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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, 18 November 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (November 18-20)

Thank goodness we will not have to sit through another international break for a few months because these last two weeks have been very, very boring.

The football played in that time didn't help with so many matches ending goalless and I can't say I am disappointed that we are back to the bread and butter of domestic football this weekend.

The World Cup Finals will be fun... But the lead up has been a chore and the injury to Phil Jones while representing England once again highlights the nonsense of the friendly games that seem to be littered throughout the calendar year.

It's over now, so I am going to move on, but I can completely understand where Jose Mourinho was coming from when wondering what England were up to in pushing Jones through the pain barrier for a friendly game.

Speaking about Jose Mourinho and Phil Jones leads me to placing the link to my latest short piece about Manchester United. A difficult October has seen the criticism raise up, but Manchester United can get back on track in November before two more huge games against Arsenal and Manchester City which will determine the kind of goals United can aim for over the rest of the season.

You can read that short piece about Manchester United in my latest United Corner here.

Last time out in the Premier League, the eight picks made all returned as winners and I am hoping the international break has not ended my momentum. The picks from the Weekend Premier League games are below.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The final international break of the 2017 calendar year is now behind us and the Premier League return with a bang when the North London derby opens the next round of fixtures. The next six weeks are going to be an intense time with plenty of football in the top flight of English Football scheduled between now and the first few days of the 2018 calendar year.

Managers will be looking to guide their players through those tough stretches and will be hoping to avoid the injury bug. Mauricio Pochettino may be glad of the international break in that regards as his Tottenham Hotspur squad has the likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane nursing knocks, although the manager expects both to be available this week after being withdrawn from the England squad.

Both are key to the successes that Tottenham Hotspur can have, but Pochettino won't want to risk Alli and Kane and potentially lose them for the big stretch through December. However this is a huge game and both players should be ready to go against an Arsenal team looking to bounce back from their 3-1 loss at Manchester City.

The break has given the chance to a few players to get over injury concerns of their own and Arsenal have also benefited from the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey being given a rest by their national sides. A strong Arsenal team is expected to line up as they look to defend a long winning run at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League, although they are faced by a Tottenham Hotspur team who have been very strong on their travels.

The goalkeeping situation would be a concern for Pochettino if Hugo Lloris and Michel Vorm miss out again. With Toby Alderweireld expected to miss out, Tottenham Hotspur may not be as strong at the back and Arsenal have to try and take advantage of that with their attacking talent that is available.

That has probably contributed to the home side being a narrow favourite, but Tottenham Hotspur will feel they can challenge an Arsenal team who have looked vulnerable at the back. Both teams should have their moments and this has all the makings of a very close game.

It may not be a huge surprise that two teams who are closely matched do have so many competitive matches against one another. The last 3 at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League between these teams have ended in draws, while 4 of the last 6 North London derbies in the Premier League have seen the points shared.

Coming out of the international break into such a big game can be tough, and it won't be a big surprise if these teams end up cancelling one another out. Having a small interest in the draw from the first live game of the weekend looks the way to go in this one.

Bournemouth v Huddersfield Town Pick: Games like this one could prove to be so critical come April/May as the Premier League comes to a close and I don't think that is lost on Eddie Howe or David Wagner. It's hard to label games as 'must win' in November, but you can imagine certain fixtures have been circled by the managers and this has to be one that both Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town have looked to as one they can win.

The home advantage could be key to the outcome with Huddersfield Town clearly showing they are a much different proposition at home than on their travels. Goals have been hard to come by for The Terriers on their travels and defensively they have not been as tight as they have found themselves at the John Smith's Stadium.

A team like Bournemouth have the attacking power to take advantage of that and Eddie Howe will certainly feel they can win games like this at the Vitality Stadium. They had some real momentum going into the international break and the only worry for Howe is that the two break has snapped some of that.

Even with that in mind, Bournemouth have looked like an improving team and I think the absence of Christopher Schindler does weaken the Huddersfield Town rearguard. I can imagine they are set up to restrict Bournemouth and frustrate them, but the home team have played well enough and have the likes of Joshua King and Jermain Defoe to sniff out the chances.

The lack of goals has to be a concern for Huddersfield Town having failed to score in their last 5 away games in all competitions. On the other hand Bournemouth do create chances and I think they can take one which can lead to another important three points for a team climbing away from the bottom three.

Burnley v Swansea City Pick: It may be something of a surprise to note that Burnley and Swansea City have earned more points on their travels than they have at home in the Premier League this season. That makes the almost odds on quotes for Burnley to win this fixture less appealing than they may have initially looked, especially as Swansea City have shown some battling qualities away from home.

Paul Clement's men have narrowly been beaten at West Ham United and Arsenal and it has to be said they are facing a team who are not going to blow you away with their football. Goals have been a problem for both Burnley and Swansea City which suggests there won't be a lot between them and so the odds for the home team are not that appealing.

In saying that, Burnley have more momentum going into the international break than Swansea City which may play a part in this one. Defensively Burnley have shown they can be very tough to break down and they won't want to offer Swansea City too much encouragement in this one.

The problem is that Burnley can look a little predictable going forward which should mean most teams are fairly comfortable with what they are facing. While Swansea City have had their issues defensively at home, they have only conceded 3 times in 5 away games in the League and the players will have the confidence of having done the League double over Burnley last season.

I am actually finding it harder to separate them than the layers, but I am not convinced enough to back an out of form Swansea City with the start either. This is the kind of fixture that could easily be decided by a single goal and I do think it could be worth backing one or fewer goals to be shared out for a small interest.

An early goal can quickly change the whole dynamic of the fixture, but I think both Burnley and Swansea City will be looking to keep things tight and can have success doing that. 4 of the last 6 games between these teams in over recent years have finished with one or fewer goals scored including 3 in a row before Swansea City's 3-2 home win over Burnley last season.

Goals have come at a premium in Burnley home and Swansea City away matches this season and I will look for another tight game to develop here.

Leicester City v Manchester City Pick: The international break can be difficult for clubs to deal with as players are sent around the world to represent their nations. That is a particular concern for the top clubs in the top European Leagues who have the majority of their squad away from home and may be the biggest factor in slowing down a Manchester City team who have been rampant so far this season.

That hasn't been the case so far with Manchester City coming out of the last two international breaks with a 5-0 win over Liverpool and a 7-2 win over Stoke City. However both of those games were played at the Etihad Stadium and it is a different challenge when having to travel for a fixture with limited preparation time.

They are also facing a Leicester City who have played well in recent games and look to feel better under Claude Puel since he has taken over Craig Shakespeare. However The Foxes have not played one of the top teams in their recent run and it is hard to ignore the fact they have been beaten by Chelsea and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium in the Premier League this season.

In both games Leicester City have fallen a couple of goals behind before getting back into the game, but a slow start against Manchester City is much harder to retrieve with the way Pep Guardiola's men have played. You have to also consider that Leicester City have played six home matches against the teams that finished in the top six last season over the last eleven months and have lost 5 of those.

3 of Manchester City's 5 away Premier League wins have come by a single goal margin including a late winner at Bournemouth. However West Brom needed an injury time goal to get back to 2-3 in a home loss to Manchester City and this is a team who can create enough chances to really put Leicester City in a difficult spot in this one.

I just think Claude Puel may play this one a little too cautiously and allow Manchester City to dictate the play which is exactly where they are dominant. While they can cause problems on the counter attack with the pace in the starting eleven, Manchester City should be too strong and can score the goals to win this one.

The likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have all scored at least three times in their visits to Leicester City over the last eleven months. Manchester City have managed that number in their last couple of away games and I will back them at odds against to do the same here.

Liverpool v Southampton Pick: One of the big concerns for Jurgen Klopp is the injuries the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane have had to deal with throughout the 2017/18 season so far. His Liverpool side may have overcome those by remaining on the edge of the top four in the Premier League and almost progressing through to the Champions League Last 16, but Klopp will need a full squad to keep the momentum going.

Sadio Mane has returned from Senegal duty with another hamstring complaint and may have to miss out this week as Liverpool have struggled to get their four big name attackers onto the field at the same time. This week Philippe Coutinho should return, but Liverpool look plenty short to win this game.

As inconsistent as Southampton have been, they have proven to be a tough nut to crack at times. They certainly have the quality to raise their game when facing some of the best teams in the Premier League, and Southampton will be confident when you think how they played against Liverpool last season.

The Saints did not concede a goal in 4 games against Liverpool last season and beat them twice, while in recent years they have only lost 1 of 5 visits to Anfield.

Very rarely have Southampton been completely outclassed, but they are a hard to team to trust when they have been as inconsistent in front of goal as they have been. Instead you have to imagine Southampton will be looking to frustrate their hosts as they did in all 4 games last season and that could pay off with Mane missing.

Scoring goals remains an issue for Southampton who have just 9 all season in the Premier League. As poor as Liverpool have looked defensively, the majority of the poor performances have come away from Anfield and Liverpool have kept 3 clean sheets in a row here in all competitions.

With the head to head and the teams coming out on Saturday, I am surprised the oddsmakers have priced up one, or both, of these teams failing to score at odds against. The Liverpool defence has played better at home while Southampton can frustrate Liverpool when at their best and putting those factors together makes me feel that one of these teams, at least, are not going to score on Saturday.

West Brom v Chelsea Pick: There were some major questions about the Chelsea players when they bounced back from a 3-0 loss at Roma to beat Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League days later. The international break likely came at the wrong time for Chelsea who will be hoping Eden Hazard can overcome a knock he picked up with Belgium, but Antonio Conte will be looking for his side to start producing some consistency.

The Blues had won 4 of their last 5 games going into the international break, but some of those performances were not the most convincing. However Chelsea have faired pretty well away from home in the Premier League and now head to a West Brom team who are lacking confidence and have a manager of their own under pressure.

Tony Pulis' brand of football is far from pleasing on the eye but it has been effective in keeping the likes of Stoke City, Crystal Palace and West Brom in the Premier League. However there are signs that it is no longer producing the points at the same rate and West Brom have been awful over their last 20 Premier League games spread over two seasons.

The Baggies have earned just 12 points from a possible 60 in that time and produced a win just twice, while West Brom have not looked as secure defensively. That could be a problem in this one, although West Brom have scored in 4 of their last 5 Premier League games at home and have to feel they can challenge this Chelsea backline that is likely to be missing David Luiz again.

A problem for West Brom is the lack of belief and I do think Chelsea are going to get the better of them, although I don't want to back them to cover the Asian Handicap. It will need a win by at least two goals for Chelsea to return a full winner in this one and that may be difficult if West Brom do create chances like they did against Watford and Manchester City.

This is also a Chelsea team who have conceded goals and it is pointing to a game which features at least three goals shared out. That is priced up at odds against and this does feel like a match in which both teams will score with every chance of seeing a winner which is more likely to come from Chelsea.

6 of the last 7 Chelsea away games in all competitions have featured at least three goals, while the last 3 at The Hawthorns for West Brom have done the same. At odds against I will look for at least three goals to be shared out on Saturday.

Manchester United v Newcastle United Pick: The second live game in the Premier League on Saturday comes from Old Trafford as Manchester United look to bounce back from a disappointing 1-0 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This is a big couple of weeks coming up for Manchester United who are trying to keep tabs on Manchester City ahead of the first Manchester derby of the 2017/18 season.

Over the next eight days Manchester United will play twice at Old Trafford where they have been dominant so far this season. Games against Brighton and first Newcastle United are ones that Manchester United can ill afford to drop points and performances here suggest they won't be dropping points.

Manchester United have been confident at Old Trafford compared with last season and that has resulted in 8 straight wins in all competitions. They have created chances and scored 24 goals in those games, while defensively Manchester United have looked comfortable.

Phil Jones may not play this weekend, but Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling can produce a solid enough partnership to contain a Newcastle United side who have not been blessed with a lot of goals. Newcastle United have scored 4 goals in their last 6 Premier League games and could be missing Christian Atsu in this one.

Losing Jamaal Lascelles would be a blow for them from a defensive standpoint too as Rafa Benitez is sure to try and make life as difficult as possible for their hosts. The Magpies have yet to visit one of the top Premier League clubs this season and I think it will be a real test for them against a Manchester United team who have been very good at home.

Romelu Lukaku was back in scoring form for Belgium during the two week break and he looked sharp. It has been tough for him in recent away games with the way Manchester United have been set up, but this is a game in which Manchester United will look to get on the front foot and I think he will get his chances to snap out of his recent scoring drought at club level.

In recent games Manchester United and Newcastle United have played some close and competitive matches at Old Trafford, but the home team look considerably stronger now. A look at the starting line up from their last match against one another at Old Trafford in August 2015 shows how much Manchester United have improved compared to Newcastle United.

I expect that show up on the scoreboard in this one and I will look for Manchester United to cover the Asian Handicap.

Watford v West Ham United Pick: Maybe it has something to do with the horrific nine months of watching Manchester United under the guidance of David Moyes, or perhaps it is his ill-fated time in charge of both Real Sociedad and Sunderland, but I am not sure what West Ham United were thinking appointing him as their new manager.

The West Ham United fans seem to be wondering the same thing and there is plenty of negativity around the club which will only be removed if The Hammers can put some wins together. The next couple of weeks are so important for West Ham United to get on track before facing the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in consecutive Premier League games.

David Moyes has insisted the first part of his time with his new club is going to be working on the defensive side of the field as West Ham United have conceded far too many goals. That is going to be tested by Watford who have seen Marco Silva enhance his reputation to the point of having Everton try to come for their manager.

Silva's employers have refused that approach and he will continue trying to help Watford play the kind of football that has been receiving plenty of plaudits. Unfortunately the results have not matched the performances of late and injuries in defensive areas have seen Watford concede too many goals in recent games.

That is an area West Ham United will try and exploit, but the visitors have issues of their own that Watford will feel they can take advantage of. The Hornets have looked good in the final third and I do think they will have their chances even with Troy Deeney suspended.

It is an important game for both teams and the television cameras may be broadcasting an entertaining Sunday afternoon affair. I do think Watford are the more likely winners, but defensive problems and the home loss to Stoke City and failure to beat Brighton as the favourites at Vicarage Road put me off.

Add in the fact West Ham United have produced better away from home than at the London Stadium of late and Watford look a short price here. However I do think there will be at least three goals shared out between the teams with the way both have defended and attacked in recent games and I don't think Moyes will have had the time to stamp his defensive plans for The Hammers.

Backing at least three goals looks a decent price in this live game and I will look for the teams to reach that mark.

MY PICKS: Arsenal-Tottenham Hotspur Draw @ 3.70 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Bournemouth @ 1.86 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Burnley-Swansea City Under 1.5 Goals @ 2.70 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Manchester City Over 2.5 Team Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool-Southampton Both Teams to Score- NO @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
West Brom-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Watford-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

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