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World Cup 2018 Group Picks (June 19th-24th)

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Friday, 10 March 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (March 10-13)

The weekend football games are spread out over four days beginning with a Championship game on Friday and ending with the big FA Cup Quarter Final between Chelsea and Manchester United.

It is a busy few days off the back of the Champions League and Europa League ties that were played during the week as we fast approach the Quarter Final draw for both of those competitions which will take place on Friday 17th March.

The Champions League action grabbed a lot of the major headlines during the week with the Arsenal defeat to Bayern Munich and the Barcelona win over the capitulating Paris Saint-Germain leading the way on back to back nights.

The manner of Arsenal's loss to Bayern Munich has ramped up the pressure on Arsene Wenger and I do believe his time at The Emirates Stadium has run its course. The fans aren't happy, the top players want to leave the club and Wenger is struggling to get a reaction from them. Now imagine if Lincoln City were to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup Quarter Final this weekend...

On the other hand Barcelona have been lavished with praise throughout the footballing world for becoming the first team in the history of the European Cup to overcome a four goal deficit from the First Leg. All credit has to be given to Barcelona , but plenty should be handed out to Paris Saint-Germain and the officials at the game.

Two key penalty decisions, one for Barcelona and one against Paris Saint-Germain at the other end, proved to be the difference makers, and the referee needs to be questioned about both. Poor decisions both time turned the tide of the game which would otherwise have been a brave failure by the home team, but UEFA will probably send the referee out in the Semi Final to screw another team over.

And the fact that none of the pundits wanted to talk about Luis Suarez' despicable dive was absolutely embarrassing, especially as BT Sport were too busy showing the 'genuine' reactions of the former players in the studio when Barcelona scored the sixth. At least Gary Lineker played for Barcelona, I have no idea what those numpties Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard were celebrating?

So instead of hearing talk about the scourge of diving and the absolute cheating desires of Barcelona to win that game, we heard the team being praised and loved.

Let's face facts, Luis Suarez cheated to win the penalty that made it 5-1 with three minutes left- the reality is he should have been given a second yellow for diving and Paris Saint-Germain should be in the Quarter Finals. Instead the cheats are praised, impressionable youngsters everywhere learn cheaters do indeed prosper, and these pundits shouldn't really complain about another 'dive' when criticising Joe Bloggs who plays for Hull City and not Barcelona.

The end to the Barcelona-Paris game was like watching 'El Classico'- a bunch of pricks trying to use every means necessary to fool the referees or getting an opponent sent off in order to win the game.

And yeah, I don't watch 'El Classico' in their League meetings because of that.

Middlesbrough v Manchester City Pick: The FA Cup might not have been a priority for Pep Guardiola at the start of the season, but Manchester City are in the Quarter Final now and silverware would be welcomed. The fact they are not really going to fight for the Premier League title now would only increase the importance of this game.

One factor that is playing a part in my thinking is the Champions League Last 16 Second Leg at Monaco on Wednesday. If that was a Tuesday game I could see Manchester City resting a number of players in this one, but having that day extra should mean Guardiola plays a strong looking team.

They should be too good for a Middlesbrough team who have to be concentrating on the Premier League even if Aitor Karanka has played strong teams in the FA Cup all season. I don't think he changes his philosophy, but Middlesbrough have not really been up to speed in recent weeks against this level of competition.

Middlesbrough are tough to play at The Riverside Stadium and they will make life difficult for Manchester City. However I do think Manchester City have found a rhythm away from goal and a system which has kept 5 clean sheets and produced 4 comfortable wins.

I do expect Guardiola to play a strong team in this one to get the job done in ninety minutes, and I will back Manchester City to win by a couple of goals as 4 of their last 5 away games have ended in their favour. There should be enough attacking threat to break down a tough Middlesbrough team and Manchester City can pick them off later in the game to secure a comfortable passage into the Semi Final.

Arsenal v Lincoln City Pick: Once upon a time, Arsenal and Lincoln City were playing in the same Division, but they are worlds apart these days. Those days of playing each other in the same League came at the start of the First World War and there won't be anyone who remembers those games.

For Lincoln City it is a dream to be playing at The Emirates Stadium following a really special run in the FA Cup. It would be an upset of the highest order if they were to still be involved in the Cup by the end of Saturday evening, and a result that Arsene Wenger cannot dare to think about.

Anything other than a convincing Arsenal win is likely going to put more pressure on Wenger whose time as manger in this part of North London looks to be coming to an end. The humiliating manner of the aggregate score against Bayern Munich in the Champions League might be the final straw, but Wenger will be desperate to sign off with a trophy at a club he has led for twenty-one years.

Trying to guess the kind of team Wenger plays is difficult, but he did play a fairly strong team in the game at Sutton United in the last Round. It would be brave of Wenger to take too many chances with his team selection knowing the fans are on the brink of open revolt and the ideal game for Arsenal is to score early to earn some positive vibes from the stands.

Much of this game depends on Arsenal and how they come out to play which is not being disrespectful to Lincoln City. The Imps were fantastic at Burnley in the Fifth Round, but Arsenal are a more rampant team capable of ripping apart teams here and the key for Lincoln City is to stay alive in the tie for as long as possible.

If they can make the fans nervous, the Arsenal players may get edgy knowing the vitriol which will come their way if they fail to win. However that feels like a long shot and I think Wenger will pick a team with pace and creativity that should be too strong for the non-League opponents they are facing.

Ultimately that quality is likely to be too much over the course of ninety minutes and Arsenal can take advantage of some tired legs in the last half hour. This will feel like a big open pitch to Lincoln City and their 'Cinderella run' through to the Quarter Final is most likely to end in a barrage of goals for an Arsenal team who are lacking confidence, but also have significantly more quality than their visitors.

Tottenham Hotspur v Millwall Pick: It does look like Tottenham Hotspur appreciate the importance of trying to win the FA Cup this season and they have had plenty of time to prepare for this Quarter Final tie at White Hart Lane. The next Premier League game won't be played until the following Sunday and that should give Mauricio Pochettino the room to play his strongest first eleven.

With that in mind, it is going to be tough for Millwall to contain the likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane who have been playing really well at a higher level. You can expect Neil Harris to set his Millwall side up to defend deep and try and frustrate the home crowd, but Tottenham Hotspur have begun to get used to teams employing those tactics and have continued scoring lots of goals.

The likes of West Brom, Stoke City and Everton have been trying to contain Tottenham Hotspur and all three sides conceded at least three goals. While Millwall have a long unbeaten run to protect, this is easily the most difficult assignment they would have had in that time and I expect that to show up here.

Millwall fans will be tempted by the 20/1 quotes for an away win considering they have beaten 3 Premier League clubs already in the FA Cup this season. However all of those wins came at home and Bournemouth, Watford and Leicester City did not play the same kind of eleven that Tottenham Hotspur are likely to start.

The visitors haven't been conceding a lot of goals of late and have been tough to beat, but I have a bad feeling for them in this Quarter Final. I expect Tottenham Hotspur to dictate the play and they should wear down Millwall, while then having counter attacking opportunities as the game wears on. I think the way Tottenham Hotspur have been playing at White Hart Lane is the key to this Cup tie and I expect them to record a pretty solid looking win on the day.

Chelsea v Manchester United Pick: For the long-term benefit of Manchester United in the remainder of this season, going out of the FA Cup in this Round will not be a really big blow to achieving what they want to do. It will free up dates to play the games in hand they have in the Premier League thanks to their English Football League Cup Final victory as well as their strong runs in both the FA Cup and Europa League, but at the end of the day we all want to see our team win games.

Jose Mourinho has mentioned the potential fixture backlog his side are going to face, but he has also admitted he will not wave the white flag at Stamford Bridge. The 4-0 defeat here in the Premier League, a flattering result for Chelsea to say the least, will have been grating at Mourinho and a chance to make up for it in the same season will not have been lost on the former Chelsea manager.

There is no doubt that this is a very difficult spot for Manchester United with Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended and the players making a long journey back from Rostov where they played on Thursday. Mourinho will have to make changes to keep players fresh with the Second Leg of that Last 16 Europa League tie just days later, and that is clearly the bigger fixture this week.

For Antonio Conte life is much easier as Chelsea won't play again until next weekend and have had a week to prepare for this game. That should give them a significant edge regardless of where the fixture was played, but being at Stamford Bridge means the Italian is holding most of the aces.

Chelsea have won 12 in a row at Stamford Bridge in all competitions and have scored at least twice in 11 of those games. They have not been as defensively sound as they were in the middle portion of the season so Manchester United can definitely create chances here, but it looks a really big task for them to have enough to come through the tie.

The last thing Jose Mourinho wants is extra time with the Rostov game to come on Thursday and I think he may send his side out to express themselves and give it a big go in the ninety minutes. Chelsea have shown they can attack with some verve at home too and I can see this being an excellent tie even if the home team are holding most of the advantages.

In all honesty this would be a difficult fixture regardless of when it was played, but Manchester United having just a couple of days to rest from a trip to Russia while Chelsea have been resting all week makes it that much more difficult. I do think Chelsea will likely be victorious and they have been shortening all week, but goals have been the order of the day at Stamford Bridge and I can see Manchester United getting in on the action too.

The oddsmakers have set odds against seeing at least three goals on Monday, but I will back that to happen with every chance open spaces in the last twenty minutes offers one of the teams to counter attack and finish the tie off.

Bournemouth v West Ham United Pick: There were plenty of incidents at Old Trafford last weekend, but the bottom line was that Bournemouth earned a vital point to keep them moving away from the bottom three in the Premier League. The Middlesbrough loss at Stoke City means Bournemouth are now 5 points clear of the bottom three, but they do still need a few points to make sure they are playing at this level again next season.

The draw at Old Trafford also snapped their 4 game losing run in the Premier League, but now Bournemouth need to do the same at home where they have lost 2 in a row. Bournemouth got away with a really poor defensive effort in the first half last weekend, but they have conceded at least twice in their last 5 games at The Vitality Stadium.

Now they face a West Ham United team who have found goals easy to come by away from home in recent weeks and The Hammers will be confident they can earn another victory here having won 1-3 last season. West Ham United had to settle for a draw at Vicarage Road last time out on their travels, but they have scored plenty of goals at Swansea City, Middlesbrough and Southampton prior to that.

West Ham United don't keep too many clean sheets on their travels and so Bournemouth should create opportunities too, although I am expecting the away team to cause problems of their own. It looks like a game that could see both teams score and I do think there is enough on the line for Bournemouth which may make this an open game.

This could be a game that features at least three goals as both Bournemouth and West Ham United look a little more comfortable going forward than defending and I will back that to happen.

Everton v West Brom Pick: Last weekend was a disappointment for both managers and both Ronald Koeman and Tony Pulis will have been working their players hard to earn a much more positive result this time around.

It is an important game for both Everton and West Brom which could help determine the European places come the end of the season and I do think it could be a better game than the layers anticipate.

The oddsmakers are anticipating a low scoring Everton win, but while I agree Everton are the more likely winners, I do think West Brom can play a part in this one. There is some pace in the final third for West Brom which can expose some of the vulnerabilities Everton have at the back and the potential return of Matt Phillips will aid them.

West Brom also offer a significant danger from set pieces and I can see the away side scoring as they have done in 3 of their last 4 Premier League away games. On the other hand Everton have scored at least twice in 4 consecutive home games in the Premier League and so this game feels like it can have more goals than the oddsmakers are expecting.

Everton have kept clean sheets in 3 of their last 4 home Premier League games, but they have also shown they can pick up some steam and cover the goal line on their own. However I do think West Brom will score at least once here and that should see three goals shared out by these teams.

Hull City v Swansea City Pick: Marco Silva and Paul Clement have to be given credit for the way they have had their new teams fighting for their place in the Premier League, but it is Clement and Swansea City who have been rewarded with the wins to pull them out of the bottom three.

Another win on Saturday will put Swansea City in a very strong position and leave Hull City in a desperate spot, but a win for Hull City can get their survival bid reignited.

The teams come in with differing confidence levels after Hull City blew a 0-1 lead in a defeat at Leicester City, while Swansea City came from 1-2 down to beat Burnley 3-2 on the same day. There are definitely goals in the Swansea City team which make them very dangerous and they will feel they can pick off a Hull City who have to attack as anything less than three points is not good enough for them.

Hull City will be confident at home where they had won 4 in a row before the 1-1 draw with Burnley, although that draw was a big blow to their survival bid as other relegation threatened teams have been producing wins. I do think Hull City can challenge a Swansea City team who don't do a lot of clean sheets, but the same can be said when Swansea City get forward.

Recent games between these clubs have not really produced a lot of goals, but this looks like a fixture that will see both teams score. I can see it sitting at 1-1 at some point like the Hull City versus Burnley game did, but neither team will really sit back on current form.

I am leaning towards Swansea City perhaps doing enough to win the game, but Hull City will create some chances too and I will back at least three goals to be shared out in yet another Premier League game this weekend.

Liverpool v Burnley Pick: There is this theory going around that Liverpool have struggled against the bottom teams more than those at the top and you can't argue too much with that when you look at their results as a whole. However it shouldn't be ignored that the majority of the setbacks have come away from home.

At Anfield Liverpool have drawn with West Ham United, Manchester United and Chelsea while they have lost to Swansea City in the Premier League. You can say a couple of those results have been disappointing, but Liverpool have beaten 4 teams who are below Burnley in the League table and lost only 1 of those games at home.

Burnley have been a lot more competitive away from home in recent weeks, and they have begun to find their scoring touch.

That did tempt me into backing Liverpool to win a game in which both teams score, but I think this Liverpool team are very dangerous at home with the players they have in the final third. Burnley can defend very well but they are going to find it tough to keep Liverpool at bay and might spend the majority of this game on the back foot.

Liverpool at home do tend to beat teams with some comfort too and 7 of their 9 Premier League wins at Anfield have come by at least two goals. They have thumped the likes of Leicester City, Hull City, Sunderland and Watford here and I think Liverpool might have too much in the final third for Burnley to cope with.

It's not the biggest price in the world, but I will back Liverpool to win this game by a couple of goals at least in front of the television cameras.

Brighton v Derby County Pick: The 3-0 loss at Nottingham Forest last weekend looked like Brighton might have just suffered a hangover from their 1-2 home loss to Newcastle United when they should have won that League game. Responding with a win at Rotherham United was important for Brighton and they can back that up with another three points in front of the television cameras on Friday.

They have been very good at home for much of the season and Brighton will feel they are playing Derby County at the right time with the latter having lost 4 of their last 5 away games in the League.

Derby County have lost 5 of their last 6 away League games and they have been struggling for goals on their travels which is a big problem. Brighton might have lost here last time out, but they do score goals and I think they might have a little too much for their visitors.

It is a big game for Brighton to try and make sure they don't give Huddersfield Town too much encouragement to get back into the automatic promotion picture. I think they can do enough to do that ahead of The Terriers visiting Brentford on Saturday and I will back Brighton to win this game.

Brentford v Huddersfield Town Pick: Backing goals in recent Brentford games have returned winners more often than not and this has all the hallmarks of another that will feature at least three goals shared out when Huddersfield Town come to town.

Both teams have shown they can attack and score goals, but neither is at their best defensively which should mean there are chances at both ends.

Brentford themselves have scored at least three times in 3 consecutive games at home but they have also conceded at least twice in the last couple of games here. They will give Huddersfield Town some problems, but David Wagner's team have shown they can find a way to goal away from home as they have managed to do that in 8 of their last 9 on their travels in the League.

Games between these two clubs have been high-scoring too with the last 8 overall ending with at least three goals shared out. 5 of the last 6 at Griffin Park have hit that number too and I can see both teams playing an entertaining game here on Saturday and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Cardiff City v Birmingham City Pick: It certainly isn't easy to back a team who are on a 3 game run without a win when you see the oddsmakers have priced them up at odds on, but Cardiff City might be worth backing this weekend. They were beaten by Norwich City here recently, but Cardiff City have won 4 of their last 6 League games at home and were leading Play Off chasing Fulham who had to come from behind for a 2-2 draw.

The fact that Cardiff City are facing a Birmingham City team who are clearly out of form has played a part in the prices. The Blues have struggled under the guidance of Gianfranco Zola to such an extent that rumours are that the Italian will be sacked as manager in the summer.

It was a poor decision to bring Zola in when Gary Rowett had been overachieving with Birmingham City and it is one that the owners must regret in hindsight. Most of the fans were stunned when they did make that decision so they must be wondering what may have been if they had stayed behind Rowett.

Birmingham City did win at Wolves in their last away game which may be the result that prevents them from being dragged into a relegation battle, but that's a rare bright spot for them. I think Cardiff City will make home advantage count in this one and I will back them to earn the three points.

Leeds United v Queens Park Rangers Pick: Both Garry Monk and Ian Holloway deserve some credit for the successes they have had with Leeds United and Queens Park Rangers during the course of the 2016/17 season in difficult circumstances. Both have had some positive recent results, but I do think home advantage can be telling for Leeds United this weekend.

All credit has to be given to Queens Park Rangers for some of their wins recently which have erased any lingering relegation worries they are feeling. This is a team playing with some confidence, but they have not been quite as good away from home as they have been at Loftus Road and that is important to remember.

Leeds United have also bounced back from a couple of disappointing setbacks and now look back on track for a top six place in the Championship. The late goal from Fulham on Tuesday has just kept them in touch with Leeds United, but this is a team who have won 8 of their last 9 home games.

They haven't had a lot of success against Queens Park Rangers in their most recent gams at Elland Road, but Leeds United can change that with a win here. The home side do score here and don't concede too many and I think that gives them enough of an edge to find the odds against quote for a Leeds United win appealing to back.

It won't be an easy game, but I will look for Leeds United to pick up a valuable three points and keep their Play Off bid ticking along.

Newcastle United v Fulham Pick: Newcastle United and Fulham come into this League fixture with a keen eye on the three points which will make a big difference to their chances of achieving their goals this season. It does feel like the points are slightly more important for Fulham, but Newcastle United are at home and have been producing some big wins of late.

They have already beaten the two teams directly below them in the League table and being back at home is a chance for Newcastle United to try and add to the gap between them and 3rd placed Huddersfield Town.

It won't be easy against a Fulham team who have shown plenty of heart throughout the course of the season, but half of their 4 away defeats have come to teams above them in the League table. I do think Newcastle United play better when they face some of the tougher teams in the Championship and I am looking for that to keep them focused on this game and get back to winning ways.

It will be tight and competitive, but Newcastle United can just get the better of Fulham and I will back them to take the three points in this one.

Norwich City v Blackburn Rovers Pick: Time is running out for Alex Neil and Norwich City if they are going to make their way into the top six and another failure to win on Tuesday at Bristol City when leading 0-1 late into the game could be fatal. Their opponents on Saturday scored a late equaliser on Tuesday and Blackburn Rovers remain unbeaten under Tony Mowbray which has dragged them out of the bottom three in the Championship.

Both teams need the three points on offer at Carrow Road, but it should be said that Norwich City have been much better at home and Blackburn Rovers are not as sharp on their travels. The performances under Mowbray have mainly come at Ewood Park, but Blackburn Rovers did earn a 1-1 draw at Burton Albion, although facing this Norwich City team with Premier League experience is a different sort of test for them.

The new found confidence Blackburn Rovers are enjoying does make them a harder to underestimate, but Norwich City score plenty of goals at home which could be key.

The Canaries have had to settle for draws in their last couple of games at Carrow Road, but they had won 4 straight here in the League prior to that. With 10 games left in the League, Norwich City have to win this game and that can build pressure, but I do think they can handle that against a Blackburn Rovers side who have lost 7 of their last 12 away Championship games.

Blackburn Rovers have won at Newcastle United and drawn at Huddersfield Town in that time, but I will look for Norwich City to have enough to secure a narrow win in this one.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal - 3 Asian Handicap @ 1.89 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton-West Brom Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Hull City-Swansea City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brighton @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brentford-Huddersfield Town Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Cardiff City @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Leeds United @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Newcastle United @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Norwich City @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)

March Update14-15-2, + 2.52 Units (59 Units Staked, + 4.27% Yield)

February Final31-50, - 29.34 Units (157 Units Staked, - 18.69% 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 2016/17243-272-9, - 57.45 Units (1029 Units Staked, - 5.58% 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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