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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (August 13-15)

It has felt like we have been waiting absolutely ages for the Premier League to return to action after a summer filled with big name managerial arrivals as well as the player for whom the biggest transfer fee has ever been paid when Paul Pogba finally signed for Manchester United four years after leaving the club. The £89 million transfer fee might have been eye-watering to the casual person walking down the street, but it is the way football has moved and certainly doesn't look that big when you think a 29 year old Gonzalo Higuain cost £75 million and unproven John Stones was a £50 million pound Manchester City signing.

This does look the most open Premier League title race than we would have seen for many years and even the favourites Manchester City have issues that can be exploited by others. Of course they now have Pep Guardiola in charge, but for all the success he has had at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, going into The Etihad Stadium is a completely different test and certainly more difficult than Guardiola has had at his two previous clubs.

Getting Manchester City into a position to dominate English football and become a real force in the Champions League is the quest for Guardiola over the next three seasons and that has to be the minimum requirement for a manager coming in with the reputation he does.

The other 'big' clubs in the Premier League also have new managers in charge with Jose Mourinho back in the English top flight with Manchester United, the job he has long rumoured to have craved, and Antonio Conte at Chelsea after his fine performance as Italy manager in the European Championships this summer. All three of those clubs are expected to challenge for the title, while the likes of Liverpool may feel Jurgen Klopp is a step ahead having got settled at Anfield and without the distraction of European football as Chelsea do.

That isn't even beginning to talk about three quarters of the top four last season as Champions Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal will all hope to be amongst the leading contenders. Claudio Ranieri is downplaying Leicester City's chances, but they have kept two out of three of their key players from last season although the key will be how they handle playing Saturday-midweek-Saturday going forward when the Champions League begins.

Both North London clubs will have their backers, but Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have not bulked up the squad as their fans may have expected and a couple of injuries could destabilise them as well as tiredness a small squad suffers by the time March rolls around.

Everton fans will be hoping Ronald Koeman can replicate the success he has had with Southampton, while Sunderland will hope David Moyes can continue the fine work Sam Allardyce did before he left to take over as England manager.

I'm all for that appointment by England as Allardyce will play to the strengths of his players without giving two hoots what the media or the fans might want. That could lead to a successful World Cup in two years time, although the England Qualifying Group is tougher than the one they had to negotiate for the Euro 2016 Finals, and by that I mean England winning a Knock Out game for the first time since 20026.

At the bottom of the Premier League, the only team I am really concerned for is Hull City who look in disarray going into the new season after Steve Bruce decided to leave as manager just a few short weeks ago. A lack of investment and a small playing staff puts Hull City as favourites for the drop, but the other two places could be a battle as I am expecting both Middlesbrough and Burnley to perhaps surprise.

Of course both clubs will be there or thereabouts when the relegation places are decided, but the likes of West Brom, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Swansea City and Watford might all be going into the season a little nervously.

Let's face it, after last season who knows what to expect from the Premier League except the excitement that will come from a competitive Division in which there isn't a lot to separate a lot of the teams. I am looking forward to the next nine months and am feeling good about where Manchester United are after three pretty dire seasons as Jose Mourinho takes over at the one club he has wanted to manage for many years.

The Copa America and Euro 2016 tournaments this season combined for a small profit of + 1.55 Units and the overall 2015/16 season produced a tiny number too. However I am positive about that for the simple reason that between kick off in August to the end of 2015, the picks actually stood at - 55.93 Units!!!

I couldn't get out of my own way over the first four months of the season and was resigned to a second losing season in a row, but from January through to May things improved drastically and I am looking to keep the winning months going as we move into the new season.

However I have to say I am a little concerned that my last two August Football Picks have been pretty poor with losing records both times and that has caused me to rethink some of my strategy. Opening games can be difficult to predict anyway, but reading too much into opening day results might have clouded my judgment in the last couple of years.

A better start to the 2016/17 season should hopefully mean a return to 'proper' winning ways with the picks but you simply have to do your best and hope things go the way you have anticipated they will.

Hull City v Leicester City PickI don't think it will ever be normal to hear Leicester City being described as The Champions and the 2015/16 season will likely be an exception than a situation I expect to be repeated in the coming years. Of course the money in the Premier League means that any club can now challenge for top quality players although it will take something special for Leicester City to defend the title they won last season.

Claudio Ranieri has managed to keep the majority of his key players at the King Power Stadium, but he will be desperate to see the transfer window closed with Riyad Mahrez still in the dressing room. It sounds like Leicester City will get to keep Mahrez, but you can never say never in football and Ranieri will be hoping to beat off potential suiters in the coming weeks.

For now Mahrez will be beginning the season for Leicester City as they visit the KC Stadium against a Hull City that are struggling before a ball has even been kicked.

Hull City have lost their manager Steve Bruce and will be going in with an experienced Number 2 Mike Phelan, but a manager who has yet to be the man making the big decisions. That might present a problem as will the limited squad that hasn't had the investment that a promoted side would have expected, while injuries in defensive areas looks to be a big issue going into the opening game.

There won't be any surprises as to how Leicester City will want to play this game with their pace on the counter and Hull City will look to defend deep with a draw not a bad opening start for them. However Leicester City showed they can get the better of those teams who finished in the bottom half last season with 8 wins on their travels against teams in the bottom 10.

That looks the most likely position for Hull City to finish and The Tigers did lose 9 of their 19 home games at this level two years ago. That was only 'bettered' by Crystal Palace losing 10 home games, and the injuries that Phelan is dealing with is a big concern for Hull City.

I don't think Leicester City will match the 11 away wins they secured in the Premier League last season, but they can get off to a flying start to the defence of their title against a Hull City team that look in disarray. A bit of extra quality that Leicester City have in their squad can make all the difference in what is likely to be a tight game and I fancy The Foxes to earn the three points at odds against.

Everton v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Roberto Martinez was ultimately a failure as Everton manager as he seemingly took them backwards from the days of David Moyes despite all the rubbish you heard in his first season at the helm. Martinez was fortunate to have had the Moyes defence in the first season, but his own tactics fell short, as they did at Wigan Athletic when taking them down to the Championship, and it was no surprise that when Everton decided to part with the Spaniard.

While Martinez has landed on his feet with the Belgium national job (how?!!!), Everton picked up Ronald Koeman as the new manager and that looks an impressive appointment. With a new owner putting in plenty of cash investment, Koeman does have the support in the transfer market, although the business being conducted won't all be completed before the opening match of the season.

Bringing in Ashley Williams to replace John Stones looks a shrewd move and Koeman's Southampton team had a strong defensive identity while also being very effective going forward. These could be exciting times for Everton fans while the expectation is low, although keeping hold of Romelu Lukaku remains a big challenge. However there is plenty of quality in the squad that underachieved last season, and Koeman's first challenge is to make Goodison Park a tough place for visitors to play again.

Opening up against Tottenham Hotspur should give Koeman plenty of ideas as to where Everton are at the moment as the visitors come in having just fallen short of the Premier League title last season. Finishing below Arsenal was another blow as Tottenham Hotspur faded down the stretch and Mauricio Pochettino has not brought in as many new faces as some may have imagined with Champions League football coming to the club this season.

The fans have to hope that Dele Alli and Harry Kane have recovered from poor showings at the Euro 2016 tournament this summer, but this is a young Tottenham Hotspur team that should once again be challenging at the top of the table. I do think they overachieved last season though and Spurs might slip from where they were a few months ago, while this is a very difficult opening game against a club that will have the fans wanting to get behind the new manager.

Games between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur have been tight in recent years with 4 of the last 9 ending in draws, including both last season, and the other 5 games all decided by single goal margins. While there have been a shortage of goals in recent meetings between the clubs, Ronald Koeman's Southampton had some entertaining games with Tottenham Hotspur and his Saints side actually beat them at White Hart Lane 1-2 in May.

The recent trend between the teams might not have pointed to goals, but both have a few defensive concerns going into this one and both Everton and Tottenham Hotspur have the attacking quality to expose those concerns. Only 1 of the last 6 games between them have featured at least three goals, but I am backing this one to reverse that trend in what could be the best game of the day.

Manchester City v Sunderland PickThere are a lot of high hopes at Manchester City for the coming season as Pep Guardiola takes over from Manuel Pellegrini but it will take time for his methods to be accepted by the players. In saying that, there is enough quality in the Manchester City squad that should see Guardiola make a solid start to his time at the club and they will be looking for a successful start to take into the Champions League Play Off Qualifiers which will begin following this match.

Guardiola might earn all the attention, but he won't be the only new manager in this match as David Moyes takes charge of Sunderland for the first time.

This does look a good fit for Moyes as he will look to continue the strong work that Sam Allardyce did in his short time as Sunderland manager and the players should be more confident after a strong end to last season. Moyes' time as manager of Manchester United and Real Sociedad might be largely forgettable, but he insists it has helped him develop character and will make him a better manager.

During his time with Everton, Moyes did give Manchester City a lot of problems, but the excitement at The Etihad Stadium might give the players a boost. Some of the talent brought in by Guardiola look like they can make an immediate impact, while Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne are quality attacking players that can make all the difference even in tight games.

Manchester City did have too much for Sunderland for much of last season and I think they are going to be too good for them top open the new campaign. I don't think the players will be looking to do anything but impress the new manager and I think they will wear down a Sunderland team that might be looking to defend in numbers in the hope of nicking a point.

At this time I think Moyes will be looking at what areas he needs to strengthen before September 1st and I am not sure they have enough goals to stay with Manchester City. Opening games can be difficult to judge, but I will back Manchester City to win by a couple of goals and cover the Asian Handicap.

Bournemouth v Manchester United PickThis is a big season for both Bournemouth and Manchester United for differing reasons as they are expected to be at opposite ends of the table in May 2017. For Bournemouth it is all about avoiding 'second season syndrome' which has given promoted clubs some real problems over the years as they have to face teams who will be more familiar with the attacking and defending styles they are seeing.

Manchester United have appointed a serial winner like Jose Mourinho in a bid to get back to the pinnacle of English football after what have been three difficult years under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal. At least they won a trophy last season, but to be so far off the pace in the Premier League was a big disappointment and Manchester United have not finished higher than 4th since winning the title in 2012//13.

Restoring United to the top has meant bringing in four quality players to give Mourinho a new spine on which he can rely. Paul Pogba might not be able to start in this one as he builds fitness, but Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should all start.

Getting up to speed with the Premier League might be their biggest issues, while Mourinho has also admitted it might take time for the players to adjust to his methods after two years under Van Gaal. Improving away from home is also going to be important for Manchester United and winning just 4 of their away games at teams that finished in the bottom half is not good enough.

Even in the win over Leicester City you did see patches where Manchester United struggled to get the best out of their attacking play, but they should have spaces against this Bournemouth side. Eddie Howe is not likely to shift too much from the tactics that kept this club in the Premier League last season but defensively they will need to be better although they will always give it a go at home.

That should make this an entertaining game and I can see both attacks having their successes in this one. The return of Callum Wilson is huge for Bournemouth, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets his first taste of the Premier League after scoring the winning goal at Wembley Stadium last Sunday.

Both League games between Bournemouth and Manchester United produced at least three goals last season and I am looking for this one to go the same way in the opening 'Super Sunday' fixture of the season.

Arsenal v Liverpool PickThe pressure is on Arsene Wenger this season to deliver the Premier League title that the fans have been craving, but once again a lack of investment in the squad has irritated the fanbase. It looks to be the most open Premier League title race in recent years and Arsenal have the benefit of having the most settled of the top teams with no managerial change, but yet the belief has been lost that Wenger can make the right decisions to get Arsenal to a point to win the League.

Injuries and lack of match fitness for players means Arsenal could be short-handed for their opening Premier League game of the weekend and new signings are unlikely to be made in time for Sunday. That means Rob Holding will have to go right into the heart of the Arsenal defence and other young players might have their opportunities to start.

That is not good enough for the Arsenal fans and a slow start to the season would be really hard for Wenger to overcome.

It has been a problem in recent years as Arsenal open up the season at The Emirates Stadium for the fifth season in a row. However they have won 1 of their last 4 opening games and that was against Crystal Palace thanks to a last minute winner. Otherwise a draw with Sunderland and losses to Aston Villa and West Ham United do not exactly inspire confidence.

Looking a little deeper shows Arsenal have lost 3 of their last 5 opening games at The Emirates Stadium and they are facing a Liverpool team that had some of their best performances against the top teams last season. Liverpool only lost 1 of their 8 games in the Premier League against the top four teams and were one of just three teams to beat Leicester City. The Reds won 3 of those 8 games and Jurgen Klopp has a fitter squad to take into the opening game.

Arsenal play one way and that should give Liverpool spaces to exploit against a defence that will be unfamiliar and there is plenty of pace that the away side have in forward areas. Jurgen Klopp will look to pressure from the front and there are some inexperienced players likely to take part who might not be able to handle what they are seeing and Liverpool did play well in their two League games against Arsenal last season.

I think there is every chance Liverpool become the latest team to win at The Emirates Stadium in the opening Arsenal League game here. However I am going to take the option of backing Liverpool with a slight start on the Asian Handicap which will prove to be a half winner if they avoid defeat and they certainly will feel they can do that against a banged up Arsenal squad.

Chelsea v West Ham United PickThe first Monday Night Football of the new season features a London derby between two teams that have no love lost for one another. Chelsea are coming in off a really poor season, while West Ham United overachieved and are looking to show they are a team trending in a positive direction.

I think it will be a fun game as Antonio Conte gets his first taste of the Premier League as yet another big name manager coming into the English top flight. There are still players he is looking to sign to give the squad the kind of feel he is demanding, but for now Conte has to go in with a similar squad that finished 10th in the Premier League last season.

However they didn't turn into a bad team overnight and Chelsea underachieved the year after winning the Premier League title. There are some really good players still at Stamford Bridge and West Ham United won't be coming here anticipating anything less than a difficult match.

West Ham United will look to play their football and they were a strong team away from home last season. Andy Carroll could be a big player for them this season having shown some form in pre-season and the signing of Andre Ayew gives The Hammers more attacking options, although Slaven Bilic does want more players to come in to boost the squad that has to deal with Europa League football too.

Both games between Chelsea and West Ham United were fun to watch last season and this opening game on Monday Night Football might be another enjoyable affair. It will take Conte a little time to get his defensive shape to his liking and Chelsea looked vulnerable at the back last season. Even if N'Golo Kante gives them great cover in front of the defence, Chelsea might struggle early on to know exactly what Conte wants and West Ham United have the pace and set piece delivery to hurt them.

I also think Chelsea will have their chances in this one against a West Ham United team that are looking for more cover in defensive areas. I wouldn't be surprised if both teams score in this one and there are at least three goals shared out at this one at just under odds against.

MY PICKS: Leicester City @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Everton-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Liverpool + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% 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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