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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...

Friday, 19 August 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (August 19-21)

The first month of the 2016/17 season is already fast approaching a close although there are still two more rounds of Premier League fixtures to be played before the first international matches of the new season.

Usually I say you can't read too much into opening day results as some teams are not quite as fit as others while surprises seem to be common place. It was no different than usual in that regards as Hull City upset defending Champions Leicester City as a big home underdog, and Liverpool won at The Emirates Stadium as a big away underdog.

Diego Costa is still being vilified, defences in the Premier League still look short of the expected quality and the Division remains a competitive one in which any team can beat any other.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool all made winning starts to the new season and Manchester City also looked impressive in seeing off what was a clearly overwhelmed Steaua Bucharest side on Tuesday in the Champions League Play Off.

Next week we will see the draws for the Group Stages of the Champions League and Europa League, but let's crack on with the picks for this weekend.

The last two Augusts have put me behind the black ball when it comes to the season totals and while I have eventually recovered both times, I did not want to open with another poor month. Last weekend saw the picks produce a mixed result as the first three lost on Saturday, but the three made for Sunday and Monday all returned as winners.

That winning feeling continued during the midweek set of fixtures which saw the picks go 11-4 and give us a platform for a rare winning August.

I don't want to give anything away now so will be looking to keep the positives going through this weekend which also sees the Spanish and Italian top flights open their campaigns.

Of course we have Friday night football for the first time in England so this post will be the 'Featured Post' through the weekend for all the picks being made over the Leagues from Friday to Sunday.

Manchester United v Southampton Pick: This is a huge game to open the Premier League weekend as Jose Mourinho comes out at Old Trafford as the Manchester United manager for the first time in a competitive game. It should also be the second debut of Paul Pogba who returns from a suspension, while the likes of Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are also in line for home debuts for their new club.

There should be plenty of positive feelings going into the game for Manchester United fans after an impressive 1-3 win at Bournemouth on the opening day, although this is a much tougher test on paper. No one will be underestimating Southampton who are unbeaten in 3 League visits to Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager of Manchester United and The Saints have won their last two by the same 0-1 scoreline.

Southampton also beat Jose Mourinho's Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season so the manager and Manchester United players will be well aware of the quality in the away dressing room. However it does have to be stated that Ronald Koeman has moved on as Southampton manager and Claude Puel is the new voice that needs to get the best out of a squad that has lost the likes of Victor Wanyama, Sado Mane and Graziano Pelle in the transfer window.

The last couple of years has seen plenty of talent leave St Mary's but Koeman's presence has kept things ticking along. With a new manager it is less clear as to whether Southampton can replace the quality they have lost and they did look a little short of confidence in their 1-1 home draw with Watford last weekend.

Playing at Old Trafford should get the best out of the players still at Southampton and the basis for their success will be a solid defensive platform. Keeping Jose Fonte would be huge for Southampton, while they do have the pace of Shane Long and Nathan Redmond to cause Manchester United problems on the counter attack.

Manchester United did have the 2nd best home record last season in the Premier League but only half of their 12 League wins came by more than a one goal margin. It did also take a big error from Simon Francis to help Manchester United open the scoring last week at The Vitality Stadium and I think Southampton will be better in defence than Bournemouth.

However I think the positives coming from the stands might just inspire Manchester United to finally break down Southampton and I will pick the home team to win by a single goal margin. Southampton have proved difficult for Manchester United to crack in recent seasons, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic might inspire a different result this time although I imagine it will be a tight game again.

Stoke City v Manchester City PickManchester City looked very good during the week as they hammered Steaua Bucharest and virtually put themselves into the Champions League Group Stage. It would take something special for them to fail to make it after winning 0-5 away from home, but that result and performance might make Manchester City a little overrated for this one.

You have to credit to Pep Guardiola for helping Manchester City open the season with back to back wins but neither Sunderland or Steaua Bucharest are really going to be the tests by which he is judged. This week is a much bigger test for Manchester City at a ground where they have regularly struggled in the last few years and against a team that will give their defence a thorough examination.

It does have to be said that Stoke City are not as strong at The Brittania Stadium as they used to be with their changing style meaning teams can play their football a little more freely here these days. However they only lost 3 home games against teams in the top 10 last season and only 1 of those came against teams in the top 5.

That is an impressive stat for Stoke City and I do think they are going to give Manchester City their most difficult game of the season. The layers have set Manchester City as odds ON to win here and I can't be having that for a team that has won 1 of their last 8 League visits to this ground.

Stoke City might not be as strong defensively as in the Tony Pulis heyday, but they are also a much more effective team going forward and it is in defence where Manchester City still have questions to answer. As strong as Manchester City looked going forward against Steaua Bucharest, I think they were aided by a naive performance from the Romanian side and Manchester City didn't look as creative in their narrow win over Sunderland.

There is so much quality in the Manchester City squad, but I am going to back Stoke City who I feel can surprise them. Even a one goal defeat for Stoke City will return half the stakes and I will back the home team on the Asian Handicap.

Swansea City v Hull City PickThere have been some changes in the Swansea City squad this summer with influential centre half Ashley Williams moving to Everton and Andre Ayew leaving to join West Ham United, but there still looks to be enough quality to keep the club in the Premier League for a sixth successive season.

The 0-1 win at Burnley last week was a very positive start for Swansea City and they will be looking to back that up against Hull City who became the first side in the Premier League to beat the defending Champions on opening day. That result was full of character and determination, but those are tough attributes to rely upon during the course of a long season and Hull City won't have the fans pushing them on as loudly as they did last weekend.

Results away from home were partly the reason Hull City had to go through the Play Offs in the Championship last season and they were beaten at Middlesbrough, Burnley, Brighton and Derby County in the League (although they did beat Derby County at the iPro Stadium in the Play Offs).

The Tigers also struggled away from home in the Premier League when relegated fifteen months ago and a small squad will be tested by Swansea City.

The form at The Liberty Stadium was good for 9th in the Premier League last season and Swansea City did beat 5 of the bottom 8 clubs at home to keep themselves clear of trouble. They ended last season with 4 straight wins here before Manchester City earned themselves the point that took them into the Champions League Play Offs and the squad looks settled even in the face of Williams and Ayew moving on.

As well as Hull City did last week, I still believe this will be a very difficult season for them barring a number of new bodies coming in to help before the close of the transfer window. The win over Leicester City was solid enough, but the defending Champions had plenty of chances in that game and Swansea City might punish Hull City this weekend if those are allowed to continue to come at the rate they did.

The Swansea City home record and Hull City's poor away record against the top Championship teams are enough for me to back Swansea City to make it two wins from two this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v Crystal Palace PickThe likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane were heavily criticised for poor showings at the Euro 2016 tournament for England and both still might have something to prove to their critics. They are key parts of the Tottenham Hotspur side this season and will be looking to help their team win their first Premier League game of the new campaign following a 1-1 draw at Everton last weekend.

It looks a good match for Tottenham Hotspur to get back to winning ways after a poor end to last season means they have not won any of their last 5 Premier League games. However that might have been a response to the fact the title had slipped from their grasp and the draw at Goodison Park is not a bad result.

Even with that poor end to the season, Tottenham Hotspur might be considered to be in better form than Crystal Palace who have had a terrible 2016 in the Premier League. The FA Cup form seemed to paper over the cracks, but Alan Pardew has to be feeling the pressure with the poor League form Crystal Palace displayed and a loss to West Brom in the books in the 2016/17 season.

Their away form was better than the record at Selhurst Park last season, but Crystal Palace did lose to 5 of the top 6 teams in the Premier League. Pardew is still trying to strengthen the squad by bringing in a goalscorer like Christian Benteke, but at this moment they do look short in the forward areas against the team that had the joint best defence in the League last season.

Last season might have produced a tight win for Tottenham Hotspur, but 7 out of 10 League wins came by at least two goals for the home team last season. The second half performance at Goodison Park saw Tottenham Hotspur begin to create more chances and I think they can be a rare team to beat Crystal Palace by more than a single goal margin at home.

Only 3 of Crystal Palace's 19 away games in the League saw them lose by more than a single goal margin, but 2 of their last 3 ended that way. I will back Tottenham Hotspur to cover the Asian Handicap in this one knowing half the stake will be returned if they do win by just one goal.

Watford v Chelsea Pick: Both Chelsea and Watford made decent starts to the season and this looks a very interesting match at Vicarage Road in only the second game of the 2016/17 season.

I can't see this being anything but a competitive match between the two teams and I don't think there will be a lot to separate them on Saturday. On paper the edge in quality still leans towards Chelsea, but both teams have new managers finding their feet in the Premier League and I really can't see a big gap developing between teams.

Both League games ended in draws last season and Chelsea at odds on look very short in the market to win this game.

I do think they are the more likely winners considering Watford did lose all 5 home games against the top five teams last season. However 4 of those losses came by one goal margins and 3 of those losses ended in a 1-2 scoreline and that looks the most likely result on Saturday as far as I am concerned.

Backing Chelsea to follow up their success against West Ham United looks the call, but I am going to have a small interest in The Blues winning by a single goal margin.

Leicester City v Arsenal PickThe boo boys were out in force again at The Emirates Stadium last week as Arsenal went down to a 3-4 defeat to Liverpool to once again drop points on the opening day of a new season. Once again the frustrated voices pointed to Arsene Wenger and the stubbornness that comes with refusing to spend money in the transfer market that could change Arsenal from also-rans to title challengers.

All the signs point to this being the last season Wenger will be in charge of Arsenal unless they win the Premier League, but the squad looks like it is missing some depth and injuries showed that last week in the loss to Liverpool.

It will take a long time for Leicester City fans to boo Claudio Ranieri after he delivered a top flight title to the club for the first time in their history. The 2-1 loss to Hull City would have been a disappointment for Leicester City who have kept their title winning squad together, bar N'Golo Kante, but this is a team that recovered from losses very well last season.

After their four outright losses last season, Leicester City won the next game three times and drew the other, but they have lost back to back games this season already. Leicester City also didn't win too many home games against the teams immediately below them in the Premier League table last season (1 win against teams in the top 7), although they are facing an Arsenal team that had won 1 away win against a top 10 team last season.

However that win did come here at the King Power Stadium when Arsenal won 2-5 against Leicester City and both defences looked very vulnerable in the first week of the season. Robert Huth is back for Leicester City which should shore them up somewhat, but Arsenal's best form of defence might be attack and I think this could lead to this being an open game.

Only 2 of the 6 home games Leicester City played against the top 7 teams ended with at least three goals shared out, but both League games against Arsenal hit that number. The likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez will expect to create chances against an Arsenal team that conceded four times last week even if Laurent Koscielny is back to offer some leadership, while Arsenal are better going forward than defending and will have key attacking players back including Mesut Ozil and possibly Olivier Giroud.

I am going to back these teams to combine for at least three goals for the fourth time in a row in the late afternoon live offering with the attacks likely to be in better shape than the defences on the day.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough Pick: Over recent seasons, the biggest derby in the North West has involved Newcastle United and Sunderland, but this season it is Middlesbrough who will replace Newcastle United in the Premier League. These two clubs might both dislike Newcastle United the most, but there isn't much love lost between them as they get set for their first League derby game in eight years.

In that time both Sunderland and Middlesbrough have had a Cup win over the other, although Sunderland have failed to win their last 2 against Middlesbrough at The Stadium of Light and were beaten in the League Cup by them a couple of years ago.

This is the kind of match that could prove pivotal in deciding which team survives in the Premier League and which ends in the drop, but both teams should be confident having played well on the opening day. Good performances are not enough and both Sunderland and Middlesbrough might have expected to have earned more than they did in their loss to Manchester City and draw with Stoke City respectively.

Sunderland are now listening to David Moyes' voice in the dressing room but they will be looking to continue a run which saw them lose none of their home games against the bottom seven Premier League clubs last season. Sunderland beat two of the three relegated teams here too, but they have to respect a Middlesbrough team that did win plenty of away games in the Championship.

I can see this being a tight game, but I like the way Sunderland have performed in recent derby games against Newcastle United. Hosting Middlesbrough should give them an edge and I think Sunderland can show their extra Premier League experience to earn the win in this one.

I am keeping stakes to a minimum as Middlesbrough have some real talent in the squad too, but Sunderland seemingly save their best for derby games in recent years and I will back The Black Cats to take the points for a small interest.

West Ham United v Bournemouth PickEddie Howe was linked with the vacant England managerial role in the summer, but he remains manager of Bournemouth with a real challenge on his hands to keep the club in the Premier League this time around. Second season syndrome has affected many promoted clubs over the last twenty seasons and the manner of their 1-3 home defeat to Manchester United had to be a concern.

On the other hand Howe was right to point out that only a mistake opened the door for Manchester United in what was a tight first half. That doesn't paper over the defensive cracks his team have shown in the last twelve months and they will be challenged by a West Ham United team who only scored fewer goals than three teams in the whole of last season.

It has been a slow start by West Ham United to the new season with a disappointing performance in the eventual 2-1 loss at Chelsea last Monday before a 1-1 draw in Astra in the Europa League. The likes of Dimitri Payet may finally make their return to the starting line up this week though after playing for France in Euro 2016 and the excitement of playing in the new London Stadium has to be inspiring the players.

I am looking forward to seeing how much of an atmosphere the West Ham United fans can create inside their new Stadium as we all knew how difficult they made things for teams travelling to Upton Park down the years. That was a key for them last season as The Hammers were only beaten at Upton Park by Champions Leicester City out of all the sides that finished in the top 12 League positions.

They were tempting at just short of odds against to beat a Bournemouth team that conceded plenty of goals last season. However I have to respect how much better Bournemouth seemed to play at home as well as the slow start West Ham United have made so far this season.

Instead of backing a winner, I think backing three goals might be a better option. Bournemouth showed last season they can score goals as well as concede and 11 of 19 West Ham United home games featured at least three goals shared out. Both League games between these teams also featured at least four goals in each game and I will look for a 2-1 scoreline being the most likely outcome from this one.

Bristol City v Newcastle United PickThis looks like a really difficult test for Newcastle United as they head to Ashton Gate for their fourth League game of the season, and it is a long journey for the players to undertake across the country. However the players have to be feeling a lot better after putting the first League win in the books this past week with their 4-1 win over Reading and that might spark a change in form for Newcastle United.

As positive as the start to the season has been for Bristol City, it has to be noted that they have beaten two teams that were promoted from League One. They needed 90th minute winners in both and Bristol City trailed Wigan Athletic here for long periods on the opening day before winning that game 2-1.

The Robins also had a tough time when hosting teams in the Championship last season as they finished with the 20th best home record in the League. Bristol City also lost to 3 of the top 5 last season at Ashton Gate and Premier League West Brom won here in the FA Cup, while their unbeaten run to the new season ended with a 1-0 defeat at Norwich City who were relegated along with Newcastle United last season.

My concerns have to be that Newcastle United have not won away from St James' Park for a long time and lost 11 of their last 13 on their travels. They are also going into a hostile environment as teams should give them their best effort every week and Newcastle United had to come back from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw at Bristol City when they played here in the Championship seven seasons ago.

However I think the win over Reading will have given Newcastle United a boost and they can back that up here. At the moment the layers are putting out very tempting prices on Newcastle United and I think this is a team that is better than they have shown so far while Bristol City's record looks stronger than it should thanks to two 90th minute winners. At odds against I am looking for Newcastle United to snap their long run without an away win this weekend.

Huddersfield Town v Barnsley PickI think both Huddersfield Town and Barnsley will be very pleased with their starts to the Championship season and this looks like a game that could produce a few goals on Saturday afternoon.

Huddersfield Town have had the tougher fixture list on paper through the first three games in the League, but they have scored in all of those games and have managed two goals twice. Barnsley might not have faced two relegated teams from the Premier League like Huddersfield Town have, but they have come up from League One and won 2 games already while scoring at least twice in every game League game played.

Both teams are in the top seven going into the fixture and picking a winner is not as clear cut as Huddersfield Town being odds on to win at home, especially as Barnsley had a very solid away record last season albeit in League One. The goals scored by Barnsley make them dangerous and they were unfortunate to lose 4-2 at Ipswich Town as they could have gone clear when leading 0-1 and dominating at Portman Road.

A similar level of performance will make Barnsley dangerous here and I think they can play their part in this one. The last 3 games at Huddersfield Town between these teams have featured at least three goals shared out while last season Barnsley's away games saw 14 out of 23 end with three goals or more shared out.

The home side had one of the better attacks last season and one of the poorer defences and I think we will see at least three goals in this one. Barnsley have been scoring plenty of goals to open the season, but they have also conceded at least twice in 2 of their 3 League games so far and backing goals looks a solid proposition.

Queens Park Rangers v Preston North End PickQueens Park Rangers and Preston North End have made contrasting starts to the new season, but the home team are coming in off a disappointing 3-2 defeat at Barnsley during the week.

I am expecting Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to help Queens Park Rangers bounce back and that is shown from the fact that this side have not lost back to back games since early January. Since then they have lost 5 times and my one concern is that Queens Park Rangers have drawn 3 of the games following a loss as the manager perhaps looks to make them harder to beat.

After conceding three times to Barnsley, Hasselbaink might have spent the last few days making sure his team are defensively sound in this one. That might take away some of the attacking potential, but this is a team that had the 5th best home attack last season and Queens Park Rangers have beaten Leeds United 3-0 at Loftus Road in their only League game here.

You also have to think Simon Grayson will turn things around at Preston North End as they did last season following a slow start. It took a little time for them to do that and I think Queens Park Rangers have the edge considering Preston North End lost the majority of their away games against teams from the top half last season.

It will be tight and I don't think there will be a lot between two teams that shared the points in both League games last season. They also finished next to one another in the final League table, but I think the confidence is with the Queens Park Rangers players and home advantage can be key for them. I will back them to once again bounce back from a defeat under Hasselbaink and get the win to keep Preston North End searching for their first points in the League in the new season.

Rotherham United v Brentford PickIt has been difficult to get a read on Rotherham United to open the season as new manager Alan Stubbs has come in to replace Neil Warnock. Last season Warnock barely kept Rotherham United in the Championship and they are looking to avoid relegation again this season so Stubbs will be desperate to get a first win on the board as soon as possible.

There were some inconsistent performances from Brentford last season, but they have now won 9 of their last 12 games in the Championship. That includes a run of 4 wins in their final 5 away games before the 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield Town to open the new season and yet I am still not sure what to think of Brentford.

A part of me does think they can challenge for a top six berth, but games like this will tell us a lot more about Brentford. Last season Brentford didn't struggle for away wins or away goals, but they did also finish with the joint 5th worst defensive record which is a surprise for a team that finished 9th in the League table.

Both Brentford and Rotherham United were amongst the poorer defences in the Championship last season and goals have been flowing in the Rotherham United matches so far this season. Amazingly 14 of the last 15 Brentford away games in the Championship have seen at least three goals shared out and there have been ten goals scored in the couple of Rotherham United home games this season.

Backing there being at least three goals in this one at odds against is too much to ignore especially when noticing both League games ended 2-1 last season.

Ipswich Town v Norwich City PickDerby games are always going to produce a different mindset for the players heading into those matches, but this feels a bigger game for Ipswich Town than Norwich City. The Tractor Boys have not made the kind of start they would have wanted to the new season, but beating a promotion rival at home in a game that means most to the fans can give them plenty of confidence going forward.

Of course it will mean plenty to Norwich City too, but at least Alex Neil can point to a strong start to this campaign as they made two seasons ago. He will be confident having led Norwich City to success over Ipswich Town two seasons ago and plenty of the Norwich City players will know what to expect in the derby so Ipswich Town can't rely on 'pampered' Premier League players to turn up for this 'High Noon Showdown'.

You have to respect the recent record Norwich City have had in the East Anglia derby, although I don't imagine this to be a free-flowing game of football. Norwich City have shown they can negotiate life in the Championship and while Ipswich Town have been in the top half, they have rarely threatened to really get involved in the Play Off shake up.

The feeling is that extra quality can come out for Norwich City against an Ipswich Town team who struggled for goals last season and I will back The Canaries to be flying high after this derby.

MY PICKS: Manchester United to Win by One Goal @ 3.75 Stan James (1 Unit)
Stoke City + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)
Swansea City @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Chelsea to Win by One Goal @ 3.60 Stan James (1 Unit)
Leicester City-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.70 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sunderland @ 2.60 Stan James (1 Unit)
West Ham United-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Newcastle United @ 2.35 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Huddersfield Town-Barnsley Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers @ 2.15 William Hill (1 Unit)
Rotherham United-Brentford Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Norwich City @ 2.25 Sky Bet (1 Unit)

August Update14-7, + 11.88 Units (41 Units Staked, + 28.98% Yield)

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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