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Friday, 21 August 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (August 22-24)

Late goals, big misses and some strange results... So just a normal August really in the world of European football as pre-season remains a bigger factor at this time of the season than you may think.

I had a few thoughts out of the Premier League games last week which can be read here.

Manchester United v Newcastle UnitedThe failure to sign Pedro looks to have knocked some of the supporters off balance at Manchester United, but the start made to the season has to have given them some positives to hold onto. It hasn't always been the best football to watch, but Manchester United looked better against Club Brugge, although the Belgian side might have shown teams that there is still some vulnerabilities to be exposed at Old Trafford with an attacking approach.

Steve McClaren was a former Assistant Manager at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson and he heads to Manchester United in charge of Newcastle United who still need some confidence restored. The squad played well in their first game of the season, but they didn't look that good against Swansea City and Newcastle have now lost 7 in a row away from home in the Premier League.

McClaren has to find a consistent attacking threat in their away games if Newcastle United are going to finish away from the relegation dogfight, but their signings suggest they will be able to do that once integrated into the team. However, we might not see the best of Newcastle United away from home until after the next international break once the transfer window is closed.

I expect Newcastle United to pose more of a threat at Old Trafford than they did at The Liberty Stadium, but I still think Louis Van Gaal is trying to make sure Manchester United are not giving too much away defensively. They have held Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa at arm's length in the first couple of League games and only a twice deflected cross beat Sergio Romero in the Champions League tie.

There are still some issues at the back that need resolving, but Manchester United at least looked a little more fluid going forward against Club Brugge. They will hope to push on against Newcastle United, but I still believe the first port of call is to take away what their opposition are going to offer with the expectation that a goal will come.

A very strange goal cost Manchester United a clean sheet on Tuesday, but I think they get back to basics and win their third Premier League game in a row without conceding.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa PickLast season saw Aston Villa struggle away from home and Crystal Palace struggle at home, especially against teams from the bottom half. That can be accounted for my the counter-attacking style Crystal Palace employ and the lack of space was hard to exploit although they hope Yohan Cabaye is going to give them more of a cutting edge with passes from midfield.

The start of this season has also seen Aston Villa perhaps change the trend from last season after they beat Bournemouth 0-1 at the Goldsands Stadium, although the loss of Christian Benteke is going to be hard to deal with. A lack of goals and perhaps ideas going forward have been a feature of their first couple of games, but Aston Villa have the pace to hurt Crystal Palace on the counter-attack in this one and that might be a big factor in the match.

Getting a consistent goal threat from the players on the books is going to be something of an issue for Aston Villa, but they might be able to double their away League wins if they can ride out the storm in this one. Crystal Palace do push forward at home but the key for Alan Pardew is seeing his team break down those teams that come to Selhurst Park looking to defend deep.

Crystal Palace have pace and they have power in the forward positions to cause a lot of problems for teams, but they have to prove they can deal with the expectation too. Now they have had a decent season behind them, teams might not be willing to come here and play open and expansive football and that was one of the reasons they only won 2 of 10 home games against teams in the bottom half who defended in numbers.

This has the makings of a tight game as both teams look to hit the other on the break, but I think Crystal Palace have shown they have more goals in the side than Aston Villa. That might just give them the edge in the contest, although they have to be aware of the threat Aston Villa pose from set pieces especially once Rudy Gestede is on the pitch.

I can't see either team winning by a wide margin, but will look for Crystal Palace to earn what has been a rare Premier League home win over the last twelve months.

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur PickI can completely understand why the Tottenham Hotspur supporters get so frustrated with Daniel Levy as he continues to play hard ball with any signing that their club wishes to make. Levy is a businessman so saving money where he can is what he does, but it disrupts the start to the season when the manager is waiting for all the signings he wants to be made and the latest of those is Saido Berahino from West Brom.

There is time to bring in Berahino before this game at the weekend, but that looks a transfer that might need every hour until September 1st to be pulled off and Spurs will have to visit in-form Leicester City with what they have.

It is going to be a difficult afternoon for Tottenham Hotspur to keep Leicester City at bay if the home team plays like they have been for a few months in the Premier League. Claudio Ranieri is known as the 'The Tinkerman' and I do wonder if he is getting a little itchy and whether a game against one of the better teams in the League sees him change tact.

The Italian can't failed to have noticed that the Tottenham Hotspur defence has shown vulnerabilities in their opening two games that Leicester City can exploit with the pace they have provided in their games. However, I do think Ranieri will be disappointed that his team have conceded three goals in their first two games and he might be tempted to make Leicester City a little harder to beat against the higher quality opponent they are facing.

Ranieri didn't ask his team to take a backward step against West Ham United though and I can see chances created at both ends in this match from what we have seen so far. Tottenham Hotspur were decent going forward last week and the 1-2 scoreline was a popular in their away games last season.

Spurs have also looked like they might struggle for clean sheets as they try and find the right balance in the squad and backing at least three goals to be shared good pay off in this match.

Norwich City v Stoke City PickThis looks to be one of those games in the Premier League that might not be expected to be put first on 'Match of the Day' on Saturday evening, but has more prospects than it may look. Norwich City have played well in their first two Premier League games back in the top flight, while Stoke City are not the kick and rush team of past years and actually play some decent stuff too.

Both teams have begun the new season in positive manner and that has shown up in the goals scored and chances created. One concern for both Alex Neil and Mark Hughes might be the defensive performances, but Stoke City held Liverpool at bay for much of their first game and will believe they can travel to Carrow Road and prevent Norwich City building up some momentum.

I think the edge is with Stoke City in this match, but Norwich City showed character in trying to come back from 0-2 down against Crystal Palace in their first match here. A better decision from the referee and that game would have got back to 2-2, while the same character helped them bounce back by dismissing Sunderland at The Stadium of Light.

Alex Neil has got his Norwich City team scoring goals and they have only had two home games since the end of September where they have failed to find the net. However, there has also been a lack of clean sheets in that time with only 5 in 25 home games and now Norwich are at the higher level of the Premier League compared with the Championship.

It does look a match that could produce goals with the way the teams have begun the season and picking both teams to hit the back of the net is my call.

West Ham United v Bournemouth PickThere will be some negatives and there will be some positives that both Slaven Bilic and Eddie Howe will be putting to their West Ham United and Bournemouth squad respectively during the week. West Ham United failed to back up their win over Arsenal with a disappointing home defeat to Leicester City last week, but they played much better in the second half and that kind of performance over ninety minutes will keep Bilic happy.

Bournemouth lost for the second time in the Premier League to join Sunderland as the only teams without a point, although Howe might also be concerned with the two games without a goal. However, Bournemouth showed enough in the first two games to suggest they are not that far away from cracking their Premier League duck and perhaps beginning to turn things around in the table.

Matt Richie played well against Liverpool and looked a threat, but Callum Wilson and Josh KIng have to show they can get goals at this level if Bournemouth are going to avoid the drop. Eddie Howe will at least be encouraged by the fact that West Ham United will let Bournemouth play in this match and his side can express themselves against a team that has looked vulnerable defensively in home games where they are expected to push forward.

On the other hand, West Ham United will also feel they can create chances against a Bournemouth team that is relying on a defence that was effective in the Championship but that doesn't have Premier League experience. The injuries to Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia has taken away some of the firepower that Slaven Bilic can call upon, but there are still goals in the West Ham United squad and I expect them to pose some questions of Bournemouth.

I do think Bournemouth just need a slice of luck to go their way in front of goal too, but they have the pace that Leicester City used to good effect here last week. I see both teams giving the other something to think about and this could be an entertaining game that produces at least three goals to be shared out.

Everton v Manchester City Pick: It has been an impressive start to the new season for Manchester City as they look to recover the Premier League title they lost last season. Back to back 3-0 wins would be impressive against any teams, but the fact that Manchester City have won at West Brom and then beaten Chelsea at home is very impressive results on paper and it is no surprise they have been set as the new favourites to win the title.

However, they are in for a real test of those credentials this Sunday as they travel to Everton to take on a team that is fresh off an impressive 0-3 win of their own at Southampton. That result will have been a huge relief for Roberto Martinez who has been under pressure at Goodison Park, while the owners are also being heavily criticised.

Martinez has to keep John Stones focused on the game at hand as Everton have rejected yet another bid for him from Chelsea and they have to give the fans more than the 2-2 draw against Watford here. Those defensive issues will be punished by this Manchester City attack, although Everton will also feel they can get to the City backline that hasn't been tested fully over their first couple of games.

It might be the perfect game for Everton as they will be able to employ the counter attack against Manchester City who have enjoyed the lion share of possession in their first couple of games. With David Silva, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero all likely to start, Manchester City will feel they can out-score any team in the Premier League and they won't be intimidated by heading to Goodison Park having won once and drawn here in their two visits under Manuel Pellegrini.

In both of those previous visits, both Everton and Manchester City have scored and these are two teams that will believe in their attacking ability to score goals again in this one. However, I think the edge in the opening performances is clearly with Manchester City and I believe they can win a high-scoring match in which both teams score at least once.

Watford v Southampton Pick: On another day, Watford would most certainly have scored against West Brom, but better finishing from the away side might also have seen them steal a point in a goalless draw last week. The opening two draws for Watford have shown this is a team that is more than capable of staying in the Premier League after promotion and they will look to take advantage of any tired legs in the Southampton team.

The latter had to play in the Europa League on Thursday and settled for a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Midtjylland which puts their future in that competition in doubt. Unlike some English clubs, Ronald Koeman has put a decent stock into doing well in the Europa League, but he might have to settle for an early exit barring a turnaround next week in Denmark.

It is part of a disappointing start for Southampton who have now conceded six goals in their last three games in all competitions and who were looking to bounce back from a 0-3 home defeat to Everton last weekend. That followed a 2-2 draw at Newcastle United and now Southampton might be feeling some pressure into getting a result at Watford.

There has been enough decent play from The Hornets to suggest they can expose any defensive mishaps Southampton have. I expect Watford will look to get on the front foot in this match as they took the game to West Brom last week, but Southampton might also find more room to create chances than they have in their last two home games.

A lack of creativity was an issue in both games against Everton and Midtjylland, but playing away from home makes their pace a little more dangerous and there are goals in the Southampton squad.

Games between Watford and Southampton have usually provided goals too with the last six at Vicarage Road all seeing at least three goals scored on the day. With slightly more room for the away side to use their pace and Watford showing a little more composure with the chances that will likely come their way, this game could produce at least three goals to be shared by the teams.

Arsenal v Liverpool Pick: The big game this weekend takes place on Monday Night Football as Arsenal and Liverpool meet in another early clash between teams that will expect to be fighting for top four positions. In all honesty, Arsenal are expecting a real title challenge this season as they got back on track with a 1-2 win at Crystal Palace last weekend which followed a shocking 0-2 defeat to West Ham United.

Now they return to The Emirates Stadium where they were beaten on opening day with the confidence restored and Arsenal should be too good for Liverpool. That is no disrespect to Liverpool who have made the perfect start to the season with back to back 1-0 wins over Stoke City and Bournemouth.

The side were fortunate to beat Bournemouth who had a goal disallowed, while Liverpool's clearly offside goal was allowed to stand. They were solid at Stoke City, but keeping Arsenal out is a whole different challenge and I think Liverpool will struggle to do that.

Liverpool are changing the way they approach games, but Brendan Rodgers will need them to ride their luck if they are going to keep Arsenal at arm's length. The Gunners have Alexis Sanchez back in the starting line up and seem to have more options coming off the bench so Liverpool will look to play a containing game and perhaps hit them on the counter-attack or from set pieces.

This has been a fixture that Arsenal have performed well in in recent seasons and they have three straight wins over Liverpool including a crushing 4-1 win last season. For all the positives surrounding Liverpool's start to the season, I am not convinced they have been at their best and this is a big test for them in just the third game of the season as they integrate new faces.

With the added creativity and attacking options on the bench, Arsenal should have enough to win this game.
MY PICKS: Manchester United Win to Nil @ 2.25 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Leicester City-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Norwich City-Stoke City Both Teams to Score @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
West Ham United-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Manchester City to Win @ 3.25 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Watford-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 1.75 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

August Update5-18, - 23.22 Units (46 Units Staked, - 50.48% 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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