International friendlies, boooorrriiinnnggg. Thank the lord for Zlatan Ibrahomovic. The giant Swede once again showed that whilst he may not be on Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo's level, he certainly inhabits the level below. Other than that there's been exceptionally little action so straight to totting up last weekend.
Everton v Sunderland - Win 1.59 points.
Chelsea v Liverpool - Lose 2.5 points.
Espanyol v Osasuna - Lose 1.5 points.
Levante v Real Madrid - Lose 1 point.
Atalanta v Inter Milan - Lose 2 points.
Mainz 05 v Nurnberg - Win 1.6 points.
Sivasspor v Eskisehirspor - Lose 2 points.
Kasimpasa v Antalyaspor - Void.
Totals - Lose 6.8 points.
Running Total - Down 3.49 points.
Musical accompaniment this week from The Ramones with Beat On The Brat.
QPR v Southampton, Saturday 1500
It's a funny week in the Premier League for me this week as I think you could honestly make a case for all the favourites being a bit short priced. Obviously though some are more than others and this one screams out at me. I actually went to watch QPR play Reading in the League Cup when they somehow threw away a lead twice and lost 3-2 at home. They looked as dreadful that night as the write ups on their performances would have you believe. I'm no fan of Mark Hughes as a manager to begin with, he did a creditable job with Wales and Blackburn although I don't think they justify his opinion of himself. He has spent a considerable amount of money bringing some big names to Loftus Road and has yet to find a way to get a performance out of them that deserves a win. The defence is a huge issue, they look thoroughly disorganised and every side will get chances against them at some stage. Julio Cesar was brought in as a big name goalkeeper, but I think he's at least two seasons past his peak and is not giving any confidence to those in front of him. In attack Junior Hoilett and Djibril Cisse will always cause a side problems with their direct running and pace, but neither player is looking confident in front of goal so as well as shipping too many they are not scoring enough either.
Southampton have shot through the divisions under manager Nigel Adkins and have looked unsurprisingly shaky this term so far. They do look a lot more threatening in front of goal than their opponents, but possibly have the worst defence in the entire division. They have conceded twenty nine goals already in just eleven matches, nine more than their nearest challengers, and when you look at the personnel it is no real shock. Kelvin Davis is a reliable goalkeeper below the top division but has previously shown he is not up to it in the Premier League. The full backs Nathaniel Clyne and Maya Yoshida are actually good going forward, but are both poor positionally when defending and leave the team exposed. Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld in the centre of defence are simply not top level players. Their best chance would appear to be attacking and this is what they do. Morgan Schneiderlin, Steven Davis, Adam Lallana and Gaston Ramirez are all attack minded midfielders and they support Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert who are both capable of causing problems. QPR look short priced for a side there to be attacked and having trouble scoring.
Lay QPR at 1.97 on Betfair. 2 points.
West Brom v Chelsea, Saturday 1500
The other match that looks the standout lay to me is Chelsea away at the seasons over-achievers West Brom. Since appointing ex-coach of both Chelsea and Liverpool, Steve Clarke, as manager West Brom have performed exceptionally well. Clarke was renowned for his work with defences at both the aforementioned clubs so it is no surprise to see the Baggies are tactically set up well at the back and keep chances given at a minimum. Perhaps the surprise has been that Clarke has got the best out of forwards Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie as well as loan signing Roman Lukaku. Both Long and Lukaku use their physical presence and work rate to unsettle defences and if Lukaku plays he will surely want to show Chelsea they should have given him more of a chance. Odemwingie is a personal favourite player with an unpredictability that sees him almost unplayable when on form. The midfield is again solid with free transfer Claudio Jacob again showing that Clarke is also a keen judge of a player.
Chelsea have come off the rails slightly of late with no impressive performances in their last three matches in all competitions. Firstly they were beaten 3-2 late on in the tempestuous match against Man United, then they only beat Shakhtar Donetsk late on at home in the Champions League before drawing at home last week with a poor Liverpool side. They also managed to lose captain John Terry in the Liverpool match which will hurt them. Whilst he may have his faults as a person and a player, he is undeniably the glue that holds the side together. The rest of the centre backs like David Luiz and Gary Cahill all have their plus points, but all of them look better next to Terry with his organisational skills. The new Chelsea's strength is their three forwards Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard. When any two of these three are on form they will create chances. The other issue they have though is that Fernando Torres still does not convert enough of these and looks very unlikely to ever rediscover the player that was possibly the league's best when at Liverpool. Chelsea look short in a tough away match.
Lay Chelsea at 1.98 on Betfair. 2 points.
Deportivo v Levante, Sunday 1100
Last weekends punt was definitely laying Real Madrid away at Levante, and we almost got it up. In a match played in awful conditions Levante again made it difficult for the opposition with constant running and no little physical efforts either. The Valencian's are not pretty or tricksy by a long chalk, but they are a reliable team in a league full of inconsistency. You can almost be certain they will be tough to beat and anyone who does beat them will have earned it, as giants Real found out.
Deportivo returned to the Primera over the summer, but sadly the financial issues brought on over a decade ago still plague the club. In a division where crippling debt is the norm this is no huge disadvantage, but they have not signed well with what little they have and look likely to head back to the Segunda. They have scored plenty of goals in the odd match, but they are also very capable of shipping them too. Before last weekend the problem seemed to be that they could not motivate themselves sufficiently against the smaller sides and were not picking up points in matches they would have targeted to. This will not aid them against Levnate and I think they're way too short at almost even money.
Lay Deportivo La Coruna at 2.05 on Betfair. 1.5 points.
Napoli v AC Milan, Saturday 1945
The team that benefitted most from Serie A's drop off in quality amongst the traditional giants has definitely been Napoli. The Southern side have always been one of the best supported sides in the country but have had to start from way down the pyramid after some huge financial difficulties. Now they are back in Serie A they have steadily built a side that now always looks likely to be in the Champions League positions. An awful lot of credit for this should go to manager Walter Mazzari who has a knack of picking up South American's for bargain prices and getting the best out of his squad. They currently still have Edinson Cavani as the focal point of the attack ably supported by Marik Hamsik and Goran Pandev. These three possess pace, flair, power and are all willing to work hard and make a threatening trio for any side to face. They had a small stumble in not winning in two matches, but set that right with a fantastic 4-2 away win against Genoa last weekend.
AC Milan look likely to continue their fall from grace after selling or releasing all their best players over the summer. Clearly the biggest losses to the side were the defender Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both of whom were sold to newly rich Paris St Germain. Throw in the releases of senior players like Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo last season and you have a side stripped of it's spine. The likes of Kevin Prince Boateng and youngster Stephen El Sharaawy are now the men being relied upon to pull the team through and they're nowhere near the level of their predecessors. El haraawy has been the star man this season with his direct running and goals possibly the only bright spark for fans with Boateng not doing much at all. I can't see them getting anything from their long trip.
Back Napoli at 1.9 with William Hill. 2 points.
Hannover 96 v Freiburg, Saturday 1430
Hannover have featured a few times in the column this season and last due to their position as a regular European team now. Whilst other sides constantly chop and change players and managers in the search for a magic formula that reaps instant success, they have stuck with largely the same names and progressed. Since the manager Mirko Slomka was appointed in late 2009 they have gradually grown into a side capable of beating anyone in the Bundesliga. They are particularly good at home with a record of won three, drawn two and only lost one at home this season so far. They have conceded more than in previous seasons, but have added an attacking threat that negates this. They are in fact the second highest scorers behind Bayern Munich. The two African forwards Didier Ya Konan and Mame Bame Diouf have both looked threatening and after a rough few matches in October they are now two wins on the bounce.
Freiburg have established themselves as a regular fixture in the top flight, but are unlikely to make a push for European qualification. First up for them is always to avoid relegation places and they currently sit in mid-table, where I would expect to see them at seasons end. Away from home they try to shut up shop and this can be seen in only conceding five goals in five away matches, but only scoring four in the same games has seen them only getting a sole win. They will be fully tested by Hannover's attack in this one and I don't expect them to repel them forever.
Back Hannover at 2.05 with Stan James.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Stuttgart, Saturday 1430
Last season I followed Monchengladbach often due to their ability to keep it tight at the back and rely upon Marco Reus to open up opposition defences. This served me well, but this season with Reus gone their tactics have had to change. Having been the 1-0 kings it is something of a shock to see them involved in matches with scorelines of 5-0, 2-4 and 3-2 already this season. It seems that they are tryign to make up for Reus's departure by involving more players in the forward positions, but naturally this leaves them with less bodies in defence. The last three matches have see two wins sandwiching a draw with Freiburg and see them possibly settling into some sort of system. That system does seem to have room for plenty of goals though.
Stuttgart got off to a terrible start to the season, but have looked better of late. They had won three out of five in an unbeaten run before losing 4-2 at home to a good Hannover side last weekend. This has seen them pulling clear of the relegation spots to a more comfortable mid-table position and I would expect them to steadily climb the table and again make a push for European football. They are playing well enough and scoring goals again so I would think this match has every chance of being a thriller.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.7 with Bet365. 2.5 points.
Eskisehirspor v Fenerbahce, Saturday 1700
Another side I keenly followed last season was Eskisehispor due to their ability to defend very well and nick wins. This has been their modus operandi for the past few years with sides built from the back relying on the forwards to have enough about them to turn clean sheets into wins. This season though they have much more of a goal threat which sees them as joint highest scorers at home alongside reigning champions and league leaders Galatasaray. They have fourteen goals in five home matches which has seen them win four and lose one in that time. In fact, the only match they have lost at home was on the opening day when they were caught cold by Akhisar late on to lose 1-0. They are probably the most consistent side besides the big boys and will definitely give any side a tough match.
Fenerbahce have had a mixed start, but have seemingly finally discovered something resembling form. This has mainly been due to them overpowering the smaller sides at home though and should be taken with this in mind. Away from home they have only won one, drawn three and lost one whilst scoring only four goals and conceding five. This would appear to show they value not losing far more than winning whilst they are still trying to establish their best form. This inviting a team on who have scored so many goals at home is definitely enough for me to oppose them at the prices.
Back Eskisehirspor at 2.05 Draw No Bet at StanJames. 2 points.
Antalyaspor v Besiktas, Sunday 1700
Antalyaspor are my team to follow in the Super Lig of late. I watched them overpower Fenerbahce in Istanbul three matches ago and come away deserved 3-1 winners and they are now unbeaten in six matches. This run has put them in second position in the league behind Galatasaray and they thoroughly deserve it. They are well drilled in defence and are thrilling on the counter attack with striker Lamine Diarra in the form of his life they always pose a threat. Diarra is strong enough to hold the ball up and let others join or capable of rolling his man and getting a shot off as he showed twice against Fener. Whilst they drew 1-1 last weekend they should be refreshed after the international break for this one and back to their best.
Besiktas are as inconsistent as ever, and they seem to enjoy making a fool of me when I oppose them. The midfielder Manuel Fernandes seems to be the only one of their big names that puts in consistently excellent performances with the rest picking and choosing their moments. This has seen them sitting in eight position in the table and they will need to somehow settle into a run to progress any higher up. They are unbeaten in their last four matches, but have been conceding goals whilst doing this and now come up against a side who have been on the very top of their game. Generally the physical stuff intimidates Besiktas players and Antalya will be looking to impose themselves.
Back Antalyaspor at 2.35 with SportingBet. 2 points.