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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (Match 8-9)

I don't know about you, but I can honestly say I saw about ten minutes of the international matches that were played during the week as I just can't tolerate the friendlies. Like many, I am beginning to look forward to the World Cup in Brazil that is less than 100 days away from now, but friendly games just break up the domestic season for me and that isn't much fun.

It also means that many of the teams in the Premier League have had to work with skeleton squads during the week and that makes it hard to prepare for matches this weekend, while also means some managers will rest players who may have hard workouts during the week.

With the FA Cup Sixth Round to be played days before the Champions League Last 16 second legs are to be played, it will also be interesting to see the kind of teams that Arsenal and Manchester City play knowing they have to overturn 0-2 deficits at two of the toughest European away venues.


With the League Cup already in the bag, some Manchester City fans may already be dreaming of achieving the domestic treble, something not even Manchester United have managed having come closest in 1994 when beaten in the League Cup Final before winning the Premier League and the FA Cup.

It would be a huge achievement if City can achieve that and they have a very winnable game this weekend in the Sixth Round of the FA Cup, but may find themselves 9 points behind Chelsea in the Premier League table if the latter beat Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday afternoon. Manchester City would have three games in hand, but points on the board are much more important at this stage of the season and one of the games in hand is a trip to Old Trafford where Manchester United would be desperate for the three points too.


Personally I still have Chelsea sneaking the Premier League title from Manchester City and the current top four to finish in those positions, although not necessarily in their current order.


West Brom v Manchester United Pick: This should be a very interesting Premier League game on Saturday afternoon although television coverage is going to be shared with the Arsenal-Everton FA Cup Sixth Round game which is surprising to me.

Most Manchester United fans won't be worrying about the Cup as they look to keep the pressure on the top four teams in the Premier League, although that pressure won't be feeling so great for those sides considering the gap there is currently. However, if United have real ambitions of finishing in the top four, they will need to win this game and then try and build some momentum for home games against Liverpool and Manchester City which could present a real chance to close the gap.

I think the fans have already accepted that the top four is likely gone and it will be interesting to see what kind of response David Moyes gets from the players that played so appallingly against Olympiacos in the Champions League. Juan Mata will at least give the team a little more quality, but it is all important for United to take the lead in the game if they are to win the match as confidence quickly erodes if they fall behind.

West Brom have also been having a difficult time with a new manager, but they have proven to be tough to beat at the Hawthornes in the Premier League. They have had a bit of luck go their way to avoid defeat in some of their games, but it is interesting to see they have earned draws against top teams like Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea here in the last six weeks.

Plenty of people would be intrigued by the offer of 6.50 that West Brom come from behind to either draw or win this game, especially considering they have been behind in 5 of their last 6 games at home in the Premier League, a run of games where West Brom remain unbeaten.

That is appealing, but Manchester United have actually played better in some matches than the results would indicate and I also believe this side gains a lot of confidence when they take the lead. It is highlighted by the fact that United have only failed to win 1 game that they have led away from home in the Premier League this season, that coming at Cardiff City.

If United go in front, I expect they will be too strong for West Brom and record the three points in this game, but there is every chance they will concede too even with back to back clean sheets in the Premier League away from home. I like an interest in United winning a fairly high-scoring game which has been a trend when these teams meet at the Hawthornes.


Cardiff City v Fulham Pick: I am not trying to make a huge statement with this, but how could this be anything but a 'must win' game for either of these teams with 9 games left to play for both once this one is in the books.

Both Cardiff City and Fulham have terrible goal differences and will have played at least one game more than the sides above them in the table by Saturday evening so the losing team in this one is going to be a huge favourite to be relegated in May.

That isn't to say that both managers are going to be satisfied with a draw either as that poor goal difference means they are likely going to need more points than at least three other teams to survive in the top flight.

All of that should lead to an attacking game with both teams hoping to avoid the defensive mistakes that have blighted their seasons in a bid to earn the three points. It is hard to imagine either being able to keep a clean sheet with the way they have played to this point, although Cardiff and Fulham could have attacks that are struggling with their confidence too.

However, those attacks could be played into form with the chances they are likely to get in this game and I expect both teams will score at least once. The fact that the three points are as priceless as they are going to be means neither is likely to sit back and accept the draw and I can see this game having at least three goals scored, but picking a winner is beyond me (gun  to the head I would pick Fulham).


Crystal Palace v Southampton Pick: I have to tell you that my immediate reaction was of surprise that Crystal Palace are such a big price to win this game considering how well they have played at Selhurst Park since Tony Pulis took over as manager. Couple that with the lack of form shown by Southampton in the last couple of weeks and I think the away side are being a touch over-rated in this one.

The problem I have for Southampton is how their players can find the motivation to dig deep in games like this which don't mean an awful lot to them in the grand scheme of things. Of course the likes of Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw want to impress for England purposes, but they have bigger games ahead where their talents will be exposed to the nation and they are coming off the high of representing their nation during the week.

On the other hand, Crystal Palace are desperate for points and will have targeted games like this as vital if they want to avoid the drop. They have also played much better of late and have really only lost to the very best teams.

Tactically you can expect Southampton to have a lot of the ball, but Palace have been sound defensively and I expect the likes of Tom Ince and Jason Puncheon to cause some problems for a team that conceded 3 goals at West Ham United. Set pieces will also be critical for Crystal Palace if they are to spring the three points and I am tempted to back them to do so.

However, they are offered at 1.80 to avoid defeat and I think they have the defensive shape to avoid conceding more than one goal in this game and that should be enough for Crystal Palace to at least earn a point.


Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: I am not the biggest fan of Jose Mourinho's proclamations that Chelsea are not capable of winning the Premier League title this season because of the squad he has inherited, although I would agree that they are perhaps a top striker short of being a clear favourite. Chelsea have shown defensive resiliency and have three players in Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian that will create opportunities.

Hazard in particular has improved as the season has progressed and is capable of producing the magic moment that separates draws from wins, while confidence has to be in a good place following the late winner against Everton, the stuff that Champions are made of.

It won't be an easy game against Tottenham Hotspur who have won the most away games in the Premier League to this point of the season, but one that hit the buffers in recent games. Tim Sherwood is trying to get the best out of his squad, but Tottenham looked poor in a loss at Norwich City and didn't exactly dominate in the 1-0 win over Cardiff City last weekend.

Spurs have struggled at Stamford Bridge, but they have earned draws in their last two games here including a 2-2 draw towards the end of last season and I do see them posing problems.

However, I think Chelsea will prove too strong defensively and will win this game. Chelsea have kept 4 clean sheets in a row at Stamford Bridge and it has to be noted that Spurs have lost all 3 League away games without scoring a goal including the defeat at Norwich City.

In fact, Tottenham Hotspur have lost 5 away games all season and have failed to score in every one of those defeats so backing Chelsea to win this game without conceding is my pick.


Arsenal v Everton Pick: This is quite comfortably the tie of the Round in the FA Cup and the winner will have real ambitions of going all the way and picking up the trophy in May, Manchester City notwithstanding.

The biggest factor that is hard to determine from this game is what kind of team will Arsene Wenger send out onto the field- I think the Frenchman isn't one to give up on a tie and I don't think he really believes Arsenal can't overturn the deficit against Bayern Munich so whether he rests some players will be interesting to see.

That could be a risky approach as Everton have been playing well enough to cause problems especially with a focal point of their attack back in the squad in the form of Romelu Lukaku. There is no doubt that they have missed his presence in games against Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea (although he couldn't play against the latter anyway) and his return paid dividends with the winning goal last weekend.

Lukaku gives Everton some pace and power up front which makes their runners from midfield that much more dangerous and I think they could definitely create chances as they have been in their losses at White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge. With the Belgian in the line up, Everton should be a little bit more clinical in the forward positions and I think they have every chance of springing the shock in this one if Arsenal rest players for the Champions League game on Tuesday.

Arsenal have failed to score in 5 of their last 30 home games in all competitions so it would still be a surprise if they didn't hit the net against Everton despite the improved defensive play in the last 2 away games for Everton. With the additional forward power back in the line up, I like both teams to score once in this one.

MY PICKS: Manchester United to Win and 3 or 4 Total Goals in the Match @ 4.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Cardiff City-Fulham Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Crystal Palace + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 2.70 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Arsenal-Everton Both Teams to Score @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)

March Update: 3-3, + 0.2 Units (11 Units Staked, + 1.81% 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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