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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (January 31-February 1)

There has been some criticism of the kind of teams that some of the Premier League teams put out in the FA Cup Fourth Round which led to a few upsets, but I am not sure what people are moaning about to be absolutely honest. It has been clear for a number of years that the FA Cup does not have the same appeal as it once did on the football calendar and the money in performing in the Premier League is significantly more than you will earn for winning the FA Cup these days.

With the games coming thick and fast at this time of the season, I am not surprised that managers will make changes. I am surprised that so many have been so upset by that though, including Alan Shearer, who can make such judgements without the pressure of being a manager in the position to make the big decisions. On the face of things you would think teams would want to play their best to win the Cup, but how can Walter Mazzarri make that decision with just one day rest between the Cup tie and a League one against Arsenal?

The upsets have been good for the Cup as it will have more headlines being grabbed than perhaps if all the top teams had made it through to the Fifth Round. There are still five of the top six Premier League teams in the FA Cup, who all avoided one another in the draw for the Fifth Round, and so some of the complaints and criticisms I have seen seem to be missing the point.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week we have a full round of Premier League games, the first of four rounds of games in February. This is a big month coming up as the European competitions resume in the Knock Out Rounds, the FA Cup moves through the Fifth Round and the first domestic silverware of the season is handed out in the English Football League Cup.

February might be the shortest month of the calendar year, but there are going to be plenty of football matches to enjoy throughout the month and hopefully the picks will also be better than they have been.

The last two months have been difficult, but there is still lots of the season to go.

Arsenal v Watford Pick: This is a big week for Arsenal if they have real ambitions to win the Premier League title and of course the bigger match for them is later in the week when they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Win both League games this week and Chelsea fail to win at Anfield and Arsenal will be right back in things.

It is up to Arsenal to try and concentrate on their own matters and they have been playing well enough in recent games to think they can beat Watford fairly comfortably at The Emirates Stadium. The away side have been struggling in recent weeks to earn positive results and Watford have been conceding too many goals which has to be a concern for a team that still has plenty of work to do to reach the 40 point mark in the Premier League.

Watford have conceded at least twice in 5 of their last 6 away Premier League games and they will have some problems containing an Arsenal team who have scored 18 goals in their last 6 games in all competitions.

Arsenal have scored at least three times in their 3 Premier League games against Watford over the last eighteen months and I think they could have a strong showing in this one too. All of their wins over Watford in the League in that time have come by at least two goals and I will back the home team on the Asian Handicap to just keep the pressure up on the League leaders Chelsea who have a difficult trip this week to Anfield.

Bournemouth v Crystal Palace Pick: There has been some criticism for Sam Allardyce that his Crystal Palace team are being asked to play on the same day as the January transfer window closes as he is still looking for reinforcements to his squad. It has been a tough opening six weeks as manager of The Eagles for Allardyce as he tries to maintain his record of not suffering a relegation from the Premier League.

The expectation is that Crystal Palace had simply been underachieving before Allardyce came in, but they have suffered some really bad results under his guidance. The side have slipped into the bottom three after the last round of Premier League games and they have to start winning soon to avoid being potentially cut off from the safety zone.

That makes this a big game for Crystal Palace when they head to a Bournemouth team who have been strong at home, but also inconsistent. This does feel like a good chance for Crystal Palace to earn a result because Bournemouth have been conceding goals at an alarming rate, although they have had a few days off to try and get things organised at the back.

However the style of play means Bournemouth are always going to give their opponents a chance and I think Crystal Palace have enough in the final third to offer some problems. On the other hand I would expect Bournemouth to create chances as Crystal Palace have yet to really pick up the defensive organisation that Sam Allardyce is known for from his time with the likes of Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland.

It is a difficult game to pick a winner because of the uncertain performances both clubs have been producing of late, but it does feel like a game where there should be chances at both ends. I do think there is enough in the final third to make use of those chances and I am looking for this game to finish with at least three goals shared out on Tuesday.

Burnley v Leicester City Pick: Recent seasons have seen Leicester City regularly visit Turf Moor and leave with the three points, but this one feels like it could be very different. This season Burnley have played very well at Turf Moor and have won their last 6 games here while only conceding 3 goals in that time, while Leicester City have yet to win an away game in the Premier League.

There have been some improvements in the away results which might make Leicester City more of a threat than their record would indicate. However winning here has proved to be a challenge for any team that visits and I think Burnley have the confidence to keep their run going.

I just don't think Burnley should be an underdog in this game when you see how well they have played at Turf Moor. Leicester City have come from behind to earn draws at Stoke City and Derby County over the last few weeks but Burnley might be a little more solid and complete the win.

However I will take the home team on the Asian Handicap which is essentially pricing up Burnley at odds against in what is a 'Draw No Bet' market. Burnley have been very good at home all season and they are in a very good vein of form at Turf Moor and that looks a big price when you consider how well Burnley have played here.

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: David Moyes has to be feeling the pressure of trying to turn around Sunderland's season and the lack of financial backing has frustrated the manager. There have been a couple of big players leaving the club and new faces have yet to arrive in time for this League game and Sunderland have a squad stretched by injury and suspension.

It is going to be very difficult for Sunderland to keep Tottenham Hotspur contained as the big players will be back in the starting line up for Mauricio Pochettino's side. They have scored at least twice in their last 3 away Premier League games and I think Tottenham Hotspur can extend their run of 4 wins from 6 visits to The Stadium of Light.

Sunderland have lost half of their 6 home League games by more than a single goal margin and they have conceded goals at an alarming rate once they start to struggle. This might be a defence that is vulnerable to Tottenham Hotspur who have shown they can be very dangerous in front of goal and I do think they can come out with a fairly routine win on Tuesday.

I will back Tottenham Hotspur on the Asian Handicap on Tuesday.

Liverpool v Chelsea Pick: This is a huge Premier League game for both Liverpool and Chelsea, but you have to think the Anfield crowd are expecting a reaction after three terrible results here. Going out of both Cup competitions has been a blow to their chances of ending the year with silverware and it is going to be hard work to get into the Champions League places if they can't turn around their form very quickly.

Over the years this is the kind of game most big clubs would want to get back to winning ways, but Liverpool have had their confidence dented. Sadio Mane's return might not have come quick enough to play from the start in this one and Liverpool's defence continues to show huge vulnerabilities.

That defence should be exposed by the attacking talent Chelsea posses, but I do think Liverpool will create chances too as most of their top names were held out on Saturday in the defeat to Wolves. As well as Chelsea have played defensively for much of this season, away games at Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have seen them give away plenty of goals and Liverpool have the power in the final third to have success too.

It would be a surprise if Chelsea were not able to create their own chances and score goals too and I did consider backing the League leaders to avoid defeat by backing them on the 'Draw No Bet' market at odds against. However Chelsea's two away League defeats have come at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and they should have been beaten at Manchester City too.

Instead I will back there being at least three goals shared out between these teams like there were at Stamford Bridge. That has been priced up at odds against and the score that would worry me the most would be 1-1 like the last couple of games at Anfield have finished between these two teams.

However I think there should be enough opportunities at both ends to see the chances created to find a winner if that is the case and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

West Ham United v Manchester City Pick: If you are simply judging games on results then it looks clear that Manchester City have been having something of a rough patch and West Ham United might be in a decent form. The Hammers have scored three times in each of their last couple of games which have resulted in six points, while Manchester City were beaten 4-0 in their last away game at Everton.

However a deeper look shows that West Ham United were perhaps a little fortunate in both of their wins. On the other hand, Manchester City might be coming in with 4 wins from 5 games in January if they had held onto their 2-0 lead over Tottenham Hotspur where some key decisions had gone against them in the 2-2 draw.

Manchester City are only a few weeks removed since they beat West Ham United 0-5 here in the FA Cup on a day when they were clearly the better team. They have shown they can dominate games but have to be a little better in the forward areas while the defence remains a work in progress under their new manager.

As much as West Ham United have shown some improvements, they are still not playing as well as last season and this is a team that can lose their way when they do concede goals. They have won 3 of their last 5 here, but around those results have been comfortable losses to Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City.

The 0-3 win for Manchester City at Crystal Palace came even though they rested the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero and I think the away side can back that result up. West Ham United are playing better, but I expect Manchester City to dominate the ball and create enough chances to win this one by more than a one goal margin and I will back them on the Asian Handicap to do that.

Manchester United v Hull City Pick: These two teams might have become a little familiar with one another over the last couple of weeks with this being their third game against one another since January 10th. It is a big task for Hull City to earn a result against Manchester United at Old Trafford, but they have proven they can be tough to beat and this is likely to be a match where the home fans will get a little nervy if Manchester United haven't broken the Hull City resistance going into the second half.

Marco Silva has to be given credit for toughening up a Hull City team that had been struggling before his arrival, but he is looking for some new faces to give them a bit of quality in the final third. Losing Robert Snodgrass feels like a blow to their chances to avoid the drop, but Hull City have made life difficult for Manchester United and Chelsea in away games since Silva arrived as manager.

They have made life difficult but ended up losing both by the same 2-0 scoreline and that feels like the most likely outcome of this one. Manchester United have not kept as many clean sheets in the League as they would have liked, particularly at Old Trafford where they have conceded in 5 of their last 6 Premier League games here.

However, Manchester United did earn that clean sheet against Hull City in the League Cup Semi Final and have had 3 in 4 games at Old Trafford in all competitions. Hull City have scored 1 goal in their last 7 away games in the Premier League and I will back Manchester United to win this game with a clean sheet on Wednesday.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Burnley 0 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 1.80 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

January Update30-42-1, - 24.98 Units (150 Units Staked, - 16.65% Yield)

December Final38-40, - 7.93 Units (153 Units Staked, - 5.18% Yield)
November Final40-38-3, + 5.76 Units (159 Units Staked, + 3.62% Yield)
October Final29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% Yield)
September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/17180-185-8, + 2.77 Units (708 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)

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

Tennis Picks 2017 (January 31st)

It has been a couple of days since the Australian Open 2017 was completed and it is still taking some time for things to sink in.

I would not have imagined Roger Federer was able to come back from the first significant injury of his career and actually go all the way and win the title in Melbourne. For starters the first two Slams of the season are not really suited to his style as well as Wimbledon and the US Open tournaments are and I thought coming in as the Number 17 Seed would mean too many obstacles needed to be cleared for him to win the the title.

It is a testament to his greatness that Federer was able to see off the likes of Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal in this event, and fitness shouldn't be a concern having won the last three of those matches in five setters. Getting up to Number 18 in terms of Grand Slams won might just mean Federer is holding the record for some time to come, and it was a memorable event for him.

There was also a hint or two that Federer might not be around beyond 2017 in his victory speech- he mentioned he 'hopes' to be back in Australia next year, but also admitted 'if not, this is a great way to go out' so I do think retirement may be on the mind. We should all enjoy Federer while he is around because not many players can play like he can and I am definitely making plans to make sure I have another opportunity to see him live at some point in this season.

For Rafael Nadal the Australian Open has to be seen as a success even if he just came down on the wrong side of the final score. He would not have been expecting a lot and so this event should give him the confidence to take into the rest of the season, especially the clay court season which will begin soon.

Nadal won't be taking part in the Golden Swing in South America like he has in recent years, but his next appearance looks to be in Rotterdam in a couple of weeks time after he pulled out of the Spanish Davis Cup tie this weekend. That's an interesting change for Nadal who will then head off to Mexico for the tournament in Acapulco at the end of the month, but both events will be played on hard courts rather than the red dirt.

We do expect to see Federer next at the Dubai Open at the end of February when Andy Murray is also expected to return, but it is interesting to note that Novak Djokovic is not scheduled to head to that event. As a four time winner in Dubai, I am surprised Djokovic is skipping that event, but is playing for Serbia in the Davis Cup this weekend (at the time of writing anyway). He will then be back on court for the first two Masters events of the season in March, and perhaps that is best for Djokovic to give himself a chance to refocus on matters on the court.

It wasn't the best start for the picks this week as both on Monday came up short, but this is just the start of the week and there is plenty of time to turn things around. I am looking at the First Round matches in St Petersburg to begin that move back into a positive position on Tuesday.

Roberta Vinci - 2.5 games v Timea Babos: You would have to think that at some point 33 year old Italian Roberta Vinci may just start slipping down the World Rankings, but I won't question her fitness. She continues to defy when heading into some of these tight, long battles on the court where you think the age would count against her, while Vinci is perhaps still capable of springing an upset or two on her day.

The start of the 2017 season has been far from easy for Vinci, but Timea Babos' confidence can't be in a great place. She has lost in the First or Second Round in six of her last seven tournaments (three First Round losses in the 2017 season) and she also lost both matches at the WTA Elite tournament at the end of the 2016 season. While I have previously mentioned how much I like the Babos game and the expectation she should be an improving player, this is not the best match up for her and even less so when she might be lacking some self-belief.

Vinci has won four of their five previous matches including here in St Petersburg last season in what was a tight Quarter Final decided on a final set tie-breaker. It does have to be said that if Babos is serving well, then this is already looking like a big number for Vinci to cover, but it would take some reversal of recent form for Babos to bring that kind of game to the court.

The indoor conditions shouldn't bother Vinci as the defending Champion in St Petersburg this week and she has a first serve that is under-rated. The backhand wing is there to try and extract errors from her opponents and Babos has been guilty of making plenty of those and I think the Italian is capable of coming through with a 7-6, 6-4 win to move into the Second Round.

Alize Cornet - 2.5 games v Kirsten Flipkens: This has been a match up that Alize Cornet has enjoyed over the past couple of years as she has won five of the last six between herself and Kirsten Flipkens. After a pretty solid start to 2017, Cornet had a disappointing time at the Australian Open and Flipkens might have an edge having come through three Qualifiers to take her place in the main draw in St Petersburg.

That should mean Flipkens is very comfortable in the conditions, although she has needed to win the last two Qualifiers in final set deciders. There hasn't been any days off for the Belgian either and Flipkens had not begun 2017 as well as she would have liked so confidence could still be an issue against a player that has dominated their recent matches.

This feels like a match that will have some twists and turns with neither player dominant behind serve and I think the match is going to hinge on a few big points here and there. That has been the case in some of their recent matches which have fluctuated back and forth and that can be the case when you have an erratic player like Cornet whose highest level is above Flipkens, but who can also produce plenty of trash tennis when she mentally loses focus.

It should be less of an issue when Cornet is playing someone she has dominated in recent matches and I expect that to help her through this one. Flipkens will feel good with three quick wins behind her, but this could be another match filled with long rallies and I expect that gives Cornet a chance to come through with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win.

Ana Konjuh - 1.5 games v Monica Niculescu: There are some similarities with the way this season has begun for both Ana Konjuh and Monica Niculescu as both have reached the Final of a tournament and she gone out of the Australian Open earlier than they would have expected. Now they meet in the First Round in St Petersburg as they look for another strong run in a WTA event.

Ana Konjuh has been tipped to make the next step in her career and the 19 year old has so much potential that she has been able to show off at times. Inconsistent results are not a surprise for a player as young as the Croatian, but there is a feeling she is almost ready to really make a move up the World Rankings and announce herself to casual tennis fans.

She will need to stay in this match mentally because Monica Niculescu can be an awkward and frustrating player to compete against. Unlike most players, Niculescu lives off the slice from the forehand and will look to use her variation and change of speeds on the court to try and frustrate Konjuh and extract errors from her game when the youngster tries to hit through the court.

The layers are pretty much spot on that this is going to be a close match because Konjuh is going to have to work hard to win her points. It is tough to stay in a match mentally when you feel your opponent is frustrating you but I do think it is important that Konjuh has faced Niculescu before because that should make her feel a little more comfortable on the court.

After a three set battle, I will look for Konjuh to have taken control in a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Daria Kasatkina - 2.5 games v Belinda Bencic: One of the more disappointing stories at the Australian Open was the Daria Kasatkina one as she was beaten in the First Round at an event where she looked like she could produce a big impact. There had been a lot to like about the way Kasatkina had been playing in Brisbane and Sydney so her defeat at the Australian Open was one that was not really expected.

This tournament is a chance for Kasatkina to get some of her momentum back but the First Round has pitted her with Belinda Bencic who has been returned to the Tour following an injury hit 2016. Bencic is yet to show she is fully over her health issues having had to pull out early in a match in Sydney and that is going to be tested by Kasatkina.

Bencic showed flashes of what she is capable of by challenging Serena Williams in the First Round at the Australian Open, but that also means she has lost eight of her last nine matches. That has to have an affect on any player's confidence levels and facing someone as good as Kasatkina is going to be another big test for Bencic.

There will be times when she is getting the upper hand in the rallies, but the question is can she do it for long enough to win this match? I am not convinced about that and I think Kasatkina can weather the storm and then start showing her own dominance on the court in what could end up being a 7-6, 6-4 kind of win for the young Russian with a big future on the WTA Tour.

MY PICKS: Roberta Vinci - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Alize Cornet - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ana Konjuh - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Daria Kasatkina - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 0-2, - 4 Units (4 Units Staked, - 100% Yield)

Australian Open Final+ 16.10 Units (168 Units Staked, + 9.58% Yield)

Season 2017+ 6.70 Units (254 Units Staked, + 2.64% Yield)
Season 2016- 5.64 Units (2013 Units Staked, - 0.00% Yield)
Season 2015- 21.81 Units (1812 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
Season 2014+ 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)
Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

Monday, 30 January 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (January 30th)

The Australian Open is in the books and I will have some thoughts about the tournament in the Tuesday 'Tennis Picks' post because I have had a bit of a lazy day.

The Davis Cup First Round is played at the end of this week so there are no ATP tournaments on the calendar this week, but the WTA Tour has two decent tournaments in Taipei City and St Petersburg. I will have some picks from those events and the Davis Cup ties through the week as I look to build on the strong outcome for the picks from the Australian Open.

Daria Gavrilova - 4.5 games v Anna Kalinskaya: It was another good showing at the Australian Open for Daria Gavrilova and I would expect her to be too good for Anna Kalinskaya in the First Round in St Petersburg.

There is potential in the Kalinskaya game having had successes on the Junior circuit and the home crowd are going to be firmly behind her. However it can be a real learning curve in the first few tournaments on the professional Tour and a fighter like Daria Gavrilova is likely to surprise Kalinskaya.

The Gavrilova serve is not the strongest so the young Russian should have some success against her too, but ultimately I do think the more experienced Gavrilova will have a little too much for her.

This has the feeling of a fairly routine 6-3, 6-4 win for Gavrilova.

Kiki Bertens - 4.5 games v Annika Beck: You can't ignore a head to head when one player has won six matches in a row against the other, especially as so many of those Kiki Bertens wins have come in the last twelve months.

She clearly enjoys the match up against Annika Beck and the three wins Bertens had over her since January 2016 have come in straight sets. That includes a 6-1, 6-2 win in Hobart earlier this month and I think Bertens has the mental edge for sure.

Bertens also possesses a better serve and that can see her pull away for a fairly routine win. There are times when Beck plays very good defensive tennis, but her own serve is very vulnerable and Bertens will have the power to penetrate her defences on an indoor hard court.

There will be some moments where Bertens will have to weather the break points she gives up, but she has won at least 50% of the return points in their last three matches. Bertens should have the first strike in the majority of the rallies that these two players have against one another and I think she will come through with a 6-3, 6-4 win.

MY PICKS: Daria Gavrilova - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kiki Bertens - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Australian Open Tennis Day 14 Picks 2017- Men's Final (January 29th)

The Women's Final had all of the emotion that we were expecting prior to Venus Williams and Serena Williams taking to the court, but it lacked the drama once the younger Williams sister settled down in the first set. She managed to do that just quickly enough to avoid going a set down and from the moment Serena moved into a 5-3 lead in the first set, the Final was only going in one direction.

All credit to Venus Williams who fought impressively to stay with Serena as long as possible in the second set, but there were no real alarms for the new World Number 1 as she won an Open era most 23 Grand Slam titles.

The Serena Williams reign looks far from over and she is likely to go into the remaining three Grand Slams as a fairly heavy favourite and much shorter than the price she went off for the Australian Open. It is now up to the rest of the field to show they can bridge the new gap that Serena Williams looked to have produced from the rest, but it is a long season and I would expect Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova in particular to go deep in some of the majors left.

While there was plenty of emotion in the Women's Final on Saturday, I would expect emotions and drama in the Men's Final which looks much more competitive on paper than the Serena v Venus one did.

This might not have been the Final we would have expected at the start of the tournament, but most will be satisfied at getting the chance to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal compete for a Slam title again. It might be the last time we get to see that and I think both players might also feel they won't have a better chance to add to their own personal haul of titles which only intensifies the drama and desire for both.

The last couple of days have been tough for the picks with both falling a little short, but that doesn't distract from a very good tournament with just one more match to come on Sunday.

Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer: This has been a surprising run for both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in getting to another Grand Slam Final at the Australian Open- both are coming back from injuries and perhaps were looking to build into the 2017 season, but they are deserved Finalists and it is the kind of match that will draw the attention of both hardcore and casual tennis fans.

There hasn't been a bigger or better rivalry than Rafael Nadal versus Roger Federer in the last fifteen years although the head to to head is slightly skewed in favour of the Spaniard. It is Nadal with the 23-11 head to head advantage over Federer but it is only 10-9 when they are not playing on the clay courts.

However that is when some statistics can be blinding as most of the Federer wins came earlier in their meetings and Nadal is actually 8-4 in non-clay court matches against the Swiss star since beating him in the Wimbledon Final in 2008. I also think it would be foolish to ignore the fact that Nadal has won all 3 previous matches between these players at the Australian Open and he has won each a little more comfortably.

Their first meeting here was in the Final in 2009 that Nadal managed to win in 5 sets, he then beat Federer in 2012 in 4 sets and 2014 in straight sets.

The question is how Nadal is feeling after a bruising five setter in the Semi Final which was played on Friday, a day after Federer had got through in a five setter himself. The feeling is that both are going to be a little sore from an unexpected run, but neither is likely to be back out on court for at least a couple of weeks (I expect Nadal to pull out of the Spanish Davis Cup team regardless of the outcome of the Final) so I think both will be capable of leaving everything out there.

Nadal was a little up and down with his serve in the Semi Final but that has been a shot that has worked for him through the Australian Open and he has been very good at the big points. For all the 'experts' suggesting this court is playing significantly faster than previous years, I am of the opinion that the Rod Laver Arena is not going to let Roger Federer breeze through his service games like the courts at Wimbledon and the US Open can do.

It certainly won't be the case against a returner of the ability of the Spaniard and Federer did have some issues with the serve against Stan Wawrinka in his own Semi Final. Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori combined had 22 break points against the Federer serve and I think Nadal will fashion his chances.

Mentally I do think Nadal has the edge- Federer might have won their last match in the Basel Final in 2015, but I think Nadal is much healthier than he was back then and Federer is perhaps not at the same level. That snapped a run of five consecutive wins for Nadal of which four had been played on the hard courts including at the ATP World Tour Finals which you would think would favour Federer significantly.

I wouldn't be surprised if Nadal is able to get this done in three or four sets, but I will simply back the Spaniard to take the title home at a decent price. Playing in the second Semi Final doesn't put me off Nadal when you remember he had that epic match in the second Semi Final against Fernando Verdasco in 2009 before winning the title in five sets against Federer two days later.

Back then Federer looked healthier and had come through his own Semi Final in straight sets and I am just a little unsure that he enjoys the matches with Nadal as much he says he does. The Spaniard just has that 'Indian Sign' over Federer and I like Nadal to end his wait for another Grand Slam title on Sunday.

MY PICKS: Rafael Nadal @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 48-36, + 22.10 Units (162 Units Staked, + 13.64% Yield)

Boxing Picks 2017- Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz (January 28th)

Two weeks ago the 2017 Boxing year got off to a huge start with a really good fight between Badou Jack and James Degale and it is a shame we won't get to see that again. The draw does mean Degale can move onto some big domestic fights with the likes of Callum Smith and George Groves and both of those British fighters could have their own World titles to set up big unification fights.

We also saw the start of the Gervonta Davis era as Tank dominated Jose Pedraza before knocking out the former World Champion in the second half of the fight. While Davis is going to be avoiding the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko in the near future, he can start his build towards becoming a big PPV draw with Floyd Mayweather guiding his career.

The big fights continue in January as we get to see Carl Frampton versus Leo Santa Cruz 2 after a classic fight in 2016. This fight is taking place in the early hours of the morning as it will be coming from Las Vegas and it looks a decent undercard too.

However I have to feel sorry for Lee Selby whose own fight in Vegas was cancelled due to his opponent failing to be given a medical license for the event before the weigh-in was expected to take place.

Francisco Vargas vs Miguel Berchelt
Whenever two Mexican fighters are in the ring with one another you have to expect there are going to be moments when both want to stand and trade with each other. That should definitely be the case when two bangers like Francisco Vargas and Miguel Berchelt meet for the WBS Super Featherweight title on Saturday.

Most of the eyes of the boxing world will be on the rematch between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas, but this could be a 'Fight of the Year' contender if Berchelt is as good as advertised.

27 of Berchelt's 30 wins have come by Knock Out and none of his nine previous opponents have managed to get past the Sixth Round since Berchelt's sole loss. He will test Vargas and we will all get to see whether the two huge fights the Champion has had back to back has taken something out of the tank.

Many times in the past these fighters who have become embroiled in too many wars are in danger of having left something in the ring and what was once a pretty tough and granite body and chin just can't take the same punishment as previously. Vargas took some huge shots in his last two fights and I do think he will need to weather the storm that Berchelt will bring into the ring as he tries to establish his own power.

This certainly looks like the kind of fight that steals all of the headlines on a busy Saturday where there are three big fights slated. I have to say I still think Vargas has still got something to offer and he can box his way through the first half of the fight and show off some big power shots of his own as he tries to get a feel for what Berchelt is bringing.

At some point a firefight is going to develop between these two and I am looking for Vargas to get the better of those exchanges. He might need to get off the floor to turn this one around, but I am going to have a small interest on the Champion earning a stoppage in the second half of the fight at a big price.

Dejan Zlaticanin vs Mikey Garcia
Mikey Garcia might only have had one fight in two years, but this looks like the year in which he gets his career moving forward having been stalled by out of the ring issues and injuries. He is the favourite to win the WBC World Lightweight title on Saturday on the undercard of the Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz bill, but Garcia will do well not to overlook Dejan Zlaticanin.

British fight fans should know all about Zlaticanin who upset Ricky Burns as a big underdog which was helped by a huge First Round knock down in the fight. Burns was the better fighter from there, but Zlaticanin is a dangerous southpaw and will pose some problems for Garcia.

The Serbian has a big punch but Garcia should be the better boxer once he figures out a few things early in the fight. There is no doubting the power that Garcia possesses and he looks to be carrying that up to the Lightweight limit and I expect that to be a difference maker in the second half of the fight.

Zlaticanin is tough and he won't be easy to put away, but Garcia is a heavy puncher who puts his combinations together and that can wear down the most granite of men. Garcia definitely looks like he is carrying his punch up a weight after demolishing Elio Rojas in five Rounds even if Rojos is not the fighter he was.

I simply can't see Garcia being able to get Zlaticanin out early as he will be cautious to test the power of his opponent in the first couple of Rounds. I do think Garcia's punches will become more telling as the fight continues and I am looking for him to take Zlaticanin's '0' with a stoppage in the second half of the fight.

Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz
Anyone who saw the first fight between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz must be licking their lips with anticipation for another barnstormer between two fighters who have plenty of pride and wear their hearts on their sleeves. It was Frampton who came away with a deserved decision in Brooklyn although the quality of the Rounds fought made it a close decision.

I expect Frampton to make a few more improvements in this one than Santa Cruz and even the expected home advantage of fighting in Las Vegas won't really be there for the Mexican with plenty of Northern Irish fans heading over to see their hero.

Santa Cruz does have the height and reach advantage over Frampton and has been suggesting he will box a lot more than brawl in this one, but I say a leopard can't change his spots. Especially not after a few months.

That means Santa Cruz will likely press forward to engage Frampton, but the latter has shown he is able to make adjustments and fight when he wants and box when he wants, even on the back foot. I expect the game plan will be to box more than he did in Brooklyn so Frampton can earn a clearer decision on the cards and not jeopardise potential huge fights further down the line.

Both were unbeaten when they fought back in July so I do think Frampton holds a mental edge having come away with the narrow decision. He hurt Santa Cruz in that fight and I think Frampton is going to come away with another win here.

I don't think he will stop Santa Cruz so backing Frampton to earn another decision win over the former Champion is the call.

MY PICKS: Francisco Vargas Win Between 7-12 @ 5.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Mikey Garcia Win Between 7-12 @ 5.00 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Carl Frampton Win by Decision or Technical Decision @ 2.50 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

Boxing Picks 2017: 0-2, - 2 Units (2 Units Staked, - 100% Yield)

Australian Open Tennis Day 13 Picks 2017- Women's Final (January 28th)

The tournament organisers for the Australian Open may not have been able to pick two more popular Finals than the ones that have been set up this season.

There are plenty of easy storylines from the Venus Williams versus Serena Williams Women's Final and the Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal Men's Final that you have to think all eyes of the sporting world will be focused on Melbourne over the next two days.

Whoever is successful over the next couple of days are going to be popular winners and the Australian Open 2017 will go down as one of the more memorable Grand Slams of recent years.

It has also been a very good one for the picks which have produced some very good numbers over the last two weeks after some really poor ones to open the tournament. The turnaround from Day 5 to now has been significant and will be something that will hopefully set the tone for the rest of the 2017 season after a couple of tough years.

Not every week is going to be as good as the one I just had, but the key is to try and limit the damage on those bad weeks and pick up big numbers when things are going the way I have anticipated. That's the perfect way of doing things, but not always as possible as I would want in what is always a long grind to try and get on the right side of the numbers.

Serena Williams - 4.5 games v Venus Williams: When Venus Williams and Serena Williams last played in a Grand Slam Final at Wimbledon in 2009, it was elder sister Venus who went into the Final as the favourite. She had won three of four Wimbledon titles prior to that Final so it was not a big surprise, but it was Serena who came through the stronger and she has continued to dominate women's tennis ever since.

Injury and illness didn't help Venus since 2009, but she did reach two Quarter Finals and one Semi Final at the Slam level in 2010 before those began to really affect her. Up until the Australian Open in 2015, Venus Williams had only reached one Fourth Round as her best result in the Grand Slams in the previous four years.

Things have definitely looked better for Venus Williams in the last two years although this might be the last chance she really has to add to her seven Grand Slam titles. Her run through the draw has been impressive, but Venus is yet to play someone of the level of baby sister Serena and it has been much tougher graft for the 36 year old Venus.

That might take its toll in the Final against an opponent who has been playing very well in the entire tournament. Serena Williams' win over Johanna Konta, and the manner of the win, is the most impressive result either has had in the event and Serena should also be much more rested than Venus having breezed through her last two matches compared with Venus who has had to battle much harder.

There are some similarities in their games with both possessing a powerful serve that can set up the rest of their game, while Venus is better at the net and Serena has the bigger forehand. Baseline rallies should be dominated by Serena for the most part and I do think this is a really big test for Venus and one she is not likely to be able to pass.

Nerves can play a part with Serena on the brink of breaking Steffi Graf's record, while it will be emotional as Serena will likely know Venus won't have a better chance to win another Grand Slam. However I do think Serena has been able to put her attachment to Venus to the back of her mind much more effectively than Venus does and that can be important in deciding the outcome.

Matches between these siblings have tended to be close and competitive with the power on display meaning the player with the first strike tends to dominate. However Serena does tend to get a little more joy out of her serve consistently and I think she will be able to break down the Venus forehand the longer this match goes and I will look for her to win this match with a fairly comfortable margin.

It's been a great run for Venus Williams, but I am looking for Serena Williams to make a bit more history with a 6-4, 6-3 win in the Final on Saturday.

MY PICKS: Serena Williams - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 48-35, + 24.10 Units (160 Units Staked, + 15.06% Yield)

Friday, 27 January 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (January 27-29)

I have already said earlier this week that it has been a tough month for the Football Picks which haven't really had much fortune behind them, but also been guilty of reading matches completely wrong.

It puts the pressure on me to make sure the next four months don't have the same disappointing results if I am going to produce a winning season, but hopefully I can knuckle down and do that.

I am going to put the next two threads, which will cover the FA Cup Fourth Round weekend and then the next round of Premier League games to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, in the January totals and try and at least finish this month with some kind of positive momentum behind me.

The FA Cup Fourth Round will be played from Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon, while there are also five games in the Championship that will be played.

Derby County v Leicester City Pick: The match that will open up the FA Cup Fourth Round weekend comes from The iPro Stadium and an East Midlands derby that will be important to the fans of both Derby County and Leicester City. It looks like a Cup game that might actually mean more to Claudio Ranieri and The Foxes who have really not been able to reach anything close to the levels that took them to the Premier League title in 2016.

The Italian has made it clear that he feels the Cup could give his side the confidence to take into their Premier League games and Leicester City have the benefit of playing on Friday night before their next League game on Tuesday. It should mean Ranieri is able to pick a strong team for this game with the returning Riyad Mahrez back in the squad too.

It is far from an easy game for Leicester City who have lost back to back games by the same 3-0 scoreline at home against Chelsea and then at Southampton. They did come from behind to win at Everton in the Third Round, but Leicester City might need to weather the storm on a cold night in Derby with the home team already owning a victory over Premier League club West Brom in the Third Round.

Derby County have been playing very well at home under Steve McClaren and they will want to get on the front foot, although that could open up some counter attacking possibilities for Leicester City. It should mean this is a good Fourth Round tie as both clubs look to avoid an unnecessary Replay and I do think the layers might have underestimated the chance to see at least three goals shared out on the evening.

The home side have already been beaten heavily by Liverpool in the League Cup here this season and Derby County were beaten 1-3 by Manchester United in the FA Cup in this Round last season. This team looks more confident, but Derby County might not be as secure defensively as they have been for much of the Championship season and instead could rely on attack being the best form of defence against a vulnerable Leicester City team.

Liverpool v Wolves Pick: Jurgen Klopp might have tried to pull the wool over some of Liverpool's fans eyes when suggesting they were almost unlucky to be beaten by Southampton in the English Football League Cup Semi Final Second Leg. Anyone who watched that game would have seen the amount of chances Southampton had before finally putting Liverpool out of their misery in injury time and there has to be some concern that this season is not panning out as it looked like it might a couple of months ago.

Injuries have stretched a small squad and Liverpool will be heading into the weekend having seen their 25 game unbeaten run at Anfield ended last week against Swansea City. So imagine the surprise that Liverpool have lost back to back games at home and I do wonder how strong a team Klopp will pick with this Fourth Round tie coming between the Southampton game in the League Cup and three days before Liverpool host Chelsea.

Make not mistake in thinking that Klopp won't be focusing on the Chelsea game already and it is reasonable to think Liverpool's starting eleven may be more in line with the one that started the Third Round against Plymouth Argyle. Klopp thought that team was good enough to beat a League Two side, so there might be a couple more senior players in this one, but they will likely have the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Roberto Firmino on the bench.

All of that adds up to giving this Wolves team an opportunity and they did win against a full strength Stoke City side at The Bet365 Stadium in the Third Round. Wolves have lost comfortably at Newcastle United and Norwich City in the Championship, but the latter loss came when reduced to ten men and I think Paul Lambert's side can make life difficult for Liverpool in this early kick off.

I will back Wolves with the head start on the Asian Handicap to keep this match close and potentially force a Replay like Plymouth Argyle did in the last Round.

Blackburn Rovers v Blackpool Pick: Blackpool have already taken one Championship scalp by beating Barnsley in a Third Round Replay, and they may feel they can earn another upset when they visit Blackburn Rovers in the Fourth Round. The League Two side come into this weekend with a 6 game unbeaten run away from home behind them, and they have only conceded twice in that time.

That should mean Blackpool come in with some confidence behind them, but Owen Coyle is likely to pick a strong team like he did in the Third Round and this is a club that is still many places higher in the English Football League than their visitors.

Blackburn Rovers do have a League game here on Wednesday with the priority being to try and get out of the bottom three in the Championship, but it would be some change in philosophy if they decide to play a much changed team in this one. They have been scoring plenty of goals at home in recent games, but the problems for Blackburn Rovers remain in defensive areas.

There is no doubt that Blackpool could cause problems here like they did for Barnsley, but they did have to ride their luck to secure the win and even that was earned in the last minute of extra time. I will look for Blackburn Rovers to be a little more clinical in front of goal when the chances do come their way and I will back them to win this match.

Crystal Palace v Manchester City Pick: The FA Cup Fourth Round is being played just days before another round of Premier League games and I expect that will have an impact in the kind of team that Sam Allardyce is going to pick. Crystal Palace have fallen into the bottom three in the Premier League table and the former England manager is yet to show the Midas touch that has saved so many teams from relegation over the years.

Allardyce might have nothing against the FA Cup, but he has shown through his time as a manager in the Premier League that he will make a host of changes to his starting line ups in the competition when threatened with the drop in the League. There is no doubt that Crystal Palace are in some trouble and they have a big game on Tuesday night which might mean key players are left out.

The focus may also be in bringing in new faces and this gives Manchester City a significant edge in this Fourth Round tie. The FA Cup might not be Pep Guardiola's priority either, but he played a strong team in the Third Round and Manchester City have an extra day before they play again in the Premier League on Wednesday.

A strong team crushed West Ham United in London in the Third Round and I think Manchester City will be too good for a Crystal Palace team making changes. Allardyce teams have sometimes exited the FA Cup with a heavy and embarrassing loss, and I think Manchester City win by a couple of goals at least on Saturday.

Lincoln City v Brighton Pick: After beating Ipswich Town in the Third Round Replay in a game where Lincoln City impressed, this is another step up in class for the Conference leaders as they meet Brighton, a team chasing a place in the Premier League. Chris Hughton has made it clear that the FA Cup is a long second place to the Championship in terms of priority and that could give Lincoln City a chance for the upset.

A 3-0 loss at Barrow during the week might have been Lincoln City looking ahead to this big FA Cup Fourth Round tie and they have been much better at home. Lincoln City have won 7 in a row at home in all competitions which includes the win over Ipswich Town, and they do have enough in the squad to cause problems for a second string Brighton team.

That second string team did earn a comfortable win over the MK Dons in the Third Round, but Brighton were at home for that game and this is a different test for them. They also did win 2-4 at Oxford United in the League Cup which shows Brighton are capable of winning at Sincil Bank, while they don't play again until Thursday next week which does suggest they can invest enough energy in this one.

At odds on, Brighton don't really appeal, but I am not sure Lincoln City can spring another surprise. I do think there could be chances at both ends in this Fourth Round tie and it could be an exciting contest and so I do like the chance of seeing at least three goals in this one with perhaps both sides getting on the scoreboard during the contest.

Middlesbrough v Accrington Stanley Pick: Rumours of Aitor Karanka's impending departure has to have filtered down into the dressing room and it will be interesting to see how the players respond over the next few days. Wins over Accrington Stanley and West Brom will put those rumours to bed, but defeats in both might mean the Spaniard is given his papers and Middlesbrough look for a new direction.

This should be a game that Middlesbrough are winning as they face an Accrington Stanley side at the wrong end of League Two. With home advantage Middlesbrough hold all the aces and Karanka played a strong team in the Third Round and has stated he will play another strong line up on Saturday.

Karanka has already pointed out how difficult Accrington Stanley made things for West Ham United in the League Cup when the Premier League club needed an injury time winner to see them off. I imagine Accrington Stanley will look to defend deep and try and make Middlesbrough nervous on the field and in the stands which may open the door for an upset.

However Accrington Stanley aren't playing with a lot of confidence having lost 3 of 4 away games and were beaten easily at Cheltenham Town in their last away game. The League Two side have had a few heavier losses away from home and I think Karanka will use the FA Cup to try and give his side some confidence by winning this game with some comfort and taking that into the Premier League game against West Brom on Tuesday.

Middlesbrough beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 in the Third Round here and I will back them to win by at least a couple of goals in this one too.

Oxford United v Newcastle United Pick: It is not a surprise that Newcastle United are odds on favourites to win this Fourth Round tie at Oxford United when you consider these clubs were playing in the Premier League and League Two Divisions just last season. Even now Newcastle United look set to return to the Premier League and that quality will make it tough for Oxford United to stick with them.

However Oxford United have played well at home this season and they will have been given a boost in confidence by the 4-1 win over Scunthorpe United who are amongst the leading contenders for promotion from League One. They can score goals and will give Newcastle United some problems, although the latter will point to Brighton winning 2-4 here in the League Cup already.

There have been some defensive problems for Newcastle United in recent games which will give Oxford United a chance to spring an upset, but The Magpies score plenty too and this could be a high-scoring Fourth Round tie.

The over 2.5 goals option is a bigger price than the away win and I do think a 2-1 scoreline either way has every chance of hitting so I will look for goals from this one.

Rochdale v Huddersfield Town Pick: Both Rochdale and Huddersfield Town might not really think they can go all the way in the FA Cup, but both teams will be hoping they will be playing at Wembley Stadium at some point this season. That is because both are potential Play Off teams in their respective Divisions and will be hoping they will be good enough to come through for a place in those Play Off Finals at Wembley rather than through a long Cup run.

In saying that, both may look at this fixture as a chance to get into the Fifth Round of the FA Cup and perhaps draw a really big name from the Premier League which can be a reward for the fans, as well as financially. Rochdale have been playing really well and they will have their backers looking for the upset on Saturday, but back to back losses in the League will have dented some confidence and that includes a 0-4 hammering in their last home game against Oxford United.

They are facing a very good Huddersfield Town team who have gotten over a blip in form in November to go on a run of 1 loss in 10 games in all competitions and they have won 7 of those games. They were beaten in their last away game at Sheffield Wednesday, but Huddersfield Town crushed Port Vale from League One in the Third Round and will be confident when they visit the Crown Oil Arena.

I think Rochdale can play their part in this one as they have been able to score plenty of goals at home, but they are also one that concedes too many which makes this a very promising match for the fans. It should be one with plenty of attacking football and one I imagine Huddersfield Town can just edge even after both teams get amongst the goals.

Huddersfield Town have already lost 2-1 at a League One ground in the English Football League Cup when going down to Shrewsbury Town, but they can get on the right side of that scoreline in this one. However, I am not picking the Championship side to win, but to be a part of a game that finishes with at least three goals shared out at almost odds against at a ground where goals have been flowing.

Southampton v Arsenal Pick: The FA Cup might have lost some of its appeal in recent years as clubs up and down the country perhaps use the competition to rest players rather than actually try and win it. That is the case in the early Rounds, but both Southampton and Arsenal should have familiar line ups for this big Fourth Round clash.

Southampton have already reached one major domestic Final, but they might have to make changes to the first eleven when facing an Arsenal team that have had a week to prepare for the game. The FA Cup has proven to be something of a saviour for Arsene Wenger in recent seasons with the two successes in the competition perhaps being a key reason he is still managing Arsenal.

It should mean both clubs give this a go and the only result that neither would enjoy is a Replay during a busy month upcoming.

I am anticipating a decent game for the television cameras as both Southampton and Arsenal have shown they can be a threat going forward. The Saints do have 3 clean sheets in a row at home, but Arsenal have scored in their last 15 games on their travels in all competitions.

On the other hand Arsenal had not had a clean sheet in their previous 9 away games before the win at Swansea City and this is a team that have struggled on the south coast. No wins in 5 previous visits to Southampton shows that, and Arsenal will be in for a test if The Saints can show some composure in front of goal when the chances come their way.

I also think Arsenal will play a part and this could be a very good Fourth Round tie with both teams playing some attacking football that produces at least three goals.

Millwall v Watford Pick: This is not quite a London derby, but that won't mean the intensity is any less at The New Den with a Fourth Round spot up for grabs. Millwall have already seen off one Premier League club in the FA Cup this season and they will be confident they can beat a Watford team who have been struggling to find wins in recent weeks.

Being at home should give Millwall every chance of earning the upset and they will take heart from Gillingham having beaten Watford in the League Cup already. Millwall have scored at least twice in 4 consecutive games at home and that includes beating Bournemouth 3-0 so they will believe that they can get the better of a Watford team who had lost 5 in a row away from home before the 2-2 draw at The Vitality Stadium last week.

The goals scored by Watford at Bournemouth will give them confidence, although I expect the away side to make some changes with a League game to come just two days later.

That will also help Millwall have a chance to cause an upset, but Watford should be able to pose some problems of their own and there could be goals in store. At odds against, that has to be chanced with either team capable of winning this early game 2-1.

Sutton United v Leeds United Pick: There were some disappointed faces at Sutton United that their team had not been picked for a televised game in the Third Round, but that won't be the case in the Fourth Round. Sutton United will receive a huge financial boost from hosting Leeds United in front of the television cameras and there will be some looking for an upset.

That is a big ask for Sutton United who are the lowest team left in the FA Cup and especially in the form Leeds United have been in. They came from a goal down to beat Cambridge United in the Third Round and the one equaliser in this tie might be the artificial surface.

It did cause Wimbledon from League One some problems and Sutton United have lost 1 of their last 15 games here in all competitions which should give them the confidence to take it to their illustrious guests. Leeds United have had some problems defensively in recent games and that has to be an area that Sutton United try to expose, although this is a Leeds United team scoring plenty of goals too.

Those have come at a higher level than playing against Sutton United will be and I think Leeds United will wear them down over the course of the ninety minutes. Much like the Third Round, Leeds United might have to weather an early storm and then come back for the win and so they look a little short at the prices being offered for an away win. Instead I will back there being three goals in yet another FA Cup tie this weekend and back that to b the outcome of the second of three live Sunday Cup offerings.

Manchester United v Wigan Athletic Pick: One trip to Wembley Stadium has already been booked by Manchester United in the League Cup, but they won't want to lose their grip on the FA Cup they won last season yet either. A home tie with Wigan Athletic means Warren Joyce returns to Old Trafford having left at the end of 2016 to take over as The Latics manager, but it is a big ask for him to help his struggling squad earn the upset.

Wigan Athletic are fighting for their lives in the Championship, but they have won 3 in a row heading into this weekend and that has seen them pull themselves out of the bottom three in that Division. Recent seasons have seen Wigan Athletic produce some of their best football in the FA Cup having won the competition in 2013 and reached the Semi Final in 2014, but they had previously been beaten in their first FA Cup tie the last two seasons.

Now they will have to raise their game significantly against a Manchester United team that will make changes, but who will still have a solid base in place as they look to move into the Fifth Round. The 2-1 loss at Hull City on Thursday was a disappointment, but in the grand scheme of things it is a loss they can overcome.

The likes of Antonio Valencia, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial will all be hoping to play a part in this one and Manchester United have been very strong at home in the Cup competitions this season. I picked them to win with a clean sheet in the last Round which means Manchester United have won all 7 home Cup games played this season and 5 of those have come with a clean sheet.

I expect that to be the outcome of this match too as Wigan Athletic have failed to score at Aston Villa and Derby County in recent away games, teams who are expected to challenge for promotion from the Championship to the Premier League. Manchester United have won all 8 previous games at Old Trafford against Wigan Athletic and 7 of those have come with a clean sheet and that feels the most likely outcome from this Fourth Round tie.

Norwich City v Birmingham City PickBoth Norwich City and Birmingham City will look at this fixture as a chance to get a little closer to the Play Off positions in the Championship and perhaps give them some momentum to take into the remaining months of the season. Both came into the season with the belief that they could earn promotion to the Premier League, but both are falling short of their goals.

Birmingham City's owners will take their share of the blame for their current position having replaced a popular and successful manager in Gary Rowett with Gianfranco Zola. The fact they have not won a game since that decision has seen Birmingham City slip down the League table.

On the other hand some Norwich City fans might be hoping their club does decide to dispense of their own manager as Alex Neil has seen his side fall short of their lofty ambitions. However Norwich City have been just good enough at home to stay in touch with the top six places and that is keeping Neil in his current role.

I do think this game being played at Carrow Road gives Norwich City an edge and will see them have enough to win the game. They have been like Jekyll and Hyde depending on where they have been playing, but Norwich City have remained strong at home where they have won 4 of their last 5 League games.

It does have to be said that Birmingham City have earned positive results at Barnsley and Blackburn Rovers in recent away games, but they had to come from 2-0 down to do that at the former while the latter have been struggling at the wrong end of the table. I will look for Norwich City to have a little too much in the final third in this one and I expect them to win this game.

Preston North End v Ipswich Town Pick: These two clubs look to be trending in opposite directions through the next three months and I would be surprised if Mick McCarthy is able to turn things around at Ipswich Town with limited funds available. They have previously come close to earning a promotion to the Premier League, but Ipswich Town look as far away as ever this season with McCarthy feeling some of the pressure.

That isn't the case for Simon Grayson at Preston North End where it feels he is overachieving for a second season in a row since earning promotion from League One. They are not that far off the top six places in the League, but Preston North End don't look like a team that will have the consistency to stay with the teams above them over the coming months.

However I do think Preston North End can earn the win this weekend after impressive performances against Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal and Brighton at Deepdale in recent weeks. All three of those clubs are above Preston North End in the League standings, but the home team could easily have won all three of those games.

Only a late Sheffield Wednesday equaliser saw The Owls come away with a point here while Brighton were seen off and that should mean Preston North End have the confidence levels to win this game. Preston North End came from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw at Aston Villa last weekend too and they look in a better place than Ipswich Town who have lost 5 of their last 6 away from home and failed to score in their last 2.

At just under odds against, I will back the home team to earn the three points.

Queens Park Rangers v Burton Albion Pick: This is an important game for both Queens Park Rangers and Burton Albion who will consider one another relegation rivals as they battle for a big three points on Saturday.

It is a big ask of Burton Albion to avoid finishing in the bottom three and while they have to be respected for the fight shown, it also should be noted they have lost 8 of 9 in all competitions. They have really begun to struggle away from home and now face a Queens Park Rangers team who have produced 10 points from a possible 12 in the League to move away from trouble.

Things aren't completely better for Queens Park Rangers, but it does look like Ian Holloway is getting the best out of a squad of players that have struggled following relegation from the Premier League a couple of seasons ago. You would say Queens Park Rangers are underachieving, but recent wins will have given them a boost in confidence to take into this fixture.

Burton Albion have just had a few more issues at both ends of the field in the last couple of months and I think it will be difficult for them to contain Queens Park Rangers. However this should be a close game because the home team are not exactly watertight at the back having not kept a clean sheet at Loftus Road in their last 7 League games.

That suggests this will be a tight match but I do think Queens Park Rangers are just playing a little better than Burton Albion at the moment and that can make a difference in the match. A tense atmosphere is likely to keep the players on their toes, but Queens Park Rangers can earn a narrow win at odds against.

Reading v Cardiff City Pick: This has all the makings of a tight game on Saturday with Cardiff City likely to come to Reading to make life as difficult for the home team as possible. They had some success doing that to frustrate Brighton on Tuesday, but it was poor finishing from the Championship leaders that prevented them running away with the win.

On the same evening Reading were beating Fulham 1-0 in a big game with Play Off implications and now The Royals are looking to close the gap on the two teams above them. Both Newcastle United and Brighton look very strong, but Reading will hope pressurising them by putting a run of wins together may seen one, or both, teams struggle down the stretch.

Jaap Stam will be focused on his own team which snapped a 3 game losing run in all competitions with the win over Fulham. They were fortunate as Fulham missed a penalty in that game in the 90th minute, but that also means Reading have won 6 of their last 7 at home.

That should give them an edge against a tough Cardiff City side, but one that does concede goals on their travels. As much as Neil Warnock will look to provide a defensive foundation to build upon, Cardiff City have not been at their best at the back and have been conceding too many goals, especially away from home.

Cardiff City do have a very positive record here in recent seasons, but Reading can snap that this weekend at odds against to win another home game.

MY PICKS: Derby County-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Wolves + 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Blackburn Rovers @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Lincoln City-Brighton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Middlesbrough - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Oxford United-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Rochdale-Huddersfield Town Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Southampton-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Millwall-Watford Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Sutton United-Leeds United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Norwich City @ 1.73 Coral (2 Units)
Preston North End @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Reading @ 2.20 Bet365 (2 Units)

January Update: 20-37-1, - 35.26 Units (118 Units Staked, - 29.88% Yield)

December Final38-40, - 7.93 Units (153 Units Staked, - 5.18% Yield)
November Final40-38-3, + 5.76 Units (159 Units Staked, + 3.62% Yield)
October Final29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% Yield)
September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/17180-185-8, + 2.77 Units (708 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)

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

Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)