5 Tips for the PGA Championship *4th Round Update*

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So heading into the last day of the PGA Championship has seen Jim Furyk shoot a cool -2 to take the lead at -9, 1 shot clear of my man Jason Dufner.  I still have 2 players in serious contention (Dufner and Stricker) which isn’t too great but then again they are both in the top 5.

As is the way of golf the complexion of the tournament, and those who are in contention changes from round to round.  You can find some of the best value by betting on the 4thround of a tournament, because realistically there are fewer people who could potentially win the tournament.

The men that I am touting to bet on are based upon their chances of winning, their play this week and their odds (from Bet365).  So it is not going to be a list of favourites, rather a list of value bets.  At this stage of the tournament you are still able to receive 3 places if you bet each way and that is recommended.

Oak Hill is playing much easier than everyone was expecting and because of that the winning score is going to be quite low.  I’d imagine the winner will be on around -8, so anyone within 5 shots has a very good chance of winning or at least getting a play-off.  Furyk Is currently sitting on-9 and I am positive (hope this doesn’t come back and bite me on the ass) that he will not win this.  So we are looking at one of the other men who are sitting at worst -2 (10 players, excluding Furyk).  There are a lot of top golfers fighting for the title going into the last round and I think the winner has a great chance of coming from behind to win.  Oak Hill has shown that this week it is a course which you can score very well on but also score very poorly on if you are playing badly.

 

Steve Stricker             12/1

I liked Stricker before the 3rd round and I still like him going into the 4th, he played a solid 3rd round but only shot E keeping him at -5 (T-5th).  One thing Stricker isn’t going to do is play himself out of it (a la Rose or Kuchar); the bigger question is whether or not he is going to play himself into it.  I think he will need to shoot at worst -2 to be in contention, and that will be a test under pressure on the last day of a major; Stricker is good enough and maybe this is his time, he certainly is playing well enough and at only 4 shots (and 4 spots) off the lead 12/1 is good odds.

 

Lee Westwood           25/1

I thought Westwood would need to shoot a 65 in the 3rd round to still be in contention going into the final day, and that was a big if.  Instead he shot a 68 and has somehow found himself in 7th position.  I’m not shocked that he is 6 shots off the lead, more so that I’m shocked that he has found himself only 6 places off the lead.  I thought anyone under -2 didn’t have a chance because there were too many players between them and the leader and the shot difference was too much to realistically make up.  However the opposite of this happened and a large number of the leaders found themselves throwing their chances away and allowing guys like Westwood to get back into the championship.

Don’t get me wrong Westwood is still going to have to go out and score at worst a 66 to have a realistic chance, but he has actually played better this weekend than his -3 score indicates.  All it will take is Westwood to get on a roll and to post a score and he could find himself the PGA champion.  The biggest issue with Westwood is that he has shown that he is unable to go out and win a major when put under pressure; however he is far enough back that he will be able to post a score and potentially watch the leaders crumble under the pressure.  He is also playing with McIlroy, which I imagine will egg him onto shooting a better score and this can only help Westwood in his hunt for the elusive first major.  At 25/1 he is an outsider, but at 25/1 you are getting one of the world’s best golfers who is only 6 places off of 1st and those are great odds.

 

Dustin Johnson          66/1

This was a tough third pick, because I also liked McIlroy (25/1, -3), who I thought was in a very similar position to Westwood and as he has shown in the past he can run away with major championships on the last day; but because of his dreadful form this year (his play has been worse than his score) I can’t see it.

So I decided to plump for Dustin Johnson who managed to shoot the round of the day in the 3rd round with a 65, leaving him at -2 and in T-9th.  At the start of the day I would have laughed at you if you had told me that Dustin Johnson would’ve been in the top 10, let alone in contention but with a great round he has managed to prove me wrong.  Much like Westwood it isn’t the fact he is 7 shots behind that is making me think he has a chance, rather that he is only 8 places behind.  In all likelihood Johnson probably won’t shoot another 65, but he has shown that he is able to score on this course and at 66/1 it is worth a go (especially with an each way bet).

Another 65 would put him on -7 and at that he would very much be in the hunt, and more so than Westwood he would be able to post a relatively early score and watch as the leaders potentially fell away.  Johnson has already shown that he is capable of scoring, and it is unlikely (because of how far back he is) that his bottle will come into question.  Johnson will be looking to post a score early and back into it and that is why he is worth a punt on the last day.

 

 

I’ve already said that I really don’t like Furyk, and I’m pretty sure he won’t win.  The same could be said about Adam Scott (who putted terribly in the 3rd round) because only a handful of players have ever won one of the next 3 majors after winning their first one (last four being O’Meara, Seve, Jacklin & Nicklaus).  Blixt also is unlikely to win (only his 2nd major).

The big question is what Dufner, Stenson and Stricker are going to do; all three are a bit of an anomaly because they have never won a major before, and there are genuine and legitimate questions over if the players will have the bottle to win a major.  If the answer is yes they have the bottle, then I think one of these three will win.

If the answer is no they don’t have the bottle, then that is when players like Johnson, Westwood and McIlroy will come into it; these three either have to shoot a fantastic round or have the other players above them play so poorly that they come back to them.  Realistically a bit of both is the most likely scenario.  I think that the winner of the PGA will be one of these 6 players, and if I were to go out on a limb and choose one I think it is most likely going to be Dufner (I also want Dufner to win because he is the man who I personally bet).

It is an interesting scenario that we have found ourselves in going into the final day of the PGA Championship, and it looks like Sunday is stepping up to be a very exciting day of golf.  Hopefully we get a deserving winner, rather than someone who has just played well over the week (a la Blixt, not that I have anything against him, I’d just rather see someone who is one of the best golfers in the world win).

 

So leave a comment on how well you think that the PGA Championship is going so far and on who you think is in pole position heading into the last day to be crowned the final major champion of the year.

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5 Tips for the PGA Championship *Update*

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We are at the half way stage of the PGA Championship, and we have had some surprisingly low scoring golf to watch.  Jason Dufner is leading on -9, 2 shots clear of a three way tie at 2nd (Scott, Kuchar and Furyk).

The general belief is that over the weekend the course will dry out, instead of playing so soft as it has over the first 2 rounds (because of the heavy rain).  Due to this it wouldn’t surprise me if the winning score at the end of Sunday was higher than -10 (on the assumption that the course will dry out).

I gave 5 picks before the tournament started, and I am just going to give a quick update before I go onto the new betting tips.  I tipped Dufner (who just happens to be leading and playing amazing golf), Zach Johnson (-1, T-22 [little disappointed thought he would have done better, but not out of it, however will need to shoot around a 65 to be in contention on the last day]), Francesco Molinari (E, T-29 [similar opinions to Johnson]), Branden Grace & Paul Lawrie (MC [I was struggling for value and I thought these two maybe had a chance of doing something under the radar, I was wrong]).

I really thought that this tournament was going to be Woods; he was so good at Firestone how could he possibly lose that form in just a week.  Well somehow he managed to do it and is currently wallowing on +1 in T-39th.  I said that 3/1 (although I seen him later in the week at 4/1) was dreadful value, but I expected him to be so much better than this, to say I am disappointed in how he has played (or more so how he has putted) would be an understatement.  You can pick him up at 50/1 if you are so inclined, but unless he works a miracle and shoots 65 on both days he won’t have a chance, I wouldn’t touch him.

So overall not that great, but I guess you can’t complain when you have the leader.  Anyway onto the half-way value tips for the PGA Championship.  All odds are from Bet 365 and are subject to change, and I would recommend betting at each way where you will receive 1/5 odds for 4 places.

 

Steve Stricker             25/1

The old man of golf has had another very solid major tournament so far, shooting a 68 and a 67 to sit on -5 in T-7th.  Stricker has limited the number of tournaments he has played this year (even skipping the Open); so as to stay competitive at the top of the game and it seems to have had the desired effect.  Stricker has done what Stricker does and played nice steady golf and hit greens and fairways, making as few mistakes as are possible.

Obviosuly Stricker has never won a major before and that is a concern, as is the fact that he is 46 (only three players have ever won a major over the age of 46).  However there is one thing you can rely on Stricker doing and that is playing good steady golf, and at only 4 shots off the lead (and only 6 in front of him) he is very much in the hunt and at 25/1 is great value.

 

Martin Kaymer          33/1

The 2010 PGA Champion is for the first time since winning the trophy actually playing the weekend and is also very much competing.  With two rounds of 68 already on the card, Kaymer has played some steady golf (no bogeys in 2nd round) which is required to win majors.  He currently is on -4 (T-9th) and much like Stricker has put himself in a position to challenge over the weekend.  Unlike Stricker however, he has won a major before (this one) and there is no doubt about his bottle and ability to go out and win another one.

The biggest concern about Kaymer is that he hasn’t actually won a tournament since 2011 and sometimes it can be hard to get over the line after not winning for so long.  However Kaymer did play well last week at Firestone (T-9th) so is on good form coming into the PGA and at 33/1 and only 5 behind the leader (3 behind 2nd) he is well placed heading into the weekend and is good value also.

 

Sergio Garcia              40/1  

I didn’t fancy Garcia this week, but he has surprised me with two good rounds of 69 and 68, leaving him on -3 and in T-13th.  There are not many players who are as good tee to green as Garcia, and playing like this is vital at Oak Hill.  I haven’t seen that much of Garcia so far this week, he has flown under the radar and managed to post two solid scores which have put him into contention.

We all know that Garcia has the ability to win a major championship, and the fact he still hasn’t won one is quite shocking.  However we also all know that Garcia does not have the best bottle and is a dreadful putter (especially over short putts, which are killers).  We will get one of two Garcia’s, either the confident Garcia that is ready to take on the world or the down in the dumps Garcia who gets upset over the littlest of things.  At 40/1 Garcia is a player who has the ability to go out and score well and close the gap, but is more likely going to win if he backs into it which is also a possibility.    This is the championship where Garcia announced himself on the world stage, is it also the championship he wins his first major?  He will be in the mix and at 40/1 and only 6 shots back is a good value bet.

 

 

If you are looking at more outside bets with higher odds, then you should be looking at Zach Johnson (-1, 125/1), Rickie Fowler (-2, 100/1), Jason Day (-2, 66/1) or Lee Westwood (-1, 66/1); all of whom could easily go out tomorrow and score low on a course which has shown that if you play well then you can shoot a good score.  I doubt that any of these guys have a chance though (unless they do something miraculous) because I expect the course to play harder and there are also a lot of players between them and Dufner (not just one man running away with it, who could blow it).  Dufner is actually a fairly nice 7/2, not bad for a man who just broke the course record and is leading the championship by 2, but his last couple of putts were worrisome and I imagine (much to my dismay) that if he is to lead into the last round, he will need at least a 3 shot cushion going through the last handful of holes to avoid his nerves getting in the way of his play.

 

Let me know about players who you think are in with a chance heading into the weekend or any players you think I have missed out on.  All comments are welcome.

 

5 Tips for the PGA Championship.

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With the final major of the year quickly approaching, it is time for my 5 Tips for the PGA Championship.  After Phil Mickelson’s triumphant win at Muirfield, it has been a busy two weeks of golf which will culminate with the crowning of the PGA Champion and the handing over of the biggest monstrosity of a trophy in golf (maybe sports? There must be worse….surely).

My tips will be based not necessarily who I think is the most likely to win, but rather the bets which will give the most value.  I’d recommend betting any of these each way as you can get 6 places at quarter odds which are generally good value.

The odds are atrocious for the PGA, with very few value bets available, which is odd when you consider that Tiger Woods is the overwhelming favourite at 3/1.  It has made it harder to pick 5 value picks, but I somehow managed anyway.

All odds are from Bet365 and are subject to change.

 

Jason Dufner         40/1

I tipped Dufner as a good value bet in the Open a couple of weeks ago, and commented that I thought the winner may back into it, and Dufner has the ability on the last day to go out and shoot a very low score.  Dufner kindly followed that up by doing exactly that on the last day of the Open but still managed to only finish T-26th…..go figure.

Dufner has kept his best for the majors this year, with respectable finishes of 20th and 26th in the Masters and Open respectively, add onto that a 4th position in the US Open and you have a solid year.  Dufner has the ability to go out and play aggressive golf and score very well.  I said it at the Open and I’ll say it again here, if Dufner can put himself within around 4 or 5 shots on the last day he could very well shoot himself to the trophy.

However Dufner has never won a major, and could quite easily play himself out of contention with one sloppy round (like he did in the Open).

These are concerns with Dufner, but he is becoming one of those players who you feel that it is only a matter of time till he wins a major.  This is reflected in his odds, where he was 66/1 in the Open but has dropped to 40/1 for the PGA.  At 40/1 he is still good value in a betting field which has very few value bets out there.

 

Zach Johnson       60/1

I was surprised to see Johnson’s odds being as low as 60/1, and at that he is a steal.  His play coming into the PGA has been incredibly consistent, his previous 3 tournaments he has finished 2nd (John Deere Classic), 6th (The Open) and 4th (WGC-Bridgestone).  It is noteworthy and impressive that his last two top 10’s were against a full field.  Johnson’s play has been really consistent; he is a steady player and is unlikely to do anything flashy but is general there on the last day.  There are no concerns over Johnson’s bottle as he won the Masters a number of years ago.

If there is one concern about Johnson, it is that he is not a prolific winner.  It is unlikely that Johnson will go out on the last day and play exciting birdie filled golf.  What he will do instead is make as few mistakes as possible, but that doesn’t always win golf tournaments.

He is a good pick up and at 60/1 (especially each way) he is fantastic value, even more so when you take into consideration his form.

 

Francesco Molinari        80/1

Molinari (much like Dufner) is in that category of players who you think are ready to take that step up to winning majors.  He is an accurate driver, accurate with the irons, a good chipper and a good putter, with the only blot on his copybook being his lack of driving distance.  His best asset is his ability to play consistently, which is vital in a major.

The fact that Molinari hasn’t won a major is a natural concern, as is his lack of winning regular tour events and his distance off the tee.

His lack of distance is a concern, but Oak Hill isn’t the longest course.  Molinari should be sitting at around 45/1, instead you are getting him at 80/1, it is great value and he is a perfect each way bet.

 

Branden Grace       125/1

Grace is another in the long list of promising young South African talents, and he will be looking to follow in the footsteps of players like Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel (recent young South African major winners).  He’s had a solid season on the European Tour with a number of top 10 finishes.

It is unlikely that he will win the PGA Championship, but 125/1 at quarter odds he is a good bet to place, and who knows stranger things have happened, Grace certainly has the ability to win the PGA Championship and if he were to play well enough and hold his bottle, he could.

 

Paul Lawrie       200/1

I was amazed to see Lawire at 200/1.  Lawrie hasn’t had the best of seasons (he hasn’t really challenged for a title) but he is a former major winner and is a capable winner on his day.  He played very well in the Open, but a first round 81 took him out of contention straight away.

Lawrie is a perfect example of the problem that I am having in this year’s PGA, I like Lawrie (much like Grace) and wouldn’t be shocked if he won, but there are so few value bets out there that I pick him because at 200/1 because it is a good price and he is worth an each way bet.

 

 

So of the 5 guys I have picked, which one do I think will win?  None of them, I think Tiger Woods will win.  However at 3/1 (8/1 at the Open) there is absolutely no value in betting Woods at all.  If you seen his form at Firestone you will understand why I think he will win, he was imperious.  He shot two excellent scores on the first two days, followed by excellent course management over the weekend.  His driving, irons, chipping and especially his putting were all excellent and if he were to carry his form over to the PGA then he will walk it.

If you are looking for some other players who I think have a good chance but aren’t good value, then Snedeker (22/1 [good chance of winning but not great odds]), Stenson (30/1 [although I don’t think he has the bottle to win, but his play coming into the PGA has been consistently challenging without actually challenging]) or Charl Schwartzel (35/1 [but playing too inconsistently to deserve those low odds]).  If you are looking for another value bet whom I don’t think will win but could place then take a look at Angel Cabrera (80/1 [played very well in the majors this year, not so much outside the majors]) or Miguel Angel Jimenez (150/1 [very good odds when he is playing so well, but a was shown at the Open he doesn’t have the bottle to win but could back into it]).

 

So there you go, what do you think of the tips?  Have you got any tips of your own?  Let me know.  All comments are welcome.

SPFL Season Preview.

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The first season of the newly rebranded SPFL (formally the SPL and SFL, or something like that, who knows…anyway) will be kicking off this weekend.  To say that Scottish football isn’t that good would be a bit of an understatement.  However as the newly reformed Rangers slowly climb through the ranks it will soon be a two team top flight again.

It is unfair to say that the Scottish leagues are boring, after all the race for 2nd (was once 3rd) is one of the most unpredictable races in football.  What was the first division (now Championship) was one of the world’s hardest leagues to be promoted from (often teams won it and then didn’t get promoted for various silly reasons, such as having too small a stadium).

What the Scottish league does however suffer from is that its top tier is dominated by two teams every season.  This has turned into a one team league since the liquidation of Rangers and last season was possibly one of the most exciting seasons ever.

Basically this post is about predictions for the upcoming season and will cover mainly the SPFL but will also cover to a lesser extent the other 3 leagues.

 

Scottish Premiership

Scottish Premiership Champions

It will be Celtic; I guarantee it will be Celtic.  If it is anyone else then the world may implode.  Last year Celtic made almost no effort to win the league, yet still managed to win it by 16 points.  It does say a lot about the SPL without Rangers, that any team could not pay attention to the league for half the season and still win in a stroll.

 

2nd Place

The real competition in the SPFL this season will be over who finishes second, last year it was Motherwell in 2nd place (and 3rd the year before when Rangers were in the league), with St. Johnstone in 3rd and Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 4th.

This year however Motherwell will have European football to potentially contend with (to play first leg of qualifier prior to season starting) as will St. Johnstone (under same circumstances).  If either team were to make it through to the group stages of the Europa League, it would create a distraction that would likely take them out of the running for second.

One of the great things about the SPFL is that almost any team could potentially finish second, and I will hence make a case for each team I believe has an outside chance:

Motherwell are unlikely to finish 2nd if they make the group stages of the Europa League, however if they didn’t the gap between them and the rest has closed this summer.

St. Johnstone are in the same boat as Motherwell, but I think it is even less likely that they will finish 2nd, and last season they very much over achieved.

Inverness are an interesting team and are probably the dark horse to finish 2nd.  They have one of the better managers in the league in Terry Butcher, and also have one of the hardest away grounds to visit (due to it being so far north).  However ICT lost their best player this summer in Andrew Shinnie and that could have an adverse effect on how the team performs.  It is also noteworthy that when ICT put themselves in a position to finish 2nd last year they bottled it and somehow managed to finish 4th.

Ross County took the league by storm last year with an impressive record against Celtic (5 points from 12) and looked very much like they belonged in the top flight of Scottish football.  An impressive 5th position was well deserved for the boys from Dingwall, but it is unlikely that they will build on that to the extent of finishing 2nd.

Dundee United are one of my two picks that I think are likely to finish 2nd this year.  Although they lost one of their best players in Johnny Russell this summer, they have a good crop of young Scottish talent at the club, and it looks like they have a bright future.  Players like Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong look especially good and seem ready to take a step up, and could help propel the Tangerines up the league.  The introduction of Jackie McNamara near the end of last season had the impact required as Dundee Utd snuck into the last spot in the top 6.  McNamara’s other team that season (Partick Thistle) also had a really good season, playing exciting football with a young crop of players, expect Dundee United to do the same this year and make a real challenge for 2nd place.

Aberdeen is my other pick to finish in 2nd place this season.  Aberdeen were poor again last season and this led to the retirement of Craig Brown and the insertion of replacement Derek McInnes.  Aberdeen has a squad mixed with youth and experience, with Ryan Jack being the stand-out player in the squad.  There are also goals in the squad with Niall McGinn and experience in the middle with Barry Robson and Willo Flood.  I imagine that the biggest change between this season and last is the change in management; at times Craig Brown looked lost last season and seemed slow to react to changes in games, the belief would be that McInnes would be able to better utilise the squad.

As I have already said, I believe that 2nd will be either Aberdeen or Dundee Utd.  If I were to pick one it would be Dundee Utd, I love their potential in terms of both the young talented squad but also McNamara’s potential.  I’d like to think they could maybe challenge Celtic for the league, but that would be wishful thinking.

 

Relegation

Hearts are starting the season on -15 points, they are not able to sign any players above the age of 18 until they exit administration, and have lost a large chunk of their squad from last year.  That would be the same squad that took them to a very respectable (sarcastic) 10th position.  If Hearts weren’t to be relegated, it would be an absolute shocker, a great escape, it is however very unlikely.  Think about it like this; Hearts finished on 44 points last season and with their -15 they would have finished on 29.  11th (St. Mirren) finished on 41 points, now in the 3 seasons prior to this the team finishing 11th had 33 points.  That means in theory Hearts will need to achieve a minimum of 48 points to not finish bottom, however whoever finished 11th will probably finish on higher than 33 due to the lack of Rangers.  I think Hearts will have to achieve somewhere between 50 and 60 points to avoid finishing bottom, and even then they will still probably finish 1tth (play-off).  With the squad that Hearts have (a worse one than last year) it is unlikely that they will be able to score more than 40 points, and will have to hope that another team is just abysmal, I can’t see it happening.

 

Relegation Play-off

Kilmarnock finally managed to rid themselves of the (how can I say this nicely?) nutjob Kenny Shiels (if you really needed another reason to dislike Kilmarnock).  It seemed that Shiels was more interested about preaching than football at times when he managed Kilmarnock, and was often a distraction that was not needed when he came away with wacky claims which were obviously fabricated by him.  Kilmarnock won’t threaten 2nd place, because they aren’t a good enough team and are more likely to be challenging for relegation.

What can I say about Hibernian?  They have made the past two Scottish Cup Final’s, and improved on last season league position (11th-7th).  However in both finals they got battered, including an especially embarrassing 5-1 beating by fierce rivals Hearts.  If that weren’t bad enough, Hibs also managed to get pumped 7-0 by Malmo at Easter Road (9-0 on aggregate), very embarrassing for Scottish football and especially for Hibs.  Pat Fenlon keeps slating the team after these performances but maybe it isn’t the teams fault and rather the manager’s.  If it weren’t for Leigh Griffiths last year, who knows where Hibs would have finished, it is going to be a long season for Hibs and their supporters.

St. Mirren are somehow still in the top flight of Scottish football; it almost feels like every year they either finish 2nd bottom or are in the relegation scrap.  It must be rubbish to be a St. Mirren fan because they never really improve; they always sort of stay the same.  That would be fine for most clubs, but when your club is always fighting against relegation it isn’t so good.  I expect St. Mirren to have a similar year again this season, and they are lucky that Hearts are in the predicament which they are in, because otherwise they would be my favourites for relegation.  However this season I expect St. Mirren to finish 2nd bottom (like so many years before) and to fall into the first ever top flight play-offs (well since the last top flight play-offs, maybe 15 years ago).

Partick Thistle took a 10 year hiatus from the top flight of Scottish football; however after storming to the top of the 1st division they have made their long awaited return.  The third team in Glasgow (or is it now 2nd?) won the 1st division last season with high energy youthful football under the management of Jackie McNamara.  However McNamara left the club towards the end of the season and was replaced by Alan Archibald.  It will be interesting to see how Partick do this year; they will either do a Ross County and crack the top 6 in their 1st season or do a Dundee and make a right mess of it (not that it was necessarily Dundee’s fault, they budgeted for a 1st division team and then got promoted to the SPL, they were always getting relegated).

 

Conclusion

I expect Celtic to win the league at a canter, Hearts to relegated without much of a fight back, St. Mirren to fill the relegation play-off spot and Dundee Utd to finish 2nd.  If I were to set out a league it would look like this:

1st –Celtic        C

2nd –Dundee Utd

3rd -Aberdeen

4th –Inverness CT

5th –Motherwell

6th –St. Johnstone

7th –Partick Thistle

8th –Ross County

9th –Kilmarnock

10th– Hibs

11th– St. Mirren       P-O

12th– Hearts           R

 

I wouldn’t be shocked if some of the teams in the middle of the table swapped places from where I’ve predicted (it is pretty unrealistic to think I’d get them all right), but I think the bottom and top 2 will be as I’ve predicted.  I would be especially worried if I were a Hibs, Kilmarnock or St. Mirren fan, because they are the most likely to be fighting for 2nd bottom (or bottom if they are abysmal) and any of them could find themselves having play-offs to finish the season.  I think that either Ross County or Partick Thistle could crack the top 6 this season, and I also think that there is a good chance that Motherwell will finish higher than 5th but it will depend mainly on how well their Europa League campaign goes (to a lesser extent the same is applicable to St. Johnstone).

 

Scottish Championship

This isn’t going to be as in depth at the Premiership preview and will be more of a prediction and maybe a short reason why.  I may add that my expertise (if I could call it that) does not lie in the lower divisions.

 

Championship Champions/Promotion

It is going to be a really competitive season this year (it usually is) and with the introduction of play-offs there is more to fight for than ever.

I think that the three teams that will be fighting for the championship this season will be Dundee, Morton and Falkirk.  If I were to pick one, I would go for Dundee because they have the best squad.  I would then expect Morton and Falkirk to take two of the three play-off slots, with the final slot going to either Livingston Queen of the South (will be interesting to see how they cope with losing their manager).

The winner of the play-offs will be from the Championship, as it is unlikely that whichever team finishes 11th in the Premiership (I believe it will be St. Mirren) will struggle to beat the momentum of teams which are on the up when they are on the down.

 

Relegation

There is no doubt in my mind that Cowdenbeath will finish in the bottom two and will probably finish 10th.  The other relegation slot will be taken up by either Alloa or Dumbarton, although I think that it will likely be Dumbarton, because Alloa are a bit of a dark horse; after back to back promotions, it will be interesting to see how they handle being in the 2nd tier of Scottish football.

 

Scottish League 1

 

Champions/ Promotion

Rangers will win the league; this is hardly a big jump or prediction.  Rangers have the second highest wage bill in Scotland (behind Celtic) and if they can’t win this league at a canter then it would be embarrassing.  Last year Rangers slumped over the line with a number of mediocre performances against part-timers and amateurs.  The only way Rangers will not win the league, would be if a club did a Queen of the South (which could happen) and if one club were to do that it would be Dunfermline.  After all Dunfermline have a good young hungry team, which would probably be a decent Championship side.  I think that Dunfermline has a slight chance of pushing Rangers all the way, but when it comes down to it Rangers should still win the league.  I like the look of Ayr Utd and Airdrie picking up the other two play-off spots, but I think Dunfermline will be promoted through the play-offs (making the Championship look very exciting next year, Rangers and Hearts as well as a number of solid Championship sides).

 

Relegation

The two worst looking teams this year are Stranraer and Stenhousemuir, with Stranraer being the more likely to finish bottom of the two.  Arbroath could be an outside shout at falling into the bottom two.

 

Scottish League 2

Championship/Promotion

It will probably be Peterhead this season, they probably would’ve won the league last year if it weren’t for the reincarnated Rangers being there and will probably continue their tendency to bounce between the bottom two tiers of Scottish football once again.  I think that the play-off spots will be filled by Queen’s Park, Stirling and Berwick, although there are a number of teams that could fill these slots.

 

Wooden Spoon

It will be East Stirling with an outside chance of Clyde, easily and most consistently the worst two teams in Scotland.

 

 

There you go it looks like another exciting (or as exciting as it can get) season of Scottish football.  I’m expecting the champions to be Celtic, Dundee, Rangers and Peterhead, but wouldn’t it be great if an underdog in the Premiership or League 1 were to push the Old Firm clubs to the limit or even to win their respective leagues (unlikely I know but you can only hope).  As far as the cups go; Celtic should win the two main domestic cups, but it would be nice to see another club pick up a trophy (maybe an Inverness).  Rangers should win the Challenge Cup, but they should’ve won it last year so you never know.

 

Let me know what you think, and tell me how excited (or otherwise) you are about the upcoming debut season of the newly formed SPFL.  Let’s hope it’s onwards and upwards for Scottish football, because after all it can’t get any worse…..hopefully.

An Analysis of the Man Utd Squad.

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When Man Utd won the Premier League last year, it felt like this may be the beginning of the end of an era of dominance which not many others teams could even dream of replicating.  That statement may seem like a bit extreme, because after all Utd had just won the Premier League for the 13th time in dominant fashion, but there were cracks beginning to show already.

The biggest loss this summer for Utd is blatantly obvious; you do not lose a manager of Sir Alex Ferguson’s quality and have it not affect the quality of the squad or the performance of the team.  I like David Moyes as Fergie’s replacement and I think he will do a good job, however it isn’t easy to replace the best manager in the world (I’m bias, I love Fergie).

Man Utd haven’t really lost that much else so far this summer, excluding the retirement of Paul Scholes, who couldn’t stay fit last season and was at best a squad player when he was.  All in all, excluding his experience in training, Scholes retiring isn’t that much of a loss to Utd.

Now all the talk in the paper which cannot be ignored is about Wayne Rooney and his future at Manchester United (even I wrote something https://bm23sportsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/the-wayne-rooney-dilemma/).  Regardless of where he goes, Rooney going would be a big loss to the squad.  Although last season Rooney played second fiddle to RVP he was still a major part of the team and played an important (but smaller than usual) role.  To sell Rooney (I’m assuming they are) and not bring in a replacement would be unforgivable.

Now onto the actual squad, I will break it into positions (GK, RB, CM, etc).

 

Goalkeeper

David De Gea showed last season what a great goalkeeper he is, and was voted the best keeper in the league last year (and well deserved too).  He is an excellent shot stopper, has great athleticism and has the best distribution I have seen from a keeper.  There are still concerns about his aerial ability but he is getting better and definitely isn’t getting bullied the way he used to.  He played fantastically in the Under 21 Euro Championship and was a vital part of the excellent Spain team which won it.  He has a very bright future.

Anders Lindegaard is a fantastic back-up goalkeeper, the problem with him however is that he thinks that he has the abilities of a starting goalkeeper (which he hasn’t).  I’m not sure if he is even going to be at Utd at the start of the season (he wants away) but he would not be a major loss.

Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone are two young keepers who could take that step up and fill the back-up role if Lindegaard were to leave.

Utd are set at goalkeeper, the only question is whether or not Lindegaard will be there at the start of the season.

 

Right Back

Rafael was probably the best right back in the Premier League last season (sorry Zabaleta), and has really grown as a performer.  There are no real issues with Rafael as a starter other than he isn’t the best defender, but you can get away with that as a full back.

Guillermo Varela is (so far) Man Utd’s only signing of the season.  I’m not sure whether or not he is a good player (although I have heard good things), and there is talk that he may be loaned back out to South America.

Fabio can play either left or right back, but realistically (if he is still at the club by the start of the season) he will be at best a squad player.  The talk was that if QPR hadn’t been relegated then Fabio would no longer be a Man Utd player, and it wouldn’t surprise me if another club came in for him.

With Rafael and one of the other players kept as a back-up, Utd are set for the season and shouldn’t have any serious problems unless Rafael receives a serious injury.

 

Left Back

Patrice Evra is now 32 (old for a full back), and if I had written this before last season I would have talked about how Utd need to sign Leighton Baines (the best left back in the league) because Evra has lost it, however Evra had quite possibly his best season at Man Utd last year.  Regardless of Evra’s good play last year, Utd have flirted with the potential of buying Baines (once again).  It isn’t a surprise; if you have a chance of getting the best left back in the league then you have to go for it, plus who knows if Evra last season was a one off?  To get Baines Utd will have to pay around £15 million (quite expensive for a 28 year old left back); this will likely mean the end of Evra at Utd (Monaco are apparently interested), which would be sad because he is an important member of the dressing room (vice-captain).

Alex Buttner is nothing but a back-up and I don’t see that changing any time soon.  He is immense going forward (for a left back) but cannot defend to save his life, still a decent back-up to have though).

There is a great level of uncertainty at left back for Utd.  If Baines does come in then Evra will go, if Baines doesn’t join then Evra will start, which will create greater uncertainty about his level of performance.

 

Centre Back

Nemanja Vidic had a difficult injury plagued season last year and I’d expect more of the same this season as well.  Vidic is still a quality centre back (one of the best in the world) but he can only play at most once a week; otherwise his knee injury will flare up again.  He is the captain and is an important figure in the dressing room and will still start in the big games, definitely worth having him around.

Rio Ferdinand is very similar to Vidic; he has injury problems and cannot play more than once a week.  Ferdinand showed last season that he is still able to play at the very top level of football and is still worth his place in the first team as well as the squad.  It is incredible to think that even with their injury problems Rio and Vidic when fit are still the first choice centre back pairing for Utd.

Jonny Evans is quite possibly my least favourite Man Utd player.  For years I have been asking why this man is still at this club, last season I found out.  I’m still not a huge fan, but I can respect the performances he consistently put in last year when only he and Rio were fit.  If it weren’t for Evans, Utd would not have won the title with such ease last season.

Chris Smalling only managed 22 appearances for Utd last season in an injury plagued year.  At 23 he is still a young player and has a lot of potential to fulfil.  I’d expect him to take a step up this season coming and become an integral part of the first team.

Phil Jones also only managed 24 appearances for Utd last season in an injury plagued year.  It is incredible to think that he is only 21, because he plays like a man much older.  Much like Chris Smalling, I’d expect Jones to take a step up this season and solidify the centre back position, to create a tandem with Smalling.

Man Utd are stacked at centre back, but last season each of the 5 centre backs had a long spell out injured.  If that were to happen again this season then it could be a concern, however it is fairly unlikely.  Although at the start of the season I’d expect Vidic and Rio to be the starting duo, I’d hope and expect Jones and Smalling to begin to take control of the centre back tandem.  It is incredible to think that (in my opinion) Jonny Evans is Utd’s 5th best centre back, especially when he would start for most other teams in the league.   It will also be interesting to see if Michael Keane is able to make a larger impact this season, after he spent the second half of last season on loan at Leicester.

 

Right Midfield

Antonio Valencia used to be the epitome of consistency out on the right wing, however last season this was not the case.  It was unusual watching Valencia last season; he couldn’t cross the ball, he couldn’t beat players to the line and he lost his powerful shot, three things in prior seasons he was known for.  Valencia’s form picked up towards the end of the season, but not to the extent where you thought that he was playing well.  The hope naturally is that Valencia returns to his form of old, and it is reasonable to assume that he probably will.  However Valencia is very much a confidence player and his play this coming season will very much depend on how much confidence he has.

Wilfried Zaha was the last signing of the Alex Ferguson era and he looks like he will be a good one.  If you watched Zaha last season for Crystal Palace, then you will realise why Man Utd were willing to pay £10 million (with potential for another £5 million).  Wilfried Zaha’s performance was out of this world in the play-offs, if it weren’t for him then we would probably be seeing Watford in the Premier League this year instead of Crystal Palace.  Zaha was so dominant on a big stage that any fears that people could’ve had about him not being able to take the step up to Utd were quashed.  Zaha has also had a very strong pre-season performance and looks like he will be able to have an instant impact on the Man Utd first team.

Adnan Januzaj and Jesse Lingard are two players that aren’t household names yet, but they look like they could be the future of Man Utd.  Much like Zaha, Lingard and Januzaj have had excellent pre-season tournaments.  Lingard is a local lad (Warrington) and Januzaj is another off the Belgian production line.  It will be interesting to see if either gets a serious chance to make an impact on the first team, after all David Moyes does have a great history of bringing through young talent (Rooney, Rodwell, Coleman, among others).

 

Left Midfield

Ashley Young had a poor season last year, it was hampered badly with a string of injuries (only played 21 games) and when he did manage to play, it was generally inconsistent.  When Young signed for Utd, it looked like he was ready to take the step up.  However he hasn’t really been able to make the transition from Aston Villa as well as was thought.  Maybe it isn’t fair to criticise Young (because he has struggled to maintain fitness), but this is a make or break season for him.  If he struggles this year, then it is likely that he won’t be at Utd by the start of next season.

The most surprising thing about Nani is that he is still actually at Man Utd.  There are a lot of rumours about where he could be going, but nothing has actually happened yet.  With only a year left on his contract and out of favour at Utd, Nani is working on lost time and it is only a matter of time until he leaves.  The real question about Nani is how much Utd will be able to sell him for, anywhere between £8 and 10 million would be fairly good.

Bebe (who I forgot about) is apparently still employed by Man Utd.  He will go down as one of the worst signings Fergie ever made, to the extent where I really don’t know where he plays, although I believe he is a winger (no idea what side), so there you go.

 

Centre Midfield

Michael Carrick had a great season last year and has solidified the central midfield position as his own.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that Carrick was the boo-boys favourite, and he has transformed himself into a fan favourite.  Carrick is an excellent passer of the ball (when given time, less so when being pressed) and will take one of the starting roles for Utd in centre midfield.  The question about Carrick isn’t so much about if he will play; it is more about who will play alongside him?  The problem at Utd currently, is that nobody knows.

When Anderson joined Man Utd, it looked like he may play at the heart of the midfield for the next 10+ years.  He had everything; he was fast, he could tackle, he was a great passer, he could marshal a midfield.  However despite all this Anderson has never been able to progress to that next level.  A large part of Anderson’s struggles have been his inability to stay fit, he has never had a strong run of games in a Utd shirt.  I think he deserves another chance under Moyes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was not at Utd by the end of the transfer window.

Tom Cleverley (almost out  of nowhere) looked like he was Utd’s saviour in the centre of the pitch at the start of 2011-12, but like many of Utd’s best central midfield talent he has struggled to stay fit since.  Cleverley isn’t currently good enough to start first-team for Utd, but is a very useful squad player to have.  The only negatives that I can come up with for Cleverley is his lack of goals and his lack of fitness, if he could fix both of these areas he could have a bright future.

Darren Fletcher would be the perfect man to partner Michael Carrick in the centre of midfield.  He is great at breaking up play, is an under rated passer and has bags of energy.  Sadly for Fletcher (and Utd) he has a chronic bowel illness and it has kept him out of consistently playing since 2010-11.  There isn’t much you can say about Fletcher, if he were to be able to make it back then he would slot perfectly back into the first team, but sadly I also wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to retire, which is a shame because he has lost at least 2 years of his prime and could lose more.

Ryan Giggs is now very much a central midfielder, after all he is 39 and winger’s go off the boil at about 33.  Giggs is a squad player now and once again showed at the back end of last season, that he is still very capable of making an impact, often keeping younger players out of the starting 11.  Giggs made 32 appearances last season (an incredible amount for someone of his age) and finished the season very strongly; however his form in the first half of the season was so poor that it seemed that he may retire at the end of the season (looked like he had lost more than a couple of steps).  The evergreen Giggs is now a player-coach, and his influence and experience in the dressing room is invaluable.

Shinji Kagawa started his first season at Manchester United with massive expectation on his shoulders.  Not only was he the first Japanese player to play for Utd (massive Japanese fan base), he was also a star are Borussia Dortmund in both their Bundesliga winning seasons.  To say he didn’t live up to expectations would be fair enough.  However to be fair to Kagawa, he was often forced to play out on the wing (not his position), and had a couple of niggling injuries as well.  Kagawa still managed to score 6 goals in 20 Premier League games, which is not a bad return.  Kagawa has been the star of Utd’s pre-season tour of South East Asia & Australia, and has been playing in his more natural position of just off the striker.  If Utd were to get this Kagawa, or the Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund then it will be as good as a new signing, and he could take the Premier League by storm.  There were glimpses of Kagawa’s potential last season, it would be fair to assume that he will be a better player this coming season, and for me is the man to watch.

Nick Powell is the hot young thing which Man Utd bought last season from Crewe Alexandra.  It will be interesting to see if he will play more this season than he did last year, only managing 6 games (and 1 goal).  I was disappointed with Powell lack of playing time, and didn’t understand why he wasn’t sent out on loan to get more experience.  He is a talented young player and is still only 19; it will be intriguing to see if he becomes a bigger part of the Man Utd plans this season.

There is no doubt in my mind, that Manchester United’s central midfield is their greatest weakness.  Carrick apart, nobody currently at Utd sets the heather on fire or makes the heart race.  If Fletcher were to come back, then he would slip into the role nicely, however it would be unwise of Utd to rely on Fletcher and should rather expect him not to come back, and if he were to, treat it like a bonus.  It will also be interesting to see if Anderson or Cleverley will step up, I have my doubts.  The man I expect to make the biggest improvement from last year is Shinji Kagawa.  I expect Kagawa to have a breakthrough year and set the league on fire, although I think this will only happen if he were to play off the front (a position currently held mainly by Wayne Rooney).  I would also say that the wings are an area of uncertainty.  If you were to ask me prior to pre-season I would have said that Utd would have to sign at least 1 winger to replace Nani (and maybe Young), after pre-season (and I don’t like to read too much into pre-season) I have high hopes for Zaha (which I expected), Lingard (which I didn’t expect) and Januzaj (who I had heard very good things about).

 

Striker

Robin Van Persie was the Premier League’s top scorer last year and in some pundits opinion (not in mine) he was the difference between Utd and City last season.  Van Persie is one of the greatest strikers in the world (maybe the best) and is Man Utd’s best and star player.  The only blot on RVP’s copy book is his questionable fitness history.  RVP has missed large parts of his career with injury upon injury; he has however over the past two years had better fitness.  I fully expect RVP to be the starting striker at the beginning of the season.

Wayne Rooney was once the blue eyed boy at Utd, however after putting in his second transfer request it seems unlikely that he will be at the club by the end of the transfer window.  As I linked earlier in the post, I have written previously about this and the points made are still valid.  Even if Rooney were to stay, he would be unlikely to give 100% and would also likely be a cancer in the dressing room.

Javier Hernandez is the unluckiest man in Manchester.  For the past three seasons it doesn’t seem to matter what he does, he doesn’t get given the chance to regularly appear in the first team.  It isn’t because he doesn’t take his chances (he does), it isn’t because he doesn’t score off the bench (he does) and it isn’t because he doesn’t give his all (he does).  I feel sorry for Hernandez, it doesn’t seem to matter how well he does, and he still can’t get into the first team.  Last season, it didn’t matter how poorly Rooney played last year, he was still played in front of Hernandez.  Hernandez would then score off the bench and occasionally get a chance in the first team.  Inevitably he wouldn’t score and after one game was back to the bench, and the inconsistent Rooney was back in.  In many ways it is a make or break season for Hernandez, and the best thing that could happen to him is if Rooney were to leave and Utd were not to replace him.  Hernandez will either have a breakout season or another season of obscurity from the bench; I hope it is the prior.

Danny Welbeck is the bright young Manchester born youth system talent.  There aren’t many players in football, who have the energy or give the effort that Welbeck does.  He gives everything for the cause and never stops running.  There is one problem with Welbeck’s play, and if you’re a striker it is pretty important as well; the boy doesn’t score enough goals.  Two seasons ago he scored 12 goals in 39 appearances (not too bad for your first year); last year he scored 2 goals (yes two) in 39 appearances, which is not acceptable for a striker.  Welbeck is great at playing in games where Utd are sitting deep and they need someone to stretch the pitch, Welbeck however is useless at games where the opposing team sit deep and Utd have to play tightly, sadly for Welbeck the majority of teams Utd play sit deep.  If Welbeck were to become more prolific in front of goal, then he could make a large impact on the team.

Angelo Henriquez is a bit of a wild card in the Man Utd squad, it is unclear whether he will actually have an impact on the team at all or if he will be loaned out (like last season).  If Rooney were to leave then perhaps Henriquez would be able to step up and take the 4th striking position in the squad (it is unlikely).  It is interesting to note that Henriquez only managed to play in 8 games for a Wigan team that got relegated; it is also interesting to note that Henriquez is one of only four players in the Utd squad to have won the FA Cup.

Federico Macheda is another player in the Utd squad who id dead weight.  One of the most surprising things about Macheda is that he had such an impact in the 2008-09 season, so much so that he looked like he was bound to become a star, he hasn’t.  It seems that Macheda is doomed to live under the shadow of his two goals against Aston Villa.

If Rooney were to stay at Utd, then Utd would have the best strike force in the league.  If Rooney were to go, then it would be interesting to see what Utd do.  There are two options; firstly to keep the strikers they have and move Hernandez into a more prominent role, or secondly to go out and sign a high profile player to fill the gap left by Rooney.

 

Conclusion

Man Utd have great (and the best in the league) quality and depth in nets, defence and (currently, although I imagine not for long) up front.  The major area of concern is in midfield, both in the centre and on the wings.  The centre of midfield is the main area of concern for Utd, beyond Carrick there really isn’t much else there, and what is there lacks consistency.  The wide positions are also a concern because of the amount of youth and the lack of experience which the players who are currently in the squad have.  There is also doubt over left back, it will be interesting to see if Utd stick with Evra or decide to sign Baines.  There is also the obvious concern over the future of Wayne Rooney, in a saga that seem like it will last the whole of the summer.

As far as rumoured transfers go, there has been serious talk over Fabregas, Baines, Fellaini and Bale.  I think Baines will likely sign (which means the end of Evra).  If you had asked me a few days ago, I would have said that Fabregas would be joining as well, but since Barca’s new manager started it now seems less likely.  I do think it will still happen (for £35 million) and would be the perfect signing to fill a major whole in the heart of midfield.  Fellaini to me seems like the fall back player in case Utd aren’t able to sign Fabregas.  Much like Fabregas, Fellaini would fill a much needed whole in the centre of the pitch.  I’d love to see Bale at Utd, it would be a dream.  However I don’t think it is very likely, and if he were to join a team this transfer window I imagine it will be Real Madrid.  There has also been some conversation about Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Man Utd, it is however unlikely (even if Real do sign Bale), and it is more likely that Ronaldo is just posturing to receive a wage increase.

It is important for Utd to sign new players to add to the squad (especially if Rooney leaves), a centre midfielder (could probably do with a holding midfielder and a technical midfielder) is a must and another striker (if Rooney leaves) would be nice.  Beyond that the Utd squad is very strong, and barring massive injury problems should be able to handle the long season without any major problems.

I expect Man Utd’s current squad to line-up like this:

De Gea

Rafael   Ferdinand   Vidic    Evra

Valencia   Carrick   Jones    Zaha

Kagawa

RVP

 

I hope that Moyes is looking to promote some of the youth players from the under 21 squad and give them their first chance at playing in the first team.  A club, who brings their first team players through the ranks consistently, is a club that generally will have success (Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Man Utd).

Overall I think Utd will have a good season, but this year is not going to be as easy as last year.  With a new manager and their main competitors (Chelsea and Man City) becoming better teams already, Utd will need to get off to a quick start to keep the media off their backs.  To win the league and compete in Europe though, Utd must sign at least one central midfielder and if Rooney leaves, another striker is a must as well.

 

Leave a comment on what you think of the current Utd squad, what you think of the Utd’s potential transfer targets or how well you think Utd will do this upcoming season.  All comments are welcome and fully appreciated.