Benitez rates new boy Merino

Newcastle United head coach Rafa Benitez believes new loan signing midfielder Mikel Merino can 'improve a lot' during his time at St James' Park.

The 21-year-old joins on a season-long loan from Borussia Dortmund, having recently shown up well for Spain at the European Under-21 Championships in Poland.

Merino joined Dortmund last summer from Osasuna, but found first-team opportunities limited at the Westfalenstadion, making just two starts in the Bundesliga.

However, compatriot Benitez feels that the youngster has plenty to offer and even hinted at a more permanent deal should Merino impress.

He told the club's official website: "Mikel is a midfielder with talent. He's a good size, has quality on the ball and he's very, very focused and professional. Hopefully, he's the kind of player we can improve a lot – he certainly has the mentality to get better and better.

"He comes from a top side in Dortmund and, although he did not play too much last season, he was signed as a young, talented player and to be signed by a club like that shows that he has something good.

"He has to show what he has and hopefully he can enjoy playing here for a long time."

Merino is the fifth signing made by the Magpies so far this summer, as they prepare for life back in the Premier League.

Defenders Javier Manquillo and Florian Lejeune have joined from Atletico Madrid and Eibar respectively, Christian Atsu has turned his loan into a permanent stay and winger Jacob Murphy has been recruited from Norwich City.

The Magpies are priced at 7/2 to be relegated this season, with Brighton available at 5/4 and Huddersfield Town 4/6.

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Conte coy on Hazard exit talk

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte insists he knows nothing about Barcelona's supposed interest in Belgium international Eden Hazard.

Barca are reportedly ready to launch a bid to sign Hazard if Neymar moves to Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record €222million deal.

Conte has dismissed the speculation though, saying: "I don't know anything about this situation. In the past, I've read a lot about Hazard to Real Madrid and now Barca! I think he is very happy to stay with us and play for Chelsea."

The 26-year-old has returned to training this week after having surgery on a broken ankle, with Conte adding: "His recovery is going very well. Yes, I want him to be 100 per cent fit.

"Every player must be in his best condition to play or it will be a damage to the team."

Conte has signed Tiemoue Bakayoko, Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger and Willy Caballero this summer, but has not ruled out the possibility of more new faces arriving at Stamford Bridge before the transfer window closes in five weeks' time.

"My club knows very well which are the areas I want to strengthen," said the former Juventus and Italy manager. "If this is possible, it is okay. Otherwise I will continue with what I have.

"This season will be tough. You know what has been happening in England. Chelsea won in 2014/15 and then Leicester City won the league. So we must be careful and not take any team lightly.

"It is normal that every big team tries to reinforce their squad by bringing in quality players. That is what they have done. For sure, next season the Premier League will be a huge challenge for us."

Chelsea can be backed at 7/2 to win the Premier League title in 2017/18, while they are 1/1 to be the top London team this season and 6/5 to accrue over 77 points.

Slutsky snaps up Hector

Hull City manager Leonid Slutsky has added the Chelsea defender Michael Hector to his squad after the 25-year-old moved to the Tigers on a season-long loan.

Hector spent last season on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt and made 27 appearances for the Bundesliga outfit.

"My main objective this season was always to play in England," said Hector, who moved to Stamford Bridge in a £4million switch from Reading two years ago.

"I had a fantastic experience in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt last season and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Bundesliga – every minute of it.

"It's the highest level I've played at so far but I always wanted to come back to England. Hull is a great choice for me and I feel it's the right place for me at this moment in time.

"I feel fit, strong and ready to go. I feel as though I can help the team win games and hopefully we can all enjoy a successful season together."

Hull, 6/1 to be promoted from the Championship in 2017/18, are 5/2 to beat Aston Villa in their opening game of the season on 5th August.

The Tigers have also captured Liam Edwards, Fraizer Campbell, Kevin Stewart, Ondrej Mazuch and Callum Burton since the end of last season, while Alex Bruce, Curtis Davies, Harry Maguire, Tom Huddlestone, Eldin Jakupovic, Ahmed Elmohamady and Andy Robertson have all left the KCOM Stadium.

Vokes pleased with new arrivals

Wales international striker Sam Vokes does not think Burnley will become embroiled in a relegation dogfight this season.

The Clarets finished 16th in the Premier League last term after being promoted from the Championship in 2015/16, six points clear of the drop-zone.

Vokes, 7/4 to be Burnley's top scorer in 2017/18, is confident that the players will have learned from last season and believes the arrivals of Jonathan Walters, Jack Cork and Phil Bardsley this summer will improve their chances of avoiding the drop.

Burnley are 5/4 to be relegated this term while Sean Dyche's side are 16/1 to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the opening weekend of the campaign.

Vokes said: "Altogether, individually and as a squad, we feel Premier League now.

"We came up last time and went straight back down but we gave it a good go. With our home form being so good last season, we now feel a massive part of it.

"We've got some great players now and some great competition for those places. There's some real talent in the squad.

"You see the players coming in this summer and they will add to that competition. It can only bode well for the squad because there's strength in every position now."

Deeney set to miss season-opener

Watford head coach Marco Silva does not think Troy Deeney will be fit enough to feature in the opening game of the season against Liverpool.

The Hornets are set to entertain Jurgen Klopp's team on 12th August at Vicarage Road and are 16/1 to win the encounter 1-0.

Deeney is recovering from groin surgery and is unlikely to have recovered in time for the season-opener in just over two weeks' time.

The 29-year-old has scored 23 Premier League goals in the last two seasons as Watford have established themselves in the top-flight.

"We'll see – for the first match it is not easy," Silva said when asked about the severity of Deeney's injury. "I believe, maybe [he is] unavailable for the first match of the season.

"Of course he started to work with us but had to stop for the surgery. He stopped training and when he is ready he will come back and help us, like in the last few years."

Meanwhile, Watford have been linked with Liverpool winger Lazar Markovic, but Silva has played down the speculation, saying of a player who spent the second half of last season on loan at Hull City: "The truth is we haven't done anything for Markovic.

"He's one player who played very well with me in the last four months at Hull.

"He is not going to stay at Liverpool but at this moment he is still a Liverpool player. We need to complete our roster, put more competitive players in our roster to help everybody to improve."

Watford are 6/4 to be relegated from the Premier League this season, while Deeney is 2/1 to be the Hornets' top scorer in 2017/18.

City land Mauk but not Troisi

Melbourne City have signed midfielder Stefan Mauk, but have failed to land Australia international James Troisi.

Mauk has signed a season-long loan deal from Dutch parent club NEC Breda, returning to City where he started his senior career.

The Australia U-23 international only played three times for NEC after moving to Holland last year, following a stint with Adelaide United.

He made it clear at the end of the Eredivisie season he wanted to move away to get regular first-team football and give himself the chance to challenge for a Socceroos spot.

Meanwhile, City hoped to persuade Troisi to move across from Melbourne Victory, but he has opted to sign a new deal with Kevin Muscat's side.

Mauk played 47 games during his first stint with City, leaving in January last year and then helping Adelaide win the double of Premier's Plate and championship.

His move to United was part of a straight swap that saw utility Osama Malik go the other way.

With his move to NEC not working out, he signalled his intent to leave after the club were relegated from the Eredivisie in May.

City coach Warren Joyce said: "We believe Stefan has the attributes to link well with our attacking players and provide a dynamic contribution to our team."

Joyce's hopes of signing Troisi were dashed when the 29-year-old Socceroo agreed a new two-year deal with Victory.

Troisi had come out of contract at the end of last season and was on the brink of a move to Israeli club Maccabi Haifa. He had a medical and was even pictured holding the team's scarf, but rather than complete his move the attacker had a last-minute change of heart and re-signed with Victory.

He said: "If I'm considering coming back (to Australia), Melbourne Victory would always be my first choice. The most important thing is you want to be comfortable where you play, and I'm comfortable here."

The Victory are 6/4 to win their first game of the season against Sydney FC, who are 13/8, with the draw 5/2.

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McInnes confident of progress

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes is confident that his side can beat Apollon Limassol next week and qualify for the next round of the Europa League.

The Dons travel to Cyprus with a narrow 2-1 advantage after Thursday's third qualifying round first leg encounter at Pittodrie.

McInnes was pleased with the performance and result though, with Ryan Christie and Graeme Shinnie on target for the Scottish side.

McInnes said afterwards: "I thought it was full of intensity. I think you saw the best of my team in that opening half-hour, I thought we were excellent.

"I think half time came at a good time for Apollon and I think they were better at the start of the second half. They are a good team, and they showed spells of that in the game.

"We deserved to win the game, but it's only half time and we've got work to do but we're confident we can go over there and get the desired result."

Aberdeen are 1/4 to beat Hamilton in their first league game of the campaign on 5th August and 8/13 to keep a clean sheet against the Accies.

Baines expects difficult test

Leighton Baines accepts that Everton will find it tough to see off MFK Ruzomberok in next week's Europa League third qualifying round second leg clash.

The former Wigan Athletic left-back scored the only goal with a deflected low shot on Thursday as Ronald Koeman's struggled against a well-organised Slovakian outfit.

Baines admitted afterwards: "We know we are in for a tough game next week, it was tough tonight.

"But at least we will know a bit more about what to expect, and as a team we will know each other that bit better too."

Everton are 20/1 to win the Europa League outright in 2017/18 while Koeman's side are 11/4 to finish in the top six of the Premier League this season.

Meanwhile, the Everton boss picked out new recruit Sandro Ramirez for special praise, saying: "1-0 with a clean sheet is not a bad result in Europe. Maybe people were expecting a bigger score but you cannot expect to be at 100 per cent in the first game of the season.

"We didn't pass the ball well enough in the first half but we looked sharper in the second. Ramirez showed some good pace up front."

Wayne Rooney went close to scoring on the half-hour mark while Kevin Mirallas had a shot blocked on the line, but it was merely a solid display by the Toffees with little for the Goodison Park faithful to get too excited about.

A Tense Race Makes for Thrilling Betting Odds

Hungarian Grand Prix

If you’re looking for a gut-clenching race and exciting live betting opportunities, there’s no better sporting event to watch this weekend than the Hungarian Grand Prix!

The biggest story of this race (and the entire Formula 1 season so far) is the fierce three-way contest at the top of the Drivers Standings. The current F1 triumvirate has the skills and the machine to help them gain the top spot and the favour of many betting tips.

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are natural favourites to win in Budapest. Vettel is at the top of the table with 177 points but is not looked at kindly by bookies. He only got 4.50 outright odds from sites such as us. Meanwhile, Hamilton is only a single point behind Vettel and is expected to win this race at 1.50 outright.

Valtteri Bottas (4.00) is the surprise package in the 2017 season. Having tucked three races under his belt, the Finn driver is expected to roar out of the gates and make things interesting for the Hungarian crowd.

Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen – both on 15.00 outright – are still within striking distance of the top and need a string of wins to compete for the title. A win here could help them carry the momentum over the month-long break and perform a lot better. Kimi Raikkonen (15.00) is also not far behind the leaders.

While we might not look at the rest of the pack for a winner, we can definitely expect some exciting driving to come out of them. Sergio Perez (351.00), Esteban Ocon (401.00), Fernando Alonso (401.00), Nico Hulkenberg (501.00) and Romain Grosjean (601.00) are some of the drivers who could make the race a curious one.

Every team in the competition knows how important getting points before the month-long break of the season is. They’ll surely make aggressive moves to better their position before the summer and come back next month with faster machines.

F1 fans are in for a gigantic treat in the weekend!

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Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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So What will the States Now Make of El Clasico?

Real Madrid vs Barcelona

Get ready for El Clasico in Miami!

Yes, you did read that correctly.

For what in recent years has been considered the mother of all football games, the ultimate sports betting spectacle, one of the greatest rivalries in sport is, fittingly, about to arrive in what is known as the Hard Rock Stadium.

Who’d have thought you could bet online on such a clash in the International Champions Cup?

And this isn’t just about 90 minutes, tournament organisers have made this into a three-day event.

There’s everything in Miami from a martial arts duel between a Catalan challenger and a Madrid fighter; an El Clasico VIP party, an El Clasico launch party; a fan festival with a cooking demonstration and player appearances; a Flamenco showcase; a freestyle soccer (for that’s what they call it in America!) showdown and live music galore in the run-up to the big event.

Of course, most of the stars will be either busy training or resting while these events are going on.

Organisers have paid big bucks to get these two giants of the game sharing a pitch and nothing will stop that: not the Madrid circus, nor the Neymar soap opera.

Being brutally honest, the result won’t greatly matter – and that’s not been said about an El Clasico clash for many a year.

The edge won’t quite be there, either on the pitch or on the terraces.

Yet some traditions remain and Barca fans will have their colourful mosaic out encouraging the players in the arena, this time with a US theme in reference of their hosts.

All in all, the first clash between new boss Ernesto Valverde, fresh from Athletic Bilbao, and Zinedine Zidane should be a relaxing affair, a chance for the likes of Theo Hernandez, Vinicius and Gerard Deulofeu to ease into what is the one that matters for both clubs.

My advice is to make the most of the party atmosphere and enjoy the occasion.

It won’t be like that for any other El Clasico matches this season!

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