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Friday, 29 January 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (January 29-31)

The FA Cup has taken centre stage this weekend with the Fourth Round to be played over three days. With the Euro 2016 tournament fast approaching, it does also mean there are two Premier League round of fixtures to be played during the week as well as those sides from the Championship involved in the Fourth Round making up for the weekend postponed games.

The Third Round and Fourth Round ties have not exactly got the pulses racing for the fans, but that does mean the FA Cup is likely to produce some big ties in the coming months.

There are some big ties in the Fourth Round, but the big names of the Premier League are expected to progress into the Fifth Round when teams really begin to believe they are going to make it all the way to Wembley.

It is also a big Round for managers under pressure, Louis Van Gaal springing to mind, as well as those who are desperate to stay in touch for some silverware.

Derby County v Manchester United PickNeither Derby County nor Manchester United are coming into this Fourth Round FA Cup tie with a lot of momentum and confidence behind them and that makes it a fascinating Cup tie.

It is no surprise that the television cameras have pitched up to the iPro Stadium with this looking the standout tie of the Round, and especially the one that looks like it could produce a big surprise. Derby County have been strong at the iPro Stadium all season, but they were beaten 0-3 by Birmingham City in their last game here and that has to have knocked belief.

On the other hand, Manchester United have continued to play an ineffective style that has both bored the fans and, according to the man himself, the manager. There have been too many games when Manchester United insist on the slow build up play that has allowed teams to sit deep and contain them comfortably, but they have at least shown more life away from home.

I have begun to wonder if the players have started to dislike playing at Old Trafford where the tension from the stands is being felt. Away from home has seen Manchester United find more goals, although they have looked much weaker defensively in those games too and that makes me believe this Cup tie could actually produce some entertainment for the fans.

There have been a lot more goals scored and conceded by Manchester United away from home, and Derby County will certainly look to expose those vulnerabilities. I couldn't get close to backing Manchester United at short odds to win this game on their current form, but they will have an opportunity in what should be a game with chances at both ends.

I am expecting both teams to score once in this one and then it is a case of tossing a coin and picking the winner... For me, I believe the layers are offering too big a price on there being at least three goals scored in this one.

Colchester United v Tottenham Hotspur PickThe FA Cup might not be top of the list of priorities for many managers in the Premier League, but Mauricio Pochettino won't want his Tottenham Hotspur side to have their confidence dented with an upset loss. This also represents a good chance for silverware which will underline the strong job the Argentinian is doing at White Hart Lane and he would love to get this done in the initial tie with a busy February already in place.

Tottenham Hotspur will be playing a well rested Norwich City team in the Premier League on Tuesday so I expect they will make some changes, but Pochettino has still played a strong team in the two matches so far this season. He did the same last season and I do think Tottenham Hotspur will come here fully focused on the task at hand.

It will be tough for Colchester United to bridge the gap in quality as they continue to struggle in League One and look set to fall into the fourth tier of English football. The home win over Charlton Athletic in the Third Round will have given them the taste for an upset, but this Spurs team is much stronger than their fellow Londoners.

I expect Colchester United will try and get in the faces of their Premier League guests and make things awkward for them before and during this match. However, eventually I am expecting Tottenham Hotspur to show off their Premier League quality and get the win in the initial tie and I like them to win this one by a couple of goals.

Arsenal v Burnley PickThe home advantage in this FA Cup tie does take away some of the chances of there being an upset and I do think Arsenal are going to take this competition a little more seriously than Burnley. That is not to say that Sean Dyche will send a team out expecting to lose, but their focus is on the Championship and Burnley don't have the same squad depth as a team like Arsenal.

I also think the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud may be given their opportunities to play in this one as Arsenal won't want to get dragged into a replay. There is a big Premier League schedule coming during the week again, but Arsene Wenger made sure he played a strong looking side in the Third Round and I think he will want to remove the Chelsea defeat with a win this week.

Arsenal have had time to prepare and they have a very strong recent record against Burnley at home. The FA Cup has also been a competition they have enjoyed and most of their recent home wins in the FA Cup have come by a couple of goals.

With Burnley perhaps making a few chances themselves, Arsenal should have too much for them this weekend and I think they win this one with a relatively comfortable margin.

Aston Villa v Manchester City Pick: All talk of the Quadruple are off the agenda for Manuel Pellegrini who knows how unrealistic the chances of that happening are for Manchester City. Getting through to the League Cup Final is a big achievement, but Manchester City already have a very busy few months ahead and they can ill afford a Replay in this Fourth Round tie.

Pellegrini has admitted that too but is also insistent that he will play a strong squad to make sure Manchester City move into the Fifth Round at the first time of asking. Losing Kevin de Bruyne for the next three months is a big blow for Manchester City with their summer signing proving inspirational in the final third, but they can recover from that if David Silva can rediscover his form.

Sergio Aguero has gotten back to his best which is a key for Manchester City- keeping him healthy will make the side favourites to win the Premier League title and it was his goal in the Third Round that sent the side on their way through against Norwich City.

Norwich City were less concerned with an FA Cup run, but this week Manchester City will face an Aston Villa team with only a strong Cup run to look forward to at the end of this season. Last year they reached the FA Cup Final and it might be the only thing keeping the fans from outright mutiny in the final months of the season and the inevitable drop into the Championship.

Aston Villa have earned some more positive results of late, but they are struggling to earn the wins they need to start closing the gap to the teams in the safety positions. They had a hard time seeing off Wycombe Wanderers in the Third Round as well and Manchester City can expose a vulnerable defensive unit.

These two teams did have to settle for a goalless draw when they met at Villa Park earlier in the season but both Aguero and Silva missed that game. Both are back and, prior to the draw this season, Manchester City had won three of four at Villa Park and I think they will win this weekend too.

Oxford United v Blackburn Rovers Pick: In the Third Round of the FA Cup, Oxford United beat Swansea City from the Premier League at this Stadium and they actually come into the game as favourites against Blackburn Rovers of the Championship.

This could be quite a good game to watch for the fans in attendance with Oxford United playing an attractive, attacking style of football. That will also give Blackburn Rovers a chance to get the ball down and try to expose the difference between a League Two side and a Championship side, and Blackburn Rovers did win at Newport County from this Division in the Third Round.

While their Premier League status is gone and Blackburn Rovers have struggled for the consistency they need in the League, this club did reach the Sixth Round last season and were also in the Sixth Round a couple of years prior to that.

Blackburn Rovers have been struggling of late and that does make them ripe for the upset when you consider the goal-scoring exploits of Oxford United at home. However, the home team are also defensively vulnerable in their home games with their style of play giving their opponents a chance to play their football too and I do think there will be at least three goals shared between the teams.

Portsmouth v Bournemouth PickLeague Two versus Premier League is the kind of FA Cup game that people talk about when talking about the 'magic' of the competition. It is only a few seasons ago that the status of the two clubs would have been reversed, but this season it is Portsmouth who are the underdogs at home to beat Bournemouth.

A 0-1 home loss to Oxford United would have dented some confidence for Portsmouth, but they will still believe they have a chance of earning the upset. They did beat Ipswich Town here in the Third Round and they are playing a Bournemouth team that will likely make a host of changes.

That didn't affect Bournemouth in their Third Round win at Birmingham City and the fans will be keen to avoid an upset against a south coast rival. Eddie Howe's own priority is making sure Bournemouth are going to stay alive in the Premier League but a Cup run can't hurt as they try and put some momentum behind them going into the last few months of the season.

This does look a tough test for Bournemouth against a team that plays well in front of the loud support they will get at Fratton Park. However the feeling is that the Premier League fitness will help Bournemouth get through the difficult patches against Portsmouth and likely see them through to the Fifth Round.

At first glance Bournemouth do look a very big price to win this game, but I think this is a game that is going to produce at least three goals which can be backed at odds against. Recent games for Portsmouth at home and Bournemouth away have suggested goals are likely to be in the offing in this Fourth Round tie and I do think both teams will score in what looks a likely entertaining game at Fratton Park.

Shrewsbury Town v Sheffield Wednesday Pick: Both Shrewsbury Town and Sheffield Wednesday have big League assignments during the week, but a chance to get to the FA Cup Fifth Round is a big carrot to keep them motivated. These teams have different League goals with Shrewsbury Town battling against relegation in League One and Sheffield Wednesday trying to get back into the Premier League from the Championship.

The edge has to be given to Sheffield Wednesday who have been a strong Cup team in the last couple of seasons having reached the Fifth Round of the FA Cup last season. They were also League Cup Quarter Finalists this season and Sheffield Wednesday have been in some very good form at the moment.

A game with Burnley at home is a big game on Tuesday, but Sheffield Wednesday won't want to lose momentum ahead of that one by being upset in the Fourth Round. The majority of Sheffield Wednesday's recent positive form has come at Hillsborough and one concern for me is that they have won just 1 of their last 8 away games in all competitions.

However, Shrewsbury Town have lost 3 of their last 4 home games at the lower level and even their win at Cardiff City in the Third Round is a rare positive in recent weeks. The quality should be coming from the Sheffield Wednesday half of the field and I think they look an appealing price at odds against to win here.

Liverpool v West Ham United PickI do think one of the 'trendy' picks of the Fourth Round is going to be West Ham United earning a result at Anfield and I also think The Hammers have every chance of doing that on Saturday afternoon.

The Liverpool squad is ravaged by injuries and they haven't been able to bring in the reinforcements expected in the January transfer window. Having played 120 minutes in the League Cup Semi Final Second Leg on Tuesday and then coming through the emotions of penalties, you have to think Jurgen Klopp will make changes especially with two Premier League games to come in the next week.

Those changes will mean they will likely need to bring in some younger players with less experience and West Ham United will have had plenty of time to prepare for this one. Slaven Bilic can play as strong a team as he likes and the FA Cup is a good chance for West Ham United to have a very deep run in the competition.

Recent weeks have seen West Ham United struggle away from home a little more than they did at the beginning of the season when they won at The Emirates Stadium, Anfield and The Etihad Stadium. West Ham United have also won at Crystal Palace and avoided defeat at Old Trafford so this is a team that won't be intimidated by the atmosphere they face at Liverpool.

West Ham United will have confidence that comes from doing the League double over Liverpool and their added fitness has to give them a real edge. I really considered backing the away team to win this one at the first opportunity, but instead the safer option seems like backing West Ham United to avoid defeat.

A replay won't be what Jurgen Klopp wants with a busy February and March coming up, while West Ham United have a 'freer' time to ensure they can play a strong team to progress if the game is taken back to Upton Park. The away team can expose Liverpool's vulnerabilities from set pieces and I like West Ham United getting some sort of result in this one.

Carlisle United v Everton Pick: The flooding in the north of England affected Carlisle United Football Club massively, but they have relaid the turf at Brunton Park and are ready to host Premier League Everton in the FA Cup Fourth Round. Carlisle United have experience of taking on a big Premier League club having taken Liverpool to penalties in the League Cup before ultimately losing and they will look to make life as uncomfortable for Everton as possible.

The flooding means the away dressing room has been moved outside and that is not something the pampered players of the Premier League will be prepared for. Everton also have to pick themselves up from a really disappointing League Cup Semi Final loss at Manchester City when a controversial second goal for the home team was allowed to stand and shift the momentum of that tie.

Roberto Martinez has been put under pressure by the fans who have expected so much more from this Everton squad that has a very decent spine. I think they are underachieving in the Premier League and going out of the FA Cup to a team from League Two is going to really put the fans on the Spaniard's back.

However, Martinez has experience of leading Wigan Athletic to the FA Cup in recent years and Everton are a match for anyone on a one-off occasion. A strong team should be used to make sure they avoid the banana skin at Carlisle United and this is a big gap for them to bridge.

If Everton can ride out some pressure that Carlisle United will likely produce early in this one, I think their quality will shine through in the second half and they can pull away for the win. Everton have a real chance of going all the way in this competition which will give Martinez more time as manager and I expect them to get this done at the first time of asking as I look for them to cover the Asian Handicap.

MK Dons v Chelsea Pick: When the draw for the Fourth Round was made, the MK Dons looked like the team most likely in a good position to upset Chelsea who are having a really poor year by their own standards. However, Karl Robinson's attention is on survival in the Championship and he may make some changes to his starting eleven, while Chelsea have a confidence boosting 0-1 win at Arsenal behind them.

There are two big Premier League games to come this week for Chelsea, but the top four looks gone and they are too good to go down. That means the FA Cup has taken on an added importance for them along with the Champions League so I expect Guus Hiddink to play a strong team.

Some will look to the MK Dons 4-0 win over Manchester United in the League Cup last season as evidence they can create an upset. That is a fair point, but the MK Dons are not the same side as they were back then and I am not sure Robinson is going to pick his strongest team which raises doubts.

On the other hand I do expect the big names to be out there for Chelsea and this is a lovely Stadium where the away team will be comfortable getting the ball down and playing. Chelsea are unbeaten in all 3 away games played under Hiddink and they are yet to concede a goal in those games, while winning their last two at Crystal Palace (0-3) and Arsenal (0-1).

Chelsea beat Scunthorpe United comfortably at home in the Third Round and I think they are going to be too good for the changed MK Dons on the day. Backing the away side to win by at least a couple of goals is the call for me in the final Fourth Round tie of the weekend.

MY PICKS: Derby County-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City @ 1.75 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Oxford United-Blackburn Rovers Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Coral (2 Units)
Portsmouth-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Sheffield Wednesday @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
West Ham United + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.25 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)

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