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The Season Starts Here

Obviously the season has already started, but I feel we can now start to try and make some informed assessments of how clubs may fare after seeing a few matches for most sides. Tonight sees the start of the Europa League Group Stage after the first matches of the Champions League have just finished. Those who follow me on Twitter will have noted I got every tip right for the Champions League this week, that's six out of flaming six!

 

Week Five

 

Arsenal v Southampton - win 3.8 points.

 

Sunderland v Liverpool - win 5.1 points.

 

Osasuna v Mallorca - lose 1 point.

 

Hannover v Werder Bremen - win 4.74 points.

 

Greuther Furth v Schalke - lose 2 points.

 

Genoa v Juventus - win 4.92 points.

 

Antalyaspor v Galatasaray - win 5.91 points.

 

Trabzonspor v Sivasspor - win 6.0 points.

 

Total - win 27.47 points.

 

Running Total - win 43.66 points.

 

This is obviously a fantastic start, but needless to say it would be almost impossible to keep these sorts of figures running for a whole season. It does give a great cushion to be betting from though and something to fall back upon when an inevitable bad week occurs.

 

Music this week from a new discovery, Left Alone with Drunk Again.

 

West Ham v Sunderland, Saturday 1730

 

The Hammers have had something of a mixed start so far, but they certainly looked at their best when the on-loan Andy Carroll was playing against Fulham. This should come as no real surprise as if ever a player fitted the Sam Allardyce blueprint it is the big Geordie. He should again be missing here, barring a miracle recovery, and that does leave them looking a lot blunter in attack for me. There's plenty of graft, as there always is in an Allardyce side, but precious little in the inventiveness stakes. The signing of Yossi Benayoun could help with this in the future, but with him coming off the bench later on recently he doesn't seem to have the required fitness to complete a full match. They have so far won both home matches, but these should be looked at more closely. The first match of the season was at home to Aston Villa who had still not got the Alex McCleish monkey off their backs and the second win was almost entirely down to the tactics employed to utilise Carroll against the never great away Fulham. This is a much tougher match on paper than both of those.

 

Sunderland have similarly started ok, but are yet to win. They have three draws from three matches, but these do contain encounters with a much improved Arsenal and last weeks visit of Liverpool. Whilst Liverpool are no great shakes at all these days they are still a better calibre of opponent than West Ham have faced and to get a draw will have given the Mackems some confidence that a first win won't be far away. The signing of Steven Fletcher was still more expensive than it needed to be to my mind, but you can't argue that he is effective in the Premier League. Since he has so far scored all of Sunderland's three goals too it looks a good acquisition so far for Martin O'Neill. Sunderland will always be set up in a safety first style under O'Neill, just as his recent Aston Villa sides were, but this does mean they should have no more nightmares about relegation. They will again be set up for a draw and trying to nick a goal in this and I think they're value to avoid defeat.

 

Lay West Ham at 2.22 on Betfair. 2 points.

 

Manchester City v Arsenal. Sunday 1600

 

I toyed with the Liverpool v Manchester United match, but since Liverpool always raise their game for that one I'm not sure about betting it other than In -Play. We'll stick to Manchester's other title hopefuls City taking on a new Arsenal side that's looked pretty good so far. It has been mentioned in numerous places already, but Roberto Mancini's tinkering constantly with his side so far seems to be leaving them all at sea at times and shipping far more goals than they were doing last season. They only lost 3-2 in the dying moments away at Real Madrid on Tuesday night, but the fact they were leading twice makes that result a lot more gutting for City fans than it might otherwise have been. The widely hailed Vincent Kompany did not look comfortable with Joleon Lescott being replaced by Matija Nastasic at centre back. The Serbian looks an improvement on Stefan Savic, but with neither player being overly physical they didn't seem able to simply get rid when necessary. This led to Kompany being at fault for two of the goals and with Lescott on the bench it does ask questions of Mancini's decision making again. He seems to be over-complicating things in my opinion and would be advised to go back to they system that won them the league.

 

Arsenal were also in Champions League action against Montpellier in France on Tuesday night. They went behind early after conceding a penalty, but rallied quickly to be ahead at half time and hung on for a 2-1 win. The most interesting aspect of that match and the 6-1 mauling of Southampton last weekend was Gervinho being started at the peak of the attack. The Ivory Coast international certainly always looked threatening previously, but I think very few would have seen him moving into a strikers role at any point. However comma he has now scored in both of these matches so I would expect him to continue. The major plus points to come at the start of the season for Arsenal are the ease with which Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla have settled in and the current organisation of the whole team defensively. Cazorla and Podolski are both experienced international players so you would expect them to slot in, but to do so so quickly has been a major boost and there is very quiet talk of how far this side could go. Personally I think defences win titles, be that league or cup, so if you are of the opinion Steve Bould has sorted this out then I certainly wouldn't put you off a bet to trade on outrights.

 

Lay Manchester City at 1.8 with Betfair. 2 points.

 

Real Betis v Espanyol, Saturday 1900

 

So far I've got every single Spanish pick wrong. I'm going to go with early season form in this one with a little bit of historical backing up. Betis sit in the top half of the table at this early stage thanks to two away wins and a narrow home loss to a Rayo side in good early form themselves. Espanyol are struggling at the foot of the table and never travel well anyway. They have one solitary point from four matches and look a side who have accepted they will struggle already.

 

Back Real Betis at 2.05 with BetVictor. 1 point.

 

Udinese v AC Milan, Sunday 1400

 

Both of these sides were involved in the title race at points last season and after summer sales en masse at both are not looking likely to hit those heights this term. Udinese are well used to having to sell off their prized assets every year and rely upon a scouting network that keeps unearthing gems, mostly in Eastern Europe, Africa and South America. This production line has seen them blood the likes of Kwadwo Asamoah, Alexis Sanchez and Mauricio Isla and then sell them on for large sums. The only seeming constant is the striker Antonio Di Natale who has such dodgy knees he surely can't go on much longer. Udine are without a win so far and were thrashed at home by Juventus, but encouragingly they have scored in every match to show they are not completely lifeless. They will get chances against an AC Milan side in an even worse state.

 

I advised laying AC Milan at home to Anderlecht on Tuesday night and I think it was my best tip for a while as very few thought it was an anyway decent shout. No side has experienced a clear out quite like AC this summer with the likes of star men Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic departing to PSG as well as veterans like Clarence Seedorf being offloaded to trim the wage bill. This leaves them woefully short of any flair or experience. When you add in the new artificial pitch and disappointing attendances it also makes home advantage almost nil when they do play there. With Silvio Berlusconi also now making noises to say investment will not be forthcoming for the forseeable future we may well have seen the last of AC as any sort of force for a long time. How they are favourites for this match in current form I'm not sure.

 

Back Udinese at 2.9 with BetVictor. 2 points.

 

Hamburg v Borussia Dortmund, Saturday 1430

 

Hamburg have regularly featured in this column over the last year as they are consistently woeful and therefore a team well worth opposing pretty regularly. They brought back old fan favourite Rafael Van Der Vaart from Tottenham just before the transfer window shut, but I fail to see how this signing really improves their chances of survival. I am a huge fan of Van Der Vaart as a player, but he will not be the one to dig in and battle if things get increasingly tough and he has never been involved in a relegation scrap. He does not strike me a leader either and Hamburg sorely need one of those. They are currently bottom of the Bundesliga without a point and they look doomed to finally dropping out of the top division this season. They finally scored in the last match, losing 3-2 to Frankfurt, but Frankfurt are a promoted side and at best expected to be lower mid-table.

 

Borussia Dortmund are looking for a hat-trick of titles this season and have started a little slowly. They dropped points in an away draw at Nurnberg two weeks ago, but Nurnberg have started very strongly so far and Dortmund have been improving with every game. This was also the case last season where Bayern went off like a rocket before Dortmund reeled them in and overtook them comfortably in the end. The loss of Shinji Kagawa was a blow, but with the signing of Marco Reus they should have an even better replacement once he starts to fit in. The return of Mario Gotze to fitness should also see their attack now begin to sparkle and they will have a brilliant chance here to really get going properly with a big win.

 

Back Borussia Dortmund at 1.74 on Betfair. 3 points.

Elazigspor v Bursaspor, Sunday 1500

Elazigspor won promotion last season from the second division in Turkey and have looked like they may well head straight back so far this season. They currently sit bottom of the Super Lig with one point from four games. That was in their opener against Fenerbahce at home and since then they have been beaten three times in a row without even scoring a goal. It does not look good at all for them and Bursaspor are a side who are more than capable of scoring a few given the opportunity. I think it's well worth watching Elazigspor and backing their opponents at present if prices are good.

 

Bursaspor struggled at times last season and ended up outside the title deciding play-off group. Having won the title as recently as four years ago this was not entirely expected and they have worked hard over the summer to try to put things right and have started well, scoring goals pretty freely after the first two matches where they struggled to get it together in attack. They'll relish this match up and should win fairly easily if they repeat recent performances.

 

Back Bursaspor at 2.0 with Stan James. 3 points.

 

Sivasspor v Kasimpasa, Sunday 1500

 

The other Sunday afternoon match in the Super Lig sees newly promoted and thriving Kasimpasa travelling to Sivasspor. Sivasspor got beaten last week in a tight encounter with Trabzonspor, but only narrowly. They have definitely tightened up their defence in away matches and slightly lessened the cavalier approach they have employed for the past two seasons. In saying that, when teams come at them they are still happy to go right back as seen in the only match like this they've had this season in a 3-3 draw with Mersin Idman Yurdu. This should be one of those matches.

 

Kasimpasa currently sit near the summit of the table thanks to a blistering start that has seen them only losing once, away to Galatasaray on matchday one. They have won every other match and scored in every match too. They signed numerous players over the summer with Super Lig experience and it seems to be paying off. They should not be in any danger whatsoever of going straight back down this season. I think they're worth splitting the betting on here.

 

Back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.9 with Ladbrokes. 1 point.

Back Kasimpasa at 3.5 with BetVictor. 1 point. 


Matt Howard: twitter.com/#!/TopTopTips

 

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