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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, 20 October 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (October 20-22)

There is plenty of football coming thick and fast between the October and November international breaks, although I will have to admit that I am going to be glad to see the end of the international games for several months after the next break.

After that it will be the run up to Christmas in what looks an especially busy time of the year for the English clubs who don't have a Winter Break. That issue is likely to make headlines again later in the year, but I love Christmas football even if I didn't agree with the Christmas Eve suggestions that were made for live games.

It might not have worked out as the fans have wanted though with the television companies wanting to show the games they have paid plenty of money to do so and that means the fans have some tough fixtures to negotiate.

For example the Arsenal vs Liverpool and Leicester City v Manchester United games that looked the most likely to be moved to Christmas Eve are now being played on Friday night and Saturday night respectively. That's not a major problem for the fans at home who will probably enjoy something better to watch than the trash TV that Christmas tends to be, but for fans travelling to the game that is arguably a bigger headache than having an early Sunday slot on Christmas Eve.

You can't win it all though and the television rights have been sold for a huge price so these games can be broadcasted and the second Christmas Eve was off the table, then it was always likely the match going fans were going to suffer anyway.

Last weekend saw Jose Mourinho criticised for the tactics employed in the Manchester United draw at Liverpool and I said I was going to write a short piece about that. You can read that here.

This week the Premier League kicks off on a Friday night with West Ham United hosting Brighton and there are four other live games to come over the next couple of days. After a rough opening to October, I am looking for a bounce back performance this weekend with a little more luck behind the picks being made.

West Ham United v Brighton PickThe Premier League is back in action on Friday night this weekend as the television cameras pitch up in East London to see West Ham United host Brighton. This is a big game for the two clubs who are looking to move away from the bottom three having shown some toughness in recent weeks.

Both West Ham United and Brighton have proven to be tough to crack in recent weeks which has seen them start putting some points on the board to move out of the bottom three.

Out of the two teams West Ham United are dealing with the bigger expectations after investment in the summer transfer window. Slaven Bilic had been under pressure as manager, but the improved form since the injury list began to clear up has worked for West Ham United and even the absence of Andy Carroll won't be too much of a blow for the home team.

They should have plenty of the ball to try and break down a Brighton defence that has been well organised, but who have given up some chances away from home. Goals have been a real problem for Brighton all season and that has especially been the case away from home and could show up again this weekend.

West Ham United have been fairly well organised themselves and have shown some effectiveness in the final third that can't be ignored. They have also looked more comfortable at the London Stadium after the initial struggles in their new home and I think West Ham United will find their way to the three points in this one.

Chris Hughton will make Brighton tough to beat, but I do think they could struggle if they fall behind. The lack of goals simply cannot be ignored and I am going to back West Ham United to find a victory in this one and start their move back towards the top half of the Premier League table.

Chelsea v Watford Pick: There are a few worries at Stamford Bridge that this season is in danger of heading the same way as the 2015/16 season, although I don't personally think Chelsea are going down that road. The recent poor performances are clearly a concern, but Chelsea have not been helped by some big injuries in the squad and I do think they will bounce back sooner rather than later.

The 3-3 home draw with Roma in the Champions League means Chelsea have not won any of their last 3 games in all competitions, while they have lost back to back Premier League games as they have slipped to 9 points behind Manchester City. That will knock the confidence of any squad of players, but Chelsea will feel hard work will get them back on the right track.

They will need to work hard on Saturday lunchtime when they take on Watford in the live television affair, but the two goals from Eden Hazard and the return of Alvaro Morata on Wednesday has to give them some encouragement.

However Chelsea have not played as well at home as they have on their travels for much of this season and they are now facing a confident Watford team who came from behind to beat Arsenal last week. Marco Silva is getting a tune out of his squad and they have looked very effective away from home where Watford have scored twice in each of their 4 away games in the Premier League this season.

None of those games have been played at a team in the top nine in the Premier League though and that should mean Watford are in for a different test this weekend. They are rested though and the style of play looks suited to away games especially when facing an opponent who are perhaps a little short of confidence of their own.

It is hard to oppose Chelsea as the more likely winner in this one, but Watford could trouble them at the back. I am not sure Watford can keep Chelsea from scoring in this one with the way they were defending in their games with Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal this season, but they have the pace and quality in the final third to trouble Chelsea too.

These teams have met 4 times since Watford returned to the top flight and 3 of those have seen both teams score including both League games last season. Both games at Stamford Bridge have also seen both teams score and I think Watford can contribute on Saturday.

Both teams to score can be backed at close to odds against quotes and I will look for that to be the outcome of this one.

Huddersfield Town v Manchester United Pick: It is a tough part of the season for any club that has to play as many away games in succession as Manchester United have had to, but they have gotten through the two tougher road games at Liverpool and Benfica. In those games Manchester United had to grind out results, but in this one they will feel they can express themselves a little more.

Huddersfield Town are not going to be a pushover for any opponent they face, but I do think the style of play is one that the better clubs in the Premier League will exploit. They want to use David Wagner's style to play the ball out of the back and press from the front, but the quality of the top teams in the Premier League can expose the vulnerabilities of that system.

That was highlighted by a Tottenham Hotspur team who won 0-4 here last month and who were leading 0-3 by half time. Manchester United have shown they can really put the 'weaker' teams in the Premier League to the sword this season and I can see Jose Mourinho asking for a more positive display than what was required at Liverpool and Benfica.

The lack of goals in the home squad is a real concern for Wagner and Huddersfield Town who have scored once in their last 7 games in all competitions. Now they have to try and breach a well organised Manchester United defence and I am not sure that is going to happen here.

Instead I think Manchester United will earn their second away win of the week and they are likely to do that with a clean sheet. However I want to back Manchester United to produce an attacking display that will please the fans and I think they will create chances against a Huddersfield Town team who have just lost some confidence in recent weeks.

Manchester United have won comfortably at Swansea City and CSKA Moscow already this season and I think they can do that at the John Smith's Stadium on Saturday. Injuries mean Jose Mourinho might not be able to rotate the squad as he would have wished, but I think the players had a relatively comfortable night on Wednesday in Lisbon and I think the likes of Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku can create the chances to help Manchester United win this by a couple of goals at least.

Huddersfield Town have been better at home, but I think they will struggle to contain Manchester United and I like the away team to cover the Asian Handicap.

Manchester City v Burnley Pick: It is no surprise that Manchester City are such strong favourites to win this game this weekend when you think of the way they have not just been winning games, but hammering teams. That has been the case at the Etihad Stadium where Manchester City have scored 21 goals in 5 consecutive wins and the layers are expecting another one sided, big win on Saturday.

That could easily happen with the way Manchester City have been playing, but I can't help think Burnley have been disrespected considering how they have performed so far this season. I mean this is a team that has won at Chelsea and drawn at both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, while Sean Dyche's men have only lost 1 of their last 18 away Premier League games by more than a single goal margin.

Burnley will be well organised and look to frustrate Manchester City, especially as they have had a week to prepare for this fixture while their hosts were playing a tough Champions League game.

Pep Guardiola's team have shown they can break down and wear down teams who want to sit in and defend in numbers and they have been beating teams by wide margins. That makes it a risk to oppose Manchester City, but I do think Burnley are getting a big start on the Asian Handicap when you think of the toughness they have shown away from home this season.

They have also shown they have a goal in the side and I do think they can cause a couple of problems of their own from set pieces and also when creating quick turnovers.

It will never feel easy to oppose Manchester City in their current form, but I do think Burnley can give them one of their tougher games of the last six weeks. They won't go toe to toe like Napoli did with some success, but Burnley won't panic if they do fall behind but will continue to set up to make life difficult for Manchester City and I think the belief in the system means they will be confident in keeping things tight enough.

Manchester City are much improved from last season, but they did have their troubles with Burnley and I think that may be the case on Saturday. Anything other than a Manchester City win would be an upset, but I think Burnley can at least make this competitive and I will back the away team with a start on the Asian Handicap.

Swansea City v Leicester City Pick: It might only be October but this feels like a big game between Swansea City and Leicester City who will be desperate for the three points to just start putting some distance between themselves and the bottom three.

This was expected to be another difficult season for Swansea City who had to sell Gylfi Sigurdsson in the summer transfer window. A lack of goals continues to be an issue for Swansea City although Tammy Abraham is trying to change that for them, while the bigger concern has to be the poor form at the Liberty Stadium.

Beating Huddersfield Town is a positive step in the right direction and now they host a Leicester City team who have decided to sack a second manager in the space of eight months. Craig Shakespeare might have been fortunate to be given the top job in the first place and the owners of Leicester City have bigger ambitions than merely surviving in the top flight.

Goals have been a problem for Leicester City too and it is pointing to a fixture that may not feature too many goals. Both Swansea City and Leicester City have had their issues in front of goal and the situation of the fixture should mean that neither team is wanting to take too many risks in this one.

A single goal could be good enough to win this, but picking that winner is much more difficult. Instead I will simply look for the game to feature two or fewer goals which has been a feature of the recent Swansea City and Leicester City games.

Backing that to happen would have resulted in a winner in 6 of the last 7 Swansea City games as well as in 4 of the last 5 Leicester City games. 6 of the last 7 between these clubs in Swansea have also ended with two or fewer goals shared out and I will back that to be the outcome of this fixture this weekend.

Southampton v West Brom Pick: You always seem to know what to expect whenever a Tony Pulis side takes to the field and I wouldn't think West Brom will change their system too much for this one either. Pulis will want his team to be hard to beat and to try and frustrate the hosts in this one and I expect his team to be set out in exactly that manner.

It is much more difficult to know what to expect out of this Southampton team who can really struggle for goals at times. They may have scored twice last week, but that only matched the same number of goals Southampton had scored in their previous 6 games combined and I do think they could have a tough time breaking down West Brom.

There is no doubt that the issues in the final third are the ones that fans tend to focus on, but Mauricio Pellegrino has to be wondering what has happened to Southampton defensively. They conceded twice to Newcastle United last Sunday which means Southampton have conceded that number in 4 of their last 5 home games in all competitions.

You may not think West Brom are capable of exploiting those defensive vulnerabilities, but this is a team that has some pace on the counter attack and who seem to make the most of their opportunities when they do arrive. And The Baggies certainly have enough to be respected more than they are in this one considering Southampton have been priced at fairly strong odds on to win this live fixture.

I can't have that from a team who had failed to score in 3 consecutive home games prior to the 2-2 draw with Newcastle United and I certainly don't think Southampton win this one easily if they do earn the victory. There is every chance a strong West Brom defensive showing can frustrate the home team for long enough to allow The Baggies to perhaps hit them on the counter attack, and I don't think this Tony Pulis team will be blown away by too many teams in and around them.

West Brom were crushed 3-1 at Brighton, but I have to wonder if Southampton have the goals in the side to do that. Backing West Brom with the start on the Asian Handicap should at least return half of the stake here, but with every chance of a full pay out if Tony Pulis' men can earn any kind of result at St Mary's.

Everton v Arsenal Pick: At the start of the season I was critical of the transfers that Everton had made and could not understand why so many were not only tipping them to improve on last season, but to actually go on and challenge for a Champions League berth for next season. Even though they have fallen short of that as I pretty much expected, the underachievement of Everton is a real worry for the fans and for Ronald Koeman.

The issue I had with the Everton transfers was simply that I didn't think any of them improved the starting eleven which had lost Romelu Lukaku. Ross Barkley was another who was out of contention and the signings lacked pace which has been a real problem for Everton.

Defensively players like Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka have declined, while Michael Keane is nothing like the player that was advertised as Everton have not really offered a lot of protection in front of the back four. There is an over-reliance on young players which is another surprise considering how much Everton have spent this summer and all around they have looked a poor team.

Ronald Koeman is under immense pressure as the manager of the club and he looks a little lost in trying to find the answers to get things turned around. It is no wonder he is long odds on to be the next manager to be sacked in the Premier League and a defeat on Sunday might be the end of his time at Goodison Park.

Everton have to show something, but Arsenal are coming in after being criticised by Troy Deeney for 'lacking cajones' which has to be a real embarrassment for the players. They may have won at Red Star Belgrade during the week, but it has been clear that this is the bigger game for Arsenal this week as Arsene Wenger tries to show his team are capable of winning the Premier League.

Arsenal do look miles away from Manchester City so any title challenge feels a long shot, but the players have to show more heart with the Deeney criticism likely to be ringing in their ears. The 3 losses in 4 away games is really disappointing, but Arsenal should have done better at Watford when leading 0-1 and missing some key chances before a controversial penalty turned the game on its head.

You have to say that this does feel the kind of game where Arsenal would come in a lay a dud, especially if recent years are any proof. That worries me, but Arsenal should not be odds against to beat Everton who have been struggling all over the field and whose fans are coming into the Stadium with nerves which transfer onto the pitch.

They haven't played well here in recent years, but Arsenal did beat Everton 0-2 at Goodison Park a couple of years ago. Last week at Watford they didn't have Alexis Sanchez or Aaron Ramsey and I think those two being back this week would be huge for the away side and I am going to back Arsenal to win this fixture and potentially end the Ronald Koeman reign at Goodison Park.

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool Pick: Putting together a winning run at Wembley Stadium will be the best way for Tottenham Hotspur to consign all talk about a 'curse' to the rubbish bin and they are going for a third straight win here in all competitions. The 1-1 draw at Real Madrid during the week has given the fans plenty of confidence that Tottenham Hotspur can compete with the best teams in both at home and in Europe, but the tests keep coming for them.

The next couple of Premier League games see Tottenham Hotspur face Liverpool and Manchester United and Mauricio Pochettino will be looking to add four points to really ignite the season. That won't be easy and Tottenham Hotspur have to snap a recent poor run against Liverpool if they want to begin those two games with three points this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur have won none of their last 10 games against Liverpool in all competitions and did not win any of their last 4 League games at White Hart Lane against them. They will also have to respect the fact that Liverpool have a very good record against the top teams in the Premier League since Jurgen Klopp came in as manager.

Klopp was under a bit of pressure though as Liverpool have not been winning games as much as they would have wanted. A run of 1 win in 8 games in all competitions was ended emphatically with a 0-7 win at Maribor during the week in the Champions League, but Liverpool will be looking to get back on track in the Premier League where they have faltered of late.

The German manager shifted the blame onto Jose Mourinho for the goalless home draw with Manchester United last weekend, but his own tactics have to be questioned. Liverpool will also expect to have more space when travelling to Tottenham Hotspur who will be looking to get on the front foot themselves and that should play into the hands of the away team.

The performances against the top teams makes Liverpool very dangerous here and I do think they can earn a result against a Tottenham Hotspur team who have not played as well as Wembley as they would have liked. Their team also put in a huge shift against Real Madrid while Liverpool coasted to a win in Slovenia, and I can see The Reds having the fresher legs in this one.

Tottenham Hotspur have lost to Chelsea at Wembley Stadium this season and failed to beat Burnley or Swansea City. I think they will have a tough time against Liverpool this weekend too, and I will back the visitors to earn a result here this weekend against a team they have had considerable success against in recent years.

MY PICKS: West Ham United @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea-Watford Both Teams to Score @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley + 2.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Swansea City-Leicester City Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Brom + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Liverpool + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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