Thursday, September 26, 2013

Week 6: Win At All Costs

by Rick Nash

Here's a list of things I've been clinging to, tearfully, since Man Utd's humiliating defeat at Man City last Sunday:

  • Jon Jones is still the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, just. 
  • Dublin are All-Ireland Champions.
  • My NFL and Premier League fantasy teams are finally kicking arse (Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Petersen, LeSean McCoy and Dez Bryant all making up the core of the former...yes, my league absolutely sucks at drafts).
  • Speaking of NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles are now revolutionising offence in the league under Chip Kelly and look on course to get back to the playoffs.
  • Actually forget that last one.
  • I have my health.
  • Oh, and United bounced back from their loss with a 1-0 midweek win over Liverpool upon the return of Luis Suarez, continuing Pool's recent, Walter White-like tradition of only meeting devastation when confronted with a possible solution to their ills. Seriously, the people that have brought this once-great club to their knees over the past decade? Rafa Benitez, Fernando Torres, Kenny Dalglish and Luis Suarez...four bonafide 'legends' of the club, like White, talented but ultimately destructive. I guess Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher can serve as Skylar and Marie in this metaphor: well-intentioned but incapable of stopping these monsters, as well as being kind of annoying and - in Marie's case as in Gerrard's - getting on the wrong side of the law on more than one occasion.

This is one of those seasons, though, where I have to take stock in the positives. Because the negatives are alarming. Not only is Lady Luck not on my side, Lady Luck left me at the bar with an empty-wallet, filled with booze that I paid for, laughing in my face for daring to think that I ever had a chance with her. 

I need a pick-me-up. I need a win. Not even a big win, just a win of any kind. As Ian Holloway would put it, "To put it in gentleman's terms if you've been out for a night and you're looking for a young lady and you pull one, some weeks they're good looking and some weeks they're not the best." Quite.

This week we're going to go for blunt and easy bets, just to get some money in the kitty and pride restored. This week we're going to win ugly.

This Week's Quick Picks

(All odds via Paddy Power)

Man Utd vs. West Brom - United (-1.0 @ 5/6)

At this stage, I'm so gun shy when it comes to potential upset bets that an over 50% chance on the Euro Club Index still makes me nervous. And the Premier League is filled with upset specials this weekend: the Spurs/Chelsea early kick off? Not a chance! Southampton have a 58% chance of beating Crystal Palace at home? Sure they do. Fulham/Cardiff? ARE YOU MENTAL?!? (But, if you are, stick a few bob on a draw @ 12/5)

The only 'sure thing', for me, this weekend is that United will continue their resuscitation at home to my start-of-season relegation pick, West Brom. The Index gives them an 80% chance and considering Moyes has a point to prove I'm going to predict a rout. The alternative handicap of (-1.0) @ 5/6 seems very fair.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Freiburg - Dortmund @ 2/11

No, you won't see this bet reported in the media as a visionary moment of genius as genuinely ballsy, 37-team accas are, but we're playing the season here and, when it comes to sure things in the Bundesliga, Dortmund give slightly better odds than Bayern this week (who are 1/8 at home to the mess that is Wolfsburg).  The only thing that makes me slightly nervous about this is that Dortmund are showing ever so slight signs of cracking after a 5-game, 100% start to the season; losing to Napoli in the Champions League then dropping points for the first time in the league this season before being held by Nurnberg. Oh, and Freiburg are the only side to take points off Bayern this season, holding them at home. On the other hand, Dortmund star striker Robert Lewandowski as good as confirmed that he will sign for Bayern next season this week, and last time the European Champions nabbed one of their rivals' star players, BVB went out and hockeyed Real Madrid in retaliation.

Reims vs. Monaco - Monaco @ 8/11

Forget about your Falcao, Joao Moutinho, Abidal and Carvalho, the star of Monaco's table-topping start to Ligue 1 has undoubtedly been Claudio Ranieri. The principality are the latest club to boldly go where Chelsea didn't have the balls to and allowed him to try and steer their superclub, assembled Football Manager-style, to the title. Thus far it's paying off in spades. Monaco are top of Ligue 1, having won five and drawn one (against Toulouse, who face PSG on Saturday) and look as if they've been there for years just months after being promoted. Seriously, when does that ever happen?? By now, we're used to the inevitable first season 'crises' of these superclubs as they struggle to gel, before coming through dramatically in year two. Whether Ranieri can go all the way still remains to be seen - he is more accustomed to over-delivering with under-developed sides in a Martin O'Neill fashion and you sense that Paris SG don't mind not being the centre of attention for once. But I don't see his struggles starting this Sunday against Stade de Reims, who are Ligue 1's equivalent of Norwich: competent but you get the sense they're just happy to be there.

Everton vs. Newcastle - Everton @ 8/13

I'm not sure that I can take having to wait until Monday night to see if this bet comes through, but this is the only other Premier League clash that I have any faith in. Everton are quietly being moulded into a solid little outfit under Roberto Martinez, with Ross Barkley not only filling in adequately for Fellaini but adding a new vigour to their midfield, Baines justifying their insistence on digging the heels in when David Moyes came calling and Lukaku a canny signing who is due to do damage any time now. Meanwhile, the argument for Newcastle seems flimsy to me. How can a team with this many good players continue to under-perform? Just ask new signing Loic happens sometimes. And while I'm not suggesting they'll go the way of QPR, coming into this game off the back of a league loss at home to Hull hardly proves that they'll click. They lost the heart of their side with the transfer of Demba Ba last season and now seem somewhat devoid of a killer instinct, capable of individual brilliance but unable to pull it together in a package that you'd expect from a side whose core have already challenged for a Champions League spot. This is the worst time for them to play a side both organised and inspired as Everton have been thus far.

Loic Remy thinks Newcastle are fudged.

Fiorentina vs. Parma - Fiorentina @ 8/15

Because I'm a glutton for punishment, a second Monday night match could decide the fate of this must-win accumulator. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to stick my money on my beloved Fiorentina, showing that last season wasn't a fluke with an uncharacteristically comfortable start to the Serie A campaign under Vincenzo Montella and inspired by the returning Giuseppe Rossi. If you're a Fiorentina fan, you'll know that this never happens. In almost 20 years supporting them (since the Batistuta/Mijatovic days), Fiorentina have consistently either been the underdogs punching above their weight or the underachieving heavyweights. After agonisingly losing out on a Champions League spot that went to Milan on the final day of last season, we braced ourselves for a rough year, because that's what happens to Fiorentina when any kind of expectations are placed on our shoulders. Step forward Mr Rossi, possibly my favourite active footballer right now being possibly the only player in history to have tenures for Man Utd, Villareal and Fiorentina under his belt (feel free to correct me if I've forgotten someone there). Having had his career placed in serious jeopardy after a near two-year battle with his cruciate, Rossi made a spectacular comeback to regular first-team football at the start of the season, not only scoring his first goal in 23 months but getting 4 thus far in as many games. Despite the setback of losing marquee summer signing, Mario Gomez, to injury for six weeks, Rossi's spirit has kept the side afloat as his goals proved crucial in wins over Pacos Ferreira and Atalanta. By comparison, Parma in 2013 are a far cry from the club who contended for domestic and European gold in the 90's, seeming over-matched against elite opposition and, most recently, almost squandering a 4-1 lead against Atalanta. Bank on La Viola, regardless of how their match with in-form Inter goes tonight (Thursday). For once, we seem capable of not messing up the winnable games.

Rick Nash is a former pro-wrestler who currently DJs for hire, makes piss-poor sports bets and has a community radio show. Altogether, he's a real bum, and you should be ashamed of yourself if you thought this piece was in any way insightful or entertaining. But still, follow him on Twitter and stuff.

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