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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2019 (August 17-19)

The first round of Premier League Fixtures are in the books and it can be very easy to get carried away from one set of results and make swe...

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Midweek Football Picks 2018 (January 30-31)

It's hard to know where the time goes when the first month of 2018 is already set to go into the books.

For most managers in European Football they may be glad the month is coming to an end as it also means the January transfer window is about to shut. This is a disruptive time as teams try to mould their squads to the best shape for the remaining four months of the season when all the silverware, and heartbreak, is set to be handed out.

Some big deals have been concluded in the Premier League with the headline made by Manchester United in swooping up Alexis Sanchez. I wrote a short piece about his arrival which can be read here.

Other big clubs have also made some serious moves and the money spent is eye-watering to say the least. That is just the way football has gone these days at the very top level and there isn't really much we can do about it.


Talking about something we can't do much about, VAR is set to be rolled out fully next season in the Premier League despite the controversies attached to the system.

I've not been a fan of any system that is going to be used to decide subjective events, but for objective events it isn't a bad tool.

Objective events like goals and offside decisions are either right or wrong, there is no grey area. But for penalties and red cards there is and it is going to come down to what someone thinks while sitting in a booth miles away from the play.

Those are the decisions that will absolutely slow down the game and they won't always be straight-forward decisions that everyone agrees on so I have to say that I think the referee on the field is going to be undermined at times.

And for those fans in the Stadium, the match going experience is definitely going to feel much more negative than it does at the moment with little communication to let them know what is happening. At Anfield on Saturday you could see the confusion, although the focus has been on the three correct decisions made in the first half.

Fine, those were correct even if I thought the penalty was harsh with a theatrical jump from Mo Salah and the ball seemingly going to be well over his head anyway. However for the most part people agreed with the decisions.

What has been ignored is the reason why the referee went to VAR for Salah's second half goal? Taking away the pure enjoyment of the moment for absolutely no reason that was plain to see is my biggest concern for a system that will be used at the most passionate time of being a football fan.

I want to celebrate a goal, not sit back and let the referee spend a minute to make sure everything has lined up even when they don't need to. I mean I thought it was going to be used for 'clear and obvious decisions' which has not been seen, so why did the referee go to the system for what looked a clear goal?

That has barely been touched in the last couple of days, but taking away the passion of the supporters in the stands is something the Premier League has been working on for years and this is just another blow to it.

Ultimately it doesn't matter that I don't like the system- it is coming in regardless. I just hope those in power realise a way to reduce the lag in the game that was seen at Anfield else football as we know it is not going to be the same again.


On Tuesday and Wednesday we have another full round of Premier League fixtures as we get closer to the final third of the League season. The battle against relegation looks remarkably tight with the improvement made by both Swansea City and West Brom, while the three places below Manchester City in the race for the Champions League spots also look like will be going down to the wire.

With a full round of fixtures, there is a full round of football picks.


Swansea City v Arsenal Pick: The performance Swansea City produced in their win over Liverpool will have given the players a real shot in the arm that they can avoid the drop to the Championship. They will have to bring the same type of energy and defensive effort they did in that win last time out if they are going to get something from this one too.

On paper you would suggest the game against Arsenal is a ‘better’ one for Swansea City than facing Liverpool, but this is an Arsenal team who can be very strong on their day. They have had the benefit of a rest this weekend having not played in the FA Cup, and there has been a suggestion the players have been freed up by the end of the Alexis Sanchez saga.

They have certainly produced a couple of very good performances to beat Crystal Palace and Chelsea, but Arsenal have to show they can do the same away from home.

Arsenal have not won any of their last 4 away games, but they led at West Brom and Bournemouth before mistakes cost them. Mesut Ozil is available though and he has proven to be a very big player for Arsenal in the last couple of months with an ability to open teams up with his passing.

With Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all available as other supporting players, Arsenal have enough creativity to break down Swansea City here.

Credit to the way Carlos Carvalhal has got his team playing, but the win against Liverpool was a rare success against a top six club. The one defeat under Carvalhal’s management came against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League at the Liberty Stadium and the likes of Manchester United (twice) and Manchester City have also won comfortably here.

For all of the poor results Arsenal have had away from home of late, they have scored first in their last 3 away games in the Premier League. That could be crucial here and Arsenal have won 4 of their last 5 at the Liberty Stadium with the last couple of visits ending in comfortable wins for The Gunners.

I will look for Arsenal to win here and cover the Asian Handicap in the process. The first goal is going to be crucial to that, but Arsenal have scored first in their last 3 away League games and doing that here might be enough to begin wearing down the Swansea City players who were in action on Saturday.


West Ham United v Crystal Palace Pick: There is plenty on the line in this London derby as both West Ham United and Crystal Palace continue their fight against relegation. For all the improvement both clubs have made with new managers at the helm, both remain within touching distance of the bottom three.

A win on Tuesday for either club will go a long way to pulling them away from the bottom three and begin to feel a little easier about their position. However that would leave the losing team once again looking over their shoulders at the teams below them who have all shown signs of improvement in recent weeks.

Injuries are hurting both West Ham United and Crystal Palace and this may come down to which of the teams deal with those injuries better. Both have some key players returning for this fixture, but I do worry for a West Ham United team who are missing some big names in the final third.

They also had to battle through a difficult 2-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic on Saturday while Crystal Palace have been resting since their stunning 4-1 defeat at Arsenal.

Barring a poor start like that one, Crystal Palace should be the team with the better opportunity to win this game. They may be away from home, but before the defeat to Arsenal Crystal Palace had won 2 of 3 away League games and shown toughness on their travels.

With Manuel Lanzini and Marko Arnautovic out of the line up, West Ham United may find it tough to find the creativity in the final third to break down Crystal Palace in this one. The 1-1 scoreline is a real player, but I think Crystal Palace can show a little more in the final third against their injury hit hosts to work their way to the three points.

I would keep stakes to a minimum in a game which is as close as this one looks to be, but having a small interest in Crystal Palace to win for a third time in five years at West Ham United looks a decent price.


Huddersfield Town v Liverpool Pick: There is no doubting how big this Premier League game is at the top and bottom of the table with the two teams involved in tight relegation and top four battles respectively.

Both Huddersfield Town and Liverpool are hoping to bounce back from some poor results of late.

Huddersfield Town have proven to be a tough team to face at the John Smith’s Stadium with the win over Manchester United the stand out result. However they also led against Manchester City to show they are more than capable of challenging a Liverpool team who have defended incredibly poorly on their travels.

Unfortunately for Huddersfield Town, they have to worry about a backlash from Liverpool in this one after defeats to the bottom two clubs. Those losses were not good looks for Liverpool, but they will have seen the way Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and most recently West Ham United won on this ground this season.

The home fans have to worry that a fast start by Liverpool will see them very difficult to contain and it is a big test for Huddersfield Town. They will try and press Liverpool, but that could leave spaces to be exploited and I do think the away side will be very difficult to contain for Huddersfield Town.

Huddersfield Town can play their part too against a Liverpool defence that is susceptible against set pieces. They have scored against Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea here in the Premier League and they should have chances.

However Liverpool will also likely create opportunities and this could mean a high-scoring game at the John Smith’s Stadium. Backing at least three goals to be shared out looks the best way to approach this game with the fact that all 4 Huddersfield Town home games against the top six have ended that way.

Liverpool had been involved in 9 straight away games in all competitions which featured at least three goals before the loss at Swansea City. I will look for that trend to return here with at least three goals shared out between these teams.


Chelsea v Bournemouth Pick: Trying to work out what Chelsea will turn up from game to game has been very difficult this past few weeks. They performed really well to see off Brighton and Newcastle United, but in between draws with Norwich City and Leicester City have shown a set of players that have lost full confidence.

There has been elements of fatigue at times and I do worry that Chelsea have had to play twice since Bournemouth were last in action.

Eddie Howe has to make sure he sets up Bournemouth to take advantage if Chelsea are not able to produce their best. With Alvaro Morata missing, Chelsea may be lacking in the final third, but Eden Hazard will have to be contained if Bournemouth are going to spring the surprise.

It will all be about frustrating Chelsea who have shown they can quickly get into their stride if they can score early. Those strikes against Brighton and Newcastle United have then seen Chelsea dominate proceedings and that will be a worry for Bournemouth.

Recent weeks have seen Bournemouth produce some big results which should mean they come to Stamford Bridge with some belief. However they tend to be a side that gives the top teams in the Premier League the space to perform and that has resulted in some heavy losses to the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in the League this season.

Last season they were beaten 3-0 at Stamford Bridge too and I think Antonio Conte had a chance to give the likes of Hazard and Pedro a rest on Sunday to be ready for this one. Bournemouth simply concede too many goals and the focus could quickly turn to the home game with Stoke City on Saturday which looks a massive one for Eddie Howe’s men.

Chelsea have not been putting a consistent run of wins together in recent weeks, but they have tended to win comfortably when they have. The Blues have only won 4 of their last 10 games in all competitions, but all of those wins have come by at least a two goal margin and I think they can do the same here.

I have to respect Bournemouth for the toughness they have shown in recent games and character to produce plenty of positive results. However they have tended to struggle against the top teams and I will back Chelsea to cover the Asian Handicap in a win on Wednesday.


Newcastle United v Burnley Pick: There are only fourteen games left in the Premier League which means we are getting very close to the point of the season where you’ll start seeing which sides are able to move away from relegation troubles and which are being dragged into it.

At the moment the Premier League is tightly congested from 10th down to 20th as 6 points will blanket those teams. Newcastle United are one of those teams and the fans continue to vent their anger at owner Mike Ashley, while Rafa Benitez makes it clear that he feels his squad needs reinforcements.

Benitez may not be very lucky when it comes to getting deals over the line and the atmosphere at St James’ Park makes it difficult for the players to perform. That is part of the reason that Newcastle United have not won any of their last 7 home Premier League games and had to settle for draws with Brighton and Swansea City in their last couple of League games here.

A lack of goals is a real concern and that is likely to be an issue against Burnley on Wednesday. Burnley have not been playing very well of late with 4 straight losses heading into this fixture, but the games they have played have been difficult.

Sean Dyche will organise Burnley to be tough to beat and they can at least contain Newcastle United to a point and give themselves a chance to earn valuable points. They have been tough to beat away from home and Burnley do have a threat which could cause problems for the home team who are lacking confidence.

I really don’t think there will be much between these teams and Burnley look tempting to back with a start on the Asian Handicap. Even though they have been in poor form, Burnley are still a tough team to beat as both Liverpool and Manchester United will tell you after narrow wins over them.

Burnley also look capable of scoring here and one goal could be enough to avoid defeat against goal-shy Newcastle United. With the poor run Newcastle United have been on, they don’t look a great favourite to back and I am going to back Burnley to earn a result here and snap their run of 4 losses in a row.


Manchester City v West Brom Pick: I have to admit I was very surprised with the strength of the team Alan Pardew picked in the FA Cup tie at Liverpool and even more surprised by the way West Brom were able to come from behind and win that tie.

They have simply not travelled that well away from home all season, but West Brom punished Liverpool for some weak defending and will be hoping to do the same at the Etihad Stadium.

it is a different challenge though with Pardew seeing some key players go down with injury on Saturday at Anfield. That could mean West Brom are a little short of numbers in this fixture and keeping players fresh for the big game against Southampton on Saturday may be on the mind of the manager.

Manchester City also suffered a big injury in their Cup tie this weekend, but Leroy Sane sounds like he has avoided a long-term injury. His team continued progressing in every competition they have entered this season and Manchester City will be a strong favourite to see off West Brom.

However it has to be noted that Pardew has made his team tough to beat and West Brom have caused problems for the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal before the win at Anfield. West Brom also drew 0-0 at Liverpool in the Premier League and I expect Pardew will want to soak up pressure and hit Manchester City on the break in this one.

The injuries are a big concern for West Brom with Jonny Evans, Kieran Gibbs, Jake Livermore and Hal Robson-Kanu all expected to miss out. I do think that just makes West Brom a little more vulnerable and Manchester City should be too good for them.

Conceding goals has been an issue for Manchester City with them seemingly being punished for every mistake they have made. Teams have had limited shots but managed to find the net and West Brom will be hoping to do the same as they did at Liverpool in the FA Cup by taking the chances that do come.

The Baggies are a big threat from set pieces, but I do think chances will be few and far between and Manchester City should have enough to win this one with a clean sheet. The Asian Handicap looks right on the money and I think backing Manchester City to win with a clean sheet is the most likely outcome of this fixture with the injuries West Brom will be dealing with.

There is also a chance that Alan Pardew will turn attention to the League game against Southampton on Saturday which is arguably more important than this one. It would mean maybe keeping some key players out and hoping to frustrate Manchester City and I think the play will dominated by the home team.

As long as they can avoid the big mistakes which have cost them of late, Manchester City can win to nil.


Stoke City v Watford Pick: We are almost down to the final third of the Premier League season and that means fixtures are increasing with importance in every passing week. For both Stoke City and Watford this is going to be a 'relegation six pointer' with both clubs trying to avoid relegation to the Championship.

Both have recently decided to make a managerial change and Stoke City had an immediate jolt after beating Huddersfield Town under Paul Lambert. The former Aston Villa manager is going to look for back to back wins for Stoke City for the first time since the end of August and being at home does give them an advantage in this one.

For all the negatives around Stoke City, they have won 3 of their last 5 home games in the Premier League and they are certainly in relatively better form than Watford. Their visitors were beaten on their travels again on Saturday and that means Watford have lost 8 of their last 9 away games in all competitions.

Injuries are really stretching the squad and that could be a problem for Watford considering Stoke City should be well rested coming into this fixture.

Games like this do tend to be close and these teams are closely matched which suggests there won't be much between them. On any given day matches between Stoke City and Watford could go either way, but I think the rested home team may have a slight enough edge to win this one.

Watford are still trying to get to grips with what Javi Gracia will want from them and I think Stoke City can take advantage of that. While Gracia hasn't had a lot of time to implement his ideas, Paul Lambert has been working with his players for ten days to have them ready to fulfil his game plan on Wednesday.

It won't be an easy game for either team, but Stoke City may just have the edge in this one and I will back them to win this fixture.


Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United Pick: This is the big game of the week as two of the top five meet at the national Stadium in the Premier League.

The importance of the match will not be lost on either Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester United and it has all of the hallmarks of a close one.

Both teams are coming into the contest in very good form which is making it a tough one to read. I have to say I was surprised to see Manchester United as such an underdog to win here, but that may have something to do with the poor away record against the top teams in England under Jose Mourinho.

Tottenham Hotspur have also won 6 of their last 7 at Wembley Stadium in all competitions and beaten the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid in emphatic fashion. With the likes of Christian Eriksen returning and Dele Alli and Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur have the quality to test a Manchester United backline which has kept 6 clean sheets in a row.

I do think Manchester United can win here, but can’t back them because of the poor record at Tottenham Hotspur in recent years. They did win at Arsenal in early December to snap a poor away record at the top six clubs, but Manchester United will also have to recognise that Tottenham Hotspur are arguably a tougher team than The Gunners.

I expect both teams will have their successes in this one with the attacking talent they can both call upon and I am looking forward to what should be a very good game of football. Games between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in North London have tended to be fun affairs for the most part and in each of the last two seasons there have been at least three goals shared out.

Tottenham Hotspur have hosted Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid this season and all of those games produced at least three goals. For the most part Manchester United away games under Jose Mourinho against the bigger clubs have been low-scoring affairs, but there has been more attacking intent in the last two at Chelsea and Arsenal and the latter did produce four goals and countless other chances for both Arsenal and United.

The layers have offered the chance of seeing at least three goals at odds against and I think that can be backed. The 1-1 is perhaps the biggest hindrance to that number being hit, but I think both clubs will be trying to win this fixture and the weather in London should allow the two teams to express themselves.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 2.60 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Huddersfield Town-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.70 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.25 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

Monday, 29 January 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (January 29th)

The Australian Open came to a close on Sunday and there isn't much I can say about Roger Federer that hasn't already been said.

Federer won his 20th Grand Slam title which is a remarkable achievement as he continues ripping up records going into his 37th year. There are very few signs that Federer is slowing down and he is likely to go down as the best men's player of all time and alongside some of the icons of sporting history.

I have no doubt we have been blessed in recent years with the likes of Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic leading the way, but I am also hoping there won't be a transitional period before the next set of players take over at the top. At the moment injuries and the next generation not quite being up to speed means there is something of a void behind Federer and Nadal which is something most would not have considered even two years ago.

There is definitely a chance for Federer to add to the Slams he has won, although I do wonder if he will take the same approach as last season and decide to skip the clay court season again. He has every chance to get back to World Number 1 even though he has a lot of points to defend in the months ahead, and I think it is great that we get to enjoy watching this play produce the tennis he has been.

But at the moment who would deny that Federer will be going into Wimbledon and the US Open as the favourite to win those two Slams too? Barring a recovery from some of the big names on the Tour, I certainly wouldn't want to back against Federer doing that and all of a sudden he would only be one Grand Slam behind Serena Williams and almost ten clear of the record Pete Sampras set in the men's game that many thought would last more time than it ended up doing.

It's been fascinating to watch Federer and he deserves all the plaudits heading his way after winning a third Slam in twelve months.


The Australian Open may be in the books, but the Tennis Tour moves on with the WTA hosting a couple of tournaments this week. The big one comes from St Petersburg, although top Seed Caroline Wozniacki is likely to withdraw after winning her maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne on Saturday.

There are still some big names in action there while the ATP Tour has a week off. Later this week there is Davis Cup action with the World Group ties beginning over the weekend, but it all means there are likely to be fewer Tennis Picks with fewer options out there.


While I enjoyed the Australian Open as a fan, it was a tough time for the picks with a really poor start which was always going to be difficult to recover. I did have some success doing that later in the week, but it was tough with the outright picks also coming close to some real success before ending up with a narrow loss despite the Roger Federer pick to win the tournament.

A long season has plenty of time to be turned back around and it is a marathon not a sprint to do that too.


Katerina Siniakova - 3.5 games v Donna Vekic: Two young players meet in the main draw in St Petersburg as the First Round gets underway on Monday and both Katerina Siniakova and Donna Vekic will believe they can win this match.

More of the belief may come down on the side of Siniakova who has beaten Vekic twice on the professional Tour including a one-sided win over her on the indoor courts in Moscow a few months ago.

One of the big factors in the match has to be the superior serving that Siniakova can produce- while she is still lacking the consistency to really start a considerable move up the World Rankings, Siniakova is someone who can serve very effectively and bring up the short ball to put away.

At times Vekic's return game will be getting the better of the moments, but her own serve has proven to be pretty vulnerable in recent months. You would perhaps expect it to be a more effective weapon than it is, but Vekic struggles to protect the second serve and can lose her rhythm on the first serve which should be an area in which Siniakova can attack and have success.

I don't think there will be a lot between them at times, but when Siniakova finds her highest level I believe she will look the better player. That should show up on the scoreboard as Siniakova is able to find a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win in this First Round match.

MY PICKS: Katerina Siniakova - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)

Season 2018: - 16.70 Units (154 Units Staked, - 10.84% Yield)

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Boxing Picks 2018- Oleksandr Usyk vs Mairis Breidis (January 27th)

I mentioned last week ahead of Errol Spence Jr's first defence of his IBF Welterweight Title that there has been some excellent fights already signed off in the first half of the 2018 year.

Showtime came out with an event to highlight some of the fights they have arranged earlier this week and adding Erislandy Lara versus Jarrett Hurd and Adonis Stevenson vs Badou Jack to an already loaded calendar is only good news for the Boxing fans around the world.


This weekend is no different with the start of the World Boxing Super Series Semi Final fights which take place over the next month. The two Cruiserweight Semi Finals are up over the next two weekends before attention turns back to the Super-Middleweight Semi Finals and a tournament that has got the fans salivating has produced four top Semi Final bouts.

That ahead of the two Finals which are set for May to continue the trend for big time Boxing fights in 2018.


Oleksandr Usyk vs Mairis Breidis
Some are suggesting this Cruiserweight Semi Final is effectively the Final with the winner likely to go forward as a big favourite to win the tournament in May.

In saying that, Oleksandr Usyk is a very big favourite to see off Mairis Breidis despite having to travel to the unbeaten Latvian's home for this fight.

Both fighters are unbeaten and bring a belt into this unification which looks like it has the makings of a really good fight, but the edge has rightly been given to Olympic Gold Medalist Usyk. He looks to be the superior boxer and has the size and awkwardness of being a southpaw to give Breidis some tough looks and I am expecting the Ukrainian to be able to pick off his opponent.

The superior boxing is a big advantage when you think of this match up and I also think Usyk may carry a little more power than Breidis despite the latter being a big hitter himself. I mean you can't ignore the fact that Breidis knocked out Manuel Charr who has recovered to win the WBA Heavyweight Title since then and that shows the Latvian is able to produce the goods.

However their mutual opponent in Marco Huck saw Breidis beat him in a Unanimous Decision a few months before Usky was able to stop the German in the World Boxing Super Series Quarter Final. It is Usky who also holds the higher KO percentage and I do think he will be able to load up and produce some punishing shots in this one once he has Breidis perhaps feeling sorry for himself after being out-boxed.

Both men have spoken about making a statement, and you can understand why with the other Finalist also going to be an unbeaten Cruiserweight Champion. For Usky this tournament is a chance to announce himself to a wider audience before looking to make the move up to Heavyweight which is almost certainly to come if the Ukrainian can Unify the Cruiserweight belts.

Breidis will be dangerous early in the fight and I think Usyk will look to out-box the home hope and frustrate him. The Ukrainian is the bigger man and should be able to use that to dictate the tempo of the fight, but I also think he will begin to unload his combinations in the second half of the fight once demoralising his opponent.

That is where I think Usyk will be able to either force the referee to step in or the Breidis corner to withdraw their man from taking a lot more punishment. There is power in the Usyk shots to force the stoppage and I think he will be looking to underline his dominance of this fight by making sure he doesn't leave anything to chance by going to the scorecards.

In reality I think the majority of people would expect to see a Usyk Unanimous Decision and there are some suggestions that the former standout amateur will not take risks until he is fully convinced his opponent has lost some belief in the work he is doing. That won't be enough to take into the Heavyweight Ranks although I do note the two previous unbeaten fighter Usyk has taken on have been the two who have avoided the stoppage defeat.

I just don't think Breidis is going to want to run and slowly work to a points defeat. If things are not going his way I think the unbeaten home fighter will take risks and that could see him at the wrong end of something big delivered by Usyk.

The punching power of Breidis has to be respected too, but Usyk can take away his heart in the first half of the fight and I am going to back him to earn a stoppage late on.

MY PICKS: Oleksandr Usyk to Win by KO, TKO or Disqualification @ 3.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Boxing 2018 Update: 2-0, + 4.80 Units (4 Units Staked, + 120% Yield)

Australian Open Tennis Day 14 Picks 2018- Men's Final (January 28th)

The final day at the Australian Open is headlined by the men's Singles Final and this year it is Marin Cilic taking on Roger Federer for the title.

While the women's Final was contested by the top two players in the World Rankings, the men's Final is between the Number 2 and Number 3 Ranked players.

Roger Federer has been in fantastic form so far this week and has yet to drop a set, but Marin Cilic is perhaps the most dangerous opponent he has faced. I do think this will be a good Final with the way both players have been playing and I am looking forward to the early Sunday start as we close the first Grand Slam of the season.


So what is next for the tennis picks after this weekend? The ATP Tour actually has a free week with the Davis Cup ties in the opening Round of the World Group being played next weekend.

I will look out for any picks from the WTA St Petersburg event that is being played this week with some of the top players on the Tour taking part in that event. However with just the one tournament of note up until Friday it may not be a lot of options available and so the tennis picks this week are likely to be out without the consistency of day to day picks.

On Friday I should have some picks from the Davis Cup to add to any selections from the WTA St Petersburg event.

The week after this one we will get to see three ATP events beginning with the 'Golden Swing' in South America, the indoor European season and the North American hard court events all beginning. That means a busy month is ahead before we get to the first Masters event of the season at Indian Wells which begins in early March after the first ATP 500 events have been placed in the books in February.


Marin Cilic-Roger Federer over 38.5 games: The feeling was that we were heading towards a repeat of the 2017 Australian Open Final when Rafael Nadal took a 2-1 lead over Marin Cilic in their Quarter Final. However it was not to be for the World Number 1 who suffered an injury in the fourth set and Marin Cilic took full advantage to reach another Grand Slam Final.

The run to the Final here in Melbourne also means Cilic is going to reach a career high of World Number 3 whether he wins or loses here. The all around game that Cilic possesses does make him a very dangerous opponent for anyone he plays with the big serve and the heavy groundstrokes able to dictate rallies to his liking.

Redemption will also be on the mind of Cilic going into Sunday's Final.

Last year at Wimbledon was perhaps the lowest point of Cilic's career as an injury taken into the Final almost forced him to pull out of the match. He tried hard to compete, but emotionally it was all too much for Cilic who openly shed tears on Centre Court and then battled against all odds to at least complete the Final.

That would have gotten Cilic a lot of sympathy, but it is never easy to have the crowd support you over Roger Federer who was also his opponent at Wimbledon on that day.

Federer has moved through to the Final without dropping a set in the Australian Open and he should be well rested after Hyeon Chung pulled out of their Semi Final when trailing 6-1, 5-2. That could be important for Federer, although I don't doubt his fitness, and I don't think either Cilic or the defending Champion will feel they could come into this Final in much better condition.

A healthy Cilic has also been a tough test for Federer to deal with even if the Swiss player has gotten the better of the head to head. When Cilic is serving to his maximum level, Federer can struggle to get a look in and the match Tomas Berdych played against Federer in the Quarter Final has to be on the mind of Cilic going into this Final.

Berdych has perhaps been the closest player to take a set from Federer this week and he made a fast start which put Federer under pressure. He even served for the first set and Cilic is arguably a similar player, but superior in most departments these days. Cilic will be able to set his points up with the big serve, if it is firing, and he is securer with his movement and groundstrokes than Berdych, while I also think Cilic is a little more comfortable at the net.

Suffice to say I don't imagine this Final going the same way as the one at Wimbledon, especially with Cilic much healthier coming into this match.

Matches between these players may have generally ended in favour of Federer, but Cilic has beaten him at the US Open on the way to winning the title there and also held a 2-0 lead in sets at Wimbledon in 2016 before missing a huge chance to beat Federer there too.

In fact Cilic has taken at least one set in four of the last five matches between him and Federer including at the ATP Finals a few months ago. Yes he has only won one of those matches, but I would be massively surprised if Cilic is able to record another straight sets win over Federer at a Grand Slam with the way the latter is playing.

However Cilic is playing well enough to take a set and he is serving well enough to make Federer dig deep to turn this back around. It would be a surprise if Federer is not able to win at least one set and I can see this Final being another classic Down Under with at least four sets needed.

I can't see either player falling away easily in the match and the serving both have produced suggests this is a match that is going to feature four tight sets at the least. That should give the Final every chance of covering this number of games set in the total games market.

A tiebreaker or two can't be ruled out and I think three competitive sets will be enough to cover the number as long as neither player wins this match in straight sets. The numbers being produced by both men suggests that is unlikely to be the case barring something unforeseen happening and I am looking for the total games to be surpassed.

MY PICKS: Marin Cilic-Roger Federer Over 37.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 35-38, - 4.84 Units (125 Units Staked, - 3.87% Yield)

Friday, 26 January 2018

Weekend Football Picks 2018 (January 26-28)

It is back to FA Cup action this weekend as the Fourth Round is played and this comes just days before another very important round of Premier League fixtures.

With that in mind you have to be aware of what managers are saying around the Leagues to try and get a feel for the kind of teams they are going to play in the Fourth Round. At this stage it still feels far enough away to think about winning the Cup which means the priority remains with the League at a pivotal time of the season.


One player who could feature is Alexis Sanchez who has signed for Manchester United and is available for all competitions the side are still competing in. I have written a short piece about the new Number 7 at Old Trafford which can be read here.


On Friday the FA Cup Fourth Round fixtures are played and these ties take place over the next three days. Next Tuesday and Wednesday is another full round of Premier League fixtures before another weekend of League action at the beginning of February when the attention will soon turn to the resumption of the Champions League.


Yeovil Town v Manchester United Pick: The television cameras will rock up at Huish Park with the hope of seeing one of the biggest upsets in the history of the FA Cup but that does look a tall task for Yeovil Town.

Despite having home advantage, Yeovil Town are a team fighting at the wrong end of the League Two table and there is only so much adrenaline will be able to do for the players. I expect the crowd will try and make this a tough atmosphere for the Manchester United players and rile them into making mistakes, but enough of the Manchester United squad played here in 2015 and so will be familiar enough with what to expect.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez is expected to give his new team-mates a huge boost in the second half of the season and the FA Cup has proven to be a competition that Jose Mourinho will take seriously. He played a strong team in the home win over Derby County in the Third Round and this will be a starting eleven with a lot of international experience taking to the field at Huish Park.

The same can be said in the League Cup ties Manchester United have played and they should be fairly comfortable in this one. The layers feel the same with the shortened prices on Manchester United to win this one with a clean sheet and asking the away side to cover a pretty big Asian Handicap.

Yeovil Town have played well at home in recent weeks which would make them think they can cause problems for their Premier League visitors.

However there is a real difference in quality between the two clubs and even the changes that Manchester United will make will have a very strong team take to the field. They should be a little better than in January 2015 when Manchester United won 0-2 here and I will back them to go one better and cover this Asian Handicap with Alexis Sanchez perhaps getting on the scoreboard for his new club.


Peterborough United v Leicester City Pick: In the last couple of years there have been a few occasions when a club from League One have upset a Premier League opponent in the FA Cup. Last season Millwall beat Leicester City as one of those upsets and Peterborough United will feel they have been scoring enough goals at home to give their Premier League opponents something to think about.

However I do think the situation is different for Leicester City this time around as they are not facing a relegation battle in the League which is prioritised over the FA Cup. This time Leicester City look like they could easily finish as best of the rest outside of the top six domestically and that means the owners, fans and manager all seem to be on the same page when it comes to wanting a long FA Cup run.

Claude Puel will know how difficult this tie could be having needed a Replay to beat Fleetwood Town in the Third Round. There isn't a lot between Fleetwood Town and Peterborough United so this is another difficult test for Leicester City, but I expect  a strong team to be picked in order to avoid the need for another Replay.

It won't be easy having seen Peterborough United win 1-3 at Villa Park in the Third Round and this is a team who have scored plenty of goals at home in recent games. They will challenge Leicester City, but I think the recent performances from The Foxes should be good enough to weather the storm and take control of the match.

If you consider the team Puel picked for the Third Round Replay at home against Fleetwood Town, I do think he will use the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy in this Fourth Round tie. The Leicester City defensive performances have been solid enough to think they can restrict Peterborough United to some extent and I would expect the Premier League quality to tell at the end of this one.

Leicester City may have drawn at Fleetwood Town, but I think they will play a stronger team than the one that started at Highbury Stadium in the Third Round. Peterborough United will need to be contained while the fans are loud, but if Leicester City can go in front I would expect them to be very dangerous on the counter attack and to win this game by a couple of goals on the day.


Huddersfield Town v Birmingham City Pick: Both Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City are more concerned with their respective relegation battles in the Premier League and Championship than they are in having a long FA Cup run. This competition can provide some momentum to take into the League, but both teams have important home games on Tuesday which could mean changed line ups in this Fourth Round tie.

David Wagner has already admitted as much in his last press conference as he is expected to give his fringe players an opportunity. Those players did help win 1-2 at Bolton Wanderers in the Third Round and having home advantage against another team struggling in the Championship should give The Terriers more of an edge.

However they have to respect a Birmingham City team who have been improving as they have started picking points in the League. The Blues have lost 1 of their last 5 games in all competitions and they have only lost 1 of their last 5 away games which suggests they can make an impact in this game.

The layers are not expecting too much goalmouth action, but I can see both sets of players trying to show that they are good enough to help these clubs in their League matches too. With the draw the last result either Huddersfield Town or Birmingham City want, I do think an attacking game will develop and I like the chances of both teams scoring at odds against.

That has happened in 4 of the last 6 Huddersfield Town home games, while it also happened when they visited Bolton Wanderers in the Third Round. Both teams have scored in 3 of the last 5 Birmingham City away games too and I will look for both teams to play their part in this one and will back both teams to score.


Millwall v Rochdale Pick: There is still some work to be done for Millwall if they want to avoid a return to League One after earning promotion last season, but they are definitely on the right path to doing that. It is a much better position they occupy compared with Rochdale who are in the bottom four of League One.

However I expect the Rochdale players to get up for this Cup tie with the Fifth Round of the FA Cup in front of them and the chance for a really, really big tie. They won at Doncaster Rovers in the Third Round despite having a poor away record all in all and that could make Rochdale dangerous if Millwall do not take them seriously.

I don't think that will be an issue for Millwall who were playing at the same level as Rochdale last season and played two difficult games against them. That will keep the players focused as Millwall look for another successful FA Cup run having reached the Quarter Final last season before being thumped at Tottenham Hotspur.

Millwall have beaten Barnsley 4-1 here in the FA Cup already this season which means they have won six home ties in the competition since the beginning of last season. The side have also beaten Stevenage Town in the League Cup at the New Den and I think Millwall are going to be too good for a Rochdale team who tend to concede far too many goals away from home.

I fully expect Millwall to take this tie seriously with the hope they can have another strong run in the FA Cup and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap in a win.


Notts County v Swansea City Pick: With the pressure that comes with trying to stay in the Premier League top flight, there is no doubt the FA Cup can be a distraction for clubs who are focusing on the League. A few of those Premier League clubs are already out of the FA Cup, but Carlos Carvalhal seems like someone who is taking the competition seriously enough.

He had every excuse to pick a weakened team for the Cup tie against Wolves in the Third Round, but Swansea City started recognisable players in both the initial tie and the Replay. Perhaps Carvalhal sees this competition as a chance to keep momentum going after positive results since taking over as manager of Swansea City.

They have won back to back games, but this is a tougher challenge away from the Liberty Stadium where Swansea City have struggled for wins. Swansea City are unbeaten in 3 away games in all competitions and led at Newcastle United before settling for a draw at St James' Park and there is a feeling they have the quality needed to win here.

Notts County will come in with confidence they can knock out a top flight club with home advantage the key. However they have not been in the best of form over the last couple of weeks and I do think it will be tough to bridge the difference in levels between the clubs.

Historically Notts County do have a strong home record against Swansea City, but the latter have really moved forwards as a club since these teams last met in the 2004/05 season. While this could be a close match with Notts County using the fans to produce a big performance, I do think Swansea City are in the better form and also looking like they want to keep things rolling in a positive direction with the teams picked in the FA Cup ties against Wolves.

Notts County have lost their last couple of home games in the League, which is also their priority, and I think that may have dented the belief of the players prior to this Fourth Round tie.

At close to odds against, I will back Swansea City to win here and move through to the Fifth Round of the Cup.


Sheffield United v Preston North End Pick: There is a real hope for both Sheffield United and Preston North End to at least challenge for a Play Off spot in the Championship. That is clearly going to be the priority for the two clubs, but I also have a feeling the FA Cup is important enough to give this Fourth Round tie a proper go.

A chance to get into the Fifth Round and the potential for a huge tie won't be lost on the fans or the players and I think both Sheffield United and Preston North End would love to progress.

I am anticipating team selections to highlight that and this could be a very good game this weekend.

It also could be a tight one with little between the clubs after Sheffield United have slipped back from the early season pace and Preston North End are much improved of late. The latter have proven to be very tough to beat and I think they can at least force a Replay back at Deepdale in this tie.

Sheffield United have only won 1 of their last 6 games at Bramall Lane and their better results have come on their travels including a Third Round win at Ipswich Town. Hosting a team who have not lost any of their last 7 away games is a tough situation for the favourites and I think Preston North End are defensively sound enough to earn a result here.

They are close to odds against with a start on the Asian Handicap which will offer a payout as long as Preston North End do not lose this game. Both are back in League action on Tuesday which may take away some of the focus, but I think Preston North End can be backed here.


Southampton v Watford Pick: Both Southampton and Watford's main concern is going to be to avoid relegation from the Premier League and the FA Cup is someway behind in terms of priority for the two clubs.

In saying that, both Mauricio Pellegrino and Javi Gracia will perhaps be looking at this Fourth Round tie as being able to give their players a confidence shot in the arm ahead of vital Premier League fixtures.

That also means there could be some changes made to the starting elevens although Watford have far fewer options than Southampton. With neither team wanting to add an additional game to the calendar with a draw, I can see both managers looking to play attacking teams in a bid to earn a place in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup without the need for a Replay.

Just a couple of weeks ago Watford and Southampton played out a 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road and games at St Mary's have seen both teams scoring regularly. The last 6 at St Mary's have seen both teams score and these two teams have seen 3 of their last 4 games end with both teams score too.

The 1-1 draw is a concern, but I think the ambitions of both managers to try and win the game the first time around will pay off and produce at least one more goal. Watford have lost their way in recent away games, but I think they can play a part here in a bid to impress their new manager and I will back the two teams to contribute to a high-scoring tie.


Newport County v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: One of the biggest challenges when making picks from the early Rounds of the FA Cup is trying to second guess managers and work out the kind of selections they will go with. I never thought Mauricio Pochettino would play as strong a line up as he did when Tottenham Hotspur beat Wimbledon 3-0 at home in the Third Round and a similar team would be good enough to take care of Newport County.

That is no disrespect to Newport County who have been playing well in League Two and who have won all of their FA Cup ties at Rodney Parade this season. That includes coming from a goal down to beat Leeds United in the Third Round, while this pitch regularly proves to be one of the toughest to play football on which may be a culture shock to Premier League players.

You have to also add in the fact that Tottenham Hotspur are about to enter a pivotal moment in their season with big games ahead. Following this FA Cup Fourth Round tie, Tottenham Hotspur play Manchester United (H), Liverpool (A), Arsenal (H), Juventus (A) and you have to think Pochettino will have those fixtures in mind.

Bringing in the likes of Toby Alderweireld, who is back from injury, Harry Winks, Victor Wanyama and Erik Lamela does give Pochettino the chance to rotate his starters and still have a strong team out there. Last season he was picking strong teams in the competition even when facing the likes of Fulham and Millwall in the FA Cup and I think that makes me lean towards a decent team being picked here despite the fixtures coming up.

Pochettino won't want to see Tottenham Hotspur upset here and he won't want a Replay, while also knowing there are a few days before Manchester United are the visitors to Wembley Stadium. I would expect the starters to get the better of Newport County and I can see Tottenham Hotspur wearing down this opponent over the course of ninety minutes as their superior quality shines through.

Newport County have played well at home and that confidence could see them rattle a few cages in this one. However finding the quality to beat a Premier League club may be beyond a team who have been overachieving at the League Two level.

Over the last couple of years Tottenham Hotspur have beaten Gillingham, Fulham, Millwall and Wimbledon by three or more goals in domestic Cup competitions. Granted three of those games were at home, but they should be good enough to get away from Newport County in this one and I will back the Premier League club to cover the Asian Handicap with the belief that a push is the worst case scenario.


Liverpool v West Brom Pick: The 1-0 defeat at Swansea City summed up the way most feel about Liverpool and the lack of consistency this club seems to offer. One week they can hold their own against what looks to be the best team in England, and on another they are going down to a fairly straight-forward loss to the team at the bottom of the Premier League.

The lack of consistency has contributed to too many draws at Anfield in the Premier League this season and Jurgen Klopp will likely make changes to his starting eleven to freshen things up.

Klopp has already seen West Brom come to Anfield and escape with a 0-0 draw, although it was a very good performance from The Baggies who restricted what the home team offered that day. Alan Pardew has made sure he has organised West Brom to be hard to beat, but they have recently been turning a couple of draws into wins as they continue fighting against relegation in the Premier League.

Pardew didn't make a lot of changes to his starting eleven for the win at Exeter City in the Third Round of the FA Cup, but it is clear that the Premier League is the priority for the club. The Baggies have some tough games ahead and Pardew may decide to keep the key players rested in this one to make sure they are fresh and able to give their all in the League games coming up.

Either way I would expect West Brom to try and defend deep and make life very difficult for Liverpool in this one. The problem is that Liverpool will likely have a big reaction to the loss to Swansea City and being at home means there will be a lot of pressure on the visitors to keep Liverpool at bay.

They have shown they can do that once already, but it is tough to do it twice and especially so if a few changes are made. I think Liverpool will make changes too considering they are back in League action on Tuesday evening at Huddersfield Town, but I am expecting a stronger home team than the one the visitors will bring to this FA Cup Fourth Round tie.

Liverpool have been much stronger defensively at home too and I think they can win this one with a clean sheet. They have hosted 5 teams who are currently in the bottom half of the table of the Premier League and kept clean sheets in 4 of those games and Liverpool can do that here.

One goal may be enough to see Liverpool through and I will back them to win with a clean sheet as they move into the Fifth Round.


Chelsea v Newcastle United Pick: There is a real sense of disappointment around Chelsea after failing to make it to the League Cup Final, but Antonio Conte has to try and rally his players. The heavy January fixture list has taken a toll on some of the players who have shown a little fatigue at times, but they will be asked to carry the load again on Sunday.

I do feel that Chelsea have perhaps been a little unlucky at times too with both Arsenal goals coming in incredibly fortuitous circumstances. A double deflection off two Chelsea players saw the first one hit the net, while the second saw a cross deflect off the heel of Antonio Rudiger and landing squarely in Granit Xhaka's path.

They have had the chances to win a lot more games than they have been of late and I do think Chelsea will play well enough to win a fixture like this one.

I would expect a stronger looking line up for Chelsea than for Newcastle United who have relegation worries to consider when Rafa Benitez picks his side for this one. The Magpies have not been able to bring in the players they feel can help them avoid the drop back into the Championship and the fans continue to be frustrated with the Mike Ashley direction of the club.

Newcastle United have found it difficult to challenge the very best teams in England when they have played away from home at those grounds this season. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have all beaten Newcastle United at home and I can see Chelsea managing to do the same again this weekend against what is likely to be a visiting team with a number of changes made.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have all beaten Newcastle United by at least a couple of goals margin and I think Chelsea will be able to do the same here. The home team could have Alvaro Morata back this weekend and could also bring in the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Gary Cahill and Danny Drinkwater to freshen things up.

The injury to Willian is a blow, but Eden Hazard is in form and I think Chelsea will be able to do enough to win this game. I can see Newcastle United being picked off as the game goes on and I will look for The Blues to cover the Asian Handicap.


Cardiff City v Manchester City Pick: There is going to be something of a culture clash on Sunday in the FA Cup Fourth Round as Neil Warnock sets up his Cardiff City team to take on Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. This is the kind of game that will have got Warnock pumped and his team selection in the FA Cup Third Round Replay at Mansfield Town suggests he is very much looking forward to it.

Cardiff City have turned their form around in the last couple of weeks after a really poor run dropped them off the pace at the top of the Championship.

They remain in a position to finish in one of the two automatic promotion spots in the Championship and the Cardiff City fans should make this a great atmosphere on Sunday.

It will be interesting to see how Manchester City line up for this fixture having played a stronger than expected team in the League Cup Semi Final Second Leg at Bristol City. A similar team would be too good for Cardiff City too with the control they are able to exert, but Manchester City are likely to have a few more changes in this one which will give Cardiff City a chance to spring a surprise.

That still looks a long shot though with the way Manchester City have been able to produce results throughout the season. A Fourth Round Replay will be the last thing Pep Guardiola will want, but it is clear he has targeted a sweep of all the trophies Manchester City are playing in and so I imagine the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero could be asked to start the tie.

Those players should mean Manchester City are too strong here and I am going to look for them to produce a rare away Asian Handicap cover. They failed to do that on Tuesday in the win at Bristol City, and only 1 of their last 9 away games have ended with Manchester City by winning by more than a single goal margin.

I wouldn't be surprised if Cardiff City play their part in this one, but Manchester City will have the control to win fairly comfortably on the afternoon. A lack of Cardiff City goals in recent games would be a worry though and I will look for Manchester City to be a little more clinical with the chances that come their way on Sunday.

MY PICKS: Manchester United - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.78 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet365 (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-Birmingham City Both Teams to Score @ 2.30 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Millwall - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Swansea City @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)
Preston North End + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Southampton-Watford Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool Win to Nil @ 2.10 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.07 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)