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United Corner- Manchester United, New Season, Increased Expectations (August 11th)

United Corner- Manchester United, New Season, Increased Expectations (August 11th 2017) If you were going to grade the 2016/17 season...

Friday, 18 August 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (August 19-21)

The second week of the new Premier League season begins on Saturday lunchtime and will be played through to Monday night.

This week is a big one with the Champions League and Europa League Group Stage draws being made on Thursday and Friday respectively and then we get into the final round of domestic League matches before the two international break as the World Cup Qualifiers reach the business end throughout the world.

I hate that international break so soon into the new season, and teams could be trying to gel new faces that have been signed before the transfer window closed. After the long wait for football it feels like we should be allowed to really get our teeth into the new season before having another break, but it does mean the matches will be coming thick and fast in September.

This weekend also sees the beginning of domestic football in the other major European Leagues with Germany, Italy and Spain all getting underway.

It should mean a fun weekend with some top matches to come as we get to see all the top teams in action.

Before we get onto the picks, I will mention the short piece written about Manchester United before the season started. You can read that here and the weekend picks follow below.

Swansea City v Manchester United PickYou don't want to read too much into the opening weekend of a new Premier League season when results can be a little funny as some teams will naturally be further along with their preparation than others. However Swansea City are going to need to be a lot better than they were last weekend if they are going to contain this Manchester United side.

The goalless draw at Southampton may be seen in a positive for the simple fact that Paul Clement's men earned a point from the game. However Southampton had enough chances to win two games of football and only a lack of composure in front of goal prevented them doing that.

Not many will accuse Manchester United of a lack of composure after ripping apart West Ham United at Old Trafford last Sunday. No one will be patting themselves on the back though and Jose Mourinho will know there is room for improvement which I expect Manchester United to make the more the team gels together in the months ahead.

The goals scored by Romelu Lukaku will give him plenty of confidence though and the likes of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba adding goals will be encouraging to Manchester United too. The attacking players at the Liberty Stadium should be encouraged if Swansea City defend as poorly as they did at times at Southampton and I do worry for the home team unless they can make some significant transfer moves before the summer transfer window closes.

Swansea City lost Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton this week and Fernando Llorente is expected to miss out which takes away big attacking options for the home team. They didn't threaten Southampton enough and Manchester United have a strong defensive shape which should lay the foundation for success here.

The home team were beaten by 5 of the top 6 here last season and 4 of those losses have come by at least a couple of goals. 8 of Manchester United's 10 away Premier League wins came by that margin too and I will look for Jose Mourinho's men to make it two wins out of two on Saturday and in impressive fashion too.

Leicester City v Brighton Pick: The last two years have given Leicester City the kind of rollercoaster ride their fans could never have imagined. In fact no one in football would have picked Leicester City as Premier League Champions and then following that up with a run to the Champions League Quarter Final, the best any English club did in the Champions League last season.

Expectations are in a funny place going into the season but most would probably be looking for a top half finish and perhaps a strong run in one of the domestic Cup competitions. Leicester City will also hope to maintain the strong home form of the last couple of seasons which have seen them win 22 of 38 Premier League games here.

Last season Leicester City beat all but one of the teams that finished in the bottom half at the King Power Stadium and they will be confident they can get off the mark for the new season here. Of those 8 wins against teams in the bottom half, Leicester City were able to win 6 of them by at least a couple of goals as their home form proved critical to avoid any relegation concerns.

The Foxes will be hoping to continue the dominance of teams in the bottom half at home when they face Brighton this weekend as the newly promoted side are expected to be fighting to avoid relegation for much of the coming season. Brighton were given a lesson by Manchester City last weekend as to how tough life can be in the Premier League and now they have to head to Leicester City which has proved to be one of the stronger home teams in the Division over the last couple of years.

The layers seem to have recognised that with the price on offer for a Leicester City win, but I will look to back them on the Asian Handicap. A one goal win will offer a profit, but a win by a wider margin could provide solid profits and Leicester City showed last season they can beat the 'lesser' teams in the Premier League at home by comfortable margins.

The goals scored last week will give Leicester City more belief although they will feel they can handle Brighton's attack much better than they did against Arsenal. I will look for The Foxes to come through with a relatively comfortable win on the day and perhaps send Chris Hughton and Brighton searching for further squad members ahead of the transfer window closing.

Liverpool v Crystal Palace Pick: A big week is coming up for Liverpool with three games in a row at Anfield which can see them make a really positive start to the new Premier League season as well as earn them a place in the Champions League Group Stage. Jurgen Klopp would love to have complete focus on that, but the Philippe Coutinho situation looks likely to continue to dominate his press conferences despite the obvious irritation the German has towards that line of questioning.

At least Liverpool are coming into the weekend off a really positive win in Hoffenheim during the week to erase the memory of the 3-3 draw with Watford which saw Liverpool concede a late equaliser. The attacking performances in both fixtures will give the fans plenty to be excited about, but defensively Liverpool still look way short of the standards you would expect.

Set pieces have been a real bugbear for Klopp's Liverpool to deal with and Crystal Palace do have the size and quality to expose that vulnerable underbelly of the Liverpool defence. However Frank de Boer's new system is going to take some time for the players to be comfortable in and they showed that in their heavy loss to Huddersfield Town last weekend.

David Wagner is from the same school of thought as his 'best man' Klopp and I expect Liverpool to press from the front and look to exploit mistakes in the Crystal Palace passing game as Huddersfield Town did. With the added quality Liverpool have in the final third, I think there is every chance Liverpool can punish The Eagles as effectively as Huddersfield Town did and it could be a long day in the office for the visitors.

Losing Wilfried Zaha takes away a real counter attacking threat from Crystal Palace and I would be really surprised if they could make it four Premier League wins in a row at Anfield. Christian Benteke hurt his former club last season with two goals here, but he will need better all around service than last week and I think Liverpool will be too good on the day.

Even without Coutinho Liverpool have shown they can create chances and score goals and I expect them to do that here at Anfield. The home side can get this week off to a perfect start as Liverpool expose a Crystal Palace still getting settled into Frank de Boer's system and I will look for them to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

Southampton v West Ham United Pick: There is plenty of room for improvement for both Southampton and West Ham United after their opening weekend performances in the Premier League. It will be Mauricio Pellegrino who is feeling better than Slaven Bilic going into the week, but there definitely feels like there was more expectation at West Ham United than Southampton.

Having to reverse fixtures due to the athletics at the London Stadium is not ideal for West Ham United even if they have been one of the better away sides in the Premier League over the last two seasons. After the thumping at Manchester United, Bilic may have wanted to get back home in front of their own supporters, but this is out of his hands now.

West Ham United do have a solid enough recent record at St Mary’s and you have to expect an all around better defensive performance than the one produced last Sunday. They will need that as I can’t see Southampton lacking as much composure in the final third as they did in their goalless draw with Swansea City.

It may have been a pretty easy day in the office for Southampton if their strikers had not left their shooting boots on a beach somewhere over the summer. In fact it has been longer than that as Southampton have now failed to score in 6 consecutive home Premier League games which makes it very hard to trust them here.

The odds on quote looks to be all about how the teams have been perceived to have performed last weekend with Southampton a little unfortunate and West Ham United outplayed. However the early weeks of a new season can see performances fluctuate wildly and these teams are perhaps more evenly matched than the layers think.

Southampton as an odds on favourite shouldn’t appeal with the struggles in front of goal, although they created enough chances to be respected. Defensively they have looked sound for the most part and a West Ham United side without Manuel Lanzini may not have the guile to break The Saints down, even without Virgil Van Dijk to call upon.

It feels like this is going to be a close match between these teams and one goal may be enough to decide with the current shyness in front of goal. Picking a winner doesn’t look straight forward but backing two or fewer goals to be shared out looks the call.

Before last season, 5 consecutive games between Southampton and West Ham United on the south coast ended with two or fewer goals and I will look for that trend to get going again on Saturday.

Stoke City v Arsenal Pick: You could almost hear the rustling of paper and cardboard being put away frantically when Arsenal took the lead against Leicester City late in the game last weekend. A vocal minority may have been ready to blast Arsene Wenger and the team when trailing 2-3, but there are more positives which come after a 4-3 opening weekend win.

That hasn’t stopped the layers putting the Arsenal price on the drift this weekend with the poor defending looking like it may play into the Stoke City hands. Set pieces proved to be a real achilles heel for the Arsenal defence last week and that is one area where you would think Stoke City will be able to cause plenty of panic.

Per Mertesacker’s likely availability will help Arsenal, but they have to defend better as a unit if they are going to avoid a defeat here. However if they can get the defending right from set pieces, visiting Stoke City isn’t as daunting as it once was and Arsenal could win here.

They did that very effectively at the end of last season with a 1-4 win here and Arsenal will feel they have the attacking threats to hurt Stoke City even without Alexis Sanchez. Last week they scored four goals from four different sources and Stoke City were massively outplayed by Everton while looking short of confidence.

Mark Hughes is likely to be active in the transfer window over the next couple of weeks, but this current Stoke City squad look short. The change in style means it has become easier to play here for the big clubs and Hughes has to be concerned that Stoke City didn’t beat any team at home that finished above them in the Premier League table.

In fact Stoke City had just 1 win overall against a team that finished higher in the League table and were beaten by the top 5 here at the Bet365 Stadium. They have usually caused plenty of problems for Arsenal but a weaker looking squad that may be short of confidence and only three months ago took a beating from The Gunners is perhaps ripe for the taking.

There is every chance this price drifts a little more to become even more attractive, but I will lock in Arsenal now and back them to win for a second season in a row at a venue they haven’t enjoyed too much.

Huddersfield Town v Newcastle United Pick: A lot of teams will struggle to beat Tottenham Hotspur this season, but Newcastle United fans have to be worried about the standard of the current squad at the club. After earning promotion last season, there was a hope that huge investment would be made but both Rafa Benitez and the fans have been disappointed.

Moves may be made before the end of the transfer window, but this current squad looks short of the standard required in the Premier League. It was the main reason I picked Newcastle United to be one of the sides relegated from the Premier League this season and there has to be a concern that confidence has been knocked ahead of this second game of the season.

The match with Huddersfield Town may be more to Newcastle United's liking when you think how well they played against Championship opposition for much of last season. They won here in the second half of the season which was a part of their best away record in the Division and Newcastle United will feel they can create chances against a Huddersfield Town that will push forward to score the goals to win games.

However Newcastle United have to remember Huddersfield Town had the energy to beat them at St James' Park twelve months ago and the high press worked wonders that day. David Wagner's tactics created errors in the Crystal Palace game which helped Huddersfield Town win comfortably and they will feel they can expose the injuries in the Newcastle United defence.

Jonjo Shelvey's ridiculously selfish sending off has shorn Newcastle United of some of their better quality players and you can see why the home team are favoured. However Newcastle United played well away from home against the top teams which included winning in Brighton and here and they showed they can create chances in those games.

I do expect a more positive approach from Newcastle United than the one they had last Sunday and I expect the players to be more comfortable against the level they face this week. I also think Huddersfield Town will be very positive in the tactics that David Wagner will send his team out with and this could make this a more exciting game than the layers are anticipating.

Both League games between the two teams featured at least three goals last season and I will look for a positive approach from both teams to see that outcome reached at a big price this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea Pick: When the fixture list came out in June this was obviously the biggest game in the Premier League in the second week of the new season. Unsurprisingly it was quickly snapped up for television coverage, although Chelsea do come in with more problems than most would envision for the defending Champions.

Injury and suspension have shorn Chelsea of some of their key players, while Diego Costa has been ostracised and decided he won’t even return to the training ground. Selling off players like Nemanja Matic have upset Antonio Conte who has been desperate in calling for reinforcements before the transfer window closes.

All in all this has made Chelsea look vulnerable and the 2-3 home defeat to Burnley would have been another shock to the system.

The question is are Chelsea on the brink of imploding as they did in Jose Mourinho’s final season two years ago, or can Conte right the ship?

I think the latter will eventually occur once some of these early season injuries and suspensions clear up, and I do expect Chelsea to be active in the transfer market in the next two weeks. However this fixture may come a little too soon for The Blues and I am expecting Tottenham Hotspur to take advantage.

Tottenham Hotspur were not at their fluid best at Newcastle United last weekend until Jonjo Shelvey saw the red mist descend, but you can’t worry too much about performances in the early stages of a season. They have the more settled starting line up who will be familiar with the jobs expected of them and I think that makes more of a difference than anything else this weekend.

Obviously playing at Wembley Stadium rather than White Hart Lane changes some of the dynamics of the fixture, but this may be the best way for the players to believe in their new ‘home’ by winning their opening League fixture here.

I don’t want to read too much into Chelsea’s loss to Burnley when everything seemed to conspire against them. However losing Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas to suspension is a big blow for Antonio Conte and I think some unfamiliarity with the new partnerships at the heart of the defence and midfield goes against them.

I do think Chelsea have a reaction, but Tottenham Hotspur look the more settled squad and I will look for them to win this fixture at odds against.

Manchester City v Everton Pick: Last weekend we opened the Premier League season with the first Friday Night Football of the season and this weekend we have the first Monday Night Football. It looks a good game on paper and one that will perhaps show what we are going to come to expect from Manchester City and a new look Everton team during the course of the season.

There has been a lot of talk about the improvement Everton have made, but I will be honest and say I would be surprised if they finished in the top six. It would need one of those clubs to really have a poor season, like Chelsea did two years ago, for that to happen and I don’t believe this Everton starting eleven is better than the one they had back in May.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is a good purchase, but I struggle to see him getting into the first eleven of any of the teams that finished above Everton last season.

With that in mind I think Everton may have to settle for a decent Cup run or two and another 7th placed finish in the Premier League. I think that could be highlighted here against a Manchester City team who look strong and with options for Pep Guardiola which is going to make it tough to contain them for the full ninety minutes.

Manchester City won’t have a cakewalk to the Premier League title, because no team really achieves that, but I think they will be much improved from last season if everyone remains fit and healthy.

The big failure for Manchester City last season was the fact they beat only 1 of the top 8 clubs at the Etihad Stadium. However the performances in those games does bode well for them and a little better composure in front of goal and things would have looked a lot brighter for them. Keeping Vincent Kompany fit is huge for them but I do expect better from Manchester City in the big games this time around.

Everton were beaten at 6 of the top 9 clubs last season and half of those losses came by at least two goals. They are an organised team under Koeman which can make Everton tough to beat, but I am expecting the Manchester City pressure to pay off in this one and the home team can wear down their visitors.

I am expecting Manchester City to massively improve the home scoring this time around and I will look for them to beat Everton by a couple of goals in this one.

Bristol City v Millwall Pick: The Championship is already proving how highly competitive it is going to be this season and I have struggled to find any picks I am confident about from the fourth round of fixtures this weekend.

At this stage a watching brief can be the best way forward as teams continue to find new faces to bring in with the transfer window still a couple of weeks away.

The one pick that did stand out comes from Ashton Gate where Bristol City will host Millwall in what feels like could be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. Both Lee Johnson and Neil Harris like to see their teams go forward in search of goals and so far both Bristol City and Millwall have responded.

However neither has looked completely sure of themselves at the back and that should mean chances are created throughout this match. Millwall’s lack of composure against Nottingham Forest in their one away game this season is a concern with some gilt-edged chances missed in that one, but they have since scored 6 goals in 3 home games.

Bristol City have managed at least two goals in 3 of their 4 games this season, but have also only kept a single clean sheet.

With both teams likely circling this kind of fixture as one they ‘can win’, I will look for an exciting, attacking game to develop and at least three goals shared out between them.

Girona v Atletico Madrid Pick: The opening games in every League around Europe can be difficult for every club with the fitness issues meaning the differences in quality between clubs might not always show up.

We do get surprise results and you have to be wary of those, but I do think Atletico Madrid will be too good for the new boys Girona especially having kept Diego Simeone and Antoine Griezmann around.

The transfer ban is a problem in terms of Atletico being able to get closer to Real Madrid and Barcelona domestically, but they still look to be the third best team in Spain.

I expect their continuity will help early in the season and I do think Atletico Madrid will have a little too much experience for Girona to deal with. Girona have worked wonders to make their debut season in the Primera Division and being linked with Manchester City may mean some key players arrive before the transfer window closes to aid them in staying in this Division.

That has to be the only goal for Girona this season, but they are not coming up with a lot of momentum having struggled down the stretch in the Segunda Division. Some of that may have been down to feeling the pressure of earning promotion, but I do wonder if they will be able to compete with the higher level of the Primera Division.

Facing a side who pride themselves on being defensively organised will be a challenge for Girona and Atletico Madrid have had 21 clean sheets in their last 38 away League games.

I expect they can get another one here and I will look for Atletico Madrid to open their season with a narrow win. That should be based on a clean sheet too and I will back Atletico at odds against to win with one of those in the pocket.

Deportivo v Real Madrid Pick: The absence of Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t bother Real Madrid as they brushed Barcelona aside for the second time in a number of days in the Spanish Super Cup. A team who has won four trophies in their last five games has to be full of confidence even without their talisman and Real Madrid are strong favourites to get their season off to a positive start in the Primera Division.

It’s hard to see Deportivo really being able to stay with Real Madrid even if they did beat Barcelona here last season. This is a team who have generally been struggling since returning to the top flight and I am not sure this season is going to be much different for them.

Deportivo were able to raise their game against the top clubs last season, but they have not been able to compete with Real Madrid who bring plenty of firepower to the table.

That feels like being the difference again even if the layers are not so sure without Ronaldo playing. I still think Real Madrid have enough talent to win here by a couple of goals for the fourth season in a row since Deportivo returned to the top flight.

Real Madrid have had competitive matches under their belt which should mean they are to ready to come out of the traps in the Primera Division and they may catch Deportivo out here. The chances Real Madrid create should ensure they have every chance of covering the Asian Handicap on the opening weekend of the season and I will back the current Spanish and European Champions to do that.

MY PICKS: Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.89 Bet365 (2 Units)
Southampton-West Ham United Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Coral (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bristol City-Millwall Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid Win to Nil @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Real Madrid - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)

August 2017/18 Update: 14-14-2, + 0.92 Units (42 Units Staked, + 2.19% Yield)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (August 15-17)

After what has felt a long wait to bring back Premier League Football, fans all over the country had to be excited about the potential of the season ahead after seeing some of the football played on the opening weekend.

Only Chelsea disappointed out of the leading contenders for the Premier League title, while there is a renewed optimism about being a Manchester United going into the season which will only have increased after the impressive dismantling of West Ham United.

I wrote a short piece about Manchester United and the new season before the weekend and that can be read here.

About the only thing that bothers me about the beginning of the season is the awfully early international break which comes at the end of this month which means a break between Sunday 27th August and Saturday 9th September. Before that we will see the draw for the Champions League/Europa League Group Stage and also the Third Round of the League Cup in England which means the fixture list begins to be filled up going through to the Christmas period.

At least in England we get three rounds of top flight football before the international break, which is far better than Germany, Italy and Spain whose top Divisions begin this weekend and only have the two rounds of games.

It was a mixed bag of results from the weekend football which produced a slight profit, although August has yet to really get going. This midweek we have the First Legs of the Champions League and Europa League Play Off Round ties to be played before we go into the weekend and more Premier League and top flight football.

In this thread I will have picks from the Champions League and Europa League Play Off Round ties which are played from Tuesday through Thursday night.

Hoffenheim v Liverpool Pick: Getting into the Champions League Group Stage is where the financial reward of this competition is really met and next season finishing 4th in the Premier League or Bundesliga will mean direct entry into the Group. That doesn't help either Hoffenheim or Liverpool going into the 2017/18 Champions League as they have to negotiate this Play Off Round if they want to get into the Group Stage which begins next month.

The two Legs over the next week are vital for both clubs although the pressure is likely to be on Liverpool with the past European history they hold. For Hoffenheim this is a maiden European adventure and they will be hoping to build on what was a stunning Bundesliga campaign.

The home Leg is likely to be critical for Hoffenheim having been unbeaten here in the League last season and beating the likes of Bayern Munich in the process. Losing a couple of key players in Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy is going to be difficult for Hoffenheim to replace and they are facing someone who will be familiar in their style when Jurgen Klopp brings Liverpool to town.

It is an important First Leg for Liverpool too who have not been at their best in recent away European ties. Things have been much different at Anfield and Liverpool have to come here looking for at least an away goal and making sure they have a slight edge when returning home next week.

It would be a surprise if Liverpool are not able to create chances with the pace they have in the final third and the likely space they are going to see in the away Leg. Liverpool should have a chance to play counter attacking football, although there will be a concern with how they have defended at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Goals look to be the outcome of this one and I would be a little surprised if there aren't at least three shared out by these two teams. I considered backing Hoffenheim with the start on the Asian Handicap, but the loss of Sule and Rudy means I am less sure about them. However they will have to attack at home and will likely create chances against a Liverpool defence that still needs some work, while the Liverpool pace in the final third is a threat to any club they face.

The layers are of the same mind, but I will back at least three goals to be shared out in this First Leg.

Sporting Lisbon v Steaua Bucharest Pick: After some of the recent defeats Steaua Bucharest have had at this stage of the Champions League, you can understand why Sporting Lisbon are considered such strong favourites to win this Play Off Round tie. Being at home in the First Leg gives Sporting Lisbon the chance to put themselves in a strong position ahead of the trip to Romania next week, but Steaua Bucharest will think their recent experiences in the Qualifiers can help them achieve the upset.

It is asking a lot from Steaua Bucharest, but they have shown some attacking intent when playing away from home in Europe. Earning an away goal here will give Steaua Bucharest a chance in the Second Leg, but the majority of the play is going to come from Sporting Lisbon.

Anything other than a Sporting Lisbon win will be a real surprise, but the Asian Handicap might be a tough one for them to cover. Sporting Lisbon have had 1 clean sheet from their last 8 home European ties although the majority of those games have come against teams that were considered stronger than Steaua Bucharest.

Even with that in mind, Sporting Lisbon may offer Steaua Bucharest some chances in this one, although the home team should have enough in the final third to score the goals to win this one. This is a team that has scored plenty of goals in home European ties against teams outside of the European elite in recent years and I am looking for this Champions League Play Off tie to also produce at least three goals on the night.

Both teams scoring is not of the question in this one, but there is always the possibility that Sporting Lisbon dominate the tie completely and overall it feels like a fixture that will produce at least three goals.

Celtic v Astana Pick: There will be familiarity with this Play Off Round tie in the Champions League having paired Celtic and Astana together twelve months ago in the Third Qualifying Round. On that occasion the Second Leg was played here at Celtic Park, but this time around the teams will meet in Kazakhstan in the Second Leg which does change some of the dynamics of the tie.

It is a big tie for both Celtic and Astana having dominated their domestic League and knowing the financial rewards that come with a place in the Champions League Group Stage. That increases the pressure on both teams and I imagine this is going to be a tight tie over the next two weeks with both Celtic and Astana confident in their chances to progress.

The injuries in the Celtic team have to be a concern when you think how close this tie was twelve months ago. It took an injury time penalty for Celtic to come through 3-2 on aggregate although the players may come in with more confidence than they did back then having played so well in the last twelve months.

Celtic have been very good in home Qualifiers having won 7 in a row before the home draw with Rosenborg in the Third Qualifying Round. They didn't play well in that game, but Celtic have Leigh Griffiths back in contention which should give them better balance going forward.

You have to respect Astana who are going to be playing in the Group Stage of a European competition for the third season in a row which is unprecedented for a side from Kazakhstan. Everything for them depends on the First Leg as they have lost 5 of their last 7 away European ties but at the same time have won 3 of 7 at home against those same teams.

Keeping it tight may be the play for Astana and I imagine they will be looking to frustrate Celtic. They should have some chances considering the injuries Celtic have at the heart of their defence, but I do think Celtic will have the majority of the play on the day and have shown they can pick up some real momentum when playing at home.

It may be a risk when you think how close it was when they played last season, but this time I am looking for Celtic to have enough to win by a couple of goals to put themselves in a strong position ahead of next week. I will back the Scottish Champions to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

Hapoel Be'er Sheva v Maribor PickThis is a huge Play Off Round tie for both Hapoel Be'er Sheva and Maribor with the carrot of entering the Champions League Group Stage in front of them. Both teams will be going into a section with some huge names from European Football and the chance to host those names will only increase the pressure on the teams in the two ties to be played over the next seven days.

The home Leg is likely to be very important for both teams and I do give Hapoel Be'er Sheva the edge in the First Leg. They have won all 5 home Champions League Qualifiers played over the last thirteen months and the experience of reaching the Europa League Knock Out Round last season will surely help.

By the same token Hapoel Be'er Sheva have not been very good when playing away from home and so they have to have a lead to take to Maribor next week. Maribor have to be given their dues having won both away Champions League Qualifiers this season but they had lost 4 of 7 away European ties prior to this campaign.

The heavy losses at Astana and Qabala have to be a concern though and Hapoel Be'er Sheva have shown they are capable of winning home ties with some comfort. Both Celtic and Ludogorets Razgrad are experienced European teams who have lost by a couple of goals here over the last twelve months and I do think Hapoel Be'er Sheva will win this one.

Backing them to find a way to win by a couple of goals on the day at odds against looks the way to go. Maribor's last 4 away European losses have come by at least two goals each time and I think Hapoel Be'er Sheva will have the majority of the play in this First Leg and create the majority of chances.

Maribor will be looking to be in the tie when the Second Leg is played at their own home next week, but I will look for Hapoel Be'er Sheva to take a big step towards a first appearance in the Champions League Group Stage.

Napoli v Nice Pick: Both Napoli and Nice would have been hoping for an 'easier' Play Off Round tie in the Champions League than the one they have been handed. It is the Italian side who will go into the tie as the favourites to reach the Group Stage, but Nice showed last season that they are able to keep up with the likes of Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain domestically.

However they have made a relatively poor start to the 2017/18 season with no wins from their first 4 games in all competitions and needing a late equaliser in Amsterdam to get the better of Ajax. Back to back defeats to open the League campaign will have dented confidence, although Nice have to hope they can catch Napoli cold in their first game of the new campaign.

That may be a big ask considering how Napoli have kept their squad together this season compared with the last summer transfer window. A squad that knows exactly what is required of them could go very far in Serie A this season and Napoli are filled with goals which will make them dangerous to teams in the Champions League.

Better defensive performances are still required from Napoli if they are going to compete with the very best clubs, but this is a team who will be very good this year. Being at home in the First Leg should give Napoli enough of an advantage to build a lead in this tie before heading to the south of France next week.

With the goals they have in the squad and Nice's early season struggles, I think Nice will be looking to stay in the tie for as long as possible. However they were beaten comfortably in Schalke and Krasnodar away from home last season and I think Napoli will prove too good on the day.

It is a risk backing a team to win with a margin when playing their first game of the season, but I think Napoli have enough goals to have a healthy lead before the Second Leg and I will look for them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Milan v Shkendija Pick: When I was growing up, the standard setters for the top European clubs came from Italy and the leading team were Milan who won five of their seven European Cups between 1989 and 2007. It is quite strange to see Milan in the Europa League rather than the Champions League and even stranger to think they have not played in Europe at all over the last four years.

Things look to have changed for Milan with new investment in the club which has seen them sign some quality players and be linked with a number more before this transfer window closes. They have improved their League position three years in a row in Italy but it still may take some time to really see Milan restore their name alongside the very best in European Football.

Getting into the Champions League is the goal for the season for Milan, but they won't want to drop the Europa League at this stage of the campaign. Milan were comfortable winners in the Third Qualifying Round and they are big favourites to beat Shkendija in the Play Off Round for a place in the Europa League Group Stage.

Shkendija have won three Qualifying ties in a row for the second season in a row having previously lost all four Qualifying ties in European competition. The step up in class in this Play Off Round is going to be tough to bridge for Shkendija and I think Milan are likely going to win comfortably with a few more of their bigger signings likely to earn a start ahead of the Serie A season beginning.

Covering the Asian Handicap is likely to happen for Milan, but I think the key will be to ensure they don't offer up an away goal and backing the Italian giants to win with a clean sheet is the call.

Ajax v Rosenborg Pick: Both Ajax and Rosenborg will have been hugely disappointed to go out of the Champions League in the Third Qualifying Round but have a chance to make it into the Europa League Group Stage.

Ajax reached the Europa League Final last season so will be hoping for another deep run in the tournament, although they have lost some key players from that squad that reached Stockholm. Home form is going to be critical for Ajax who won all 7 home Europa League games last season, but whose 2-2 draw at the Amsterdam Arena against Nice meant they were beaten on away goals in the Champions League Third Qualifying Round.

There will be confidence in the Ajax ranks that they can win this First Leg at home, especially when you think how difficult things have been for Rosenborg in recent away European ties. Rosenborg were unbeaten in draws at Dundalk and Celtic in the Champions League this season, but previously they had lost 5 away games in a row and that has to be a concern.

You can understand why Ajax are such strong favourites in the First Leg, but this is a team that is going to be missing Davinson Sanchez and may be a little vulnerable defensively. However Ajax will also believe they have the attacking talent to take the game to Rosenborg and this could be one of the higher scoring games in the First Legs of the Europa League Play Off Round.

I do think Rosenborg can play their part too and I will back at least three goals to be shared out by the teams on Thursday.

Osijek v Austria Vienna Pick: You have to imagine both Osijek and Austria Vienna are looking at this tie as a good one in their bid to get into the Europa League Group Stage. Anything other than a close one that is decided next week in Vienna would be a real surprise.

The home Leg is going to be important for both teams and I do think Osijek can force a narrow advantage even if they have to work hard to get it. Playing at home has been important for them so far in the Europa League with 3 straight wins here, including one over PSV Eindhoven, but Osijek may have to raise their game again to get the better of Austria Vienna.

I have to respect the fact that Austria Vienna have won 5 of their last 7 away European ties over the last fourteen months which includes in all 4 Qualifying ties they have played in that time. They have even overcome poor home Legs in that time by winning in Spartak Trnava and AEL Limassol after failing to do that in the home First Leg, while last season 4 of their 5 Group Stage points came on their travels.

That makes Austria Vienna a dangerous team to face for Osijek who are not blessed with a lot of European experience. However the wins over PSV Eindhoven both home and away shows a team that is confident in their own chances and I think Osijek can continue the fine form they have been displaying at the start of the 2017/18 season.

It won't come easy, but Osijek to hold a narrow lead when travelling to the Austrian capital next week is my pick.

Partizan Belgrade v Videoton Pick: It can be difficult for teams to accept that they are not able to match others in Europe despite being one of the best in their domestic League. That is what Partizan Belgrade have had to face in the Champions League, but the Serbia Champions will be favoured to get past Videoton in this Play Off Round Qualifier.

The First Leg in Belgrade is going to be very important for Partizan Belgrade and they did have a long winning run at home snapped in the Champions League by Olympiacos. However the bigger worry may have been the League defeat here by Vozdovac, while they are facing a Videoton team who have gotten the better of Bordeaux in the Europa League already.

Videoton have been one of the better teams in Hungary in recent seasons but they have not worked their way through the Qualifiers to get into the Europa League Group Stage for some time. The win over Bordeaux will give them confidence and the key for Videoton is to still be in the tie when heading back home for the Second Leg next week.

They should be able to do that, although I do think they may be faced with a narrow deficit after the First Leg. Partizan Belgrade tend to play their best football at home and I will be looking for them to find enough in the final third to have a lead in the Second Leg, although Videoton may eventually show a little more to go through to the Group Stage.

Everton v Hajduk Split Pick: At this stage of the season this is far from an easy tie for Everton despite being big favourites to see of Hajduk Split. The new arrivals will take time to gel into a team and Ronald Koeman has previous in failing to get into the Europa League Group Stage when falling short with Southampton.

However Everton are facing a team in Hajduk Split who have found the Play Off Round a little too good for them in each of the last three seasons. They have won plenty of Qualifiers in that time, but dropping out in this Round shows there may be a ceiling as to how strong Hajduk Split can be.

I do think they can make life difficult for an Everton team who have yet to find the fluency they would have liked in the final third. However Everton have also looked decent in defensive positions and will be looking for a fourth straight clean sheet to open the season which will put them in a strong position for the Second Leg in Croatia next week.

Ideally Everton would win this by a couple of goals, but Koeman is still looking to bring in reinforcements in the final third which can make up for the loss of Romelu Lukaku.

Instead Koeman may take a pragmatic approach to the First Leg and ensure Everton at least have a clean sheet which would put them in a strong position for the Second Leg. Having a narrow lead will mean Everton improve their position too and I think that is what they will ultimately have to settle for so I will back Everton to win this one with a clean sheet.

MY PICKS: Hoffenheim-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sporting Lisbon-Steaua Bucharest Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Celtic - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Hapoel Be'er Sheva - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.09 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Napoli - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Milan Win to Nil @ 1.61 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Ajax-Rosenborg Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Osijek @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Partizan Belgrade @ 1.86 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)

Everton Win to Nil @ 2.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

August 2017/18 Update: 8-10-1, - 0.72 Units (25 Units Staked, - 2.88% Yield)

Monday, 14 August 2017

Cincinnati Masters Tennis Picks 2017 (August 14th)

Back to back Masters/Premier Event tournaments at this time of the season is all about preparation for the US Open.

Last week Alexander Zverev and Elina Svitolina took home the big titles in Canada and both have already shown they are capable of going all the way in New York. The former is one of the top young players on the Tour and looks to have taken a step ahead of some of his peers, while Svitolina will know how open the women's event at Flushing Meadows is going to be as it was at Wimbledon.

This week in Cincinnati the conditions are going to be quicker and this will play into the hands of the aggressive players, although the men's event may be missing yet another of the big names. Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray are already absent, but I will be surprised if Roger Federer takes part having had a few physical issues in the Montreal Final and the US Open only a couple of weeks away from getting going.

On Monday the First Round matches begin in both draws and I am going to have some picks from those matches scheduled.

Unfortunately time has been an issue so I will just have the picks from the matches below.

MY PICKS: Donald Young - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kyle Edmund - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Petra Kvitova - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Madison Keys @ 1.83 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

Friday, 11 August 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (August 11-13)

After what has felt like an age, the Premier League season is finally back.

I hate these years without a major international tournament as my football fix just cannot be fed, but next summer we have the World Cup Finals and we have all survived through the bleak last three months.

Excitement and optimism is in the air around the country and hopefully this is going to be another excellent season.

I have also written about the new season at Manchester United and the excitement most fans are feeling about the new campaign here.

With the start of a new Premier League season, this is considered the time for predictions for the season. While things can change quickly, this is my prediction for the upcoming Premier League season followed by picks from the opening weekend of the season.

Champions: Manchester City- this is a team with the best squad in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola has had a season to understand the Premier League and the differences between managing a top club in this Division compared with La Liga and the Bundesliga and the signings made make Manchester City more well rounded and a younger squad than the one Guardiola was working with last season.

Keeping Vincent Kompany fit may be the key, but the attacking talent is mouthwatering and Manchester City should be more clinical in front of goal which leads to a first title since 2014.

Champions League Places: Manchester United- I think Manchester United will finish behind Manchester City but will push them all the way. Jose Mourinho's side weren't far away from a much better season in the League last season and Romelu Lukaku can join up with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba to provide more goals going forward and turning draws into wins.

Defensively United have options and Nemanja Matic is a huge boost to the squad. If United can purchase a left sided attacking player, they may even have enough to win the title for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

You can read more about my Manchester United thoughts here.

Tottenham Hotspur- this is all about keeping the first eleven fit, which is a tough ask for Tottenham Hotspur. Playing at Wembley instead of White Hart Lane should see them slip back from last season, but they have enough in the first eleven to finish in the Champions League spots again.

Injuries could be a big problem barring some big investment in the remaining days of this transfer window.

Liverpool- everything depends on keeping Philippe Coutinho. Keep him and Liverpool should mount a title challenge but a lack of squad depth will likely mean a top four finish. Mohammed Salah is a good signing and if Sadio Mane remains fit they should be there or thereabouts as long as their Brazilian playmaker stays at the club.

Europa League Places: Chelsea- I thought Chelsea were overrated last season thanks to a record breaking run in the middle of the season. While finishing as Champions, Chelsea need more players with the Champions League to play as well as the Premier League this season.

Alvaro Morata has to adjust to the Premier League quickly, and Eden Hazard can't return quick enough. Chelsea's system should be more familiar to teams this season and I think they rode their luck last season which may desert the current squad and fall out of the top four is possible.

Arsenal- keeping Alexis Sanchez would be a huge achievement for Arsenal and potentially moves them back into the top four, but I am not sure he will stay even now. If Sanchez does move on, I can't see Arsenal finishing higher than 6th place barring a complete collapse from a team above them.

Relegation: Newcastle United- Rafa Benitez is upset and I would not be surprised if he walks away from this job. This is still a Championship looking squad and a lack of investment has bothered the manager.

If Benitez stays, Newcastle United stay up, but his departure may lead to another relegation for a North East side from the Premier League.

Burnley- this is harsh on Burnley who played so well last season, but they were heavily reliant on overachieving massively at Turf Moor. I can't see them matching that and Burnley look weaker without Michael Keane and Andre Gray.

They will work hard, but a step back in the home form may lead to relegation this time around.

Huddersfield Town- all credit has to be given to David Wagner, but The Terriers look far short of the quality needed to survive in the Premier League.

I expect Huddersfield Town to be decent enough in the first three months, but the high press could see players lack the energy in the second half of the season as confidence drops with a loss of form.

League Cup: Manchester City- the strong squad may be able to negotiate the early Rounds and Pep Guardiola may follow the likes of other big name managers in England whose first silverware came in this competition.

FA Cup: Tottenham Hotspur- Mauricio Pochettino has been given plenty of credit for the way he has improved Tottenham Hotspur in his time at the club, but a lack of silverware still sticks out like a sore thumb.

As they improve at Wembley during the course of the season, Tottenham Hotspur should feel right at home when it comes to the FA Cup Semi Final and Final and I can see them finally winning a trophy again.

Now I imagine plenty of these predictions go very wrong with the top six tightly bunched up. But it's just a bit of fun to see how it goes and look back in ten months time and realise how wrong I was back in August.

On Friday the Premier League is back and I have picks from the entire weekend from the top flight, English Championship and Scottish Premiership which can be read below.

Arsenal v Leicester City Pick: After what has felt like an eternity, the Premier League is back in action this weekend with the start of the opening weekend coming on Friday night from North London. For most clubs that might feel like a positive, but there are still some real question marks about this Arsenal team and a section of their support might be itching to make their feelings clear to Arsene Wenger at the Emirates Stadium on Friday evening.

This is actually the sixth season in a row that Arsenal will be opening up the Premier League at home, but they have unbelievably only won 1 of those previous 5 games. In fact Arsenal have lost 3 of their last 4 including opening weekend losses to West Ham United and Liverpool in the last couple of years.

It actually means Arsenal have won 1 of their last 7 opening Premier League games at the Emirates Stadium and that is not going to be music to the ears of Arsene Wenger. Another poor showing is going to bring the boo birds out again and it is not the kind of way any team wants to begin a new campaign which usually comes with plenty of optimism.

You can’t really judge a team on the way they have played last season, but Leicester City did struggle away from home against the top clubs. The Foxes lost 8 of 9 away games against the top nine in the Premier League last season and 5 of those losses did come by at least two goals.

However they do look a more settled side under Craig Shakespeare and the 3 away games at the top 9 clubs under his guidance saw Leicester City lose narrowly twice.

The squad also hasn’t had the upheaval of losing someone of the importance of N’Golo Kante (at least not at the time of writing) and Leicester City have added a couple of quality additions in Harry Maguire and Vicente Iborra.

With Arsenal potentially missing the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, I can see why the layers are not giving much away with Leicester City on the handicaps. Add in Arsenal’s opening weekend woes in recent years and this feels like it could be another tight match between two clubs who have had touch encounters in recent years.

The Gunners have managed to get the better of Leicester City with some fortune in those games and I feel they may just earn the narrow edge again. This is a fixture where you want to keep stakes to a minimum, but backing Arsenal to win by a single goal margin might be the best way to approach it.

Leicester City may be a little better all around than last season, but recent years have seen them have their difficulties away from home at the top clubs. They’ve lost 3 times in a row at the Emirates Stadium by a single goal margin, while Arsenal had a 13-1-1 record at home against teams who finished below them last season.

Only 5 of Arsenal’s 14 home Premier League wins came by a single goal margin in the 2016/17 season, but add in their issues on the opening weekend and the absence of Alexis Sanchez and that feels as good as it gets for the most likely winners on the day.

Watford v Liverpool Pick: Jurgen Klopp may be very happy to be focusing on competitive football again as he continues to face questions about Philippe Coutinho and whether he will be staying at Liverpool. The distraction of Coutinho as well as the Champions League Qualifiers which begin next week may leave Liverpool a little vulnerable for this trip to Vicarage Road.

There will be excitement around the ground for the early Saturday kick off as Watford play their first game under the guidance of Marco Silva. Despite failing to avoid relegation with Hull City, Silva’s reputation actually improved in English Football as he gave The Tigers every chance to avoid the drop.

Watford fans will be hoping he can help their side kick on in the Premier League with the hope of more positive football than the Walter Mazzarri era produced. However the key remains to avoid the drop into the Championship and Watford have signed players like Will Hughes, Tom Cleverley and Nathanial Chalobah to give them extra bite in the middle of the park.

Silva will also be looking for the shield to protect a Watford defence that finished with the 4th worst record in the Premier League last season. Facing the 4th best attack in the League from last season is going to be a real challenge for Watford this weekend, especially with Sadio Mane back for Liverpool.

The Coutinho situation makes it tough to know whether he will be starting this weekend and that does take away some of the threat of Liverpool. His passing is key for the side, but Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino do offer a real threat for Liverpool going forward.

Liverpool did win 6 of their 10 away games at the teams in the bottom half last season, but one of the failures came at Hull City under Marco Silva. Goals also tended to flow as 7 of those 10 away games finished with at least three goals shared out.

The Silva arrival does change things for Watford who have lost 19 of 20 games against teams that finished in the top five over the last two seasons. This is a team who lost 10 of 12 home games against the top six finishers, and 3 of the 6 games at Vicarage Road against the top six last season ended in Watford losses of two or more goals.

In 5 of their 6 home games against the top six, there were three or more goals featured and I am looking for at least three to be shared out in this one. Liverpool conceded in 13 of 19 away games last season, but have the attacking threat to make up for it, while Watford saw goals flow when they faced the best teams.

Opening weekend games can be tough to read, but I am looking for at least three goals to be shared out by these teams on Saturday.

Chelsea v Burnley Pick: You can’t ignore the similarities between the attitudes of Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte just months after winning the Premier League title as Chelsea manager. Mourinho was remarkably unhappy going into the 2015/16 season and lasted a few months before being relieved as manager, while Conte looks increasingly upset at what he perceives is a lack of support in transfer dealings the Champions have made.

There are even suggestions Conte will walk away from Stamford Bridge despite signing a new contract in the summer. A lot will depend on how much business is conducted by Chelsea between now and the end of August, but the poor body language has to be a big concern for Chelsea fans.

No one will dispute that Chelsea look short of numbers, but Conte seems to have escaped the criticisms Mourinho was receiving for not bringing through the youth. Nathan Ake, Nathanial Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Christian Atsu, Dominic Solanke and Bertrand Traore are just some of the young names that have been allowed to move on.

That’s a lot of players that some would consider as capable squad players that have been let go, but Conte won’t care about that and instead is focusing on the lack of players being signed. It does lead to a negative atmosphere and this opening weekend game is an important one to change the feeling ahead of the big clash with Tottenham Hotspur eight days later.

It does feel like Chelsea are playing the right opponent in a Burnley side who have lost Michael Keane this summer. The majority of the squad has been kept together with some solid signings in Jack Cork and Jonathan Walters, but Burnley struggled mightily away from home last season.

12 of the top 13 clubs beat them in front of their own fans and goals were a problem. For all the anger that Conte has been displaying, Chelsea still look solid enough at the back to be able to keep Burnley from having an impact on the scoreboard.

Asking Chelsea to cover a big Asian Handicap might be too much considering Eden Hazard is absent and with the negativity I have spoken about. It feels like a fixture Chelsea would just love to pick up the three points and then move on to getting ready to face Tottenham Hotspur.

Burnley might have struggled for goals, but they did manage to hit the net at 6 of the top 8 last season. However they didn’t do that at Stamford Bridge and I think Chelsea will be looking to be as tight as possible in this one so backing them to win with a clean sheet is the pick.

Crystal Palace v Huddersfield Town Pick: The opening weekend of the Premier League season can be a very difficult one to call and so I would advise a minimum unit on this pick. That has a lot to do with how poorly Crystal Palace have played at Selhurst Park over the last three seasons with just 18 wins from their last 57 Premier League games here.

They now have a new manager who plays the brand of football that may be pleasing on the eye, but also could lead to Crystal Palace being more open at the back. That is certainly an area where David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town will look to earn mistakes from their high press which could see The Terriers earn an important win to open the new campaign.

However it is hard to see how Huddersfield Town will have a lot of success away from home at the higher level. The high press is all well and good, but Huddersfield Town will be trying to do that against teams far superior than they played in the Championship last season.

Even then, Huddersfield Town may have finished with the 5th best away record in the Championship, and beat Newcastle United, but the side lost to all the other clubs that finished in the top six. Now at a higher level, Huddersfield Town’s foundation for survival will have to be laid at home.

Opening weekend does produce surprise results though and Crystal Palace look a little short for me. In saying that, half of their home wins over the last two seasons have come against teams that have finished below them in the Premier League table and I would fancy Crystal Palace are going to finish above Huddersfield Town.

Goals could be produced by two teams who will likely try to play some attacking football, but I think the superior Crystal Palace squad can earn the three points on Saturday. It won’t be easy and I think it is hard to fully believe in a side that have such a poor record at home, but I will have a minimum unit pick on Crystal Palace to win.

Everton v Stoke City Pick: There is plenty of excitement going into the new season for Everton, but things could take a real shift if their club are unable to beat Stoke City and also go out of the Europa League before the Group Stage. The fixture compilers have not been kind to Everton so any slow start could see all positive vibes leave the stands before the end of September.

After this Premier League opener against Stoke City, Everton face Manchester City (A), Chelsea (A), Tottenham Hotspur (H) and Manchester United (A)… Suffice to say it is important for Everton to get off to a good start this weekend.

The new arrivals at the club have shown intent from Everton, but I feel they may have improved the squad rather than the starting eleven if that makes sense. While they can rotate the squad a little more, the absence of Romelu Lukaku and, to a lesser extent, Ross Barkley does take away pace and quality from the Everton starting line up.

You can understand why Ronald Koeman has not finished his transfer business with that in mind, but it does mean Everton look incredibly short to win this match. I do think they will get the better of Stoke City, who also look weaker than last season at this point, but I won’t be risking too many units on them being able to do that.

Mark Hughes is under a different pressure than Koeman with the expectation at Stoke City not matching that at Everton. However the manager won’t want another start like last season when Stoke City failed to win any of their first 7 Premier League games and lost 4 in a row after an opening day draw with Middlesbrough.

This is a team that continues to struggle to compete with the best teams in the Premier League, especially away from home.

Everton were another who beat Stoke City at home last season, but the back to back home losses to this club prior to that does worry me. I think Everton will also find it tougher to break down these kinds of teams without more investment, but I think they have better momentum and more positive feelings than Stoke City and can show that this weekend.

The side have won 9 of their last 10 at home in all competitions and I will have a minimum unit on Everton winning this weekend.

Brighton v Manchester City Pick: The television cameras will head to the Amex Stadium for the first time for a Premier League game and there will be excitement in the air for both Brighton and Manchester City. The fans in the Stadium will be looking for Brighton to kick on from last season, but Chris Hughton will get an idea of how much work there is to do to keep Brighton in the Premier League when facing a team of this quality on opening weekend.

Finishing 17th will do for Brighton this season you would imagine, but anything less than 1st, or at least a sustained title challenge until May, will probably be seen as a failure for Manchester City. The investment made in the transfer window makes Manchester City the favourites for the title in my opinion, although they do need to keep the likes of Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne fit for much of the season.

Ederson, Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva being added to the talent already in the squad gives Pep Guardiola the options he would want. They have kept Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero together and this is a team with plenty of goals in the side.

I also think Manchester City will continue to be a very dangerous away team having won 12 of 19 away Premier League games last season. With the extra space they will tend to find on their travels, Manchester City have the pace and the quality to exploit the spaces they will tend to find.

Manchester City didn’t beat any of their fellow top five teams away from home, but they were very strong against the rest of the teams. They were beaten at Leicester City, but Manchester City won 11 of 13 games at the bottom 13 last season.

9 of their 12 wins came by two or more goals as Manchester City were very good at exploiting spaces and I expect that to be the case on Saturday. While Brighton will be cautious under Chris Hughton, trying to play preventative football at home can be difficult with the fans urging a team on. Brighton will also have players looking to prove themselves and I think it will be a tough ask for them to stay with this Manchester City team who will put up some big scores away from home this season.

Manchester City were particularly dominant when they faced the teams who finished inside the bottom 7 places and that is where Brighton are most likely to end up. Opening day can see a surprise result or two, but I will be looking for Manchester City to earn a win by at least a couple of goals on Saturday afternoon.

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: With a new Stadium being built and Tottenham Hotspur finishing in the Champions League places in consecutive seasons for the first time, fans of the club must have been excited about the chances of winning the Premier League title this season.

However the majority of the teams that finished below them have strengthened, as well as Champions Chelsea, while Tottenham Hotspur have only sold Kyle Walker in this transfer window. Standing still is not really the pathway to success, especially not with the additional factor of playing home games away from White Hart Lane.

Therefore a top four finish would be a big achievement for Tottenham Hotspur whose squad is going to be stretched by Champions League and Premier League Football. An injury to the likes of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli or Harry Kane would be too difficult to overcome too and I think this could be a difficult season for Spurs.

An injury free season and Tottenham Hotspur will challenge for a top four finish but that is asking for a lot of luck. Tottenham Hotspur had the 5th best away record in the Premier League last season and now essentially have to play 38 away League games.

Tottenham Hotspur were at their best away from home when playing the bottom 9 clubs, winning 8 of those games and drawing the other. That will give them confidence when facing a Newcastle United team who have not strengthened as they would have liked.

However you can’t ignore that Newcastle United finished with the 10th best home record in the Premier League two seasons ago despite relegation. The year prior it was the 13th best home record and Newcastle United will be well organised under Rafa Benitez, who gives them the best shot of the promoted clubs to avoid the drop back into the Championship.

A lack of new investment has bothered Benitez, but Newcastle United will give Tottenham Hotspur a test. At home Newcastle United are expected to get forward so I do think they can pose problems for Tottenham Hotspur, although the same will be said for Tottenham Hotspur when they get forward.

A new season does mean some players could tire, but the temperatures don’t look too bad for August so I expect to see a good game between these two clubs. Goals have flowed when Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur have met at St James’ Park and I think the home team can contribute in an entertaining affair on Sunday.

Tottenham Hotspur look short to win here considering some of the negative headlines about their transfer policy, but any win will have to come in a game featuring at least three goals in my opinion.

Manchester United v West Ham United Pick: Both Manchester United and West Ham United underachieved in the Premier League last season, but both clubs come into the new season with more positive feelings than negative ones. There is a real expectation that both clubs will improve on their 6th and 11th place finishes respectively from last season.

Jose Mourinho’s successes in his second season with previous clubs are being used for further positives for Manchester United who won the Europa Cup to end last season. With the new investment being made on the playing side, there does feel like a title winning squad is being put together, although perhaps still a season away from actually going on to win it.

Romelu Lukaku’s arrival is for games like this one where he can turn draws into wins. Too many clubs came to Old Trafford to earn a draw last season, and notably from further down the League table, but Lukaku showed at Everton he does score in these kind of games.

With the likes of Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan having a season under their belts, Manchester United do look a more settled eleven. They may still be able to do with another left sided attacker and that looks to be an area that will be strengthened before the transfer window shuts, but overall the squad looks better than last season.

It won’t be easy against a West Ham United team even though the Hammers lost 7 of 10 away games against teams that finished above them in the Premier League. One of their positive results came at Old Trafford and West Ham United do look a more settled team this time around compared with twelve months ago.

The arrival of the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez look like solid bits of business for a team looking for a top half finish. However injuries could be a factor on the opening weekend of the season and West Ham United could be needing their hosts to be as poor in front of goal as they were for much of last season.

Chances will be created as Manchester United showed against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. There has to be some concern that Manchester United missed some top opportunities in that game too, but I think they open this season with a positive vibe and can record what will be a comfortable home League win to set the tone for the season.

You can read my views about Manchester United's upcoming season here.

Partick Thistle v Celtic Pick: At this stage of the season you would have to think that Celtic are going to be very much focused on the Champions League Play Off Round tie against Astana. The First Leg is played on Wednesday, but Celtic have been given the benefit of a Friday night Scottish Premiership time which should be ample time to prepare for the Champions League tie at Celtic Park.

Partick Thistle will be hoping to build on their 6th place finish in the Scottish Premiership from last season, but it can be tough to know exactly how to approach this League fixture. While they impressed with their highest League finish in almost thirty years, it was clear that Partick Thistle didn't really belong with the elite clubs in the Scottish Premiership.

The squad may be considered stronger this season, but I don't think you can ignore the fact Partick Thistle lost 9 of 10 home games against the teams who finished above them in the Scottish Premiership. There is also no doubt that Celtic look head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the Division and they did record 2 big wins at Firhill Stadium last season (1-4 in December and 0-5 in May).

The home team have to hope Celtic are distracted, but Brendan Rodgers has his team playing very well early in the last campaign with the hope of keeping positive momentum behind them going into the Champions League Qualifiers. With a couple of big wins already this week, Celtic look very dangerous here.

Celtic have won 14 in a row at Partick Thistle and 9 of those have come by at least a couple of goals. That includes 5 of the last 6 including both last season and Partick Thistle were beaten by a couple of goals in 3 of 4 matches against Celtic and Aberdeen last season.

Backing Celtic to win here by at least a couple of goals looks to be too big a price and I will look for the Scottish Champions to have some real momentum behind them when they face Astana next week.

Brentford v Nottingham Forest PickThe opening weeks of a new season can be difficult to get a read on with teams sometimes undercooked at the start and then rapidly making improvements with the quick succession of matches in August. There are 4 games for the teams in the Championship to negotiate by the middle of the month and this is the third of those for Brentford and Nottingham Forest.

Mark Warburton should receive a positive welcome from the Brentford fans having guided them to a Play Off spot before harshly being let go by the owner. Brentford have not been able to match that finish since Warburton left, but the manager is now concerned with Nottingham Forest.

He was not happy with the performance in the 1-0 win over Millwall, while Brentford perhaps deserved more than a defeat at Sheffield United last week. Being at home for the first time may give Brentford the chance to move back level on points with their visitors who had an awful away record last season.

Brentford were inconsistent at home for the second season in a row and that has to be a concern. However they do have goals in the squad and would have been encouraged by the chances Millwall created against Nottingham Forest, while Brentford have beaten Nottingham Forest twice in a row at Griffin Park.

That is enough to have a minimum unit interest on Brentford winning their first home game of the season.

Leeds United v Preston North End Pick: There was a disappointment in the Leeds United fanbase that they could not keep Garry Monk as manager and it was clear how much the supporters are still thankful to their former manager last weekend. However the Thomas Christiansen era has gotten off to a positive start with back to back wins and now the manager looks for a first League win at Elland Road.

7 goals scored in a couple of games will encourage the fans that an exciting season is forthcoming, but Christiansen is likely going to want Leeds United to show better defensive shape.

Elland Road is also going to be an important venue for Leeds United if they want to improve on their 7th place finish from last season. They played well here last season, but still have room for improvement having finished with fewer wins than seven other teams in the Championship.

Leeds United look to be facing the right opponent in Preston North End despite Alex Neil's men getting off to a positive start with a 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday last weekend. However they were then beaten 3-2 at Accrington Stanley in the League Cup and Preston North End have not won any of 12 away games in all competitions and lost 5 in a row.

They were also beaten by 6 of the top 7 in the League away from home last season and Preston North End have lost twice in a row at Elland Road since being promoted back into the Championship. I think Leeds United can continue their 100% record in the new season here and are worth a back to win this one.

Sheffield Wednesday v Queens Park Rangers Pick: This is still very early in the new League season but earning the first points will still be the only way for players to truly settle into the campaign.

Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers both moved into the League Cup Second Round during the week with wins over lower League opposition, but only Queens Park Rangers won on the opening weekend.

Playing at home should give Sheffield Wednesday every chance to win their first League game especially as they look a stronger squad than Queens Park Rangers. The latter did lose at 3 of the top 5 from last season, although they have proved to be a tough nut to crack at times.

Losing 6 of their last 7, including the last 5 in a row, away from home will put Queens Park Rangers in a tough spot and over the last couple of seasons Sheffield Wednesday have generally been able to beat those teams who finished below them at Hillsborough.

It won't be easy to keep the stake to a minimum, but I will look for Sheffield Wednesday to find a way to get the better of Queens Park Rangers here.

Middlesbrough v Sheffield United Pick: Twelve months ago there would have been two Divisions between these teams, but on Saturday Middlesbrough and Sheffield United will be playing in a League game at the Riverside Stadium.

While the thinking may be that Middlesbrough are feeling down after relegation and Sheffield United are on the up following promotion, it is Middlesbrough who are considered favourites in the Championship. This is a squad that has the majority of players from the team that won promotion two years ago, while Garry Monk has been able to add some real firepower.

That didn't look the case in the 1-0 loss at Wolves last weekend, but you have to think Middlesbrough will have goals in the squad and will be there or thereabouts when it comes to promotion places in May.

Sheffield United will be confident having won 1-0 last weekend in their first game at this level in seven years, but they were put under pressure by Brentford and that game was played at Bramall Lane. Playing away from home will be a much tougher test for a newly promoted side and I think it is important to note they lost at both Bolton Wanderers and Millwall who came up with them.

In fact The Blades failed to beat any of the 5 teams immediately below them away from home and this is a big step up in competition for them. I do think Middlesbrough will challenge for promotion and Garry Monk's Leeds United were very strong at home last season.

I expect Middlesbrough to get their first win of the season this weekend.

MY PICKS: Arsenal to Win by One Goal @ 3.80 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Watford-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea to Win to Nil @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 1.83 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Everton @ 1.70 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (2 Units)
Celtic - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brentford @ 1.86 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Leeds United @ 2.05 Coral (1 Unit)
Sheffield Wednesday @ 1.85 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Middlesbrough @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

August Update: 2-3-1, - 0.85 Units (6 Units Staked, - 14.17% Yield)