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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, 16 January 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (January 16-18)

Another weekend and another round of Premier League matches are set to be played with five live games over the next three days.

The biggest game of all in the top flight is played on Sunday when Liverpool take on Manchester United, but it is unlikely to have title implications this season. Instead the focus will be on putting together the momentum that could potentially take one of those big names into the Champions League next season.

Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland PickThis looks a huge game for both Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland as they open the Premier League weekend in front of the television cameras. They might be at opposite ends of the League table, but both will be desperate for the three points on offer which can help them achieve their goals for the season.

For Sunderland the two Premier League wins in a row have put them on the brink of escaping the bottom three, but Sam Allardyce has to look at the fixture list with some trepidation. Aside from the home game with Bournemouth next week, five of their next six games in the League are against teams in the top half of the table, but they might feel Tottenham Hotspur are vulnerable on their current run.

However, Sunderland have been conceding far too many goals away from home which makes it hard to trust them to expose any poor confidence Tottenham Hotspur are feeling.

On the other hand you have to think Tottenham Hotspur are going to need to make a fast start to ease any concerns the fans might show in the game. Losing 2 of their last 3 at White Hart Lane in the Premier League has to be an issue for Mauricio Pochettino and he will want his team to come out and impose themselves on this fixture.

Tottenham Hotspur have played well in their recent fixtures with Sunderland and I think they will be too good for them again. An early goal will be needed to make sure Sunderland aren't given any encouragement and I think Spurs have enough attacking talent to get that done against a team that hasn't defended well enough on their travels.

A bit more luck in front of goal and Tottenham Hotspur certainly wouldn't have seen their tally reach 3 games without a win and I like them to win this by a couple of goals.

Bournemouth v Norwich City Pick: Bournemouth and Norwich City were both promoted to the Premier League at the same time last season and the game between them could be vital when it comes to the end of the season. Both teams are currently outside of the bottom three of the Premier League, but there isn't a significant gap between them and the relegation zone so the three points on offer on Saturday are huge.

The time that Bournemouth beat Chelsea and Manchester United in consecutive weeks in the Premier League seems a long time ago now as the side have just struggled to put wins together. In fact they have failed to win their last 4 Premier League games and Bournemouth were dismissed by West Ham United in their last game here.

Norwich City also had a big win over Manchester United in December, but they too have struggled to put some consistent results together. Alex Neil will be hoping there aren't too many tired legs in his squad having seen his side play with ten men for almost 60 minutes of the loss to Stoke City on Wednesday.

Their away form hasn't been very good for most of the season, but Norwich City won't be intimidated about this away game having won 1-2 here in the Championship last season.

I can see both teams giving this one a good go and both should have their chances to score the goals to lead to the three points. However, it is hard picking a winner and instead I think there is something in backing there being at least three goals in this one. Both Bournemouth and Norwich City have shown some defensive vulnerabilities in recent games and I think the teams will look to get on the front foot and so goals could be the order of the day even if the layers are not convinced.

Manchester City v Crystal Palace PickIt is the shadow of Pep Guardiola and his potential next move which is overshadowing The Etihad Stadium and Manuel Pellegrini, but that shouldn't be an excuse for the talent that Manchester City have. Guardiola should be criticised for announcing his next move just because of the rumours it has begun, but Manchester City have been strong enough at home to bounce back from the goalless draw with Everton.

Manuel Pellegrini has been a gentleman in the way he has approached things and not bemoaning the move Guardiola has made, but he won't be happy if his team don't show better composure in front of goal. Manchester City should be good enough to recover from the goalless draw during the week as they had enough chances to win that game against Everton while they are now facing a team out of confidence.

The win at Southampton last week was a solid result in the FA Cup, but Crystal Palace have been struggling for goals in recent Premier League games. They might have some more joy against a poor defensive team like Manchester City, especially from set pieces, but Crystal Palace are missing some key attacking talent.

Manchester City are unlikely to be kept from scoring again, even if Crystal Palace have been pretty solid at the back in recent games, and I think the home team makes amends for Wednesday by moving to the top of the Premier League for a couple of hours at least.

Newcastle United v West Ham United Pick: Injuries haven't helped Steve McClaren's cause as Newcastle United manager, but that won't have improved the mood at St James' Park when seeing Sunderland move above them in the Premier League table. A late goal in the 3-3 draw with Manchester United on Tuesday might have given Newcastle United some momentum to take into the weekend, but it won't be easy against West Ham United.

The Hammers had their own injury problems, but those look to be clearing up for the most part even if Andy Carroll is unlikely to take part against one of his former clubs. That didn't matter on Tuesday as West Ham United won 1-3 at Bournemouth and that means the side have won four in a row in all competitions.

That win ended a five game run without a win away from home for West Ham United and they will head into this game with plenty of confidence. However, they will have to defend well against a Newcastle United team that might have found their shooting boots in the draw with Manchester United and this could be a fairly entertaining game between the sides on Saturday.

Once again the layers don't seem to think so, but I am backing the teams to share at least three goals here at odds against.

Aston Villa v Leicester City PickI am not going to lie and say I expected Leicester City to be joint top of the Premier League table in the middle of January, but Claudio Ranieri's men have negotiated what looked like an incredibly difficult portion of their schedule. There are some big hurdles to overcome in the coming month for Leicester City, but the win at Tottenham Hotspur has shown the side they are capable of reaching some unexpected goals.

A top four berth would be a big achievement for Leicester City, but they are most definitely in position to challenge for the Premier League title. If they are still joint top come the end of February after games with Manchester City and Arsenal then I think everyone will believe in this side that has used their pace and counter attacking ability to spark them all season.

This is the kind of game that could potentially help the naysayers make their case if Leicester City fail to win and anything can happen in a derby game.

However, it is hard to have a real belief in Aston Villa even after they won a tight game against Crystal Palace because of the things that needed to go their way to win that one. While they have a chance to perhaps go on a bit of a run, I do think Aston Villa are lacking the quality needed for the Premier League and it will be hard for them to prevent Leicester City breaking and winning the game.

Earlier in the season Leicester City could be accused of a porous defence, but Claudio Ranieri might have had them working on that in recent weeks. Leicester City have responded with 3 clean sheets in their last 4 games in all competitions and another at Villa Park will surely lay the foundations for a win here and I will back The Foxes to earn a big three points.

Liverpool v Manchester United PickThe biggest game in the Premier League is involving two teams chasing the top four places in the League these days as both Liverpool and Manchester United try to reclaim some lost glory. Two foreign managers might be managing the teams these days, but the history of the fixture has not been lost on Jurgen Klopp and Louis Van Gaal and the pressure of getting a result will be felt.

There was no doubting the frustration that Van Gaal was feeling after the 3-3 draw against Newcastle United after his Manchester United team missed a number of chances to win the game. It was the Jesse Lingard miss at 1-2 up in the second half that saw the biggest reaction from Van Gaal and he knows he can't afford to see Manchester United slip too far from the top four which is the minimum expected of the manager this season.

I have been critical of Van Gaal, but no one can doubt the performance Manchester United put in when winning at Anfield last season. It was perhaps the best performance Manchester United have had on that ground for a number of years and one that he will be desperate for on Sunday.

However his team have struggled to find the right balance away from home when it comes to the defensive shape they have shown at Old Trafford. While games at Old Trafford have lacked excitement, that hasn't been the case in recent away games and Manchester United will have their chances to score goals against a makeshift Liverpool defence.

On the other hand, Liverpool's pressing game has produced goals at Anfield and they will be confident after the 3-3 draw with Arsenal which showed the best and worst of this current side. Defensively they have been a mess, but they will create opportunities going forward by forcing mistakes from their opponents.

Games between Manchester United and Liverpool have produced a number of goals in recent years and I think the layers might be underestimating the chances of that happening again. While the Manchester United team hasn't been the most exciting, their recent away games have shown a team that can struggle for keep clean sheets but can score goals and Liverpool have been as bad at the back as they have looked effective going forward.

It looks like a perfect storm that will produce goals and I will back at least three to be shared out on Sunday.

Stoke City v Arsenal PickThe likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have all played at Stoke City in the Premier League this season and all three have been beaten which gives you an idea of the challenge that awaits Arsenal this weekend. This was always going to be a big Premier League month for Arsenal, but they might be disappointed they conceded so late to drop two points in the first of those games at Liverpool.

It was a very good game to watch, but Arsenal might have been a little fortunate to face a team that defended as poorly as Liverpool did. That is unlikely to be the case against Stoke City, although I think it is the performances of the home team going forward that gives them every chance of adding Arsenal to the list of big teams they have beaten at home.

Stoke City do seem to enjoy playing teams they are not expected to beat and have especially enjoyed playing Arsenal in recent years. For all the recent solid performances that Arsenal have produced, the majority of those have been at The Emirates Stadium and this is not a team that has found the best way to impose themselves away from home.

This is a tough ground to play at for visiting teams when the expectation is not on Stoke City to win the game as it won't be this weekend. That should inspire Mark Hughes and his team to put in a big performance and I do think they have the quality to get something out of this game.

A big physical striker like Olivier Giroud won't worry the Stoke City defenders and they look a decent price to earn a positive result against a team that most will be expecting to take the three points.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Norwich City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Newcastle United-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 2.20 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Liverpool-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Coral (2 Units)
Stoke City + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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