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Friday, 17 March 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (March 17-19)

The Champions League and Europa League Quarter Final line up was set up this past week and the ties drawn out have generated some real excitement in both competitions.

Those games in April certainly give us something to look forward to, while being a Manchester United fan means I am very happy with the Quarter Final tie against Anderlecht which looks a winnable one on paper.

This weekend is the final round of top domestic football before the international break which leads us into the final stretch of the season. A chance to have a final breath before the big run in is an opportunity for players to recover some of their physical well being and others to just have a chance to recharge their batteries for the big games ahead.

Most games in April and May will have some real repercussions as to whether this is a successful season or not for every team competing and the big games come thick and fast.

West Brom v Arsenal Pick: The opening game of this latest round of Premier League fixtures is a big one for both West Brom and Arsenal with the television cameras heading to The Hawthorns to capture the action.

West Brom might be safe from the drop, but Tony Pulis won’t want the players to coast to the end of the season and the back to back losses will have annoyed him. There shouldn’t be the need to provide a lot of motivation to get up for the challenge of Arsenal coming to town and the fans will certainly want their team to make it tough for the visitors.

It has been tough for West Brom hosting the top seven teams and they have lost 3 and drawn 1 of those games so far this season with three teams yet to visit. That will give some confidence in backing Arsenal to win here, but the Arsenal defence will give West Brom some encouragement and I think the home team will cause problems.

On the other hand Arsenal have the quality going forward to score the goals to win this game as long as the players are on the same page. Alexis Sanchez doesn’t look that happy at the moment and that makes it dangerous to back The Gunners at a ground where West Brom have played well this season.

It feels like both teams will have their opportunities in the game and I feel we will see at least three goals shared out between them. I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams score in this one, but ultimately I think Arsenal might produce a narrow win on the day.

Crystal Palace v Watford Pick: The three points on offer for Crystal Palace and Watford are absolutely important for both of these clubs competing at Selhurst Park on Saturday and I am anticipating a close game between them. Both teams have had a couple of weeks to prepare for the game as their opponents were in FA Cup action last weekend, and you would expect a decent game plan has been put together by both managers.

Being at home hasn't really been a great benefit for Crystal Palace over the last twelve months and that hasn't improved under Sam Allardyce. However they did snap a 5 game League losing run here with their 1-0 win over Middlesbrough and this one is likely to be as tight and nervous as that win was.

There is plenty of quality in the Crystal Palace squad which has made it surprising it has taken Allardyce as long as it has to get a tune out of them. Wins in back to back games suggest that is changing and Crystal Palace have to make it three wins in a row to boost their survival bid when you consider some of the teams they have yet to play.

You can expect a surprise result or two, but Allardyce will have circled games like this one as 'must win' games for Crystal Palace.

Watford can be dangerous, but they are not as good on their travels as they are at home and they have been conceding plenty of goals of late. They have to be respected as they've earned some solid away points at Middlesbrough, Swansea City and Bournemouth this season, but a recent defeat at Sunderland shows what an erratic side they can be.

I am anticipating this to be a tight game with little between them, but Crystal Palace may just have the momentum to go on and earn the three points on offer this weekend and take another step towards maintaining their place in the Premier League. It will also keep Watford looking over their shoulders over the next two weeks before big home games against Sunderland and West Brom potentially define their season.

Everton v Hull City Pick: The big story is about Romelu Lukaku, but you have to think the Everton fans are going to be doing their best to remind their striker why Goodison Park is the best place for him. As long as the rest of the players haven't been distracted by the story, Everton look in a good place to secure another three points at Goodison Park and move into 6th place in the Premier League table, even if it may only be for twenty-four hours.

Recent form here has been very impressive from Everton who have won their last 5 League games at home and have scored at least twice in each of those games. Take away the goals conceded in the 6-3 win over Bournemouth and Everton have kept 4 cleans sheets in those wins which does put the pressure on Hull City.

The Tigers earned a vital three points in their win over Swansea City last weekend, which has kept them in touch with the teams above them in the League table, but Hull City have a miserable away record. They have lost 11 of their last 12 away games in all competitions and Hull City have conceded at least twice in 6 of their last 7.

They did earn a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park two seasons ago and Marco Silva has got them pulling in the same direction, but Hull City will need to ride their luck to earn a result here. Everton are scoring too many goals and not conceding a lot of goals and they look like they can keep the momentum going at Goodison Park as we reach the international break.

I will be looking for Everton to make it 6 in a row at home and cover the Asian Handicap in this game as the previous 5 wins have all come by at least two goals.

Stoke City v Chelsea Pick: At first glance it seems like Chelsea are plenty short to win this game at Stoke City who have been an improving team at home during the course of the season. They have been beaten 3 times at home, but Stoke City suffered 2 of those losses before the end of September and they showed against Manchester City that they won't be intimidated by the best teams in this Division.

It is hard to oppose Chelsea considering how well they have been playing through the course of the season and their win at West Ham United was an impressive result. I did consider backing Stoke City on the Asian Handicap to earn some kind of result here, but the layers are giving the home team enough respect to make that an unappealing price.

Stoke City showed at Stamford Bridge that they know how they can potentially rattle Chelsea and this is a team that plays some good football which should challenge the League leaders. At the other end the likes of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa can always find their way to goal and I do think there is every chance this could be an entertaining game on Saturday.

More entertaining than the layers think who are offering up at least three goals to be shared out at odds against and I believe that might be too big a price. Both teams have scored in the last 3 away Chelsea games in the Premier League and Stoke City have scored and conceded when hosting Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton already this season.

I do think Stoke City will look to win the game too and that should mean there is a chance of some open play that leads to chances being created. At the end of the fixture I am looking for one of the teams to have enough to take a chance to win the game and I am looking for a 2-1 scoreline either way.

Sunderland v Burnley Pick: There is going to be plenty of tension at The Stadium of Light this weekend as the home supporters will know the importance of winning this game if their Sunderland side are going to have an escape from relegation again this season. David Moyes will recognise that too and failing to beat a team who have struggled away from home as much as Burnley have might be too much for Sunderland to overcome.

That might be a little disrespectful to Burnley who have been improving away from home in recent weeks and have been unfortunate not to have earned more points than they have. Burnley were leading 1-2 at Swansea City before losing 3-2 and they were very, very good at Liverpool when leading 0-1 at Anfield last weekend before switching off just before half time.

A similar level to those performances will give Burnley a chance to upsetting Sunderland this weekend, but the poor defensive record away from home can't be ignored. In saying that, Sunderland have not exactly been lighting up the scoreboard in recent weeks and have failed to score in their last 3 Premier League games at home, although those have been played against Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur.

Sunderland have been better in front of goal when facing teams in the bottom half of the table and they have scored against all 5 teams they have met at The Stadium of Light from the bottom half. They have conceded plenty in those games too and Burnley will offer a threat in this one having scored in their last 7 away Premier League games.

It wouldn't be a big surprise if both teams did score in this one, but Sunderland do have to try and push for the win. Burnley have shown they can be a threat when given space and this does feel like another Premier League game this weekend where both teams will have their opportunities to win a high-scoring game. The layers are dangling odds against for at least three goals to be scored, but that might be a big price in this one.

4 of Sunderland's 5 home games against a team from the bottom half of the table have ended with at least three goals scored, while 6 of the last 7 Burnley away games have done the same. The goalless draw between these two in the Cup came with changed line ups, and I think this will end 2-1 one way or the other.

West Ham United v Leicester City Pick: The theory is that Leicester City have gone back to basics which has sparked a run of 3 successive victories which has moved them away from the bottom three in the Premier League table and also into the Champions League Quarter Final. There are still some question marks about them defensively though which will be exploited by West Ham United, but this looks another Premier League game this weekend which could produce a high return on goals.

The goals that Leicester City are producing will give West Ham United some problems too, even if this is the first away game they have played since the Champions League Last 16 First Leg in Spain. There looks to be more enjoyment on the players' faces at the moment and Leicester City will offer a counter attack similar to the way they were playing last season.

West Ham United are at home so they have to go forward and try to win the game which should make this a fairly open encounter between them. The last 5 West Ham United home games have produced at least three goals while they have only had 1 clean sheet in 6 games here.

Defensive issues have remained for Leicester City too as they have struggled for clean sheets and needed a penalty save to prevent Sevilla scoring during the week. This will be a different test for them as West Ham United have the size to trouble The Foxes, while also the guile to get between the centre backs and full backs.

It does feel like a game where both teams will score and the feeling is that neither will settle for a point if the three are on offer. The game earlier this season didn't produce more than a single goal, but last season saw West Ham United and Leicester City combine for 10 goals over three games and I will look for at least three to be shared out in what feels a weekend schedule packed full of goals.

Bournemouth v Swansea City Pick: Once again I look at a Premier League fixture and everything is screaming out goals for me.

Both Bournemouth and Swansea City have shown they can offer an attacking threat in their recent games, but both have conceded goals at an alarming rate. Even the fact this is something of a 'relegation six pointer' might not curtail the instincts of the players on the pitch and it could be a really good Saturday afternoon live game for the neutrals.

Eddie Howe and Paul Clement both want their teams to attack and that has perhaps left them a little exposed at the back. Despite the Bournemouth win last weekend, it has to be noted that they have conceded at least twice in 6 straight home Premier League games.

Swansea City have conceded at least twice in their last 5 away games in all competitions which includes their last 4 on their travels in the Premier League. However they have scored at Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea and Clement will feel they have great delivery from wide areas and set pieces that should create chances in this one too.

The last 7 times Swansea City have faced Bournemouth have all produced at least three goals and that includes all 3 Premier League meetings over the last eighteen months.

You do have to believe that there will be work done on the defensive side of things, but neither has shown a lot improvement at the back while offering a threat going forward and that should mean chances and, hopefully, goals on the day.

Middlesbrough v Manchester United Pick: It might be a strange atmosphere on the touchline for this early Sunday kick off as Middlesbrough will no longer have Aitor Karanka on their bench and Jose Mourinho has cut an irritated figure about the timings of the recent Manchester United fixtures. He has been especially critical of this game, but not everyone can see the point Mourinho is making.

Roy Keane was particularly critical of the complaints and I'll admit that I am biased towards one of my hero footballers. While I wasn't completely on board with what Keano had to say, I do think Jose Mourinho surprised by indicating he expects to lose at The Riverside Stadium on Sunday.

At the end of the day I do think Mourinho is trying to create a siege mentality for the rest of the season as Manchester United face games thick and fast after the international break. They need to keep winning if the top four is still a realistic goal, but Manchester United will head to Middlesbrough with a number of key players absent.

It might mean Manchester United have to play a tight game and hope to nick this one with the flair players who have to take over for Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Sunday. They certainly can do that against a Middlesbrough team who have some key injuries in defensive areas and have struggled for goals all season.

The sacking of Karanka does make it a little harder to read how Middlesbrough will approach the game and perhaps the players put in a performance that is in contrast to those they have recently. However it may take the international break to really get the players on board and I think Manchester United will win here.

However they will need to do that with a clean sheet because I don't see a lot of goals in the Manchester United side this weekend. Fatigue is an issue and losing the influential players they have doubles up the difficulty of the fixture. If Middlesbrough score, I would expect the home team will earn a result in this one, but I am going to look for Mourinho to go back to basics and make sure Manchester United don't concede and nick a goal at some point.

I think they will be able to do that and can win this game with a clean sheet.

Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton Pick: This is an important game for Tottenham Hotspur to show they can cope without Harry Kane as they bid to fight on two fronts with their talisman up front. It has been a struggle for them in the past to score the goals needed to win games when Kane is out of the line up, but at least Tottenham Hotspur are playing this game at White Hart Lane.

They have enjoyed home comforts with 12 straight wins here in all competitions and Tottenham Hotspur know there are a host of clubs behind them who are chasing the top four places in the Premier League. Dropping points at home would be a huge blow to their chances and might just raise some doubts that they can't cope without Kane and whether that will be the fatal blow to a potentially successful season.

Tottenham Hotspur can't expect to have an easy ride against a well rested Southampton team who have found a real goalscorer in Manolo Gabbiadini. The Italian has given them an end product without Charlie Austin and it has sparked the rest of the team and Southampton have scored 10 goals in their last 3 games.

The Saints scored 4 times at Sunderland and Watford, but they are also a team that can struggled defensively without Virgil van Dijk leading the line. They have conceded 3 times in each of their last couple of games and I think this is yet another Premier League game that can see both teams score.

The home team will struggle with the pace that Southampton can offer, but I also think Tottenham Hotspur will be able to show that the loss of Kane is not going to cost them the chance to achieve their ambitions. Last season Southampton won 1-2 here so have to be respected, and this does feel like the kind of game that may end 2-1 either way on Sunday.

Earlier this season these teams combined for five goals and I will look for at least three in this one as both Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton show enough attacking intent throughout the game to create the opportunities for the likes of Dele Alli and Gabbiadini to take.

Manchester City v Liverpool Pick: Both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp offered high praise for the other's style of management this week, but all pleasantries will be put to the back burner on Sunday with three huge points on offer. The winning team will feel they have taken a big step towards the Champions League next season, while the losing team will be looking over their shoulders at Arsenal and Manchester United behind them.

Manchester City and Liverpool should combine to put on a real entertaining game with the home team in fine form and Liverpool playing their best against the top six sides in the League. Liverpool have won at Arsenal and Chelsea this season and drawn at Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United so they have to be given plenty of respect in this one.

It has been a struggle for Manchester City at times, but they have also looked very strong in moments when hosting the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. They have only won one of those games, but Manchester City had both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur on the ropes without being able to finish those teams off.

In all of those home games, Manchester City have scored and conceded in bunches and I have a feeling this game is going to go the same way. Manchester City will create chances with the pace they have and going up against a Liverpool defence that has struggled, but don't be surprised if Liverpool do the same with the pace they have up front against a City defence that has struggled.

While I am not anticipating this game going the same way as when Monaco visited Manchester City, I am expecting at least four goals to be shared out by two attacking teams who won't sit back even if they do go in front. Manchester City's home games with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur this season both finished with at least four goals shared out and Liverpool surpassed that number in a win at Arsenal.

3 of the last 4 Premier League games between these teams at The Etihad Stadium have also ended with at least four goals shared out and it looks a big price on the day. It would be a real surprise if both of these teams didn't score at least once and the attacking intent of the teams should produce some fireworks in the final Premier League game for two weeks.

Bristol City v Huddersfield Town Pick: They might be down in 22nd place in the Championship but Bristol City have produced enough inconsistent results of late to be a danger. This is a team who have recently drawn at Newcastle United and at home with Norwich City, but also been beaten by the likes of Leeds United and Fulham.

That should keep Huddersfield Town focused on a game where the three points means so much to both teams. Huddersfield Town will at least point out they have won 6 of their last 8 away games in the League and they have won games at teams in the bottom half during that time.

Huddersfield Town have won at Burton Albion, Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers, Rotherham United and Brentford in that run and all of those teams are in and around Bristol City. I do have to respect the fact that Bristol City have lost 1 of their last 5 home games in the League, but that came against an in-form Fulham and The Robins also had to come back from a goal behind twice in a 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday here.

They battled back for a 1-1 draw with Norwich City too and I think Huddersfield Town might have a little bit more in their tank to continue their fine away run in the League. Huddersfield Town might not have won here often in recent seasons, but they look a big price to earn a win this weekend and I will back them to edge the three points.

Sheffield Wednesday v Reading Pick: There has been a trend of teams flying up the League standings and making the Play Offs in the Championship in recent seasons, but that also means there are those in the top six who have slipped up. Both Reading and Sheffield Wednesday look like they might be hitting a poor patch of form at the wrong time and that makes this a big game for both.

Both teams have lost 3 of their last 5 League games and won just 1 of those games but home advantage might be key for Sheffield Wednesday.

That is because Reading have lost 3 away games in a row and been beaten 3-0 in back to back games at Brighton and Preston North End. Sheffield Wednesday have only won 1 of their last 3 games here, but they had been in good form at Hillsborough prior to that and I think The Owls can edge this one.

There is some real pressure on both teams with Fulham and Preston North End closing in on the top six in each passing week and the losing team might just have lost all confidence by the end of the ninety minutes. Those pressures can lead to some big mistakes, but I will look for Sheffield Wednesday to just about do enough to earn the three points and will back them to earn those.

MY PICKS: West Brom-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Everton - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Stoke City-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sunderland-Burnley Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Ham United-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Swansea City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 2.60 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester City-Liverpool Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.70 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town @ 2.50 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sheffield Wednesday @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

March Update25-26-3, + 2.38 Units (105 Units Staked, + 2.27% 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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