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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (May 3-5)

After the results last Sunday, it has been a pretty miserable week for Liverpool fans who just began to dare to dream that their 24 year wait for a top flight title was going to be coming to an end. Not many out there gave Chelsea, who definitely have one eye on the Champions League Semi Final Second Leg, much of a chance of getting anything at Anfield, let alone winning, but Jose Mourinho put together the perfect tactical response.

It might have been nervy at times, but Chelsea fully deserved their 0-2 win at Anfield which blew open the Premier League title race as they managed to hold Liverpool and restrict them to very few memorable chances.

That opened the door for Manchester City who secured a 0-2 win at Crystal Palace later in the afternoon, but this is not the time for anyone to consider the title is over as far as I am concerned with this weekend likely the most pivotal.

With all due respect, you would expect Manchester City to beat Aston Villa and West Ham United in their remaining two home games, while Liverpool should beat Newcastle United next weekend and that would essentially make Chelsea's results irrelevant unless we get the results they want this weekend.

The Manchester City visit to Goodison Park is far from a sure thing and I feel Everton have been disrespectfully written off in some quarters, even with their injury concerns, while Crystal Palace should make it a tougher day in the office for Liverpool than they did for Manchester City last weekend. If I was to guess right now, I would say that Manchester City will win the Premier League IF they can win at Everton on Saturday evening, but anything less should give Liverpool the confidence boost to see off Palace and Newcastle and take the title.

So it is all to play for this weekend at the top this weekend, but the relegation battle will also become much clearer with the likes of Cardiff City and Fulham both on the brink of being sent to the Championship after poor results last weekend. The way Fulham blew their 2-0 lead over Hull City would have been a real disappointment for Felix Magath and I don't know if they have enough to avoid the drop now.

Norwich City are another team that will have to produce some surprising football if they are going to avoid relegation and what has been an exciting Premier League season may have a bit of an anti-climatic end for the teams in the relegation zone.

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: All is not well at Upton Park for the home faithful who are beginning to tire of Sam Allardyce and the attacking tactics that West Ham United were once famous for that are now missing.

There were banners in protest of Allardyce in the defeat at West Brom last week, while the side were recently booed off despite winning at Upton Park against ten man Hull City, but there have also been brighter moments this season for West Ham.

Two of those have come at White Hart Lane where West Ham have won twice this season, although Tottenham Hotspur were managed in one of those games by Andre Villas-Boas. However, the Hammers also dished out a first defeat for Tim Sherwood as manager and beating Spurs three times in a season will at least give the West Ham fans something to hold on to in what could be a big summer.

Allardcye is likely going to be backed in the transfer market, but the board won't want to lose a manager that can keep West Ham in the Premier League at the time they are ready to move into the Olympic Stadium.

For now, West Ham can finish the season on a positive note in a game that should see both sides trying to attack with nothing much to play for (unless you consider Tottenham Hotspur desperate to finish in the top six and a Europa League place). Spurs have been playing well in recent weeks, but they are vulnerable at the back, while West Ham have been so inconsistent that it is hard to get a real read on them.

Either way, I am expecting goals in a fixture that usually produces them in the first live game of a busy weekend.

Manchester United v Sunderland Pick: There was a real positive feeling at Old Trafford with the interim appointment of Ryan Giggs as manager of Manchester United, but for 40 minutes there really wasn't the big change in style that some may have expected on the field. It was a lack of real threat in the final third, a feature of the season, that was eventually broken with a mistake from Norwich City and Manchester United never looked back with a thumping win.

A lot of people may be expecting the same this weekend, but Sunderland are not playing with a complete lack of confidence that Norwich City are suffering with and I expect the Black Cats to cause a lot of problems on Saturday.

Sunderland have had a close loss at Liverpool followed by a draw with Manchester City, having fallen behind, and a win at Chelsea from a goal down too. Gus Poyet will know Sunderland have nothing to lose this weekend except picking up more bonus points that will see them avoid relegation and he will also be aware that the Manchester United confidence won't be fully restored with one win.

I don't expect Sunderland will roll over anything like Norwich City did last weekend, but I also feel they could be looking ahead to the big home game against West Brom on Tuesday that is more winnable and also the one that could secure Premier League football for another season. Sunderland should make it difficult for Manchester United, but the home team have been scoring more goals in the League, even prior to David Moyes' sacking, and they may have just too much for the away team.

The Asian Handicap calls for Manchester United to cover a 1.5 goal head start for Sunderland and this game could easily go both ways so the layers have that spot on. However, I think Sunderland have shown enough heart in recent away games to think they will keep this extremely close and I think Manchester United will settle for a one goal win against a potentially weakened side looking to the West Brom game.

Stoke City v Fulham Pick: This is a big weekend for Fulham if they have any hope left of avoiding relegation from the Premier League as anything less than a win may see Sunderland moving too far clear for them to make up the points next weekend.

They have played well at times under Felix Magath, but blowing a two goal lead against a Hull City team that may already be looking ahead to the FA Cup Final is a big blow to their chances of moving out of the bottom three. Their goal difference is the worst in the Premier League by some considerable distance and I just think the appointment of the German has come too late in the season to save them.

Fulham can't be officially relegated this weekend unless Sunderland surprise for the third away game in a row and win at Manchester United and Fulham fail to win this game, but either way I think it is a big ask for the Cottagers to avoid defeat at the Brittania Stadium.

Missing Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth is a problem for Stoke defensively, but they have been strong at home and are not just beating a number of the bigger names in the Division. Stoke may have wins over Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League, but recent months have seen them beat Sunderland, Aston Villa, West Ham United and Hull City and I expect the home side to add Fulham to the list.

Everton v Manchester City Pick: Last weekend produced another twist in the Premier League title race which is now being controlled by Manchester City, but anyone who thinks it is going to be plain-sailing between now and the end of the season is doing a huge injustice to how well Everton have played, particularly at Goodison Park.

Teams like Arsenal and Manchester United have been beaten comfortably here in recent games and while Manchester City are better than those sides, it is also a pressure filled situation for them at a ground where they have lost 4 in a row in the Premier League.

Southampton did make Everton look ordinary last weekend and they have to recover from the blow of missing out on Champions League football which is all but confirmed thanks to Arsenal's win on Monday evening. Gareth Barry has been an important piece in what Everton have achieved this season, but he is missing and they may have to do without Sylvain Distin for another weekend.

Injuries and absentees are less of a problem for Manchester City at the moment and they are likely to be at full strength by Saturday afternoon with David Silva expected to be passed fit. However, this City team is vulnerable at the back and the short odds on quotes are pretty disgusting considering they were as big as 2.20 to win this game prior to last Sunday and the results we saw.

Everton's home record for the season is enough of a reason to be worried for Manchester City this weekend, but I do think they will find a way to win the game although not without nervous and tense moments. The home side have only failed to score in 4 of their last 31 home games in all competitions and there will be a threat against this Manchester City defence.

However, Manchester City should find the goals with the attacking players they have to earn the vital three points albeit in a game where both teams hit the back of the net at least once.

Arsenal v West Brom Pick: The Champions League place may already be secured for Arsenal by the time this game kicks off, but I still expect the home team to try and end their season at the Emirates Stadium on a high. The FA Cup Final is to be played in three weeks time so Arsene Wenger will demand the momentum is kept up from three straight wins in the Premier League to take into that game.

Arsenal have also been scoring goals with three goals in each of their last three wins and I think that is going to pose problems for West Brom, whose own Premier League survival could have received a boost from the results on Saturday.

I would argue that West Brom have already likely got enough points to avoid the drop as they have a far superior goal difference to the teams below them and I don't foresee Fulham and Norwich City winning this weekend which would be required if West Brom are going to be dragged into the relegation zone.

They might also be focused on the game at Sunderland on Tuesday night as the one they are more likely to earn the point likely needed to absolutely place West Brom in the Premier League for another season.

With that in mind, West Brom may struggle to reverse recent losses at Arsenal who have won their last two home games against the Baggies fairly comfortably and I think they are worth backing to win this game by a couple of goals too. Arsenal have been scoring enough goals to think they can take fourth place with another decent win and they have been doing enough for much of this season to win by a couple of goals in front of their own fans.

Chelsea v Norwich City Pick: There has to be a real mental let down for Chelsea having lost the Champions League Semi Final in the manner they have, especially as they know the Premier League is unlikely to be won this season no matter what they do.

I can't see both Manchester City and Liverpool slipping up in their remaining games to allow Chelsea to sneak between them for the Premier League title so it will be interesting to see how the players react to the Wednesday night disappointment.

They are also playing a desperate Norwich City team too who know they need points if they are to avoid the drop with games against Chelsea and Arsenal yet to play. However, Stamford Bridge has been a terrible ground for them to visit in recent games as Norwich have conceded either three or four goals in their last 5 visits to Chelsea.

With the way their defence has performed for much of the season, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they conceded that many again but the main point that lingers at the back of the mind is how the Chelsea players will pick themselves up from defeat.

Back to back home losses for a Jose Mourinho team have to be incredibly rare and I can't imagine Chelsea losing again. With the amount of goals Norwich City have been conceding, Chelsea could also make serious headway into the goal difference advantage that the other two sides fighting for the Premier League title have on them.

Norwich also looked like a side that hadn't much resolve if they fell behind by what they have shown at Manchester United last weekend and in general away from home all season and I think Chelsea could record a big win on Sunday.

MY PICKS: West Ham United-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United to Win by One Goal @ 4.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Stoke City @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Manchester City to Win @ 3.20 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Chelsea - 2 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)

May Update: 0-1, - 2 Units (2 Units Staked, - 100% 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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