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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (April 23-25)

The Premier League and FA Cup take centre stage this weekend as we have reached the business end of the season with teams bidding for titles and trophies as well as promotion and avoiding relegation.

The title race was reignited last weekend and both Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur host teams they will be expected to beat, although Leicester City have the advantage of being able to put the points on the board first.

It is also a big weekend in the North East as Newcastle United and Sunderland continue their fight against relegation and the FA Cup Final will also be set by Sunday evening as Everton, Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Watford all dream of returning to Wembley Stadium on Saturday 21st May.

The last week was another good one for the picks as the month of April continues to trend in a positive direction and thus gets the season moving back to the positive after a really poor start to the season. Hopefully that can continue this weekend with the picks being made over the next three days.

Manchester City v Stoke City PickThis game has been shifted to Saturday lunchtime to give Manchester City all the time possible to prepare for their Champions League Semi Final against Real Madrid on Tuesday. There are two ways Manchester City can get into the Champions League next season and while Manuel Pellegrini's preferred method will be through winning the competition this season, finishing in the top four is just as important.

The lead for the top four places was narrowed to 2 points during the week, but Manchester City can increase the pressure on Manchester United who are in FA Cup action this weekend.

They will be expected to do that against a Stoke City team that have conceded four times in their last couple of Premier League games. Defensively Stoke City looked a mess against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in their last two League games and that won't pay off against Sergio Aguero who has already scored four times this past week.

Of course the white elephant in the room is the Champions League Semi Final and whether that will take away the focus of the Manchester City players. I am not sure that will be the case as this is a team that has been in good recent form and won both League games in the days before facing Paris Saint-Germain in the Quarter Final of the Champions League.

With the top four ambitions of the club, I expect Manchester City will play a strong team to make sure they can get into a position to take the three points before potentially resting players. Stoke City are conceding too many goals to look like they can keep up with Manchester City in this one and I will back the latter to win by a couple of goals this weekend.

Bournemouth v Chelsea PickThis Premier League game features two clubs that would most likely be pretty content with the season was to end right now for differing reasons. For Chelsea it has been all about underachievement, for Bournemouth about overachievement, but both clubs have been struggling in recent weeks for motivation.

Injuries in the Chelsea squad has seen Guus Hiddink employ the full squad at his disposal which is a good learning tool for incoming manager Antonio Conte. They have lost back to back Premier League games and only the awful Aston Villa team have given Chelsea the chance for a win in recent weeks.

It is the same Aston Villa team that has provided Bournemouth with three points during a run of 3 losses in 4 Premier League games as the side have still be shipping goals at an alarming rate.

Both attacks might feel they have the edge in this League game too and I can see both defences tested again. It is very difficult picking a winner, but it seems to be a League game that should produce chances at both ends and so picking goals looks to be the better option out of the game.

The last 6 Bournemouth Premier League games have featured at least three goals and 3 of the last 4 Chelsea League games have done the same after the club were knocked out of the FA Cup Sixth Round at Everton. The layers are also aware of that so the chance of seeing goals is odds on, but I still think it is a price worth taking out of this game.

Liverpool v Newcastle United PickThe results have been a lot more positive for Newcastle United this past seven days and it has given them a real chance to avoid the drop into the Championship. Both of those games were at home this week though and 10 straight losses on their travels suggests there is still a lot for Newcastle United to do if they are going to avoid another relegation.

As good as the results have been, Newcastle United have still looked vulnerable defensively and that is a big issue for Rafa Benitez to resolve. Swansea City had their chances against Newcastle United last weekend and this is a team that has conceded three times in each of their last two away games in the Premier League at Norwich City and Southampton.

Neither of those teams can be described as high-scoring teams and the defensive work by Newcastle United in both games is not going to be good enough against a Liverpool team in really confident form.

The loss of Divock Origi is a blow as the young Belgian striker seems to be a favourite of Jurgen Klopp and has responded with goals for the team. Daniel Sturridge is hardly a poor replacement and Liverpool are a team that have been scoring goals for fun in recent weeks which has to be a concern for Newcastle United as they head to Anfield.

This is a ground where Newcastle United have struggled in recent years with 9 losses in their last 10 visits and the chances Liverpool are creating and taking can expose this backline. Every point counts at this stage of the season so I expect Newcastle United to battle, but Liverpool are looking to keep the momentum going as they head into a big Europa League Semi Final and I will back them to win by a couple of goals on Saturday afternoon.

Sunderland v Arsenal PickWhen this game was picked for the television cameras it was clear it would have an impact at the top and bottom of the Premier League table. However Arsenal's title challenge has failed to materialise this season and instead they are focusing on ensuring they are back in the Champions League for another season.

That has been the recent goal for Arsene Wenger and it looks like the fans are once again becoming bored of the lack of progress being made by Arsenal. This has been a poor season for them as the FA Cup is not going to put a silver gloss on it and finishing below Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur would be a huge blow for the fans and the club.

The 2-0 win over West Brom has given Arsenal every chance of finishing in the top four, but they can't afford any slip ups here with Manchester United still pushing for one of those places. The Gunners will come into this one as the favourites to win at The Stadium of Light where they have won on their last 4 Premier League visits, but Sam Allardyce would have been preparing for this all week.

Allardyce and Wenger have often failed to be on the same page, and there is no doubt Big Sam loves to get one over the Frenchman. While Arsenal were in a League game on Thursday night, Sunderland have been preparing since Saturday afternoon and this is a team that has been tough to beat in recent weeks.

Sunderland have been creating chances and they should be able to give Arsenal some problems when going forward, although the defensive shape will be tested by an in-form Alexis Sanchez.

I have a gut feeling Sunderland might be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat in this one and earn a vital three points to get them moving out of the bottom three. However I have respect for the way Arsenal have played in recent away games and I think both teams can score in this one.

With the importance of the points on offer, neither will likely settle for a draw and backing at least three goals to be scored between Sunderland and Arsenal for a third time this season is my pick.

Leicester City v Swansea City Pick: All of the news ahead of this Premier League game is surrounding Leicester City and how they are going to cope without Jamie Vardy who was sent off last weekend. That saw The Foxes drop two points and now their lead over Tottenham Hotspur is down to 5 points as the race for the Premier League title heats up, but this is far from an easy game with or without Vardy.

After watching Swansea City go down 3-0 to Newcastle United last weekend it is easy to say that this is a team that is perhaps looking ahead to the off-season. I am not sure that is the case as they had some big chances at 1-0 down and conceded twice in the last ten minutes to put a gloss on the scoreline.

Swansea City had only lost 1 of 6 games in the Premier League before last weekend and this is a team that had scored at least twice in three straight away games before that game. With the pressure building on Leicester City, I think Swansea City will have some joy in this one and I wouldn't be surprised if they created chances and scored at least once.

Claudio Ranieri has announced for the first time this season that Leicester City can win the Premier League title, but that puts pressure on his team to get forward and try and win the game. Anything less opens the door a little more for Tottenham Hotspur who may then feel they have the better of the remaining three games of the season and the stronger goal difference.

I think the layers are underestimating the chance for goals because of the Vardy absence, but both teams are likely to give this game a right go on Sunday. Swansea City away games have featured plenty of goals in recent weeks and Leicester City will likely be a little more open as they will be expected to get forward and score goals. That should lead to an entertaining game on Sunday afternoon and backing goals looks the call.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Brom PickI am not particularly impressed with the quality in the Premier League this season and while I am not one of those who thinks highly of Tottenham Hotspur, I can say they have been dealing with the title race pressure very well. This is one of the better teams in England, but I think that says more about the lack of quality through the Division than it does about how good Spurs are and that might be shown up in the Champions League next season.

With that out of the way, I will go back to crediting Tottenham Hotspur for the manner in which they are handling playing second behind Leicester City in the last two weekends. A 3-0 win over Manchester United at home and a 0-4 win at Stoke City shows that Tottenham Hotspur are not willing to go away in this title race and keeping up with Leicester City is key.

There are 5 points to make up which means dropping any points could be fatal and Tottenham Hotspur have to show they are going to take advantage of any slips Leicester City have in the Premier League.

It looks one of the better games Tottenham Hotspur have left when they host West Brom who have the look of a squad looking forward to their summer holidays. Since reaching 39 points in the Premier League, West Brom have lost 4 of 5 Premier League games including their last 2 away from home at Manchester City and Arsenal.

Tottenham Hotspur have the kind of defence that should be able to keep West Brom at bay and the goals have been coming for the home team. I have to expect Tottenham Hotspur to keep handling the pressure as effectively as they have over the last three weeks and I think they can see off West Brom.

Backing Spurs to win by a couple of goals is how I feel Monday Night Football will go and potentially Tottenham Hotspur can close the gap a little further this weekend in the tittle race.

Everton v Manchester United PickBoth Louis Van Gaal and Roberto Martinez will be desperate for the win on Saturday which will see them ease some of the pressure that has seemingly been on them all season.

On current form it is hard to see past Manchester United earning their way to Wembley Stadium, although the side under Van Gaal have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Sometimes you can go into a game and expect Manchester United to really get some momentum behind them and they can let you down, while Van Gaal always picks up a result when the pressure seems to be at breaking point.

That is not the case this week as many will expect Manchester United to win after seeing Everton fall apart at Anfield on Wednesday night. I also think Manchester United are the better team with Everton struggling for fit defenders and I think the pace of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in forward areas could be very difficult for a makeshift defence to deal with.

I do have to expect Everton will have some reaction to their defeat in the Merseyside derby unless the players have lost faith in their manager. There is still enough quality in the Everton line up to give Manchester United problems as they did at Old Trafford earlier this month, but the lack of confidence might be a blow.

For all of the criticisms of Van Gaal, it has to be said the defensive organisation remains strong for the most part. Everton have scored just twice in 6 games since beating Chelsea in the Sixth Round and I think Manchester United can hold them at bay while getting forward and finding joy against this defence.

It has been a long time since Manchester United have won the FA Cup, but they look to be in a great position to do that this time around. I do think they have the confidence to find their way past this Everton team and push Roberto Martinez closer to the exit door at Goodison Park and I will back Manchester United at odds against.

Crystal Palace v Watford PickIt is going to be interesting to see how the Crystal Palace and Watford players respond in this FA Cup Semi Final having struggled in the Premier League since booking their place at Wembley Stadium. It is hard to turn on the form when you need it, but the edge in that regards might have to be given to Crystal Palace who have picked up points in recent games to get themselves out of relegation trouble.

Both teams will be desperate to put an exclamation point on the season by getting into the FA Cup Final and winning this competition would be a huge achievement for either club.

With that goal in mind and how much it would mean to both clubs I can see this being a tight game as neither team will want to make a mistake that costs them a place in the Final.

There is enough quality in both starting elevens to make this a very entertaining game, but the fear of losing might encompass the game. That could see both Alan Pardew and Quique Sanchez Flores make sure their team is set up to be tough to beat and goals might actually be at a premium on Sunday.

A small interest on there being one goal or fewer looks to be the call in this one and I will back that to happen.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sunderland-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-Swansea City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 2.05 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Watford Under 1.5 Goals @ 3.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)

April Update14-8, + 10.38 Units (44 Units Staked, + 23.59% Yield)

March Final22-17-2, + 9.06 Units (80 Units Staked, + 11.33% 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 2015/16129-168-2, - 8.49 Units (652 Units Staked, - 1.30% 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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