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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (March 29-31)

The Premier League title race looks very much like one between three teams after the results of the last week, although Arsenal could force themselves right back into things with a win over Manchester City this weekend.

Personally I think it is going to be incredibly tough for Arsenal to raise themselves from the couple of heavy setbacks they have taken in the last week and Manchester City are off an impressive and fairly comfortable win over Manchester United last Tuesday night.

Talking about Manchester United- just what in the hell are the people who have hired a plane to carry a 'Moyes Out' banner thinking? There are some pathetic displays from fans who can't handle a few setbacks, but this is about as small time as it comes.

It's a distraction that we simply don't need at Old Trafford as United try their best to get some positives going ahead of the big game against Bayern Munich this weekend and I have absolutely no sympathy with the idiots who thought this idea up.

At the end of the day, Manchester United have always been proud of the way they have a unique way of supporting their club, but more and more I see the other side of the fan-base that can't seem to help but act the way other new-age fans do. It started a few years ago with the Soccer AM 'who are ya' chants which then died out but replaced with other cringe-worthy things, especially the half-half scarves that were prevalent again in the Liverpool and Manchester City games.

Hopefully United are winning 4-0 by the time the stupid idea flies overhead and makes these people feel that much more foolish as they simply don't represent the majority of those who will be inside the stadium and supporting the team on Saturday morning.

The month of March has been pretty good for the picks and hopefully this weekend can complete it in a positive way. The Premier League continues producing big games as Arsenal take on Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur visit Liverpool and then it is on to the European Quarter Finals.

Manchester United v Aston Villa Pick: A season full of disappointment had another one on Tuesday night as Manchester United were beaten fairly comprehensively by rivals Manchester City, a result made all the worse considering it was only ten days after Liverpool had left Old Trafford with the exact same scoreline.

The side have had a few days to think about that result, but it hasn't been the Manchester United of old that responded to disappointing results with big performances in their next game. With Bayern Munich to come on Tuesday, David Moyes has to find the right balance in his selection to make sure Manchester United win this game and have a semblance of confidence going into that big game, but also making sure key figures are physically ready to play.

Aston Villa will not make it easy for Manchester United as their style of play will suit playing a team that will be expected to push forward. That has shown in their recent 2-2 draw at Liverpool, while Villa have also scored goals at Arsenal (in a win) and Chelsea (in a loss) and Old Trafford won't hold too many fears for any visiting side after the season we have seen so far.

The pace of Gabby Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke will certainly keep the United defence on their toes as that has been a particular weakness for them, and even set pieces have caused some panic in the defensive area.

However, I do think the home team are going to earn a win in the game, albeit in nervy circumstances and I don't think Manchester United come away with a clean sheet. Teams like Liverpool and Manchester City will have much more control of a game at Old Trafford than someone like Aston Villa, and I think United can get more attacking joy in this fixture as long as David Moyes plays Juan Mata centrally.

Nothing has come easy for Manchester United this season, but I think they take the three points in this game after both teams have hit the back of the net.

Crystal Palace v Chelsea Pick: Like Manchester United, Chelsea have an important Champions League game coming up this week and that means Jose Mourinho will likely rotate players for this game and has to find the right selections to earn an important three points.

He might not believe Chelsea are favourites to win the Premier League, but Mourinho will also know the importance of winning this game and shifting the pressure onto Manchester City and Liverpool who visit Arsenal and host Tottenham Hotspur respectively later in the weekend.

At this stage of the season, nerves and experience play as big a part as talent when it comes to getting results, particularly against a side like Crystal Palace who are fighting for their lives and preparing for this game alone.

However, a lack of goals has to be a real concern for Tony Pulis even if Palace could have a big impact at both ends of the table in the coming weeks as they host Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City before the end of the season. It is those games that will concern the fans considering there are only 3 points between Crystal Palace and the bottom three, especially if the home side can't find the goals to win games.

Crystal Palace have been beaten by both Manchester United and Southampton at home in the last four weeks and they have failed to score against any of the 6 teams they have played here that are in the current top 9 of the League. The side have also lost 5 of those 6 games and Chelsea can certainly reverse a recent poor away record and win here too.

I think Chelsea are likely to win with a clean sheet too as that is where Jose Mourinho will focus to make sure the three points are earned and to give him a chance to rest attacking players for the game with PSG this Wednesday. It has taken late goals in their last 3 away games in the Premier League to prevent the clean sheet for Chelsea, but Crystal Palace may struggle to find the unpredictability in attack to breach them this weekend.

Stoke City v Hull City Pick: As well as Hull City played on Wednesday night in their 2-1 loss at West Ham United with their ten men, I do wonder how much of a physical toll that would have taken on the squad ahead of this difficult game at Stoke City.

It makes it that much harder that the home team have really picked up form over the last couple of months and have become a team that is winning a lot of games at home. The likes of Manchester United and Arsenal have been defeated here and Mark Hughes really has Stoke playing some very good football.

You can't really under-estimate the character that Hull City have shown this season though, and they did win back to back away games in the Premier League before Wednesday, while they have shown a little more going forward in their recent away games.

In saying that, I think it is going to be a real test for Steve Bruce to get the required energy levels for a game at the Brittania Stadium and the effort they put into Wednesday night may be hard to replicate. With the goals that Stoke City have found in recent weeks, I think their price is a little too big to continue their good form and I will back them to win this game.

Arsenal v Manchester City Pick: Everyone in the media and a lot of the fans seem to be down on Arsenal at the moment and that makes this game incredibly important for the home side. That isn't down to them being in a realistic Premier League title challenge, but to make sure they don't give Everton anything more than they have at the moment in the race for the Champions League places, especially with a visit to Goodison Park to come next weekend.

The problem is I don't know how Arsenal can raise their game for this one after being comprehensively beaten at Stamford Bridge and then struggling to deal with a Swansea team that is far short of what Manchester City bring to the table.

While the Arsenal form has taken a plunge, Manchester City seem to have refocused after back to back defeats in the FA Cup and Champions League which has left the club with the Premier League as the sole competition they are in for the remainder of the season. They were impressive at Manchester United in a comfortable win, while the return of a player as capable as Sergio Aguero will provide another attacking edge.

Even with that in mind, there seems to be a lot of people piling into the Manchester City price which is making them a shorter favourite than they were at Old Trafford and I don't think that is an accurate reflection of this game.

However, City are certainly playing well enough to win their 3rd game in their last 4 visits to the Emirates Stadium although I would be surprised if one goal would be enough to win here this season. Arsenal generally do find a goal at home, but Manchester City have shown some of their early season form in recent games and have the threat going forward to expose a home team missing key players in defence and midfield.

Instead of backing Manchester City to win at short odds, I'll take the smaller price on them scoring at least twice in the game. They have scored at least two goals in 6 of their last 7 away games in the Premier League and the return of Aguero would give them another attacking boost, while the price is only a little shorter than that for them winning this game.

Both Bayern Munich and Swansea have scored twice in recent games at the Emirates Stadium, while Liverpool created another chances to score double that amount so City grabbing at least two goals is my pick.

Fulham v Everton Pick: You have to respect the upturn in form that Everton have produced in the last few weeks, but the majority of those wins have come at home and I don't think I would feel terribly comfortable in backing them at odds on at the moment.

That is even taking into consideration the horrible performances that Fulham have put in for much of the season, but they did win their last home game against Newcastle United and are desperate for points.

Neither side can really afford to drop points in this game and so I expect both managers to set attacking line ups as the draw does no one any favours. Both teams are also going to have that edge about them as the nerves of relegation go up against the nerves of trying to crack a Champions League place.

For a few weeks, Everton could have got away with flying under the radar, but their chances of earning a top four berth have been talked up over the last few days and that will bring its own pressure on this game. People will be expecting Everton to win and I look forward to seeing how they deal with it, while Fulham may be in a last chance saloon situation depending on results on Saturday.

Either way, I like the chances of goals in the game with Everton likely to create chances and Fulham only failing to score in one home Premier League game in the last eleven months. They may have earned a clean sheet in their last game, but that has also been an exception for much of the season for Fulham and both teams should score at least once.

With the points being that important, I would be surprised if either team 'settles' for a point in normal circumstances so I expect the attacking football to pay off in a game resulting in at least three goals scored.

MY PICKS: Both Teams to Score and Manchester United to Win @ 3.30 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 2.15 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City Over 1.5 Team Goals @ 1.92 Coral (2 Units)
Fulham-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)

March Update23-20, + 11.54 Units (74 Units Staked, + 15.59% 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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