will come through this match in four sets and reach his maiden Slam Final.

MY PICKS: Eugenie Bouchard + 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Agnieszka Radwanska - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Stanislas Wawrinka - 1.5 Games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 28-17, + 21.31 Units (82 Units Staked, + 25.99% Yield)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Australian Open Day 10 Picks 2014 (January 22nd)

I have been asking for drama at the Australian Open and the Quarter Final between Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka provided plenty of that for the second year in a row between these two players.

On this occasion, it was Wawrinka who got the better of Djokovic in a long fifth set, but like last year, it was a close match that could have gone either way and I have to say I am happy for the Swiss man even if I had picked Djokovic to win the tournament.

I've always liked the Wawrinka game, but always felt he wasn't strong enough mentally to come through six matches to reach a Grand Slam Final, although the last twelve months have shown a real improvement in that area thanks to teaming up with Magnus Norman. While Norman was a very good player in his day, his Coaching credentials began to come to the fore with Robin Soderling, another player he turned into a credible threat at Grand Slam tournaments, helping his fellow Swede to back to back Finals at the French Open.

All credit to both Norman and Wawrinka and I think there is more than a chance for him to reach the Final on Sunday.

The loss for Djokovic means my main pick in the outright markets has exited the competition, although Tomas Berdych did secure his place in the Semi Final as predicted. That means the only outright runner still left to determine is whether Victoria Azarenka can win the women's event, although Na Li has looked in imperious form on the other side of the draw after escaping being match point down in the Third Round.

Despite the Djokovic loss, all four picks came through yesterday which has improved the margins for the tournament. It was a good day, but hopefully that isn't the end of the success of the last four days as we conclude the Quarter Finals on Day 10 including the fascinating match between Andy Murray and Roger Federer.

Rafael Nadal win 3-1 v Grigor Dimitrov: With the exit of Novak Djokovic, those who backed Rafael Nadal at the start of the tournament will be rubbing their hands together, but the Spaniard won't be taking either of his next two opponents lightly before reaching the Final on Sunday.

He has been in good form in this tournament, but Kei Nishikori may have taken something out of Nadal with a long Fourth Round match, although I don't believe Grigor Dimitrov is really ready to stamp his name on the men's game.

Anyone who follows the Tour knows of the potential that people believe Dimitrov has and making his first Grand Slam Quarter Final is another step in the right direction for his development, but dealing with this pressure against the World Number 1 looks a big ask.

Dimtrov will have to serve well throughout if he is to cause the surprise, although he can at least point to the fact that he has pushed Nadal in all three losing efforts against him, including twice last year. I think there is every chance he can at least take another set in this one with the form Dimitrov has shown, but I think Nadal is going to have a little too much experience for him and come through in four sets.

Andy Murray v Roger Federer: The form both players have shown in the first four Rounds at the Australian Open has only whetted my appetite for this Quarter Final even more than when the draw was made two weeks ago.

Andy Murray has looked good despite missing the last three months of last season after undergoing back surgery, while Roger Federer looked incredibly sharp in his win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Fourth Round.

This is the 22nd meeting between the players with Andy Murray leading the way 12-9, but more importantly has won the last two matches in the best of five situation, including in Australian twelve months ago. That is all important considering Murray had lost the first three matches against Federer in Grand Slam tournaments and I think the match up is one that will take on a familiar feel.

Murray will look to attack the backhand wing of Federer, but the key to the match will be if Federer can bring the aggression he showed in the last Round and dictate the play behind his serve. He feels he is returning better which will also be key, but I think we won't see Federer's best with the new racquet until later this year while Murray can expose the frailties in the backhand wing.

This has all the hallmarks of a five setter, but I do think the wrong player has been favoured and will back Murray to get back to the Semi Final here with another best of five set win over the former World Number 1.

Dominika Cibulkova v Simona Halep: Coming off a win against a big player in unexpected fashion has proven to be pretty difficult to recover from, but that is the situation that faces Dominika Cibulkova in this Quarter Final and I believe she will beat Simona Halep in this one.

Cibulkova has never been beyond this stage at a Grand Slam, but she has shown decent form in the early part of 2014 and I think she has the toughness to overcome beating Maria Sharapova. There hasn't been the same level of media coverage of her win thanks to Ana Ivanovic knocking out Serena Williams and I think that will aid Cibulkova in this one.

The limited time on court should work to Cibulkova's favour in this one too, especially as Halep admitted she was feeling a little bit tired in her Fourth Round match against Jelena Jankovic and had to dig deep to come through.

Nothing will come straight-forward in this match with both players having to work hard to make a lot of balls and their opponents are good enough to cause plenty of problems. I just feel Cibulkova, who is the underdog, has a little more experience at this level and may just prove to be a little too good for Halep over three sets.

Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 games v Agnieszka Radwanska: On paper, this should be a competitive match between two players that are Ranked in the top five in the World, but recent matches have only been going in one direction and comfortably to say the least.

For all the ability of Radwanska to force players to play one more ball, the power and consistency of the likes of Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka is going to need more than defence to beat them.

Radwanska lets the likes of Azarenka dictate play and her serve doesn't hold up well in front of those that can return as well as the World Number 2 and I can only see this match going in a similar vein to their recent matches.

The first set may be competitive, but Azarenka's power and consistency is likely going to be too much for Radwanska to keep up with and I like the higher Ranked player to come through 64, 62.

MY PICKS: Rafael Nadal Win 3-1 @ 4.00 ToteSport (1 Unit)
Andy Murray @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Dominika Cibulkova @ 2.50 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 26-15, + 20.81 Units (76 Units Staked, + 27.38% Yield)

Midweek Football Picks- Capital One Cup Semi Final Second Leg 2014 (January 21-22)

This is a quiet week in England with a few lower League games to be played, but we also will see the first domestic Cup Final of the season set in stone as the second leg of the Capital One Cup Semi Finals are concluded on Tuesday and Wednesday.

It would be more than a little surprise if Manchester City are not one of the contestants taking part at Wembley Stadium on March 2nd, which also means the Manchester derby that had been set for that weekend is going to be moved later in the season.

The other Finalist is less clear, although Manchester United will be the favourites to overturn their 2-1 deficit against Sunderland from the first leg two weeks ago. 2014 hasn't been a good year for United so far, but they can give their fans something to look forward to in six weeks time, although I know a fair few fans that may approach that match with a little trepidation if it is indeed the Manchester derby in the League Cup Final.

West Ham United v Manchester City Pick: There is a lot of uncertainty about this game and I would definitely be keeping an eye out on the team news ahead of the game. The expectation is that Manchester City are going to be making a lot of changes to their side with an FA Cup Fourth Round match this weekend and a visit to Tottenham Hotspur next week in the Premier League.

However, there is a little less certainty regarding Sam Allardyce and what he will do with his team- will he rest players entirely as he did against Nottingham Forest, or play a strong team to build some confidence ahead of big Premier League games to come.

I am of the belief that it will be more like the latter as West Ham United have a week off before they play again and Allardyce can ill-afford another loss at Upton Park where the locals are getting restless.

With that in mind, I do think West Ham can make this more competitive against a Manchester City team that won't have the full motivation with such a commanding lead from the first leg. City can score a lot of goals so that has to be taken into consideration, but a changed side struggled against Blackburn Rovers in their game at Ewood Park and backing West Ham with a 1.5 goal head start could be the way to go about this game.

Manchester United v Sunderland Pick: As much as some in the media were highly critical of the Manchester United loss at Chelsea and how much of a 'gap' was between the sides, I tend to not subscribe to that view. There was no way that Chelsea were two goals better on the day and I think the defensive mistakes made by United were the biggest issue and they had looked the better team for large portions of the first half.

However, there is no doubt that Manchester United are missing Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie when it comes to scoring goals and the lack of bodies in the box when players had the ball in decent positions in the final third is a real issue that needs to be resolved.

They will have to be better in this game as they take on Sunderland who have something to hang on to from the first minute of the game, but Gus Poyet is right to be worried if they continue defending and playing as they did in the Southampton game, especially early on.

A start like that would give Manchester United all the momentum in this one, but you also have to respect the heart and determination Sunderland showed to get back into the game against Southampton which also extends their run to 1 loss in 10 games. Sunderland have to defend well early and look to promote the tension that has been evident in recent games at Old Trafford but conceding early could really get the home team going.

It is a tough game to call with the way Manchester United have played at times, but a similar level of performance to the one they had in the second half against Swansea and in the first half on Sunday, barring the silly errors, and I think David Moyes will be leading the team back out at Wembley Stadium for the second time this season. It could be tense at times, but I believe United will come through with the two goal win to go through to the Final within regulation time.

MY PICKS: West Ham United + 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

January Update12-16, - 1.08 Units (46 Units Staked, - 2.35% Yield)

December Final19-16-2, + 13.34 Units (66 Units Staked, + 20.21% Yield)
November Final17-19-1, + 0.50 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.09% Yield)
October Final20-16-1, + 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, + 25.37% Yield)
September Final13-12, + 1.24 Units (39 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
August Final13-26, - 12.13 Units (54 Units Staked, - 22.46% Yield)

Season 2013/1482-79-3, + 15.89 Units (266 Units Staked, + 5.97% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Monday, 20 January 2014

Australian Open Day 9 Picks 2014 (January 21st)

The last couple of days at Melbourne Park have seen the draw in the women's tournament blown wide open with the exits of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the Fourth Round on back to back days. These two were in the top three when it came to the favourites to win the first Grand Slam title of the season and the likes of Na Li, Ana Ivanovic and Victoria Azarenka will not have too many better opportunities to add to their tally of major wins.

It has also given players like Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska a chance to grab a maiden Slam win, especially with the former of those players making huge leaps in terms of her results in 2013.

I feel comfortable with my pick of Azarenka to win the title for a third straight year, although the Quarter Final with Radwanska will be a tough one. However, she does look the mentally strongest player left in the draw, has had decent results against the players she could potentially meet and has generally looked the best player on the Tour when not talking about Serena Williams.

The men's draw hasn't had the same level of drama as the women's with the biggest casualty being Juan Martin Del Potro in the Second Round. He is the only member of the top eight seeds that will not be playing in the Quarter Finals here, but Grigor Dimitrov has made his breakthrough at the highest level, and I am expecting some great tennis matches to finish this tournament.

Roger Federer v Andy Murray is comfortably the best looking match of the Round, especially after seeing Federer really turn on the style in his win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Fourth Round. There does seem to be a new confidence about Federer following the struggles of 2013, but Andy Murray has also been playing solid tennis and this has the hallmarks of another titanic battle between these two after the five set Semi Final they played last year.

Either way, the winner is likely to be opposed by Rafael Nadal in the Semi Final so the draw won't be getting easier and I think it would be Federer's finest moment in tennis (which might sound a big call with all the success he has had in the last eleven years) if he can beat Murray, Nadal and likely Novak Djokovic in back to back to back matches to win the title here.

It was another solid day for the picks with three winners compared with two losers and the last four days have really been very successful. I did lose one of my outright picks for the two week event when Tsonga was beaten in the Fourth Round, but picking Djokovic and Azarenka to win the men's and women's events respectively are both in solid positions.

I also picked Tomas Berdych to win the third quarter of the draw and he is a pretty strong favourite to knock off David Ferrer in the Quarter Final. However, Ferrer can be stubborn against Berdych and I don't think it will be as straight-forward as their form may initially suggest.

Tomas Berdych-David Ferrer Tie Break- No: If there is one thing that any regular reader of my posts will attest to, it is that I am not a big fan of 'prop' markets simply because I don't think it is possible to do enough research to guide you towards a pick.

Therefore most of my tennis picks are on the game handicap, set handicap, set or match markets, but I am making an exception for this match. There are a few times in the season that the 'most aces' and 'tie break' markets look slightly out of sync and I think this could be one of those times.

I have already backed Tomas Berdych to come through this quarter of the draw and I still think he looks in the better form of the two players and should prove a little too much for David Ferrer to handle.

I am leaving that pick running, but I have seen Sky Bet offer 3.25 that there is NO tie break in this Quarter Final- these two have met 12 times and have played 30 sets, yet none of those have gone to a tie break in all that time.

5 of those 30 sets have gone to 5-5 so there is every chance that a couple more holds will get to the tie break, but I can make a case for why these two haven't actually managed to get to a breaker in the past. David Ferrer is a good returner that can really put some pressure on when his game is on form, but his serve is very vulnerable too and that is where Berdych can have success prior to a breaker.

Having a small interest on this being another match where late breaks of serve and chances to break in the set looks the call and I say back no tie breakers in this one.

Stanislas Wawrinka + 2.5 sets v Novak Djokovic: Ever since losing the Final at the US Open, Novak Djokovic has been the form player on the ATP Tour with tournament wins in Beijing, Shanghai, Paris and London, but I still think this is a disrespectful mark to Stanislas Wawrinka coming off a career year in 2013.

Yes, I do think Novak Djokovic is going to win the tournament here at Melbourne Park, but Wawrinka has all the tools to force the World Number 2 dig deep within himself to secure his place in the Semi Final. Wawrinka has an under-rated serve, and hits heavy shots off both wings, while he is actually a decent return of serve too which means he should be able to have some success against Djokovic through this match.

It has shown over the last twelve months that the belief is certainly with Wawrinka, who pushed Djokovic to five sets in losing efforts at the Australian Open and the US Open and I think the quotes of Djokovic winning this in straight sets at odds on are wide of the mark.

I expect Djokovic to perhaps be a little too tough when it comes down to it, but this has all the hallmarks of four or five sets again. I think the Swiss man will attack the Djokovic serve and I think he will be able to create chances, while Wawrinka has had a decent path through the draw and can't have any complaints about his physical shape with a couple of byes over the last nine days.

All in all, I am surprised that Wawrinka is being offered with such a head-start.

Na Li - 4.5 games v Flavia Pennetta: At first glance, this may be too many games for Na Li to be giving up in the Quarter Final against Flavia Pennetta, but I think the highest remaining seed in the top half of the draw has the power to come through with a fairly routine win.

Na Li has a decent serve that should give her the chance to get on the front foot, despite Pennetta being a pretty good returner. If Li serves well though, I would expect her to hold on to serve more often than losing it and that should also give her the foundation to put the attack on to the Pennetta serve.

As good as Pennetta has played over the last few months since returning from injury, she has generally found herself under the cosh when playing the best players on the WTA and Li is definitely part of that category. She can put Pennetta under pressure through this match and I think that will lead to Li coming through with a 64, 63 win and a place in the Semi Final.

Eugenie Bouchard + 3.5 games v Ana Ivanovic: I wasn't sure how Eugenie Bouchard would react in the Fourth Round against a home hope, but her recovery after going a set down against Casey Dellacqua shows she has the mentality to go even further in the tournament.

It isn't an easy draw against Ana Ivanovic who knocked out the favourite Serena Williams, but that also means a lot of attention has been heaped on the Serb over the last couple of days and it will be interesting to see how she has coped. Ivanovic has plenty of experience so it isn't the same as the Sergiy Stakhovsky effect when he knocked out Roger Federer at Wimbledon, but I do wonder how her preparation for this match has been affected.

As good as Ivanovic has played, Bouchard has the power to compete and has already beaten the former World Number 1 at a Grand Slam event with her win over her at Wimbledon last year.

It was the first serve that did all the damage in that match and Bouchard could cause problems if she is serving well in this one too. There is definitely enough in the young player's game to think she can win a set at least, if not the match outright, and that should make this number of games very competitive and likely worth quite a lot by the end of the contest.

MY PICKS: Tomas Berdcyh-David Ferrer Tie Break- No @ 3.25 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Stanislas Wawrinka + 2.5 Sets @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Na Li - 4.5 Games @ 1.85 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Eugenie Bouchard + 3.5 Games @ 2.15 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 22-15, + 12.36 Units (69 Units Staked, + 17.91% Yield)

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Australian Open Day 8 Picks 2014 (January 20th)

For a long time this week, the tennis has gone in the way that most would have expected and the Australian Open seemed to lack the drama of previous years when we have seen some surprise Finalists come through the draws.

That all changed on Sunday as Serena Williams, who had been suffering with a back complaint, was ousted by Ana Ivanovic in three sets and really opened up the women's draw. For as well as Serena has played over the last couple of years, she has fallen victim to some really surprising losses at the Grand Slam level and that is one of the main reasons she is a hard player to back at short odds to win the events.

There is always one occasion where Williams does not bring her best tennis to the court and we have seen the likes of Virginie Razzano, Sloane Stephens and Sabine Lisicki surprise her in the major tournaments before adding Ana Ivanovic to that list. It was a very strong performance from Ivanovic, but it has also left my outright pick, Victoria Azarenka, as the favourite to go on and win her third Australian Open title.

The men's draw has followed a more familiar pattern with all the big names still in the tournament bar Juan Martin Del Potro and that should mean some brilliant matches for the fans in the coming days. Those matches will begin with Roger Federer taking on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Fourth Round on Monday, but the Quarter Final match between Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic could be a treat if their last two matches at the Grand Slam tournaments are anything to go by.

It was also an almost perfect day for the picks which have really pushed the overall record for the tournament into a very positive position. It is helped by the fact that all four outright picks are also alive and hopefully this will all lead to good things by the end of the week.

Grigor Dimitrov - 1.5 sets v Roberto Bautista-Agut: You can only be impressed with the run that Roberto Bautista-Agut has made at the first Grand Slam of the season which includes a hard fought win over Juan Martin Del Potro, but I feel the run will come to an end on Monday.

He is going up against Grigor Dimitrov who may be ready to reach the Quarter Final at a Slam for the first time, especially after coming through a big test of his credentials in the last Round with a four set win over Milos Raonic.

It won't be an easy match for Dimitrov who was beaten the last time these players met at the back end of last season, but I think he is the player with more ability in the match and I can see that making the difference when nerves set in.

Bautista-Agut will be able to cause some problems of his own, but his serve can sometimes be vulnerable against a returner like Dimitrov who will force the Spaniard to earn his points. The first two sets may end up being split, but I like 'Baby Federer' to find a way to come through in four sets at most.

Rafael Nadal - 8.5 games v Kei Nishikori: When a player puts together a near perfect game as Rafael Nadal did in his Third Round win over Gael Monfils, it can be tough for them to pick up their game for their next match but I am not convinced that will be the case in this one.

Nadal is unlikely to drop his level too much as he showed throughout 2013, and the opponent Kei Nishikori looks like a tailor made match up for the Spaniard and could be the latest lamb going to the slaughter.

The young Japanese player is solid, but has rarely impressed me when I have seen him play and he will look to out-grind Nadal and I don't foresee him having too much success trying that tactic. He can be a flashy shot maker at times, but I don't believe he has enough weapons to hurt Nadal on a regular basis and this should be a fairly routine win for Nadal.

Interestingly, Nishikori has been beaten comfortably in his exits at the Australian Open and I can see Nadal recording a similar result to the one he enjoyed against him at the French Open last year.

Maria Sharapova - 3.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: I am surprised that the layers are making this match as competitive as they are, but I guess they believe the limited time that Dominika Cibulkova has spent on court in dispatching her last two opponents will have her in a fresh enough physical state in this Fourth Round match.

They may not have considered the opponents that Cibulkova has beaten so far with Maria Sharapova being the biggest hitter and comfortably the best player she would have seen.

That big hitting is going to make the Cibulkova serve very important in this one and she has to get a high percentage of serves in play if she is to cause the upset. However, Sharapova will be waiting on the second serves and I think she will prove to be too powerful for the smaller player and will have more chances to break serve.

Sharapova has had to come through some tough moments to reach the Fourth Round, but the exit of Serena Williams would have just focused her even more and I like the Russian to win this one 63, 64.

Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 games v Sloane Stephens: This is the match that potentially stood out when the draw was made after all the controversy that surrounded Victoria Azarenka's win over Sloane Stephens last year in the Semi Finals.

That should ensure the crowd are going to be on the side of the young American, but there have been some talk that Stephens isn't at 100% for this tournament and it will be tough for her to see off Azarenka if that is the case.

There have also been signs that Azarenka has improved as each Round has gone through and she has the confidence of playing in a tournament where she has had her most success at Grand Slam level. She will have to continue to serve effectively to see off Stephens, but the youngster is still a little erratic in her play and I can see one set being competitive, but the other being dominated by Azarenka which should see the cover.

It could end up being a similar scoreline to last season, but without the controversy as I expect Azarenka to come through 64, 62.

Agnieszka Radwanska - 3.5 games v Garbine Muguruza: As one of the rising stars of the women's Tour, Garbine Muguruza can really make a statement of her arrival by reaching the Quarter Finals and knocking off another top ten player, but I think Agnieszka Radwanska's experience and know-how will prove too much for her.

Like Carolina Wozniacki in the Third Round, Radwanska will look to frustrate Muguruza by forcing her to play as many tennis balls as possible and I believe the Pole is still a little too good at that game for the young player to deal with.

Pressure is another factor as Muguruza has never experienced being this deep in a Grand Slam and I think that also makes a real difference when the match is said and done, especially in the late night session with all eyes on this one match.

While Radwanska beat Muguruza in their sole meeting for the loss of just 5 games, I expect this to be a little closer but the experience of the higher Ranked player to lead to a 64, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Grigor Dimitrov - 1.5 Sets @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 8.5 Games @ 2.10 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Maria Sharapova - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 Games @ 2.02 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Agnieszka Radwanska - 3.5 Games @ 1.81 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 19-13, + 10.7 Units (59 Units Staked, + 18.14% Yield)

NFL Play Offs Conference Championships 2014 (January 19th)

We have reached the final weekend of the NFL season as we get to decide the two teams that will compete in the Super Bowl in two weeks time in New York City. In all honesty, I think we are fortunate in seeing the four best teams in the NFL remaining alive to win the big game and that should lead to two very good Conference Championship Games on Sunday.

The Play Offs haven't been as successful for my picks as last season, but the season has proved to be a very profitable one and that's all you can ask for back in September when everything gets going.

I hope the last three games will at least add to that as we get the games going.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos Pick: We know what the Broncos are able to do with the powerful Offense they have been running all season, although there have been small signs that teams are beginning to get a hang of what they are seeing. Even then, it is tough to find a way to stop the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Erik Decker, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker and that is just the Receivers and not accounting for the Running Backs coming out of the backfield.

Bill Belichick is sure to have something up his sleeve in a bid to rattle Peyton Manning when he does drop back to pass and the New England Patriots have found pressure from their pass rush. The Patriots should also show more discipline than the San Diego Chargers who were probably dreaming about 'Omaha' on their journey back to California after the loss last weekend.

If New England can at least force Manning to think about where the pressure is coming from, they have a Defense that can cause some disruption in the passing game, but it will all begin and end up front. If the pressure is not there, we did see Andrew Luck have decent success throwing the ball against the Patriots last week and there is no doubt that Denver hold many more weapons than the Colts did without Reggie Wayne in their line up.

It is not like the Patriots can sell out to defend the pass either as Manning is smart enough to check into a run play if there are not the number of men in the box that he is expecting. New England have struggled against the rush without Vince Wilfork so the likes of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball should be able to keep the chains moving if they are handed the ball by the Quarter Back.

The rushing attack has also been all the rage in New England in their last few games and that was highlighted by the team scoring over 40 points against Indianapolis, yet Tom Brady didn't throw one Touchdown pass. New England have lost some serious Receivers since last season and during the course of this one through injury, but the Offensive Line seems to have enjoyed pounding the ball on the ground and that has seen LeGarroutte Blount show off his own ability.

Between Blount, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, New England have the change of pace at the Running Back position and they have all been effective, although it might not be so easy against a stout Denver Defense. Despite the injuries on that side of the ball, the Broncos have continued making it tough to run the ball against them and they showed that off last week by shutting down the San Diego Chargers when it came to an element that had hurt them at times in the regular season.

That does mean New England are likely to rely on Tom Brady a little more in this one than they did last week and the Quarter Back could open the running lanes by having success through the air. Von Miller is out for the Broncos, but they still managed to get a pass rush going against San Diego, and that is an area that the Patriots Offensive Line haven't always been as comfortable with.

Denver will have to get to Brady if they are to win this game, particularly with the injury suffered by Chris Harris last week which exposed a Secondary in the last quarter against the Chargers. Brady might not have the household names any more, but Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman could pose problems for the Broncos if Quentin Jammer hasn't improved his play with a week of practice under his belt. That will at least give New England the chance to compete in a shoot-out too and could be the biggest problem for Denver to deal with in this game.

Both of these teams have had me convinced that they are the right side to back at different times during the week and it has been tough to get a real feel for being on the correct side, although I have eventually landed with taking New England and the points to at least keep this game competitive.

The Patriots know all about Peyton Manning and while his Offense looks loaded with talented weapons, I think Bill Belichick will do enough to give Tom Brady and his own Offense the chance to surprise the home team.

That's not to say New England will prevent Denver scoring points, I just think the Defense will have enough success to at least limit them to the point that the Patriots own Offense can score enough points to stay with them.

It is easy to see one mistake being critical to which teams goes through to the Super Bowl in New York, but getting more than a field goal head start on New England looks a touch too high. That is especially the case considering the Patriots have rarely been beaten comfortably with their highest point loss being just 7 points all season and I can see Tom Brady at least scoring late to get within the number.

The Patriots are also a good team that has won 13 games this season and the trend that teams that have won at least 12 games but have a weaker record than their opponent are 39-11 against the spread does favour them. However, coming off big blow out wins in the Play Offs has been tough to back up and that has to be a concern for the Patriots backers.

Even then, the absence of Chris Harris for Denver looks to be opening a big enough hole in the Secondary for New England to find a way to exploit it and I think Tom Brady is already a touch annoyed at being the underdog. He mentioned last weekend that no one will expect New England to win and the Patriots have always been strong in that position too so I will take the points in this one and just hope for a close Denver win (that's the Miami Dolphin fan coming out of me at the end).

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks Pick: One of the questions that is going to need answering is how well Russell Wilson plays at the Quarter Back position with some in the media beginning to question how well he is playing. It is true that Wilson hasn't been at his best the last few games, but he is a Quarter Back that relishes the big game and he will be able to make plays against this Secondary if he can scramble away from the pressure that San Francisco have been generating with the return of Aldon Smith.

It will begin by handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch and letting 'Beast Mode' try and pick up some yards on the ground, although it has to be said that the 49ers Defense is playing the run very well in recent games. While they have been productive in that regards all season, the 49ers have only given up 3.4 yards per carry over their last three games, although don't expect Seattle to get away from the game plan as Lynch is capable of breaking tackles.

The Seahawks will look to keep San Francisco honest by using the run, but it might also be a good idea to design runs for Russell Wilson as the Offense needs to stay in third and manageable situations if they are to sustain drives. Otherwise, the 49ers can pin back their ears on obvious passing downs and pressure Wilson, while they have also shown good discipline to contain running Quarter Backs as shown against Cam Newton last week.

Wilson is likely to be not have Percy Harvin in the Receiver position to give him another threat, but there is enough in their passing game to think they can get the ball downfield against a Secondary that has been burnt through the air.

Another factor the Seahawks will look to employ is their home field advantage which has bamboozled the 49ers the last two times they have visited here. The crowd is loud, while the Seattle Defense is probably the best one in the NFL and these are conditions that Colin Kaepernick will have to deal with if the 49ers are to return to the Super Bowl for the second season in succession.

To Kaepernick's defence, he will have a lot more weapons to go against the Seattle 'Legion of Boom' this time as he has Michael Crabtree and a healthy Vernon Davis to complement Anquan Boldin, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will find a way to move the chains throughout the game.

Like Seattle, San Francisco begin by trying to run the ball but the Seahawks Defense has been absolutely bruising against those attacks in recent games. There were a couple of times when teams had success moving the ball on the ground, but I am not sure Frank Gore will get too much joy against a Defense that has allowed 2.4 yards per carry over their last three games.

Again, like Seattle, San Francisco are likely to design more running plays for Colin Kaepernick at the Quarter Back position to keep the Offense in third and manageable situations. If you think San Francisco have a decent pass rush, Seattle's is as fierce as any in the NFL and they will give this Offensive Line a lot of problems in late down and long distance if the 49ers can't keep the Offense in a good position.

Kaepernick may have his full complement of weapons back, but the Seattle Secondary is physical and have the ability to make plays under pressure so it will be a tough test for the Quarter Back to make the plays with his arm. I do think he will have some success, but Kaepernick has to make the right decisions too as turnovers have been one of the main problems in the last two games here which has seen the game get out of hand. At home, Seattle have the highest turnover differential in the NFL so you know they are capable of forcing Interceptions which could be critical for their chances to make it back to the big game.

So what can you say about this game that you wouldn't have read already? We all know it is a fierce rivalry that has been best described as the 'new Pittsburgh-Baltimore' of the NFL and I expect it to be as physical and bruising as those Steelers-Ravens games have been over the years.

The two teams are almost mirror images of one another with the same basic principle of tough Defense and using the ground and pound when they have the ball on Offense. What has made a difference in their games has been home field advantage and it is a big mental obstacle for the 49ers to overcome after taking back to back heavy losses in visits to Seattle.

Colin Kaepernick does have more weapons at his disposal, but this physical Defense of the Seahawks matches up well against them and I think turnovers are more likely to come from the 49ers which could prove to be the difference at the end of the game.

It is the turnovers that have killed the 49ers in their last two visits to Seattle and the loud crowd could help force some more to win the game for the home team and help them cover the spread in this one.

The Seahawks have been a strong home favourite to back in recent years and are 24-10 against the spread in that spot since 2007, but they do have to reverse the fact that the underdog is 9-4 against the spread in the last 13 NFC Conference Championship Games. In fact, the underdog has won the last 4 NFC Championship Games, but the 'sharp' money is backing the Seahawks and I do think they are going to prove a little too good for a San Francisco team that is playing their third road game in three weeks.

MY PICKS: New England Patriots + 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Seattle Seahawks - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Divisional Round: 1-3, - 4 Units
Wild Card Round: 2-2, - 0.10 Units
Week 177-1, + 10.68 Units
Week 164-6, - 4.23 Units
Week 152-6, - 5.32 Units
Week 145-4, + 0.54 Units
Week 136-4-1, + 3.65 Units
Week 126-4, + 1.43 Units
Week 116-2, + 7.59 Units
Week 104-4, + 0.86 Units
Week 92-5, - 4.24 Units
Week 85-3, + 4.64 Units
Week 77-2, + 5.70 Units
Week 62-7, - 8.15 Units
Week 54-4, + 0.35 Units
Week 47-1, + 9.27 Units
Week 33-4-1, - 1.10 Units
Week 26-1, + 6.46 Units
Week 15-6, - 3.50 Units

Season 201384-69-2, + 20.53 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Australian Open Day 7 Picks 2014 (January 19th)

After a pretty poor start to the week where a lot of the picks seemed to get close but not quite get over the line, Day 6 proved to be a very strong day with 4 of the 5 picks all coming back into the winner's enclosure and turning around the profit/loss for the week.

It helps that all four outright picks have also made it through to the last 16 in the men's and women's draws respectively and hopefully that means the first Grand Slam of the season is going to end with a lot of positives at the end of the next week.

There is no guarantee of that with Rafael Nadal looking in imperious form after dismissing Gael Monfils with almost no effort on Saturday and he looks like being a big threat to Novak Djokovic's chances of winning the tournament again.

I also think my pick of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga winning the second quarter of the draw is going to need a lot of luck with back to back matches against Roger Federer and Andy Murray to be played and I don't believe he will be able to knock both of those men off consecutively.

The matches certainly do look more interesting going forward, although it is the top half of the men's draw which is providing most of the drama and I think we are going to see some fascinating tennis and not the straight-forward wins that the likes of Federer, Murray, Tsonga and Nadal all recorded on Saturday in the Third Round.

The Fourth Round should at least produce more competitive matches for the fans to enjoy with the favourites at least being given something to think about.

Novak Djokovic - 8.5 games v Fabio Fognini: He has been quietly going about his business in the draw, but I think this is the time for Novak Djokovic to remind people who is the defending Australian Open Champion after watching Rafael Nadal completely dismantle Gael Monfils on Saturday evening.

The match up is a fairly comfortable one for Djokovic despite the improvement in the way Fabio Fognini has been playing in the last twelve months, but the Italian doesn't have the big serve to get through games quickly and I do think the World Number 2 is going to win more of the rallies from the back of the court.

I have seen Fognini put together some impressive winners in his matches, even against the top players, but I don't think he can do that over a length of time needed in the best of five set matches and I believe that is where Djokovic will be able to pull away in the match.

It wouldn't surprise me if the first set is close, but eventually Djokovic prevails with a 64, 62, 63 win.

David Ferrer win 3-1 v Florian Mayer: It was Florian Mayer who won the last match between these two players and I do think he can pose David Ferrer a few problems in this Fourth Round match with the way both have been playing in the early part of this season.

David Ferrer just hasn't had the same results over the last six months as he had in the few years before and I do think he has lost just a half step in a few aspects of his game which makes him more vulnerable these days.

However, the heart is still beating strong and he has shown determination and the ability to grind out results so far this week and I think that will prove to be the difference between these two on Sunday.

I have to respect the way Florian Mayer has been playing too and he has the awkward style that can keep opponents guessing as to what is coming next. The German has enough in his locker to at least win one set in this match, although I am not convinced he will be able to win keep up with Ferrer in a long match and I like the higher Ranked player to come through in four sets.

Tomas Berdych - 6.5 games v Kevin Anderson: I think Kevin Anderson is over the virus that affected him in the early part of the month and he has shown some guts to come through two matches so far this week despite being 2-0 down in sets in both of those.

Unfortunately for Anderson, he is now facing Tomas Berdych who has beaten him in all 9 previous matches that have all be played in the last two years. That includes back to back wins over him at the Australian Open without dropping a set and the easier run through the draw should help the Czech player make it ten in a row in this Fourth Round match.

We know what to expect of both of these players- they will both look to dictate with big serves and a heavy forehand, but the edge for Berdych comes in his own return game as well as on the backhand wing where he is more solid than Anderson.

There is a lot of tennis in the Anderson legs too and I think that will show up here and Berdych will come through 63, 76, 63.

Na Li - 4.5 games v Ekaterina Makarova: There are just some players that others match up against very well and one of those is Na Li who seemingly has the edge against Ekaterina Makarova, a player she has beaten four times out of four meetings.

I think that is down to the fact that Li is more consistent and is aggressive off both wings which can be a problem for Makarova to deal with, especially if she is not serving as well as she can. The Australian Open has proved to be a tournament that Makarova enjoys, but Li is also a two time Finalist here so even the edge of being in surroundings that hold good memories will favour Li.

Li will have to serve better than she did when these two met at the US Open last summer and also better than she did in the win over Lucie Safarova in the Third Round, but I think she will have the belief in this match and should prove a little too good all around for Makarova.

I expect Li will win a close first set 64 and then come through 62 in the second to book her place in the Quarter Final.

Ana Ivanovic + 6.5 games v Serena Williams: Any time you back against Serena Williams on a tennis court, you are looking for the little bit of luck to help along the way, but I can't help but think that Ana Ivanovic is being given too many games in this Fourth Round match.

We all know how well Serena Williams has been playing and she is clearly head and shoulders above the rest in the women's game, but Ivanovic has a pretty big game herself and should have renewed confidence with improving fortunes over the last twelve months.

The Serb has also won a title already in 2014 and played well in seeing off Sam Stosur in the Third Round so that confidence should remain in a good place as she gets set to take on the Williams sister she has never beaten.

Ivanovic hasn't even won a set against Serena before, but the majority of them have at least been competitive and I think she can do the same in this one, although I will only have one unit against Serena who can turn up the pressure and demolish opponents when she is on her game.

Casey Dellacqua + 3.5 games v Eugenie Bouchard: This is one of the least expected Fourth Round matches and I don't think too many Australian fans would have picked Casey Dellacqua if I asked them to name the one home hope that would reach this stage of the tournament at the beginning of the event.

That support from the home crowd could pay dividends for Dellacqua in this match against the young, talented Eugenie Bouchard who is having her best Grand Slam result. It is going to be a different atmosphere than what Bouchard has seen in the first week as she is given the night session on the Rod Laver Arena with the fans going to be vocally behind her opponent.

You can't always predict whether a young player with thrive or collapse in such a situation and we will learn more about Bouchard in this match. However, she is also having to deal with an opponent that is having a hot week and has a big game that can cause problems when that confidence is flowing.

I do think Bouchard is the player with a lot more upside, but Dellacqua is having a dream run this week and I expect her to make this competitive even if she doesn't have enough to get through to the Quarter Final.

MY PICKS: Novak Djokovic - 8.5 Games @ 1.80 Stan James (2 Units)
David Ferrer Win 3-1 @ 4.00 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Tomas Berdych - 6.5 Games @ 2.10 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Na Li - 4.5 Games @ 2.02 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Ana Ivanovic + 6.5 Games @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
Casey Dellacqua + 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 14-12, + 2.94 Units (49 Units Staked, + 6% Yield)

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (January 18-20)

I think there were more than a few happy people last weekend as all the favourites seemingly obliged by winning their games, but I can't say it has been a good month for my picks. Some of those were unfortunate, some had controversy attached and some picks just have plain stunk this month which is threatening to be the first with a losing effort since August.

It can be 'easy' to try and chase those losses, but that would be foolish and very likely to lead to more problems and I think I am already accepting it will be a losing month, but one where I would like to restrict the losses.

With the top seven all winning in the Premier League last weekend, the layers have talked about it being the worst day for bookmakers ever... It also led to a twitter overload of people boasting about their wins, but I am guessing the quietness from these same people over the last several months means either they are the luckiest people in the world by only making their selections on the one weekend when everything went right for the favourites, or they've had a shocking season for the most part and haven't had anything to gloat about previously.

The Premier League is certainly seeing a lot more consistency than it was at the beginning of the season and we have begun to see the leading contenders string together winning runs which makes it imperative for the chasing pack behind the top three to keep winning too. The battle for the top four is almost becoming a battle for one place with Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea all beginning to exert their muscles and it will be interesting to see if that changes after this weekend with Manchester United travelling to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea.

While that is happening at the top of the table, the bottom of the table is also tightening up with only 6 points separating Hull City in 10th place and Crystal Palace in 20th and that looks like another fascinating race that could very easily go into the final weekend of the season. Things will begin to clear up in the next six weeks, but it does make the Premier League a very interesting watch for the neutrals.

Arsenal v Fulham Pick: This is the kind of game that has stumped Arsenal the last couple of years and kept them out of a real Premier League title race, but there seems to be more confidence and belief in the squad this year.

Arsenal will create chances, especially against a Fulham team that has conceded a lot of goals in recent Premier League games and one that has conceded threes and fours against the likes of West Ham United, Everton and Liverpool, while Hull City saw a complete collapse from the lilywhites in a game at the KC Stadium.

The draws the last couple of seasons have to be a concern for the Arsenal fans, but this team looks too good and doesn't concede a lot of goals at the Emirates Stadium. In fact, they have only conceded 1 goal in their last 8 games in front of their own fans and the 2-0 scoreline has been highly familiar to the fans that love singing '1-0 to the Arsenal'.

Add to this the fact that Fulham have played 5 teams away from home in the top half of the table and only scored 1 goal and there is every reason to think Arsenal can win another game to nil which is offered at odds against by Bet Victor.

Manchester City v Cardiff City Pick: This has been the season when Manchester City have routinely crushed teams at the Etihad Stadium and they should be able to deal with Cardiff City without too many concerns, especially with Sergio Aguero back in the line up.

The loss of Samir Nasri is disappointing for the home team, but they have plenty of other attacking players that can make up for the absence of the Frenchman, and Manuel Pellegrini also has the benefit of not having to rest players for the League Cup Semi Final at West Ham United after his side won the first leg 6-0.

It is interesting to note that Hull City and Crystal Palace, the two other promoted teams from last season, both had close losses here at the Etihad Stadium so Cardiff may feel they can frustrate the home side in this one.

Cardiff did that to Arsenal in a recent visit to the Emirates Stadium, but Chelsea beat them 4-1 and Liverpool were 3-0 up by half time and could have scored as many as they wanted in that time. If the Cardiff that defended in the latter two games turns up, Manchester City could have as many goals as they like in this one and I think they can cover the Asian Handicap in this game.

Norwich City v Hull City Pick: This could be a crucial game when it comes down the points that separate those sides that are relegated and those that survive in the top flight at the end of the season and I expect both managers will be urging their team to get forward and earn the three points.

Norwich City have failed to win any of their last 4 home games in all competitions since a 1-0 success against Crystal Palace at the end of November and the pressure on Chris Hughton remains considering the Canaries have played Swansea and Fulham (twice) in that time and perhaps the fans would have expected better results in that time.

On paper, they would be expecting the three points in this one too, although I would temper expectations by stating Hull City's away record looks worse than it probably is because of the places they have played so far. In the remaining months of the season, they will have more winnable games on their travels and I think Hull will improve that aspect of their game.

Hull have made things awkward for Arsenal and Liverpool in recent away games, while also earning results at Swansea and West Brom so picking something up from Carrow Road is not beyond them.

With both teams likely to get forward, I think this could be a game that surprises the layers and I would not be surprised if both teams score. Norwich have been scoring and creating chances in recent home games, while Hull have scored in away games at all the clubs they have faced below the top seven so the odds against quote on both teams scoring looks a touch out of line.

West Ham United v Newcastle United Pick: This looks to be an important fixture for both clubs and one that can be fully concentrated on with no more Cup games to really concern the managers for the rest of the season. Sam Allardyce may have to send a team out to complete what looks like a routine victory for Manchester City in the League Cup Semi Final on Tuesday, but I can see the manager picking a completely fringe team for that game.

There is no doubt that this match means a lot more to West Ham United as they look to build on the impressive win at Cardiff City last weekend, while the return of Andy Carroll gives them more of a threat up front which has been missing for much of the season.

West Ham will be looking to take advantage of the poor run of form that Newcastle United find themselves in, although a performance like the one in the home loss to Manchester City will surely reward the Magpies with more wins than losses over the remainder of the season.

Newcastle have been a very inconsistent side away from home all season, but they had been winning plenty of games before the loss at West Brom which makes them a dangerous side here. I am finding it hard to separate them, but I do think there will be chances for both teams in the game and the weather looks conducive to playing good football and I can see at least three goals being scored in this one.

Swansea v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: It might not be the 'tactical' approach that managers tend to use, but there is no doubt that Tim Sherwood has inspired the players since taking over from Andre Villas-Boas and is allowing Tottenham Hotspur to express themselves in a positive manner. That has given Spurs the impetus to win games and their form in the Premier League has certainly improved while goals are coming more frequently.

That has especially been the case away from White Hart Lane where Spurs have won 4 straight games in the Premier League despite conceding at least one goal in each of those games. The players look happier with the current system used and Tottenham will certainly feel they have enough goals to win this game and earn a vital three points in their bid to get into the top four.

It won't be easy at Swansea, but there is no doubt that the home side are not playing with a lot of confidence at the moment and have certainly looked vulnerable. They have conceded 5 goals in their last 2 games here against teams from the top five, while Swansea have lost 4 of their 5 home games against teams currently in the top seven of the table.

However, Swansea have scored in every one of those games while they have only failed to score in one home game in the Premier League so far this season. I still think Tottenham Hotspur hold the edge in this game, but it makes more sense backing them to win a game in which both teams score as that has been a common theme in their last 4 away games in the Premier League. As mentioned, Swansea lost in that situation to Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Everton so the 4.33 on offer that Spurs can do the same is hard to ignore.

Chelsea v Manchester United Pick: This is going to be the game of the weekend as there is pressure on both teams to grab the three points to keep up with the goals they have set for themselves at the start of the season.

Jose Mourinho may say that he never wanted the job at Old Trafford, but I think most people accept that he did want to be interviewed at the very least and that it bothered him that Manchester United chose David Moyes without that. That is going to inspire him in this game and I think he will want his Chelsea side to come out and make a real statement against a United team that will be missing Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie.

It will be tough for United without their two forwards as they have looked lacklustre and devoid of ideas at times, but they have found success at Stamford Bridge in recent visits by taking advantage of the defensive vulnerabilities that Chelsea do have in their team.

The problem for United is the improved confidence in the home team and the attacking talent that the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar offer Chelsea when they do have the ball. It will be hard for United to dictate things from the middle of the park and that is where Chelsea's strength was telling in games between the sides at the end of last season.

I don't expect Jose Mourinho to take his foot off the peddle in this one either if Chelsea get on top as he is going to want to prove a point to the hierarchy at Old Trafford. I do think Manchester United will get chances to score so there is every chance this game is going to see at least 3 goals scored, especially if Chelsea get on the front foot too. The Chelsea games against Manchester City and Liverpool both had at least 3 goals scored and I think the chances will come for this one to go the same way at odds against.

MY PICKS: Arsenal Win to Nil @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Norwich City-Hull City Both Teams to Score @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
West Ham United-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.92 William Hill (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Tottenham Hotspur to Win @ 4.33 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Chelsea-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Coral (2 Units)

January Update8-14, - 8.35 Units (36 Units Staked, - 23.19% Yield)

December Final19-16-2, + 13.34 Units (66 Units Staked, + 20.21% Yield)
November Final17-19-1, + 0.50 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.09% Yield)
October Final20-16-1, + 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, + 25.37% Yield)
September Final13-12, + 1.24 Units (39 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
August Final13-26, - 12.13 Units (54 Units Staked, - 22.46% Yield)

Season 2013/1482-79-3, + 15.89 Units (266 Units Staked, + 5.97% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)