Saturday, 6 August 2022
Boxing does not have a traditional off-season as you would see in other sports, but there is no doubting that July tends to be the quieter month of the year.
It is usually the time when the top fighters will have all been out once already and will likely be preparing for either a late summer bout, or one later in the year, and that tends to leave July for mainly tick-along fights.
In saying that we have had some very good fights over the last month- we have a new World Cruiserweight Champion in Jai Opetaia from Australia who deservedly beat Mairis Breidis. Chris Billam-Smith and Joe Joyce both had big wins in the Cruiserweight and Heavyweight Divisions respectively, while Ryan Garcia and Danny Garcia both made triumphant returns.
July has tended to be a good month for me to take stock of the Boxing Picks too and it has been a decent year in terms of the overall numbers, although I am still not satisfied with the win-loss record even if a positive return has been produced.
The last Boxing Picks were made at the end of June and so the five week break has come at a good time, allowing me to refresh and get ready for what looks to be a huge second half of the season.
You may not know it, but Anthony Joshua is back in just a couple of weeks- I have been completely caught off-guard with the lack of fanfare on the UK channels and media about the rematch for three of the four Heavyweight World Titles against Oleksandr Usyk. At first I thought it was down to Joshua signing a deal with DAZN, but Sky Sports have the rights to broadcast the rematch from Saudi Arabia and I have yet to really see anything pushing the fact the bout is coming up at the speed of knots.
Some big fights have been rumoured and some have been signed for September and moving forward and I do think the fans will have plenty to enjoy. It would have been nice to return and say I can't wait for Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford, but that super-fight has hit a few obstacles as expected and we are still not sure what is going to be happening in one of the top Divisions in Boxing.
Rumours about a potential Conor Benn vs Chris Eubank Jr bout will certainly attract plenty of casual fans back to the sport, which can only be a good thing for the fighters, while there has yet to be an announcement on Anthony Yarde's challenge against the fiercesome Artur Beterbiev which was long expected to take place in the United Kingdom in October.
These are the frustrating moments for fans, but we can only hope any issues are straightened out and the expected strong end to 2022 takes place.
Vergil Ortiz Jr vs Michael McKinson
I spoke about some big names returning to the ring over the past month above, but this weekend we have another fighter who has been absent for almost an entire year.
Vergil Ortiz Jr and Michael McKinson were supposed to fight back in March, but a serious health issue was discovered for the former which has meant a considerable time out of the ring. The expectations remain the same on his return, but Ortiz Jr will be foolish for overlooking The Problem who is unbeaten and a quality southpaw.
Michael McKinson may not have ever received the same fanfare as some of his domestic rivals, but he has long believed in himself and he has worked his into this fight the hard way. A win over Chris Kongo gave McKinson a platform to push forward and he has taken advantage with a couple more wins to get himself a pretty high Ranking with the WBO and WBA.
Beating someone like Vergil Ortiz Jr would certainly push Michael McKinson to be next in line for a number of the belts which are currently tied up between Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford. Rumours remain that neither of those two fighters are long for the 147 Division and so an upset on Saturday would certainly give Michael McKinson at least a shot for a vacant belt over the next several months.
Winning won't be easy and the big question is how effectively Michael McKinson can ride the obvious power that Vergil Ortiz Jr will bring to the ring. The British fighter is someone who will move and offer angles that are unfamiliar to opponents and his key will be getting Ortiz Jr to reset before he can really unload, but it is a tough game plan to execute against someone with a reputation like the American has.
It would be a real surprise if Michael McKinson decides to stand in front of Vergil Ortiz Jr for any length of time- he has only won two of his twenty-two fights inside the distance and the key for the underdog will be to move and outbox someone who will want to come in and rain down punches.
I certainly think McKinson will have some successes doing that, but Vergil Ortiz Jr is very big for the Division and it is very difficult to keep him off of you for an entire 36 minutes. There is no doubt in my mind that Michael McKinson will be trying to win this fight and I think he will give Vergil Ortiz Jr plenty to think about with a style that is not easily replicated.
It really would not be a big surprise if there is a touch of controversy about the finish as Ortiz Jr looks to keep his knock out record going, but I do think he will find a way to touch up Michael McKinson late. Vergil Ortiz Jr has not been beyond Eight Rounds, but has shown he carries his power and I think he will wear down the unbeaten Brit and find a way to stop him in the Championship Rounds, perhaps with some help from an overzealous referee.
MY PICKS: Vergil Ortiz Jr to Win Between 7-12 @ 2.62 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Boxing Update 2022: 26-42, + 15.23 Units (121 Units Staked, + 12.59% Yield)
Friday, 5 August 2022
The Winter World Cup has long been expected to have a big impact on the European club calendar and it has been the problem that most anticipated as soon as it was announced that Qatar could not back up their boasts of being able to play in the incredibly hot summer the country has every year.
So that means sixteen Premier League GameWeeks have been crammed into the calendar between August 5th and November 13th, while two Rounds of the League Cup and all six Champions League/Europa League/Europa Conference League Group Match Days will have to be completed by November 13th too.
Take away a two week international break in late September and most of the top clubs are going to be asked to play every few days from the end of this month right through to the second week of November.
Most managers will be pleased with the five substitution rule to try and keep players fresh, but I do think the World Cup has a potential to play real havoc on the 2022/23 season with the disruption of the six week break between GameWeek 16 and GameWeek 17 likely to quell all momentum.
Last season I had to take a break from these weekly threads because of work, but I also had a really poor middle to the Fantasy campaign, which meant needing to drop back and think again... A stronger last couple of months is encouraging, but I will get into my thoughts about the upcoming season below.
First, I will have a few thoughts about Manchester United and where the club stand on the eve of a new season.
After what can only be described as a miserable season, the proverb 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' is my overriding feeling going into the 2022/23 campaign.
A new manager has arrived... A new 'football operations' team have also been put in place... But while the Glazer family continue to see Manchester United as little more than a 'cash cow', it feels like the entire club is being hamstrung by an ownership that has shown very little interest in trying to improve fortunes in a manner most football fans would expect.
Namely to have success on the field.
Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill walked out of the door in the same summer of 2013, Manchester United have to be one of the poorest run clubs out of the 'big' European clubs around. A scatter gun approach to picking a manager, buying players has hurt on the pitch, while Old Trafford and Carrington have not been improved and fallen behind some of the other Stadiums and training facilities that have popped up around the country and continent.
So when the news broke that Dick 'Ed Woodward was leaving and the new CEO, Richard Arnold, would be changing the approach, it was met with some trepidation and a feeling that the proof will be in the pudding.
The positives were that an overinflated squad, both in terms of numbers and ego, would be trimmed and that has happened with players like Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard moving on. Others who have been alleged to be involved in some of the major leaks coming out of the dressing room have also been shifted (hello Dean Henderson), and these moves have been welcomed by the fans.
BUT most fans would also have expected to have seen some replacements being brought in to improve the quality of the squad for the new manager Erik ten Hag who has done a very good job previously with Ajax.
Instead one left back, one centre half and an attacking midfielder have been the sole purchases made... After finishing 6th and seemingly miles off the top four pace.
All five clubs that finished above Manchester United have done sound business in the transfer window and mostly in time for the start of this season. Even West Ham United have signed a couple of players to improve the squad, while keeping Declan Rice, and all the while Manchester United's new 'footballing operations' team have been stuck on a never-ending deal to try and sign Frenkie de Jong.
I understand Erik ten Hag's mindset of not just adding to the squad for the sake of it, but how short do Manchester United look in centre midfield and in the attacking areas- right now I would not be surprised if someone told me the club were expecting Mason Greenwood back, despite the extremely disturbing allegations made against him, and that was the main reason they have allowed themselves to look as short of depth as they do.
With Cristiano Ronaldo angling to move away, Manchester United look like they could be one or two injuries away from having a real disaster and that is simply not good enough when pushing a 'new era' on the fans.
There is no doubt that getting transfers concluded is difficult, but the other main top four rivals all seem to manage it and there was a time when Manchester United would have been doing the same. The window is open for another month, but I have already mentioned how tight the schedule is over the next three months and that means a poor start could quickly spiral out of control.
And it is a tough start- Brighton and Brentford have shown they are very capable of springing a surprise and the month is rounded out with away trips to Southampton and Leicester City where United picked up a total of a single point in the corresponding fixtures last season. We won't mention which team is turning up to Old Trafford in the second home League game.
I won't deny that I have been encouraged by what I have seen from Erik ten Hag and his team in pre-season, but the squad depth is something the manager is clearly worried about. He must be wondering whether the Ronaldo issue can be contained, while some key players were so short of confidence last season that it may only take one or two poor results to put them back in a very negative space.
It is an incredibly difficult job with the limitations being put on the club from the very top, but another poor transfer window suggests nothing has changed.
Even now it wouldn't be a big surprise if the Old Trafford re-development spoken about will end with the club putting out a statement that the switch in the home dugout was all that was needed.
You can't help but be worried about the next ten months barring some big business being done between now and September 1st. The de Jong saga continues to suggest the club have learnt very little from Woodward's disastrous time at the helm and I do think things could quickly go very wrong for the new manager and this limited squad.
The top four places look like they will be too far away in his first season, but Erik ten Hag has to be giving the Europa League plenty of concentration with the second avenue into the Champions League arguably looking the 'easier' to negotiate.
As a fan I think we always go into the new season feeling positive, but another poor window after a truly pathetic season has knocked all that out of me before a ball has been kicked. The players will be under big pressure to win on Sunday, which I think they can manage, but the real tests come afterwards with three away games and Liverpool at home likely to give us a real indication of what lies ahead at Old Trafford.
The manager has to be backed and getting behind the team is very important, but this has been far from an ideal preparation to 'bounce back' and it truly feels like the more things change, the more they stay the same as has been the case at Manchester United over the last decade.
Premier League GameWeek 1 Fixtures
I am going to place my best picks from the weekend Premier League fixtures here and then we will move into the Fantasy Football portion of the thread.
Crystal Palace v Arsenal Pick: The Premier League begins slightly earlier than when we normally expect it as room is being made for the Winter World Cup beginning in November.
Every top flight club around Europe is in for a challenging period with a huge amount of games crammed into the 'first half' of the 2022/23 season.
Five subs have been introduced to the Premier League to ease some of the demands on the players, while fans will bounce into the new season with plenty of hopes for their own clubs.
Crystal Palace and Arsenal fans have every reason to believe this could be a strong season- both overachieved last year and the feeling is that they can build on the performances and successes. For Arsenal fans in particular, pre-season has raised all expectations, while the arrivals of players like Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus can improve not only the squad, but the actual starting eleven.
There is a lot of encouragement from the pre-season performances Arsenal have produced, but this is a far more difficult test than the prices indicate. Last season Arsenal were beaten in 9 of their 19 away League games, while 4 of their 9 away wins came at the eventual bottom four.
Only 4 of the 9 away Premier League wins came by more than one goal margins and it is hard to forget how poorly Arsenal played away from home down the stretch with 4 losses in their last 6 away League games.
They are also facing a Crystal Palace team who are unbeaten in 8 home games in all competitions and who crushed Arsenal in April. Manchester City failed to win here last season, both North London clubs were beaten and Chelsea and Liverpool needed 89 minute goals to secure their victories at Selhurst Park.
Too many draws held Crystal Palace back here, but they were only beaten in 4 of 19 home League games and I do think the odds are shortening on Arsenal as fans clamour to back a team who have won well in pre-season. This is an early start so there will be some off-season rust to shake off, but Crystal Palace have long enjoyed playing at home and they have enjoyed facing Arsenal with a single loss in 8 against them.
First goals will be crucial on the opening weekend with fitness perhaps making it more difficult to fight back, but I do think Crystal Palace have been underestimated here. Twelve months ago Arsenal were losing at another London club in the opening Premier League fixture and I think the start being offered to The Eagles is far too big to ignore.
Fulham v Liverpool Pick: Any team that is promoted to the Premier League will have one main ambition of consolidating their place at this level.
For clubs like Norwich City and Fulham, it has been very difficult to strike the right balance between the Championship and Premier League and they have once again traded places in the top flight.
Fulham have earned promotion for the third time in recent seasons, but the two previous campaigns having ended in relegation from the Premier League in 2019 and 2021. This time Marco Silva gets the opportunity to guide the club and he has not been as active in the transfer market as predecessor Scott Parker was in the 2021 campaign when signing a host of players before a ball had been kicked.
Consistency with the players may be a bonus for Fulham, but they have only won 13 of their last 57 Premier League fixtures at Craven Cottage. They are going to need to find a way to be much more competitive here and an early reminder of the challenge of the Premier League will be given to them as Liverpool visit on the opening weekend.
13 away wins from 19 League games shows how good Liverpool can be and this team will be bouncing after beating Manchester City 3-1 in the Community Shield. Darwin Nunez is off the mark to ease the pressure of coming in to replace Sadio Mane, while Liverpool have scored at least three goals in beating Norwich City (twice) and Leeds United as newly-promoted opponents in the last three seasons.
Only Leeds United were competitive and Liverpool won 0-3 at Carrow Road twelve months ago. Recent visits to Craven Cottage have been tricky, but you have to believe Liverpool can get off to a strong start to the Premier League campaign and I expect the talent difference to be obvious by the end of this fixture.
In their last Premier League season, Fulham were beaten 0-3 by Arsenal on the opening weekend and I do think they will struggle to keep Liverpool at bay. The visitors won well at Norwich City, Leeds United and Watford last season with Liverpool scoring at least three goals in each of those games and I do think they can produce enough in the final third to secure a relatively comfortable win on Saturday.
Bournemouth v Aston Villa Pick: Scott Parker was massively backed by the Fulham board two seasons ago ahead of the Premier League return, but his squad didn't even break the 30 point mark and were soundly relegated to the Championship.
He is back with a different club so has to be respected for managing another team out of the tough second tier, but Scott Parker has to accept he has benefited from guiding another former Premier League club. It means operating with a financial edge over most in the Championship, but this time Bournemouth have been a bit more frugal than Fulham and the manager feels his squad are not prepared for the Premier League.
It probably doesn't bode well that Bournemouth face Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool before the end of August and that also means pressure on Scott Parker to deliver a positive result on the opening weekend. His team did play well at home last season, but injury and key players returning to their parent clubs after loans means Bournemouth look vulnerable in a number of areas on the pitch.
The big question is whether this Aston Villa team with big ambitions can expose some of those vulnerabilities in this match.
Steven Gerrard has been well backed and being able to bring in Neil Critchley to assist in the coaching looks a solid move. His first eleven has been improved by the signings of Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara, while Aston Villa did win 6 of 13 away Premier League games following Steven Gerrard's arrival as manager.
The wins at Norwich City, Everton, Leeds United and Burnley in that time are particularly notable and Aston Villa were a little more effective in the system away from home than at Villa Park. A much healthier squad is available to the visiting team and I do think there is enough quality to beat a Bournemouth team that may be the weakest in the Premier League this season, barring some incredible recruiting before September.
Scott Parker's Fulham were beaten in 13 of 19 home Premier League games in his only full season as a Premier League manager two seasons ago and they were hammered 0-3 by Arsenal on the opening weekend. Bournemouth are unlikely to be beaten by such a margin in this one, but I do think Aston Villa can edge to the victory and look worth backing on the Asian Handicap which will return half the stake in the event of a draw.
Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton Pick: Opening day fixtures can be difficult to get a good read on, but it may be especially difficult in the 2022/23 season considering the earlier start than usual.
In saying that, there is much excitement about this Tottenham Hotspur team and the squad that has been constructed for Antonio Conte. It looks to have more depth and a solid starting eleven that could give any team a run for their money on Tottenham Hotspur's best day (win over Manchester City and a draw at Liverpool under Conte underlines the point).
Tottenham Hotspur look fresh going into the season and they are not having the same drama as twelve months ago when Harry Kane was linked with a move to Manchester City. Being more settled and with a manager who has been as effective as Antonio Conte has been gives Spurs plenty of optimism and I do think they will have too much for Southampton.
Ralph Hasenhuttl has to be respected and he has certainly been able to keep his players motivated even when things have begun to look like they are spiralling out of control. A poor end to last season has put the manager under some pressure and the early fixtures are not that encouraging, especially as Southampton look like a squad that could potentially struggle in the top flight.
A lack of goals is one thing, but Southampton have conceded far too many away from home and I do think they could be put under immense pressure by Tottenham Hotspur who have had strong underlying numbers since Antonio Conte has taken over as manager.
You cannot completely dismiss Southampton- this is an opening fixture and sometimes that can mean fitness is not where the favourites would like. Last season Southampton also won here and earned draws at Manchester City and Manchester United, but I do think Tottenham Hotspur were very efficient at home under Conte and 6 wins from 7 Premier League games here backs that up.
If Spurs can go in front early as they did when these teams met in February, I do think this current squad has a tougher feel about them defensively. This time I would imagine they would not allow Southampton back in as easily as they did several months ago and I think Tottenham Hotspur will have the firepower to secure a relatively strong win on Saturday afternoon.
Everton v Chelsea Pick: Both Everton and Chelsea will feel they had underachieving seasons in the 2021/22 campaign, and both sets of fans may be a little worried by the transfer market business being done by their respective boards.
Frank Lampard has made it clear that his players have to produce much more if they are going to operate higher up the League table, but poor recruitment has caught up with Everton. Now they have had to sell Richarlison and not been able to spend that money as they would have done in previous seasons and it means Lampard has a tough job in front of him.
At least his Everton team used the home crowd effectively and they were tough to play here down the stretch. Frank Lampard will need all that and more and better health for Dominic Calvert-Lewin who is the absolute key for the team. The English striker is a doubt for this weekend and that is not going to be good news for an Everton team lacking the depth they need.
His counterpart hasn't been much happier with the incomings at Stamford Bridge and Thomas Tuchel may feel he is going into the season with one hand tied behind his back. Big names have departed, but the signings of Kalidou Koulibaly and Raheem Sterling have not been enough to believe Chelsea can close in on the current top two.
More players are likely to arrive, but not early enough to expect them to have an impact in this opening fixture of the season. Chelsea have long struggled to play at Goodison Park and they have lost 4 in a row here, including back in May.
Jordan Pickford had a huge game for Everton that day and will be a key player again for the home team, although Chelsea may have better balance with Ben Chilwell back from a long-term injury. The bigger question for Chelsea is whether they can find a bit more consistency in the final third having ended a long way short of Liverpool and Manchester City in terms of goals last season.
An opening day fixture could see players struggle to maintain their intensity for the full ninety minutes and this may be a tough game for both teams. 8 of the last 10 between Everton and Chelsea have ended in three or fewer goals shared out, including both last season, and I do think this could be a game in which the defences largely come out on top.
I expect Chelsea to have the majority of the play, but Everton showed they can batten down the hatches at home under Frank Lampard and I would not be surprised to see a low-scoring start to the campaign in this late Saturday live offering.
Leicester City v Brentford Pick: Barely missing out on a top four finish in 2020 and 2021 and winning the FA Cup has certainly raised expectations around Leicester City and so the very difficult 2021/22 campaign was one that would have hurt the players as much as the fans.
Brendan Rodgers will point to the injury issues throughout the season, but that won't be enough to appease fans wondering why Leicester City have yet to make a signing. Now clubs like Newcastle United and Chelsea are sniffing around some of the better players on the roster and it will certainly be difficult for Leicester City to ignore the bids if the prices set are met.
Wesley Fofana is one that looks like he wants out, while James Maddison has been a little more silent, but it does not help the manager or their team-mates. Leicester City are about to lose Kasper Schmeichel already and there is a feeling that Brendan Rodgers could soon be feeling the pressure if the team make a slow start.
Thomas Frank certainly has more scope for early error with his Brentford team having guided them to promotion and then setting the club into 13th place in the Premier League last season. There are growing expectations around the 'bus stop in Hounslow', although I think Brentford's board would take another year of consolidation.
Losing Christian Eriksen is a blow, despite the solid signings that have been made, and I do think that will hurt Brentford. They were struggling before Eriksen made a big impact with the team and the injuries to some key defensive players ahead of the opening fixture are worrying.
Brentford have not really enjoyed playing Leicester City over the last couple of years with four losses to them during that time. Both Premier League games finished 2-1 in favour of Leicester City and a much healthier squad at Brendan Rodgers' disposal can secure the full three points in this one.
It could be one of the better games of the opening weekend with two teams that like to get the ball down and play attacking football- my only concern for Leicester City is the upheaval that players who wish to leave could cause, but I think Rodgers will have the team ready to compete on Sunday.
Jamie Vardy's wife suffered a demoralising defeat in the United Kingdom courts at the end of July, but the striker can help his team get off to a strong start in August and I think Leicester City are fairly priced to be backed for a win.
Manchester United v Brighton Pick: A new era is beginning at Old Trafford on Sunday, although expectations are much lower amongst the fanbase compared with twelve months ago. After a decent season, Manchester United fans were hoping to see a genuine Premier League title challenge put together, but instead it was a campaign where they missed out of Champions League Football and went through three different managers.
Erik ten Hag will be given time to implement his style, but there has to be some frustration with the poor transfer window up to this point. Instead of having a full squad to work with before the opening fixture, the new manager is still waiting to hear if his top midfield target will be purchased and Erik ten Hag has also asked for more attacking options.
Early pre-season form was decent, but it is all about the real thing on Sunday and Manchester United fans will be judging the players very quickly. Most of those who will be playing on Sunday were also involved in the 4-0 loss at Brighton in May and they will be asked to at least show they care a lot more than they seemed to do in the latter weeks of the last season.
This is far from an easy test for Manchester United as they host a Brighton team who had their highest League finish of all time just a few months ago. Graham Potter continues to get plenty out of his squad and Brighton continue to thrive even when selling some important players.
It has been a summer where Yves Bissouma has moved on and Brighton could also be losing Marc Cucerella, but before last season they allowed Ben White to leave and it did not stop the development of the team. They are a well run club who will find replacements for quality leaving and Brighton proved they can be a stubborn team to play on their travels having ended the season with wins at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
Brighton have yet to earn a result at Old Trafford since returning to the top flight and I do think the loss of Bissouma will hurt.
Graham Potter's team try to play football and that does earn them results, but also means the top teams can enjoy the matches against Brighton. Manchester United do need to get more out of the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho, but it does feel like they can hurt Brighton as they have tended to do in recent seasons.
It could be an enjoyable match to watch with both teams likely to want to produce plenty of attacking threat. The quality should be with the home team even off a really poor season and I do think Manchester United can score at least twice in a home win to open this campaign.
West Ham United v Manchester City Pick: For most teams you would consider a visit to the London Stadium to be a tough test, but the layers are taking no chances with Champions Manchester City who are plenty short in the market to win here.
It says more about Manchester City and the expectations around them rather than any weakness about West Ham United, but Pep Guardiola will not be worrying about the odds. Instead he will be reminding his players that West Ham United have given them plenty of tough tests in recent times and David Moyes has added some key players to his squad.
Manchester City are potentially down a couple of centre backs for this game and that will be encouraging for a West Ham United team who have been very effective at the London Stadium in the Premier League over the last couple of seasons. In both they have also held Manchester City to draws having scored first and I do think the defensive issues could be exploited by the home team.
Last season Tottenham Hotspur did beat Manchester City 1-0 on the opening weekend and the season before saw the eventual Champions win 1 of their opening 3 fixtures. I do think Manchester City created enough last week in the Community Shield to suggest they will be very difficult to contain when going forward, but West Ham United have plenty who offer a counter attack and that could see them hit the back of the net.
West Ham United scored in every home Premier League game last season and have only failed to score here in 3 of their last 40 League fixtures. I do think Manchester City's dominance of the ball means they will not give a lot of goals away, but the last 4 Premier League fixtures between these clubs have all ended with both teams hitting the back of the net and I think that will be the outcome of the last fixture of opening weekend in the 2022/23 season.
MY PICKS: Crystal Palace + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Aston Villa - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton-Chelsea Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Manchester United & Over 1 Total Goal @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
West Ham United-Manchester City BTTS- Yes @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Fantasy Football GameWeek 1
The 2021/22 season may only feel like it ended last week, but the 2022/23 season is now ready to begin.
And that means the FPL Official Game is back!
An ever increasing interest in the game has made things a bit tougher all around, but I do think the Draft option will become more popular in the years ahead, especially for mini-Leagues. It will give the game a different and, in my opinion, a better dynamic with one real life player per mini-League as you would have when playing friends and family in any of the American fantasy games.
However, we are where we are right now and I do think the World Cup is going to be a problem to negotiate for all FPL players.
The game has responded by effectively offering a third Wild Card which will be live between GW16 and GW17, but it also means a slight change in approach to the first Wild Card.
It has to be used before GW16 and the challenge now is when best to play it.
The fixture list to open the season has looked pretty reasonable for the top four sides from last season and I think most are going to be dipping into the Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur squads.
Enablers like Nico Williams, Nathan Patterson, Andreas Pereira have emerged to be very popular within the FPL Community and the price point for players looks to be pretty reasonable in building strong squads to start the season.
For me the biggest questions have been the following:
1) Liverpool Triple Choice?: For most Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah are pretty set, but the big choice looks to be coming down to being between Andrew Robertson and Luis Diaz.
With Diogo Jota expected out for the majority of the month, I can see why Diaz is very popular. Unsurprisingly I think Liverpool and Manchester City will be the top scorers in the opening five GameWeeks, and so having a second player who looks like he will be given significant minutes in the attacking third is hard to ignore.
However, Liverpool also have the potential to pick up a number of clean sheets and that is where Andrew Robertson and the extra £1 million could prove to be key.
He has attacking output potential of his own, especially if Liverpool start Darwin Nunez who is a big target to aim for from crosses, while Robertson has been getting much into the box much more regularly when Luis Diaz is playing in front of him and that could be key to attacking returns.
It is a difficult one, but my lean is towards Robertson at the time of writing.
2) Harry Kane or Erling Haaland?: One of my lessons learnt in previous years is you never go with the shiny new toy joining the Premier League over an established player that is guaranteed plenty of points.
However, Erling Haaland could be the exception at Manchester City despite the horrendous miss in the Community Shield.
Harry Kane has played really well since Antonio Conte arrived as manager of Tottenham Hotspur, has impressed in pre-season and has a much easier looking GW1 fixture... But how can you without Erling Haaland in GW2?
I think Manchester City will create chances for Haaland and for now I would expect him to get plenty of minutes in the legs before rotation kicks in around the Champions League Group games. The Champions have an incredibly good looking fixture list to start the season and with the five subs rule in play, all of their attacking players should get plenty of minutes.
Another approach could be to lock in the GW2 transfer from Kane to Haaland, but those decisions can quickly cause problems in the early weeks of the season when you want to avoid taking too many transfer hits.
I've been back and forth between the players so much that I don't even know who I currently have in the squad- some may feel both are an option, but I think that really hurts the balance of the squad and likely means going without Salah.
3) Two Leicester City GK options at £4 million, too good to be true?: Kasper Schmeichel has departed and Leicester City look like a club having one or two financial problems so the feeling is that they will not be able to buy a replacement and instead will go with Danny Ward or Daniel Iverson.
Regular playing time could see Danny Ward take over as the Wales Number 1 ahead of the World Cup in Qatar and he does seem to have the edge. It frees up funds, but the risk is that you have to make a Goalkeeper transfer if Leicester City do decide to bring in more competition.
Those two tough away games at Arsenal and Chelsea may be when you would like someone else between the sticks, but in general Leicester City don't have a bad looking opening set of fixtures as long as they can keep the likes of Wesley Fofana at the club.
Like many, I have done a little tinkering with the squad in the final run towards the GW1 deadline and I think there will be more done before it all gets underway.
The best advice I can give you right now is not to get too engrossed by all of the 'advice' you see people dishing out in the lead up- there is never a truly right way to play a Fantasy game and going with your gut is important.
However, I would also keep an eye out on some of the ownership percentage of players as this is the time of the season you can lose the game, but not win it.
You don't want to be too far behind come the World Cup, but I do think some of the smaller decisions to balance the squad is where an edge can be made.
It would be a surprise if teams in your mini-League don't include three Liverpool players, while I expect most to have at least two 'premium' players (those priced at £10 million upwards in the game).
Gabriel Jesus had a huge pre-season for Arsenal and looks like entering the season as the most owned player on record at a bargain £8 million price point.
My plan is to post my screenshot of my final selection here on Friday at around 7pm.
Good luck to all playing.
Thursday, 21 July 2022
The weather in London reached ridiculous heights on Tuesday and it certainly meant I did not want to be on a laptop or computer any longer than I needed to be.
After the day for the Tennis Picks, it was easy for me to take a day off to recover.
Bad luck seemed to be flying all over the place over the first couple of days of this week and I needed the mental break of a day off just to cool down (mentally and physically).
What a day- I will make no excuses for the Cristian Garin and Diego Sebastian Schwartzman picks- but I have struggled to accept some of the other selections and the way in which they were undone.
Laslo Djere won his first set 6-1 and was up 4-2 in the second set having held onto serve all the way at that point of the match, but somehow was beaten 6-1, 6-7, 3-6.
Thiago Monteiro played poorly, but did have his chances in the second set which would have seen him cover.
Fabio Fognini was leading 6-3 after set one and looked to have momentum having recovered from a break down in the second set before once again losing focus.
Jaume Munar won the first set with a double break, but lost the second having dropped serve twice more than his opponent and then waited until the cover was impossible before winning four games in a row to secure the match.
And worst of all, Marc-Andrea Huesler who led 7-6, 5-4, 40/0 on serve and having not faced a Break Point in the match... Amazingly he failed to serve it out and ultimately lost the match.
Honestly it is tough to take a day like that when so many seemed to blow strong positions and it was frustrating to say the least.
While it likely means a losing week, I am expecting much better through the remainder of this week and month to back up what had been a solid grass court season.
Carlos Alcaraz - 4.5 games v Filip Krajinovic: These two players met in the Quarter Final in Umag twelve months ago and both were Seeded.
Back then Filip Krajinovic was the Number 3 Seed, but Carlos Alcaraz was the Number 7 Seed and Number 73 in the World Rankings... Now he is playing in Hamburg as the top Seed in the draw and the World Number 6 to underline the kind of progress that Alcaraz has made on the Tour.
Earlier this season he was playing like the World Number 1 and it was telling that so many were tipping Carlos Alcaraz to truly announce himself to a wider public by winning his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. Ultimately he was narrowly beaten in the Quarter Final, but Carlos Alcaraz will be someone to watch out for at the US Open next month and especially if he can produce some confidence boosting tennis in the build towards that event.
The Spaniard is a confident hard court player, but the tournament in Hamburg will help build the Ranking, while Carlos Alcaraz has made it clear that his main ambition for the season is making sure he is playing in his first ATP Finals. He is well on course for that and I think Carlos Alcaraz will be all the better for the challenging win in the First Round having produced some of the best clay court numbers of any player on the Tour in 2022.
The Quarter Final win over Filip Krajinovic in Umag was far from easy last season, but Carlos Alcaraz has moved past the Serb who is an inconsistent clay court player. Filip Krajinovic had a solid win over Sebastian Baez in the First Round, but the latter had a deep run in Bastad and I think that ultimately made the difference in the match.
I do think this is going to be a much tougher match for Krajinovic who has not really returned as well as he would have liked on the clay courts with breaks in just 18% of return games played. Filip Krajinovic will likely feel the pressure on his own serve against a player like Carlos Alcaraz who wins plenty of return points and who has broken in 33% of return games played on this surface this season.
Carlos Alcaraz has improved on the Tour mainly because of his serve and I expect a much better performance on this side of his tennis than we saw in the First Round. He has been winning 65% of service points behind his serve on the clay courts and I think that will also build the pressure on Filip Krajinovic and to a higher extent than when they met last season.
It is a big spread to cover, but I do think Carlos Alcaraz will be much better than he was in the First Round and he has the return game to cover the mark that has been set.
MY PICKS: Carlos Alcaraz - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Andrey Rublev - 2.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Dominic Thiem - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Nicolas Jarry - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Matteo Berrettini - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Barbora Krejcikova - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Bernarda Pera - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Monday, 18 July 2022
The hot weather sweeping across Europe had an impact in the early matches at the three stops taken in by the ATP and WTA Tours and there is another challenging day ahead for the players getting into First and Second Round action.
Wet weather is expected later in the week and the cooler conditions will benefit all as the events in Hamburg, Gstaad and Palermo continue.
Fabio Fognini - 3.5 games v Aljaz Bedene: After snapping a long losing run to Fabio Fognini when these two players last met in 2019, Aljaz Bedene was back in a familiar position in Belgrade earlier this season.
Once again Fabio Fognini got the better of Bedene to extend his dominance of the head to head between the players and they are meeting on the clay courts again, this time in the First Round in Hamburg. All but one of their previous ten matches have been played on the clay courts and Fabio Fognini leads the Aljaz Bedene 8-1 as these two veterans of the Tour meet with some important Ranking points on the line.
The two players are slipping down the World Rankings and further drops, or the end of the Protected Ranking in Aljaz Bedene's case, will mean having to Qualify for some of the bigger tournaments on the Tour. I don't really envision either wanting to do that long-term and so it is important to pick up some Ranking points in the summer clay court swing before the majority of players head to North America to begin preparation for the US Open.
We have already seen the signs of the pressure that comes with having to Qualify for main draws last week when Fabio Fognini was beaten in the final Round of Qualifying for Bastad. He did eventually make the main draw as a Lucky Loser, but was beaten in the First Round and the Italian is clearly a player that has seen his better days.
His numbers back that up, but Aljaz Bedene has had an even more difficult season on the red dirt and he has a 3-7 record overall in 2022. The early defeat at Wimbledon under a Protected Ranking means the Slovenian has not played for three weeks now and I do think he is vulnerable in this match up even when at his best.
Fabio Fognini has a vulnerable serve on this surface, but his return game has proven to be a big problem for Aljaz Bedene to deal with. It has meant that Bedene has broken in 25% of the return games against Fognini on the clay compared with the 33% mark produced by the Italian and that is a significant edge.
It ended up being a very comfortable win for Fabio Fognini when these two met in Belgrade in April, but this one is likely to be a big tighter considering the lack of confidence that Fognini is seemingly playing with. Even then, the Italian should have the tennis to break down the Aljaz Bedene game and I think he will eventually be able to do enough to cover what is a relatively wide spread for a best of three set match.
Laslo Djere - 2.5 games v Borna Coric: There have been a number of big name players that have missed significant time on the Tour due to injury and who have returned in 2022 looking to rediscover their best competitive form. The biggest is Dominic Thiem who has finally gotten back into something of a winning habit over the last couple of weeks, but don't underestimate the kind of talent that Borna Coric has and the hope is he can finally begin to fulfil that.
He reached a career high of Number 12 in the World Rankings, while Borna Coric looked to have the tennis that could make him very effective on all surfaces. At 25 years old, the Croatian could still have a very bright future, but the long layoff has left him vulnerable in 2022 and he has only won two of the eight matches played on the main Tour since returning.
With no World Ranking points on offer, I am perhaps not that surprised that Borna Coric decided to skip Wimbledon and instead play a couple of Challenger events on the clay courts. The Croatian will hold a Protected Ranking for now, but Borna Coric is currently outside the top 150 in the World Rankings and it is really important for him to pick up some momentum and plenty of wins to avoid having to play those smaller events more regularly.
It was a positive month for Borna Coric with a Quarter Final run in Perugia and then winning the title in Parma, but he returned with a First Round loss in a Challenger event last week and he may have hoped for a much better draw here in Hamburg. He has already been beaten by Laslo Djere once this season and the latter also holds a 2-0 head to head advantage over Borna Coric with both wins being earned on the clay courts.
Laslo Djere has become a very steady, consistent player on the clay courts, although he doesn't seem to have the extra gear to really beat the best players on the Tour. He has been able to challenge them on this surface and he put together a decent tournament in Bastad last week before losing to Andrey Rublev in the Quarter Final.
The numbers remain solid and Laslo Djere will feel he can get a little more from his return game than Borna Coric in this First Round match to make all of the difference in the outcome of it. When they met in Rome in May, the scoreboard suggests it was an easy enough win for Djere, but the Serb will be the first to admit that he played the big points much more efficiently than Borna Coric and that is going to have to be the case when they meet in Hamburg too.
There hasn't been much between these players in the two previous clay court matches, but Laslo Djere has been able to exert enough pressure to see Borna Coric crack. At this stage of their careers, I think that is still the case for Djere as Borna Coric continues his recovery to the level he was producing a couple of years ago, and I think the higher Ranked player will make it a hat-trick of victories over this opponent on the red dirt.
MY PICKS: Fabio Fognini - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Laslo Djere - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Diego Sebastian Schwartzman - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Jaume Munar - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Richard Gasquet @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Cristian Garin - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Thiago Monteiro - 1.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Marc-Andrea Huesler - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Weekly Update: 3-3, - 1.14 Units (12 Units Staked, - 9.50% Yield)
Sunday, 17 July 2022
A strong grass court season for the Tennis Picks was not quite signed off with the momentum I would have wanted, but it was a positive set of results over the month.
Like many, I have taken a week off since Wimbledon was concluded just to take a short break in what is always a very long season.
The remainder of this month will see some clay court tournaments played as both Tours see some bigger names on the courts who are trying to pick up some vital Ranking points, while the end of the month will be the beginning of the run towards the US Open.
Before that there are some big tournaments to be played and the next three weeks will be about managing the Tennis Picks and avoiding any really poor days.
Pedro Martinez - 2.5 games v Carlos Taberner: A heat wave has hit Europe and temperatures have been soaring across the continent- things won't be any different in Gstaad on Monday when this ATP tournament gets underway with main draw action.
Two Spanish players will be meeting and you do have to expect both Pedro Martinez and Carlos Taberner to be used to playing in hot conditions, although it is a challenge for two players who have not been in the best form to ignore the difficult temperatures being faced by players.
Despite being comfortable clay courters, this has not been a season to write home about for either Pedro Martinez or Carlos Taberner. The former has won one of his last eight clay court matches going back to early April, while Carlos Taberner has won two of his last eight matches and neither has produced very strong clay court numbers in 2022.
I think both Pedro Martinez and Carlos Taberner are going to have to work hard to protect serve in this match, while Taberner has at least had an edge with his return numbers. He looks to be playing the big points much better than Pedro Martinez on the clay in 2022, but this has regularly been a bad match up for Carlos Taberner and his own personal form is not going to be inspiring a lot of confidence.
The numbers against top 100 Ranked players on the clay courts in 2022 are very similar, but Pedro Martinez may be coming into a match with a slight mental edge.
Ending his losing run on the clay in his last tournament will have been a boost for Pedro Martinez, while he has won nine of eleven previous matches against Carlos Taberner, including each of the last three. Those three matches have been played since 2019 and are perhaps the most relevant to this one, although the last time Pedro Martinez and Carlos Taberner played one another is ten months ago.
In those last three matches, Martinez has had a huge edge in the serving numbers and has managed to win 51% of return points against the Carlos Taberner serve, which has led to breaks in 51% of return games played.
I will admit that it is not easy to trust someone who has gotten so used to losing as Pedro Martinez has, but he has enjoyed this match up and that is expected to give him more confidence than he may have had against other opponents. The heat could be a problem for both players, but I think Pedro Martinez will be able to produce enough quality on the return to edge past his compatriot and earn a spot in the Second Round.
MY PICKS: Pedro Martinez - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tomas Martin Etcheverry @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Joao Sousa - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Lorenzo Musetti - 1.5 Games @ 1.72 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Sara Sorribes Tormo - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Jasmine Paolini - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Saturday, 9 July 2022
It was a pretty good Ladies Final and Elena Rybakina could go from strength to strength on the WTA Tour after winning a maiden Grand Slam.
There is no doubting the quality of her tennis at her best, but Rybakina has the same issues as many on the WTA Tour in lacking the consistency to challenge for major prizes. Maybe the win at Wimbledon will give her a new sense of confidence, although she will unfortunately remain outside the top 10 of the World Rankings after all points were removed from the tournament.
Iga Swiatek will be the player to beat in New York City ahead of the final Grand Slam of the 2022 season, but I am hoping Elena Rybakina can kick her own career forward as the women's game continues to search for players to form real rivalries at the top of their sport.
On Sunday the attention turns to the Men's Final as the 2022 Wimbledon Championships come to a conclusion and there is every hope that this could be another fine way to end the tournament.
Novak Djokovic - 4.5 games v Nick Kyrgios: A few months ago, the tabloids and tennis fans would have been salivating for a match up between two players who have never really seen eye to eye at that stage of their lives. Nick Kyrgios had been particularly vocal with his criticism of the exhibition tournaments that Novak Djokovic and a number of others had arranged during the height of the Covid pandemic when all of the Tennis Tours had been postponed and he saved his most fiery comments for the then World Number 1.
So it came as a real surprise during the drama of the 2022 Australian Open that Novak Djokovic's biggest supporter on the Tour around his Visa issues was the same Nick Kyrgios.
The relationship seems to be much improved these days, but that should not take away any drama from the Wimbledon Final between two competitors that can get hot under the collar.
Novak Djokovic will go into the Final as the favourite despite losing the two previous Tour matches with Nick Kyrgios, although the last of those was played back in 2017. Both were top 20 Ranked players back then, while there will still be a huge amount of respect between the competitors with that mental edge likely going to give Nick Kyrgios confidence in trying to win his first ever Slam Final.
The serve has been a huge weapon for both players in those previous meetings, both on the hard courts, and it is Nick Kyrgios who has yet to be broken by Novak Djokovic. In fact, Novak Djokovic has only won 23% of return points in those matches compared with Nick Kyrgios' mark of 30% and this may be another match dominated by the serve.
Another factor is considering how much the time spent off the court has affected Nick Kyrgios- he did not have to play his Semi Final against Rafael Nadal and that means he has not played since Wednesday when beating Cristian Garin in the Quarter Final. It should mean he is fresh, but has the rhythm been lost a little bit?
Novak Djokovic has needed nine sets in his last two Rounds to earn his place in the Wimbledon Final yet again, but there may be some fatigue catching up with him which has to be a concern.
However, he is a player that knows exactly what it takes to win a Grand Slam and the six time Champion in SW19 is still capable of producing a grass court level that the likes of Nick Kyrgios are not able to reach consistently.
As good as the run has been to reach the Final, Nick Kyrgios has had things break his way with Matteo Berrettini and Rafael Nadal avoided. In the last three Rounds he continues to win the tight margins, but Novak Djokovic is playing at a different level and I think the way that Cristian Garin was able to get into the service games of Kyrgios is a potential problem for the Australian.
I expect Nick Kyrgios to serve well enough to have his chances and I do think he is capable of winning a set and maybe even two, but Novak Djokovic's return will build pressure. He might not have faced this serve for five years, but I expect Djokovic to make the adjustments needed during the course of this match as he did in the Quarter Final and Semi Final and I think the Serb will win a seventh title at Wimbledon and match his inspiration Pete Sampras.
MY PICK: Novak Djokovic - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Wimbledon 2022: 54-46, + 7.72 Units (200 Units Staked, + 3.86% Yield)
Friday, 8 July 2022
A slow start from Novak Djokovic did not prevent him from earning his spot in the Wimbledon Final on Sunday and the match up with Nick Kyrgios is one that is going to draw plenty of attention.
However, the Ladies Final deserves the spotlight on Saturday as two maiden Grand Slam Finalists meet for the biggest title of their career to date. The winner may feel there is a potential to spark the career and win a number of Slams and I am looking forward to both matches remaining at the 2022 tournament.
Ons Jabeur-Elena Rybakina over 22.5 games: This is the first time a player representing Arabs and North Africans will be playing in a Grand Slam Final and Ons Jabeur has fulfilled some of the expectations that were on her shoulders at the start of the Wimbledon tournament. She is the favourite to win the title on Saturday, but Ons Jabeur should have plenty of respect for the quality that Elena Rybakina brings to the court as she becomes the first player from Kazakhstan to compete for a Grand Slam title.
Both are going to have to deal with some of the nerves that comes with playing a maiden Grand Slam Final- Ons Jabeur has been the more consistent player on the Tour, but Elena Rybakina has long had the kind of tennis that felt it could bring home a major title if she could just find a hot streak of form at the right time.
It is a very big game and Elena Rybakina was able to thump Simona Halep in the Semi Final to further build her confidence. She had been a pretty big underdog in that match against a player who had won the Wimbledon title in 2019 and not been beaten on the grass courts in SW19 for four years, but Elena Rybakina played a perfect game with big thumping winners to dominate her opponent.
The problem for Elena Rybakina is that she is not likely to have an easy rhythm in this match like Simona Halep provided and dealing with different spins, drop shots and a player comfortable volleying at the net is a big challenge for the underdog. The first serve is a major weapon for Elena Rybakina though and she will feel she can play first strike tennis as long as she is able to land plenty of those, even noting how well Ons Jabeur has been returning throughout this tournament.
A bigger challenge for the Tunisian is that she had not served as well as she would have liked in her Fourth Round and Quarter Final wins. Earlier in the tournament that may not have been a concern, but Ons Jabeur has to be aware that Elena Rybakina has found her groove on the return with 46% of points won on the return in her last two wins.
Those have led to plenty of breaks of serve for Elena Rybakina, but both have been serving well enough to believe they can get their noses in front. The two completed matches between the two players have both needed three sets to separate them and I do think there is enough quality tennis being played by both Jabeur and Rybakina in this tournament to think we may need a decider in this one too.
Before last season, seven straight Ladies Finals at Wimbledon had been won in straight sets, but I do think nerves could make it difficult for either to close out in straights here.
These two have played four matches combined in the Quarter Final and Semi Final Round and three of those have also needed a deciding set and I do think we are going to see this total games line covered. It should be a fun match and I do think we are getting a deserved Champion, albeit the latest new name on the WTA Tour to add a Grand Slam title to their resume.
MY PICKS: Ons Jabeur-Elena Rybakina Over 22.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Wimbledon 2022: 53-46, + 6.12 Units (198 Units Staked, + 3.09% Yield)