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Friday, 10 February 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (February 10-13)

The Premier League and the rest of domestic football is played this weekend, but this will be the last League game Manchester United will be playing until Saturday 4th March with Cup games taking over their thinking for the next couple of weeks. In that time they play two Europa League game, one FA Cup and one League Cup Final although Manchester United will only miss one round of League games in that time.

I did write a short piece about Manchester United last week which can be read here.

It wasn't the best start to the picks in February last weekend with a couple of late goals going against me as well as an early sending off. There isn't much you can do about that, but hopefully this weekend will produce a little better luck at the key moments.

Arsenal v Hull City Pick: I definitely expected a positive reaction from Arsenal when they travelled to Stamford Bridge off the back of a home Premier League loss to Chelsea, but the only one was the inevitable one off the field as the fans voiced their displeasure at recent results and the direction of the club.

The Wenger Out/Wenger In debate has fractured the supporters and there might be a really negative atmosphere at The Emirates Stadium on Saturday lunchtime for the early kick off. It will be up to the players to produce a much more meaningful start than they have had against Watford and Chelsea to get the fans behind them, but Hull City are going to make it anything but an easy day in the office for the home team.

There is a big Champions League game coming up for Arsenal too which may provide a distraction, but The Gunners can't overlook a Hull City team who have drawn at Old Trafford and beaten Liverpool over the last ten days. Marco Silva has the players pulling in the right direction and Hull City have every chance of avoiding the drop.

Hull City will come here and defend in numbers to frustrate the home team and increase the tension in the stands which will filter down to the players. There is something about Hull City going forward too and that makes them a dangerous team here if Arsenal are as lacklustre as they have been in their last couple of games.

Goals are still an issue for Hull City away from home and their solitary strike in their last 8 away Premier League games has come from Robert Snodgrass who was sold to West Ham United in the January transfer window. Those lack of goals could be an issue for Hull City going forward, but Arsenal will need to concentrate as they have only had 4 clean sheets from 12 home League games.

I do think Arsenal will be able to earn the important three points in this one as they still have the quality to break down teams. As much as I have been impressed with Hull City performances, they are still much better at home than away and I think Arsenal will secure a battling win.

I will look for Arsenal to win this one with what feels like a rare clean sheet, but it should be noted only a late Burnley penalty prevented The Gunners from 3 clean sheets in a row at The Emirates Stadium in the Premier League before the loss to Watford. That defeat to Watford looks an outlier from recent performances and I will back the home side to win this one with a clean sheet.

Manchester United v Watford PickThere have been a few slow starts made by Manchester United in recent weeks which has seen them have to come from behind to earn results against Liverpool and Stoke City in the League and that has to be a concern for the manager. Playing from behind or giving teams time to settle can make it tough for Manchester United to achieve their goals and they have to know that Watford have already shown that they can punish teams who are perhaps not fully at the races.

That was the case at The Emirates Stadium as Arsenal came out flat and found themselves 0-2 behind before the fans could tell what was going on. This is also a Watford team who have had back to back wins in the Premier League so have to be full of beans at the moment and it is up to Manchester United to put them on the back foot as early as possible.

Jose Mourinho will have had plenty of time to work with his players ahead of this game before the attention will turn to the Cup competitions for the remainder of the month. He will likely use the same front three that caused Leicester City so many problems once they reverted away from the 4-4-2 formation the team started with and Manchester United will cause Watford problems.

Defensively Manchester United have looked solid enough and the return of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones has aided them with some stability in the back line. Watford can cause problems as they did for the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal, but this is also a team that does concede plenty on their travels.

Watford have lost 6 away games in the Premier League and all but one of those have come by at least a two goal margin at Burnley, Liverpool, West Brom, Manchester City and Stoke City. While Manchester United have not been at their fluent best at Old Trafford in the League, 3 of the 5 League wins have been by at least a two goal margin too and I think you will know where I am going now.

As long as Manchester United don't spot Watford a lead like Arsenal did, I do think the home team will be too strong for them on the day. Watford are a team that have caused problems for others on their travels, but they can find the finishing touch a little too difficult and I think Manchester United have defended well enough to prevent The Hornets being able to do that here.

I will look for Manchester United to take the chances they do create this weekend unlike in the games against Liverpool and Hull City, and I think that will see the home team come through with a win by at least two goals on Saturday.

Middlesbrough v Everton Pick: This weekend is a huge game for Middlesbrough as they try and arrest their slide towards the bottom three and being back at home gives them a chance to do that. Goals continue to be a problem for Middlesbrough, but this is a tough, organised team who will feel Everton's defence might be one that they can breach.

That will especially be the case if Everton defend as badly as they did last weekend at home against Bournemouth. It won't have pleased Ronald Koeman and I would expect they would have worked on that side of their game all week in the knowledge that Everton can score the goals to win this game if defending properly.

It will be a tough game for both clubs as Middlesbrough have shown they can make life difficult for any team they come up against. However the home fans expect more from Middlesbrough in an attacking sense and I think that gives Everton every chance of winning here.

Middlesbrough have found it difficult when the better teams have visited The Riverside Stadium and it is no coincidence that all 3 of their home wins have come against teams from 14th downwards in the Premier League. Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Liverpool and West Ham United are all teams currently in the top nine of the Premier League who have already won here and Everton can certainly add to that number.

The Everton inconsistencies do reduce some of the enthusiasm for picking them to win here but this is a club that has won on their last 3 visits to this part of the North East. 3 of the 4 Everton away wins in the League have come at sides that are currently 16th or lower in the Premier League table and that includes a late winner at Crystal Palace a couple of weeks ago.

I don't think there will be much between the teams on the day, but I can see Everton just about getting the better of Middlesbrough and leaving with the three points at odds against.

Stoke City v Crystal Palace Pick: Neither manager would have been much company last Saturday evening as both Stoke City and Crystal Palace were beaten and neither team played to any standard that Mark Hughes or Sam Allardyce would have been expecting.

Hughes will be hoping his Stoke City team can bounce back from the 1-0 loss at West Brom when they return home. They've been unfortunate here in recent games as they have allowed leads to slip against Leicester City (2-0 up against ten men but ended 2-2), Manchester United (Wayne Rooney injury time equaliser) and Everton, but Stoke City fans have become more demanding of their team in recent seasons.

The expectation is that Stoke City will be too good for Crystal Palace, and the layers are dangling a tempting odds against quote for the home team. However this is not the fortress it used to be and Crystal Palace have to be respected as a team that is earning the majority of their points away from home.

Allardyce admitted his embarrassment at the 0-4 home loss to Sunderland last week and it was made all the worse by the fans turning on the players. It was the last result I would have expected after Crystal Palace had won at Bournemouth days earlier, and there is some hard work to be done on the training ground for The Eagles to get things turned around.

They have enjoyed the match with Stoke City in recent years and have won twice in a row when visiting The Potteries so there is a chance they can bounce back here. It does lead me away from backing Stoke City to win, especially as they are a team that has needed at least two goals to do that in recent weeks.

I do think Crystal Palace can cause some problems for Stoke City going forward but their own defence looks like one that is on the brink of capitulation at any time. It makes the price on over 2.5 goals look awfully tempting at odds and one that might not be accounting for how well matched these teams are when it comes to creating chances and scoring goals.

I think it would surprise people to see that there have been at least three goals in 5 of their 7 Premier League games since Crystal Palace returned to the top flight. The last 7 overall at Stoke City have also produced at least three goals and both teams have shown they can score and conceded plenty of goals in recent games in the Premier League.

I am leaning towards Stoke City to have enough to win the game, but I do think Crystal Palace will play a big part in this one as they bounce back from a terrible performance last week. At odds against I will look for both teams to get on the scoreboard and contribute to find a winner and produce three goals to be shared out over the course of ninety minutes.

Sunderland v Southampton Pick: There are a couple of teams in the Premier League where it is very difficult to get a read of them from week to week and Southampton have to be right on top of that list. The same team that looked so good in beating Liverpool over two Legs in the English Football League Cup Semi Final can be embarrassingly bad as they were when beaten 1-3 by West Ham United at home last week and you don't know what you are getting in each match they play.

You could excuse some of the players for being distracted by the League Cup Final which is played later this month. I don't think it is a coincidence that Southampton have lost all 3 games played since beating Liverpool in the Second Leg although Claude Puel is still going to be alarmed at the amount of goals they are conceding.

The Frenchman won't want to see Southampton sliding back towards the bottom three with those teams below them showing some sign of improvement, but focusing players on this League game ahead of the League Cup Final won't be easy.

They are also facing a Sunderland team that have made life difficult for Southampton in recent matches between these teams (aside from the 8-0 game three seasons ago, Southampton have won 2 of 11 games against Sunderland in all competitions since returning to the top flight).

Sunderland should be confident off the back of a 0-4 win over Crystal Palace last weekend and The Black Cats have been tough to play at The Stadium of Light. They have only lost 2 of their last 7 Premier League games here and one of those was against a Chelsea side thankful to their goalkeeper to escape with the three points.

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have both had to settle for draws here over the last month so I am surprised that Southampton are such a short price to win here. I was even tempted to back Sunderland to win this match at almost 4.00, which is a huge price, but instead I am looking for the home team to avoid defeat.

They were beaten by Southampton here last season, but this Southampton team might easily be looking ahead to their next match against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium and Sunderland can take advantage. The home team look a big price to avoid defeat and that is what I will be backing.

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Chelsea look to be running away from the pack in the race for the Premier League title, but this game between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur could have huge top four implications at the end of the season. There are only 4 points between these teams when it comes to their League positions, but the confidence levels at Liverpool have to have been affected by recent poor results.

If Diego Costa scores his penalty at Anfield, there is every chance that Liverpool would have been coming into this latest game at home having lost 4 straight games in front of their own fans. The goals have been a little harder to come by and the defence has looked as vulnerable as at any point in the season and Tottenham Hotspur have to head to Anfield believing they can severely dent a Champions League rival.

This is important for Tottenham Hotspur who have Cup commitments over the coming weeks that Liverpool don't, and that results in stretched squads. Mauricio Pochettino will know how important a 7 point lead over Liverpool would be at this stage of the season and he certainly has the players who can expose any defensive frailties Liverpool show on Saturday.

However Tottenham Hotspur have not been that good away from home and were very fortunate to leave Manchester City with a 2-2 draw last month. Play like that and a fully fit Liverpool team can certainly pose a lot of questions for the away side, while it should be noted that Tottenham Hotspur have not won at Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City in the League and could easily have lost 3 of those games.

Liverpool have beaten Manchester City here and drawn with Manchester United and Chelsea and all three of those games have been low-scoring with none surpassing two goals shared out. That initially put me off backing there being at least three goals in this one when you consider all 3 League games between these teams under these managers have ended in draws (a 0-0 and two 1-1 scorelines).

In saying that, I do think both teams have some defensive problems going into the game that the attacking players can exploit and I am looking for an attacking game of football to be produced. Liverpool are finally going to be able to start the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in the same starting eleven, while Tottenham Hotspur have Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Harry Kane to cause problems of their own.

Goals have tended to flow when Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have met historically and I can see a situation where the 1-1 scoreline is not settled for by either manager. Picking the winner is tough, but I will look for three goals to be shared out between these teams in the live Saturday afternoon showing.

Burnley v Chelsea Pick: The title race very much feels like a one horse race as Chelsea have negotiated both games against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Liverpool and still hold a big lead over their rivals in the League table. It is going to take something a bit special for Chelsea to lose out on reclaiming the Premier League title and this hasn't looked like something that is going to happen over the last four months.

This does look like it could be one of the more difficult tests left for Chelsea in the remaining fourteen League games they have. Burnley have been very tough to play at Turf Moor and have given every team that has visited this ground something to think about and I expect the same on Sunday.

However it has to be said that Burnley have not been able to do enough to win games against the very best teams even if they have beaten Liverpool from the top six here. That is a very good result, but both Arsenal and Manchester City have won at Turf Moor in the Premier League already this season and Burnley still have to host Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

Burnley will work hard and defend in numbers and make life as difficult as possible for Chelsea, but I have to think The Blues can match Arsenal and Manchester City and find enough in the final third to win this one. The Champions elect have shown that they are capable of finding a way to beat those teams in the bottom places in the League and Chelsea have played seven of the teams currently in the bottom ten and have won 6 of those.

They've had to battle for a few of those wins and I expect this one to be the same in the first of the Sunday live games from the Premier League. I did consider backing Burnley with the start on the Asian Handicap, but the oddsmakers are not giving anything away with that.

Instead I will look for Chelsea to match the margin of win that the previous three winners at Turf Moor have had and that is winning by a single goal margin. Half of Chelsea's away wins have come by a single goal margin too and I expect they can show they have just a little too much for Burnley on Sunday. I will have a small interest on Chelsea to win by exactly one goal.

Swansea City v Leicester City Pick: The football 'relegation six pointer' is the most suitable cliche for this second live game on Sunday afternoon in the Premier League as both Swansea City and Leicester City sit precariously on 21 points for the season. That means both are just 2 points clear of bottom club Sunderland and the losing team may look back at this game as the one that started the slide down to the Championship.

The momentum is with Swansea City who have won 3 of their last 5 Premier League games and looked like a side full of belief in their narrow loss at Manchester City. They hung around when Manchester City looked like blitzing them in the first half and Paul Clement would have been disappointed that they couldn't hold out for the 1-1 draw they entered injury time with.

On the other hand Leicester City are on the slide down the Premier League table and the players have sunk their heads when conceding which has led to some capitulations. 0-3 home losses to Chelsea and Manchester United will have dented the confidence, while Leicester City have not won an away game in the League all season which puts added pressure on those home games.

There is going to be plenty of pressure in this one as both teams will realise the importance of winning the game. My fear for the contest for the neutral is that the fear of losing is greater than the reward for winning which may mean chances are not taken by either team, but on the other hand I don't think either defence is that strong at the back.

As well as Swansea City are doing to win games in recent weeks under Clement, they have done so without the benefit of a clean sheet. Leicester City have had a single clean sheet in the Premier League since early October and have struggled for goals in recent games. However they won't have a better chance against a Swansea City team who don't defend well and I can see both teams scoring in this one.

Will either team settle for a 1-1? I think the onus will be on Swansea City to push ahead and win this game being at home and they have scored at least twice in each of their 3 wins in the League under Clement. With the defensive issues and the home side likely to push forward to win this one, I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out by two sides blighted by relegation worries at odds against.

Bournemouth v Manchester City Pick: Monday Night Football comes from the south coast this week and Manchester City have the benefit of having time to rest players before the Cup competitions get going again next week. While Arsenal have their first Champions League Second Round match this week, Manchester City don't play Monaco until next Tuesday and face Huddersfield Town before that in the FA Cup Fifth Round.

There have been eight days since Manchester City last played in the Premier League and this is a team that has played really well the last three games. They should be ready to go on Monday against a Bournemouth team who have been conceding goals at an alarming rate and that has seen them drop down towards the bottom three.

Eddie Howe has to be wondering what he can do to change things back around after conceding six at Everton last week and he was clearly not happy with the way things have been going. It isn't just away from home where Bournemouth have been struggling as they have conceded at least twice in each of their last 4 games here and now face a Manchester City team who have scored three at Crystal Palace and four at West Ham United in their last couple of away games.

The pace and quality Manchester City have in the final third is going to be a threat to Bournemouth throughout this one and I am not sure the home team are capable of defending in numbers and looking to counter their visitors. One of the problems Bournemouth are having is that they will give teams a chance to play their football without making it more difficult for them as other more physical teams can do.

That is a big reason Manchester City have been able to do what they want when they have played Bournemouth over the last eighteen months. Manchester City have scored at least four times in all 3 of their previous matches against Bournemouth in that time and I think they are going to be far too good for their hosts this week.

Bournemouth have had some impressive results against Liverpool and Arsenal here this season, but they have conceded three times to both and I think they will struggle to contain Manchester City. I will back the away team to come through with a win by at least two goals and I will back them on the Asian Handicap.

Sheffield Wednesday v Birmingham City Pick: The television cameras pitch up at Hillsborough this Friday and Sheffield Wednesday will be desperate to put some space between themselves and the chasing pack for the Play Off spots. A slight gap has formed between 5th and 6th place in the Championship too and Sheffield Wednesday would be looking to bridge that too.

Playing at home has been the key for Sheffield Wednesday with over half of their total points coming at Hillsborough and they have been playing well here in recent weeks. Goals have been a problem for Sheffield Wednesday but defensively they have been good enough to prevent Birmingham City picking up some steam.

Gianfranco Zola did earn his first win as Birmingham City manager last week, but his side have lost 4 of their last 6 away from home and had to come from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw in another. This is a team that has struggled with their identity since Gary Rowett was removed in favour of Zola and Birmingham City have not been at their best away from home for much of the season.

Recent seasons have seen Sheffield Wednesday win 3 of their last 4 at home against Birmingham City and I like The Owls to open this weekend with a victory.

Aston Villa v Ipswich Town Pick: There hasn't been much consistency behind either Aston Villa or Ipswich Town in recent weeks which makes this game a little harder to call. However I do think Aston Villa being at home will prove to be the difference maker in the contest and I like the home team to win.

It will be a tough game, but Aston Villa have been playing better at Villa Park under Steve Bruce and are facing an Ipswich Town team who haven't travelled well for much of the season.

Only blowing a two goal lead has prevented Aston Villa from coming into this weekend with 5 wins from their last 6 League games at Villa Park, while Ipswich Town had lost 3 in a row before earning a point at Preston North End.

Goals have been a problem for both teams, but I do think Aston Villa have a few more options going forward. If they can keep Tom Lawrence quiet, I think Aston Villa have enough about them to earn the victory and I will back them to do so.

Derby County v Bristol City Pick: This is a game which will have a big impact at the top and bottom of the Division but it is one that Derby County are rightly favoured to win. Under Steve McClaren they have proven to be very good at The iPro Stadium and Derby County did rest the majority of their key players during the week which should mean they are ready to go in this one.

The last couple of League results have been more positive for Bristol City, but this is a team still very much in a dangerous position in the League table and who are still having some struggles away from home. The Robins have lost 6 in a row away from home in the League and Derby County have beaten them 3 times in a row when they have hosted them which suggests the home side are the team to back.

I actually thought they would be shorter than they are to win this game as Derby County have won 6 of their last 7 League games at home. Goals have been an issue for Derby County but they have remained strong defensively and one might be enough to win this one.

I will back Derby County to do enough to take away the three points and keep the pressure on the top six with a victory this weekend.

Leeds United v Cardiff City PickAfter the ending of the Yorkshire derby against Huddersfield Town, you have to think the Leeds United players have been looking forward to getting back on the field and righting that result. Being back at Elland Road has proved to be a huge factor for Leeds United through the season and they have won 6 in a row in the Championship in front of their own fans.

It won't be an easy day in the office against a Cardiff City team that have pushed both Brighton and Reading in recent away games. Neil Warnock is going to look to make life as difficult as possible for the home team by loading up the defenders and then trying to counter Leeds United.

That should make for a clash of styles as Leeds United look to get forward and score goals and Cardiff City hope to soak up the pressure and then counter a team when they commit too many men forward.

Cardiff City have not been as strong away from home this season and they did lose at Elland Road last season after previously being unbeaten in 8 games here. The Bluebirds have won 6 of those previous visits but this Leeds United looks as good as any there has been in recent years and I think they can bounce back from the disappointment of last weekend.

At odds against, I will back Leeds United to have too much for Cardiff City.

Reading v Barnsley Pick: Both Reading and Barnsley will be looking for a big three points on Saturday which can aid them in their individual goals for the season, but playing at The Majedski Stadium should give Reading the advantage.

They have won 7 of their last 8 games at home in the League and Reading have used that to fly up the League table and put some pressure on the top two teams. Jaap Stam will be encouraging his players to continue to focus on their own results and see where that takes them, and this is a big chance to get a little closer to Newcastle United who will then be playing the late game at Wolves on Saturday afternoon.

They will have to give Barnsley the respect they deserve considering how many away games they have won in the League. Barnsley have played well in recent away games but 5 of their 6 away losses in the Championship have come at teams who are currently inside the top six in the table.

Recent home games for Reading against Barnsley have not gone well for The Royals, but I think they can get the better of their visitors this weekend. It will be a tough afternoon for the home team, but they have been strong here and I am backing the home side.

MY PICKS: Arsenal Win to Nil @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Stoke City-Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Sunderland + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea to Win by One Goal @ 3.50 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Swansea City-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Manchester City - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sheffield Wednesday @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Aston Villa @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Derby County @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Leeds United @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Reading @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)

February Update: 5-7, - 1.06 Units (22 Units Staked, - 4.82% 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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