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Saturday, 19 December 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (December 19-21)

There is no doubting the biggest news in English Football was broken on Thursday as Jose Mourinho was sacked as manager of Chelsea. I will have views on that next week, but I did mention his final game when reviewing last weekend's football which can be read here.

I can imagine there are a lot of other clubs in the Premier League who would have been happy to hear of the Mourinho news if only to hide some of the issues they are having going into an extremely busy two weeks. However football moves on so quickly that those clubs will be back in the spotlight this weekend if results don't go the way they are expected to.

This is the another weekend when teams have had a full preparation for their game, but from next week teams will be looking at two games in a short space of time and the preparing for the first game of 2016 which comes just days later.

Chelsea v Sunderland PickThere began to be a real rumour going that Jose Mourinho was on the brink of being sacked by Chelsea ahead of this game, but I don't think any move is going to be made before the New Year at the earliest. Even then I don't believe Mourinho has lost the backing of the board, although he would love to get the players back on side with cracks appearing in his relationship with some of the top stars.

The whole Eden Hazard substitution on Monday night was bizarre to say the least, but this looks a good chance for Chelsea to try and bounce back against a Sunderland team that have struggled away from home.

Sam Allardyce will set them out to be tough to beat but Sunderland continue to struggle defensively and that won't be addressed until the manager can bring in a couple of his own players in January. The key for Allardyce is making sure Sunderland are still in touch with the teams above them at the end of this four game run before the window opens and a trip to Chelsea is not as daunting as it was even six months ago.

I just don't think Sunderland have the quality to take advantage and Chelsea have been playing better than their recent results suggest. Jose Mourinho's team are not getting much of a rub of the green and I just have a feeling they will show that they haven't given up on their manager just yet.

Mourinho will likely make changes as he looks to find the right winning formula, but I think Chelsea bounce back from the disappointment of Monday night. The eye test says they are not that far away from really putting it to a team and I think Chelsea will expose the defensive problems Sunderland have had all season and win this one by a couple of goals as they did last season.

EDITOR NOTE: So you can see I wrote this before the Jose Mourinho Sacking was confirmed and it highlights why I was so surprised that decision was taken at this moment in time. I still fancy Chelsea to win well as the players perhaps make a point, but it's not the best of times at Stamford Bridge because I don't know where they go from here.

Everton v Leicester City PickThe football that both Everton and Leicester City have produced for much of this season promises to make this one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. Everton will attack, but Leicester City have shown little regard for settling even on their travels and goals has to be the order of the day.

For all of the good that both teams have done going forward, there are some real vulnerabilities that can be exploited in defence. That might be even more evident for the teams that missing towering centre halves in Phil Jagielka and Robert Huth this weekend and I think the two teams match up well.

Roberto Martinez will want Everton to play with a lot of possession and get the ball into wide areas to attack the middle of the defence where Huth is absent. On the other hand Claudio Ranieri won't mind Everton having the ball as Leicester City can use the pace of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to hit them on the break.

Both League games last season ended in high-scoring draws and this has all the makings of another that can end that way.

It is hard to separate them and find a winner, but backing goals has been so profitable in Leicester City games this season that it is hard to ignore that avenue again. However, I will take a smaller interest on this not providing three goals combined, but four goals at the bigger prices.

Manchester United v Norwich City Pick: You can't deny the pressure that is on Louis Van Gaal to get things progressing for Manchester United and anything less than a win over Norwich City on Saturday might make the board twitchy. I don't agree with the idea of another banner being flown over Old Trafford with '[Insert Manager Name] Out' but I have not been a fan of the manager from day one although trying to keep backing the team as far as possible.

Rumours that Van Gaal could be axed before Christmas look to be far-fetched to be me even if it looks like the players are beginning to turn agains the methods the Dutchman employs.

All of those issues can at least be doused down a little if Manchester United can win this game and I think the return of Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney is important for them. The Spaniard in particularly has shown he can unlock stubborn defences and also has an eye for a goal, while Chris Smalling's return should bolster a defence that looked ragged at Bournemouth.

Defensively Manchester United have been sound and I do think Norwich City might struggle to create too many chances. Alex Neil might want his side to try and express themselves, but Manchester United should dominate possession to restrict those chances and I think they will win this game.

That will ease things for Van Gaal this week, but he has two huge games against Stoke City and Chelsea next week. I expect Manchester United to go into those games having won this one with a clean sheet.

Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur PickThe layers might not be expecting too many goals from two clubs that are perhaps hoping to build some momentum to take into the next two weeks when each will play four Premier League games.

However, I think Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur have both looked good enough in attack to perhaps give these defences more to think about than the layers think. Hugo Lloris has made some big saves in recent away games for Spurs to keep the goals in those games under the three game mark, especially at West Brom, and both teams have scored in the last four Tottenham Hotspur away games.

Goals haven't exactly been flowing in Southampton's last three home games in the Premier League, but this is a team that does have attacking potential. Sometimes I can be a little critical of Ronald Koeman for perhaps being a manager that is not willing to take a gamble when a game is there to be won, but there is enough quality in the forward areas to cause Tottenham Hotspur real difficulties.

Both teams should be well rested having had a week since they last played and I think that can show on the field with more energy through the game. I won't at all be surprised if both teams scored at least once each, but I can't imagine either will be overly happy with another point if they want to secure their goals for the season and I do think the odds against quote for goals is tempting.

West Brom v Bournemouth Pick: I don't have a lot to say about this game except it feels Bournemouth are perhaps being given too much respect for wins over Chelsea and Manchester United to open the month. I do think those were fabulous results for Bournemouth, but they had nothing to lose in those games and the increasing expectation makes this a tough game.

Forget the fact that West Brom are also a very solid team under Tony Pulis who have won 2 of their last 4 games at The Hawthornes and were unfortunate to have to settle for a 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur.

Even last week West Brom were moments from beating Liverpool at Anfield and doing that would have made them a stronger home favourite to win this one.

I respect the character Bournemouth have shown, but I think Pulis sides are solid and win these kind of games at home to make sure they avoid the drop. I couldn't go more than a small interest though on the home team as Bournemouth will be full of beans as they head to the Midlands as one of their 'easier' League games over the four game stretch up coming.

Newcastle United v Aston Villa PickI will give credit for the way Aston Villa performed in the second half of their game with Arsenal last Sunday, but it was too little too late in all honesty as the damage was done in the first half. This doesn't look a set of players that truly believe they belong in the Premier League and they have looked considerably worse than any team in the Division despite the competitive nature that has been displayed all season.

There are just too many defensive errors being coupled with a lack of a consistent goal threat and I am struggling to see where Aston Villa turn this around. Their next four games might decide their fate as the club head to Newcastle United, Norwich City and Sunderland while hosting West Ham United and anything less than 7 points from a possible 12 might be curtains for them.

Unfortunately a team lacking with confidence will head to the North East for the first of those games against a Newcastle United team that have to have an extra spring in the step this week.

Beating Liverpool at home and then following that with an impressive come from behind win over Tottenham Hotspur should have the Newcastle United players ready for this game. The fans will be behind them and Steve McClaren will have a settled line up taking to the field, one that has looked better defensively in their last couple of games even after coming through some sticky moments against Spurs.

Newcastle United have enjoyed the visit of Aston Villa in recent seasons and they do look like they have more of a cutting edge which can be all the difference in a tight game. I don't think we will see too many goals, but I do think the home team find a key one that puts a bit more space between them and the bottom three.

It will be yet another nail in the coffin for a poor Aston Villa side that look to be on an irreversible slide out of the Premier League.

Arsenal v Manchester City PickThe game of the weekend in the Premier League is undoubtedly being saved for Monday Night Football as Arsenal host Manchester City in the first of two games between the two favourites to win the League title. If Leicester City lose to Everton on Saturday, it would also mean the winner of this League game would top the Premier League on Christmas morning which can strike something of a mental blow against their rivals.

I really don't know who this game will mean more to- Arsenal might feel any result is a positive with the injuries they have in the squad, but have been in very good form in recent weeks. On the other hand Manchester City might have some returning key figures like Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero but may feel a draw isn't a bad result considering their recent struggles on their travels.

The layers have made Arsenal a fairly strong favourite to win the game which makes sense on the current home/away form of the respective teams. Arsenal have won 5 of 6 at home in all competitions, while Manchester City have won 1 of 5 on their travels.

What the layers are seemingly keen to get behind is the chance of there being at least three goals shared between two teams that are known for their attacking football, but I am not so sure it is such a guarantee.

No Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla on one side and we don't know ready Sergio Aguero will be on the other and you begin to see an issue. Both managers have also been a lot more pragmatic this season than we have become accustomed to and are willing to make sure they are defensively sound in these big games to not give anything away.

And you can't ignore the fact that Manchester City have failed to score in 4 of their last 5 away games and have had a couple of goalless draws in that time. Vincent Kompany's return will make them a more solid team defensively and I can see Manuel Pellegrini looking to hit Arsenal on the break.

Mesut Ozil looks like he is good for a couple of assists in every game at the moment and Arsenal do have pace that will worry Manchester City, but games between them at The Emirates Stadium have generally been tight. Take away the 2-2 game last season and there had been 8 straight games at this Stadium between these teams that had featured two or fewer goals.

It looks big odds for there being a lack of goals, but plenty of intrigue, in this final game before Christmas in the Premier League. Recent fixtures between Arsenal and Manchester City here and the latter's lack of goals in away games backs up my conviction that there might not be too many goals shared this week either.

MY PICKS: Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton-Leicester City Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.63 William Hill (1 Unit)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 2.37 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Southampton-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Brom @ 2.63 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Newcastle United @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Arsenal-Manchester City Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

December Update10-14, - 4.15 Units (41 Units Staked, - 10.12% Yield)

November Final: 11-19-1, - 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, - 25.37% Yield)
October Final16-25, - 13.51 Units (79.50 Units Staked, - 16.99% 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 2015/1672-105-5, - 46.61 Units (342 Units Staked, - 13.63% 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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