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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (March 3-4)

Another full round of Premier League fixtures takes place during the week and the battle at the top and bottom of the League table is definitely building up. The next few weeks will give us a clearer picture of what is going to happen to teams and their goals for the season.

Aston Villa v West Brom Pick: The live game on Tuesday is a relegation battle between two Midlands rivals that are merely four miles apart on a map. Unfortunately for Aston Villa, there are more than a few points between themselves and West Brom and the pressure is building on a side that has flirted with relegation for a few seasons.

The appointment of Tim Sherwood is not one that overly appeals to me and I am not sure the Aston Villa fans should be feeling really confident that he will be able to turn around their fortunes. One saving grace is that there are some weak teams in the Premier League and Aston Villa are not cut off in the bottom three just yet, but this is a team that has lost seven in a row in the Premier League and continue to find scoring goals a problem.

That won't be any easier against a Tony Pulis inspired West Brom team who have only lost once since the former Stoke City and Crystal Palace manager arrived at The Hawthornes. Their success has been built on strong defensive performances and West Brom have kept three clean sheets in a row in the League, while also doing that in 2 of their last 3 away League games.

I can't imagine there will be a lot of goals in this game, and it will be tense and tight throughout the evening. One goal could very easily settle this, but a small interest in there being 'No Goalscorer' in the first goalscorer market could pay off, especially as it would still pay out if an own goal settles a game that could easily be goalless.

Hull City v Sunderland Pick: The Adam Johnson situation is as baffling as it is worrying that someone could get themselves in that alleged situation when they are in the public limelight. Of course, the amount of 'stars' from the 1970's who have proved to have done the same thing suggests it should not be a surprise.

It must have really messed up the Sunderland preparation for this big game at Hull City and I think the home team can definitely edge their way to three valuable points. A win for Hull would see the team move 7 points clear of the bottom three regardless of what happens in the Aston Villa home game against West Brom and their decision to stick with Steve Bruce looks like it will pay off.

Gus Poyet doesn't seem to enjoy the same relationship with his board at Sunderland and the Black Cats have lost 3 of their last 4 away games in the Premier League. However, they did catch a break by having both Wes Brown and John O'Shea available for this game despite the fact that the latter should have been sent off at Old Trafford on Saturday and the former's red card from that game was rescinded.

It will still be a big ask for Sunderland to contain Hull City through this game considering the Tigers have won 3 of their last 4 at home in the Premier League. Hull City also beat Sunderland twice at the KC Stadium last season and I am looking for them to make it a hat-trick with a small interest in Hull earning a narrow win.

Manchester City v Leicester City Pick: The defeat at Anfield means Manchester City are in a very difficult spot when it comes to retaining their Premier League title and really need Chelsea to start slipping up when it doesn't look like the Blues are going to do so. The next month is vital for Manchester City as they are likely to go out of the Champions League in the Last 16, but do have 4 Premier League games against teams in the bottom half of the table and have to find a way to keep the pressure on Chelsea.

Manuel Pellegrini has been criticised for the tactics he has employed in the losses against Barcelona and Liverpool, but it would be a big surprise if the manager decides to take a step back in game like this. With the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero all on the field, it isn't a big surprise that Manchester City create plenty of chances, but they have failed to find the right balance to protect the back four.

Vincent Kompany hasn't looked right for much of this season and Leicester City may feel they can get some joy going forward. However, this is a team that concedes too many goals on their travels to expect them to surprise Manchester City and it could be a long evening for Nigel Pearson's men.

I still believe Leicester City can somehow get out of their current position, but I don't think that charge up the table will begin on Wednesday at the Etihad Stadium. They have conceded at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 away games in all competitions and the worry for Leicester City has to be that they have conceded at least 2 first half goals at Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United over the last couple of months.

Giving this Manchester City team that kind of lead will not bode well for them, even if the form at the Etihad Stadium has not been as effective as Pellegrini or the fans would have been hoping. Leicester City also have to be careful to know that Manchester City had scored 9 goals in their last 2 Premier League games before the defeats against Barcelona and Liverpool.

The layers are offering odds against that Manchester City will score at least three goals in this one and I do think that is worth backing as they look to bounce back from Sunday's big title blow.

Newcastle United v Manchester United Pick: The next few weeks are going to be vital for Manchester United to try and secure their place in the top four of the Premier League, but they can't afford to begin this tough stretch of games by dropping points at Newcastle United. That isn't to say visiting St James' Park is an easy game for any team as Chelsea have found out already this season when defeated here, but Newcastle United haven't been in the best form of late even if they did beat Aston Villa here 1-0 last weekend.

The Magpies have conceded plenty of home goals in recent weeks before facing Aston Villa who can make any defence look watertight with their struggles in front of goal. However, Aston Villa did create chances in that game and Manchester United are unlikely to be as generous if the chances come their way.

That isn't to say Manchester United will be creating a host of chances in this game with the way they have been performing, especially away from home where they have struggled to turn draws into wins. The loss at Swansea had been coming, although the irony isn't lost on me that Manchester United arguably played better in that game than they have in other games when they have avoided a loss.

There was one trend that continues to come in and that is Manchester United starting slowly and perhaps improving as the game goes on. It is now 8 of their last 9 away games where the teams have gone in level at half time and Manchester United have gone on to win 3 of those games.

Manchester United had to wait to break the deadlock against Sunderland in the second half too and I can see Newcastle United looking to keep things tight in this one for as long as possible. John Carver has set Newcastle United up to be a counter-attacking team so the first half could be a feeling out process for both teams and the second half is perhaps when more space will open up as tired legs and minds set in.

This is a ground where Manchester United have had success in recent years and that might be enough to give them the edge in this one, at least from a mental standpoint. They aren't a team that can be trusted fully to convert draws into wins as they have shown all season, but Manchester United might have enough to overcome an injury hit Newcastle United team, although it potentially won't happen until after the break as has been the case for much of their away games this season.

Backing this game to be a draw at half time before Manchester United go on to win for a small interest is much more appealing than simply backing Louis Van Gaal's troops to win in my opinion.

Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea Pick: It has been a difficult few weeks for Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur and all the positives of the North London derby have been used up with silverware not in their immediate future. Some of the fans would have been hoping that win over Arsenal could have sparked a real challenge for a top four berth which looked open at that time, but failure to win any of their last 2 League games coupled with the teams above them putting results together leaves Spurs in a precarious position.

To put it bluntly, Tottenham Hotspur have to win both Premier League games they play this week to make sure their trip to Old Trafford in ten days time can have a real meaning. It will be an important game anyway, but Spurs need some momentum behind them heading to Manchester United and beating Swansea and Queens Park Rangers will at least give them something to base success upon.

It would be harsh to suggest Tottenham Hotspur deserved to lose their last two games at Fiorentina and then against Chelsea in the League Cup Final, although in the latter they did lack a forward cutting edge. Harry Kane was well marshalled in that game at Wembley Stadium, but Swansea may be the team that ends up paying for that.

Spurs can't underestimate Swansea considering this team have beaten both Southampton and Manchester United over the last few weeks, the former away from home. However, Tottenham have had the 'Indian Sign' over Swansea in their recent meetings and this set of players know they can beat their visitors who have lost 6 in a row against Spurs in the Premier League.

I expect Garry Monk will accept Tottenham Hotspur having the majority of the ball and will look to his Swansea team to defend effectively and counter as they did at Southampton. However, I do think the Saints had created chances in that game but are a team lacking in confidence in front of goal, while Tottenham Hotspur can look for Harry Kane or Christian Eriksen to produce something special.

Swansea will know about both of those players as they scored one each at the Liberty Stadium and I do think Tottenham Hotspur can extend their good run against this team. They have to be clinical in front of goal when the chances come and I do believe Tottenham will have the majority of play and remain unconvinced that Swansea are the same side without Wilfried Bony leading the line.

West Ham United v Chelsea Pick: Sam Allardyce has had an extra day to get his West Ham United team ready for this game, but he has to be hoping that time has also lessened some of the anger the fans displayed at the end of the loss to Crystal Palace. The visit of Chelsea should get the atmosphere fired up at Upton Park, but the pressure will be on the West Ham United players to maintain that atmosphere as any early away goal could see the level of toxicity rise from the stands.

The fans have never really seen eye to eye with Allardyce and it seems the board are perhaps looking to move away from a manager that is as divisive as marmite. Unfortunately for Allardyce, it does seem there is far more 'hate' than 'love' for him at Upton Park and it might be best for all parties if his contract is not renewed at the end of the season.

Recent weeks have been particularly tough for West Ham United as they were stunningly dropped out of the FA Cup with a 4-0 defeat at West Brom and the 1-3 home loss to Crystal Palace was another really disappointing loss. There are suggestions that this is a team that could very quickly drop down the Premier League table, although they have enough points on the board to avoid a relegation battle at least.

Against this backdrop, Allardyce has to prepare his players to face a Chelsea team that has won the first trophy of the season and have to be boosted by Manchester City slipping up yet again. Jose Mourinho will insist that Chelsea don't take anything for granted and keep the peddle to the mettle and try and improve their position in the Premier League table.

There are goals in the Chelsea team that should see them prove too strong for West Ham United, but I don't think it will be straight forward for them. I am expecting the away team to perhaps take advantage of the problems that West Ham United seem to be working through, but Chelsea haven't been as good away from Stamford Bridge.

West Ham should create chances and Chelsea have kept one clean sheet in their last 4 away games in the League and just 1 in 6 in all competitions. With the expectation that Chelsea do find a way to win this game, backing them to do so in a game where both teams score looks to be a big price.

Liverpool v Burnley Pick: I have been making the point for a few weeks that Liverpool have been a much improved team that have created plenty of chances and they have shown how far they have come with their 2-1 win over Manchester City on Sunday. There are still some problems defensively that need to be rectified, but I think that win over City makes Liverpool the favourites to overturn Manchester United in the race for the Champions League positions.

Of course that would all change if Liverpool were to fail to beat Burnley on Wednesday, but the Reds have won 4 in a row at Anfield in all competitions and have begun to score plenty of goals to change the draws they were having in three points. It will be tough for Burnley to keep Liverpool at bay in this one when you consider they had conceded at least two goals in 7 consecutive away games before the 1-1 draw at Chelsea in their most recent game on their travels.

On another day, Burnley would have conceded at least a penalty and perhaps had a player sent off in that game at Chelsea and they would have been comfortably beaten. They had lost 3 consecutive away games in all competitions by at least two goals per game before the draw at Stamford Bridge and I think Burnley will do very well to avoid that fate at Anfield.

Liverpool have been attacking with real menace and they look a team that is capable of putting someone to the sword having had three homes wins in a row come by a single goal margin. If the home side produce anything close to the attacking performances they have in recent weeks, Burnley will do well to keep this competitive and I think Liverpool should be backed to win this one by a couple of goals.

MY PICKS: Aston Villa-West Brom No Goalscorer (First Goalscorer) @ 7.00 William Hill (1 Unit)
Hull City @ 2.30 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Draw HT-Manchester United FT @ 5.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur @ 1.75 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Chelsea to Win @ 3.60 Coral (1 Unit)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)

February Final20-24-2, + 3.19 Units (75 Units Staked, + 4.25% Yield)
January Final10-22-1, - 10.54 Units (57 Units Staked, - 18.49% 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 2014/15100-144-4, - 26.23 Units (421 Units Staked, - 6.23% 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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