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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Weekend Football Picks 2013 (December 14-15)

The Champions League and the Europa League competitions have both reached the knock out stage and I can only imagine how disappointed both Arsenal and Manchester City are in finishing second in their Groups which means they are almost certainly going to have a difficult last 16 tie.

There is clearly a difference in quality between the Group winners and the runners-up and I think Chelsea and Manchester United will both be satisfied that they can only meet Bayer Leverkusen/Schalke, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Milan, or Zenit in the next stage.

In the mean time, neither Manchester City or Arsenal will be worrying about the draw that will be made on Monday morning as they meet each other in the big game of the Premier League this weekend. You can always tell how much the game means by the level of pressure each manager is trying to put on the other, although I do have the feeling that Arsene Wenger is the one that is trying to shift the pressure off his own side. Wenger knows Arsenal need to 'prove' they are capable of winning the Premier League, and he won't have a better stadium to prove his team's credentials in what is a fascinating game for everyone to enjoy.

The other thing that obviously would have caught my eye this week was the documentary produced by ITV, 'Vieira v Keane: Best of Enemies'- it was a fantastic piece put together, especially getting to hear my hero Roy Keane speak about some of the battles that are still so fresh in my mind.

The charisma and strength of character that Keane displayed in his pomp is still burning brightly and it shone through and I would do anything to see Manchester United sign a player like him to dominate the midfield as he did for twelve and a half years.

I was, however, a little surprised by the two teams that the players put together, especially Patrick Vieira making no mention of Marc Overmars who was such a big part of the 1998 Double winning team. Overmars might not have had a long career with Arsenal, but I remember him being a fantastic player with a direct threat full of pace and goals, a lot like Andrei Kanchelskis for United.

It wasn't made clear if the teams consisted of players playing to their standard while with the club, or just what they became, because Keano couldn't have picked Cristiano Ronaldo in 2005 as being a better player than Ryan Giggs was... That looked like a pick of a player that became the fantastic player he was in the season after Keane departed (that wasn't linked, I actually think the crap he got from the media after the Portugal-England World Cup game sparked Ronaldo's dominating season in 2006/07).

If I was picking from Vieira's and Keane's times at their respective clubs and I was picking players solely for individual seasons during that time and not what they did over a period of years, my team may have been slightly different.

I would have gone for, in that case, Schmeichel, Neville, Stam, Adams, Irwin, Kanchelskis, Keane, Vieira, Overmars, Henry and Cantona/Van Nistelrooy.

My only changes from a longer period of players work and not on individual seasons would see Beckham and Giggs come in as the wingers instead and it would be a United dominated team (no bias, I swear!!)

Manchester City v Arsenal Pick: This is by far the biggest game of the weekend in terms of the Premier League, and it is just a shame that the two clubs had contrasting results in the Champions League this week.

Before those games during the week, Manchester City were a big price to win this game, a ridiculously big price that would have been one of my biggest picks of the season to win.

I still think Manchester City are being under-estimated considering their home form and I can see them causing Arsenal a lot of problems in this one. While Arsenal have played well this season, they have not impressed so much in their big games and a quick look through those results suggest Manchester City are going to be a little too good this weekend.

Arsenal struggled to a win over Tottenham Hotspur at home and were a little fortunate to win in Dortmund even with the injuries that the home side had in that game. The Gunners didn't play well at Old Trafford in the 1-0 loss to Manchester United nor in Naples and any kind of performance like that will see Manchester City come off as comfortable winners in my opinion.

There is enough talent in the Arsenal squad to cause problems for this Manchester City defence, but I don't know how they will contain City when they come forward. It is hard to see this game going in another way and I like Manchester City to win this one.

Everton v Fulham Pick: I'm not a big fan of siding with a 'flavour of the month' team, and that is what Everton are after their performances against Manchester United and Arsenal, but I do like Everton to see off Fulham in this one.

One element of the Everton game that has changed from last season is the attacking potential they are showing in games at Goodison Park as proven by scoring 3 goals against Newcastle United and Liverpool and also hitting 4 against Stoke City.

It won't be easy against a Fulham team that may have been reinvigorated by Rene Meulensteen in the last couple of games, although both of those games came at Craven Cottage. Fulham haven't travelled so well away from home and have been conceding a fair few goals and that is an area where Everton could take advantage.

Everton are not usually a team you want to back to win by a couple of goals in any game, but they do hold the edge in this one and I think the week off will have helped recharge their batteries. They have scored enough goals to think they can win with a decent margin and at odds against, I think they are worth chancing.

Newcastle United v Southampton Pick: Alan Pardew was rightly given a lot of praise for engineering Newcastle United's first win at Old Trafford for over 40 years last weekend, but it would be just the way of Newcastle to fail to win this game as a follow up.

To be fair to the home side, they have backed up wins over Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur previously, but they will be missing Yohan Cabaye for this game and I don't think Southampton are to be under-estimated.

Southampton have hit the wall of late, but they did earn a big point against Manchester City last week and have also picked up points at Liverpool and Manchester United this year. They are capable of coming to St James' Park and winning, but losing Artur Boruc for a prolonged period would be tough for them to handle.

There should be chances at both ends in this one as Southampton have begun to loosen up defensively from the performances they had earlier in the campaign. Newcastle have scored 2 goals in each of their last 5 home games in the Premier League, but they only have 1 clean sheet in that run and Southampton have scored in 5 of their last 6 away games, while conceding at least 2 goals at Arsenal and Chelsea in their most recent away games.

All of this is pointing for the potential for goals in this one, which is perhaps under-rated by the layers and worth backing.

Aston Villa v Manchester United Pick: David Moyes just can't seem to get the run of health in his squad that he is desperate for, although the problem with Robin Van Persie has looked predictable after he played the full game against Newcastle United last week and came off the bench in the Champions League on Tuesday.

The training regime has also been criticised, but I do think Moyes could have done with a bit of luck and a chance to partner Van Persie with Wayne Rooney over Christmas.

It has made a visit to Villa Park that much tougher for Manchester United who need to find a way to earn the three points and get moving in the right direction up the table. They can't afford to drop more points to that end and I think Manchester United need to improve defensively if they are to win points in the coming weeks against opposition they are expected to beat.

Odds on quotes are ridiculous when you consider the form United have displayed, but I also feel Aston Villa are a much different prospect at home than they are away. Paul Lambert hasn't quite got the balance right at Villa Park as his team seems to be much more comfortable counter-attacking and that has seen them struggle to score goals at home.

Both Everton and Tottenham Hotspur both have come to Villa Park and left with a clean sheet along with the three points and I think Manchester United will look to base their success on a solid foundation. While they have looked vulnerable away from home, this is the kind of game where United will look to dig in and make life tough and I will back the away side to win with a clean sheet.

Norwich City v Swansea Pick: There aren't many times when you look at the fixture list but can't understand why one team is considered the underdog when it feels like so many factors are in their favour.

This week Norwich City are at home, where they have won their last 2 games, and they are playing a team that has just had to travel for a Europa League game a couple of days ago.

I also think the layers are not taking into consideration that Swansea have been struggling away from home a little bit in recent weeks with  5 losses from their last 7 in all competitions and also losing 3 of their last 4 away games in the Premier League.

The win over West Brom will have given Norwich some confidence and they could be playing a tired team that is facing its third game in less than a week having been asked to play Monday and then Thursday already.

All in all, it seems strange that Norwich are considered the underdog in this game and I think too much emphasis is perhaps placed on their heavy away losses. Norwich have actually played pretty well at Carrow Road and were unfortunate to lose to Chelsea here, while wins over West Ham United and Crystal Palace will have given them the belief that they can see of Swansea.

Norwich look a big price and hard to ignore in this game.

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool Pick: One of my major concerns with Andre Villas-Boas has been his tactical approach to games which has seen his side come out in a cautious fashion, but they played a lot better against Manchester United in their most recent Premier League game at White Hart Lane.

Goals from open play have been a problem for Spurs, although they have started to find their feet a little bit and this is a game where Liverpool certainly look ripe for the taking.

Liverpool have struggled away from home in recent weeks compared with how they have played at Anfield and they are missing two of their more influential players. Luis Suarez is a real threat for the side up front, but Spurs have defended well for the most part this season and I think they can do enough to keep Liverpool from getting some momentum going in this game.

They will pose problems of course, but Tottenham themselves should find some joy going forward against a defence that looked out of sorts in the loss at Hull City. Everton and Newcastle United have also exploited problems for Liverpool in their backline and Spurs do have the players that are capable of at least creating some chances.

My only hope is that Villas-Boas sees this as winnable a game as I believe it is for the home side. If he is even slightly more adventurous than usual, I like Spurs' chances to win this at White Hart Lane and once again get amongst the leading contenders in the Premier League.

MY PICKS: Manchester City @ 1.83 Paddy Power (3 Units)
Everton - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 3.25 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Norwich City @ 2.88 Stan James (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur @ 2.50 William Hill (2 Units)

December Update8-8-1, + 3.31 Units (21 Units Staked, + 15.76% 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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