Posts by Franciskellyuk

Top 5 NFL rookies to watch this season

NFL rookie Melvin GordonMelvin Gordon San Diego Chargers – Running back

Melvin Gordan has suffered a slow start to winning over San Diego fans – especially after a subdued debut – and none more so than his own mum, who declared she won’t be pulling on the Chargers’ jersey until Gordon’s earned it. The 2014 Heisman runner-up proved impressive enough during his college days to receive her approval and there is no doubt she’ll be donning the blue, white and gold soon. While other recent Wisconsin graduates may have struggled in previous seasons, this tightly-coiled ball of speed and nimble touch is set to excite from the off. Rapid over short distances and a quick learner, this downhill running back is seen as Ryan Matthews’ replacement starter.

Jameis Winston Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Quarterback

Doubts have crept in during pre-season over Jameis Winston’s ability to slot instantly into the demanding rigours of the NFL following a disappointing first fixture against Minnesota Vikings. Yet hidden among the match stats were signs indicating why the former Florida State quarterback was Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ No.1 draft pick. His roaring eight-yard rushing touchdown, including a dive over Jabari Price, capped off a splendid 76-yard drive, showing the power and dexterity that encouraged admirers to rate him so highly in college football. Coupled with his long-arm capabilities and on-field intelligence and there is every expectation that, much like his time with the Seminoles where he grew into the role, he will form a formidable partnership with wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans this season.

Amari Cooper Oakland Raiders – wide receiver

A record-breaking Alabama alumna, Amari Cooper is predicted to quickly provide large returns for Oakland Raiders’ eye-watering investment in him. Enjoying electric footwork and explosive running, the Biletnikoff award-winner has swiftly gone about embracing the requirements put down by coach Jack Del Rio. Cooper got a high workload early on against St Louis Rams in their preseason encounter, touching half of the Raiders’ opening eight snaps for a 25-yard total, as quarterback Derek Carr looks to form a promising partnership. If Carr can delivery the killer pass, then expect Cooper to improve Raiders’ fortunes, with 1,000 yards not beyond his maiden season prospects.

Leonard Williams New York Jets – Defensive end

There didn’t look to be an immediate route into the New York Jets side for Leonard Williams when the draft was first made, however, with team-mate Sheldon Richardson’s off-field indiscretions seeing him banned for the first four games of the regular-season, an opening has arisen. The No.6 overall pick is adamant he can impress, and has already spoken on his desire to be a playmaker. While substituting for Richardson might not suit Williams’ play entirely, under the stewardship of coach Todd Bowles there is hope that the 6-foot-5, two-time All-American will thrive performing the forceful defensive duties Bowles will likely enforce.

Maxx Williams Baltimore Ravens – tight end

Maxx Williams is well known for his hurdling ability having jumped numerous tackles in college football, but while his astounding 54-yard effort for Minnesota Gophers ended in a remarkable touchdown, it is the deft leap versus a New Orleans Saints cornerback in their preseason match that could prove the most crucial for his career. Required to make 20-yards, his innovative manoeuvre ensured the Ravens reached 22. An athletic, determined individual, Williams has wowed team-mates in practice with his safe catching and inventive style of play. Although opportunities might not come straightaway – Crockett Gilmore is predicted to be ahead currently – back Williams to take any chance he gets.


FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter

First time finalists New Zealand battle Australia for Cricket World Cup crown

Can Australia benefit from home advantage at the MCG?

Can Australia benefit from home advantage at the MCG?

 

It may have required an exhausting 44 days and 48 matches to reach, but finally the Cricket World Cup crescendo tops out in all the flip-flop, vest top glory joint-hosts Australia can offer. In the end, the final match-up was predictable, as Australia and maiden finalists New Zealand thrashed their way with unrelenting prowess to meet for the chance to become world champions.

Both deserve their place in the final for the attacking, edge-of-your-seat style cricket they have played. No team has matched their appetite for runs and ruthless fast-bowling, and as the pair walk out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday we are likely to witness a truly stunning contest.

 

Cricket World Cup Final Betting Odds:

Australia win 11/25

New Zealand win 7/4

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Having smashed their way around both of their own islands, New Zealand now travel across the Tasman Sea for their first game of the World Cup on foreign soil. And while Australia will enjoy home advantage, their Kiwi cousins enter the final as the only side to win every match of their campaign including the group stage fixture between these two sides.

New Zealand offer better outright winner odds, but Australia are peaking at the right time and, as shown by their unforgiving dismissal of current champions India in the semi-finals, it is almost impossible to predict a victor.

As such, we need to look elsewhere, and one bet that is more tempting is Australia’s opening partnership to be under 29.5 runs at 5/6 with Coral.

Australia have posted an opening partnership over 30 just once in their seven games so far, striking 57 against England in their first match of the World Cup. Even then, they gave a simple chance in the first over, when Chris Woakes dropped Aaron Finch on a duck; New Zealand are unlikely to be so generous.

 

Indeed, so disciplined have they been in the early overs that only one side scored an opening partnership above 30 against them. Though new-ball pair Tim Southee and Trent Boult suffered late on in their last match with South Africa, where Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and David Miller went Thor-like hamming the seamers to all parts, they share 36 wickets in the tournament. Crucially for this bet, they remove opposition opening batsmen cheaply: on four occasions the opening stand has fallen for five runs or fewer.

And if the pace bowlers don’t work, New Zealand can turn to the spinning threat of Daniel Vettori in the knowledge he is unlikely to leak runs. The oldest player left in the tournament, 36-year-old Vettori has taken 18 wickets already in this World Cup, and his canny ability to change delivery speed will cause problems in Melbourne. Added to the attacking mind-set of captain Brendon McCullum’s field settings and the MCG’s larger boundaries and Vettori can be used from the off.

In comparison, New Zealand’s forthright batting has their first 15 overs run rate averaging at 6.97 runs per over (Australia lagging on 5.87). Opener McCullum proved against the pace attack of South Africa that even the world’s best bowling won’t prevent him from playing big shots. And though many will point to New Zealand’s smaller boundaries for their big-hitting success, 16 of their 25 knock-out round maximums would have still cleared the MCG ropes. So backing New Zealand to have the most runs after 15 overs (around evens with most sportsbooks) is a worthwhile bet.

 

Lastly, for those who enjoy bet-in-play options, look no further than an Australian win if Steve Smith reaches his half-century. The Australian batsman was pushed up to number three for their quarter-final bout with Pakistan where he made 65, and then backed it up in the semi-finals notching up a man-of-the-match 105.

Once mocked, Smith’s contribution with the bat has been telling, with Australia yet to lose an ODI contest when he makes 50. Averaging 71.50 in the number three slot, Smith provides a calm but powerful presence, building a platform for the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson to exploit with their hefty middle-order blows.

 

FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter

Manchester United and Sunderland face potential giant-killings in FA Cup 5th Round

Love is in the air this weekend, and I don’t mean the cheap Valentines Day booze-up and romp you regret nine months later. No, open your hearts, put down those homemade 50 Shades-inspired whips and chains, and rejoice as the magic of the FA Cup comes hurtling back with all the mystique of a Silent Witness episode.

In truth, last time out proved to be quite the upset as Chelsea were felled at home by League One opposition Bradford City (more on them soon), and the number of Premier League teams left in the competition were reduced to 10.

 

Out are big-hitters Chelsea and Manchester City, who have appeared in five of the last six finals, concentrating their efforts on league glory instead.

And now, just two rounds away from the Wembley showpiece, thoughts of the smaller clubs will start to turn towards the rare possibility of following in the footsteps of recent finalists Millwall and Cardiff. Two teams in particular will be hoping to do their best David impersonation as they take on top tier Goliaths.

 

Bradford City v Sunderland Betting Odds:

Bradford win 5/2

Sunderland win 19/20

Draw 23/10

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Bradford welcome Sunderland to Valley Parade for the first game between the two teams in 12 years. While the visitors’ ability should see them through, Bradford have pedigree in similar situations to these. In 2013 they overcame Premier League clubs Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan to reach the League Cup final. Although that proved a bridge too far, with the Bantams losing to Swansea 5-0, Bradford’s capacity to cause a shock result should not be doubted, having beaten Chelsea in the previous round.

Currently two places outside the League One play-offs, the Yorkshire club has lost only two of its last 17 games across all competitions, winning 10. And if they come out swinging like their co-chairman over the BBC’s decision not to show the tie, then we should be in for a full-blooded slugfest on Sunday afternoon.

 

In Sunderland’s case, this fixture could offer the respite needed from the doom surrounding their league campaign. Sitting a mere two points off the bottom three, Tuesday night’s loss to relegation rivals Queens Park Rangers will have dented their confidence further heading into the sell-out away FA Cup fixture.

But a game against lower league challengers provides the perfect opportunity for retribution, and a chance to improve their mind-set with a convincing win ahead of a crucial couple of months.

In all likelihood, it’ll be an attritional contest, fought out on a pitch resembling a tattered old rug won by the side with greater fitness and talent. Yet with Sunderland in need of shoring up their defensive errors that have seen them slip in the new year following a defiant November run, and struggles at the other end – even the January arrival of 32-year-old striker Jermain Defoe hasn’t mended Sunderland’s goal-woes – there’s every chance of a surprise.

 

Monday night’s prospect of Preston North End versus Manchester United should finish predictably too, but Preston’s manager Simon Grayson has form when it comes to defeating United. Five years on from his League One Leeds side stunning Manchester United thanks to a Jermaine Beckford winner, Grayson is hoping to repeat the feat.

Preston may not be on the kind of form Leeds were then, where they went into the game unbeaten in 17 matches, however they do reside comfortably in fourth place of League One with the third tightest defence in the third tier. Although struggling for goals in the league, Preston forward Paul Gallagher is the Cup’s leading scorer, and with United having conceded in six of their last eight league matches, he may well add to that tally.

 

For United the FA Cup has been a kind affair, though unnecessarily difficult to progress in, requiring a replay to defeat Cambridge United. In the midst of journalists and supporters bickering over whether they are a long-ball side and limp wins, United have crawled their way to third in the division. They have lost just once in 18 games in all competitions and manager Louis van Gaal seems content now to use a Plan B where essential.

It may well be another tough watch, but we can’t see past United leaving victorious and through to the quarter-finals having jinked past Premier League draws en route.

Betting Instinct tip – Paul Gallagher to score at any time is 10/3 with Coral.co.uk

 

FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter

Southampton to set Manchester City stern test in race for Champions League places

Ronald Koeman has silenced those who tipped his Southampton side for relegation

Ronald Koeman has silenced those who tipped his Southampton side for relegation

Twelve matches into the season and Chelsea’s six-point lead at the top of the table already looks impenetrable, likely handing Jose Mourinho his third Premier League title. Yet if Manchester City want to fulfill their dream of retaining the championship, they will need to start a charge now, toppling second place Southampton on Sunday.

Southampton v Manchester City Betting Odds:

Southampton win 21/10

Manchester City win 6/5

Draw 23/10

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Intermittent form and a blight of injuries to the team’s core has decimated City’s hopes of challenging on two fronts productively. Even after a summer of spending and repointing of gaps identified last season the absence of experienced hands has caused Manuel Pellegrini’s side to slip up too often.

Tuesday’s Champions League outing gave them a lifeline in Europe and while the possibility of success continues their attention to the title race will be mooted. Beating Bayern Munich, City’s first European win of the season, means a score draw when they visit the Olympic Stadium in Rome will be enough for them to pass through to the knockout round.

A daring, ferocious thrill of a win, City achieved it without first-teamers David Silva, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, albeit against 10 men. The result masks concerns about Pellegrini’s team but their tenacity to score late and a will to persevere is admirable. Indiscretions at home to Stoke and on their travels at Queens Park Rangers will be rued come May, however, with the new found strength following the Bayern victory maybe the corner has been turned.

At the heart of City’s resistance is Sergio Aguero. Casting a diminutive appearance from afar, the pugnacious, muscle-bound striker is in the form of his life. The Argentinean’s midweek display, scoring the crucial winning hat-trick, reinforced his position as one of the world’s greatest strikers. His last-gasp heroics may be required again on Sunday, when City face the tightest defence in England.

Leading the top-scorers chart so far, sitting one goal ahead of Chelsea’s Diego Costa with 12, Aguero’s tenacious approach has seen him score a quarter of his goals in the final 10 minutes of games. Reminiscent, in part, of Luis Suarez’s impact at Liverpool last season, where the Uruguayan almost single-handedly delivered them their first league title in 24 years, Aguero’s sparkling form is keeping City in the hunt.

For Southampton, their position at the crest of the Premier League is unexpected. Losing manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham Hotspur and five members of the first team – Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovern and Calum Chambers – in wallet-busting moves during the transfer window, the Saints were understandably predicted a torrid time.

How they have dealt with those departures, bringing in a number of replacements and incorporating them so swiftly after a summer of upheaval is outstanding. New boss Ronald Koeman’s ability to introduce a redesigned strike force while maintaining the discipline at the back has deservedly got them up to second. How they fare for the rest of the season, and whether they will be able to maintain their form, is the quandary.

While they face both Manchester sides and an away tie at Arsenal over the next month, Southampton know all three are beatable. If the Saints are to progress for a third season in a row, this tough pre-Christmas fixture list is the perfect opportunity to state their intentions. And this comes after they were defeated just twice through 2013/14 against the three sides.

Now with a team capable of scoring multiple times against table-topping opponents, an issue they were unable to overcome last year, Southampton have created an unyielding squad: defiant in defence, convincing in attack. Importantly, Koeman has galvanized a resolute defence with the additions of Fraser Forster, Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand. By utilising the full-backs fully, encouraging them to plow forward, reward has come by the way of Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne chipping in with three goals.

Conceding once in five matches, Southampton, are a demanding test for City to face after a zapping European game, if they want the title, this is the opportunity to show it.

Betting Instinct tip – Southampton have shown their mettle this season conceding just six goals, up against a tired Man City side from midweek back fewer than 2.5 goals at 2/1 with intertops.eu

 FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter

Weakened Man City look to pour misery on Spurs

Yaya Touré has sometimes struggled to find his form after international duty

Yaya Touré has sometimes struggled to find his form after international duty

Thirteen seconds. That’s all it took. Manchester City required no more time. Giant flags adorning the golden eagle motif were still being hauled over the crowd as the ball crossed the line; chants ditched mid-chorus for euphoric celebrations. A Hugo Lloris miskick here, a palmed Sergio Agüero shot there, and Jesus Navas sent the rebound exquisitely over the French goalkeeper to give City the lead.  The goal, less than a quarter of a minute into the game, was the joint quickest in Premier League history. Manager André Villas Boas watched on, unable to motivate his Spurs side, who eventually conceded another five.

 

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 1.45

Spurs win 6.5

Draw 4.15

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

That high-tempo, destructive dismantling by Manuel Pellergrini’s team last November was uncharacteristic in nature for the previously rational coach.

After a summer of defensive reinforcements, though, he looks to have returned to type. An average of 2.68 goals a game in 2013/14 has now dropped to 2, as City stumbled through the opening barrages of the season. A home defeat to Stoke preceded draws against Arsenal and Chelsea, before victories over Hull and Aston Villa put them second before the international break.

Although already five points behind Chelsea, City are realistically the London side’s only title rivals. Considering they are yet to ‘click’, it bodes well they are still in a position to chase. The Champions League, however, is once again proving a chastising experience for City, where they currently sit third in Group E on one point. Injuries and energy consuming continental trips, combined with the late return of Yaya Touré from Ivory Coast duties, have caused selection problems for Pellegrini.

 

Part of the side to lose 4-3 in their Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier to the D.R. Congo, Touré continued his goal-scoring form, drawing level early on for The Elephants through a thunderous 25-yard strike. But with his arrival back in Manchester possibly as close as 24 hours before Saturday’s midday kick-off, and then a trip to Russia for Tuesday’s match against CSKA Moscow, Pellegrini will have to deliberate whether to rest the midfielder or not.

After a slow start, following a difficult summer, Touré began to show glimpses of his previous best away to Villa, bursting forward late on and disrupting tired back lines. It is a role that’s proved rewarding against Tottenham this season, as Liverpool exploited in August, highlighting Spurs’ defensive weaknesses when facing two upfront, using quick transitions and overlaps from an advancing midfielder.

City’s preferred 4-4-2 formation gives them the advantage of being able to run directly at the centre-backs, and with Fernando expected to be fit they do not have to worry about leaving space in the centre of midfield. The ability to adapt, though, especially in the closing stages, moving to a 4-3-3, has been one of City’s great traits. Pellegrini’s side have scored nine of their 14 Premier League tally in the second half so far this season, seven coming in the final ten minutes.

 

For Tottenham, the match 11 months ago propelled the calls for Villas-Boas’s dismissal, and within three weeks he was out, sacked following another shellacking, on this occasion 5-0 to Liverpool. Tim Sherwood’s gilet-inspired tenure turned out as expected, hindering the club and slowing the integration of so many new players.

More is predicted of Mauricio Pochettino, however. While the football has not been to everyone’s liking, and at times as turgid as that played previously, the high-pressing, possession-based philosophy he wants to set down will take time. Injuries to goalkeeper-cum-sweeper Lloris and top-scorer Nacer Chadli, who are both possible absentees on Saturday, may slow that progress even further.

But as we reach a busy section of fixtures for City, and injuries of their own accumulate, Spurs have the chance to build on their nerve-wracking 1-0 win at home to Southampton. If they are to achieve their top four dream, then this is the best opportunity to prove they’re capable of overcoming like-minded opposition.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Draw half-time and Manchester City to win full-time is 4.25 with AllYouBet.ag

 

FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter