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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (January 12-13)

There is no doubt that the Premier League has had one of the strangest seasons since its inception in 1992 with the lack of consistency through the Division hard to ignore at the half-way stage of the campaign.

A lot of that is down to the fact that the Premier League is actually full of very average talent and so trying to figure when these average players are going to produce their 'A' games compared to the 'C' games makes the difference in games. It has to be the big reason why there have been so many inconsistent results through the first four months of the season, but hopefully there will be some settling down in the next few months to bring some semblance of consistency to the League.

The January transfer window is obviously a very important time for teams at the top and bottom of the League as trophies and relegation matters are decided in the coming months.

This has been by far the worst season I have ever had picking games with little luck and a tonne of terrible foresight the reasons behind it.

I have set some goals for the final five months of the domestic season that I am hoping to hit, but I do need a slice of fortune going my way for those to get close to being achieved.

Aston Villa v Crystal Palace Pick: No one will say it openly in the Aston Villa boardroom, but I am sure most people connected with this famous old club will have accepted their fate. Barring some ridiculous turn in fortunes, Aston Villa will be playing in the Championship next season and Remi Garde would be smart to perhaps start bringing in some players that will be able to restore Aston Villa to the Premier League as soon as possible.

I fear for Aston Villa right now.

They look a squad that has been barely scraping through seasons in recent years with their Premier League status intact and there are so many average players in their squad. Many of those won't at all be accustomed to what they are going to see in the Championship next season and I do fear that Aston Villa could drop not just one but twice through the Divisions.

A former European Cup Winner, they will join other 'big' clubs who have struggled to get out of their financial messes that came from Premier League relegation and have rarely threatened to get back into the top flight. The likes of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Wolves have all fallen as low as League One and Aston Villa could easily follow suit.

There is a lack of belief in the squad and the fans are on the brink of open revolt which will make playing at Villa Park a very difficult prospect for Aston Villa in the coming months. A visit from Crystal Palace hardly makes things easier for them and I can see The Eagles coming away with the three points from this League fixture.

Alan Pardew has asked for more goals from his team and has been linked with a move for another forward in this window, but Crystal Palace have still won 3 of their last 5 away games in all competitions. They have needed two goals to secure those wins and are missing some creative talent in this one, but I still think Palace have the pace in the forward areas to win this game.

It's hard to see where Aston Villa are going to win their next game and I think a small interest on Crystal Palace at a big price is warranted.

Bournemouth v West Ham United Pick: When these teams met in August, Bournemouth and West Ham United produced a memorable game that was eventually won by the newly-promoted team 3-4. Things have changed for both teams since then with injuries and new signings likely affecting the starting elevens of both as they head into an important time.

A memorable December has pulled Bournemouth out of a sticky spot in the Premier League and they have been active in the transfer market to ensure they have the quality to stay out of the bottom three. Wins over the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United will have given the squad some real belief that they can avoid an immediate return to the Championship, although they have failed to win any of their last 3 games in the Premier League.

Slaven Bilic's West Ham United have also put together a strong month which has seen them stay on the coat-tails of the top four and this is a team that has a definite chance of making waves in the last five months of the season. The away form has been disappointing and the reason West Ham United are not actually sitting in the top four already, but they have proven to be difficult to beat on their travels of late.

The problem for West Ham United has been the injuries suffered by some of their more creative players although there are signs that those players are going to be returning shortly. That still makes this a difficult game for The Hammers, but I am very surprised that Bournemouth are considered odds on to win this game.

I think the draw is a real player myself, but I have a sneaky suspicion we could see a fairly entertaining game on the south coast on Tuesday evening. The weather conditions could play a bit on this game, but both Bournemouth and West Ham United like to get the ball down to play and I think both Eddie Howe and Slaven Bilic will understand the importance of the three points in this one.

Goals have been a problem for both teams in recent games, but I think they can combine for an entertaining game on Tuesday and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Newcastle United v Manchester United PickIn recent years, Newcastle United versus Manchester United would have had the neutrals really looking forward to an entertaining, attacking game of football. I have a feeling they won't be as excited this time around with both teams struggling to really impose themselves in games and the pressure of requiring a big result on the shoulders to bear.

Both managers are also seemingly under pressure with Steve McClaren and Louis Van Gaal the leading contenders in the 'Sack Race' and this is a big week for both.

For Newcastle United, the fans are expectant that the team will go forward and look to win and entertain at St James' Park, but they have struggled. Four games without a goal and losing all of those games by the same 1-0 scoreline has to be a big concern for McClaren but they are facing a Manchester United team that have lost  3 in a row away from home in all competitions, and a couple of those have been in the Premier League.

On the other hand, Manchester United fans have been told they should be 'happy' with two tight home wins in a row by Van Gaal, even if the latter came against League One opposition. The players haven't downed tools as I thought they may have following the losses to Norwich City and Stoke City, but there is a lack of spark in the forward areas that is a big concern.

The first goal is going to be huge in this game when you consider the struggles the teams have had in front of goal. Last season that came in the 89th minute for Manchester United and I can see this being a tight game that might not feature too many goals.

The layers are clearly of the same thought, but I still think backing under 2.5 goals is the best way to get on a game where it is hard to pick a winner considering the lack of form both have offered. An early goal can change the entire complexion of the match, but I see a defensive game developing which will have few chances and so another entertainment-lacking Manchester United game is potentially the outcome.

Chelsea v West Brom PickThere have been some positive results for Chelsea with the arrival of Guus Hiddink for his second spell as interim manager of the side, but some of the performances haven't always been the most convincing. Tony Pulis and West Brom will look to exploit that vulnerability that does bubble under the surface with nerves an issue and I think the away side will make sure they force Chelsea to work hard for the three points.

However, I do think Chelsea have shown enough to think they are rounding into form to believe they can win this game at Stamford Bridge. They have enough attacking talent to win games, even in Eden Hazard's absence, while Diego Costa has sparked back into life with goals beginning to flow from him again.

West Brom will look to frustrate for long periods and perhaps look for a surprise result through their set pieces, but I think Chelsea will be a little too good.

It certainly won't be easy, but West Brom have been erratic away from home and have a pretty terrible record at Stamford Bridge. While the away team will have their moments to cause some panic for this Chelsea team, I also think Hiddink will find a way for his team to ride out those moments and the home team will come through with a win by a couple of goals on the night.

Stoke City v Norwich City PickIt has been a really difficult season to predict Premier League matches because there seems to be very little consistency thanks to a lack of real quality through the Division.

Take Stoke City- they have beaten Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United at home in the League, but also lost to the likes of West Brom and Watford. While this is a team that highlights the inconsistencies I am talking about, I think Mark Hughes expects a lot more from Stoke City in the coming months.

They didn't handle the pressing Liverpool did in their last home game in the Capital One Cup Semi Final, but Stoke City might have a little more time to get on the front foot in this one. Norwich City have had a wonderful month to get themselves moving up the Premier League table, but they remain a vulnerable away team and I think Stoke City will hold the edge in that regards.

Stoke City have some talented attacking players and have been scoring goals at home, outside of the Liverpool defeat, which is a problem for Norwich City who concede far too many on their travels. At odds against I think Stoke City represent a price that can be backed for the three points on Wednesday, although they have rarely made life easy for themselves when the expectation is on them to win the game.

Liverpool v Arsenal PickLiverpool versus Arsenal is one of those classic top flight games between two clubs who might feel they have dropped off the pace of others in recent seasons. Neither has won the title for at least twelve years, although it is Arsenal who come into this fixture in a strong position to change that statistic.

Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger will both acknowledge that their teams are missing a couple of key players ahead of this big game, but I don't think either will use that as an excuse. The injuries to the Liverpool squad certainly look the more devastating as they continue to get used to what their new manager is expecting from them and that is where Arsenal's consistency can come through.

Arsenal have been very strong away from home in the Premier League, but they are always vulnerable to a poor performance like they had at West Brom and Southampton. I am not sure Liverpool can take full advantage, but I can see this developing into an entertaining game as both teams will look to get forward and win the game.

Even the goalless draw between them at The Emirates Stadium earlier this season saw both teams have a number of chances and more clinical finishing could have seen that fixture revert to type. That type is these two teams usually producing games that feature plenty of goals and I think this one will go in that way.

Before the goalless draw earlier this campaign, 4 straight games had featured at least three goals when Liverpool and Arsenal got together to do battle. 6 of the last 8 games at Anfield have also reached that number and I think there is every chance that this one will go the same way with the injuries meaning attack could be the best form of defence.

I have a sneaky suspicion that Arsenal will win this game, but I prefer backing there being goals at just under odds against.

Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City PickThe FA Cup Third Round game between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City was a very entertaining game as both managers threw caution to the wind. Much of that may have been down to the fact that both would have preferred to avoid a replay and the players in this one will be much more familiar for those who have watched Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City through the course of the League campaign.

I don't think that will reduce the entertainment levels in a match that is offering a really big three points to the victor.

While that can sometimes make it a little tenser, I think Claudio Ranieri already feels he is playing with 'house money' and he won't want Leicester City to take a backward step in this one. They will allow Tottenham Hotspur to have the possession they crave, but Leicester City will spring forward with pace and clearly have the tactics set to play away from home.

Those tactics have reaped rewards for Leicester City from an attacking front and goals haven't been an issue for The Foxes on their travels. In 8 of their last 10 away games in all competitions, Leicester City have scored at least twice but they have also been vulnerable defensively with only a couple of clean sheets kept all season.

Losing Jamie Vardy would be a big blow for Leicester City, especially with Harry Kane leading the line for Tottenham Hotspur and likely a constant threat the other way. However, Leicester City have shown they can still score goals without Vardy and I believe this will be another game between these two clubs that produces at least three goals at White Hart Lane.

MY PICKS: Crystal Palace @ 2.50 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Bournemouth-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Manchester United Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.90 Stan James (2 Units)

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