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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Five punting strategies to enhance the new football season

The Thursday column

Wilf Zaha has had a great pre-season for Palace
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Every year at this time, with the new season about to kick off and our hearts filled with hope, I evangelise about the magnificence of ante-post football betting and the value a punter gets from wagers that can last nine months as opposed to the modern fad of blowing a few quid on the mindless issue of whether there will be a throw-in in the next ten minutes.

And this year I shall do the same albeit with the caveat that the boy Trump and the boy Kim (or is it the boy Un?) might combine to make paying out slightly tricky come next May due to the small matter of nuclear Armageddon.

August is a bad time for committing funds to a nine-month project what with holidays and the like, but money invested on an each-way divisional yankee provides months of fascination and intrigue, even if the result is usually trauma.

That was the case for me last season when I spent an agonising half-hour pacing around the garden desperate for Plymouth Argyle to score a winner at Grimsby that would have won me enough to buy a high-quality German car. It didn’t materialise but the pain has evaporated and now we go again.

The trouble is, of course, we don’t know the full runners and riders because the pesky transfer window does not close until the end of the month and it feels like there is still a significant amount of key trading to be done.

Liverpool without Coutinho, United with Bale, Spurs without Rose and Arsenal without Sanchez would all require major reassessments of their chances, but based on what we know now, and suspect might happen, here are five potential avenues of punting pleasure to pursue.

1 Be a Tottenham fan
No way, you’re shouting. They are playing at Wembley and they haven’t bought anyone. Right, let’s deal with those concerns. Yes, they are playing at Wembley and, yes, there are small scraps of evidence from European campaigns hosted there rather than at other north London grounds that it is a potential handicap.

But, while I accept visiting teams may raise their game beneath the arch, it is still just a football pitch, Spurs will have far more people cheering them on than at the Lane and if you look at club and international results played at the national stadium it is hard to detect any major trend towards the better team winning disproportionately few matches.

As for the lack of transfer activity, that’s a good thing in my book. This is a progressive team that is maturing and improving. Its only weakness is a lack of squad depth.

If everyone stays largely fit I believe Spurs are blinding each-way value at 10-1 with bet365 who, along with Sky Bet, are commendably offering a fifth the odds the first three places.

2 Oppose Chelsea
This may sound like a daft idea, given they won the title so easily last term, but there are a couple of factors that could cause them to struggle in their bid to retain the crown.

For a start they must play European football again this season, which will remove the freshness advantage they enjoyed over their rivals last term during which they played, for example, 17 fewer matches than Manchester United.

Then we have what looks to me like a timebomb waiting to explode in Antonio Conte, who, while it may have been cool and calculated positioning designed to strengthen his hand, expressed doubts about his future in the close season and is, by accounts, the most spectacular dummy-spitter in football when things don’t go well.

He is also a superb manager, which is why things did go so well last season, but it feels like Chelsea are too short. I will oppose them in match bets with Tottenham and lay them for a top three finish at around 8-11.

3 Beautiful Bournemouth
This column’s recent plea for bookmakers to bet without the big seven in the Premier League did not fall entirely on deaf ears, with Betway doing the honours, and I’m pleased to see they are not mad about Bournemouth because I certainly am.

The Cherries, under their superb manager Eddie Howe, have bought a significantly better goalie in Asmir Begovic and further progress is anticipated this term, with Josh King a potentially interesting longshot for the Golden Boot.

Betway make them 8-1 without the division’s most illustrious septet and that looks well worth a bash.

They are also attractive in a number of match bets, not least the widely available 4-5 that they finish above West Brom. On the subject of match bets, it is annoying that so few firms offer multiples.

Obviously you cannot expect to be able to back one team to finish above two others in a double but if each of your selections and their opponents feature only once in the same wager it should be possible to have multiples to your heart’s content.

4 Zaha’s time has come
The wonderful Wilf Zaha has looked unstoppable in pre-season and, provided referees give him the protection he needs from the increasingly crude methods opponents are using to stop him, he is worth a couple of quid at 100-1 to be PFA Player of the Year.

5 Bye bye Barca
Amid all the hysteria surrounding the cost of Neymar’s transfer, it has gone largely overlooked that Barcelona have lost a player who was barely inferior to the mighty Messi last year and will leave a huge hole that money cannot fill.

Coutinho is a tremendous player but he cannot possibly compensate for the loss of his fellow Brazilian and I shall be lumping on Real Madrid for La Liga and opposing Barca in whatever variety of ways I can find. 

Popular broadcasters entitled to standing ovations

One sports broadcasting era ended this week, and another threatens to if reports are to be believed (albeit the reports, or rather report, comes from the same source that rather bizarrely claimed last week I have taken Racing Blogger Stephen Power under my wing, which is untrue so this may well be too).

The one we know about is that after 22 years Helen Chamberlain has presented her last Soccer AM, Sky’s Saturday morning show that for most people aged 50 or younger has at some time in their life provided gentle amusement while they were sprawled on their sofa trying to shake off the hangover and suss the afternoon’s acca.

Having found the show largely unmissable for the final few years of the 20th century I lapsed in recent times, mainly because Tim Lovejoy’s journey deep into his own backside was unpleasant to watch. But I found myself drawn back in last season, when the familiar formula provided a source of fond nostalgia.

Chamberlain had evolved from ladette to mother hen, keeping everyone in check and maintaining her enthusiasm admirably, and, whether she was pushed or decided she’d had enough, she can return to the pavilion with her bat held sky high.

Hopefully an interesting new project awaits this extremely likeable and capable broadcaster.

Quite what the future holds for Alan Brazil remains to be seen. As mentioned earlier, it is rumoured he is under pressure as Talksport’s Breakfast Show host due to falling listener figures, although given he has not changed his style one iota in the 18 years he has been presenting the show it is hard to know why the finger of blame should be pointing his way, if indeed it even is.

It is remarkable that Brazil has completed 18 years. This is a show that should not work. The former Ipswich forward could not be further from the mould of a typical radio host if he tried.

He does, by his own admission, little research. He misses the odd show after energetically taking on fluids soon after the previous one has ended and he stretches the term political incorrectness to the limits on occasions.

But, and this is the key, a large swathe of the population like listening to him. They can relate to him. They warm to him.

In broadcasting if they like you you will be a success even if you do not spend hours preparing every show, and people like Brazil.

In the history of Racing Post book publishing his two titles have been our best-sellers by miles, and I have been in his company when listeners have flocked to shake his hand and say hello.

It should also not go unrecognised that his passion for racing has done the sport abundant good, with his broadcasts from the big meetings, not least Cheltenham, providing a lot of promotional value.

The Today Programme it is not, but the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast is, at its best, fun and lively, and whenever its time is up, its host will be entitled to raise a couple of fingers to his critics and say he lasted longer than any of them ever thought possible.

Liverpool without Coutinho, United with Bale, Spurs without Rose and Arsenal without Sanchez would all require major reassessments of their chances
E.W. Terms
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