Chelsea continue to lead the Premier League after their 1-1 draw at title rivals Manchester City last weekend although few expected their nearest challengers in late September to be Ronald Koeman’s Southampton.
There are two local derbies to look forward to this weekend and eight other intriguing fixtures. Keep reading for our preview of all the Premier League action.
Premier League bet of the weekend
After a disappointing start to the season, West Bromwich Albion gained their first win of the campaign last weekend with an excellent 1-0 win against Spurs. With Alan Irvine having signed ten new players this summer it was always likely to take time to find the right blend but the Baggies seemed to gel well in their win at White Hart Lane.
West Brom face Burnley at the Hawthorns in Sunday’s live match. Burnley have certainly been well organised defensively in recent weeks – Sean Dyche’s side have three consecutive clean sheets – but have found goals hard to come by.
The Baggies have yet to win at home this season but can give their home fans something to cheer about this weekend. It should be a tight affair but I fancy West Brom to win this one at evens.
The weekend’s other action
The weekend’s Premier League action kicks off at Anfield as Liverpool face Everton in the first Merseyside derby of the season.
It’s not been the best start to the season for Brendan Rogers’ side and he admitted after their defeat to West Ham last weekend that they were nowhere near the standards he expects. Everton have also endured a shaky start to the season and lost 3-2 to Crystal Palace last Sunday in front of the Goodison faithful.
Everton haven’t won at Anfield since 1999 and I expect the home side to win this at 5/6.
After their 5-3 defeat to Leicester City last Sunday it was clear that Louis van Gaal still has plenty of work to do on his Manchester United side. While the Dutchman continues to find the right formation and blend of talent his side are blessed with winnable fixtures and this Saturday they host West Ham.
At home the expansive attacking approach is likely to pay better dividends and Man Utd should win, although there’s not much value at 4/11. It is 8/11 that both teams score and that could be the safer bet here.
After their great start to the season Aston Villa came down to earth with a 3-0 home defeat last weekend and Chelsea should inflict their second defeat in a week with a win at 2/9. Title rivals Manchester City face a trickier tie away at Hull City and the home side are a tempting looking 5/1 to win. City can be backed at 4/7.
If Leicester City continue their current form throughout the autumn then they should easily secure their survival in the Premier League. Nigel Pearson’s side have been terrific so far this campaign and travel to Crystal Palace on Saturday. Palace are a hard side to beat but I fancy City to continue their excellent start to the campaign with an away win at 7/4.
Southampton have been the surprise package of the Premier League so far this season and the Saints had an excellent win at Arsenal in the week in the Capital One Cup. Ronald Koeman’s side can continue their good form on Saturday with a win against struggling QPR at 4/9.
Sunderland have yet to record a win in this season’s Premier League although have an eminently winnable fixture this weekend as they welcome Swansea City. Swansea have been excellent under Garry Monk this season but I fancy the home side to finally get a morale boosting win at 13/8.
The second local derby of the day is Saturday’s late kick-off where Arsenal take on Spurs. Under Mauricio Pochettino Spurs have been better away from home than at White Hart Lane this season and are unbeaten on the road in both the Premier League and Europe.
Arsenal have injury problems in defence and lost at the Emirates in midweek. With neither team in scintillating form this could be a close match but I fancy the home side to prevail at 4/5.
Monday night’s fixture features two teams both in need of a win. Stoke City welcome Newcastle United with both sides in the bottom half of the table after disappointing starts.
Stoke have lost both their home Premier League fixtures so far this season while Newcastle are yet to register a win. A defeat for Newcastle could spell the end for Alan Pardew but I think Stoke are the better side and are great value at the Britannia at 23/20.
Chelsea kept up their 100% record last weekend with a 4-2 win over Swansea and head into Sunday’s big match with Manchester City at the top of the table.
A loss for Newcastle United, West Ham or West Brom could be a fatal blow to their manager – even this early in the season – and so it’s a big week of fixtures for all sorts of reasons. Keep reading for our preview of all the Premier League action.
Premier League bet of the weekend
Had Scott Arfield converted his 85th minute penalty against Crystal Palace last weekend, Burnley would sit in 13th place in the table on the back of a win, a draw and two clean sheets.
As it is, Sean Dyche will have been encouraged by his team’s last two performances in draws against Manchester United and Palace although a lack of goals could be Burnley’s problem this season. The Clarets are at home again this weekend and face Sunderland who have just three points from their four games.
Both teams have yet to win in the Premier League this season and Sunderland were a little lucky to escape with a point from last Saturday’s home match with Spurs. It took a late Harry Kane own goal to rescue a point for the Black Cats and Gus Poyet admitted that Sunderland had to work hard for a point.
This should be a close game but it’s only a matter of time before Dyche’s organised side get a little bit of luck and record their first win. Burnley look excellent value to beat Sunderland at Turf Moor at 6/4.
Saturday’s other action
It has been a frustrating season so far for Stoke City. A terrific win at Manchester City has been sandwiched between home defeats to Aston Villa and Leicester City and Stoke have now lost consecutive home matches for the first time since April 2013.
Mark Hughes’ side travel to struggling QPR in Saturday’s early kick-off in a match they would hope to win. QPR were well beaten last Sunday and I fancy Stoke to win at 9/5.
Before the season began you’d have got long odds on Aston Villa being Chelsea’s closest challengers in mid-September. An organised and disciplined performance saw Villa win at Anfield last weekend and Paul Lambert’s high-flying side welcome Arsenal to Villa Park on Saturday.
After their European exertions and with some defensive injury problems it could be a good time to face Arsenal. Villa are 7/2 to win with Arsenal available at a skinny 4/5.
A defeat for Newcastle United at St James Park this weekend would almost certainly be the end for Alan Pardew. The Magpies play Hull City and it promises to be a toxic atmosphere on Tyneside.
Despite their summer investment Hull haven’t really clicked this season and twice gave away a lead on Monday night to draw 2-2 with QPR. Newcastle ought to win – and desperately need to – but United have been rotten this season so far and Hull look the value at 13/5.
Third plays fourth at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday as Swansea City face Southampton. Both teams play attractive football and this could be an entertaining tie between two of the league’s more aesthetically pleasing sides. Swansea are 6/4 although this could be a high scoring draw at 23/10.
It’s been a disappointing start to the season for Liverpool and they face a tricky away tie at West Ham in Saturday’s late kick-off. Liverpool are 8/11 to win but the 4/1 on a home win looks tempting.
Top clubs in action on Sunday
Both Leicester City and Manchester United recorded their first league wins of the season last weekend and the two sides meet at the King Power Stadium on Sunday lunchtime.
United looked to have finally clicked in their win over QPR and, if their superstars play as they did last weekend, they should have too much for City at 8/13. In the 4pm kick-off, Everton can follow up their 2-0 win at WBA with a home win over Crystal Palace at 2/5.
Mauricio Pochettino said that Spurs had to improve after their 2-2 draw with Sunderland last week. His side look to have a winnable home match this Sunday against West Bromwich Albion where the pressure is starting to build on boss Alan Irvine with his side yet to record a win. Spurs should secure the three points at 1/2.
Sunday’s big match sees the two main title rivals go head to head. Manchester City host Chelsea and this promises to be an intriguing tie. City’s form this season has been variable while Chelsea have recorded four wins out of four and top the table.
I think the title will go to one or other of these sides but Chelsea can strike an early blow with an away win at 9/5.
It’s the sixth season of the revamped Europa League this season and while the group stage may be just beginning, the qualifying rounds have actually been taking place since early July.
48 teams enter the group stages from nations as far afield as Belarus, Norway, Slovakia, Croatia and Azerbaijan. There’s the usual mixture of big names and lesser known sides with the final set to be held in Warsaw in May. Keep reading for our preview of this season’s Europa League.
One of the main issues with looking at potential winners of the Europa League is that, as yet, we don’t know who eight of the sides in the final 32 will be. Third place teams from the Champions League groups drop into the competition as the knockout rounds begin and, in the five years of the rebranded Europa League, two of the eventual winners haven’t even been in the competition at this stage.
Chelsea in 2013 and Atletico Madrid in 2010 both dropped into the Europa League after their Champions League elimination and so there could be some strong teams yet to enter the tournament.
Of the teams already in the group stage, Napoli look worthy favourites. Having finished third in Serie A, Rafa Benitez’s side would have expected to reach the Champions League group stages but were eliminated 4-2 on aggregate by Athletic Bilbao in the final play-off round.
Napoli fell to a surprise 1-0 home defeat to Chievo last weekend but in a group featuring Sparta Prague, Young Boys and Slovan Bratislava they should easily make the knockouts. Bear in mind, though, that an Italian side hasn’t reached the final of UEFA’s second tier competition since back in 1999.
Spurs have been a regular in the Europa League in recent years and are available at 16/1 but a better bet looks to be last year’s winners Sevilla at 20/1. Spanish sides have won three of the last five Europa League titles and Unai Emery’s side have enjoyed an unbeaten start to the La Liga season.
Wolfsburg are the Bundesliga’s leading challengers at 25/1 while Villareal could also go well at the same price. Everton are also 25/1 but face a tough challenge to overcome both Wolfsburg and Lille in Group H.
Outsiders to watch
For obvious reasons, Russian and Ukrainian sides won’t face each other in the early stages of this season’s Europa League. Both countries have boasted winners of this tournament in the last decade with CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk all claiming the title since 2005.
It is Dynamo Moscow’s first appearance in the Europa League and they reached the group stage by the skin of their teeth, eventually seeing off Omonia Nicosia after extra-time in the play-off round. They stand third in the Russian Premier League after seven matches and look to have a comfortable group alongside Estoril, PSV Eindhoven and Panathanaikos.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side are 66/1 and that represents decent each-way value.
This season’s Europa League final will be in Warsaw and so it may be worth keeping an eye on the current Polish champions, Legia Warsaw. Eliminated from the Champions League in controversial circumstances – they beat Celtic but fielded an ineligible player – Henning Berg’s team have won the last two Polish league titles and aren’t in the toughest group.
Last season they lost five of their six group games – including a defeat to minnows Apollon Limassol – but I fancy they could emulate their 2012 performance when they reached the knockout stages. With a home final to aim for the 100/1 could tumble with a decent result against Trabzonspor, Lokeren or FC Metalist Kharkiv.
The European Cup celebrates its 60th season this year and the competition had begun before this summer’s World Cup had even finished. 77 teams will participate in this season’s Champions League with just two left by the time the final arrives in Berlin on 6 June 2015.
Real Madrid are the favourites to retain the title they won last May. Keep reading for our preview of this season’s Champions League.
After their 4-1 victory over city rivals Atletico in last season’s final, Real Madrid would already have been one of the favourites to win this year’s tournament. However, having invested €120 million in the likes of James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos the ten-time champions look stronger than ever.
The Spanish giants have kept hold of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema and look to have the most potent attacking line-up in the competition, although they will have to adapt to life without their inspirational playmaker Xabi Alonso. Real don’t have the easiest group stage – they have both Liverpool and Basel – but are worthy favourites at 7/2.
Another team with a tricky group draw are 4/1 second favourites Bayern Munich. They will have to overcome Manchester City, CSKA Moscow and Roma to progress but the German side have arguably been Europe’s best club team for the last two or three years.
As well as boasting the spine of Germany’s World Cup winning side they also have added class this summer. Robert Lewandowski looks like an upgrade on the departed Mario Mandzukic while Mehdi Benatia will bring experience to the defence. Pep Guardiola has also signed Xabi Alonso who could be the key to Bayern’s success.
Last year’s semi-finalists Chelsea have also spent wisely this summer, adding Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to their ranks. Jose Mourinho is a Champions League master and I expect the Blues to reach the latter stages of the competition. They look good value at 7/1 to win the trophy.
Barcelona should negotiate a straightforward group stage by which time they will be able to call on Luis Suarez to partner Neymar and Lionel Messi in a fearsome attack. Big spending Paris St Germain reached the quarter-final stage last year and could go better at 16/1 while the last two beaten finalists – Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund – are both available at 25/1.
Outsiders to watch
No-one gave Atletico much hope of success last season but the Spanish champions ended up being a matter of seconds from lifting their first European Cup.
Could this season’s surprise package be La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao? It’s the Basque side’s first Champions League appearance after finishing fourth in La Liga last season and with a manageable group they could go well.
Ernesto Valverde’s side have lost midfield playmaker Ander Herrera to Manchester United but should qualify from a group including Porto, BATE Borisov and troubled Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk. The San Mames is an intimidating stadium for any visitors and anything can happen in the knockout stages. Athletic are one to watch at 80/1.
It may also be worth keeping an eye on 2002 Champions League finalists Bayer Leverkusen. Having spent wisely this summer Roger Schmidt’s side have got off to an excellent start in the Bundesliga, winning at rivals Dortmund and putting four past Hertha Berlin.
Leverkusen don’t face a major European superpower in Group C – they face Monaco, Benfica and Zenit St Petersburg – and should qualify for the knockout stages. The 80/1 available looks like excellent value.
The transfer window has closed until January and this weekend will give thousands of fans the first chance to see some of their club’s new players in action. With the likes of Radamel Falcao, Danny Welbeck, Hatem Ben Arfa and Sandro moving clubs there will be plenty of interest in the debuts of some of these multi-million pound stars.
Keep reading for our preview of all the Premier League action.
Premier League bet of the weekend
Crystal Palace’s search for a new manager ended with the appointment of Neil Warnock: a man whose philosophy seems to be a reasonable match for former boss Tony Pulis.
Since his appointment Warnock has added proven Premier League experience in the form of James MacArthur, Kevin Doyle and Wilfried Zaha as well as promise in the form of ex-Spurs defender Zeki Fryers. More importantly, he has also been able to keep hold of the core of his team.
After their excellent run at the end of last season I don’t think Crystal Palace have become a poor team overnight. Still well organised and with some decent players they perhaps ought to have won at Newcastle last week and I expect them to get their campaign up and running with a home win on Saturday against Burnley.
Burnley have endured a tricky start to the campaign although were spirited in defeats to Swansea and Chelsea and secured their first point of the season last Saturday against fellow strugglers Manchester United.
Sean Dyche’s side really need a win sooner rather than later but Crystal Palace look fantastic value at 11/10 to get their first three points of the season.
All the other action
Two of the title challengers meet in Saturday’s early kick-off as Arsenal host Manchester City.
The Gunners’ early transfer business had whetted the fans’ appetite for the new season but the injury to Olivier Giroud and a lack of defensive reinforcements have left supporters concerned about the lack of arrivals. Danny Welbeck should slot straight into Arsenal’s attack for this match and the England international should prove a more effective front man than either Yaya Sanogo or Lukas Podolski.
Manchester City slumped to an unexpected defeat at home to Stoke last weekend and have rather blown hot and cold this season so far. When they have been good they have been very good and I fancy them to cause Arsenal’s defence some problems. An entertaining draw could be the call here with 2-2 available at 10/1.
Chelsea’s record at Stamford Bridge is second to none and they can end Swansea City’s 100% start to the season with a win at 1/4. Liverpool should also record a comfortable home win and are 1/4 to beat high flying Aston Villa. I also like Stoke City’s chances of following up their win over Manchester City with a home victory over Leicester City at evens.
Spurs had shown encouragement to their fans with their early performances before coming crashing down to earth in a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool last Sunday. Mauricio Pochettino’s side head to Sunderland this weekend and face a tricky test against Gus Poyet’s well organised if limited side. This is precisely the sort of match that Spurs tend to lose and the 5/2 on a home victory looks terrific value.
It may well also be worth a speculative punt on West Bromwich Albion to register their first win of the season as they take on Everton at the Hawthorns. Once Alan Irvine’s raft of new signings starts to click they should end up comfortably in mid table and could have enough to beat Everton at 23/10.
Southampton are 5/6 to follow up their win last Saturday with victory at home over Newcastle United.
Sunday’s match sees Manchester United try to register their first win of the season as they host QPR. While their attacking talent may be the envy of the league – Mata, Rooney, van Persie and Falcao – their lack of defensive reinforcements mean that Louis van Gaal’s side remain vulnerable. I fancy United to beat QPR but the evens on both teams to score looks good value.
Hull City have been one of the transfer window’s biggest spenders and can parade the likes of Gaston Ramirez, Mohamed Diame, Hatem Ben Arfa and Abel Hernandez as they welcome West Ham United on Monday evening.
Steve Bruce has added proven quality to an already decent side and they can hasten Sam Allardyce’s inevitable departure with a win at 6/5.
Four teams take a 100% record into the third weekend of Premier League fixtures with Spurs setting the early pace at the top of the table. There have been plenty of talking points already so far this season, and there are more intriguing fixtures this weekend.
Keep reading for our preview of all the Premier League action.
Premier League bet of the weekend
To celebrate the 50th birthday of Match of the Day last weekend, the BBC brought back seasoned commentator Barry Davies for one week only. It had been 45 years since Davies had commentated on his first match for the show and he returned to the scene of his first report – Selhurst Park – for the anniversary.
What he saw was a spirited West Ham side with no shortage of quality comfortably beat Crystal Palace. Sam Allardyce has been charged this season with not only improving results but also the style of his side and there was plenty to enjoy in the 3-1 win.
West Ham host Southampton this weekend and while the Hammers were winning in style, the Saints were labouring to a 0-0 draw at home against West Brom. I have said it before and will say it again: Ronald Koeman’s managerial record over the years is extremely mediocre and I fear for Southampton’s season, especially considering their exodus of players over the summer.
If West Ham can play as they did last weekend they should have too much for the struggling Saints. Back the home side at 8/5.
All the other action
While there may have been an unfamiliar look about Manchester United’s line-up in the Capital One Cup this week, the combined starting eleven can boast almost 700 league appearances for the side. That makes their 4-0 capitulation to the MK Dons even more humbling and United head to Turf Moor in Saturday’s early kick-off knowing that they can’t afford another defeat – this time to promoted Burnley.
Burnley have played well in patches in both their games this season without any points to show for it but will take encouragement from their last season in the top flight when they beat United in an early season encounter. Angel di Maria could make his United debut after his record move (he is 11/5 to score on his debut) but considering how badly they have played to date the 8/15 on the away side doesn’t look very generous.
Everton take on Chelsea in Saturday’s tea-time kick off and that could be a terrific match. Everton were cruising to victory against Arsenal last week before switching off in the last ten minutes while Chelsea had to dig deep to see off Leicester. This should be close but Mourinho’s side can nick this at 11/10.
Manchester City should have no problem in dispatching Stoke City at 2/11 on Saturday afternoon while Newcastle can register their first win of the campaign by beating Crystal Palace who will have new boss Neil Warnock in charge at St James’ Park. QPR are 6/4 to get off the mark with a win against Sunderland while Swansea can make it three wins out of three with a home victory over West Bromwich Albion at 17/20.
Sunday’s big match sees league leaders Spurs take on Liverpool at White Hart Lane. This fixture last season ended 5-0 to the Reds but I envisage it being closer this time around. Spurs are 8/5 to win and stay top of the table while Liverpool need to bounce back after their defeat to Manchester City and can be backed at 17/10.
Aston Villa have enjoyed a better start to the season than many expected and can continue their good form with a home win over Hull City at 5/4. And, now that they have safely reached the Champions League group stage, Arsenal can concentrate on the league and should start with a win at Leicester City at 4/5.
There was plenty of action and talking points in the opening weekend of the Premier League season. Louis van Gaal’s reign as Manchester United manager ended in home defeat while all the title challengers came through their opening fixtures with wins.
There are more intriguing fixtures this weekend and so keep reading for our preview of all the Premier League action.
Premier League bet of the weekend
Earlier this summer, Louis van Gaal admitted that his first three months in charge of Manchester United would be ‘a struggle’. The Dutchman confessed that his aim in the first three months at a club has been to ‘survive’ and that it takes time for new teams to get used to his tactics and management style.
That was apparent in United’s opening day defeat to Swansea where it was clear that van Gaal faces problems both in terms of personnel and performances. With a major injury crisis and another player departing this week (Nani has gone to Sporting Lisbon) things could get worse at Old Trafford before they get better.
On Sunday United travel to Sunderland who opened their campaign with an encouraging 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion. Gus Poyet still needs to add a striker to his squad – the talk this week has been of signing Danny Welbeck – but in recent years the Black Cats have shown that they can go toe to toe with the big guns at the Stadium of Light.
Van Gaal’s first three Bayern Munich games ended in two 1-1 draws and a defeat and with a threadbare squad it could be another tricky weekend. Sunderland look terrific value at 7/2 to heap more pressure on the United manager.
All the other action
The title contenders all opened with wins although some were made to work harder for them than expected. Liverpool overcome Southampton 2-1 and feature in the match of the weekend as they travel to Manchester City on Monday night.
City looked comfortable in their win at St James Park last Sunday and were excellent at home last season. They look good value at 17/20 to make it two wins out of two.
Arsenal scored a last minute winner to see off Crystal Palace before a reasonably successful trip to Turkey where they drew 0-0 with Besiktas in the first leg of their Champions League play-off. They face a tricky away tie at Everton in Saturday’s late kick-off and this promises to be a terrific match.
There is little to choose in the betting between these two sides but I fancy the Gunners to prevail in a close match at 8/5.
Chelsea should have too much for promoted Leicester at 2/9 while Spurs welcome back a former manager as they face Harry Redknapp’s QPR at White Hart Lane on Sunday. Spurs can make it two wins out of two at 1/2.
Aston Villa were surprise winners at Stoke City last weekend and face Newcastle United at Villa Park. A home win would pile more pressure on Alan Pardew and there’s not much to choose between the sides. The draw at 9/4 could be the call.
Sam Allardyce is many people’s favourite to win the sack race this season and his West Ham side travel to Crystal Palace on Saturday. Palace were unlucky to lose at the Emirates last weekend and could pile more pressure on the Hammers boss by winning at 7/5. I also fancy Hull City to see off Stoke City at 6/4 while Swansea City were excellent at Old Trafford and can beat Burnley at 7/10.
I remain unconvinced about Southampton’s chances this season despite their spirited showing at Anfield. They are just 10/11 to beat West Bromwich Albion at St Mary’s but the value looks to be on the away side at 3/1.
It’s only been a month since the end of the World Cup but the new Premier League starts this weekend. With many clubs yet to conclude their transfer activity there could be some intriguing results over the next couple of weeks and there’s plenty of value to be had in the first round of fixtures.
Keep reading for our preview of all the weekend’s Premier League action.
Premier League bet of the weekend
Stoke City went quietly about their business last season eventually finishing in 9th place, their best finish since their return to the Premier League. This was achieved with playing a more expansive type of football than fans had been used to under Tony Pulis and boss Mark Hughes looks to have made some excellent additions to his squad in the close season.
Steve Sidwell and ex Manchester United players Phil Bardsley and Mame Diouf have come in on free transfers while the former Barcelona wonderkid Bojan Krkic could be a terrific signing if he can rediscover the form he showed as a teenager.
Stoke start their campaign at the Britannia Stadium this Saturday against Aston Villa. Villa’s most high profile addition this summer has been the appointment of Roy Keane as assistant manager, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Irishman in the top job before the year is out. Signings including Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Keiron Richardson have hardly set pulses racing at Villa Park and most fans are expecting it to be another long, hard relegation battle.
Stoke are 19/20 to begin their campaign with three points and this looks like absolutely terrific value.
All the other action
The 2014/15 Premier League season kicks off at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime as Manchester United take on Swansea City in Louis van Gaal’s first league match in charge.
United have been in imperious pre-season form – winning six out of six matches – but it’s worth remembering that Swansea won at Old Trafford in the FA Cup earlier this year. United ought to get off to a flying start at 1/3 and new captain Wayne Rooney can net the Reds first goal of the new season at 3/1.
As well as siding with United, there looks to be value in backing some of the other home sides on the opening weekend of the campaign.
Manchester City looked strangely out of sorts in their 3-0 Community Shield defeat last Sunday and could be vulnerable to a revitalised Newcastle United side at St James’ Park. Alan Pardew is likely to field a number of new signings and the Magpies look excellent value at 4/1 to get off to a great start.
West Ham are 5/2 to beat Spurs at the Boleyn Ground and, again, that looks to be where the value lies. Leicester City are 2/1 to mark their return to the top flight with a win against Everton while I also like the chances of West Bromwich Albion. Alan Irvine has made some shrewd signings in the close season and the Baggies are 13/10 to get all three points against Sunderland.
QPR ought to have a better campaign than their last top-flight effort this time around and are 6/4 to beat FA Cup finalists Hull City.
The big guns have been given relatively straightforward ties in the opening weekend and all should open with a morale boosting win. Arsenal look to have the easiest task as they face Crystal Palace at the Emirates in Saturday’s late kick-off and are 3/10 to win. A handful of Southampton old boys are likely to face their former employers at Anfield where Liverpool ought to get off to a winning start at 4/11.
Chelsea face the promoted Burnley in Monday night’s match. There promises to be a terrific atmosphere at Turf Moor but I fancy Jose Mourinho’s side to send out a true statement of intent at 2/5.
One ante-post bet to consider
Southampton have lost most of their best players, bought replacements untested in the Premier League and have appointed a manager with no English experience. Indeed, with the exception of his recent spell at Feyenoord, Ronald Koeman’s managerial record is decidedly mediocre and previous stints at Valencia, AZ, Ajax and Benfica have been less than impressive.
You can get 4/1 on Southampton’s relegation from the Premier League and while there may be three worse sides on paper, it could be a year of struggle for the Saints.
After some superb performances by a number of the World Cup’s less fancied teams, the semi-finals feature four bona fide giants of the modern game. Hosts Brazil have somehow managed to find their way to the last four and face Germany in Belo Horizonte before new tournament favourites Argentina play the Netherlands in Sao Paolo.
Here’s our preview of the 2014 World Cup semi finals.
South America v Europe for a place in the World Cup final
They have been far from convincing in most of their matches so far but somehow Brazil have managed to make it to their first World Cup semi-final since 2002. The hosts scraped past Chile on penalties before a mighty scare against Colombia and needed a wonder strike from David Luiz to send them on their way to a 2-1 victory.
Brazil’s key player so far has been Neymar but the forward will miss the rest of the tournament after suffering an injury in the win over Colombia. The hosts will also miss the suspended Thiago Silva for the match in Belo Horizonte and coach Phil Scolari has one or two tactical and personnel decisions to make. Do Brazil stick with misfiring striker Fred? Who will partner David Luiz in central defence? And who will come in to replace the talismanic number ten?
Apart from an hour or so in their opening match against Portugal we haven’t really yet seen what Germany are capable of. They were functional more than exhilarating in their wins over Algeria and France and Joachim Low’s side have yet to burst into life in the knockout stages.
I actually still believe that if the true Germany turns up that they can easily win this tournament. It will be tough in front of a partisan home crowd but I think Brazil have been lucky so far and I can see their run coming to an end at the semi-final stage. Back Germany to nick it 1-0 at 13/2.
Argentina and Brazil have never both reached the semi-final stage of the same World Cup and now the pair are just one match away from a dream all-South American final. Standing in Argentina’s way are the Netherlands and this promises to be an intriguing clash in Sao Paolo.
While they may be a team packed with attacking talent – and in Lionel Messi they have one of the best players of the tournament – Argentina haven’t set the tournament alight. They have won three of their matches 1-0 and the other two by a solitary goal and so they have yet to really take another side apart.
It’s been 24 years since Argentina’s last World Cup semi-final and their only injury concern is over Angel di Maria who will miss the match. Sergio Aguero has trained and should play alongside Messi and Gonzalo Higuain who scored the winner in the quarter final.
Despite their heritage, it could be argued that the Netherlands have been this tournament’s surprise package. Arriving in Brazil with their weakest squad in decades – at least on paper – most observers expected the Dutch to either go out in the group stage or in the last 16. However, they have defied the odds to reach their second consecutive semi-final and have ridden their luck along the way.
Louis van Gaal’s side needed two late goals to overcome Mexico in the last 16 and Costa Rica gave them a mighty fright in Salvador before they finally prevailed after winning a penalty shootout in which Tim Krul – the substitute goalkeeper – was the hero.
There are plenty of neutrals who would love Holland to finally win a World Cup and I sincerely hope they play to the best of their ability on Wednesday night. Arjen Robben can cause Argentina’s defence lots of problems but I think the South Americans may have just enough to scrape through.
Don’t expect lots of goals, though. 0-0 after 90 minutes is available at 11/2 while you can back under 2.5 goals at 1/2.
There are now just eight teams left in a brilliant World Cup and there are some intriguing fixtures to look forward to. There’s a curious combination of big guns and dark horses left in the tournament and picking a potential winner remains as hard as it’s been for a couple of weeks.
Here’s our preview of the 2014 World Cup quarter finals.
South Americans bid to make last four
Before last week’s round of 16 match we predicted that Brazil might find the going tough against talented South American opponents. On that occasion they managed to squeeze past Chile on penalties but they face another difficult match in the quarter finals as they take on Colombia.
The hosts have yet to convince in any of their matches and have had to rely on the brilliance of Neymar more than once. Fred has become the focus of much of the criticism but Phil Scolari is unlikely to make major changes despite his team’s mediocre form.
Colombia have been brilliant so far and it’s frightening to think quite how good they may have been if star striker Radamel Falcao had been fit. In his absence it has been James Rodriguez that has been their inspiration and the Monaco midfielder scored a magnificent goal in their 2-0 win over Uruguay.
On current form, the 7/2 available on a Colombia win looks superb value.
Argentina have been reliant on the brilliance of Lionel Messi this summer and the tournament second favourites will need to improve if they are to win their third World Cup. Their opponents in the quarter final are Belgium who made it four wins out of four with a 2-1 victory against the USA in a terrific last 16 match.
I have yet to be entirely convinced by either of these sides and so this is a tough match to call. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go the distance and the draw is available at 12/5.
European heavyweights continue bid to become first UEFA winner in South America
Three of Europe’s heavyweights have made it through to the quarter finals and there will be a clash of styles as the Netherlands face Costa Rica and France play Germany.
Having seen all the first round matches it is the Dutch that my money is on to win the tournament. Admittedly they were lucky to overcome Mexico but they are unlikely to face that heat and humidity again before the final. Costa Rica have been the story of this tournament, eliminating three previous World Cup winners and a European champion on the way to the quarter-final and they are likely to make life tough for Holland.
I fancy the Netherlands to progress but there’s not much value in the win at 1/2.
If Germany play to the best of their ability then they will win the tournament but, apart from an hour or so against Portugal, this is yet to happen. Their defence was all over the place in their draw with Ghana and narrow win over Algeria and when they face better strikers they could well be punished.
France have scored plenty of goals and look to be one of the best team units left in the competition. If they can be patient and hit Germany on the break then they can cause them real trouble and the 2/1 on Les Bleus looks like good value.
The 2014 World Cup reaches the knockout stages this week and it’s a combination of the pre-tournament favourites and some surprise packages that make up the last 16. Will the big guns make it to the quarter finals or will there be yet more upsets in an unpredictable tournament?
Here’s our preview of some of the second round matches at the 2014 World Cup.
South Americans bid to make quarter finals
The first two last 16 matches feature four teams from the host continent.
Hosts and favourites Brazil kick off the knockout stages as they face dark horses Chile. It’s been a mixed tournament so far for Phil Scolari’s side who have dazzled in patches but have failed to set the tournament alight. Neymar has been their key player so far but to win the competition Brazil will need more from the likes of Fred and Hulk.
Chile are one of the most exciting teams to watch in Brazil and their win over Spain was one of the highlights of the tournament so far. They boast a potent combination of talent and athleticism and their brand of high energy football has served them well so far.
Brazil are naturally the favourites in Belo Horizonte but I can see Chile pushing them every inch of the way. Back the draw after 90 minutes at 3/1.
The second all-CONMEBOL clash of the round is Uruguay v Colombia. Colombia have put the disappointment of losing talisman Radamel Falcao behind them and, in James Rodriguez, have one of the players of the tournament so far. They qualified with ease scoring nine goals in the process and head to Rio de Janeiro in great form.
Uruguay scraped through Group D at the expense of Italy and England but the actions of their star striker have overshadowed their progression to the last 16. On the pitch they have been less than impressive – don’t forget that they lost to Costa Rica – and so I expect Colombia to progress at 23/20.
Big names looking to progress
The Netherlands avoided a tricky knockout fixture with hosts Brazil by winning the group and are rewarded with a last 16 match against Mexico. Mexico have performed better than I expected but their record at the Finals is pretty poor and I expect Holland to keep up their good run here at 11/10.
Argentina are the second favourites for the tournament and Lionel Messi has lit up their tournament so far. The diminutive striker scored twice against Nigeria and the winners against Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina and his side face Switzerland in the last 6.
I’ve been reasonably impressed by the Swiss despite their thumping by France and this might be a closer match than many expect. Xherdan Shaqiri scored an excellent hat-trick against Honduras and is 12/1 to score first and I’m also tempted by the huge 13/2 available on the Europeans.
Germany have been one of the more impressive sides in the tournament so far and face surprise package Algeria in Porto Alegre.
Algeria have reached the last 16 for the first time and have a score to settle with the Germans after the events of 1982. Then, having beaten West Germany 2-1, they were eliminated on goal difference after the Germans and Austrians played keep ball for 80 minutes knowing both would progress.
Algeria are 10/1 to repeat their upset of 32 years ago but I fancy the Germans to go through here.
Outsiders look to continue their good form
You’d have got long odds on a Greece v Costa Rica tie in the last 16 and both teams have defied expectations by qualifying from their group. A win for the Central American team would continue their fairytale although Greece’s tactics do work well in knockout football. The 11/2 on a goalless draw looks good value.
Nigeria are one of just two representatives from Africa in the knockout stages and I don’t fancy their chances of progressing any further against an impressive looking France side. The Super Eagles gave Argentina a scare but were largely hopeless against Iran and so I expect France to ease into the quarter-finals at 8/15.
Despite their ‘dark horse’ status, Belgium have done nothing to convince me that they will win their first World Cup in Brazil. They face the USA for a place in the quarter finals after Jurgen Klinsmann’s side unexpectedly eliminated both Ghana and Portugal.
The USA have been much better than I expected and I actually fancy them to cause an upset here. Their organisation can frustrate Belgium and it could well be the case that the team will beat the collection of individuals – although it may take extra time to do it. The draw is available at 5/2.
With 13 representatives in Brazil, can a UEFA team become the first to win a World Cup on South American soil? Eight of the top twelve teams in the betting are from Europe, but who will be the continent’s most successful team this summer?
Germany are the 23/10 favourites to the Europe’s top team in Brazil. It’s been 18 years since they last won an international tournament and Joachim Low’s team look to be in the easier half of the draw. I also think Spain will do a solid job of defending their title and the reigning champions are 3/1 to once again be Europe’s best team.
Author Simon Kupar made a very convincing argument on the Paddy Power blog recently for backing Italy and France to go far in the tournament and with an easy looking route to the quarter final France look good value in this market at 7/1.
I’ve been saying for months that Brazil are the team to beat this summer. Functional more than exciting, the hosts have a settled side with no shortage of talent or international experience and benefit from a passionate home support. The 6/5 on them to be South America’s best team this summer looks good value.
The only CONMEBOL team I can genuinely see outperforming them is Argentina. With a formation that finally suits Messi, Huguain, di Maria et al there should be plenty of attacking flair but I’d be concerned about their defence. I’m not sure the 17/10 on Argentina in this market represents value.
Ivory Coast are the 6/4 favourites to end up as Africa’s best team in Brazil and they have a great chance of qualifying from a group containing Colombia, Japan and Greece. They are likely to face Italy, England or Uruguay in the first knockout round, however, and so the last 16 looks as good as they can hope for.
2010 quarter finalists Ghana are 11/4 to progress the furthest of the African teams but I would be surprised if the Black Stars qualify from Group G. I actually prefer the chances of Nigeria at 11/4. The current African champions arrive in Brazil with a mixture of home and foreign based players under popular coach Stephen Keshi and could well eliminate Iran and Bosnia-Herzogovina on the way to the last 16.
Despite the popularity of the beautiful game on the Asian continent it would actually be something of a surprise were any of the four AFC teams to qualify for the knockout stages in Brazil.
Japan often flatter to deceive at the World Cup although they have the best chance of reaching the last 16 this time. Group C is wide open and with the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda in the line-up there’s enough attacking talent to see of Greece and the Ivory Coast. Japan are10/11 to be Asia’s best side. South Korea are likely to be great to watch and if they don’t ship a hatful of goals could also offer value in this market at 17/10.
This is a tough market to call considering Mexico have failed to get past the first knockout round in eleven World Cup attempts away from home soil while the USA squad in 2014 is the weakest in some years. I actually don’t fancy either side to make the last 16 but while the USA could easily lose their three group matches Mexico should get some points on the board.
Back Mexico to be the top CONCACAF team at 10/11.