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Thursday, 26 December 2013

Boxing Day Football Picks 2013 (December 26th)

So has everyone filled themselves up with turkey and mulled wine this Christmas? I hope everyone had a nice time, but the best part of Christmas has to be the football that we get and Boxing Day is shaping up to be full of quality on the field, a perfect way to rest off the over-eating fans have done the day before.

We are not at the half way stage of the Premier League campaign in terms of games, but Christmas has regularly provided some sort of insight into what to expect over the final five months of the season. Being bottom of the table on Christmas morning has pretty much spelled curtains when it comes to survival for that team, although Gus Poyet and his Sunderland side will be hoping they can emulate West Brom in 2005 and upset the odds.

Poyet will feel his Sunderland team are far from cut off at the bottom of the table with 4 points separating them from West Ham United in the final spot outside of the relegation zone, although he will need his team to start winning games and then to work some magic in the January transfer window.

On the other end of the spectrum, Liverpool's main goal of finishing in the top four places of the League has history behind them now they have finished top of the pile in time for Christmas morning. Over the last few years, teams in that position haven't finished outside of the top four, although it has been pointed out to me that this season is developing in a very different way and with so little to choose between the top eight sides, that trend may not be in as strong a position as previous years.

I'm yet to be convinced about Liverpool as a title challenger, but their start to the season certainly makes them a threat when it comes down to where the top four places end up, especially if they can keep Luis Suarez fit and have Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge return from injury. While a lot of their rivals for those positions will also be negotiating European football from February onwards, Liverpool have a clear run at finishing in the top four and are genuine contenders for those positions.

It is perhaps arguable that they won't have too many better chances to finish in those positions if they steer clear of injury with their full focus on the Premier League and potentially an FA Cup run.

The next four days will tell us all we need to know about Liverpool as they face back to back away tests at Manchester City and Chelsea, while it also may become clearer which teams will be challenging for the Premier League title. Manchester City are definitely improving away from home and look the team to beat, while there are doubts about Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal although I think the latter of those sides will be a threat if they keep swatting away the 'lesser' teams in the Premier League.

Tottenham Hotspur under a new manager are only 6 points behind Liverpool and will be a threat for the top four if Tim Sherwood gets his ideas across, something he looks capable of if taking the win at Southampton as any indication of their potential. And don't forget an improving Manchester United who have the pedigree in the squad to go on a long winning run and an Everton team that have attached onto Roberto Martinez' ideas very quickly and, like neighbours Liverpool, have no distractions with European football.

All in all, both ends of the table look to have fascinating stories to develop and the next week is important for all of those sides to pick up points as we have three matches in quick succession. Nothing will be cleared up after those matches, but the table begins to take shape for the months ahead. With the way the Premier League has gone this season, I am expecting a lot of twists and turns along the way.

Hull City v Manchester United Pick: After being ruled out of the Premier League title by some of the 'experts' on TV, Manchester United have quietly gone about their business and picked up some real form after the lows of back to back League defeats at Old Trafford.

4 wins in a row in all competitions have seen United reach the last 16 in the Champions League, the Semi Final of the League Cup and get a little closer to the Premier League leaders. I would be surprised if United are able to string together enough positive results to win the title this season, but the top four is more than a distinct possibility and the side can get a little closer and apply more pressure with a win in the early kick off on Boxing Day.

It certainly won't be easy for Manchester United to pick up the three points against a Hull City side that don't concede too many goals in front of their own fans and have already seen off Liverpool here this season. However, Hull City have found it a little more difficult to score goals in recent games at the KC Stadium, failing to find the net in 3 of their last 5 games, but it's a testament to their resiliency that Hull have lost just 1 home game all season and that alone makes the United odds on quote look ridiculously short.

I do think United can win this game, but it'll be tough and tight throughout and the best way to back the away side may be for them to win by a single goal margin. Manchester United won by a single goal at Sunderland and were holding on to a one goal lead at Cardiff City before a late sucker punch from the home side. I don't believe Hull will roll over in this one and it could be a tense game for Manchester United but one where their recent confidence formed from 4 wins in a row could make the difference in a close game.

Chelsea v Swansea Pick: I don't think Chelsea fans would be too disappointed with the point picked up at Arsenal on Monday night, but they will expect the side to put three points in the bank before the big game against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon.

Chelsea should be too strong for a Swansea side that is struggling through injuries and have been far too inconsistent in recent games. I am concerned with Chelsea's inconsistent results themselves, but they have generally proved good enough to win at home although the last two wins have been nervy affairs.

The good news for Jose Mourinho is Swansea are unlikely to come here to shut up shop and they will allow Chelsea to play their football. That could be enough for the creative players in the Chelsea side to be able to create chances for the Blues, although they will need more help from a collection of strikers that have struggled if they are to win this one with a little more comfort.

Swansea played well at Manchester City recently and were unlucky to lose as easily as they did, but they concede goals and might struggle to trouble Chelsea without Nathan Dyer and Michu in the line up. I will look to Chelsea to pick up a confidence boosting win to take into the game against Liverpool and cover the Asian Handicap.

Everton v Sunderland Pick: Over recent years, backing Everton at short odds to win games at Goodison Park rarely were successful forays, but Roberto Martinez may be helping them shed those issues this season as he looks to guide the team into the Champions League.

Everton are in very good form and have also thumped the likes of Stoke City and Fulham in their most recent games at home, while the attacking football that Martinez likes playing has led to Everton scoring at least three goals in their last 3 Premier Leagues at Goodison.

All of that doesn't bode well for Sunderland who remain bottom of the table, although they have shown a little more resiliency in their play since Gus Poyet took over as manager. Most of their more positive results have come at the Stadium of Light though, but a lack of goals is costing Sunderland the chance to pick up more points.

They have earned goalless draws in their last 2 away games in the Premier League, but Sunderland have now failed to score in 6 straight away games and that is going to be a concern against an Everton side that is likely going to score goals. If Everton continue their recent run of goals at home, it is hard to see Sunderland ending this one with anything other than a defeat by a couple of goals at the least.

Newcastle United v Stoke City Pick: There aren't too many teams that can say they are in the same kind of form that Newcastle United have shown in the last six weeks and I expect the home side will prove to be a little too strong for Stoke City in this Boxing Day clash.

Newcastle should really have continued their recent winning run at St James' Park when faced with Southampton as Loic Remy missed a glorious chance to win that game, although it was probably a fair result as both teams shared the points. They have been playing better and better in recent weeks and I think there is a real confidence in a side that doesn't have European football to worry about which has kept the squad fresher than the same time last year.

That can prove to be the real difference for them in the last five months of this season, although Newcastle United have to add to the squad and not lose some vital members that are attracting attention from 'bigger' clubs.

I don't think the Champions League is quite in their reach, but I think they can at least get a little closer to the top four with a win on Boxing Day. Stoke City have conceded a fair few goals away from home and are clearly not as strong away from the Brittania Stadium as they are in front of their own fans.

Stoke can be a stubborn side though so they can't be under-estimated, although I do believe there is enough creative quality in this Newcastle side to find a winner in the game.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Brom Pick: I wasn't sure about the appointment of Tim Sherwood before watching the Tottenham Hotspur game last weekend and he is clearly freeing up a team that had been too restricted in their play from earlier in the season. I have been saying for a while that Harry Redknapp would have got more from the squad than Andre Villas-Boas, and it seems Sherwood is from the same cloth as Redknapp.

Of course we don't know if he has the same motivational effect that Redknapp could have on a squad, but Sherwood looks very likely to play attacking formations and utilise the quality that Spurs clearly have in the squad.

I would be surprised if Sherwood takes a step back since being officially appointed as permanent manager of the club, so I expect an attacking line up to take the field and one that could pose plenty of problems for West Brom.

West Brom have looked unsure of themselves in recent games and their poor run of form has extended to 7 games as they have slipped closer to the relegation zone than the club would want. Steve Clarke deserved more time, but the Premier League is big business and West Brom can't afford to drop out of the top flight so felt the change had to be made.

I just feel this could be a bad time to visit White Hart Lane with the confidence perhaps returned to the side after an important win at Southampton last weekend. Tottenham Hotspur have goals in them and I like them to win this game and cover the Asian Handicap which returns as a push if Spurs win by a single goal.

West Ham United v Arsenal Pick: It wasn't the game that the television cameras would have been hoping for when they placed Arsenal and Chelsea in the sole Monday night slot earlier this week, but it could be an important point for the home side as they continue challenging for the Premier League title.

Arsenal have been strong in games where they are expected to win this season and that is the main reason that they are as high in the table as they are, especially considering Arsenal have won 2 of their 6 games against teams in the top eight so far.

There are goals in the Arsenal side as shown by the 3 they scored at Cardiff City and Manchester City in recent weeks and that is going to be a problem for West Ham United to overcome. It is highlighted by the fact that West Ham have conceded 3 goals to Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea at Upton Park this season and the lack of goals makes this a big ask for them to earn something from the game.

Sam Allardyce might be under pressure by the fans, but I think he will be given time to turn things around at Upton Park, although his side could potentially fall into the bottom three if they lose on Thursday.

I also feel there is the chance that West Ham will be looking ahead to Saturday when they have a much more 'winnable' home game in the early kick off against West Brom and I like Arsenal to prove to be too much for the Hammers here. Arsenal's last two wins here have come by more than a single goal margin and I like them to win this game by covering the Asian Handicap.

Manchester City v Liverpool Pick: For the second home game in a row, Manchester City will be hosting the Premier League leaders and I think it is worth staying on the bandwagon and backing them to win yet another game at the Etihad Stadium.

I have been impressed with the Liverpool performance at White Hart Lane, but that was against a Tottenham Hotspur side that had seemingly lost faith with their manager Andre Villas-Boas and they are not the same side away from Anfield.

Luis Suarez has been in top form and will provide a threat for Manchester City's defence that has struggled to keep clean sheets. However, it will be tough for Suarez to do it all without Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard especially against a rampant Manchester City side in front of their own fans.

The absence of Sergio Aguero has to be a concern, but Manuel Pellegrini has options up front and I think Manchester City's power will be too much for Liverpool in this one.

MY PICKS: Manchester United to win by One Goal @ 3.60 Ladbrokes(1 Unit)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Newcastle United @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Manchester City @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)

December Update16-12-1, + 12.34 Units (41 Units Staked, + 30.10% Yield)

November Final17-19-1, + 0.50 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.09% Yield)
October Final20-16-1, + 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, + 25.37% Yield)
September Final13-12, + 1.24 Units (39 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
August Final13-26, - 12.13 Units (54 Units Staked, - 22.46% Yield)

Season 2013/1463-63-1, + 2.55 Units (200 Units Staked, + 1.28% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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