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There have been some solid cards over the last several months, but the largely absent fans has been a big miss for Boxing as much as other s...

Monday, 31 August 2015

Weekend Football Thoughts 2015 (August 29-30)

The first international break of the new season is upon us and the first four rounds of the Premier League have been very interesting.

By the time the League kicks off again, the transfer window would have slammed shut and there are still expected to be some big moves made in the market before the Midnight deadline on Monday 31st August in Europe and 6pm on Tuesday 1st September in England and Scotland who have a Bank Holiday on the Monday.

Chelsea in Crisis?
Anyone who thought the Chelsea win at West Brom last Sunday was going to be a turning point for their season were in for a rude awakening on Saturday as the Champions were beaten 1-2 by Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho was very disappointed with the performance and his pretty open criticism of some of his more experienced players was surprising. This is usually not his style of management and it is clear that Mourinho isn't happy with the recruiting policy of the Chelsea board this summer with the next 24 hours crucial for them to bring in the players the manager has wanted.

It seems unlikely that Chelsea will be able to lure John Stones and Paul Pogba in this current transfer window, but I still think the team is going to be freshened up in the next game at Everton after the international break. That break has also frustrated Mourinho was said he can't do much when only four players are left at the training ground for the next ten days, but the manager has to find a way to get his side going and quickly.

Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas has been off the pace in the early going, while the rest of the defence haven't been able to make up for their poor performances. Eden Hazard has yet to spark into life in the new Premier League season and Chelsea have drifted eight points behind Manchester City in the table already. How many would seriously have predicted that a Jose Mourinho Chelsea team would have conceded at least two goals in each of their opening four games in the Premier League?

There does seem to be a negative undercurrent that has filtered through Stamford Bridge and Jose Mourinho has regularly had a tough third season at previous clubs. I do begin to wonder whether he can only get a team to shine for a couple of years before looking to shift any blame in performances onto anyone but himself, which won't sit well with others at the club.

Last week it was a back handed compliment to the owner, this week it is some of the players that have failed to perform, but all of this isn't masking the clear unhappiness that Mourinho is displaying.

The next set of games between the international breaks are going to be huge for Chelsea and they are not going to be easy: Everton away, Maccabi Tel Aviv at home, Arsenal at home, Walsall away, Newcastle United away, Porto away and Southampton at home.

To get back into the title race, Chelsea have to find a way to pick up at least 10 points from a possible 12 in the League and will also be expected to make a positive start to the defence of the Capital One Cup they won last season as well as the Champions League. It's a difficult task and one that will show us how much character and belief is left in a Chelsea squad that might just have seen a number of players go over the edge of being productive performers at this level.

Potential Surprise Top Four Candidate?
No one should be rushing for the panic button after four games in the Premier League and the table will have a much clearer feel at the end of the next set of games leading to the second international break of the season.

However, the surprising start to the Premier League has perhaps shown that teams are more evenly matched than ever before and there is a potentially surprise name that could challenge for a top four berth.

Manchester City, if they stay healthy, have always been my favourite because I simply think they have the best eleven in the Premier League and enough options off the bench to cover short term injuries and suspensions. They look like they have come out meaning business this season and I think they could be tough to peg back if they can balance the Premier League and Champions League commitments.

Going into the international break, Manchester City remain the only team with wins in all four Premier League games played, but the top four is made up by Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Swansea City. Now it would take something special for those teams to maintain their top four challenge simply because they don't have the same squad depths as the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, but all three may also look at how long Southampton lasted within range of the top four last season.

If any of those three teams can add to their squads, or more importantly maintain the status quo after the transfer window, one of them may possibly surprise for a little while longer. If I was to pick the one team that could perhaps be that team, I would pick Swansea City who have looked pretty good defensively, but also look like a team that will create chances and score goals under a really good manager in Garry Monk.

Swansea have already taken four points off of Chelsea and Manchester United and have a decent set of fixtures coming up which could see them build confidence and extend the run of form they have displayed.

Harry Kane Confidence Issues
In the summer Manchester United were being linked with a £40 million bid for Harry Kane and I took to Twitter with my opinion that the striker needs more than one good season before a transfer of that magnitude should be made.

He had struggled for goals at the end of last season and I was expecting a drop off from Kane this season even though he was going to lead the line for Tottenham Hotspur in every Premier League game.

So you might think I want to bash a striker that hasn't scored a League goal yet right? That would be wrong.

I think it is too early to claim I was 'right' with my opinion of the striker because he is clearly in a down period where the confidence is shot to bits. The picture above was a chance where Kane had been put clean through on goal, but his first touch was of a player that didn't feel good about his ability to score, even though last season he would have found a way to put the ball past Tim Howard.

One of my criticisms of Kane was that a lot of his goals came from poor touches and eventually those won't work out as they did almost every time last season. That touch on Saturday when clean through was of a player still finding his feet at the top level and that was my main reason I didn't want him to sign for Manchester United.

But I also do think it is a confidence issue and that he needs a deflection to aid him or one to come off the wrong part of the foot... He just needs to see the ball hit the back of the net and I think he can rediscover some form, although I also think Kane is unfortunate with the limited support he is getting from this Tottenham Hotspur team.

The signing of Son Heung-Min from Bayer Leverkusen will be music to the ears of Kane, while Tottenham Hotspur still believe they can persuade West Brom to sell Saido Berahino to them and getting both in might be exactly what Kane needs to get back to scoring the goals that Spurs fans have come to expect.

Strange August Results
I said at the start of the season that August produces a number of strange results with teams getting back to the competitive action from a long lay-off and trying to shake off the pre-season.

However, the Premier League has been even more difficult to predict than usual and one statistic has really highlighted that.

There have been just nine wins from forty Premier League games played this season.

Imagine that, a League that produces about a 48% home win rate through the course of the season has seen less than 25% of the games this season end with a home winner.

Take away Manchester City and Swansea City and it becomes five wins in thirty-six Premier League games, a 13.88% strike rate for home wins.

No one can deny that is a weird statistic, but some of the stories out there about home advantage no longer being relevant are just taking in a small trend and making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to their conclusion. If this lasts for three months, you could perhaps argue that home advantage has been lessened, but over the years these teams have won the highest percentage of Premier League games and I still expect that trend to show up later in the season.

I do think the open transfer window has led to some uncertainty in teams which hasn't helped when playing in front of their own fans. Some players don't want to be at clubs and so perhaps are being stifled at home where the pressure of expectation is on them, while other clubs perhaps will settle down once they know what their squad make up will be going into the next four months.

It will be interesting to see what the percentage of home wins has become at the next international break so it will be something I will keep an eye on.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

US Open Day 1 Picks 2015 (August 31st)

The final Grand Slam of the season is ready to begin and the opening day has the two defending Champions from last year playing their first match as Serena Williams and Marin Cilic are both in action. The favourite in the men's event is also in action as Novak Djokovic is scheduled for the day session on Arthur Ashe and there is plenty of intriguing tennis that is going to be played through the day as the top half of the First Round draw is all set for action.

I have put down my thoughts in relation to potential winners of the US Open which can be read here.

The First Round of a Grand Slam event can offer plenty of opportunities to make picks and this tournament is no different. Hopefully it will mean a strong start to the tournament which gets underway at 4pm British time on Bank Holiday Monday.

David Goffin - 5.5 games v Simone Bolelli: This has been a breakthrough year for David Goffin who has already surpassed his best in terms of wins in a single season on the main Tour and that has led to him reaching World Number 14. I like David Goffin, I like the way he plays, but he might always have an issue when he plays against the very best players in terms of a lack of power compared with those guys.

That isn't the issue against someone like Simone Bolelli who is a good solid veteran of the Tour who is having a very good season of his own. In fact, Bolelli is one win away from matching the same number of main Tour wins as in the past five seasons combined and that confidence can't be underestimated.

The Italian hasn't shown too much appetite for playing on the hard courts in preparation for the US Open though and I think Goffin will get a handle on him and eventually wear him down. Bolelli does have a decent game that transfers onto the faster surfaces with a solid first serve that can give him the chance to dictate rallies.

However, I think Goffin has shown he can turn things around when figuring out what his opponent is bringing to the table. He did that in Wimbledon and I think Goffin will win his second match in a row over Bolelli in the 2015 season having lost on the hard courts in Sydney earlier in the year.

Mardy Fish - 6.5 games v Marco Cecchinato: This is the last tournament that Mardy Fish will be playing in his career and the American would love to have one more run at the US Open. After a long absence off the Tour, that is unlikely, but I still think Fish has enough in the tank to beat a player that has spent the majority of his time at the lower level than the main Tour and who is clearly a clay court specialist.

That isn't taking anything away from Marco Cecchinato because he did win three qualifiers in Winston Salem last week, although the Italian was hammered pretty convincingly in the main draw there and in a qualifier in Cincinnati.

Of course Fish hasn't done a lot of winning since playing some tournaments this past six weeks, but that had to be expected from his comeback. He did have a very good win over the out of form Victor Troicki, but playing a best of five sets match will be difficult from a fitness perspective for Fish.

Even with that in mind, Fish has the big serve and the heavy groundstrokes to hurt Cecchinato and I think the crowd is going to be so behind the home player that it could potentially rattle his opponent. This is a big number for a player that hasn't played much tennis in eighteen months, but I think Fish rides the emotion of his final tournament and wins this one 63, 75, 64.

Grigor Dimitrov - 7.5 games v Matthew Ebden: 2015 has been a difficult season for Grigor Dimitrov compared with 2014, and his form going into the US Open could be described as sketchy at best. There is little doubt that confidence has been shaken as shown in his loss to Andy Murray at the Cincinnati Masters, but I have a feeling this could be a strong couple of weeks for the Bulgarian.

He has landed in the open Second Quarter of the draw and has a real chance to earn a confidence boosting win in the First Round when he faces Matthew Ebden, a qualifier from Australia.

Winning three matches is obviously a boost for anyone so Ebden is going to go in confident, but he has failed to bridge the gap with the main level in the past. He has some nice shots in the locker, but Ebden's serve will give players of the quality of Dimitrov a chance to get into a position to break serve.

The question is where Dimitrov is at mentally? He has suffered some personal and professional upset in recent weeks, but you have to think things are beginning to settle down for him. He had his best run at the US Open last year, finally getting beyond the First Round, and Dimitrov should find enough in the locker to see him off as long as he is mentally in the right frame of mind in Flushing Meadows.

After a couple of tough sets, I expect Ebden might just drop his level and Dimitrov can take advantage in a 76, 63, 62 win.

Tommy Robredo - 5.5 games v Michael Berrer: Tommy Robredo is the kind of player that is happy to drag opponents deep into matches and back his own superior fitness to see him through. That has led to some long, grind it out style Grand Slam matches for him in the past, but matches he has eventually been able to prevail in.

He enters the US Open in some good nick of late and Robredo should be able to wear down Michael Berrer if he can weather the early German storm that is likely to come. Berrer has won three qualifiers to reach the main draw at the US Open and his lefty serve can give him an awkward weapon that his opponents have to deal with.

The serve coming from a left hander is always something that takes a bit of time for players to get used to, but Berrer is comfortable backing it up with serve-volley tactics. That can see him pressure opponents who want to get involved in rallies by bunting the ball back in play which Robredo may be looking to do, but I do wonder if the 35 year old has enough bounce in his step to keep closing the angles at the net.

If Berrer is forced to dig in from the baseline, there will only be one winner of this match, so he has to try and attack Robredo early, even when in the returning games. Doing that might see Berrer even nick a set, but Robredo should eventually be too strong and I expect him to wear down Berrer in a 67, 64, 63, 64 win.

Rafael Nadal Win 3-1 v Borna Coric: One of the most intriguing First Round matches at the US Open in the men's draw has to be the one between Rafael Nadal and Borna Coric. It is clear that the tournament organisers feel the same with this being one of the two night session matches on the Arthur Ashe court as the future of the ATP takes on a player hope is not the past.

Rafael Nadal is not coming to New York City with many supporters expecting him to go all the way to the title as a disappointing 2015 gets into the final furlong. Some may consider Nadal is never going to get back to his best, but I don't think this is a time to draw a line through his name going forward although 2016 is going to be a big season for the Spaniard.

In the other corner under the lights is Borna Coric who at eighteen years old is considered one of the bright sparks that could reach the top of the men's game. He already has a win over Rafael Nadal so I don't think he will be overawed by the occasion, especially with the confidence he has displayed in interviews and matches since that win.

However, physically Coric is still on the build and his forehand remains an inconsistent shot that can break down. Fortunately his backhand is a strength going up against the Nadal forehand, but Coric is someone who will have some sloppy moments which has to be expected from a young player finding his feet.

It would be a major upset if Coric was able to beat Nadal in a best of five set match, but the latter has become accustomed to surprise losses in Grand Slams already this season. I just don't believe this will be one of those, although Coric's chances of taking a set are underestimated and Nadal winning in four has to be worthy of a small interest.

Ana Ivanovic - 4.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: It has been difficult for Dominika Cibulkova to rediscover the form that took her to the Quarter Final at the Australian Open since returning to the Tour after a lay off of three months. Cibulkova missed the entire clay court season ahead of the French Open and she has lost a fair few matches while struggling for wins since Eastbourne.

She did put together a couple of tough, battling wins in New Haven last week to give her some confidence, but Ana Ivanovic has been too powerful for her in their last couple of matches and can make it three wins in a row against Cibulkova.

The US Open hasn't been a great tournament for Ivanovic in the past, but she is a popular face around these parts and should receive plenty of support. Anyone who has read my outright preview will see that I think Ivanovic is ready for her best run at this Grand Slam and I think she can make a very strong start.

Her losses in Toronto and Cincinnati have been franked by the form that Belinda Bencic and Serena Williams have shown and the win over Sloane Stephens is a solid result. The wind in New York usually plays havoc with the Ivanovic game and is partly responsible for her bad record here, while she is also a fairly inconsistent sort of player, but it looks a warm day and the Serb might be able to get off before the wind picks up on Monday.

If she can keep her game face on, I think Ivanovic wins a difficult looking First Round match 64, 63.

Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 games v Anna Tatishvili: For someone who is up to World Number 8 in the Rankings, you have to be surprised by the poor Grand Slam record Karolina Pliskova has in her career. Imagine this, a top ten player who has never been beyond the Third Round at a Grand Slam and who has been beaten in the Second Round at every Slam played in 2015.

That is a stunning record and one that you just wouldn't expect would be good enough to see a player reach the top ten of the World Rankings. Karolina Pliskova has plenty of solid results behind her, but is never far away from a surprising loss and is the kind of player that backs up those who feel the WTA talent pool is very thin behind Serena Williams.

Pliskova does have a title to her name this season and has reached four other Finals which has helped her march up the World Rankings, but she has to make an impact in a Grand Slam. Her best result came here last season and facing a qualifier in Anna Tatisvili should give Pliskova the perfect opportunity to make a strong start to this US Open.

The last three times that Tatisvili has reached the main draw at the US Open has seen her run ended by top 20 players in very convincing fashion. She hasn't had a great season and struggled to bridge a gap between herself and top players and Pliskova should have too much power for her in this First Round contest. Once Pliskova finds her feet, I think she comes through 64, 62.

Eugenie Bouchard v Alison Riske: I have been highly critical of some of the losses that Eugenie Bouchard has had to take this season, but I do think the Canadian can perhaps avoid a First Round defeat against Alison Riske who she has dominated in recent matches.

That includes a win over the American in Eastbourne which was a rare high moment for Bouchard during that portion of the season and I think she can beat her again. That despite coming in off a loss where Bouchard won one game against Roberta Vinci in New Haven and clearly hit a new low for her confidence.

Jimmy Connors has been working with Bouchard this week to try and help her find her mentally and her game is not really in a position to go deep into the event, but I also think Alison Riske has been struggling. Riske has produced some wins this summer, but mentally it might be tough for her to beat Bouchard having created chances to break serve in their meeting in Eastbourne, but failing to convert those.

There is little doubt Bouchard is the more talented player although three wins on the Tour since Indian Wells is an embarrassing record for her to deal with. One of those wins came against Riske though and I do think the latter might just struggle emotionally to get the job done which should help Bouchard through in a pick 'em contest.

Coco Vandeweghe + 4.5 games v Sloane Stephens: This has to be one of the more difficult First Round matches that Sloane Stephens could have asked for as she looks to back up her first title in Washington with her best run at the US Open. All eyes are on a potential Third Round match with Serena Williams later this week, but Sloane Stephens won't want to overlook Coco Vandeweghe who reached the Quarter Final at Wimbledon.

It has been difficult for Vandeweghe to back up that performance on the North American hard courts where you think her game would be well suited and she has only gone 1-4 over the last six weeks. Some of those defeats have been heavy as well as disappointing, but her serve should give her a chance to put Stephens under some pressure.

The backhand side should be dominated by Stephens and the big question for Vandeweghe is whether she can rediscover some form having had her two best Grand Slam results first at the Australian Open and then surpassed at Wimbledon in 2015. She has a serve that should provide her with some cheap points and she has to try and shift the pressure onto Stephens who the American crowd will be much more familiar with.

Actually completing the upset might be beyond Vandeweghe in current form, but she has the quality to make this a competitive match and backing her with a healthy number of games could be productive.

Daria Gavrilova + 4.5 games v Maria Sharapova: Another underdog that looks to be given too many games is Daria Gavrilova who faces Maria Sharapova in the First Round. This pick has plenty to do with the doubts surrounding Sharapova and how healthy she is to make a real run at the final Grand Slam of the season.

There has been no competitive action from Sharapova since Wimbledon as she has been limited by a leg strain and even now some are suggesting that she could pull out of the draw. I think Sharapova does try and give this a go, but this is a very difficult First Round match for her, especially as Gavrilova beat her at the Miami Premier Event earlier this season.

Gavrilova hasn't exactly been in dominant form since Wimbledon as the move onto the hard courts hasn't worked out as planned, but she is still playing and that competitive edge can show up in the match. She hasn't had a real impact at the Grand Slam level yet, but Gavrilova has plenty in her favour to perhaps pick up her biggest win of her career.

Even if she can't win the match, this is a lot of games to get against an opponent who will need time to find her feet on the court after an almost two month lay off. It will be tough for Sharapova to immediately come out and start spraying winners everywhere so the key for Gavrilova is to play solid tennis and make sure she doesn't give the match away without taking away anything from her aggressive style which has brought some big wins this season.

If Gavrilova can just stay focused and not let her emotions take over in this match, it should be close if not produce the biggest casualty of Monday's tennis in New York City.

EDIT NOTE: I just finished writing this post when the news broke that Maria Sharapova has pulled out of the US Open so the last pick made is not in play.

MY PICKS: David Goffin - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Mardy Fish - 6.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 7.5 Games @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Tommy Robredo - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal Win 3-1 @ 3.75 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Ana Ivanovic - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Eugenie Bouchard @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Coco Vandeweghe + 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Daria Gavrilova + 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)

US Open Outright Picks 2015 (August 31-September 13)

The final Grand Slam of the season begins on Monday and it has been a who's who of the tennis world that has claimed the title in recent years.

That isn't to say that there hasn't been any surprises- Marin Cilic came out of left field to win the title last season, while I don't think too many would have picked Juan Martin Del Potro to win the men's title in 2009 and Sam Stosur taking the title in the women's event in 2011.

However, those have been rare events with Rafael Nadal winning twice and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray winning one each between the Del Potro and Cilic title wins. Before Del Potro it was Roger Federer's domain as he had won five in a row here in New York and he comes in for the next two weeks as big threat to win Number 18 in terms of career Grand Slams.

Since Stosur won the women's event, Serena Williams has won three in a row in New York as she goes for a fourth in a row and a season sweep of the Grand Slam titles. Before Stosur, six titles were shared by Kim Clijsters, Serena, Maria Sharapova and Justin Henin.

It does look difficult to look beyond the favourites with the way the draws have panned out this week, but this is the time to look through and see what are the best outright picks from the week.

Men's Event
He might have been the best player on the ATP Tour over the last three/four years, but Novak Djokovic's record in collecting Grand Slam titles might be considered a slight disappointment. Eight Grand Slam career titles is remarkable and I am not taking that away from Djokovic at all, but it is hard to escape his 'finishing' ability over the last three seasons.

Since the beginning of the 2012 season, Djokovic has reached a tremendous 11 Grand Slam Finals, but he has actually won less than half of those. However, there might be a change in that trend with 3 Grand Slam Final wins from his last 4 Grand Slam Finals and Djokovic rightly comes into the week as the favourite to win the title.

There are a couple of concerns for me- the elbow issue Djokovic has been dealing with has left him vulnerable, while Masters Final defeats to Andy Murray and Roger Federer in Montreal and Cincinnati respectively might have given his two main rivals the confidence boost to win the title over the next two weeks.

Only 1 of Novak Djokovic's 8 Grand Slams have come at the US Open which is another factor that is hard to ignore, and he has lost 4 of the 5 Finals he has competed in Flushing Meadows.

Even with that in mind, Novak Djokovic has to be happy in being in the other half of the draw to the likes of Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Grand Slam nemesis Stan Wawrinka.

Looking at his Quarter of the draw, the likes of Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic and David Goffin are the Seeds you would think are most likely to give Djokovic to think about. However, none of those scream out as a player you would back to beat Novak Djokovic before the Semi Final and his run of eight consecutive Semi Finals at the US Open is likely to be extended.

Maybe someone like Vasek Pospisil can spring a surprise in a potential Second Round match against Djokovic, but he will be a big underdog to do that and the World Number 1 looks to have the kind of run he would like to begin with as he looks to build momentum into the second week of the tournament.

It is hard to just simply draw a line through Nadal considering his career success, but he is not in the form to really expect a challenge in Flushing Meadows and begins with an intriguing match against what many expect will be part of the future of the ATP in Borna Coric. Losses to Kei Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez in the two Masters hard court events this summer just hasn't inspired confidence in Nadal and the best he can hope for is a Quarter Final berth in my opinion and potentially another one-sided defeat to Novak Djokovic.

The Second Quarter of the draw looks much more open though as there are some injury doubts surrounding Kei Nishikori and David Ferrer, while Marin Cilic will be looking to catch lightning in a bottle twice in a row. Nishikori was the other Finalist last season, but it is a big ask for either one to return this time around as the World Number 4 missed Cincinnati with an injury concern.

However it is hard to find viable alternatives to the top Seeds in the section as there are too many doubts surrounding their ability to win five matches to get into the Semi Final.

Grigor Dimitrov would have made hay last year when in much better form, but he has looked like a player out of confidence which has resulted in some disappointing losses over the 2015 season. That confidence might be restored if he beats Cilic in the Third Round, but the Bulgarian doesn't look very trustworthy on his current form.

The two French representatives, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils, have also been having a hard time putting a string of wins together, although the latter did come close to beating Roger Federer here last year.

This might be a chance for a real outsider to come through the draw to reach a Grand Slam Semi Final, but I wouldn't feel confident picking someone outside of these six players to do that. In saying that, I wouldn't feel great about picking any of these players to win six in a row with the factors that are creating doubts in my mind about them.

The first think that jumps out of the Third Quarter is clearly the potential Quarter Final match up between Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray- two players that have two career Grand Slams in a very difficult era and both who will have the belief they can go all the way.

Someone like Kevin Anderson will be looking for his week in Winston Salem to propel him into a surprise win to move through at the expense of Andy Murray, but his game is all about the big serve which the latter should be able to nullify. There are little other real obstacles to prevent the big Quarter Final that we all would like to see, although conditions at the US Open have seen plenty of surprises in the past, especially when the wind picks up.

Some will point out Nick Kyrgios and Gilles Simon as one awkward opponent that Murray and Wawrinka will have to play respectively, but Murray has a strong record against the young Australian, and Simon's form this summer hasn't matched what took him to the Wimbledon Quarter Final.

While Andy Murray will likely go into the Quarter Final as the favourite, it has to be noted that Stan Wawrinka has won their last two matches at the US Open in 2010 and 2013 and the latter has arguably improved since then having won his two Grand Slam titles in the last two seasons. Stan Wawrinka can get on a roll once he reaches the latter stages of a Grand Slam, but it also has to be remembered that he has been beaten in the Quarter Final in three of his last five Slams, reaching the Semi Final of one and winning the other since Wimbledon 2014 and it does seem like Wawrinka has found some consistency in the Majors.

It is tough to oppose Andy Murray, but I think Wawrinka has every chance of seeing him off if they meet in the Quarter Final with his record against Murray in Flushing Meadows.

I've already pointed out that I think Novak Djokovic is going to be very happy with the way the draw has panned out for him, but arguably Roger Federer is going to be feeling even better as he looks for his first title in New York since 2008.

Winning in Cincinnati has become the norm for Federer in the build up to the US Open and that also importantly gave him the Number 2 Seed, which has looked even more key when looking at the Quarter that Andy Murray got as the Number 3 Seed.

Roger Federer should be able to ease his way through the draw with the most difficult test not coming until a possible meeting with home hope John Isner in the Fourth Round. However, Isner is someone who could be dragged into long matches earlier in the draw which saps some energy and has also had some leg issues to deal with over the last month. Add in Federer's experience of playing big servers in the past and I think the Number 2 Seed manages to get through to another Quarter Final here, what would be the eleventh in the last twelve years since first winning the title here in 2004.

In fact, Federer has reached the Semi Final or better in nine of the last eleven years, but one exception was a Quarter Final defeat in 2012 when he was beaten by Tomas Berdych, a potential Quarter Final opponent again. You can't be anything but impressed by the consistency that Berdych has shown for much of 2015, but he did look out of sorts in Cincinnati and I do wonder if he is fully healthy as we head into the final Grand Slam of the season.

That might give Richard Gasquet a chance to reach another Quarter Final in a Grand Slam this season to follow his success at Wimbledon, but Roger Federer has to fancy his chances of seeing off either of those opponents.

That to me is a kind draw for Roger Federer and I do wonder if he is going to have too many better opportunities to win another title at the US Open. I have always though the only two events where Federer could add to his 17 Grand Slam titles are Wimbledon and the US Open and he was close in SW19 before running into Novak Djokovic.

The World Number 1 doesn't have a great record in Flushing Meadows, relatively speaking of course, but you also have to be wary of it being six years since Roger Federer reached the Final here.

However, he looks the player most in form and in the best draw out of the top three players that are favourites to win the title including Andy Murray and Djokovic. I think Roger Federer looks a good each-way pick to at least reach the Final and perhaps go on and win his first Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2012.

I have wanted to oppose Djokovic because he has looked like an elbow issue is troubling him more than previously thought and losing to both Murray and Federer in the Masters events could have knocked confidence. However, Djokovic couldn't have hand-picked a draw much better than what he has and it might be an upset that needs to happen to prevent him reaching the Final here.

Over five sets you'd think he is ready by that point to beat Federer, but I still want the latter on my side instead.

Why not Andy Murray? My reason is simply the Third Quarter of the draw looks a toss up between him and Stan Wawrinka and that might be the kind of match that drains the winner and allows Federer to pick them off in the Semi Final.

Instead I think there might be something in having an interest in Stan Wawrinka to win the Third Quarter in what looks like a straight toss up between himself and Andy Murray. With two previous wins over Murray at the US Open, I wouldn't be surprised if Wawrinka muscles his way past him here and a small interest is warranted.

Women's Event
Any event that Serena Williams enters is one that she will be expected to win and going into the final Grand Slam of the season with the chance for a sweep of the Slams in 2015 is a huge opportunity for her to underline her name in tennis history.

Serena has won the last three US Open tournaments and would have had four in a row if not stunned by Sam Stosur in 2011. The only doubt is about an injury that has been limiting her serve from the usual huge weapon it is, yet Serena Williams reached the Semi Final in Toronto and won the title in Cincinnati so it will take something special to beat her.

If she gets to the Quarter Final, you'd have to think Serena Williams goes on and wins the tournament as she has the last six times she has got that far in a Grand Slam. In fact eight of the last nine times Serena Williams has reached the Quarter Final in a Grand Slam has seen her go and win the event so she does look her most vulnerable early in the tournament.

Belinda Bencic was the player that beat Serena Williams in Toronto, but she can't play her again until that crucial Quarter Final stage so maybe it is up to two young American players to announce themselves in the grandest way.

Sloane Stephens has beaten Serena Williams before at a Grand Slam and won the first set when they met at the French Open earlier this season before dropping the second set in a tight 75 scoreline. She won her first title on the WTA Tour this past month in Washington and Stephens has the kind of game that might punish Williams if the latter is not at the top of her own performances.

The other is Madison Keys who had a great run at the Australian Open to open 2015, but perhaps hasn't maintained that level for much of the season. She has the big shots that can also knock Serena Williams off her stride and these two players are potentially Third and Fourth Round opponents for the Number 1 Seed and arguably the best prospects to knock her off over the next two weeks.

There was no doubt in my mind that Maria Sharapova had to be opposed in whatever section that she landed in the draw having missed any competitive tennis since Wimbledon. Rumours about some sort of injury as well as a personal break up with Grigor Dimitrov will have affected her chances at the US Open and instead it could be down to someone like Ana Ivanovic to take advantage by reaching the Semi Final here.

Ivanovic might have reached the Quarter Final in Toronto and Cincinnati, but both those losses have been franked by the form of Belinda Bencic and Serena Williams. Her record at the US Open is not really one that inspires as the Serb has NEVER been beyond the Quarter Final, but Ivanovic can put together a real run if she can beat Dominika Cibulkova in the First Round.

That is a tough draw to open, but the likes of Eugenie Bouchard, Carla Suarez Navarro and Jelena Jankovic shouldn't worry Ivanovic with her having an edge over all of them for various reasons (out of form, out of form and better on slower surfaces, Ivanovic strong head to head).

Even a match up with Sharapova wouldn't be a particular worry for Ivanovic who has beaten her on the North American hard courts in Cincinnati in 2014, but I am also not convinced Sharapova reaches a Quarter Final here this year.

Elina Svitolina and Ekaterina Makarova may both believe they can get into the Quarter Final at the expense of the Number 3 Seed in the tournament, but I would fancy Ivanovic to be too strong for either.

Prior to the run in New Haven which took her to the title for the third time in four years, I would have been ready to draw a line through Petra Kvitova who has been struggling for form through her mono illness. However, I do wonder how much has been taken out of Kvitova this week in terms of physical energy and she has never reached the Quarter Final at the US Open before.

Kvitova reached the Fourth Round in 2012 after winning in New Haven and then reached the Third Round last year having won that same title so history looks against her from breaking through this year.

The draw does favour her chances to surpass her previous best here, but Kvitova's illness and long week in New Haven may play against her in Flushing Meadows. That might mean that last year's Finalist, Caroline Wozniacki, might have a chance to get to another Semi Final.

In four of the last six years Wozniacki has reached the Semi Final at the US Open which has easily been her most successful Slam and Wozniacki can make use of a very kind draw. The Dane would be favoured to win her first four matches and she made a return to form with a run to the Semi Final in New Haven before finding Kvitova too strong.

However, Wozniacki might not have to worry about Kvitova in this section if the latter continues to fail to fire in New York City, while Garbine Muguruza looks too out of form to back up her success at Wimbledon. The layers are right in assuming Caroline Wozniacki is the second favourite to get out of the Third Quarter, but I think she can go one step further than expected by taking advantage of perhaps another early exit for Petra Kvitova.

The layers believe the two players most likely to oppose Serena Williams and win the title at the US Open are Victoria Azarenka and Simona Halep and I can't argue with that. However, both players have been placed in the Fourth Quarter of the draw and are potentially going to meet one another in the Quarter Final to decide who moves on.

Out of the two players, I think the faith has to be put in Simona Halep who reached the Final in both Toronto and Cincinnati in the build up to the US Open. She has been suffering with an injury that has cramped up in brutal heat, but Halep has the kind of draw that can see her work her way into the tournament and clearly has the form on the hard courts to go all the way.

Her biggest threat may come in the form of the conditions and Timea Bacsinszky but I think Halep can beat both this week and she certainly looks like she has the 'easier' draw than Victoria Azarenka.

Halep at least can work her way into the tournament, but Azarenka is the Number 20 Seed and has struggled for consistency in her results throughout 2015. Both Lucie Safarova and Angelique Kerber have shown some solid form on the North American hard courts over the last six weeks and Azarenka may have to beat both before potentially facing Halep and that is a tough road to work through.

Both Safarova and Kerber may feel they can go deep in the tournament too, but I think Halep will have the edge on both and the Number 2 Seed can have her best result at the US Open by surpassing the Fourth Round. It has been a disappointing season for Halep in terms of Grand Slam results, but I do think she can have her best result in the final Slam of 2015.

As I said to open this breakdown, Serena Williams is the favourite to win every tournament she enters and holding her nerve is arguably her biggest opponent over the next two weeks. There have always been nervy moments on her way to winning Grand Slam events in recent years, but once she reaches the Quarter Final she has been close to unstoppable.

The potential Third Round match against Sloane Stephens could be the biggest test for Williams over the next two weeks, but if she can battle through that one, I think she will be difficult to stop.

If there is someone capable of beating Serena Williams in the early stages when she looks the most vulnerable, someone like Simona Halep may be the player to come through and win her maiden Grand Slam. Halep has a difficult Quarter to negotiate, but back to back Final appearances in Toronto and Cincinnati should give her confidence to produce her best result in the Grand Slams in 2015.

A small interest on Simona Halep to find a way out of a section that includes the second favourite Victoria Azarenka and get to the Final is merited.

I also think a small interest on both Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki beat out two higher Ranked opponents in their individual Quarters has to be worth taking.

The former is in the open Second Quarter that includes Maria Sharapova who hasn't played since Wimbledon, while Wozniacki might be able to take advantage of Petra Kvitova's struggles at the US Open. While Kvitova hasn't reached the Quarter Final, Wozniacki has four Semi Finals in the last six years at the US Open and the Dane played well in New Haven last week while also has a draw she should be negotiating to the Quarter Final at the least.

If Kvitova has fallen by then, Wozniacki should be favoured to reach another Semi Final here.

MY OUTRIGHT PICKS: Roger Federer @ 5.00 Paddy Power (2 Units E/W)
Stan Wawrinka to Win Third Quarter @ 3.75 William Hill (1 Unit)

Serena Williams @ 1.91 Bet Victor (6 Units)
Simona Halep @ 13.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit E/W)
Ana Ivanovic to Win Second Quarter @ 6.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Caroline Wozniacki to Win Third Quarter @ 4.00 Bet Fred (1 Unit)

Weekly Final8-5, + 4.60 Units (26 Units Staked, + 17.69% Yield)

Season 2015+ 1.93 Units (1378 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)

Season 2014+ 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)
Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (August 29th)

The tournaments in Winston Salem and New Haven come to an end on Saturday to ensure the participants have at least a couple of days to make their way to New York City for the US Open.

Kevin Anderson - 3.5 games v Pierre-Hugues Herbert: Kevin Anderson came through his most difficult moments in the Semi Final in the very first service game of the match, but he ended up creating the break point chances and now goes for his first title since 2012.

Kevin Anderson has the experience of dealing with Finals as he has played in two already and now takes on a 'tired' Pierre-Hugues Herbert who somehow came through his Semi Final despite looking down and out.

Herbert was a set down, a break down, and faced two more break points but managed to save those against Steve Johnson before turning that match around. After playing eight matches in the last nine days, Herbert has admitted that he is feeling it physically and I think that might show up in this Final as well as the lack of experience that the Frenchman has at this level.

Of course that hasn't mattered at all this week as he has battled back from losing positions in the last two matches to fight through. However, Anderson will keep the pressure up with his big serve which is helping him out of difficult spots and knowing he won't crumble as Steve Johnson did in the Semi Final behind his best shot might just take away something from Herbert's resistance.

The first set should be tough, but Anderson getting in front will be much more difficult to pull back as Herbert did against Pablo Carreno Busta and Steve Johnson. Once Anderson is front, I expect him to go on and win his first title in over three years with a 64, 63 win.

Petra Kvitova - 2.5 games v Lucie Safarova: Petra Kvitova is looking to win her third title in four years at New Haven having battled through illness and some tough matches this week. Kvitova looks to have rounded into form at the right time with the Grand Slam just days away in Flushing Meadows and she has won all six previous matches against compatriot Lucie Safarova who opposes her in the Final.

You can't take anything away from the week that Safarova has had too which comes on the heels of a Quarter Final run at Cincinnati. This is a player who has improved markedly over the last fourteen months which an increased belief in her game and Safarova has a big serve with some heavy groundstrokes to give Kvitova something to think about.

However, Kvitova has been able to deal with what has come at her from the other side of the court because she has just slightly bigger weapons in both departments. The extra power just takes away a little time from Safarova and Kvitova has eventually worn her down in previous matches against her.

Of course the illness that Kvitova has been suffering with is a concern, but she has looked good this week and I think she breaks down Safarova again in a 76, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Kevin Anderson - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Petra Kvitova - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 6-5, + 1 Units (22 Units Staked, + 4.55% Yield)

Friday, 28 August 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (August 29-30)

It feels like the new domestic European seasons have just started before we are heading into a two week international break as the Euro 2016 Qualifiers get into the business end of that competition. By the end of the next set of Qualifiers, I imagine a few nations will have booked their place in France 2016, but the focus this week for all the players that might be involved in those Qualifiers is putting in one more big performance for their club sides.

It is a stranger situation for the Spanish and Italian teams this weekend as they will only have played two League games before another two week break between games.

On the other hand, the Premier League will have had four rounds of matches that have been played before this international break and that will mean the Division is beginning to take shape. As I mentioned two weeks ago, I think a lot of the teams in the Premier League are more evenly matched than you may think and that has shown up in the results already with every team earning at least one point from their opening three games and just three points separating Everton in 7th place and Sunderland bottom of the League.

Most do say that the League table isn't really relevant until nine games have been played, but you can begin to see elements of the League forming together already.

I have written a few points from the last weekend Premier League football which can be read here.

The Champions League Group Stage was also drawn on Thursday and my reaction and early predictions of how the Groups will finish can be read here.

On Friday, the Europa League draw was made and the two English representatives left in the competition might have hoped for an easier Group than both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur were handed. The 'look down the nose' attitude that a lot of English clubs have towards the Europa League is a real reason that none of the clubs have come close to winning the competition in recent years, although you might argue that this is the best chance Tottenham Hotspur have of getting into the Champions League.

I do think it is more likely they can negotiate their way through to the Final and win it rather than finishing top four in the Premier League, but it is up to Mauricio Pochettino to balance the two competitions together.

Both Spurs and Liverpool should still qualify for the Last 32, but Celtic have to feel really disappointed with their Group having been knocked out of the Champions League during the week. Ajax, Fenerbahce and Molde is a tough set of teams for Celtic to deal with and it will take a big effort for them to match their Last 32 appearance in the Europa League from last season.

Newcastle United v Arsenal Pick: Newcastle United had to battle hard to take away a point from Old Trafford last week, but their away form has generally been sketchier than their form at St James' Park and they might feel they can be more proactive this weekend.

However, Newcastle United have a very tough match against Arsenal in front of the television cameras even if The Gunners have been a little lacklustre in their early Premier League performances. After another impressive end to last season followed by a Community Shield win over Chelsea at the beginning of this one, Arsenal were expected to be a real challenger for the Premier League title, but they haven't hit the ground running as expected.

Arsene Wenger is not quick to criticise his team so his comments about Arsenal being 'very average' in their first three games has to have hit home for the players. Failing to score in both Premier League games at The Emirates Stadium is a real surprise from a team with the talent Arsenal have in the attacking third, but they were one of three teams to win double digit away games last season and already won at Crystal Palace.

There will be a little more space for Arsenal to operate in away from home as Newcastle United will be expected to come forward. If both Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are missing again, Arsenal could be in a bit of bother against this Newcastle United team that have shown a threat in games against Southampton and Manchester United.

Both Gabriel and Calum Chambers, particularly the latter, were given a thorough examination from Liverpool on Monday Night Football and Newcastle United will feel they can expose that soft underbelly if both are to start at the heart of the defence again. However, Arsenal have a very strong record here in recent years with three straight Premier League wins at St James' Park and I do think they find a way to bounce back from a disappointing home result as they did at Crystal Palace.

It will likely be tight though and backing Arsenal to win this by a single goal margin looks to be the call for a small interest.

Bournemouth v Leicester City PickThis looks like it could be one of the more entertaining games of the Premier League weekend as both Bournemouth and Leicester City have shown they are capable of scoring goals, but also don't look the most secure defensively. Bournemouth might not have scored in their first couple of Premier League games, but they had created chances and have now banged in eight goals in two games this week.

With Callum Wilson earning a morale boosting hat-trick in the Premier League last weekend, I expect the striker to begin to feel settled in the top flight. That also goes for the rest of the squad as Bournemouth would have felt much more comfortable after an impressive win at West Ham United last week and games like this one might have been circled as ones they have to win to stay in the top flight for more than one season.

They are facing a Leicester City team that has conceded at least once in all of their four games played this season, but they have pace in the forward areas which can be very effective on the counter attack. That pace will give Bournemouth something to think about and I do think both teams will score at least once in this one.

Neither Eddie Howe nor Claudio Ranieri will want to put the handbrake on their respective teams either as they will believe three points are possible out of this game and I expect to see chances at both ends. If the likes of Wilson, Matt Richie, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez continue showing their abilities in front of goal, I think this game will feature at least three goals.

Chelsea v Crystal Palace PickIt might be a blessing in disguise that John Terry is suspended for this game because the last thing a defender with limited pace who is under pressure is going to want to face is the pace and power Crystal Palace have up front. Crystal Palace could be a very dangerous team on the counter attack, but the absence of Yannick Bolasie would be a blow, although Alan Pardew is correct not to rush him back.

There is still going to be a threat from Crystal Palace, but Chelsea might have just got their ship turned around with their win at West Brom. In all honesty Chelsea had taken some extreme criticism over the last couple of weeks, but I am not convinced they were as bad as the papers would have you believe.

Yes, Chelsea were outplayed in the first half by Manchester City, but they were much better in the second half and a better finish from Eden Hazard would have produced an equaliser in that game. Against Swansea, Chelsea looked to be in control before an equaliser against the run of play went against them and they again looked to be in the dominant position before the sending off of Thibaut Courtois.

Once again Chelsea looked to be in complete control against West Brom before another twist of fate against them and it does feel they are just swimming against the fortune tide at the moment. I expect Chelsea to have got back to strength mentally from recent blows they have taken with the win over West Brom and I expect Jose Mourinho to get another determined performance from his team.

They have to be better defensively than what they have shown in the first three games, but I can't see them continuing to concede at two goals per game. Mourinho should look to nullify the Crystal Palace threat and they now have an additional attacking threat from Pedro and I like Chelsea to cover the Asian Handicap.

Liverpool v West Ham United PickHow can a team produce the kind of level they did to beat Arsenal, but then look completely at unease with the tactics and defensively in home losses to the likes of Leicester City and Bournemouth? That is the question that has been bothering the West Ham United fans over the last couple of weeks, but there will be a belief they can be inspired for another top performance at a big Premier League ground this weekend.

Heading to Liverpool might not be easy though as the home side have been playing some pretty good football to open the new season. It was arguably their best forty-five minutes of the new season on Monday Night Football as they outplayed Arsenal and it was only the woodwork and a poor miss from Christian Beneteke that prevented Liverpool having a lead to take into half time.

Producing that level again will give Liverpool a clear edge in this Premier League game and Brendan Rodgers looks to have got the team playing in a manner he expects after a disappointing 2014/15 season. There is some real talent in the Liverpool squad that perhaps needs some luck in staying healthy to challenge for a top four place in the Premier League, although they will hope Jordan Henderson is back this week to compete with the West Ham United energy in the middle of the park.

West Ham will likely look to employ some energy in that midfield to prevent Liverpool from playing the brand of football that Rodgers wants, but defensively they have to be a lot better. Conceding six goals to Leicester City and Bournemouth in two home games is not going to cut it, and it does feel the win over Arsenal was an exception from their early season form in the Premier League and Europa League.

There weren't many games where Liverpool won comfortably at Anfield last season in the Premier League, but this might be one of those. The West Ham United team have looked like they will give opponents chances and Liverpool will surely become a little more clinical as the season develops when those chances come their way as they did at Arsenal.

With that in mind, I think Liverpool win this and cover the Asian Handicap.

Manchester City v Watford PickI can only have respect for the way that Watford have begun the Premier League season with a strong performance at Everton in a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park. However, the back to back goalless draws with West Brom and Southampton might have highlighted an area that Quique Sanchez Flores will be looking to strengthen before the transfer window is closed next Tuesday.

Goals at this level are very important for every club in the Division and Watford need to find a consistent avenue for goals if they are going to maintain their status as a Premier League club beyond this one season. Now they are also going to be put to the test by arguably the best team in the Premier League with a difficult visit to The Etihad Stadium where Manchester City have been rampant.

That is not just about the big wins they have achieved this season overall nor the 3-0 win over Chelsea in the Premier League earlier this season but going back to the last campaign. Manchester City have won 8 in a row at home in the Premier League and have kept 7 clean sheets in those games while scoring 26 goals in that run too.

Watford might have been defensively sound in their last couple of home games against West Brom and Southampton, but this attack with David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero are going to pose plenty more problems for the visitors to deal with. 'Only' half of the 8 home wins Manchester City have achieved in a row have come by more than two goals, but this is a chance for them to put another big victory on the board and show the rest of the Division they mean business.

Manchester City should prove too good in this one if they show some clinical finishing and I like them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton PickAfter watching the first three games of the Premier League season, Mauricio Pochettino is well aware that Tottenham Hotspur need some attacking options to join Harry Kane and fire the team to glory. It says something about the policy that Daniel Levy uses that Tottenham Hotspur didn't address an obvious need far before the transfer window gets ready to close and that does mean a busy final week before September 1st for the Chairman.

Missing out on targets earlier in the summer, or failing to really go after the players the manager required, has put Tottenham Hotspur on the back foot early in the season as they have failed to win any of their 3 Premier League games. Challenging for a top four place was going to be a difficult test for Spurs anyway this season, but allowing points to slip away in the manner they have against Stoke City and Leicester City has frustrated the manager.

In both games Tottenham Hotspur were leading and only earning 2 points from those games is a big disappointment. Harry Kane has needed more support, but Spurs have also looked vulnerable defensively and Everton will certainly feel they can use the counter attack to attack those vulnerabilities.

They might have lost 0-2 to Manchester City last weekend, but Everton had their chances while the game was goalless to put a different slant on the result. Roberto Martinez is hoping to hang onto John Stones, but he has to find a way to get a run of consistent results together to make sure Everton are not having another difficult season like last season.

Everton do look like a team that will create chances, but I am not convinced about them at the back and it took some good saves from Tim Howard from allowing Manchester City to really get away in that game. Southampton also created chances at 0-0 in the eventual 0-3 win for Everton and I think Tottenham Hotspur will have some success in the final third.

It looks like a game that the television cameras will enjoy broadcasting to the neutrals as both teams should create chances to score goals. Games between these teams have been tight over the last couple of seasons, but this might be one that produces at least three goals with the expectation both score at least once and neither manager is going to settle for a point at this stage of the season.

Swansea City v Manchester United Pick: I'd be surprised if there isn't a fair few people out there backing Swansea City to beat Manchester United at what looks a huge price in the last game of the weekend in the Premier League.

Swansea City are 3.75 to beat Manchester United at The Liberty Stadium and that is going to be a price that tempts a fair few, although I have decided to move past that pick.

I do think Swansea are going to give Manchester United the toughest test they have faced in the first month of the new season as they have pace in the forward areas, but are also very confident having earned five points from a possible nine. The fact they showed their heart and determination to twice recover a goal deficit at Stamford Bridge on the opening day highlights the belief Garry Monk has injected into the squad and I expect Swansea to get forward and put this Manchester United defence under some real pressure that other clubs have failed to do consistently.

The home team beat Newcastle United in their first game here and it shouldn't be forgotten that Swansea did the Premier League double over Manchester United last season and have won three out of four games in all competitions over their more illustrious opponents.

All of those wins have come by the same 2-1 scoreline and I think that is a big player on Sunday even if Manchester United have restricted their first three Premier League opponents to just five shots. I just don't believe Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa nor Newcastle United pose the same threat with pace and power that Swansea do and Monk will have his side try and match the possession that Louis Van Gaal wants from Manchester United.

I do think the direct style that Swansea use by getting the ball out wide and having the likes of Jefferson Montero and Andre Ayew beat men as well as supporting Bafetimbi Gomes has given them a new threat this season and I do expect Manchester United to be really tested.

The win over Club Brugge will have given Manchester United a confidence boost, especially the manner of the 0-4 win in Belgium, but a lot of spaces were opened up by the home team chasing the game. Swansea came from a goal down to beat Manchester United here last season so won't be 'chasing' the game like Club Brugge had to in the Second Leg.

Club Brugge still created chances with the pacy forwards they employed in both Legs of that Champions League Play Off tie and I expect Swansea will be able to as well. They have been clinical in front of goal for the most part this season, while Manchester United will have opportunities of their own and the chance for goals looks like it has been underestimated.

I wouldn't be surprised if Swansea City win this game, but goals is my pick as five of the last six between these teams have produced at least three goals and both teams look like they can create chances. A 2-1 scoreline either way looks the most likely scoreline, although my gut feeling, despite being a Manchester United fan, is that Swansea are the team that achieve that result. Hopefully I am wrong about that result, but I do see goals in this game.

MY PICKS: Arsenal to Win by One Goal @ 3.80 Betway (1 Unit)
Bournemouth-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.14 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Swansea City-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

August Update: 14-27, - 21.44 Units (81 Units Staked, - 26.47% Yield)

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