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Friday, 16 December 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (December 16-19)

This is the final round of domestic football until Boxing Day and there are some big matches in England before the mini-break for the players. They will then go into another week of three League games in a short space of time, while the rest of Europe heads into a Winter Break which will essentially last one week longer than England's.

It is a big weekend for the top teams in the Premier League who are trying to chase down the gap Chelsea have opened at the top of the table. It is Chelsea who come out and play before anyone else in the Premier League, and it could be a hugely enjoyable Christmas if they can win the game knowing Manchester City play Arsenal, and Liverpool and Manchester United have very difficult away games at teams inside the top eight of the Premier League.

They are already strong favourites and that position might have strengthened by the time the results are in the books on Monday evening.

The bottom clubs will be looking to avoid finishing in 20th place going into Christmas Day with that being death knell for so many over the last twenty-four seasons in the Premier League. Sunderland need at least a point and hope either Hull City or Swansea City lose and I think there is every chance they will avoid being bottom at the end of this round of games.

The Championship also continues, while the top European Leagues get ready for their short break.

It was another solid week for the picks during the week which has helped me turn December back around and into the black. It's only just back into that position though which means the last three rounds are all going to be big in determining whether this will be another positive month, or one when I take a setback.

Crystal Palace v Chelsea Pick: The Premier League leaders open this round of Premier League games and have a chance to really put the foot down and take complete control of the title race. A run of 10 consecutive Premier League wins in a row has seen Chelsea open a lead at the top of the table, but this is going to be far from an easy game for them.

A London derby against a team that can score goals will be a test for Chelsea who seem to have found a way to ride their luck and then show some real clinical finishing when chances are presented their way. They needed some big saves from the goalkeeper to preserve the win at Sunderland while there have been numerous times during their 10 game winning run in the League when teams have had chances to finish Chelsea off and missed those opportunities.

Do I really think Crystal Palace are capable of being successful where other teams haven't? No, I don't think they will be, but I do think they can play their part in what could be a high-scoring game.

The run of games featuring at least three goals continued for Crystal Palace in the 1-2 defeat to Manchester United on Wednesday, while that means both teams have scored in 7 of their last 8 Premier League games overall. I can see Crystal Palace causing a few problems, but they look vulnerable defensively and Chelsea are playing with another confidence in the final third to expose those problems.

Chelsea are slightly shorter to win here than Manchester United, but the bigger price of seeing at least three goals shared out is the one that appeals to me the most.

West Brom v Manchester United Pick: This is going to be a really big test for Manchester United when they visit The Hawthornes for the late Saturday afternoon kick off in front of the television cameras. As well as Manchester United have played, West Brom are a team high on confidence and scoring plenty of goals in front of their own fans.

They have a big team which is going to be able to cause problems from set pieces and West Brom have enjoyed their home games with Manchester United in recent seasons. The Baggies have lost 1 of their last 4 home games against Manchester United although I expect the away team to cause a few problems of their own with the likes of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic beginning to stamp their authority on the team.

The performances have been solid from Manchester United all season, but now they are producing results although I would not be rushing out to back them at a very short price to win here. They are shorter than they were at Crystal Palace and West Brom have been in significantly better form than the former which makes the prices look completely wrong.

Instead I am going to focus on there being at least three goals shared out between clubs who have been showing plenty of attacking intent. Tony Pulis can be criticised for attempting to stifle big teams than having a go at them, but that wasn't the case at Chelsea last weekend and a similar performance will give West Brom a chance of the upset.

However I also think Manchester United will pose problems the other way when you think West Brom have had 1 clean sheet in their last 6 home games. There is enough attacking talent for Manchester United to create chances, and I would not be surprised to see goals at both ends.

Before the game last season, 8 in a row at The Hawthornes between West Brom and Manchester United had ended with at least three goals shared out. The game last season was spoiled by an early sending off for Juan Mata and a very negative response from a manager (Louis Van Gaal rather than Tony Pulis), but this one looks to have two teams in scoring form facing one another.

As much as I would like to see Manchester United win this game, I do think it will be in the balance at times as to which way it goes, but I am expecting at least three goals. At odds against that looks an appealing price and I will look for at least three goals to be shared out by these teams.

Bournemouth v Southampton Pick: During the week I picked Stoke City with a start on the Asian Handicap because I was not sure why they had been set as the underdog in a home game against Southampton. This weekend Bournemouth are a home underdog against The Saints and I still think the latter are being overrated considering their poor away form.

Losing Charlie Austin has taken away a big goal threat for Southampton and they struggled to break down a resilient Stoke City team without him despite the home team being reduced to ten men from the 23rd minute.

Southampton might find more space against a Bournemouth team that likes to get forward, but this is a team that have also been very strong at The Vitality Stadium. They have proven they can score goals and even getting one might be enough to ensure they avoid defeat.

Once again the layers are offering a small start on the Asian Handicap which will return some profits if Bournemouth avoid defeat. A full payout is only available if Bournemouth win the game, but I do think they are more likely to do that than Southampton who have won 1 of their last 9 away from home in all competitions.

The lack of goals in the Southampton squad without Austin has to be a big concern and something that needs to be addressed in the January transfer window, but for now I will back Bournemouth with the Asian Handicap start.

Manchester City v Arsenal Pick: There is going to be a seven day break for teams after this round of fixtures and the final two live games of the Premier League weekend look they could give the neutrals plenty of entertainment. The first comes from The Etihad Stadium on Sunday when Manchester City take on Arsenal which is a big game for both clubs to prove they are going to be a threat to win the Premier League title in the second half of the season.

Manchester City have not been in great form, but they at least beat Watford here during the week for a confidence boost. On the other hand Arsenal had been playing really well before throwing away the result at Everton and ending a long unbeaten run in the Premier League.

That means both teams will head into this fixture with something to prove but I am not anticipating a tight, tactical game. Instead I think Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger will want to send their teams out to express themselves and win this game and I think that leads to an entertaining game.

I am surprised Manchester City are a similar price to when they hosted Chelsea because of the absence of Sergio Aguero in this game. Arsenal also have a decent record at The Etihad Stadium in recent visits and I think there will be a few people out there tempted to back The Gunners to avoid defeat at a decent price.

Personally I think backing at least three goals to be scored in this game at a similar price is more appealing as both teams look decent going forward, but vulnerable at the back. Manchester City's defensive problems have been well documented and Arsenal have the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott who will feel they can create chances and score goals here.

On the other side of the field, Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet in 11 games in all competitions and they have conceded in 6 straight away games. Even without Sergio Aguero, Manchester City have solid players in the final third who can expose those defensive problems and I expect they can create chances too.

This has the feelings of a 2-1 kind of game with both teams capable of winning the fixture. I do think there will be at least one scored at both ends and I will back this game to produce at least three goals on Sunday afternoon for the neutrals to enjoy.

Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley Pick: The return of Harry Kane has seen Tottenham Hotspur rediscover their shooting boots at home and they head into this fixture having scored at least three goals in their last 4 home games, although one of those was at Wembley Stadium. Those goals being scored coupled with Burnley's struggles for goals away from home has seen Tottenham Hotspur put down as a short favourite to win this week and they are being asked to cover a two goal Asian Handicap for a full payout.

It should be noted that 3 of Burnley's 7 away League games have seen them lose by at least three goals, but only 1 of their last 5 and I am not willing to back Tottenham Hotspur to cover the number.

Instead I think the focus has to be the troubles Burnley have had in front of goal and look for Tottenham Hotspur to win their third straight game at White Hart Lane with a clean sheet behind them.

Both Swansea City and Hull City are struggling and have not scored in losses here, but they did have some chances. Tottenham Hotspur are going to have to ride out a couple of rough moments and Burnley did create a couple of really good chances against West Ham United, but Hugo Lloris has played really well and I think the return of Toby Alderweireld makes Tottenham Hotspur a little more solid.

I can't imagine Tom Heaton replicating his performance at Old Trafford and keeping Tottenham Hotspur from scoring and backing the home team to continue Burnley's struggles in front of goal looks the call.

Everton v Liverpool Pick: The Merseyside Derby rounds out the weekend in the Premier League and is the last live League game until Boxing Day. It looks like a fixture that can produce fireworks in what is going to be a raucous atmosphere between Everton and Liverpool.

There should be plenty of goalmouth action in the game as both teams have shown they are better going forward than they are defensively and that should produce a really good game of football. I have little doubt that both teams are going to find a way to score in this one despite Liverpool missing a couple of key performers, although the one concern in backing at least three goals is the 1-1 scoreline which has occurred in 3 of the last 5 Everton home games.

Draws have been the play in the last 4 Merseyside Derby games at Goodison Park too so the 1-1 is a real player, but this Liverpool team will keep things fairly open as they look to attack whenever they get a chance. It doesn't surprise me that 8 of their 11 away games in all competitions have resulted in at least three goals being shared out with the style of play Jurgen Klopp demands and 3 of the last 4 games between these teams at Goodison Park have seen both teams score.

2 of the 4 draws have featured at least three goals shared out and I am expecting chances at both ends throughout the ninety minutes of this game. The layers have not quite gone as short as I thought they might and I will look for another of the live television games of this weekend to produce the entertainment the television companies hope for.

Norwich City v Huddersfield Town Pick: The Championship fixture list opens with another Friday Night Football affair and this looks a decent game between Norwich City and Huddersfield Town. Both have shown some improvement over the last couple of weeks after hitting a slump in their form and the winner will have some confidence to take into the week after Christmas Day when another three League games have to be negotiated.

It is Norwich City who come into the game as the favourites and I have to say I do think the layers have got that right. This is a team that has performed very well at home and have recorded back to back wins at Carrow Road which should see the fans behind them in this one.

There has been improvement from Huddersfield Town too, but they have been inconsistent away from home all season and that may show up here. They have conceded too many goals on their travels although David Wagner's team has to be respected with some solid away results behind them this season.

However I think Norwich City will have that edge being at home where they have gotten the better of Huddersfield Town a number of times in recent years. The feeling is The Canaries will create enough chances to score at least twice in this one and that should be enough to earn them the three points against a Huddersfield Town side whose 5 away League defeats have come in their last 8 away games.

At odds against I will back Norwich City to earn another important three points to move back into the top six for at least one evening.

Bristol City v Preston North End Pick: There is no doubting that Bristol City and Preston North End come into this fixture trending in opposite directions in recent weeks, although Simon Grayson would like a few more wins on the board for Preston North End. Lee Johnson should be given the time to turn things around for Bristol City, but the pressure will only increase on him if they continue to slip down the League table.

Ashton Gate had been a comfort for Bristol City this season, but they've begun to stumble here in recent weeks and I am not sure they should be as short a favourite to win this game as the layers have them. It is true that Bristol City have earned the majority of their points at home, and they have won 6 of 10 League games here, but  3 of their last 4 in all competitions have ended in losses.

Add to that the fact that Preston North End have been very difficult to beat in recent games on their travels and you have a reason to back the away side to avoid defeat at a very decent looking price. This is a team that can score goals on their travels, and Simon Grayson has them working hard and fighting until the final whistle (and I don't mean with themselves in this case).

This is a club that has a very strong record against Bristol City in recent seasons as they have been in the same Division for four consecutive seasons. The previous three has seen Preston North End unbeaten in each League game and they have also won on their last couple of visits to Ashton Gate.

Backing Preston North End to avoid defeat against an out of form opponent looks to be an appealing price and I will take them with the Asian Handicap start.

Burton Albion v Newcastle United Pick: If ever Burton Albion wanted to know the level of competition they would be facing in the Championship, facing Newcastle United with an expensive squad they have will highlight that. The fans will love this visit of a top club in English football, but on the pitch it is going to be a real challenge for Burton Albion.

They have been playing well at The Pirelli Stadium in recent weeks with plenty of wins on the board, but Burton Albion will have had some confidence knocked in the 0-1 defeat to Huddersfield Town here during the week. It is clear that Burton Albion would not have played too many clubs of the level of Newcastle United at home and it is going to be very difficult for them to contain the visitors.

I have very little doubt that Newcastle United have the quality to score here, while the weather conditions in this part of England should mean the pitch is in good condition for the team relegated from the Premier League last season. The layers are taking no chances with the Newcastle United price which doesn't surprise me as I do expect them to win, but I think having a small interest on the 'Win to Nil' market may pay off here.

Burton Albion have actually failed to score in 2 of their last 3 home games, while Newcastle United have kept clean sheets in 5 of their last 7 away games in all competitions. The layers are still offering a decent price for Newcastle United to win with a clean sheet and I will back that as they look to make it three wins and three clean sheets from the last eight days.

Leeds United v Brentford Pick: This is not going to be an easy game for Leeds United but they have been playing very well at Elland Road and I think that will give them the edge in this fixture when they host Brentford.

It has proven to be a difficult game for Leeds United having won none of their previous 6 League games against Brentford and facing a team that has had a couple of morale boosting wins over the last seven days. However Leeds United can match the confidence having won 3 of their last 4 here and bouncing back from a loss at Brighton to beat high-flying Reading 2-0 on Tuesday night.

Brentford will head to the North West to defend in numbers and frustrate the home team, and they have had 3 clean sheets in their last 5 away games. The Bees have also won at Brighton in the League this season so I am anticipating a close game with very little between them.

Home advantage can see Leeds United just get on the front foot for long enough to earn the three points in this one. At odds against the price looks decent too and I do think Leeds United have been playing well enough at home through the season to do just enough to break down a Brentford team that can be troublesome when they are producing their best.

I just feel Leeds United score goals at home and getting up to two goals should mean they have enough for the three points in a tough afternoon encounter.

Birmingham City v Brighton Pick: My first reaction to Gary Rowett's sacking at Birmingham City was complete surprise as one of the more promising manager's in the lower Leagues had been overachieving for the second season in a row at St Andrew's. It isn't just the fans and the media who have been surprised, but the players have also shown their dismay and I do think it is an awkward way to go into the final game before Christmas Day.

To make matters more difficult, they are facing a Brighton team who have been winning plenty of away games in recent weeks. Brighton have been very good defensively which will make life tough for Birmingham City and they have found some consistency in the final third to suggest they will have chances in this one.

The home form of Birmingham City has to be respected, but the Rowett sacking might just have a few players wondering what the future holds and that uncertainty can filter onto the pitch. I also think the fans could potentially voice their discontent about the decision to sack a popular manager and again that will put some pressure on the home players.

Playing a team that is very capable of exposing those cracks has me leaning towards Brighton to win this fixture. They have managed to do that in 2 of their last 3 visits including last season and I think Brighton can be backed at odds against to take advantage of any unrest and uncertainty in this live game and win another away game to maintain a strong position in the top two of the Championship.

MY PICKS: Crystal Palace-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.70 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Brom-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Bournemouth + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.67 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur Win to Nil @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Norwich City @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Preston North End + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Newcastle United Win to Nil @ 2.62 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Leeds United @ 2.30 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brighton @ 2.20 Bet365 (2 Units)

December Update23-22, + 0.19 Units (86 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)

November Final40-38-3, + 5.76 Units (159 Units Staked, + 3.62% 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 2016/17142-145-8, + 10.70 Units (555 Units Staked, + 1.93% 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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