Saturday, 19 April 2014

NBA First Round Play Off Picks 2014

This has been a really tough season when it comes to my picks as I have had bad luck, but also made some ridiculously poor picks (any time you pick Milwaukee/Philadelphia to cover, it shouldn't feel good no matter how many points you get on your side).

That happens once in a while, even through the course of a season, but hopefully the Play Offs will prove to be a 'different season' for the picks and get back to winning ways.

There is no doubt that there is plenty of exciting times ahead, particularly if you're a fan of the Western Conference which looks loaded with strong games from the very First Round. It isn't the case so much for the Eastern Conference, but both Miami and Indiana haven't looked themselves which makes it a more intriguing First Round than I would have perhaps expected when the season was drawing to a close.

The NBA Play Offs will be starting on Saturday 19th April and the next couple of months should be a lot of fun. I will be adding daily picks from the Play Off First Round on this thread, let's hope for some luck on and off the court.

Saturday 19th April
Brooklyn Nets @ Toronto Raptors Game One Pick: Experience against Youth, Athleticism against Veterans, are the kind of things we will be hearing during this series as the Toronto Raptors look to make home court advantage count as they open the Play Offs.

The lack of experience could be the biggest factor for Toronto to overcome against the Brooklyn Nets, but they have played with a freedom in recent weeks that should help them in this first game.

Nerves are always hard to judge, but Toronto are talented and can certainly give Brooklyn all they can handle. The Nets are also very happy with the series as they looked like they had been picking the Raptors as their First Round match up, but the excitement of the home crowd could carry Toronto to take the opening game.

As Brooklyn have rested players down the stretch, they may not have the full chemistry that they would need to immediately steal home court, and I am backing Toronto to win and cover the opening game of the series.

Golden State Warriors @ LA Clippers Game One Pick: If Andrew Bogut was available for the Golden State Warriors, I would see this being a much tighter series, but I like the LA Clippers to come through it. They will need to set the tone in this match from the first game and have proved too good for the Warriors when playing them at the Staples Center recently.

Both teams can get hot shooting the ball that always makes spreads like these look dangerous, but the Clippers have been comfortable winners at home in the two games previously this season and I think they have less adjustments to make. Without Bogut, Mark Jackson may still not be entirely sure how he wants the series to be played and I think the Clippers give him more to think about ahead of game two.

Atlanta Hawks @ Indiana Pacers Game One Pick: When the Atlanta Hawks are on, they have plenty of three point shooters that can put the pressure on their opponents, but the Indiana Pacers have a very good defence. The Pacers won all 3 home games against the Hawks in the Play Offs last season in their First Round series, all comfortably too, but the form down the stretch wasn't very good.

The Hawks won't have anything to lose and I think they can make the points look a little high in this first game.

Memphis Grizzlies @ Oklahoma City Thunder Game One Pick: The Memphis Grizzlies have been in Play Off mode for a couple of weeks as they have needed to push the Phoenix Suns out of contention, but they may just take a breath in this first game of a seven game series.

As inconsistent as the Oklahoma City Thunder have been in recent games, Kevin Durant will want to get this series of to a better start than last season to show the Thunder mean business this time around.

MY PICKS: 19/04 Toronto Raptors - 3 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
19/04 LA Clippers - 7 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
19/04 Atlanta Hawks + 7.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
19/04 Oklahoma City Thunder - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

Friday, 18 April 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (April 19-21)

The Premier League title race and the relegation battle always has a number of twists and turns when we get into the final furlong, but at the moment all the signs are pointing to one team winning the Premier League.

It took a late goal to see off Manchester City last weekend, but even that wasn't enough to put Liverpool in the driving seat for the title... However, the failure to beat Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium has certainly given Liverpool the edge over Manchester City and now it looks like being a two horse race to the finish between the Reds and Chelsea.

The game next weekend between those two teams looks to be the one that determines who will be taking home the trophy next month, but that is assuming things go to plan this weekend as both Chelsea and Liverpool play relegation threatened teams in games they will be expected to win.

Nothing usually comes easy at this stage of the season, especially not with the pressure and playing opponents fighting for their lives, but April 27th looks to be the date to circle in terms of where the title is going.

Norwich City entertain Liverpool and have their own issues after three consecutive losses which has them on the brink of the relegation zone. Fulham have a much more sympathetic fixture list to deal with and Cardiff City also won last weekend so the pressure is on Norwich to get something from the game against Liverpool which is then followed by a trip to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge before hosting Champions League chasing Arsenal on the final day.

I thought Norwich had enough in their locker to escape the drop once they beat Sunderland, but losing to Swansea, West Brom and Fulham has put the cat amongst the, errr, Canaries and it is hard to see where they will earn the points to escape relegation as I don't see 32 points cutting it.

April has always been described as the pivotal month in terms of relegation and winning titles and I do think we will have a pretty good picture of things by the end of next weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham Pick: There will be a lot of fans out there that may be hoping that Tottenham Hotspur fail to finish in the top six in the Premier League so the club doesn't have the Europa League to bother them next season. Those feelings would have been increased after seeing how Liverpool have dealt with the Premier League without the distraction the Europa League offers, but Tim Sherwood won't want to finish this season with a whimper.

It won't be doing his chances of getting the job any favours every time Spurs drop points, but I also think he will be aware that the board are looking for someone else to take over this summer regardless of how the season ends.

Sherwood can at least credit the players for believing in him as shown in recent games where they have come from two goals down to beat Southampton, a goal down to beat Sunderland and three goals down to draw with West Brom.

There is little doubt that Sherwood has got the old attacking policy of Tottenham Hotspur back to the fore, but tactically he can be a ropy and that is where Fulham will look to take advantage.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Fulham are back in real contention to avoid relegation from the Premier League thanks to back to back League wins, but they may already be focused on their remaining two games from which to get the points to move out of the bottom three. Felix Magath won't allow his side to come here without expectation, but it is only natural for that feeling to come when looking at games against Hull City and Crystal Palace compared to this one.

I expect Fulham to try and make life difficult for Spurs, but the attacking intent shown by Tim Sherwood should be enough to see the home side come through with a win and I expect that to come by a couple of goals.

Aston Villa v Southampton Pick: There is going to be an issue with motivation in this game as both teams might already be looking ahead to the summer break and the changes that may be made by the managers.

Aston Villa are the more desperate for the points as they are only 4 points clear of Fulham, but I have a feeling they may already have enough in the bag to avoid relegation, while Southampton are not going to be able to finish higher than 8th.

The Saints also have a couple of players that will be wanting to represent England at the World Cup and they may just be taking it slightly easier after seeing team-mate Jay Rodriguez injure himself to the extent that he will be missing a few months of action.

With the lack of real tension in the game, barring some of the unfortunate goings on at Villa Park, it should lead to a free-flowing game where both sides can look to score goals. Aston Villa have only failed to score in 1 of their last 9 home games in all competitions and are facing a Southampton defence that has conceded at least 2 goals in 3 of their last 4 away games.

On the other hand, Southampton should create chances against a Villa side that have only kept 1 clean sheet in 11 home games in all competitions and it does look like the chance of seeing goals has been under-estimated.

Chelsea v Sunderland Pick: Jose Mourinho has been surprisingly quiet at the beginning of what could be a critical ten days in his first season back as manager of Chelsea- that should give us all an indication of how important these next four games are for the manager as he looks to win a piece of silverware in either the Premier League or Champions League.

We all know the feelings of the manager regarding the lack of help with the scheduling, but the TV companies have moved the Chelsea game from the original Sunday slot to Saturday afternoon so the Blues can have an extra day of rest between this game and the Champions League Semi Final.

Chelsea need to win this game to at least put some pressure on Liverpool ahead of the latter's trip to Norwich City on Sunday and also to stay in touch ahead of the big game at Anfield next weekend. They have been winning plenty of games at home in recent weeks and much of that is down to a solid defence that has not conceded at Stamford Bridge since Manchester United scored in the middle of January.

Mourinho will be looking for his side to control a Sunderland team that put in a huge effort at Manchester City during the week but ultimately came up short in their bid for a vital three points. He will also be making his side aware not to take the win for granted after Sunderland forced City to drop two points and also put a lot of pressure on Liverpool in a recent 2-1 loss at Anfield.

Even in the absence of Steven Fletcher, Sunderland have found goals in their recent away games, scoring at Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, but Chelsea will feel their defence is the best of all those teams. I expect Mourinho to set his team up to make sure they don't give anything away from Sunderland and control the game to enough of an extent to win, but not over exert themselves for the trip to Atletico Madrid.

They have simply not been conceding goals here of late and I expect Chelsea to continue that defensive dominance and win this game to nil which looks a generous price.

Norwich City v Liverpool Pick: Pressure can do a funny thing to teams at this stage of the season and that is the only reason I have for giving Norwich City any chance of surprising Liverpool and earning a point or three from this game.

Chelsea should have moved to the top of the Premier League on Saturday evening and this is an incredibly early kick off, but it would still be a huge surprise if Liverpool were to see their 10 game Premier League winning run end at Carrow Road.

Liverpool have simply been far too good for Norwich in their recent meetings and scored five goals against them for the third League game in a row. Luis Suarez has been a particular thorn in the side for the Canaries in those games and the expectation could fall on his shoulders if Daniel Sturridge misses out as it looks like he will.

There are goals in the Liverpool team and Norwich City have been in really poor form in recent games- they created so many chances last weekend against Fulham but couldn't score and confidence has to be shattered with the four games left to play looking as difficult as they could be.

Maybe Norwich can surprise with the early kick off, but I can't see anything but another comfortable win for Liverpool against a team they have dominated. I would dearly love to be wrong and not because Liverpool snuck another three points with a one goal win, but because Norwich City did earn something from the game.

However, the pick has to be Liverpool winning this game easily enough.

Hull City v Arsenal Pick: Arsenal are now in the driving seat when it comes to Champions League qualification via the top four and you have to think they are going to come to Hull City with plenty of confidence and will be expected to win.

The layers agree with short odds for Arsenal to win at the KC Stadium, but that is seriously under-estimating a Hull City team who have caused problems for some of the top teams this season. Whether the players are completely focused after reaching the FA Cup Final may be up for debate, but Steve Bruce should have kept the players in tune with how the bottom of the Premier League did last weekend and that there is no safety guaranteed just yet.

Hull are defensively sound for the most part and they don't concede a lot of goals at home, especially if you consider almost half the goals they have conceded came in two games against Manchester United and Newcastle United.

With the likes of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic up front, Hull City can score goals too and they may give Arsenal another jolt despite the decent win over West Ham United the Gunners had on Tuesday night.

I just don't feel Arsenal should be odds on to win this game away from home though and I will back Hull City with the half goal start to earn something from the game.

Everton v Manchester United Pick: This is a fascinating game on Sunday afternoon, not simply because of the importance for Everton to win the game and remain in a challenge for a top four place, but for the reaction David Moyes gets in his first game back at Goodison Park.

Moyes should absolutely get a warm reception from the Everton fans, but short memories and a successful season may just see a disappointing response for a man who did so much for the club.

It would be ironic if Moyes masterminds a win for Manchester United that puts Everton in a very difficult position to get into the top four as you know the headline writers are itching to get on the Scot's back.

For all the troubles Moyes has had at Old Trafford this season, Manchester United have been very successful away from home although it should also be noted that only 1 of their 10 away wins has come against a team from the top half of the table. Even with that in mind, you can't deny the last couple of League performances from United and I don't imagine they roll over for an Everton side that may have had their confidence burst with the loss on Wednesday night.

However, under-estimate this Everton team at your peril as they have been very good at home for the most part and blew away Arsenal a couple of weeks ago with attacking football. Roberto Martinez won't put the brakes on the team going forward and I can see them causing Manchester United problems too in a game that should feature goals.

With that in mind, I was surprised the layers are offering such a decent price on there being at least three goals in the game and I will be backing that to happen. I can't see either manager deciding to play this game cautiously with what is at stake and the attacking football should produce chances and hopefully goals.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Aston Villa-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.17 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Hull City + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Everton-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Sky Bet (2 Units)

April Update9-6, + 4.66 Units (26 Units Staked, + 17.92% Yield)

March Final26-22, + 13.94 Units (83 Units Staked, + 16.80% Yield)
February Final12-28, - 16.74 Units (61 Units Staked, - 27.44% Yield)
January Final17-24, - 3.18 Units (62 Units Staked, - 5.13% Yield)
December Final19-16-2, + 13.34 Units (66 Units Staked, + 20.21% Yield)
November Final17-19-1, + 0.50 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.09% Yield)
October Final20-16-1, + 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, + 25.37% Yield)
September Final13-12, + 1.24 Units (39 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
August Final13-26, - 12.13 Units (54 Units Staked, - 22.46% Yield)

Season 2013/14137-153-3, + 9.91 Units (472 Units Staked, + 2.10% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Monte Carlo Tennis Picks 2014 (April 18th)

The Monte Carlo Masters has reached the Quarter Final stage, but the Third round didn't pass without another surprise result as Tomas Berdych was beaten by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. There is no doubt in my mind that the key moment came in the second set with Berdych leading 3-2 and the game at 30-30 on the Garcia-Lopez serve.

The higher Ranked player missed a simple ball to bring up break point and seemed to lose all momentum at that point as he was then broken in 4 of the next 5 service games and was comfortably seen off in three sets.

The two underdogs I picked to win both also came up trumps on Thursday and that means there are four fairly large favourites in the Quarter Finals on Friday.

Milos Raonic + 3.5 games v Stanislas Wawrinka: I was very impressed with Stanislas Wawrinka in his crushing win over Marin Cilic in the Second Round and he has had a walkover in the Third Round to reach this Quarter Final.

There is little doubt that Wawrinka is a strong favourite to beat Milos Raonic on the clay courts having already beaten him twice on the faster hard courts that should suit the latter's big serving game more than these.

You have to also give Raonic some real credit for winning his first two matches in the manner he has and he will need to play aggressively in this one to cause a surprise. The big serve should set up some cheaper points, but the Canadian has to get on the front foot and get the forehand into play as soon as possible as any lengthy backhand battle will only be won by Wawrinka.

If Raonic is serving well, he should at least make this competitive and he could even steal a set if Wawrinka is not completely focused on a player he would be expecting to beat. It should keep the match competitive and even a 76, 64 loss for Raonic would be another for the big man to cover the spread.

Rafael Nadal - 5.5 games v David Ferrer: I was not surprised by the number of games Rafael Nadal is being asked to cover against his compatriot David Ferrer, but I was surprised by the price on offer for him to do so and believe the 'King of Clay' should be backed in this one.

There won't be much going on during this Quarter Final that will surprise either player and they have so much experience playing one another that neither player will have a poor gameplan in place to win the match.

David Ferrer has caused some problems for Nadal, even on the clay courts, but generally Nadal finds a way to wear down a terrific competitor and come through fairly routinely.

If Nadal plays as he did against Andreas Seppi, he will have a few chances to break serve and I expect he will come through this match 64, 62 as long as the World Number 1 also focuses fully behind his own serve.

Roger Federer - 3.5 games v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: It was his 29th birthday yesterday and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga gave himself a perfect present by coming from a set down to beat Fabio Fognini. I expect this will be an even bigger challenge for him against the Roger Federer of 2014 who has been in very strong form.

Last year, Tsonga stunned Federer in the Quarter Final of the French Open as he recorded a straight sets win to oust the 17 time Grand Slam Champion, but the form of both players is much changed from twelve months ago.

Federer has also recorded a comfortable win over Tsonga at the Australian Open and is playing very aggressively which should prove too good for the Frenchman. For the most part, Federer has been serving well this week, although he can't have the lapses he did against Lukas Rosol in the Third Round.

You know what you are going to get from Tsonga who is an under-rated player on the clay courts considering he does have the time to sit on his shots, but the backhand wing is really hit or miss and I expect Federer to break that down. There might be a few more breaks of serve than you would imagine in a match between players who serve as well as Federer and Tsonga do, but I like the Swiss man to come through 64, 64.

MY PICKS: Milos Raonic + 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 5.5 Games @ 2.40 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Monte Carlo Update: 6-4, + 3.96 Units (20 Units Staked, + 19.8% Yield)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Monte Carlo Tennis Picks 2014 (April 17th)

There weren't too many surprise results on Tuesday and that means the Third Round action in Monte Carlo has a number of intriguing matches, although I do think it is set for a very strong Quarter Final at the first major clay court event of the season.

As I said though, that doesn't mean there aren't some fascinating matches to view on Thursday and I do believe anyone lucky enough to watch the tennis live will certainly be enjoying themselves during the day.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Fabio Fognini: With one of the most improved performances on the clay courts in recent months, it is no surprise that Fabio Fognini is considered the favourite to win this Third Round match. However, I do think Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has the tools to bring in the upset and move through to the Quarter Final.

He may not have had a strong start to 2014, but Tsonga showed some guts to come through his match against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the last Round and some of the attributes he has should give him a great chance to win this match.

Tsonga's serve and heavy shots should pay dividends at times, while he will also get a good chance to see the Fognini serve and really try and earn breaks of serve. The Italian has been playing some brilliant tennis on the clay courts, but he will offer chances to Tsonga, who also has the benefit of knowing he has beaten Fognini on the clay courts before.

There is no doubt that Tsonga has to serve well and try and keep Fognini on the back foot if he is to win the game, but I do think the Frenchman can do so in three sets as the underdog.

Milos Raonic v Tommy Robredo: Another favourite that could be upset on Thursday is Tommy Robredo who faces the big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in the Third Round.

The experience and comfort of the clay courts will certainly fall in favour of Robredo, but Raonic has the heavy shots that can see him hit through his opponent and also has the benefit of beating the Spaniard in Barcelona on the surface last season.

Raonic was actually favoured to win that match and he has the big game that can see him keep Robredo under pressure. He is also playing a little more aggressively when returning serve and Robredo's serve is not one that will pick up too many cheap points like Raonic's serve will during this match.

There is every chance this will go into a deciding set, but I like Raonic to frank last season's win and move through to the Quarter Final.

Stanislas Wawrinka - 3.5 games v Nicolas Almagro: There is a famous line from the film Anchorman that summed up Stanislas Wawrinka's win over Marin Cilic on Tuesday night- 'well, that escalated quickly'.

It was a stunning display from Wawrinka and one that surprised me very much considering how well Marin Cilic usually performs on the clay courts.

The win and the manner in which it came would make Wawrinka a strong favourite against Nicolas Almagro, even though the latter is one of the better clay court players out there. However, Almagro is coming off a tough week in Houston, has had to travel back to Europe and is now playing his third match in consecutive days and that can catch up with any player.

Stanislas Wawrinka will have to play as aggressively as he did yesterday and he also has a strong record against Almagro. He beat him twice last season, once on the clay, and also crushed the Spaniard 63, 63 back in 2012 in Monte Carlo and I like Wawrinka to win this match 64, 64.

Tomas Berdych - 4.5 games v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: There has to be a lot of confidence on Guillermo Garcia-Lopez' side of the court having won in Casablanca last week and winning a couple of matches here in Monte Carlo, but the run could very much come to an end on Thursday.

As impressive as the win over Alexandr Dolgopolov was, Garcia-Lopez hasn't played anyone of the quality of Tomas Berdych over the last couple of weeks.

Berdych has the serve and the aggressive brand of tennis that will make Garcia-Lopez' serve really feel the pressure and I think he is going to be too good in most areas in this match.

You have to respect the run Garcia-Lopez has had on the clay courts though, especially with this being Berdych's second match of the clay court season, but I still believe the higher Ranked player comes through 63, 64.

MY PICKS: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga @ 2.20 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Milos Raonic @ 2.30 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Stanislas Wawrinka - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Monte Carlo Update: 4-3, + 0.96 Units (14 Units Staked, + 6.86% Yield)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Monte Carlo Tennis Picks 2014 (April 16th)

Tuesday proved to be a better day for the picks as they went 2-1, although that still means the week is slightly on the negative side of things.

With another full day of tennis on Wednesday where the Second Round will be completed, the big names are opening their clay court season following Novak Djokovic yesterday. Today the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will take to the courts as well as the Australian Open Champion Stanislas Wawrinka and there will be a lot of good tennis for the locals to enjoy.

Fabio Fognini - 2.5 games v Roberto Bautista-Agut: With the way he approaches tennis, Fabio Fognini is always liable to throwing in the kind of up and down performance he had in the First Round. That is usually enough to dissuade me from backing the Italian to win too many matches, but his form on the clay courts over the last nine months is enough to keep me on his side in this Second Round match.

His opponent, Roberto Bautista-Agut, also looks one that should match up well for Fognini- while most Spaniards would favour the clay courts over other surfaces, I think Bautista-Agut is someone who isn't as comfortable on the slower surfaces.

Bautista-Agut doesn't have a big serve, but looks to wear down opponents with his defensive skills... That shouldn't be an issue for Fognini who has more clay court pedigree than his opponent and who has dominated the head to head between them.

The Italian has won 4 of the 5 previous matches between the players and beat Bautista-Agut in Miami last month and also won their sole meeting on a clay court last season. Fognini should be too good and move through to the Third Round on Wednesday with a 63, 46, 64 win.

Roger Federer - 5.5 games v Radek Stepanek: The first match on a new surface can be a troubling time for even the very best players on the Tour, but Roger Federer has the benefit of playing someone he will be very familiar with.

The style that Radek Stepanek brings to the court is awkward, especially if you haven't played him before, but he doesn't really ruffle the Federer feathers too often these days. In fact, he has lost 9 in a row since surprising Federer on the clay courts of Rome back in 2008 and Stepanek has been dismissed fairly comfortably more often than not.

Take away Rafael Nadal and Federer could have gone down as one of the best clay court players of all time so this should be a surface he is comfortable on. I also think Federer has taken a Wild Card spot here with the expectation of having a big week and I believe he will prove to be too good for Stepanek when it is all said and done.

The aggressive play should help Federer, although he has the experience to show more patience on the slower courts, but he has been serving well for the most part in 2014 and that should lead to a 64, 62 win.

Marin Cilic + 2.5 games v Stanislas Wawrinka: I was very tempted in picking Marin Cilic to win this Second Round match outright, but I have decided to take the games on offer in what looks a much closer match than the layers may think.

Cilic had to come through a tough First Round match where a Lucky Loser was placed in the draw and those struggles in the middle of the match could be down to it being his first match on clay this season. That is where the Croatian could take advantage of Stanislas Wawrinka who has admitted some of the mental issues of winning his first Grand Slam title of his career in Australia to open the season.

While Wawrinka has played well at times since then, he has suffered three surprising losses including in the Davis Cup two weeks ago and he may be caught cold by Cilic in this one. Cilic has a decent serve and can cause problems with his aggressive return.

Even if Wawrinka wins the match, it could be very close as their previous matches have tended to be, while the fact he is playing his first clay court match of the season may see Cilic take at least one set comfortably. That would make the games given to Cilic look too high and I will back a player that could potentially win this match outright to at least keep it competitive.

MY PICKS: Fabio Fognini - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Marin Cilic + 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Monte Carlo Update: 2-2, - 0.84 Units (8 Units Staked, - 10.5% Yield)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (April 15-16)

The first week since returning from my holiday has been tough to get back into the groove of a normal life again, but things are finally settling down a little.

This week is one where a few teams will make up games in hand that they have in the Premier League as the season gets closer and closer to concluding before the World Cup will begin. There are three League games to be played in the next couple of days before the Easter Weekend and we may begin to get a clearer picture of who will finish in the top four.

Manchester City are also under pressure to win their games in hand after somehow blowing all the momentum in their eventual 3-2 loss at Anfield which has left Liverpool as the favourites to win the title. I still believe if City can win their remaining 6 games this season, they will still win the title, but the key game comes in two weeks time when Liverpool host Chelsea as a win for the home team will almost certainly mean their wait for a top flight title has come to a close.

Arsenal v West Ham United Pick: This time of the season will bring a lot of pressure on teams that have some serious goals to achieve and this day belongs to Arsenal in their bid to get back into the top four. A quick glance at the fixture list suggests Arsenal have the better run in compared with Everton, but that also means there is a pressure on them to win the games they are expected to which is what the fans will be doing when they go to the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

Failure to win the game would make Everton a serious favourite to finish in the top four, but an Arsenal win would shift the pressure onto a side that is hosting Manchester United and Manchester City before the season draws to a close.

In saying that, Arsenal also have to deal with the tiredness that will come from a long Cup Semi Final that went further than anyone would have really expected. Instead of beating Wigan Athletic in the time allotted, Arsenal had to go through extra time and then the mental fatigue of a penalty shoot out and could be given another difficult test by this West Ham United team.

For much of the season, West Ham United have been pretty solid away from home and been able to make life difficult for opponents. In recent away games, West Ham have drawn with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and only been beaten by a late Everton goal at Goodison Park while they also gave Liverpool plenty to think about at Upton Park ten days ago.

Sam Allardyce has also had a few extra days to prepare his team for this visit to North London and I think West Ham can make it difficult for an Arsenal team that have started conceding goals at home.

Arsenal did crush West Ham here last season, but tiredness, pressure and a West Ham team that have been defending better away from home for much of the season could help keep this game close. With that in mind, taking West Ham United with the Asian Handicap headstart looks the way to go where even a one goal loss would return some positive results.

Everton v Crystal Palace Pick: In all honesty, it doesn't matter what happens in the Arsenal game against West Ham United on Tuesday as Roberto Martinez will know anything less than three points in this game will make it very difficult for Everton to make the top four.

The game against Crystal Palace at Goodison Park, with all due respect to the Eagles, is the easiest of their home games left and Everton can't expect to beat Manchester United and Manchester City so dropping points in this one would be a huge body blow to the mental state of the squad.

Everton have put in a lot of work to claw back and overtake Arsenal and have been playing very well at home all season, but Tony Pulis has made Crystal Palace very difficult to beat. I expect he will set out a stall to do the same to Everton having pushed Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal to dig deep to beat them.

However, Palace have some problems when it comes to scoring goals away from Selhurst Park and that may prove to be their downfall in this game. Prior to the three goals scored at Cardiff City, Palace had scored just 1 in 6 away games in the League and that could be a problem for them at Everton on Wednesday night.

I don't think Everton will blow away Crystal Palace just with the way the away side set up, but there is creativity and confidence in the home team that suggests they will find a way to win this game. I believe they will too, but it may be down to the clean sheet and a solitary strike to earn those vital three points in the chase for a Champions League place.

Manchester City v Sunderland Pick: Sunday may prove to be the pivotal moment in the title race this season when David Silva just couldn't stretch enough to make it 2-3 for Manchester City at Anfield, only for moments later Liverpool scoring the decisive winning goal.

That means Manchester City are going to need some help if they are to win the League, but Manual Pellegrini is not concerning himself with that but is simply looking for them to take the next step by winning this game.

Even in the absence of Yaya Toure, Manchester City should have far too much attacking threat for Sunderland to cope with, especially with the lack of confidence the away side have to be bringing into the game. A 5th straight Premier League loss on Saturday has essentially ended Sunderland's top flight status and they were crushed at Tottenham Hotspur in their last away game where the heads really did drop.

There are goals in the Manchester City side and they have shown that in their last two home games against Fulham and Southampton and I would expect them to be too strong again. Toure is a big miss, but Sergio Aguero is back and I think Manchester City want to show they are still in the title race and will put up some goals for their own goal difference.

It's a big handicap to cover, but Manchester City have beaten Sunderland 5-0 and 3-0 over the last three years here and I can see them recording something similar on Wednesday.

MY PICKS: West Ham United + 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton Win to Nil @ 2.20 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)

April Update: 9-3, + 10.66 Units (20 Units Staked, + 53.33% Yield)

March Final26-22, + 13.94 Units (83 Units Staked, + 16.80% Yield)
February Final12-28, - 16.74 Units (61 Units Staked, - 27.44% Yield)
January Final17-24, - 3.18 Units (62 Units Staked, - 5.13% Yield)
December Final19-16-2, + 13.34 Units (66 Units Staked, + 20.21% Yield)
November Final17-19-1, + 0.50 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.09% Yield)
October Final20-16-1, + 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, + 25.37% Yield)
September Final13-12, + 1.24 Units (39 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
August Final13-26, - 12.13 Units (54 Units Staked, - 22.46% Yield)

Season 2013/14137-153-3, + 9.91 Units (472 Units Staked, + 2.10% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Monte Carlo Tennis Picks 2014 (April 15th)

The first couple of days of a Masters event that is taking place over the course of a week are surprisingly limited in terms of the amount of matches they put on the court and that has been the case in Monte Carlo this week.

It also means that the Tuesday of the event is usually a full schedule as the tournament concludes the First Round matches and also gets the top seeded players underway with some of the Second Round matches.

I only had the one pick on Monday but wrongly picked Benoit Paire to come through his First Round match against Albert Montanes- it was a pretty poor display from the Frenchman, with the choice of shots being particularly poor, and he almost looked disinterested for a set and a bit.

Paire did push on to a three set loss, but it was still a poor display in most regards and he could find himself slipping down the Rankings over the next couple of months unless Paire puts in more effort than he seemingly did yesterday.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 3.5 games v Philipp Kohlschreiber: I have to be honest and say that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has looked like a player that has perhaps lost a little bit of power in the off-season through the work he may have done on improving his fitness.

He hasn't had the results he was perhaps expecting to open 2014 and the clay court season is not his favourite part of the Tour, but I still think he can get the better of Philipp Kohlschreiber, a player he has beaten in 6 of their previous 7 meetings.

I respect what Kohlschreiber brings to the court- he has a decent serve and heavy enough groundies to be able to have significant success in this match, but he also has a mental issue when playing some of the better players.

The backhand wing will be dominated by the German, but I think Tsonga will still find a little more as the match goes on and find a 75, 75 win.

Grigor Dimitrov - 3.5 games v Marcel Granollers: Grigor Dimitrov has not beaten Marcel Granollers in their two previous matches, and the latter is also a little more comfortable on the clay courts with plenty of tournaments played on the surface this season.

However, Granollers is not the stereotypical Spaniard who loves the clay courts over the other surfaces and I actually think his game is better suited to the faster surfaces.

On the slower courts, his lack of fizz off the serve and the groundies don't have the same penetration and that is where Dimitrov should be able to take advantage of the First Round match. The first match on the clay courts can be a concern (although Dimitrov has won a Davis Cup match on the surface two weeks ago), but I still think the Bulgarian youngster should be too good.

There are times that Dimitrov can be erratic in his play, but the consistency is certainly coming into his game and I like him to win 63, 64.

Gael Monfils - 2.5 games v Kevin Anderson: The slower courts should level things up against some of the biggest servers on the Tour, but the likes of Kevin Anderson may also enjoy having a little more time to really get after their big groundstrokes.

The downside of playing on the clay courts is that their opponents can get a decent read on the return of serve and someone like Gael Monfils could make life extremely frustrating for Anderson with his defensive skills.

Monfils is consistent across the surfaces, but he has opened 2014 in decent nick and I think that he will force Anderson into enough uncomfortable positions to earn breaks of serve.

If the Frenchman is focused for the first clay court match of his season, he should be able to come through this tough First Round match with a 76, 75 win under his belt.

Marin Cilic - 2.5 games v Fernando Verdasco: Fernando Verdasco leads the head to head between these two players 5-4 coming into this match, but I believe Marin Cilic is going to be able to level their series with a win in this First Round match.

You have to give credit to Verdasco for winning the title in Houston last week, but he hasn't had long to travel across to Europe and get accustomed to the conditions in Monte Carlo. That could be a problem against a player as good as Cilic who would have arrived here a few days ago to get ready for the clay court season.

I have said a few times how highly I rate the Cilic return game and that should help him get involved in the Spaniard's service games.

Add in the more aggressive serving that has helped Cilic to a good, positive start to 2014, and I think he proves too strong for what could be a tired Verdasco.

MY PICKS: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 3.5 Games @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Gael Monfils - 2.5 Games @ 1.85 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Monte Carlo Update: 0-1, - 2 Units (2 Units Staked, - 100% Yield)