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Friday, 14 August 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (August 14-17)

It is going to be a more common feature from next season, but the weekend football begins on a Friday in the Premier League as Aston Villa's match with Manchester United couldn't be played on the Saturday thanks to an EDL march that is supposed to be happening on the same day.

With Champions League commitments next week, Manchester United will be happy with the extra day to prepare for Club Brugge, while Sky TV get to work out what kind of feel they are going to get from the viewers on a Friday night. I imagine from next season a weekend preview show will likely begin at 6pm heading into the Friday night game and focusing on their other live games on any given weekend, but it is going to be different for the fans.

Other nations already have Friday football and the clubs involved in the Champions League and Europa Leagues have asked for the Friday and Monday moves respectively to aid English clubs like the other Leagues around Europe tend to do.

The big game of the weekend will obviously be in Manchester on Sunday as City take on Chelsea in an early title clash, but the bigger story around that game might be the dispute between Jose Mourinho and his medical staff. The main focus seems to be on Eva Carneiro who was downgraded, but Jon Fearn took the same punishment, except he may be allowed to travel because he didn't make the foolish decision to go to social media to make a point.

I think it is a harsh decision, but Carneiro made a silly move in trying to undermine Mourinho and has clearly got on the wrong side of a manager who was seemingly moody all day BEFORE the 2-2 draw with Swansea.

I'm convinced it was that post that escalated Mourinho's anger and that becomes justifiable to me, even if the initial criticism was almost laughable... If Chelsea were up 3-2, Mourinho would have been encouraging his staff on to try and waste valuable moments so you reap what you sow as far as I am concerned.

It is only the second round of Premier League fixtures, but already you feel it is a big weekend for Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Arsenal fans. All 3 failed to win last weekend and the two North London teams were defeated and all will want to give their fans something positive to hold onto rather than being in a hole after two games.

Tottenham Hotspur probably didn't expect to beat Manchester United, but a defeat followed by failure to beat Stoke City would put their top four aspirations under threat already.

Everton know Roberto Martinez is under pressure and he might want to get used to the Monday Night Football set if his side make another slow start this season. The 2-2 home draw with Watford was a poor result and a trip to Southampton in front of the television cameras is a tough place to try and bounce back.

Arsenal were tipped by many to win the Premier League title this season, but their 0-2 defeat to West Ham United at The Emirates Stadium was arguably the biggest upset of the opening weekend. Now they head to Selhurst Park to face the flying Eagles of Crystal Palace and yet another slow start to the Premier League campaign could put them behind the black ball in terms of a title challenge before September comes around.

I am sure I wasn't the only one out there wondering what was happening on the opening weekend in the Premier League, but upsets are common place early in the season and you just have to hope to get past them. The only people that seemed to be celebrating were the layers as teams like Chelsea and Arsenal both failed to win and a well backed Bournemouth side were also beaten.

The opening month has been difficult for my picks over the last three seasons too as the upsets rear up, but hopefully it will settle down after the results of last weekend.

The weather is cooling down up and down the country this weekend and the wetter conditions may help teams play their football a little more and I can see a few games enjoying goals with the picks I have made.

Aston Villa v Manchester United PickDespite the hot and humid conditions up and down the country last weekend, the Premier League games produced a healthy amount of goals as pre-season is still eliminated from the play. Both Aston Villa and Manchester United were involved in the lower scoring games of the weekend as both won their opening game by the same 1-0 scoreline to give the fans something to believe in going forward.

You can't ever read too much into the opening day results and I can imagine both Tim Sherwood and Louis Van Gaal will be looking for improved performances to match the results. Both have some similarities going into the game as they will be looking for a much stronger home/away set of results respectively and both defences will likely need to improve on the chances they did give away last weekend.

On another day, Bournemouth would have been out of sight long before Aston Villa scored, while Tottenham Hotspur did expose some nerves in the Manchester United backline without getting on the scoreboard.

Aston Villa also struggled at home against the top teams with 7 losses against the top 9 Premier League teams, while any title challenge from Manchester United would mean improving their 2 wins on their travels against those teams in the bottom half.

One thing that Tim Sherwood has given Aston Villa since taking over the manager is a more productive goal-scoring team, although the loss of Christian Benteke needs to be addressed. I expect the home team to have a good go at Manchester United, but also think the same defensive performance as they had against Bournemouth should see United create chances to win the game. Excluding Manchester United, the other teams making up the top six all scored at least twice at Villa Park and there is every chance this is a fixture that produces at least three goals.

The home side will have a real threat from the set pieces they have, but I think Manchester United have the edge in terms of open play if they can get the balance between the attackers right. Goals look to have been under-estimated in this one.

Southampton v Everton PickBoth teams might have earned 2-2 draws last weekend, but the Southampton fans would have felt a lot happier with their point than Everton fans might be feeling about theirs. While negotiating the Europa League is going to make this a more difficult season for Southampton with their squad size, early on their might use their extra fitness to see off teams.

The Saints were also very strong at home last season and they have won half of their League games at St Mary's over the last couple of years. Only the top four teams won more games than Southampton at home last season and there hasn't been the upheaval of the summer of 2014 which should mean there is more cohesion straight away.

Southampton have won 5 of their last 6 games at St Mary's and they might prove too strong for an Everton team that have lost their way over the last twelve months. Roberto Martinez is under immense pressure as manager and his teams do have a tendency to make a slow start and could have a real problem on Saturday.

Everton were beaten in 7 of their games against the top 9 clubs in the Premier League last season and they have struggled at St Mary's where they have lost on their last couple of visits. 

While there is some attacking talent at Goodison Park, Everton have to hope John Stones is clear in the mind to help a defence that is vulnerable and I do think Southampton prove too strong and have to be backed to win this game.

Swansea City v Newcastle United PickSwansea City and Newcastle United both had very good results on the opening day of the season, although both teams might also be a little disappointed they didn't begin with a win.

The game between them on Saturday should be one filled with chances at both ends if the opening game is anything to go by and both fixtures here and in the North East were high scoring last season. There is pace in the forward areas and both defences have shown they can be vulnerable, although the approach that Steve McClaren takes is the key.

We all know that Swansea will play with plenty of possession and look to wear down teams, but Newcastle United had little character away from home last season. Now they seem to have more of a threat and the way this game goes will depend on how Steve McClaren asks his team to play.

If he looks to use the pace that Newcastle United have moving forward, they could be a very dangerous opponent for Swansea on Saturday, but I am expecting the home team to prove too strong. There are still signs that Newcastle United are going to be conceding too many goals through the season, but they will also look to be more effective going forward and this has all the hallmarks of a 2-1 result either way to one of these teams.

West Ham United v Leicester City Pick: Slaven Bilic and Claudio Ranieri both made the perfect start to their new Premier League jobs as the former guided West Ham United to a 0-2 win at Arsenal and the latter oversaw a 4-2 win for Leicester City over Sunderland.

You can't over-react to one game and the feeling that Leicester City will be amongst the relegation candidates in the Premier League is hard to ignore despite the win over Sunderland. The Foxes capitalised on Sunderland defending like they had forgotten the basics over the summer and I don't believe West Ham United will be close to as generous in this match.

The added games in the Europa League have to helped West Ham United have the edge in terms of fitness in the early stage of the season, although backing up an impressive win like they had last week is tough to do. That puts me off a little bit, but West Ham United did win 6 home games against the bottom seven in the Premier League last season.

I do think The Hammers will avoid a relegation scrap, but Leicester City could be down amongst those bottom places which makes me believe the home team are a big price. Claudio Ranieri may look to make his Leicester City team tough to beat on their travels, and I think he may give the momentum to the home team in this one which West Ham can take advantage of.

However, I would keep this at a small interest just because both teams have to pick themselves up from impressive wins last week and overconfidence could lead to errors you wouldn't usually expect.

Crystal Palace v Arsenal PickI am looking forward to this Crystal Palace and Arsenal match on Sunday as it looks like a game where both teams will likely give it a good go to win the three points. There should be some tension on the pitch as Alan Pardew and Arsene Wenger have had their fallings out in the past and I think this is a big test of the character that Arsenal have in their squad after some recent criticisms from Roy Keane.

Ever since Pardew returned to Crystal Palace, he has had his new team flying in the Premier League, although the 10 League defeats at Selhurst Park is a clear area he would look to improve. With the pace Crystal Palace have in forward areas, Pardew won't be afraid of letting Arsenal come onto his side and catch them on the break, while the signing of Yohan Cabaye gives them a player who can unlock defences.

That is where Arsenal have to be careful, although The Gunners have gotten the better of Crystal Palace over the last two years with four straight wins in the Premier League. However, both of the wins last season were incredibly close with Arsenal scoring late at home and Crystal Palace having more shots here in 2-1 results in both games.

Crystal Palace did struggle at home last season and had 10 League defeats which were the most in the Premier League, but they tended to give the top teams some interesting matches. In fact Crystal Palace won half of their home games against the top eight teams in the Premier League so Arsenal do look a short price here.

However, Crystal Palace home games against the top eight teams saw seven of those produce at least three goals and 11 of Arsenal's 19 away games saw that total reached too. I am expecting both managers to ask their players to give this a right go and I do think there will be chances at both ends with goals the likely outcome.

Manchester City v Chelsea PickYou can't get a much better chance to lay down an early marker for your season than when the top two teams from last season meet in only the second game of the new campaign. Chelsea are coming with a lot more issues than Manchester City as they try to deal with off-field decisions which the media continue to focus on as Jose Mourinho demoted Eva Carneiro after falling out with the medical staff last week.

I am trying to work out whether the fire in the media is being fanned by those at Stamford Bridge to try and take the pressure off of Chelsea going into this big game. Everyone knows Jose Mourinho likes working the 'us against the world' mentality and he will try to rally his players together to earn a positive result in a big game, even if some rumours suggest all is not well between Mourinho and upper management at Chelsea.

One of the criticisms of Mourinho is the limited time he has been able to work his magic through his career at various clubs and those rumours will be a worry for the Chelsea fans.

However he is still a master tactician and will set Chelsea up to be difficult to beat here at the Etihad Stadium which has been a feature of his return to the club. Chelsea didn't win any of their 4 away games at the teams immediately below them in the Premier League last season, but the games with Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City were all draws.

Manuel Pellegrini has to show that he can gel his team together more effectively than last season, especially as they failed to beat Chelsea or Arsenal at home. He has yet to really get the better of Jose Mourinho and has to show that Manchester City have a plan to break down teams that are going to sit back like Chelsea are likely to do on Sunday.

I know Mourinho would take a draw right now and he is going to have Chelsea tough to beat which has been a feature of his away games at the top teams since returning to Stamford Bridge. In the last two seasons in away games at Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, 8 of those 10 games Chelsea have played have finished with two goals or fewer.

Manchester City are more attacking so their games do feature more goals, but the last two years against Chelsea have seen 4 of the 5 games end with two goals or fewer with the one exception being an injury time goal from Fernando Torres leading to a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge for the home team.

With a team like Manchester City, goals are never far away, but Jose Mourinho is going to look to stifle them and I imagine Chelsea will settle for the counter-attack. This has worked well for Mourinho in the past and I think this game could be a tight one that might be one of the lower scoring matches of the weekend in the Premier League.

Liverpool v Bournemouth Pick: A stunning goal from Philippe Coutinho helped Liverpool earn a measure of revenge against Stoke City last weekend. That goal helped Liverpool win on the ground they were beaten 6-1 at the end of last season and will have helped ease the pressure on Brendan Rodgers, although the manager knows they can't afford to drop points this weekend.

Hosting Bournemouth in their first ever away game in the top flight should be a match that Liverpool are comfortable with, especially as they have beaten them twice on the South Coast over the last couple of seasons in Cup competitions. The arrival of Christian Benteke means Liverpool are still trying to get used to the way the centre forward plays, but the win at Stoke City was mighty impressive after a strong defensive effort.

The form at Anfield, or lack of consistency here, cost Liverpool their top four berth last season and only 4 of their 19 games were won by the home team by more than a single goal. Liverpool won just 10 of 19 League games here and only scored 30 goals, areas they are looking to improve in the coming season if they are to challenge for a top four place.

Eddie Howe may change his tactics, but I think this is a manager that isn't comfortable having to sit his side back and I do believe Bournemouth give this a right go. They might have lost against Aston Villa last weekend, but Bournemouth created a number of chances in the first half and they can give Liverpool something to think about in this one.

I am just not convinced Bournemouth have a defence that will get them too many clean sheets and the increase in level of competition might take a little time to get adjusted to. It might also be what Howe needs to see before the transfer window closes to ensure his Bournemouth team have sufficient quality to compete in the Premier League during the long winter months and this could be a tough eye-opener for them.

Liverpool still look like they need to get their attacking tactics clearer for the entire squad, but I think they will be too good for Bournemouth and will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Aston Villa-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Southampton @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Swansea City-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Ham United @ 2.30 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Crystal Palace-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City-Chelsea Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)

August Update: 1-6, - 9.40 Units (13 Units Staked, - 72.31% Yield)

Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% 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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