Heading into Easter Weekend is always a big time in the domestic football calendar as this is the time of the season that has regularly become a key moment in determining where teams stand going into the final weeks of the campaign. There are two rounds of football fixtures to get through over the course of the Easter Weekend and things will most definitely look a lot better in determining the top four, the bottom three and many of the places in between.
Fixtures come thick and fast at this time of the season too with the European Champions League and Europa League Quarter Finals played over the next two midweeks before the FA Cup Semi Finals and then a few catch up games in the Premier League all before the end of the month.
Last week I wrote a small piece about Manchester United prior to the two home draws with West Brom and Everton which can be read here.
The midweek Premier League picks were a lot better than the first picks of April and I will look to back that up over the next three days before we move into the Champions League and Europa League Quarter Final First Leg ties played on Tuesday through Thursday next week.
Tottenham Hotspur v Watford Pick: The absence of Harry Kane was supposed to stifle any Tottenham Hotspur title challenge, but the players have responded in a positive way and have shown some real determination to win their last 3 Premier League games. Coming from behind to win at Swansea City in the way they did is a real positive for Tottenham Hotspur and they can close the gap to 4 points on leaders Chelsea if they can open the weekend with a victory.
White Hart Lane has proved to be a very happy hunting ground for Tottenham Hotspur over the last few months and they have won 13 in a row here in all competitions. Tottenham Hotspur have scored at least twice in 12 of those games and I do think the home team will have too much for a Watford side who have put in a big effort to record back to back League wins this past week.
The Hornets had to play with ten men for the final 25 minutes of their win over West Brom on Tuesday and I do wonder if that will affect the players fitness on Saturday. Watford have also struggled away from home for much of the season and have lost 8 of their last 10 on their travels while they have been beaten in 7 of their last 9 away Premier League games and 5 of those have come by at least a couple of goals.
Playing at home has been a very positive experience for Tottenham Hotspur this season and I do think they are going to be too strong for the visitors. They are playing a Watford team who have not scored in 5 of their last 7 away Premier League games and I would expect the home team to come out with plenty of confidence and create enough chances to win this one with some comfort.
There has to be some respect given to Watford who won at Arsenal, but they have lost by at least a couple of goals at Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United this season. I would expect Tottenham Hotspur to keep their momentum going this weekend and record a comfortable three points at White Hart Lane while covering the Asian Handicap line.
Manchester City v Hull City Pick: There have been some criticisms of Pep Guardiola in the last couple of weeks with the feeling that Manchester City have underachieved, but that is harsh when you think of the fixture list they have just negotiated. Draws with Liverpool and Arsenal in games Manchester City had chances to win, and defeats in Monaco and Chelsea which could have gone another way suggests those criticisms are perhaps not warranted.
Failing to beat Hull City in the Premier League on Saturday is going to be a bigger issue for Manchester City and their top four aspirations though and that makes this a big game for them. It is just as important for Hull City who have fought their way out of the bottom three this past week with back to back wins over West Ham United and Middlesbrough, but those results have come at home.
It has been a much different story for Marco Silva's team on their travels where they have lost 12 of their last 13 in all competitions and only scored 3 goals in that run. Getting enough of the ball to create opportunities to score might be an issue for Hull City this weekend too and Silva may opt to play a team who can try and contain Manchester City for as long as possible.
That is a tough ask, but Stoke City managed to do that recently although that is the only game at The Etihad Stadium in which Manchester City haven't scored this season. The feeling might be that Hull City have nothing to lose in this fixture with the expectation that they won't earn anything, but I do think they will look to defend in numbers and try to capitalise on any mistakes the home team make.
Hull City did score in a defeat at Liverpool earlier this season, but they have failed to score in away games at Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton in the Premier League since then. The last 4 of those have been under Marco Silva and Hull City have lost 3 of the fixtures and I do think Manchester City have enough quality to breach the Hull City defences.
The most likely scenario is that Manchester City will win this game with a clean sheet like the majority of the other top seven teams have done against Hull City. You can back that at odds against and it looks a better option than backing the home team to cover a two goal Asian Handicap with Silva's organisation preventing heavy defeats for The Tigers.
Middlesbrough v Burnley Pick: Not many will be surprised that the oddsmakers are not giving anything away when it comes to the expectation of this Premier League fixture not being one of the higher scoring ones of the weekend. Middlesbrough's goal struggles have been well documented all season, while Burnley have only produced 9 away League goals themselves, but this game could potentially surprise.
I know Burnley ended up in a goalless draw at Sunderland in their last away game, but Burnley had scored in 7 consecutive away Premier League games prior to that. 6 of those 7 games had ended with at least three goals shared out as Burnley have struggled defensively on their travels, but the question is whether Middlesbrough can take advantage.
Middlesbrough scored twice at Hull City in a 4-2 defeat on Wednesday, but that was the first time they had scored twice in a Premier League game since the middle of December. Steve Agnew has shown he is willing to play two up front and it would be a surprise if he was to change tact on Saturday when Middlesbrough almost 'must win' this home fixture.
That does also mean Middlesbrough are perhaps a little more vulnerable defensively, while the team might be wearing down mentally as they have only had 2 clean sheets in their last 9 Premier League games. They have conceded in 3 of their last 4 Premier League games at The Riverside Stadium and both teams could surprise with the potential chances they could create in this fixture.
The home team have to try and get forward in this one and that may lead to spaces for Burnley to exploit and get back to scoring goals in away Premier League games. It does look like both teams can get on the scoreboard in this one and backing at least three goals to be shared out at a big price could surprise this weekend.
Stoke City v Liverpool Pick: The late Josh King equaliser at Anfield on Wednesday night has dented the Liverpool bid to make the top four in the Premier League, but they have the points on the board which will put pressure on Arsenal and Manchester United to respond. It was a disappointing 2-2 draw with Bournemouth and Liverpool now head on their travels at tough looking back to back away assignments at Stoke City and West Brom.
The first of those comes at The Bet365 Stadium although Liverpool have a good recent record here with 3 wins from their last 4 visits. They are also potentially playing Stoke City at the right time as this team have failed to score in their last 2 games and have lost 3 Premier League games in a row.
Stoke City conceded late in a 1-2 home loss to Chelsea last time out here, but Stoke City had been unbeaten in 8 home Premier League games prior to that. They have held both Manchester United and Everton in that run and this is going to be a difficult test for Liverpool who have not won any of their last 5 away Premier League games.
Those failures include a draw at Sunderland and defeats at Hull City and Leicester City which continues to push the theory that Liverpool don't appreciate playing the 'lesser lights' of the Premier League. Being without the likes of Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane is a blow for Liverpool too, while Philippe Coutinho might not be 100% at the moment.
That only makes this fixture more difficult than the oddsmakers may believe and I am not sure why Liverpool are odds on to win this fixture. Poor recent away form coupled with Stoke City being better at home than perhaps most appreciate makes The Potters look an attractive team to back to avoid defeat.
It took a really late Chelsea goal to earn the three points here last time out, but Liverpool might not be playing with the same belief away from Anfield than they do in front of their own fans. The strong record at Stoke City in recent years does worry me in opposing Liverpool, but this side should not be odds on to win here and I will back Stoke City to earn something from this fixture.
West Brom v Southampton Pick: Recent weeks have not seen West Brom produce their best football as the players have perhaps just taken their eye off the ball having put together a really strong first six months of the season. However they have continued to play well at The Hawthorns where West Brom have won 5 of their last 6 Premier League games including a 3-1 victory over Arsenal.
If they had been in better form over the last three weeks, backing West Brom to win this game as the underdog would have been appealing. That would have especially been the case when noting Southampton had lost 4 of 6 away Premier League games, but those exceptions came in victories at Sunderland and Watford prior to a narrow loss at White Hart Lane.
The Saints have definitely been the team showing more overall than West Brom have been, but they remain an inconsistent outfit. The potential return of Manolo Gabbiadini could be huge for Southampton as the Italian has shown he can finish off the chances that they tend to create, especially with more consistency than the likes of Shane Long and Nathan Redmond provide.
Games between West Brom and Southampton have not been full of entertainment in recent seasons, but the last couple of games might have changed that trend. West Brom have shown more attacking verve at The Hawthorns as they test teams from set pieces and crosses from open play and that has led to them scoring at least twice in 4 of their last 6 here.
The Baggies have conceded in 4 of those games too, while Southampton have seen 6 of their last 7 away Premier League fixtures end with at least three goals produced. Southampton have scored in their last 4 away games in the League, but they have also conceded at least twice in 3 of their last 4 on their travels.
Both teams have the chance to play with some freedom knowing they are clear of the relegation zone and playing for positions in the top half of the table. I am anticipating more goalmouth action than the oddsmakers are and they can make it 3 League games in a row between them which have produced at least three goals shared out.
It does look like Saturday will be a good day to play football and I am going to back this fixture to surprise the oddsmakers with at least three goals the outcome at odds against. I do think there will be the chances created to hit that number and I will be hoping that both West Brom and Southampton have brought their shooting boots into the fixture.
West Ham United v Swansea City Pick: Dealing with the tension and pressure of a relegation fight is going to be the key in determining which of these teams is able to perform well enough to earn the three points on Saturday. It is a big three points on offer with West Ham United knowing they can put a big gap between themselves and Swansea City in the bottom three with a victory, while a Swansea City win drags The Hammers into a real relegation dogfight.
The Swansea City players have been playing with the threat of relegation surrounding them for much of the season and that should mean they are able to settle into this fixture. The same can't be said for West Ham United who have always seemingly been clear of the bottom three, but who will have their home fans on edge in this fixture, especially if they were to fall behind.
The first goal is going to be so important for West Ham United in that regards, but defensively they have not looked capable of holding on to leads. Last weekend they were beaten at Hull City despite scoring the first goal and the same happened at Bournemouth.
However West Ham United do tend to score goals and they had scored at least twice in 3 Premier League games in a row before the 3-0 loss at Arsenal. That result does mean The Hammers have conceded at least twice in 6 of their last 7 Premier League games including the last 5 in a row and Swansea City have shown they can score goals too.
Swansea City have conceded at least twice in 9 of their last 10 away games in all competitions including their last 6 in a row, but they had also scored in 5 consecutive away Premier League games before the 2-0 loss at Bournemouth.
The last 2 times they have met at West Ham United have produced at least four goals each time and the last couple of games between these teams have ended with at least five goals shared out. While the tension and importance of the game could make this one a tight affair, both West Ham United and Swansea City are better going forward than they are defensively.
The three points should mean both Slaven Bilic and Paul Clement will push to secure the win and I can see both teams scoring during the ninety minutes. Picking a winner is much more unclear, but I am expecting one of the teams to score at least twice and backing at least three goals to be shared out between West Ham United and Swansea City is my pick.
Bournemouth v Chelsea Pick: The Premier League is still firmly in the grasp of Chelsea, but it is going to be interesting to see how they react if Tottenham Hotspur can keep putting the wins on the board. That will be tested over the next two weekends with Chelsea kicking off after Tottenham Hotspur have played at White Hart Lane.
The first of those tests could come at The Vitality Stadium on Saturday if Tottenham Hotspur have beaten Watford at home earlier in the day as most would expect them to do. Bournemouth have been playing with a little more confidence of late and have earned credible draws at Manchester United, Southampton and Liverpool, but get the chance to host the League leaders in this one.
Eddie Howe will set his team up to play in one way and that is to try and take the game to Chelsea which should be music to the ears of Antonio Conte. There is little doubt that Chelsea don't mind playing on the counter attack and they will find some spaces to exploit against a Bournemouth team who had conceded at least twice in 8 of 9 home games including the last 6 in row before the 2-0 win over Swansea City.
Goals haven't been a big problem for Bournemouth who have scored at least twice in 4 of their last 6 home games and who are facing a Chelsea team who have kept 1 clean sheet in their last 5 away games in all competitions. In fact Chelsea have conceded in their last 4 away Premier League games and Bournemouth have the pace in the final third to become the latest to get on the scoreboard against them.
This could be an exciting game for the neutrals in the late Saturday afternoon slot and I do think there will be goals shared out. The last 2 Premier League games between these teams have seen at least three goals shared out in both and I will back there being at least that number when they meet on Saturday at The Vitality Stadium.
Sunderland v Manchester United Pick: This game might have had significantly more importance at the top and bottom of the Premier League table if both Sunderland and Manchester United had earned more points from the first two rounds of Premier League fixtures this past week. For Sunderland the losses at Watford and Leicester City have put them on the brink of heading into the Championship, while Manchester United could only earn 2 points from a possible 6 at Old Trafford to just stay out of reach for the top four places.
It will be a heartbreaking time for Sunderland who are not only going to be relegated, but will be passed by rivals Newcastle United going the other way. It has been a long time coming for Sunderland and I am not sure they have enough for a miracle recovery after failing to score in 6 straight Premier League games.
They have not scored in their last 4 at The Stadium of Light and will be facing a Manchester United team who have played better on their travels than at Old Trafford in the Premier League. Manchester United might continue to produce too many draws at home, but they have won 5 of their last 6 away games and their last 4 away wins have all come by at least two goals.
Sunderland have lost 3 of their last 5 at The Stadium of Light and all of those losses have come by at least two goals. The fans are not happy and Sunderland look a team who are struggling too much in the final third and their best hope is to try and drag Manchester United into a scrap.
However I was impressed with the way Manchester United performed in the North East a few weeks ago when beating Middlesbrough 1-3 at The Riverside Stadium prior to the international break. Manchester United created plenty of chances in that one and this is a huge game for the players if they really believe they can force their way into the top four.
The lack of confidence in the home squad is a real worry for Sunderland and Manchester United fans will feel their side owe The Black Cats something after watching those fans celebrate a Manchester City title winning goal in May 2012. It might not be the confirmation of Sunderland's relegation, but Manchester United can put another nail in the coffin and I will look for them to win here by a couple of goals at least as Stoke City, Southampton and Manchester City have managed in recent visits.
Everton v Leicester City Pick: The second of the live Premier League games on Sunday comes from Goodison Park and both Everton and Leicester City are in strong form that they could produce a very entertaining affair. Everton have been playing very well at Goodison Park where they have won 6 Premier League games in a row and have scored at least twice in each of those games.
Leicester City themselves have won 6 in a row in all competitions, although only 1 of those games have come away from The King Power Stadium. The Foxes have scored at least twice in every game since sacking Claudio Ranieri after struggling in front of goal prior to that and Jamie Vardy looks to have a new lease of life.
The question for the Leicester City players has to be how much focus has been taken away from them by the upcoming Champions League Quarter Final First Leg which is being played on Wednesday. They look to have secured their Premier League future with their run of 5 League wins in a row, and the players might feel it is all in on the Champions League the rest of the way.
Craig Shakespeare will be preaching the need to retain momentum to take into the game at Atletico Madrid during the week and I do think Leicester City can play their part against an Everton team missing key defensive figures. With Everton looking to get on the front foot at home, Leicester City should have counter attacking opportunities that they exploited last season and can cause problems.
Everton have won games and scored goals for fun at Goodison Park though and I would expect them to create their own opportunities. 7 of the last 9 overall between Everton and Leicester City have produced at least three goals shared out, while the last 7 in a row at Goodison Park has reached that total.
6 of the last 7 Everton home games and 5 of the last 8 Leicester City away games have also hit that total and I will back at least three goals to be shared out in the second live game on Sunday afternoon in the Premier League.
Crystal Palace v Arsenal Pick: There is a belief that exists that Sam Allardyce gives Arsenal many problems as a manager, but that seems to be one pushed by the media and you might be surprised to hear that Arsenal have won 10 of their last 11 games against an Allardyce managed side.
Last season Allardyce did help Sunderland to a goalless draw with Arsenal at The Stadium of Light, but he had managed in 4 consecutive home losses to The Gunners prior to that result.
Crystal Palace are in very good form at the moment, despite the loss at Southampton, and they should be well rested for the visit of Arsenal. On the other hand, Arsenal have lost 5 of their last 7 away Premier League games and that run includes a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth (where they trailed 3-0) and a 3-1 loss at West Brom.
The Eagles have won back to back home League games, but those have come against Watford and Middlesbrough and this is a much bigger test for them. However they will feel they can exploit some of the vulnerabilities in the Arsenal squad, although the defensive injuries for Crystal Palace has to be a big concern for Allardyce.
Those injuries are just big enough to look for this game to end 2-1 either way though and I am going to back at least three goals to be shared. The last two games Allardyce has managed against Arsenal have seen the 'under' come in, but prior to that there had been 12 straight games with at least three goals shared between the teams.
Both teams should be good enough to score at least once in this one, and there have been at least three goals shared out in the last 7 away Arsenal League games. Both teams have also scored in 9 of the last 10 Arsenal away Premier League games while the last 2 at Selhurst Park between these teams have ended with 1-2 scores for Arsenal.
The three points that are available on Monday are important enough for both teams to try and win the game until the very end of the night and I will back at least three goals to be the outcome of this fixture.
MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Middlesbrough-Burnley Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Stoke City + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)
West Brom-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Ham United-Swansea City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.04 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton-Swansea City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.67 Bet Victor (2 Units)
March Final: 39-40-3, + 6.64 Units (157 Units Staked, + 4.23% Yield)
February Final: 31-50, - 29.34 Units (157 Units Staked, - 18.69% Yield)
January Final: 32-47-1, - 30.88 Units (164 Units Staked, - 18.83% Yield)
December Final: 38-40, - 7.93 Units (153 Units Staked, - 5.18% Yield)
October Final: 29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% Yield)
Season 2015/16: 133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)