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Friday, 17 April 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (April 18-19)

The big Premier League game this weekend comes from Stamford Bridge as Manchester United visit Chelsea, but there are also two FA Cup Semi Finals to be played over the weekend.

We should also begin to get more of a picture as to how the bottom of the Premier League will shape up in the next six weeks, while Manchester City have to win this weekend to prevent the nerves really kicking in as they hope to at least finish in the Champions League in an otherwise disappointing season.

Crystal Palace v West Brom Pick: One of the obvious story lines from this game is the return of Tony Pulis who saved Crystal Palace from the drop last season before walking out days before the start of the new season. However, don't expect Pulis to be interested in those dynamics as he bids to prevent his West Brom team's slide to the bottom three after it looked like survival had almost certainly been earned.

You do have to wonder if the players began to believe that too and have switched off somewhat in the last few weeks. West Brom have lost to the likes of Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City in that time, all teams below them in the table, and they have conceded seven goals in the last two games.

That won't bode well against a confident Crystal Palace team that have scored plenty of goals in recent weeks and are riding a 4 game winning run. While the Palace team have been conceding goals, they have scored at least twice in each of those 4 games and have the pace and power in the forward areas to give West Brom a lot of problems to deal with.

In saying that, Tony Pulis should know exactly what to expect from the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie and he should have West Brom well drilled to deal with the threat from out wide. That is where the chess game will begin between Pulis and Alan Pardew and could be the key to the whole match.

Confidence is definitely flowing in the home team though and they love playing in front of a loud home support. If Crystal Palace can get on the front foot early on and get a goal, this game could really open up and goals have been a feature of games between these teams. At a big price, backing at least three goals to be scored looks the right call.

Everton v Burnley Pick: The fear for Burnley was that they were going to have two months of really difficult fixtures and might have lost touch with the sides above them. However, football results are now in the books and Burnley have done enough in that period to give themselves a great chance of surviving in the Premier League which would be a remarkable achievement for the club.

This is arguably the hardest game they have left to play with fixtures against rivals around them and teams with nothing to play for to come, but getting something from Everton will be incredibly difficult.

Burnley have not played as well away from Turf Moor and have lost 5 of their last 6 on their travels which has to be a concern for Sean Dyche. They are also running into Everton at the wrong time of the season as the home team have picked up their form and have won 4 in a row at Goodison Park in all competitions.

The return of Romelu Lukaku will give Everton more attacking options and they do have the look of a team that is hoping to end the season in the right way. A top half finish would be respectable considering where Everton were two months ago and I think they are a squad that is on the up.

The home team have looked a little more secure defensively in recent games and they do have goals in the side so I think they are a decent enough price to back to win.

Chelsea v Manchester United Pick: I don't know what Louis Van Gaal has done to finally get his Manchester United team to click in the manner they have in recent weeks, but he has definitely got the side playing in a way that will excite the fans for the future. There is a real return of the confidence and swagger that made Manchester United so successful under Sir Alex Ferguson and the freshness of not being in Europe this season has also played a part.

Some may disagree with that, but I think you would be foolish to dismiss the importance of having limited games under your belt at this stage of the season. While Manchester United have flourished, Chelsea have looked a little fatigued as a long season takes its toll on a small squad.

They have been forced to huff and puff in recent games and been fortunate to win against Hull City and Queens Park Rangers, while the home form has also dipped alarmingly as they have won just 2 of their last 8 games at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard is top quality, but some of the other players in the Chelsea squad, especially further up the field, have looked short of ideas at times and I do wonder if they would last in the title race if there was a team a lot closer to them.

Goals have dried up to some extent for Chelsea and Jose Mourinho will look to stifle the Manchester United attack and protect a defence that hasn't been as tight as you would expect. The return of Nemanja Matic gives them some more protection, but Manchester United will give this back line a real test on Saturday.

After the performance last weekend, I was convinced that Manchester United can come to Stamford Bridge and win this game. However, dismissing Chelsea is foolish especially as they are unbeaten in the Premier League here. There are still some holes in the Manchester United defence that Chelsea can take advantage of as Manchester City and Liverpool have shown in recent games.

That is a concern for me and I think both teams will have their chances to score in this game. If Didier Drogba is leading the line for Chelsea, I think Manchester United really can win this game and I don't mean that from the heart, but from the head.

The freshness that Manchester United have shown and Louis Van Gaal's preparation for these big games will both play a big part in the game. Loic Remy will pose more problems with his pace and power, but confidence seems to be higher in the Manchester United squad compared to some of the tiredness that Chelsea have displayed in their performances.

Manchester United's record at Stamford Bridge is not the best in recent seasons which is putting me off a little, but they do look a very, very big price to win here. It is hard to imagine a situation where Chelsea don't score so it might be worth a small interest this weekend on Manchester United winning a game in which both teams score at a massive 7-1.

However, the latest news about the injuries in the Manchester United squad do temper the enthusiasm and instead it might be best picking there being at least three goals shared by the teams on Saturday.

Manchester City v West Ham United Pick: The manner of the defeat at Old Trafford last weekend must have raised some eyebrows in the Middle East as Manchester City fell below rivals Manchester United by four points. Manuel Pellegrini insists it is not about him at the moment, but that hasn't stopped the rumours regarding his future as manager of the club, especially not after Jurgen Klopp announced his departure from Borussia Dortmund.

Carlo Ancelotti is another big name that could be available this summer and finishing outside of the Champions League places will spell the end for Pellegrini. Even a 4th place finish the year after stealing the title from under the noses of Liverpool may not be enough, but Pellegrini will be focusing on getting back to winning ways this weekend.

As bad as some of the recent results have been for Manchester City, those have come away from the Etihad Stadium and they have won 3 in a row at home in the Premier League. All of those wins have come fairly comfortably and they are facing a West Ham United team that might be without their forward threats.

There has also been a loss of form for West Ham United in the last three months as they have been hit by injuries as well as the future of Sam Allardyce being up in the air. That uncertainty and the season soon coming to a close means West Ham United have been there for the taking in a few of their games and they might have a hard time this weekend against a Manchester City team looking to right recent wrongs.

Goals at home haven't been a problem and Manchester City have won 6 straight games at the Etihad Stadium against West Ham United. If City get in front early, I can see West Ham dropping their heads and that might see the home team win yet another game here with some comfort and I will back them to win by a couple of goals at least.

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Neither Newcastle United nor Tottenham Hotspur are in the form to inspire their fans and there really isn't much of a case to be made for either team winning this game. John Carver might continue to tell anyone who listens that he is 'Newcastle through and through', but the players haven't responded to him at all and are playing like they know a new face will be sitting in the manager's office in the summer.

They were sleep-walking for much of the game at Liverpool on Monday night and were fortunate to lose 2-0 when better finishing would have increased that margin considerably. A lack of effort has to be a real concern for Carver, especially coming off the Tyne-Wear derby defeat to Sunderland, while both Manchester United and Arsenal have come to St James' Park and left with the three points.

On the other hand, Tottenham Hotspur look tired and out of ideas in recent games as they failed to score in 3 of their last 4 Premier League games and were beaten by Aston Villa last weekend. The Champions League places now look beyond them and Spurs were lacklustre in a recent goalless drab game at Turf Moor.

It has been more of the same for Tottenham Hotspur on their travels where they have failed to score in 3 of their last 4 in all competitions and you can't make much of a case for them here.

For as bad as Newcastle United have been, they have at least been somewhat competitive at St James' Park and I expect they will make life difficult for Tottenham Hotspur. I am not sure many of the neutrals will be tuning in early in this one as it clashes with the second FA Cup Semi Final of the weekend, and they might not miss much as far as I am concerned.

No form and struggling for goals doesn't inspire me for either side and it might be a game that fails to ignite for much of it. The draw doesn't really do much for either team, but they are closely matched and it will likely take something special to separate them, if they are indeed separated.

Reading v Arsenal Pick: This should be a really good day out for the Reading fans, but Steve Clarke won't be going to Wembley Stadium with a white flag coming out of the team bus. He will understand there is a big difference in terms of quality that both squads have, but Clarke will look to challenge Arsenal through hard work and getting amongst them as a team and trying to unsettle their Premier League opponents.

That won't be easy for a Reading team that played on Tuesday without the expected rotation that some suggested in their game against Bournemouth. The problem will be trying to restore energy levels to get around the large Wembley playing area and failing to get close to Arsenal will only result in one result.

Reading can take heart from the way Wigan Athletic played against Arsenal in the FA Cup Semi Final when they managed to take the Gunners to a penalty shoot out, although ultimately losing, twelve months ago. Getting in front will give Reading something to hold onto, but this is a team that has struggled in front of goal in recent weeks and now have to raise their level.

The form also points to Arsenal being too good on Saturday and it is hard to ignore the fact that they have regularly scored at least twice in their recent wins. Getting to that total again will give Arsenal every chance of winning this Semi Final comfortably and an early goal could see them exploit plenty of spaces on the counter attack.

As long as complacency doesn't set in, as it did at times in the win over Burnley when there were some lapses in concentration, I would expect Arsenal to come through far more comfortably than twelve months ago. It just looks like Arsenal have too much pace and power for Reading and I expect them to win by at least a couple of goals.

Aston Villa v Liverpool Pick: One of the hardest factors to guess in any sport is how nerves will affect the competitors and that is a big question for the Aston Villa and Liverpool players who know the importance of this Semi Final.

Both have other goals to achieve in the Premier League, but they won't be focusing on those and I think both managers will be looking to get their team forward and win this one by scoring plenty of goals.

Liverpool and Aston Villa have both looked nervy at the back in recent weeks which could play into the tactics that both Brendan Rodgers and Tim Sherwood look to bring to the table. There is pace in both forward lines which will worry the defenders and I think chances will be created at both ends of the field.

Christian Benteke is the form striker who can be called upon and he will fancy his chances of increasing his recent tally of goals, while Raheem Sterling could lead the line for Liverpool. Sterling did score a goal against Newcastle United, but he missed two sitters and can't always be trusted in one on one situations so Liverpool's success could come down to how he is feeling on the day.

There should be goals in the second FA Cup Semi Final of the weekend, but I also believe Liverpool are the better team and should prove to be too strong. Gaps could open up for their counter-attack if Aston Villa go chasing the game at some point, and I like Liverpool to win a game that features at least three goals.

MY PICKS: Crystal Palace-West Brom Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Everton @ 1.75 William Hill (2 Units)
Chelsea-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.71 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Tottenham Hotspur Draw @ 3.50 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.78 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool Win and Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 Paddy Power (2 Units)

April Update9-12-1, - 4.85 Units (41 Units Staked, - 11.83% Yield)

March Final30-18, + 30.66 Units (88 Units Staked, + 34.84% 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 2014/15130-162-4, + 4.43 Units (509 Units Staked, + 0.09% 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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