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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, 29 September 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (September 30-October 1)

Over the last couple of days we have heard about the international squads that have been announced for the final set of World Cup Qualifiers where the majority of the nations making up the Finals in Russia next summer will be confirmed.

In November there will still be some Play Off ties to be completed, but for most this will be the end of a fourteen month Qualifying run to get to the World Cup Finals. Most of the big nations are set to confirm their places over the next ten days or so, but there will be some like Italy and Portugal and perhaps even the Netherlands who are waiting for their Play Off ties to be drawn.

At the Euro 2016 Finals, Great Britain and Ireland were represented by all the nations around these parts except Scotland, but Russia may be a little more bare. Northern Ireland, Wales, Republic of Ireland and Scotland may all need Play Off berths at the very best this time around and even then there is no guarantee they won't draw one of the tougher nations I have mentioned.

England are almost there though and a win next Thursday over Slovenia will confirm the place in Russia even if the hype for the success of the national team is not what it once was.

The World Cup Qualifiers are for another day though and the focus at the moment is on the final round of domestic fixtures which take place this weekend. There is the big Premier League game between Chelsea and Manchester City which comes on Saturday afternoon and that is the kind of fixture which will give people a chance to determine who they 'fancy' for the title, even at this early stage of the season.

Sergio Aguero won't be playing in that fixture after the news that he had been riding in a taxi which had a crash in Amsterdam. A broken rib has been confirmed, but it will be interesting to see how long Aguero is out for considering how important he has seemingly become for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.

I might not be a City fan, but I do respect Aguero so thankfully the incident wasn't any worse than what has come out.

The picks will be focused on the Premier League alone this weekend and hopefully it will be a good end to the month.

Huddersfield Town v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The first live game of the Premier League weekend is an interesting one and we are likely to learn plenty about what Huddersfield Town are capable of achieving this season. Their early fixture list has not been the most taxing considering Huddersfield Town have not played a team who finished in the top seven, but this weekend they take on an in-form Tottenham Hotspur.

Beating those in the top seven won't be where Huddersfield Town find the points to help them avoid relegation, but David Wagner will want his players to show they can compete at this level. The next month sees Huddersfield Town's fixtures really pick up in terms of strength of opponent and losing on Saturday may knock some of the belief from the players.

Much is based on a solid defensive foundation and pressing from the front and Huddersfield Town have been playing better at home than on their travels. That defence is going to be tested by a Tottenham Hotspur team who will likely have Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen back alongside Harry Kane this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur have scored at least twice in all 4 away games played this season and they have also scored at least three times in 5 of their last 6 including the last 3 in succession. That is serious firepower being produced and I think Tottenham Hotspur will be able to break down a tough Huddersfield Town team who have yet to face quality of this standard in their early Premier League games.

Goals have been a problem for Huddersfield Town and that is another reason, along with Tottenham Hotspur's strong away form, which makes me believe the North London club can cover the Asian Handicap here.

All credit has to be given to Huddersfield Town for the start made to the 2017/18 season, but this feels like a fixture that Tottenham Hotspur should be capable of winning on current form. With the goals they have been scoring, I expect the return of Alli and Eriksen to see Tottenham Hotspur create enough chances to win this one and I think Huddersfield Town may struggle to keep up with their lack of goals.

Bournemouth v Leicester City Pick: When you think of the way Bournemouth and Leicester City approach their football, it may be something of a surprise that they have been involved in fixtures against one another which have tended to be very tight.

That may have something to do with the fact that both clubs would view the other as one they need to finish above in their bid to avoid relegation to the Championship and so risks are avoided. It may be a simplistic way to look at things with Bournemouth and Leicester City both having expectations of finishing much higher than 17th in the League table, but this fixture is also coming at a time where both have struggled.

I do think Leicester City have not been helped by a very difficult opening set of fixtures, while Eddie Howe at Bournemouth has to be suggesting the same thing. With a bit more luck they would have had more points on the board and I do think this will be a competitive fixture on Saturday.

There is plenty of attacking talent who should take the field to make it a more entertaining one in terms of goals than we have seen over the last couple of years. All 4 Premier League games between Bournemouth and Leicester City have ended with two or fewer goals in that time, but neither team looks capable of too many clean sheets at the moment.

Josh King, Jermain Defoe, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez all have ability to change matches in the final third and I think the two defences will be tested.

Bournemouth have yet to keep a clean sheet this season in the Premier League and have conceded at least once in each of their last 5 home League games. Leicester City's sole clean sheet came against Brighton at home, but they have had just 1 in their last 17 away games in all competitions and I wouldn't be surprised if both teams score in this one.

Whether someone is capable of finding a winner is harder to judge as the point may be seen as a positive result on current form, but Bournemouth will push and that should mean Leicester City have their chances on the counter attack too. I will look for these teams to find a little more composure in the final third in this game than they have in recent matches against one another and will look for three goals to be shared out on the day.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Pick: The Manchester United credentials are going to be tested in between the next couple of international breaks when they face Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in the Premier League and also Benfica in the Champions League. However the focus is to take some momentum into the international break upcoming by beating Crystal Palace and Manchester United look set to do that.

While the home team are settled and look focused to overcome injuries they are dealing with, Crystal Palace have yet to really fire under Roy Hodgson. Injuries to Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke are a huge blow for a side that have been lacking goals and now they face a Manchester United team who have been used to shutting teams out at Old Trafford.

It is hard to imagine that changing here despite Crystal Palace creating some chances at Manchester City last weekend. Even the likely absence of Phil Jones should not be a real problem for Manchester United in this fixture with Benteke out of action and I would imagine the majority of the attacking play with be done by the home team.

At the moment Crystal Palace look like a team who are lacking belief in what they are doing and they capitulated once they conceded at Manchester City last weekend. Something similar could happen here with Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku likely to be employed in the final third.

All of those players have been in fine form for Manchester United and this is a fixture they have been comfortable in in recent years. They have beaten Crystal Palace the last 4 times they have visited Old Trafford and 3 of those wins have come by a couple of goals which should be the least Manchester United get out of this.

I think it may end up being a little more comfortable than that if Manchester United can break through in the first half. They are returning from a long trip from Russia and perhaps would have had a little more time to prepare, but it was a good trip to Moscow and I expect Manchester United fire in the final third in this fixture.

Backing Manchester United to cover the Asian Handicap should at least return the stake if they win by a couple of goals, but I think Manchester United are too good for an unconfident Crystal Palace team and expect the margin to be a little wider.

West Brom v Watford Pick: The exciting football that West Brom were playing at times last season looks to be well behind them now and this is a team that once again will look to be tough to beat and exploit their limited chances when going forward.

That is a harsh assessment when you think how well they did start in the 2-0 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night, but West Brom have struggled for goals which is holding them back. Defensively they remain a force, but September has been a difficult month for Tony Pulis who may begin to feel some pressure from the stands.

Now they face a tough test in Watford who have won all 3 away Premier League games this season and scored at least twice in each game. You would have to think it would be very difficult for West Brom to match their visitors if that trend continues, but Pulis will feel his team are defensively more sound than Bournemouth, Southampton and Swansea City even if many would dispute that statement.

Even with that in mind, Watford have shown defensive strength under Silva outside of that game with Manchester City and they will feel they can get a result here. They won't give much away even if losing Nathaniel Chalobah to an injury is a big blow for the squad, and this does feel like a game where the two teams will perhaps cancel one another out.

I did consider backing Watford with the start on the Asian Handicap, but I think West Brom have been tough to play at The Hawthorns and it took a late goal to help Watford win at Swansea City last weekend. This one is not likely to feature a lot of goals, as has been seen from the layers prices, and I will have a small interest in the teams sharing the points and going into the international break with an extra point on the board in the Premier League.

West Ham United v Swansea City Pick: If you take the first twenty minutes and the final twenty minutes of West Ham United's game against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, you would have been impressed with some of the performances produced. However they were really poor between those times which saw them go down 0-3 before a late fightback and it is hard to know exactly what to expect from West Ham United on a game by game basis.

They have been better at the London Stadium in recent games going back to the end of last season, and the West Ham United losses to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have come against the better teams in the Premier League. The Hammers did beat Huddersfield Town 2-0 at home earlier this month and they have had a strong record against Swansea City which will give them confidence.

West Ham United played well enough at times to believe they have every chance of winning this fixture, but they have to give Swansea City full respect going into this weekend.

Paul Clement has made Swansea City tougher to play against away from home and that has shown up with clean sheets in each of their 3 away League games this season. That includes a goalless draw at Wembley Stadium against Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City had the same result at St Mary's against Southampton.

I think they will look to make things hard for West Ham United, but the home team have been better at the London Stadium and I think that may give them the slight edge. I can't have more than the minimum unit on West Ham United simply because of how well Swansea City have been playing on their travels, but I think The Hammers may have the slight edge and a play can be made on them here.

Chelsea v Manchester City Pick: If you gave most people the opportunity to pick three teams as potential Premier League winners, you have to think Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea would be the names you hear the most. Two of those teams meet at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon in a game that will be much anticipated by all football fans in England.

Both Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola will be very happy with the form their teams have shown coming into this weekend.

Chelsea are off arguably the best English club performance away from home in the Champions League for a long time as they were deserved winners over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. They came from behind that day to show the belief and determination this group of players have, while the return of Eden Hazard and the production from Alvaro Morata is huge for The Blues.

The home team will be confident, but so will Manchester City who have won 7 straight games in all competitions and have been scoring at a rate that has to be intimidating to any club they face. The attacking options Guardiola has means Manchester City can run over any team they face if at their best, but there are still some questions for them to answer at the back.

Teams have had chances against them and Chelsea are unlikely to be as generous with the opportunities being missed that the likes of Watford, Crystal Palace and Shakhtar Donetsk have created.

On the other hand Manchester City will create chances as they did in both games against Chelsea in the League last season and this has all the makings of a classic Premier League encounter, and certainly the most important of the season to date.

Both will want to lay down a marker for the season and I am not sure they will be cancelling one another out as the styles of football seem to mesh well. While Manchester City will want to dominate possession, Chelsea will be happy to hit them on the break with the pace they have in the final third and so an entertaining game looks to be in the making.

I was very tempted to back Chelsea to win considering how well they have played at Stamford Bridge over the last twelve months. It won't be often they will be set as the home underdog and I think out of principle that is a price that I feel can't be ignored.

However this Manchester City team have been playing really well of late and might feel they owe Chelsea one having perhaps been the better team in both League games they lost last season. That is enough to make me step back from backing Chelsea, but instead focusing on another fixture between these clubs ending with at least three goals shared out.

Both League games last season did that with both teams scoring in each of those two games, and the attacking talent on show is likely to have the edge over the defensive elements. Chelsea do look a little more solid at the back, but stopping this Manchester City team scoring won't be easy, and instead it may be the counter attack that helps the home team earn the success.

Backing at least three goals shared out looks the best way to approach this really good looking football match, and that is still a decent enough price to go that way.

Arsenal v Brighton Pick: The last weeks schedule did not impress Arsene Wenger as Arsenal have been asked to play on Monday, Thursday and now Sunday ahead of the two week international break. The full squad has been utilised in that time and Arsenal are in line to make it three wins from three over that time period if they can secure the three points on Sunday afternoon.

There have been some encouraging performances from Arsenal who have the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez returning to the first time action. The wins put together in September has seen Arsenal make progress in all the competitions they have entered so far and The Gunners are playing with confidence.

It would be a surprise if they are not too good for Brighton who have not played that well away from home this season. They have not faced one of the better teams in the Premier League in that time either and this will be a big test for Chris Hughton's men.

The majority of the play is likely to come from Arsenal and I do think they will be too strong on the day. The layers feel the same as they are being asked to cover a big Asian Handicap, although you can back Arsenal at around 1.76 to win by two goals or more which is a tempting angle to go.

However I want to focus on an improving defence which is perhaps going to get the better of a shot-shy Brighton team. Brighton losing Tomer Hemed is a blow to their attacking threat in the final third and Arsenal have had 3 clean sheets from their last 4 games at the Emirates Stadium.

I can't imagine Arsenal not scoring at least one in this fixture and that may be enough for them to earn the three points. They were very lucky to earn a clean sheet against West Brom on Monday, but Brighton may not have that much of a threat away from home and I will look for The Gunners to blunt the firepower of the visitors and earn a win with another clean sheet to add to their collection.

Newcastle United v Liverpool Pick: There have already been some suggestions from Liverpool fans that bringing back Rafa Benitez as manager may help the club progress more than they are doing under Jurgen Klopp. Those suggestions may get a little louder if Newcastle United are able to beat Liverpool in the final Premier League game of the weekend.

This has been a fixture that Newcastle United have enjoyed in recent years and there may be added motivation after news that former Chairman Freddy Shepherd passed away this week. Shepherd wasn't always the fan's favourite, but he was clearly very passionate about Newcastle United and you have to think the whole club would want to put on a performance for him.

That alone isn't going to be enough for Newcastle United who have won their last couple of League games at St James' Park. This is a squad that has played better at home and Newcastle United will be dangerous if they can produce the effective defensive discipline that Benitez will look to set them up to do.

Against Tottenham Hotspur it was frustrating their visitors before Jonjo Shelvey lost his cool and I do think Newcastle United can make life difficult for Liverpool. The job will be a lot easier if Liverpool continue to produce the inconsistent finishing they have in recent games which has seen them drop points both in the Premier League and Champions League.

Liverpool have a fearsome looking attack, but so far the build up has been brilliant and the end product has not been up to scratch. The chances that have been missed in games against Burnley, Leicester City (in the League Cup) and both Sevilla and Spartak Moscow have to worry Jurgen Klopp, although the return of Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho should give the manager a real boost in confidence that the lack of goals will change.

The problem has been exasperated by a defence that hasn't been able to keep clean sheets and I do think the focus on that side of their game has been covering the issues in the final third. The 1-1 draws with Burnley and Spartak Moscow have come because Liverpool have not finished off the chances they created rather than the goals conceded, but this has perhaps been lost on most.

The chances created will at least give Liverpool some confidence they can turn things around after a difficult September. It won't be easy at Newcastle United who have thrived from set pieces, a real achilles heel for Liverpool, and who can defend very well under Benitez.

It does feel like this game will go in two ways- either Liverpool will score early enough to take control of the match or Newcastle United will score first and earn a positive result here. I simply can't see Liverpool coming from behind to win having drawn with Watford, Burnley and Spartak Moscow from losing positions but not having enough to win those games.

However I do think Liverpool are due a big performance and the chances they have been creating should mean they are able to win here. The 2-3 win at Leicester City last weekend and what should have been a comfortable win at Spartak Moscow are the kind of performances that may be too much for Newcastle United to deal with despite winning their last 2 home League games.

Newcastle United do have a very strong recent home record against Liverpool, but I think The Reds will be too strong on Sunday and I think they win here. It'll keep them in touch with the leading Premier League teams ahead of the next game which comes in under two weeks time against Manchester United at Anfield.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester United - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Brom-Watford Draw @ 3.25 Bet365 (1 Unit)
West Ham United @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Chelsea-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Arsenal Win to Nil @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.93 Bet365 (2 Units)

September Update: 24-26-3, - 0.88 Units (101 Units Staked, - 0.01% Yield)

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