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Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (February 2-3)

The European Championship Finals are played this summer and that means some of the domestic European Leagues are trying to make sure they are finished early enough to give the national teams enough preparation time.

That also means we have a number of these midweek round of fixtures in the Premier League after seeing one in January and another one coming up in early March.

The transfer window was also closed on Monday, although the biggest news story was clearly Manchester City confirming the most open secret in football that Pep Guardiola would be taking over at The Etihad Stadium in the summer. It is a big coup for Manchester City, but he will be taking over an ageing squad and I will be interested to see what kind of investment he will make in the summer and how quickly those players gel into the Premier League.

It is a shame for Manuel Pellegrini who hasn't done a bad job at Manchester City, but this is a club looking for more consistent success these days. Ironically Pep Guardiola could be taking over at a second club in a row that has had unprecedented success if Manchester City can close this season in the right fashion having taken over at Bayern Munich weeks after that club had won the treble.

Pellegrini seems liked and respected by his players so I would be surprised if Manchester City players downed tools in anticipation of Guardiola's arrival, while others are perhaps knowing their time at the club is coming to an end and must surely want to go out in a blaze of glory.

The deal being announced for Guardiola also puts the pressure on Manchester City's rivals at the top of the Premier League in Chelsea and Manchester United who both could potentially be looking for anew manager in the summer. This is a big summer for those two clubs as well as Arsenal if they want to hold onto the coattails of Manchester City who really could make some significant transfers to strengthen their side with many players openly admitting their admiration for Guardiola and making a move to Manchester City all the more appealing to play under the Catalan manager.

Those are issues that will be resolved in the summer and going into next season, but for now the concentration is back on the Premier League in what is a traditionally busy month. The Champions League and Europa League tournaments recommence as well as the FA Cup Fifth Round and the first silverware in England being dished out in the Capital One Cup Final.

It can be a key month to start separating those teams who will win things and those who will be considered the also-rans and it is important to start building momentum at the top and bottom of the League table.

Arsenal v Southampton PickIt has been a tough run of League games for Arsenal when you look at the results but things could have looked a lot different with a bit of luck on their side. Consider how people would react to Arsenal if they had held on and beaten Liverpool at Anfield rather than concede a late equaliser and how different the game with Chelsea might have been if Per Mertesacker had not been sent off.

That is the view that Arsene Wenger has taken with recent games and he will be boosted by the goal-scoring return of Alexis Sanchez in the FA Cup this past weekend. He was also able to rest a number of the Arsenal starters in that win over Burnley who all should be ready to make amends for the defeat to Chelsea.

Arsenal have been very strong at The Emirates Stadium if you put that Chelsea game aside, a game that would have been a lot different without the early sending off. I expect home advantage to be key for Arsenal against Southampton and have to say I am surprised by the price on the home win.

Some will say it is a realistic one considering Southampton have won 3 League games in a row and have also been well-rested having been knocked out of the FA Cup. Others will point to a team that won their last game at Manchester United, but Arsenal are a much different test to Manchester United this season.

Also that does hide the fact that Southampton had lost 4 away games in a row in the Premier League prior to the win at Old Trafford. The Saints don't concede a lot of goals away from home, but hey don't score a lot either and Arsenal are hard to keep from scoring at The Emirates Stadium.

Last season it took Arsenal until the last minute to beat Southampton at home, but they did beat them and the attacking talent at Arsene Wenger's disposal makes me believe they can win this one too.

Norwich City v Tottenham Hotspur PickIt has been a tight Premier League season at the top and bottom of the League table and this is a big game that will have a major impact at both ends.

Alex Neil was unimpressed in the manner in which his Norwich City side blew a 3-1 lead against Liverpool before scoring late to make it 4-4 in that game. However, they were then beaten in injury time literally a minute later and it is a result that has really bothered the manager.

You can't blame Alex Neil for being so angry with that result, especially as it was the fourth straight game in which Norwich City have conceded at least three goals. He has had ten days to work on his team in anticipation of this game and I do think Norwich City can't be much worse defensively with that in mind, but the onus is also on them to get forward in front of their own fans.

That is a big risk against this Tottenham Hotspur team who have shown more character than many of the other sides they have had in recent seasons. They have been very effective away from home as they take advantage of the additional space they get on their travels and that has shown up with 5 wins from their last 6 away games in all competitions.

Tottenham Hotspur have scored at least twice in all of those wins and there will be confidence they can visit Norwich City and do the same, although recent results on this ground have not been the best. A lot of credit for Tottenham Hotspur's season has to be given to their defensive record, but Spurs have a single clean sheet in their last 5 away games and Norwich City have shown they have goals in the side.

I have a gut feeling Tottenham Hotspur have enough to win this game, but Norwich City had been strong at home in the Premier League before the loss to Liverpool. That was a strange game all around and I think my lean is towards this game offering at least three goals shared by the two teams.

Sunderland v Manchester City PickManchester City made the announcement that Pep Guardiola will be taking over as manager at The Etihad Stadium, an open secret that most people had already accepted. However, this announcement does mean there are some unknowns as to how the Manchester City players are going to react, but I do think Manuel Pellegrini is well liked by his squad and I would be surprised if they 'downed tools'.

For many of the Manchester City players this is going to be the end of the line for them at the club too so perhaps that will motivate them to leave a mark at the club in the next few months.

The first chance we will get to see how the Manchester City players are reacting is in their visit to the Stadium of Light where they have turned around a poor recent history with back to back 1-4 wins. That means they have beaten Sunderland by the same 4-1 scoreline in 3 of their last 4 matches against this team and the home team will be blooding some new signings.

Sam Allardyce has struggled to make Sunderland as effective defensively as he would have liked and the next two months are huge for the manager as he tries to keep The Black Cats in the top flight. Sunderland will likely need some surprising results to really get out of trouble and I am not sure this squad has enough quality to do that.

With the way Manchester City have been playing, I think it will be tough for Sunderland to keep them at bay. They have scored thirteen goals in their last four games in all competitions and Manchester City have an in-form Sergio Aguero which gives them a significant edge in the match.

I do respect the fact that Sunderland have rarely been beaten easily at home under Sam Allardyce, but this Manchester City is looking rampant at the moment and I will be looking for them to show that the Guardiola-Pellegrini situation will not make them forget their goals for the season.

West Ham United v Aston Villa PickDraws are no longer much good for Aston Villa who are still 10 points from safety in the Premier League, but at least they are avoiding defeat and Remi Garde will hope to build on that. The 0-4 home defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup is a bitter blow for the team, but the fans were clearly not that much behind a Cup run with Villa Park far short of capacity on the day.

It has been a hard season for Aston Villa and now they have a few injuries to deal with while they are playing a West Ham United team that have been difficult to beat in recent weeks. West Ham United have been particularly strong at home where a late Sergio Aguero equaliser has prevented them coming into this one on a 4 game winning run at home.

I don't think there is any doubt that Slaven Bilic would love to see more draws turned into wins which would really get West Ham United moving towards the Champions League places. That is particularly the case away from home in recent games, but West Ham United have found the inspiration to earn a few wins at Upton Park.

Games agains Aston Villa have been tight in recent seasons, but West Ham United look to have a significant edge in terms of quality in this one. Someone like Dimitri Payet can make all the difference with a quality set piece or a bit of magic from the middle of the park and I think West Ham United will win this game.

Aston Vill have drawn 3 of their last 5 away games in the Premier League which is a decent run relative to the rest of their season. However they were undone at Norwich City and Sunderland and the need for points could mean they perhaps push a little too far forward and are caught by a quality counter attacking team like The Hammers.

Defensively Aston Villa still look unsure and I like the home team to win at a little short of odds against.

Manchester United v Stoke City PickThe win at Derby County saw Manchester United produce one of their best performances in months, but that was against an out of form Championship side and this is a big test for them. After losing their last game at Old Trafford to Southampton, Louis Van Gaal has admitted he doesn't know what kind of atmosphere will accompany his Manchester United side in this one.

A first half goal might change things as Manchester United try to get on the scoreboard before half time for the first time in twelve attempts at Old Trafford. They should have their chances as this Stoke City team have begun to look a little shaky defensively, particularly without Ryan Shawcross who will be missing in this one.

Stoke City were the team that almost put the final nail in Louis Van Gaal's career as Manchester United manager with a 2-0 win at The Brittania Stadium on Boxing Day. However, this is a team that has conceded at least twice in 4 of their last 5 away Premier League games and Manchester United have created chances at times in their home games even if they were very poor against Southampton.

Games against Stoke City have generally been quite high-scoring at Old Trafford and the away team have enough quality in the forward areas to think they can give Manchester United something to think about too. This feels like it could be a rare experience for the fans at Old Trafford and goals could be produced, maybe even before half time if they are really fortunate.

No one will be surprised that the layers don't have the same feeling as I do, but the last 3 Stoke City away Premier League games have seen at least three goals shared out by the teams involved. It is odds against because of the lack of goals at Old Trafford in the Premier League this season, but I think the improved performance against Derby County will see a more positive Manchester United, while Stoke City have the attacking talent to create chances too.

Backing at least three goals to be shared between these teams in what has been a high-scoring fixture in recent seasons is my prediction for the game.

Everton v Newcastle United Pick: Being stuck in the bottom half of the table is not good enough for Everton fans with the squad they have at their disposal and the pressure remains on Roberto Martinez to turn things around. The League Cup looked to have offered a respite, but misfortune in the Second Leg of the Semi Final at Manchester City ended Everton's interest in the competition and that has only kept the pressure on their manager.

Everton avoided a shock exit in the FA Cup Fourth Round with a comfortable win at Carlisle United, but Newcastle United with their new signings offers a different test. This is a team that creates chances but will be looking for better finishing and Newcastle United are capable of giving Everton a really hard time here.

That is because Everton look a mess defensively and their only clean sheet at Goodison Park in their last 7 games in a here in all competitions has come against League Two Dagenham & Redbridge. They always look like a team that will give their opponents chances and Newcastle United created enough in recent losses at Arsenal and Watford to think they can do the same here.

However Newcastle United themselves have kept a single clean sheet in their last 10 away games in all competitions and this looks a game that will produce goals. I can see both teams scoring but the importance of the three points should have both looking for the win and I believe backing goals is the best option from the game.

Watford v Chelsea Pick: I already think Chelsea have left it too late to get into the Champions League by finishing in the top four of the Premier League, but they have shown signs that their form could be turning around. There is little doubt The Blues have been more effective away from home, while they can't overlook this game with the visit of Manchester United in mind this weekend.

It has been a much better season for Watford who look set to extend their stay in the Premier League after moving onto 32 points, while they have also moved into the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. A home tie with Leeds United should present a very good chance to get into the Quarter Finals of that competition and Watford will definitely be up for the visit of Chelsea.

Watford have been a mixed bag at home though with five wins and five losses from their last ten games at Vicarage Road and facing a Chelsea team that is unbeaten in four away games in all competitions is tough. Chelsea have also won three in a row on their travels and have only conceded a single goal in that run of unbeaten games while winning on difficult grounds like Selhurst Park and The Emirates Stadium.

Diego Costa looks happier as does Eden Hazard who finally scored again at the weekend in the win at the MK Dons. These teams did play out a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day, but Chelsea seem much more solid away from Stamford Bridge and I think they can win this game.

It won't be easy, but odds against quotes on the Chelsea win can't be ignored and I like them to take another three points on their travels in the Premier League.

MY PICKS: Arsenal @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Norwich City-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Ham United @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester United-Stoke City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Everton-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.67 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Chelsea @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)

January Final: 19-13, + 17.56 Units (61 Units Staked, + 28.79% Yield)
December Final15-23, - 9.32 Units (64 Units Staked, - 14.56% 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 2015/16: 87-128-5, - 38.37 Units (467 Units Staked, - 8.22% 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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