Ed Chamberlin: Bolt from the blue
Ed Chamberlin reflects on the recent Premier League action and has his best bets in the football and racing worlds.
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For the first time this season, the Premier League's big guns have fired. The champions, Manchester City, were back to their best for the first time this term at home to Sunderland, I thought Manchester United produced their best performance in a long time at Newcastle, while Chelsea impressed again in thrashing Norwich, and both North London clubs looked good too. The Premier League title race is bubbling nicely.
Manchester City remain unchanged as Skybet's 13/8 favourites to retain their title. The best thing to come out of Saturday's win was the return to form of David Silva. If he starts firing like he was this time last year then they really will be in business. Domestically, the Champions look set to purr again.
However, so too do Manchester United, who have drifted a fraction from 2/1 to 11/5 despite playing by far their best football of the season at Newcastle. They have been slow starters so often of late and had fallen behind in five of the first six Premier League matches but for the first 15 minutes on Super Sunday, they were absolutely imperious. Ray Wilkins and Alan Smith were massively impressed in the studio.
Sir Alex said Wayne Rooney was ready to explode and, playing in a deeper role than normal, he was everywhere on Sunday. The system they deployed worked perfectly and with Rooney at the tip of a midfield diamond, they might have discovered a winning formula that we could see a lot more of in key games this season. So often United have been found out in central midfield against the top sides and this seems to be a solution to get more numbers and quality in the middle of the field and I can see them using the system for tough away matches and all the really big Premier League and Champions League games.
So Manchester looks in good shape but London looks set to offer a much bigger challenge than they did last season. Chelsea shortened yet again to 11/4 after looking majestic at times against Norwich. Much tougher tasks await (they play Tottenham and Man Utd next) but they look in great shape and the movement of Mata, Torres, Oscar and Hazard is mesmerising at times.
The new signings have injected flair to the side but I'm equally impressed by how hard these players work to get the ball back - clearly a couple of leaves have been taken out of Barcelona's book. Hazard and Oscar seem to be getting plenty of the headlines but the star for me has been Juan Mata. He's making this side tick and his touch and vision are top class.
Chelsea looked so professional at Arsenal the week before and a team of 'winners', while on Saturday they showed they have the style and flair that the owner craves. These are exciting times at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal are back in to 9/1 from 11/1 after a big win, particularly psychologically, at West Ham. After the all too familiar defensive frailties reared their ugly head again against Chelsea, I feared for Arsenal at Upton Park particularly when they went 1-0 down. However, again they showed they have more backbone and steel than previous Arsenal sides to come back and win 3-1.
This will stand them in good stead but whether Arsenal have the class of the top three in the betting we shall have to wait and see. One thing is for sure, Santi Cazorla has the class of Silva, Mata and co. He was outstanding again on Saturday.
So after the title contenders have fired their first big shots of the season, we take a break for international week. I'll be working at Wembley on Friday night for England against San Marino, for which Skybet have England at 1/100 to win.
Earlier this week All football eyes were on England and the new National Football Centre at St George's Park. I was lucky enough to stay there last week and have a tour of the vast complex. It is mind blowing. Who would have thought a year a ago that this country, so often the butt of jokes when it comes to sports facilities, has produced a superb Olympic Games and now a training facility that will be the envy of the sporting world. The pressure is now on to deliver. Not only top class players but arguably more important in the short-term, top class coaches, which is the area where England has lagged woefully behind for years. Spain, Holland and Germany have ten times as many fully qualified coaches as us. Howard Wilkinson's vision of SGP is that it becomes the Oxford and Cambridge of coaching. Only five Premier League managers are English. Let's hope that is about to change.
Four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson was also visiting St George's Park that day and I interviewed him for an LMA conference on leadership.
A quote from him adorns the wall in the National Football Centre:- "Elite athletes are made, they're not born."
He told some great stories about the hard work it took to become the world's best athlete and the importance of preparation and the mind if you are going to reach the top of your profession. For example, he left no stone unturned before a major Championship which included booking two hotels in Sydney during the 2000 Games to remove any chance of getting stuck in traffic.
You can imagine his response when I asked for his view about Rory McIlroy almost missing his tee-time on the final day of the Ryder Cup. Johnson's was fearsomely single minded and focussed but he did admit to looking down in the blocks before the 400m in Atlanta and on seeing his gold running spikes thought to himself "maybe not such a clever move Michael, it would not look good to receive a bronze medal in gold shoes."
Newmarket may have lost Champions Day to Ascot but HQ retains an excellent card on Saturday. Features include top two-year-old contests like the Middle Park and Dewhurst plus one of the season's great handicaps, the Cesarewitch. The problem Newmarket will always have is attracting a decent sized crowd as the racing may appeal to the sport's aficionados but as a sporting event it is pretty bleak and soul-less.
Reckless Abandon was so impressive in the Prix Morny and would surely be a very short price if trained by Aidan O'Brien or a top Newmarket handler. Clive Cox's two-year-old should take all the beating in the Middle Park and looks attractively priced at 15/8 with Skybet.
The Dewhurst revolves around Dawn Approach who could be very special and has been hyped up by his trainer, Jim Bolger, this week. As we've seen with Camelot, I'm always dubious when this happens but at least Dawn Approach's form stacks up. The testing ground is the worry for him on Saturday but I'm struggling to find a runner in the Dewhurst that will relish the conditions. It looks a fascinating contest but one best watched.
I do fancy one in the Cesarewitch. Dermot Weld's Olympiad was an impressive winner at York's Ebor Meeting and I thought then he'd be a short price favourite to win the Ces. I can only assume all the rain this week has resulted in Olympiad's price holding up at around the 10/1 mark with Skybet. I will wait for the day to assess the ground and see if Skybet do their usual and go each-way five places, then snap the price up as I think Olympiad will be a Listed or even Group class stayer next season and I'm not too worried about the ground as Newmarket never gets that deep and he handled bad ground well at Galway.
Also keep an eye on Bernie The Bolt, who Andrew Balding has always thought would be a Cesarewitch horse - he knows what's needed to win this race - and this is a horse who has dropped to a very attractive mark. Olympiad (10/1) and Bernie The Bolt (25/1) are my two against the field.
More to my liking is an excellent jumps card over at Chepstow. With all the rain and soft ground round the country, and stars starting to emerge over here and in Ireland, the jumps season is ready to spark in to action.