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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (December 2-3)

It might not be to everyone's liking, but the festive period of the English football season is one of my favourite times of the year and this week is the start of a busy month of football. By the time the New Year ticks around, teams will really have a good feel for where they stand before diving into the January transfer window in a bid to ensure all the goals are reached.

This is also the time of the season when managers may look to change things around in order to keep players fresh for 'bigger' games and it will be interesting to see some of the line ups that take to the field in the coming weeks.

The festive period will also set up plenty of live games for the neutrals, although some of the travelling being asked of the fans is a bit of a joke. I speak from a Manchester United perspective, but games at Southampton on a Monday night and a game at Tottenham Hotspur at midday on a Sunday is a travesty for those fans travelling down from Manchester.

It has always been the fans that have suffered when the television cameras decide to pitch up at grounds and there is plenty of that going on during the next month.

Leicester City v Liverpool Pick: This is a big game for Nigel Pearson with the pressure building on the Leicester City manager after yet another loss last Saturday left the Foxes bottom of the Premier League table. They did finally get back to scoring goals, but the 3-2 loss to Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road is a big blow to Leicester and Tony Pulis' name is being linked with the top job at the KP Stadium.

All of that can be put to bed if Leicester City can beat Liverpool on Tuesday night in front of the television cameras, but that won't be a simple task with the latter picking up a couple of morale boosting results over the last seven days.

The 1-0 win over Stoke City might have come late in the day, but it was a win for Liverpool that may spark something from a team that is far short of the level they produced during the 2013/14 season.

That win also came at Anfield as Liverpool try to snap a run of 4 consecutive away games without a win in all competitions and the side have also won just 1 of their last 7 away games. That makes their short price of winning here look unappealing, but I am not convinced Leicester have the confidence to win their second home game of the season.

4 of the 6 Premier League games that Leicester City have played here have ended with the point shared including against Everton and Arsenal and I won't be surprised if this one ends in a draw too.

Manchester United v Stoke City Pick: Momentum- I spoke about momentum that Manchester United could potentially be building if they could beat Hull City on Saturday and there does seem to be an improved confidence in the squad heading into this one. Another victory over Stoke City at Old Trafford will make it 4 wins on the bounce for Louis Van Gaal and he was correct in his assessment about the performance against Hull City being the 'best of the season'.

Losing Angel Di Maria is a blow as he is the one player that can make something happen by beating a player or two with his dribbling and pace, but Wayne Rooney should be passed fit and Robin Van Persie could potentially be set to go on a positive run in front of goal.

Even without Di Maria, there is still a lot of attacking talent in the Manchester United squad and it could be a tough day for the Stoke City players who put so much into their loss at Liverpool on Saturday. With the amount of injuries that Stoke City are dealing with, Mark Hughes won't be able to make too many changes to those that played their hearts out at Anfield and tiredness is potentially a factor in this game.

Manchester United also played on Saturday, but it was an 'easier' day in the office for them. Louis Van Gaal also has the benefit of a couple of extra days to prepare for the Southampton game following this one and I think a strong United line up will be too much for Stoke to handle.

This has usually been a fixture from which Manchester United take three points and I think the effort that Stoke put into the last game at Liverpool might have an affect on their energy levels in this one. With the three wins in a row under their belt, I look or Manchester United to secure another one and likely to come by a couple of goals at least.

Swansea v Queens Park Rangers Pick: At this time of the season, there can be the temptation for manager's to pick and choose their battles. I remember a few seasons ago that Mick McCarthy was heavily criticised at this time of the season for resting the majority of his first team for an away game at Manchester United because the then Wolves manager felt the side would earn more points from the two games sandwiching that one.

Now I am not suggesting a trip to Swansea is as intimidating as it was going to Old Trafford, but this is an established Premier League side that play much better at home than on their travels. While Harry Redknapp is unlikely to make wholesale changes, I think it isn't stretching things to suggest he is perhaps focusing on the two games around this one.

Queens Park Rangers have already beaten Leicester City and next face Burnley at home on Saturday so perhaps Redknapp is looking at the next game as being more 'important' than this one. However, I do think he will have the respect for this time of the season to not do the same as Mick McCarthy, although I still think it is a tough task for QPR to get a result here.

They were unfortunate not to get a win over Crystal Palace over the weekend and Swansea will feel they will win this game if they can create the chances they did in that game. While QPR will eventually take their home form on their travels and pick up results, I think there could be the chance they are looking ahead to the Burnley game and perhaps are caught by a Swansea team that has played very well at the Liberty Stadium.

West Brom v West Ham United Pick: I have a little bet going with my brother that West Brom won't finish higher than 15th in the Premier League this season and it is becoming clear that their fans are wondering where the club is heading too. Alan Irvine is losing support from the stands as West Brom slipped to a third consecutive Premier League loss at the weekend and this game against West Ham United is a big one for the manager.

We will know a lot more about where West Brom stand when we wake up on Christmas morning as the Baggies have 'winnable' games heading into that day, but losing those games will see them slip down into the bottom three.

I think the lack of goal threat has been an issue, while they are facing a West Ham United team that has played with a lot of confidence this season and has played the kind of football that the fans love. With the likes of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia potentially returning for this game, the Hammers may be able to secure their first win at the Hawthornes in their last five attempts.

The feeling is that West Ham have more goals in their side and they have been unfortunate in losing efforts at Manchester United and Everton earlier this season. They have scored in every away game they have played and West Ham scored at least twice in games at Crystal Palace, Hull City, Burnley at Stoke City.

If they can do that here, there is every chance that West Ham can secure a big three points here.

Arsenal v Southampton Pick: This has suddenly become a huge game for Southampton considering the manner of their defeat against Manchester City on Sunday- another loss to a side chasing a top four berth and I can imagine there will be plenty of people telling Southampton fans 'I told you so' about their chances of challenging for a Champions League spot.

With Manchester United visiting St Mary's next Monday, Southampton won't want to go into that game off consecutive League losses and that has increased the importance of this game at Arsenal.

Arsenal have restored some confidence with back to back wins over the last seven days and they will feel they can close the gap between themselves and Southampton by winning this game. However, they will have to play better than they did in the League Cup loss to the Saints, even if that was a changed line up for the home team, and this could be a game with chances at both ends.

The home side have earned clean sheets in their last two games, but they will be pushing on at the Emirates Stadium and Southampton have the pace to cause problems on the counter-attack. 4 of the last 6 games between these teams at Arsenal have seen at least three goals shared by the sides and I do think there will be goals in this game.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Both teams are coming into this London derby with some form behind them, but Chelsea have definitely looked the stronger team and I do feel Tottenham Hotspur have made the most of the decisions that have gone their way.

While a team being reduced to ten men doesn't mean the other will automatically win, Tottenham Hotspur were 1-0 down at Aston Villa and Hull City before winning both those games after Christian Benteke and Gaston Ramirez were sent off respectively. They didn't look likely to get back into those games until the sending offs occurred and Spurs will likely need something like that to happen if they are to get a result at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea have been scoring plenty of goals at home in recent weeks, although the absence of Diego Costa is a blow. Neither Loic Remy nor Didier Drogba are up to the standard that Costa has produced, but both are capable of filling in for this game and help Chelsea secure a big win.

I do have to say that Tottenham Hotspur have performed better away from White Hart Lane in the Premier League, but they were convincingly brushed aside at Manchester City. If it wasn't for some poor finishing and quality goalkeeping from Hugo Lloris, Spurs may also have lost games at Aston Villa and Hull City and I don't think Chelsea will make those mistakes.

The goalless draw at Sunderland may also have made Chelsea more focused for this game and I think they win this by a couple of goals.

Sunderland v Manchester City Pick: Football can always produce some strange trends and the sequence of Sunderland wins over Manchester City at the Stadium of Light by the same 1-0 scoreline was increased to 4 in a row last season. Some strong defensive performances of late may suggest that Sunderland can secure yet another victory over Manchester City in this game, particularly as the away side are coming with some defensive concerns, but momentum is on the side of Manuel Pellegrini's men.

Goals haven't been a problem for Manchester City on their travels this season, while they have scored 6 in their last two games heading into this one. With Sergio Aguero leading the line, Manchester City feel they can win any game, and are coming in off a special performance at Southampton where they won 0-3 on Sunday.

This hasn't been a ground they have enjoyed playing at and Sunderland have been tough to beat here all season, while have also conceded just 1 goal in their last three League games. They managed to hold Chelsea on Saturday which will give the players confidence, but injuries means there could be some tired legs in the home squad.

With the quality that Manchester City have displayed in the last couple of games, you have to think they find a way to break down Sunderland who put in so much against Chelsea. However, this is going to be far from an easy game and I won't be surprised if Manchester City have to grind their way to victory with a little magic giving them a victory by the minimum of margins.

MY PICKS: Leicester City-Liverpool Draw @ 3.75 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.50 Bet365 (2 Units)
Swansea @ 1.75 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
West Ham United @ 3.00 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Arsenal-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.33 Unibet (2 Units)
Manchester City to Win by One Goal @ 3.75 William Hill (1 Unit)

November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% Yield)
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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