The Human Toothpick:
Again, hardly the most exciting of bets I’m afraid – but these are the two games I have highest conviction on this weekend -and sadly both are a tad too short to back on their own. I thought Arsenal looked excellent in the 2nd half against Liverpool on Weds, and I’m hoping that their comeback will give them confidence going into a game they should win vs. Stoke. Oliver Giroud is finally starting to look like the player Wenger thought he was buying (despite his catalogue of missed chances midweek) and with Wilshire’s drive from midfield, aligned with Cazorla’s constant probing I can see Arsenal over-running an unusually leaky Potters defence. My one area of concern is Gibbs’s absence at right back, with Santos showing on Weds why he hasn’t played much so far this season – but I’m hoping that Arsenal will score enough to make any defensive lapses irrelevant (and new signing Monreal might play in any event). Everton meanwhile face a team in unbelievably crap form. They will turn the corner at some point I’m sure (see Sunderland’s turn around a few weeks ago), but I’m just not convinced it’s going to be this weekend. The one person a team struggling to defend aerial deliveries doesn’t want to see is Maroune Fellaini. Good luck Ciaran Clark!
65 points – Arsenal and Everton WIN (double) – 1.89
Late on Sunday evening, the New Orleans Superdome will play host to the ‘greatest show on earth’ as the San Francisco 49ers play the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. The 49ers will be trying to lift their 6th Vince Lombardi trophy in their history, while the Ravens are going for their 2nd. It is an exciting match up with some fascinating subplots: the first ever Super Bowl where the two teams are coached by brothers (John and Jim Harbaugh); the last ever game for the Ravens’ talismanic linebacker Ray Lewis; and the Super Bowl debut of young QB Colin Kaepernick. I’m excited about watching young Kaepernick who has burst onto the scene following a concussion to the 49ers’ regular starting QB, Alex Smith, in November. Since then, he has emerged as a phenomenal talent who is equally as strong running with the ball as he is throwing it. He has also displayed remarkable composure under pressure (as demonstrated as he pulled his team back from 17-0 down in the Conference Championship a fortnight ago) and it is this quality that I think gives Kaepernick and the 49ers the edge over the Ravens. He’ll need to watch out for the Ravens’ inspirational leader, 37 year old Ray Lewis, who is retiring after 17 long years in the NFL. The Ravens will give absolutely everything to send Lewis out on a high but I think the 49ers will eventually be too strong for them.
30 pts – 49ers to win and under 56.5 points @ 1.8
This one is a must win for QPR. They’ve been unbelievably busy in the transfer window, having been linked to all and sundry, but now it’s back to the business that matters – winning your home games against those around you and Norwich are definitely one of those. Chris Samba is a great replacement for Ryan Nelson, albeit an expensive one and that should keep them solid at the back, especially against Luciano Becchio who I’ve not been that convinced can hack it at the top level. He’s definitely no Loic Remy, who although quiet at Upton Park showed great movement and some very clinical finishing.
40 Pts – QPR win @ 1.95
As mentioned in my midweek review, QPR and an inspired Julio Cesar frustratingly managed to prevent Man City from scoring on Tuesday night and I expect another performance based on a solid defence this weekend. Although Ryan Nelsen has now left for Canada, he has been replaceVd by big money signing Christopher Samba. Samba must be laughing all the way to the bank but he is a clever replacement for Harry Redknapp – solid in defence and dangerous in attack, I wouldn’t bet against him scoring on his debut. QPR have kept clean sheets against City, Spurs and Chelsea in a run that sees them unbeaten in the league in 2013 and they should be able to do something similar against a Norwich side that have averaged under a goal per game on their travels this season.
10 pts – Under 2.5 goals @ 1.93
Everton vs Aston Villa:
What a great week for Everton fans! Bitter local rivals Liverpool were first dumped out of the FA Cup by League One strugglers, Oldham, and then they gave up a two goal lead against their nearest challengers for their European spot, Arsenal. At the same time, Everton beat West Brom to be the only side other than Man United in the top half of the table to win in midweek. Everton are in good form and have only lost to Chelsea at Goodison this season. It’s Villa’s turn to visit this weekend and I shouldn’t think they’re looking forward to it much. They look in real trouble in the relegation zone but have been good for an away goal recently. I like the odds available for both scoring but expect Everton to come out on top.
10 pts – Both teams to score @ 1.98
10 pts – Everton to win and 3 or 4 goals @ 3
Match and Goals selection:
With the exception of that dreadful weekend on 12th/13th January, this Premier League season has certainly been one for the attack minded players and rather one to forget for the defenders. The midweek games were no exception, with 7 out of the 10 games finishing with over 2.5 goals (and 4 of those have over 3.5 goals). This weekend there are some good looking fixtures and I expect Arsenal and Man United to win their games with at least a few goals under their belts.
10 pts – Man United to win and 3 or 4 goals @ 3.4
10 pts – Arsenal to win and 3 or 4 goals @3.1
The Lions tour later in the year gives the Six Nations an added edge this year and players will be looking to impress from the off. The opening fixture looks like a cracker with a Welsh side in transition hosting the Irish, who many have tipped for the title. It’s difficult to gauge where each of the teams stand before we’ve seen any action and I think there’s nothing in the rules that says this couldn’t be a draw. Second up on Saturday, England will get the chance to put a marker down against the Scots. England will be looking to kick on from that phenomenal victory over New Zealand in the autumn and, while Scotland’s pack will make life tough, I expect England to defy the 15.5 point handicap in front of the home crowd.
15 pts – England to win by 16 or more @ 2.08
The Human Toothpick:
Ireland were top points scorers in last year’s Six Nations, racking up 121 in total (an average of over 24 per match). This included 13 tries, the most they had scored in the competition since 2007. Wales meanwhile have lost their last seven games, their worst run since 2003 (when they lost 10 on the spin) -and have a crippling injury crisis to boot. Dan Biggar starts at 10 after some good form for the Ospreys, and I’m hoping he can get Wales’s talented backline firing. Whatever the result, I’m hoping that points are on the cards and despite a far from ideal points market (annoyingly well priced at 37.5) – I’m going to back tries.
10 points – Total Match Points OVER 37.5 – 1.91
Newcastle vs. Chelsea
Welcome back Demba Ba!
5 points – Both teams to score – 1.65
Reading must be building a huge bank of self-belief after some unbelievable late come backs that have seen them go on a great run of form. They’ll know that they won’t want the momentum was run out against one of their struggling rivals and I expect home advantage to make the difference here. With Adam Le Fondre in their attack they’ll believe the game is never dead and buried, which will see them work till they last minute.
15 Pts – Reading win @ 2.375
Wigan vs Southampton:
Wigan are looking in pretty horrible shape at the moment with a host of injuries and not a lot of form behind them. However a terrific come back against Stoke in midweek will have buoyed their confidence ahead of a must win encounter with fellow strugglers Southampton, who were very impressive in midweek against Manchester United. I believe that its very different going to Old Trafford with nothing to lose and going to the DW with the genuine pressure to get something from it. The honeymoon periods over for Pochettino and I think he’s coming back down to reality at 5.00pm on Saturday.
15 Pts – Wigan win @ 2.25
Watford vs Bolton:
These are the most ridiculous odds I’ve ever seen. Watford made five changes when they lost away to Bristol City in the week, something Gianfranco Zola will be sure to reverse on Saturday. Restoring Matej Vydra will be the key in that change and having scored two or more in his previous 5 starts, he is going to blow Bolton away. Bristol City scrapping for survival vs an indifferent Bolton side who are destined for mid-table mediocrity? I know who I’d rather play.
15 Pts – Watford win @ 2.15
Uncle Bernstein: (as discussed above)
5 pts – Wales vs Ireland Draw @ 24
Survival Treble: 10 Pts – Reading, QPR and Wigan to Win @ 9.42