Oh yes. We’re back in the game. This is the time to dream. A new season brings chances for punters and fans alike to hit the big time.
Man United – Swansea
Louis van Gaal is in a perfect position. No matter how hard he tries, he simply can’t make more of a pig’s ear of the Manchester United job as David Moyes did. The early signs have been very positive as he begins his quest to properly start the rebuilding job following the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Straight talking and forthright with his views on his playing staff, the Dutchman has gained the respect of his squad already as a much improved atmosphere has played a huge part in an unbeaten pre-season. Wins against Real Madrid (3-1), Roma (3-2) and Liverpool (3-1) will have given the United supporter base huge faith that good times could be around the corner with the new man at the helm. Van Gaal will be without new signing Luke Shaw this weekend though, who tweaked a hamstring in the week. With Patrice Evra and Alexander Buttner both moving on over the summer, the loss of Shaw ensures Van Gaal does not have an experienced left-back at the club for the next month or so, although a move for Sporting Lisbon’s Marcos Rojo is in the offing. Youngster Reece James played against Valencia and should start against the Swans. United could also be without central defender Jonny Evans and winger Antonio Valencia.
Garry Monk heads into his first full-season in charge of a professional team on the back of an inconsistent pre-season that ended with his side being thumped 3-0 by Villarreal. Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge will be welcomed back into the squad after missing the Villarreal defeat while 25-goal man Wilfried Bony will start despite being heavily linked with a move to Liverpool in the past week. Leon Britton, Jay Fulton and forward Marvin Emnes are all missing through injury.
Rule one of pre-season results: pay little or no attention to them when forming a punting plan for opening day fixtures or long-term punting. That said it’s been hard not to be significantly taken with Van Gaal’s pre-season results. Tipping up a -300 shot isn’t likely to satisfy the needs of most of you, and rightly so, unfortunately life hasn’t been kind enough to most of us to back short price bankers for a living. Those looking for an alternative bet with a bigger price should be hovering their fingers/mouse for the Red Devils on the -1.5 Asian Handicap option. In other words, Van Gaal has to oversee a win by two or more goals. He’ll be looking to send a message out early doors to his title rivals and his team will be encouraged to go for Swansea’s throat. Goals look on the menu.
Newcastle United – Man City
Newcastle recovered from an opening day defeat to post a decent start to last season before losing their way after Christmas and it’s difficult to know what to expect from Alan Pardew’s side. We know exactly what we’ll get from Manchester City however and the Premier League Champions are sure to have their game heads on after a disappointing performance in the Community Shield. The team selection rather pointed the way at Wembley but a number of the key players that were involved in the latter stages of the World Cup can be expected to return (although around eight senior players have enjoyed extended breaks following the World Cup) and the Citizens have enjoyed playing against Newcastle in recent times. The sides met three times last season with the Manchester side winning 2-0 away in the league and the League Cup and scoring four without reply at home on the opening day, a scoreline that was matched in the corresponding fixture of the previous season. In fact, you have to go back to 2008/09 to find the last point that the Geordies took points off their rivals and back to a 1-0 victory in 2005/06 for the last time that they claimed the maximum tally.
Given that City have won their last four games against the Magpies without conceding then the +220 about winning to nil has to enter calculations as do the 2-0 and 3-0 scorelines. City were a little slow to warm up in their away fixtures last season but it would be surprising if they suffered a similar lapse this time around and they haven’t got too many new arrivals to bed into their side. Newcastle made several signings early in their summer as they look to complete (another) overhaul of their squad and, although the majority have to prove themselves in the league, they have had time to settle in. There is trouble behind the scenes with Hatem Ben Arfa less than happy with his treatment but it remains to be seen whether that has an effect on a squad that ended pre-season on a high with victory over Real Sociedad. Emmanuel Riviere (signed from Monaco) has looked lively, scoring three, and Facundo Ferreyra had a big reputation in Argentina and may be able to bounce back from an underwhelming spell in the Ukraine. Siem De Jong – a £6million summer buy from Ajax – has impressed during pre-season but he is a doubtful starter after picking up a calf injury while Cheick Tiote is definitely sidelined. Newcastle have the wherewithal to enjoy a decent season if they can find some consistency and may be able to trouble the visitors but City really should be good enough to take the spoils. With that in mind and with Arsenal putting three past City, I’ll back them at -1 on the handicap rather than look to the correct scores or winning to nil.
Pick: Man City -1 (+180)
For the first week of action I will leave it with just the two picks, as it remains to be seen how certain players gel, in what has been an active transfer window.