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Friday, 9 December 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (December 9-11)

The European Leagues are not going on their Winter Break just yet, but the English Leagues will have an extra midweek set of fixtures that will be played next Tuesday and Wednesday as the festive fixtures continue.

There are plenty of big games to come in the Premier League over the next ten days before a mini-break through to Boxing Day when another three League games are played over a ten day period.

Hopefully the picks have a lot more fortune than they managed during the week in the final Group games in the Champions League and Europa League. I had a really bad Thursday with nothing going my way despite the dominance the teams I picked seem to show in games and a couple of the games I expected to feature three goals actually ending with two both times.

It was frustrating and I have to erase that from the mind as soon as possible as you can get into something of a rut mentally, especially with the games coming thick and fast. I didn't have much luck with some strange results during the week, but I do feel better is to come this weekend to get this month turned back around.

Arsenal v Stoke City PickWhen Tony Pulis was in charge of Stoke City there was no doubt that Arsenal would know they were going to be in for a battle if they wanted to take away the three points. Things have changed under Mark Hughes who wants Stoke City to express themselves a little more and that plays into Arsenal's hands whose superior quality can make the difference.

Games at Stoke City have remained tough for Arsenal, but they have won their last 3 games at home against this side comfortably each time. The confidence of scoring nine goals in their last couple of games should mean Arsenal are able to get on the front foot in this one and I do think they can dominate much of the game.

Stoke City have only lost 1 of their last 9 games coming into this one and they are unbeaten in 4 games, but a look at the fixture list in that time shows The Potters have made hay against teams who will be mid-table at best in the majority of those. Some will point to the draw at Manchester United, but Stoke City won't get away with a similar level in this one with Arsenal proving to be much more clinical in front of goal than United have been in the Premier League.

The Gunners have drawn 2 of their last 5 games at The Emirates Stadium, but the other 3 games have all been wins in which they have scored at least three goals. I think they will prove too strong for Stoke City on the day after an impressive display in the Champions League and I will back the home side to win by a couple of goals at least and clear the Asian Handicap.

Burnley v Bournemouth Pick: This is going to be a long season fighting against relegation for Burnley, and the form at Turf Moor is going to be critical for their chances of avoiding the drop. That has looked clear in the opening months of the 2016/17 season with Burnley all but one point so far at Turf Moor.

They are going to have to work hard for every point they earn this season, but even so I can't help but think Bournemouth are very short in the market in this one. The Cherries are a strong favourite to win this weekend and I think that is down to some of the quality performances they have produced most notably coming from 1-3 down to beat Liverpool 4-3 last Sunday.

However Bournemouth are not quite as strong away from home having lost 3 of their last 5 away Premier League games. The defeats at Manchester City and Arsenal are not surprising, but Bournemouth were beaten comfortably at Middlesbrough too and that is the kind of result that has to encourage Burnley.

The home side were narrowly beaten by Manchester City in their last game here having had the lead in that game, but Burnley had won 3 of 4 at home in the Premier League prior to that. Late goals helped Burnley beat Everton and Crystal Palace and they can't rely on that happening every week, but this is a big price for the side and I can back them on the Asian Handicap knowing I will have a partial win as long as Burnley don't lose the game.

Burnley have never been beaten at home by Bournemouth and I think they extend that this week and earn at least another point on their journey to 40 points for the campaign.

Hull City v Crystal Palace PickAnyone who saw Hull City play at Middlesbrough on Monday night can't have been rushing out to back them to avoid relegation with The Tigers producing a toothless display even after going 1-0 down. They can't afford to be so poor when they are playing at home as it is clear that Hull City's survival prospects will depend on how many points they can pick up at The KC Stadium.

A couple of weeks ago this might have been a game that Mike Phelan circled as a winnable one with Alan Pardew under intense pressure as Crystal Palace manager, but The Eagles won 3-0 last weekend to restore some confidence.

Another factor that makes Crystal Palace dangerous is the huge amount of goals they have been scoring and I am not convinced Hull City have the firepower to expose the vulnerable Palace defence that has conceded at least three goals in their last 3 away Premier League games.

I don't think Hull City will manage that number, but they have managed to find the net in the last couple of League games here and I think they can play their part in what could surprise the layers by being a high-scoring game. Crystal Palace have shown they don't have a problem finding a way to goal in recent games and their last 6 have produced at least three goals with the defence having some problems too.

At odds against I think Hull City and Crystal Palace will both score in this one and I am leaning towards the away team finding a winner so will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Swansea City v Sunderland Pick: Some might think games before Christmas can't really be considered 'six pointers' but both Swansea City and Sunderland won't be confused as to the importance of this fixture between them. I would say that I would be shocked if at least one of these teams was not relegated in May so points in the two League games between these clubs is going to be very important in determining which one, if any, can avoid relegation.

It looks like Bob Bradley is already under pressure as Swansea City manager with some poor results under his guidance as The Swans have slipped to the bottom of the table. Even the win over Crystal Palace came thanks to a collapse from their visitors who had led that fixture 3-4 going into injury time and the fans won't be silent if Swansea City were to lose this game.

That pressure and uncertainty can filter down from the stands onto the field and the players which is potentially a problem on Saturday. However a win would take Swansea City out of the bottom three and can do the same for Sunderland if they can continue a much more positive portion of their season.

David Moyes didn't look like having the necessary tools to turn things around, but Sunderland have won 3 of their last 4 games to get close to moving out of the bottom three. That has to have given the players confidence they have a manager that can get them out of trouble and Sunderland will believe having only lost 1 of 5 games at The Liberty Stadium since Swansea City returned to the top flight.

You also have to point out that Moyes has won all 3 previous games at this ground with Everton and Manchester United and clearly gets a good feel for the Stadium. Swansea City did snap a run of 7 home games without a win with the 5-4 victory over Crystal Palace, but they were very fortunate and Sunderland have been looking a little stronger defensively and also when they get into the final third.

I think The Black Cats can avoid defeat here and I will back them on the Asian Handicap to do that at a decent price.

Chelsea v West Brom PickI have been pretty down on Chelsea in recent weeks as I feel they have overachieved with some of their results coming in fortunate ways. Last week is another example of that as Chelsea could have seen Manchester City were out of sight before they fought back for the win at The Etihad Stadium, but this might be a team that is filled with confidence now.

I still don't think Chelsea win the Premier League despite being favourites to do that, but I do think they are going to be good enough to earn the three points this weekend.

West Brom have had some very solid results this season to take them up to 7th in the Premier League, but I do think they have benefited from a decent run of fixtures. Over the next month we will know more about West Brom who face Manchester United, Arsenal and Southampton following this trip to Stamford Bridge.

Tony Pulis will make West Brom hard to beat and it might take Chelsea some time to wear them down, while the early lunchtime kick off is a tough scheduling time for teams. However I do think Chelsea have been scoring enough goals to get the better of West Brom over ninety minutes and the scored at least twice in 4 straight home games.

If Chelsea get to that number, I would think they will likely have enough to keep West Brom from getting on the scoreboard and come through with a cover of the Asian Handicap.

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur PickGone are the days when being told 'it's Tottenham lads' would be enough to get a really good performance from Manchester United against Tottenham Hotspur. Mauricio Pochettino has made his Tottenham Hotspur team much more difficult to play against these days, but they have struggled for wins away from home in recent weeks and I do think Manchester United can get the better of them.

Playing after being involved in the Europa League has been difficult for Manchester United this season as they have gone 1-2-2 in their Premier League immediately after playing in that competition. Some of those results have been unfortunate and it just feels like Manchester United are not getting the same breaks in the Premier League as they are in the Cup or not showing the same clinical finishing when chances have come their way.

They have drawn 4 games in a row in the League at Old Trafford, but Manchester United should have won all of those and it is only a lack of goals that have prevented them doing that. The chances have been there and I think a similar level of performance as they have been producing will result in a Manchester United win on Sunday.

Playing on that terrible pitch in Odessa might have sapped some of the energy and you know Tottenham Hotspur are going to use a high press early and hope to extract some mistakes. If Manchester United can weather the early storm, I do think they can force mistakes of their own even with a returning Toby Alderweireld who should give Tottenham Hotspur some better protection at the back.

There will be opportunities for the home team and I actually believe Manchester United are a better team than Tottenham Hotspur. Some may think that is me wearing red-tinted glasses, but I genuinely believe Manchester United are playing much better than the results indicate and Tottenham Hotspur also had a difficult European game which means they haven't been fully rested in anticipation of this fixture.

It will be tight and mistakes could be costly for both teams- I do think Manchester United can limit their own and beat a Tottenham Hotspur side that have conceded at least twice in 3 of their last 4 away games. Coupled with some issues in attack themselves, I think Manchester United restrict the chances that Spurs create in this one and I will back the home team at odds against to win this game.

Liverpool v West Ham United PickI have written before that there are more similarities between Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers' team that came close to winning the Premier League title a couple of years ago than the Liverpool fans would like to acknowledge.

Both teams look/looked very strong going forward and capable of scoring plenty of goals, but both have real problems defensively that could prove costly in their bid to win the League title. Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool blew a 0-3 lead at Crystal Palace as they chased a fourth goal in an eventual devastating 3-3 draw, while Klopp's Liverpool chased a fourth goal last week at Bournemouth despite being 1-3 up and that eventually cost them the points in the 4-3 loss.

The one difference is that Liverpool have a chance to bounce back from that disappointing loss compared with Rodgers' team who had just one game to play following the draw at Selhurst Park. The absence of Philippe Coutinho is a blow, but Liverpool do look to have the right opponent to get back on track when they face West Ham United this weekend.

Slaven Bilic is under immense pressure in each passing week at West Ham United but was given a vote of confidence over the last few days. However he can't afford too many more big losses like West Ham United suffered against Manchester United and Arsenal in their latest couple of games. The pressure is on Bilic to find the way to get the best out of his attacking players, but West Ham United are going to have some issues defensively that won't be easy to resolve.

With the way Liverpool are attacking at the moment it could be another long day in the office for The Hammers as they face another of the big clubs in the Premier League. West Ham United had a lot of success against Liverpool last season which involved beating them twice in the Premier League and once in the FA Cup, but I think Liverpool bounce back more effectively from their disappointing loss last weekend.

There just feels like too much in the final third for West Ham United to contain and an early Liverpool goal could make this a long day in the office for them. I will back Liverpool to win this one by a couple of goals on Sunday.

Brighton v Leeds United PickChris Hughton and Garry Monk will be amongst the leading contenders for 'Manager of the First Half of the Season', if there was such a reward, as they have surpassed expectations with both Brighton and Leeds United. The bigger surprise is clearly Leeds United who haven't really had the structure off the field to have the success on it that a club of this stature would require.

Recent form has to be giving Leeds United plenty of confidence they can challenge for promotion but this is another big test for them with their only setback in recent weeks coming against Newcastle United in the Championship. Visiting Brighton is going to be very tough considering how well they have played at home under Hughton.

That home form has to give Brighton the edge in this fixture and mentally they will feel they can get the better of Leeds United having won 5 straight League games against them. They have also beaten them 3 times in a row in Brighton and I do give the narrow advantage to Brighton in this one.

Garry Monk has the tactical nous to make this a tough game for them, but I think Leeds United have not been as strong in the final third as their hosts have been. We don't quite have an odds against quote in this one, but Brighton still look an attractive price against a Leeds United team that might have the second most away wins in the League to this point, but one that has also lost 4 times on their travels.

Aston Villa v Wigan Athletic PickIt is only four seasons since Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic were playing in the Premier League against one another and both clubs will be looking to make a return to the top flight in the near future. No one will doubt that Aston Villa are closer to making that a reality than Wigan Athletic at this point and I do think Steve Bruce can get the better of Warren Joyce and guide his team to the three points.

You have to admire the recent results Wigan Athletic have earned away from home where they are unbeaten in 5 games and have won 2 of their last 3 at Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town. However this is a step up from those games against an Aston Villa team that have improved at Villa Park with 3 straight wins behind them and that confidence will be tough to break.

I do wonder if Aston Villa have perhaps just had some of that confidence taken away in the 2-0 loss at Leeds United last weekend, but they should be looking forward to playing at home more than they in recent seasons. Wigan Athletic also have an impressive record at this ground with plenty of wins under their belt, but the last of those came some time ago and The Latics have slipped their standards a little bit.

It will be a battle on Saturday, but I do think home advantage gives Aston Villa the edge to take the three points. The layers have plenty of respect for Steve Bruce and Aston Villa which perhaps makes this price a little short, but I am still just about tempted with it and will look for the home team to earn the three points.

Newcastle United v Birmingham City PickSome controversial refereeing decisions cost Newcastle United any real chance of earning a result at Nottingham Forest last time out and they have had eight days to think about that game. The good news is that neither Jonjo Shelvey or Paul Dummett will have to serve a suspension and I do think Birmingham City could be made to pay by Newcastle United who will feel they have been hard done by.

It would be a difficult test for a Birmingham City team who have not travelled that well in the Championship this season and who had a big home loss to Barnsley last Saturday. That would have dented the confidence but Birmingham City have a smart manager in Gary Rowett and will try their best to frustrate the home team for long periods and hope to nick something the other way.

They would need a perfect performance and Newcastle United to be off their game for that to happen, and it has happened a few times at St James' Park. No club in the top 11 places in the League have lost more home games than Newcastle United but The Magpies have bounced back in their following home game.

The last 2 home League defeats have been followed by a comfortable home win in their next outing at St James' Park and I do think Newcastle United will be too strong for Birmingham City. They seem to score too many goals here and I think Birmingham City have shown they can sometimes fall apart when the game plan is not working as desired.

Both away losses have come by at least two goals for Birmingham City, while Newcastle United have won 7 of their 12 home games by at least two goals in all competitions. I am going to back the home side on the Asian Handicap knowing half my stake will be returned if Newcastle United win by a one goal margin, but I do think The Magpies can show some real desire for a big performance after their controversial loss last Friday.

Reading v Sheffield Wednesday PickI have to admit that Reading are a surprise package in the Championship at this stage of the season, but the layers have to be taking a chance by making them the home underdog against Sheffield Wednesday this weekend. Reading have enjoyed a lot of success against The Owls at home in recent games and they are a team that have been playing well enough at The Majedski Stadium to believe they should be winning this game.

Maybe the 5-0 loss at Fulham is influencing the prices with the layers perhaps predicting a downturn in performances from Reading, but I am chalking that up to a bad day in the office. The Royals have won 3 in a row at home since their late defeat to Aston Villa and this is a team that does score goals at home.

I believe it may be tougher for Sheffield Wednesday in front of goal having only scored more than one goal in a single away game all season. Add in the fact that Fernando Forestieri is suspended and Sheffield Wednesday may have to work extremely hard in the final third to win this game.

I do respect Sheffield Wednesday as a genuine threat for promotion, but they have not been consistent away from home and I do think Reading are the more likely winners. However this has all the makings of a close game so having the chance to back the home team on the Draw No Bet market appeals the most. I prefer backing Reading on that market as Sheffield Wednesday having proven tough to beat. It surprises me that Reading are odds against with the draw returning the stake though and I will back The Royals with that benefit behind me.

Rotherham United v Queens Park Rangers PickThis is the kind of game that Rotherham United have to win if they are going to work their way out of trouble in the Championship especially as they are facing a Queens Park Rangers team still finding their feet heading into the half way stage of the season.

Ian Holloway has been brought in as manager, but it will take time for his methods to really start producing consistent results for Queens Park Rangers. He is an attacking manager though and that should mean Queens Park Rangers go on the attack when they head to the New York Stadium on Saturday against a Rotherham United team who have conceded plenty of goals.

On the other hand, Rotherham United have to feel they can have some joy going forward against their visitors who have conceded in their last 6 away games. Whether that will be enough for Rotherham United to find away to cover up their defensive problems by outscoring Queens Park Rangers is up for debate, but this does feel a game where both teams can score at least once.

The importance of the three points should keep both teams driving forward and it could be the third time in a row that Rotherham United and Queens Park Rangers have played one another and produced at least three goals. I am leaning towards Queens Park Rangers doing enough to win the game, but I will back goals at close to odds against in this one.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Hull City-Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Sunderland + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 2.25 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Brighton @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Aston Villa @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Newcastle United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)
Reading Draw No Bet @ 2.05 William Hill (2 Units)
Rotherham United-Queens Park Rangers Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)

December Update7-13, - 12.40 Units (38 Units Staked, - 32.63% 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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