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Friday, 15 August 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (August 16-18)

It's been a long three months but, as the Rock may say, FINALLY the Premier League has come back to save us... I have put together a short post detailing where I believe teams are going to finish this season in the English Premier League which can be read here.

The Premier League have immediately, it seems, taken the head in the sand approach to some of the issues that still gets under the fans noses at the start of this new season. The first weekend is supposed to be one where the fans are getting together to protest the ticket prices at the top clubs, which is beginning to spiral out of control (there are plenty out there who will say this is too late and the horse has already bolted from the stable, but the fans have to make this stand because it is reaching ridiculous levels).

Instead of perhaps making a statement in that regards, the Premier League is instead warning fans about Vines and GIFs made of goals that has become prominent over the last couple of years. Imagine that, they are already rinsing the pockets of fans through the television coverage and the price to get into a match, but seeing a little Vine is apparently detrimental to the business model of the Premier League.

Yes, it is intellectual property, but do the Premier League seriously believe that stops people watching the highlights shows or signing up to places like The Sun and The Times to watch 'proper' videos of the goal? It's maddening from an organisation that continues to make billions of pounds from a game where the fans are considered second rate.

Last season proved to be a good on and an improvement on the previous season, and a winning record in back to back years is good enough for me. I would hope to avoid the horrible months I had last season, including starting last August terribly, but it is what it is and finishing the season with a plus would be a success.

Manchester United v Swansea Pick: It is the start of yet another new dawn for Manchester United as Louis Van Gaal takes charge of his first competitive game as manager of the club. The formation won't be something that the fans at Old Trafford are used to, but the pragmatic Dutchman believes it will make the best of a squad that he described as 'unbalanced' when arriving at Old Trafford.

After the disappointing campaign under David Moyes, Manchester United fans will be desperate for the team to get off to a strong start and the fixture list has certainly been kind to them on that front. A home game against Swansea should be one that sits well with United, especially as the away side have had a few changes to the squad from last season.

As much as Manchester United struggled at Old Trafford last season, they did win 7 of their home games against those sides that finished in the bottom half and that is something I project for Swansea. They also have had success with the formation that Louis Van Gaal will be using during the pre-season with a little more success going forward, although Manchester United are still going to have a few issues defensively.

In games like this, I would expect those defensive problems won't be as highlighted as in games against the better teams in the Premier League and I can see United making a strong start to the new season. Last season, 7 of their 9 home wins at Old Trafford came by more than a single goal and they have had success against Swansea in recent games here including winning 2 of their last 3 in the League by at least two goals since the Swans returned to the top flight.

United fans would do well to remember twelve months ago and not to get overly carried away by a strong win over Swansea to open the season, but I do think they can win this game by at least two goals.

Stoke City v Aston Villa Pick: The brand new season means there is plenty of optimism up and down the country as fans get ready for the next nine months, but I do think that may not be the case for Aston Villa fans. There is a lot of uncertainty with the quality of the squad and whether they have made the necessary signings to avoid relegation and another battle at the bottom of the table looks to be in the offing.

The return of Christian Benteke can't come fast enough for Paul Lambert who has to be feeling some pressure from the presence of Roy Keane, a former Sunderland and Ipswich Town manager that some believe is ready to take over as manager at Villa Park.

On the other hand, Stoke City seem to be in a much better place after their best season in almost forty years last year when they finished in the top half of the Premier League. Mark Hughes has the team playing in a fashion that the fans appreciate and Stoke City remained strong at the Brittania Stadium even without Tony Pulis at the helm.

Only the top six teams won more home games than Stoke City last season and only three teams managed to come to the Brittania Stadium and left with three points. There seems to be more of a positive vibe coming from the home team and I believe they are capable of winning their third straight League game against Aston Villa.

Paul Lambert will immediately be under pressure if Villa do lose their opening game and this has proved to be a difficult ground to visit. Stoke should have enough possession to hurt Aston Villa and should be solid enough at the back to ensure the three points remain here on Saturday afternoon.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace Pick: The feeling has changed around the Emirates Stadium and the Arsenal fans will be turning up for this live Saturday afternoon game with a huge expectation for the season ahead. They do have an important Champions League qualifier just days away in Turkey, but the concentration will be on the Premier League for now as Arsenal will feel they have a real chance to win the title this season.

Arsene Wenger and Tony Pulis haven't seen eye-to-eye ever since the latter was at Stoke City and the Frenchman will be certain of what to expect from Crystal Palace in this game.

He'll figure that Crystal Palace will look to defend deep and will be tackling hard to try and break the rhythm of the Arsenal attack, especially focusing on players like Alexis Sanchez that might not be aware of what to expect from the Premier League. However, Arsenal have mainly struggled when having to visit a Pulis managed team and it hasn't been the same case when they host those teams.

Arsenal won all 5 home games against Stoke City when they were managed by Pulis and they also recorded the 2-0 home win over Crystal Palace with the latter in charge. There should be too much quality in the home side again in this one, especially with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud showing form last weekend at Wembley Stadium.

Even without the three German internationals in the starting eleven, I expect Arsenal show their quality on Saturday and win this one by a couple of goals at least.

EDIT: Since I wrote this piece, Tony Pulis has left Crystal Palace and that might make it even more difficult for the players to rally and try to keep a rampant Arsenal at bay.

Liverpool v Southampton Pick: There might be a big change at Liverpool with the sale of Luis Suarez who has been a real figurehead for this side, but they are still in a far better shape than Southampton who come into the season having lost vast amounts of talent this summer.

They also have a new manager in the dugout and this may be a more difficult season for Southampton fans than they have had to endure for some time. Graziano Pelle has to fire immediately up front, but it will be tough at Anfield in this Super Sunday game considering all the information that Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert can give their new teammates.

Even without Suarez, Brendan Rodgers will be sending out his Liverpool team to play with the passing style that impressed so many last season and they still have match winners in the squad. Daniel Sturridge will lead the line and Anfield has become something of a fortress over the last twelve months with plenty of wins being racked up here.

The first day of the season can see surprises with teams still trying to find their fitness, but Liverpool are unlikely to suffer one with the losses in the Southampton squad. Rodgers will have his team set up to attack from the first minute and Liverpool scored plenty of goals at home last season and I think they have made signings that have kept the squad strong.

It will be interesting to see how Liverpool balance the Champions League ties with the Premier League later this season, but for now they can concentrate solely on the League and I expect them to make a very positive start to the season. Liverpool should create plenty of chances and I believe they win this by a couple of goals at least.

Newcastle United v Manchester City Pick: The first day of the Premier League season is always tough to predict as teams are at different stages of their fitness and it will be interesting to see how the Manchester City World Cup players have recovered. We saw last weekend that their squad needs the likes of Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero involved as they make Manchester City that much stronger and I would be surprised if both of those players are not in the squad in some capacity on Sunday.

The fear for the Manchester City title challenge is the fact that teams around them have improved while their own squad has 'stood still' to some extent. However, their first eleven is arguably the best in the Premier League and they will be very hard to knock off top spot if they can maintain some form of health this season after Aguero and Kompany missed chunks of last season.

A game at Newcastle United is a tough one, but this is now a Newcastle team that seems happy to finish in mid-table and who finished last season in terrible form. Newcastle have some new faces that need to settle in quickly if the side is to finish in the top half of the table again this season, but that does seem to be the limit of their achievements for the coming season.

They were also beaten by five of the top seven in front of their own fans last season and the disappointment for Newcastle must be some of the hammerings they took from those sides last season. Manchester City won 0-2 here thanks to a late second goal, but Everton (0-3), Tottenham Hotspur (0-4) and Manchester United (0-4) had comfortable games here.

Manchester City have particularly enjoyed recent League games against Newcastle United and their last 7 League wins have all come by at least two goals. In fact, Manchester City's last 4 League wins at St James' Park have all come by at least two goals and 5 of the last 6 Premier League games here have seen that margin of victory.

With the returning members of the squad, I would imagine Manchester City can consign the loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield to the back of their minds and they can win another game against Newcastle United by a couple of goals at least.

Rotherham United v Wolves Pick: This could be one of the more exciting games of the weekend in the Championship as you would imagine both Steve Evans and Kenny Jackett will be very keen to target the three points on offer.

Both Rotherham United and Wolves will be looking to play attacking football and their games last season showed that both teams can create chances against the other.

6 of the last 8 games played between the teams at Rotherham have seen the over 2.5 goals come flying in and these two teams were the leading scorers in League One last season.

It would surprise me if we don't see another game with chances created and there is a real chance that both teams can score at least once and help this game surpass three goals.

Sheffield Wednesday v Derby County Pick: Both Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County have made 100% starts to the new campaign with one League win and one Cup win, but something will have to give when the teams meet one another at Hillsborough on Saturday.

If the experts are to be believed, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby will be competing at different ends of the table at the end of the campaign with the home team looking to avoid the drop and Derby most certainly aiming for promotion.

They came so close a season ago and Derby are very comfortable playing away from home as that allows them to use their counter-attacking ability to hurt teams who are expected to push forward.

Derby have had recent success at Hillsborough with three wins in their last six visits including last season and I do think they have the higher quality available to them. The Rams also won 7 of their 9 games against the sides that finished 16th or lower in the table last season and they will be looking to get off to another strong showing against those sides this time around.

I expect Sheffield Wednesday to be a side that finishes in one of those positions and I expect Derby County to win this game.

MY PICKS: Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.17 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Rotherham United-Wolves Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Derby County @ 2.45 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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