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Sunday, 18 June 2017

Portugal vs Mexico - 16:00 - Confederations Cup

On June 18th, Portugal and Mexico will be playing their first match in the Confederations Cup. Both teams share Group A with Russia and New Zealand. Although it’s the first game, it may well be a decisive encounter, since the winner will be well positioned for the next two matches and hence possible qualification.

Portugal are one of the main candidates to lift the trophy. The team managed by Fernando Santos are a tough one for any rival. They won the European Cup with a combative team that was effective in attack when it needed to be. Cristiano Ronaldo is the beacon up front, of course, but Portugal has other good players to surround him, such as Bernardo Silva, the offensive midfielder who had a wonderful season with Monaco. The young forward André Silva too, who will be playing for Milan after his great season at Porto, will also be starting.

Mexico arrive in Russia with the qualification for the World Cup almost in their pockets, following their 1-1 Draw with USA on the 12th. Juan Carlos Osorio will be starting an offensive team, with one defensive midfielder (probably Ricardo Reyes), three offensive midfielders (Jonathan dos Santos, Herrera and Guardado) and two defined forwards (Carlos Vela and Chicharito Hernández). This approach will work if the defense, lead by the veteran Rafa Márquez, can cover the open spaces that Portugal will try to occupy.

Portugal are the favorite according to the bookmakers, with odds on average at 11/10. Given the tight encounter we are expecting, since it’s the first match of the competition and both teams will be cautious, a draw at 9/4 is good value. If you believe that Cristiano Ronaldo will be the first player to score, you may want to bet on that too. At 11/4 it's not a bad bet in my view.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Mexico vs USA - World Cup Qualifier - June 12th

On June 12th, the mighty Estadio Azteca will host one of the most thrilling matches in the qualifiers for the World Cup. México and United States will play a decisive match, with a chance for the home team to start to secure a spot in Russia. USA, on the other hand, needs a win to reassure their position in the table.

Under the management of Juan Carlos Osorio, México are retaking their dominance on CONCACAF. In their last match, they defeated Honduras 3-0 with ease, and it currently seems like no team can match their standard. With Raúl Jímenez and Carlos Vela as the forwards and the Dos Santos brothers as wingers, the offensive power of the mexicans is lethal. Jesus Corona has found his position as the playmaker, giving the team a fluid build up in the midfield. Chicharito Hernández is also set to play at least as a substitute.

The United States had a hard beginning, but with Bruce Arena taking the manager position, the team has a new lease of life. The young star Christian Pulisic, who scored the 2 goals in the victory over Trinidad and Tobago, is surely the most important player of the team, together with Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. These three players need to carry the offensive weight if they want to have a chance. Mexico are the favourite to win, with an average of 4/7 with bookmakers. The  oddds of a draw are 14/5 but this might be a big ask in a Conference where there can be goals a plenty. For this reason, a match with four goals or more at 5/2, although riskier, could be a decent bet too.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Netherlands vs Ivory Coast - June 4th

Ivory Coast and Netherlands have a friendly encounter in Rotterdam on June 4th. Both teams are in decent shape after managerial changes and are facing some decisive matches ahead for the World Cup’s qualifiers.

Netherlands won their first friendly match against Morocco by 2-1 and displayed some interesting movement with Janssen, Depay, Promes and Berghuls in offensive roles. 

However, the team has lacked a good build-up in midfield, something they need to improve against a more physical opponent such as Ivory Coast. With Dirk Advocaat still managing Fenerbahce (he will take charge in the coming weeks), interim manager Fred Grim has a lot of options to consider for the next match, but it’s likely that we see a similar formation, with Arjen Robben possibly seeing some play.

Ivory Coast are well positioned in their group for qualification to Russia. Marc Wilmots debuted as the manager with a draw against Benin (1-1) with a B-squad composed mostly by local players. A much stronger team seems to be on the horizon against Netherlands, with players such as Zaha and Kalou probably appearing in the lineup.

Netherlands are the clear favorite to win, with average odds of 3/4. With both teams in a transition period, it’s quite hard to predict an outcome for the match. However, one can assume that due to the friendly nature of the encounter both teams will look to attack. As such, both teams to score at least a goal seems like a good option, with odds around 10/11. If we follow our logic, a match with at least two goals at 21/20 is also available, and may be preferable to some!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Mexico vs Croatia - International Friendly

Mexico and Croatia will have a friendly encounter on 28th May in Los Angeles. This match will serve as a preparation for Mexico, as they will have two CONCACAF qualifying matches in early June before the FIFA Confederations Cup. This key encounter will be a stress test for the squad managed by Juan Carlos Osorio and that’s why he had called a 32-man squad for the forthcoming matches. The most important players will all be playing: Javier Hernández, Andrés Guardado, Giovani dos Santos and his brother Jonathan, and the goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Osorio also called the veteran defender Rafa Márquez. With 38 years, the former Barcelona player is still displaying a high performance in the national league playing in Atlas.

Croatia have all their main players in club duties or other commitments. As such we won’t see players like Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Mario Mandžukić. Instead, Ante Čačić, the manager, called a team mostly composed by local players, with some players abroad such as the defender Tin Jedvaj (21, Bayern Leverkusen), the forwards Ivan Santini (28, SM Caen) and Duje Čop (27, Cagliari Calcio) and goalkeeper Lovre Kalinić (27, KAA Gent). 

With Mexico needing this match to tune-up their performance and with a better squad overall, a “home” win seems likely. The odds reflect this, with 1/4 as average. A match with more than 2 goals from Mexico is an average of 17/10. This shouldn't be too much of an ask due to the friendly nature of the match and the offensive style of the mexicans. One should expect an open encounter with lots of chances and goals.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Premier League 2016 - 2017 Champions - Chelsea

With the goal of Batshuayi against West Bromwich Albion what seemed inevitable finally happened: Chelsea won 1-0 and secured the Premier League title with a difference of 10 points over Tottenham Hotspurs and three matches remaining. The team managed by Antonio Conte had a wonderful season, and never risked the top place. The Blues became a fierce team and, more importantly, had the consistency required to carry the pressure of being on top of the most exciting football league with no issues.

Conte managed to get a blend that not every team can achieve: a solid defense with an explosive offense. That is his main mark, as we saw in his spell in Juventus and Italy, and he did a great job printing it on the field this season. The team is cohesive, with three centre backs as the core of the defense and with every other player helping, and has a terrific transition once they get the ball. The great form of their attackers, especially Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, just made things easier. But it’s because Conte’s tactical system that they shine, and the fact that he managed to get a stable formation early in the season proved to be a crucial factor, over more “unstable” teams in those first weeks like Manchester City (managed by Pep Guardiola) and Manchester United (coached by Mourinho). It is true that Chelsea’s style isn’t the most attractive one out there. Even if they are the most scoring team in the league, the style of Chelsea is not a fancy one, and was labeled as “defensive”. It may lack some creativity at times, and this is something to improve (especially for Champions League, where games are tougher and decided by moments of brilliance), but the numbers proves those claims wrong. 
 
Not only Diego Costa and Hazard shined through the season: one special mention should be done for one of the best defensive midfielders in the globe: N’Golo Kanté. After his wonderful season at Leicester, his arrival to Chelsea was a challenge: he had to earn a spot in a team with a lot of great midfielders, like Matic and Cesc Fábregas. Not only had he made it: he was spectacular. His physical display mixed with his skills to read the field and always be well positioned made him a key player in a team where the tactical reading of a match was always a deciding factor. Other players, like Pedro, Willian and Batshuayi, helped by performing well when they had to. The defense saw high levels from David Luiz and Cahill, and Courtouis was a reliable goalkeeper with solid appearances as he has been for the last years. 
 
Looking ahead, Chelsea has some areas to strength: even if Diego Costa remains, another forward is on the verge, with names like Alexis Sanchez whispering around. A left back might also be a position to fill. Even if the team plays with three center backs, the left flank was the weakest spot during the league. Nevertheless, nothing is going to overshadow the excellent season that Chelsea had, and the Blues are going to be a hard bone to crack for any rival they may face next season in the Champions League.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

England versus Lithuania, Sunday, March 26

England remain unbeaten at the top of World Cup Qualifying Group F and are long odds-on (1/8) to beat Lithuania at Wembley on Sunday as Gareth Southgate begins his tenure as permanent manager. Even without the injured trio of Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney, the Three Lions should, repeat should, have too many guns for a side that was thumped 4-0 in Slovakia in its last qualifying match. However, despite two wins and a draw in their last three competitive matches, England remain unconvincing under Southgate and anyone who views this tie as an exercise in buying money could be in for a nervous 90 minutes. England may well win, albeit unconvincingly, once again, but it’s hard to imagine them scoring a hatful, so let’s go with Lithuania +3 in the handicap market at 4/5 with Sky Bet.

Selection: Lithuania +3 (4/5 with Sky Bet)

Monday, 6 March 2017

Liverpool versus Burnley, Sunday, March 12

Burnley have lost just one of their last eight Premier League matches at Turf Moor, but taken just a single point from their last eight away matches. In fact, the Clarets are without a win away from home all season and, unsurprisingly, massive outsiders (17.0 with Betfair Sportsbook) to win at Anfield on Sunday.

By contrast, Liverpool have won five and drawn two of their last eight matches at Anfield and thoroughly deserved their 3-1 over Arsenal last Saturday. However, before you pile into the Reds at long odds-on (1.25 with BetBright), remember that Liverpool, although unbeaten against the current top six this season, have lost to Leicester City, Hull City and Swansea City since the turn of the year.

In fairness to Burnley, they conceded a 92nd-minute goal against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium last Saturday, played most of the match with ten men against Watford, conceded a 98th-minute penalty at Arsenal and went toe-to-toe with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, eventually losing each of those matches by the odd goal. Sean Dyche’s side deserves a change of luck and, at a huge price, Sunday could be their day.

Selection: Burnley to win (17.0 with Betfair Sportsbook)