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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (March 21-22)

Most of the talk this week has surrounded the failure of the Premier League to have a representative in the Quarter Final of either European competition which has led to a range of excuses as to why this has happened.

First we had Arsene Wenger complaining about the away goals rule and believing that it should be done away with until after extra time of the Second Leg is completed, although that just reeks of sour grapes to me.

We all know the rules in European competition, so the question I would pose to Mr Wenger is why did his Arsenal team push for another goal when they had just pulled back the First Leg to a 1-2 deficit? Surely they knew another away goal conceded would have been curtains for them in the tie and the better policy would have been to count their blessings that it was only going to be a one goal deficit to take to Monaco, which Arsenal proved they could overturn.

It's easy to complain about the rules after the fact, but Arsene Wenger should perhaps have an internal look and wonder why he didn't ask his players to calm down in the First Leg that proved to be their downfall against an average Monaco team.

The other suggestion came from Louis Van Gaal after his long(!) experiences in English football- Van Gaal suggested the lack of a Winter Break was the problem, although his observations look nothing more than an extension of his complaints in December.

Van Gaal spoke about the Premier League being the forefront twenty years ago, but ignored the simple fact that Chelsea won the Champions League just three years ago with the same conditions that every team has faced this season.

For me it is more simplistic with things going in cycles in Europe as they have always done- it isn't that long since England were regularly providing Semi Finalists and Finalists in the Champions League, while the Europa League has long been seen as a distraction in England compared to how other Leagues in Europe view that competition.

The Premier League is simply not a very good League in terms of the quality they have- the two best teams in Chelsea and Manchester City are still far short of the best, while some tactical mistakes didn't help either team. Arsenal should have no excuses with their loss to Monaco and have to take the full blame, while the Europa League was only seriously seen as a positive by Everton rather than Tottenham Hotspur or Liverpool who both were knocked out in the Last 32.

And even though I think Chelsea are short of the best teams, they were Semi Finalists just last season and it is too easy to make a snap judgement as to the failures of the Premier League on the evidence of one season.

An international break follows this round of fixtures so these set of games are very important for teams to have some confidence to take into the final two months of the season. There are some big games being played, none more so than the one at Anfield between Liverpool and Manchester United on Sunday, and teams are beginning to be separated into their sections for the remainder of the campaign.

Manchester City v West Brom Pick: The defeat to Barcelona isn't an embarrassing result on its own, but Manchester City owners have to be disappointed that they have once again failed to progress past the Last 16 of the Champions League. Manuel Pellegrini's future as manager of the club remains up in the air and failing to retain the Premier League title may be enough for a change to be made.

Pellegrini has been adamant that he is not under pressure, but that was before the latest defeat to Barcelona and he will definitely be feeling some sort of stress if Manchester City continue to lose games at the rate they have been doing. 4 defeats from the last 5 games in all competitions is a problem, especially as the teams below Manchester City in the Premier League have been closing in on them.

Falling out of the Champions League places is not an option for Manchester City and Manuel Pellegrini has to pick his team up and earn the three points in this game. That won't be easy as the team will be disappointed by their exit in the Premier League and will be facing a West Brom team that will look to make life as difficult as possible thanks to the organisation that Tony Pulis will bring.

However, Pulis will have to make do without Chris Brunt and Claudio Yacob through suspension and Ben Foster with an injury and losing those three players who have been important for him is a blow. West Brom have also not been as good away from home as they have at The Hawthornes and they will have to keep their concentration if they are to avoid defeat in this game.

Manchester City have at least been fairly comfortable winners in their last two home Premier League games and I am expecting them to at least bounce back from their defeat at the Nou Camp. The problem for West Brom is losing a couple of players that have been part of the strong defensive performances they have produced, although those have come mainly at home.

They have conceded at least twice in 3 of their last 4 away games in all competitions and West Brom haven't visited a team as good as Manchester City in that run of games. It is a big test for the home team, but I believe they come back and win this by a couple of goals.

Newcastle United v Arsenal Pick: It is that time of the season where some teams look like they are already spending more time planning where they are going to go on their holidays than focusing on football matches. John Carver might be trying to inspire his Newcastle United to aim for more than that, but the performances on the pitch have not been the best and 3 losses from their last 4 Premier League games will not have inspired much confidence from the stands either.

Now they face one of the most in-form teams in the Premier League, although one that suffered an agonising defeat in European competition during the week. However, Arsenal did win the game in Monaco on the night to keep the belief in the players that they are more than capable of finishing in the top four of the Premier League.

The loss of Fabricio Coloccini and Papiss Cisse through suspension really hurts Newcastle United at both ends of the pitch and they have only scored one goal in their last 4 games in the League. That goal came courtesy of Cisse in the win over Aston Villa and they haven't scored in their last two games which is a problem for Newcastle United.

Arsenal have been scoring plenty of goals themselves and have 4 consecutive away games in all competitions where they have scored at least two goals. Getting to that number will almost certainly mean the three points will return to North London with The Gunners on Saturday evening and I do think they win this game.

However, the price for the away win is not exactly going to get people rushing off their feet to get involved in and I think there might be more joy in looking for Newcastle United to continue their run of failing to score. They couldn't breach a Manchester United defence that hasn't played that well away from home in their last game at St James' Park while Newcastle United have failed to score in their last 3 home games against Arsenal.

Therefore, a small interest on Arsenal winning this game with a clean sheet might provide a big priced winner.

Southampton v Burnley Pick: A lot of the success that Southampton have had this season has come off the back of really disciplined defensive performances which has made them hard to break down. The problem for them has been at the other end of the field where Graziano Pelle has come off the boil and Southampton have struggled for a consistent source of goals.

That might be the biggest problem for Southampton when it comes to trying to find their way into the top four of the Premier League and could be an issue in games where the onus is on them to attack. It will be the case on Saturday as most will be expecting Southampton to win and I do think the result at Chelsea last weekend will show Ronald Koeman and his men that they can still achieve something special.

It was a shot in the arm for Southampton, but Burnley arguably produced a much bigger result by beating Manchester City and pulling themselves to within a point of getting out of the relegation zone. They are in the midst of a tough run of games as Burnley will have faced five of the top seven teams in a row by the end of April, but the win over Manchester City will give them confidence in the next three matches they face.

However, it has to be said that Burnley's best performances have come at Turf Moor and they have not been as effective on their travels. Only a solid Tom Heaton performance prevented them taking a real beating at Anfield in what was a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool and they have lost 4 of their last 5 away games in all competitions with each of those losses coming by two goals.

In that time Burnley did draw at Chelsea too, but I think Southampton have just turned a corner and will prove a little too good for them. The lack of goals concern me of course, but Burnley have not been that good defensively on their travels and I like Southampton win by a couple of goals like others have done against Burnley of late.

Liverpool v Manchester United Pick: This is a game that could have a lot of implications for the top four places come the end of the season, especially as it looks like being a few points that will separate these teams when I came to predicting the remaining results this season. I had Liverpool down to win this game and have been fearful of a big setback for Manchester United for some time, although the performance against Tottenham Hotspur at least gives the team some positive momentum to take to Anfield.

Unfortunately for Manchester United, they haven't been as good away from home as they have been at Old Trafford and seem to be running into a Liverpool team that has a lot of momentum behind them. The 0-1 win at Swansea was huge especially as Liverpool didn't play that well in that game and they are a team that can create a lot of chances against this Manchester United defence.

As well as Manchester United played last week, the problem is that Liverpool have a lot of pace and creativity in the forward areas that Tottenham Hotspur couldn't rely upon. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho all have the capability to exploit any miscommunication in the Manchester United back four/five and David De Gea will need to show the same level of form as he did at Old Trafford when the teams met in December.

Some would look at the 3-0 scoreline and perhaps be surprised about me talking up the goalkeeper- however, anyone who watched the game would remember De Gea picking up the plaudits and I believe he even won the 'Man of the Match' award as he made three or four big saves.

Liverpool created a lot of chances that day, but were not very clinical in front of goal and the return of Sturridge makes them a lot more dangerous in my opinion. The England international hasn't been at the top of his level since his return, but he remains sharp and gives the players behind him something to aim for.

I have been worrying that Manchester United are due a bit of a battering and this could be the game where they could receive one, but the performance last week might have something to build upon. I also believe Liverpool are a team that can be turned around and given problems defensively themselves and this could be the game where a returning Angel Di Maria makes a real mark on the Premier League.

My fear recently has been Liverpool score early and pick Manchester United off, but the visitors might create a few openings themselves. If it is anything like the game at Old Trafford, there might be a few chances at both ends of the field and it may end up being another game offering up another three goals at least.

6 of the last 8 games between these old rivals have produced at least three goals to be shared between the teams and this could very much be another with neither defence really that reliable.

Hull City v Chelsea Pick: There was some fatigue in the Chelsea performance in the first half against Southampton, but the second half would have pleased Jose Mourinho even if they didn't quite do enough to win the game. Now they have had a week to prepare for this game with Hull City and Mourinho was unwavering in his belief in his set of players be declaring they are the team that will win the Premier League.

Mourinho has to be hoping that his players don't slip up again as they have in recent games where they have failed to win more than half of their last 10 games in all competitions. However, Chelsea have won 3 straight away games in the Premier League and will enjoy the extra space they are likely to be afforded as the onus is on Hull City to try and do more attacking than they would perhaps like to.

Hull City have been playing well at home as shown by 3 wins from their last 5 League games here, but they haven't faced a team of the ability of Chelsea in that run. The side did earn a draw at Manchester City not too long ago which suggests they can match the best sides when they get the defensive shape right, but Hull will need more to hold off Chelsea in this one.

This has been a fixture that Chelsea have enjoyed in recent seasons and they were comfortable winners at the KC Stadium last season. The extra rest is surely going to do Chelsea some good as they can focus solely on the Premier League and they do have players that can produce match winning performances.

I do think Chelsea will recover from recent setbacks and should have enough pace in the forward positions to create chances against a Hull City team missing a shield in Tom Huddlestone. As long as Chelsea bring the urgency they showed in the second half last weekend, I expect them to win this game by a couple of goals.

Queens Park Rangers v Everton Pick: The embarrassing 5-2 loss in Dynamo Kiev once again highlighted the awful defensive performances that have become a feature of Roberto Martinez teams in his managerial career. Another trend that Everton won't want to get caught up in is the amount of relegation battles Martinez has been involved in as a Premier League manager and winning this game will at least ease the tension that is developing around the club.

However, Everton are coming back from a long trip to Kiev and now face a Queens Park Rangers who are going to be desperate to take advantage of any tiredness and disappointment that the Everton players are feeling.

It will need a big turnaround in form for QPR to do that considering they have lost their last 4 Premier League games and have been poor defensively with mistakes helping give teams an easier ride than they should have. They have also lost their last 5 games at Loftus Road in all competitions and conceded at least two goals in 4 of those games which is always going to be a big task to overcome.

Everton did win two games in a row before the capitulation in Kiev, but both of those wins came at Goodison Park and they have now lost 3 in a row away from home in all competitions and also 8 of their last 9 away games in the Premier League. Their defensive vulnerabilities have been exploited in those games with at least two goals conceded in 5 of their last 7 away games in the League.

You can probably guess where I am heading with this pick- both teams have been so poor defensively, but have players like Romelu Lukaku and Charlie Austin who are capable of making the most of the chances that are perhaps presented to them. With that in mind, looking for at least three goals to be shared by these teams doesn't look the worst call in the world.

The last 4 Queens Park Rangers game have seen at least three goals shared out, while the last 3 Everton games have gone the same way and this looks a big price at odds against for this game to head that way too.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal Win to Nil @ 2.88 Coral (1 Unit)
Southampton - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.15 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)

March Update23-14, + 21.70 Units (68 Units Staked, + 31.91% Yield)

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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