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Saturday, 22 March 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (March 22-23)

It was the week in which the final eight teams in the Champions League and the Europa League were decided and the draw on Friday was no less intriguing.

For the first time, all eight Group winners in the Champions League made it through to the Quarter Finals and that meant there wasn't going to be an easy game to find for any team.

The draw proved as much, although both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will probably be big favourites to see off Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United respectively.

For a Manchester United fan, this was arguably the second worst draw the team could have faced behind Real Madrid, especially with the way the season has developed to this point. On the face of things, Bayern Munich should have too much pace in wide areas and a large control of the ball from the midfield, whoever they pick in there.

However, the side are a little vulnerable at the back themselves and I still feel they are lacking the centre forward that Robert Lewandowski will provide them in the summer, although I won't be rushing to back Manchester United to knock them out either.

All I saying at this point is I don't think it will be a Mission Impossible for United, but it is definitely a Mission Extremely Difficult.


The remaining two ties are much closer to predict in my opinion and I can see Chelsea finding a way to beat Paris Saint-Germain with the second leg being back in London... The tie has all the hallmarks of an away goal win for Jose Mourinho and yet another Semi Final for a manager proven at this level.

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid is very intriguing and the teams have played tight games against one another all season and I imagine the tie to be the same. If Barcelona can take a lead into the second leg, I would expect they can grab a goal at the Vicente Calderon that could prove to be critical.


One more thing- when did UEFA stop doing the Semi Final draw along with the Quarter Finals as they had in previous years?


The Europa League draw also looks a pretty good one on paper, if only because it looks like providing a really good end to the tournament. The likes of Juventus and Benfica look a cut above the rest of the teams left, both of those falling out of the Champions League at the Group Stage, and that could be a good Final if the draw pans out the way it should.

Lyon won't be rolling over for Juventus, but they are not the team of old and I would fancy the Old Lady to see them off.


Enough about Europe for now as the final week of March provides three big games in the Premier League that may give us a better idea of the destination of the title this season. First off is Chelsea v Arsenal, but that will be followed by Manchester City visiting Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium before April.


When it comes to making the picks, I am not a big fan of these weekends when the results seem 'obvious' in some games because football rarely goes exactly like you would expect. There does seem to be some mismatches with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City facing relegation threatened teams, but the pressure at this stage of the season is another factor to deal with and hard to really place the importance of that.


Chelsea v Arsenal Pick: There is definitely no love lost between the managers, but this match means more than bragging rights as both Chelsea and Arsenal could take a step towards the Premier League title, while also damaging their opponents irreversibly at this late stage of the season.

It is especially the case for Arsenal in my opinion and I think Arsene Wenger would be satisfied with a draw from the game- unlike previous years under his management, I think this Arsenal team is resilient enough to repel the attack that they will see and I also think Wenger is more pragmatic in his approach and accepting of points earned.

Prior years would have perhaps seen Arsenal push forward too much and leave gaps for Chelsea to expose, but losing some of the midfielders they have will also give an edge to the home team. That is especially the case for a Chelsea team that have been playing very well at Stamford Bridge for much of the season and had a confidence boosting 2-0 win over Galatasaray in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

That also gives Chelsea enough time to prepare for this game and I think they can plug the gaps left by the suspensions of Ramires and Willian to enough of an extent to win this game. It is much more important for Chelsea to win the game and I can see them being a little more clinical than Tottenham Hotspur were when chances came their way last weekend against this Arsenal team.

Jose Mourinho did only win 1 of his 3 home games against Arsenal in his first stint as Chelsea manager and we saw his poor history at Villa Park return last weekend- however, I think the home side will have too much of the ball and find a way to secure three points that may effectively end the Arsenal title challenge.


Cardiff City v Liverpool Pick: Even the most passionate of Manchester United fans had to begrudgingly accept that Liverpool were far and away the better side at Old Trafford last weekend and most have also perhaps got a slight fear that the rivals from down the M62 are in a position to win their first League title in 24 years.

There is still plenty of time for twists and turns in the title race, but there is also no doubt that Liverpool are the in-form team in the Premier League that seems to be full of goals and it is hard to imagine Cardiff City being the team to slow them down.

Complacency is the biggest threat to Liverpool in this game because they have the pace and clinical finishing up top that should provide the goals to see off their hosts and earn another three points. With Sunderland to come during the week, there is also every chance that Liverpool could end the week in top spot in the League depending on the result from the Chelsea-Arsenal game to be played on Saturday lunchtime.

Cardiff City haven't been losing a lot of games at home with only 3 defeats in their last 7 at home in the Premier League, but they seem to drop their heads and lose quite comfortably when they are beaten. That is shown up by their last 4 home League defeats all coming by at least two goals and it will be interesting to see how they respond if they go behind in this one.

It seems obvious, and nothing is obvious when making picks for football games, but I can't see how Cardiff keep this close with the amount of goals Liverpool have been scoring. They have hit three goals in 4 of their last 5 away games in the Premier League, all wins, and both Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge create and score the chances they find.

I would love to be wrong and Liverpool fail to win here, but I can only see a comfortable away win on recent performances of both teams.


Everton v Swansea Pick: Another late goal helped Everton pick up a vital three points last weekend and there will be a real confidence that they can win another game in front of their own fans this weekend.

I think they are the right choice in the game, but the odds on quotes look very short considering how they have needed goals in the last ten minutes to beat West Ham United and Cardiff City. While Swansea haven't been winning games, they have shown a little more goal-scoring threat in recent games and that should be a concern for Roberto Martinez and his defence which could be missing Phil Jagielka again.

Swansea have now scored in 4 straight away games and Everton have conceded in 3 of their last 4 games at home so I think there is more than a slight chance that the away side contributes in this game.

However, I do believe Everton are going to have a little too much attacking threat and they have scored at least two goals in 6 of their last 7 home wins.

Together, that is enough for me to prefer backing Everton to win a game in which both sides score than the short odds for them to win this game.


Manchester City v Fulham Pick: Manuel Pellegrini doesn't strike me as a manager that looks beyond the immediate game in front of his team and that means I don't foresee him resting too many players in anticipation of the Manchester derby to be played on Tuesday. It is a big game for Manchester City after this one as they face away games at Manchester United and Arsenal in the course of a few days and that means they cannot afford to drop points in a game like this if they are to win the Premier League title.

The concern for City fans will be the slight downturn in terms of goals scored in recent games, but some of that may have been down to fatigue and now the team have had a full week to prepare for this game. It may be enough time for Sergio Aguero to return and all eyes are now focused on the final 11 League games Manchester City have to play.

Fulham showed they can be stubborn in their draw at Manchester United last month, but a lot of that was also down to the performance of the home team and I think it will be much tougher for them here.

They have shown extra determination under Felix Magath at times, but Fulham continue to have issues defensively and conceding three goals at Cardiff City doesn't bode well for their chances at this ground. The likes of Liverpool and Chelsea have also hit three past Fulham in recent games, both of those at Craven Cottage, and it will be a big ask for them to keep the scoreline respectable in my opinion.

Vincent Kompany is missing, but Manchester City showed defensive solidity in their win with ten men against Hull City last weekend and I think they prove to be too powerful in a comfortable home win. After that, Pellegrini is sure to turn his attention to the big game at Old Trafford which will be played on Tuesday evening.


West Ham United v Manchester United Pick: There is little doubt that David Moyes needs to take all the positives he can at the moment and overturning a 2-0 deficit in the Champions League is one of the few highs that Manchester United have experienced under his guidance during a tough first season without Sir Alex Ferguson.

Manchester United rode their luck at times with Olympiacos missing a couple of clear-cut opportunities to score what would have been a vital away goal, but many times you could also say the luck has not been with the side. It has also been a season of one step forward, two steps backwards for the new manager and he has to urge against complacency in what is usually a feisty affair in East London.

Sam Allardyce would have had a week to prepare for this game and West Ham United rarely roll over for too many teams at their own ground where the fans make it a lively occasion. The Hammers are also on a decent run of form at home and the return of Andy Carroll will give the Manchester United defenders something to think about without the presence of Nemanja Vidic.

However, it has been pace that Manchester United have been most susceptible to and I don't see a lot of that in the West Ham side, even though I am sure the players on the field will be up for the game and will make life extremely difficult.

At odds on, Manchester United are no price for me considering the turbulent nature of the season, but they have been stronger away from home as shown by the 8 wins they have achieved in the Premier League (2 more than at Old Trafford). Even if the away side were to pick up the three points, it is unlikely to be a straight-forward game and West Ham United won't be put away easily.

Both teams will want to get forward and it is unsurprising that this is a fixture that usually produces a fair few goals, including 8 in the two games at Upton Park last season. I won't be in the least bit surprised if this is another game that has at least three goals shared.

MY PICKS: Chelsea to Win @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Everton to Win @ 3.50 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Manchester City - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
West Ham United-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)

March Update16-17, + 3.12 Units (57 Units Staked, + 5.47% Yield)

February Final12-28, - 16.74 Units (61 Units Staked, - 27.44% 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 2013/14111-131-3, - 4.03 Units (389 Units Staked, - 1.04% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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