Premier League Betting Preview: This Weekend’s Top 5 Bets

The weekend begins at White Hart Lane where a rejuvenated Newcastle aim to maintain their recent revival against a Tottenham side aiming to usurp Chelsea into third place in the Premier League, at least for a few hours.

Gareth Bale has been in talismanic form for club and country in the last few weeks, and in guiding his side to favouritism for a Champions League place, the flying Welshman himself has been backed into second-favourite for the personal accolade of PFA Player of the Year, behind only Robin van Persie in the betting.

Going six points ahead of fifth-placed Everton a day before the Blues travel to Old Trafford is a huge incentive for Andre Vilas-Boas’ men to beat the Geordies today, but the Lilywhites may have to settle for a draw in this lunchtime fixture.

Newcastle have been boosted by their new French influx, in particular Moussa Sissoko who was the hero of the hour in defeating Chelsea in memorable fashion last weekend, but in addition Yoan Gouffran has impressed and Cheik Tiote is now back from the African Cup of Nations to add further bite to a revamped midfield.

Furthermore, despite Newcastle’s well-documented lack of points on their travels this season, they have held their own at the big venues.

They led three times at Old Trafford on Boxing Day before succumbing to a 92-minute winner, were also at 3-3 with Arsenal at the Emirates only to be blitzed in the final throes, and they have picked up a pair of Mersey draws at Goodison and Anfield.

Southampton are the only outfit outside of the top seven to have scored more away goals than Newcastle this season, and the French connection can flourish once again at a Spurs side set to be devoid of a recognised centre-forward in their starting line-up.

QPR have been on a solid run of decent results, picking up the odd point and clean sheet here and there, but that run looks set to be halted at the Liberty Stadium by Swansea today.

The Swans did lose for the first time in eight matches against West Ham last weekend, but they have shown character allied with quality all season and Michu and co can oblige against the Premier League basement boys at an attractive price.

The Hammers can back up their aforementioned win over Swansea by gaining a valuable three points away to Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon. Sam Allardyce’s men have flattered to decieve at times, especially away from Upton Park, but with Andy Carroll back in their ranks and experienced campaigners such as Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan available, the East End side have the weapons available to bludgeon the Midlands strugglers into submission.

I’m on form at the moment with scorer bets so let’s side with Luis Suarez – with Daniel Sturridge’s fitness in the balance – to claim the opener on Monday night. Lastly, over 2.5 goals looks a banker bet for this evening’s clash between Southampton and Manchester City.

 

PREMIER LEAGUE TOP FIVE BETS (CORAL)

1) Tottenham vs. Newcastle Draw 11/4
2) Swansea to beat QPR 8/11
3) West Ham to beat Aston Villa 15/8
4) Liverpool vs. West Brom Luis Suarez First Goalscorer 10/3
5) Southampton vs. Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals 8/11

 

Written by Emelie Okeke

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Special Feature: Match-fixing remains vague, but still a very clear issue

On Monday, Europol, the law enforcement agency of the European Union, announced the results of an 18 month inquiry of match-fixing in football to a reaction of immense shock throughout the game.

They revealed that a total of 680 matches across the world were fixed, including a Champions League tie that had been played in England which went someway to hinting at the seriousness of their findings. Not only would they concern a club close to home, but it gave a lucid indication that match-fixing was now festering in the very highest levels of the sport.

It was an investigation that originally only involved Germany, Finland and Hungary, but expanded to over 30 countries spanning right across the world. The European Police revealed that Asia had staged 300 corrupt matches while Europe played host to 380, including “several top football matches in European leagues as well as World Cup and European Championship qualifiers”.

Officials went to the extent of revealing the figures of corruption in Germany-based matches alone; £13.9 million in total was wagered to a profit of £6.9 million and very worryingly, as they voiced from behind a stall in The Hague, this was “just the tip of the iceberg”.

However, there was a slight sense of apprehension to the report that UEFA are now awaiting in detail according to Rob Wainwright, Europol’s director. The FA, reacting to the bombshell that one of the matches in question was a Champions League game hosted in England “three or four years ago”, said they were “not aware of an credible reports into suspicious Champions League fixtures played in England, nor has any information been shared”.

The match in question was quickly confirmed as Liverpool’s one-nil win over Hungarian side Debrecen back in 2009. Charges involved Debrecen goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic for not informing officials that he was approached by fixers prior to a game with Fiorentina in that campaign, for which he was banned for two years. However, the charges only specified the Italian club and not Liverpool, who maintain they have never been told by any organisation that the match at Anfield was under investigation.

A case that concerned a goalkeeper who had previously been severely dealt with by European football’s governing body hardly fitted into the sensationalist headlines the investigation should have demanded, but it was clear as the revelation continued that the issue went far, far deeper into the heart of the game. They created a macabre of criminal syndicates, based mainly in Asia, using facilitators in Europe to bribe and corrupt all those involved in the game for financial gain.

Over 425 suspects were identified by an investigation that involved 50 arrests and 80 further search warrants. Wainwright portrayed a dark, eerie criminal network spreading itself into Europe from its epicentre out in the far-east.

It is believed that the betting syndicates are operating not only on results, but on certain events in matches similar to the no ball scandal that scourged the Pakistani cricket team back in 2010. That should be familiar to the everyday football fan who is exposed to in play betting and the plethora of markets now available to betting companies who have developed into a mass businesses on the back of such practice.

The wide-scale of Europol's match-fixing probe.

The wide-scale of Europol’s match-fixing probe.

With so many areas on which to place money in the sport, there is always a suspicion that a footballer can take advantage on an individual level, it was Southampton’s Matt Le Tissier who claimed he made a spread-bet, of which he failed, on himself to win the first throw-in in a game with Wimbledon back in 1995.

Europol’s findings have taken that suspicion and multiplied it to a grave worry that manipulation is taking place on the grandest of scales via a murky underground network of criminals threatening to send a game that has always prided itself on fair play and honest competition into a state of decay.

With the African Nations Cup taking place in South Africa, Paul Put, the Belgian coach of Burkina Faso, said he was not surprised by Europol’s findings, claiming the problem is pandemic.

He has had a previous run-in with the practice having served a three year ban in Belgium after being found guilty for fixing two matches while manager of Lierse, a con allegedly organised by Chinese business man Ye Zheyun and has led to forty people being charged. “Match-fixing has always existed in football” said Put, “that is reality but what can you do about it?”

Even stronger views came from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who feared these revelations would form a “tsunami” that would overwhelm the sport. “I cannot accept this” said Wenger, “I was always aware there was a lot cheating in the game and we are not strong enough on what is happening”. These words were motivated partly by Wenger’s past with corruption that involved his Monaco team being caught up in the match-fixing scandal with Marseille in the early 1990s and he now calls for severe sanctions on those found guilty.

Wenger did allay fears over the domestic game though, remaining adamant that English football remains free of corruptive influence, “match-fixing is not a problem in England” said the Frenchman.

The football world will now await the next chapter of this saga, that will probably appear with the details of UEFA’s revision into the Europol investigation, with a great deal of agitation. There will be a hope that the more the governing bodies continue to peruse over the investigation with the finest of tooth-combs, the more information will gradually begin to come clearer in order to erode away the mystery that is shrouding this squalid world of corruption.

The European Police have gone a long way to confirming a fear that football is blighted by a darker-side but there is a sense that it has only scratched the surface, it now must delve further into the abyss in order to ensure football remains free of the disease lurking underneath.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Dries Mertens: Time to move up

Pace. Flair. Tenacity. A low centre of gravity. An eye for a pass. Imagine those attributes in a diminutive attacker. Lionel Messi? No. Franck Ribery? Again, no. Another hint – he’s Belgian. Are you thinking of Eden Hazard? Wrong answer. The player in question is Dries Mertens, who, at the age of 25 (turns 26 this year), has now reached the point in his career where he is ready to step up into the big time.

The football world has been watching in great suspense the imminent rise of a Belgian “Golden Generation”, rated to potentially be at least as good as the generation of Jan Ceulemans, Enzo Scifo, Jean-Marie Pfaff & Eric Gerets.

Considering that the 1980s’ Belgian “Golden Generation” reached the final of the 1980 European Championships and the last four of the 1986 World Cup, it has naturally been the case that many of the current Belgian internationals have been much talked about, especially those that currently play in the English Premier League.

With his performances in recent years, it is about time that Dries Mertens steps out of the shadows of some of his more talked-about compatriots – Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel et al. Dries Mertens is much more than just yet another Belgian in the transfer rumour mill.

 

Statistics and progress over the years:

 

Dries Mertens celebrating after scoring for AGOVV Apeldoorn.

Dries Mertens celebrating after scoring for AGOVV Apeldoorn.

Since making his debut, aged 20, for AGOVV Apeldoorn in Dutch Football’s 2nd tier on the 10th of August in 2007, Dries Mertens has come a long way in his career. Doing well enough in the Jupiler League to earn an upward move to FC Utrecht, it has only ever been onwards and upwards in this Belgian livewire’s career thus far. The thing is, that doesn’t look like stopping any time soon.

 

*correct as of 8th February 2013. “League” includes – Jupiler League (2007/08 & 2008/09) + Eredivisie playoffs (qualification for UEFA competitions). “Cup” = KNVB Beker + Johan Cruyff Schaal. “Europe” includes – UCL & UEL qualifiers (qualification playoffs).

 

As seen in the statistics tables above, Dries Mertens has been a consistent performer thus far in his career, scoring at least 10 goals in 4 of his last 5.5 seasons and providing a minimum of 10 assists per season since the start of the 2009/10 campaign. Perhaps you’re questioning that and pointing out Mertens’ 2009/10 stats.

The 2009/10 campaign was Mertens’ debut season in Dutch football’s top flight, hence a transition year is to be expected. Mertens has proven himself to be more than just a team player, but an effective one at that. 24 assists across all competitions for the 2010/11 is no mean feat, even if a portion of Football fans consider his platform to be “only” the Eredivisie.

Mertens has arguably done enough to prove himself in continental competitions, making 8 contributions (goals + assists) in that stellar 2010/11 campaign.

Dries Mertens after scoring for FC Utrecht.

Dries Mertens after scoring for FC Utrecht.

 

Step up to the international stage:

*Correct as of 8th February 2013

 

Unsurprisingly, Mertens’ senior debut for Belgium came after he proved that he had indeed successfully made the step up from the Jupiler League to the Eredivisie – in February 2011. Granted, he does not have impressive stats at international level – save for his 2012/13 thus far, with him scoring 2 and assisting 4 in 7 appearances.

This is to be expected, as this emerging crop of brilliant Belgians have to be moulded into a well-oiled Football machine before we can expect any fireworks from any of the players on the international scene. Marc Wilmots needs time to form a successful system in which Belgium’s talents can shine.

Dries Mertens taking a shot against Wales in a qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Dries Mertens taking a shot against Wales in a qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

 

Mertens’ step up:

While some players could be daunted by a move from Utrecht to PSV Eindhoven, Mertens has simply stepped up and thrived under the increased demands and pressure of the Philips Stadion. The Belgian attacker not only matched his aforementioned 24 assists in his debut season at PSV, but also scored 27 goals across all competitions – which is almost double his tally the year before. Astoundingly, Mertens is not done yet.

At the time of writing, he is on course to smash his current personal best of 24 assists. With 12 goals and 17 assists in 26 appearances across all competitions at the time of writing, Mertens would, hypothetically, finish the season with 23 goals and 32 assists if he makes as many as his 49 appearances in 2011/12.

 

Overview:

The Dries Mertens-Gary Cahill incident.

The Dries Mertens-Gary Cahill incident.

Considering his stats, versatility and skill set, Mertens is a player that can be expected to fit well into the playing systems of the top European clubs. Having been previously linked with Bayern Munich, I could very well see him shining under the bright lights of the Allianz Arena.

The tenacity that Mertens possesses will also stand him in good stead for a move to a club that uses a high pressing system – FC Barcelona and Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs side come to mind.

 

A look to the future:

With Transfermarkt rating him at €12 million at the time of writing, that would probably be the amount that interested clubs would have to spend to acquire this Belgian star’s signature.

However, with PSV being somewhat difficult negotiators – see their hefty demands in unsuccessful negotiations over Ola Toivonen’s potential sale), and Mertens’ contract expiring in the summer of 2016, he’d probably cost more than that €12 million – perhaps closer to €15 million.

Considering this Belgian’s development thus far and as one of the best attackers in the Eredivisie, he would be worth the price, even at €15 million.

With Dries Mertens, it has only ever been onwards and upwards.

 

Written by Mark Ooi

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