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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, 23 January 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (January 23-24)

The Premier League is beginning to heat up at the top and bottom the table and that is making each round of fixtures that much more important as we close in on the final run-in.

Places in the top four are vital for those teams at the top, but simply surviving in the Premier League is arguably a bigger deal with the vast amount of television money that will be coming into the League next season. That makes it exciting at both ends, although I remain convinced that at least three of the vital seven places at the top and bottom are already occupied.

To me it would be a huge surprise if Arsenal or Manchester City are not playing Champions League football next season in their current positions and with the two best teams in the League.

On the other end of the spectrum I think it would be a miracle of seismic proportions for Aston Villa to get out of the bottom three as they have still failed to put back to back League wins together and teams above them keep picking up points. They are 10 points behind Swansea City in 17th place with sixteen games to play and it would take a special turnaround in form for Aston Villa to not just bridge that gap but then surpass Swansea City.

The other places all still look very much up for grabs, although I would fear for Sunderland if they are beaten this week with a ridiculously tough stretch coming up following this game on Saturday.

Norwich City v Liverpool PickThe opening game of the Premier League weekend is a big one for Norwich City and Liverpool as both managers try and get their team sparking after a couple of results in the Premier League that will have disappointed. It must be a shock to Norwich City that they are only a couple of points clear of the bottom three despite some positive results last month, but that has been the way the Premier League has gone all season.

For Liverpool the last few months will be all about trying to get as many points as possible and getting used to what Jurgen Klopp wants, particularly in the League. This could easily become a Cup team for the remainder of the season with Liverpool on the brink of reaching the Capital One Cup Final while their best chance of getting into the Champions League comes by winning the Europa League.

You know Klopp will make sure his team have the best chance to achieve something special in the final months of the season, but he can't do a lot of rotation for this one. Injuries have dictated that and Klopp will be hoping his side can find some more composure in front of goal after failing to take the chances that came their way against Manchester United.

He will be pleased they did at least had their chances and Liverpool should have some joy at Carrow Road, although 3 defeats in 4 away Premier League games is not good form. That will give Norwich City confidence and they are a team that can score goals at home, although this game could easily head towards a tense and tight one if there isn't a goal early on to just open things up.

Historically this is a game that does produce goals and I think the layers may be surprised in the early lunchtime game on Saturday when this fixture does too.

Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur PickA few weeks ago this could have potentially been a match that saw the winner move into the Champions League places in the Premier League, but Tottenham Hotspur have just pulled away from Crystal Palace of late. There is no doubt that a win for Crystal Palace would give them some of the momentum back in the race for the top four, but recent form indicates it is Tottenham Hotspur who are more likely to secure a vital three points.

Injuries to Yannick Bolasie and Bakary Sako have taken away some of the pace and creativity Crystal Palace rely upon and the former remains absent. Alan Pardew has also employed counter-attacking tactics, but that has proved harder to do at home and a lack of goals in recent games has to be a big concern against a defensively sound team like Tottenham Hotspur.

Mauricio Pochettino will be confident his team can win this game with that defence if Crystal Palace continue to struggle because Tottenham Hotspur have been finding avenues for goals outside of Harry Kane. That would be huge for Tottenham Hotspur over the coming months as that is the big criticism of the squad, while they have also been very effective away from home in recent games.

You have to say that Tottenham Hotspur look an attractive price to win here, an even higher price than Chelsea were when they left with a 0-3 win. The lack of goals has to be a big concern for Crystal Palace and Spurs can underline their top four credentials by winning here.

It won't be easy, but I am expecting Tottenham Hotspur to earn a narrow win here and keep the pressure on the chasing pack for the top four.

Manchester United v Southampton Pick: Louis Van Gaal is clearly getting fed up by the English media as the stories of an imminent sacking have now been replaced by stories suggesting the Dutchman will leave this summer. It was another spiky press conference, but Van Gaal isn't concerned with pleasing the media who he blames for being highly critical of his Manchester United team and perhaps even riling up the supporters against him.

To be honest, Van Gaal has to take responsibility for an unrest in the stands as Manchester United's negative style continues to frustrate. However, no one will be feeling too downbeat after seeing Manchester United win at Anfield and that means the side have won three of their last four games since the turn of the calendar year.

Even with those results behind them, there is a lack of confidence in backing Manchester United especially when they face a team like Southampton who are defensively sound and have pace in the attacking areas to hurt teams on the counter. That worked perfectly in a 0-1 win here last season and I am concerned that Southampton will get a result this weekend.

However, there are some signs that some of the key players are not so happy at St Mary's these days with Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane both being linked with moves away from the club. That might have played a part in the inconsistent results Southampton have put together in recent weeks while their most positive results have come at home.

In fact Southampton have lost their last four away games in the Premier League, although this is not a team that is beaten easily when they do lose. I, like many others, play the Super 6 game run by Sky every week and I initially had this game down as a low-scoring draw, but Southampton's poor away record means I think Manchester United can continue their good recent run.

It won't be easy for Manchester United and backing them to win this by a one goal margin for a small interest is my call.

Sunderland v Bournemouth Pick: There are four points between Sunderland in 19th place and Swansea City in 17th place following the results last weekend and Sam Allardyce will know the importance of this fixture.

Following the visit of Bournemouth, Sunderland will play Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Everton and Newcastle United and I don't think they are getting too many points from that run.

That means they have to win this weekend to give themselves some momentum to take into that run of games where Sunderland need a couple of surprise results to ensure they are in touch with the teams outside of the bottom three.

Surprise results have helped Bournemouth keep their heads above water and the victories over Chelsea, Manchester United and West Brom in consecutive games in December was huge for Eddie Howe's men. Bournemouth have made some big moves in the transfer market to ensure they are going to be playing in the Premier League next season, while they ended a four game run without a win in the Premier League by beating Norwich City easily at home last weekend.

Like Sunderland, Bournemouth have some tough fixtures coming up which makes this a real 'relegation six pointer'. One issue Bournemouth have had is scoring goals and they have failed in their last couple of away games, while Sunderland have won half of their last six home games.

This is the kind of game that Allardyce will get his players up for even though they continue to look dreadful at the back including in their 4-1 hammering at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. With Bournemouth buying some new attacking talent I think they will get their goal-scoring boots back on shortly, but I am going to have a small interest in the home underdog securing a narrow win and a vital three points.

West Brom v Aston Villa PickThese are the kind of games that Tony Pulis has made sure his teams win in recent seasons which has made sure that the manager has never suffered relegation. Another home win would put West Brom in a very strong position as they would move onto 30 points, but Aston Villa have just begun to show some battling qualities.

That is as complimentary I can be towards an awful squad that is unlikely to be good enough to earn an immediate return to the Premier League if they are relegated as expected. The fans are not happy and will be quick to turn on their team and even playing away from home won't help matters as the game at Wycombe Wanderers proved earlier this month.

Of course this is a derby and anything can happen, but West Brom have not had a League double over Aston Villa in over forty years and won't have a better chance than this one. They have played well at home in recent games and West Brom look a team that will be better organised than Aston Villa who will continue to make mistakes defensively in games.

Better finishing from Wycombe Wanderers during the week would have made that FA Cup Third Round Replay very, very awkward for Aston Villa. West Brom had a confidence boosting Cup win themselves and I just feel the home team are the better team and look an attractive price at odds against to win this one.

West Ham United v Manchester City PickThe first thing that leaps out to me when looking at the weekend prices was that Manchester City look a remarkably short price to win this game considering their struggles away from home. West Ham United are no mugs at Upton Park where they have not lost any of their last 9 games and the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool have lost here this season.

West Ham United play an attractive, attacking band of football and they will have plenty of belief they can become the latest team to expose the soft underbelly of Manchester City. Vincent Kompany remains a big loss for the away team and this really does look like a potential upset in the making.

Of course I do think Manchester City are the best team in the Premier League and they looked much healthier in the 4-0 win over Crystal Palace at home last weekend. David Silva and Sergio Aguero remaining healthy is the key for Manchester City to win the League and those players being around means Manchester City can't be underestimated in any game.

However, I can't shake the feeling that West Ham United are a big price to simply avoid defeat at Upton Park again. Even with that in mind, I am instead going to focus on this fixture giving us more goals as it has in the past as I can see both teams scoring and neither manager is going to think the point is good enough for their individual goals.

I do think we will see a winner on Saturday, but picking that is tough and I will instead focus on there being at least three goals shared out.

Everton v Swansea City Pick: Roberto Martinez was fuming after a controversial goal in the eighth minute of injury time cost his Everton team two points and this is a big game for them this weekend. The chances of Everton finishing in the top four have been diminishing on a weekly basis and the fans would have expected much better than seeing their team in the bottom half of the table.

That has led to some of the fans giving the team a bit of grief in their home games and Everton need to make a strong start to keep them on side in this one. Draws at Manchester City and Chelsea are not bad ones and Everton have won their last couple of home games in all competitions, but failing to win this one will hurt.

It is a winnable game with Swansea City struggling and now getting ready to hear a new voice in the dressing room. They did win their most recent game against Watford, but that was a poor game and it was the one bit of quality that helped Swansea City win that game.

The team remain firmly in trouble at the bottom of the Premier League and they could easily find themselves in the bottom three at kick off if Newcastle United have won at Watford on Saturday. Swansea City have lost five of their last six games away from home in all competitions and this is an Everton time that will test them defensively through the game.

Martinez will be desperate for his team to make a fast start and I do think Everton are the better team taking to the field. With the two wins in a row at Goodison Park, I think Everton have some momentum here and can win this fixture to take some momentum into the Capital One Cup Semi Final at Manchester City during the week.

Arsenal v Chelsea PickIt might be harsh when looking back, but Chelsea were absolutely awful in a goalless draw at Manchester United at the end of the month, but they did keep another clean sheet away from home. For all the goals they have been conceding at home, Chelsea have 3 clean sheets in their last 4 away games in the Premier League, but expect that record to be tested by the returns of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal.

This is a big game for Arsenal, make no mistake about that.

Draws at Liverpool and Stoke City are not bad results on their own, but losing their significant lead over Manchester City in the League table is a blow and Arsenal fans might be wondering if they are missing their window to win the title. Beating Chelsea will reignited the belief that Arsenal are capable of going all the way and I do think they are playing enough creative attacking football to do that.

Chelsea have made life tough for Arsenal in recent games at The Emirates Stadium, earning 3 goalless draws in their last 4 League visits here and winning the other, but this is not the same team of those games. This Chelsea team looks fragile and the returns of Ozil and Sanchez gives Arsenal the kind of attacking players that can unlock a defence that is struggling anyway.

The Gunners have also looked much more secure at the back with Petr Cech giving them confidence and that has particularly been seen at The Emirates Stadium. Arsenal have beaten both Manchester United and Manchester City here and I think they look an attractive price on the form to knock off Chelsea and underline their ability to win the Premier League title this season.

MY PICKS: Norwich City-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Coral (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur @ 2.20 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester United to Win by One Goal @ 3.60 Stan James (1 Unit)
Sunderland @ 3.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
West Brom @ 2.15 Bet Fred (2 Units)
West Ham United-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)

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