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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (October 31-November 2)

We are onto Match Day 4 of both the Champions League and Europa League Group Stage and this is the time of the season when we can start confirming participants in the Knock Out Rounds of those competitions.

For the English clubs it is really important to confirm places now and ensure some of the starters can earn their rest on Match Day 5 and Match Day 6 if possible. Ahead of what is a very busy December all the rest you can get is important, although all of those clubs will be keen to in their Group and thus earn what should be a relatively easier draw for the Last 16/Last 32 respectively.

We are almost through to the final international break of 2017 which begins on Monday 6th November as the next round of League games return on Saturday 18th November. It is going to be a particularly boring two weeks with international friendlies the main course of football although the final World Cup Qualifiers will also take place.

After that it won't be long to wait until the World Cup Finals draw is made and thankfully the international football can be put to the back burner until March as the meat of the season for the club sides takes place.

Celtic v Bayern Munich Pick: There was a real sense from Celtic fans that their team could get something from the Match Day 3 clash in Munich against Bayern, but the difference in quality between these teams was telling on the night.

Being back at Celtic Park for Match Day 4 might give the fans a little belief that the gap can be bridged as Celtic look to secure a win that would give them a chance of making the Last 16 in the Champions League. The absence of Robert Lewandowski has to only be further encouragement, but I am not sure Celtic are really good enough to compete with one of the favourites to win the Champions League.

Home advantage helps, but Celtic have lost 3 of the 4 home Group games played under Brendan Rodgers and all of those losses have come by at least two goals. Celtic have even failed to score in those defeats and I do wonder if they are capable of better when they host Bayern Munich.

Rodgers won’t change his philosophy and I think that plays into the hands of the big clubs they are facing in this Group. Paris Saint-Germain scored five at Celtic Park and Bayern Munich banged in three at home on Match Day 3 against a Celtic team that will look to attack and thus leave themselves a little more open.

Barcelona benefited with two comfortable wins over Celtic last season in the Group Stage and Borussia Monchengladbach won 0-2 here too. Even though Bayern Munich have not travelled so well as they have played at home and are likely to play a ‘false nine’ system, I do expect their quality can tell in this one.

The injuries to Lewandowski and Thomas Muller do raise some questions for Bayern Munich, but I think they can follow the likes of the teams I have mentioned and win at Celtic Park. With the home team unlikely to take a backwards step, Bayern Munich may find the space on the counter attack to win this one by a couple of goals on the night.

Manchester United v Benfica Pick: After beginning the season with goals flowing, the last month has been a little more pragmatic from Jose Mourinho as we have seen one goal be enough to beat Benfica and Tottenham Hotspur.

The manager would likely take that result again and then have a chance to almost put a pin in the Champions League until February with top spot almost secured too. That will be the aim for Manchester United as they look to make it four wins from four in the Group and the form at Old Trafford has been much more convincing to suggest that is the only realistic outcome of this Match Day 4 encounter.

Some of the belief has to have filtered away from the Benfica squad having lost all three Group games and two of those having come at the Stadium of Light. While recent form has been better, Benfica haven’t faced too many teams as strong as Manchester United who were clearly the better team in Lisbon two weeks ago.

I expect Manchester United to have the majority of play in this one in the final third and the fact they have a few days to prepare for the Chelsea game at the weekend should mean Mourinho picks a strong team. Romelu Lukaku will be looking to get back to scoring form having not found the net over the last month, but he does have a couple of assists which will keep Mourinho happy.

The young Benfica goalkeeper looked pretty nervous when he played in the reverse fixture two weeks ago and Manchester United will look to expose that again.

Benfica have not travelled well in the Champions League in the last twelve months with 4 losses from their last 6 and I think they will struggle here. With Manchester United holding a very strong recent record at Old Trafford, I will look for the home team to secure a comfortable win and cover the Asian Handicap.

Roma v Chelsea Pick: This could be a pivotal game for both Chelsea and Roma in this Champions League Group as the winner would feel in a very strong position to move through to the Last 16, while the losing team will begin to worry about Atletico Madrid.

It does feel more important to Roma than Chelsea with the points the way they are in the Group, but the busy December in England will mean Antonio Conte is also desperate to see his side confirm their Last 16 spot before the final round of games.

A win in Rome will give Chelsea every chance of not only going through, but winning this Group on Match Day 5 when they visit Qarabag. However this is going to be a test for Chelsea even though their best results have come away from home so far in the 2017/18 season.

Chelsea will feel they can score goals here, but they have to defend better than they did at Stamford Bridge in the 3-3 draw with Roma. On the other hand I am not sure Roma can play as well as they did two weeks ago, especially when you note the poor home record in the Champions League.

However Roma have only been beaten in 1 of their last 6 home European ties and that has to be respected. They were perhaps a little fortunate to avoid defeat to Atletico Madrid on Match Day 1 of the Group Stage though and I think Chelsea have shown they can produce big away performances.

The layers are finding it hard to separate the teams, but a team who won in Atletico Madrid are clearly capable of winning here in Rome. It won’t be easy for Chelsea, but I think Roma may be a touch overrated after their performance at Stamford Bridge and I am not expecting Chelsea to defend as poorly as they did that day.

Backing Chelsea on the Asian Handicap, which is essentially a ‘draw no bet’ option, looks the way to go with this one.

Besiktas v Monaco Pick: This looked a wide open Group when it was drawn out as none of the four teams looked to be dominant, but Besiktas might be changing the mind having won all three games so far. It would need a lot of things going against the Turkish Champions to prevent them earning a spot in the Last 16 now, but the focus will be on trying to win the Group as they look to do the double over Monaco.

While Monaco are still looking to be the greatest threat to Paris Saint-Germain domestically, the players they have lost in the summer transfer window have hurt the club. It is no surprise that they have taken a step back, but even that quality team they had last season was one that struggled on their travels.

This Monaco team have earned a result in Leipzig in the Group, but they have only won 1 of their last 6 away Champions League games and have lost half of those. They are now travelling to a Besiktas team who have been much stronger at home historically and who beat the likes of Lyon and Olympiacos over the last few months before also beating Leipzig here in the Group.

Besiktas definitely look to be playing with more confidence than Monaco and can almost secure a top spot finish with a victory on Wednesday. At odds against I think they can be backed to extend their winning run in the section.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Feyenoord Pick: With Napoli and Manchester City playing the second of their double header against one another, Shakhtar Donetsk have to take advantage by making sure they earn maximum points against Feyenoord. They have done the hard work by winning in Rotterdam on Match Day 3, although Feyenoord could be dangerous as they have almost nothing to lose and have to find a way to earn a win to stay alive.

That can make players loosen up enough to cause an upset, but Feyenoord have been in poor recent form with losses in 6 of their last 11 in all competitions. They have looked to be outclassed in this Champions League Group, while confidence has to have been shattered with poor performances both in the Netherlands and in Europe.

The home defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk would have been a huge blow to Feyenoord's chances of making it through to the Last 16 and maybe even to get into the Europa League. Now they have to find a way to win here against a team who have won 6 of their last 7 home European ties and generally been playing well at home as Shakhtar Donetsk recently saw their 6 game home winning run snapped.

Anything other than a home win here would be a surprise with the confidence the two teams will enter Match Day 4. Feyenoord were only narrowly beaten at home by Shakhtar Donetsk, but I think that defeat might have ended any belief this team has of making it through to the Knock Out Rounds, and Feyenoord were beaten easily in their other two games against Manchester City and Napoli.

You would worry about Feyenoord if they fall behind in this one and whether they would have much fight back, and I will back Shakhtar Donetsk to win by a couple of goals at the least.

Sevilla v Spartak Moscow Pick: The 5-1 mauling Sevilla suffered at the hands of Spartak Moscow in the Russian capital has to have been one that the players would have been looking to earn a measure of revenge from ever since it happened. It has opened up this Group and put Sevilla in a difficult position, although back to back home games against Spartak Moscow and Liverpool means their destiny is in their own hands.

The result in Russia was a real surprise when you consider the form Spartak Moscow had been in, but they have been an improving team and the confidence has been restored.

Doing the same on their travels is a big test for them though and I am not sure they will be able to compete with Sevilla as effectively as they did at home. Sevilla are a much stronger team at home than they are on their travels and this is a team that can score goals in front of their own fans which should put the pressure on Spartak Moscow.

It won't be easy for Sevilla, but I do think they will create the majority of the chances and they will be able to earn the three points available on Wednesday. Spartak Moscow earned a 1-1 draw in Maribor, but the latter have not looked good since then and I will back Sevilla to find their way to a win by a couple of goals on the night.

Napoli v Manchester City Pick: Both Napoli and Manchester City have made very strong starts to their domestic League form and winning the title in Italy and England respectively has to be the main aim for both clubs. However Pep Guardiola has been brought into Manchester City to take them forward in the Champions League and they are definitely putting more stock into this competition than Napoli seemingly are.

In saying that, I fully expect Napoli to start a strong team like they did at the Etihad Stadium when they were perhaps a little unlucky not to get something out of the game. That has left Napoli in a difficult spot in the Group and they almost have to win this one to stay in touch with the two leading teams or risk having to settle for a place in the Europa League.

Napoli have been very good in Italy and they showed they can create opportunities against Manchester City when almost coming back from 2-0 down two weeks ago. They should be able to do the same in front of their own fans, although the concern will always be leaving space for Manchester City to exploit on the counter attack.

Pep Guardiola will expect his side to get forward and create chances and that has been a feature of Manchester City games in recent Champions League away games. Manchester City have played 6 away Champions League games under the Spaniard and in 5 of those there have been at least four goals shared out.

Napoli home games in this competition have been no less exciting as 4 of the last 6 have ended with at least four goals shared out. With the way the two teams gelled two weeks ago I am going back to the market of looking for at least four goals shared out which was barely missed when they played in Manchester.

I can't see either team really looking to take a backward step and the situation means Napoli have to get forward and score goals to win the game. Manchester City don't really play anything but attacking football under Guardiola and I will look for goals in this one.

Tottenham Hotspur v Real Madrid Pick: There is every chance that both of these teams are already in a position to make it through to the Last 16 of the Champions League, but the winner of this one will likely win the Group and earn the 'easier' of the ties in the Second Round.

That should make the game a competitive one with more attacking football like we saw when these two teams met in the Spanish capital two weeks ago. There were plenty of chances for both teams to win on that day and I expect the Wembley Stadium dimensions to leave space for both Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid in this one too.

Harry Kane could be available for the home team and that is clearly a big boost for them if they do want to upset Real Madrid. Kane provides an attacking impetus for Spurs, but Real Madrid showed they can create chances of their own and only an inspired Hugo Lloris prevented more goals two weeks ago.

Tottenham Hotspur's last two games at Wembley in the Champions League have featured at least four goals shared out. Also note 4 of the last 7 Real Madrid away games in the Champions League have seen that number reached and I will back there being at least four goals in this one.

Apollon v Atalanta PickI was immediately surprised by the prices for this game as Atalanta are not only favoured to win in Cyprus, but favoured at odds on to do that. That is surprising when you think Atalanta have yet to win away from home this season, while Apollon are unbeaten in 8 home games in European competition including a 1-1 draw with Lyon earlier in the Group.

Atalanta are a team who have struggled for clean sheets away from home and one who don't need to win this game if they are going to move through to the Last 32. Combining those two factors it is hard to see Atalanta as an odds on favourite here let alone one who are expected to win by a wide margin.

Both teams to score is a decent way to get involved in this one with the way Atalanta games have gone this season and Apollon have seen 4 of their last 6 at home also finish with both teams scoring. However I am more intrigued by Apollon having gone 27 games unbeaten in all competitions and already earning a result against Lyon here in the Europa League.

Having the start on the Asian Handicap will mean half the stake is returned if Atalanta win by a single goal margin. I do think Apollon can make a game of this one and they have every chance of avoiding the loss and have to be worth backing to do that against an opponent who have yet to win away from home and likely would accept a point already.

Lyon v Everton Pick: It has become clear that the Europa League is not the priority for Everton as it may have been if their season hadn't unravelled in the fashion it has over the first three months of the 2017/18 campaign. The Premier League form has been really poor and Everton are desperate to get things right domestically which means players will be rested for the game against Watford to come on Sunday.

That is the decision made by David Unsworth despite Everton being on the brink of exiting the Europa League. A win would actually reignite their bid to get through to the Last 16, but I am not sure that belief is there after the 1-2 defeat to Lyon at Goodison Park two weeks ago.

With the players being rested and now facing a Lyon side who have been playing with real confidence, it is difficult to see how Everton can prevent a defeat here. Lyon had won 4 in a row in European competition at home before the 1-1 draw with Atalanta, but they are still in a strong position in the Group and will be expected to make it through to the Last 32 having secured that win at Everton.

Wins over Monaco and Metz have kept the confidence going for Lyon and I think they will prove to be too good for Everton on the day. Everton have been losing too many games of late to think they will turn it around here and I will back Lyon to cover the Asian Handicap in a comfortable home win to move to the brink of making it through to the Last 32.

Maccabi Tel Aviv v Astana Pick: Match Day 4 of the Group Stage of either the Champions League and Europa League competitions is pivotal as we start to see which teams have made it through to the Knock Out Rounds and which teams are now exiting European Football.

That is where Maccabi Tel Aviv find themselves as a loss would likely mean they are finished with the Europa League, but on the other hand a win could really get them on a roll in the Group. With 2 of their remaining 3 Group games coming at home, Maccabi Tel Aviv will feel they can get back into contention as they are only 4 points behind the leaders, but that won't be easy against Astana.

First off they have to remove the memories of the 4-0 loss in Kazakhstan from their mind from two weeks ago. Playing at home should make a big difference for Maccabi Tel Aviv considering how poorly Astana have travelled in European competition although I do imagine this will be a tight game and with little between them.

It does make picking a winner a little more haphazard, but I do think Maccabi Tel Aviv can make home form count. Astana have lost 6 of their last 7 away games in European competition and Maccabi Tel Aviv are unbeaten in 7 home games in the Europa League since blowing a 3-0 lead over Zenit St Petersburg in a 3-4 defeat in the Group Stage last season.

At odds against the Israeli team can be backed, although I would keep stakes to a minimum in this one.

Arsenal v Red Star Belgrade Pick: There shouldn't be any surprise that Arsenal are going to be making a host of changes to their side for this one considering they have the daunting task of facing Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. With the Europa League Group firmly in hand, Arsene Wenger will send out his Cup side which has performed well so far this season.

I don't think anyone will be buying the suggestion that the Cup team are giving the first team as much difficulty in training as Wenger is suggesting, but it is good enough at this stage of the Europa League. Bigger tests will come for Arsenal after Christmas when they may have to start considering this competition as the best route into the Champions League, but Wenger won't give up on the Premier League.

Arsenal should still continue to be too good for the teams they are facing in this Group though and the layers aren't giving anything away on The Gunners making it four out of four wins on Thursday. They should be too good for Red Star Belgrade having won in Serbia, but that was a tight game and this one might be the same.

As well as Arsenal have done to progress through the Europa League and League Cup, this will be the fourth game at the Emirates Stadium and they have only won 1 of the previous 3 by more than a single goal margin. The changed line up needed extra time to beat Norwich City in the League Cup Fourth Round and they needed a come from behind performance to knock off FC Koln in the Europa League.

In that game they had a stronger team than they are likely to begin this one with and I think Red Star Belgrade are worth a small interest with the start on the Asian Handicap. Red Star have won at Sparta Prague and FC Koln and lost narrowly at Krasnodar which shows they can be competitive and backing them to at least keep this tight for much of the evening has to be worth a poke.

Athletic Bilbao v Ostersunds Pick: Time is running out for Athletic Bilbao if they want to make it through to the Last 32 of the Europa League and that means they have to win this game on Match Day 4. They came into the Group Stage as the favourites to progress, but Athletic Bilbao have only earned 2 points which means they are 4 points behind 2nd placed Zorya.

Things will be looking up for Athletic Bilbao if they can win this game against Ostersunds and close on the Swedish side who lead the Group. Two weeks ago Bilbao managed to draw 2-2 away from home and generally they have been stronger at home.

Ostersunds are overachieving significantly in their first season in European Football, and they have won 2 of 4 away games in the Europa League. However they were beaten comfortably at PAOK and I think they may struggle to stay with Athletic Bilbao in this one.

The visitors have to be respected and look capable of making the Last 32, but I think they will have to wait at least three weeks to have a chance to secure their passage through. I will be looking for Athletic Bilbao to win this one and cover the Asian Handicap on the night.

Lazio v Nice Pick: These two teams come into this fixture in contrasting form and Lazio should be able to continue their run to earn their place in the Last 32 of the Europa League.

While Lazio have put a winning run together, Nice have been on a negative spiral and it will be difficult for them to earn a result here.

Lazio have been scoring goals for fun at home and they should be ready to beat Nice for a second time in two weeks. Now they host a team who have not scored in their last couple of away games while being beaten fairly comfortably at Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier.

A lack of goals is not what you want when facing this Lazio team who have been so strong at home and I will back the Italian club to secure their place as Group winners by beating Nice by a couple of goals on the night.

Viktoria Plzen v Lugano Pick: Outside of Steaua Bucharest, this is a Group where any of three teams can make it through to the Last 32 of the Europa League which makes this a big game for both Viktoria Plzen and Lugano.

It was Lugano who won on Match Day 3 and another win in the Czech Republic would put them in a very strong position in the Group. It would also likely be too much for Viktoria Plzen to overcome and that puts some real pressure on the home team to find a result.

However they should be confident of doing that at home where they have won 3 of their last 4 European ties and especially with the experience that Viktoria Plzen have compared to Lugano. As strong a result as Lugano did earn against Viktoria Plzen two weeks ago, they are not as strong on their travels and have lost heavily at Young Boys and Zurich already.

Viktoria Plzen might have to deal with some of the tension of knowing what a defeat would mean for them, but they have won 8 in a row at home in all competitions. That includes a couple of convincing wins in the Europa League and I will back them at odds against to record another here.

MY PICKS: Bayern Munich - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Chelsea 0 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Besiktas @ 2.30 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Shakhtar Donetsk - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.04 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sevilla - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.07 Bet365 (2 Units)
Napoli-Manchester City Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.30 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Real Madrid Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.40 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Apollon + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Lyon - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Maccabi Tel Aviv @ 2.30 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Red Star Belgrade + 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.78 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Athletic Bilbao - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lazio - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Viktoria Plzen - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)

Friday, 27 October 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (October 28-30)

Another big week of football is set to begin on Saturday as the next round of domestic League games are played before a pivotal Match Day 4 round of Champions League games. Then we get into one more round of domestic football before the final international break for several months which will be much appreciated by most fans.

The picks from this weekend's Premier League games are below.

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The Premier League opens up this weekend with the best game in this round of fixtures as 2nd placed Manchester United host 3rd placed Tottenham Hotspur and so far it is goal difference that is the only thing that separates them.

Something has to give this weekend as Manchester United have won all 4 League games played at Old Trafford, while Tottenham Hotspur have won all 4 away League played. Goals have not been a problem for either side at home/away respectively, while both teams have looked strong defensively too.

There won't be much between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday with the two managers likely to approach this cautiously. Being at home should mean Jose Mourinho is a little more adventurous with his team, while Mauricio Pochettino will try and hit Manchester United on the counter attack as he sat his Tottenham Hotspur side to do to Real Madrid.

With Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane leading the way for both teams there should be plenty of quality on display, but I do think Manchester United can get the better of Tottenham Hotspur here.

Recent performances haven't always been the best, but Manchester United have not played those games at Old Trafford where they have felt very comfortable this season. A Tottenham Hotspur side missing Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele should not be as dominant in the middle of the park and I do think Manchester United have enjoyed playing this side in recent years.

They have shown that with 3 straight wins over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford and I do think Manchester United have defended well enough to cope with the quality the away team will be bringing. Lukaku's familiarity with Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld from his time with the Belgian national team will help the Manchester United striker and I do think Mourinho will get a reaction from his team.

Tottenham Hotspur did earn a very good result at Real Madrid in their last away game, but other matches have not come against the best teams and I think that may show up here. It won't be an easy game for Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur, but I will look for United to have a little more in the final third at both ends of the field and I will back them at odds against to win this fixture.

It won't be many occasions when Manchester United will be this kind of price to win a game at Old Trafford and I will back them to do that here.

Arsenal v Swansea City Pick: Arsene Wenger won't mind the likes of the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham Hotspur getting the majority of the headlines in the Premier League as Arsenal look to climb back into contention in the Division. The manager will be looking for Arsenal to keep up the strong form at the Emirates Stadium this weekend as he looks for some momentum to take into the fixtures against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur which come after this one.

Home form has been key for Arsenal in recent months and they are going for a 10th straight League win at the Emirates Stadium. A well rested side should take to the field on Saturday as Arsenal look to back up their exceptional performance when dismissing Everton last Sunday.

They should have the majority of the play against a Swansea City team who have lost 4 of their last 5 games in all competitions after exiting the League Cup during the week. A lack of goals has to be a real concern for Paul Clement, although Swansea City have shown some toughness on their travels this season.

After riding their luck at times, Swansea City have had clean sheets at Southampton, Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League this season. Even the goal conceded at West Ham United came in injury time but that does mean Swansea City have not scored in 3 of their 4 away League games.

The side do have a really good record at the Emirates Stadium in recent years with back to back wins before the 3-2 loss last season. However I think Swansea City have been fielding a declining starting eleven and I would be surprised if Arsenal are not able to break them down and win this game.

The layers feel the same with a big Asian Handicap for the home team to cover after their performance at Everton, but I do think that ignores how difficult Swansea City can make life. This is a team who forced Tottenham Hotspur to draw a blank and sitting deep may just frustrate the home side.

However it is Arsenal who I expect to make most of the running and the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were in very good form last Sunday. I expect them to find the breakthrough and I believe Arsenal can keep Swansea City at arm's length in this one.

Arsenal have won 9 in a row at home in the League and 7 of those wins have come with a clean sheet including the last 3 in a row. I feel they can do the same here despite the defensive errors that were made last weekend and I will back Arsenal at odds against to win with a clean sheet.

Liverpool v Huddersfield Town Pick: Jurgen Klopp has to be feeling the pressure from the fans and owners alike in the wake of yet another defensively inept performance from his Liverpool side in a 4-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. This is a big week coming up for the German manager to try and build some momentum as Liverpool host Maribor and travel to West Ham United after this fixture against Huddersfield Town.

The visitors have to head to Anfield with renewed confidence after beating Manchester United last weekend, although you can't ignore how poorly Huddersfield Town have played on their travels recently. They have not won, or scored, in 4 consecutive away games in all competitions since the 0-3 win at Crystal Palace on the opening weekend, while Huddersfield Town have lost 3 of their last 4 on their travels.

Playing Liverpool might seem the perfect chance to at least snap the run of failing to score, but that would be ignoring the fact that Liverpool are much better at Anfield. Their attacking play means teams are not as confident of attacking Liverpool here even if the home team do have mistakes in the defensive ranks that can be exploited.

Huddersfield Town may look to take advantage of the counter attack with some pacy players in the final third, while set pieces are likely to be where they are at their most dangerous. However, Liverpool have kept clean sheets in 5 of their last 6 Premier League games at Anfield including in 3 of 4 here this season.

It is actually a lack of goals which has prevented Liverpool having more points on the board at Anfield as they have only once scored more than a single goal at this ground in the League. The home team should have chances to improve that record this weekend, but asking them to cover the Asian Handicap may be asking too much considering Liverpool only scored once against Crystal Palace and Burnley.

I am not convinced Huddersfield Town can keep Liverpool out though and the best way to back the home team here may be to back them to win with a clean sheet. It is a decent price because of the way Liverpool have defended in some games, but the headlines may have ignored the stronger defensive record at Anfield and the lack of goals in the Huddersfield Town squad.

I think Liverpool might have worked on the defensive side of things this week and I will back them to win with a clean sheet.

Watford v Stoke City Pick: With clubs showing signs of becoming a little trigger happy with their firings of managers, this week is a big one for Mark Hughes as he looks for his Stoke City team to show some life. Slipping into the bottom three and then entering a two week international break may see Stoke City make a decision on Hughes that they have been rumoured to be thinking about at numerous times over the last twelve months.

Another slow start has to be a big disappointment for Stoke City who have lost 5 of their last 6 in all competitions. They have been particularly disappointing away from home where Stoke City have lost 3 in a row and now they face a Watford side who have to be playing with plenty of confidence.

Watford could easily have come into this weekend off the back of a win at the home of the Champions, but Marco Silva will still be encouraged by how his team have been performing. The only concern here is that Watford have not been firing at home so far this season, although that may have something to do with a fixture list which has seen the side host Liverpool, Brighton, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Stoke City can't really be bracketed with those teams when you think Watford's failure to beat Brighton was much to do with being reduced to ten men after 24 minutes. Watford have shown they have goals in the squad and I expect they can expose some holes in the Stoke City defence which has seen The Potters concede at least twice in 3 away games in a row.

There is some mental obstacles to overcome for Watford having failed to win any of their last 3 home games against Stoke City. They have lost back to back League games to them at Vicarage Road, but I think Watford are in the superior form and look a side that can score goals.

I expect that could see them to the three points this weekend and at odds against the home team have to be backed to get the better of Stoke City here.

West Brom v Manchester City Pick: The biggest question in this game has to be how much the 120 minutes played on Tuesday will have taken out of the Manchester City legs and whether West Brom can take advantage of that having had a week to prepare for this fixture. It wasn't a completely second string team that Pep Guardiola picked during the week with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero playing the full match and others like John Stones, Kyle Walker, Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus all being involved.

Premier League clubs have to be inspired by the way Wolves played in that League Cup tie at the Etihad Stadium especially as the Championship leaders had their chances to score and win the game.

Belief is such a big factor in playing against Manchester City, but West Brom could be lacking some of that after a poor run of form. You know Tony Pulis will be looking to make sure his team are organised and hard to beat, but West Brom could be without Craig Dawson and Jonny Evans which is a huge blow for their chances in this one.

West Brom could cause some problems with their set pieces and they are a team that will employ long ball tactics to shift the pressure and look for the pace in the final third to cause problems. However it is difficult to see how West Brom can contain Manchester City having found themselves on the losing end against this opponent in 12 straight matches.

That includes 6 straight wins for Manchester City at The Hawthorns with the last of those coming in the League Cup in September. Manchester City have found the quality in the final third to break down Tony Pulis' organisation and the two missing defenders might make it that much more difficult for The Baggies to contain a rampant Manchester City side.

Manchester City have won by at least a two goal margin on 3 consecutive visits to West Brom and they scored seven goals against them in the Premier League last season. With the goals Manchester City have been producing at the moment, it is hard to imagine a situation where they don't have enough to see off West Brom with some comfort here.

I will look for Manchester City to win by at least two goals for the fourth time in a row in the Premier League on this ground.

Bournemouth v Chelsea Pick: In most cases teams at the top of the Premier League must enjoy playing Bournemouth who will try and play their football under Eddie Howe. That is much better than facing a team who are going to sit in and try and make life difficult and Chelsea will be looking to show they are the superior team on the day.

It hasn't been smooth sailing for Chelsea, but Antonio Conte has to be happy with the response of his side who have won twice over the last seven days. Coming from behind to beat Watford has to be particularly pleasing for the manager and Chelsea will be confident they can keep the run going as they head into a big week when they face Roma in the Champions League and Manchester United in the Premier League next weekend.

This does feel the perfect opponent to keep the winning run going despite Bournemouth beating Stoke City and Middlesbrough in their last couple of games. As much as Bournemouth will try and get forward and score goals, the space they will provide Chelsea has to be very encouraging for the away side.

That has proven to be very useful in 1-4 and 1-3 wins at the Vitality Stadium over the last two seasons, while Chelsea also beat Bournemouth 3-0 at home last season. Bournemouth have been involved in a few high-scoring games against the top teams because of their style which will be to try and get forward, but for the most part they have ended on the wrong end of the result.

Bournemouth have to feel they can cause problems after seeing how well Watford performed against Chelsea last weekend, but I am not sure the home team have as much quality or conviction going forward. They have shown they can still score goals though and I think the problems defensively will be exposed by a Chelsea team who have scored nine goals in their last 3 games.

Both teams are likely to find the net and I will look for this fixture to produce the goals it has over the last two seasons and back at least four to be shared out by Bournemouth and Chelsea.

Brighton v Southampton Pick: The television companies love to label their Sunday Premier League offering as being 'Super' but I am not sure the neutrals will be that impressed with the two offerings this weekend. The south coast derby at least brings in some additional intrigue to this fixture between Brighton and Southampton, but anyone who has watched these two teams even a couple of times this season will know what to expect.

Both Brighton and Southampton have been guilty of some serious struggles in the final third although both teams will feel their most recent performances will at least suggest something different. That is especially the case for Brighton off the back of a 0-3 win at West Ham United, although I think it may be asking a lot for this game to be filled with a lot of excitement.

Neither manager will be that bothered if that is the case as they are looking to make sure they keep picking up points and moving their teams away from any relegation battle. That makes this game more important for Brighton with home form expected to be key to any survival plan they put together and this is a side who have played well at the Amex Stadium in recent weeks.

Brighton are unbeaten in 4 home games in all competitions and would have had 4 consecutive wins if not for a late penalty for Everton last time out here. That makes them dangerous for a Southampton side who haven't travelled well, although The Saints are always a threat with the inconsistent performances they can produce from week to week.

There won't be a lot between these teams and one goal could easily be enough to secure the points when you think how well they can defend. However I think home advantage is likely going to give Brighton the slight edge and you can back them with the start on the Asian Handicap which does make them appealing here.

The start will at least return half the stake as a winner if Brighton are to avoid a defeat here, while a win for the home team is not out of the question. I think Brighton are a big price to do that, but will have the security of returning a profit with a draw too. I just think being at home gives Brighton enough momentum to get forward against a Southampton side who gave up plenty of chances to Huddersfield Town in a recent away game there, but I expect Brighton to be a little more confident in front of goal after their win at the London Stadium.

Burnley v Newcastle United Pick: The prices for this Premier League live offering on Monday night immediately surprised me as Burnley are a home underdog against Newcastle United. That may have made more sense if Newcastle United had made a flying start on their travels after Burnley have just hit a wall at Turf Moor in recent months, but that is far from the case.

The Burnley home form has been inconsistent in recent months after using it as the foundation for avoiding relegation in the 2016/17 season. This time around Burnley have been much stronger on their travels, while I also feel the price is factoring in the chances of Sean Dyche perhaps having his head turned after being linked with the vacant job at Everton.

Dyche doesn't seem the kind of character that will let much distract him from his work though and I expect Burnley to well prepared for this one.

There may not be a lot of goals with both Burnley and Newcastle United under the guidance of managers who will make them difficult to beat and I don't think there will be much between them. Both have not been at their best at home/away respectively but Burnley have shown they are tough to beat here and I can't have them as the underdog.

As long as Burnley defend like they can, I do think they are capable of winning this one. The chance to back them at odds against knowing the stake is returned in the case of a draw looks hard to resist and I think Sean Dyche shows his professionalism by making sure his side are fully prepared.

Newcastle United can be difficult and inconsistent to read, but I will look for Burnley to edge them out on Monday night.

MY PICKS: Manchester United @ 2.20 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Arsenal Win to Nil @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Liverpool Win to Nil @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Watford @ 2.07 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Chelsea Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.75 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Brighton + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley + 0 Asian Handicap @ 2.11 Bet Victor (2 Units)

College Football Week 9 Picks 2017 (October 28th)

Last week we saw the Pac-12 and Big 12 Conferences see their chances of having a representative in the College Football Play Offs take a hit after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish knocked off the USC Trojans.

It was a hit but it was not a fatal one for either Conference although the top teams with fewer than two losses have to find a way to run the table and also hope the Fighting Irish slip up again.

At this stage of the season the importance of the games being played continue to increase in magnitude in each passing week. Week 8 has the big highlight of the Ohio State Buckeyes hosting the Penn State Nittany Lions which will determine which of those teams is most likely going to reach the Big Ten Championship Game and thus have an inside track to the Play Offs if they can run the table.

Other teams are trying to get back in business with most accepting that a two loss team is unlikely to make it through to the final four.

At the end of this Week's games we will also see the first College Football Ranking of the season. Right now I have to say my four teams would be Alabama Crimson Tide, TCU Horned Frogs, Ohio State Buckeyes and the Miami Hurricanes but that could quickly change and is likely to be a different feel as we get through the remainder of the regular season and then get into the Championship Games.

Week 8 Picks come from the host of games to be played on Saturday 28th October.

Miami Hurricanes @ North Carolina Tar Heels Pick: Sometimes you can throw the records of teams out of the window when it comes to these Conference games and that is what the North Carolina Tar Heels will be hoping to do in Week 8. Any hope of reaching a Bowl Game is beginning to run out on a weekly basis and the Tar Heels are 0-5 in ACC play, but this is Homecoming and North Carolina would love to become the first team to beat the Miami Hurricanes.

There is also the issue of the Hurricanes having to face the Virginia Tech Hokies in Week 9 which may take some of the focus off this game, but 2016 will mean the Miami players are not taking anything for granted in this one.

Last season Miami were beaten at home by North Carolina and it is clear that many have not forgotten about that as they get set to go on the road for this one. Injuries have crushed the Tar Heels in 2017 and been a big contributory factor in their 1-7 record, and I think those injuries will ensure Larry Fedora is not fired as Head Coach.

Three of the last four losses North Carolina have suffered have been by at least twenty-three points and they have been heavily outgained in terms of yards in recent games. That is what happens when the injuries pile up at the College Football level as players perhaps are not as motivated as in the professional ranks to pick themselves up and that might be part of the reason the Tar Heels have struggled.

Offensively North Carolina have been a mess and there is little reason to think they can get things going against the Miami Hurricanes in Week 8. Struggling to run the ball has been matched by an inability to throw the ball and it is tough to see that changing for the Tar Heels this week. That has also seen their Quarter Back put under pressure behind an ineffectual Offensive Line while the turnovers have to be a real concern now they are throwing in this ball-hawking Miami Secondary.

Keeping drives going is going to be a problem for the Tar Heels and punching in Touchdowns instead of Field Goals also will be an issue for them.

Unlike the home team, the Miami Hurricanes have been able to run the ball even without Mark Walton who went down with an injury earlier in the season. Travis Homer will get the majority of the carries this week and he has to feel good against a North Carolina Defensive Line which has given up almost 225 yards per game on the ground, which should help the Hurricanes keep the chains moving in this one.

It will likely ease any pressure on Malik Rosier despite how well he has been throwing the ball. While the Tar Heels Secondary have some decent numbers in recent weeks, that might have a lot to do with the fact that the Offense have forced them to defend short fields, while the running game being so productive against North Carolina means teams don't air the ball out as much.

The Hurricanes are 1-5 against the spread in their last six road games at North Carolina. However the Tar Heels have not covered in their last seven against Conference teams, while they have not covered any of their last five at home overall. I will look for the Hurricanes to keep those trends going and gain revenge for their 2016 home loss to North Carolina with a big win to ruin Homecoming.

Texas Longhorns @ Baylor Bears Pick: You can see how close the Texas Longhorns have come to a really special win in 2017, but Tom Herman's side have fallen short just once too often. Two Overtime losses and a narrow defeat to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Red River Rivalry game have hurt the Longhorns, but Herman may feel it is going to give his team character in the years ahead.

After a really tough slate of games, the Longhorns go into Week 8 as a big road favourite at the Baylor Bears. This is not an ideal spot for Texas which reduces some of my enthusiasm for them as they face the TCU Horned Frogs next week which could be a huge game in the Big 12 for their rivals.

Herman will not be expecting his players to overlook any opponent in the tough Conference they play in, but sometimes it is only natural for players to want to gear up for the big games on the schedule. However the Longhorns only have three wins so far this season which means they can't afford to drop these kind of games if they are going to make it to a Bowl Game.

Life has been much tougher for the Baylor Bears who have lost all seven games played this season and who were beaten on Homecoming last week. The Bears have to be respected considering how well they have competed, but a Quarter Back controversy is brewing in Baylor.

Sam Ehlinger may not be available this week for the Longhorns, but that means original starter Shane Buechele can come back into the team. Texas will be hoping they can get the running game back on track having had difficulties in their last three games to get much going on the ground, but that is not necessarily an easy task with Ehlinger being a key part of their running in those games.

It should still be a chance for the Longhorns against this Baylor Defensive Line which has not defended the run as well as they would have liked. There are also some significant holes in the Secondary which Buechele should be able to exploit as Baylor have struggled to get much pressure on the Quarter Back and this should mean Texas are able to move the chains effectively throughout this one.

Regardless of who starts at Quarter Back for the Baylor Bears, I do think they can move the chains in this one too and that will give them a chance of the upset. However there won't be as much balance to the way they can approach this game Offensively and that has to be a bigger concern for Baylor.

Running the ball against this Texas Defensive Line has proved difficult for other teams with superior running games to Baylor. While there are some problems in the Secondary that Baylor will expose, the Texas pass rush has been very effective and they should be able to put pressure on the Quarter Back which can lead to mistakes with turnovers a real worry for the home team.

That is enough of a reason to think the Longhorns can find their way to pull away from Baylor in this one. I expect Texas to win the turnover battle which should lead to a win by two scores. The road team is 13-6 against the spread in the last nineteen in this series and I will look for the road team to cover here too.

Wisconsin Badgers @ Illinois Fighting Illini Pick: The Wisconsin Badgers are in the Big Ten West and that means they are in pole position to make it to the Championship Game having won all seven games played this season. They are also 4-0 in the Conference which gives them a two game lead over other teams in this Division.

The Division looks a much 'easier' won to negotiate for the Badgers than the Big Ten East which has three teams with a 4-0 record and much to play for. The schedule does not look the most daunting for Wisconsin who could work their way into Play Off contention if they can win the Conference.

The Badgers have been very strong this season and deserve their record and they will be looking to make a statement against the Illinois Fighting Illini who have been blown out by Iowa and South Florida this season. Both of those games came on the road and this is Homecoming for Illinois, but the Badgers should still be able to show their superiority in this one.

Wisconsin will feel they can shut down the Illinois Offensive unit in this one which will likely set up short fields and they could also win the turnover battle to put the Fighting Illini in a difficult position. Running the ball against the Badgers Defensive Line would be a challenge for the best teams, but Illinois have had their issues setting up their run blocking which will put all the pressure on the Quarter Back to move the chains.

Cam Thomas may be making his first start at Quarter Back for Illinois this week and he showed that he has some wheels in his first appearance last week. However that is not going to be easy against the Badgers who are strong up front and will likely be able to set the edge against this Offensive Line which prevent Thomas from getting outside for big runs.

The Secondary have been tough to throw against if Illinois are in obvious passing down and distance, while the ball-hawking nature of the Badgers will only make it more difficult for an inexperienced Quarter Back.

The line of scrimmage can be so important in games and Wisconsin should have the edge on both sides of the ball. Jonathan Taylor is building a big reputation at Running Back for the Badgers and he should be able to have a huge game against an Illinois Defensive Line allowing 5.4 yards per carry over their last three games which have not come against a team as strong as the one they see in Week 9.

Running the ball will be good news for Alex Hornibrook who has not looked after the ball as well as he could at Quarter Back. That could be a problem when the Championship Game comes around, but for now Hornibrook should be under little pressure when he drops back to throw and should help the Badgers put up a big number.

Playing on the road as a big favourite can be difficult but Wisconsin are 4-1 against the spread in the last five games in this series overall. Wisconsin are also 8-0 against the spread in their last eight road games and they are 10-4-1 against the spread in the last fifteen in Conference play.

Illinois have some really tough numbers to overcome and I think the Badgers win this one by close to thirty points and I will look for them to cover the spread. They should dominate both lines of scrimmage and I expect Wisconsin to turn the ball over two or three times and finish most drives with Touchdowns rather than Field Goals which should lead to a big win for the Wisconsin Badgers.

TCU Horned Frogs @ Iowa State Cyclones Pick: At the start of the season the Iowa State Cyclones were expected to be one of the weaker teams in the Big 12 Conference, but a win over the Oklahoma Sooners on the road has changed the mindset. The Cyclones have backed that win up with other impressive wins and now they are 3-1 in the Conference as they get set to host the leading team.

The TCU Horned Frogs are 4-0 in the Conference and 7-0 overall and look in pole position to make it to the first Big 12 Championship Game. A win for the Cyclones would give them the edge in a competitive Conference, but I am not sure the Big 12 will be impressed if another of their top teams go down as their place in the College Football Play Offs are fragile enough as it is.

Both the Horned Frogs and the Cyclones have looked for their Defensive units to fuel their performances so far this season and it will come down to which of those units performs best which will decide this game.

Kenny Hill has improved at Quarter Back by simply looking after the ball much better than he did in 2016 and that has allowed the Horned Frogs to allow their Defense to do what they do best. Hill will have time to make his plays against this Iowa State Secondary which has been over-performing in recent weeks and that should give the TCU Horned Frogs the balance to get the rushing Offense going.

They won't be moving the ball up and down the field all day, but the TCU Offensive unit can make enough plays to put up points behind one of the best scoring teams in the College Football ranks.

On the other side of the ball TCU will feel they can show their strength on the line of scrimmage which can set them up for the win on the road. The TCU Defensive Line have been almost impregnable this season as they have held teams to 2.4 yards per carry over the season, but improved that to 1.9 yards per carry over the last three games. With the Cyclones struggling to run the ball with any consistency, the Horned Frogs can take away the balance they should have on the Offensive side of the ball and that can make a big difference to how drives are sustained by the two teams.

Kyle Kempt has been very good since coming in as Quarter Back for the Cyclones, but this may be the biggest challenge he has faced. The Horned Frogs can generate enough pressure up front to force teams to rush throwing the ball and Kempt has to be aware at how well the TCU Secondary have played. That has something to do with shutting down the run and making it third and long for teams to keep the chains moving, but the same challenge will be faced by Iowa State.

The Cyclones are playing with confidence, but this is the best Defensive team they have faced and I like the TCU Horned Frogs to win the field position battles and Kenny Hill to make a few bigger plays at Quarter Back. You have to respect the overachieving results the Cyclones have produced, but the Horned Frogs have covered in five road games in a row and I do think they win this by around 10 points.

Penn State Nittany Lions @ Ohio State Buckeyes Pick: It is a little over twelve months to the day when the Penn State Nittany Lions managed to earn a home upset over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten East. That win gave the Nittany Lions the inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game and they went on to beat the Wisconsin Badgers to take home the title.

Once again the Nittany Lions are in a position to go all the way in the Big Ten, but this time they would be expecting to be given a Play Off berth in the College Football final four. Last season that spot was still given to the Buckeyes as the Nittany Lions had two losses during the regular season, but this time around both teams come into this huge Conference game with everything on the line.

In fact this time it is the Nittany Lions who are unbeaten and the Ohio State Buckeyes have dropped a game to the Oklahoma Sooners. A defeat for the Buckeyes would not be forgiven by the College Football committee as it was last season, but the same can be said for the Nittany Lions who likely would not be invited in if they lose this one and are not able to win the Big Ten.

That means there is some immense pressure on the two teams with the Offenses facing off against legitimately tough Defensive units. Ohio State have been crushing teams since their loss to the Sooners, while the Nittany Lions escaped a defeat at the Iowa Hawkeyes and have been improving ever since which culminated in a blowout of the Michigan Wolverines last week.

It feels like dominating the line of scrimmage is going to be the key to this one as two high powered running teams face off against really strong Defensive Lines. Those battles between the Offensive Lines and Defensive Lines are going to be the key to the outcome of this one and I am giving Ohio State the narrow edge.

The Buckeyes have the slightly superior Defensive Line and the slightly superior Offensive Line which should prove to be a key in seeing Ohio State make a few big runs than the Penn State Nittany Lions. Saquon Barkley is the bigger name at Running Back, but that isn't enough and I think the Buckeyes will be able to be in a better position on both sides of the ball more often than not.

I also think the Offensive Line for the Ohio State Buckeyes will be able to offer the Quarter Back a little more protection than the Penn State Nittany Lions. That should mean JT Barrett is able to make a few more throws or runs than Trace McSorley and I am going to back the Buckeyes to get revenge for the loss in 2016.

The public are very much behind the Penn State Nittany Lions in this one but I like the home team to get the better of them this time around. Ohio State are 7-2 against the spread in their last nine home games against Penn State while the home team has covered in four games in a row.

I think the Buckeyes will be able to win this one by around a Touchdown in what is a fascinating Conference game and I will back them to cover the number.

NC State Wolfpack @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick: The ACC Atlantic Division was expected to be run by the likes of the Clemson Tigers, Florida State Seminoles or Louisville Cardinal, but injuries and surprise losses have changed things around. It is the 6-1 NC State Wolfpack who have gone 4-0 in the Conference and they come out of their bye week looking to keep the momentum going.

Any time you face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish it is a big game, but the Wolfpack might not be completely focused on this one despite coming out of a bye. Next week they will host the Clemson Tigers on Homecoming in a game that may decide the ACC Atlantic Division and that is clearly the bigger game.

However if the Wolfpack want to make it to the College Football Play Offs then they can't afford to drop this game as a two loss Conference Champion wouldn't really hold a lot of hope of being selected as one of the final four. The same can be said for the Fighting Irish who have some big wins on their schedule and the one loss to the Georgia Bulldogs is not a bad one at all.

Another defeat would end the Fighting Irish's chances of making the Play Offs, but a win could potentially put another Conference Champion on their list of defeated teams. Notre Dame blew out the USC Trojans in Week 8 and they will be looking for revenge over the NC State Wolfpack after being beaten by them in terrible conditions in 2016.

The key for Notre Dame will be on the line of scrimmage as they try and impose their strong running game on the Wolfpack Defensive Line which has played at a high level. It is so important for Notre Dame to run the ball as they have yet to really allow Brandon Wimbush to use his arm at Quarter Back rather than his legs. Wimbush has asked for more throws, but getting the run established will be the best way to allow the Quarter Back to attempt to make some plays down the field.

As strong as the Wolfpack have been up front, they have some issues in the Secondary which can be exposed and Wimbush may have his best game through the air in 2017.

Running the ball will also be a test for NC State who have a balanced Offensive unit which has helped them beat both Florida State and Louisville already. The Wolfpack should have some success, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been able to stem the performances on the ground which has given their Secondary chances to make big plays.

Ryan Finley has been very good at Quarter Back for the Wolfpack and he should be able to have another decent showing for his team. He doesn't miss a lot of passes and looking after the ball has been important for Finley to prevent his team shooting themselves in the foot. Being able to play with the space and time the Offensive Line have provided will be put to the test by a fierce Notre Dame pass rush, but the Wolfpack are well rested and should be able to give Finley enough room for success.

The game with Clemson on deck might be a distraction for NC State though and I think the Fighting Irish are playing with some momentum. The bye week would have helped the NC State Wolfpack to get healthier, but I think the Fighting Irish are the superior team and I will be looking for them to find some big plays on the ground to lead them to a ten point win.

Georgia Bulldogs v Florida Gators Pick: The 'World's Largest Cocktail Party' has not been as much fun for the Georgia Bulldogs as it has for the Florida Gators in recent years and this does feel like the biggest obstacle in front of the Bulldogs before any potential SEC Championship Game. Remaining unbeaten would give Georgia a big chance to make it to the College Football Play Off and they are coming in off a bye to prepare for this game, but it is the Florida Gators who have won three in a row.

That success has led to some very confident statements from the Florida Gators who can get back into contention in the SEC East with a win having gone 3-2 in Conference play so far. Confidence can be misplaced at times, but it is clearly some mind games at work when some Florida players suggest that Georgia know they can't beat them.

Florida are also off a bye and they are coming into this one after back to back losses to the LSU Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies. They are now facing a superior team in the Georgia Bulldogs than the ones they have been beaten by, but this is such a big rivalry game that the Florida Gators will not be worrying too much about their form.

A lot of the Georgia success can be seen on the Offensive side of the ball as that is what the highlights will focus on, but the Defensive unit have been very strong. The Defensive Line has been very strong for the Georgia Bulldogs and they will be looking to clamp down on the Florida rushing Offense which is going to be a key to the outcome of the Florida drives more often than not.

The Bulldogs Defensive Line have been able to show their strength up front and being able to slow down the Florida Gators on the ground should give Georgia a huge edge. While the Gators have been able to run the ball, Feleipe Franks has struggled at Quarter Back and he is unlikely to have much success against a Secondary who have allowed just 170 passing yards per game over the course of the 2017 season.

Florida's Offensive Line might have been strong in run blocking, but they are not so good when it comes to pass protection which has not helped Franks move the chains through the air. Franks has really struggled in the two losses prior to the bye week and I am not convinced he will have a lot more success in this one.

Running the ball is what the Georgia Offensive unit are all about and they too will be given a chance to show they are for real against a tough Florida Defensive Line. The Gators have been stronger against the run in recent games, but I don't think they will be able to completely take away Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and that is where I do give the Bulldogs the edge to find a way to break off some big runs on the ground.

The numbers will be tested as Georgia have rarely faced a Defensive Line of the quality of the Florida Gators, but the latter are just taking a couple of key injuries to the Defensive unit which could show up here. The LSU Tigers found a way to run the ball against Florida, although not consistently, and I do think the Georgia Bulldogs Offensive Line is superior and can do the same.

Jake Fromm has taken over as the starting Quarter Back for the Bulldogs and having a running game does open things up for him. This is a big test for the young man against the best Defensive unit he would have faced, but the injuries mentioned may make things a little easier for him.

The Quarter Back should be better protected than his counterpart Franks and I think the Bulldogs can cover a big number here with a slightly superior team on both sides of the ball. The Florida Secondary can force turnovers, but Georgia should keep them off balance with a strong rushing attack and I like them to snap their losing run to the Gators.

Florida are now 1-5-1 against the spread in their last seven games after a loss and I will look for the Bulldogs to prove a point. The Gators have been good out of a bye, but Georgia are the superior team and I will look for them to produce their best performance in this rivalry for a long time.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ Clemson Tigers Pick: The Clemson Tigers suffered a loss in their last game before their bye, but this is a team who won the National Championship after a defeat in the regular season in 2016. That means there is everything to play for in this one as the Tigers look to stay on the coattails of the NC State Wolfpack who they face in what could be a Divisional decider in Week 10.

The bye will at least give the Tigers a chance to get healthier and also prepare for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets triple option. The Yellow Jackets are unlikely to make the ACC Championship Game after losing to the Miami Hurricanes, but this is a team that deserves plenty of respect with both defeats this season coming by a single point each time.

Much of the Georgia Tech Offensive output will come on the ground and while they have unsurprisingly run the ball very well, they are facing the Clemson Tigers Defensive Line which has been strong throughout much of 2017. Over recent seasons Clemson have been able to find the right answers to stop the run when they face the Tigers and now they have had time to prepare you have to feel they can do the same here.

The Clemson Defensive Line has not just been stout against the run but they have been able to produce plenty of pressure up front. That should see them penetrate into the backfield and make the Georgia Tech triple option Offense that much tougher to run with effective results.

Injuries might be the biggest problem for the Clemson Tigers in this one as Kelly Bryant has been banged up at Quarter Back. He has had two weeks to get healthier and should be able to play in this one, but Running Back Travis Etienne could be out.

That may not matter for a Clemson Offensive Line who have been able to pave the way for strong runs and they should be able to impose that on the Georgia Tech Defensive Line. The Tigers have not been as dominant on the ground in recent games as they have throughout the season, but I think that can change off the back of the bye and I will look for them to take some of the pressure off of Bryant at Quarter Back.

Bryant might not have a lot of time to throw the ball unless the Offensive Line can help the running game going, but doing that will ease the Georgia Tech pass rush. The Quarter Back will want to avoid the big hits which could knock him out of this game, but his presence should help open the running lanes. Bryant has also looked after the ball very well which should prevent this Georgia Tech from earning too many short fields in which to stay with the Tigers.

I do think this is a very strong bounce back spot for Clemson and I like them to cover a big number. They have dominated the Yellow Jackets in recent seasons, and the Tigers have covered in four games in a row against them.

Georgia Tech have been very good in 2017, but I think Clemson should be well prepared to shut down their Offense and that can lead to a big win for the Tigers.

MY PICKS: Miami Hurricanes - 20.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Texas Longhorns - 9 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Wisconsin Badgers - 26.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
TCU Horned Frogs - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
Ohio State Buckeyes - 7 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish - 7 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Georgia Bulldogs - 13.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Clemson Tigers - 14 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)