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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, 22 September 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (September 23-25)

All of the top managers in the Premier League have been speaking about the final week of fixtures before the next international break and finding the right balance to keep their players fresh for the months ahead.

September has been a loaded month, but looking ahead to December shows how difficult it can be for managers to make the changes but continue to produce the wins.

That's ahead though and the focus for all of the top teams in the Premier League and around the top European Leagues is finding a way to produce three wins over the next eight days to ensure happy faces going into the international break. It is the time of the season when things begin to take shape in the Leagues with at least six League games played in all of the top European Leagues and this is not the time when teams want to get too far behind the leaders.

The next week is important for the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal to just keep in touch with the other three clubs that made up the top six last season especially for the former two clubs. They have difficult looking October fixtures coming up which means falling behind now puts the pressure on Liverpool and Spurs to win bigger games next month or risk being out of the title race by Christmas.

It is the pressure these clubs and managers are dealing with all the time with a busy European schedule set during the week as Match Day 2 of the Group Stages of both Champions League and Europa League are played.

After the fixtures next weekend I am looking to write down a few thoughts about the start to the season for Manchester United and have that ready to go before the World Cup Qualifiers begin the following Thursday. It has been an exciting time for the United fans around the world, but this next week is critical to set them up for what is a rough set of games to come between the next two international breaks.

That is for another day and something to look out for in around ten days time.

Last weekend was the worst one I have had in the 2017/18 season so far as almost nothing went the way I thought it might. Players missing easy chances didn't help my cause, but it was a frustrating weekend and means the remaining three rounds of games this month are important to get things turned back around.

Hopefully this weekend there will be more luck behind me than there was last weekend.

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The opening game of this Premier League weekend is always a big fixture as West Ham United host Tottenham Hotspur in what is a rivalry game. There is no love lost between the fans and the players at West Ham United certainly seem like they raise their game when they see Tottenham Hotspur come to town.

Arguably the best result that West Ham United have had in their new London Stadium came towards the end of last season when they beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 here. This has been a fixture The Hammers have enjoyed in recent years with 3 wins from the last 4 games where they have hosted Spurs and they were also unfortunate to lose 3-2 at White Hart Lane last season.

Tottenham Hotspur have talent in the final third and they have won both away Premier League games they have played this season. Both have come comfortably at Newcastle United and Everton, but this West Ham United team have showed better form in recent games with just a single loss from their last 5 in all competitions.

My worry for West Ham United has to be the heavy losses they suffered to Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool in home games in the League last season. They were more competitive in a loss to Chelsea, and did beat Tottenham Hotspur, but this is also a side that have been beaten easily at Manchester United and Newcastle United this season.

However I do think West Ham United 'get up' for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur and I expect they can cause problems. As well as Tottenham Hotspur have played away from home in the League, this has proven to be a tough fixture for them, although Spurs have to be respected for winning at least 9 of 19 away League games in each of the last three seasons.

Tottenham Hotspur should win here, but they look very short when you consider how they have played against West Ham United in recent years. The improved performances of the home team in the last couple of weeks has to give them confidence though and I think West Ham United can keep this competitive.

West Ham United have defended a little better with the new formation being employed and that may make up for the loss of James Collins. Backing The Hammers with the start on the Asian Handicap in a game where they have every chance of earning the result and also returns stake with a narrow loss is the way to go in this one in my opinion.

Burnley v Huddersfield Town Pick: This has to be the kind of fixture that both Burnley and Huddersfield Town have circled as one where they can't afford to drop points. For Sean Dyche it is perhaps one that Burnley would have targeted for the maximum points and it should be an interesting afternoon in the North West this weekend.

In the last few months it has been more difficult for Burnley to produce the wins at Turf Moor as shown by 2 wins from their last 10 here in all competitions. They were beaten on penalties by Leeds United during the week and Burnley were perhaps a little fortunate when beating Crystal Palace here a couple of weeks ago.

However they are facing Huddersfield Town who have just hit a wall over the last month with losses at West Ham United and Crystal Palace and this has to be seen as a big chance for Burnley to move a quarter of the way to the 40 point mark they are targeting.

Huddersfield Town were really poor when beaten at West Ham United recently and the fast start they have made is important considering the fixtures upcoming for The Terriers. David Wagner will be expecting a better performance in this away game, but Huddersfield Town have lost 3 of their last 4 visits to Turf Moor and I am leaning towards Burnley earning the victory.

It is hard to go in on Burnley for more than the minimum unit simply because they have not been firing on all cylinders at Turf Moor in recent months. Giving up the same chances they did against Crystal Palace two weeks ago will give Huddersfield Town every chance for another away success in the Premier League, but I think Sean Dyche can motivate his squad to a victory.

This feels like it will be a tight game, but I will back Burnley to find the way to the three points although I will keep the stakes down to a minimum.

Manchester City v Crystal Palace Pick: Roy Hodgson has been given a difficult task to turn around Crystal Palace's form and ensure they are in a position to survive in the Premier League for another season. The 0-1 home loss to Southampton is a blow when you think they are heading to Manchester City and Manchester United before the home game with Chelsea.

Crystal Palace did beat Huddersfield Town in the League Cup during the week but Hodgson will be looking to make the side tougher to beat in the coming weeks.

That is going to be put to the test by a rampant Manchester City side who have won 5 in a row in all competitions and have been scoring goals for fun in that time. They have already scored seventeen goals in 4 games in September and Manchester City will be confident they can create the chances in this one to add to that tally.

Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero were all rested during the week when Manchester City beat West Brom 1-2 in the League Cup Third Round, and those players have all been in very good form throughout this month. With Aguero and Gabriel Jesus in the final third, Manchester City will certainly feel they can continue scoring at the rate they have been.

It might not be easy against a Crystal Palace team who have lost their last 3 of their last 4 Premier League games by the same 1-0 scoreline. That includes in back to back away games at Liverpool and Burnley, but Crystal Palace are still working on their defensive shapes under Hodgson which could be a problem at the Etihad Stadium.

This has not been a great ground for Crystal Palace to visit having conceded seventeen goals in their last 4 visits to the Etihad Stadium. They have lost all of those games by at least a three goal margin and Manchester City were 5-0 winners over Crystal Palace last season.

Manchester City only won 2 of their 19 home games in the Premier League by three or more goals last season, but they have done that once already in the 2017/18 season. That is a concern with the Asian Handicap that has been set in this game, but Manchester City have been in very good form and have enjoyed playing Crystal Palace at home.

An early goal will be important for Manchester City to just open the game up in this one, but this is a team that has options off the bench and look very confident. There is plenty of momentum behind Manchester City at the moment and I think they will prove too strong for Crystal Palace and record a comfortable win on the day.

Crystal Palace have suffered a couple of narrow losses away from home in the League this season, but this is as difficult challenge as you can face in the Premier League at this moment. All of the pressure is likely to come from Manchester City and that should see them create enough chances for the likes of Aguero and Jesus to make hay and produce another big win for the club.

Southampton v Manchester United Pick: As much as most Manchester United fans have to be excited about the start made to the new season, realistic fans have to accept that the fixture list has been kind enough to take advantage of. That was an issue for them last season though so there has been improvements made, but Jose Mourinho knows the importance of continuing to make hay while the sun is shining before bigger tests ahead in October and November.

This is a fixture that looks difficult on paper with the inconsistent Southampton team capable of raising their game to challenge the best teams in the Division. They showed that with a really strong performance in the League Cup Final before ultimately coming up short against Manchester United, but hosting this team has been more difficult for them.

Manchester United had won 7 of 8 visits to Southampton before the goalless draw here at the end of last season. With the home team expected to be a little more positive going forward at St Mary's, Manchester United have found the counter attack to be very effective in visits to this ground and that has seen them earn the edge which has led to wins more often than not in recent years.

The current squad has proven they can be very good on the counter attack and defensively Manchester United have looked strong barring a couple of really loose mistakes at Stoke City. Mourinho has to think his side are capable of at least restricting the chances that goal-shy Southampton are able to create here and doing that will give Manchester United every chance of earning a vital three points.

The lack of goals may have contributed to Southampton losing to 4 of the top 5 at home last season. In fact Southampton scored just 1 goal against the top 6 at St Mary's last season and that has to have been a real factor in the prices for Manchester United to win here.

Mourinho's Manchester United beat 10 of the 14 teams that finished below them in the Premier League table when playing them away from home. I will look for Manchester United to earn the three points here and look to use this as the beginning of a strong final week in September.

Stoke City v Chelsea Pick: The results for Stoke City have been decent at home when you think they have beaten Arsenal and drawn with Manchester United, but I don't think they were that impressive in either game. In fact I am convinced Manchester United would have won here if they had held onto the 1-2 lead for a few more minutes than they did, while Arsenal created plenty of chances throughout the ninety minutes but somehow failed to score.

Respect has to be given to Stoke City for the fact they have scored in both games though which will make them difficult to beat. This weekend they will fancy their chances against a Chelsea defence that is missing David Luiz, but Kurt Zouma will be absent for Stoke City which should give Chelsea their opportunities too.

The layers are very much behind a Chelsea win and I do favour The Blues even if I think it may be a tighter game than the oddsmakers do. This is a Chelsea side that have not been as watertight at the back as they were for large stretches of last season and they have not had a chance to play a settled back three which may have contributed to that.

That is the case again this weekend and Chelsea have conceded in both away games at Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City played in the Premier League. Stoke City have shown they can cause problems for the big clubs when hosting them as Tottenham Hotspur were the only club in the top six that came away with a clean sheet from this ground.

Stoke City have continued that against Arsenal and Manchester United this season, but Chelsea should also have plenty of moments with a returning Eden Hazard expected to be restored to the starting line up.

Both teams may get on the scoreboard on this one, but I am still leaning towards a Chelsea win. There have been plenty of chances created in both Stoke City home games this season and Chelsea have been involved in two high-scoring away games in the League too.

Recent games between Stoke City and Chelsea have not featured a lot of goals at this ground, but last season there were three shared out and I can see that being the case again here. With both teams likely to try and get on the front foot and a couple of key players missing in defence, one on each side, and I think there will be enough opportunity in front of goals to back at least three goals to be shared out.

Swansea City v Watford Pick: There have been plenty of inconsistent results in the Premier League this season which may have something to do with the fact that so many teams that are expected to battle against relegation are much more evenly balanced than in previous seasons.

Swansea City highlight the inconsistencies of teams lower down the League table and they do look tough to back as the favourites in this one. The side have been decent at the Liberty Stadium under Paul Clement which may account for the price this week, although the 0-1 loss to Newcastle United at a similar price a couple of weeks ago has to be a concern.

Another factor may be the 0-6 home defeat suffered by Watford against Manchester City last weekend. That was a stunning result, but Marco Silva will know there are many teams who will take a battering from Manchester City in the form they have been in over the last coupe of weeks.

Silva's Watford team have been playing pretty well in the Premier League prior to that defeat to Manchester City. Wins at Bournemouth and Southampton came behind two very strong away performances from Watford and I do think they are a dangerous team who could perhaps be more effective away from home against teams of a similar level.

Watford also have a decent record against Swansea City in recent fixtures having won 2 and drawn 2 of the last 5 against them. They have scored goals away from home which makes them a threat in this one when you consider that Swansea City are still trying to find their feet in the final third without Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente.

With that in mind I think Watford can be backed with the start on Saturday at the Liberty Stadium. Some may take the draw when you think 3 of the last 4 have ended in stalemate, but Watford's recent away performances make them the more likely winner in my opinion so backing The Hornets on the Asian Handicap is the pick from this fixture.

Leicester City v Liverpool Pick: Anyone who watched the first half of the Leicester City League Cup victory over Liverpool will have been wondering how the game turned as much as it did in the second half. If Liverpool had been leading by two or three goals at half time it may have reflected the first half best, but they were not as effective in the second half.

Much of that will be down to the front three missing Roberto Firmino, Mohammed Salah and Philippe Coutinho, but all three should be involved on Saturday evening. Sadio Mane remains suspended, but a much more familiar Liverpool starting line up will be hoping to make more of the chances they are likely to create here.

Craig Shakespeare could have a better game plan in place having seen the Liverpool style of play first hand on Tuesday, but the majority of the possession is likely to come with Liverpool. A returning Jamie Vardy may give Leicester City a better out ball when they are under pressure, while the likes of Danny Simpson, Harry Maguire and Christian Fuchs should give Leicester City a better base from which to defend.

This has been a fixture the Leicester City players have enjoyed with 3 straight wins over Liverpool at the King Power Stadium, but they did ride their luck during the week. It is much harder to know how they can do that against Liverpool's first choice front three with the quality they clearly have in the final third, even if Mane remains a huge miss for The Reds.

Ultimately the Liverpool defence is going to hold them back from really achieving the kind of goals that the fans were hoping for under Klopp. That isn't to say he won't get that fixed with the players targeted, but whether Klopp gets the time depends on how well Liverpool perform this season with anything other than a top four finish likely not to be good enough without a Champions League trophy to show off.

Games like this one is where you feel Liverpool can be undone by the defence with the pace that Leicester City have as well as their ability from set pieces. However I am surprised that they are still the same price as they were to win here during the week in the League Cup after what was a really good performance before Coutinho was taken off.

Leicester City have been very good at home over the last couple of years with 22 Premier League wins in 40 games here. That coupled with the Leicester City home record against Liverpool has to be respected, but Leicester City were beaten by Chelsea recently and I think Liverpool have the talent to turn around their result from the League Cup tie during the week.

You have to think Liverpool can't miss the same sort of chances they created on Tuesday with the likes of Coutinho, Salah and Firmino back in the line up and I think they can win here. It won't be easy covering for the defensive mistakes they are likely to make, but Liverpool should be better prepared for what they face here and can make the almost odds against quote pay off.

Arsenal v West Brom Pick: August finished really badly for Arsenal but September has proved to be a much better month for Arsene Wenger and he will be keen to end it on a high. Games against West Brom and Brighton before the next international break does give Arsenal every chance of going into that with a lot of momentum behind them and the chance to close on the leading teams.

No one can take this match against West Brom for granted when you think how well The Baggies have started the season. They will also know that Tony Pulis is going to set up with a strong defensive base from which they will look to frustrate the hosts and so Arsenal have to take the chances that come their way.

This has been a fixture that Arsenal have enjoyed with 6 straight wins over West Brom at the Emirates Stadium. They also have a lot less issues facing Tony Pulis guided teams when they are hosting them rather than when they are visiting them and I think that is a real factor in this one.

Arsenal will also have the confidence of having won their last 9 games at the Emirates Stadium in all competitions including all 4 played this season. The Gunners have been firing much better here than on their travels and I do think they are going to be too good for West Brom on the night.

An early goal will be important for Arsenal to try and get West Brom out from the defensive shape they will be looking to employ for the first hour of this fixture. If Arsenal can do that, they should be comfortable on the night, and they have been playing with more confidence at the Emirates Stadium to think they will do that.

West Brom can make life difficult for teams, but I will look for Arsenal to win this one by a couple of goals on the night to keep the momentum of their performances in September behind them.

Derby County v Birmingham City Pick: Heading towards Christmas 2016, Birmingham City looked to be in a position to challenge for the top six places in the Championship under Gary Rowett after coming close the previous May to a Play Off spot. At that point ownership decided to sack Rowett and things have fallen off a cliff since then for Birmingham City.

They barely escaped relegation last season and now they have sacked Harry Redknapp after losing 6 in a row under his watch to drop back into the bottom three.

There are likely to be some envious eyes glanced from the away supporters into the home dugout even if Rowett has not made a great start to the season with Derby County. However he has been respected for the job he did at St Andrews, although Rowett's motivation to get one over on his former club has to be high.

Derby County have been much better at home than away from home so far this season with back to back wins here coming by comfortable margins. Facing a team who have lost all 4 away games should give Derby County the edge, although the change in manager may see a renewed effort from the players which can make Birmingham City dangerous.

In saying that, Derby County should still be too good for a side lacking some confidence even if the first goal is going to be critical for them. The Rams aren't exactly filled with confidence themselves so falling behind would be a tough situation to overcome but I think they have performed better at the iPro Stadium and can win this one.

Gary Rowett can motivate his players to do that and I will back them to win this fixture.

Preston North End v Millwall Pick: There is much to like about the start of the new season for both Preston North End and Millwall and that should mean two positive teams come into the latest League fixture they are going to play.

The difference may be the venue with Preston North End playing well at Deepdale and Millwall being a little more inconsistent when they have gone on their travels this season.

In saying that, I am not anticipating an easy game for either team when goals may come at a premium and that does give Millwall the chance to earn a result here. If they defend well they can trouble Preston North End who don't have a lot of goals in the side despite scoring three times in each of their last couple of fixtures.

Millwall just haven't been easy to dismiss when they have been playing in recent weeks, and they should have won at Queens Park Rangers. They were reduced to ten men before conceding more than one goal for the first time in an away game this season which shows how tough this could be for Preston North End.

However I do think the home team have played well enough to earn the victory at Deepdale. The respect for Millwall means I will recommend a minimum unit on this one, but I do think Preston North End at odds against can be chanced to earn another three points at home as they keep track with the leaders in the Division.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield United Pick: After coming close to promotion in each of the last couple of years, Sheffield Wednesday fans may feel this is a year in which they have to get back into the Premier League or instead make a change in the manager's office.

That is a story for another day, the focus this weekend is all about getting the better of Sheffield United in the first Steel City derby in six seasons and it looks like it could be a good day of football.

Both Sheffield clubs have made a decent start to the new Championship season so searching for confidence shouldn't be an issue. Home form could be the key to the outcome in this one, but Sheffield Wednesday can't take anything for granted against a Sheffield United team who have won their last couple of away games in the League.

Goals have been an issue for Sheffield Wednesday in recent seasons, but they have looked decent enough in that department to open this campaign, especially at Hillsborough. The 2 away Sheffield United wins have also come against teams that are likely to be struggling this season and this is a much different sort of test for them against Sheffield Wednesday who should be challenging for promotion.

Derby games can be difficult to judge with the emotion and tension of the fixtures leading to different reactions from the players. Both teams should be highly motivated for this one, but I am leaning towards Sheffield Wednesday to create the chances to earn the three points in this one.

It's yet another Championship game that won't come easily for the victor, but I will back Sheffield Wednesday to come through for the three points at odds against.

MY PICKS: West Ham United + 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley @ 2.15 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Manchester City - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 1.75 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Stoke City-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Watford + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Derby County @ 1.83 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Preston North End @ 2.05 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Sheffield Wednesday @ 2.15 Sporting Bet (2 Units)

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