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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, 24 October 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (October 24-25)

Back to the Premier League this week after another inconsistent week for the English teams taking part in the two European competitions. We have reached the halfway mark in the Group Stage and that is a decent time to have a look at the fortunes of the teams so far and the prospects of qualification to the Knock Out Stage which begins after Christmas.

The team most in danger in the Champions League remain Arsenal despite a fantastic win over Bayern Munich during the week. Unfortunately they would have hoped Olympiacos were not winners on the same night, although the victory over Bayern Munich has given Arsenal a shot in the arm.

Manchester United and Chelsea both earned away draws in Eastern Europe which will make them both feel they can win their two remaining home games and move into the Second Round, while a late goal for Manchester City puts them in a very strong position in a tough Group.

The British clubs all had a really poor time in the Europa League as a strong Liverpool team failed to beat ten man Rubin Kazan at Anfield and Tottenham Hotspur lost in Anderlecht. A defeat for Celtic in Malmo means all three of those teams are going to have to do some serious work in their remaining three games to make it through to the Last 32 in that competition.

I put together a few thoughts from the last weekend Premier League football which can be read here.

Leicester City v Crystal Palace PickThey say the ten game mark in the Premier League is when we really begin to get a good indication of where a team stands and we will reach that mark at the end of this round of fixtures. So how many would have predicted a match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace would involve TWO teams in the top six of the Premier League table?

Both Claudio Ranieri and Alan Pardew deserve all the credit that comes their way in the early part of the season and both Leicester City and Crystal Palace will most certainly be looking for a top half finish or better. While Crystal Palace were expected to be clear of the relegation battle, Leicester City's form has really surprised many.

In Jamie Vardy they arguably have the striker in the best form in the Premier League, but it is the character and the 'never say die' attitude that has allowed them to build up some real momentum. You can't expect them to continue coming back from 2-0 down, but Leicester City have shown it is far from a fluke having achieved that three times in their first nine League games.

I am expecting an entertaining game with the players that are going to be out on the pitch- Leicester City have showed an attacking enterprise all season, but the soft underbelly makes them excellent viewing for the neutrals too. I do think Ranieri will ask his team to play the way they have been and expect Leicester City on the front foot, but that will make Crystal Palace more dangerous with the counter attacking ability they have.

The last two Crystal Palace away games have not featured too many goals, but Leicester City games continue to do that and I expect them to make this a real football match. I don't think there is any real need to move away from the profitable way of backing any Leicester City match and that is expecting goals in this game, although the layers have begun to cotton onto the fact that Claudio Ranieri is not a 'typical Italian manager' who may overly concern himself with defensive formations.

Picking a winner isn't easy, but Crystal Palace might have some joy away from home although a 2-1 scoreline either way wouldn't be a huge surprise.

Stoke City v Watford PickGive credit to Stoke City for sticking with Mark Hughes' principles and turning around their form to start moving up the Premier League table. Quique Sanchez Flores will be hoping that the Watford board take note of that and his squad continue to play to his own principles as they bid to end a poor run of form.

In all honesty, Watford have been more dangerous away from home when they can play a counter-attacking style much more comfortably than they can at Vicarage Road. There is pace in the Watford team and they have saved their goals for their away games in the Premier League so have to be considered a real threat.

However, Stoke City have also turned their form around and 4 consecutive wins will give them plenty of confidence too. They should really have won their last couple of games at the Brittania Stadium, but nerves haven't helped before the late winner over Bournemouth.

They can now play with a little more freedom and belief at home and there are plenty of match winners in the home squad. Defensively they have looked better of late with three clean sheets in their last four games and I do think they will have just enough quality in the final third to produce a couple of goals which may be what they need to secure the three points.

The odds on quote is just about generous enough for me to back Stoke City to make it five in a row in all competitions and win this one narrowly.

West Ham United v Chelsea Pick: This has been a tough season for Jose Mourinho and it isn't going to get much easier for him over the coming weeks beginning with this extremely difficult looking match at Upton Park. Chelsea earned a solid goalless draw at Dynamo Kiev during the week to put them in a decent position in their Champions League Group, but West Ham United have been flying this season and become accustomed to upsetting the big name teams in the Premier League.

The Hammers have already beaten Manchester City, Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Liverpool this season, although all of those results have been away from home. It will be interesting to see if they can play the same counter attacking style at home as they have on their travels, especially as Chelsea may look to set up in a similar way.

That potentially makes this a very stand offish kind of match as both teams are perhaps willing to play without the ball and look to counter quickly on the break. However goals haven't been a problem when these two teams have played at home/away respectively this season and both have looked vulnerable defensively.

Chelsea may look at the last week and point to the two clean sheets earned against Aston Villa and Dynamo Kiev as a sign their defensive shape is coming back to form. They had a sequence like that earlier this season but Chelsea then conceded eight goals in their next four games so I'd need to see more of the same to believe things have turned around.

And it also has to be pointed out that Chelsea should have their own success going forward against a team that has conceded eight goals in four home games this season. West Ham United haven't kept too many clean sheets through the course of the season and this has been a fixture that has previously produced plenty of goals.

I am expecting both teams to feel each other out for the early stages, but eventually the goals should come and I think both hit the back of the net in this one in what will eventually be a game that produces at least three goals.

Arsenal v Everton PickThere were a couple of things I took away from the Arsenal win over Bayern Munich in relation to the home team: the first was how organised they were defensively and the pace they displayed on the counter attack; the second was how much the surprising omission of Petr Cech in the first two Champions League games have hurt them.

This will be a different game for Arsenal as they will be expected to be on the front foot much more than on Tuesday, while it will be Arsenal who will dominate the ball. Any lingering tiredness should be out of the system by the time this game kicks off even though Arsenal did a lot of hard work off the ball on Tuesday and this is a team with a whole host of momentum behind them.

Alexis Sanchez is in great form in the Premier League, but the likes of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla are pulling the strings magnificently and it will be a big test for Everton to keep Arsenal from running away with this one.

Everton are unbeaten away from home which will give them some belief, but they had to come from behind to beat Reading and West Brom in their last two games and looked poor in the latter up until they pulled a goal back. If West Brom had held their 2-0 lead for even five minutes I would have expected them to win that match and Everton can't afford to spot Arsenal such a lead this weekend.

This is a great chance for Arsenal to move to the top of the Premier League and it would be a big surprise to me if they allowed that to slip ahead of the Manchester derby. Confidence is in a very good place for Arsenal and I think they will break down Everton and end up securing a win by at least two goals.

Sunderland v Newcastle United PickDerby games tend to be strange affairs and that might be highlighted by the Tyne-Wear derby considering Newcastle United have been a better team than Sunderland in recent years but have surprisingly lost 5 in a row against them.

This is Sam Allardyce's first game in charge at The Stadium of Light against a team he has formerly managed and I have to say Sunderland did look better defensively last week than they have all season. That was with limited time with his players having seen an international break ahead of the game and I think Allardyce will make sure Sunderland are hard to beat this week too.

I like what Steve McClaren is trying to do at Newcastle United and I think the results have been a little difficult as he gets those ideas across to players who are not all familiar with the Premier League. There are still some mental weaknesses in the side that can rear their head when the going gets tough as displayed at Manchester City recently, but the win last week is a huge confidence boost.

I am expecting a tight game on Sunday in the first of three live games being shown and the early start can play havoc with players who are trying to get the sleep out of their eyes. However, the clocks are turned back on Saturday evening so I don't think that will be a big concern this weekend in what will essentially feel like a 1pm kick off.

A tight, tense contest has to be expected as the players try and push on for their fans, but I can't ignore Sunderland's recent dominance of the fixture. They were unfortunate not to beat West Ham United in their last home game and showed better defensive organisation in another unfortunate loss at West Brom last weekend.

I do think Newcastle United have more goals in the side, but I also think Sunderland will rally and a high profile game might also see a sending off- Aleksander Mitrovic would be a prime contender for any red card too!

It's only worth a small interest with this being a derby game and Sunderland still trying to adjust to a new manager, but they have raised their game for the fixture with Newcastle United in the last couple of years and I will back them to win narrowly this weekend.

Manchester United v Manchester City PickThe Manchester derby is once again taking centre stage in the Premier League as two of the top three in the League table meet at Old Trafford. The injuries to Sergio Aguero and David Silva means Manchester City are missing two of their most important players, if not THE most important players, and I think that does give Manchester United the advantage.

That is potentially balanced out by the fact that Manchester United were playing in Moscow on Wednesday night and don't have the same recovery time as Manchester City who were at home on the same night, but there can't be any excuses from the players.

It does have the makings of a very entertaining game as Manchester City are always likely to try and bring the game to their opponents, while Manchester United have been strong at home. This is a great chance for Manchester United to lay down a marker for the season knowing both Silva and Aguero are missing, but they can't under-estimate a Manchester City team that still has plenty of quality to call upon.

Louis Van Gaal doesn't strike me as someone who will lose his meticulous planning because a couple of his opponent's players are absent so I expect Manchester United to really put together a strong game plan. Aside from that defeat at Arsenal earlier this month, Van Gaal has produced a strong tactically plan in big games for Manchester United and there is enough in the home squad to win the game.

However, I can't help think Manchester City still have some real match winners out on the pitch and their 2-1 win over Sevilla will be a huge boost in confidence without their top two players. Kevin De Bruyne has fitted in wonderfully, while Yaya Toure and Raheem Sterling offer power and pace respectively.

The game has all the ingredients of being a really entertaining one and the Manchester derby has rarely failed to ignite in recent seasons when it comes to goal-scoring chances. Eight of the last ten games has seen at least three goals shared out, while the games at Old Trafford tend to be more high-scoring.

That might be down to the fact that Manchester City will look to attack no matter the venue, while Manchester United have perhaps been set up to be a little more containing in games at The Etihad Stadium. At Old Trafford the last seven games between Manchester United and Manchester City have produced at least three goals.

Five of the last six Manchester United games here have had at least three goals, while the last three Manchester City away games have also hit that number. Both teams will give the other chances in this one and it might take some inspired stuff from David De Gea and Joe Hart from keeping this game from reaching the three goal threshold.

I favour the offensive players though in this one as the likes of Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony can all produce the goals. Backing at least three goals in another entertaining Manchester derby at Old Trafford looks the angle in this one.

Liverpool v Southampton Pick: The Jurgen Klopp era has begun with two draws for Liverpool which might be seen as a bit of an anticlimax considering all of the hoopla that came with his appointment. Liverpool couldn't break down ten man Rubin Kazan on Thursday and it can be difficult to return to Premier League football just days later, especially when facing a team with the pace that Southampton have in the forward areas.

The 1-3 win at Chelsea is the standout result of the Southampton season, but I can't ignore the fact that three of their four away games have ended in draws. Four straight Liverpool games have also seen the each team take a share of the spoils and I do think the home team are incredibly short to win the game considering their creativity problems.

That might be a bit harsh because Liverpool certainly had their chances against Rubin Kazan and the return of Daniel Sturridge is only going to boost their chances to take those. On the other hand those chances were created against ten men and Southampton have looked much more solid than the Russians did.

I do think there is a real chance that Southampton can go on and win this game if they get their tactics as right as they did at Stamford Bridge. That also means taking the chances that come their way, but previous away games Southampton have not been as convincing in the final third and a draw here would be seen as a good result.

A small interest on Southampton taking a point from this game looks worth backing in the final Premier League game of the weekend.

MY PICKS: Leicester City-Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)
West Ham United-Chelsea Over 2.5 Gaols @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sunderland @ 2.63 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Manchester United-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool-Southampton Draw @ 3.60 Bet365 (1 Unit)

October Update12-17, - 7.04 Units (53.50 Units Staked, - 13.16% Yield)
September Final29-30-3, + 4.18 Units (117.5 Units Staked, + 3.58% Yield)
August Final16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)

Season 2015/1616-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% 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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