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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (May 6-9)

The Premier League took a remarkable turn at the top and the bottom of the table this past weekend and I doubt anyone would have predicted the way Liverpool were going to collapse in their game at Selhurst Park on Monday.

On Saturday, Cardiff City and Fulham both had their relegation confirmed thanks to Sunderland winning at Old Trafford and Norwich City were essentially confined to life in the Championship the following day when they failed to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Those results have taken away some of the drama at the bottom of the table for the final day and Norwich City could have their relegation confirmed as soon as Wednesday evening depending on the result in the Sunderland game against West Brom.

Manchester City also franked their tag as favourites with a 2-3 win at Everton on Saturday and the title race came down to two teams when Chelsea couldn't score the goal to win the game against Norwich at home.

It looked for all the world that Liverpool were going to shift the pressure back onto Manchester City as they went 0-3 up at Crystal Palace on Monday as all the commentators began wondering if they could also make a big dent in the goal difference which stood 9 goals in City's favour at kick off.

As Liverpool pushed forward for more goals and the clock was about to tick into the 79th minute, something remarkable happened from the home team that saw them score three goals in eight minutes. The draw left the likes of Luis Suarez sobbing on the pitch at the full time whistle, while the fans couldn't contain themselves in the stand either as the best chance in 24 years to win the top flight title looks to have slipped from the Liverpool grasp.

It isn't all over just yet with Manchester City having to earn four points from their final two home games and the only way they can ease the pressure is by winning on Wednesday against Aston Villa. This also means the final day drama that the television companies were salivating over may not be as critical as they would have hoped and you can just imagine all the top executives at Sky TV will be desperate for City to fail to win on Wednesday.

Personally, I think it would take some sort of epic collapse from City to fail to win either of their last two games, let alone fail to win both of them, but until it is mathematically impossible for Liverpool to win the League, there will be some excitement perhaps to come.

This week we will see the start of the Play Offs in the lower Leagues in England and also the remaining three 'make up' games in the Premier League which comes to a close on Sunday. This weekend proved to be one with a number of surprising results throughout Europe, a situation that can occur with the holidays and World Cup fast approaching to distract players that may not have a lot left to play for, or for those that are in the pressure-filled situations of trying to win League titles/avoid relegation.

Manchester United v Hull City Pick: It has been a long season for Manchester United fans visiting Old Trafford, but they get their last chance to do that until August and I expect a better performance than the one they produced against Sunderland on Saturday.

It was clear that the game meant more to Sunderland than it did for Manchester United who continued to play at a tempo that hasn't been the norm for the side over the last quarter of a century. A lack of ideas in the final third has been another issue for much of the season and once again it was a frustrating afternoon for the home fans.

This game should be a little easier to deal with for Manchester United as they are playing a Hull City team that have looked out of sorts since reaching the FA Cup Final. Steve Bruce is adamant that the side cannot perform as poorly as they did against Aston Villa and use the Cup Final as an excuse, but that is often the case with nothing to play for in the League and with such a big game coming up.

Hull have conceded too many goals in recent games and the return of Robin Van Persie should give Manchester United a threat going forward. However, they have to show more creativity going forward and that is tough to really believe in for United fans with the way a lot of the games at Old Trafford have gone.

Even with that in mind, Manchester United have scored four goals in 3 of their last 5 games in the Premier League and I can see Hull City perhaps struggling with nothing to play for. The players could easily be looking after themselves with the Cup Final in mind rather than going into every challenge on the football field and that may give United enough of an edge to win this game by a couple of goals.

Manchester City v Aston Villa Pick: Liverpool's loss of concentration and collapse at Selhurst Park on Monday must surely have had the Manchester City players bouncing in training on Tuesday morning and I expect they will bring that onto the field on Wednesday in this game in hand.

The absence of Sergio Aguero is always a blow to Manchester City, but Yaya Toure, David Silva and Samir Nasri are all capable of creating chances for Edin Dzeko up front and I expect the side to put Aston Villa on the back foot from the kick off.

The recent draw with Sunderland here will also focus the players so I don't expect Manchester City to take their foot off the pedal and allow Aston Villa to sneak into the game. Liverpool's collapse from 0-3 up will be another motivational tool for Manuel Pellegrini in asking his players not to let up if they have the lead in this game and I expect Manchester City to really put themselves in a commanding position in the League table.

Aston Villa are a dangerous away side as they have pace and enjoy trying to hit teams when they come onto them, but they are missing Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor is a doubt so they might not have as much bite as usual. They also confirmed their place in the Premier League on Saturday and may just be relieved to the extent that they are maybe 5/10% below their usual level on Wednesday.

They were beaten heavily at Manchester United and Swansea in recent away games, while Manchester City have outscored Aston Villa 16-2 in their last 4 Premier League home wins against them. With the boost given to the team by the Liverpool result, I think Manchester City might be able to push forward and record a big win on Wednesday that will give them one hand on the Premier League trophy.

Sunderland v West Brom Pick: If this game was being played in another League, one that may not have the same code of professionalism as the Premier League claims to have, the price on this game being a draw would be a lot shorter than what is being quoted for this game.

Let's face facts for a minute- a draw would suit both of these teams down to the ground as both would then be safe from relegation on the final day of the season. That isn't to say either manager will set out to play for the draw, but I can see the last twenty minutes being one of slow tempo if there is a stalemate and neither team will really push for the winner in my honest opinion.

Sunderland certainly won't want to risk losing the game and have the pressure of needing a result against Swansea on Sunday so I can see Gus Poyet setting them up to be difficult to beat. West Brom also want to finish the season with some positive results and won't want to risk another away defeat in the Premier League.

Add the fact that Sunderland have won just 2 of their last 11 home Premier League games and West Brom have won just 2 of their last 15 away Premier League games and the draw that does so much for both teams might be the most likely result.

Brighton v Derby County Pick: All four teams in the Championship Play Offs will be quietly confident of their chances of getting through to the Premier League so I imagine the Semi Finals are going to be very well contested.

Brighton will feel they have nothing to lose having scored an injury time winner the City Ground last Saturday to make their way through to the Play Offs, while the experience of being at this stage twelve months ago should be an important factor for them. They have been very tough to play in front of their own fans, but will also know that they probably need a lead to take to the Midlands if they are to make it past the stage they were beaten at last season.

That could play into the hands of Derby County who have a fast, attacking team that can score plenty of goals at home and away as they have shown through the 46 game season. That has been even more impressive since Steve McClaren took over from Nigel Clough and the former England manager has admitted that he has no reason to ask his players to take a backwards step in the Play Offs.

McClaren realises the team have played well with the tactics they are used to and he won't be changing that at this important time of the season and I can see Derby County being a little too good for Brighton over the two legs.

At the price, I think Derby County look a big price to win at the Amex on Thursday night considering their away form for much of the season. The goals in the side are going to be hard for Brighton to replicate and a small interest on the away side looks the call.

Wigan Athletic v Queens Park Rangers Pick: Both Wigan Athletic and Queens Park Rangers can't really point to a lot of positive form heading into the Play Offs and you can understand why they are considered bigger underdogs than Derby County when it comes to promotion.

However, both squads are full of players that have Premier League experience and there is plenty of quality to think that any slump can be forgotten in time for the next two and half weeks where so much can be achieved.

Their two League matches against one another have been very closely contested this season and it would be a surprise if this one is any different with the tension that the two relegated sides from last season will feel. Neither team will want to spend another year in the Championship as the longer they are out of the top flight is that much more difficult to return to the top flight.

With that in the back of the mind of the players, caution could take over and make this a very tense Semi Final to be competed in the next few days. Queens Park Rangers have been very poor away from home in the League over the last few weeks, but Wigan Athletic have not been pulling up trees in front of their own supporters either.

Therefore, a small interest in the draw from the first leg of the Semi Final looks a decent shout.

MY PICKS: Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (4 Units)
Sunderland-West Brom Draw @ 3.20 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Derby County @ 3.00 Stan James (1 Unit)
Wigan Athletic-Queens Park Rangers Draw @ 3.30 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

May Update2-5, - 4.04 Units (12 Units Staked, - 33.67% Yield)

April Final16-17, + 2.33 Units (58 Units Staked, + 4.02% 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 2013/14152-170-3, + 12.24 Units (530 Units Staked, + 2.31% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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