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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...

Friday, 2 October 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (October 3-4)

The final rounds of the European Championship Qualifiers will be played after this weekend so that means the weekend football is condensed into a two day period to ensure all players picked for international duty can head off in time to join their national teams.

That doesn't mean it isn't an important weekend as the games on 'Super Sunday' show with the likes of the Merseyside derby and Arsenal vs Manchester United in England, while in Germany Bayern Munich host Borussia Dortmund and it is the Madrid derby in Spain.

It was more disappointment for the English clubs in European competition this week which returned a 2-2-2 record from the six games played. Of course the focus will be seeing how the Italian clubs did when it comes to the four places being given to the Premier League in the Champions League and their sides were 4-0-1.

Not good news for the Premier League, especially as Arsenal look in a difficult position to get of their Champions League Group, although the concern will only increase if another English club goes out of the Champions League Group Stage and one of Tottenham Hotspur or Liverpool fail to get through to the Last 32 in the Europa League.

It is a picture that will become a lot clearer in December, although I think three English teams in the Champions League will get through to the Last 16 and I wouldn't rule out Arsenal just yet despite being in a very awkward position.

Last weekend I put a few thoughts down about the stories that came out of the Weekend Football which can be read here.

A number of positive results during the week at least pulled the September final tally around into a positive, but there is still work to do to get back on track after another disappointing August. I have included the Europa League Picks from the Thursday football in the final tally for September despite being the 1st of October and the October tally will begin from this weekend.

It is a big month upcoming with the two rounds of European Championship Qualifiers as well as Match Day 3 in European competition and four rounds of Premier League and domestic European League football.

Crystal Palace v West Brom Pick: Tony Pulis makes his second return to Selhurst Park since leaving Crystal Palace and he has continued to hold the Indian Sign over his two previous Premier League clubs. Tony Pulis has moved to four wins out of four in games against Stoke City and Crystal Palace since leaving those clubs and will be looking to continue that run on Saturday as he takes West Brom to Selhurst Park in the live Saturday lunchtime game.

I really do think West Brom can get something out of this game despite blowing a 2-0 lead in a 2-3 defeat to Everton on Monday night. West Brom were so much the better team in that game when they moved 2-0 up, but conceding literally seconds later turned the game on its head.

Pulis might be more comfortable setting his team up away from home at the moment as that is where the majority of their points have come in the first two months of the season. West Brom can defend better than they did on Monday and the onus is on Crystal Palace to get forward and to push the tempo in this game.

I am not convinced that is where Crystal Palace are at their best and is a big reason their home form is not as effective as their away record under Alan Pardew. This is a Crystal Palace team that wants to hit teams on the counter-attack, but West Brom won't fall into that trap and instead will sit deep and look to do that to the home team with Saido Berahino back and scoring goals.

Crystal Palace just don't seem as comfortable at home despite the passionate support they receive here as they don't strike the right balance between attack and defence as they do on their travels. They don't get the same room to use the pace in the final third that they have when teams are not committing men forward as they almost have to do in front of their own fans.

The stats back up the feelings about Crystal Palace- they have won 9 of their last 12 away games in the Premier League, but just 4 of their last 12 at Selhurst Park. With Tony Pulis finding the right formula to take down his last two teams managed and West Brom only losing 1 of their last 7 away games in the Premier League, I wouldn't rule a line through backing The Baggies to win this game.

However, I think backing the away team to avoid defeat at odds against is a big price and certainly worth backing here.

Aston Villa v Stoke City PickI wouldn't go as far as describe this as a 'six pointer' as it would be described had the fixture been in April and both Aston Villa and Stoke City are still in the positions they are in, but I would think both Tim Sherwood and Mark Hughes have targeted a win from the game to ease some pressure.

It would be a big surprise if either club was thinking about making a managerial change at this stage of the season, but it can be a vicious circle for some clubs if they can't get out of the spiral of negative results.

Aston Villa haven't won a League game since the opening day of the new season and they have some concerns at both ends of the pitch. On the other hand, Stoke City might just see recent results as a sign they are getting out of their slump and the win over Bournemouth last week is a huge result for them. 

It was a nervous win, but the three points might just spark Stoke City who have plenty of talented players in the squad.

I do believe Stoke City have the more quality, but they have looked vulnerable at the back without Ryan Shawcross' experience and Aston Villa can exploit that. However, I am not convinced Aston Villa can keep a clean sheet having done so once in their last 12 Premier League home games and backing both teams to exploit the nervousness in the other's defence looks the call.

Manchester City v Newcastle United PickI think it was Jose Mourinho who recently said something along the lines of playing Newcastle United at St James' Park is always a difficult task, but hosting them is usually a lot more of a comfortable game for the big teams.

That came out after a defeat to Newcastle United last season, but Manchester City have had little problems against this club and generally thump them when they visit The Etihad Stadium.

Results haven't been the best for Manchester City over the last half of September, but some of that has been down to the injuries they have suffered and some of it down to bad luck. The defending has lost some shape with Vincent Kompany missing a few games, while the absence of David Silva would be a blow to many teams and Sergio Aguero is yet to click into top form.

I don't believe they are going to continue being on the wrong end of some smash and grab raids nor do I think Manchester City will continue producing the chances in front of goal without have the clinical finishing to put them away. This looks the perfect game for them to go into the international break and I think Manchester City win this comfortably.

Newcastle United have impressed in patches this season which are signs Steve McClaren can get things turned around, but this team has struggled away from home. They have yet to score and both Swansea City and West Ham United beat Newcastle United comfortably and could have won by a much larger margin than the 2-0 final scores.

If Manchester City get their noses in front early in this one, I fancy they win by three at least on Saturday.

Norwich City v Leicester City PickAt the start of the season, both Norwich City and Leicester City were amongst the favourites for relegation from the Premier League, but results over the first seven games suggest they may be able to raise expectations. It is still early in the season and every point earned at the moment can be crucial in May as teams like this will be expected to go through lean times in terms of points being accrued.

The fixture has all the makings of one of the more entertaining ones in the Premier League this weekend.

Leicester City have been involved in plenty of high-scoring games through the season as they have the pace in the forward areas to hurt teams, but have never looked secure defensively. They have both scored and conceded in all 9 games played in all competitions this season and I can see this fixture continuing that sequence.

I think Leicester City have the players that can give Norwich City problems, but they are also facing a team that has scored in all 4 home games this season and scored at least three goals in back to back games at Carrow Road. Like Leicester City, Norwich City have yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League this season and they only failed to score in one game at Southampton when reduced to ten men after half an hour.

I can imagine plenty will include Norwich City versus Leicester City in the both teams to score accumulators but that looks very likely with the way both teams have attacked and defended this season. The layers continue to underestimate the chance of seeing at least three goals in a game involving Leicester City, although they are catching on a bit now, and that looks the way to go forward with both teams confident in attack and willing to go for the three points when they feel they are there for the taking.

Chelsea v Southampton Pick: This has been a difficult match for Chelsea since Southampton have been promoted back to the Premier League and The Blues have won just 2 of their 6 Premier League games against them. That reads 1 win from 3 League games at Stamford Bridge so I can imagine there will be a few people queuing up to back the away side to perhaps deliver another body blow to Jose Mourinho and the English Champions.

It is unlikely that Chelsea have gone into any of their last 6 Premier League games against Southampton in a more vulnerable position than they go into this one. Another week has seen the side draw at Newcastle United and then lose in Porto in the Champions League and clean sheets just don't seem to be forthcoming which is causing a lot of nerves through the side.

Big names are not responding to setbacks in the way you would expect, Eden Hazard has yet to really fire and John Terry continues to watch from the bench. Diego Costa is missing from this game and Southampton have pace to burn in the final third that will give this Chelsea defence plenty to concern themselves with.

However, I think Chelsea might be a big price to earn the three points this weekend as Southampton have failed to win any of their last 10 away Premier League games. They have drawn the last 3 in a row, but overall Southampton have lost 6 of those 10 games mentioned, while goals have been a problem with only five scored and four failures in their last 5 games.

As poor as Chelsea have been for much of the season, they don't seem that far away from turning it around as the media thinks. They have won their last couple of games at Stamford Bridge and I think Southampton might have been found out away from home if their recent run is anything to go by.

It's not likely that Chelsea will be such a price at Stamford Bridge against a team unlikely to finish in the top six again this season and they are worth backing.

Everton v Liverpool PickThe Merseyside derby is the final game before the international break and it is a game that Brendan Rodgers dare not lose else he might find Liverpool making a managerial change before the next Premier League game is played. There is little doubt that Rodgers is under immense pressure as the fans have seemingly turned against him and Liverpool have to stay in touch with the top four to at least keep the wolves from the door.

A defeat to Everton, who are already above Liverpool in the Premier League table, might be the final straw for the owners as the latter would be left in mid-table and there are two big name managers out there. Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp have both been linked with the job at Anfield so Rodgers has to find a way to keep those stories out of the dressing room and focus his team.

Daniel Sturridge is a huge returning figure for Liverpool and his two goals last week proved to be the difference in the game against Aston Villa. They have lacked a clinical striker in his absence and he should be well-rested for this game at Everton.

The short trip across Stanley Park has been a difficult one for Liverpool in recent years as an improving Everton have proved tough to beat. They had a couple of high-scoring Merseyside derbies at Goodison Park before the goalless draw last season and Everton have conceded a fair few goals this season which should give Liverpool a chance.

However, Everton showed against Manchester City and Chelsea that they can create chances at home against the best teams so Liverpool won't intimidate them with the injuries in the visitor's squad. Everton have pace which is a problem for the Liverpool defenders and this is a team that showed the kind of character and belief they have when coming back from 2-0 down to beat West Brom on Monday Night Football.

I can see both keepers having plenty of work to do in this game and this is a game that could produce goals, even if recent years the Merseyside derby has been a fiery affair without the clinical finishing in front of goal. This time both teams look to have players in form to perhaps take those chances and seeing at least three goals scored wouldn't be a huge surprise to me.

Arsenal v Manchester United PickThis is the biggest game of the weekend for the neutrals as two teams who finished in the top four last season and are hoping to push on this time around meet in North London. Arsenal and Manchester United might both believe they can get amongst the Premier League title challenge with Chelsea struggling and Manchester City off the pace and so both teams will know how important earning the three points will be.

There have been some positives from Arsenal in the new season, but their Champions League performances have been far below par, while they have also struggled at The Emirates Stadium. It is surprising considering the quality they have in the forward positions, but naive decisions from the manager and defensively at big moments have been difficult to overcome.

Now they face a Manchester United team that have been playing with confidence even if they have yet to truly convince they can challenge for the Premier League title. Manchester United have won games while not playing brilliantly, but that can be a sign of a Champion in waiting, while the 2-3 win at Southampton was arguably the best performance of the season after a torrid opening thirty minutes.

Louis Van Gaal has proven to be a big game manager for Manchester United too and it was this club that won the most points in the head to head between the top six last season. Manchester United won at Arsenal and Liverpool last season and they do have a very good record at The Emirates Stadium which can't be ignored.

I really do fancy Manchester United's chances of winning this game on current form and with the slightly better defensive performances compared with Arsenal. They look a big price too, but it might be better to focus on at least three goals to be scored as Arsenal are a side that certainly has goals through the squad.

My feeling that Manchester United win suggests backing goals as all five previous wins at Arsenal have come when at least three goals have been shared by the teams. That isn't an event that is mutually exclusive, but I think Arsenal will score at least once and I think Manchester United win so it feels the 'safer' way to play the game because I can certainly envision a situation where the game is poised at 1-1 and both teams having chances to win it.

It feels like the Swansea City versus Manchester United game when I had a feeling it was going to end 2-1 either way and while the gut feeling is Louis Van Gaal finds a way to get his side to the three points, Arsenal have every chance of coming out firing after Champions League disappointment. The chance for goals looks a big price considering both teams recent results in the League and Europe so backing that to happen looks the 'smarter' option.

MY PICKS: West Brom + 1 English Handicap @ 2.05 Stan James (2 Units)
Aston Villa-Stoke City Both Teams to Score @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Norwich City-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Everton-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Arsenal-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)

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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