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Friday, 17 February 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (February 18-20)

I mentioned before the midweek fixtures that I have had a pretty demoralising last couple of months for the Football Picks with little going my way and there was a little bit more misfortune attached to my picks over the last few days.

Derby County somehow blew a 2-0 lead to lose 3-4 at home to Cardiff City and Athletic Bilbao conceded late which meant they missed the Asian Handicap cover in a 3-2 win over APOEL. If both of those go my way, I am back into a positive for February, but instead I have made a big dent in the totals from last weekend.

Another penalty miss hurt in the Benfica-Borussia Dortmund Champions League Last 16 First Leg on Tuesday- I have lost count of the amount of penalty misses in games where I am backing goals but that is another to add to the list as it came with half an hour to go and the game set to move to 1-1 on the scoreboard.

So while I did have a winning midweek, I should have had one which turned things right around and really got the month back on track. Hopefully I will be able to build on that momentum this weekend as the FA Cup Fifth Round and Championship takes centre stage before the Premier League resumes next weekend.

Before that there will be another busy midweek of Champions League, Europa League and domestic football in the lower Leagues to come. Both Manchester City and Leicester City will have their Last 16 First Legs in the Champions League during the week, while Tottenham Hotspur are trying to turn around a 1-0 First Leg loss in the Europa League.

I am pretty confident Manchester United have already done enough to move into the Last 16 because I think they will score out in St-Etienne and the draw will be made next Friday for the Last 16 when country protections are set aside.

Burnley v Lincoln City Pick: You can't take anything for granted in football, but Burnley have to feel they are well on their way to avoiding relegation from the Premier League with 13 League games to play. The form at Turf Moor has been incredibly good all season and Burnley have used that to move onto 30 points with 29 points being earned at home.

That should mean Sean Dyche can play a strong team in a bid to help Burnley put an exclamation mark on the season by continuing their run in the FA Cup. With a week to prepare for this game and another week before Burnley are due to play again, not playing a strong team would be really disappointing as Burnley are very close to playing at Wembley Stadium.

The form this season should also mean Burnley fear no team left in the FA Cup, especially with many of them having other priorities, and I think the right draw can take Burnley all the way to the Final. It won't be an easy ride, but Burnley have to be very pleased with their Fifth Round draw as they take on one of the two non-League teams left in the FA Cup and at home.

Lincoln City have to be respected, but this is a huge challenge for the National League leaders who are being challenged for promotion and have a big game on Tuesday night. Players at this level won't want to 'rest' for that game at North Ferriby United, but this is still a huge step up from their usual level of opponents.

Burnley have been winning plenty of games at Turf Moor and played so well against Chelsea that only complacency will prevent them moving through. I don't think Dyche does complacency though and I expect Burnley to work hard and give Lincoln City all the respect in the world.

I would be surprised if it is a really comfortable day for Burnley because Lincoln City will be up for it, but eventually you would imagine the home team are too strong. Burnley don't concede many goals here and have only conceded 2 goals in their last 7 home games in all competitions. They have won both home games in the FA Cup with a clean sheet and I will back them at odds against to do that in the Fifth Round too and end the dream run for The Imps.

Huddersfield Town v Manchester City Pick: You have to think that both David Wagner and Pep Guardiola are looking ahead to a much bigger game on Tuesday despite being in the FA Cup Fifth Round this weekend. For Manchester City clearly the Champions League Last 16 First Leg against Monaco is the one they will be really looking forward to, while Huddersfield Town have a huge game against Reading in the Championship with the winner potentially being in a good position to secure automatic promotion to the Premier League.

With that in mind I am expecting both managers to shuffle the pack in this one and trying to work out the starting line ups is far from easy.

It should make this Fifth Round tie a fairly open one too as neither Huddersfield Town nor Manchester City will want a Replay in ten days time. Both teams are much more comfortable going forward than they are defending and I am not surprised that the layers have priced up at least three goals to be shared out at a pretty short price.

In saying that, I am a little more surprised that both teams to score is a much bigger price than there being at least three goals overall. I understand Manchester City are capable of covering these numbers themselves, but I actually considered backing Huddersfield Town with the start on the Handicap if they did not have such a big fixture next up on deck.

Manchester City do have 3 clean sheets in a row away from home and in 5 of their last 7 on their travels overall, but there could be changes made by Guardiola in this one which will give the home team encouragement. This is a team in Huddersfield Town who have been very good going forward all season anyway and I do think they will pose problems, although they do have to be better defensively.

Overall there looks a real chance for both teams to play their part in this Fifth Round tie before all is said and done and I will back both to score in an entertaining afternoon.

Middlesbrough v Oxford United Pick: There is no doubt that Middlesbrough are firmly in the mix of a relegation battle in the Premier League and the problem has been a lack of goals. Defensively they have been very good for the most part, but the pressure is definitely on for Middlesbrough in the coming weeks.

For this weekend they can put aside Premier League concerns and try and beat a third lower League team in the FA Cup and move onto the Sixth Round next month. Middlesbrough are unsurprisingly the favourites to win the tie against Oxford United of League One, especially as they are hosting it, but I wouldn't want to underestimate the visitors who have 'nothing to lose'.

Oxford United will look to play their football and see if they can build some pressure on the struggling Premier League side, while they have previous having beaten Swansea City of the Premier League and Newcastle United of the Championship in the last fourteen months in the FA Cup. Both of those wins have come at home though and it is a big ask for Oxford United to stun Middlesbrough here.

The U's have scored in their last 7 away games in all competitions though and I expect that is an issue for Middlesbrough who have not been as watertight at the back in recent weeks as they were a month ago. They are still very good at home though and both FA Cup games have been won with a clean sheet against Sheffield Wednesday and Accrington Stanley, but I do anticipate Oxford United causing a few more problems.

Middlesbrough did score three times in their win over Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup Third Round and did the same to Swansea City in the League. With that in mind I can see both teams playing their part in a lively Cup tie on Saturday and I am looking for at least three goals to be shared out.

It wouldn't surprise me if a changed Middlesbrough team conceded, but they should still be too strong over the course of 90 minutes and I expect they will get through. The Cup being as it is, a late goal may see this number surpassed and I am backing goals.

Millwall v Leicester City Pick: After such a memorable 2016, 2017 is shaping up to be a really difficult season for Leicester City. Their priority is now finding a way to reverse momentum and secure their place in the Premier League for next season, but Claudio Ranieri has one FA Cup game and one Champions League game to negotiate before The Foxes return to Premier League action.

It would be a real surprise if Ranieri did not make wholesale changes to his Leicester City starting eleven following the 2-0 loss at Swansea City last weekend, and that gives Millwall the chance to take a hat-trick of Premier League scalps. Millwall have already beaten Bournemouth and Watford in the FA Cup here and there is every chance that they can take out a much changed Leicester City team and move a game away from playing at Wembley Stadium in the Cup Semi Final.

I have to admit I was tempted to back Millwall to win this game, but Leicester City's fringe players have performed well in the FA Cup at Everton and at home against Derby County. They still have plenty of speed in forward areas which can be tough for a League One side to deal with and South London's weather won't have produced a great equaliser with the pitch condition either.

Millwall are in fine form and have kept 5 clean sheets in a row which includes in both games in the FA Cup against Premier League opposition. That made the home team appealing, and Leicester City's goal drought in the Premier League is well documented.

However, the changes made in the FA Cup have seen Leicester City score 5 times in their 3 Cup games and I can see both teams creating their chances in this one. The oddsmakers are not anticipating a free flowing game, but I think it might surprise with both Millwall and Leicester City looking to win the tie without the need for a Replay.

At a fairly big price, I am going to back this to be another Cup tie where there are at least three goals shared out.

Wolves v Chelsea PickIt is hard to second guess some of the teams that managers will put out in the FA Cup, but it would make very little sense for Antonio Conte to rest players just three games out from the Cup Final. There are only two competitions in which Chelsea are involved the rest of this season and they have a very good lead in the Premier League that I am expecting a very strong side to be picked.

There will be some changes, but the formation will likely be the same as usual and the biggest concern for Chelsea in this game is that Wolves produce something close to the level they did at Anfield. That Wolves team has not been seen too often since the win at Liverpool in the Fourth Round and they have actually looked pretty poor in the last couple of weeks as Wolves have slipped back into a potential relegation battle.

The win at Liverpool also came against a changed home team who were going through a really difficult patch, but this Chelsea team are playing much better. Draws at Liverpool and Burnley in their last couple of away games shouldn't be a real concern for Antonio Conte as they could easily have won both on another day, but Chelsea do have to be at their best to get a result here.

There is enough talent in the Premier League leaders' squad that they should be good enough to come away from Wolves with the win without the need for a replay. I am anticipating the likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Willian to start in the forward positions and that should be enough to beat Wolves.

Chelsea are not conceding a lot of goals and even a couple of changes might not affect them here. They can pick off a Wolves team that is potentially chasing an equaliser late in the game and finish off the tie and I like Chelsea to win this by a couple of goals at odds against.

Fulham v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The television cameras will pitch up to Craven Cottage on Sunday and Tottenham Hotspur have been set as the odds on favourites to win here. I really can't understand that considering recent form that both Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur have displayed and I am going to back the home team to avoid defeat at the least.

That won't be easy for Fulham as they try and raise their level to take on a Premier League side currently in the top three of that Division. However the game is being played at Craven Cottage and Tottenham Hotspur have shown they have not been as strong on their travels as they have been at White Hart Lane.

A lack of goals in the last couple of weeks has to concern Mauricio Pochettino while this game comes at an awkward time in the football calendar for Tottenham Hotspur. They played on Thursday night in Belgium and the home game with Gent next week in the Second Leg is clearly the more important game for Pochettino if you consider the team he put out in the First Leg.

That does make me think that Tottenham Hotspur will make a number of changes to their first team which almost cost them against Wycombe Wanderers in the Fourth Round. On the other hand I would think a much more recognisable Fulham XI to start this game and they look a good shout at odds against to at least force a Replay.

I did consider backing at least four goals to be shared out, but Tottenham Hotspur's struggles in front of goal do concern me, especially if both Dele Alli and Harry Kane are left out of the starting eleven. Fulham have shown they can score plenty of goals at Craven Cottage in recent weeks and two goals could potentially be enough to secure the upset. I will stick with backing the home team on the Asian Handicap in this one.

Blackburn Rovers v Manchester United Pick: There have been times that I have expected Manchester United to rest players in their Cup games and use the squad, but Jose Mourinho continues to pick his strongest players where possible. He has tended to make the majority of his changes in the FA Cup so far and the admittance that he will play a strong team at St-Etienne on Wednesday night suggests this is the game where others will be given a chance to shine.

This might not be the strongest Manchester United squad of the last twenty years, but it is definitely one with depth and is improving. Even if the starting eleven is not as familiar as it could be, Manchester United have the players that should be too good for a Blackburn Rovers team who are struggling at the wrong end of the Championship.

I can't imagine too many who started on Thursday being involved here, but the likes of Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney should still be good enough to beat a team of Blackburn Rovers standard. That is no disrespect to Blackburn Rovers who have played well at Ewood Park in recent weeks and beaten Newcastle United here, but they are not 23rd in the Championship by fluke with almost three-quarters of the season played.

There is no doubt the game at Burton Albion next Friday is the far bigger game for Blackburn Rovers and the fans are more likely to be protesting against the owners than backing the players. That is an issue at the moment and I am not sure Ewood Park is a pitch where Blackburn Rovers can make life difficult for Manchester United, but instead is one where the Premier League team can play their football.

Manchester United have been very strong in the Cup competitions this season but the majority of their best performances have been at Old Trafford, which is in contrast to the Premier League where Manchester United have been very effective on their travels. The side have lost 3 of their 5 away Cup games this season, but Manchester United have won the other 2 by a couple of goals each time and I will back that to happen here.

Jose Mourinho is right that a fixture backlog is developing for Manchester United, but this is a manager who insists they win every game they play and I expect Manchester United to reach the Sixth Round of the FA Cup at the first attempt. I will back them to win at Ewood Park by a couple of goals at odds against.

Sutton United v Arsenal Pick: A defeat at Sutton United for Arsenal would be one of the biggest upsets in arguably any football game played around the world, but in reality this is probably the perfect chance for the Arsenal players to bounce back from the disappointment of Munich last Wednesday.

They have had time to recover physically and Arsenal will not play again until Saturday 4th March following this one so Arsene Wenger will have a number of his recognisable players out on the field. It has been a good period of weather in and around Sutton United too so the pitch should be in perfect condition once the Arsenal players get used to the bounce on an artificial surface.

Of course Sutton United should have a very strong work ethic and the fans will be on top of the Arsenal players which should pump up their own players, but ultimately there is some difference in quality here.

I don't imagine the Arsenal players will have been dwelling on the result in Bayern Munich too much (just an outward appearance I get from many of their players) and so they should come out with their usual game plan in place. Over the course of 90 minutes, the Arsenal quality should be too much for Sutton United to contain and I think The Gunners will overcome the Asian Handicap.

Even a changed Arsenal team should contain enough about them to see off Sutton United and I am expecting them to win by a wide margin after weathering an early storm.

Barnsley v Brighton Pick: This is a really tough game for Brighton as they have just hit a rough patch of form and are now beginning to feel the heat from the teams below them in the Championship. After spending such a long time in the automatic promotion places, Chris Hughton will be aware of the mental effort it would take to try and earn promotion through the Play Offs and has to right the Brighton ship as soon as possible.

No one gets an easy ride in Barnsley though even if the home team have been inconsistent at Oakwell in the League. They have had some memorable wins in the League here, but Barnsley have also lost their fair share of games and it is tough to work out which version of their team will turn up.

Will be see the Barnsley who just hammered Aston Villa away from home or the one that were comfortably beaten by Wolves here a couple of weeks ago?

The one encouragement the home team have to have is seeing the amount of goals Brighton have been conceding in recent away games. Brighton have not had a clean sheet in their last 7 away from home in all competitions and they have conceded 15 goals in those games which is a concern when facing the fifth highest scoring home team in the Championship.

Brighton do score too and that should mean we are in for a decent game on Saturday and one that could produce at least three goals. The three points are important enough for both teams to think neither will settle to defend and both managers have shown a liking for attacking football so backing at least three goals to be shared out at odds against looks a decent price.

Burton Albion v Norwich City Pick: Playing at The Pirelli Stadium was a really difficult test earlier in the season, but the season has been wearing on the Burton Albion players. Goals continue to be a problem and they only recently snapped a pretty long losing run in front of their own fans in the League.

It might be equalled out by the poor form Norwich City have shown away from home for much of the season. The last few weeks had been particularly tough, but the last two performances at Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic will have been encouraging.

The issues defensively continue to blight Norwich City though and that will give Burton Albion some hope. In the 2-2 draw at Wigan Athletic, Norwich City looked miles better than Wigan Athletic for the first 45 minutes before allowing their hosts to fight back and that does make it difficult to trust them here.

However the top teams have generally found a way to get it done here and recent games have seen Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and Fulham all win here. Brighton also won here earlier in the season and all of Norwich City's away wins in the League have come against teams in the bottom half of the table.

It won't be easy for Alex Neil's team, but I will back Norwich City to keep the pressure on the top six by earning a vital three points at Burton Albion this weekend.

Cardiff City v Rotherham United Pick: There has to be some real confidence flowing through the Cardiff City players after coming from 2-0 down to beat Derby County 3-4 at The iPro Stadium during the week. That follows on from another impressive win at Leeds United last weekend and now they return home where they had been playing pretty well in recent weeks.

Being matched up against Rotherham United this weekend certainly feels like it is giving Cardiff City a big chance to continue the momentum from their away wins earlier this week.

There is a lot of willing in the Rotherham United dressing room but the quality has just not been there for them this season. They will be looking to make life awkward for teams who have plenty more to play for than The Millers the rest of the season, and Rotherham United showed they can do that in a narrow home loss to promotion chasing Huddersfield Town during the week.

Rotherham United put a lot of effort into that game without reward which may have dented their belief even more, while a lack of goals away from home is a concern. The side don't do clean sheets and Cardiff City have beaten the likes of struggling Aston Villa and Burton Albion at home in recent weeks.

Half of the last 6 League games won by Cardiff City have come with a clean sheet and I think they can do that here. Prior to the 0-1 loss to Norwich City, Cardiff City had won 3 in a row at home with a clean sheet too and I will back them to do that this weekend at a big price.

Ipswich Town v Leeds United Pick: The improved form for Ipswich Town coupled with the Leeds United slide in form could mean there is a chance for another dent in the promotion bid for the latter.

The oddsmakers have found it tough to separate these teams, but I do feel they are taking a chance with the price for at least three goals to be shared out. Goals have been flowing at both ends in recent Ipswich Town games which have seen the last 5 at Portman Road feature at least three goals.

Ipswich Town have scored at least twice in 4 of their last 5 here, while the away team has scored at least 4 times in a row at Portman Road.

Usually that would mean Leeds United games have been on the lower-scoring side, but 4 of their last 5 in the League on their travels have also featured at least three goals. Late goals have contributed to that, but Leeds United and Ipswich Town should be pushing for the points very late into the game so I am not anticipating a tight, tense game.

Fixtures between Ipswich Town and Leeds United have tended to be higher-scoring at this ground too with the last 6 all featuring at least three goals shared out. I think both teams will likely score in this one, but with both pushing for the three points I can also see a late goal turning this in favour of one of them.

Either way I don't mind as long as they can cover the goal line at what looks a very big price.

Nottingham Forest v Sheffield Wednesday Pick: There were so many goals in the Championship during the midweek round of games and this weekend could surprise the layers. They have offered a big price in the Ipswich Town versus Leeds United game to see three goals and are doing the same in this fixture too.

That might have a lot to do with how Sheffield Wednesday have played at both ends of the field, but they have brought in reinforcements to strengthen in forward areas. I am anticipating the likes of Jordan Rhodes to really help Sheffield Wednesday produce more goals and I think they will have chances here.

However Nottingham Forest are much stronger at home than on their travels and I expect they can play a part too having scored five goals in their last 3 home games. Prior to the 0-1 win at Wigan Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday had been involved in 3 straight away games that featured at least three goals and I think the same can happen here.

At this stage of the season, three points are so important to both teams that I don't expect either to settle back and look for a draw and that could mean a surprisingly high scoring game. The oddsmakers don't agree but I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

MY PICKS: Burnley Win to Nil @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-Manchester City Both Teams to Score @ 1.83 Stan James (2 Units)
Middlesbrough-Oxford United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Millwall-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Coral (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.04 Bet365 (2 Units)
Fulham + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.07 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)
Barnsley-Brighton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Norwich City @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Cardiff City Win to Nil @ 2.62 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Ipswich Town-Leeds United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.40 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Nottingham Forest-Sheffield Wednesday Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Coral (2 Units)

February Update16-22, - 6.80 Units (72 Units Staked, - 9.44% Yield)

January Final32-47-1, - 30.88 Units (164 Units Staked, - 18.83% 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 2016/17212-232-9, - 28.11 Units (872 Units Staked, - 3.22% 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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