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Friday, 6 January 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (January 6-9)

It has lost some of the shine of yesteryear, but I still love the FA Cup Third Round draw and then the first weekend of January which is reserved for that Round to be played. It might have something to do with my time growing up when the FA Cup not only meant something to most people, but was the one competition in which Manchester United actually used to have something approaching regular success when the League always seemed beyond their reach.

That has meant the Cup has imprinted on me and some of my favourite memories and goals for Manchester United have come in the FA Cup over the years. Winning last season after waiting so long was easily the best moment of the Louis Van Gaal era and the defence of the trophy begins on Saturday.

However it is clear that the FA Cup has gone down the list of priorities for many clubs in recent years with other competitions and avoiding relegation/earning promotion/finishing in the top four (delete as applicable) meant managers would rest players in this famous old Cup. The Third Round being played over the weekend following a hectic festive period hasn't helped, but I still think most fans love being in the Cup and having a chance to go all the way to Wembley Stadium in May.

The opening picks in January stunk to say the least and I am looking for much better for the rest of the month. This weekend is all about the FA Cup Third Round while I will then have a thread for the English Football League Cup Semi Final First Legs to be played next week.

Then we are back into the Premier League with some big games set for next weekend in a month where a number of the top six clubs will play one another. Hopefully this weekend can give us the start of the recovery from the opening picks and get this month back on track after a poor end to December too.

Manchester United v Reading PickThe FA Cup might not have the same prestige as it did when I was growing up, but the fans still enjoy these Cup runs and most Manchester United fans will have appreciated winning the famous old competition last season.

That has something to do with how long it has been since Manchester United won the FA Cup and Jose Mourinho has shown that he wants to win everything they have entered this season. I still anticipate some changes to be made to the starting eleven with big games against Hull City and Liverpool to come later in the week and especially off the three games in a week they have just played.

However Jose Mourinho has also shown he is willing to play his best players in as many games as possible this season and Manchester United have won all 5 Cup games played at Old Trafford. Some of those have come by wide margins with four goals scored against Fenerbahce, Feyenoord and West Ham United and Reading have to be a little wary having conceded at least two goals in their last 4 away games.

Jaap Stam certainly has Reading playing with some confidence, but I also anticipate changes in the away side who have also had a busy week of football and have big League games to come. Stam made changes in the English Football League Cup loss at Arsenal earlier in the season and the League game coming up on Thursday has to be the bigger priority for the manager.

It should still be a decent Cup game with the changes in the home side expected to have an impact too. However I do think the home momentum will give Manchester United the edge and I will back them to win with a clean sheet as both Fulham and Leeds United have beaten Reading in recent games on their travels. Arsenal did the same in the League Cup and it looks a decent pick at almost odds against.

Blackpool v Barnsley Pick: Bloomfield Road could be a real equaliser with this pitch always on the verge of cutting up and that might be the best chance Blackpool have in upsetting Championship side Barnsley who have been impressing this season. It isn't that long ago that these clubs were operating at a similar level, but Blackpool have taken a step back while Barnsley look to have improved.

There are likely to be some changes made by both teams after a tough December, while some may think Barnsley being on the brink of the Play Offs in the Championship will influence their decision making in terms of the FA Cup.

I am not buying that so much with Lee Johnson likely to want to build some momentum and being upset by a League Two club is not the way to do that. Barnsley have plenty of goals in the side and will play an attacking brand of football, while they have won 3 of their last 4 away games which suggests they can do the same here.

It has been a little more difficult for Blackpool of late who have lost their last 2 games at Bloomfield Road and are in mid-table in League Two. I expect Barnsley are able to show the difference in level of quality both clubs have and can move through with a win without the need for a replay at odds against.

Bolton Wanderers v Crystal Palace Pick: I don't think it would surprise anyone to hear that this competition might not be a big deal for Crystal Palace and Sam Allardyce this season with the Premier League position precariously close to the bottom three. The Cup run to the Final last season will have given the fans a lot of joy, but Allardyce has been drafted in as manager to prevent relegation and won't be worried about the FA Cup as a distraction to his most immediate goal.

The one factor that has to be considered is that Allardyce won't want his squad of players to have their confidence dented any more than necessary by losing to League One level of opponents. I don't think that will influence his team selection with some key players already absent, but this becomes a very dangerous game for Crystal Palace against a confident and in-form Bolton Wanderers team.

Bolton Wanderers have won 10 in a row at home which means they will believe the upset is on here and the layers have given them a shot at producing one. They have been scoring goals at home, but Bolton Wanderers have been far from watertight and even a changed Crystal Palace team will feel they can create opportunities to score goals.

While the layers have got it right with the drift on the Crystal Palace to win price, I do think they are underestimating the chance of seeing at least three goals. I believe both teams will score at least once in this one and The Macron Stadium has a good playing surface which should mean there is a chance for the attacking football to shine here.

At odds against, I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Brentford v Eastleigh Pick: A Championship side hosting a non-League side has made Brentford obvious favourites to see off Eastleigh, but they will have to be careful. Last season Eastleigh pushed then Championship club Bolton Wanderers all the way to a replay and were barely outclassed over the two games.

However that should also mean Brentford are more focused as they look to book their place in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup this weekend. Being at home gives Brentford a considerable advantage compared with Bolton Wanderers who had to play the initial tie at Eastleigh this time last year, while the latter were also in arguably better form twelve months ago heading into the Third Round.

Wins at Swindon Town and Halifax Town have been solid results for Eastleigh who have a taste for a Cup shock, but they have lost 3 of their last 5 away games and will need to produce something special over ninety minutes to stay with Brentford. The home team have goals in them at Griffin Park and I do think it will be tough for Eastleigh to contain them throughout this one.

The question is can Brentford grind down Eastleigh and win by a comfortable margin? I think as long as Eastleigh don't score early, Brentford's superior fitness will tell at home and they can wear down this opponent. Brentford were upset by Walsall at home this time last season, but Walsall were considerably stronger than the Eastleigh team they will see this weekend and I think Brentford win by at least two goals in front of their own fans.

Brighton v MK Dons Pick: It has been confirmed by Chris Hughton that he is going to make changes to his squad with the Championship the priority for the season rather than a long FA Cup run. Of course he was always going to say he wants Brighton to go through to the next Round, but I don't think Hughton would be overly concern if they were to lose this game.

In saying that, I don't think Brighton will lose to the MK Dons who have been struggling and taking some heavy losses away from home. They will also be looking to the League and trying to avoid relegation to League Two having been playing in the Championship last season and I do think the focus might not be on this game which is not one of the more appealing Third Round ties the MK Dons could have got.

Despite the changes, I think Brighton are going to play their football in the manner they like to and I think they will create chances and score goals. They have beaten the MK Dons the last 2 times they have hosted them and I expect the home side to be too strong on the day.

The Asian Handicap will return half the stake if Brighton do only manage to win by the one goal, but I think they can make things a little more comfortable at The Amex Stadium and I will back them to win by a couple.

Everton v Leicester City Pick: On first glance Everton look a short price at odds on to win this game but I do think the press conferences led by Ronald Koeman and Claudio Ranieri have played a part in the prices. While Koeman has talked up the FA Cup, Ranieri has made it clear he is contemplating changes with Leicester City's Premier League survival in the balance at this moment in time.

Out of the two teams I would expect Everton to have the stronger starting eleven with this Cup being the best avenue for a successful season.

At least Leicester City still have the Champions League to play next month and I am not sure Ranieri's comments won't filter down to the players. That should mean Everton have more motivation and being at home should give them another edge even if they have not played Leicester City that well at home in recent games.

Ultimately I think Everton have a much more recognisable eleven starting and showed they can bully Leicester City if they are missing players like Robert Huth when they won 0-2 at The King Power Stadium on Boxing Day. With the likelihood of Leicester City making changes very high, I think Everton can be backed to win this FA Cup Third Round tie this weekend.

Huddersfield Town v Port Vale Pick: You have to say that Huddersfield Town continue to surprise in the Championship with some impressive results behind them which means they are up to 4th in the League table. With a chance of earning promotion to the Premier League, the FA Cup might be a distraction to David Wagner's side although the fans are looking forward to perhaps having a decent run in the competition.

The biggest tie Huddersfield Town fans have enjoyed in recent years was a Fourth Round one at The Emirates Stadium against Arsenal in 2011 and they have to look at this fixture as a chance to reach that stage again. Huddersfield Town hit the buffers a bit, but they look to be back on form and a team that can create plenty of chances should have too much for Port Vale who are having a difficult season in League One.

There is nothing to lose for Port Vale in this game, but they have taken some heavy losses of late and I am not sure they have enough to challenge Huddersfield Town. The 4-0 loss at Wimbledon would be particularly worrying as Port Vale have struggled for goals and even the expected changes should not slow down The Terriers too much.

The Third Round of the FA Cup can be difficult to get a read on the manager's but I think Wagner will understand the importance of Huddersfield Town keeping some momentum behind them and I like the home team to win. It will be tough at times, but I think Huddersfield Town wear down Port Vale and become the latest side to beat them by a couple of goals on their travels.

Millwall v Bournemouth Pick: There are a few Premier League clubs playing against teams from the lower Leagues this weekend in the FA Cup Third Round and there are a couple that people might have focused on and perhaps be expecting an upset.

The performances that Millwall have had at The New Den in recent weeks will have given them confidence when they get ready to take on Bournemouth. However I do think they are going to be playing a strong enough Bournemouth team who are doing well enough in the Premier League for Eddie Howe to perhaps focus on the FA Cup and so a good Cup run will only add to a growing CV.

Howe has been linked with the England job in the past and touted as a future Arsenal manager so adding silverware to a stellar job done at The Vitality Stadium will only increase his chances of taking a bigger job. I expect Bournemouth will play a team that is strong enough to win this game and they did win two away ties at lower League clubs in the FA Cup last season.

On both occasions Bournemouth came from behind to win those ties and I do think they will be too strong for Millwall on the day with decent weather likely to leave a good playing surface for the Premier League club to exploit. The price is just attractive enough on the Bournemouth win to back them here and I will take them to get the job done without the need for a replay.

Rotherham United v Oxford United Pick: This has all the makings of a potential upset as Rotherham United continue to struggle in the Championship and play a team from League One who will fancy their chances. Oxford United are not one of the leading contenders in League One, but they play good football and will have more confidence than Rotherham United which makes this a dangerous test for the home team.

One of the issues Oxford United do have is scoring enough goals and that might be a problem for them despite how badly Rotherham United have seemingly played all season. The home side concede too many goals and so you have to think Oxford United will have opportunities, but I also think Rotherham United can have success going forward.

The 4-5 loss to Morecambe at this Stadium in the League Cup shows what can happen in Rotherham United home games and goals have been flowing at both ends for a number of weeks. Oxford United have had some very good away results in the League and they have scored in four of their last five away games and I do think they can play more than their part here.

With Rotherham United scoring and conceding in 4 of their last 5 home games and the fact that they will be urged to push forward, I do think both teams score in this one. I will back a third goal to be shared out too as they have been in recent Rotherham United games and that looks a decent price if Oxford United have brought their shooting boots with them to Yorkshire.

Sutton United v Wimbledon Pick: This might not be the glamour tie that either of these clubs would have wanted, but both will think it presents a big chance to move into the Fourth Round of the FA Cup. For Wimbledon it would be the first time since their newly formed club has moved into that Round after the old Wimbledon magically won the Cup in 1988, and they return to the ground where this current Wimbledon played their first game fourteen years ago.

The magic of the Cup is still in the Wimbledon bones having recovered from large deficits in the last two Rounds to move into the Third Round. They are the favourites to win this tie, but Sutton United have to be encouraged by the fact that Wimbledon trailed Curzon Ashton 3-0 in the Second Round.

Of course less encouragement is the fact that Wimbledon scored four times in the last ten minutes to win that game 3-4, but it does show Sutton United could have success if they challenge them. 4 home wins in a row will give Sutton United further belief, but their run of 3 consecutive clean sheets here will be put to the test against this Wimbledon team.

However Wimbledon have not scored in 3 away games since putting four past Curzon Ashton and so there is hope for an upset in this one. I don't think Sutton United will be able to keep Wimbledon at bay, but I also think they will score and there is every chance this is a game filled with attacking football and chances at both ends.

That is what I am expecting and I am looking for the teams to find a way to share out three goals in this Third Round tie.

West Brom v Derby County PickTrying to work out what managers are going to do in the Cup competitions can be a big task on its own and that is the only issue clouding my judgement in this game. I would be surprised if Derby County were not making changes, but I am expecting Tony Pulis to pick a strong West Brom side with the FA Cup a genuine competition they can have a go at.

The Premier League looks to be well in hand for Pulis but obviously staying in the top flight is the priority for West Brom in August. Now they have 29 points on the board you have to think the FA Cup can increase in importance and West Brom will have a week before they are due to play again.

It certainly feels like West Brom will be keener on this Third Round tie than Derby County and The Baggies have been bouncing at home in recent weeks. They have won 4 of their last 5 at home and West Brom have scored at least three goals in all of those wins which should fill them with confidence.

I expect West Brom to be too good on the day and I think they can get the better of a Derby County team that perhaps is more focused on other things. The home team are odds on to win, but I think they can be backed to do that.

Preston North End v Arsenal Pick: In something of a surprise, Arsene Wenger has told the press that he is going to play a strong a team as possible in this FA Cup Third Round tie at Deepdale. I believe that tells us a lot about the pressure the manager feels under at The Emirates Stadium with another title challenge being derailed in the last month and winning silverware might be the only way to appease the growing support against him.

Going out in the Third Round to a Preston North End team who are mid-table in the Championship would be a huge blow to Wenger's chances of extending his stay as Arsenal manager beyond the end of this season. While he is resting Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal should have enough quality on the field to beat this Preston North End.

The home side have been tough to beat at Deepdale this season although they have recently been crushed by Leeds United and Preston North End will give Arsenal something to think about here. I very much think they can play their part in the game, but Arsenal should have too much even without the likes of Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in the line up.

They beat Nottingham Forest 0-4 in the League Cup with a much changed line up, but I expect this Arsenal team to be stronger than the one that started that day. Nottingham Forest are of a similar level to Preston North End and I think Arsenal can snap a 3 game run without a win away from home with an impressive showing in the late Saturday offering.

Liverpool v Plymouth Argyle Pick: This is all about the team that Liverpool use in the FA Cup Third Round as to how comfortable, or not, the afternoon will be at Anfield. I do think Jurgen Klopp will make a number of changes to his first team, but there should be enough quality coming into the side to see the home side through with some comfort against League Two opposition.

These games can be difficult for Premier League teams as they are not used to the style of their opponents and fresh off a tough festive period. Changes made to the starting elevens can also have an impact on the rhythm of a team and that can make life difficult for the Premier League club if they can't get in control of the game early.

Liverpool have made fast starts under Klopp at Anfield and that style won't change in this one and it is up to Plymouth Argyle to stay in contention for as long as possible. This is a good chance for the Plymouth Argyle players to have an enjoyable afternoon in a big Stadium but it is likely to be a long afternoon for the League Two promotion chasers.

I expect enough notable names to start for Liverpool even with the League Cup Semi Final next on deck and a League game at Old Trafford to come next Sunday. That should give them the edge on the Asian Handicap to perhaps match the 3-0 win over Exeter City from last season in the FA Cup and I will back the home team to cover the number.

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa Pick: Last season the FA Cup exit to Crystal Palace sparked a really poor run of form for Tottenham Hotspur and they won't want to snap the positive momentum they have built up right now. The FA Cup is arguably the third priority for Mauricio Pochettino, but he has a few days to ensure his squad is ready to take part in this Third Round tie and I do think a decent Tottenham Hotspur team will start.

Having a home game against lower League opposition should make for a good start for Tottenham Hotspur especially as this game likely means even less for Aston Villa than it does to the hosts. Winning a Cup is still missing from the Pochettino CV so I am expecting Tottenham Hotspur to give this a go with the home draw a benefit to them.

Tottenham Hotspur have been in good enough recent form to think they can win this one with some comfort and they did beat Aston Villa fairly comfortably at White Hart Lane when they played in the Premier League last season. Aston Villa have just hit a bad patch of form of late and have lost 3 of their last 4 away games in the League and I am not sure Steve Bruce will be as keen for a Cup run as he was with Hull City last season considering the difference in League position for the clubs.

There will be some tight moments in this one as Aston Villa push forward, but I think Tottenham Hotspur will ultimately prove too strong and book their place in the FA Cup Fourth Round draw which will take place on Monday evening.

MY PICKS: Manchester United Win to Nil @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Barnsley @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bolton Wanderers- Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Brentford - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brighton - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Everton @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.93 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Rotherham United-Oxford United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sutton United-Wimbledon Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Brom @ 1.85 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

January Update: 0-5, - 10 Units (10 Units Staked, - 100% 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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