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Saturday, 20 February 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (February 20-22)

How many more body blows can Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United take before they decide to make the move on the manager? A 2-1 defeat in Midtjylland is not a decisive result in that Europa League tie, but it was yet another shocking performance and it looks clear that the players are no longer really responding to what Van Gaal wants.

Aside from after the defeat to Stoke City on Boxing Day, this has got to be the closest moment that Ed Woodward looks at the situation and is perhaps preparing to make a move. You would think two more Cup defeats in the coming week will be enough to push Van Gaal over the edge of the cliff on which he has been teetering for months.

However my overriding feeling continues to be that Van Gaal has a minimum goal of reaching the Champions League and the decision to sack him might not be made until Manchester United are confirmed to be out of that competition. That is what happened when David Moyes was given his marching orders, but I can't help feel that this season can still be salvaged if Manchester United do decide to sack Van Gaal.

I don't think anyone can doubt that his tenure has to be considered a failure as Manchester United have regressed over the past nine months and I actually think the last thing the manager needs is an FA Cup tie at a lower League club like they face on Monday. They do look a vulnerable team going into that one, but Manchester United have responded to a crisis situation once this season and beating Shrewsbury Town and Midtjylland during the next few days will ease things for Van Gaal.

I already think his position is untenable beyond this season no matter how it ends barring winning the Europa League and even then I would be surprised if Van Gaal is kept on. With Pep Guardiola rocking up at Manchester City this summer, it is also a big one for Manchester United who can't afford to be left behind in the League especially not by their local rivals.


Arsenal v Hull City PickThe FA Cup is a random draw, but this will be the third season in a row that Arsenal and Hull City will meet after The Gunners won the FA Cup Final against them in 2014 and then beat Hull City in the FA Cup Third Round in 2015. This time around it is a Fifth Round tie and Arsenal are rightly the favourites, although the unknown of the kind of side Arsene Wenger will pick means the layers are seeing a drift on the home win price.

I don't think anyone can doubt that Arsenal will be far shorter to win many Premier League games at The Emirates Stadium this season, but a big Champions League game against Barcelona is looming. However I think it has been underestimated the chances of Hull City making a number of changes with Steve Bruce's focus on getting back into the Premier League.

Hull City will be asked to play four games in an eleven day period and this looks a fixture that Bruce will utilise his squad.

With that in mind I think a changed Arsenal team will be too strong for a changed Hull City team and will likely come through this tie at the first time of asking. There should still be enough quality in the home squad to create chances in front of their own fans and I think both Arsenal and Hull City will give this a go as they look to avoid a replay that does neither side any favour.

An open game could develop, but I fancy Arsenal to have a little more pace in the forward areas to cause Hull City more problems than the other way around. At the end of it I think Arsenal win this by a couple of goals and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.


Bournemouth v Everton PickThere continue to be too many inconsistent performances from Everton which are beginning to frustrate the fans, but those in attendance on the south coast may see a familiar line up this weekend. That might not be the case for the Bournemouth fans as Eddie Howe is likely to rest players for the vital Premier League games to come and the manager has made wholesale changes for both FA Cup games to date.

That doesn't mean he can't change his mind with the next League game a week away, but Howe is likely to give his team a chance to recharge batteries after consecutive home losses. He will employ his squad for this FA Cup Fifth Round game and I think that gives Everton a significant edge.

Defensively Bournemouth have struggled and Everton did score three times here earlier this season and also in 3 of their last 4 games on their travels. The Premier League game might have ended 3-3, but Everton were winning 0-2 with ten minutes left and also scored in the 95th minute to go ahead 2-3 which should have earned them the win.

Roberto Martinez has previous in guiding a team to a FA Cup success in his time at Wigan Athletic and I think he will recognise the importance of trying to win this competition. I expect a strong Everton team to continue their solid away form through the course of this season and I like them to win this one.

At odds against Everton have to be worth chancing against a Bournemouth team that might not be as recognisable and who might already be focusing the mind on the Premier League relegation battle which is ahead.


Blackburn Rovers v West Ham United PickIt might be Championship versus the Premier League, but Blackburn Rovers showed last season they are not to be underestimated in these one off games. They beat Swansea City and Stoke City in the FA Cup at Ewood Park and they gave Liverpool all they could handle in a 0-1 defeat.

It is also the kind of tie that would have proved to be a big banana skin for West Ham United in the past so anyone who thinks it is easy to pick the winner might be in for a surprise.

In saying all that, I do think West Ham United have enough of an edge to warrant being backed at odds against in the first of the Sunday live FA Cup games. There is enough attacking talent here to give Blackburn Rovers something to think about, while Paul Lambert has to find the goals to replace Jordan Rhodes who was sold to Middlesbrough last month.

Blackburn Rovers have been beaten by Burnley, Brighton and Hull City at home in the League, teams that are in the top four of the Championship. Now they face one of the better teams in the Premier League and I can see the quality of a player like Dimitri Payet proving to be the difference maker as West Ham United move to within a game of Wembley Stadium.


Tottenham Hotspur v Crystal Palace Pick: Mauricio Pochettino has already ruled out Hugo Lloris for this FA Cup Fifth Round tie, but I have to believe the manager when he says he will play a strong team in the Cup. I was surprised by the team selection in the Europa League at Fiorentina during the week and the 1-1 draw in Florence makes Tottenham Hotspur favourites to progress to the Last 16 as the big games keep coming.

A home tie with Crystal Palace represents a good chance for Tottenham Hotspur to reach the Sixth Round and this has been a very good season to this point. Ending it with silverware has to be the aim for the fans at this point, especially as they are very much involved in three competitions including challenging for the Premier League title.

They might also be getting Crystal Palace at the right time as The Eagles form has dropped off considerably in recent weeks. However this is a competition Alan Pardew has really been focusing on and I think perhaps that has filtered through to the players who have been performing better in the Cup matches.

The counter attacking style should suit them away from home and I think this could be quite an entertaining game between the London rivals. I fancy Tottenham Hotspur will have a little too much on current form, but I think Crystal Palace will play their part and I would not at all be surprised if Emmanuel Adebayor scored for the away team.

With the Cup situation, I can see both teams pushing for the winner in this one and Tottenham Hotspur could play the game knowing they don't want another replay to put into a busy schedule. Goals could be the outcome and I will back at least three to be shared out by these teams in the one game on Sunday that won't be live.


Chelsea v Manchester City PickThis is a really big game for Chelsea as they focus on the FA Cup, but Manchester City are still in a position to win all four trophies they entered this season. However, Manuel Pellegrini has admitted that he has to play a weakened team with the priority being the Champions League and the refusal to see this game moved forward has forced his hand.

There are a lot of injuries in the Manchester City squad which means Pellegrini's options have been stretched and you have to believe the manager when he says he will make changes.

On the other hand Chelsea can play a strong team with the FA Cup too important for them to drop although they do have to overcome the fact they were in action during the week. That was a tough game for Chelsea in Paris, but a more recognised starting eleven than their visitors will produce is likely to be a difference maker.

Chelsea have definitely been playing better under Guus Hiddink although defensively they have still looked a little too messy. However I don't think a weakened Manchester City will be able to exploit those vulnerabilities and I do like the home team to win this one.

Before the defeat to Bradford City last season, Chelsea's previous 2 FA Cup runs had been ended by Manchester City, but this is a chance for revenge.


Shrewsbury Town v Manchester United PickThe defeat in Midtjylland was another bitter pill for Louis Van Gaal to swallow and now Manchester United have a really big test ahead of them. It hasn't been too often through the years that Manchester United going to a League One club would be seen as a cause for concern, but the injuries in the squad as well as a battered confidence does make it look like the club are in a vulnerable position.

A similar side to the one that took to the field against Midtjylland will likely be picked as Van Gaal decided to trim the squad last summer and now the injuries have limited his options. That team should have been good enough to win in Denmark in all honesty, but they will have to defend better than they did on that day if they are going to prevent Shrewsbury Town from being encouraged in this one.

It also has to be remembered that Shrewsbury Town are not just a League One club, but one that has been struggling towards the bottom of the table. The win over Sheffield Wednesday deserves a lot of respect in the FA Cup Fourth Round, but Shrewsbury Town have lost Barnsley, Oldham Athletic and Southend United around that victory.

They might have 'nothing to lose' but Shrewsbury Town could also believe they have a chance for the upset and that changes the mentality a little bit. This is still a Manchester United team with a lot of quality in it in the forward areas and better composure in front of goal than they showed against Midtjylland will give Manchester United the chances to win this game.

It has been hard in the immediate aftermath of the loss to Midtjylland to believe in Manchester United. However a few hours digesting that result and knowing the chances and control Manchester United had early in the second half makes me believe the side can bounce back here.

Shrewsbury Town have had a good Cup run, but they are not a very good team in realistic terms and I think Manchester United give Van Gaal a morale boosting victory here and ease the pressure that is clearly building on the manager.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Everton @ 2.30 Paddy Power (2 Units)
West Ham United @ 2.40 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Chelsea @ 1.83 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)

February Update20-11-1, + 19.52 Units (62 Units Staked, + 31.48% Yield)

January Final19-13, + 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 2015/1687-128-5, - 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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