31st August Serie A

Cesena vs Parma @2.35

Parma had a decent time of things last season, and will be pushing for a European place or at the very least a solid top-half finish. Francesco Lodi will be looking to make his first start for the away side after his summer move from Catania. He showed real threat in the playmaking role last season, despite a poor campaign for Catania whom he rejoined halfway through the season. Lodi can also offer a good set piece delivery, but will be in contention for a starting place with Jorquera who comes in. Belfodil could start up front, and although found goals hard to come by at Livorno to say the least, is a decent striker on his day. The main threats will probably come from wide, with Cassano drifting in and becoming a creative influence, and Biabiany on the other wing offering a completely different threat of pace. Paletta and Lucarelli are solid at the back, and newly promoted Cesena may struggle to control the possession and move into the opposition third to trouble them. The home side have a seemingly stronger squad than last season, but will most likely take time to settle and work together. They are heavily reliant on loans, being on a cash-strapped budget. Its yet to be seen what tinkering will be done with the starting line-up, but Marilungo could be the danger up-front. Their defence could be have a strong Atalanta contingent, with loan signings coming in from Bergamo, for their sake I hope it doesn’t prove to be a makeshift and shakey opener in-front of the home fans.

I would favour Parma here, who will be setting their sights far higher than the home side this season. On paper Cesena look kind of thrown together, and may take time to adapt to life back in Serie A. Parma have a solid unit and, although not adding to their squad too much in the summer, have retained their main players from last season and would expect to worry Cesena and get off to a good start. The price for a Parma win seems good and I think probably too favourable to the home side due to the unpredictable nature of a new team coming up. But like I said previously, I just don’t think Cesena have the resources to trouble Parma too much at the moment. Probably wouldn’t go for overs on the goals front, purely because the home side may put up a solid defence and frustrate Parma, but it is possible that Cesena will be disorganised and/or struggle with Biabiany’s pace. Overall I’d say Parma are a good pick on what is a relatively tough day of fixtures on Serie A gameweek 1.

Udinese @1.80 vs Empoli

Udinese are another side who will hope to push up into the top half of the table and challenge for European places this season, after struggling at times in the previous campaign. Antonio di Natale will lead the line once more, and looks in good form if pre-season is anything to go by. He will most likely be joined by Thereau, who is similarly good on the ball and was a pretty decent partner for Paloschi at Chievo last season. There is the potential for a partnership here in Muriel’s absence from the starting line-up, which should be welcomed by di Natale who looked isolated at times last season. They also signed Panagiotis Kone from relegated Bologna, who can play an attacking role from midfield, out wide or further forward. Empoli look a much more inexperienced side to be going into a Serie A campaign. They will probably start with Tavano up-front, offering the main goal threat after scoring 23 goals in Serie B last season. But the veteran 35 year old will likely miss his strike partner Massimo Maccarone through a slight injury. Verdi could also be a force for the away side going forward, although it is yet to be seen if the youngster’s tricky style will live up to its potential in the top flight.

I’ve picked out this game a decent value for an opening day game, with Udinese notably good at home in recent times. Empoli look like they may struggle with Serie A to begin with, and are not up to the same sort of standard that we saw from the Serie B winners of last season Palermo. Udinese weren’t free-scoring last season and still rely heavily on the goalscoring exploits of di Natale, but I think that they have steadies their team more so for this coming season than in the past where they have become used to losing their stars in the transfer market. Thus, again, I would hesitate to bet on goals in this game and there is a slightly unpredictable nature around Udinese with the arrival of new manager Stramaccioni. However, I think the home side have more than enough about them to see off newly promoted Empoli here.

Other games

AC Milan take on Lazio at the San Siro, in what may prove to be a close encounter. Milan should have the much awaited return of El Shaarawy to aid them this season, and he could be involved from the right. This may be Milan’s main avenue of attack with Abate going forward also, probably causing Radu problems but potentially leaving themselves exposed to Candreva. The home side could go with Pazzini and Menez up front, which won’t set Milan fans’ world alight, but may be dangerous in the box if they can get the service from out wide. Mexes and de Sciglio are rules out through suspension, and Lazio have Marchetti seemingly out through injury. Its a tough one to call, with Milan’s strength and team cohesion difficult to gauge under new boss Inzaghi and a pretty depleted team sheet it has to be said. On paper, its pretty evenly matched in all areas. Its the sort of game you want to avoid on the first day of the season. Under 2.5 goals might be an option though, with neither side looking spectacular in the attacking department, although the price around 1.8 isn’t hugely attractive.

Torino and Inter face each other at the Stadio Olimpico in what also should be a pretty tough game for both sides. Inter look stronger on paper, particularly with Torino losing their top marksman Ciro Immobile in the summer, however Ventura’s side are notably good at home – proving very tough to beat in the past couple of seasons. If it was at the San Siro, I would probably be on Inter, but it seems foolish to bet against Torino at the Olimpico this early on. The home side have a few players missing, but they should still be strong and able to counter well, with the likes of Cerci cutting in from the right aided by Darmian, and Quagliarella taking up his spot up top. Kovacic, Icardi, Hernanes could all start and provide attacking threat for Inter, and their wing-backs Nagatomo and Jonathan should be bombing forward as usual. This could lead to an open game, but it could also get congested in the middle of the pitch if the ball is constantly played down the wings without the play being stretched methodically. I’d probably favour a draw here, but again its a tough one this early on in the season.

Napoli have a trip to the Luigi Ferraris to play Genoa to look forward to on the opening day. Odds of a Napoli win are around evens, which quite a few people will probably go for here. Genoa have been busy in the summer transfer window, notably bringing in Pinilla who will probably start in Matri’s absence and Perotti who could provide a threat on the wing. Napoli will be pretty much unchanged from last season, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they will be on a bit of a downer having missed out on Champions League qualification through the playoffs against Bilbao in the week. I’d be slightly more hesitant of betting on Napoli than most. Genoa have a reasonable team, and Pinilla can score goals up front. They are unpredictable in their approach, and may take time to gel together as a squad, but they will fancy a home game and it is yet to be seen how the visitors will come out and tackle this game after their big disappointment in Europe. If I had to choose, I would say Napoli to win, but I think it has potential upset written on it.

Verona travel to Bergamo to play Atalanta in a game which should be another close call. Atalanta are another side with a reputation of being hard to beat at home, so Verona will have a job on their hands. The home side are relatively unchanged from last season – their retain Denis up front, supported most likely by Moralez. Bonaventura, who impressed in spells last season, will probably start from the right and look to be their main creative threat along with Cigarini from midfield. Hellas have lost Iturbe and Romulo, and look to Christodoulopoulos coming in to hopefully offer support to Toni from out wide. It remains to be seen how Verona can cope without their main stars from the start of last season when they began the campaign so well, but you’d have to say they may struggle. However they are capable of surprises and Luca Toni can pop up with a goal on many an occasion. If pushed, I’d go for a home win here at around evens.

Newly promoted Palermo start their 2014/15 campaign off at home to Sampdoria after they ran away with the Serie B title last season. Unfortunately for them, it looks like their main star Hernandez is on the move, so Dybala is favourite to start up top. Neither team have really changed to much from last season, with the visitors missing Bergessio. They will most likely also be without Gabbiadini. Sansone impressed at times in 2013/14 and will probably be partnered by Okaka in attack with Eder from he right although he could be deployed up top. Krsticic and Palombo look set to continue in the middle of the pitch. Sampdoria look slightly better on paper, although their inconsistency and the fact that Palermo are back in Serie A playing at home could mean a close game and probably one to avoid from a betting perspective.

30th August Picks

Werder Bremen vs Hoffenheim @2.15

This one isn’t straight forward, and is based predominantly on the performance of Hoffenheim last week and the strength of their attacking line compared to Bremen. Werder came back into their game against Hertha to draw 2-2, but they weren’t convincing and another slow start this weekend could again be punished. Hoffenheim, in general, will create more chances than Bremen and I expect Szalai, Volland and Firmino in particular to be more dangerous throughout. Over 2.5 goals is likely, but a predictably poor price.

(Confidence 6/10)

Watford @1.80 vs Huddersfield

Huddersfield are improving after a chaotic start. They managed an impressive away win at Reading and a draw against Charlton. However, I’ve been impressed with Watford, and on their day can look very good going forward. They had a blip when they lost away to Norwich, but apart from that they’ve been in top form and scoring plenty of goals. Last week Watford smashed Leeds 4-1, having 21 shots and their opponents having none on target 4 in total. Forestieri looked very good, along with Deeney who has just committed his future to the club, plus they have the likes of Vydra to come in. If the home side win, it could easily be by 2 goals, thus I would strongly consider Watford -1 @2.90.

(Confidence 8/10)

Colchester vs Peterborough @2.40

Peterborough, aside from a slip in a tough game against Sheffield United, have had a good start tot he season, winning their other 3 league games. Colchester’s games have been reasonably close, but they have only come away from their first 4 games with 1 point. Its possible for the home side to get a result here, but the price being offered on the away side, who sit second in the table, seems too good. I’m yet to see anyone backing Colchester in this game.

(Confidence 7/10)

Cheltenham @2.10 vs Hartlepool

The home side are unbeaten on 10 points, with some good results under their belt so far, and are up against a Hartlepool team who have lost 3 and won 1. Their win last weekend was a good one against AFC Wimbledon, but I think they will struggle to come away with points away from home for the second consecutive game. The odds seem good on the home team here, and were most probably boosted by a surprise 2-1 win for their opponents last weekend, but the gap in quality still seemingly remains.

(Confidence 7/10)

Bury @1.70 vs Accrington

Bury had a reasonably tough opening day fixture against Cheltenham, which they lost 1-0, but have since turned their fortunes around and sit on 7 points following wins against Hartlepool and Plymouth. Both teams have drawn against Luton, but Accrington have lost their other 3 games and lie second bottom in the table. The home side should have the quality to see them off here.

(Confidence 8/10)

Portsmouth @2.10 vs Newport

The home side look in great form, winning their last 3. Newport, although having played reasonably tough fixtures so far, look pretty poor and understandably sit hovering around the bottom of the table despite a respectable draw against Burton last time out. Playing at home, I would expect Portsmouth to continue their good run of form here and take all 3 points, maybe not by a huge margin, but better than evens appears to be a good price here.

(Confidence 7/10)