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Saturday, 4 February 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (February 4-5)

The last two months have been absolutely terrible when it comes to the Football Picks but I have not been helped with a staggering amount of chances being missed by teams that I have picked or when I have picked goals to be the outcome of a game.

I've lost count of the amount of penalties that have been missed which included Diego Costa on Tuesday night which would have snapped the 1-1 deadlock in the Chelsea game at Anfield and secured that pick as a winner. The night after Juan Mata missed a ridiculous chance in the Manchester United goalless draw with Hull City which may have led to another winner and that is just a very small sample of the way some of these matches have gone.

Don't get me wrong, there have been some poor picks in there too, but I've said many times that you need some luck on your side even when it looks like you are on the right side of the way a match has been developing.

I have written a small piece about Jose Mourinho's first six months at Manchester United and how I feel things are developing under his tenure and the direction the season is heading. That can be read here.

Chelsea v Arsenal Pick: For the neutrals who are hoping for the Premier League title race to be prolonged for at least a few more weeks, anything but a Chelsea win will give them some hope. An Arsenal win would be the best result on Saturday, but for teams chasing the top four positions, a Chelsea will would leave The Gunners looking vulnerable.

That makes this a big London derby to open the latest round of Premier League games and one where much is on Arsenal to show they are still full of belief that they can win the title. The 1-2 loss to Watford is a huge blow to their chances to do that, but I am expecting a reaction from the players unless the thoughts have already turned to other competitions.

This set of players don't really strike me as the kind to do that, and this is a hugely important game for Arsenal in a big month when they face Bayern Munich and also play in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. The Gunners are a team with goals in them so I do think they can pose a threat to Chelsea, despite the strong defensive performances the home side have put in all season.

Chelsea have been very tough at Stamford Bridge where they have earned 7 clean sheets during a 10 game winning run and they have only conceded more than once in a single one of those games. That, coupled with the Arsenal result on Tuesday, has shrunk the price on the home team to earn the three points although you can still pick them up at odds against.

Instead I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out assuming there won't be another penalty miss to get over that mark like there was on Tuesday at Anfield. Most will look at the Chelsea defensive record and assume they can get back to their run of clean sheets against Arsenal having had 7 in a row against them before the 3-0 defeat at The Emirates Stadium.

However I think it can't be ignored that Chelsea haven't managed too many against the top six this season- they did against Manchester United at home, but Tottenham Hotspur (twice), Arsenal, Liverpool (twice), and Manchester City have all managed to breach the Chelsea back line so it feels like a game where Chelsea will have to score twice to win it.

While I do think they are capable of doing that, I expect a strong performance from Arsenal who have scored in their last 16 away games in all competitions including at Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Manchester City. They were terrible on Tuesday, but Arsenal can bounce back and I am anticipating a lively start to this weekend's Premier League action.

The draw might suit Chelsea, but at home they are expected to win so I expect a more positive approach than they had at Anfield in the second half, so backing at least three goals looks to be the call.

Everton v Bournemouth Pick: A few weeks ago Everton would have been a much bigger price than they are to win this game, but I do think they can be backed to do so. Everton have been playing very well in the Premier League in recent weeks and they have won 3 of their last 4 League games here and goals have not been a problem.

Defending has been an issue for Bournemouth though as they continue to struggle in the Premier League and might be heading down towards a relegation battle unless they can turn things around sharpish.

Eddie Howe has been critical of the defending, but that hasn't seen an improvement of a run of 7 in 8 games where they have conceded at least twice. Even worse has been away from home where Bournemouth have lost 5 of their last 6 games and have conceded three times in each of those defeats.

That includes at the likes of Burnley, Hull City and Millwall and Everton have scored at least three times in their last couple of home Premier League games which has to be a concern for Bournemouth. The Premier League can throw up some strange results on a weekly basis, but Everton did beat Bournemouth here last season and recent form suggests they can do the same again on Saturday.

Hull City v Liverpool Pick: Anyone who has watched Hull City since Marco Silva has arrived at the club will have seen the improvement they have made defensively which has made them a much tougher proposition to beat (really hope Paul Merson has been watching after his ridiculous rant following Silva's appointment which highlighted a real lack of knowledge he possesses).

Being hard to beat is obviously a good thing, but Hull City need to start winning games now the likes of Swansea City and Crystal Palace have been doing the same. That has also been an area where Silva looks to have improved Hull City and they did have some chances at Old Trafford during the week even in the absence of Robert Snodgrass.

It was Snodgrass who had been the main creative and scoring force at Hull City before his decision to move to West Ham United, but The Tigers have shown enough bite to suggest they can still score the goals to get out of trouble. They will certainly feel they can pose problems for a Liverpool defence that has had some real difficulties protecting against the set pieces teams have delivered against them.

That looks the best avenue for Hull City to score in this one, but they will be tested by a Liverpool team who should be at full strength in the final third for the first time in months. Having an additional day to prepare for this game will suit Liverpool too and I do think they will create chances at The KC Stadium.

As improved as Hull City have been defensively, they haven't had too many clean sheets and it would be a real surprise if Liverpool didn't score here. However I think Hull City are more than capable of playing their part against a vulnerable Liverpool defence whose confidence can't be at its best at the moment and backing both teams to score at close to odds against is the pick.

Watford v Burnley Pick: The poor Burnley away record in the Premier League and the Watford win at Arsenal might be the contributing factors to the price on the home shrinking heading into the weekend. Watford have been shortening all week, but I do think the win over Arsenal might have papered over some cracks that The Hornets have been showing.

That isn't the case for Burnley who have been playing with confidence and they have been getting closer to achieving a second away result of the season. Burnley were very unfortunate to not earn that point at Arsenal a couple of weeks ago and their battling defeats at White Hart Lane, The Etihad Stadium and The Emirates Stadium will give this group of players belief they are getting closer to taking their form at Turf Moor onto the road.

Add in the fact that Watford have won 1 of their last 5 games at Vicarage Road in the Premier League which includes draws with Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough and this looks a good weekend for Burnley to achieve another positive away result.

Burnley have a good record here in recent seasons and their overall poor away record might not tell the full story. For example, Burnley have only played one of their away Premier League games at a team that is currently 14th or lower in the Premier League table.

The home team don't score that many goals at home and I am going to back Burnley to avoid defeat at Vicarage Road this weekend.

West Brom v Stoke City Pick: Two clubs in mid-table meet at The Hawthorns on Saturday but there is a long rivalry between West Brom and Stoke City which might have more headlines with Tony Pulis in charge of The Baggies after a long and successful stint with Stoke City.

Since Pulis arrived, he has managed to get the better of his former club and had actually won 4 in a row against Stoke City since leaving them for a second time. That run was snapped with a 1-1 draw at Stoke City earlier this season, but Tony Pulis has overseen 3 straight home wins against The Potters and West Brom are certainly playing well enough to improve that run.

The Baggies have won 5 of their last 6 Premier League games at The Hawthorns. That is an impressive run especially when you consider West Brom have scored at least twice in each of those wins and they will feel they can get the better of a Stoke City team who have been inconsistent away from home.

The win at Sunderland was a solid result for Stoke City, but they had lost 3 in a row on their travels prior to that. Those losses all came against teams currently in the top four so Stoke City can't be criticised too much, but I think they do concede a few too many goals on their travels and West Brom can score the goals to win this game.

It will be tight and both teams will have their chances, but Tony Pulis seems to really get his players up for the game with Stoke City and you can't ignore a run of 4 wins from 5 games since leaving The Potteries for a second time. I will look for him to inspire West Brom to another win this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v Middlesbrough Pick: My initial thought was to look at the 'Both Teams to Score- NO' market or backing Tottenham Hotspur to 'Win to Nil' but the layers are unexpectedly giving nothing away with those markets. Both are odds on to occur and while I think they are likely, I will instead look for Tottenham Hotspur to win this by a comfortable margin.

That has not been the case for too many teams that Middlesbrough have visited this season with only 1 of their 11 away League games ending in a loss by more than a single goal margin. That came fairly early on at Everton and since then Middlesbrough have drawn at Arsenal and Manchester City and lost narrowly at Manchester United in a game they led until the 85th minute.

So backing Tottenham Hotspur to cover a one goal handicap might be described as foolhardy at best.

However, I think Middlesbrough are a team that has struggled in the final third and their new faces could take some time to get on the same page as the existing players here. Tottenham Hotspur could be missing three of their back five for this one, but they remain a disciplined team that won't give a lot away in defensive areas and that gives them a chance to win this one by at least two goals.

Goals haven't been a problem for Spurs having scored at least twice in their last 8 games played at White Hart Lane and 5 of their last 7 here have ended in wins by at least a two goal margin. They might not have had their shooting boots at The Stadium of Light on Tuesday, but a return to familiar surroundings should see the likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane producing a more consistent threat in front of goal.

The longer this one goes 0-0, the more confident Middlesbrough will become, but Tottenham Hotspur have scored in the first half of their last 5 League games at White Hart Lane. I expect that will give them the foundation to get back to winning ways this weekend and I think Tottenham Hotspur will be able to press home their advantage.

I will back them to win by at least two goals at a slightly better price than backing Tottenham Hotspur to be leading at half time and full time.

Manchester City v Swansea City Pick: Two weeks ago I did think Liverpool were going to be able to beat Swansea City fairly comfortably at Anfield and was just as surprised as most people when the latter came away with a 2-3 win. It would be a far bigger upset if Swansea City can do the same from visit to The Etihad Stadium because Manchester City are in fine form and have a real menace about them going forward.

The key for Swansea City is going to be to try and contain any fast start Manchester City make and stay in this League game for as long as possible. Frustrating the home team will give Swansea City a chance as Manchester City have not defended well for much of the season, although they do come in with back to back clean sheets into this one.

Set pieces is where Swansea City will be most dangerous, but let's face facts and admit that those opportunities are likely to be limited. I can see Swansea City being dangerous at times when they do push forward because Manchester City's defensive issues are well documented, but containing this Manchester City team is going to be a big challenge for them.

Gabriel Jesus has looked every bit what Manchester City fans would have expected, and that gives Pep Guardiola more depth when you think of the luxury he had of being able to put Sergio Aguero on the bench. There is plenty of pace in the attacking third for Manchester City and players like David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are capable of pulling defences around and finding passes that can split the most organised of teams.

Anything Swansea City can earn here will likely be seen as a bonus for Paul Clement in the bid to survive the drop, but I fear it could be a long afternoon for the visitors and I am expecting a pretty comfortable Manchester City win.

Leicester City v Manchester United Pick: This has become a really big game for both Leicester City and Manchester United after recent Premier League results and will have an impact at both ends of the League table.

The pressure has really begun to build on Claudio Ranieri who has found almost none of the magic that took Leicester City to the Premier League title last May. Jamie Vardy has regressed back into the player he was before everything went in for him last season and Leicester City have not been as solid defensively as they were in the second half of last season.

Being at home should mean Leicester City can be dangerous having crushed Manchester City here, but they have lost 2 of their last 3 games in the League at The King Power Stadium including a 0-3 defeat to Diego Costa-less Chelsea.

However they are entertaining Manchester United this week who have looked a little lethargic to open games in recent weeks while going back to the team that is struggling to put away what look like gilt-edged chances to win games. Juan Mata has been at fault for the big misses against Stoke City and Hull City in the League, but there has been a lack of consistency in team selection which is perhaps not helping matters.

Jose Mourinho has changed a number of positions which need to be settled such as left back and left wing, but it does mean it is hard for his players to perhaps know exactly what their role is. Manchester United do create chances though and I expect they will be able to do that against a Leicester City team they have beaten twice already this season.

What has become clear is that the last 6 games between these clubs have seen both teams score each time and I do think think there will be chances for that trend to continue at both ends of the field. The three points are very important to both teams this weekend so I am expecting an attacking game where both will create chances to win the game and backing at least three goals to be shared out looks the right way to play this.

Manchester United look very short for a team that has drawn 3 times in a row in the League, while Leicester City are short of confidence so playing the win-draw-win markets looks hazardous at best. I do think Manchester United can win here, but I will simply look for three goals to be produced over the ninety minutes at a big price.

Burton Albion v Wolves Pick:If this game had been played a couple of months ago, Burton Albion would likely to have been a similar price to Wolves when it comes to winning this game. However The Brewers have hit a rough patch of form since then as the pressure of facing this level of competition in the Championship on a weekly basis has stretched the squad.

Burton Albion are still pressing to avoid the drop, but they have suffered 5 straight losses at home and now face a Wolves team who have built some confidence behind some successful results over the last six weeks.

Those include winning 4 of 6 on their travels and Wolves were very impressive in dismissing Barnsley 1-3 in the week. Paul Lambert has clearly devised a system that appeals to the players and gets the best out of them and I think they can win another away game this weekend.

It won't be easy at Burton Albion, but the home team have been lacking goals of late and Wolves look certain to score wherever they play at the moment. I will back Wolves to have a little too much and take away another three points which will allow them to enjoy their FA Cup run even more.

Ipswich Town v Reading Pick: This is another game in the Championship where I have been surprised with the prices being offered by the layers and I do think they are continuing to underestimate a Reading team that are closing in on the top two in the Division.

When you compare the price Derby County were to win here in the week to Reading, who have more away wins than The Rams over the course of the season, the players have to feel they are being disrespected. Reading have also won 3 of their last 4 away games in the League so clearly know their way around when they are visiting other grounds and I think they can become the latest club to win at Portman Road.

Ipswich Town had been better here before the 0-3 loss to Derby County, which is only the fourth home loss suffered in the League. However 3 of those 4 losses have come against teams inside the top nine in the Championship and Ipswich Town are going to be hosting a few more of the better teams in the Division which may change what looks a decent enough home record on paper.

This is a ground that Reading have enjoyed playing at in recent seasons too with 5 wins from 8 visits and I think they can earn revenge for the late defeat here last season. None of those 8 games here have ended in draws and I will back the team in form at a big price to win here.

Nottingham Forest v Aston Villa Pick: The first time Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest played in the League was the first match between two former European Cup Winners outside of the top flight of any Division. I would be surprised if that is not mentioned again in the broadcast of this match, but both clubs are some way away from those heady heights of yesteryear.

Instead both Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa are in the bottom half of the Championship table and desperate for the points to continue on their way to their changed goals from August. Neither team expected to be in the position they are in and that is going to make a tight and tense encounter between these two Midlands clubs.

It is hard to make a genuine case to back either team and that is actually the reason why I think you can pick a draw for a small interest in this live game. Aston Villa are the leading draw specialists while Nottingham Forest have proven to be a little tougher to beat when they are playing at The City Ground.

Aston Villa's poor away form suggests the draw is going to be as good as it gets for them, while Nottingham Forest have only been beaten by two clubs in the top half of the table at home. That includes playing the likes of Leeds United, Fulham and Newcastle United who have all failed to win here and I think these teams may cancel each other out.

I don't anticipate a lot of goals either, but I will stick with my original thought and look for a share of the spoils.

Huddersfield Town v Leeds United Pick: This is a Yorkshire derby with plenty on the line for both Huddersfield Town and Leeds United who are both in the top five of the Championship. Both teams have overachieved from the pre-season expectations but that doesn't mean David Wagner or Garry Monk are going to be satisfied with anything less than promotion to the Premier League now.

Once you get this close, promotion is the only way you can judge a successful season and the winner of this League game may just feel they can perhaps even challenge for a top two finish. Both clubs are within range of the leaders, but the edge in this one has to be given to Huddersfield Town who have a very strong home record.

On the other hand Newcastle United are the only team to have won more away games than Leeds United in the League so far this season and the latter have scored at least twice in 3 of their last 4 games on their travels. That includes in the 3-2 Yorkshire derby defeat Barnsley, and Huddersfield Town may feel they can take advantage having scored at least twice in 5 of their 6 home games.

Clean sheets haven't come easily for Huddersfield Town and this feels like a game where both teams can play a part on the scoreboard. The 1-1 scoreline could be a real player, but Huddersfield Town were very impressive against Brighton on Thursday and look like a team that is back to the attacking threat levels they produced earlier in the season.

The layers have dangled a huge price for at least three goals in this one and that might be because of the early kick off and the importance of the game. The match at Elland Road finished with just one goal, but the previous 10 between these teams had produced at least three goals. That includes the last 5 at Huddersfield Town and I am going to take the huge price for at least three goals to be produced in this early kick off.

MY PICKS: Chelsea-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Everton @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Hull City-Liverpool Both Teams To Score-YES @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Burnley + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Brom @ 2.38 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Wolves @ 2.35 Bet365 (2 Units)
Reading @ 2.75 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Nottingham Forest-Aston Villa Draw @ 3.30 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Huddersfield Town-Leeds United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.40 Coral (2 Units)

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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