FREE TIPS FOR THE WEEKEND!
England > League 1
Coventry v Fleetwood Town, Saturday 20th December, 15:00
50 points Under 2.5 goals, best odds 1.78 @ Betvictor
Scotland > Premiership
Ross County v Hamilton, Saturday 20th December, 15:00
50 points Over 2.5 goals, best odds 1.75 @ Lads
Greece > Super League
Panionios v Atromitos, Sunday 21st December, 13:00
50 points Under 2.5 goals, best odds 1.57 @ Betvictor
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West Ham’s dreadful record on Merseyside continued last weekend as they went down 2-1 to Everton at Goodison Park, making it ten seasons now since they claimed a win away to The Toffees. Circumstances seemed to conspire against The Hammers in this fixture as their four key players – Valencia, Sakho, Downing and Song – all pulled up injured in training the day before the game. Sam Allardyce now has his influential midfielder, Mark Noble, sidelined too, after he picked up a knock from Everton’s James McCarthy in what was a lively and full blooded Premier League encounter.
Allardyce’s former club, Newcastle, are coming to town this Saturday afternoon when the two teams meet at Upton Park. The Magpies are arriving in East London on the back of five straight League wins which have propelled them up to 5th place after languishing in the bottom half of the table for the first quarter of the campaign.
Alan Pardew’s tenure as Toon Army Boss was in serious jeopardy before this unexpected run of results, but the second longest serving manager in the Premier League now has a chance to put one over on his old club, West Ham, once again. The Geordie faithful have seen their team come away from Upton Park with two wins and a draw in the past three seasons, and with West Ham’s injury concerns I can see them maintaining their good form this Saturday.
The Magpies newly found resolve has seen them keep three consecutive clean sheets, and I can see them picking up at least a point here – go for a medium to large stake on Double Chance – Newcastle at 1.75 Euro odds or 3/4 UK.
Under fire Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, has seen his team capitulate in recent weeks, sliding down to 12th position in the League by losing three matches on the spin.
Rodgers admitted himself that his job is under threat after the 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday, in which The Mighty Reds’ frailties in defence were once again cruelly exposed.
Dejan Lovren has not been the commanding £20m centre-back that Liverpool expected him to be when they signed him from Southampton this Summer, and so Rodgers has had real difficulty constructing a solid defence, something which was masked over last season by Liverpool’s attacking verve and the 50+ goal partnership of Suarez and Sturridge.
The absence of these players and the addition of sub-standard ones e.g. Mario Balotelli, has completely transformed Liverpool’s style of play. The high pressing and attacking movement and spirit has vanished, and so has the confidence to go out and win games.
Stoke City have enjoyed some fine moments at Anfield since their promotion to the Premier League, and in the previous three seasons they’ve only conceded one goal away to Liverpool which came in last years 1-0 win at the hands of Daniel Sturridge.
With the England striker still sidelined till January, I’d expect the Red’s to continue their poor form in front of goal (1 shot on target in the game against Palace) and back Stoke to get a result here on Saturday afternoon.
In the two seasons before last, The Potters came to Anfield and fought hard for a 0-0 draw on both occasions, and I can see a similar outcome in this game as Mark Hughes’ men look to bounce back from a disappointing home loss to Burnley last Saturday.
Go for a medium stake on Double Chance – Stoke City at 2.3 Euro odds or 13/10 UK.
We’re back to Premier League action this weekend as the International scene now takes a welcome four month break, with the next Euro 2016 qualifiers resuming in late March 2015.
Every managers fear is to lose players to injury while away on International duty, and Everton’s Roberto Martinez will now be without the ever reliable left-back, Leighton Baines (9 assists from 15 games this season), and possibly his Captain, Phil Jagielka, who picked up a knock in the game with Slovenia.
Everton’s midfield powerhouse, James McCarthy, is a serious doubt for The Toffee’s home game against West Ham on Saturday, meaning Martinez will now be without his trusted partnership of Gareth Barry and McCarthy in the centre of the park. Darren Gibson and Mohammed Besic will now deputise in midfield while the youngster, Luke Garbutt, may have to fill in for Baines due to the continued recovery of Bryan Oviedo.
Sam Allardyce’s high-flying West Ham are the third highest goalscorers on their travels this season behind Chelsea and Manchester City, winning two and drawing two of their five matches.
The Hammers’ two previous trips to Goodison have ended in defeat but there is a new attacking purpose and vibrancy to their play in 2014/15, with Sakho (6 goals from 7 starting appearances and 3.4 shots on target per game) and Valencia (3 goals and 2 assists from 8 starts and also an impressively low 1.1 instances of bad control on average per game) providing pace and energy up front and the resurgent Stewart Downing (2 goals and 4 assists from 11 PL matches, with 3.1 key passes per game) pulling the strings creatively from the tip of the diamond formation.
With Everton’s depleted first team, they’ll be relying on the goal threat of full-back Seamus Coleman and possibly the trickery and power of England star, Ross Barkley.
Steven Naismith and Samuel Eto’o have looked more lively up front for Everton than the £28m Romelu Lukaku (2.6 Unskilled Touches per game on average), who has still yet to get his form (and his general close control of the ball) going so far in this campaign.
West Ham have no serious injury concerns going into this fixture and I think they are an excellent price for a Double Chance bet at 2.15 Euro odds or 23/20 UK.
Skybet have just released an incredible new bet offer which is great value and sure to get you off to a winning start with your betting.
Now many people are loyal to one bookmaker. I can understand this, when you have a betting bank it can be difficult to maintain balances
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Another major reason why Skybet should feature as one of your top bookmakers is that unlike many other top bookies, they keep giving you free bets. In fact for every £25 you bet each week you get a £5 bet free. Most professional punters will
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Brendan Rodgers was unfairly criticized this week for fielding a ‘weakened’ team in the 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid where Steven Gerrard made a 71st minute appearance and Mario Balotelli was an unused substitute. Although described as a Capital One Cup starting XI by most media outlets, the Liverpool players put in a decent performance, containing Madrid and trying to hit them on the counter-attack. Rodgers may not even be sure what his best XI actually is now, after Liverpool’s poor form this season, but the resting of Gerrard and Balotelli has put more pressure on the Red’s manager going into Saturday lunchtime’s game against League leaders Chelsea.
Blues Boss, Jose Mourinho, will be hoping the travelling supporters of Chelsea (unlike the near silent ones he provocatively referred to last week, suggesting Stamford Bridge was the quietest home support in the League, to the admiration and annoyance of fans alike) can roar his side on to a second consecutive victory at Anfield, after this April’s famous 2-0 which ended Liverpool’s title hopes, and featured the now infamous Gerrard slip and mistake which gifted Chelsea the opening goal of the match, something I’m sure the travelling away contingent will be reminding the Liverpool Captain of throughout the 90 minutes.
With the goal vacuum that has been left by Luis Suarez’s departure and the prolonged absence of Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool’s confidence in front of goal has been severely lacking in this campaign and their ability to create chances through fast, attacking play seems to have diminished.
Chelsea, however, are looking unstoppable at the summit of the table with the sparkling attacking talents of Eden Hazard and the deadly finishing power of Diego Costa.
The Mighty Reds have only won once in their last five matches so they’ll have to seriously raise their game to cope with a Chelsea outfit who have found the net 13 times on their travels this season and who also boast the most sturdy and settled defence and goalkeeper in the Premier League.
This game will be won and lost in the midfield battle, and my money would be on the vibrant and incisive talents of Matic, Fabregas and Oscar to come out on top over the ageing Gerrard and the more limited abilities of Henderson and Lucas.
Back Chelsea to win this one with a medium stake at 2.2 Euro odds or 6/5 UK.
The lunchtime kick off on Sunday gives Manchester City a chance to bounce back from their 2-1 defeat at West Ham as they line up against city rivals, United, on home soil, looking to make it four Premier League wins in a row over The Red Devils.
Louis Van Gaal’s new look Man U team have not registered an away win this season, and United have failed to win away from Old Trafford since March, a 4-0 victory at St James Park, Newcastle, under David Moyes’ tenure as manager, being the last occasion.
Pellegrini’s City side will be involved in Capital One Cup action midweek against Newcastle, and could be slightly jaded coming into this Derby clash if their first XI is not rotated sufficiently after difficult trips to Moscow and East London within the last week and a half. The Sky Blues’ next three fixtures could shape the destiny of their season as they look to progress in the League Cup, stay within touching distance of Chelsea at the top of the table (with a win in this game), and then secure all three points against CSKA Moscow next Wednesday night if they are to stand any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
United could take advantage of their much busier neighbours, as Van Gaal’s squad’s sole focus is on one competition at the moment, the Premier League. They would have more chance of capitalising on having fresher legs than their opponents if Wayne Rooney were fit of course; the Manchester United Captain is now the leading scorer in these Derby fixtures with 11 goals, and will go straight back into the side from a three match suspension if he can shake off a minor leg injury sustained during his ban.
If not, the team should shape up in a similar fashion to the one that nicked a 1-1 draw with Chelsea last Sunday; Mata, Januzaj and Di Maria will operate behind Van Persie with Blind and Fellaini sitting deeper in midfield. Even though the absence of Falcao and Rooney will limit United’s attacking options, it’s at the back were they still have the most problems. Van Gaal’s defensive organisation is failing to take hold because of his inability to pick the same centre-back pairing for more than two consecutive matches. Paddy McNair and Marcus Rojo are the only central defenders who have played in the following match after starting the previous one together. If Smalling and Rojo start on Sunday afternoon at Eastlands they will equal the record. McNair, Evans and Jones are all central defenders out injured and youngster Tyler Blackett now seems out of favour after a rocky start to the campaign.
Man City’s players may have expended more energy this season but United are vulnerable at the back and lack defensive cohesion, even if they did hold the marauding Chelsea at bay for the whole of the first half. Van Gaal will again, adopt a more cautious approach against this quick and talented City side and we may not see a breakthrough till after the first 45 minutes.
City’s consistent performers this season have been Silva, Milner and the goal machine, Sergio Aguero. The small but powerful Argentine has scored in all the Derby matches he has been fit and available for, and I would back him to find the net here at 1.95 Euro odds or 19/20 UK.
With the opening period of the game likely to be tight, I would go for another bet on Manchester City to be the ‘Team to Score First in the 2nd Half’ at 1.85 Euro odds or 17/20 UK.
This weekend, one of the most watched sporting events on the globe will be hyped up even further as Luis Suarez’s end of suspension from football coincides with the first El Clasico encounter of the season at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Barcelona have never arrived in Madrid in such imperious form at the beginning of a campaign, even if this new look Luis Enrique led team are still developing their understanding, and have not quite reached the near perfect levels of Guardiola’s reign, the signs are ominous for the rest of La Liga and their bitter rivals from the Capital.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid side may have scored eight more goals than Barca in the League but the men from Catalonia have conceded zero and are undefeated, whereas Los Blancos have already slipped up twice, losing to Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad.
The main transition in the Barcelona starting XI this Summer was the introduction of Ivan Rakitic (the new No.4) as the long term successor to Xavi Hernandez, and the Croatian playmaker seems to have settled in well; Rakitic has weighed in with 2 goals from his first 7 games while also displaying that essential “La Masia” quality of being able to retain possession, with an impressive pass completion rate of 91%.
The 30 year old Frenchman, Jeremy Mathieu, looks like the solid left-sided centre-back that Barca have been crying out for. The ex-Valencia defender’s ability to do the basics well, has contributed significantly to Luis Enrique’s new, mean looking Catalan outfit. Mathieu’s average clearances per game and average interceptions per game (both 2.9) are the highest in the Barcelona squad by some margin, and when partnering Gerard Pique, it allows for some necessary squad rotation, as Javier Mascherano is shifted into midfield (his preferred position) with Sergio Busquets taking a well earned rest.
Enrique seems to be getting everything right at the moment, rotating admirably, and keeping his very talented and precocious squad happy. The blossoming understanding between Neymar and Lionel Messi was highlighted brilliantly by the Argentine’s superb goal against Eibar on Saturday in the 3-0 victory; a lovely give-and-go with the Brazilian saw the Magic left foot of Messi then drive a crisp finish into the bottom corner of the net for his 7th goal from the opening 8 games of the season, and at 250, he’s now just one away from Telmo Zarra’a all-time La Liga goal record.
Meanwhile in Madrid, Spain’s other global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, has been outstripping the exploits of his diminutive rival once again as he strives to make it a second consecutive World Player of the Year award (Balon D’or) for 2014. Ronaldo outscored Messi last season for the first time since the 2010/11 La Liga campaign when he bagged 40 goals, and for the first time ever when you combine goals from all competitions, 51 to Messi’s 41.
This season, having played a game less than Messi (7 starting appearances in the Primera Division), the Portuguese Captain has netted an astonishing 15 goals, and his well on the way to matching Messi’s domestic tally of 50 goals from the 2011/12 campaign, and he may even surpass his overall goal record from that season of 73. It is in fact, the best start to a Spainish season ever by any player, taking him past the 71 year old record of Real Oviedo’s, Esteban Echevarria.
Ronaldo’s determination to not be hidden in the shadow of Messi’s historic achievements are highlighted in his shots per game ratio, which is 6.9 compared to the Barca man’s 4.6.
Another element of this, and an area in which Messi will always outshine Ronaldo, is the goal assists column, which reads 7 to 1 in Messi’s favour this season, with the Argentine also giving 3.5 key passes per game as opposed to the Madrid man’s slightly lower 2.7.
Ronaldo’s selfishness has become more efficient with maturity and the winger now no longer dribbles with the ball for the sake of it, whereas Messi’s incredible change of speed and direction lets him regularly slip by his marker with ease – 3.9 successful dribbles per game compared to Ronaldo’s 1.9. On Saturday evening at the Bernabeu all these statistics will count for little, although maybe the one that really matters is the goals scored by these players over the previous six League meetings, Messi leads the way by 6 goals to 4, another record that Ronaldo will be determined to break.
I would back the Portuguese forward to find the back of the net here, with a small stake on First Goalscorer at 5.0 Euro odds or 4/1, and a medium sized back-up bet at 1.91 Euro odds or 10/11 UK to be Anytime goalscorer.
As an exciting International week comes to a close as we return to the familiar business of the Premier League this weekend, with the top two sides looking to grab all three points against winnable opposition. Manchester City should record a third consecutive league victory over a Tottenham Hotspur team who conceded 11 to them last season.
Spurs’ results against the top 4 of last term were worrying, conceding 27 goals in total, but there were signs in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal last month that Mauricio Pochettino may have a more sensible plan when it comes to visiting the ‘big boys’. Manuel Pellegrini’s men will close the gap on Chelsea to two points with a win in this early kick off, and put the pressure on Jose Mourinho’s West London outfit as they travel East to face Crystal Palace later on Saturday afternoon.
A 1-0 win for The Eagles derailed Chelsea’s title hopes back in March, as Tony Pulis’ resurgent Palace side climbed their way to Premier League safety. Mourinho is a man who clearly loves to bear grudges, and he will not let this opportunity slip to gain revenge over the Palace faithful at Selhurst Park, in what I expect to be an extremely professional and disciplined performance from the men from the Kings Road, draining International break not withstanding.
Talking of International football, Michel Platini’s newly designed qualifying structure for Euro 2016 was almost universally criticized, myself included, for what was thought to be another way of guaranteeing the bigger teams entry to the final tournament, and creating an even more unfair and dull round of qualification matches. I, like many others, admit on being too quick to judge, and in fact the opposite has been true; the larger nations have become complacent because of the greater margin for error, while the middle to smaller ranking countries have found themselves energised and inspired to push for 3rd place in the Group and gain a two legged play-off spot.
In the case of Wales (not qualified for a major finals in over half a century), this new found hope has pushed them to the top of Group B after three games played, with seven still remaining.
A 1-1 draw between Belgium and Bosnia, as Wales were beating Cyprus 2-1 on Monday night, has helped the Welsh cause further. The only other serious rival to Chris Coleman’s men in the Group are Israel, and you feel that Bale, Ramsey & Co. will be fighting it out with these four teams for the two automatic qualifying spots and the third place play-off position come October 2015.
The most interesting set of matches has come in Group D, as Poland, Scotland, Ireland and Germany battle it out for the top three positions, with World Champions Germany currently lying in fourth after three games played. Northern Ireland complete a strong British contingent in this qualifying campaign as they head up Group F after registering three wins in a row for the first time ever in a European Championship qualification Group.
The complacency amongst the World’s Top 4 sides has been evident in Group A as Iceland and Czech Republic lead the way over third placed Holland, who suffered an incredible 2-0 loss in Iceland this week, while the once impeccable Spain, lost their first qualifier in eight years and sit behind the 2-1 victors on that night, Slovakia, in second place in Group C.
With one more round of games to come in mid-November (the stand-out match being a crucial Scotland v Ireland clash on the 14th) before a break till March, this initially promising start for the British nations could mean we see the four home countries, plus the Republic of Ireland, all qualify for a major tournament for the first time in History.