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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (December 12-13)

The December Football schedule means there are not a lot of days to rest and recover and that is shown by another round of Premier League fixtures to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The last weekend was a big one in terms of the title race as it looks like Manchester City are going to be very difficult to pull back after winning at Old Trafford. It was a tough day for us Manchester United fans and I will have a short piece about United in the wake of that defeat which should be posted before the Bournemouth game on Wednesday.

On Monday the Champions League and Europa League Last 16/Last 32 Knock Out ties were drawn and it looks an interesting time for the Premier League.

I do think Arsenal can work their way through to the Last 16 without too many issues when they take on Ostersunds and the importance of the Europa League will depend on how The Gunners play in the Premier League between now and February.

The more intriguing ties came in the Champions League as the five English teams in the Last 16 received their opponents.

Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City should be very happy when they play the two Legs against Sevilla, Porto and Basel respectively.

Both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have received the glamour ties against Juventus and Barcelona which will really appeal to the fans, and I think both will have their chances. I lean towards Tottenham Hotspur making a quartet of English representatives in the Quarter Finals and Chelsea being edged out, but those the situation could be much different when we come around to February when the Champions League recommences.

And of course most will be looking forward to Real Madrid versus Paris Saint-Germain which looks a tie that could easily determine the winner of the Champions League this season.

This weekend was one of the worst when it comes to the Football Picks in recent weeks and I have to say I was a little irritated things went south as badly as they did. The Christian Benteke penalty miss was costly, but it was a tough day all around and I am looking for a significant bounce back on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

Crystal Palace v Watford Pick: Neither Roy Hodgson or Marco Silva were in a great mood on Saturday evening after feeling their teams had been hard done by, but both Crystal Palace and Watford have to pick themselves up immediately with another round of Premier League games this midweek.

Crystal Palace may rue the two points they dropped on Saturday when Christian Benteke decided to take a penalty that the manager or coaching staff did not ask him to. Benteke isn't the designated penalty taker for Crystal Palace with Luka Milivojevic having already scored one penalty on the day still on the pitch, and you do have to wonder how the players feel about the way things panned out.

There is also the concern that Wilfried Zaha could face a suspension having won the first penalty in controversial fashion, but that has not been decided at the time of writing. Losing Zaha would be a huge blow for Crystal Palace, but Hodgson has to be encouraged that his team can create chances at home.

Saturday was the fifth consecutive home game in which Crystal Palace had scored at least two goals and there are injury concerns and suspensions which make Watford vulnerable. However Marco Silva has to feel his side can create chances at Selhurst Park too with Watford being an efficient counter attacking team.

Crystal Palace haven't done clean sheets at home and I can see this being another high-scoring game for the home fans to appreciate. I am leaning towards a home win too with Watford perhaps a little tired after playing with ten men for a long time on Saturday, but I do think Watford can play their part here and will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Watford have scored plenty of away goals in the League, but have also conceded quite a few and an entertaining game could be the outcome.

Huddersfield Town v Chelsea Pick: These two teams come into this live Premier League televised encounter after contrasting feelings from the results they earned on Saturday, but Chelsea will still be big favourites to win at Huddersfield Town.

While Chelsea went down to a 1-0 loss on Saturday lunchtime, Huddersfield Town beat Brighton 2-0 here later in the day. However I do wonder how much energy the home team will have for this game having been hammered at Arsenal just a few days after an intense battle with Manchester City a couple of weeks ago.

The home form is key for Huddersfield Town, but the intensity with which David Wagner wants his players to play can be sapping. They were the far better team on Saturday when beating Brighton, and Huddersfield Town will look to exploit all the set pieces they have, but it may be tough to dominate in the same way against Chelsea.

Despite the disappointing performance against West Ham United, Chelsea have shown they can bounce back from poor results with much better ones soon after. Antonio Conte's suggestion the players were tired is a concern, but there is enough quality to make some changes and still be an effective threat, while this time they are facing a team who will have played with less recovery time.

That could be important for Chelsea who will also play again on Saturday with more recovery time than their next opponents. You do have to respect the Huddersfield Town home form which has seen them beat Manchester United and only narrowly lose to Manchester City, but I do think it is difficult for their squad to play two Premier League games in a short space of days like this.

Chelsea's experience of dealing with a couple of games in a three or four day period should help them here and I do think they can bounce back from the loss at West Ham United. It won't be easy, but I expect Chelsea can wear Huddersfield Town down with the domination of the ball and the home team might not have the same intensity in the second of two Premier League games in four days and I will look for Chelsea to win by a couple of goals on the day.

Newcastle United v Everton Pick: The one concern for any midweek fixtures off the back of a busy Premier League weekend is how much energy has been sapped in matches played. That has to be an issue for Everton after playing in the Merseyside derby on Sunday, but they can at least point to the draw as a positive and perhaps another confidence boost for a squad of players who had been struggling.

It certainly makes it a surprise to see Newcastle United as favourites to beat them after they were beaten here by Leicester City on Saturday afternoon. Having a few hours more of recovery time can be important, but The Magpies are out of form and Rafa Benitez is struggling to get a tune out of his players.

Newcastle United have lost 6 of their last 7 games and they are now just a couple of points clear of the bottom three and with some tough fixtures to come. They have lost 3 in a row at St James' Park and I just can't have them as favourites to beat Everton this Wednesday.

Sam Allardyce will look to make Everton hard to beat and challenge Newcastle United on the counter attack and I think they can have success doing that. Energy levels could be an issue, but Newcastle United are struggling and the visitors are in the kind of form where they can be backed with a start on the Asian Handicap.

Southampton v Leicester City Pick: There is a clear storyline in play when Southampton face Leicester City on Wednesday and that is the return of Claude Puel to St Mary's where his tactics were not appreciated by the home fans. In his time with Southampton Puel took them to a League Cup Final, but there was a perception of negativity that surrounded him and that saw Southampton decide to move on.

A few months later Puel has taken over at Leicester City and the fans at his new club may have been worried about what to expect when reading about his time with Southampton. However Leicester City have been far from a boring team to watch since Puel replaced Craig Shakespeare and the players seem very happy.

That should mean they are given even more motivation to put in a big performance for their manager in this game which will mean a lot to Puel.

Leicester City have been in a good run which will increase the confidence and they have been scoring plenty of goals in recent games both at home and away. The 2-3 win at Newcastle United on Saturday showed some of the determination in the squad after Leicester City had fallen 1-0 down very early in the contest and I do think they can provide problems for Southampton who have had a day less recovery time from the weekend fixtures.

Southampton have also been in improved form in recent weeks which should mean we have a decent fixture in prospect. They should have beaten Arsenal with the chances they had in the second half, but the final ball is still a problem for Southampton and I think that is still holding them back from really pushing on up the Premier League table.

Charlie Austin is providing a goal threat, but Southampton have only scored more than one goal in 1 of their last 8 Premier League games. That was in the recent 4-1 win over Everton at St Mary's but the lack of goals continues to be an issue that needs resolving and I think that gives Leicester City every chance to earn a result for Claude Puel.

The away side have scored at least twice in 3 of their last 4 away Premier League games and I think Leicester City can avoid a loss here. I was tempted to back the draw, but Leicester City have created enough chances to win games and if Southampton continue to struggle for goals there is every opportunity for Leicester City to win here.

Either way, I think Leicester City earn a result and I will back them with a start on the Asian Handicap to do that.

Swansea City v Manchester City Pick: It is still too early to put the fork into the Premier League title chase, but Manchester City have looked very strong and the win at Old Trafford moving them 11 points clear of 2nd placed Manchester United looks a huge lead already. Things can change quickly, but it is tough to see Manchester City hitting the kind of slump that will be needed for that gap to decrease and I really don't think that happens here at the Liberty Stadium.

Paul Clement just has to be happy that his side won on Saturday to ease some of the pressure he has to have been feeling as Swansea City manager. The rumours that the club were looking at Tony Pulis as a possible replacement didn't affect the players who helped Swansea City beat West Brom 1-0, but this is a completely different level of test.

You know Clement will try and set Swansea City up to be tough to beat and hit Manchester City on the counter attack, but it is the away side who will dominate the ball. The talent Manchester City have means they are likely to wear down Swansea City over the course of ninety minutes, and the lack of goals in the Swansea City squad has to be a concern.

Wilfried Bony has scored twice in a row and would love to do the same against his former club Manchester City, but this is a team who had failed to score in 3 home games prior to the win over West Brom. The lack of goals is the reason Swansea City are struggling in the Premier League and I think they will have their problems trying to get to the Manchester City backline in this one.

Manchester City have a strong recent record at Swansea City and the feeling is that they will likely win this one with a clean sheet which can be backed at odds against. That looks the most likely way this fixture ends as Manchester City likely have a couple of goals in the side to secure the victory and keep the pressure on their rivals to try and find a way to stay with them.

Liverpool v West Brom Pick: Jurgen Klopp was angry and irritated by the questions he was facing immediately after Liverpool could only draw 1-1 with Everton as he felt the officials had made the wrong decision for the late Everton penalty that was awarded. It was the frustration that came out of the day when Liverpool should have won the Merseyside derby with some comfort, but Klopp will likely recognise the penalty was the correct decision.

He will be hoping to be in a better mood on Wednesday evening after Liverpool host an out of form West Brom team who remain tough to break down even after Tony Pulis has moved on. Alan Pardew has not made an immediate impact with The Baggies though and this is a team who have struggled in the final third which is going to make it tough to earn a result here.

West Brom will likely hope to do the same as Everton and contain Liverpool as much as possible and take advantage of any set pieces or counter attacking opportunities they get. The Liverpool defence is one that is far from watertight, but it was still tough for Everton to get up the field and I think that is going to be the case for West Brom here.

As poor as Liverpool have defended at times, they seem to do better at Anfield where they have had 5 clean sheets in their last 7 here in all competitions. They have won 4 of their last 6 at Anfield and all of those wins have come with a clean sheet and I have to think that is very likely against a West Brom team who have lost 3 of their last 4 away Premier League games by the same 1-0 scoreline.

The Baggies have also failed to score in 4 of their last 6 Premier League games overall and I think that is going to be a problem for them on Wednesday. Backing Liverpool to win this one with a clean sheet is a big enough price to be involved and they have been better defensively at Anfield to think they can earn the three points behind a clean sheet here.

Manchester United v Bournemouth Pick: It was a disappointing day in the office for Manchester United on Sunday when they were clearly the second best team on the pitch against Manchester City, but the manner of the goals conceded will haunt Jose Mourinho. For all the talk of possession and shots, it was two blunders from set pieces which cost Manchester United and that will hurt considering that was supposed to be an area of strength.

It will hurt and the players and fans will be feeling a little sore on Monday, but they have to get back on the horse in a busy December.

All is not lost yet for Manchester United who have to put a winning run together and then see how things are looking in a few weeks time. They have a chance to do that with the next set of League games coming mainly against teams in the bottom half of the Premier League table and that begins on Wednesday when hosting Bournemouth.

I do expect Jose Mourinho to make some changes to freshen up his team although there aren't many options in the middle of the park. The likes of Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan didn't play a minute on Sunday, while Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both had limited roles.

The squad should be able to cope with a Bournemouth side who were fortunate to escape Crystal Palace with a point when you think of the chances the home side had. Bournemouth do feel more comfortable at this level, but they have been second best when facing the top teams in the League for the most part.

This is a team who have lost at both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and suffered home losses to Manchester City and Chelsea and I do think Bournemouth are not quite so good on their travels. They can't make the same types of changes as Manchester United so tiredness could be a factor considering the effort made on Saturday, although an extra day of rest will help the visitors in this one.

Even with that in mind, they are facing a Manchester United team who will have something to prove on Wednesday. The top four places is the minimum everyone connected with the club will expect and they have to recover from a disappointing result.

Being at home helps considering Manchester United had won 12 straight at Old Trafford before Sunday, and they have been putting some of the lesser lights to the sword in front of their home fans. That is a marked improvement from last season and I think Manchester United will dominate the possession in this one and are able to score the goals to win by a relatively comfortable margin too.

Bournemouth will allow Manchester United to express themselves and that has led to plenty of goals conceded when visiting the top teams in England. There might not be a lot of goals in this one as Manchester United just want to get back to winning and Bournemouth may be looking to keep it tight as possible, but Manchester United have followed each of their previous 3 losses this season with wins.

2 of those have come by at least a two goal margin and I will back Manchester United to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton Pick: December is a test for clubs both at the top and bottom of the Premier League with the games coming thick and fast and that stretches squads. However teams at the top will feel they can make a few more changes to freshen things up and keep the quality at a high level which is an issue for those lower down the Division.

It shouldn't be a problem for Tottenham Hotspur this midweek, although they are likely going to keep the big names out there to try and build some momentum ahead of the Premier League game at Manchester City on Saturday. They may freshen up the full back positions and not lose too much, and I do think Tottenham Hotspur are going to be too good for Brighton who are struggling.

Chris Hughton won't be panicking just yet, but Brighton have taken some heavy losses of late and the disappointment of the 2-0 loss at Huddersfield Town will have dented the confidence. Travelling to Wembley Stadium may offer the motivation for a big effort, but I wouldn't be surprised if Hughton makes some changes with the weekend game in mind.

Back to back home games against Burnley and Watford could be the priority for Hughton and Brighton and I think that may show up on Wednesday.

Brighton did play well in a narrow loss at Old Trafford recently, but they have since lost 1-5 to Liverpool and 2-0 at Huddersfield Town. The Seagulls have also lost by a couple of goals against Manchester City and Arsenal this season and I do think Tottenham Hotspur are perhaps trending upwards after some recent negative results.

That should see Tottenham Hotspur create the chances to win this game and cover the Asian Handicap.

West Ham United v Arsenal Pick: The two teams had contrasting results in the last round of Premier League fixtures, but I think Arsenal can bounce back against West Ham United.

The home team should be very confident and coming in with a lot of positive feeling after beating Chelsea 1-0 here on Saturday and they have also had an extra day to prepare for this London derby. However West Ham United have a squad that is stretched and they had to put in a lot of work on Saturday to earn the victory over Chelsea and I do wonder if that has taken something out of the tank.

The players certainly looked short of energy at the end of the win over Chelsea and they are likely going to be doing a lot of chasing in this one against an Arsenal team who can dominate possession.

However West Ham United should feel they can create chances against an Arsenal defence which has looked very vulnerable in the last couple of League games. They were fortunate not to be punished by Southampton who had some very strong counter attacking opportunities, but Arsenal have the talent to break down any team in front of them when they are playing at their best.

Arsenal conceded early and West Ham United scored early over the weekend and I do think the opening moments will be important in this one. If Arsenal can just weather what is likely to be an early storm, I would fancy Arsenal to create chances against a West Ham United team who will have some fatigue to deal with.

In recent years Arsenal have enjoyed their trips to West Ham United including a 1-5 win at the London Stadium last season. I think they will be able to bounce back from the last couple of weaker Premier League results with a much better one on Wednesday and I still think West Ham United are a team who have issues at the back that Arsenal can expose.

It didn't work on Saturday, but I will back Arsenal to cover the Asian Handicap in a win at the London Stadium on Wednesday.

MY PICKS: Crystal Palace-Watford Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 2.10 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Liverpool Win to Nil @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.12 Bet365 (2 Units)

December Update: 9-18, - 12.38 Units (45 Units Staked, - 27.51% Yield)

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