Home advantage should give champions the edge

MANCHESTER UNITED vs CHELSEA

SUNDAY – 4.00PM SKY SPORTS

IT has been an incredible start to the Premier League season for Manchester United with four straight wins, 18 goals scored and only three conceded. They bounced back to earth slightly against Benfica on Wednesday night, but the 1-1 draw wasn’t a bad result and they have been unstoppable at Old Trafford recently.

The champions have won their last 17 in a row at home, with 13 HT/FT victories, and Chelsea are going to have their work cut out if they are going to take anything away from this game.

Andre Villas-Boas has made a steady start to his managerial career at Stamford Bridge, although it has to be said that his team have had an easy opening run of fixtures. The Blues sit just two points behind United in the table, but they haven’t looked nearly as impressive as the Red Devils or Manchester City so far. It is never wise to write off Chelsea, though, and their squad is packed full of talent.

The Blues struggled on the road against the best teams last season, losing four of their five outings at top-six finishers, and they will be worried that the home side has won four of the last five league meetings between these clubs. They are general 7/2 shots, but I can’t see past another home victory and that should be backed at 17/20 with Paddy Power.

There is an argument to take the 2/1 available with Ladbrokes about the HT / FT win, as United achieved this in all five home games against top-six finishers last season. However, I’ll stick with the outright victory and also have a small bet on the 1-0 scoreline at 13/2 with the Magic Sign. That may seem strange seeing as seven of these team’s eight league matches so far this campaign have produced three or more goals, but I can see Villas-Boas trying to keep things tight and frustrate United.

There have been quite a few 2-1 victories in league meetings between these two in recent seasons, but there have also been plenty of low scoring contests and the goals could well dry up for United on Sunday.

Fernando Torres is yet to hit form for Chelsea, while Florent Malouda has adopted a more defensive midfield role due to the absent Michael Essien. It could prove to be a very tactical contest and spread bettors are advised to sell goals at 2.6 with Sporting Index.

RUGBY TRADER DAVID WILD PREVIEWS THIS WEEKEND’S BIG RUGBY GAMES

BY shifting into second gear in the second half against the Italians last week, Australia are the only one of the fancied teams to really impress in the early stages of the Rugby World Cup.

With a handful of exceptions, a feature of the tournament has been the small winning margins and the few handicaps that have been beaten. The Wallabies are given an 11-point handicap with Paddy Power for their match against Ireland, the pick of the weekend, but based on performances in the sides’ respective openers, Australia should overcome that mark.

If they have a weakness, it is the lack of a world class kicker but that proved to be no hindrance last weekend, and besides, their game is not built around forcing penalties inside 40 metres and mopping up the place-kicking points. With the talented backs at his disposal, adopted Aussie Robbie Deans is not short of try scoring potential in his side.

Sub James O’Connor impressed with a try against Italy, while Will Genia and Quade Cooper were dependable in the halfback positions. The Aussies prefer the running game and few runners are as dangerous as fullback Kurtley Beale. He came close against Italy and buying his try minutes at 13 with Sporting Index is worth a crack.

After one tough encounter for the forwards against Argentina last Saturday, England’s scrum faces another brutal contest against Georgia on Sunday. Other than winning when they really shouldn’t have, England did nothing to suggest they will reach their third consecutive final. However, the Red Rose should not be underestimated based on one poor performance and against the Eastern European minnows, it is certainly more a question of ‘by how many?’ rather than ‘win or lose?’

The answer to that is ‘not enough to satisfy the handicap’. Georgia are a professional, well-organised outfit and we shouldn’t expect a winning margin of anywhere near the 78 points that England won by in the 2003 World Cup. England’s handicap of 38 points offered by Ladbrokes is equivalent to more than five converted tries and that is a tall order.

RACING TRADER BILL ESDAILE LOOKS AT THE WEEKEND’S BEST RACING BETS

THE William Hill Ayr Gold Cup (3.20pm) is always one of the most competitive handicaps of the season and tomorrow’s race looks fiendishly difficult. The last 14 winners have returned double figure prices, so it certainly hasn’t been a great race for punters.

It is impossible to know at this stage where the best draw is, so I’m going to back one on each side. The Irish have plundered some big prizes on these shores in recent weeks and CROISULTAN is worth backing at 16/1 with the sponsors from stall seven. He finished an excellent third behind Bewitched and Definightly on Sunday and six furlongs on soft ground is perfect.

I’m also going to give one last chance to my old friend REGAL PARADE at a massive 25/1. He is housed right against the stands rail in stall 27 and although he has been disappointing this season, he hasn’t had his ideal conditions. He could simply be much better than this lot on soft ground. Trainer David Nicholls has had a poor campaign by his high standards, but he has won this race six times in the past 11 years and normally runs five or six. It could therefore be a significant pointer that he only relies on the selection and Tajneed.

There’s some decent action at Newbury tomorrow and CASPAR NETSCHER is going to be very difficult to beat in the Mill Reef Stakes (2.30pm). He likes to get his toe in and it does look a weak Group Two. Sir Michael Stoute has ruled out the Cambridgeshire for LABARINTO, but he should be too strong for the opposition in the Dubai Duty Free Handicap at 3.05pm.

I strongly fancy COURAGEOUS to get back to winning ways this afternoon in Ayr’s 3.20pm, while don’t miss Richard Hannon’s THREE AM TOUR in the big Sales race at Fairyhouse on Sunday (3.45pm). She is very well regarded at home and it doesn’t look the hottest of races.