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Friday, 18 April 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (April 19-21)

The Premier League title race and the relegation battle always has a number of twists and turns when we get into the final furlong, but at the moment all the signs are pointing to one team winning the Premier League.

It took a late goal to see off Manchester City last weekend, but even that wasn't enough to put Liverpool in the driving seat for the title... However, the failure to beat Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium has certainly given Liverpool the edge over Manchester City and now it looks like being a two horse race to the finish between the Reds and Chelsea.

The game next weekend between those two teams looks to be the one that determines who will be taking home the trophy next month, but that is assuming things go to plan this weekend as both Chelsea and Liverpool play relegation threatened teams in games they will be expected to win.

Nothing usually comes easy at this stage of the season, especially not with the pressure and playing opponents fighting for their lives, but April 27th looks to be the date to circle in terms of where the title is going.

Norwich City entertain Liverpool and have their own issues after three consecutive losses which has them on the brink of the relegation zone. Fulham have a much more sympathetic fixture list to deal with and Cardiff City also won last weekend so the pressure is on Norwich to get something from the game against Liverpool which is then followed by a trip to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge before hosting Champions League chasing Arsenal on the final day.

I thought Norwich had enough in their locker to escape the drop once they beat Sunderland, but losing to Swansea, West Brom and Fulham has put the cat amongst the, errr, Canaries and it is hard to see where they will earn the points to escape relegation as I don't see 32 points cutting it.

April has always been described as the pivotal month in terms of relegation and winning titles and I do think we will have a pretty good picture of things by the end of next weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham Pick: There will be a lot of fans out there that may be hoping that Tottenham Hotspur fail to finish in the top six in the Premier League so the club doesn't have the Europa League to bother them next season. Those feelings would have been increased after seeing how Liverpool have dealt with the Premier League without the distraction the Europa League offers, but Tim Sherwood won't want to finish this season with a whimper.

It won't be doing his chances of getting the job any favours every time Spurs drop points, but I also think he will be aware that the board are looking for someone else to take over this summer regardless of how the season ends.

Sherwood can at least credit the players for believing in him as shown in recent games where they have come from two goals down to beat Southampton, a goal down to beat Sunderland and three goals down to draw with West Brom.

There is little doubt that Sherwood has got the old attacking policy of Tottenham Hotspur back to the fore, but tactically he can be a ropy and that is where Fulham will look to take advantage.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Fulham are back in real contention to avoid relegation from the Premier League thanks to back to back League wins, but they may already be focused on their remaining two games from which to get the points to move out of the bottom three. Felix Magath won't allow his side to come here without expectation, but it is only natural for that feeling to come when looking at games against Hull City and Crystal Palace compared to this one.

I expect Fulham to try and make life difficult for Spurs, but the attacking intent shown by Tim Sherwood should be enough to see the home side come through with a win and I expect that to come by a couple of goals.

Aston Villa v Southampton Pick: There is going to be an issue with motivation in this game as both teams might already be looking ahead to the summer break and the changes that may be made by the managers.

Aston Villa are the more desperate for the points as they are only 4 points clear of Fulham, but I have a feeling they may already have enough in the bag to avoid relegation, while Southampton are not going to be able to finish higher than 8th.

The Saints also have a couple of players that will be wanting to represent England at the World Cup and they may just be taking it slightly easier after seeing team-mate Jay Rodriguez injure himself to the extent that he will be missing a few months of action.

With the lack of real tension in the game, barring some of the unfortunate goings on at Villa Park, it should lead to a free-flowing game where both sides can look to score goals. Aston Villa have only failed to score in 1 of their last 9 home games in all competitions and are facing a Southampton defence that has conceded at least 2 goals in 3 of their last 4 away games.

On the other hand, Southampton should create chances against a Villa side that have only kept 1 clean sheet in 11 home games in all competitions and it does look like the chance of seeing goals has been under-estimated.

Chelsea v Sunderland Pick: Jose Mourinho has been surprisingly quiet at the beginning of what could be a critical ten days in his first season back as manager of Chelsea- that should give us all an indication of how important these next four games are for the manager as he looks to win a piece of silverware in either the Premier League or Champions League.

We all know the feelings of the manager regarding the lack of help with the scheduling, but the TV companies have moved the Chelsea game from the original Sunday slot to Saturday afternoon so the Blues can have an extra day of rest between this game and the Champions League Semi Final.

Chelsea need to win this game to at least put some pressure on Liverpool ahead of the latter's trip to Norwich City on Sunday and also to stay in touch ahead of the big game at Anfield next weekend. They have been winning plenty of games at home in recent weeks and much of that is down to a solid defence that has not conceded at Stamford Bridge since Manchester United scored in the middle of January.

Mourinho will be looking for his side to control a Sunderland team that put in a huge effort at Manchester City during the week but ultimately came up short in their bid for a vital three points. He will also be making his side aware not to take the win for granted after Sunderland forced City to drop two points and also put a lot of pressure on Liverpool in a recent 2-1 loss at Anfield.

Even in the absence of Steven Fletcher, Sunderland have found goals in their recent away games, scoring at Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, but Chelsea will feel their defence is the best of all those teams. I expect Mourinho to set his team up to make sure they don't give anything away from Sunderland and control the game to enough of an extent to win, but not over exert themselves for the trip to Atletico Madrid.

They have simply not been conceding goals here of late and I expect Chelsea to continue that defensive dominance and win this game to nil which looks a generous price.

Norwich City v Liverpool Pick: Pressure can do a funny thing to teams at this stage of the season and that is the only reason I have for giving Norwich City any chance of surprising Liverpool and earning a point or three from this game.

Chelsea should have moved to the top of the Premier League on Saturday evening and this is an incredibly early kick off, but it would still be a huge surprise if Liverpool were to see their 10 game Premier League winning run end at Carrow Road.

Liverpool have simply been far too good for Norwich in their recent meetings and scored five goals against them for the third League game in a row. Luis Suarez has been a particular thorn in the side for the Canaries in those games and the expectation could fall on his shoulders if Daniel Sturridge misses out as it looks like he will.

There are goals in the Liverpool team and Norwich City have been in really poor form in recent games- they created so many chances last weekend against Fulham but couldn't score and confidence has to be shattered with the four games left to play looking as difficult as they could be.

Maybe Norwich can surprise with the early kick off, but I can't see anything but another comfortable win for Liverpool against a team they have dominated. I would dearly love to be wrong and not because Liverpool snuck another three points with a one goal win, but because Norwich City did earn something from the game.

However, the pick has to be Liverpool winning this game easily enough.

Hull City v Arsenal Pick: Arsenal are now in the driving seat when it comes to Champions League qualification via the top four and you have to think they are going to come to Hull City with plenty of confidence and will be expected to win.

The layers agree with short odds for Arsenal to win at the KC Stadium, but that is seriously under-estimating a Hull City team who have caused problems for some of the top teams this season. Whether the players are completely focused after reaching the FA Cup Final may be up for debate, but Steve Bruce should have kept the players in tune with how the bottom of the Premier League did last weekend and that there is no safety guaranteed just yet.

Hull are defensively sound for the most part and they don't concede a lot of goals at home, especially if you consider almost half the goals they have conceded came in two games against Manchester United and Newcastle United.

With the likes of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic up front, Hull City can score goals too and they may give Arsenal another jolt despite the decent win over West Ham United the Gunners had on Tuesday night.

I just don't feel Arsenal should be odds on to win this game away from home though and I will back Hull City with the half goal start to earn something from the game.

Everton v Manchester United Pick: This is a fascinating game on Sunday afternoon, not simply because of the importance for Everton to win the game and remain in a challenge for a top four place, but for the reaction David Moyes gets in his first game back at Goodison Park.

Moyes should absolutely get a warm reception from the Everton fans, but short memories and a successful season may just see a disappointing response for a man who did so much for the club.

It would be ironic if Moyes masterminds a win for Manchester United that puts Everton in a very difficult position to get into the top four as you know the headline writers are itching to get on the Scot's back.

For all the troubles Moyes has had at Old Trafford this season, Manchester United have been very successful away from home although it should also be noted that only 1 of their 10 away wins has come against a team from the top half of the table. Even with that in mind, you can't deny the last couple of League performances from United and I don't imagine they roll over for an Everton side that may have had their confidence burst with the loss on Wednesday night.

However, under-estimate this Everton team at your peril as they have been very good at home for the most part and blew away Arsenal a couple of weeks ago with attacking football. Roberto Martinez won't put the brakes on the team going forward and I can see them causing Manchester United problems too in a game that should feature goals.

With that in mind, I was surprised the layers are offering such a decent price on there being at least three goals in the game and I will be backing that to happen. I can't see either manager deciding to play this game cautiously with what is at stake and the attacking football should produce chances and hopefully goals.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Aston Villa-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Chelsea Win to Nil @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.17 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Hull City + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Everton-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Sky Bet (2 Units)

April Update9-6, + 4.66 Units (26 Units Staked, + 17.92% Yield)

March Final26-22, + 13.94 Units (83 Units Staked, + 16.80% 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 2013/14137-153-3, + 9.91 Units (472 Units Staked, + 2.10% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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