As I am off to Krakow, Poland for a stag do this weekend the column is going up one day earlier than usual. This might even provide us with some early value as you can often find it if you look hard enough where the odds have not quite settled down for the weekends yet. This follows by far the worst weekend for us in a very long time.
Newcastle v West Brom - Lose 2 points.
Chelsea v Man Utd - Lose 2 points.
Levante v Granada - Win 3.3 points.
Torino v Parma - Lose 2 points.
Fortuna Dusseldorf v Wolfsburg - Lose 2 points.
Schalke v Nurnberg - Lose 2 points.
Kasimpasa v Besiktas - Lose 3 points.
Fenerbahce v Antalyaspor - Lose 2 points.
Total - Lose 11.7 points.
Running Total - Up 1.69 points.
Music this week from Drag The River with Medicine.
Manchester United v Arsenal, Saturday 1245
As has been pointed out in many quarters lately, every major side in England has currently got some serious problems somewhere within their sides. These two are no exception. Man Utd have started the season pretty well in terms of results and having beaten Chelsea on Sunday are now installed as favourites for the title. The problem with this is that every favourite currently has to be a lay for me with the aforementioned issues they all have. United's problem is that they have an ageing defence and the centre of midfield has been weakening for years. The ravages of time have made both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic look increasingly fragile and when both of these are missing it often leaves United so short they resort to Michael Carrick stepping in at the back. Then you have the ongoing problem of central midfield. I personally am a fan of the Carrick and Darren Fletcher combination that was available until Fletcher's medical issues. But outside of that pairing United still often field Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at times who have both long since passed their best days. The saving grace is that with Robin Van Persie added to their attack and Javier Hernandez rediscovering his scoring touch they possess possibly the most threatening strikers in the division to outscore opponents.
Arsenal's issue is actually their attack since Van Persie joined United. Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski were brought in to replace the Dutchman, but neither has shown a prolonged period of form yet. The only real positives so far are that the defence had looked steady in most league matches and Santi Cazorla has looked every inch a man with over 50 Spanish caps. There was also the return of Jack Wilshere to midfield against QPR last week where he looked immediately at ease, but naturally he is lacking complete fitness after around eighteen months out. The Gunners have drawn blanks in four league matches already though and really need their forwards to start firing if they are to qualify for the Champions League again next season. They laboured to beat an awful QPR side last weekend after losing to Norwich the week before and also giving Reading a three goal headstart in the League Cup. I personally don't think they should have pushed United's price as far as it has been so will be betting accordingly.
Back Manchester United at 1.7 with 32Red. 3 points.
Sunderland v Aston Villa, Saturday 1500
I would not recommend watching this one unless you're some sort of sadist. Sunderland are certainly what I consider a typical Martin O'Neill side now, functional and devoid of flair. It does seem that the Northern Irishman's stock has fallen somewhat since his days of being thrown around as a name for the England managers role or even as Alex Ferguson's successor at Man Utd. This is completely natural as the man has not adjusted at all to the way football has changed. He very rarely seems to look abroad for players, even though the quality of football has regressed in almost all of the British Isles national sides. This inherent distrust seems to me to be based upon wanting players he can count on to make a lot of effort rather than provide occasional inspiration. So far this term Steven Fletcher has dragged them through matches with goals, but this will only get them so far. Thankfully his old side Aston Villa are just as poor, if not worse.
Paul Lambert's decision to leave Norwich City for Aston Villa may seem like it's backfired, but it can't be denied there is more potential at the Midlands outfit. The problem is getting them out of the funk they have all been in since early on in Alex McCleish's awful reign. I watched the match against Norwich last Saturday and it is plain to see there is a lack of top quality for both sides in every area. Villa have spent too much on dross in the recent past and are now paying for that with substandard young players and signings on a budget. Then you also have those like Darren Bent who have lost their places and seem unlikely to hold their tongues when it comes to criticising the new manager. Bent may have a legitimate grievance though as a proven goalscorer being kept out for Lambert's Belgian striker Cristian Benteke who has hardly set the league alight.
Back Under 2.0 Goals at 2.3 with Bet365. 1.5 points.
Granada v Athletic Bilbao, Sunday 1845
Two sides who have not started the season well meet in Granada on Sunday evening. Both currently lie just above the relegation spots with eight points each and will be keen to get something from this match. Granada are like Watford in that they are heavily backed by the same family behind Udinese in Italy. This has seen them used as a loan destination for young foreign players that Udinese would like to gain experience/passports who cannot do so at their parent club. This will sometimes see them with a player far beyond their original means, but more often that not sees them with players who don't look like they fit together well at all.
Athletic Bilbao have featured a few times already due to their truly awful form after last seasons achievements. I don't need to go into any more detail than I already have really except to re-emphasise the point that they look doomed under manager Marcelo Bielsa as the players have simply stopped responding to his management. Both sides are very capable of shipping goals so I'll be playing with that in mind.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.95 with William Hill.
Fiorentina v Cagliari, Sunday 1400
With Stefan Jovetic back from injury this season Fiorentina have looked a far better and more consistent side than they did last year. The Montenegrin forward is a fine player with no little flair and invention as well as a goal threat, I would certainly expect a move for him next summer if he stays fit all season. Possibly their best result so far came just last weekend when they beat Lazio 2-0 at home thanks to goals from the winger Adam Ljajic and veteran striker Luca Toni with a fine effort. They have only conceded one goal at home all season, and that was way back on the first day to leave them with four wins and a draw from five home matches.
Cagliari are sat in mid-table at present, a position they will be very happy to occupy come May too. They have a pretty tight defence and an organised midfield, but sadly this contributes to the lack of goal threat they pose. They have only conceded nine goals in nine matches, but sadly for them have also only scored six themselves. This makes them a side more than capable of frustrating sides, but who find it very difficult to get back into matches. In this Fiorentina side they will come against attackers with sufficient quality to punish them for this.
Back Fiorentina at 1.65 with William Hill. 2.5 points.
Hamburg v Bayern Munich, Saturday 1730
Traditionally two of the giants of the Bundesliga whose fortunes have greatly varied in the recent past. Bayern seem to be establishing another side who are capable of dominating at home and challenging in Europe's premier competitions. Hamburg almost dropped out of the Bundesliga last season and started poorly again before picking up recently. This has been down to the form of four players seemingly. The goalkeeper Rene Adler has excelled, Rafael Van Der Vaart's signing has given a lift to the whole club and forwards Artjoms Rudnevs and Son Heung-Min. This is definitely a punt, but I think after Bayern were beaten last weekend it's worth seeing if they have a hangover.
Lay Bayern Munich at 1.4 on Betfair. 1 point.
Werder Bremen v Mainz 05, Sunday 1630
Werder Bremen have often featured in this column since inception as they are always a side capable of scoring or leaking goals and seem to go through pronounced runs of form and out of form. If you can spot these little spells it can be quite profitable to either back or lay them accordingly in the short term. At present they seem to be struggling for form with only one win in the last four matches seeing them slipping to mid-table in the Bundesliga. They did lose one of these matches to the in-form Bayern Munich, but have drawn and lost to the two worst sides in the division also in Augsburg and Greuther Furth. They seem to be struggling to get a foothold in matches and an organised Mainz side is probably not who they would choose to play.
As mentioned Mainz can always be relied upon to have a gameplan and to put in no shortage of effort to achieve a result. The coach Thomas Tuchel has been in the hotseat for a few years now and has established a style of play based on pressing with one or two players given licence to create in attack. The latest player to emerge seems to be Adam Szalai who grabbed a hat-trick against Hoffenheim last week and had looked lively in previous appearances and also grabbing numerous goals. The midfield will look to pressure the Werder side and then feed the Hungarian as quickly as possible. Mainz are also on a current unbeaten four match streak and are looking very tight at the back in general.
Lay Werder Bremen at 2.07 on Betfair. 2 points.
Genclerbirligi v Elazigspor, Sunday 1400
So far this season in the Super Lig there have been a few surprise sides at the top of the table. One of these has been Genclerbirligi who have only lost one match and currently sit in third position. They drew with Galatasaray not too long ago at home to continue a fine run which sees them with two wins and two draws at home this season. More impressive though is the fact that they have scored a whopping eleven goals in those four home matches and conceded five. They have only failed to find the net in two matches so far this season, both away, and this is due to them having numerous goal threats throughout the side. They look likely to continue in a lofty position so long as they can keep scoring goals in a normally tight league.
Elazigspor were promoted over the summer and have looked well out of their depth at the top level. They are still yet to win this season and are at serious risk of being cut adrift at the base of the league. They simply lack quality throughout the side. All you have to do is glance at their goals for and against to see this borne out, they have only scored five goals and conceded seventeen in nine matches. This spells doom for them and how Gencler are available at current prices is beyond me.
Back Genclerbirligi at 1.83 with Stan James. 3 points.
Antalyaspor v Trabzonspor, Monday 1800
Another Monday night match in Turkey to extend the weekend. Last week I thought Fenerbahce might struggle to cope with the seasons surprise package Antalyaspor, but even I didn't see them being picked off as they were. In the early stages Fener looked like they were struggling to find a killer touch, but were having most of the play. Then just before half time two lightening breaks saw Antalyaspor carrying a 2-0 lead into the second half. Their striker Lamine Diarra looked absolutely unplayable for both goals, he shrugged off defenders and finished coolly for both. They are now level on points with Galatasaray and could even go top with a win as Gala have a tough match at Istanbul BB. This should see them with no little motivation to break down stubborn Trabzonspor.
Trabzon are another side who have featured due to their search for a new way of playing after the departure of key striker Burak Yilmaz over the summer to Gala. They have been set up fantastically in defence for a few seasons now so they are still very tough to beat, but their lack of goals is causing them to draw too many matches. They have drawn four of nine matches so far and only scored five goals. Antalya look capable of soaking up pressure just fine so as long as they can get a couple of chances they should be fine here.
Back Antalyaspor at 2.6 with StanJames. 2 points.
Posted by Matt Howard