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Starting The Year In The Black.

The first column of the year came in over the weekend with just one bet down so I will endeavour to keep steadily churning profit. The thing to be aware of is that you would have to be incredibly disciplined/knowledgeable/lucky to win all the time and losing is inevitable. I do this column as a bit of fun for myself, although I am serious about the bets, and any money we make is simply a little extra. 

Week 20

Crystal Palace v Stoke City - Lose 2 points.

West Ham v Manchester United - Win 2.8 points.

Swansea v Arsenal - Win 2.4 points.

Levante v Athletic Bilbao - Win 3.5 points.

Lazio v Cagliari - Win 1.83 points.

Totals - Win 8.53 points.

Running Total - Up 19.88 points.

Music this week from another old favourite Hot Water Music with Under Everything.

Everton v Swansea, Saturday 1500

The pick of the prices for me on Saturday is Everton looking very short against the ever impressive Swansea. Everton started off the season like a train and were scoring goals from all areas and dominating any side they played physically too. The deployment of the hulking Marouane Fellaini behind the striker was a master stroke by David Moyes. Many sides now seem to be requiring goals less and less from the notional central man in the forward line, Christian Benteke at Aston Villa is another example. Fellaini can very well get goals when given the chance, and is a huge aerial threat, but his main role is to bully defenders and create space for those around him like Nikola Jelavic and Steven Pienaar. The problem in the last month has been that Fellaini has looked tired and the goals have dried up for the rest of the side at the same time. This leaves Everton as a solid side, Moyes will always see to that, but without the threat to justify such short odds in this.

Swansea look to have really settled into the style of play Michael Laudrup wants to see now. There were bound to be issues to be solved when changing from Brendan Rodgers Barcelona-lite style of constant passing to having more threat under Laudrup. To do this he has brought in players he was familiar with from his time in Spain. The most obvious success has been the forward Michu, who is taking up numerous column inches of late as some sort of 'discovery'. The fact is that he had been a journeyman until last year when he was moved forward and contributed 15 goals to a relatively poor Rayo Vallecano side. These things were there for all to see so I don't wuite buy into him being 'unearthed' by Swansea or Laudrup. But, he is having a brilliant season. He is not the tiki taka type and his style of simply looking for a shot at all times might even suit the Premier League better than La Liga. Throw in the likes of Jonatan De Guzman on the wing and the mercurial Pablo Hernandez also on the flanks and there is a lot of quality in this side now.

Lay Everton at 1.63 on Betfair. 2 points.

Norwich City v Newcastle United, Saturday 1500

A side I have followed since around November has been Norwich City. After the loss of manager Paul Lambert to Aston Villa in the summer the club went and got Chris Hughton from Birmingham City. Hughton had done superbly at both Newcastle and Birmingham in the Championship with restrictions on playing staff and Norwich took a chance on him doing the same in the Premier League. This initially may have looked madness with goals being shipped all over, but once they settled into his system they went on a ten match unbeaten streak to pull them well clear of the relegation spots. They had some mixed results over Xmas, but still look a very good side to me. They carry plenty of attacking threat for a mid-table side and look solid at the back. They are edging towards being short in this, but I'll just side with them at the larger prices out there.

Newcastle United have looked dreadful for most of the season so far. Last seasons push for the Champions League now looks a long way away with the side struggling and having already lose ten matches in the league. The first choice eleven that did so well last season has been torn apart by injuries so far and they don't look the same side when one or more of them is missing. The even bigger worry now is that after selling Demba Ba they may not even replace his guaranteed goals. Papiss Cisse now has those shoes to fill and I think he is a more rounded team player, but it will be up to Alan Pardew to make sure that he works to get wins. If these don't start coming soon then it could get very close to a relegation battle. New signings, that have not arrived yet, are needed.

Back Norwich City at 2.25 with BODOG. 2 points.

Manchester United v Liverpool, Sunday 1330

I have stated many times that I think that Manchester United could be doing a lot better than they are in terms of the performances they are turning in. However comma that being said they seem to be comfortably ticking along to getting the title back from neighbours City. This has largely been down to the performances of their forward players and in particular the summer signing, Robin Van Persie. The Dutch striker may have looked expensive for a player with little sell on value, but he will be a bargain if he continues to fire United to the league title. He also seems to be bringing the best out of Wayne Rooney since his spell with Cristiano Ronaldo, which would suggest to me that he can't do it all alone despite what some journalists in this country believe. With Nemanja Vidic also playing his way back into form and fitness they look a decent price to me.

Liverpool are regular lays for me. The sheer weight of supporters money sees them always going off at odds I would suggest are not representative of their performances or league position. I am also beginning to think that their manager Brendan Rodgers got lucky that all was in place for him at Swansea and his spell at Reading may be more like the 'real' Rodgers. Liverpool seem to still rely far too heavily on Luis Suarez dragging them through matches. This is no real shock as he is miles better than any other player at the club, but I would have liked to see Rodgers do something else to help him out. Presumably the signing of Daniel Sturridge is to help with this, but I don't think this is the game they suddenly burst into a partnership. In fact, I would not be surprised if Sturridge starts on the bench with Rodgers looking to contain. They are miles behind United at the moment and I don't see them stopping United scoring.

Back Manchester United at 1.9 with William Hill. 3 points.

Osasuna v Real Madrid, Saturday 1900

Osasuna were a side I followed at home last year due to the awesome record they've had there in recent years. They are possibly the side you would most recognise as playing an 'English' style of physical football, Spain's Stoke if you will. They have a compact ground too with fans who are not there to enjoy flair players, rather they want to see their side bully the opposition off the park. They started this season off very poorly and have not turned it round to the extent that they are still bottom of the table. They have never been high scorers and this has been particularly costly with their defence suddenly conceding many more than in previous seasons. This has been tightened up in the last seven matches though, and they have in fact only conceded seven in nine matches at home so far. Strangely I think they've as much chance in this as any decent side visiting.

Real Madrid have become absolutely mental lately. Jose Mourinho seems to have decided that his best course of action is to get the sack and a massive pay off and is doing his best to drag the club into disrepute. He has never tried to placate the media in either Madrid or wider Spain and is now using this as a tool to turn everyone against him. He has recently dropped Iker Casillas as goalkeeper in what looks like more politics with Casillas and Sergio Ramos widely suspected dissenters. The club have all but given up on the league title and have been pretty dreadful on their travels. They're worth opposing for smallish stakes I think in what should be a tough match.

Lay Real Madrid at 1.49 on Betfair. 1.5 point.

Catania v Roma, Sunday 1400

Catania punched well above their weight last season under the newcomer to management Vincenzo Montella. The former Roma forward has since moved on to doing very well with Fiorentina, but his former club are not doing too badly themselves. A lot of this has been down to their excellent home form. Their record reads won six, drawn two and lost two at home so far with seventeen goals scored and only nine conceded. They may even better last seasons eleventh place finish in Rolando Maran's first season in charge. They returned to action after the winter break with a 0-0 draw with Torino at home which doesn't look great on paper, but they were donw to ten men and Torino are probably better than a thirteenth position in the standings. 

Roma decided to scrap the Spanish experiment after just a year in the summer and re-appointed fan favourite Zdenek Zeman as manager from promoted Pescara. In the preceding years between his last spell at the club and his return his style of play has not changed at all, he is all out attack. This can be fantastic in Italy where sides still are unsure of how to contend with such an approach when most sides play a much more measured style. It also means that when the forwards don't fire though his sides can be left very exposed. Nowhere is this more true than away. They have a record of five wins, five losses and not a single draw to back up the assertion that they are either very good or very bad. Up against a good home side they look underpriced to me.

Lay Roma at 2.24 on Betfair. 3 points

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