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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Friday, 3 July 2020

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (July 4-6)

The Premier League title may have been decided, but the race for the top four places has heated up thanks to results this past week.

Even the chase for the European places look likely to go down to the wire, while I think it is difficult to pick the three clubs you believe will be relegated with any kind of confidence. Norwich City look like they have left things too late, but the next month is going to be busy and with big games to be played every few days.

That is something that could be an issue for the FPL players particularly with the depth of squad that some of the top teams have. It is unprecedented times, but I will come onto my thoughts for GW33+ when I get my thoughts about this weekend's Premier League games out of the way first.

Norwich City v Brighton Pick: This is a very big game for bot Norwich City and Brighton with the three points on offer vital in their bids to avoid relegation.

Norwich City are 7 points from safety and look to be cut off now, but a win might just give the players a shot in the arm with five more games to play. The next three games are all against clubs in 15th or lower in the Premier League table so this is the last chance saloon for Daniel Farke's men who will likely have to target three wins if they want to have any chance of avoiding relegation.

Four points from a possible nine since the resumption of the Premier League has given Brighton a gap to the bottom three that may already be too big for those below them to bridge. A 6 point lead to the bottom three is a positive for Graham Potter's team, but Brighton have a difficult looking fixture list and the manager has to be targeting a win that would likely be enough to secure Premier League Football for another season.

Brighton have shown a little resiliency in recent games prior to the 0-3 defeat to Manchester United on Tuesday. They have earned back to back clean sheets at Wolves and Leicester City and not offered a lot of opportunities to those two teams, although Brighton have perhaps given up some of their attacking intent to be a little more solid.

In their three games played, chances have not been flowing for Brighton and I think the layers may have underestimated the chances of seeing a low scoring game here.

Neither Norwich City nor Brighton are playing with a lot of consistency in the final third which may make goals difficult to come by. While neither would be seen as a hugely successful defensive side, both Norwich City and Brighton have shown some toughness in those areas and I think that may see at least one clean sheet produced here.

I honestly would not be surprised if this fixture ended 1-0 either way with the way both Norwich City and Brighton are playing. The odds might not suggest it, but I think one, or both, of these teams will fail to hit the back of the net.

Leicester City v Crystal Palace Pick: A late stumble could prove to be very costly for Leicester City who have seen the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Wolves close in on their top four spot. At the turn of the calendar year Leicester City were very short odds to earn a Champions League spot for the 2020/21 season, but they had been struggling before the enforced break and Brendan Rodgers has not found the right formula for them yet.

Draws with Watford and Brighton followed by a defeat to Everton have knocked the confidence from the Leicester City players. The system employed looks like one that opponents are a little more comfortable dealing with and now they have to face a Crystal Palace team who have been a stubborn opponent under Roy Hodgson.

Back to back losses might make Crystal Palace vulnerable, but they deserved a lot more than they got from the home defeat to Burnley. The 4-0 loss at Liverpool was surprising, but early injuries might have just taken the wind out of the sails and in general Crystal Palace are a competitive team.

This is a club who Brendan Rodgers won't have forgotten having seen his then Liverpool team blow a 0-3 lead in an eventual 3-3 draw at Selhurst Park that ultimately cost them the title in 2014.

And the Leicester City players won't have good memories of facing Crystal Palace either after losing 0-3 and 1-4 the last two times they have hosted them.

Leicester City were unfortunate to lose at Everton on the chances created, but they have been struggling in the final third out of the break. At the same time they have looked far from secure at the back and only a Kasper Schmeichel penalty save against Brighton has prevented them entering this fixture off the back of three straight defeats.

They won't find it easy against a Crystal Palace team that have limited chances against them by being well organised and looking to break with pace on the counter. The thumping at Liverpool is one poor result, but Crystal Palace had scored in 6 straight away games before that and on current form it is hard to see Leicester City blowing them away.

You have to believe the home team may edge it, but that's largely on the season whole form rather than on recent one. They have not created a lot of chances and Crystal Palace should be frustrating them for long periods and looking to add a third straight victory at the King Power Stadium.

It might be enough to secure a surprise result- Leicester City look far too short regardless here and a one goal defeat for Crystal Palace would at least return the stake.

Manchester United v Bournemouth Pick: Two of the most in-form teams in the Premier League look to be Wolves and Manchester United who are both closing in on the top four places in the table.

At this stage it would be a disappointment if Manchester United don't have enough to finish in the Champions League spots regardless of what happens to Manchester City and their two year ban from European Football.

A win at Brighton during the week was really encouraging from Manchester United who dominated from start to finish and deservedly won on the day. They have not always been at their best away from home so that was a huge victory for United and they should be able to build on that and win a third Premier League game in a row on Saturday.

On the face of things you wouldn't think much of that, but Manchester United have not won three consecutive Premier League games since January 2019 when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer inspired a 6 game winning run in the League having taken over from Jose Mourinho.

The fact it has not happened in 2019/20 is a concern, but Manchester United might be playing as well as they have at any stage at this moment in time. With Bruno Fernandes, Marcos Rashford, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood in the line up, Manchester United have plenty of creative talent and they have also won 4 in a row at Old Trafford while scoring 13 goals.

These players should be ready to take the game to a Bournemouth team who are coming in off the back of an embarrassing 1-4 home loss to Newcastle United. The fixtures make it difficult to see how Bournemouth can't get out of trouble without earning a couple of surprise results.

However there is a pressure on the players which will make it hard to use this a 'free hit' and Bournemouth will have a hard time containing Manchester United. They were narrowly beaten at Wolves last month, but Manchester United are showing a lot more creativity in the final third than their Champions League chasing rivals and I expect that to show up here.

Manchester United have beaten Watford and Sheffield United by 3-0 scorelines at Old Trafford either side of the three month break. If they can make a fast start as they have in their last couple of Premier League games I do think Manchester United will be too strong for Bournemouth here and they can win by a comfortable margin.

It is never easy to ask a team to clear this level of handicap, but Manchester United are playing well enough to believe they can secure another comfortable win on Saturday.

Wolves v Arsenal Pick: Both Wolves and Arsenal will be aiming for a return to European Football although it is the former who have realistic ambitions of playing in the Champions League next season.

It says a lot about how far Wolves have come under the guidance of Nuno Espirito Santo who had been linked with the vacant job at Arsenal before they turned to Mikel Arteta back in December.

The Portuguese manager has instilled a really attractive playing style at Wolves but he has also found the balance which makes them very difficult to beat. The three wins since the resumption of the Premier League has given Wolves momentum and each has come with a clean sheet, while the side have 5 clean sheets in a row at Molineux.

That should be tested by this Arsenal team who have won 4 of their last 6 away games in all competitions and who have won back to back games at Southampton and Sheffield United. Mikel Arteta has helped the team look a little better at the back, but Arsenal still have vulnerabilities and you do have to believe that this Wolves team will be well prepared to exploit those.

There is pace in the Wolves team and genuine quality in the final third and I think they are playing well enough to edge to a win here. They don't always create the most chances, but I do think Wolves will be able to do that against this Arsenal team and in Raul Jimenez they have a player who can be clinical when those chances come his way.

I have to respect the recent Arsenal performances since losing back to back games at Manchester City and Brighton. They were unfortunate to lose the second of those and they are a team who have plenty of pace and quality of their own in the final third which can make them dangerous.

Arsenal might not have won a lot of away games, but they haven't lost many either which has to be respected. However Wolves blew them away last season at Molineux and there looks to be enough consistency in the home squad to believe they can find the goals they need to win this one.

Fans of Chelsea, Leicester City and Manchester United won't be concerned if Wolves were to drop points, but Nuno Espirito Santo's men are playing with confidence and I think they can keep their top four ambitions alive and kicking with a good looking win here.

Chelsea v Watford Pick: The race for the top four looks like it is going to go down to the final day when Chelsea will be hosting Wolves, but they will be looking to bounce back from a shock defeat at West Ham United when they take the field this Saturday.

That defeat has once again opened the door for the likes of Manchester United and Wolves to earn their way into the top four and Chelsea could feel some real pressure by the time this game kicks off.

Depending on results, Chelsea may be as low as 6th in the Premier League table when they head out into an empty Stamford Bridge and that can cause problems for players. It is not easy to express yourselves when knowing how much is on the line, but Frank Lampard will likely shut off the televisions within the Stadium and ask his players to concentrate on their own matters.

Ultimately Chelsea will finish in the top four if they win their remaining six games and that is all the manager will be asking of his players. Take things one game at a time and make sure 100% is given to each fixture, especially as Wednesday night should have taught Chelsea that nothing can be taken for granted in the Premier League.

Chelsea have been better at Stamford Bridge of late and they are facing a Watford team who have looked a little short of confidence in their opening games since the resumption of play. The loss to Southampton at home is a real worry for Nigel Pearson and his Watford team have simply not been as strong on their travels as they have at Vicarage Road which makes that defeat all the more concerning.

The Hornets have not scored in their last 3 away Premier League games and have suffered losses each time. They have looked vulnerable at the back and Watford don't score enough goals which is going to make it very hard to earn the results they need, even if this is a 'nothing to lose' situation with all the pressure on their hosts.

However it may also be a game that Nigel Pearson chooses to rest key names in order to keep them fresh for the home games to come against Norwich City and Newcastle United over the coming days. That might give Chelsea a bit more momentum in a game they should be winning and I do think the home team will prove to be too strong.

Chelsea have not always looked convincing at the back this season, but they have been better in recent home games. That may play a part for a team who do create a lot of chances and I think it may help them win this one by a comfortable margin on the night to make sure they end this weekend in the top four at the least.

Burnley v Sheffield United Pick: Chris Wilder will have been very pleased to be on the right side of a controversial VAR decision which may have shifted the game against Tottenham Hotspur in favour of his Sheffield United team. Instead of conceding moments after taking the lead, Sheffield United were able to manage their 1-0 lead until late goals secured a comfortable win on the day.

It is a big win for Sheffield United who had lost 3 in a row prior to the game on Thursday evening. They had conceded at least twice in each of those losses which includes back to back 3-0 defeats at Newcastle United and Manchester United.

Sheffield United have not scored in their last 3 away Premier League games so that is something they need to address if they want to finish in the top seven and potentially earn a European spot for next season.

However they have not really created a lot of chances in those games either and it won't get much easier when they travel to Turf Moor to take on a Burnley team off consecutive League wins. Sean Dyche has done yet another fantastic job for Burnley and it would be a real blow to the club if the manager decides he is not going to be supported to help the club take the next step forward.

For now Sean Dyche is continuing to do his job and the players are clearly behind him judging by the hard work they have put into the last two games. Both have ended in 1-0 wins for Burnley against Watford and Crystal Palace and this is a ground on which Burnley have really found some of their best football in terms of results and chances created.

The absence of some key attacking players is an issue for Burnley, but they may still have a slight edge over Sheffield United with the few extra days of rest in the legs.

Both teams will work hard and look to exploit set pieces to give themselves the edge, but I think Burnley might be in a better spot to earn the points. In their home games either side of the three month break, Burnley have created a lot of chances with a system that the players are familiar with and that might be problematic for Sheffield United who have looked vulnerable in all 3 away games played since the resumption of play.

The win over Tottenham Hotspur will give Sheffield United some confidence, but I think the narrow edge has to be given to Burnley in this early Sunday kick off in the Premier League.

Newcastle United v West Ham United Pick: There is no doubt that the points on offer in this Premier League game are much more important to West Ham United than Newcastle United, but that does not mean that the home team are going to want to roll over.

Steve Bruce wants the players to prove they deserve to be playing for the club going forward and especially if new owners are willing to open the chequebook for the club. There is also an outside chance that Newcastle United could push for a European spot with a strong finish, but ultimately all Bruce wants to see his team playing hard.

The 1-4 win at Bournemouth shows this is a team capable of doing that and Newcastle United have also been very difficult to beat at home. They have not conceded many goals here and Newcastle United have players that can create chances which is going to be a problem for West Ham United who have struggled defensively.

At least West Ham United will be playing with a lot more confidence having shown what they are capable of in their 3-2 win over Chelsea on Wednesday. It was a real surprise to see West Ham United play as well as they did that day considering how poorly they have begun in the resumption of Premier League Football and the three points earned could be vital in their bid to avoid the drop.

David Moyes will believe his team have something to build upon here, but West Ham United have lost 7 away Premier League games in a row. They have given up a lot of chances in that run and Newcastle United are good enough to take advantage too.

I can't help feel the home team would be a much bigger favourite if this game was played before the Wednesday night results. West Ham United did win here last season, which has to be respected, but they have struggled for away goals and are still missing some important pieces.

I expect some issues will be something David Moyes will want to address in the transfer window, but at this moment I think it will be difficult for West Ham United. They invested a lot in the game on Wednesday and it might be tough for the players to reach those standards again.

Newcastle United have been strong at home which makes it hard to see them losing and I do think they may earn a narrow victory here to keep European hopes alive for a few more days.

Liverpool v Aston Villa Pick: Jurgen Klopp was not impressed by the questions he received from the media at the end of the 4-0 defeat to Manchester City on Thursday and the manager is one that won't allow his Liverpool team to drop their standards now the title has been secured.

Ultimately the next month is about preparing for the defence of that tile which will begin in September and I have no doubt that Klopp will be demanding a much stronger all around performance.

In public he was not very critical of his players, but I imagine Klopp will have been seething about the embarrassing defeat for a couple of days. This is the first time Liverpool will play at Anfield as Champions and even without the fans you have to expect the whole club wants to mark that occasion in the right way.

Even before the suspension of English Football, Liverpool had been producing contrasting performances at home and away. The defeat to Manchester City means they have gone 5 away games without scoring a goal, but Liverpool have won 13 in a row at Anfield in normal time and crushed Crystal Palace 4-0 here since the resumption of play.

The venue and the need for redemption for the home team does not bode well for Aston Villa who are desperate for the points to help them move out of the bottom three. West Ham United's win over Chelsea on Wednesday has put more pressure on Aston Villa who have not won any of 9 games in all competitions and have been beaten 7 times in that run.

It should be noted that Aston Villa have looked a little more stubborn defensively coming out of the break than they had before the suspension of the League. That could be key in turning the results they need, but a lack of goals is a concern and I think they will have a difficult day on Sunday.

Liverpool do look like a team that will have too much in the final third for their visitors and I think that may lead to a relatively comfortable win when all is said and done. They will have a lot to prove after Thursday and Liverpool have been strong here all season which leads me to believe they can not only win this fixture, but do so by a couple of goals at the least.

More than half of Aston Villa's away defeats in the Premier League have come by two or more goal margins and I do think that will be the case here.

Southampton v Manchester City Pick: Nothing could be gained in terms of the Premier League title race in 2019/20, but Manchester City clearly came out on Thursday to make a statement to the new Champions Liverpool. You could see it in the faces of the players when performing the 'guard of honour' for their visitors and manager Pep Guardiola couldn't get away quick enough either.

The 4-0 win for Manchester City has set the statement for next season that they will be expecting to be much closer to the top spot.

Even this season the underlying numbers suggest Manchester City haven't had a lot of luck on their side, but Pep Guardiola will know some additions will need to be made to bolster the squad.

That is something that both Manchester City and Southampton will be preparing behind the scenes, but on Sunday they will go with what they have. Manchester City's poor away run in the Premier League is a real surprise, but this is a team who have been creating chances and playing some very good football out of the resumption of play and the next few weeks is all about building momentum for the FA Cup and Champions League challenges ahead.

Having played on Thursday you do have to believe that Manchester City will make changes to freshen things up and some big names will be ready to come in. Even with those changes this is a very strong team and one that will give Southampton plenty of problems, especially at St Mary's where The Saints have simply not performed as well as they would have liked.

You have to respect this team though because not many would have recovered from the 0-9 home loss to Leicester City in the manner that they did. A lot of credit has to be given to manager Ralph Hasenhuttl too who has not moved away from his principles and that has led to the best season since 2016/17 having flirted with relegation in the last two.

Southampton will attack with pace and in Danny Ings they have someone who can punish Manchester City if the visitors are not at their best.

However this Southampton team have had some problems defensively which the likes of Newcastle United and Arsenal have exploited in visits here either side of the three month break. Manchester City are a much better attacking outfit than both and I do think there will be enough attacking talent on display to lead to a comfortable win for the visitors.

In 2 of their last 3 visits to St Mary's Manchester City have scored three times and that has led to comfortable wins. I expect Southampton to play a part here, but Manchester City can back up the success over Liverpool by producing a good win on Sunday evening.

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton Pick: The final game of this round of Premier League fixtures comes from Tottenham Hotspur's shiny new Stadium, although there are dark clouds gathering over this part of North London.

The arrival of Jose Mourinho as manager was supposed to spark a squad that many felt were underachieving, but they head into this fixture in 9th place in the Premier League table and behind rivals Arsenal. The table may look considerably worse for Tottenham Hotspur fans at kick off, but Jose Mourinho will be demanding a big reaction to the 3-1 loss at Sheffield United on Thursday night.

His task is to make sure the players refocus after some miserable defending in the defeat at Bramall Lane, while also making better decisions in the final third. A bit of luck that was missing in the last game won't go amiss either, but Tottenham Hotspur will know they need to be at their best to beat an Everton team who have performed very well under Carlo Ancelotti.

Everton are unbeaten in 3 Premier League games out of the restart and have won back to back fixtures, although they were clinging on at the end of their 2-1 win over Leicester City. The manager will be pleased with the three points which has reinvigorated Everton's challenge for a top seven finish, but it is games like this one they will need to win in order to achieve the aims set out by Ancelotti.

The last trip to London ended in a miserable 4-0 loss for Everton, but prior to that they were very unlucky to lose 3-2 at Arsenal. The potential absence of Richarlison would hurt, but if the Brazilian is ready to go this is an Everton team who have created chances wherever they have played.

However they are not all that convincing at the back and the attacking options open to Tottenham Hotspur should have some spaces to exploit. Despite the loss on Thursday, Spurs did show some good intent when getting forward and you have to believe they will make better decisions in this one.

Games between these clubs in recent years have been action packed and many have ended up with three or more goals shared out. There were enough chances for that to be the outcome in their 1-1 draw earlier this season, but the previous 5 between Tottenham Hotspur and Everton have ended with at least three goals scored.

4 of the last 5 hosted by Spurs have ended the same way and I do think both teams will have their chances to score in this one. The three points are key for both clubs so neither manager is expected to settle for a point and it could lead to another high-scoring game between these teams on Monday Night Football.

MY PICKS: Norwich City-Brighton BTTS NO
Crystal Palace + 1 Asian Handicap
Manchester United - 2 Asian Handicap
Wolves - 0.25 Asian Handicap
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap
Burnley + 0.25 Asian Handicap
Newcastle United + 0.25 Asian Handicap
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap
Tottenham Hotspur-Everton Over 2.5 Goals

Fantasy Football GameWeek 33+
It was not the best week for the FPL game as I missed on my Captain and got very little from a number of the selected players.

At least I managed to hold onto two transfers to use this week, the one in which I am playing my Bench Boost with the top teams all facing clubs they should be beating.

My concerns come from the likelihood that teams will be rotating their squads, but that is why I am sticking with the same Captain I have used for the last two weeks. Anthony Martial should start for Manchester United who have Bournemouth to come to Old Trafford and I am expecting more from a player who didn't play a big part in the 0-3 win at Brighton in the last GameWeek, at least not from a Fantasy point of view.

Injuries and loss of form makes the two transfers fairly easy to make as Harvey Barnes and Joelinton will be removed from my team. The former looks a little out of favour at Leicester City who are also not showing a lot of positive form, while the latter picked up a knock during the week and may not be available on Sunday anyway.

I do wonder if the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Roberto Firmino and Mason Mount will get the minutes I would like from a Bench Boost Chip, but I can't really do much about the situation with games being played every few days. I would be disappointed if they didn't all get some time on the pitch this weekend, although it would be preferable for Fantasy purposes that all start against 'weak' opponents.

Well things were supposed to be that simple until news broke that Bruno Fernandes may be a doubt for the game against Bournemouth. Reports have suggested he came off worse in a collision with Paul Pogba and both players are doubtful for the home game and that does cloud my thinking.

It may be reasonable to wait until Saturday morning before a final decision is made, but it is possible that I am going to take a hit to remove the two players I mentioned and also to replace a player that may not take part.

Like I've mentioned, I do think this is the best week in which to use the Bench Boost and so I am going to play with these options and make a final decision in the morning ahead of the 11:30am deadline.

There are players that can come in and make a difference with the likes of Phil Foden, Allan Saint-Maximin, Dwight Gayle, Marcus Rashford, David Silva, Christian Pulisic, Willian and Tammy Abraham looking like they can make a difference to the team, but again it may be best to check my Twitter page and see how my final thoughts break down.

Overall I am pretty happy with the squad going into a Bench Boost week- the defence has every chance of returning a number of clean sheets and I do feel I am in a position to have all fifteen players return some points.

The squad is looking like this before my final transfers have been made:

GK: Alisson, Emiliano Martinez

DEF: Harry Maguire, Virgil Van Dijk, Justin James, Willy Boly, Federico Fernandez

MID: Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes, Harvey Barnes, Mason Mount, Kevin De Bruyne

FWD: Raul Jimenez, Roberto Firmino, Joelinton

Friday, 26 June 2020

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (June 27-July 2)

Project Restart is all about getting the remainder of the 2019/20 completed in the top two Divisions in English Football and that means there are going to be matches every few days for teams through the month of July.

This week the latest round of Premier League fixtures are being played across six days with live offerings on each one. That is because it is also the weekend when the FA Cup Quarter Finals are played and so there is a situation where eight teams are playing twice in very short order and often against clubs who have had a few more days to prepare than they will at any other point through the next several weeks.

It does not make things easy for those of us playing the Fantasy Football game because injuries from the Cup or manager's rotating players in the League games to come could mean the eleven selected will need to be boosted by the bench. The problem is that usually we would have some inkling as to what managers will be thinking, but press conferences for the midweek games won't be taking place until at least two days after the deadline for GW32+ has already passed.

I will have further thoughts on the latest GameWeek below, but on top of that will be the thoughts on how the latest round of games may go. Those thoughts do have a real impact on how I want to set up my Fantasy team for the week.

Over the coming days I will add thoughts from the midweek set of Premier League games which are being made up by those clubs involved in the FA Cup Quarter Finals.

I fancy Manchester United, Sheffield United, Chelsea and Manchester City to make up the final four in the FA Cup, but I do think the last three Cup ties may all be highly competitive affairs.

And finally, I do know there has been a decisive moment in the Premier League in the last couple of days, but I couldn't care less and won't talk about it much... And that is most definitely the United fan in me speaking.

Aston Villa v Wolves Pick: One team is chasing a place in the top four and the other is simply chasing a place in the Premier League and that means there are a big three points on offer at Villa Park when Aston Villa host Wolves on Saturday lunchtime.

The majority of the League games in this round of fixtures will be played in midweek and so there is a big chance for these two clubs to put some real pressure on their rivals around them.

For Aston Villa things are most simple- a win would see them out of the bottom three and 3 points clear of the likes of Bournemouth and West Ham United below them. They have been a little unfortunate to not have more than the 2 points earned from three League games in the restart of English Football.

The underlying statistics have displayed the fact that Aston Villa have arguably created the better chances in each game and it is just a lack of a goalscorer which is letting them down. Defensively they do make mistakes which are proving to be costly, but they have limited the opportunities for Sheffield United and Newcastle United and Dean Smith has to be reminding his players how close they are coming to some real success.

Of course it is going to be far from easy against a Wolves team who could enter the top four if Chelsea have been beaten by Manchester City on Thursday. Regardless Nuno Espirito Santo will be looking for his team to make it three wins from three against clubs currently in the bottom four places after Wolves saw off West Ham United and Bournemouth with clean sheets in both games.

Defensively they have come out of the three month break with some real stubbornness that has become a feature of the Wolves team since the returned to the top flight under their Portuguese manager. They have simply not given West Ham United or Bournemouth much encouragement, but Aston Villa have looked a little more threatening than both of their relegation rivals.

And on the other side of the pitch, Wolves have relied on some magic from Adama Traore and clinical finishing of Raul Jimenez to earn the points they have. It would be foolish to criticise that combination, but Wolves have not been creating a lot of chances in their opening two games and that makes them vulnerable at short odds to win this fixture.

I think this is a real chance for Aston Villa who are unbeaten in 4 at home against Wolves and I do think they could earn an upset result. They are playing a little better than the results would indicate and Wolves have not dominated either match so having a strong start with the hosts is my feeling on the fixture.

I simply won't be surprised if Aston Villa avoid a defeat here on the form out of the break.

Watford v Southampton Pick: At this stage you would think Southampton have enough points to avoid relegation, but Ralph Hasenhuttl will be looking for his team to earn a big win on Sunday which would effectively confirm their spot in the top flight.

Make no mistake about, this is a huge game for Watford too who were beaten 1-0 at Burnley on Thursday. That follows a home draw with Leicester City, but Watford can't keep relying on the teams below them to falter as they have been and home form is going to be critical with the early signs from the Premier League being that the empty stands are not having the same kind of effect as they did in the Bundesliga.

In the next few weeks Watford host Southampton, Newcastle United and Norwich City and these are games they need to take advantage of. The short turnaround is a bit of a concern, but at least their opponent's also played in very hot weather on Thursday and Watford have been creating chances and playing well at Vicarage Road under Nigel Pearson.

They will need to be playing well to see off a Southampton team who have been better away from St Mary's in the Premier League. A 0-3 win at Norwich City to open 'Project Restart' has been followed by a 0-2 home loss to Arsenal, but Southampton have played some neat football in both games and have a player in Danny Ings who can be very clinical when the chances open up for him.

Both teams should want to be playing on the front foot and I do think it could lead to a decent game. Goals are slightly down on the small sample of games since the resumption of play, but Watford and Southampton have both created chances while looking vulnerable at the back.

They shared out three goals when meeting at St Mary's earlier in the season and both teams have scored in 3 straight meetings here. A 1-1 isn't out of the question, but Southampton have looked to be positive under Ralph Hasenhuttl and a point for Nigel Pearson is perhaps not the most suitable result either.

It should mean both are pushing for the three points and 8 of the last 10 between these clubs at Vicarage Road have ended with three or more goals scored. That is the direction I think this live Sunday fixture will be heading and my narrow lean is that Watford might come away with the three points.

Crystal Palace v Burnley Pick: There is no doubt that football being back is providing some entertainment for people in the United Kingdom on an almost daily basis, but some fixtures look to have all of the hallmarks of a tight, competitive affair with limited chances expected at either end of the pitch.

Crystal Palace versus Burnley looks to fit that mould, especially with the likes of Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha, Jay Rodriguez, Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes all looking like they may miss out.

Neither team is one that creates a lot of chances anyway, but when you remove that kind of attacking threat for both and it really becomes difficult to see where the goals will be coming from.

Even set pieces that both Roy Hodgson and Sean Dyche would look to take advantage of will be going into the defensive strengths of their opponents and I am expecting little action.

Those could be famous last words, but recent games for both have shown that chances come at a premium. Crystal Palace did have 4 clean sheets in a row before their thumping at Anfield, while Burnley had kept clean sheets in 2 of 3 away Premier League games before their own hammering but at the Etihad Stadium.

5 of the last 6 between Crystal Palace and Burnley have seen one or both teams fail to score including in the 0-2 win secured by The Eagles earlier this season. 8 of the last 9 at Selhurst Park between these clubs have done the same including the last 4 in a row and I think there is every chance that there will be at least one clean sheet in this game.

A single goal may be enough to take the three points, but picking a winner is not easy. I have to give a narrow edge to Crystal Palace who have won back to back games at Selhurst Park by the same 1-0 scoreline, but the empty stands and key injuries makes this a much more difficult game to pick a winner from.

Brighton v Manchester United PickFour points from six could easily have been maximum points for Brighton who missed a penalty at the King Power Stadium in a goalless draw with Leicester City. Despite that, Graham Potter has to be very glad of the 6 points that are now between Brighton and the bottom three and with seven games remaining it feels like The Seagulls are well on their way to a fourth consecutive season in the top flight.

Home games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City to come are going to be difficult for Brighton to negotiate, but they have beaten Manchester United twice in a row here. Brighton have also lost 1 of their last 6 at the Amex Stadium in the Premier League which includes earning a draw with Chelsea and beating Arsenal, while the players have had a week to recover and prepare for this fixture.

Under Graham Potter Brighton do create chances and they play with positivity and any points earned from this fixture would be bonus ones in the fight to avoid the drop. Defensively there are some questions, but they are facing a Manchester United team who have drawn 4 of their last 6 away games in normal time and all by the same 1-1 scoreline.

1-1 has been a popular score in recent Brighton home games and only a Neal Maupay injury time goal against Arsenal prevented 4 of the last 5 at the Amex Stadium finishing with that final score.

It does suggest 1-1 is a player in this League game despite Manchester United's 14 game unbeaten run. I have already mentioned the 4 draws in 6 away games in all competitions in normal time which includes visits to Club Brugge and Norwich City and Brighton are arguably as good or better than both of those.

Manchester United have a poor record here having lost on back to back visits since Brighton were promoted to the top flight and they have won 2 of their last 14 away games in the Premier League when set as the favourite.

That is a worry for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as he looks to push Manchester United back into the Champions League, but the recent performances have been encouraging. Breaking down Brighton won't be easy so it is important to make a fast start, but there have been enough chances in recent games at this Stadium to believe goals could be the outcome.

As alluded to above, 1-1 is a dangerous scoreline which would suit Brighton much more than Manchester United. All 4 of Manchester United's away draws in their last 6 on their travels have ended 1-1 in normal time, but an attacking line up will be selected and I do think Manchester United are creating enough to get at least one more here.

Even that may not be enough to win the game if Brighton are anything near as good as they can be under Graham Potter. There were four goals shared out when these teams met at Old Trafford back in November 2019, and I am going to be expecting at least three here. The chances in recent home/away games respectively for both teams suggest both can score and it may be an open encounter if the first goal comes in the first half hour of this one.

Bournemouth v Newcastle United PickFive of the final six games Bournemouth will be playing will be against clubs that are chasing European positions and so you have to feel that time is running out for them in their bid to escape the drop. Losses to Crystal Palace and Wolves without scoring a goal has to be a massive concern for a squad that might be missing Joshua King in a week where Callum Wilson is suspended.

This is not the time for excuses though and Bournemouth have had plenty of time to work on things ahead of what looks to be a winnable fixture at the Vitality Stadium. Eddie Howe has to be pleased his team have not lost touch with those sides above them despite the consecutive losses out of the restart, but games are running out and Bournemouth will really begin to fear the worst if they can't win this one.

It looks to be coming at a good time with Newcastle United essentially safe from relegation and having been chasing shadows for large portions of the late Sunday evening defeat to Manchester City. The FA Cup has been lost to Steve Bruce's men, but Newcastle United have to be respected with nothing to lose.

Motivation might be an issue, but some of these players are looking to prove they could be kept around if the rumoured takeover occurs at St James' Park. That should keep them honest and Newcastle United will believe they can take create chances here, although their own defence has not been nearly as effective away from home as it has at home.

Bournemouth are without key attacking talents, but they have generally been a team who do create chances in their own Stadium. The lack of fans is a blow for The Cherries, but excuses have to be left in the dressing room as they fight for their lives at the bottom of the table.

The last two times these teams have met at this ground have both ended 2-2 and I do think both will hit the net in this one too. With so much on the line for Bournemouth, I expect the last week to have been one in which they have worked on making sure they get things right in the final third and I expect the hosts to make this an open contest.

5 of the last 6 between these clubs have finished with three or more goals shared out including the last 2 at the Vitality Stadium. The assumption being made is that this one won't go the same way, but I am not sure that is the right thinking with Newcastle United showing they can score goals on their travels but conceding too many.

Chances in recent home/away games respectively suggest this one could go the same way as the recent trend indicates.

Arsenal v Norwich City PickA place in the FA Cup Semi Final will be welcomed by all associated with Arsenal, but Mikel Arteta will want to improve the League position and be in a position to earn a European spot through the final standings.

With the four that make up the Semi Final, Arsenal know they are likely to have two paths back into European competition. They could win the Cup and do that, but even if they don't, the final Europa League place looks set to fall down to 7th place in the Premier League and Arsenal are 2 points behind Tottenham Hotspur in that spot.

No one needs to get too far ahead of themselves and all Arsenal will want is to finish strongly and as high as possible in the Division. This looks like being one of the more straight-forward fixtures they are going to face down the stretch and Mikel Arteta will want a third straight win to give his players some momentum.

Following this home game against bottom club Norwich City, Arsenal play Wolves, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool so dropping points here could be fatal for Arsenal's European bid from their Premier League finish.

Arsenal have won 4 of their last 5 Premier League games at the Emirates Stadium and they have kept 3 clean sheets in those victories. They looked like they could be vulnerable from set pieces against Sheffield United and Brighton, but The Gunners have largely defended well enough in their last 3 games to believe they can control what has been a goal-shy Norwich City.

Only a Todd Cantwell strike has bothered the scoreboard since Norwich City returned to competitive action and the worry for Daniel Farke is the very small amount of chances created. That is a real worry for a team who have scored just 6 away goals all season and Norwich City are also going to have to deal with potential fatigue issues having played Extra Time with ten men on Saturday.

Timm Klose's suspension means the defence is missing yet another player and I think it would be a real surprise if Norwich City are able to contain Arsenal. They have only scored a single goal in their last 6 away Premier League games and unsurprisingly Norwich City have been beaten 5 times in that run.

This feels like a game in which Arsenal should be too strong and I would expect them to win the fixture. The defence can be a concern, but Arsenal may make it 4 clean sheets in 6 home Premier League games and that is the most likely outcome of this one in my opinion.

Everton v Leicester City PickAt this stage of the Premier League season games do take on added significance and this is a huge one for both Everton and Leicester City who are trying to fulfil European ambitions.

When the season kicked off in August 2019, Brendan Rodgers and Leicester City would have been very pleased with a Europa League spot in absolute honesty. A strong run in Autumn and Winter meant Leicester City were massively overachieving as they entered the top four and looked pretty secure in those positions, but Leicester City have looked like a club that have peaked.

1 win from 7 Premier League games is an indication of that and Leicester City are arguably fortunate to have escaped with draws against Watford and Brighton since the restart. With Chelsea, Wolves and Manchester United improving, Leicester City suddenly see just 3 points between them and 5th place and 6 points between them and 6th.

Games are far from easy to complete the season and a visit to an Everton side that are unbeaten in 9 at home in all competitions is another huge test. That is especially so when playing on Sunday in a tough Cup tie while Everton were resting and recovering and preparing for this one.

Everton have drawn 3 of their last 4 here, but one of those saw them inexplicably concede twice deep in injury time in a 2-2 draw with Newcastle United. A late VAR intervention prevented Everton beating Manchester United in a 1-1 draw and they had much the better chances in their goalless draw with Liverpool to restart their League campaign after the three month break.

Put all together it suggests Everton are a very dangerous prospect for Leicester City and there are real aims of finishing in the top seven which may be enough for a Europa League spot. Win this one and they would only be a point behind Tottenham Hotspur who currently hold 7th place and I do think Everton's numbers are impressive enough to be respected.

Carlo Ancelotti should have the team ready to go and I do think Leicester City are vulnerable. The Foxes did win 0-1 here last season, but Everton might be able to expose any fatigue that may be lingering in the Leicester City legs after losing to Chelsea on Sunday and I do think the home team might have enough to edge to the three points.

West Ham United v Chelsea PickDavid Moyes will likely have appreciated the additional time to get his West Ham United team refocused after their latest defeat in the Premier League. While the manager felt his team were hard done by in their defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United looked largely toothless and presented too many good chances for the hosts to pass up.

Defensively they were a little better when hosting Wolves, but West Ham United were dismissed that day too. The Hammers have been scoring more goals at home, but this is a team who have struggled defensively and it is not good news ahead of facing a Chelsea team that have only scored fewer away goals than Manchester City in the Premier League this season.

The 0-1 win at Leicester City will have given Chelsea another boost of confidence and they have now won 5 in a row including all 3 out of the three month break. They have created some very good chances, although there are always concerns about Chelsea at the back and especially if they are going to be missing Andreas Christensen this week.

It is difficult to see how West Ham United can exploit those vulnerabilities considering their recent performances. The squad look short of confidence and even the fact they have won 3 of their last 5 at home against rivals Chelsea is not really comforting at the moment.

The Hammers did win at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, but Chelsea look in a much better position now. Poor finishing cost Chelsea that day and recent games suggest that won't be the case now and I do very much believe The Blues win this one.

Chelsea had scored at least two goals in 4 away games in a row before the win at the King Power Stadium on Sunday. They should be able to hit at least two at the London Stadium against this West Ham United team and I expect that will be enough for Chelsea to maintain their gap to the Champions League chasing sides in 5th and 6th place. 

Sheffield United v Tottenham Hotspur PickThe restart to the Premier League season has not gone as planned for Sheffield United who have created very little and struggled for goals. They did finally look more threatening in their FA Cup tie against Arsenal, but even then Sheffield United were unable to secure a positive result and they have lost 3 in a row.

Chris Wilder will be proud of his players for the way the season has gone, but he will be demanding they don't end this season with a whimper. Being at home is a plus for Sheffield United if their performance against Arsenal is anything to go by and this Tottenham Hotspur team are far from watertight at the back.

Tottenham Hotspur did earn a clean sheet against West Ham United, but there were opportunities for the visitors that day. Jose Mourinho has had a lot of time to prepare his team for this difficult away game, but Tottenham Hotspur have looked anything but secure at the back and I think they will do very well to keep a clean sheet.

It is also hard to see Spurs at such a short price to win considering how they have been performing away from home before the break. You can't really read into form when the last away matches were so long ago, but Jose Mourinho has to be happy with his attacking options that are available for him now compared with March.

Those attackers will cause problems for Sheffield United who have not looked the same defensively without Jack O'Connell who could still be missing on Thursday.

Both teams hitting the net would not be a big surprise as was the case when these teams met in North London earlier this season. There should be chances and I am not sure why either manager would want to settle for a 1-1 draw considering they have ambitions of wanting to play in Europe next season.

An attacking game could quickly be in the making if we get another first half goal as we saw on Sunday and I think it could be a fixture that features at least three goals.

Manchester City v Liverpool PickThere are some real unknowns ahead of this Premier League fixture between the top two in England and that does make things a little murkier when writing out a prediction for how I anticipate things to go.

Both Manchester City and Liverpool may already be thinking about how best to prepare their squads for other things at this point of the season- the former want to win the FA Cup and Champions League while the latter will be thinking about how they can defend their title in the 2020/21 season and making sure the whole squad is ready to kick on immediately knowing there is limited time for 'pre season' this time around.

In saying that I do think both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp will pick strong teams as they look to make a statement for the next season. The Spaniard will want to show his Manchester City team are ready to fight back having lost their grip on the title, while Klopp will want his team to show this season was anything but a flash in the pan.

Manchester City being at home should be an advantage, but Pep Guardiola's team have regularly found things difficult when facing Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool. The pace of the front three that the visitors have expose Manchester City's defensive shortcomings, but for large portions of matches here it is the home team who dominate the ball.

No Sergio Aguero is a blow, but Manchester City do have plenty of quality to call upon and I do think they have had time from Sunday to recover and put in a big performance.

They have been strong at home out of the break in play and you can't forget Liverpool were just struggling away from home when that break came. Even in their sole away game at Everton since then it was the home team who had the better chances and Liverpool have not scored in their last 4 away games in all competitions while losing 3 in a row before escaping with a draw at Goodison Park.

A draw is not out of the realms of possibility in this one, but I do think Guardiola will be telling his players they can at least prevent Liverpool from earning the points they need to break their record haul of 100 points set a couple of seasons ago.

That should be motivation for Manchester City who might be more focused than the Liverpool players celebrating being Champions and I believe that will lead to a narrow home win.

MY PICKS: Aston Villa + 0.75 Asian Handicap
Watford-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals
Crystal Palace-Burnley BTTS NO
Brighton-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals
Bournemouth-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals

Arsenal Win to Nil
Everton 0 Asian Handicap
Chelsea to Win & Over 1.5 Goals
Sheffield United-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals
Manchester City - 0.25 Asian Handicap

Fantasy Football GW 32+
99 points in GW30+ followed by 98 points in GW31+ is pretty much the perfect way for the FPL game to restart for my team, but this is when things are going to get a little more difficult.

With the Premier League title race already over, you can imagine the top two are going to be doing a lot of rotating over the coming weeks which means their top names might not be getting the minutes they would usually. Effectively it will be similar to a pre-season for those two clubs knowing there is likely going to be a very short break between the 2019/20 season and the 2020/21 campaign which is rumoured to start on September 12th.

That will mean the whole squad being managed, while there is also the issues that come with having games every three or four days that is going to be make it difficult for every manager in the Division.

It seeps down to us playing the FPL game and it is the main reason I have decided against playing my Free Hit Chip in GW32+ as I suggested I may do earlier this week.

Instead I am comfortable enough with my options for the starting eleven and knowing I have decent bench players to come in if they are needed. This is all very much with GW33+ in mind when I want to use the squad I have to play my Bench Boost on a weekend when Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool all host bottom five clubs and Manchester City play at Southampton.

In GW31+ it was the decision to Captain Anthony Martial that proved to be a huge reason I ended up with as many points as I did. His hat-trick as a midfield option in the game, but one who is playing up front in reality, was a huge boost and I also managed to secure the clean sheets from the defensive players targeted.

I was close to using a transfer this week to bring in a Burnley defender who have Crystal Palace away and Sheffield United at home in their next two games. I would have looked to replace my Newcastle United defender, Federico Fernandez, who are playing at Bournemouth just a couple of days after hosting Manchester City in the Cup. A rested Bournemouth team might cause more problems, but ultimately I feel it is not something I will end up doing so I can have two transfers to use in GW33+ if they are needed (injuries and suspensions could occur before that and I want fifteen players all getting minutes for the Bench Boost).

So at the time of writing and with not much time before the GW32+ deadline is locked down, this looks to be the team I am going with. I am toying with changing my Captain, but that might literally come down to a decision on Saturday morning moments before the deadline comes down.

Emiliano Martinez Arsenal (v Norwich): A cheap goalkeeper option opened up when Bernd Leno went down with an injury, but he does have to get through the Cup tie at Sheffield United.

Federico Fernandez Newcastle United (@ Bournemouth): This might have been a better looking game if Bournemouth did not have a full week to prepare and Newcastle United were not playing in the Cup on Sunday.

Harry Maguire Manchester United (@ Brighton): This has not been the best venue for Manchester United to visit of late, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has United in form and playing with confidence. Another who has to get through a Cup game before the Premier League outing.

Willy Boly Wolves (@ Aston Villa): My feeling is that Aston Villa can get a point out of this one, but I can't ignore the Wolves clean sheets in both games since the restart. I don't want to misjudge the early kick off and miss out on another if Wolves can keep the momentum behind them.

Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City (v Liverpool): There are four days between Manchester City's game at Newcastle United in the FA Cup and this Premier League game against Liverpool. I have to expect Pep Guardiola will pick a team to lay down a marker for the new season having lost his grip on the Premier League title.

Anthony Martial Manchester United (@ Brighton) [C]: A hat trick last time out and I have to expect the Frenchman to start here as Manchester United continue their push for the top four. Plays up front, and has scored in four of his last six Premier League games.

Bruno Fernandes Manchester United (@ Brighton): A kind fixture list, strong form, and a potential assist/goalscorer for Manchester United. Also on penalty duties.

Harvey Barnes Leicester City (@ Everton): This is a difficult game for a slumping Leicester City just a few days after a big Cup Quarter Final. Harvey Barnes has some strong underlying stats over his last few games, but I will be keeping an eye on him having not started last time out.

Mason Mount Chelsea (@ West Ham United): Has looked in good nick out of the break in play and Chelsea been creating chances and scoring goals. Mason Mount was a potential Captain choice, but yet another player having to complete a Cup tie and avoid injury.

Joelinton Newcastle United (@ Bournemouth): The home team are far from convincing at the back and have to take risks in a big fixture to try and avoid the drop. It could give Newcastle United some opportunities and Joelinton does find himself in good positions, even if he has had problems with his finishing.

Raul Jimenez Wolves (@ Aston Villa): As I have said above, I think Aston Villa have a chance in this game. However Raul Jimenez has proved to be clinical when the chances have come his way in the first two games since the restart and looks the biggest danger for relegation threatened Villa... A team who give up chances.

Bench- Alisson, Roberto Firmino, Virgil Van Dijk, James Justin