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Saturday, 22 February 2014

Weekend Football Picks (February 22-23)

After a ten day break, the Premier League returns to action with a number of the leading teams as well as those fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table involved in some big games this weekend. Some teams will be coming off disappointing results, for example the way Southampton went out of the FA Cup has really got the fans out of whack, while both Manchester City and Arsenal are coming in off disappointing home losses in the Champions League during the week.

Both of those Champions League games were marred by red cards and has raised the debate about whether a sending off coupled with a penalty is too harsh a punishment. It may not have happened to Manchester United, which usually means I might end up laughing at the outcome, but taking off my fan hat leads me to believe that it is a rule that needs to be changed.

I think it should remain a sending off if a player is brought down outside the area, but in a clear goal-scoring opportunity, so the last man would always be in trouble. There is no guarantee a team would score the resulting free-kick and that is a not a 'clear goal-scoring opportunity' so the sending off would be the most suitable punishment.

On the other hand, if the foul was to occur inside the penalty area, I don't think a 'clear goal-scoring opportunity' has been wasted with the penalty giving the team a clear shot on goal and I think a yellow card would be suitable in that situation.

It is just something I feel can be changed by the law-makers to try and keep the matches that are played as fair as possible and I don't think a sending off AND a penalty is a reasonable response to the situations we saw on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

This month has been pretty pathetic when it comes to the picks I have made and has put a decent season into a relatively level one as we enter the last week of February. This weekend is critical to turn things around, but I also don't want to push too hard and ruin a whole season on one terrible month.

Chelsea v Everton Pick: The live game on Saturday afternoon looks a very interesting one between two of the sides chasing a place in the top four, although Chelsea have bigger aims of winning the Premier League title no matter what Jose Mourinho may say to the press.

Chelsea top the Premier League table and will be looking to put some pressure on Arsenal and Manchester City who play later in the day, although it has to be said that both of those sides have winnable games.

So in a strange way, there is almost more pressure on Chelsea to earn the three points and maintain the gap in the League as it is at this stage. They also have to focus on the Champions League which resumes during the week for the Blues, but I am expecting Chelsea to be too strong for an Everton team that has just slipped in recent weeks.

Back to back losses at Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur has left them 8 points off a top four place and another loss could spell curtains for Everton when it comes to the Champions League places. It was always going to be a long shot for Everton to reach the top four with the money spent by the teams in and around them, while they haven't been given a kind draw in the FA Cup either as they visit Arsenal in the Sixth Round.

Without Romelu Lukaku, they also look a little weaker going forward, although Everton continue playing some good looking football and did create chances at White Hart Lane which may have left them a little hard done by that they lost that game. They should be able to cause some problems for Chelsea in defence, but I also believe the pace provided by Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian will give Everton plenty of tough spots to deal with.

Games between the teams at Stamford Bridge have usually provided goals with 3 of the last 4 in the Premier League between them ending with at least 3 goals scored. I think Chelsea are the more likely winners though in the game and I will back them to win a game in which 3 or 4 goals are scored.

Arsenal v Sunderland Pick: Arsene Wenger was understandably upset about the manner of the 0-2 loss to Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, while the fans would probably have woken up with the nagging feeling of 'what if' regarding their missed penalty early in the game.

You can't really argue with Wenger's assertion that his Arsenal side are not demoralised with their performance, but it is imperative that they win this game and keep their Premier League title challenge going forward after dropping 5 points from their last two League games. There will be a real feeling that Arsenal can get back to winning ways as they have been strong at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League ever since the 1-3 loss against Aston Villa to open the current campaign.

It certainly isn't a foregone conclusion against a Sunderland team that have improved over the last couple of months and one that has won 3 of their last 4 away games in the Premier League including a 0-3 win at Newcastle United.

Sunderland will look to make life difficult for Arsenal, but I am not sure if they have enough going forward to hurt an Arsenal team that have certainly been solid defensively at home all season, especially in the Premier League.

The fact they have played with ten men for a large portion of the game against Bayern Munich may have taken something out of the legs for the Arsenal players that had to work hard throughout the second half. That may give Sunderland half a chance to cause a surprise, but I think Arsenal are going to come out with something to prove from their last couple of weeks of ups and downs.

However, Arsenal have rarely blown teams away at home and the 2-0 scoreline is so prevalent that I would look to back it again, especially with tiredness perhaps a factor and the home side just doing what they need to.

Manchester City v Stoke City Pick: This is the second English side that has been beaten at home in the Champions League during the week that should have a positive reaction, especially as Manchester City perhaps feel even more hard done by than Arsenal with the way their 0-2 loss to Barcelona developed.

At the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City have been a dominant force for much of the season and they have dominated Stoke City in League games here with 4 of their 5 wins over the last few years coming by the same 3-0 scoreline.

Coming off a few days rest when the team had to play with ten men for a large portion of the second half means there will be some tired legs in the squad, but I also think there will be a passion in the home squad to right the 'wrong' they feel they have suffered in the Champions League.

Goals have been plentiful for City at home, even if they have failed to hit the target in 2 of their last 3 home games and I think the return of Samir Nasri is going to be important for their attacking potential.

Stoke City have conceded plenty of goals on their travels, including shipping 3 at Manchester United, 4 at Everton and 5 at Newcastle United. While they have picked up more points in recent weeks and snapped a 4 game losing run away from home in the Premier League, I have a feeling that they are facing a wounded and angry Manchester City team in this one.

Covering 2 goals is not an easy target in any game, but Manchester City have regularly won this fixture 3-0 and have goals in the side that should see them win this game comfortably.

West Ham United v Southampton Pick: I don't think I will ever be able to understand the decision of Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino to rest as many players as he did in the FA Cup last weekend considering the opportunity that was presented to his side. It makes it worse that Southampton barely have anything left to play for this season as they look almost certain to finish in the top half of the table, while the European places up for grabs from League position are almost certainly beyond them.

It will be interesting to see the motivation of the players down the stretch, although the likes of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez are pushing for England places at the World Cup, but others could already be thinking about the end of what is a long season.

Against sides like West Ham United who are more desperate for the three points in their fight for survival, a lack of motivation in the Saints squad may be most noticeable. However, Southampton have beaten a couple of struggling sides in the last few weeks, both away from home, and they have a team that is capable of causing problems with the creativity they have.

They do have to breach a West Ham defence that has kept four clean sheets in a row, including at Stamford Bridge, and a team that may have a little more confidence and belief that comes with a three game winning run in the League. Back to back home wins will also keep the fans behind West Ham and I think there is every chance that they can make it four in a row on Saturday.

I still can't shake the quality that Southampton will bring going forward though and I do think they will have their chances too and this game has the makings of an entertaining affair with goals at both ends. I also believe we will see a winner in the game as neither side is likely to settle for a point if they can help it and that should lead to goals so I will back this one to go over 2.5 goals.

Crystal Palace v Manchester United Pick: If Manchester United have any real ambitions of finishing in the top four, the time for draws and losses have long gone and they have to start winning games to at least pressure the teams above them. Games like this are where United have to pick up the full points as they have a lot of tough tests remaining this season and a confidence boost would be greatly received days before their Champions League campaign restarts.

However, if United fans are turning up at Selhurst Park with only a quick look at the League table, they could be surprised as to how well Crystal Palace have been playing and how tough it will be to stop their own momentum. Tony Pulis has given the side plenty of belief and they have made life very difficult for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal away from home.

The likes of Tom Ince and Jason Puncheon give Crystal Palace pace in the forward areas and they will test a Manchester United defence that has struggled with that aspect of attacks in recent weeks. With knocks in the defensive areas, Palace will certainly pose problems if Pulis can keep the belief where it has been.

On the other hand, I expect another week will integrate Juan Mata into the forward line for Manchester United a little more, but David Moyes has to have a better game plan in place to get the Spaniard into the space he requires.

I expect Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie to give the Crystal Palace defenders something to think about, but you would hope there is more to the Manchester United attack than cross, cross and then cross some more.

Both teams should create chances and I do think both are going to score at least once, but I also think we are going to see a winner in the game with the chances that should come at both ends. The weather looks improved for football on Saturday and I am backing at least three goals to be scored in this game.

Liverpool v Swansea Pick: Take away Manchester City and no team has scored more home goals than Liverpool this season with their 38 goals at Anfield only being four goals fewer than City have produced. That doesn't spell too much good for Swansea who put in a huge effort in their Europa League game on Thursday and could be suffering some fatigue in their play as they meet on Sunday.

With the likes of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge up front to keep players active at all times, defenders will certainly be asked for a full level of concentration and that is where the fatigue can come into the mix. If Swansea are feeling slightly tired, the front two of Liverpool are going to create plenty of problems for them and the amount of goals the team have been scoring at Anfield is an additional problem for Swansea to face.

Liverpool have won 9 of their last 10 games at Anfield and every one of those wins has come by at least a couple of goals. On the same side of the coin, Swansea have been beaten comfortably at Southampton, Manchester City and Manchester United (in the Premier League) and I am finding it hard to ignore Liverpool doing the same with the goal-creating players thy have in the squad.

As long as Sturridge returns to the form he showed before the Arsenal game last weekend, Liverpool should be fresher than their opponents and come through with another comfortable win.

Added Picks from Two Live Sunday Games in the 'My Picks' column this week

MY PICKS: Chelsea to Win and 3 or 4 Total Goals in the Match @ 3.40 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Arsenal Win 2-0 @ 7.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Manchester City - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
West Ham United-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.17 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @1.83 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Aston Villa Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur Win and Over 2.5 Goals Scored in Match @ 4.60 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

February Update7-18, - 12.31 Units (41 Units Staked, - 30.02% 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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