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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, 26 August 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (August 26-28)

The Champions League and Europa League Group Stage draws have taken place ahead of the weekend football and that means the next few months of the football season are now in place.

All of the English clubs in the Champions League should be very happy with the draw made on Thursday and I think all four should be thinking of making it through to the Second Round.

The toughest draw looks to be handed out to Manchester City yet again despite improving their co-efficient to be involved in Pot 2, but facing Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic in the Group should still be manageable. Of course Barcelona are a difficult test, but the other two teams should not be able to match the quality Manchester City have.

Arsenal also have been handed a draw with one of the big teams in the Champions League as they face Paris Saint-Germain in the Group. However it has to be said that Paris Saint-Germain are perhaps not as strong as last season, while both Basel and Ludogorets should not be able to stun one of the top two Seeds.

For a team in the third pot, Tottenham Hotspur could not have asked for a much better drawn than CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco and I think they have every chance of winning the Group. Experience is the biggest concern for Tottenham Hotspur, but they should have enough to win all three games at Wembley Stadium and a couple of away draws would likely be enough for first place.

Finally the Champions Leicester City have also escaped a really tough Group and they should be good enough to join Porto in reaching the Second Round. I can see Leicester City winning the Group because I think their style of play will lead to chances to win away games against Porto, Copenhagen and Club Brugge and Claudio Ranieri's men might surprise at the higher level.

There still seems to be some unbalance to the draw in the Champions League though as we have sections with the likes of Man City/Barcelona, Arsenal/PSG, Real Madrid/Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid/Bayern Munich and Juventus/Sevilla, but others that don't even have one team you would consider a potential winner of the competition.

On Friday the Champions League is going to be revamped in time for the 2017/18 season and so perhaps we will see some changes that makes sure the Group Stage is either highly competitive throughout, or distributing the big teams a little thinner. That would be good news for the super powers of European football although a real chance to go back to the days when the Group Stage was nothing more than a simple task from which the top teams could qualify for the next Round.

The Europa League draw was also made and you have to say for a competition that is much maligned in England that Manchester United could have received a much more favourable draw than they did as the top Seed. The likes of Fenerbahce and Feyenoord have been described as 'Champions League' level by Jose Mourinho, although the reality is those clubs have fallen far short of the required level to make that competition.

Match Day 3 is going to be an issue for Manchester United as it comes just three days after a trip to Anfield and three days before a trip to Stamford Bridge so I am not anticipating a strong line up in that one. However I would still expect Manchester United to top the section even if the draw could have been kinder.

Southampton were a Third Seed and so drawing Inter Milan and Sparta Prague is difficult for them. Neither should be considered part of the elite, but Southampton don't have a lot of experience of playing in Europe and so might have a tough time negotiating that Group while Hapoel Be'er Sheva make up the section having given Celtic a scare in the Champions League Qualifiers and beaten a team as strong as Olympicos.

This is a better competition than English clubs have considered it, but it is a long road to Sweden and negotiating the Thursday-Sunday conundrum has yet to be proved by any club through the course of a tough season.

The picks have had a terrible week and I have been disappointed with many of them. I have not had a lot of luck with some of them, but this is an important weekend for me as I look to bounce back and make sure August doesn't end up being a terrible month yet again.

The picks come from England, Spain and Italy this weekend beginning on Friday and going through until Sunday evening.

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool PickThis looks to be a fascinating way to begin the latest round of Premier League fixtures as Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool in the Saturday lunchtime kick off. Both teams have made mixed starts to the season, but they are probably at par for where they would have expected to be in terms of points.

Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp have both had successes at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, but this is a big season for them to show the improvements on the field. Neither has too many injury issues going into the fixture and I am anticipating a really good game of football.

Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have both played well against the top clubs in English football in the last couple of years. Spurs have won 4 of 8 against the top five clubs at White Hart Lane in that time, while Liverpool only lost 1 of their 4 away games at the top four last season and hammered Manchester City at The Etihad Stadium.

Their win at Arsenal this season backs up a feeling that Klopp's teams perform better in the big games and a visit to White Hart Lane certainly counts. The returns of Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge improves the attacking options that Liverpool have and they certainly look a team who will be dangerous going forward, but defensive concerns remain.

The chances created last week suggests Tottenham Hotspur can expose those concerns in this one and I think it might be far different to the two tight games between these clubs last season. The sole game between Klopp's Liverpool and Pochettino's Tottenham Hotspur ended 1-1 at Anfield and featured plenty of attacking football while this is a fixture that has historically produced goals.

Before last season, 6 straight between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool ended with three goals shared out, while 8 straight at White Hart Lane had hit that number too. I was leaning towards a Tottenham Hotspur win, but their poor recent home record against Liverpool coupled with the return of key players for the away side who have won in North London once this season put me off.

Instead I will look for the high pressing games of both teams to lead to chances at both ends of the field and the total goals to reach three or more in the early Saturday kick off.

Chelsea v Burnley Pick: Antonio Conte has already shown he can be a big character in the English Premier League and he has given Chelsea a new found belief after a disappointing season last time out. The Blues have battled to all three wins they have achieved this season and that means they are one of four Premier League teams going into the weekend with a 100% record in the League.

They are considered healthy favourites to beat Burnley in this match even though the latter are coming off an impressive 2-0 win over Liverpool. However they didn't have much of the ball in that defeat and that is going to be tough for the squad to deal with through the season if they are having to work hard without the ball every week.

Burnley were also beaten in extra time by Accrington Stanley in the English Football League Cup during the week and they did have a fairly strong team out in that game.

It does have to be said that Burnley struggled away from home two seasons ago when in the Premier League but they did earn draws at Stamford Bridge and The Etihad Stadium in that campaign which ended with relegation. I think Sean Dyche would have learned plenty from his time managing in the Premier League two seasons ago, but Burnley still look a little short of quality.

My one concern with this Asian Handicap is the goals Chelsea have conceded this season even when they have looked in control. The rumours suggest Conte is still looking to strengthen his back line with some big bids made back in his home country, but for now Chelsea will go in with what they have.

As concerned as I am with them defensively, I think Chelsea are showing enough going forward to prove too strong on the day. It might be down to their first clean sheet of the season, but I am backing Chelsea to win this by a couple of goals.

Leicester City v Swansea City PickLast season was a real shock for everyone who is associated with Premier League football as well as for all the fans that make it the product it is. No one really expected Leicester City to win the Premier League and I think most have expected a significant drop for them this time around.

Claudio Ranieri has done well to keep the squad together for the most part and I think Leicester City have been far from out. They have created chances in both of their opening Premier League games, but Jamie Vardy has perhaps regressed to the standard he had previously set compared to last season.

For all the hullabaloo around Vardy after an exceptional last season, I think people couldn't understand why I was not ready to appoint him as the saviour of England and also a 'top player'. Yes he got 24 goals last season, but he had combined for just 26 in the previous three seasons which included two seasons at the lower level of the Championship.

He had scored just 26 times in 97 previous games before last season and must have rediscovered those shooting boots in the last couple of games where he has been guilty of missing two or three big chances for Leicester City. Simply put you can't rely on Vardy having all of his scuffed shots go in this time around and Leicester City also need more from Riyad Mahrez, Leonardo Ulloa and Ahmed Musa.

Take away my criticism of Vardy as a footballer and you have to be encouraged by the chances Leicester City have created and think they will eventually start going in rather than high and wide. Even Vardy should get his goals in a side that are still going to be attacked by opponents and Swansea City might be the perfect visitors for The Foxes this week.

Leicester City have beaten them the last 3 times they have played and Swansea City won't sit in as Hull City did at times and so I can see the home team having their chances. Maybe Vardy will show up and score a hat-trick this week (even if that won't change my mind about his abilities), but even without his contributions I do think Leicester City will have a bit too much this week.

I am not sure Swansea City are consistent enough and they have lost plenty of games against the top seven clubs in the last two seasons. They were poor in the defeat to Hull City, something both teams have in common, but I do think Leicester City are creating more opportunities at the moment and it has to be a matter of time before they are going in.

They look underrated in this one as not many teams who finished in the top four last season would be priced at this to beat Swansea City at home. It is not like The Swans have been in exceptional form to open the season either and I think Leicester City can be backed to win their first game of the season and prevent there being a lot of questions about them going into the two week international break.

Watford v Arsenal PickCan you imagine the atmosphere at The Emirates Stadium on September 10th if Arsenal were to be beaten at Watford this weekend? The fans who have been behind Arsene Wenger in recent years might be ready to turn with those who have already lost faith with their long-serving manager and the Stadium could be shaking with open revolt if Arsenal have just 1 point from a possible 9 going into that fixture in two weeks time.

Even a draw might not be good enough for Arsenal this weekend as Watford have been struggling for consistency in their own opening games. The English Football League Cup has not been a priority for Premier League clubs in recent years, but there was a clear shift in strength of teams used this past week and that meant Watford had all the headlines when upset by Gillingham from League One.

The owners have been fortunate their managerial changes have worked out in recent seasons, but Walter Mazzarri will be desperate for a first win as Watford have thrown away leads in all three games they have played. They have had the lead though and that makes them a danger to Arsenal even if The Gunners won both League games last season.

It was Watford who beat them in the FA Cup though and both Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo will fancy their chances against Rob Holding at the heart of the Arsenal defence.

On the other hand I think Arsene Wenger will give all his attacking players a chance to be restored to the starting line up with both Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud back to join Alexis Sanchez as the three best attacking choices Arsenal have. The two previous games means Wenger can't afford to leave any out with a two week international break to come and Arsenal will have noted the defensive problems Watford have had so far this season.

Combined it does look a game that will produce at least three goals as all three games between Arsenal and Watford did last season. That has made it 7 straight fixtures between the teams ending with at least three goals shared out including the last 4 at Vicarage Road and neither team is playing with enough confidence to think they can keep out their opponent this weekend.

I wouldn't be surprised if Watford scored as they have in three straight games this season, but the question is can they kick on if they take the lead this time? For Arsenal it is almost a 'must win' game and I can see both teams having their chances and eventually combining for at least three goals shared out.

Hull City v Manchester United PickWho would have thought that Hull City versus Manchester United in the third round of games of the Premier League would have been a match between two of the four teams with 100% records in the League?

Not the layers by any imagination as Hull City have won both League games as a pretty big underdog after what had been a turbulent summer at the club. There are still some issues surrounding the number of fit bodies they have and Mike Phelan calling for reinforcements, but the manager has to be given plenty of respect for masterminding two wins out of two in the League.

Keeping the players focused on the football rather than the issues off the field has been huge for Phelan, but this might be another level in terms of a managerial test for what is essentially a rookie Number 1. Manchester United are very close to Phelan's heart having played at Old Trafford and also been a Number 2 to Sir Alex Ferguson in the last few years, but he would love to make it four wins out of four in the 2016/17 season this weekend.

Jose Mourinho is far from a rookie manager, but he has insisted he needs time to remove the 'philosophy' from the players who have been at Old Trafford the last couple of years. It was a negative philosophy and Mourinho wants more attacking from his Manchester United and so far there have been plenty of positive signs with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic fitting in perfectly.

Paul Pogba should be better with another week of training under his belt and he was very good against Southampton, while Eric Bailly looks comfortable at centre half. All of those players have to keep the standards at the level they are and there are only signs of improvement as Manchester United have made slow starts in the first couple of Premier League games.

A mistake opened the door against Bournemouth, while Southampton were the better side before Ibrahimovic opened the scoring last weekend. Once in the lead United have looked comfortable, but they will have to prevent Hull City picking up momentum in this one before they take control.

Newly promoted sides are still feeling very positive in August so they can be tough to beat, but Hull City have surprised in the first couple of games and Mourinho has had eight days to prepare his team for them. You can't discount the chances that Leicester City created at 0-0 when they played at the KCOM Stadium on the opening day and Manchester United have players in form like Ibrahimovic who won't miss those like Jamie Vardy did.

Playing here won't be easy for any team unless Hull City have to use the same eleven players every week. While I do think Hull City can cause Manchester United some problems, I think Mourinho's team are going to be fitter and have more energy with the long break between games. If Manchester United take the chances that Leicester City created and missed, I can see them winning their third game in a row in the Premier League by at least two goals.

Only 2 of Louis Van Gaal's Manchester United away wins came by more than a single goal margin, but Mourinho has got to half that total in one game and I will back Manchester United to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

Manchester City v West Ham United PickThere have always been upsets involving English teams in European football, but the West Ham United loss to this Astra team has to be right amongst the very biggest of them in recent years. Slaven Bilic has to be disgusted that West Ham United are not playing in the Europa League Group Stage, especially as it might dent the chances of bringing in the players they have been linked with.

Injuries haven't helped, but the likes of Mark Noble, Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet should return which makes West Ham United a much different team. However they can't be as poor in front of goal again as a team like Manchester City will punish them in the harshest way.

Manchester City are well rested and I can imagine all the boys on Sky Television hoping the two Manchester clubs come through with wins this weekend to set up the first Manchester derby of the season deliciously. The side have made a positive start under Pep Guardiola which suggests they will be too strong for West Ham United and I can see them winning comfortably at The Etihad Stadium.

I do respect how well West Ham United played away from home last season, but they didn't play as well down the stretch as they began the campaign. The Hammers have looked a little flat in the opening games of the season and they could have been beaten very easily against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their opening game of the Premier League season.

Manchester City haven't been as free scoring at home as they have on their travels, but I think they will be too strong this weekend and I am backing them to beat West Ham United by a couple of goals is the call. In the form Sergio Aguero has been in, I wouldn't be surprised if he is back on the scoresheet, while West Ham United have been lacking options in the final third and Pep Guardiola can end his first competitive month in charge with a fifth straight win in all competitions.

Burton Albion v Derby County PickThe Friday night live Championship game will have plenty of connections between the Clough name and Derby County Football Club. Both Brian Clough and Nigel Clough have managed Derby County, but Nigel will be in the Burton Albion dugout this weekend as he looks to help his side bounce back from a 0-5 hammering at the hands of Liverpool.

Goals have been flowing in the Burton Albion games all season as they try to bridge the gap that saw them playing in League Two just two seasons ago before back to back promotions brought them into the Championship. 5 of the 6 games Burton Albion have played this season have featured at least three goals and Tuesday was the first time they have failed to score.

The 3-1 home win over Sheffield Wednesday shows what Burton Albion are capable of, while they will be confident having seen fellow promoted club Barnsley beat Derby County 2-0 at Oakwell already this season.

Games involving Derby County have been much tighter so far this season, but I am interested to see what kind of toll the long English Football League Cup Second Round tie against Carlisle United has had on the players. Derby County have yet to score more than a single goal in a game this season but they won't have a better chance against this defence, although they are going to be tested by the goals Burton Albion have in the team too.

I did consider picking Burton Albion to avoid defeat as they look good for at least a goal and Derby County have not scored too many so far. However the Asian Handicap is not offering the best odds and instead I am going to look for this Burton Albion to go the same way many others have and have at least three goals shared out.

They might be trying to find their place at this level of football, but Burton Albion have scored and conceded in every League game. They have scored at least twice in 3 of 4 Championship games and also conceded at least twice in 3 of 4 so the odds against quotes on there being at least three goals is perhaps a little high even if Derby County have not found their shooting boots just yet.

Barnsley v Rotherham United PickFor both Barnsley and Rotherham United the immediate goal is to make sure they are not relegated from the Championship and so games like this can be vitally important even when meeting in August.

Neil Warnock has been replaced by Alan Stubbs in the Rotherham United dugout and it has been a tough start for the latter. To be honest, Rotherham United dropped their form a little after securing their future in the Championship under Warnock and this was always going to be another difficult season for them.

Their away losses at Aston Villa and Brighton are expected results and Rotherham United have received a boost in confidence after beating Brentford at home last weekend. However their away form in the Championship has not been that impressive as Rotherham United have won just 5 away games at clubs that finished in the bottom 11 places over the last two seasons.

Over that time Rotherham United had finished with the 22nd and then 21st best away record in the Championship and Barnsley have beaten the likes of Queens Park Rangers and Derby County here already. It wasn't the home form that helped Barnsley earn promotion, but they are looking to their form at Oakwell to keep them in the Championship and their strong start suggests they are worth backing to make it three wins in a row at home.

Cardiff City v Reading PickWith a little more luck, Cardiff City would have been heading into this fixture with back to back League wins behind them, but they have had a week to prepare for this game with Reading. It has surprised me that Cardiff City are such a big price to beat Reading considering the poor away form the latter have shown and the fact this is a team that were dragged all the way to penalties earlier in the week.

Reading have lost 5 of their last 6 away games in the Championship including both played this season at Wolves and Newcastle United, while they lost 7 of 12 away games at the top half clubs in the Championship last season.

The home game against Reading has been a strong fixture in recent League games with 3 straight wins against them. Cardiff City have managed to work their way to at least two goals in each of the last couple of League games and they did have the 6th best home record in the Championship last season.

I think the lack of goals might be why Cardiff City are such a big price to win this game, but I think they can to that this weekend. They are facing a team who are still getting to grips with what Jaap Stam wants from his new club and Reading have conceded plenty of goals in their recent games.

It looks a big price for Cardiff City to take the three points from this one especially as they have won almost 50% of their home games in the Championship since the 2014/15 season. With Reading struggling against the top half clubs last season and already having lost at Wolves and Newcastle United, this price feels wrong and I will back The Bluebirds to win this one.

Huddersfield Town v Wolves PickWhen the fixtures were released in June, not many would have circled this one as potentially being between two unbeaten teams in the top three of the Championship table. Huddersfield Town have negotiated tough games at Newcastle United (won 1-2) and Aston Villa (drew 1-1) to make this really positive start to the new season under David Wagner, while Wolves' takeover was only confirmed in the third week of July.

Since then the expectations have been raised at Wolves and the arrival of Walter Zenga has not seen the slow start that most would have looked for from a manager in England for the first time. Wolves have made some smart moves and the 1-3 win at Birmingham City shows this is a team that could be a dark horse for promotion at the end of this campaign.

Realistically it is difficult to imagine both sustaining the starts they have made with the competitive nature of this Division. Wolves might be in a strong position if they can bring in more bodies before the transfer window closes next week, but Huddersfield Town are certainly exceeding any expectations they must have had in early August.

It was the home record that let Huddersfield Town down last season so the 2 wins to open this season will have boosted confidence, but both have been tight wins. They have scored and conceded in both home games as Wolves have done in both away League games they have played and this might be an entertaining offering on Saturday afternoon.

David Wagner comes from the Borussia Dortmund Youth set up so will clearly favour a high press which can lead to problems defensively and Huddersfield Town have yet to keep a clean sheet. I can see Wolves scoring here, but Huddersfield Town should also work their way onto the scoreboard and it looks like a game where backing at least three goals to be scored at odds against should be backed.

Nottingham Forest v Leeds United PickSo what are the chances we are going to see a third straight Nottingham Forest home game end with a 4-3 victory for The Tricky Trees? Goals have been flowing in all of the Nottingham Forest games played so far this season and 5 of their 6 in the 2016/17 season has seen at least three goals shared out in their fixtures.

Going forward hasn't seemed to be a problem for Nottingham Forest, but they have looked terrible at the back and it has to be a concern for the manager that they have conceded at least three goals in 3 of their 4 League games.

It does have to be noted that Nottingham Forest and Leeds United had two of the poorer attacks in the Championship last season but that seems to have been rectified by the home team in this one. However, you have to credit Garry Monk for masterminding back to back away wins for Leeds United over the last seven days which makes them a threat in this one.

Neither team were scoring too many last season, but the majority of Nottingham Forest goals were scored at home and the majority of Leeds United goals were scored on their travels. There are signs of that again this season and I think the teams might be underrated to combine for three goals in this fixture even if the last 5 between them have produced just 7 goals in total.

The early weeks of this season have shown there are goals to be had against Nottingham Forest, but they have looked strong going forward at The City Ground. While I don't anticipate another 4-3 result, I think this has the makings of a 2-1 scoreline either way and I am willing to back that at odds against.

Newcastle United v Brighton Pick: These were two of the teams that were expected to challenge for promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2016/17 season and both have made positive starts to believe they will be there or thereabouts. Newcastle United have bounced back from their opening two League defeats by winning three in a row in all competitions, while Brighton are 2nd in the early League table having been unbeaten so far this season.

This is going to be a competitive game and I think there isn't much to separate the teams, although the layers are feeling the same. Dwight Gayle and Aleksander Mitrovic look to be missing for the home team which does lead to the question as to where the goals will come against a tough Brighton team.

Newcastle United might have had two clean sheets in a row, but one of those came against League Two Cheltenham Town and I do expect Brighton to trouble them having scored at least twice in every game since a goalless draw at Derby County on the opening day.

Chris Hughton will give his players all the advice in the world in dealing with playing at St James' Park having managed Newcastle United but I am not quite sure Brighton have enough in the locker to win here.

Rafa Benitez has made Newcastle United far more difficult to play against at St James' Park since arriving at the back end of last season, while you can't ignore the fact that Brighton had 12 draws away from home last season and have drawn both played on their travels this time around too. Even a struggling Brighton in the 2014/15 season had 9 draws away from home meaning this is a team that has drawn almost half of their away League games since the beginning of that season (23/48).

Last season Brighton finished 4th and drew with all the other clubs that finished in the top six away from home and I will look for this one to end in a stalemate in front of the television cameras on Saturday afternoon.

Real Betis v Deportivo La Coruna PickThis is the opening game of the second round of Spanish fixtures and will be followed by another break in the League with the World Cup Qualifiers set to take place next weekend. Real Betis are looking to bounce back from their 6-2 loss at Barcelona, but their home form from last season has to be a concern.

They did end the season in strong fashion with 4 wins from their final 6 games here, but now they face a Deportivo La Coruna team who have fared well in recent visits to Real Betis. Deportivo La Coruna are unbeaten in their last 6 here and have won 4 times which includes a 1-2 win last season, while they had the 8th best away record in the Primera Division last season.

It was a big improvement from the 2014/15 season as Deportivo virtually halved their losses and doubled their wins, but the stand out result in their away games has been the draw. In fact 18 of their 38 away games in the Spanish top flight over the last two seasons have ended in draws and they proved very tough to beat on their travels last year.

Deportivo ended last season on a 4 game unbeaten run away from home and it was their form on their travels which kept them in the top flight. With Real Betis being the lowest scorer in the League at home last season, this has the makings of another tight match and I did consider backing the away team with a slight start on the Asian Handicap.

However my feeling is that the most likely result here is a low-scoring draw and I will have a small interest in that being the outcome of this one between two teams that were only separated by three points at the end of the 2015/16 campaign.

Real Madrid v Celta Vigo PickThis hasn't been a season with big name arrivals at Real Madrid (not yet anyway) that we have seen in recent years, but this is a squad more than capable of winning the big trophies as they have shown in the Champions League a few months ago. Real Madrid have some key players who are another year older now, but they still look strong with Gareth Bale now rounding into his peak years.

A 0-3 win at Real Sociedad without Cristiano Ronaldo looks a very good result and their star man will be back this weekend as Real Madrid host Celta Vigo.

As impressive as a season Celta Vigo had last season, they lost 7 out of 10 League games agains the five clubs that finished higher than them in the League. Celta Vigo are also coming in off an unimpressive 0-1 defeat to La Liga debutants Leganes and they have not had a lot of joy when meeting Real Madrid in recent games.

Celta Vigo have conceded at least three times in each of the last 4 fixtures against Real Madrid, while the visits to the Santiago Bernabeu have not been enjoyable for them. Their last 4 losses have come by a combined 17-1 score and Celta Vigo will be coming in with little confidence following that upset home loss on Monday night.

At odds against Real Madrid are being asked to cover at least two goals on the Asian Handicap and I think they can be backed to do that for the fifth time in a row against Celta Vigo. Real Madrid have won 32 of their last 38 League games at home and 21 of those have come by at least three goals.

Add in their recent record against Celta Vigo and I wouldn't be surprised if Cristiano Ronaldo is back with a goal to his name and Real Madrid win this one comfortably.

Leganes v Atletico Madrid PickFor a club like Leganes, playing the likes of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid was nothing but a dream for much of their history. Before last season they had a highest finish of 8th in the Segunda Division and only three seasons ago were playing in the third tier of Spanish football.

It has been a significant rise since then as they are in their maiden Primera Division campaign and the 0-1 win at Celta Vigo shows this is a team that will enjoy every game they have at this level. Hosting Atletico Madrid in the second game should see all 8,000 odd seats filled up on Saturday evening and the idea will be to create an intimidating atmosphere for opponents who are used to the finer things in life.

That might not be enough for the upset as Diego Simeone is likely to have been tearing strips off his players this past week for dropping two home points against Alaves despite scoring what should have been a winning goal in the 90th minute. Atletico Madrid have shown they can recover from these setbacks under their charismatic Argentinian manager, while their 13 away League wins last season could not be bettered by any other team.

The layers are expecting Atletico Madrid to win here and I can't argue with that. Instead I will look for them to do what they do best and that is defend resolutely and secure a victory behind a strong defensive effort.

It is something of a surprise that Atletico Madrid only won 3 of those 13 away games at clubs that finished in the bottom six places and they actually lost to 2 of the bottom four. However the wins did come with a clean sheet and Atletico Madrid have conceded just 29 goals in their last 38 away games in Spain.

Leganes will give Atletico Madrid a real test in this derby game, but I will back Diego Simeone's men to come through with a win behind a clean sheet at odds against.

Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona PickThe shocking manner in which Barcelona were blown apart by Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup must have kept them focused the rest of the season when facing this club. That resulted in 4 wins in a row against them, although both games played in Bilbao were very competitive and resulted in narrow Barcelona wins.

Barcelona might have won 3 of their last 4 visits to Bilbao, but prior to that run they had failed to win any of 4, although I do think this current Athletic Bilbao side have struggled to match the top three clubs. That has led to 5 defeats in 6 home games against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the League and I can understand why the layers are taking no chances with the Barcelona price here.

As strong as Barcelona are, they have been very good away from home finishing with the best away record in each of the last two seasons. 17 of 27 wins over that period have come by at least two goals so you can understand again why the layers are asking Barcelona to win this one by a clear margin for a full payout on the handicaps.

However they have not had it easy when playing in Bilbao and that showed in Barcelona's narrow wins here. Only 4 teams won here last season in the League and none of those came by more than a single goal margin, while the last 2 Barcelona wins have been 0-1 and 1-2. I can't imagine this one being much easier and while the attacking potential Barcelona have can see them beat any team by big margins, I think it is a big price that they win by a narrow margin and I will back them to do so by a single goal victory.

Villarreal v Sevilla PickThere are some big questions to be answered by both Villarreal and Sevilla heading into the new season, but I do think Sevilla look the stronger of the two teams and I expect them to finish higher in the League table.

It seems to be a similar feel for Villarreal as the last time they qualified for the Champions League. They played in that competition in the 2011/12 season, but it ended with a relegation to the Segunda Division and this current Villarreal squad looks like it might have suffered plenty of upheaval in the summer.

While a relegation would be a big surprise, I would not be surprised to see Villarreal fail to reach Europe through their League record. They look a vulnerable favourite in the second game of the season, even if Sevilla failed to win a single away game in the League last season.

Sevilla lost here 2-1, but had previously won 3 in a row at Villarreal, while the season before last they had the 4th best away record in La Liga. I think the fact they failed to win any of their away games last season is playing a part in the price as is the fact they conceded 4 goals in a win last week, but I think Sevilla can be backed as the underdog for a small interest to win against a team that looks in disarray in Villarreal.

Lazio v Juventus Pick: Last season Juventus made a really slow start to the Italian Serie A campaign, but that didn't prevent them winning the title yet again. Selling Paul Pogba is an obvious loss for the Old Lady, but the signings made to bolster the entire squad looks to have created a team that could potentially challenge for Champions League success.

A tough win over Fiorentina at home will have given Juventus a little bit of a shot in the arm to take into this second game of the season, while they have been dominant away from home last season with three more wins on their travels than any other team in Serie A.

It was a difficult season for Lazio who had finished 3rd two seasons ago but failed to qualify for the Champions League Group Stage. They have been strong at home, but lost their 6 home games to teams that finished above them last season, while 5 of their 6 losses at the Stadio Olimpico the season before had come against teams from the top seven.

Lazio did win 3-4 at Atalanta last week which will have given them confidence but they have struggled against the top teams have lost 3 in a row at home against Juventus. They ended last season with 3 losses from their last 5 here in all competitions and I think the Champions can lay a marker for the season with a win in the Italian capital on Saturday evening at a decent price.

Fiorentina v Chievo PickThe World Cup Qualifiers begin next week which means there will be a two week break following this game and Fiorentina would love to put their first three points on the board. Losing at the home of the Champions is no disgrace, but Fiorentina will do well not to underestimate Chievo who beat Inter Milan 2-0 last weekend.

As much as Chievo have show improvement in the League in each of the last three seasons, they are still going to be an underdog when visiting the top teams in Serie A. That is shown in their 6 losses to the eight clubs that finished above them in the League table last season and they have particularly struggled in recent visits to Florence.

Fiorentina did win 10 of their 15 games at home against teams that finished below them in the League table and the only concern for me has to be the poor pre-season which is off the back of a long run without too many wins to end the last season. However they were strong at home and I do think Fiorentina will have a little too much for Chievo in this one.

The side have been one of the most consistent ones in Serie A in recent seasons and this might finally be the season when Fiorentina can break into the top three having seen Napoli and Roma weakened in the summer. Inter Milan were also in disarray and Fiorentina can take advantage but that does mean winning games like this one.

Credit Chievo for establishing themselves at this level and steadily improving in each of the last three seasons, but I will back Fiorentina to beat them on Sunday.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 1.75 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Watford-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burton Albion-Derby County Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Barnsley @ 2.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Cardiff City @ 2.40 William Hill (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-Wolves Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Nottingham Forest-Leeds United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Coral (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Brighton Draw @ 3.40 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Real Betis-Deportivo La Coruna Draw @ 3.30 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Real Madrid - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid Win to Nil @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Barcelona to Win by One Goal @ 4.00 Stan James (1 Unit)
Sevilla @ 2.88 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Juventus @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Fiorentina @ 1.67 Bet365 (2 Units)

August Update21-30-1, - 13.24 Units (91 Units Staked, - 14.55% 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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