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Friday, 18 November 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (November 18-21)

Thankfully the final international break until March has been concluded and we are getting ready for the resumption of the domestic football around Europe. There is still another round of Champions League and Europa League games to be played before the month of November is concluded as well as the English Football League Cup Quarter Finals.

This has to be the time for those clubs in England to really start putting some momentum together as we get set to enter the busy run up to Christmas and the New Year over which the English game takes centre stage.

Personally I find the international break awfully boring, but this one might have been one of the more interesting ones with the story being broken about Wayne Rooney.

Now I am not a Rooney fan despite being a Manchester United fan, but this is a rare moment where I will actually back him over the initial story- I don't think it was as big a deal that he had been drinking within his hotel and perhaps had too much because footballers shouldn't be expected to be robots. However I would be more concerned that this doesn't seem to be an isolated event and it sounds like Rooney will be stripped of the England captaincy and don't be surprised if Jose Mourinho decides to do the same thing at Manchester United.

You do have to wonder what is going through Rooney's mind at the moment though and whether he really has the desire to fight for his place at both club and country in the same way that he talks about it. This has been a long career already for Rooney and I can't help wonder whether he has finally accepted that he isn't the force of old and needs to move on from Old Trafford and England to pastures new with strong links to the MLS in America.

I've been saying for a lot longer than the media that I've felt Rooney was a real problem for Manchester United in recent seasons as he has slowed down and thus slowed the whole attacking idea. His first touch is deteriorating, any pace he had has virtually gone and even the strength is not at the same level as previously.

I think we will know exactly what Mourinho thinks of his player on Saturday with Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended, but I won't be surprised if Marcus Rashford gets the call up front with the likes of Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick making up the players behind the youngster.


There was another interesting story developing later in the week with news that Steven Gerrard might be the next MK Dons manager... That is the MK Dons who are 21st in League One!

I've got no love lost for Gerrard due to his club allegiances, but all credit to him if he wants to prove himself at that level. It is far more impressive to me than others who think by being the Number 2 during a terrible period of a club's history should entitle you to being given the Number 1 role without ever proving yourself anywhere and all because you've played for a club for many years.

I have always thought that is has been proven so many times through footballing history that being a really good player doesn't always translate to being a great manager that these former players should earn their stripes outside of the Premier League. Even if Gerrard isn't successful at the MK Dons, he should be given a chance elsewhere, but I don't think any Liverpool fan would want him to take over at Anfield before showing he can get the job done from the sidelines elsewhere.

It would also be a big coup for the MK Dons with Gerrard likely to do a player-manager role as they bid to avoid the drop to League Two.


November has been a rough month for the picks to follow what was a difficult October. I've not had a lot of luck which was summed up during the week with Paulinho missing an open goal to get to the third goal I had predicted in the Peru-Brazil World Cup Qualifier, but I also need to make better picks.

This is another big weekend and there are four big rounds of games to come to get this month turned around and I am looking to begin that this weekend.


Manchester United v Arsenal PickThe Premier League fixture compiler must have made sure they set up some big games out of the international breaks in the first half of the Premier League season and all of those games seem to have involved Manchester United. After facing Manchester City and Liverpool in the first two games out of the international break, Manchester United will be looking to beat Arsenal when they host them at Old Trafford this weekend.

A 1-2 defeat to Manchester City and a goalless draw with Liverpool might suggest Jose Mourinho's team needs time to gel together after the break, but I am not going to read too much into a couple of results for a trend. Those would have been tough games no matter when they were played in the season, but I have to think it might have played a part in the layers thinking when the released their prices for this game.

Some of the recent results might also be factored in, but I am surprised to see Manchester United at a bigger price than they were to beat Manchester City in the Premier League in September. I do believe the Manchester United performances have been better than the results, particularly at Old Trafford, and the Arsenal away run has been based on beating teams much weaker than the one they will see on Saturday.

Arsenal have won 5 away games in a row, but beating Hull City, Nottingham Forest, Burnley, Ludogorets and Sunderland doesn't really prepare you for Manchester United. With Alexis Sanchez potentially not risked after having to play on a strain for Chile on Tuesday, Arsenal might not be able to take pull advantage of the injuries Manchester United have in defensive positions.

The home team could be missing both Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic this week, but Marcus Rashford starting up front is not a huge step back in my opinion. It was Rashford who scored twice against Arsenal when Manchester United beat them 3-2 at the back end of last season and the home team starting that day looks significantly weaker than the one we will see on Saturday.

Jose Mourinho also continues to hold the mental edge over Arsene Wenger which includes guiding an out of sorts Chelsea team to a 2-0 win over them last season. Manchester United have played well enough at home to think they can create the chances to win this game and I can see them coming out on the right side of a high-scoring match on Saturday.

It's a big game for both teams, but I do believe Manchester United are an appealing price to win their first really big League game under Mourinho and build momentum for a four game home run that begins with this match.


Crystal Palace v Manchester City PickWith the investment made in the Crystal Palace squad in the summer and over the last eighteen months, you have to think the fans and the Chairman are looking for better results from Alan Pardew. Reaching the FA Cup Final last May might have seen Pardew avoid the criticism that he perhaps should be facing having overseen just 4 wins from 30 Premier League games played in the 2016 calendar year.

They have lost 9 of their 14 home games played in the League since the turn of the year despite the loud, vocal support they get at Selhurst Park and the slip down to 16th in the Premier League table this season is a big concern.

There might be some more voices opposing Pardew if Crystal Palace are beaten again this weekend but they have a big test on their hands against Manchester City. The away team have played better on their travels but they are still looking for the consistency that Pep Guardiola demands from his teams.

Manchester City will control the ball, but Crystal Palace have the forward players to challenge a defence that has struggled for clean sheets. Potentially losing Claudio Bravo would be another blow and I do think the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke can create chances.

However I do worry for Crystal Palace defensively having conceded 10 goals in their last 3 Premier League games going into the international break. They have scored in each of those games though and I am surprised the layers have a more appealing price for both teams to score than they do for at least three goals to be shared out.

They clearly don't believe Crystal Palace can play as big a part in this match as I do and I do think The Eagles score against a Manchester City team that have conceded in 8 away games in a row in all competitions prior to the 0-4 win at West Brom. Alan Pardew is likely to set his team up to give this more of a go than Tony Pulis did and I will back both to score in this one.


Everton v Swansea City PickThere has to be a real worry at The Liberty Stadium that their team is not going to be able to get out of trouble in the Premier League and will be sent back to the Championship after a six year stay in the top flight. Swansea City have tried to change things by bringing in Bob Bradley as manager, but the fans have remained unimpressed with the management of their club.

There is so much work for Bradley to do for a team that has conceded goals regularly and at an alarming rate. Teams simply won't earn too many points when they are conceding at least twice in 6 of their last 7 games in all competitions and that is even more unlikely when the number increases to at least three goals in 3 of their last 4 games.

Getting the defensive side right is key for Bradley, but Swansea City already see a 6 point gap to safety which means they need to start winning games sooner rather than later. December looks to be the key month when Swansea City have six winnable games, but this is a team that needs to find the charahcter to scrap for every point they can get.

For so long Swansea City have played a certain way and that is easy for teams to go up against so the big question is whether they can change their style to make it much harder for teams against them. Coming off an international break means Bradley won't have had time to work with his players like he would have wanted and now they face an Everton team who will be looking for a much better performance than they produced two weeks ago.

Ronald Koeman would have been furious with the 5-0 capitulation against Chelsea and I do think he is the kind of manager who can get his side to bounce back. Everton have been in a poor run for the most part, but they remain in a decent position in the Premier League and have been better at home where their attacking players tend to be able to express themselves better.

This is a team that has shown improvement defensively since the Dutchman replaced Roberto Martinez and I think that is going to be the foundation for a successful day. With the way Swansea City have defended it is hard to see how Everton don't score at least twice and I think that can set them up for a fairly comfortable win.

Everton's last two home wins have come by a least two goal margins and Swansea City have lost back to back Premier League games by that same gap. I think Everton can extend that run on Saturday with their attackers likely to create chances to do so and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.


Southampton v Liverpool PickThere is a lot of optimism and excitement around the Liverpool fanbase after seeing the spectacular start their side have made to the Premier League, but even with that in mind it is hard to ignore they are only a point clear at the top of the table. This is a genuine title challenger though and Liverpool's credentials will be tested when they visit a Southampton side who were recently beaten 0-2 by Chelsea in this Stadium.

The layers are completely buying Liverpool at the moment and they are much shorter than Chelsea were to win at St Mary's and I would have little interest in that. On the other hand the form is hard to ignore and opposing Liverpool doesn't exactly inspire much confidence this week either despite the fact Southampton have won 6 of their last 7 at St Mary's.

The defeat to Chelsea might have dented some of the confidence when the 'big' teams come to the south coast and so I would rather steer clear of the winner markets and the handicaps.

Instead I think the layers are still not giving enough credit to the chance of seeing goals in this one. A few weeks ago Southampton looked very solid defensively, but that has not been the case more recently and I don't think they will prevent Liverpool from scoring.

However this Liverpool defence is far from watertight and Southampton have produced chances at home while they have an in-form striker in Charlie Austin who can take those opportunities.

With Liverpool scoring at least twice in their last 3 away Premier League games but yet to keep a clean sheet, I do think both teams will score in this one. I also think Liverpool are a team that will keep attacking which should mean an open game and so backing at least three goals to be shared out looks the pick again this weekend when analysing a Liverpool away Premier League game.


Stoke City v Bournemouth PickA few negative results in the Premier League seems to bring pressure on any manager in the Division from the top to the very bottom and it was no surprise that the media focused on Mark Hughes at Stoke City earlier in the season. Hughes won't shy away from the fact that it was a poor start for Stoke City, but this is a team that looks to be on the right road to recovery.

They had won 3 games in a row in the Premier League before the 1-1 draw with West Ham United and Stoke City have also won back to back games here having scored twice in those wins. It will feel like an opportunity to win 3 in a row at home for the first time since April 2014 as they are facing a Bournemouth team off back to back poor results.

Losses to Middlesbrough and Sunderland are not what Eddie Howe expects from his team, while Bournemouth continue to show defensive weakness in the Premier League. That has been particularly evident away from home where they have conceded at least two goals in their last 3 on their travels and I think this is going to be a really difficult day for Bournemouth.

Stoke City showed they are a step ahead in their development as a club with their wins over Bournemouth in both League games last season and I do think they should have the edge when it comes to confidence heading into the weekend.

The Premier League has been highly competitive though and strange results never seem to be too far away, but I have to back Stoke City at odds against to win this weekend. They have looked stronger at home and I think if they can reach two goals in this one that it might be difficult for Bournemouth to find the goals to muster a result and I will back the home team to win.


Middlesbrough v Chelsea Pick: The last few weeks have seen Antonio Conte return to his favoured system of having three at the back and that has improved the results that Chelsea have produced. They have moved up to 2nd in the Premier League table, but things are very tight at the moment and a drop in results will see them quickly move down the table.

There is a big game on deck when Tottenham Hotspur head to Stamford Bridge next weekend, but Chelsea can focus on this one at Middlesbrough first with no European competition to worry about either. The home team have had some mixed results on their return to the Premier League and Middlesbrough have lost 1 of their last 5 games heading into this weekend.

That run includes earning draws at Arsenal and Manchester City and you have to think Aitor Karanka will play a similar style in this one despite being at home. Middlesbrough would see another point as one gained rather than two dropped, but Chelsea had been flying ahead of the international break.

Chelsea have been relying on a strong defensive shape to win their recent games in the League and that has seen them keep 5 clean sheets in a row since the 3-0 loss at Arsenal. With Middlesbrough struggling for goals, I think there is every chance Chelsea keep another clean sheet here, but they might have to dig in deep to break down the home team.

If Middlesbrough defend as they have away from home at The Emirates Stadium and at The Etihad Stadium they can be tough to beat. I think this might be quite a competitive 'Super Sunday' game and it might be one that doesn't produce a lot of goals with the way both Middlesbrough and Chelsea have been playing in recent weeks.

I'll look for a competitive showing to end with fewer than three goals this weekend.


Brighton v Aston Villa PickThis looks to be a fascinating game to come out of the international break for both Brighton and Aston Villa and a chance for both teams to set out a marker for the coming weeks and months ahead. A win for Brighton will underline their status as second favourites for promotion, while a win for Aston Villa might show the fans that Steve Bruce can potentially lead a promotion run this season.

It is a big test for Aston Villa who haven't lost a lot of games at this level but have struggled for wins. They have shown improvement recently with 3 wins from 4 League games, but this is the toughest test of Bruce's reign against a Brighton team that have won plenty of home games.

Brighton have scored plenty of goals too which makes them dangerous and the win over Norwich City will have given the players belief that they can compete with teams from the Premier League. The fans will look at Aston Villa as a Premier League level club and I expect a strong atmosphere on Friday night in front of the television cameras.

I would have liked the home team to be a bigger price, but I think their goals and home form have been factored in despite the improvements Aston Villa have shown. Aston Villa were fortunate to win at Reading and earn a draw at Birmingham City and I feel they will need to ride their luck to get something out of this game.

If that luck is not with them, I do think Brighton are too strong and can score at least twice which should be enough to take the three points.


Birmingham City v Bristol City PickBoth Birmingham City and Bristol City are arguably exceeding expectations through the first three months of the season, and both Gary Rowett and Lee Johnson are enhancing their managerial reputations. The two managers won't be thinking about their own career prospects though and instead will realise the importance of building momentum going into the notoriously difficult festive period.

It is Birmingham City who have a little more momentum behind them than Bristol City who have hit the hump of late. Where Bristol City have lost 4 of their last 6 games and have not won any of their last 3 away from home, Birmingham City have won 4 of their last 6 at home.

Only a little misfortune prevented Birmingham City from beating Aston Villa and this is a team that has scored plenty of goals at home through the season. They should have chances against a Bristol City team that have conceded at least twice in their last 3 games in all competitions and I think the home advantage is going to be key in this fixture.

Birmingham City have dominated Bristol City at home in recent years and I think their confidence is in a stronger place than their visitors. Lee Johnson will make sure Bristol City don't roll over, but Birmingham City feel like a big price to win this home game and I will back them to do so.


Cardiff City v Huddersfield Town PickWhen I was putting together my shortlist from the Championship games this weekend, I did consider backing Cardiff City at a big price to beat Huddersfield Town this weekend. However I think the home team will have to score twice if they are going to do that because of their poor defensive record and that actually brings me to my pick.

I am going to back both teams to score this weekend when they face one another in Wales as both Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town have shown some defensive frailties in recent games. Cardiff City have not had a clean sheet in their last 10 home games going back to last season and Huddersfield Town have managed to find the net in 6 of their 9 away games in all competitions this season.

The Terriers might not score a lot of goals on their travels but they do look good enough for at least one this weekend while they have conceded in 4 of their last 5 away from home. In fact Huddersfield Town have conceded 8 goals in their last couple of away games at Preston North End and Fulham and it did look like Cardiff City were rediscovering their scoring boots in recent games.

Cardiff City did fail to score in their most recent game at home, but that is their sole failure to hit the target in their last 5 games and backing both teams to score at close to evens looks a decent price.


Derby County v Rotherham United PickA new manager can change the fortunes of a club very quickly and Derby County have seen that with Steve McClaren back at the club and results improving in recent weeks. However it is going to be much more difficult for Kenny Jackett to do the same for Rotherham United who look the weakest team in the Championship by some distance.

Only strong work from Neil Warnock kept Rotherham United in the Championship last season and a team that is conceding at least twice in 14 of their 17 games in the 2016/17 season is not going to be easy to turn around. It is also difficult to compare the jobs that McClaren and Jackett have walked into as Derby County were underachieving massively compared with Rotherham United who would be considered overachievers by finishing in 21st position.

This game looks like it will only go one way for me and that is a fairly comfortable home win for Derby County. Goals have been an issue for them, but they have 5 in their last two Championship games and Rotherham United look the perfect team to play when you are struggling for goals.

Defensively Derby County look much stronger than Rotherham United and I think the home team can make it 7 in a row against these visitors in front of their own fans. They won this corresponding fixture 3-0 last season and Derby County have hit that number in 5 of their last 7 against Rotherham United.

Doing so again should mean they are clear of the Asian Handicap and I will back Derby County to cover that this week and highlight to Kenny Jackett the big job he has on his hands.


Reading v Burton Albion PickAlmost every team in the Championship has the chance to upset any other in any given round of games so you can't underestimate anyone. However it would be an upset on the recent form card if Reading were unable to beat Burton Albion at home this weekend.

Reading have won 3 in a row in the League prior to the international break and have begun to find goals in their move up the Championship table. That has come at the same time as goals for Burton Albion have begun to dry up and I think it might be tough for the visitors to just try and defend out for a point in this one.

Nigel Clough won't want Burton Albion to sit back and offer nothing in the final third, but Reading should dominate the ball for long periods and wear down a group of players who were playing in League Two just two years ago.

It will be far from easy for Reading though as Burton Albion have plenty of grit and determination through their ranks, but getting just short of odds against for the home looks a very tempting price. It does have to be noted that Reading have not won as many home games as they would have liked in recent weeks, but they have scored in 4 in a row at the Majedski Stadium and one goal might be enough this weekend.

I will back the home team to win this game against a Burton Albion side that have not scored in their last 3 away games and who have lost 3 of their last 4 on their travels. Reading look a decent price to do that although it might be edgy towards the end of the game with a narrow lead to protect for the home team.


Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid PickThere really isn't much between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid these days with the hard work the former put into their games being able to be the equaliser against the extra quality that Real Madrid can call upon.

There is plenty of quality in the Atletico starting eleven too, but they will look to make life difficult for Real Madrid although the form is perhaps a little concern for Diego Simeone.

However they have been better at home and Real Madrid have struggled in recent visits to this ground to earn results with draws the last two teams ending a run of 3 consecutive losses. I think that is the best Real Madrid can achieve this weekend too, although that has to be considered a good result these days at the Vicente Calderon.

It won't be easy for either of these teams, but I can see them cancelling each other out again and backing the draw for a third successive time at this ground and for the fifth time in 8 games looks the most likely outcome.

MY PICKS: Manchester United @ 2.63 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Manchester City Both Teams to Score @ 1.70 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Everton - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Southampton-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.30 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Middlesbrough-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Brighton @ 1.95 Coral (2 Units)
Birmingham City @ 2.50 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Cardiff City-Huddersfield Town Both Teams to Score @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Derby County - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.08 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Reading @ 2.15 William Hill (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid-Real Madrid Draw @ 3.40 Bet Victor (1 Unit)


November Update14-23-1, - 17.18 Units (74 Units Staked, - 23.21% Yield)

October Final29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% Yield)
September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/17102-107-5, + 4.94 Units (396 Units Staked, + 1.25% 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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