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Saturday, 8 February 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (February 8-9)

We may still have four months of the season left to play, but Chelsea's 0-1 win at Manchester City last Monday may prove crucial as to which team picks up the Premier League title at the end of the current campaign. Chelsea were very good on Monday and totally deserved the three points from the game meaning they have completed the double over Manchester City this season and the fixtures remaining may just give the Blues the edge over the team they beat and Arsenal when it comes to winning the title.

I was a little bored during the week with little football to distract me and decided to put down my predictions for the remaining games and see what I 'predict' will happen in terms of the title race and relegation.

I will try this again at the beginning of March and see how much different the results look at that stage as things like injuries and loss of form can take hold, while the pressure will only increase on teams in each passing week.

So what did my predictions come out with? I had Chelsea winning the title by 2 points from Manchester City with everything still to play for on the last day, while Arsenal finished a fairly distant third place (considering they are currently 2 points clear of Chelsea and Manchester City, I was surprised there was an 8 point gap between City and Arsenal in my final table).

As a Manchester United fan, I won't like saying that I had Liverpool beating out Tottenham Hotspur by 2 points to take the final Champions League place, while United finished 7th in my table as they do have some incredibly difficult fixtures to negotiate and current form doesn't inspire much confidence for the rest of the season.

The three teams that were relegated in my table were Crystal Palace, Fulham and Norwich City and none of those sides surpassed 30 points- again, there will be some Palace and Norwich fans that might be surprised by that considering those two sides have 23 and 24 points with 14 games left to play, but both have terrible fixture lists to negotiate as the season draws to a close and it is hard to feel confident in them getting more than that.

Fulham need some surprise results to get out of the predicament they find themselves as they are 4 points off safety with a terrible goal difference to boot.

I had Cardiff City barely surviving by the skin of their teeth and both West Ham United and West Brom securing survival with 35 points each.

Of course, football isn't a game that can always be easy to predict as pressure, luck and other intangibles can have a huge effect on the outcome of matches, while another Luis Suarez decision to racially abuse/bite an opponent would seriously dent a club like Liverpool. That is what makes the games so fascinating for us supporters, but I will revisit the predictions in early March and see how much things have changed at that point.

This weekend, the game that stands out is the one between Liverpool and Arsenal that will open the Premier League round of fixtures and the next four days are crucial for the Gunners to show they are a genuine threat to win the Premier League title. The next month will be fun for the Arsenal fans as they have big game after big game in the three competitions they remain in with the chance to win their first piece of silverware since 2005 up for grabs.

Chelsea and Manchester City both look to have winnable games, but the likes of Manchester United will be hoping Arsenal can keep their challenge going to open the door slightly for a top four place.

It was a good start to the month for the picks thanks to the Arsenal 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in the late Sunday afternoon game, which is a good way to get the taste of a disappointing January out of the mouth. There is still plenty of action to get through in February as the Premier League gets sets to enter the final mile in the race for the title and things begin to clear up a little in the bottom half too.

Liverpool v Arsenal Pick: BT Sport had the chance for the first pick of the television games this weekend and they couldn't have picked a better one as two of the top four teams in the Premier League meet each other at Anfield.

Arsenal will be looking to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League with a victory and they will feel they can achieve the three points having won on their last two visits to Anfield and also beating Liverpool 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium earlier this season.

However, Liverpool are a much improved team this season and have won 10 of their 12 home games in the Premier League which will give them the confidence that they can really up the pressure on Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Manchester United when it comes to a place in the top four.

That confidence will only increase if Arsenal play like they did at Southampton in their most recent away game as they were fortunate to get away with a point from that game. As well as they have played defensively at home, Arsenal have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 6 away games in all competitions so keeping Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez quiet is going to be a big task for them.

It is hard to pick a winner in this game and both teams are likely to be well backed, but Arsenal have to play better than they did at St Mary's if they are to achieve their victory. I do think we will see goals in the game, but the layers know the same thing and those markets are very short and instead I will look at the goalscorer market.

Much like Cristiano Ronaldo in his days at Manchester United, Luis Suarez has begun to get a little more criticism for his lack of goals against the better sides in the League but there are signs that could be changing soon. For starters, he has a far better team supplying him this season and it is hard to ignore that Suarez has scored in 9 of his last 10 starts at Anfield and I don't think he should be odds against to score against anyone here.

If Liverpool create chances, it is hard to believe that Suarez won't be at the end of a few of them and I think his goalscoring feats this season means he shouldn't be the price he is and I will have a small interest in him hitting the net.

Chelsea v Newcastle United Pick: With all the turmoil at Newcastle United at the moment, the players may be happy to be playing this game away from St James' Park, although the injuries and suspensions in the squad makes it a very difficult away test for them at an in-form Chelsea team.

One factor that Newcastle fans can hold on to is their decent record at this part of West London in recent seasons, while they have also played with a lot more freedom away from home and have a number of positive results to hold on to in recent games.

Losing Yohan Cabaye and failing to replace him is a big issue for Newcastle though and I just feel the absence of Loic Remy and possibly Papiss Cisse blunts their attack a little too much.

That is especially the case against a Chelsea side that have begun to rack up the clean sheets and who will be filled with confidence from their 0-1 win at Manchester City on Monday evening. It was not a lucky 0-1 either as Chelsea had plenty of chances to score a second or even a third goal and there is a real belief that the side can go on to accomplish some big things this season.

Chelsea didn't find the goal in their last home game which cost them the full points against West Ham United, but they created enough in that game to think lightning won't strike twice. With the team defending as well as they have been in recent weeks as shown by only 1 goal conceded in their last 7 games, I have to think the home side will win this one with another clean sheet to continue to move menacingly up the table.

Crystal Palace v West Brom Pick: Take a look at the remaining games that Crystal Palace have to play at Selhurst Park and you will quickly identify why this game is so important for Tony Pulis and his players if they are to avoid the drop. While they have improved away from home since Pulis replaced Ian Holloway, their main place to earn points is at home where Palace will only play one team from the bottom half of the table after this game and also have to host the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.

Crystal Palace have been playing well enough at home to think they can win this game with back to back wins against Stoke City and Hull City and I would place West Brom in the same category as those two sides and is thus a winnable game that they have to take advantage of.

It won't be an easy game despite the improved form under Tony Pulis because West Brom have only lost 2 of their 5 away games against teams in the bottom half of the table and one of those came against Aston Villa when the Baggies blew a 0-2 lead.

The return of Nicolas Anelka does give West Brom a little more threat going forward and the return of Jonas Olsson should make the Baggies a touch more stable at the back. However, they have conceded three goals in 2 of their last 3 away games, including at West Ham United, and Palace will feel they can edge the win.

Goals have been a problem for Palace this season, but they have improved defensively at home and may have enough confidence here and the desperation to win the game to push on and secure the three points.

Norwich City v Manchester City Pick: I have been torn by a couple of markets for this game, but I have full belief that Manchester City will recover from their disappointment at home on Monday night and get back to winning ways this weekend.

Manchester City have plenty of goals in the side, even if the absence of Sergio Aguero is a big one for the club, and I think there will be a lot of motivation to get the defeat to Chelsea out of the system.

The next six weeks is very important for Manchester City if they really think they can win the Premier League as they have a number of very winnable fixtures to play, but have to juggle the Champions League and the Capital One Cup Final with those League games. If Manuel Pellegrini can find the right team, Manchester City can put a lot of pressure on Arsenal and Chelsea in the race for the Premier League title.

They have begun to score goals away from home after struggling a little earlier in the season and they should be too strong for a Norwich City team that have found goals hard to come by all season at Carrow Road. Norwich do create chances, but have not been able to take all those that come their way, while their defending in their most recent home game is not going to cut it against a team like Manchester City.

Newcastle United could have scored plenty of goals against Norwich in the goalless draw here and Chris Hughton may also have one eye on the big League game at West Ham United during the week. That can transfer on to the players and while it is getting to the stage where every point is very important, I think Norwich will struggle to contain Manchester City even though Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero are going to be missing.

I was thinking about backing Manchester City to score at least 3 goals here, as they have in 3 of their last 4 away games in the Premier League, but instead decided to back them to win by at least 2 goals which has happened in 5 of their last 7 away games in all competitions.

Southampton v Stoke City: It was a vital win for Stoke City over Manchester United last weekend that keeps the side above the relegation zone and it turns out that those points are actually the ones that have kept the Potters out of the relegation zone.

Backing that up at Southampton will not be an easy task considering the poor form that Stoke City have displayed away from home. They have lost 5 in a row away from home in all competitions, while they have scored just 1 goal in their last 7 away games.

Southampton will feel they can pick up the three points if they play anything like they did against Arsenal in their last home game which ended a 3 game winning run in front of their own fans. The confidence seems to be restored to the Saints team and that was shown by their convincing 0-3 win at Fulham last weekend that has moved Southampton to 6 games unbeaten with 4 wins in that time.

I am expecting Southampton to be too strong for Stoke in this game too, although I am a little concerned that they have not had the same defensive discipline they have shown earlier this season. On the other hand, Stoke City have struggled for goals away from home and that is the reason I think it may pay to back the home side to win this game with a clean sheet to boot.

Stoke have only scored 8 goals in 12 League games away from home this season, but 5 of those goals came in just 2 games and I think Southampton have been playing well enough to win this one without conceding.

Manchester United v Fulham Pick: This has been a tough season for a lot of Manchester United fans to take as the side has lurched one step forward to two steps backwards in recent weeks and the consistency to get into the top four is very much missing. A loss to a team like Stoke City doesn't generate much belief that Manchester United will get on their necessary run up the Premier League table, although they still have control of their own destiny with games against the likes of Liverpool and Everton to be played.

However, Manchester United cannot concern themselves with games to come as anything less than a win in this one will effectively mean it is very unlikely that they can get on a real run this season. With a big game against Arsenal to come during the week, this is an opportune time to put together a morale boosting win against a Fulham team that looks out of sorts and a serious candidate for relegation.

The losses have got to a point that Rene Meulensteen cannot pick and choose matches from which to take points and there are rumours that he might not be in charge when the team host West Brom in two weeks time if Fulham lose at Old Trafford and against Liverpool who they host during the week.

A terrible goal difference and a poor run of form has left Fulham in a very precarious position in the Premier League and they need to start earning points now. Unfortunately for them, they have struggled away from home in recent weeks and the lack of goals in the side have hurt them.

Manchester United have earned 3 consecutive clean sheets at Old Trafford (in the normal 90 minutes) and the returns of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney have given them a real threat in front of goal. That has been lacking as the creativity doesn't exist to the extent that fans would want, but both Van Persie and Rooney have the ability to score out of nothing, while Juan Mata is settling into the team.

I expect United will secure another clean sheet in this game and I think they have enough going forward to win the game and then move on to the big clash at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening.

MY PICKS: Luis Suarez to Score Anytime @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 2.63 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Southampton Win to Nil @ 2.30 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 1.92 Paddy Power (2 Units)

February Update: 3-4, + 3.26 Units (11 Units Staked, + 29.64% Yield)

January Final17-24, - 3.18 Units (62 Units Staked, - 5.13% 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 2013/1499-103-3, + 12.71 Units (328 Units Staked, + 3.88% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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