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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (January 31-February 1)

It has been a busy week with the Australian Open taking most of my attention as well as the Super Bowl, from which I will have my pick up on Saturday evening which is a day before the big game. That means the Weekend Football picks have had to take a back seat somewhat after the surprises of last weekend in the FA Cup Fourth Round which saw some of the biggest names in English football humbled.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool were all either beaten or failed to win in the Fourth Round and that has opened up the FA Cup to 'lesser lights'. However, the favourites remain Arsenal along with Manchester United and Liverpool, the latter two playing replays this week, and the Fifth Round draw has suited the former two teams as they face lower League opposition.

Hull City v Newcastle United Pick: The last time Hull City hosted Newcastle United, all of the headlines were about Alan Pardew and his inexplicable reaction in trying to headbutt David Meyler. I still remember being confused even more by the fact that Newcastle United were winning that game and couldn't figure out what must have gone through Pardew's head.

The pantomime villain won't be in town on Saturday having moved to Crystal Palace to take over as manager at Selhurst Park, but John Carver will bring Newcastle United here having been assured he will manage the club until the summer at least. It will be like a four month job application for Carver, who is desperate to be given the permanent job at St James' Park, and that means trying to ensure Newcastle finish as high up as possible.

They have struggled away from home in recent weeks, but the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea doesn't tell the full story as Newcastle created plenty of chances. If they can replicate that at the KC Stadium, the Magpies can certainly pile some more pressure on Geordie Steve Bruce.

Injuries have been a big problem for Bruce through the season, but he will have the services of Nikica Jelavic, Gaston Ramirez and Abel Hernandez to give Hull City a little more bite up front. Against West Ham United, Hull City missed their composure in front of goal in the 3-0 defeat as they did create the chances to get something out of that game.

Goals have been in short supply for both of these sides at home/away respectively this season, but I think this game could reverse that trend. For example, Newcastle United have conceded at least twice in their last 3 away games in the Premier League, albeit against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.

They are playing a Hull City team which is missing a couple of defenders so they will believe they can hurt them on the counter attack and the three games between these teams over the last eighteen months have featured at least 4 goals in each. At the prices, backing at least three goals being shared looks big and might just pay off if both defences are still struggling a little after a two week break.

Crystal Palace v Everton Pick: Look at the recent form of these two teams and try and tell me that the prices for the home/away wins are not based on previous achievements of these sides- how else would Everton be favoured to win at an in-form Crystal Palace?

It has been a difficult second season for Roberto Martinez at Everton where he has not been helped by injuries to unsettle his line up. However, a bigger concern for the fans have to be some of the defensive performances of Everton that bring back memories of Martinez' Wigan Athletic in the Premier League and it does feel they are perhaps lacking a plan B at the moment.

On the other hand, Crystal Palace have been reinvigorated by Alan Pardew's arrival at the club and their belief and determination has been evident from 3 wins in a row despite trailing in all of those games. Dwight Gayle feels wanted and is scoring the goals that Neil Warnock didn't believe he had and Palace have an abundance of pace in forward areas that will cause Everton problems.

It is a shame they are still missing Mile Jedinak and Yannick Bolasie, but Pardew has still found the right formula to win games and I think the pressure is all on Everton to turn around their own form. That has seen them slip into a potential relegation fight that is getting tighter in each passing week, while Everton have lost 5 straight away games in the League.

That run is bound to end sooner or later, but Crystal Palace look a huge price to make it 6 Premier League losses in a row on their travels for Everton. I'd only keep a small interest in this game because of the fact that Palace have been behind in their last 3 games and continuing to dig deep and win games is tough, but I still believe the home side should not be the underdog in this one.

Liverpool v West Ham United Pick: This looks like being one of the more entertaining games of the weekend with both Liverpool and West Ham United in decent form and both managers taking an attacking approach in their tactical decisions. Sam Allardyce might be tempted to make life difficult for Liverpool from the off, but he has taken an attacking approach at Manchester United and Everton earlier in the season and I will say the performance at Chelsea was due to the busy festive period.

There is also no real reason for Allardyce to fear a Liverpool team which has conceded goals regularly at home and one that Andy Carroll will be desperate to impress against. Carroll didn't have a good time while playing for Liverpool, but he has been a real handful of late and the return of Diafra Sakho from injury is another bonus.

However, Allardyce will also want to be careful not to ask his side to push on too much considering the chances that Liverpool have begun to create again. This has resulted from a change in the system and the return of Daniel Sturridge may just give Brendan Rodgers a regular source of goals.

For all the good positions Liverpool found themselves in against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup Semi Final, you do feel that someone like Sturridge would have made the difference in front of goal and the return from injury couldn't have come soon enough.

Liverpool have had a lot of draws at home and are facing a West Ham United team that has scored plenty on their travels during the course of the season. However, I can see Sturridge perhaps coming off the bench and making the difference in this one and improving Liverpool's recent form against West Ham United at Anfield by helping them win their fourth game in five against them.

The attacking philosophy of West Ham United this season has resulted in the side scoring in every away League game outside of Stamford Bridge this season and I will back Liverpool to win a game in which both teams score.

Manchester United v Leicester City Pick: The words 'philosophy' and 'progress' have been used in press conferences through the season by Louis Van Gaal, but there has been little of that of late for Manchester United as they have struggled to turn possession into real chances. Manchester United have had a tough month, but I have to say the majority of those games have been away from Old Trafford and the side have had a hard time on their travels for much of the season.

Aside from the recent disappointing loss to Southampton, Manchester United have been playing effectively at Old Trafford and I think that will be a key for them in this game. Before that defeat, United had won 3 of their last 4 games at Old Trafford by at least two goals and I think they will be too strong for Leicester City.

For all the disappointment in going forward, Manchester United have the third best defensive record in the Premier League and are facing a Leicester City team that has only scored 7 times away from home.

I did consider backing Manchester United to win with a clean sheet to boot, but Louis Van Gaal might be looking for a more positive attacking game in this one and that might leave more spaces for Leicester to exploit. Therefore I am looking for United to get back to winning ways at Old Trafford with another comfortable enough victory by at least two goals which had begun to be a feature of their games before the defeat against Southampton.

Leicester City have also shown improvement in recent away games, but they were 2-0 down at Liverpool and behind at Tottenham Hotspur and I think United have played well enough defensively at home to hold those kinds of leads.

For all the attacking talent at Van Gaal's disposal, he has to get the right fit sooner rather than later if Manchester United are to achieve their top four goal and they can't afford to drop points in this one. At odds against, backing the home team to win by two or more goals looks to be the call.

West Brom v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: There is little doubt that West Brom have gone back to basics since Tony Pulis has come into the club and that is focusing on the defensive side of things and making the side hard to beat. They have kept clean sheets in their last two Premier League games, but there will be more expectation when they play at the Hawthornes and that could make this a better game to watch than some Pulis managed games can be.

That is probably a little harsh on Pulis because his teams play with passion and they can ruffle the feathers of some of the best teams in the Premier League. However, the first instance for this West Brom team is picking up any kind of points to make sure they avoid the drop and so Pulis might set them up to be tough to beat in this one.

On the other hand, perhaps the manager has seen the effort that Tottenham Hotspur put into their Capital One Cup Semi Final at Bramall Lane on Wednesday and might want West Brom to take advantage. They will be expected to push forward and pose some problems for a Tottenham defence that struggles for clean sheets.

While West Brom have clean sheets in 3 of their last 4 home games, Spurs are a team that has scored plenty of goals away from home and have shown a determination to win games late. Goals have been a feature of Tottenham Hotspur away games for much of the season and this has all the hallmarks of a 2-1 scoreline either way.

I was surprised that the layers seem to over-estimate what Tony Pulis will be able to do defensively with this West Brom team, especially as they have not faced a team as good as Spurs in his time at the club. At home, West Brom will be expected to get forward and the odds against quote that there are at least three goals in this game looks far too big to ignore.

Chelsea v Manchester City Pick: Diego Costa has been banned for three games which begins in this one and that may even things up a little for Manchester City who continue to miss Yaya Toure as he plays for the Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations.

Unfortunately for Manchester City, it seems that Toure has taken the form with him as the side have struggled in his absence, although another week with Sergio Aguero getting healthier will be a bonus for the side. I think City can also take the positives from the chances that Liverpool created against Chelsea over two legs of the Capital One Cup Semi Final as well as the four goals that Bradford scored at Stamford Bridge last weekend in the FA Cup.

Newcastle United were another team that has recently visited Stamford Bridge and had chances to take the lead so Manchester City have to be encouraged about their chances as they look to close the 5 point lead that Chelsea have at the top of the table.

However, City have to play better than they have been as they are without a win in 3 games and were beaten 0-2 by Arsenal in their last Premier League game. Going out of the FA Cup against Middlesbrough is another body blow that they have taken, but this looks a game where Frank Lampard may hurt his former club again.

With the chances that both teams have created and conceded in recent games, this looks like a game that could feature at least three goals shared by the sides. My concern is the nature of Jose Mourinho to set his teams up to not concede too much space, especially as a draw will suit Chelsea a lot more than it does Manchester City, but the away team have the quality to break them down.

If Manchester City can score, Chelsea will have to play more of an open game than expected and I will back there being at least three goals shared in this one with both defences not playing up to the standard expected of late.

Arsenal v Aston Villa Pick: In recent seasons, Aston Villa have had a lot of success at the Emirates Stadium which is a surprise because they haven't really been much better than they are this season.

The absence of Alexis Sanchez is a bitter blow to an Arsenal team that have relied on their new signing far more than their fans would likely want to admit. He has been suffering with a hamstring injury and Arsene Wenger has admitted that he won't be risking him with big Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup games to come this month.

Arsenal will still be expected to win this game in the absence of Sanchez having won 6 in a row in all competitions at the Emirates Stadium. Add to that the fact that Aston Villa have lost 3 in a row away from home and I think the Gunners will likely win this game, although they will need some inspiration from another quarter outside of their Chilean superstar.

Instead of looking at the handicap, I think backing Arsenal to win to nil may be the better option as the side could settle for a 1-0 in this one. Aston Villa have lost by that scoreline in their last 3 away games and have only scored 2 goals in their last 9 away Premier League games and they still look a little goal shy.

MY PICKS: Hull City-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.40 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 2.80 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Both Teams to Score and Liverpool to Win @ 3.30 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.07 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Brom-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Chelsea-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal Win to Nil @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)

January Update6-18-1, - 15.88 Units (45 Units Staked, - 35.29% Yield)

December Final25-19-1, + 18.70 Units (81 Units Staked, + 23.09% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 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 2014/1570-98-1, - 18.88 Units (289 Units Staked, - 6.53% 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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