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Friday, 14 April 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (April 15-17)

The Easter Weekend used to be the time of the season when so many issues would be resolved in the top flight, but the change to ensure only one match is played across the four day holiday, rather than the Good Friday and Easter Monday fixtures we used to get, means it is less pivotal.

In saying that, all games in April are huge at this time of the season as teams scramble for the points that will help them achieve the goals they have for the last six/seven weeks of the campaign.

There are some huge games at the top and bottom of the Premier League this weekend before we get back into the European Champions League and Europa League Quarter Final Second Legs. The draw for the Semi Finals of both competitions takes place next Friday before another big weekend of domestic football.

Tottenham Hotspur v Bournemouth Pick: It is really hard to oppose Tottenham Hotspur in their current form and another victory this weekend in front of the television cameras looks very likely. That will give them plenty of momentum to take into the FA Cup Semi Final against Chelsea next Saturday and it would be a huge surprise to see Tottenham Hotspur fail to extend their winning run at White Hart Lane.

The return of Harry Kane gives them more options in the forward areas and they are facing a Bournemouth team who do allow opponents to play their football. That should suit Tottenham Hotspur down to the ground and they might score a few goals in this one as they have been doing in recent home games.

Give Bournemouth their credit for the way they have battled for draws at Old Trafford, St Mary's and Anfield in recent away games, but those three teams all had enough chances to score a few goals against them. Unlike Manchester United, Southampton and Liverpool (certainly without Sadio Mane and an ill Philippe Coutinho), Tottenham Hotspur have a number of attacking players in peak form up front who won't allow chances to slip by them.

Last weekend we saw a clinical Chelsea team score three times in a 1-3 win at Bournemouth and I do think Tottenham Hotspur are too good on the day.

With the goals they are scoring at the moment, backing Tottenham Hotspur to cover the Asian Handicap and win by at least two goals on Saturday looks the obvious play. I am not a fan of those options that leap completely out of the page and especially when Bournemouth have had those 3 impressive away draws of late.

However, I think Tottenham Hotspur will create enough chances to win with some level of comfort and shift the pressure onto Chelsea prior to the trip to Old Trafford. Barring another team having a poor day in front of goal, Bournemouth will struggle to stay with this Tottenham Hotspur side and I like the home team to win by a comfortable margin.

Crystal Palace v Leicester City Pick: The oddsmakers are fully on board with the idea that Leicester City might be keen to rest a few key players in the Premier League this weekend to focus on keeping them prepared for the Second Leg of the Champions League Quarter Final against Atletico Madrid which is played on Tuesday.

The narrow loss in Madrid means Leicester City have every chance of earning a spot in the Semi Final of the Champions League and that is clearly going to be the focus for many of the players. That doesn't mean they can turn up at Crystal Palace and accept their fate, but it is a big reason the home team are so short to win this fixture.

The price is also displaying how well Crystal Palace have done to win 5 of their last 6 League games to pull away from the bottom three. They have also won 3 in a row at Selhurst Park without conceding a goal and Crystal Palace will be full of beans after beating Arsenal 3-0 here on Monday.

However I can't back Crystal Palace at odds on as Leicester City are still not quite secure of their place in the Premier League. A win for Crystal Palace would actually see them move above Leicester City in the Premier League table and I think Craig Shakespeare will play an attacking team in a bid to produce a positive performance before the Champions League game during the week.

Leicester City might not have scored during the week, but they have found goals easy to come by under Craig Shakespeare and I do think they will offer one or two problems going forward. However they also have been conceding a fair few goals and this fixture might produce a few goals like the reverse one did at the King Power Stadium earlier this season.

The home team have kept 3 clean sheets in a row at Selhurst Park, but it might not happen this weekend as they take on a team who have scored 17 goals in 8 games under Craig Shakespeare. The oddsmakers are offering odds against quotes for at least three goals to be shared out in this one and I will back both Crystal Palace and Leicester City to score in an entertaining game that covers the total.

Everton v Burnley Pick: You have to admire the kind of football that Everton have been producing, especially at Goodison Park, although some of the fans may be wondering what direction the club will take in the summer. Getting back into the Europa League is important to the development of the club as far as Ronald Koeman is concerned, but the likes of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku may not be sticking around after the summer transfer window.

For now those concerns will not be important to the fans who have enjoyed seeing Everton win 7 straight Premier League games at Goodison Park thanks to an avalanche of goals in their favour. They have scored 26 goals in those 7 home wins and Everton will be playing with plenty of confidence on Saturday.

They won't have it all their own way as Burnley have shown toughness of late and earned goalless draws at Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Everton are somewhat stronger than those sides, but Burnley also led at Anfield recently and looked very good on that last trip to Merseyside.

However you can't ignore the way Everton have been performing of late as they have blown past their opponents and I think they will be too strong for Burnley this weekend. This Burnley team have simply not scored enough goals away from home and I can't see them containing Everton for long enough to nick a point.

Once Everton go in front, they look like a team who are hungry for more goals and I think they will win their eighth consecutive home game in the Premier League. The previous 7 wins have all come by at least two goals and I will back Everton to cover this Asian Handicap on Saturday.

Stoke City v Hull City Pick: The recent form of Stoke City has been a real disappointment for Mark Hughes, but they have not had the best fixture list in that time. The back to back home losses suffered against Chelsea and Liverpool were unfortunate when you think how Stoke City played for large parts of that game.

At least this weekend they are not hosting one of the teams in the top four, but instead Stoke City are facing a Hull City team who have struggled on their travels. For all the improvement that Marco Silva has helped Hull City make, he has not found the formula to produce an away performance and it does feel like the home games against Watford and Sunderland will determine whether they avoid the drop or not.

Hull City have lost 13 of their last 14 away games in all competition and they have conceded 11 goals in their last 4 losses since the goalless draw at Manchester United. You would think Silva will have looked at this fixture as a good chance to snap their poor run, but Stoke City have played well enough when hosting some of the weaker teams in the Premier League.

The Potters have won 6 home League games this season and all of those have been against teams who are currently 10th or lower in the Premier League table. Bournemouth did win 0-1 here, and Leicester City came back from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw, but Stoke City have beaten 4 of the current bottom five with this Hull City the final team on that list.

Stoke City had won 3 in a row at home against Hull City before the loss to them in the English Football League Cup earlier this season and I will look for Mark Hughes' team to earn a bit of revenge for that defeat. Marco Silva has worked wonders with Hull City, but that has yet to show up away from home and I will back Stoke City to earn a vital three points to snap a poor run of form.

Sunderland v West Ham United Pick: This has to be the final roll of the dice for David Moyes and Sunderland who have looked like a team on the brink of relegation for a number of seasons. In previous years they have produced some strong results under pressure but this current group of players look like they simply don't have the quality to compete and a place in the Championship in the 2017/18 season looks to be the future for Sunderland.

The 0-3 home loss to Manchester United has left Sunderland 10 points behind Hull City in 17th place but the games are beginning to run out. They simply 'must win' this fixture if Sunderland hold any hopes of escaping the bottom three, but that isn't enough for them to actually achieve that.

Simply having to win doesn't mean a team will and it is hard to win games without scoring goals. Sunderland have not scored in any of their last 7 Premier League games overall and it isn't a surprise that they have lost 6 of those games. Things haven't been better at the Stadium of Light either as Sunderland have not scored in any of their last 5 Premier League games here.

They will find it difficult against a West Ham United team who secured a morale boosting 1-0 win over Swansea City last weekend and who have scored in all but 3 of their away games this season. West Ham United led at both Bournemouth and Hull City before being beaten, but I am not sure Sunderland have the belief or quality to get back into a fixture when falling behind.

West Ham United are missing some key players and have some defensive issues, but they do have enough in the final third to hurt this Sunderland team. They have won at 3 of the current bottom five teams with this game to come and I will be looking for West Ham United to have a little too much for Sunderland in the final third and record a win here.

Watford v Swansea City Pick: The games are beginning to run out for teams in the Premier League this season and that makes every fixture more and more important at the top and bottom of the League table. This is a big one for Swansea City who are fighting for their Premier League status, but they have just hit a poor patch of form at the wrong time.

4 losses from their last 5 Premier League games has seen Hull City overtake Swansea City and push the latter into the bottom three. There are only 2 points between those teams and Swansea City have a manageable fixture list remaining, but Watford are off back to back wins at Vicarage Road and will be looking for a response to their 4-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

The wins for Watford to open this month has put them in a strong position to perhaps even finish in the top half of the Premier League table. They have played well at Vicarage Road over the last couple of months with only 1 loss in their last 7 games here while Watford have gone on to win 4 of the games in that run.

Recent form does suggest Watford can move forward with another victory in this fixture, although this will be a tight game that might not feature a lot of goals. Watford have beaten Burnley, Sunderland and West Brom at Vicarage Road in recent games here, while Swansea City have lost at Bournemouth and West Ham United in back to back away games.

Paul Clement was not impressed with the performance Swansea City produced last weekend, and I think Watford have played well enough at home in recent weeks to earn a victory. The return of Fernando Llorente could give Swansea City more focus going forward, but I think Watford can win this one as they have when hosting teams inside the bottom five.

Watford have beaten Sunderland, Hull City and Crystal Palace at home in the League and can add Swansea City to that list at a big price.

Southampton v Manchester City Pick: This looks to be a big weekend for the teams chasing the top four spots in the Premier League as Liverpool head to West Brom and Manchester United host Chelsea on Easter Sunday. Before that, Manchester City have a difficult looking test at Southampton on Saturday afternoon and you have to imagine fans of Liverpool and Manchester United will be anticipating potential dropped points.

That may be clutching at straws though as Southampton have not really played well against the teams that are currently above them in the Premier League table. The Saints have won at West Brom and beaten Everton at home, while also earning a 1-1 draw at Manchester City and at home against Liverpool earlier in the campaign, but other than that it has been tough work for them in the Premier League.

Southampton have lost at Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur on their travels in the Premier League, but also have suffered home losses to Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and West Brom.

The recent Manchester City form might not be the most positive, but they have been through a difficult stretch of games and I think they may feel more comfortable on the south coast. Losses at Monaco and Chelsea were not indicative of the performance that Manchester City produced, while they should have won at Arsenal and a similar level is likely to produce the three points here.

As good as Southampton have looked with the ball and as many chances as they can create, they still are missing Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini's clinical finishing. The likes of Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond and Shane Long are so hit and miss that it can be hard to trust them, even against a Manchester City defence that can be vulnerable to the speed that Southampton produce in the final third.

Going the other way, Southampton will be challenged by the cutting edge that Manchester City have produced and they have only failed to score in 1 of their last 9 away games in all competitions. In that time Manchester City have scored 17 goals and they should create chances against a Southampton defence missing leader Virgil van Dijk.

This hasn't been a fixture that Manchester City have enjoyed in recent seasons too often and they were beaten 4-2 here last season. However the current teams that are expected to line up do lean towards the quality that Manchester City can produce and only Chelsea have won more away games so far this season.

If Southampton are on form in the forward areas, this could be a very difficult test for Manchester City but figuring out which Southampton attack turns up is hard work. Both teams have managed to score at least once in 9 of the last 11 fixtures between these teams though and I do anticipate there will be plenty of chances at both ends in what could be a really entertaining game of football.

My lean is that Manchester City will have too much though and backing them to win a game where there are at least three goals shared out is a big price. It is more appealing than backing Manchester City at odds on because of the danger that Southampton will pose, while 3 of the 4 home losses Southampton have had in the Premier League have come in a game where at least three goals are scored.

West Brom v Liverpool Pick: With the lead they have over 5th placed Manchester United and comparing the remaining Premier League games that both have to play, Liverpool fans might just be feeling they have enough to finish in the top four of the Champions League. Anything else will be seen as a disappointment for Jurgen Klopp and the entire club, especially as it will have a big impact on the kind of players the German is able to bring in during the summer transfer window.

Coming from behind to beat Burnley and Stoke City in recent weeks have been huge for Liverpool and kept the pressure on Manchester United and Arsenal who have dropped points in that time. The win at Stoke City snapped a poor away run in the Premier League for Liverpool and they will head to West Brom with a lot of confidence behind them.

The same cannot be said for The Baggies who have struggled since reaching the 40 point mark in the Premier League. That may be the players just taking their eye off the ball and West Brom have picked up just 4 points in the 6 League games since hitting 40 points.

Three of those points did come in a home win against Arsenal, although West Brom have not scored in the other 5 games they have played since securing 40 points. A key for the side will be exploiting the set piece issues that Liverpool have had all season and that was the avenue in which they broke down Arsenal in the win at The Hawthorns against them.

West Brom have only secured 1 clean sheet from their last 8 Premier League games though and Liverpool still have the firepower to expose those vulnerabilities even without the services of Sadio Mane. Liverpool have only failed to score in 1 of their last 9 away Premier League games and you can begin to understand why they have been set as an odds on favourite to win here.

However I do think West Brom will raise their game against one of the 'big' clubs in English Football. They may have lost 4 of their last 6 Premier League games, but West Brom have beaten Arsenal and drawn at Manchester United in that time and I think they will be a threat from crosses all afternoon.

Ultimately I think Liverpool will win this game, but backing at least three goals at just under odds against looks the best way forward. I can see both teams scoring, as they have in 5 of the last 6 Premier League games between these clubs, but there should be enough chances for one of the teams to secure the three points.

I don't want that to be Liverpool, but I do think they are the more likely winners although failing to keep a clean sheet in their last 6 away Premier League games suggests West Brom can play a part in this Easter Sunday clash too.

Manchester United v Chelsea Pick: This could be a pivotal weekend for both Manchester United and Chelsea who have different aims for the remainder of the campaign. The away side will be looking to maintain their lead over Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League title race, while Manchester United will likely be chasing a result that keeps them in touch with the top four.

As has been mentioned a few times over the last month, Manchester United may feel the Europa League is the best way for them to get into the Champions League next season. They look in a good position in the Europa League Quarter Final having earned a 1-1 draw at Anderlecht in Belgium in the First Leg, but Jose Mourinho won't want to give his former club an easy ride in the Premier League.

Denting Chelsea's Premier League title challenge would be something Mourinho has to be keen to do after taking some abuse from the Chelsea fans in the FA Cup loss at Stamford Bridge last month. However Manchester United have just struggled to turn their performances into wins at Old Trafford and it is hard to ignore the fact they have beaten just 1 of the top eight teams in the Premier League here.

Manchester City are the only one of those who have left Old Trafford with the three points, but Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton have all drawn 1-1 and West Brom earned a goalless draw here with the sole Manchester United win coming against Tottenham Hotspur.

A couple of losses to Chelsea this season has also extended Manchester United's run to 12 games against The Blues without earning a win which includes the last 5 at Old Trafford. 4 of the last 5 here between these teams have ended in draws and that has to be a significant player in this one.

Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte were in the midst of a tactical battle in the FA Cup tie between their clubs last month before an Ander Herrera sending off changed the course of that tie. I think this one will be similar with both managers looking to make sure Manchester United and Chelsea are well organised and look to exploit a mistake made by the other.

Chelsea have had a week to rest and prepare for this game which will give their fans confidence, but they have not been at their best against the top teams away from Stamford Bridge. They have won at Manchester City, but Chelsea have drawn at Liverpool and lost at both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and failed to score in both of those losses.

Being rested will give them a chance to become only the second team to win here, but I am anticipating a tight game that might not see a lot of chances created. Chelsea would likely settle for a draw before kick off and Jose Mourinho won't want Manchester United to take too many chances and allow their visitors to have the space to perform on the counter attack where they have been so effective.

I do think goals could be at a premium on Sunday and a single goal may be enough to separate these teams. 7 of the last 10 games between these clubs has seen one, or both, of Manchester United and Chelsea fail to score.

2 of the 3 exceptions have ended 1-1 thanks to 90th minute equalisers, and it also has to be noted that 3 of the last 4 at Old Trafford has seen at least one of the sides fail to score and 2 of the last 3 here have ended goalless.

The three points mean more to Manchester United who need to keep in touch with the sides above them, but I am not sure there will be a lot of chances in this game as both Mourinho and Conte prefer to build from a strong defensive foundation. Backing at least one of the teams to fail to score at odds against looks a big price here and I will back that to be the outcome of the second live game on Easter Sunday afternoon.

Middlesbrough v Arsenal Pick: All eyes will be focused on Arsenal and the kind of reaction the players will have had to a week of torment from their own fans as well as the expected backlash in the media. In all honesty no one can be surprised that Arsenal were criticised as much as they were after the no-show in the 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace and I do think this is going to provide some real answers as to how the players are feeling.

Some will have suggested an almost 'downed tools' response from the players to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the future of Arsene Wenger. If the players have given up on the manager, Middlesbrough will be the beneficiary in their battle against relegation, but I don't quite believe Arsenal have given up completely.

The first thing to say is they had a few chances at Crystal Palace while the game was still in the balance and a goal there may have changed the whole feel of the night. There is also the small matter of an FA Cup Semi Final on the horizon and those who get the nod to start this fixture won't want to produce a performance that sees them miss out six days later.

I also think Arsenal are facing the right opponent on Monday as Middlesbrough look to be sliding into the Championship. They simply don't score enough goals and it is hard to see them doing that here even against an Arsenal team that have conceded at least three goals in 5 of their last 6 games on their travels.

A couple of those games have come against 'weaker sides' in the Premier League at West Brom and Crystal Palace, but both have shown more in the final third than Middlesbrough have at any time this season. Middlesbrough have scored just 6 goals in their last 14 Premier League games and just 3 in their last 6 at the Riverside Stadium in the League.

Middlesbrough have been decent defensively for much of the season, but Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester United have all won here in the Premier League while the latter three teams all scored at least twice. Manchester City also won 0-2 here in the FA Cup and Arsenal still have the quality to see off this level of opponent.

Prior to the loss at Crystal Palace, Arsenal had won 6 and drawn 2 at clubs currently in 10th place or lower in the Premier League. It was only the second time this season that Arsenal had not scored away from home in the Premier League and I do think The Gunners will have too much firepower for a pretty poor Middlesbrough.

Middlesbrough have kept clean sheets in 6 of their last 11 home Premier League games, but they are just 0-2-5 in League games against teams who are 10th or higher this season at the Riverside Stadium and they have scored 3 goals and conceded 11 in those games and have earned just a single clean sheet.

I think Arsenal will highlight the difference between themselves and a team that is arguably better suited to the higher reaches of the Championship and I will back Arsenal to win by at least a couple of goals on Monday evening to ease the pressure on their beleaguered manager.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.78 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Everton - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.08 Bet365 (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
West Ham United @ 2.40 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Watford @ 2.50 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Man City to Win & Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 Coral (2 Units)
West Brom-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester United-Chelsea Both Teams to Score- NO @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)

April Update19-16, + 4.14 Units (69 Units Staked, + 6% Yield)

March Final39-40-3, + 6.64 Units (157 Units Staked, + 4.23% 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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