WEDNESDAY JANUARY 11TH
Lots of interesting matches today and we also have a couple more tomorrow, along with some more golf action, when the PGA Tour moves to Honolulu, the venue for the Sony Open.
Straight into the action and lets start in the EPL. I would have been very keen on Everton at White Hart Lane, getting a full ball handicap start over Tottenham, but the absence of Phil Jagielka is a big concern. The Toffees are a very tight defensive unit, keeper Tim Howard has only made an average of one save per EPL start this season and it is 15 games since they lost by more than a single goal. They have a solid record in this fixture, losing on just two of six visits to North London and manager David Moyes has come out on the wrong side only three times in 15 h2h battles with Harry Redknapp.
However, Jagielka leads the team in total clearances, has attempted the most defensive tackles and won the most defensive headers, obviously he will be sorely missed and the Distin- Heitinga partnership whilst adequate, is not quite as solid. Actually, Distin has started in four of the five games in which Everton have conceded two or more goals.
Even though Spurs will be without both Ledley King and William Gallas from the centre of their defence, the loss of Jagielka and the very young visiting bench, is just enough for me to swerve this one. However, Everton ALWAYS come on strong in the second half of the season and they are already two points better off than at the same stage last season when they finished seventh, so don't totally rule them out of that "best of the rest" placing just yet. Let's see how they play tonight and what happens in the next week or so in the transfer window and then we can review the situation.
It is cup week in most of the other major european leagues and the Copa del Rey fixture between Sevilla- Valencia catches my attention. Los Che arrive with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, they will be pleased to have kept a clean sheet in that and they will probably come looking for the goal that would then require the hosts to score three to advance. Sevilla have named a very strong squad tonight, adding Navas, Perotti and Varsas into the mix, one or more having missed recent starts and all look set to play. Hosts have a terrific record, both home and away in this match up, but at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium, it is outstanding, they are 7-2-0 in the last nine meetings, also keeping six clean sheets. The visitors arrive on the back of a 2-2 draw at Villarreal, where they made a couple of very poor defensive errors and they are a little beat up, with only one available keeper and looking to nurse several key players back to fitness, coach Unai Emery is looking to get involved in the transfer market, but appears keen on progression in the competition. I have discussed their position in La Liga before, they look booked for third spot, almost regardless of what happens, but do at least have Europa League involvement to look forward to and with some very big clubs involved in that now, the competition is being viewed in a slightly more favourable light, for Sevilla, out of Europe and only one of possibly eight teams battling for that "remaining" top four place, this is a realistic chance to earn some silverware. I favour Sevilla, especially with Valencia "happy" to lose 2-1 or 3-2 and Emery indicating that his team will sit back if scoring. Jose Antonio Reyes will make his home debut tonight after returning to the club, he left in 2004 , that adds an extra flavour to the game and he will be welcomed home like a long lost son, motivated home team and crowd to edge this one and remember the late goals in Valencia games we discussed ahead of their match with Betis, they equalised in the 88th minute at Villarreal at the weekend and this could also see late action for those betting "in running". 1.5 units Sevilla -0.25 ball 2.12 asian line.
In France, the goals have tended to flow, at least by normal French standards in League Cup fixtures recently, especially in the latter stages of the competition, the last round saw six of the eight games go "over" with all averaging exactly 3.0 goals, last year these quarter finals also averaged 3.0 and last night the Caen- Marseille produced, yes, you guessed it, three goals. Looking at the games tonight, Olympique Lyon host Lille and despite what both might say .............. rest of the notes and two strong selections are not available on the blog.