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2018 has been a really good year for Boxing fans but the best fight we may get to see in the calendar year may be the Cruiserweight Final of...

Friday, 5 May 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (May 5-8)

I will be back in London in the next couple of days which means a return for the 'Tennis Picks' from the Madrid and Rome Masters leading up to the French Open, as well as fuller 'NBA Picks' as the Play Offs continue.

This thread will have the full Premier League Picks from the next three days as we reach the business end of the season.

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: It has been a little over twelve months since the 'Battle of the Bridge' when Tottenham Hotspur lost the Premier League title race at Chelsea. They will know there is no love lost between them and West Ham United either and The Hammers would love to dent their title hopes this time around, although I am not sure the East London club have the quality nor the confidence to do that.

At this stage of the season fatigue is a big issue, but the oddsmakers won't worry about that and will make sure teams who are in 'must win' situations are perhaps not priced up with any value. Tottenham Hotspur look remarkably short to win here with that in mind and I wouldn't want to back them to win by a wide margin here for sure.

West Ham United have not been in their best form, but they have had back to back clean sheets and are unbeaten in 4 League games. The lack of goals has to be a problem for Slaven Bilic and Andy Carroll is likely to miss another game which is only going to add to those issues.

Those issues in the final third could be a problem against a Tottenham Hotspur team who have had 3 clean sheets in their last 4 away games in all competitions. A solid defensive shape is the foundation on which Tottenham Hotspur will look to build their success here, especially as they do believe they have the quality going forward to create chances and score goals.

This fixture feels like it could have a similar feel as to when Tottenham Hotspur won at Crystal Palace recently. I don't think West Ham United will allow things to be 'easy' for their visitors, but Tottenham Hotspur might have the added quality to break through in what should be a tight match all around.

The last few meetings at Upton Park between these teams tended to be tight affairs too and I think that might be case at the London Stadium on Friday. Ultimately I do think Tottenham Hotspur will find a way to breach the West Ham United defences and I am going to back them to win with a clean sheet in the first game of the Premier League weekend.

Manchester City v Crystal Palace Pick: This hasn't been the season that either Pep Guardiola or the Manchester City fans may have been expecting, but it would be considered a disaster if the club failed to finish in the top four of the Premier League. Slips from Manchester United and Arsenal does mean Manchester City are still in control of their own destiny and the remaining Premier League games suggest they should be good enough.

However three of those four games are to be played at the Etihad Stadium where Manchester City have failed to offer a consistent goal threat despite the obvious talent they have at their disposal. They haven't lost many games here in the Premier League, but Manchester City have only won 50% of them while they have not scored more home goals than the likes of West Brom, Bournemouth and Hull City.

That is not really good enough for a club that has the kind of plans Manchester City do, but the return of Gabriel Jesus is a plus especially with minutes now behind him on his return. He has a lot of attributes that Guardiola likes and shows he can put misses behind him when converting another chance against Middlesbrough last weekend.

I expect a much more positive line up than the one that began at the Riverside Stadium in this home game which means the likes of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling restored in forward positions. That should give Manchester City plenty of belief against a Crystal Palace team that are almost certainly safe from the drop and who are missing three or four key defensive figures.

No one should underestimate a Crystal Palace team who have won at Chelsea and Liverpool in recent weeks, but they have looked a little fatigued in back to back home losses. I also think Sam Allardyce suggesting they are already safe on 38 points may have just influenced a couple of players to drop their intensity even a little bit and that isn't going to be enough at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

I do think Crystal Palace may make it difficult for a time, but Manchester City should have enough in the final third to break the resistance down and especially against a Crystal Palace defence hit by injuries. Eventually I am expecting Manchester City to win by a couple of goals on the day and I will back them to cover this Asian Handicap.

Bournemouth v Stoke City Pick: This is the kind of game towards the end of a long domestic season where you have to really begin to search for angles and motivational reasons for a team to perform. Both Bournemouth and Stoke City do have the motivation for a top half finish, but it feels that is a bigger deal for Bournemouth who also have home advantage in this one.

The absence of Benik Afobe would be a blow considering how well his partnership with Josh King has been working for Bournemouth, but I do think they are a team with more confidence than Stoke City overall. They have definitely been winning more games towards the end of the season so momentum looks to be behind Bournemouth who can secure the League double over Stoke City having seen The Potters do that to them last season.

A lack of goals is a real concern for Mark Hughes considering some of the talent Stoke City are able to call upon, and no goals in 6 away Premier League games makes it very difficult to avoid losses. That might show up here against an attacking Bournemouth team who have won 3 of their last 4 Premier League home games.

Stoke City were beaten 2-0 at Swansea City in their last away game and have also lost at West Brom and Burnley in recent away games. None of those sides were considered to be in great form that you can wipe away those losses and I think backing Bournemouth at odds against looks a decent price.

Burnley v West Brom Pick: The season is coming to an end for both Burnley and West Brom and will be looked back upon with genuine feelings of pride. Neither has been involved in a relegation dogfight for any length of time and both Sean Dyche and Tony Pulis need to be given a lot of credit for that.

In saying that, Pulis has struggled to get a tune out of his players ever since West Brom reached 40 points and that is highlighted with 6 losses from 8 Premier League games. A lack of goals in recent games is a concern for a side that isn't producing too many clean sheets and that makes Burnley look a decent price to add to their stunning home record.

Recent weeks have not been so kind to Burnley at Turf Moor, but they did beat Stoke City here recently and the 0-2 win at Crystal Palace has to inspire some confidence for them. This is a team that will look to end their season at home on a high and I think that is motivation enough to back them here.

At odds against you can't complain about the price either as it looks fair enough to me and I think West Brom might be a little more 'mentally on their holidays' than Burnley at this moment. Burnley needed a big win last weekend and produced it and I am not sure they will be completely relaxed, while the fans will be behind them at Turf Moor than can get a little more energy into the legs.

It will likely be close all through the fixture, but I will look for Burnley to earn the three points here.

Hull City v Sunderland Pick: If this match had taken place three months ago, there is no way that Hull City would be as short to win it as they are to beat Sunderland this weekend. The layers have clearly factored in a strong home run, but also seem to be putting a lot of weight into the fact that Sunderland are relegated to produce the price they have.

Of course I do think Hull City are the more likely winners having won 4 Premier League games in a row at home and the lack of goals in the Sunderland side is a big concern going into the NEXT season. That will be something they need to resolve in the upcoming transfer window now that Jermain Defoe is expected to leave, but this current group of players have to be short of confidence when making the short trip to a north east rival.

The lack of real effort and belief in recent weeks is unlikely to be changed now that relegation is concerned and many of these players are already perhaps considering where they will be playing next season.

On the other hand, Hull City are playing with confidence at home and know the importance of winning their remaining home games to stay in the Premier League. That brings a pressure of its own, but Hull City have dealt with it at the KCOM Stadium and I do think they can win this game.

I considered picking Hull City to win this game with a clean sheet considering how Sunderland have been lacking in front of goal, but Hull City's clean sheet record is not the best. Hull City have won 6 of their last 7 home games in the Premier League, all under Marco Silva, and half of those wins have come by a couple of goals.

That includes wins over Middlesbrough and Watford in their last two here and I will back Hull City to secure the win by covering the Asian Handicap this week.

Leicester City v Watford Pick: There is not a lot for either Leicester City or Watford to play for in the remaining month of the season and so it can be hard to read into the motivation for this fixture.

Home advantage is strong enough for me considering Leicester City's performances at the King Power Stadium for Craig Shakespeare with their run of wins coming to an end in the 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid. They have been playing well enough all around to think they can produce a strong performance here, although there is clearly a far less carnival atmosphere compared with twelve months ago.

Leicester City also face a Watford team who have struggled away from home in recent weeks and didn't look that interested when losing 2-0 at Hull City. That is the fourth away loss suffered in a row and Watford haven't scored in any of those games which makes it hard to make a case for them this weekend.

There is enough going for Leicester City at the moment to think they can get the better of Watford here and I am looking for them to come through with a relatively straight-forward win. I will back The Foxes to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

Swansea City v Everton Pick: There is a lot more on the line for Swansea City than for Everton this week as the games begin to run down on the former's chances to get out of the bottom three and maintain a spot in the Premier League. The pressure could certainly be on by the time this game kicks off on Saturday afternoon if Hull City have won their League game against Sunderland, but Paul Clement can only focus on what his own team can do.

They have played well at the Liberty Stadium having won 4 of their last 6 here, but they do face a tough Everton team who may not win a lot of their away Premier League games, but simply don't lose many either.

I am expecting this to be a tough game for both teams simply because Everton have not been as strong away from home when it comes to scoring goals and creating chances. Their players have already secured their Europa League place and some are looking to move to pastures new and exciting which may mean the motivation factor is an issue for Ronald Koeman.

The lack of away goals will mean Swansea City have a chance here, but the rigid shape Everton have defensively could be tough to breach. It makes picking a winner very difficult, but I am not anticipating a glut of goals in this one regardless.

Only 1 of their last 5 Premier League games against one another have finished with more than two goals scored while 3 of the last 5 Swansea City home games and 5 of the last 7 Everton away games have ended with two or fewer goals shared out.

The tension in the Liberty Stadium and the style of football both employ could make this another tight game for Swansea City and I am looking for less than three goals to be shared out on Saturday afternoon.

Liverpool v Southampton Pick: The rest of the teams fighting for a place in the top four will be hoping that Southampton show a little more fighting spirit than they have in recent weeks and perhaps upset Liverpool at Anfield. It looks a long shot with a number of the players looking like they are not on board with what the manager is asking of them, although they did show something in the final third against Chelsea which could cause Liverpool some problems.

Realistically Liverpool should be too good for Southampton on Sunday, but it all depends on whether Philippe Coutinho is back. The expectation is that the Brazilian will return from a dead leg, but without him this match will be much tougher.

While Southampton have been conceding goals regularly in recent games, the absence of Coutinho to go with Sadio Mane will take away something significant from Liverpool.

As I have said though, I do think Coutinho will play and Liverpool will give Southampton some real problems when they go forward. They should create chances and I would be surprised if they are not able to break down Southampton for the first time this season considering the lack of focus The Saints have been playing with.

On the other hand, Southampton did produce some solid set pieces against Chelsea and I would think that is going to play a part in this one too. Liverpool have not been that good defensively and Southampton have the pace in the final third to create chances of their own.

Unlike the first three games between Liverpool and Southampton this season, I am expecting this one to have a few more chances and goals attached to it. I imagine both teams will score, but Liverpool's motivation will likely see them secure the win, although I will keep it more simple and look for at least three goals to be shared out.

Arsenal v Manchester United Pick: It has been a long time since Arsenal and Manchester United have met each other with both clubs sitting outside the top four in the Premier League table, and certainly not when we have reached May. The winning team on Sunday will give themselves a chance of breaking into the Champions League places while the losing team will have to accept they are likely out of that race at the end of the weekend regardless of results elsewhere.

That makes it a very important fixture and one where you have to think Jose Mourinho is playing some mind games by suggesting he will make wholesale changes to his side. I do think Manchester United will make some changes with the Second Leg of the Europa League Semi Final in mind, but I am still expecting a strong starting eleven.

There is no love lost between Mourinho and Arsene Wenger and so this has a similar feel to when Mourinho took his changed Chelsea side to Anfield a couple of years back. Back then it was expected that a changed Chelsea focusing on Champions League Semi Final fixtures would roll over for a desperate Liverpool team, but instead they came away with a solid 0-2 win.

Mourinho has put together a defensive shape that will give his Manchester United a chance to frustrate what is clearly not a vintage Arsenal team. There is talent in the home squad that has to be respected, especially Alexis Sanchez, but I feel the prices are an overreaction to a statement made by Mourinho, one that I am not fully buying with the players that will likely start this fixture.

His record against Arsene Wenger also can't be ignored with just a single loss in 16 previous head to head meetings. The last 3 times Mourinho has taken a team to the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League he has come away with a point and Manchester United are proving to be a stubborn nut to crack on their travels.

I do imagine Arsenal will have some chances through the fixture, but Manchester United can pose a real threat on the counter attack themselves. The Arsenal defence is clearly a weakness and I am looking for Manchester United to avoid defeat here with the draw that neither team wants a real player.

Chelsea v Middlesbrough Pick: If Tottenham Hotspur can win on Friday night at the London Stadium, Chelsea will be under the most pressure to respond in their next two Premier League games played on Monday and then Friday evening. However I can't see Chelsea slipping up when facing the teams they have left and I would expect them to beat Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge.

The pressure will not be any less on Middlesbrough who still have a chance to avoid relegation, but will have to produce a win at Stamford Bridge to give themselves a chance. Since Steve Agnew has come in as manager, they have struggled with the balance between attack and defence and that has really shown up in their last couple of away games.

Those defeats at Hull City and Bournemouth have been really disappointing and Middlesbrough have conceded four goals in both of those fixtures. That doesn't bode well when heading to face Chelsea who have scored 11 goals in 3 games since their 2-0 loss at Manchester United.

Chelsea have also scored plenty of goals at Stamford Bridge throughout the season and I can see them putting up a few against a Middlesbrough team that may end up chasing the game at some point. Even if they don't, Chelsea have opened up better teams than this Middlesbrough one and I will be looking for them to secure a comfortable win on the evening.

The layers think the same with short odds for Chelsea to cover the Asian Handicap as well as for a win with a clean sheet. However I think Chelsea can be backed to score at least three times in this one, something they have done in more than half of their home Premier League games, and that is where I will go with this fixture.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur Win to Nil @ 2.40 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth @ 2.25 Bet365 (2 Units)
Burnley @ 2.30 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Hull City - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.08 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.04 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Swansea City-Everton Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Liverpool-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.67 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

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