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Thursday, 12 January 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (January 12-15)

Teams in the top two Divisions of English Football have been concentrating on the domestic Cups over the last week, but the return of League football begins on Thursday in the Championship and will go all the way through to the huge Manchester United versus Liverpool Premier League game on Saturday.

I don't care what other teams do in the League, the rivalry with Liverpool will always mean that is the first game I look for when the fixtures are released in June and there is plenty on the line from these games this season. This week it is about forcing a way into the top four after both clubs missed out a season ago, but next month there is every chance Manchester United and Liverpool could be playing one another in the League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.

I love and hate this fixture- it always makes me feel like knowing what it would be like on a drug experiencing the high of success or the deep low of a failure. Having a week between this game and the next one also means it is going to be a feeling that sticks with me through the following days after match day and I really hope that my feeling for the game, which you can read below, comes true on Sunday afternoon.

January has followed up where December left off and that is with little going the way I have been expecting and that does mean a poor first ten days of the month. Things will hopefully be turned around in the next couple of weeks, but I don't want to steer too far from the successes of earlier in the season and see if they can get me back into some winning weeks.

The picks from the next four days of the weekend football can be found below and I am looking for a positive impact on the January totals at the end of this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Brom Pick: There are a couple of teams in the Premier League who look to be in top gear at the moment and one of those is Tottenham Hotspur who might have wished there was no FA Cup weekend in place last week. After beating Chelsea 2-0 in the Premier League, you have to think these players were chomping at the bit to keep the positive run going in the League and keep the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the table.

The 7 point gap to the leaders is far from insurmountable but Tottenham Hotspur can't allow West Brom to continue to flummox them as they have in recent games. That was the case in the earlier meeting in the League when Tottenham Hotspur completely outplayed West Brom and had all of the chances before being hit by a sucker punch and having to settle for another draw against them.

Recent seasons have seen West Brom visit White Hart Lane and cause Tottenham Hotspur plenty of problems, while the away team have to be confident they can be tough to beat as they have shown at Chelsea and Arsenal recently.

However this is a Tottenham Hotspur team in fine form and feeling very healthy at this moment of the season. With Dele Alli scoring goals and players like Harry Kane always a threat, it is perhaps no surprise that they have scored at least twice in their last 6 games at White Hart Lane and Tottenham Hotspur have also shown some strength defensively.

Despite the poor home run against West Brom, I do think Tottenham Hotspur will win this game. They have been playing too well to think West Brom can go a little further than they did at Stamford Bridge and The Emirates Stadium when keeping the home teams out for 75 minutes before conceding late.

I did consider backing Tottenham Hotspur to win with a clean sheet especially when you think West Brom have not scored against 4 of the 6 games against the top six clubs that they have played. I imagine those couple of narrow losses at Arsenal and Chelsea will have some backing West Brom on the Asian Handicap, but I think Tottenham Hotspur are in strong form at the moment and will be tough to contain.

If they create the same sort of chances as they did at The Hawthornes, I expect better in the final third and Tottenham Hotspur to win this by a couple of goals.

Burnley v Southampton Pick: There was much to admire about the Southampton performance during the week which saw them win the First Leg of their English Football League Cup Semi Final against Liverpool, but the chances that were spurned have to be a concern. Charlie Austin's injury was a huge blow for Southampton and replacing his goals have been far from easy which makes it tough to understand why The Saints are a short favourite to win at Burnley this weekend.

Unlike the home team, Southampton have had a really tough game during the week which has to have taken away some of the energy of the starters and likely means Claude Puel will make some changes. They have also won just 2 of their 10 away Premier League games this season and Southampton have scored just 9 goals in those games with 3 of those coming in a recent win at Bournemouth.

Last week Southampton had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Championship club Norwich City in the FA Cup which means a Replay during the week, and these are just factors that make the away side an unappealing favourite.

Add in the fact that Burnley have a very respectable 7-1-3 record at Turf Moor in the League and a couple of those losses came against Arsenal (who scored in injury time to win 0-1) and Manchester City (who Burnley led 1-0) and I really believed the home team might have been a narrow favourite.

Burnley have won 5 of their last 6 games at Turf Moor and they look vastly under-rated to win this game at 3.60 on Saturday. I will say I was tempted to back that, but seeing you can take Burnley at a decent enough price to avoid defeat looks the more appealing option if only because Southampton have recently drawn at Stoke City and won at Bournemouth which suggests they could hold out for a point.

I do think a single goal for Burnley might be enough to avoid defeat because of Southampton's lack of goals in their away games in the Premier League and I very much like the home side to be able to do that. Simply put, Burnley should not be this price to avoid a defeat in this game.

Sunderland v Stoke City Pick: Mark Hughes won't have been impressed with the manner in which his Stoke City side were beaten by Wolves at home in the FA Cup last weekend and he has to be demanding a reaction. The remainder of this campaign will be focused on the Premier League as Stoke City look for another top half finish, but losing out on a Cup run will have been a blow to Hughes' ambitions.

They head to Sunderland in the Premier League this weekend as the favourite and I do think David Moyes' men can perhaps earn a valuable win by upsetting this inconsistent Stoke City team.

There is no doubt in my mind that the superior talent is in the Stoke City squad with some lovely creative players to watch. However those players have as many off days as they have on and that makes Stoke City a little erratic while they have also been conceding too many goals away from home.

Those goals have been conceded at Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea and Sunderland are clearly not of that level, but I do think The Black Cats have played well enough at home to feel confident in their chances. Injuries are a big concern for Sunderland which has limited Moyes' options and reinforcements are not forthcoming, but they have scored goals in 7 of their last 8 Premier League games at The Stadium of Light.

Sunderland have lost 1 of their last 6 games here in all competitions and they have won 3 of their last 5 Premier League games at home while earning a precious 2-2 draw with Liverpool in another. Even the 0-1 defeat to Chelsea came after Sunderland had a few chances to draw level in the game and I think they can do enough to avoid defeat at the least in this one.

Stoke City have to be respected for their performances away from home against the teams that are below them in the League table. They have won at Hull City and Watford and drawn at Middlesbrough and West Ham United. Only Crystal Palace have beaten them from those below them in the table and that was at a time when The Eagles were flying higher than they are now so Stoke City can cause problems of their own for a Sunderland team who have been defensively suspect.

With a couple of key players away for the African Cup of Nations from the defence, Sunderland might be vulnerable, but I do think they will do enough to earn at least a point. The Black Cats are unbeaten in 14 home League games against Stoke City and have won the last 3 in a row and I will look for them to avoid a defeat in this one by backing them with the start on the Asian Handicap.

Swansea City v Arsenal Pick: After struggling a little bit at Derby County and underachieving, Paul Clement comes into Swansea City with a tough task in front of him. At least the players have shown they are capable of the fight with a win at Crystal Palace in their last Premier League game, but they aren't facing a team who are as low on confidence as The Eagles are at this moment.

This time they face Arsenal and are coming in off a 2-0 loss at Hull City in the FA Cup which means Swansea City have lost 5 of their last 6 games in all competitions. They also have to show they can defend better than they did in their last 2 games at The Liberty Stadium having conceded four to West Ham and three to Bournemouth.

There are goals in this Arsenal side and they have taken them on their travels, but Swansea City have to feel they can cause some problems of their own against a team that have conceded in their last 9 away games in all competitions. Defensively Arsenal can't seem to turn a corner and they haven't won any of their last 3 away games in the Premier League, but those have come against teams in better form than Swansea City.

This has been a ground Arsenal have enjoyed visiting because Swansea City will allow them to play their expressive football. It will take time for Paul Clement to install his own style on the football club, but Swansea City are not a team that currently has those players who can really strengthen them defensively.

Reinforcements need to be signed by the new manager and I think Arsenal expose the soft underbelly which has seen Swansea City concede at least three times in 4 of their last 5 home League games. It should be enough for The Gunners to win this one with a margin and I will back Arsenal to cover the Asian Handicap.

Leicester City v Chelsea Pick: After losing at White Hart Lane ten days ago, this is a big test for Chelsea to prove they are capable of producing another long winning run and not simply come back to the pack with a poor set of results. It is going to be a tough assignment to beat Leicester City at The King Power Stadium despite the inconsistent form the home team have displayed all season and failing to win here will increase the pressure on Chelsea.

The next five Premier League games look tough with home games against Hull City and Arsenal and away games at Liverpool and Burnley to come following this trip to the East Midlands. Failing to win here will certainly give the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City the belief they can close the gap on The Blues and I think it is important for Chelsea to respond the right way.

They are catching Leicester City at what feels like a good time with the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani representing Algeria in the African Cup of Nations. That takes away some of the attacking threat for Leicester City who have tried to go back to basics in recent weeks by making themselves harder to beat.

Chelsea have simply not scored or conceded too many goals away from home all season and are unlikely to commit too many men forward to allow Leicester City to expose the spaces they did when hammering Manchester City here. Outside of that game Leicester City have found it hard to find goals with Jamie Vardy struggling and now without two key attacking threats.

It has been a fixture that has produced plenty of goals in recent seasons and 9 of the last 11 games in all competitions have seen at least three goals shared out. That includes 4 of the last 5 since Leicester City returned to the top flight and in both games this season, but I think this one might be a little different.

Goals have been far from flowing in their recent home/away games respectively and I do think both managers are likely to focus on the defensive aspect of things this week. Neither will want to give too much away and I think backing two goals or fewer to be scored in the second live television game on Saturday afternoon at odds against looks a solid call.

An early goal could change everything, but I think defences can be on top for the most part on Saturday afternoon.

Everton v Manchester City Pick: This is a big televised game between a club from Liverpool and one from Manchester on Super Sunday, but let's face facts and admit that the majority of neutrals will be eagerly awaiting the second clash between these two cities later in the day.

Everton and Manchester City won't concern themselves about that and instead will be focused on earning the three points that are available in this Premier League game. Those are important to both teams and I think this could be quite a good appetiser ahead of the main course.

Manchester City games will always involve attacking football, but the defensive frailties means there is always some doubt about their ability to see out games. That is what Everton have to think although Ronald Koeman has found it difficult to find the right balance between attack and defence consistently enough over the last few months.

The home form has been solid for Everton, but the defeat to Leicester City was a big blow in the FA Cup last weekend. That came with a strong starting eleven and Everton were pretty poor in a home loss to Liverpool while fortunate to earn a draw with Manchester United in recent games here.

The problem for Manchester City has to be their own recent form has hardly been inspiring and I think this makes for a close and competitive game on Sunday. There are goals in the Manchester City side, but it is hard to see them keeping a clean sheet if Everton use the speed on the counter that they do have in the squad.

My feeling is that Manchester City have turned a corner at a ground where they have struggled despite the millions invested in the squad. They are as healthy as they have been all season and players at Everton might be focused on the comings and goings and wondering what that means for their own place in the future plans of Ronald Koeman.

Manchester City have scored at least twice in 6 of their last 8 away games in all competitions and I think they can put away an Everton team who rode their luck to stay in games against Arsenal and Manchester United and almost did enough to keep Liverpool out. I will back Manchester City to head away from Goodison Park with a vital three points this weekend and keep themselves in the Premier League title hunt.

Manchester United v Liverpool Pick: No matter what happens in English football, Manchester United versus Liverpool is always going to be the biggest domestic fixture on the calendar and it rivals, if not outdoes, El Classico in terms of global appeal. Real Madrid and Barcelona might have the stronger teams, but this is as big as it gets in terms of a rivalry.

A couple of months ago it might have been argued that Liverpool would be the favourites to win this fixture, but Manchester United have been much improved over the last few weeks and they come in as the favourites. I have to agree with those sentiments as Liverpool have just had a couple of difficult performances and have to be a lot better at Old Trafford if they are going to take something away from this game.

Defending like they did at St Mary's during the week will not see Liverpool get away with things as they did at Southampton, especially not with Zlatan Ibrahimovic expected back in the home starting eleven. Jose Mourinho has definitely seen Manchester United find a groove ahead of this one and they have been creating chances and winning plenty of games.

Michael Carrick has helped free up Paul Pogba, who has looked every bit the big investment Manchester United made to reacquire him, and the players seem at ease with the system Mourinho has created for them. It would be a huge surprise if Manchester United are not able to create chances in this one against a Liverpool back four that have had plenty of problems all season and I do think the home team will look good.

The key is whether they can defend as well as Southampton and restrict what Liverpool are able to do in the final third having struggled in their last two games in front of goal. The absence of Sadio Mane is a big blow as Liverpool would have loved that pace and direct threat to run at the Manchester United back four, while Philippe Coutinho has only just returned to the starting line up.

A lot will be made of Jurgen Klopp's record against Jose Mourinho but these are different teams that they both manage and I don't believe it plays a part. My only concern would be Mourinho's tendency to want to shut up shop in these big games when holding a lead as I do feel Liverpool's defence can be exploited when they push too many men forward, but I do think Manchester United can come through this one and earn the three points.

Manchester United are the team in form, are playing at home and look healthier than their rivals from down the M62 and I will back them to win this game at odds against.

Reading v Queens Park Rangers Pick: Both Queens Park Rangers and Reading were knocked out of the FA Cup in the Third Round last weekend, but I don't think either Ian Holloway or Jaap Stam will be too disappointed in the long run. Both have big goals to achieve in the Championship this season and this is a big game for both to keep some recent momentum behind them.

Reading have won 3 League games in a row and 5 in a row at home in the Championship, while Queens Park Rangers have won 2 League game in a row.

That should mean two confident teams come out for this live televised game on Thursday evening and I think it could be quite a good game as both have shown some attacking threats coupled with defensive frailties. Goals might be the order of the day, but I do think Reading have played well enough at home to win this game and I am going to back them to snap a recent poor record against Queens Park Rangers.

The first goal will be critical in the form of the two clubs, but Reading have done that in their last 5 League games here. I also think Queens Park Rangers are still a little inconsistent and they could easily have lost their fourth away game in a row at Wolves last time out before scoring the winner against the run of play.

At close to odds against, I think Reading can be backed for a vital three points to keep the pressure on the top two in the Championship.

Leeds United v Derby County Pick: This looks a very good game picked for the television cameras on Friday night with both Leeds United and Derby County searching for a return to the top flight of English Football. Both are clubs with a huge history behind them, even if recent years have not been so memorable, and they have two managers who have full belief of their own abilities to get them back into the Premier League.

Home advantage could be huge for Leeds United this Friday as a well rested starting eleven have performed well here in recent games. They have actually been playing well everywhere, but Leeds United have the confidence that comes with 4 home wins in a row with all of those coming along with a clean sheet.

That could be a problem for a Derby County team who haven't scored freely away from home and whose recent run of wins came to an end in the League. The victory at West Brom will have given them a confidence boost, but this is going to be a much different environment for the players on Friday.

There isn't much between them, but home advantage is expected to make the difference and I think Leeds United win. I will back them on the Asian Handicap with the expectation that Leeds United won't lose and that will at least return the stake in the event of a draw.

Bristol City v Cardiff City Pick: This feels like a proper relegation six pointer but it is Bristol City who are heading in the wrong direction compared with Cardiff City. This is a big rivalry game too and both clubs have to have circled this game as one they can win.

Neither Bristol City or Cardiff City are defending with much conviction at the moment, but both have shown they are much better in the final third. Goals have been flowing in home/away games respectively in the League and both have been able to take part in the scoring, but have also been conceding too many.

The last 2 Bristol City home games and 4 of the last 5 Cardiff City away games have seen both teams score as well as producing at least three goals shared out and the game between them earlier in the season did end up with three goals scored. It feels like this is going to be a 2-1 kind of game and picking a winner is anyone's guess.

Instead of deciding that, I will pick the over 2.5 goals option at odds against.

Birmingham City v Nottingham Forest Pick: Two out of form teams meet at St Andrew's on Saturday as Birmingham City get set to host Nottingham Forest and it does have a feel of a game that could produce goals.

Both teams have been defending very erratically of late, but both also have shown they can score goals and I expect there to be some chances created at both ends of the field in this one.

The goals came when these teams met at The City Ground and recent performances from both teams suggests we should be able to see at least three in this one. The last 4 Birmingham City home League games and the last 4 Nottingham Forest away League games have featured at least three goals and I expect these two Midland clubs to produce an entertaining game for the fans.

Preston North End v Brighton Pick: This is going to be far from an easy game for Brighton as they try and keep the run of wins going and also making sure they remain in a strong position in the Championship.

Preston North End are very good at home and they showed they can compete with any team when pushing Arsenal all the way in the FA Cup Third Round. However it should be noted that they have not been as strong at Deepdale in recent weeks and Preston North End have been beaten by Play Off chasing teams like Newcastle United and Leeds United here over the last couple of months.

In recent weeks Brighton have been scoring plenty of goals in their away games and I think they will have the edge in this one. It has not been a ground that Brighton have enjoyed over the years and they have yet to beat Preston North End at Deepdale, but this Brighton team might be as good as any that have previously played here.

It certainly won't be an easy game for Brighton with Preston North End raising their game for the better teams that come here, but the away side have been scoring plenty of goals in recent weeks and can earn another big three points. At odds against I will back Brighton to do that and keep moving towards the Premier League.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sunderland + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.14 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-Chelsea Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester City @ 1.85 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Reading @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Leeds United 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bristol City-Cardiff City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 William Hill (2 Units)

Birmingham City-Nottingham Forest Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Brighton @ 2.15 Bet Fred (2 Units)

January Update6-14-1, - 15.50 Units (42 Units Staked, - 36.90% Yield)

December Final38-40, - 7.93 Units (153 Units Staked, - 5.18% 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 2016/17180-185-8, + 2.77 Units (708 Units Staked, + 0% 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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