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Saturday, 8 August 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (August 8-10)

It has been a long time, or so it has felt at least, but the football season is officially back this weekend as the Premier League gets ready for the big kick off. Last season might not have been the most drama-filled for everyone's liking, but I am expecting a much tighter battle through the League this season.

And anyway, don't even begin to tell me that it hasn't been a long summer as we have patiently waited for the League to begin. I know I have been struggling to contain my excitement for the new campaign, especially as Manchester United are back in the Champions League.

It is Manchester United who will open the season for the second year in a row and the big matches will come thick and fast in the opening month of the season with Manchester City hosting Chelsea and Arsenal hosting Liverpool over the next three rounds of games.

Manchester United also need to negotiate a path through the Champions League Play Offs in that time and Southampton are another team involved in the early Rounds of the European competition. The transfer window is also open through the first four games of the season which presents problems of its own as teams continue to mould the squads to their liking.

Last season was massively disappointing in terms of the picks as I couldn't really get out of my own way as the last two months and August were particularly damaging. The first two seasons were positive, but the last was a huge negative and I am hoping some changes to my workings will help get back into the winning columns more regularly.

August has been particularly poor for two seasons in a row so that is an area I am looking to turn around beginning with this weekend.

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The new Premier League season is filled with anticipation from supporters up and down the country and the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur will be looking to put down an early marker against each other. Both teams will be expecting to challenge for top four places at the least this season, although another summer of big investment at Old Trafford will have some fans expecting more from Manchester United.

Louis Van Gaal is trying to find the right balance in the squad that will be dealing with Champions League football in the coming season, assuming they win their Play Off, but there still look to be areas where the team is short. Behind Wayne Rooney, James Wilson and Javier Hernandez look the most likely replacements and it would be no surprise to see another player or two enter the Old Trafford dressing room before the end of the month.

Angel Di Maria looks to be one using the exit door, but altogether Manchester United will be expecting a much stronger season. The opener against Tottenham Hotspur is one of these games that could be a potential banana skin in the manner the home game with Swansea was last season as Mauricio Pochettino will ask his team to try and impose their game on Manchester United.

New faces take time to gel, but Tottenham Hotspur don't really have that issue with only Toby Alderweireld likely to make his debut. They do need Harry Kane to prove last season wasn't a one-off for him and I do expect Spurs to cause some problems for the home team.

The fixture list hasn't been too harsh on Louis Van Gaal to start the season, but he has to find the right balance immediately and installing new faces can be difficult. I expect he will perhaps use a strong spine of players that were at Old Trafford last season in a bid to get off to a positive start and the fans could be in for a treat as Premier League football returns.

I do expect Manchester United to win, but they are plenty short in the market and it may be better off picking the more appealing price on there being goals. This fixture has produced at least three goals in 6 of the last 7 Premier League games at Old Trafford and both managers will be looking to get forward and score goals.

For all their signings, Manchester United still have some question marks at the back, but I also expect them to create chances and goals should follow.

Bournemouth v Aston Villa Pick: Eddie Howe has performed wonderfully as manager of Bournemouth, but even he has to be a little surprised that they will be opening up a Premier League campaign. Just to put it into perspective... Bournemouth have NEVER played in the top flight of English football before this season.

The task of keeping Bournemouth in the Premier League looks a tough one for Howe, but I expect this team to make plenty of friends with the way they will likely approach much of the season. Bournemouth play attractive football, but are also vulnerable at the back, which will make them much fun to watch when they are given the chance to perform for television.

Bournemouth have looked to take the Burnley approach to transfer activity and haven't splashed the cash but will instead rely on the players they know to help ensure the transition to the top flight is smooth. If the likes of Matt Ritchie and Callum Wilson can adapt, Bournemouth will have every chance of finishing above the bottom three.

We will get to know a lot about Bournemouth this weekend as they take on an Aston Villa team that is going through a transition of their own. Tim Sherwood is beginning to put his stamp on a club that has been fighting relegation for the last few years, but he will have to do without both Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke who decided to move to 'bigger' clubs.

I am expecting more transfer activity at Villa Park over the last month of this transfer window, but they might be a little vulnerable in this opening game. Bournemouth will look to take the game to Aston Villa who will also have a new look defence, and Sherwood's teams are always susceptible to conceding goals.

Bournemouth only won 13 of their 23 home League games last season so they might be a little short, but I fancy them to win and will have a small interest in them doing so. It has to be remembered that Aston Villa were beaten 12 times away from home last season and losses of Delph and Benteke might take a little time for the players remaining to get used to.

Everton v Watford PickOpening games of the season can be a little difficult to predict simply because teams return to the League campaign in similar stages of their fitness and the difference in quality is not always clear to see.

You have to think Everton will have a better season than the last one, but manager Roberto Martinez is under some pressure to produce results and a slow start might see him head for the exit door. That pressure might have been transferred onto a squad that hasn't been upgraded too much in the summer although holding onto the likes of John Stones and Seamus Coleman was important for Everton, at least for now anyway.

The home form was a let down for Everton last season with only 7 League wins at Goodison Park and they won 4 of 9 games here against the teams that finished below them. Even past history against Watford isn't important as Everton haven't played this club since 2007 and the Hornets are much changed since then.

Investment in the club means there is almost a brand new team taking to the field on opening day of the 2016 season compared with the one that ended the 2015 season. Quique Sanchez Flores has been tasked to put the pieces together, but gelling a lot of new players is tough, especially for a team moving up from the Championship.

There is some Premier League experience that has been brought in by Watford, but this looks a difficult opening game for them. As poor as Everton were at times last season, Martinez knows they can't afford another slow start which has become a feature of his managerial reigns at Wigan Athletic and Everton.

With the more consistency in the starting eleven, I expect Everton to find a way to the three points in this one.

Chelsea v Swansea Pick: The defeat in the Community Shield to Arsenal might have some of the Chelsea challengers to their Premier League title feeling better about themselves, but I believe Jose Mourinho is not going to let his side slip that easily.

I still worry about the Chelsea depth having made little investment in the squad as they were already playing with a small squad last season that did seem to tire down the stretch. The first eleven still looks the most balanced and strongest in the Premier League, but a couple of key injuries, particularly to someone like Eden Hazard, and I think Chelsea might find themselves in a spot of bother.

A home game on opening day will always be welcome as the Champions get ready to defend their title, but Chelsea might have hoped for something a little easier than Swansea. Garry Monk had his side playing some attractive football last season and even the sale of Wilfried Bony didn't slow them down.

Swansea have made some interesting moves in the transfer market and they won't be intimidated by this fixture having beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford on opening day twelve months ago. However, they did take two beatings at the hands of Chelsea last season when conceding nine goals in the Premier League games including a 4-2 defeat here.

That means Chelsea have won all four League games against Swansea since the latter returned to the top flight and three of those have come by at least two goals.

If you take out the last day of the season when Chelsea beat Sunderland 3-1, they did fail to win any of their previous 8 home games in the Premier League by more than a single goal. That highlights the small squad issue I mentioned earlier in this pick and the fact they seemed to tire a little, especially in the forward areas.

However, Chelsea did win their first 10 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge last season and while they were fresh and Diego Costa was fit, they did win 9 of those by at least two goals. With Swansea likely turning up at Stamford Bridge and not being a team to 'shut up shop', I think Chelsea will have chances and the Champions can put together a statement win by at least two goals.

Arsenal v West Ham United PickThis looks a really big ask for Slaven Bilic to find the right team to keep a confident Arsenal at bay, particularly as West Ham United will be returning from a European trip to Romania just a couple of days earlier. It is going to be reality check for Bilic who will get to see what his West Ham United team are about and anything other than a home win would be a big surprise.

Bilic may hope his side playing competitive fixtures will give them an edge, but West Ham United are a team that plays a brand of football that will be music to Arsenal's ears. Unlike some teams, Arsenal know that West Ham United are going to let them play their football and the 1-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield will give them confidence to win the game even without Alexis Sanchez.

Sanchez will be likely given a rest from his Copa America exploits, but Arsenal have plenty of other players who can score goals and create chances and this could be a long day for the Hammers fans heading to North London.

Having Petr Cech in goal will just inspire confidence in the backline and I expect that to filter through the starting eleven as Arsenal look for a more positive start than they had last season. Even though they beat Crystal Palace on opening weekend, I expect Arsenal to want to be more impressive in victory and then to push on with a couple of tough matches to come later this month.

This just feels the perfect opener for the home team and I expect Arsenal to take advantage and win this one with something to spare. 4 of the last 5 Arsenal home wins over West Ham United have come by at least two goals and I do think they are capable of putting the Hammers to the sword in this one.

Bilic did rest some key players in the defeat at Astra on Thursday and Arsenal can sometimes be guilty of a slow start in the Premier League, but I still think the Gunners can change that here.

Stoke City v Liverpool PickIt is remarkable how much of a difference a season makes as Brendan Rodgers stock has fallen dramatically from almost taking Liverpool to their first top flight title since 1990 to finishing outside of the top four and favourite to be next manager out of his job.

Rodgers would have been watching the fixture list come out in June and praying for a reasonable start to the campaign to get his team some confidence back, but they have received anything but that. Visits to Stoke City, Arsenal and Manchester United in the first five games is tough and a slow start to the season could easily cost Rodgers the Liverpool job.

However, I think Rodgers has made some decent signings for his team and they look like they might be able to cope with some of the injuries they had last season in a much more positive manner. In saying that, Liverpool are going to be in for an incredibly difficult afternoon at the Brittania Stadium where they have been beaten in 4 of their last 5 visits including that humiliating capitulation in May.

Mark Hughes has Stoke City playing with confidence and belief and they are rarely intimidated by any visitor to their loud stadium. That was proven with their 5 wins in 8 home games against teams that finished above them and Stoke City's regular positive results against Liverpool will only increase the expectation they can pull the upset.

While a Stoke City victory has been a feature of games between these teams at the Brittania Stadium, it also has to be pointed out that the last four in all competitions have also produced at least three goals. There are the attacking players on display that will feel they can produce the goods to increase that record and it might be more appealing than backing the home team to secure another upset.

You have to think there is some pride in the Liverpool camp to want to prove the 6-1 loss was nothing more than an aberration and they are better than that so I expect they will play with that attitude. Other factors played a part with Steven Gerrard finishing his career and all the rumours that surrounded then Liverpool player Raheem Sterling and I have a feeling this squad will be more settled in this visit.

I can see both teams scoring at least once and neither manager will want his team to take a backward step so backing at least three goals to be shared is the call.

West Brom v Manchester City PickThis looks a fascinating first Monday Night Football game of the season as West Brom take on Manchester City.

Tony Pulis worked his magic to keep West Brom in the Premier League last season and he looks to have added effectively to his squad to make sure they are not in another relegation battle this time around. I think someone like Rickie Lambert will do a job for Pulis and West Brom should be a lot more solid than they were in the first half of last season.

Pulis has never been afraid to pressure the big teams at home during his time with Stoke City, Crystal Palace and West Brom and I think he will look at the Manchester City backline and see some vulnerabilities. Expect West Brom to load up on any set pieces they get and ask Manchester City to show they are better suited to deal with them this time around and I do think the home team scores at least once in this game.

The absence of Sergio Aguero, or likely absence, makes Manchester City look a very short price in my opinion. Aguero makes a huge difference to this team and his place would need to be filled by Wilfried Bony who has to start showing why Manchester City paid so much to bring him in from Swansea.

Raheem Sterling will have a positive impact in the forward areas with his pace a real threat for Manchester City, especially with the likes of Aguero and David Silva to play off. I am expecting Manchester City to be challenging but this is a difficult opening two weeks for them and while I expect them to be good going forward, I am not convinced they have solved the defensive problems.

The last four games overall between these teams has seen at least three goals shared out, while the last three at The Hawthornes have been very high-scoring. With West Brom likely to expose some problems at the back, I am also expecting Manchester City to score at least once and this could be a very good beginning to Monday Night Football on television as a high-scoring game is produced.

MY PICKS: Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth @ 2.05 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Everton @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Stoke City-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Brom-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

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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