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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Friday, 15 September 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (September 15-17)

The first round of Champions League and Europa League Group games are now in the books and it has proved to be a good week for all of the English clubs that don't play in Liverpool.

Both Liverpool and Everton were the only teams that failed to win this week, but the two Manchester clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal were all winners to make a good start to their individual Group campaigns.

The big story of the week looks to be about the 20,000 Koln supporters who came to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday and decided that many of them would buy tickets in the Arsenal stands. There has been a split in the opinion with some people suggesting the whole incident has been overhyped, while others think it is the biggest disgrace in years.

I'm torn- as a football fan I thought the Koln fans were brilliant and they didn't come to cause trouble, but on the other hand this arguably the most tribal of sports around the world which is why segregation is so important. In this case we were lucky to see the Koln supporters coming for a good time and to support their team, but other clubs have a much deeper hooligan side which would have caused massive problems for fans with families and so I can see both points of views.

The ramifications will go on throughout the next few weeks as UEFA come into things and more and more people write their opinion on the matter. It is likely that UEFA will come down hard on Arsenal and Koln, but it will be interesting if other clubs decide to follow the Koln fans route in the coming months ahead.

On Friday we have the return of the Premier League which culminates in two big games on Sunday as four of the top seven face one another. Games keep coming thick and fast in September in a busy month before the next international break which begins in early October and so this is already a time when rotation will be rife.

Next week we have the English League Cup where many managers will change their starting line ups and then we have another two rounds of domestic action around Match Day 2 of the Champions League and Europa League.

Bournemouth v Brighton Pick: With Brighton earning promotion to the Premier League last season, there will be a few more south coast derby games to be played and this is the first of them this season. Brighton and Bournemouth may usually fight it out for the summer tourist season on the beaches, but there are an important three Premier League points on the line when they open up this weekend's action on Friday Night Football.

It is a big game for Bournemouth who are trying to earn their first points of the season having lost all 4 Premier League games. They were unfortunate to lose 1-2 against Manchester City in their last home game, but overall Bournemouth have not played that well and the 0-2 loss to Watford here was a particularly poor result.

They have won 14 of their 38 home Premier League games over the last couple of seasons though and Bournemouth have generally been better against the weaker teams in the Premier League. Last season Bournemouth won 9 out of 19 League games at home and 7 of those wins came against teams that finished below them in the table.

I do think Bournemouth are better than what they have shown so far and I do expect this side to score goals, even if they have failed to get going on that front in the 2017/18 season. Underestimating Brighton shouldn't be an issue either as Brighton have earned 4 points so far and come into the game unbeaten in 3 in all competitions.

The win over West Brom last weekend will make Brighton feel they belong at this level and adds to the point they earned at Watford. However you have to wonder if this side has enough goals in the squad and that will be a challenge for them until January at least when Chris Hughton may be able to bring in some reinforcements.

The lack of goals may show up here even if Brighton have made up for that by looking a little more organised defensively. That does make them a dangerous opponent for Bournemouth who do allow teams the space to create chances against them, but I think this is ultimately the kind of game that Bournemouth should be winning.

It feels like a matter of time before Bournemouth find improvements in their results and a similar display to the one they produced against Manchester City should see that improvement begin here. Bournemouth have a decent home record against Brighton over the years and I will look for The Cherries to earn the three points on Friday.

The first goal will be crucial I feel, but I will look for Eddie Howe to find the right formula here and Bournemouth to win the fixture at odds against.

Huddersfield Town v Leicester City Pick: There is going to be a real interest to see how Huddersfield Town bounce back from the disappointment of losing their first League game back in the top flight. We have seen many promoted clubs make strong starts to their Premier League seasons before hitting the wall following a loss and that is something David Wagner will be desperate to avoid.

No one will have any doubt of the importance of the home form for Huddersfield Town if they are going to surprisingly avoid an immediate return to the Championship. As much as they have earned the respect from their form in August, there is still a feeling that goals might be difficult to come by for The Terriers and that means relying on the defensive performances they have produced so far.

Conceding their first goals of the new season in the Premier League will have dented that confidence and I think Leicester City are a dangerous team for Huddersfield Town to face. With more expectation to get forward at home, Leicester City play the kind of away football that could see them threaten Huddersfield Town in this fixture with the pacy counter attack they employ.

Leicester City have played much better under Craig Shakespeare as they have gone back to the basics which saw them win 11 out of 19 away League games two seasons ago. They won 2 of their last 5 Premier League away games last season and should have won at Arsenal on the opening weekend of this one.

Goals haven't been a problem for Leicester City under Craig Shakespeare and I think this is a side that is better than their points suggest as they have been through a difficult start to the fixtures. With the talent they have on the counter, I can see Leicester City causing problems for Huddersfield Town in this one and I do think they are capable of winning here.

My fear for Huddersfield Town is that they will struggle to match the goals that Leicester City can produce and I will back the latter on the Asian Handicap which will return half a stake if the match does end in a draw.

Liverpool v Burnley Pick: Roy Keane was brutal in his assessment of what to expect from Liverpool this season when it comes to winning the biggest prizes, but his verdict has only been highlighted as a former Manchester United Captain in my opinion. Keane is far from the only one who has been heavily critical of the Liverpool defensive performances with former Liverpool players Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness also making their disdain clear.

The poor defensive performances over the last week have really highlighted the problem for Liverpool having conceded 7 goals to Manchester City and Sevilla combined. However this weekend they are not facing a team with the same kind of quality in the final third and Liverpool have kept a couple of clean sheets at Anfield in the Premier League.

Missing Sadio Mane is a clear blow for Liverpool's attacking intent, especially as Philippe Coutinho looked short of match fitness in his cameo during the week against Sevilla. The Brazilian was welcomed back by the crowd, but Jurgen Klopp may decide to begin Daniel Sturridge rather than Coutinho in this one although Liverpool will still be really strong going forward.

They should cause problems for a Burnley side who will miss the presence of Tom Heaton in goal, although Sean Dyche's men have really played well so far this season. They may have ridden their luck to beat Crystal Palace last weekend, but Burnley have to be respected for the win at Chelsea and the draw at Tottenham Hotspur.

That is much better form than they had for much of last season away from home, although I have to give Burnley credit for at least being competitive. Only 5 of their 19 away games saw Burnley lose by more than a couple of goals and so this is a side that will be tough to beat.

However Liverpool are a rampant side at Anfield and the key for Burnley is to try and stay in the game early on. That may be difficult with a new goalkeeper between the sticks which may make them a little more edgy than if Heaton was there and I do think Liverpool may prove too strong.

9 of Liverpool's 12 home League wins came by more than a single goal margin and they have already thumped a poor Arsenal side at Anfield. This one will likely be tight at the end with Burnley expected to cause some problems going forward, but they will have to defend a lot better than they did against Crystal Palace and I will back Liverpool to win and cover the Asian Handicap even without Sadio Mane.

Watford v Manchester City Pick: This past week has shown what Manchester City can do when they turn on the style, although the win over Liverpool perhaps flattered them in what was a close game before Sadio Mane's sending off. On the other hand Manchester City were anything but flattered when hammering Dutch Champions Feyenoord 0-4 during the week in a game where they could have scored double that amount.

There are plenty of options for Pep Guardiola when it comes to picking his starting eleven, but his team should be fresh having coasted to the win on Wednesday. The last week has not been the most taxing for the players and so Manchester City are rightly set as big favourites to win here.

That might be disrespecting Watford who have played well under Marco Silva and look like they can cause problems for any team they face. Silva's Hull City also performed very well at home under his watch last season and Watford have already held Liverpool to a draw here this season.

Watford have not really competed against the top teams in previous seasons with a couple of exceptions to that rule. It is only a few months since they were hammered 0-5 by Manchester City on this ground, but the current Watford team look much more confident and are playing for their manager unlike their reaction on the final day of last season.

The Hornets have only failed to score in the game against Brighton when reduced to ten men very early on, but I think they can cause Manchester City one or two problems in this one. I certainly expect more positive attacking intention than Feyenoord produced and Watford will have seen how Bournemouth gave Pep Guardiola's men difficulties.

Expect this Watford team to look to take advantage of the counter attack with some pace in the forward areas and I do think they are capable of breaching the Manchester City back line. Set pieces will also be important for them, although it is hard to imagine Watford keeping Manchester City from scoring here too.

Marco Silva's teams have been strong at home, including Hull City, but this is a big challenge for him and Watford this week. The Asian Handicap is harder to read as Watford do look more competitive under the Portuguese manager, while they have played with confidence.

However I think this Manchester City team have been very strong and having a small interest in them winning a match in which both teams score looks worth taking on.

West Brom v West Ham United Pick: At first glance a lot of people would probably suggest that this game has the makings of being the last one to be shown on any highlight programme you may watch on Saturday evening. West Brom are far from the most glamorous teams in the Premier League, while West Ham United had been out of form prior to the win over Huddersfield Town on Monday night.

However I think the layers are taking a chance by offering at least three goals to be shared out at odds against here.

For starters this has been a fixture that has produced goals with the last 3 overall seeing at least three goals shared out as well as the last 3 played at The Hawthorns.

West Brom have tended to be a better scoring team at home which should mean they go on the attack against a West Ham United side that have conceded 10 goals in 3 away games this season. Even a poor display from Huddersfield Town saw them open up West Ham United for a couple of big chances and so West Brom have to be feeling confident of their chances of scoring one or two goals.

On the other hand, the strong defensive performances of the opening 2 Premier League games by West Brom have not looked so good over the last couple of games. They are facing a West Ham United team who have Andy Carroll back to pose more problems for defences and a team who have created chances this season even if the results have been disappointing.

13 of the 19 West Ham United away League games last season featured at least three goals each time and the same has happened in all 3 away games this season. With the fixture being a high scoring one in the last couple of years, the same may happen here, and it certainly shouldn't be an odds against price against a West Brom team who saw 9 of 19 home League games end with three or more goals shared out last season too.

Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City Pick: I am not one who really believes Tottenham Hotspur were 'cursed' playing games at Wembley Stadium, but I do think the players will take time getting comfortable in their surroundings. It isn't helped by the fact that away teams will visit Wembley Stadium and the players should automatically raise their game at playing at such a famous venue and that is likely to be a bigger factor than any 'curse' when Tottenham Hotspur finish with a worse record than they had at White Hart Lane last season.

To be fair, Tottenham Hotspur could not have done much better than winning 17 of 19 home games like they did last season. They have failed to win any of their 2 Premier League games here, but Tottenham Hotspur have perhaps been unfortunate in both and that does not bode well for Swansea City.

Last season Swansea City were beaten easily by Tottenham Hotspur in both Premier League games and have lost their two best players since then. Renato Sanches and Wilfried Bony will need some time before they are at their very best and it all seems to be adding up to a difficult day for Swansea City in the capital.

Swansea City are unbeaten in 5 away games in all competitions, but only the draw at Manchester United has come against one of the top teams in England. They are definitely facing one of those on Saturday and Tottenham Hotspur should be confident after dismissing Borussia Dortmund 3-1 at Wembley Stadium during the week.

Harry Kane has scored four goals in his last couple of games for Spurs and I do think they are going to be too strong for Swansea City. Tottenham Hotspur did win half of their 8 games following a European match last season and I think they can earn back to back wins at Wembley Stadium on Saturday and by a fairly comfortable margin so will look to back Spurs to cover the Asian Handicap.

Chelsea v Arsenal Pick: This is a big London derby for both Chelsea and Arsenal who both have different things to prove this weekend. Chelsea had a disappointing opening weekend defeat to Burnley, but they have won 4 in a row since then and now can lay down a marker to show they are ready to defend their Premier League title they won last May.

On the other hand Arsenal have to show their defeat to Liverpool last month was an exception to the performances they will produce in the big games this season. The problem is that the level they produced that day at Anfield has been more common in big games involving Arsenal than not and The Gunners will be under pressure to show something different here.

Arsenal have won just 2 of their last 18 away games against teams that have finished in the top seven in the Premier League over the last three seasons. Last season they were beaten in 5 of 6 games at the top seven teams and there have been enough performances like they produced in the 4-0 loss at Liverpool to make the fans worry for these kinds of games.

This has not been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal in recent years as they have suffered 5 consecutive losses at Stamford Bridge and the last 4 of those have come by two or more goals on the day. With Chelsea showing improvement and getting back to a full squad of players to pick from, it is hard to imagine Arsenal turning that around here on Sunday.

The away side are coming in with a little more confidence having won back to back games this week, but Arsenal have lost 8 of their last 12 away games in all competitions including both played in the Premier League this season.

It does feel Chelsea are the stronger team both in the tactics and the quality they can depend upon. I just can't see Arsenal avoiding the mistakes at the back that have blighted them in many big games and I am going to back Chelsea to secure the three points on Sunday.

Manchester United v Everton Pick: The Premier League fixture list has been kind to open the season for Manchester United and Jose Mourinho's squad have taken advantage of that, although they will feel two points were dropped last week at Stoke City. This is the first time that Manchester United will play a side that finished in the top half last season and this is a chance for the side to show they are genuine title challengers.

Last season Manchester United won 5 of 18 games against teams that finished in the top half and that was a big reason they failed to make the top four in the Premier League. The form at Old Trafford generally wasn't good enough either and so this is a big game for Manchester United despite how poorly Everton have been playing.

It is one thing losing 3 consecutive games and conceding 8 goals without scoring one of your own- but it is another all together when none of the defeats have flattered you and could have been a lot worse on another day.

That is where Everton are after losing 2-0 at Chelsea, 0-3 at home against Tottenham Hotspur and then 3-0 in Italy against Atalanta. Despite the money invested in the squad, Everton were extremely poor in all three of those games and they could have been beaten by a lot wider margins in all of those defeats.

Both games between these teams were close last season with the home team needing late equalisers to earn a draw. You also have to expect Everton are going to be better than they have been in recent games, but they won't have a lot of time to prepare for this one and I am looking for Manchester United to take advantage of the lack of confidence Ronald Koeman's men.

The loss of Paul Pogba will be felt in games, but I think Jose Mourinho has options in this home game and I think Manchester United will prove too strong. Romelu Lukaku should get the better of Wayne Rooney in a fixture that features strikers that have swapped teams during the summer transfer window and I do think Manchester United are playing well enough to win this one.

With the way Everton have been playing, Manchester United could win their 4th game in a row at Old Trafford in the 2017/18 season and another by at least two goals. I have to think Everton cannot defend as poorly as they have in their last three games, but Manchester United are in decent form and I expect them to be too strong for Everton during the ninety minutes and can cover the Asian Handicap.

Millwall v Leeds United Pick: This has proven to be a tough ground for Leeds United to visit in recent years, but the current crop of players have to be feeling confident of snapping a run of 7 losses in 8 previous visits to the New Den. It has been three years since Millwall last hosted Leeds United, but the latter are much improved having come close to a top six finish last season and following that up with a decent start to the 2017/18 season.

Thomas Christiansen has come in as manager and Leeds United have been playing very well under him, particularly away from home where they have won all 3 League games they have played and scored at least twice in each win.

None of the sides they have faced are expected to be good enough to finish in the top six, but Millwall are one who will likely be fighting against relegation this season. Millwall have played much better at home having scored 8 of their 10 League goals at the New Den and that makes them a team to respect.

Millwall have also been much stronger defensively at home and this is not going to be an easy game for either them or Leeds United. The layers understand that and have a big price on picking a winner, but that looks a difficult option here.

The first goal looks to be so important, but I do think Leeds United are playing well enough to keep their positive run going. They haven't played well here which is a concern in backing them, but you get a decent price on the Asian Handicap which returns the stake in case of a draw.

Backing Leeds United with that security looks a decent price for a side that have scored at least twice in each away game this season. Leeds United are playing with plenty of belief at the moment too and I will look for them to keep the good run going despite the issues they've had in facing Millwall at the New Den.

Sheffield United v Norwich City Pick: The current form of these two teams does give the edge to Sheffield United who have been very good at home compared with Norwich City who have conceded four goals in their last couple of away games, both unsurprisingly ended in defeat.

Sheffield United have won 10 of their last 11 home games going back to last season, while Norwich City have won 1 of 11 away games.

All of that points to Sheffield United being the right side to back, but you have to remember that this is a side that were playing in League One last season and Norwich City are only eighteen months removed from being a Premier League club. The Sheffield United home wins have been solid, but only the one against Derby County can be considered against one of the better teams at this level, and that does raise some concerns.

However this is a Norwich City side who were beaten 4-0 at newly promoted Millwall and so I am very much behind Sheffield United being the right side. They look a big price to back in the win-draw-win market, but I think they still look an appealing price on the Asian Handicap where the stake will be returned if the match ends in a draw.

The draw is a possibility if Norwich City play up to the level they can, but I would lean towards Sheffield United having the edge at Bramall Lane in this one.

Barnsley v Aston Villa Pick: The fans have begun to turn on Steve Bruce as his management of Aston Villa has failed to produce the results that would be expected considering the kind of investment that has been made in the club. The pressure is on Bruce to put some wins together and start moving up the League table if he is to remain as manager of Aston Villa, but I am not sure he will get his wish to start a positive run here.

This has been a tough venue for teams to earn victories since Barnsley moved back into the Championship, although the test for the club is turning some of the 11 home draws into wins this time around. Barnsley have made a positive start in doing that with 4 wins from 5 games here in all competitions and confidence has to be flowing.

Barnsley have not enjoyed much success against Aston Villa at home having failed to beat them in 9 attempts, but they did earn a draw last season to snap a run of 5 consecutive home losses to Villa. They also won at Villa Park and I think Barnsley have a system that works for them and has proven to be very effective.

4 of their 6 home losses last season did come against sides that finished above Barnsley in the League table, but Aston Villa have not exactly lit things up on their travels. Aston Villa have won 4 of their 26 away Championship games over the last thirteen months and I think they look awfully short to win here when you factor in that poor record.

Add in the fact that Barnsley have lost just 7 of 26 home League games in the last thirteen months themselves and I would be surprised if the home side are not capable of at least earning a point here. Barnsley have been scoring plenty of goals in recent home games with 13 goals scored in 5 games at Oakwell in all competitions and I will look to back them with the start on the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Bournemouth @ 2.20 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Leicester City - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City to Win and Both Teams to Score @ 2.75 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
West Brom-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Leeds United 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sheffield United 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet365 (2 Units)
Barnsley + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)

September Update: 9-8-2, + 1.52 Units (37 Units Staked, + 4.11% Yield)

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