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Sunday, 21 May 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (May 21st)

The final weekend of the Premier League 2016/17 season is played on Sunday before a few Cup Finals and a round of World Cup Qualifiers completes the campaign.

Only four days after the Scotland v England World Cup Qualifier the fixtures for the 2017/18 Premier League season will be released, although the two months wait for the new season will feel like a long time.

Arsenal v Everton Pick: They might have beaten Watford 1-0 at home last weekend, but Everton have not been at their best in the final weeks of the season as the players have achieved all of their goals for the current campaign. That doesn't mean they are going to roll over for Arsenal in this one, but Everton have looked like they have been struggling for motivation at times.

Everton haven't been that good away from home this season either and the lack of motivation compared with Arsenal might prove to be a difference maker.

Like many times in recent seasons, The Gunners are finishing the season with a flourish, but this time it looks like they are not going to do enough to finish in the top four. Arsene Wenger will urge his team to focus on their own matters and win this game to force Liverpool to do the same when they host Middlesbrough, but an early lead for Liverpool is likely to see the supporters turn on the manager.

The players have at least responded for their manager and I think Arsenal will have the majority of the play as they look to end the season with a fifth consecutive home win. Arsenal still have the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to open the door against a stubborn Everton team who are missing some key defensive faces and I think they can win this game.

Only two teams, Chelsea and Liverpool, have beaten Everton by more than a single goal margin this season, but I will look for Arsenal to do that this weekend against a demotivated opponent.

Burnley v West Ham United Pick: There is no doubt that a number of the players in both squads will be looking forward to the end of the season in which Burnley have overachieved and West Ham United have underachieved. While Sean Dyche is preparing for the new season already, Slaven Bilic is under big pressure as manager of West Ham United with the raised expectations there.

It is important that Bilic sees a reaction from his players after the awful display in the second half of the 0-4 loss to Liverpool. West Ham United looked disorganised and offered very little resistance to the speed and creativity that Liverpool produced on Sunday.

That is not going to be the way that Burnley approach things and so it may be a little easier for West Ham United to defend this weekend. They had been looking solid in the new three at the back system before being ripped apart by Liverpool, and goals may be at a premium when you think how Burnley have just lost their edge down the stretch.

I do think Burnley have the slight edge in terms of motivation playing at home, and a narrow success for the home team would not surprise me here. However I think there could be a real end of season feel to this one and I am backing fewer than three goals to be shared out between Burnley and West Ham United in this one.

Chelsea v Sunderland Pick: There will be another party atmosphere at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea will be given the Premier League trophy at the end of this fixture. However this time the fans will likely be given a chance to thank the majority of players who led the way for the triumph in the League this season and that doesn't bode well for this Sunderland side.

It was yet another away loss for Sunderland during the week and they can thank goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for only losing by a couple of goals at Arsenal. The team looks tired and not up to the standard of the Premier League and it feels like it will be a long afternoon for them against a Chelsea team who will want to sign off at Stamford Bridge in style.

The 'win to nil' is not as attractive as it was for Arsenal to beat Sunderland on Tuesday and instead I am looking for Chelsea to win this one by a wide margin.

They did concede some sloppy goals against Watford on Monday, but Chelsea should have the key players back in the defensive unit and Sunderland have simply not shown they can score a lot of goals.

With the attacking players likely to enjoy some spaces, Chelsea can win this one with a slightly easier margin than Arsenal produced on Tuesday.

Hull City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The last couple of weeks have been difficult for Hull City as what looked like being a positive fight against relegation were ended in unceremonious fashion. The 0-2 home loss to Sunderland seems to have deflated all confidence and belief that Marco Silva had built up and following that up with a 4-0 loss at Crystal Palace underlined that.

It will be difficult for the players to go out on a high on Sunday despite their really strong record at home under Silva’s watch. The problem for Hull City is they are facing a Tottenham Hotspur team who have been in rampant form and are making a serious bid to make sure they end this season with positive momentum behind them unlike last season.

On the final day last season Tottenham Hotspur visited the North East against an already relegated opponent and were humbled 5-1 at Newcastle United. That is unlikely to happen again this weekend and it is more likely that Tottenham Hotspur will reverse that scoreline if their 1-6 win at Leicester City on Thursday is anything to go by.

A team playing with the confidence Tottenham Hotspur have is going to be tough to slow down and I am not sure I can see how Hull City will be able to compete with them. While Hull City have had some really good results at home under Silva, including beating Manchester United and Liverpool, confidence has to be shot.

I can only see another strong Tottenham Hotspur win on Sunday to sign off on another season of improvement and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Leicester City v Bournemouth Pick: 10th place looks to be on the line when Leicester City and Bournemouth meet in the final fixture for both clubs on Sunday and that might initially sound like an almost meaningless achievement. However there is no doubt the difference in feeling when ending with a top half finish compared with a bottom half finish and so both Leicester City and Bournemouth should be motivated enough.

Leicester City are coming off a humbling experience from Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday and there has to be some tiredness in the legs. That is an area Bournemouth will look to expose with their passing game keeping the home players on the move and chasing the game.

However The Foxes have been very good at home under Craig Shakespeare and I think Thursday might just be an exception to the rule. Leicester City have scored plenty of goals since Shakespeare took over from Claudio Ranieri, but defensive injuries means there will be chances for Bournemouth too.

It does feel like both clubs will create opportunities for the likes of Jamie Vardy and Josh King and I am going to look for the season to finish with a flourish at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

I backed goals when Leicester City hosted Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday and I think there will be goals in this one as two attacking teams meet.

Liverpool v Middlesbrough Pick: This is a huge game for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool for the development of the club as they are on the brink of getting back into the Champions League. The financial aspect is one element, but being able to offer big name players the chance to compete in the premier European competition is huge for Liverpool as they try and bridge the gap to the teams above them in England.

Failure is simply not an option for Liverpool and the only way they can guarantee their place in the top four of the Premier League is by winning this fixture. The concern for the fans has to be the fact that Liverpool have not won any of their last 3 at Anfield against the likes of Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Southampton, and that will open the door for Arsenal.

However, I think facing Middlesbrough or Sunderland would have been the ideal situation for Liverpool and I think an early goal could potentially see Middlesbrough crumble. They have tried to be more positive under Steve Agnew, but that has seen the side concede 11 goals in their last 3 away games and at least three times in each game.

Middlesbrough have looked disinterested and lacking belief in their losses to Chelsea and Southampton over the last two weeks and I am not sure they can pick themselves up to dent the Liverpool bid to make the top four.

The one thing Liverpool can do is score goals and I expect they are going to be able to breach the Middlesbrough defences a few times. It could be nervy if there is a narrow lead being protected by the home team, but I can see Liverpool putting Middlesbrough to the sword early and creating enough chances to win this game by a comfortable margin to ensure Champions League Football is back at Anfield in August.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Pick: This is clearly a game that both Manchester United and Crystal Palace would likely happily set aside and move on to more important matters. After confirming their place in the Premier League last weekend, the Crystal Palace players may easily have booked their holiday plans for the coming couple of weeks before the World Cup Qualifiers for some and the focus and intensity might not be there.

On the other hand, Manchester United are not playing a recognised team in this final game with the Europa League Final just days away and Jose Mourinho has already stated he hoped Crystal Palace will take it easy against his young team.

It does make the prices on a Crystal Palace win attractive to a point, but those have shortened in the last week as Mourinho's intentions have been made clear. Now that Crystal Palace have secured their place, it is also hard to know how much the players will really push forward to win here even if someone like Wilfried Zaha would love to show the Old Trafford crowd what didn't work in his time with Manchester United.

The young Manchester United players will have an education trying to break down a Crystal Palace team organised by Sam Allardyce and this feels like it could have a pre-season kind of feel for both teams.

That usually means limited goals and the fans at Old Trafford may have to sit through another 1-1 scoreline which has been grating on so many over the course of the season. That scoreline is the one that worries me when it comes to opposing both teams scoring here like I did when Manchester United travelled down to St Mary's during the week, but I will look for this game to feature fewer than three goals on Sunday.

Southampton v Stoke City Pick: With the season ending on Sunday, it is hard to know what the future holds for Southampton and Stoke City who have both struggled down the stretch which won't have pleased the fans. It would be a huge surprise if Stoke City didn't give Mark Hughes another transfer window to bring in the players he wants to improve this squad, but Southampton are almost certainly going to be looking for someone to replace Claude Puel.

A lack of goals has been the complaint for both Southampton and Stoke City and all the signs are pointing to another game which will send the fans to sleep at St Mary's. There is a lot of endeavour in the Southampton side, but they can lack a cutting edge, while Stoke City's flair players just simply don't play as well away from the Bet365 Stadium.

There are many an occasion at the end of season when teams loosen up and produce fireworks and that could happen here if an early goal is scored by either. However it feels much more likely that the teams could sleepwalk through the ninety minutes with limited chances at both ends and so I will go back to the same pick I had when Southampton hosted Manchester United on Wednesday.

Southampton have failed to scored in 5 of their last 6 home League games, but they have also had 3 goalless draws in that time including on Wednesday. Stoke City had failed to score in 6 straight away games before the 2-2 draw at Bournemouth last time out and I will back one, if not both, team to fail to score on Sunday.

Swansea City v West Brom Pick: Instead of the tension filled final day of the season that Paul Clement and the Swansea City supporters must have been expecting, this game at the Liberty Stadium is a chance for the fans to show their appreciation of their club which has avoided relegation to the Championship.

The hard work will begin on Monday for Clement, but for now he will send the players out to enjoy their relative successes. It should mean Swansea City can play with some freedom and enjoyment in front of their fans where they have won 5 of their last 7 Premier League games.

That has been vital to their achievement of escaping the bottom three and another win looks to be on the cards on Sunday against a West Brom team who have been demotivated since March. The lack of intensity has seen West Brom lose 6 of their last 7 Premier League games and the players may struggle to match Swansea City in this final game.

It is what I am expecting on Sunday and I can see Swansea City winning another home game under Paul Clement which will give them plenty of belief going into the new season. Home form is likely going to be important for them again in the 2017/18 campaign and I will back The Swans at odds against to earn the three points on offer on Sunday.

Watford v Manchester City Pick: The decision to announce Walter Mazzarri's sacking days before the end of the season is an interesting one from Watford and I am not sure he is going to get the reaction from the players he would want. There have been suggestions that the players and the manager have not seen eye to eye for some time and now he is going, the current team may decide they can perhaps ease off.

That would be a huge danger against this Manchester City team who have looked rampant at times over the last few games of the season. They can score plenty of goals and being away from home has suited Manchester City with the expectation that opponents will come onto them at some stage and leave spaces open.

Watford will feel they can create chances against this defence, but the lack of motivation could be a real problem for them.

On the other hand, Manchester City will be searching for the three points that will take them into the Champions League Group Stage next season and I expect they will earn those. Manchester City have won 11 times away from home in the Premier League, which only trails Chelsea's 13 away wins, and 8 of those have come by at least two goals.

The majority of those have come against teams in the bottom half of the Premier League table and I can only see one winner this weekend when these teams conclude their campaigns.

I just don't think the Watford players will be able to match the intensity that Manchester City will come in with, nor deal with the pace and creativity in the final third considering all the defensive absences in the home team's squad. I will look for Manchester City to conclude the season with a bang and cover the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Burnley-West Ham United Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-Bournemouth Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.50 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Liverpool - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United-Crystal Palace Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Southampton-Stoke City Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Swansea City @ 2.05 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

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