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Friday, 2 December 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (December 2-5)

If you think where the November totals were just two weeks ago, you would not have predicted positive numbers to end the month but a strong two weeks has turned things around. That means adding to the season totals as two positive months and two negative months has put me in a decent position knowing I've had considerably more success in the second half of the season compared with the first over the last three years.

I don't want to take anything for granted as previous performance isn't always an indication for future success, but I am comfortable with how things have gone to this point.

December is always a tough month for players and making picks as the games come thick and fast and making the right adjustments in regards to team strengths can be tough. Watch out for players being rested at this time of the season to keep them fresh for the five months in 2017 that determines where silverware goes, but managers will do well to note how important this time of the year can be, particularly in England.

It is a month with domestic football around Europe up until the weekend of the 17th/18th December before most Leagues shut down for a short 'Winter Break'. The English Leagues continue with games scheduled for Boxing Day, New Year's Weekend and Monday 2nd January where a lot of the players will be tested.

Personally I love this time of the year for the football we get to see, although December has been proven to be something of a graveyard for my picks even if last season was one of the better Decembers I have had. Hopefully I will be getting the month off to a really strong start this weekend which can build some momentum before we head into the final Champions League/Europa League Group matches next week.

A number of teams will be playing twice a week right through to the weekend of the 17th/18th December when they will have eight days to get ready for the Boxing Day fixtures.

Manchester City v Chelsea PickThere has been a lot of high praise given to Antonio Conte in recent weeks which is a far cry from when he was favoured to be the next manager to lose his job in the Premier League after the 3-0 loss to Arsenal. I think the Italian should be given credit for the change of formation which is getting plenty of positives out of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, but you can raise some questions about their 7 game winning run in the Premier League.

They scored early against Manchester United and Southampton, but both of those teams had opportunities to get back into the game which could have changed the whole feel of the game if they had taken them. Last weekend Chelsea were far inferior to Tottenham Hotspur in the first 45 minutes and being fresher helped them turn that game around as well as scoring right on half time when they might have been out of the game by that point.

It is hard to ignore the results, but Manchester City is a completely different test to what they have faced away from home since the 3-0 loss at Arsenal. Chelsea have beaten Hull City, Southampton and Middlesbrough in the League, but they have also lost at West Ham United in the Cup in that time and having odds against quotes on the home team look very appealing.

Manchester City might have drawn 3 home games in a row, but Chelsea won't sit back and make life awkward as much as Everton, Southampton and Middlesbrough did. In all seriousness, Manchester City had enough chances to win at least two of those games and the win over Barcelona shows what this team can do when they are facing a team that might be a little more positive and thus leave some spaces.

Tactically it should be a fascinating game and Manchester City's poor defensive record would be a big concern for Pep Guardiola. However the Spaniard has had a full week to prepare his men for this one and the freshness won't be a concern as it became for Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday.

I simply also don't think Chelsea are as good as their recent results suggest and I do think Manchester City will prove too strong on the day. The home team will create enough chances to win this one and it is all about whether they can punish Chelsea when they come unlike the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in recent weeks.

Crystal Palace v Southampton PickThis has to be a huge weekend for Alan Pardew whose run to the FA Cup Final as Crystal Palace manager at the end of the 2015/16 season papered over the really poor form in the Premier League. Despite a huge outlay financially in the summer, Crystal Palace have not been able to get out of a consistent slump and are on the brink of falling into the bottom three.

I do have to think the Chairman at Selhurst Park and others in power might be waiting to see if Pardew can turn things around having had faith in him before. However a fall into the bottom three might see a little bit of panic creep into any decision about the manager's future at the club and another defeat on Saturday would ramp up that pressure.

You simply can't avoid that when overseeing 6 straight losses and not when Crystal Palace managed to blow a 3-4 lead at Swansea City last weekend in an eventual 5-4 loss as The Eagles conceded twice in injury time. The goals being conceded at the moment has to be a big concern for Pardew especially as they are facing a Southampton team full of confidence after 2 wins this week and one that doesn't concede a lot of goals.

There is definitely an attacking threat in the Southampton line up that will feel they can expose the soft underbelly of their hosts, but I do think this is a side that is not as strong away from home as they are at St Mary's. The win over Arsenal in the English Football League Cup Quarter Final came against a much changed home team and you can't easily ignore the 2-1 loss at Hull City in a game Southampton took the lead.

However the recent Crystal Palace form makes it tough to believe in them too much either and the vulnerabilities that both have shown suggests the layers may have got it wrong with odds against quotes for at least three goals. 4 of the last 7 fixtures between these two teams have featured at least three goals and the goals being conceded by both at home/away respectively suggests the attacking players will have their chances to improve those numbers.

Crystal Palace are likely to want to tighten up at the back considering recent performances, but Pardew might have to rely on his own attacking players to help the club out of trouble. At odds against I think the chance of seeing goals has been underestimated because of Southampton's lack of goals in recent games, but I think that may change here.

Stoke City v Burnley Pick: There are a few teams in the Premier League from who you simply don't know what kind of performance you are going to see from game to game. Stoke City are one of those and that has contributed to a really inconsistent start to the season for Mark Hughes' team who have plenty of quality but from players who can produce 9/10 performances one week and 5/10 the next.

The football is more enjoyable these days but the results have not been as positive at times as shown when Stoke City were beaten 0-1 by Bournemouth here two weeks ago. This is not the fortress it used to be under Tony Pulis, but Stoke City are able to produce results on their travels more than they ever could under their former manager.

This is the kind of game Stoke City should be winning when they host Burnley, but the layers are taking no chances with the price on the home team. That looks very short to me when you think Burnley have been able to hold out at Manchester United recently even if they did ride their luck in that one.

A real issue for Burnley is finding enough goals to win games and that leads me to my pick. They have only scored in 1 of their 6 away games in all competitions this season and even that was through a penalty at Southampton. Burnley have had some tough away games, but they have also failed to find the net at Accrington Stanley from League Two and at West Brom and I do think Stoke City can become the latest to keep them out.

At some point I would think Stoke City will create their opportunities to win the game, but a small interest on them winning with a clean sheet is the call.

Sunderland v Leicester City PickLast week David Moyes took some criticism from the media for the defensive shape Sunderland played with at Liverpool, but most fans would have recognised any points from that game at Anfield would have been considered a bonus. This week there will be a different feel with Sunderland at home and facing a team that is surprisingly considered a relegation rival when Leicester City visit the North East.

The poor performances that Leicester City have produced away from home is a big concern for Claudio Ranieri and recent weeks has seen the side slide down into the bottom half of the table. Even games at home have begun to bog Leicester City down and this is a very difficult game for them.

While Sunderland have conceded plenty of goals at home, they have also found a way to score goals here and have to believe they can take the game to Leicester City. It is that belief that potentially plays into Leicester City's hands as they might be able to have more success on the counter attack than they have for much of this season.

That will make Leicester City a dangerous proposition this weekend, but Jermain Defoe will believe he can help Sunderland get on the scoreboard too. The away side have really been struggling defensively and Sunderland could pose a real threat from set pieces but the home team have also had defensive problems.

With that in mind, I do think this is a game that could feature three goals at least as the two clubs involved chase an important three points to get their seasons turned around. At odds against I think you can back this game to have at least three goals shared out.

West Ham United v Arsenal Pick: Games between West Ham United and Arsenal at Upton Park were highly entertaining in recent seasons, and I feel the move to the London Stadium will not take away anything from what these teams could produce. Both suffered disappointing English Football League Cup Quarter Final exits on Wednesday, but the changes made suggested they both had one eye on this big Premier League game which will have an impact at both ends of the League table.

There have been a few signs that West Ham United are willing to turn a corner, but they can't afford to be as sloppy as they were in the 3-2 loss at Tottenham Hotspur a couple of weeks ago. That is going to be punished by Arsenal and I do think The Hammers are giving up too many chances at the moment which is going to lead to problems.

After initially struggling in their new home, West Ham United do come into this one with a 4 game unbeaten run and that includes being the only team in recent weeks to beat Chelsea. That should give West Ham United some confidence, but defensively they have only kept one clean sheet in their last 5 home games in all competitions.

A team like Arsenal might be missing the influence of Santi Cazorla, but they have shown they have goals in the side and should be able to expose those vulnerabilities. However I do think West Ham United can play a part in this one too with the defensive frailties Arsenal have shown in recent weeks and that makes it a fascinating League game on Saturday afternoon.

I do think the extra quality Arsenal have shown in recent games gives them an edge in this one. Darren Randolph will need to have a game of the highest standard as he produced at Old Trafford last week but he is facing an Arsenal team that have scored at least twice in 4 of their last 6 away games in all competitions.

I will have a small interest in Arsenal continuing their recent dominance of this fixture away from home and I will back them to win a game where both teams do score.

Bournemouth v Liverpool PickThis is a big game on Sunday for both Bournemouth and Liverpool and there are a couple of questions for both teams to answer. The home team have had a few sloppy results recently most notably the 1-2 loss to Sunderland here despite taking the lead, while Liverpool are missing a huge part of their attacking threat in Philippe Coutinho.

Confidence is a big issue for teams like Bournemouth, but I also believe their style of play makes it easier for the better teams in the Premier League to play against them. Unlike some of the other clubs in the bottom half, Eddie Howe will want his side to express themselves in every game they play and I think that has contributed to the fact that they were beaten in 7 of their 10 home games against teams that finished in the top half last season.

A draw with Tottenham Hotspur and a win over Everton this season might suggest things have changed, but Bournemouth will give Liverpool the space to operate and I think that makes it a tough afternoon for them.

Even though Coutinho is out of the line up, Liverpool have players like Sadio Mane and Roberto Firminho who can provide the quality to win this game. They do look stronger than Bournemouth and while I think Liverpool have some tougher tests ahead before the end of the year where Coutinho's absence might be an issue, I am not sure that shows up here.

I do think it will be a tighter game than the layers imagine, but Liverpool are likely to come away with the three points and I will back them to do that.

Everton v Manchester United PickThis is a big game for an out of form Everton and a Manchester United team desperate to put a winning run together in the Premier League.

Being at home should give Everton a little more confidence as they have kept their best performances for Goodison Park but they have been struggling to really put Ronald Koeman's ideas onto the field. It can be hard to understand what Everton are trying to do at times when they get into the final third but facing a Manchester United defence that is not at full strength should help them in that regards.

There is still talent in the Everton squad and they haven't been beaten in the Premier League at home which makes them dangerous.

However Manchester United have to feel they can start winning games consistently if they maintain the standards of their play. Another home draw might look like a bad result, but Manchester United dominated West Ham United as they have Burnley and Arsenal and only a second goal has been missing in those games to earn the wins.

Defensively Manchester United have made mistakes which have seemed to be punished every time they have occurred. That is going to be an issue at Goodison Park but I think Manchester United can create chances in this one and will feel they can win having earned more away wins in the Premier League than they have at Old Trafford.

It does have to be pointed out that Everton are yet to concede twice at home in the League this season but Manchester United can become the first team to do that if they can show their Cup clinical finishing in the Premier League. On the other hand I do expect Everton will cause more problems than they did for Southampton last weekend and this could be an entertaining game.

I do think both teams will score and I have a gut feeling Manchester United win this game. That leans me towards picking this game to feature at least three goals which has happened in 4 of the last 5 games between Manchester United and Everton and at odds against I feel this is a real possibility again this weekend.

Nottingham Forest v Newcastle United PickThis could be quite an interesting game for the live television cameras on Friday as Nottingham Forest have just shown improved form of late and they might be catching Newcastle United at the right time. The visitors were in action with a strong looking line up on Tuesday night at Premier League Hull City and having been forced all the way to penalties could easily lead to some fatigue to be addressed.

Nottingham Forest are a side that will get forward and create chances and that makes them dangerous, although Newcastle United have scored plenty of goals at this level themselves. The Magpies will feel they can expose some holes in the defensive areas of Nottingham Forest too and that makes it a game that could feature at least three goals.

Both teams have scored in every Nottingham Forest home game in the Championship while Newcastle United have scored at least twice in their last 3 away games in the League. They have had clean sheets in those games but the fatigue I mentioned can help Nottingham Forest earn some opportunities and play their part in this one.

The 1-1 scoreline could be a concern, but Newcastle United haven't played out too many draws this season and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

MY PICKS: Manchester City @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Stoke City Win to Nil @ 2.70 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Sunderland-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal to Win and Both Teams to Score @ 3.20 William Hill (1 Unit)
Liverpool @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Nottingham Forest-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)

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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