Paul Krishnamurty previews both matches on the opening day of the Masters snooker, involving John Higgins and defending champion Mark Allen...
"Prior to Christmas, Allen was arguably best in the world or second only to Ronnie O'Sullivan...By comparison, Brecel hasn't reached a quarter-final this term."
Back Mark Allen to win the 2.5 Frame Handicap @ 1.8
As usual, the defending champion kicks off the second snooker major of the season, coincidentally against the same opponent as 12 months ago. Mark Allen is a firmer favourite for the match and stronger contender for the Masters title this time around.
Allen to start title defence in style
Prior to Christmas, 'Pistol' was arguably best in the world or second only to Ronnie O'Sullivan - who beat him in the UK final having come through a less arduous part of the draw. He followed up with victory in the Scottish Open, adding to an earlier success at the International Championship.
By comparison, Brecel hasn't reached a quarter-final this term. The hugely talented young Belgian has completely lost form for over a year now, with breakbuilding a big problem.
Oppose Brecel in break markets
In a series of efforts at the recent Championship League - normally a scoring-fest - Brecel averaged just one 50 break per match. Regular events have been little better, with his good days restricted to inferior opposition.
Given that he's unlikely to get too many opportunities against Allen, I think he'll struggle to get the three required to beat the Over/Under Fifty Breaks line.
Note too that, even when there was less of a disparity between their form, Allen dominated their previous encounters, leading 4-0 and by 21 frames to eight. Beating the 2.5 Frame Handicap again looks well within range.
Higgins looks a vulnerable favourite
The evening session looks much more competitive. Again, it is a repeat of last year, when John Higgins beat Ryan Day 6-1 in the quarter-final. However the Wizard of Wishaw arrives in nothing like the same form.
He did reach the China Championship final - proving as ever that he can suddenly find form - but otherwise has reached only one quarter-final, losing to the likes of Alfie Burden, Rory McLeod, Alan McManus and Peter Lines.
Higgins leads their head-to-head 12-6 but their standard has markedly levelled up in the last 18 months or so. They met four times during 2018, winning two apiece and the last two went to deciders.
Day has the edge on this season's form
Day hasn't reached the same level that yielded three titles last term - signifying a career transformation - but has been playing well enough, reaching five quarter-finals.
I reckon Higgins is worth taking on at [1.7]. His record in the Masters is much worse than the other majors, perhaps because he takes longer these days to tune up again after a Christmas break. He's lost half of all his first round matches and not reached the final for 13 years.
Back Mark Allen to win the 2.5 Frame Handicap 3u @ [1.8]
Back Ryan Day 3u @ [2.42]