Thursday, 26 May 2016

French Open Tennis Day 5 Picks 2016 (May 26th)

It was another intriguing day at the French Open on Wednesday, especially for those Andy Murray fans who saw their man fall behind in the best of five set match before heading through in five sets.

This is not the time that Murray wants to be expending as much energy as he has been, but he has gotten through which is the most important thing. Having a couple of days until Friday to recover is important for Murray as is the fact he is playing an opponent like Ivo Karlovic who won't be looking to get involved in the long draining rallies.

Other players in Murray's half of the draw that will be looking to go all the way to the Final had a much easier time on Tuesday than the World Number 2 and the majority of the big names have moved through.

The same can be said from the Women's draw where the majority of those expected to move through to the Third Round made their way past their opponents on Tuesday.

On Thursday the remaining Second Round matches are to be played, but the weather in Paris doesn't look that appealing in the next few days which can affect the schedule.

David Goffin - 7.5 games v Carlos Berlocq: This Second Round match might have been a very awkward one for David Goffin if Carlos Berlocq was at full health. However the Argentinian is still outside the top 100 in the World Rankings following an injury hit 2015 and this is a big challenge for him.

You have to give Berlocq some credit having come through the Qualifiers and then comprehensively beating Paolo Lorenzi in the First Round. Now he faces David Goffin who has reached the Quarter Final at the Rome Masters and has the kind of game that will give Berlocq some troubles.

The rallies are likely to be extended as neither player can really rely on a serve for easy points but that is where I think Goffin is going to be good enough to win more often than not. The consistency that Goffin should be able to produce through the contest will give Berlocq plenty to think about, although I do think the latter will have his moments in this match too.

When it comes down to it, I do think Goffin will likely outlast Berlocq in a straight sets win and I do think he can take one of those with two more breaks than his opponent. A 63, 63, 64 win looks to be on the card for Goffin and I will back him to cover the number.

Nicolas Almagro - 4.5 games v Jiri Vesely: Nicolas Almagro proved me right earlier in the week when he not just covered the games as the underdog, but beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in four sets. That is an impressive win for the Spaniard but he will need to produce his best tennis to get past Jiri Vesely in this Second Round match with the latter a very confident clay court player.

While the consistency is still lacking for Vesely through the year to move up the World Rankings into one of the Seeded spots at these Grand Slam events, it has to be noted that he did beat Novak Djokovic on the clay in Monte Carlo. That has been the high point for the player from the Czech Republic and Vesely has had a couple of poor losses over the last few weeks which would be a concern.

The lefty serve will help Vesely and he does have some power which can give Almagro something to think about, but the latter is a solid player on the clay courts when he builds some momentum up. Almagro might not have beaten someone as good as Novak Djokovic, but he did win a title in Estoril and he was an impressive winner in the First Round over Kohlschreiber when coming from a set down to win in four sets.

This is likely to be a close match between the players, but I do think Almagro is the better clay court player and that will show up on Thursday. It will potentially need four sets to separate them but I can see Almagro coming through 63, 64, 36, 63 and move into another Third Round in Roland Garros.

David Ferrer - 5.5 games v Juan Monaco: This is a big number for David Ferrer to cover when you think that I am no longer convinced the consistency that took him into the top three of the World Rankings is there any more. The Spaniard is still very capable of producing some solid results, but someone like Juan Monaco will give him a few things to think about.

However as much as Monaco is comfortable on the clay courts, he is not a player that will hit through Ferrer and that is why I think this is the kind of match the latter can still win. Previous meetings between the players have been close which isn't a surprise when you think how similarly they try and play their tennis.

Neither player has a big serve, but instead will look for their rallying ability and clay court nous to outmanoeuvre opponents and get into a position to win points. That lack of a serve for both means there will likely be a few breaks of serve and there won't be a lot to separate Monaco and Ferrer during the match at times.

The key to the match is I believe Ferrer is still the more consistent player from the back of the court and I do think he can win more of those longer rallies. Again this is likely to go into four sets, but I believe Ferrer is capable of winning one of the sets with two more breaks than Monaco which can help him come through 64, 46, 75, 62. 

Ana Ivanovic - 5.5 games v Kurumi Nara: After winning the first set in the First Round with a bagel, Ana Ivanovic made life much tougher for herself before moving into the Second Round. There is still too much inconsistency around her game which makes her a dangerous favourite to back, but I do think Ivanovic will be too good for Kurumi Nara who hasn't had much success on the clay in the last couple of seasons.

Nara was the beneficiary of a retirement in the First Round and had lost her last three clay court matches prior to that. She doesn't have a lot of power which can be a problem on the clay courts and I do think Ivanovic will be able to play a lot of first strike tennis which suit the way she wants to impose herself on this match.

The serve remains the biggest weakness for Ivanovic as the ball toss is still erratic and that leads to her getting behind on the scoreboard. It is a concern when looking for the Serbian World Number 16 to cover big spreads, but I do think Ivanovic is likely to create more break point opportunities and can break Nara two more times in one of the sets they compete in.

As a former winner in Roland Garros, Ivanovic's clay court record this season has not been the best, but I think she can be too strong for Nara and win this one 64, 62.

Madison Keys - 4.5 games v Mariana Duque-Marino: Any player that comes from South America should be comfortable on the clay courts so Mariana Duque-Marino should be a threat to Madison Keys in this Second Round match. While Duque-Marino may have the patience to extend rallies, she has to find a way to deal with the power that Keys brings to the table, the type of power that helped her reach the Final in Rome earlier this month.

That might be the stand out result either player has put together, but Duque-Marino will point to her run to the Final in Nuremberg last week as a reason not to underestimate her. Unsurprisingly the Colombian's best results have come on the clay courts and the World Number 75 is going to be more of a threat than her Ranking may suggest.

I do think Duque-Marino will give Keys some problems, but the latter has been an improving player on the surface. Her serve will still be a big weapon on the surface if it is firing and has the potential to set up cheap points as she showed in Rome.

I think the power Keys has will give her every chance to attack the Duque-Marino serve and put her opponent under pressure, likely earning the majority of break points. As long as the American doesn't serve poorly or go looking to finish points too early on her own serve, I think she can look after that aspect of her game and Keys can win this 63, 64.

Venus Williams - 2.5 games v Louisa Chirico: These two American players might be at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to where their careers currently stand, but I am surprised that Venus Williams is not a bigger favourite to win this. Yes she isn't at her best on the clay courts, but Louisa Chirico will have to deal with the mental pressure of playing one of the Williams sisters who have done so much for Women's tennis in the United States.

I think the layers have been swayed by what was a very good run for Chirico at the Madrid Masters when she reached the Semi Final but the conditions there are much different than in Paris. Chirico has come through three Qualifiers and then won a First Round match over Lauren Davis in three sets, but she had to go deep into the third set and I do wonder if some energy has been sapped from her.

There is some power in the Chirico game that will give Venus Williams issues, but I do wonder how she will deal with the power that will come back her way. There will be some respect for Venus Williams which might create mental obstacles to overcome and I do like the chances of the older American to work her way through this match.

It is clear that Venus Williams is not quite as comfortable on the clay as the hard and grass courts which gives Chirico a chance of the upset. However I am not convinced she should be considered as potentially competitive as she is in this match simply because Chirico has not been consistent on the clay courts and I do think Venus Williams wins this one and covers what doesn't look the biggest number.

MY PICKS: David Goffin - 7.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Nicolas Almagro - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
David Ferrer - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Ana Ivanovic - 5.5 Games @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Madison Keys - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Venus Williams - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

French Open Update: 6-6, - 1.50 Units (24 Units Staked, - 6.25% Yield)

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

French Open Tennis Day 4 Picks 2016 (May 25th)

So the last month has been inconsistent with my timings and getting posts out there and some are perhaps wondering what has been happening.

First things first- on May 1st I attended my own wedding (would have been very awkward if I hadn't attended) and that was followed by a two week honeymoon.

As soon as I got back, my brother and sister in law had their first child and another big moment for the family means my attention has gone towards the new arrival.

Things are definitely settling down as we reach the final few days of May which means picks from the French Open tennis as well as the Champions League Final and NBA Play Offs.

Next month will clearly be all about the Copa America, European Championships, grass court tennis leading up to Wimbledon and the NBA Finals and things should be a lot more settled from here on.

The biggest surprise at the French Open so far has to be the exit of Victoria Azarenka in the women's draw, although that was down to injury. The likes of Andy Murray and Dominic Thiem came through some sticky moments as did Stan Wawrinka earlier in the week, but the majority of the big names have made it through to the Second Round.

Matches should be getting a little more interesting now, although the big ones are set for later this week as the tournament progresses.

Kei Nishikori - 7.5 games v Andrey Kuznetsov: Both Kei Nishikori and Andrey Kuznetsov came through First Round matches without breaking too much of a sweat. Now they meet in the Second Round and Nishikori is unsurprisingly a strong favourite to progress, a worthy place for the Number 5 Seed in Roland Garros.

It has taken Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (twice) to end Kei Nishikori's runs on the clay courts so far this season and Kuznetsov is not up to that level. I do think the Russian is a solid player but I am also of the belief that he is better on the faster surfaces and that is where I think Nishikori will have the edge in the contest.

Some of the defeats that Kuznetsov has had on the surface has shown his limitations on the clay and Nishikori is more than good enough to expose those. He will be under some pressure on the serve, but Nishikori has the return to really hurt Kuznetsov too.

I can see Nishikori coming through in straight sets in this one and I do think he can win one of those with a double break of serve. I like the World Number 5 to come through with a 63, 63, 64 win in this one.

Richard Gasquet - 8.5 games v Bjorn Fratangelo: Winning the Savannah Challenger helped Bjorn Fratangelo earn his way into the main draw at the French Open. He surprised Sam Querrey in the First Round, but it is a big ask for Fratangelo to get past Richard Gasquet who had been in good form in seeing off a dangerous Thomaz Bellucci.

The home favourite will have all the support behind him and should have the clay court experience to make this another fairly comfortable day in the office.

It has to be said that Fratangelo has had some solid results on the clay at the Challenger level. That means he will be anything but a pushover, but Gasquet is a considerable step up from the normal level of competition he faces and is also someone who has won plenty of matches on the surface.

Some of the defeats and the margin of those defeats that Fratangelo has suffered in the last few weeks on the clay would be a big worry for me. If Gasquet is serving well enough, he should have enough in the locker to come through with a 63, 62, 64 win.

John Isner - 2.5 games v Kyle Edmund: Not many people would have been surprised that John Isner needed a couple of tie-breakers on his way through to the Second Round. It was a tough match against John Millman and Kyle Edmund should pose more questions as he has plenty of good experiences to fall back upon on the clay courts.

Edmund won a title on the clay courts during the last few weeks, albeit at Challenger level, and he should be able to give Isner plenty to think about if he is serving well. However the big question is whether Edmund can deal with the monster Isner serve which can be a huge weapon even on this surface.

Both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer would be the first to tell you that and Isner is a big challenge for the young British player to overcome. The big serve can build pressure on his opponents and Isner has managed to eventually find the breaks of serve he need as the matches go into the third and fourth sets.

I expect that to be the case here as Isner perhaps wins a couple of tie-breakers before finding a late break of serve to help him get over this number. I do think the American is the likely winner of the match with his experience and bigger weapons keeping Edmund on the defensive, but it might be a fairly long match with those tie-breakers likely being key.

Simona Halep - 6.5 games v Zarina Diyas: There have been two previous meetings between these players and both times it is Simona Halep who has won by a considerable margin. I think the clay courts certainly suit her more than Zarina Diyas and I expect the gap in class between them to show up on Wednesday.

While Halep was winning the Madrid Premier Event, Diyas has been struggling on the ITF circuit and I think that difference in levels will be an issue for the latter.

The key to the previous matches between the players has been the fact that Halep is more consistent from the base line. Neither player has a dominating serve so that ability to dictate from the back of the court is very important and Halep should have plenty of opportunities to break serve in this one.

That should be the reason the Number 6 Seed is able to come through and move into the Third Round. As long as Halep can control things in the manner expected, I am looking for her to come through with a 62, 63 win.

Sam Stosur - 4.5 games v Shuai Zhang: No one will forget the run that Shuai Zhang had at the Australian Open but she has struggled to reach those heights in the four months since. The clay courts don't exactly suit Zhang's style of play so we may see better in the coming weeks as the Tour moves back to the grass and then hard courts and I do think Sam Stosur can come through this Second Round match.

The Australian made harder work of her First Round match than some would have thought but she has moved through which is the most important thing. The serve is still a serious weapon on the clay as it can kick up some, but Stosur has to show more consistency off the ground if she is going to make a real impact in Roland Garros.

Zhang had lost three clay court matches in a row before her own First Round win and the level of opponent has increased significantly in this one.

It will come down to how well Stosur can protect her own serve if she is going to cover this number of games. If she can keep Zhang at bay, I do think Stosur will have her chances to break serve and she should be able to come through with a 75, 63 win.

Caroline Garcia + 3.5 games v Agnieszka Radwanska: The Number 2 Seeded Agnieszka Radwanska is considered a real contender to win the title in Roland Garros, but her Second Round match couldn't be much tougher. There is a lot of hope surrounding Caroline Garcia and what she can do for French tennis although she is yet to start fulfilling her potential on a consistent basis.

Winning the title in Strasbourg last week will have given Garcia a real boost of confidence to take into the French Open and she can open the draw if she can win this match.

That won't be easy, but her matches with Radwanska have been very competitive in the past and that win in Strasbourg should mean Garcia will have the belief to earn the upset. There hasn't been a lot of tennis played by Radwanska over the last few weeks on the clay courts which makes her vulnerable even if she was a convincing First Round winner.

This match has all the hallmarks of being a competitive one and I think we will likely see a third set needed to separate them. Both players have every chance of winning the match and that makes the games being given to Garcia very appealing and I will back the Frenchwoman to keep this one close.

MY PICKS: Kei Nishikori - 7.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Richard Gasquet - 8.5 Games @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
John Isner - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Simona Halep - 6.5 Games @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Sam Stosur - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Caroline Garcia + 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

French Open Update: 2-4, - 4.4 Units (12 Units Staked, - 36.67% Yield)

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

French Open Tennis Day 3 Picks 2016 (May 24th)

The first couple of days of the French Open have been very busy for myself, but things have settled down and I should have these posts published earlier in the coming days.

That doesn't mean I haven't been able to look through the schedule and make a few picks from the First Round matches that have been scheduled. The first two picks have not come out the way I expected, but that is thanks to Grigor Dimitrov blowing a 2-1 lead in sets and a break in the fourth set before going down in five sets on Monday.

Hopefully Tuesday will be a better day and things can pick up from the second Grand Slam of the season over the next two weeks.

Venus Williams - 4.5 games v Anett Kontaveit: These two players met last year at the US Open in what ended a very convincing win for Venus Williams, but the clay courts are not really conducive to the way she plays as the hard courts are. The last six months of the season are going to be much more important for Venus Williams as she can have a real impact on the grass at Wimbledon and hard courts at the US Open, but I still think she has too much for Anett Kontaveit in this First Round match.

If you think Venus Williams is not a fan of this surface, Kontaveit might not be that comfortable on the clay either. This will be her first match on the clay courts this season and last year she lost her sole match on the main Tour on the surface, although that was not at the French Open.

It isn't like Williams has had a lot of clay court tennis under her own legs, but she will be more comfortable on the surface knowing what to expect. Kontaveit will be able to have more success against the serve in this one than she did at the US Open, but ultimately I think she is going to come up short again.

There is no doubt this is a big number for someone like Venus Williams to cover on the clay, but I do think she will be able to create a few opportunities to break serve. That should lead to a 64, 62 kind of win and a place in the Second Round for the American.

Julia Goerges + 2.5 games v Johanna Konta: The British Number 1 has been placed as a pretty hefty favourite to win this match against Julia Goerges, but I am not sure that is completely justified. While Johanna Konta has had a wonderful eleven months which has seen her move up the World Rankings, she is not perhaps at her most comfortable on the clay courts.

On the other hand Goerges is very happy playing on this surface and she has the kind of power to give Konta something to think about.

My biggest concern for Goerges has to be the inconsistencies she produces from game to game, but she is the type of player that can win a set by a wide margin which could make these games very helpful when it is all said and done. Konta is the kind of player that can extract those errors from the Goerges game that I am worried about, but I do think that these players are closely matched on this surface.

Actually I thought Goerges might have been the slight favourite going into the match, so I do think the games being given to her have to be worth taking. It should be a close match, one that could easily go into three sets and one that Goerges has every chance of winning outright and so I will back the German in this one with the handicap.

Federico Delbonis - 2.5 games v Pablo Carreno Busta: Thanks to some of the withdrawals in the weeks leading up to Roland Garros, World Number 35 Federico Delbonis has been Seeded at the French Open. He might have hoped for an easier draw than Pablo Carreno Busta who is a very comfortable clay court player, but Delbonis has won all four previous matches against the Spaniard.

In fact Delbonis has won all seven completed sets against Carreno Busta and has to be part of the reason he comes into this one as the favourite. Both players have had some very good results on the clay during the European swing over the last few weeks with Delbonis winning a title and Carreno Busta reaching the Final of an event himself.

There have been some disappointing results too, but both players might have headed into the French Open hoping for a decent run.

This is a tough draw for both players on the form that their opponents have been producing. I do think Delbonis' left handed serve gives him a slight edge as well as the fact he has dominated Carreno Busta in the previous matches including earlier this season in Casablanca. I think that will help him come through this one in four sets and I like the chances of Delbonis being able to cover this number.

Nicolas Almagro + 4.5 games v Philipp Kohlschreiber: This looked like being one of the better matches in the First Round but the layers seem to be convinced that it is only going to go one way. Philipp Kohlschreiber is a fairly healthy favourite to see off Nicolas Almagro, but I am of the belief that the Spaniard can come through and get within this number.

It hasn't been the best clay court season for Almagro, but he did win a title in Estoril. The consistency in his game is yet to return since his injury that curtailed 2015, but Almagro is a very strong clay court player and has to be considered a dangerous and live First Round opponent for the Seeded Kohlschreiber.

Kohlschreiber also had a title win over the last few weeks in Munich and reached the Semi Final in Barcelona. I thought the German might have been losing his way a little as the veteran has hit his 33rd year, but he has shown he is still very comfortable on the clay courts himself.

For me this looks a tight match that Almagro has a chance of winning outright, but certainly being able to keep competitive. It could easily be another that needs five sets to separate the players, while Almagro might take confidence from the fact he has won the last three matches on the clay courts between them, albeit a few years ago now.

If Almagro can bring his best form to the court, this should be a very entertaining First Round match and I will take the games here.

MY PICKS: Venus Williams - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Julia Goerges + 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Federico Delbonis - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Nicolas Almagro + 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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

Monday, 23 May 2016

French Open Tennis Day 2 Picks 2016 (May 23rd)

It looks like another day where the rain is going to affect the schedule in Paris as the French Open tries to get the First Round through.

This whole month has been incredibly busy, but things should have settled down now and I think it should come through with the blog getting back to some kind of normality.

Grigor Dimitrov - 2.5 games v Victor Troicki: There is a feeling that Grigor Dimitrov might be missing the boat when it comes to the potential he was considered to have had. He has struggled with his form and the drop in the World Rankings means he was not Seeded for the second Grand Slam of the season.

That increased the potential for him having a difficult First Round match and the contest with Victor Troicki is likely to be a tight one as both players have split one match earlier this season.

Neither player has shown a lot of form during the clay court season, although Dimitrov did reach the Final in Istanbul which is the stand out performance. Both Dimitrov and Troicki have lost some really disappointing matches over the last few weeks that they would not have expected to and that will have dented their confidence.

I would be surprised if either player won this in straight sets, but my edge is towards Dimitrov who has had at least one really good tournament on the clay. I think the Bulgarian can come through in four sets in this one and move into the Second Round although this could be a match that features a number of delays thanks to the rain before being completed.

Thomaz Bellucci + 6.5 games v Richard Gasquet: There is not a lot of doubt in my mind that Richard Gasquet will ultimately prove too good for Thomaz Bellucci in this First Round match. However, I think the Brazilian is very adept at playing on the clay courts and can at least challenge the home favourite to the extent of staying within this number of games.

Bellucci has shown how capable he is on the clay when handing Novak Djokovic a bagel in Rome, but he has also had some very poor results on the surface during the European swing. The head to head doesn't make for great reading for Bellucci having been beaten in all three previous matches against Gasquet, but a couple of those matches have been competitive.

There is the feeling that Gasquet has looked much stronger during the clay court campaign, but I do think his left-handed opponent can cause some issues.

I can see this match going into four sets and that might be enough for Bellucci to get within this number and cover the handicap.

MY PICKS: Grigor Dimitrov - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Thomaz Bellucci + 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

NBA Conference Finals Picks 2016 (May 16th-30th)

I've been on my honeymoon for the past couple of weeks so I have not been on the internet as much as usually is possible, which has also meant taking a break from the picks.

The NBA First Round and Conference Semi Finals were completed in the time I have been away and the Western Conference Finals have begun with a big surprise in Game 1 as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Golden State Warriors on the road.

That looks like being a very good series, but the Eastern Conference Finals begin on Tuesday with most expecting the well-rested Cleveland Cavaliers to be too strong for the Toronto Raptors in their best of seven series.

Tuesday 17th May
Toronto Raptors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 1 Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers have looked the team to beat in the NBA during the post-season as they are on the right side of injuries and look well-rested for a deep run. Last season both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving missed extended time in the Play Offs, but both are playing well this time around and helping LeBron James, while the role players are battering down the doors from the three point arc.

The Cavaliers are looking very good and have won all eight post-season games played while seeing off Detroit and Atlanta. Of course the Toronto Raptors look their toughest challenge to date, but the Raptors have to show more than they have in their tight wins over Indiana and Miami.

The latter were banged up which meant the Raptors were expected to come through easier than they did and although winning Game 7's can build character, it also means they are going to be a little fatigued when taking on the best team in their Conference.

Toronto did win two of their three games with Cleveland, but the sole visit to Cleveland ended in defeat. The lay off may have cooled the three point shooting the Cavaliers have displayed, but I am not sure that is the case and I think Game 1 could be a high-scoring one.

The Raptors finally got something consistent going in their last game with Miami and Cleveland have been lights out from three point range while the over is 4-1 in the last five in the series. There does look to be enough scoring in both teams to help this one go over the 201.5 Total Points being asked and that is what I am backing to happen.

Wednesday 18th May
It was a frustrating end to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals as a game that looked certain to go over the total points I expected failed to by just three points. A lot of that was down to the fact that both benches were cleared throughout the Fourth Quarter in a blow out win for the Cleveland Cavaliers and it is a big ask for the Toronto Raptors to recover on just a day of rest.

Before that we have Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals as the Golden State Warriors look to recover their 0-1 deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder after a stunning Game 1 upset.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Golden State Warriors Game 2 Pick: Not many would have picked the Oklahoma City Thunder to beat the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semi Finals, but even fewer would have predicted a win over the Golden State Warriors in the Conference Finals. Those views may have changed after their second half comeback in Game 1 to take a 1-0 lead in this series and take away home court advantage in the Conference Finals.

There has to be a reaction from the Golden State Warriors who have yet to be beaten in two straight games through the length of the season. They will be disappointed with the way they played the second half of Game 1 having been held to just 14 points in the Fourth Quarter, while Golden State struggled from the three point range in a manner they don't usually.

Of course the other side of the coin is the Thunder will know they can play a lot better than they did in Game 1 despite stealing home court. The combination of using Steven Adams and Enes Kanter against the small ball line up of the Warriors was very effective in Game 1, but it is a big ask to get the same production out of them in Game 2 with a desperate Golden State team taking to the court.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played some big minutes in Game 1 too and with only a day of rest between that one and this one, I can see Golden State perhaps being able to hold onto a big lead through the game. It was a poor second half that cost them but the Warriors are 4-1 against the spread in the last five at home against Oklahoma City.

Desperation should see the Warriors produce their best and I like them to cover the spread in Game 2 and set up two big games in Oklahoma City in the coming days.

Thursday 19th May
Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals went the way most people would have expected it to go, especially in the second half of that one. The Golden State Warriors are back to 1-1 in the series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the big question is whether the Toronto Raptors can compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals or whether the Cavs are going to run through another team in their Conference in a best of seven series.

Toronto Raptors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 2 Pick: Game 1 was another blow out for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Play Offs, but it was just Game 1. That is what the Toronto Raptors have to keep telling themselves while this battle hardened team have already dropped Game 1 in the first two Play Off series only to come through in seven games.

Of course those were against teams not of the standard of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but I do think the Raptors will have been able to overcome some emotional downtime from Game 1. That means I am expecting a lot more from their starters, especially the back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, than we saw in the first game.

Adjustments have to be made.

Toronto simply can't allow LeBron James to continuously make appointments with the rim as he did in Game 1, while they overplayed the three point shooting and didn't protect the paint. Better Defensive effort has to be expected, but going too far one way may see Cleveland get back to the barrage of three pointers that have impressed in the opening two series.

I picked the total points to be surpassed in the first game and we would have seen that in a closer game as both benches were cleared in the Fourth Quarter. I think both teams will shoot better from the three point line in this one and that could see Game 2 surpass the number which has shrunk by a few points although the sharps seem to be moving that number in a upward direction.

Tuesday 24th May
The Eastern Conference Finals have been anything but the blow out most of us would have expected as the Toronto Raptors tied up the series 2-2 with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.

The Western Conference Finals have also captured the imagination with the Oklahoma City Thunder leading the Golden State Warriors 2-1, although it is the Warriors who remain the favourites to win the NBA Championship even now.

Golden State Warriors @ Oklahoma City Thunder Game 4 Pick: This will be a memorable season for fans of the NBA having seen the Golden State Warriors smash the record for wins in the regular. However no one in the Bay Area are going to look back with pride if the Warriors do not add the NBA Championship to that record and join the likes of the 1996 Chicago Bulls as one of the best teams in history.

Winning the Championship is far from the mind at the moment as the Golden State Warriors were run out of town in Game 3 as they were blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder. That means it is the Thunder who lead this best of seven series 2-1 as we head back to the Chesapeake Energy Arena for Game 4.

The Warriors have not lost back to back games this season but were once again knocked out of their stride by the Thunder in Game 3 as they were in the second half of Game 1. However, this is a familiar spot for this roster who were 2-1 down twice in the post-season last season only to win those series against Memphis and Cleveland in six games so that is a big warning for the Thunder.

On the other hand Oklahoma City have to feel good about where they are and know they can compete with this Golden State team. If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook keep playing to the standards they have set and the big Thunder team can keep disrupting the timing on the three point shot for the Warriors, the upset is most definitely on.

I like Oklahoma City, but you can't ignore the 12-0 record Golden State have after a loss. The Warriors have Draymond Green available after he avoided a suspension and this is a team that has shown they can rally when under the gun. I will look for them to do that here and I like the Warriors to cover on the road and get the Western Conference Finals all tied up like the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday 25th May
Well, well, well, who would have thought the Golden State Warriors, a team that has won 73 regular season games and have the first unanimous MVP in the history of the NBA, would not be able to get into a position to defend their title from last season?

It isn't over for the defending Champions and I wouldn't want to rule them out with any confidence, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are in a very strong position at 3-1 up in the series.

The Thunder might just have the kryptonite for the Warriors having dismissed the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the Western Conference Semi Finals and Game 5 on Thursday is going to be memorable.

Toronto Raptors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 5 Pick: If someone had said one of the Conference Finals will be at 2-2 and one will be at 3-1, I am convinced most would have thought the latter was the Eastern Conference Finals. After two blow outs to open the series, the Cleveland Cavaliers were expected to roll through the Toronto Raptors but the latter are a gritty squad and have not read the script.

Not reading the script meant Toronto won both of their home games to get back to 2-2 in this series as Game 5 heads back to Cleveland.

I don't think anyone will doubt that the Raptors are much more comfortable on their home court and the key for Toronto is getting both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to take their game onto the road. Doing that will give Toronto a much better chance of earning an upset on the road and especially making it a lot more competitive than the last two games in Cleveland have been.

In fact the last three games Toronto have played in the Quicken Loans Arena have seen them lose by at least nineteen points each time. However they should have been given a shot in the arm with the way the Raptors have played in the last couple of games in beating Cleveland at home.

On the other hand, Cleveland may feel they have missed some open shots in the last couple of games and they were close to getting back and beating Toronto in Game 4. I don't think the Cavaliers will feel they need a big adjustment, but they will be hoping Kevin Love can rediscover his shot which has been missing in the last couple of games. Getting more out of Love to go with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving should be enough for Cleveland to avoid the upset.

In saying that, I do think Toronto can make this a more competitive game than the first two in Cleveland. They are getting a healthy dose of points in Game 5 and I am looking for them to try and use the momentum behind them to keep this one competitive. The Raptors will need Cleveland to at least help out by missing some of the same looks they have been missing in Games 3 and 4, but getting double digits worth of points in a tense contest like this one might be too many for Cleveland to cover.

MY PICKS: 17/05 Cleveland-Toronto Over 201.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
18/05 Golden State Warriors - 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
19/05 Cleveland-Toronto Over 198.5 Points @ 1.95 Betway (1 Unit)
24/05 Golden State Warriors - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
25/05 Toronto Raptors + 10.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

Conference Finals Update: 1-3, - 2.05 Units

Monday, 25 April 2016

NBA First Round Picks 2016 (April 25-30)

The NBA First Round Play Off games continue this week although two of the eight First Round series are in the books as the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs have moved through to the Conference Semi Finals.

It would be a big surprise if the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors don't join those teams in the strong position they are currently in, although the big news from the first week of the Play Offs is the injury to Steph Curry. That is going to dominate the headlines in the coming days as the prognosis becomes clear for the best player on the current Champions roster and a prolonged absence may open the door for a few teams who will feel they can take advantage.

This should be another fun few days as the First Round comes to a conclusion.

Monday 25th April
The Oklahoma City will be looking to complete their First Round series on Monday while the two other games to be played will see the higher Seeded teams looking to sneak a win on the road that can set them up to complete their own series later this week.

Miami Heat @ Charlotte Hornets Game 4 Pick: The Miami Heat blew out Charlotte in the first two games of the series, but it all changed around in Game 3 as the Hornets came out desperate to get back to 2-1. They made the adjustments in going much bigger in Game 3 than they had started the first two games, and that could be a real key to Game 4 with the Miami Heat potentially missing Hassan Whiteside.

With the big blocking Center likely sitting out in Game 4, Miami might not have a lot of answers for Al Jefferson and Charlotte will believe they can head back to South Beach back at 2-2 in this First Round series.

Erik Spoelstra won't be panicking at seeing his team completely go off the boil Offensively in Game 4 and has to believe Miami come out with more desperation about them. Finding the Offensive groove will be a key, but the Miami Heat have simply not been as effective away from home than they are in front of their own loud fans.

However I am expecting more of the same as what we saw in Game 3 with Charlotte looking to keep Miami off the boards. Defensively I do think the Hornets are hurt by the absence of Nicolas Batum, but the Under has been the predominant trend when these teams meet in Charlotte and I am going to back that to be the outcome of this one as neither team gets into the upper 90's in terms of points scored.

Dallas Mavericks @ Oklahoma City Thunder Game 5 Pick: The Oklahoma City Thunder may have dropped Game 2 of this First Round series, but back to back wins in Dallas have put them in firm control against the Mavericks. Another win on Monday will see the Thunder move ahead to their Conference Semi Final against the San Antonio Spurs and there has been plenty of talk of maintaining the speed they have injected into the last two games.

The one game Dallas have won was unsurprisingly the lowest scoring one of the series and the only time the Mavericks have held Oklahoma City to fewer than 100 points. They have not been able to corral both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in the last two games, although the big talking point out of Game 4 was Durant's ejection in a chippy series.

The Thunder have to make sure they are not dragged into a dogfight and instead try to show the difference in the talent available on the roster. With Deron Williams likely done for the season, Dallas have to find some scoring to complement the big efforts Dirk Nowitzki and Raymond Felton have offered and trying to keep up with the Thunder has not been a good policy for Dallas.

This is a big spread for the Oklahoma City Thunder to cover even though they have had a couple of big wins on the road. Somehow Dallas have to try and slow the tempo if they are going to win this, but they might have lost some heart from the way they have not just lost home court back to Oklahoma City, but lost both games to move to the brink of elimination.

While these teams tend to play hot in Dallas, the shooting has not been as good in Oklahoma City and I think a tighter game should mean fewer points all around.

LA Clippers @ Portland Trail Blazers Game 4 Pick: The gut feeling I had on Saturday turned out to be the correct call as I expect the Portland Trail Blazers to come out and play desperate. However the LA Clippers have to be feeling sick with themselves for blowing a big lead in the final few minutes of Game 3 when they allowed Portland to finish with a 15-1 run.

After the way they collapsed in the Western Conference Semi Finals last season, the Clippers are more than aware of what can happen in a series when they ease off the peddle. JJ Redick was critical of the way Game 3 was blown and I think the Clippers come out with a lot more motivation to move into a commanding lead before heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5.

Portland will feel better as they finally got the performances they expected out of CJ McCollum and Damien Lilliard, but they need more if this surprise package are going to make this a competitive series. There is little doubt the Clippers are the better team, but going back to 2-2 and heading into a best of three will give the Trail Blazers plenty of belief they can win this series.

The Clippers have won three of their last four games in Portland and they are 12-4 against the spread when favoured by 6 points or fewer on the road. They are also 20-9 against the spread in a revenge spot and while Portland have been very good coming off a home upset, I think the Clippers will knuckle down in the Fourth Quarter and not give up a big lead while moving into a 3-1 lead in the First Round series.

Wednesday 27th April
With just days to go until I am going to be settling down, you have to guess that it is going to be very busy for me in the near future.

That might mean short posts or simply making the picks from the games to be played the rest of this week.

Charlotte Hornets @ Miami Heat Game 5 Pick: The first three games of this series had been blow out wins, but Game 4 was much closer although the Charlotte Hornets got back to 2-2 in the series. That means the pressure shifts onto the Miami Heat in this pivotal Game 5 as they look to hold onto home advantage in this tight series and try and move onto the Conference Semi Finals.

Both of the games in South Beach have been massively in favour of Miami and I think this is a team that have been much better at home than on the road. They also have to expect their players are not hindered by being in foul trouble through Game 5 as they were through Game 4 and the Heat also have plenty of Play Off experience to make the adjustments they need in this series.

This is a team that has thrived at home when playing a team with a winning record and Miami are also 14-7 against the spread when favoured by 6 points or fewer at home. Miami have been able to cover more often than not when playing with double revenge and they have covered the last three times they have hosted the Hornets.

Of course Charlotte will look to continue to play a high level of Defense having held Miami to 85 points or fewer in the last two games, but they haven't performed as well here. I think the Heat can find a way to get back on track and I will back them to cover and win for a third time at home in the series.

Portland Trail Blazers @ LA Clippers Game 5 Pick: Once again it was a Fourth Quarter collapse that prevented the LA Clippers from stealing a game in Portland, but it has gotten much worse for them since then.

It looks like both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are out for the rest of the season and that means the Clippers are without their two best players the rest of the way. Of course it gives others the chance to step up, but the Clippers are not exactly the deepest of rosters and I think the absence of Paul and Griffin is a blow that they will not recover from.

Doc Rivers will have to bring in a Defensive shape to his team to hold Portland and try and sneak a couple of wins in this best of three series, but the layers look to be thinking along a similar line as me. That is the only reason that the Trail Blazers can be considered the favourites to win this one although I wouldn't want to back them as the road favourite here with the Clippers likely to rally around one another.

The Under has been the dominant trend in a 2-2 First Round series and it is actually 7-1 in the last eight games between these teams. I am expecting the Clippers to try and make this a low-scoring game and try and win that way especially as they can't rely on the scoring without Paul and Griffin available.

Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors Game 5 Pick: They might have won 73 games this season, but it will meaning nothing to the Golden State Warriors unless they win the NBA Championship. When Steph Curry slipped on a wet patch during the Game 4 win over the Houston Rockets, it looked like the Warriors might be losing Curry for a prolonged period.

The MRI has come back and it looks like Curry is out for the next two weeks which could see him back for the Eastern Conference Finals. With the Clippers losing two key players for the rest of the post-season, the Warriors might be feeling confident they can handle the load in the absence of Curry until he returns and the key is to finish off the Houston Rockets who they have in a 3-1 hole.

Golden State are 1-1 without Curry in this First Round series, but only lost a game where James Harden should have been called for an Offensive foul. They effectively crushed Houston without Curry in the Game 4 win on the road and I think the Rockets don't have the same sense of belief as they did when coming back to beat the Clippers from 1-3 down in the Play Offs last season.

The Warriors have won each of their last four home games against Houston by double digits which includes a win without Curry in Game 2. I think the Rockets are looking at a roster that doesn't have the same belief and I believe Golden State go on and win this one to move into the Conference Semi Finals with a victory by ten points or more.

MY PICKS: 25/04 Charlotte-Miami Under 195.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
25/04 Oklahoma City-Dallas Under 205.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
25/04 LA Clippers - 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
27/04 Miami Heat - 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
27/04 LA Clippers-Portland Under 197.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
27/04 Golden State Warriors - 9 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)

First Round Update:

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (April 23-25)

The Premier League and FA Cup take centre stage this weekend as we have reached the business end of the season with teams bidding for titles and trophies as well as promotion and avoiding relegation.

The title race was reignited last weekend and both Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur host teams they will be expected to beat, although Leicester City have the advantage of being able to put the points on the board first.

It is also a big weekend in the North East as Newcastle United and Sunderland continue their fight against relegation and the FA Cup Final will also be set by Sunday evening as Everton, Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Watford all dream of returning to Wembley Stadium on Saturday 21st May.

The last week was another good one for the picks as the month of April continues to trend in a positive direction and thus gets the season moving back to the positive after a really poor start to the season. Hopefully that can continue this weekend with the picks being made over the next three days.

Manchester City v Stoke City PickThis game has been shifted to Saturday lunchtime to give Manchester City all the time possible to prepare for their Champions League Semi Final against Real Madrid on Tuesday. There are two ways Manchester City can get into the Champions League next season and while Manuel Pellegrini's preferred method will be through winning the competition this season, finishing in the top four is just as important.

The lead for the top four places was narrowed to 2 points during the week, but Manchester City can increase the pressure on Manchester United who are in FA Cup action this weekend.

They will be expected to do that against a Stoke City team that have conceded four times in their last couple of Premier League games. Defensively Stoke City looked a mess against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in their last two League games and that won't pay off against Sergio Aguero who has already scored four times this past week.

Of course the white elephant in the room is the Champions League Semi Final and whether that will take away the focus of the Manchester City players. I am not sure that will be the case as this is a team that has been in good recent form and won both League games in the days before facing Paris Saint-Germain in the Quarter Final of the Champions League.

With the top four ambitions of the club, I expect Manchester City will play a strong team to make sure they can get into a position to take the three points before potentially resting players. Stoke City are conceding too many goals to look like they can keep up with Manchester City in this one and I will back the latter to win by a couple of goals this weekend.

Bournemouth v Chelsea PickThis Premier League game features two clubs that would most likely be pretty content with the season was to end right now for differing reasons. For Chelsea it has been all about underachievement, for Bournemouth about overachievement, but both clubs have been struggling in recent weeks for motivation.

Injuries in the Chelsea squad has seen Guus Hiddink employ the full squad at his disposal which is a good learning tool for incoming manager Antonio Conte. They have lost back to back Premier League games and only the awful Aston Villa team have given Chelsea the chance for a win in recent weeks.

It is the same Aston Villa team that has provided Bournemouth with three points during a run of 3 losses in 4 Premier League games as the side have still be shipping goals at an alarming rate.

Both attacks might feel they have the edge in this League game too and I can see both defences tested again. It is very difficult picking a winner, but it seems to be a League game that should produce chances at both ends and so picking goals looks to be the better option out of the game.

The last 6 Bournemouth Premier League games have featured at least three goals and 3 of the last 4 Chelsea League games have done the same after the club were knocked out of the FA Cup Sixth Round at Everton. The layers are also aware of that so the chance of seeing goals is odds on, but I still think it is a price worth taking out of this game.

Liverpool v Newcastle United PickThe results have been a lot more positive for Newcastle United this past seven days and it has given them a real chance to avoid the drop into the Championship. Both of those games were at home this week though and 10 straight losses on their travels suggests there is still a lot for Newcastle United to do if they are going to avoid another relegation.

As good as the results have been, Newcastle United have still looked vulnerable defensively and that is a big issue for Rafa Benitez to resolve. Swansea City had their chances against Newcastle United last weekend and this is a team that has conceded three times in each of their last two away games in the Premier League at Norwich City and Southampton.

Neither of those teams can be described as high-scoring teams and the defensive work by Newcastle United in both games is not going to be good enough against a Liverpool team in really confident form.

The loss of Divock Origi is a blow as the young Belgian striker seems to be a favourite of Jurgen Klopp and has responded with goals for the team. Daniel Sturridge is hardly a poor replacement and Liverpool are a team that have been scoring goals for fun in recent weeks which has to be a concern for Newcastle United as they head to Anfield.

This is a ground where Newcastle United have struggled in recent years with 9 losses in their last 10 visits and the chances Liverpool are creating and taking can expose this backline. Every point counts at this stage of the season so I expect Newcastle United to battle, but Liverpool are looking to keep the momentum going as they head into a big Europa League Semi Final and I will back them to win by a couple of goals on Saturday afternoon.

Sunderland v Arsenal PickWhen this game was picked for the television cameras it was clear it would have an impact at the top and bottom of the Premier League table. However Arsenal's title challenge has failed to materialise this season and instead they are focusing on ensuring they are back in the Champions League for another season.

That has been the recent goal for Arsene Wenger and it looks like the fans are once again becoming bored of the lack of progress being made by Arsenal. This has been a poor season for them as the FA Cup is not going to put a silver gloss on it and finishing below Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur would be a huge blow for the fans and the club.

The 2-0 win over West Brom has given Arsenal every chance of finishing in the top four, but they can't afford any slip ups here with Manchester United still pushing for one of those places. The Gunners will come into this one as the favourites to win at The Stadium of Light where they have won on their last 4 Premier League visits, but Sam Allardyce would have been preparing for this all week.

Allardyce and Wenger have often failed to be on the same page, and there is no doubt Big Sam loves to get one over the Frenchman. While Arsenal were in a League game on Thursday night, Sunderland have been preparing since Saturday afternoon and this is a team that has been tough to beat in recent weeks.

Sunderland have been creating chances and they should be able to give Arsenal some problems when going forward, although the defensive shape will be tested by an in-form Alexis Sanchez.

I have a gut feeling Sunderland might be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat in this one and earn a vital three points to get them moving out of the bottom three. However I have respect for the way Arsenal have played in recent away games and I think both teams can score in this one.

With the importance of the points on offer, neither will likely settle for a draw and backing at least three goals to be scored between Sunderland and Arsenal for a third time this season is my pick.

Leicester City v Swansea City Pick: All of the news ahead of this Premier League game is surrounding Leicester City and how they are going to cope without Jamie Vardy who was sent off last weekend. That saw The Foxes drop two points and now their lead over Tottenham Hotspur is down to 5 points as the race for the Premier League title heats up, but this is far from an easy game with or without Vardy.

After watching Swansea City go down 3-0 to Newcastle United last weekend it is easy to say that this is a team that is perhaps looking ahead to the off-season. I am not sure that is the case as they had some big chances at 1-0 down and conceded twice in the last ten minutes to put a gloss on the scoreline.

Swansea City had only lost 1 of 6 games in the Premier League before last weekend and this is a team that had scored at least twice in three straight away games before that game. With the pressure building on Leicester City, I think Swansea City will have some joy in this one and I wouldn't be surprised if they created chances and scored at least once.

Claudio Ranieri has announced for the first time this season that Leicester City can win the Premier League title, but that puts pressure on his team to get forward and try and win the game. Anything less opens the door a little more for Tottenham Hotspur who may then feel they have the better of the remaining three games of the season and the stronger goal difference.

I think the layers are underestimating the chance for goals because of the Vardy absence, but both teams are likely to give this game a right go on Sunday. Swansea City away games have featured plenty of goals in recent weeks and Leicester City will likely be a little more open as they will be expected to get forward and score goals. That should lead to an entertaining game on Sunday afternoon and backing goals looks the call.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Brom PickI am not particularly impressed with the quality in the Premier League this season and while I am not one of those who thinks highly of Tottenham Hotspur, I can say they have been dealing with the title race pressure very well. This is one of the better teams in England, but I think that says more about the lack of quality through the Division than it does about how good Spurs are and that might be shown up in the Champions League next season.

With that out of the way, I will go back to crediting Tottenham Hotspur for the manner in which they are handling playing second behind Leicester City in the last two weekends. A 3-0 win over Manchester United at home and a 0-4 win at Stoke City shows that Tottenham Hotspur are not willing to go away in this title race and keeping up with Leicester City is key.

There are 5 points to make up which means dropping any points could be fatal and Tottenham Hotspur have to show they are going to take advantage of any slips Leicester City have in the Premier League.

It looks one of the better games Tottenham Hotspur have left when they host West Brom who have the look of a squad looking forward to their summer holidays. Since reaching 39 points in the Premier League, West Brom have lost 4 of 5 Premier League games including their last 2 away from home at Manchester City and Arsenal.

Tottenham Hotspur have the kind of defence that should be able to keep West Brom at bay and the goals have been coming for the home team. I have to expect Tottenham Hotspur to keep handling the pressure as effectively as they have over the last three weeks and I think they can see off West Brom.

Backing Spurs to win by a couple of goals is how I feel Monday Night Football will go and potentially Tottenham Hotspur can close the gap a little further this weekend in the tittle race.

Everton v Manchester United PickBoth Louis Van Gaal and Roberto Martinez will be desperate for the win on Saturday which will see them ease some of the pressure that has seemingly been on them all season.

On current form it is hard to see past Manchester United earning their way to Wembley Stadium, although the side under Van Gaal have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Sometimes you can go into a game and expect Manchester United to really get some momentum behind them and they can let you down, while Van Gaal always picks up a result when the pressure seems to be at breaking point.

That is not the case this week as many will expect Manchester United to win after seeing Everton fall apart at Anfield on Wednesday night. I also think Manchester United are the better team with Everton struggling for fit defenders and I think the pace of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in forward areas could be very difficult for a makeshift defence to deal with.

I do have to expect Everton will have some reaction to their defeat in the Merseyside derby unless the players have lost faith in their manager. There is still enough quality in the Everton line up to give Manchester United problems as they did at Old Trafford earlier this month, but the lack of confidence might be a blow.

For all of the criticisms of Van Gaal, it has to be said the defensive organisation remains strong for the most part. Everton have scored just twice in 6 games since beating Chelsea in the Sixth Round and I think Manchester United can hold them at bay while getting forward and finding joy against this defence.

It has been a long time since Manchester United have won the FA Cup, but they look to be in a great position to do that this time around. I do think they have the confidence to find their way past this Everton team and push Roberto Martinez closer to the exit door at Goodison Park and I will back Manchester United at odds against.

Crystal Palace v Watford PickIt is going to be interesting to see how the Crystal Palace and Watford players respond in this FA Cup Semi Final having struggled in the Premier League since booking their place at Wembley Stadium. It is hard to turn on the form when you need it, but the edge in that regards might have to be given to Crystal Palace who have picked up points in recent games to get themselves out of relegation trouble.

Both teams will be desperate to put an exclamation point on the season by getting into the FA Cup Final and winning this competition would be a huge achievement for either club.

With that goal in mind and how much it would mean to both clubs I can see this being a tight game as neither team will want to make a mistake that costs them a place in the Final.

There is enough quality in both starting elevens to make this a very entertaining game, but the fear of losing might encompass the game. That could see both Alan Pardew and Quique Sanchez Flores make sure their team is set up to be tough to beat and goals might actually be at a premium on Sunday.

A small interest on there being one goal or fewer looks to be the call in this one and I will back that to happen.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sunderland-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-Swansea City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 2.05 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Watford Under 1.5 Goals @ 3.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)

April Update14-8, + 10.38 Units (44 Units Staked, + 23.59% Yield)

March Final22-17-2, + 9.06 Units (80 Units Staked, + 11.33% Yield)
February Final30-23-2, + 20.82 Units (105 Units Staked, + 19.83% Yield)
January Final19-13, + 17.56 Units (61 Units Staked, + 28.79% Yield)
December Final15-23, - 9.32 Units (64 Units Staked, - 14.56% Yield)
November Final: 11-19-1, - 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, - 25.37% Yield)
October Final16-25, - 13.51 Units (79.50 Units Staked, - 16.99% Yield)
September Final29-30-3, + 4.18 Units (117.5 Units Staked, + 3.58% Yield)
August Final16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)

Season 2015/16129-168-2, - 8.49 Units (652 Units Staked, - 1.30% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)