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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...

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (October 14-16)

Let's face facts for a minute.

I am not the only one that finds the international football that takes place during the domestic season to be a pain that has to be dealt with rather than something of excitement.

That is nothing against the World Cup Finals and major tournaments the individual Confederations may run, but I am glad to have domestic football back this weekend.

It doesn't get much bigger than being twenty-four hours out from seeing Manchester United head out at Anfield and that is the opening League game of the weekend. It is a big one and I have written a short piece about Manchester United's stunning September which can be read here.

It has been a decent start to the month, hopefully the following picks from the Premier League can produce another winning weekend.

Liverpool v Manchester United Pick: The biggest game in English Football involves two teams who finished in the top six last season without challenging for the Premier League title. This season there were much higher expectations for Liverpool and Manchester United and both clubs will come into the weekend with something to prove.

For Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool it is all about putting a poor September behind them and using a win over Manchester United to give them some momentum to move up the Premier League table. The German is under a little bit of pressure as fans have begun to grow weary of the excuses and the strange team selections, especially in the defensive areas, which have affected the ability of Liverpool to earn results.

Some of that has not been Klopp's problem with the Liverpool forwards missing hatful of chances in games where they have dropped points both in the Premier League and Champions League. The injury to Sadio Mane is a big blow for a team that have not been as clinical in front of goal as they would have liked, although it may be one where the fans believe it could help Klopp in having a securer system in place for this game.

While there are questions for Klopp to answer, this game has to be seen as the first true test for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United in the 2017/18 season. The fixture list wasn't the most taxing, but Manchester United can only beat what is in front of them and now can prove they are in for the long haul task of challenging for the Premier League title.

The next month could be telling with three of the top four from last season ahead for Manchester United, while the injuries in the middle of the park has to be a concern for Mourinho. It could mean going back to a 3-4-3 system to get the best out of the players that Manchester United have available with Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic the only two fit midfielders that look to be passed for this fixture.

It is a system that has worked for Manchester United who will feel they have more of an attacking threat this season than they did when travelling to Anfield twelve months ago. The pace on the counter attack of the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford/Anthony Martial, and Romelu Lukaku should be able to provide a threat to a Liverpool backline which has been anything but watertight over the last month.

The game is likely to be tense as it always is when Liverpool and Manchester United collide, but I have had a feeling this is going to be the day the away team can prove they are 'for real'. Liverpool are a very dangerous team at Anfield, but the key is to be resilient in the first twenty or thirty minutes and Manchester United have certainly shown they can do that so far this season as well as in big away games at Anfield and the Etihad Stadium last season.

Manchester United will get chances against this defence and I think they can be backed on the Asian Handicap which will return the stake in case of a draw. It won't be easy and Manchester United can't allow Liverpool to score early when they really begin to flow with confidence, but frustrating the home team early and then hitting them on the break looks like a tactic that can work for Jose Mourinho's men.

It is a great way for the Premier League to get going after the two week international break, but I do think Manchester United fans will be the ones celebrating through the weekend.

Crystal Palace v Chelsea Pick: The international break has given Alvaro Morata the time to try and overcome the hamstring complaint he has been suffering with and Eden Hazard looks back to full fitness for Chelsea. Morata is likely to miss this game anyway, but Chelsea have to feel they can cover for the absence of the Spanish international as well as N'Golo Kante when visiting Crystal Palace.

This always feels like a difficult ground for teams to visit with the home fans making Selhurst Park a loud ground, but it has not been as intimidating for teams on the pitch. Roy Hodgson has been tasked with improving the confidence of a Crystal Palace team that could be without what would have been the three players that lead the way for them assuming Wilfried Zaha joins Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Benteke on the sidelines.

Improved confidence has not happened yet as Crystal Palace have now lost 5 of their last 6 home games in the Premier League including all 3 this season. The teams who have finished in the top four have generally been good enough to win at Selhurst Park against better Crystal Palace teams than the one Chelsea will face here and that is shown by Palace losing 11 of their 12 games at Selhurst Park against the eventual top four over the last three seasons.

Crystal Palace have also been hammered at both Manchester City and Manchester United as they have crumbled once going behind and that has to be a fear against a Chelsea team who have won 6 straight away games in all competitions. The absence of Kante is a blow, but it's one that Chelsea can overcome against this opponent and I think Antonio Conte will put out a team that can score goals here even without Morata.

It would be a surprise if Chelsea can't win here and I am backing them to do so against a Crystal Palace team who concede too many goals. The home team will eventually break their goal duck in the Premier League, but they may have to wait another weekend and I think Chelsea will still have too much firepower, even without Morata, to cover the Asian Handicap on Saturday.

Manchester City v Stoke City Pick: There is a similar level of praise being given to Pep Guardiola and Manchester City at the moment as there was twelve months ago when his side swept all before them in the first two months of the season. Things came off the rail for Manchester City from October going forward and it will be interesting to see if they can continue the kind of form they were displaying in September.

The 0-1 win at Chelsea last time out was a really impressive performance which suggests this squad is better prepared for the long haul than they were last season. Losing Benjamin Mendy is a blow for the system Guardiola has been running, but they will feel they are better prepared to deal with teams who will come to the Etihad Stadium and sit in looking for a result.

That will be tested by Stoke City this weekend as they have recently been something of a bogey team for Manchester City. In their 6 Premier League games over the last three season, Stoke City have managed to earn the victory twice including at this Stadium in the 2014/15 season.

Last season Stoke City frustrated Manchester City in a goalless draw here, but it is a big challenge for them to do the same with some knocks in defensive areas that will hurt them. Losing Joe Allen may mean Manchester City struggle dominate possession even more than expected and I think it will be very much a case of attack versus defence in this one.

Manchester City look like they have the options to break down Stoke City and I would be worried for the away team considering they have conceded twice at Newcastle United and Bristol City in their last couple of away games. Stoke City were also hammered 0-4 by Chelsea in the Premier League at the Bet365 Stadium and I think Manchester City can record another comfortable home win on Saturday.

It is a big Asian Handicap for the home team to cover, but they have looked so strong going forward and I think Stoke City may not have the bodies to prevent Manchester City from another big win this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v Bournemouth Pick: I am not a big believer in 'curses' and I think Tottenham Hotspur could easily have won all 3 League games played at Wembley Stadium with a little more luck behind their play. The fact is that Tottenham Hotspur have seen off Borussia Dortmund and Barnsley here in their most recent games at Wembley Stadium and they have been in fine form ahead of the last international break.

They can't really afford to drop more points at home when you look at the fixtures that Tottenham Hotspur have coming up as they face Real Madrid twice in the Champions League and also take on Liverpool and Manchester United. A 'home' game with Bournemouth certainly should be a game this Tottenham Hotspur team should be winning, especially if Josh King is the latest absentee in the away dressing room.

It has already been a difficult start for Bournemouth who have not looked strong defensively and have been struggling for goals. They signed Jermain Defoe to try and rectify that issue, but Defoe has not produced like Eddie Howe would have hoped and this looks like being a long day for Bournemouth.

The side have lost all 3 away League games in the Premier League and Bournemouth have only scored a single goal in that time. The Tottenham Hotspur defence have been solid enough to think they can keep Bournemouth at arm's length in this one, while they have a striker in Harry Kane who is arguably in the best form of any player in the Premier League.

Kane has not been at his best at Wembley Stadium, but he scored for England here ten days ago and followed that up with another goal in Lithuania last week. He is a short price to score again here and I expect Kane to help fire Tottenham Hotspur to a first League win at this ground.

Tottenham Hotspur have kept clean sheets in their last couple of games at Wembley Stadium and I will look for them to keep another in a victory on Saturday.

Watford v Arsenal Pick: The biggest live game coming from the English Premier League might be at Anfield on Saturday lunchtime, but the Watford versus Arsenal fixture later in the day looks like it could be an entertaining one. Coming out of the international break is a difficult spot for both managers in this one as they won't have seen their first team players around the training ground as much as they would have wished, but both Marco Silva and Arsene Wenger have to be encouraged by performances prior to the break.

However you would almost feel that both Arsenal and Watford would be keen to flip this fixture to the Emirates Stadium rather than Vicarage Road. Arsenal have earned 12 of their 13 Premier League points at home, while Watford have earned 10 of their 12 League points on their travels.

Goals haven't been a big problem for Watford under Silva, and they will believe their home form is going to be improved in the coming weeks and months. The concern has to be that Watford have conceded at least three goals in 3 of their 4 home games in all competitions this season, although they have created chances in each of those games.

Silva will be the first to tell you that you can't win many games when conceding that amount of goals, and Arsenal have the talent in the final third to certainly create chances and score here. However The Gunners have yet to score away from home in the Premier League and have a number of defensive injuries in the squad which may make them vulnerable at Vicarage Road.

Watford will certainly feel they are better going forward than they have been defensively thanks to injuries they have suffered at the back too. That does make it feel like a fixture where there could be goals at both ends and I think the attacking play may dominate, even coming off a two week international break with little time to prepare for this fixture.

Last season Arsenal won 1-3 here and I can see the same number of goals being shared out between these teams on Saturday. Generally games between Watford and Arsenal have featured plenty of chances and goals and I think the defensive issues both are dealing with means the attacking players win on the day in what should be an entertaining clash.

Brighton v Everton Pick: The television companies who have paid for the rights to broadcast Premier League football have agreed to show every team in the League so there are some weekends when 'Super Sunday' doesn't look like great viewing.

That might not necessarily be the case this weekend in either game, but for the neutrals the problem has to be the lack of goals the teams involved have been scoring.

First up is Brighton hosting Everton and it does look like being a game where not many goals are going to be offered up. Chris Hughton and Ronald Koeman focus on getting things right at the back and hoping that can inspire something going forward and I think Brighton and Everton may end up cancelling one another out.

I certainly don't think there will be a lot of chances produced with Brighton missing Tomer Hemed and Everton looking short of confidence. The home team have plenty of questions about how many goals they are going to score this season with the current squad, while Everton have not been able to replace Romelu Lukaku's goals and look pedestrian in possession.

Neither team will be trying to give much away in this one and I am looking for a tight and competitive game to be the outcome. It wouldn't surprise me at all if a single goal is all it takes to decide the winner and I think the team falling behind would find it very difficult to respond.

I am not expecting a lot of goals and I do think one of these teams will fail to get on the scoreboard. Brighton may have scored in their last couple of home games, but Hemed scored half of the four goals scored in those games and is missing, while Everton have failed to score in 4 of their last 5 Premier League games.

Backing at least one team to fail to hit the target looks a decent enough price to back here.

Southampton v Newcastle United Pick: There are some similarities between the second game on Sunday and the one played across the south coast at Brighton earlier in the day.

Both Southampton and Newcastle United will be pleased with some aspects of their performances and disappointed by others and I think the two teams have had their issues in front of goal which could show up here.

Mauricio Pellegrino and Rafa Benitez are two more manager in the English Premier League who look to set their teams up to be difficult to beat and then look for something to come good in the final third to help them win games. Goals have been the problem for both Southampton and Newcastle United though and it would be a big surprise if there are a lot of goals for the fans to enjoy on Sunday.

The layers recognise the issues the teams have had in front of goal while they are now playing opponents who haven't given away a lot in their own final third. Southampton have to be concerned that they have not scored in 4 of 5 home games this season, while Newcastle United have not scored in 2 of 3 away games.

Neither team has been watertight defensively which may be some reason to think the other can take advantage, but I am not expecting to see a lot of chances for the two teams in this one. Early goals can change the whole feeling of a game of football, but I will look for one of the teams to fail to score in this one with defences coming out on top for much of the afternoon.

Leicester City v West Brom Pick: There are some teams that always seem to cause problems for others and West Brom visiting Leicester City has been one of those over the years. They are unbeaten in 8 trips to Leicester City and have won 6 of those, although the current form has not been the best for The Baggies.

In saying that, Leicester City have not exactly been piling up the wins but they can be excused when you think of the early fixture list they have been negotiating. Leicester City have lost back to back League games to Chelsea and Liverpool, but Craig Shakespeare will know there won't be as many excuses for failing to beat West Brom.

Shakespeare has to be feeling some pressure with Leicester City potentially kicking off inside the bottom three of the Premier League. The owners have made it clear they feel The Foxes should be much higher up the League table so they may not tolerate being stuck in the bottom three for too long.

A relegation scrap cost Claudio Ranieri his job as manager just months after taking Leicester City to an improbable League title so Shakespeare will realise time may not be on his side unless they can earn some results. The side have won 8 of the 13 home games under Shakespeare though and it has taken some of the best teams to leave the King Power Stadium with a result in that time.

West Brom can't be considered to that level, but they have to be respected with a manager who knows how to earn results in the Premier League and also the fact The Baggies have played so well when visiting Leicester City. That does make them a dangerous opponent who won't give a lot away and look to frustrate their hosts before hitting them with a sucker punch.

There is every chance they can do that again, but I think Leicester City are better than their current results which have been affected by who they have played. This is a much more manageable game for them and I think West Brom have perhaps overachieved early in the campaign with a couple of narrow games going their way.

At odds against I will look for Leicester City to secure a vital three points for their slightly under pressure manager. They look to have more goals in the side than West Brom and being at home should be an advantage, even despite the recent history against The Baggies.

MY PICKS: Manchester United 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet365 (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur Win to Nil @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Watford-Arsenal Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.45 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brighton-Everton Both Teams to Score- NO @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Southampton-Newcastle United Both Teams to Score- NO @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)

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