Everton v Liverpool – Merseyside Derby Preview with best bets

It is always one of the most highly anticipated clashes of the season and tomorrow is no different, as the 219th Merseyside Derby approaches.

Everton go into the game with a spring in their step after a brilliant start to the season, which has surprised many. Over the past few years we have become accustomed to an extremely slow start by The Toffees, before picking up form and putting together a rattling run post Christmas. This always begs the question ‘What would happen if Everton actually started a season well?’. Now we have the chance to find out.

Champions League qualification looks to be an audacious aim this year, but European qualification of some kind looks extremely realistic. This is partly down to their big Croatian finisher, Nikica Jelavic.

Jelavic has started this season the way he finished the last, and his incredible one touch finishing is causing defences in the Premier League all-sorts of problems. The link up play between himself, Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini has been key in the amount of goals that the team have been scoring. As-well as helping them become the side that have hit the woodwork the most times in the league, having hit it on ten occasions.

Unfortunately for Everton, Pienaar misses the Derby after picking up two yellow cards against QPR last weekend. It was a decision that was highly contentious and Everton have the right to feel aggrieved  However this week they have received a massive boost as Fellaini, who had initially looked set to miss the game after picking up an injury last month, has been ruled fit to play.

He will be responsible for holding up the ball, and breaking up the three man midfield that Liverpool adopt. He will be key in making sure Joe Allen doesn’t get his foot on the ball and begin to dictate the tempo. He is a fiery character and loves to through in a robust challenge. With the tempo the game is going to be played at, it would be no surprise to see the Belgian pick up a booking.

Everton start favourites for the game for the first time in a long while, and David Moyes said it is up to them to live up to the tag.

However it won’t be easy as these games never are. Liverpool have had a chequered start to the season, but seem to be coming into a bit of form. The Reds haven’t conceded in their last three games, with Brad Jones keeping two clean sheets in two starts. Pepe Reina looks set to be fit for the game, so it will be a tough choice for Brendan Rodgers as to who he selects to start in goal.

Elsewhere there are no new injury worries, but after an impressive performance on Thursday evening by a number of players who wouldn’t have really been challenging for a place on Sunday, Rodgers has numerous selection headaches.

Oussama Assaidi particularly impressed with his direct running and skill against Anzhi and with him potentially having Tony Hibbert to run at, Rodgers may seriously think about giving the Moroccan a start. He has pace and skill, and would be able to cause Hibbert numerous problems with sheer pace and trickery as opposed to the supreme technical ability of Suso who pose a different threat.

Suarez and Sterling look two definite starters and will cause the Everton defence the most problems. Sterling is fearless and Rodgers is confident that he won’t be bullied by Everton’s likely rough tactics on the 17 year old. He opened his Premier League account last weekend against Reading before coming on and changing the game on Thursday. Confidence is high and he will be looking to harness all the positive energy into a massive performance in a big game, which he is yet to really do.

Suarez has been having a hard time of things of late, due to his ‘diving’ claims. So referee’s are tending to not give the Uruguayan anything which has also been making the news. The Everton defence is rather static and lacks pace (with the exception of Leighton Baines) and Suarez will be looking to exploit this with his trickery. It is only a matter of time before he manages to win a penalty, and tomorrow could be the day.

Finally, the key man for Liverpool, has to be Mr Merseyside Derby, Steven Gerrard. Gerrard has been in poor form this year by his high standards, but saved his best 90 minutes for the game against United. He comes into his own in big games and will be relishing the chance to go up against his Merseyside rivals once more. He managed to get a hat-trick in the fixture at Anfield last year and will be looking to get on the score-sheet once more.

Best Bets:

1 point: Steven Gerrard to score any-time – 11/4 (Various)

1 point: Nikica Jelavic to score first – 7/1 (Various)

1 point: Everton/Draw (HT/FT) – 16/1 (StanJames)

3 points: Fellaini to be booked – 11/8 (BlueSquare)

1 point: Jelavic FGS – 1-1 – 60/1 – (William Hill)

Five National Hunt Horses to follow in 2012/13

With just over a month until the National Hunt season gets back into full swing with the Cheltenham Open meeting, it seems the right time to highlight a few horses who I think will have a successful season.

Finian’s Rainbow (Nicky Henderson): We’ll start with the horse who has many options over the coming months which will shape where he will end up come March. Finian’s Rainbow signed off last seasons campaign with an ultra-impressive performance in the Melling Chase at Aintree, routing a high-class field with consummate ease. It was the first time he had stepped back up to two and a half miles since he finished fifth in the Neptune at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival, and it looked as though he definitely benefited from the extra furlongs as he finished best of all, showing no signs of stopping. It will be interesting to see if Mr Henderson decides to step him up even further and allow him a chance over three miles, which could result in him taking on the big boys in the Gold Cup, which would be a race to savour. The current 33/1 on offer for him to win the Gold Cup is based purely on the fact he is unlikely to turn up, as on the day he would go off a single figure price. The two likelier alternatives for March are the Queen Mother Champion Chase, which he managed to win last March, where he would face top-class stablemate Sprinter Sacre, or the Ryanair Chase. I don’t think trainer Nicky Henderson would really want to run Finian’s against Sprinter Sacre, so the Ryanair looks the likeliest option at this stage, and I would advise everyone to get stuck into the 7/1 on offer at the moment and hope he ends up there come March.

Pique Sous (Willie Mullins): Another one to follow this year comes from the Willie Mullins stable in the shape of Pique Sous. The 5yo ran well in a number of National Hunt Flat races, winning three out of five, and finishing a respectable third in the Cheltenham bumper at the festival. His first hurdle run was on ground that he absolutely hated but he still ran well to finish second behind a potential decent type, and had it not been for a mistake three out, he could possibly had won it. The horse is crying out for decent ground and when he gets it he will take all the beating, he travels well, stays and seemed to take to hurdles like a natural with the exception of one mistake. Mullins always excels with these types and it will be interesting to see what route he takes to Cheltenham but you can be assured he will be mopping up races in Ireland before venturing over for the Supreme Novice’ come March. The current price of 25/1 won’t be around long, and with him due to come out at Punchestown within the next week, the price could fall dramatically.

Dynaste (David Pipe): David Pipe’s big grey leapt onto the scene last year when destroying a massive field in a Grade 3 at Haydock, which put him into many peoples notebooks as one to watch. Unfortunately that was his sole win of last season, but he did put up numerous valiant performances in defeat. He went on to run three more times, all behind the imperious Big Bucks, with the most impressive performance coming in the Cleeve Hurdle when he looked the most likely winner three out before Big Bucks did what he does best and ground out the result.  Pipe looks set to give Dynaste a chance of jumps this year, which means he won’t have to face his old nemesis again, and the 6yo looks set for a big season. Having always jumped immaculately, it seemed the right choice to let him have a crack at fences, and he looks to have a big season in store with the aim looking set to be RSA, for which he is currently a best-priced 16/1.

Ange Blanc (Noel Meade): Noel Meade’s 4yo has only been seen on the racecourse once, but it was enough to highlight just how much potential he has. He went off 7/2 co-favourite of three, and eased around the outside of the whole field with ease to win by two and a half lengths, hands and heels from the well touted and half-brother to Kauto Star, Kauto Grand Mogol. He is out of a half-sister to the yards old inmate Harchibald, and his performance has led him to be purchased by the well known Gigginstown House Stud. Due to the fact he will be running in such illustrious colours, we may not be able to get the best prices but there are definitely many races to be won with him this year.

Spirit of Shankly (Charlie Longsdon): The son of Sulumani made his debut on the polytrack at Kempton last year, going off a well-backed 4/1 shot before disappointing in seventh place. He clearly wasn’t a fan of the surface and managed to bounce back next time out destroying the field in a Stratford bumper under Richard Johnson. The impressive claimer Kielan Woods regained the ride this month as he made his first outing of the new season, again routing the field by nine lengths, in what seemed a strong bumper at Market Rasen. He looks a likely improver and Charlie Longsdon has a lot to look forward to when this 4yo embarks on a hurdling campaign.

The Premier League – Who to follow, and updated bets.

The Premier League is well under way and it is clear to see there are numerous surprise packages and potential superstars in the offing, as-well as established top class players, cementing their status.

Five Key Men:

1) Nikica Jelavic: The Everton man has started this season, the way he finished the last. He has bagged 4 goals already, even with missing out two weeks of the season through injury. His one touch finishing is a key factor for Everton’s success this season, and with the support he is receiving from Fellaini he looks set to continue shooting up the goalscoring charts. I advised a bet on the Croatian before the season started to finish top-scorer at 28/1 and he is now a best priced 16/1, so you can afford to lay the bet off for a small profit if you wish. But with Everton’s fixture list, it may pay to wait until more towards Christmas time after the Croat has banged in a fair few more goals.

2) Santi Cazorla: The Arsenal creative midfielder has been one of the finds of the year. After impressing in his first season at Malaga last year, Arsene Wenger seen enough potential to bring the Spaniard to the Emirates in an attempt to fill the void left by Fabregas. He is key to any success Arsenal will have this year, with the link-up play he is going to have, between Ramsey/Arteta and the front three. He knows where the goal is, as shown by his return of 9 goals last year from Midfield when still at Malaga. He has already scored two this year for new club Arsenal and could reach double figures before the end of the season.

3) Fernando Torres: After enduring a torrid opening to his Chelsea career, El Nino has finally began to regain the form he showed at Liverpool. His finishing is exceptional, and he will create chances out of nothing. His partnership with Eden Hazard is enough to scare any defenders and the fact that Chelsea are already four points clear is partly down to the Spaniard finding his shooting boots. He has bagged four so far this season in the Prem, and the 11/1 I advised pre-season has now disappeared and he is now a best priced 13/2. This still looks a brilliant bet, with the way Chelsea have started the season, and I expect him to score 20+.

4) Rickie Lambert: The ex-Beetroot factory worker has answered all his critics who questioned just how well he would when stepping up to the Premier League. The Liverpudlian has been key in Southampton’s opening few games, and has managed to help his side out of the relegation zone, although they still sit in a precarious 17th place. He can play as a lone striker with great conviction and comparisons with Grant Holt at Norwich are fair, as both have magnificent hold up play as well as tremendous power and a deadly finish. If Southampton are to stay up, Lambert will be the key man to keep them up.

5) Joe Hart: Many people’s choice as the Worlds best goalkeeper, and it is hard to disagree after the consistent performances the Englishman has put in. He has started the season in inspired form and although City have conceded a lot more goals than they would have liked, it could have been a lot worse had it not been for Hart. His positioning is second-to-none and it allows him to make plenty of saves that other ‘keepers would have no chance of getting near. Manchester City have conceded twice as many goals as Chelsea have, and Mancini will be looking to shape up his defence. However, if Manchester City are to retain their title, a lot of it will come down to the performances of Joe Hart.

Five to watch:

1) David de Gea: David de Gea has responded well to the heavy criticism he faced due to a number of poor performances last year, staking his claim to keep the number one spot this year, ahead of Anders Lindegaard. De Gea has always been renowned as a brilliant shot-stopper, but his positional awareness and command of his box, has often been disappointing. He lost his place against Spurs, as Fergie opted to give Lindegaard his chance between the sticks, but after conceding three, it looks likely he will be be relegated to the bench once more. If United are to mount a serious challenge to claim their 20th league title, a lot will rest on clean sheets, so de Gea will be of key importance. He knows this is his chance to prove himself as a world-class ‘keeper, and this will be a massive season for him.

2) Matt Jarvis: Jarvis turned heads in the summer when breaking West Ham’s club record transfer fee, for over £10 million. He had a successful career but will be under a substantial amount of pressure from the Hammers faithful to deliver. However, he seems to have slotted in to the way Allardyce goes about his football perfectly. Last season he was the most accurate Premier League crosser, and the most frequent, with 56 finding a team-mate out of 218 crosses, and with the loan addition of Andy Carroll, he will have a brilliant target to aim at. He never fails to track back and his work-rate is excellent, he looks set to be in for a brilliant season which could really kick-start the 26 year-old’s career.

3) Suso: Brendan Rodgers has put his faith in the products of the Liverpool youth academy and Suso is possibly the most exciting prospect. The Spaniard slipped under the radar following all of the fuss about 17 year-old Raheem Sterling, but the creativeness of Suso is something that Liverpool have lacked for a long time. He is one step ahead of defenders and has the talent to actually create an end product in the final third. His debut against Manchester United was incredibly impressive, and he didn’t let the occasion overwhelm him as he showed he was fearless, with his direct running at some of the best midfielder’s and defenders in the world. He has put in numerous brilliant performances at Youth and Reserve level, and the partnership he struck up with Suarez during the Norwich game was enough to excite Liverpool fans across the globe. He looks set to be given plenty more chances by Rodgers and by the end of the season he could well have established himself as a key first-team member.

4) Romelu Lukaku: The West Brom forward who is on-loan from Chelsea is one of the rawest talents in the league. His physical presence is massive and the 19 year-old Belgian has the perfect mix of pace and power. He failed to cement a starting place at Stamford Bridge but Steve Clarke has said Lukaku will be getting a number of first-team opportunities at The Hawthorns. He often brushes past defences with his direct running style, but his finishing often lets him down. Clarke will aim to get the best out of the big man during his time at the club and if he can improve his finishing, he will be a massive hit. He has the potential to become one of the best target-men in the league, as he has incredible pace to go with his strength and tremendous aerial ability. It is going to be a massive season, and it would be no surprise to see him become a massive success, and we could well see him partnering Fernando Torres up-top next season at the Bridge.

5) Michu: One of the shrewdest pieces of business during the transfer windows has to be Laudrup bringing in ex Rayo Vallenco star Michu. He was the highest scoring midfielder in La Liga last season with 15 goals, alongside his 3 assists and 5 Man of the Match performances. He has adapted well to the English game and has already scored 5 this season, impressing pundits with his passionate performances, intricate passing and brilliant finishing. He will be key to Swansea’s attempt to avoid relegation and he is more than a fitting replacement for Gylfi Sigurdsson. A big season is in store for the Spaniard and he will be hoping his decision to turn down bigger clubs for the Swans, will be a worthwhile venture.


0.5 points: Santi Cazorla – PFA Player of the Year @ 14/1 – Paddy Power

0.5 points: Fernando Torres – PFA Player of the Year @ 16/1 – Paddy Power

3 points: West Brom – Top Midlands Club @ Evens – BetVictor