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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (January 28-29)

This week we have a full Premier League schedule to get through and two fantastic looking live games, although my personal interest will be on the Manchester United game against Cardiff City when Juan Mata makes his debut.

Unlike some in the media, I think the signing of Mata makes a statement for David Moyes and the club in the wake of the terrible summer transfer window and also shows that the club is still a major draw... Mata may not have been Jose Mourinho's cup of tea, but it has to be remembered that he was one of the top players in the Premier League in the previous two seasons and was twice voted the Chelsea Player of the Year by the fans.

He will offer United some real creativity further up the pitch, an area where they have struggled at times, while the returns of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie will feel like new signings as United look to get back into the top four. There is a lot of work for United to do to achieve those aims, but this signing shows the intent of the club to turn things around and I do think we have seen the lowest point at Old Trafford this season after the League Cup Semi Final defeat to Sunderland.

It is important for United to start winning games, particularly with the teams immediately in front of them all having tough looking fixtures this week- I said something similar at the beginning of December, but United really need to win their next three League games against Cardiff City, Stoke City and Fulham to build momentum ahead of the trip to Arsenal.

Games come thick and fast at this time of the year and this is the time to really start getting some steam built up behind a run to the finish line and this could still prove to be a respectable season for United if they can get back into the Champions League.

Manchester United v Cardiff City Pick: There has been an improving atmosphere at Old Trafford as the season has progressed with the fans really getting behind the team and showing that a few defeats will not exhaust their love for the club. Manchester United have needed all the support they can get in what has been a tough transition from Sir Alex Ferguson to David Moyes, but the arrival of Juan Mata will also renew belief for the remainder of this season.

Personally I think Juan Mata is a fantastic player that will at least give United some more creativity in the final third where they have looked a little one-dimensional and flat in recent weeks. They haven't been helped by the fact that Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie have been missing, but both players have a chance of being involved in this one and everything seems to be coming together that Manchester United are ready for a more comfortable evening at Old Trafford than they have had for much of the season.

Those chances may be enhanced by the fact that Cardiff City have struggled away from home in the Premier League and have lost their last 4 games all by at least two goals each. In fact, Cardiff have lost 7 away games in the Premier League this season and all of them have come by at least two goals, including at Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Cardiff fans can point to their performance at Manchester City, where they scored twice, as proof that they can potentially cut it against Manchester United and possibly earn a point or all three. They have scored at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium and Manchester United have struggled for clean sheets at home for much of the season, only having 2 in their last 9 home Premier League games.

However, the signing of Mata will give the crowd and hopefully the players enough of a boost to earn the three points, although it may come in a game where both teams score.

Southampton v Arsenal Pick: If this game had been played a couple of months ago, I think there would have been a lot of people ready to back Southampton to win the game with the form they had been displaying. I am not sure that will be the case this time around, although this won't be a straight-forward game for Arsenal either.

After a poor run of form at home, Southampton have at least won 3 straight games here and I think they will enjoy playing a side like Arsenal that will allow them to play their football in the fashion they have employed.

On the flip side, that will also be music to the ears of the Arsenal players and they will be able to create chances against this Southampton defence that conceded three goals against both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at home over the Christmas period. Add to that the fact that Aston Villa and Burnley also scored three goals here and I think there is every chance that Arsenal will score goals.

However, I think Southampton have restored some confidence in their play in recent weeks with a 4 game unbeaten run to protect and Arsenal have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 5 away games in all competitions. 

The home side should also have their chances and I think the over 2.5 goals could have a big opportunity to come in, even if the weather is as poor as it may be on Tuesday evening.

Swansea v Fulham Pick: There is some poor weather around the United Kingdom which can affect games, but this looks another game where both teams should create chances and look for the three points to move them away from the relegation issues that are developing in the Premier League.

Confidence can't be too high in either camp as Swansea have lost three in a row at the Liberty Stadium, while Fulham have failed to win any of their last four away games in all competitions and were crushed 6-0 at Hull City only a month ago.

The manager's will surely be telling their sides to expose the vulnerabilities in the other squad and I don't think either will expect their side to sit back. Swansea have seen at least three goals scored in 5 of their last 6 home League games, while Fulham have seen the same total surpassed 5 of their last 6 away League games.

This has all the making of a 2-1 scoreline either way and backing goals looks the right call.

Liverpool v Everton Pick: When the Champions League places are decided in May, this fixture could be on that the clubs look back on as to why they have, or haven't, finished in the top four. There is going to be some real confidence in both camps that Liverpool and Everton can pick up the three points in this one and give themselves a boost going forward, and I certainly think this could be an entertaining game to watch for the neutrals.

Liverpool have only scored fewer goals than Manchester City in their home games to this point and I think they will certainly cause problems for an Everton team that could be missing key defensive personnel. Even if the likes of Seamus Coleman, Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka are passed fit, they will need to be at their best to contain the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez at a ground where they have scored plenty of goals.

That's not to say that the game will be one-way traffic as Everton have shown themselves as one of the toughest teams in the Premier League to beat. They may have lost at Manchester City, as a lot of clubs have this season, but Everton won at Manchester United and drew at Arsenal to suggest they won't roll over for Liverpool either.

However, it is hard to ignore the amount of goals Liverpool have scored at Anfield this season and I think that will give them the edge in this one. They will likely have to score at least twice to secure the win with Everton posing problems going the other way, while Liverpool have managed to score at least three goals in 6 of their last 8 home games in the Premier League although failing to reach that target in the last two games.

Chelsea v West Ham United Pick: It will be interesting to see if Sam Allardyce approaches this game in any different manner knowing that West Ham United will be playing in the early Saturday game in a much more winnable contest against Swansea at Upton Park. Allardyce is not known for rolling over for any team in the Premier League, but I do wonder if his focus has been completely on this tough test at Stamford Bridge.

That may translate to the players who won't have a lot of confidence with a poor run of form behind them and also the some of the disruption that comes with other clubs bidding for players like Ravel Morrison in the squad.

To make matters that much tougher, West Ham United are facing a Chelsea team that have shown improving performances and results and a team that has found some consistency which has led to a number of wins at home and away in succession.

Chelsea still haven't shown the same defensive organisation that they became known for under Jose Mourinho in his first spell at the club and that does concern me when looking for a pick. The lack of goals in the West Ham United team in recent weeks, and away from home in general throughout the season, has pointed me in the direction of backing the home side to win with a clean sheet to boot.

However, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace have scored here in games this season and it will be interesting if Chelsea come out with more concentration for this one. They will have to defend better from set pieces, which has been a problem for Chelsea at times this season, and they can win this one with a clean sheet as they did on Sunday against Stoke City.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City Pick: I believe this game will be a very entertaining one as both managers seem to have the same approach to a football game and that is putting their best teams out there and asking them to play attacking football to in the game.

The onus is on Tottenham Hotspur to do the same thing as the fans can become restless if they sit back and let Manchester City come onto them, while the other factor is the much improved form shown by the latter away from home.

There are definitely vulnerabilities in the Manchester City defence that has been highlighted away from the Etihad Stadium and I think the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado and Christian Eriksson will have the chance to create opportunities and score goals.

On the other hand, Manchester City have shown they can quickly up the tempo and score goals, bringing their goal-scoring from their home games into recent away games. Spurs have been playing a little better at home under Tim Sherwood, but this is a big task for them and you can't ignore how well Manchester City have been playing in the last couple of months.

The opportunity to move to the top of the Premier League ahead of the big game against Chelsea is another motivation and I think City will out-score Tottenham in this one. I do think Spurs will score too, but Manchester City come out on top.

MY PICKS: Both Teams to Score and Manchester United to Win @ 3.25 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Southampton-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Liverpool to Win and Over 2.5 Goals Scored @ 2.45 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Swansea-Fulham Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Manchester City to Win @ 3.40 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

January Update14-21, - 4.23 Units (53 Units Staked, - 7.98% Yield)

December Final19-16-2, + 13.34 Units (66 Units Staked, + 20.21% 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 2013/1482-79-3, + 15.89 Units (266 Units Staked, + 5.97% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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