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Thursday, 29 December 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (December 29-January 1)

The last matches in the 2016 calendar year are being spread over a few days from Thursday through to Sunday in the English domestic Leagues.

At this time of the season the matches come thick and fast so I will crack on with the picks from the latest round of games.

Boxing Day proved to be a difficult one for the picks as the December Picks took another step back, but this is the last chance to turn things around for this month. I will include the Premier League games scheduled for Sunday 1st January within this month's totals and the first January Picks will be considered from Monday 2nd January and moving forward.

Rotherham United v Burton Albion Pick: This is a relegation six pointer in the Championship as Rotherham United have just given themselves half a chance of getting back in the mix. They looked to be cut off at the bottom of the table, but wins over Queens Park Rangers and Wigan Athletic have kept the teams above them just about in touch.

The fans will be expecting to beat another one of their relegation rivals at home on Thursday as Rotherham United host Burton Albion, but Nigel Clough's men have been anything but an easy out. It was Burton Albion who beat Rotherham United at home earlier this month to keep clear of the bottom three, but they remain very much on the brink of falling into the relegation zone.

Both teams will feel they can create opportunities to score goals as they have been firing in front of goal and playing an opponent who have struggled defensively. With that in mind, I am surprised that the layers are offering almost odds against on there being at least three goals in this game.

4 of the last 5 Burton Albion games have finished with at least three goals shared out, while 4 of the last 6 Rotherham United games have done the same. The game between them at The Pirelli Stadium finished 2-1 to the home side and I think there is every chance one of these teams will take away the three points by a similar scoreline on Thursday so I will take the overs and look for goals.

Reading v Fulham Pick: The layers don't seem to respect Reading who are a home underdog again this week which is a big surprise considering they have won 5 in a row here in the League. Perhaps the rumours about Jaap Stam and his future are playing a part in the prices, but Reading should not be the underdog in this fixture.

Another factor may be the 5-0 hammering Fulham handed out to them at Craven Cottage at the beginning of the month and the fact that Fulham have been slightly better away from home. However I still think Reading are the more likely winners although I won't be backing them in this one.

Instead I am going to look for this game to feature at least three goals with both Reading and Fulham capable in front of goals and perhaps a little vulnerable to attacking football at the back. 5 of the last 6 Reading home games have featured at least three goals and both teams have scored in their last 3 games here.

Fulham have scored at least twice in 3 of their last 4 away games and they had conceded at least two goals in consecutive away games before the 0-2 win at goal-shy Ipswich Town. Games between these clubs have featured at least three goals in last 7 times they have played one another and I will back at least three goals in this one too.

Huddersfield Town v Blackburn Rovers Pick: It goes to show the different directions that Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers have been heading as clubs that the former are an odds on favourite to win this League game on Saturday. I can't really argue with that on current form either and I do think Huddersfield Town do enough to earn the three points against Blackburn Rovers in this early kick off.

While Huddersfield Town have won 4 in a row including their last 2 at The John Smith's Stadium, Blackburn Rovers have lost 5 of their last 6 on their travels. The latter have to be respected having won at Newcastle United recently and having a decent record at Huddersfield Town, but that isn't enough to make me think they can get a result here.

Blackburn Rovers have conceded too many goals of late and that puts them under immense pressure to do enough in the final third to reverse recent results. Huddersfield Town have been playing well enough to score at least twice in this game and I think that will be enough for them to earn the three points.

It will likely be a close game, but Huddersfield Town are playing with confidence and that can give them the mental edge in this fixture. I will back the home team at odds on to win this game and keep the pressure on the top two who both play on Friday.

Derby County v Wigan Athletic Pick: This has not been a fixture Derby County have enjoyed at home in recent years, but they should be able to do enough to win this one on Saturday. Derby County are scoring goals at home and simply not conceding and I am not sure Wigan Athletic are in the frame of mind to change those factors.

There have been some solid away performances from Wigan Athletic in recent weeks, but the losses to Aston Villa and Rotherham United will have dented that confidence. The loss at The New York Stadium was a particularly worrying one for Wigan Athletic and I think Derby County win this one.

The only concern has to be the fact that The Rams played a day later than Wigan Athletic earlier this week, but I think Derby County have had sufficient time to recover and can use home advantage. It might be tight, but Derby County can secure the three points and I will back them to do so.

Wolves v Queens Park Rangers Pick: The price on the Wolves home win has been shortening over the last couple of days and I am not sure an odds on quote will appeal to many considering how erratic Wolves have been at Molineux. However they have won their last couple of League games to give the players some confidence and are facing a Queens Park Rangers team who have been losing plenty of games.

While I do think some of the confidence in the home team has been restored, Queens Park Rangers have lost 6 in a row and they never seem too far away from making a mistake or two at the back. The away side have failed to score in their last 3 away League games and I think they will find it very difficult to make it a hat-trick of wins in this Stadium.

The poor form of Wolves at home is a concern, but the win over Bristol City in the manner it came should give them the momentum to take into this one. They have had an extra day to prepare and Queens Park Rangers played a long half hour with ten men on Tuesday which could have sapped some of the energy levels.

It's not the best price in the world, but Wolves can take the three points and I will back them to do so.

Brentford v Norwich City Pick: Two clubs in mid-table are looking to build some momentum and start moving up the League standings in what has been a disappointing first half of the season for them. Both Brentford and Norwich City will look at recent form and not exactly be firing with confidence, but they have to also look at their opponents and feel this is a chance to earn a big three points.

Separating these teams is difficult because neither inspires confidence to back them.

However it does look a game that will produce at least three goals as Brentford have been conceding goals at an alarming rate at home and Norwich City have been doing the same on their travels. Both teams are better going forward than they are defending and that suggests there will be chances at both ends of the field in the final Championship game of the 2016 calendar year.

The last three fixtures between the clubs have produced at least three goals and I will be looking for goals in this one.

Hull City v Everton Pick: The first Premier League game of the weekend begins on Friday Night Football as Hull City look to end 2016 with a flourish and off the bottom of the Premier League table. They face an Everton team who have been inconsistent but coming in off an impressive 0-2 win at Leicester City and I do think both Mike Phelan and Ronald Koeman will believe their team is capable of winning this game.

The problem for Hull City is the goals they have been conceding even when they have battled well for long periods. Once they concede once they do look like a team that will concede again very quickly and Everton are capable of taking advantage.

However I also think Everton are a team that have struggled for consistency and Hull City will note that Bournemouth, Burnley and Watford have all beaten Everton at home. Now Hull City are not quite as strong as those teams or in great form, but it does give them a chance and I expect them to create some problems for Everton in this fixture.

Both teams should have some chances and goals have tended to flow in their recent fixtures in the Premier League. Hull City versus Everton has not always been the most entertaining of games, but these current squads can make it a decent game for the neutrals to enjoy and I think we may see at least three goals in this one.

Chelsea v Stoke City Pick: The return of Diego Costa is a positive for Chelsea this weekend but they barely missed him as they recorded a 12th successive Premier League win on Boxing Day. It was another League game at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea have kept a clean sheet, but also prevented a team hanging around by scoring at least twice and they look to be running into Stoke City at the right time.

The concern for Mark Hughes has to be the goals Stoke City have conceded in away losses at Arsenal and Liverpool in their last couple of games on their travels. In both games Stoke City scored first before capitulating, but getting in front or even scoring a goal against Chelsea won't be easy.

This time of the season can be difficult to read as teams simply don't have a lot of rest between games and Chelsea have had a day more to prepare for the game. That can play a part when you think they also had an 'easier' game last time out when beating Bournemouth 3-0 at Stamford Bridge compared with Stoke City who were chasing shadows in their 4-1 defeat at Liverpool.

It feels like it could be another difficult day for Stoke City and Chelsea can move into 2017 with 13 consecutive Premier League wins behind them. I will back the home side to win by a couple of goals in this one and cover the Asian Handicap.

Leicester City v West Ham United Pick: You have to think there is enough in the bank for Claudio Ranieri that he should not be fearing being sacked as manager of Leicester City, but the Italian manager needs some results going his way sooner rather than later. The Foxes continue slipping back towards the bottom three and the 0-2 defeat to Everton at The King Power Stadium on Boxing Day saw the home fans boo some of the decisions made by the manager who took them to the title in May.

That season is looking more and more special in each passing week as Leicester City have struggled, but they might be catching a break in the fixture list. While it has to be accepted that West Ham United have been much improved of late, The Hammers continue to concede goals at an alarming rate away from home which has to give Leicester City some encouragement.

West Ham United haven't had a clean sheet in their last 6 away games in all competitions, but they have also scored in 5 straight games on their travels and have scored at least twice in 3 of those games. That will give Slaven Bilic's men confidence they can exploit some of the nervousness that will be in The King Power Stadium which may filter down towards the players.

With Leicester City conceding at least two goals in each of their last 4 home Premier League games, West Ham United might feel they can earn another big three points here. However Leicester City have shown they can create chances and score goals here too and I think this could be one of the entertaining games of the weekend in the Premier League.

It looks a good fixture list for the fans in the final games of the 2016 season and I think both Leicester City and West Ham United play their part in a game that will feature at least three goals. 8 of the last 9 games between these clubs have reached that total and I will back this one to do the same on Saturday.

Manchester United v Middlesbrough Pick: The performances have been very positive for Manchester United for a couple of months but now the results have been matching those. Goals have been flowing and Manchester United look to be rounding into nice form to take into the 2017 calendar year as they look to get back to the kind of level they had set under Sir Alex Ferguson up to 2013.

Jose Mourinho is certainly getting the best out of some of the players at his disposal and Manchester United seem to be playing with a little more tempo in their play. They will look to build some tempo in this one and wear down a Middlesbrough team who have had some confidence sapped from the 1-0 loss at Burnley which is part of a 3 game run of losses in their last 4 games.

Middlesbrough have made life difficult for Manchester City and Arsenal away from home because they don't concede a lot of goals, but the focus may easily be on the home game with Leicester City on Monday which could be a huge one in terms of relegation come May. I expect Aitor Karanka will look to keep a solid shape for his team and defend in numbers, but Mourinho will be aware of his former Number 2 and what he brings to the table.

I expect both Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to start this one to give Manchester United pace in the wide areas as well as players who can score and create plenty of chances. That should help them move this Middlesbrough team around and eventually wear them down and I expect Manchester United to break them down in a win by at least a couple of goals.

Swansea City v Bournemouth Pick: The Bob Bradley era came to an end at Swansea City earlier in the week and I am not sure the American really was given a fair crack of the whip. He was employed mid-season and didn't get a transfer window to improve this club, while the criticism of the terms used by Bradley were overly-criticised by the media who should be embarrassed with the way they treated him.

A good point has been made by Richard Keys as to how people would have responded if Bradley had been of an ethnic background and had been seeing his speech and terms used being mocked.

The Swansea City decision makers who employed Bradley should also be embarrassed as they didn't really back the manager they believed was the best candidate for the job literally a couple of months ago. Those same decision makers likely get a chance to pick the next manager, but why should they be trusted when they clearly didn't have the courage of their convictions with the last manager?

It puts Swansea City in a really difficult position as they try to fight out of a difficult spot in the Premier League table. The positives has to be that The Swans have scored goals and now face a Bournemouth team who have conceded at least three goals in 5 of their last 6 Premier League games including the last 3 away games they have played.

However the poor defensive record can't be ignored and Bournemouth should have their chances having scored twice at Burnley recently and having some opportunities in the 3-0 loss at Chelsea. Both League games between these teams were high-scoring ones last season and I think this one will also feature at least three goals with both Swansea City and Bournemouth playing their part in an entertaining game.

The last 4 Swansea City home games have ended with at least three goals shared out and 5 of the last 7 Bournemouth away games have hit that mark too. It is an odds on quote from the layers, but I do think three goals will be scored at The Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

Liverpool v Manchester City Pick: For the neutral fan of the Premier League, there can't be too many games that could produce a more entertaining end to the 2016 calendar year than pitting Liverpool against Manchester City. Both managers pride themselves on producing attacking football and neither team has shown enough defensively to suggest they are going to be able to shut down the other.

Being at home means Liverpool will look to put a lot of pressure on their visitors by rushing them and attacking with a number of talented players in the final third. The Manchester City defence will offer up some chances and Liverpool have shown they can exploit those, especially under this manager whose attacking instincts won't be curtailed in this one.

On the other hand, Manchester City have plenty of attacking threats of their own which will be boosted by the return of Sergio Aguero from suspension. The Liverpool defence has been far from watertight and you have to think the pace and creativity that Pep Guardiola can call upon is going to cause some problems too.

Games between Liverpool and Manchester City have produced plenty of goals in recent seasons and 11 of the last 12 Premier League games have seen at least three goals shared out including the last 9 in a row. The last 5 at Anfield have produced 19 goals with at least three goals featured each time.

It looks a boring pick from this game but I would be stunned if Liverpool and Manchester City didn't continue that trend and I thought the price would be shorter than the layers are offering. I am expecting both teams to score at least once and trying to keep up with Chelsea means the win is much more important than sharing the points and I am looking for both teams to push for a winner until the end of the ninety minutes.

Picking a winner is tough with both Liverpool and Manchester City in decent recent form, but I will pick this game to feature at least three goals.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace Pick: A late goal helped Arsenal break down the West Brom resistance on Boxing Day and you have to think it is going to be more of the same for the home team on Sunday. This time it is Sam Allardyce who will be heading to town with Crystal Palace and he has had a week to get his team ready to make life difficult for Arsenal by sorting out the defensive organisation.

It will still be difficult for Crystal Palace because it will take time for Allardyce's methods to really take hold at Selhurst Park. They have to try and frustrate the home team and look for the counter attack with the pace of Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon.

However the goals Palace have been conceding is a problem and I expect a much better Arsenal reaction than when they played West Brom. There are goals in the Arsenal side and I expect them to have too much for Crystal Palace in this fixture, especially if Allardyce is focused on the big home game with Swansea City in a couple of days time.

Games between these London clubs have been tight, but I like Arsenal to win by a couple of goals on Sunday.

MY PICKS: Rotherham United-Burton Albion Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Reading-Fulham Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town @ 1.75 Bet365 (2 Units)
Derby County @ 1.61 William Hill (2 Units)
Wolves @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brentford-Norwich City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Hull City-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Swansea City-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Liverpool-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.65 William Hill (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)

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