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Saturday, 25 February 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (February 25-27)

The Europa League draw was made on Friday and I will admit that Manchester United facing Rostov was one of the teams I really hoped my club would avoid. Of course you have to beat whoever is in front of you to win a competition like this, but Jose Mourinho was right to point out that Rostov are a decent side and coupled with the travel time it really is the worst draw Manchester United could have received.

It will be tough, especially around the Chelsea game in the FA Cup Sixth Round, but the Second Leg being back at Old Trafford could be a difference maker. I do think Manchester United will score in Russia as long as Mourinho picks a strong teams, and the key will be to stay in the tie in the First Leg.

Even a narrow loss with an away goal could be good enough for Manchester United, but like the manager, I will be focusing on games this weekend before I look to break down the next set of Champions League and Europa League ties to come in March.

Manchester United v Southampton Pick: There has only ever been one piece of silverware won by Southampton and that came in the 1976 FA Cup Final when they upset Manchester United. Expect that to be mentioned a few times on Sunday ahead of the first domestic silverware of the season being handed out in England as Southampton look to upset their more illustrious opponents again.

It is going to be interesting to see how much the rest that Southampton have had will factor into this match. While they have not played in over two weeks by the time this game kicks off, Manchester United would have played three times and I guess it depends on what you like as to how you will factor that in.

Some will think the rest will mean Southampton have more energy and are fresher, but the flip side is that they might have been knocked out of rhythm. On the other hand Manchester United players have been playing, and importantly winning, football matches which will give them the confidence that they can keep their run going.

Jose Mourinho has experience of finding the right formula to win these big games, although it will be a big disappointment if Henrikh Mkhitaryan is forced to sit out with injury as is expected. There is still a lot of talent in the Manchester United squad that should give them the edge and the players have been given some rotation over the last three matches which should mean they are mentally ready to go in this one.

Manchester United have played plenty of football matches at Wembley Stadium over the last twelve months and have positive memories with two trophies picked up here. The form guide has seen Manchester United putting together plenty of wins and they should have a little too much for Southampton on the day.

I think everyone should respect Southampton because this inconsistent team can produce some big performances as their two wins over Liverpool in the English Football League Cup will show. However Southampton have not beaten the big teams (those in the top six) too often when they have met them and they would have lost 5 of 7 of those games if you take out the wins in the League Cup.

The loss of Virgin Van Dijk is a big blow for Southampton and Manchester United are defending well enough to cope with some of the pace The Saints have in the final third. I do think Manchester United will still find a way to create enough chances to win this match and I will look for Jose Mourinho to win his first piece of silverware as manager of this club within the 90 minutes regulation time.

Chelsea v Swansea City Pick: I wasn't sure that Swansea City knew what they were doing when they were searching for a third permanent manager in the space of a couple of months, but the appointment of Paul Clement looks an inspired one. The players look a lot happier than they ever did under Bob Bradley and they have responded by winning 3 of their last 4 Premier League games.

That has taken Swansea City out of trouble at the bottom of the table, although there is still considerable work to be done if they are going to avoid the drop. What has been impressive is the performances against teams like Liverpool and Manchester City where Swansea City have played much better than a team who have been struggling all season and that could make them a danger if Chelsea overlook them this weekend.

With no European distractions, it is hard to imagine Antonio Conte overlooking any team as he looks to take Chelsea to the Premier League title. Chelsea have responded with plenty of professional performances under Conte and they have been imperious at Stamford Bridge where they have won 11 in a row and have been scoring plenty of goals.

Defensively Chelsea have been very strong all season and that has been the foundation to their success and the wins they have been producing. Even when not at their best in an attacking sense, Chelsea will feel they just need a single goal to win games, although they have tended to play better at Stamford Bridge.

Swansea City have won at Liverpool and narrowly lost at Manchester City recently, but Chelsea won't gift them goals as those two clubs did. With a week to prepare, I expect Chelsea will come out and look to control their opponents and I like the home team to win by a couple of goals this weekend.

Crystal Palace v Middlesbrough Pick: There was a relegation 'six pointer' here at Selhurst Park at the beginning of February and Crystal Palace were stunned to find themselves 0-4 down to Sunderland by half time of that game. It really was an unexpected performance from Crystal Palace so soon after winning at Bournemouth and Sam Allardyce will insist they cannot start as badly in this one.

The first goal is going to be all important between Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough with neither team likely to be able to fight back if they fall behind. Neither have shown they can score enough goals to do that and in a big game like this one, I am expecting plenty of tension on the field.

Home advantage has not been very good for Crystal Palace and they have failed to score in their last couple of games here. On the other hand Middlesbrough have only scored a single goal in their last 5 away Premier League games and I am not anticipating too many goals in this one.

The layers are all over those stats though with the oddsmakers offering short odds for one, or both, of these teams failing to score and even backing under 1.5 total goals is plenty short.

Out of the two teams, I do think there is more potential in the Crystal Palace team going forward and I think that could show up here. I thought they were very short when priced up to beat Sunderland, but this one is odds against on the home team and I think that is more appealing.

Middlesbrough haven't travelled well and have kept a single clean sheet in their last 7 away Premier League games. The lack of goals for Crystal Palace is a concern, but I think Allardyce will get things turned around for them and they are well rested having not been in action during FA Cup Fifth Round weekend. At odds against I will back Crystal Palace to earn a vital three points in this one and I will back them to do that.

Everton v Sunderland Pick: There was some criticism of David Moyes from the Sunderland fans that he was still going to take his squad on a team building exercise in New York City despite a 0-4 home loss to Southampton in their last Premier League game. Personally I don't really see the issue there as Moyes has to stick to his methods to try and turn things around for Sunderland.

Now he takes his team to Goodison Park where Moyes enjoyed so much success as a manager, but who will also note the defeat that ended his time as Manchester United manager. Sunderland may have won their last away game at Crystal Palace, but they might be running into Everton at the wrong time.

The hope will be that Everton have just had some of their momentum snapped by the two week break between games. If not, this could be a long day in the office for Sunderland when they face an Everton team who have scored 13 goals in their last 3 home Premier League games and have scored at least three times in each of those games which have unsurprisingly led to wins each time.

Sunderland kept a clean sheet and won their last away game, but that had snapped a run of 6 consecutive away losses and conceding at least two goals in each of those defeats. The away team will try and defend in numbers, but Everton are unbeaten in 8 Premier League games and look like one that will create chances and score goals and I do think they will be too good on the day.

Last season Everton beat Sunderland 6-2 and while I don't think they match that margin of victory, I do think they can win this one by a couple of goals. I will back Everton to do that by picking them on the Asian Handicap to overcome Sunderland and keep up their chase for European places while leaving their former manager in a precarious position in the League table.

Hull City v Burnley Pick: The oddsmakers are clearly anticipating a tight game between Hull City and Burnley on Saturday, but I am not sure that is going to be the case. Marco Silva and Sean Dyche both like their teams to try and play football and I do think Hull City and Burnley have played well enough in recent weeks to produce a surprisingly high-scoring game.

Of course the points on offer will bring some tension into the game, but Silva needs to be given a lot of credit for allowing Hull City to play with some freedom in their games under his management. That has seen The Tigers show some bite against some of the better teams in the Premier League and the players should have a lot of confidence now they are taking on a Burnley team who have struggled on their travels.

However Burnley have scored in their last 4 away games in the Premier League even though they have lost all of those by the same 2-1 scoreline. This Burnley team do not defend as well on their travels as they do at Turf Moor, but they have also shown they can give Hull City something to think about when pushing the other way.

5 of the last 7 home Premier League games Hull City have played have ended with at least three goals shared out. They have scored at least twice in 4 of their last 5 at The KCOM Stadium, but the clean sheet against Liverpool was the first they have had at home in the Premier League this season. Burnley can become the latest to score here and I would not be surprised if this game is poised at 1-1 at some point.

Settling for a point won't really be in the mind of either manager when three points could be a huge boost for them and I will look to back at least three goals being shared out at odds against.

West Brom v Bournemouth Pick: A strong season at home for West Brom has pleased the fans that might have been on Tony Pulis' back because of the style of football they had been producing last season. With wins behind them, West Brom have been able to put the ball on the ground and play their football this season and they have been very good at The Hawthorns.

This isn't an easy game for them because Bournemouth will try and play their football too and they will likely have a bit more space to do that with West Brom trying to do the same. Instead of a physical battle, this could be a fairly good watch and it is a game that Bournemouth would have targeted for points to arrest their slide towards the bottom three.

However the concern for The Cherries has to be the amount of goals they have been conceding on their travels in recent weeks. They have lost 6 of their last 7 away games in all competitions and Bournemouth have conceded at least three times in each of those losses which is not going to lead to too many points.

At The Hawthorns West Brom have found themselves on a roll at times and that has seen them rack up the goals which might not be a feature of Tony Pulis teams of the past. The Baggies have scored at least twice in half of their Premier League games here and West Brom have played 8 teams who are below them in the League table and won 7 of those while scoring at least twice in 6 of those games.

Those are some impressive numbers and I will back West Brom to win this one at odds against on Saturday.

Watford v West Ham United Pick: The live game on Saturday in the Premier League might not capture the imagination of too many fans considering it is between two mid-table sides. However I think both Watford and West Ham United can play their part in a decent game of football and I believe they will share out at least three goals for the neutrals tuning in.

It does feel both Watford and West Ham United can play with a little freedom with their relegation fears from earlier in the season looking like they are in the rearview mirror. Both have some technically good players on the field, while neither is defensively as strong as they would like and that can mesh into a decent, attacking game of football.

The home team have been a little more erratic in front of goal and Watford will need to be close to their best if they are going to get something from this match. Their opponents West Ham United did lose 1-0 at Leicester City, but around that game they have scored four goals at Swansea City and three goals at both Middlesbrough and Southampton in some high-scoring wins.

Andy Carroll's absence would be a blow considering he has scored four goals in those 3 away wins, but West Ham United have found a solid method to play at away grounds in the Premier League recently. They should cause Watford problems, but West Ham United have not kept an away clean sheet in their last 8 away games in the League.

I was tempted in backing West Ham United to win this as the underdog, or even on the Asian Handicap with a slight start, but I think there will be goals in the match. Both teams should have a positive mindset and backing at least three goals at odds against looks a decent price.

Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City Pick: Thursday night was a big disappointment for Tottenham Hotspur right through the club as they were upset by a Gent team that have been struggling in Belgium and who had been playing a rotated team in both Legs of their Last 32 Europa League tie. More struggles at Wembley Stadium won't have impressed too many either as Tottenham Hotspur will be playing every 'home' game here from August.

The side have won just 1 of their last 8 games at Wembley Stadium, but returning home to White Hart Lane might be important for Tottenham Hotspur to get back on the horse this weekend. They have won 9 in a row at White Hart Lane in all competitions and Tottenham Hotspur are still in a very good position to finish in the top four and return to Champions League football next season.

Mauricio Pochettino has to realise this is a big chance to up the pressure on their top four rivals as three of those won't be playing in the Premier League this weekend. Nothing less than a win will do for Tottenham Hotspur and they did bounce back from the First Leg of their Europa League tie last week by beating Fulham 0-3 at the weekend.

With the shots and chances created by Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday, they will believe they can get the better of a Stoke City team who have lost 4 of their last 5 away Premier League games. Stoke City did earn a draw at Manchester United earlier this season, but they have lost all 5 other games they have played at teams who are currently above them in the League table.

Stoke City do have a good record here and are well rested considering they haven't played in two weeks compared with Tottenham Hotspur who have had three matches in that time. Those factors coupled together may have a few backing Stoke City with the start, but their losses at the teams above them have come comfortably with defeats by at least two goals at Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea already this season.

If Tottenham Hotspur create half the chances they did on Thursday they should be too good for Stoke City in this live game on Sunday. I will back the home side to become the latest to beat Stoke City by a couple of goals.

Leicester City v Liverpool Pick: Some of the talk coming out of the Sevilla-Leicester City game had to be revolving around a very good score for the English Champions, but I do think some of it was over the top. The side lost yet another game and were beyond fortunate to come away with a 2-1 loss and I am not sure that level of performance is going to prevent them from being relegated from the Premier League.

Of course some will say perhaps it can be used as a 'turning point' for the Leicester City fortunes, but the earlier Champions League performances didn't really help them and continuing to lose matches is not a good thing.

Leicester City can't afford to be defending as poorly as they have been when Liverpool come to town considering the pace and quality the latter have in the forward positions. A lack of goals for Leicester City is a big concern and Liverpool are a team that do generally score goals away from home even if they failed to do that in a 2-0 loss at Hull City last time out.

The onus is on Leicester City to come out and play football but that has resulted in back to back 0-3 home losses here to Chelsea and Manchester United. They look a squad that is going to drop their heads if they fall behind and I think a well rested Liverpool team will be able to expose any vulnerabilities they see in the home defence.

We should note that Liverpool have had defensive problems of their own, but Leicester City have struggled to find the formula to score goals more often than not in recent weeks. Leicester City have lost 3 of their last 4 Premier League games here and all of those have come by more than a single goal margin.

Liverpool have struggled away from home in recent weeks, but they do score goals and I think they will become the latest club to leave The King Power Stadium with an impressive win behind them.

Leeds United v Sheffield Wednesday Pick: The Yorkshire derby between Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday has some big Play Off implications attached to it and this could be a tight and tense encounter at Elland Road. However, both teams have been creating chances and scoring goals at home/away respectively and neither team have looked watertight defensively in recent weeks either.

That could mean this is a surprisingly high-scoring derby game although the last 3 at Elland Road between these teams have ended 1-1.

The 1-1 scoreline has a real potential in this one too, but both will know how much more important the three points are and that could see both teams at least trying to win the game. The oddsmakers don't really believe in the chance of seeing goals, but I think they could be wrong.

It is a big price for a reason, but I will be backing these two teams to combine and provide an entertaining game for the neutrals tuning in.

Barnsley v Huddersfield Town Pick: It does look like Huddersfield Town have plenty of momentum behind them with lots of wins in recent weeks, but keeping that up is going to be difficult and they still need Newcastle United and/or Brighton to hit a rough patch if they are going to finish in the automatic promotion spots.

A Yorkshire derby at Barnsley is going to be a test for Huddersfield Town even if Barnsley have not been winning a lot of games of late. They were beaten by Brighton here last weekend so it will be up to Huddersfield Town to match that and keep the pressure on a club that have come close to promotion to the Premier League before crumbling under those expectations in recent seasons.

Winning here won't be easy because Barnsley will be desperate to reignite their own Play Off ambitions while denting a rivals' bid at the same time.

Barnsley haven't scored in their last couple of home games, but this is a club that has found scoring not much of a problem all season. They are facing a Huddersfield Town team who have not had too many clean sheets away from home this season and I do think this could be a game where we see goals.

Both teams have shown plenty of attacking potential through the campaign and I will back at least three goals to be shared out at Oakwell on Saturday.

Brentford v Rotherham United Pick: Brentford have been an inconsistent team at home all season so picking them to win a game by more than a single goal margin can be tough to understand. However they are playing a Rotherham United team who have been terrible on their travels all season and who tend to lose games by more than a single goal margin in recent weeks.

This is also a Brentford team who have been scoring plenty of goals in recent games. Brentford have scored 17 goals in their last 8 League games and they have hit three goals in their last couple of games here. Reaching that margin again will make it very hard for Rotherham United to stay within the handicap margins.

Rotherham United have not scored in any of their last 6 away games in the League and I think Brentford will likely have too much for them over the course of this game. I will back them on the Asian Handicap to record a big win on Saturday.

Newcastle United v Bristol City Pick: This is the kind of game that Newcastle United will be looking to show off their Premier League quality and they simply cannot afford to drop points in this one with teams chasing them for the automatic promotion spots in the League.

They have been in good form and Bristol City have absolutely been struggling over the last few months.

7 defeats from their last 8 away games in the Championship is not the kind of run you want to take into a trip to St James' Park and Bristol City have conceded at least twice in all but one of those games. It is interesting to note that none of those losses have come by more than a single goal margin, but this is as tough a ground as Bristol City will have visited.

At St James' Park, Newcastle United have won 9 of their 11 games by at least two goals and I will back them on the Asian Handicap to continue that trend.

Brighton v Reading Pick: Brighton and Reading meet in a big League game on Saturday and this has huge automatic promotion implications for both clubs.

That should mean there will be some tension between the teams with the importance the three points means for both Brighton and Reading.

However I do think there will be chances at both ends as there was when Huddersfield Town and Reading met on Tuesday, but slightly more composure in front of goal will surely lead to more of those opportunities being taken. Both games between Brighton and Reading this season have produced at least three goals and I think that is a real possibility in this one.

The tension surrounding the game and what it means could cause some careful play, but a first half goal will open this one up and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Norwich City v Ipswich Town Pick: This is a big game for both Norwich City and Ipswich Town as every East Anglia derby tends to be, but arguably it is a bigger game for Norwich City who are trying to work their way into the top six of the Championship.

You can understand why Norwich City are a short priced favourite to win this game considering how well they have played at Carrow Road all season, but I can't see this being an easy day in the office for them.

Ipswich Town have scored in their last 3 away games and they can give Norwich City some problems considering the home team have conceded in 3 of their last 4 games here. However Norwich City have scored plenty of goals too and this feels like it could be the fourth game in 6 East Anglia derby games at Carrow Road that end with at least three goals shared out.

Hopefully the early start on a Sunday doesn't mean the players are a touch on the slow side as they wipe the sleep from the eyes. Being a derby game should give them motivation to start quickly and I will back at least three goals to be shared out by these teams.

MY PICKS: Manchester United @ 1.85 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 2.15 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Everton - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Hull City-Burnley Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.45 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Brom @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Watford-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.08 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leeds United-Sheffield Wednesday Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 William Hill (2 Units)
Barnsley-Huddersfield Town Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Brentford - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet365 (2 Units)
Newcastle United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.12 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brighton-Reading Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Norwich City-Ipswich Town Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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