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Friday, 11 March 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (March 11-14)

The schedule in March for the football clubs around Europe is very busy and we have an early start to this weekend with the Friday FA Cup Sixth Round clash opening the weekend and the Leicester City versus Newcastle United Premier League game closing the weekend on Monday.

It is a big moment in the season for a number of managers feeling the pressure from poor results, especially as there isn't a lot of time to rectify those mistakes in the months ahead. The season is winding down and big decisions look like they will have to be taken at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United to right ships that are lacking direction at this moment.

Reading v Crystal Palace PickTwo teams that have perhaps had disappointing League campaigns meet for a place in the FA Cup Semi Final on Friday night and I think both Reading and Crystal Palace will feel they can do just that.

On current form it is hard to back Crystal Palace, but they have saved their best performances in the FA Cup and they have beaten Premier League sides all the way through he draw. Two of those wins came away from home so a trip to Reading shouldn't hold a lot of fear for them.

On the other hand, Reading have been tough to beat at home in recent weeks and they did show their quality in coming from a goal down to beat West Brom in the Fifth Round. For all of their success in the FA Cup over the last two seasons, that is the first time Reading have beaten a team playing in the Premier League and there is still a big gap for them to bridge.

Playing away from home should suit Crystal Palace with the pace they have in the forward positions and the ability to play on the counter attack. As poor as the form has been for Crystal Palace in recent weeks in terms of results, the performances have perhaps deserved more and they have shown an ability to win away games in the FA Cup.

I think there will be some looking for the upset because of the lack of wins Crystal Palace have had in the Premier League, but I am not sure Reading are up to the level required. Yes, they beat West Brom at home, but Crystal Palace have put more stock in the FA Cup than Tony Pulis did at West Brom and I think that shows up here and I will back the away team at a very reasonable price.

Everton v Chelsea PickRoberto Martinez and Guus Hiddink will be desperate to help their respective clubs to move into the FA Cup Semi Final to give this season some meaning. For Martinez it is a way to validate his time at Everton as the pressure builds on him from the stands, and for Hiddink he can help Chelsea at least put a silver lining in a really terrible season for them by recent standards.

Both Everton and Chelsea will play strong teams and this could be the kind of Cup game that really appeals to the neutrals if their Premier League meetings are any indication. Those two Premier League games saw four goals shared out here and six shared out at Stamford Bridge and the way both Everton and Chelsea have been attacking and defending suggests an attacking game could develop here.

There will be desperation in both clubs that might cause some tension, but I think neither team has defended effectively in recent weeks to think that will change too much. Both Martinez and Hiddink will want their teams to express themselves and I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out between them.

The last 3 Chelsea away games have all ended with a 2-1 scoreline, while 3 of the last 4 Everton home games have also reached that number.

At Goodison Park 4 of the last 6 games between Everton and Chelsea have reached the three goal number too and I think the price is good enough to back this FA Cup Sixth Round to do the same.

Arsenal v Watford PickThe injuries in the Arsenal squad means there is little room for rotation for Arsene Wenger and perhaps they are there for the upset this weekend when they host Watford. There is still plenty of quality in the Arsenal ranks, but the defence is going to be unfamiliar as three centre halves are banged up as well as the goalkeeper and that has to be music to the ears of the Watford forwards.

They might not have scored in their last 3 games, but Watford created plenty of chances against both Manchester United and Leicester City. Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo will cause Arsenal plenty of problems, and Arsene Wenger could easily think attack is the best form of defence in this one.

With the players that Arsenal can call upon in those forward areas, I think The Gunners will be able to pose problems for Watford too, but they could be in trouble on the counter.

The FA Cup means teams will usually give this a go if they are behind and I can see goals in this one with the injuries in the home squad and the attacking threat they pose. If Watford even create half of what they did at Old Trafford earlier this month, they will likely score here and you can believe Arsenal will find their way to goal too.

I am sure Watford would take a draw now and hope to beat Arsenal in the Sixth Round Replay with the heavy schedule taking a toll on an injury hit squad. However this might be their best chance to beat them and I expect The Hornets to have a go here too in what could be another exciting FA Cup game this weekend.

Manchester United v West Ham United PickBefore the game at Anfield on Thursday night, I looked at the weekend games and noted that Manchester United were odds on to beat West Ham United this weekend. When the draw was made I tweeted out how difficult it was going to be for Manchester United against an in-form West Ham United team and the layers are beginning to catch up with the home team on the drift.

Louis Van Gaal continues to frustrate the fans as his 'philosophy' continues to take Manchester United one step forward and then two steps back. The 2-0 loss at Liverpool in the Europa League has put Manchester United on the brink of exiting that competition and heading out of the FA Cup while out of the top four in the Premier League is going to ramp up the pressure on the Dutchman.

That makes this a huge game for Van Gaal who was rumoured to have been given assurances that he will be kept on as Manchester United manager for the final year of his three year contract he signed. However a defeat here and then going out to Liverpool in the Europa League will see the fans likely turn their anger towards the dugout.

It will be hard to ignore for Ed Woodward and the watching board if that happens and West Ham United have every chance of winning at Old Trafford for the first time since the 2008/09 season. Slaven Bilic has West Ham United playing at a very high level and this is a team that doesn't know when they are beaten as shown by coming from two goals down at Norwich City and Everton.

There is so much to like about the way West Ham United approach their games with pace and creativity in the forward areas adding to some tough defending when it is called for. They showed that at Liverpool in the Fourth Round when forcing a replay at Anfield and West Ham United also drew at Old Trafford in the Premier League this weekend.

I won't lie, I would love to be proved wrong.

However I think West Ham United are vastly overpriced to win here having already won at Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League. That might happen, but I also think Bilic would take the draw and have the Replay back at Upton Park to decide which of these teams is playing at Wembley Stadium in the Semi Final next month.

At just under odds against, West Ham United have to be backed to avoid defeat at a Manchester United team dealing with injuries and poor form. I won't mind if this is one pick I have read wrong, but The Hammers look to be disrespected at the prices and have to be backed out of principle.

Norwich City v Manchester City PickI think Norwich City are in a very difficult position in the Premier League as the team looks short of confidence while they are conceding far too many goals in recent weeks. That isn't a good combination and I think their fixtures aren't offering up too many respites if Norwich City are losing at Aston Villa and Swansea City.

Now they have to raise their game against title chasing Manchester City who have plenty of goals left for the season even if they are 10 points behind Leicester City. it is also important for Manchester City to steer clear of those sides chasing a top four berth and Manuel Pellegrini will play a strong team to back up the win over Aston Villa.

I have been torn which way to go.

On one hand I think Manchester City have the kind of attacking talent to replicate the 0-3 win at Carrow Road they achieved in January in the FA Cup. They have also won 4 of their last 5 visits to this ground but only half of those have come by more than a single goal margin.

Instead I think backing over 2.5 goals is the better play with the way Norwich City have defended as they have conceded at least twice in each of their last 5 home games in all competition. However Norwich City have also scored in 8 of their last 9 home games in the Premier League and I think neither team is really going to be too happy with a single point if more is in the offing.

I do think Manchester City will win here and likely by a couple of goals, but Norwich City should play their part and the last 4 Premier League games have produced at least three goals. Games between Norwich City and Manchester City have produced at least three goals in both games this season and in 4 of the last 5 at Carrow Road between them so that looks the better option from this opening Premier League game of the weekend.

Stoke City v Southampton PickThe Premier League has not really produced too many teams that you can rely upon from week to week, and that is especially the case for the mid-table teams like Stoke City and Southampton. Both teams have had some really memorable results in the 2015/16 season, but also some pretty terrible performances and it can be difficult to guess which kind of team comes out on Saturday.

The form team going into this one is Stoke City who have earned 10 points from their last 12 available in the Premier League. On the other hand Southampton were very close to losing 3 games in a row last weekend before salvaging a 1-1 draw with Sunderland and confidence has to be hit with the loss of Victor Wanyama and Jose Fonte both missing out.

That is a big defensive issue for Southampton in this game against a Stoke City team that have some very good technical players in the forward areas.

Stoke City should be the more settled side that might only be boosted by a potential return of Ryan Shawcross and I do think they have the confidence to win this one.

They look an intriguing price to do that considering how both teams have played of late, especially if Fraser Forster continues to struggle from set pieces. Stoke City have already beaten Southampton earlier this season and might be catching them at the right time, but I couldn't put in more than a small interest in them considering the erratic performances they have had at The Brittania Stadium this season.

Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur PickMauricio Pochettino has laid his cards on the table and has effectively gone 'all in' on winning the Premier League title this season. His rotation has cost Tottenham Hotspur a place in the Sixth Round of the FA Cup, while their 3-0 loss in Dortmund on Thursday has almost certainly ended their Europa League run.

The rotation used in what looked a big test at Borussia Dortmund to keep the big players ready for this game in the Premier League at Aston Villa means the fans will be looking for a big push towards the title. There is a 5 point gap between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City who are leading the way, but Spurs can make a big dent in that by winning a day before the latter play against Newcastle United.

It is almost a 'must win' game for Tottenham Hotspur after the manager has made the decisions he has in the Cup competitions. Anything other than a win and I think Tottenham Hotspur will have missed their chance to challenge for the Premier League title, but it won't be easy against a desperate Aston Villa team.

While Aston Villa are in need of the points and capable of surviving the drop, they will surely keep going on the field, although they have to be a lot better defensively. Aston Villa are conceding goals for fun in recent games and never seem too far from a complete collapse as shown in their 4-0 loss at Manchester City with all those goals coming in the second half.

They have conceded at least three times in losses against Liverpool and Everton at Villa Park and this Tottenham Hotspur team are solid enough defensively to think that makes the difference. I do wonder if the recent blip in form has dented the Tottenham Hotspur confidence but they should be able to right their ship this weekend with what should be a fairly comfortable win at Villa Park.

Tottenham Hotspur have won 4 in a row at Villa Park and 3 of those have come by more than a single goal margin. I will back Pochettino to make the right team selection and Tottenham Hotspur to win this one by a couple of goals.

Leicester City v Newcastle United PickWhen you look at the remaining games that Leicester City have to play in the Premier League, this has to be one they need to win to make sure they are in a position to win the title the neutrals want them to take home. Facing a team in disarray like Newcastle United should be the kind of match that Leicester City have to win and they have played very well at the King Power Stadium in recent weeks.

Players like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez are playing with plenty of freedom thanks to Claudio Ranieri, while Leicester City are not facing the same kind of injury issues or scheduling conflict as their rivals. That means they should be well rested on Monday evening for this Premier League game, but they won't be sure which manager will be in the dugout for the away side.

Steve McClaren looks days away from being sacked as manager of Newcastle United after overseeing a really poor season to this point. The big question is whether Rafa Benitez will be put in charge ahead of this game or when the vital Tyne-Wear derby comes around which could determine which of those North East rivals are relegated.

The players don't seem to be responding to the former England manager and I think his time at Newcastle United is over, whether that is now or after this game. However that means the players have to take responsibilities for the results Newcastle United are achieving and they have been particularly poor away from home in recent weeks.

Confidence in defensive positions just isn't there and Newcastle United might not have the capabilities to hold out as they look to keep Leicester City at bay. I do think it will be tougher for The Foxes to win games at the King Power Stadium down the stretch as teams sit back, but this Newcastle United team don't look like they are responding to instructions at the moment and I don't see Leicester City dropping points this weekend.

I can see Leicester City having the lead and being able to pick off Newcastle United as the latter try and push forward for an equaliser as the game wears on. With that in mind, I will back Leicester City to cover the Asian Handicap in this one and maintain their 5 point lead in the Premier League at the very least after this round of games has been completed.

MY PICKS: Crystal Palace @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Everton-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Arsenal-Watford Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Coral (2 Units)
West Ham United + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Norwich City-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.75 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)

March Update14-9-1, + 9.08 Units (47 Units Staked, + 19.32% Yield)

February Final30-23-2, + 20.82 Units (105 Units Staked, + 19.83% 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 2015/16107-151-2, - 17.55 Units (572 Units Staked, - 3.07% 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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