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Sunday, 31 December 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2018 (January 1-4)

Happy New Year and I hope this is a prosperous 2018 for everyone.

With Premier League games played on New Year's Day and through the next few days, all the picks will be on this one thread.

Brighton v Bournemouth Pick: The first live Premier League game from the 2018 calendar year comes from the south coast as both Brighton and Bournemouth look to give their chances of extending their stay in the top flight a real boost. Both clubs have had some positive results of late which will give them a real belief in their chances to do that and I do expect a positive intent from both clubs.

Goals can be a problem for the two clubs and the layers are offering a big price for at least three goals to be shared out.

However I think that may be worth taking on with the way both Brighton and Bournemouth have approached recent games. Brighton have created a fair few chances in front of goal and now face a Bournemouth defence that has really made too many mistakes.

On the other hand Bournemouth will know that Brighton can get a little nervy at the back and may feel they can at least expose some of the vulnerabilities that exist. The injuries to Jermain Defoe and Josh King don't help the Bournemouth cause, but The Cherries have scored 5 goals in their last couple of games in the Premier League and they can certainly score here.

The 1-1 draw is perhaps the result I am most concerned about, but I think Brighton and Bournemouth won't settle in this one. Both Chris Hughton and Eddie Howe are likely going to have circled this game to win and the positive attitude may result in at least three goals at what looks a very big price.

Burnley v Liverpool Pick: Goals have been in short supply in the most part when Burnley have played this season, but games against the top six have generally had a different feel. That could be the case again on New Year's Day when Burnley host Liverpool, even if Mo Salah is perhaps missing for the away side.

They might not be the most attacking team in the Premier League, but Burnley have been efficient in front of goal and they will feel they can cause problems for Liverpool from set pieces. The defensive issues for Liverpool won't all be resolved by the signing of Virgil Van Dijk and away from home that remains a real vulnerable spot for Liverpool.

Burnley could have some chances, but the fear for them has to be what Tottenham Hotspur did to them at Turf Moor ten days ago. Granted Burnley have the likes of James Tarkowski back in defence, but Liverpool have scored at least three times in their last 6 away games in all competitions and clearly carry a threat.

Even without Salah you would expect Liverpool will create some chances in this one and they have shown the form to think they can take the opportunities that come their way.

With both teams likely to have some opportunities in front of goal, I do think they can combine for at least three goals shared out. Liverpool themselves have shown they can reach this number on their own in recent weeks, but Burnley could also play a part and I will look for three goals to be produced at Turf Moor on the first day of 2018.

Stoke City v Newcastle United Pick: Two teams who are out of form meet in what could be termed as a 'relegation six pointer' and the three points on offer are huge for both managers. Rafa Benitez may not be under the same pressure as Mark Hughes, but relegation would be a huge blow for both Stoke City and Newcastle United.

Stoke City have kept their faith in Hughes and the team have responded when it seems like the manager is a game away from losing his job. The Welshman has to hope the same happens on New Year's Day after Stoke City were hammered at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but this is a much more manageable game for them.

They will have to show Newcastle United respect after seeing The Magpies come from a goal behind to beat West Ham United 2-3 in their last away game. However Newcastle United have been struggling massively for the most part and they have a poor recent record at Stoke City.

It is hard to have a really strong belief in either of these teams, but Stoke City have won 2 of their last 3 at the Bet365 Stadium. They are likely to have a few players returning to the starting eleven and I think the team is still behind Mark Hughes and can have a strong response to the loss at Chelsea on Saturday.

Newcastle United can be a little hit and miss at times, but there is something missing at the moment. I think that means a small interest in Stoke City winning this game has to be taken on.

Everton v Manchester United Pick: It has been a difficult festive period for Manchester United as they have dropped six points over the last ten days which has seen them dragged back into a top four battle in the Premier League. Jose Mourinho has not been happy and is asking for more investment in the playing squad, while the players have not looked as confident as earlier in the season.

A bit of bad luck has not helped Manchester United as they should have won at Leicester City recently and some poor lapses from set pieces have cost them sloppy goals in other games.

The game on Saturday against Southampton was one of the poorer performances in recent weeks as Manchester United struggled to create too many clear cut chances. Now they are missing Romelu Lukaku for a few days at least and this is a much tougher test than it was a few weeks ago.

Sam Allardyce has made Everton a lot more solid and they have some decent talent in the final third which can help them cause problems for Manchester United. However I do think Everton will let Manchester United have the ball and allow the away side to dictate play and Allardyce himself is looking for more investment in the playing squad during this January transfer window.

The short turnaround between games makes it tough to read how the two teams will respond, but I think Manchester United have a couple more options with the changes they can make.

Wayne Rooney would love to get one over his former club, but I think Manchester United can bounce back from recent setbacks with a bigger performance on the first day of the new calendar year. Manchester United have played some decent stuff away from home in the last month when they perhaps have more space to operate in and I think they can win here.

Everton won't be a pushover as Chelsea found out a few days ago, but Manchester United can find something a little extra in the final third. Results may not have been the best in recent days, but this is a good chance for Manchester United to bounce back and I will back them to do that.

Southampton v Crystal Palace Pick: Both Crystal Palace and Southampton would have been pleased with goalless draws earned against the two clubs from Manchester on the final weekend of the 2017 calendar year. The points the two teams earned are important in keeping them out of the bottom three, but the significance of this fixture will not have been lost on the two managers.

There is a slightly tougher scheduling spot for Crystal Palace who played on Sunday and arguably had to get through a lot more work to earn the result with Manchester City than Southampton had to do at Old Trafford the evening before. However Crystal Palace are playing with plenty of confidence and they will believe recent away performances have improved significantly and to an extent that earning a result here is not out of the realms of possibility.

The layers seem to price Southampton up as a team who win a lot more games than they do and the lack of goals in the squad has to be a big concern for Mauricio Pellegrino. Now they have to face a Crystal Palace team who have looked strong defensively under Hodgson and I think the away team have enough in the locker to at least limit what Southampton can do.

On the other hand Crystal Palace also have some real quality in the final third that can cause problems and a single goal may be enough to earn a result and make it 5 straight unbeaten away from home for Roy Hodgson's men.

Crystal Palace don't have the best recent record here, but I do think they can earn a point and that looks a tempting price. The Saints look short at odds on to win this fixture and I will back The Eagles with the start on the Asian Handicap.

Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Ultimately it will be results that matter most to Swansea City, but they can't afford to play as poorly as they did for so much of the game at Watford. Better sides will not sit back and allow them to play their way back into the games to steal three points as Watford did and Swansea City will have to be a lot better when coming up against a hot Tottenham Hotspur.

Mauricio Pochettino's men might not have played this weekend, and that has given them a chance to have a few more days to rest. This week is a tougher one on the squad, but the extra days will also have been very important for Harry Kane to overcome an illness which likely would have kept him out if the game against West Ham United was played this weekend.

Back to back wins by three goal margins over Burnley and Southampton would have given Tottenham Hotspur a real belief that they can earn their place back in the top four. That confidence also should mean they have much of the play at the Liberty Stadium where Swansea City have struggled for consistency.

Even though they have lost 1 of their last 4 League games here, Swansea City are still very much the underdog here and I think Tottenham Hotspur will be too good.

Having a little more rest at this time of the season could be crucial for Spurs and I think they will be able to create enough chances to win this game by a comfortable margin. I am expecting Harry Kane to be ready to come in and play with the extra time to have overcome his illness and I think Tottenham Hotspur continue a strong run of results in this part of Wales.

Manchester United have won here twice and Manchester City have also won on this ground and both teams managed to do that by at least two goal margins. I will look for Tottenham Hotspur to do the same as they continue the fine momentum they are building up.

Manchester City v Watford Pick: It will be interesting to hear the injury news coming out of Manchester City after both Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus were forced off on Sunday in the goalless draw at Crystal Palace. With David Silva also potentially missing, Manchester City have lost some key creative pieces of their attack and perhaps this offers a Watford a way into this match.

However the away side are short of confidence in recent weeks with defeats coming thick and fast and Manchester City are still likely to have the majority of the ball.

Watford have just struggled for goals in recent away games too as they have failed to score in 2 of their last 3 on their travels in the Premier League. That is a concern when you think Manchester City are likely to be a little more solid knowing they might not have the options available to create the usual amount of chances they would.

I did consider backing Manchester City to win a game that features less than four goals at a big price, but after a goalless game they might be more desperate to get things right. However the absence of De Bruyne and Silva would be a huge blow for Manchester City who may have to settle for a narrow win and that looks the most likely outcome of the fixture.

It feels like a game where Pep Guardiola will be a little pragmatic and look to secure a win by any means necessary as he prepares his squad for another big month. Without the two key midfield players, Manchester City may just struggle to create the same kind of chances as usual and it is those absences which lead me to back Manchester City to win with a clean sheet..

I am wary Watford could collapse, which could see Manchester City exploit them, but I am expecting a solid performance at the back from the home team. At odds against that is a decent enough price too and I think Manchester City will secure a narrow win here.

West Ham United v West Brom Pick: There has been a complaint made by West Brom that they have to play twice in three days, but those have fallen on deaf ears and Alan Pardew has to find a way to get a performance out of his players.

The request comes in the light of West Ham United having the weekend off, but The Hammers will now be playing twice in the next three days although I am sure David Moyes is much happier with his fixture list. For this game I would expect all the big names to be out there and perhaps more changes made for when West Ham United travel to Wembley to take on Tottenham Hotspur.

Anything else would be a surprise considering two of the bottom three clubs are meeting on Tuesday. It is a much tougher position for Pardew who admits he needs to make changes against one of his former clubs after seeing his team expend a lot of energy in earning a 1-1 result against Arsenal on Sunday.

Pardew has gotten West Brom playing some tough football of late though and that makes them a tough out for West Ham United despite the game being hosted in East London. However I do think the home team can bounce back from a couple of poor results having lost to Newcastle United and conceded late in a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth last week.

In saying that, I don't think there will be a lot between these teams and so keeping the stakes to a minimum would be wise. For all the effort West Ham United have produced, they won't find it easy to break down The Baggies and I am convinced Pardew would be happy to take a point right now.

A small interest in the home team is warranted because of the scheduling spot.

Arsenal v Chelsea PickThe television cameras are at the Emirates Stadium for this big London derby as both Arsenal and Chelsea chase the points in their top four bids.

It feels like a bigger game for Arsenal whose only two failures to win at home in the Premier League have come against Manchester United and Liverpool, two teams currently inside the top four in the Premier League. Both Manchester United and Liverpool had 0-2 leads at the Emirates Stadium, although Arsenal were able to fight back for a 3-3 draw with The Reds.

Another start like that would be tough to overcome against a Chelsea team who have been in solid recent form. Eden Hazard was given a rest in the comfortable win over Stoke City on Saturday and Chelsea look in better all around shape for this fixture on Wednesday.

While they have a virtually full squad to choose from, Arsenal could be missing three of their regular back five, while Mesut Ozil looks like he is going to be absent for another fixture.

One concern for Chelsea has to be their recent run of results against Arsenal which has seen them win 1 of their last 5 against The Gunners. That includes a 2-1 loss in the FA Cup Final, while the two games between the clubs have both ended in draws in the 2017/18 season and that is a mental block that Chelsea have to overcome.

Chelsea did win at Tottenham Hotspur and earned a draw at Liverpool in the Premier League. They do look like they are in the form to perhaps snap their run against Arsenal and earn a rare recent victory over them although this won't be an easy game at the home of The Gunners.

However the absence of the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil could swing things towards Chelsea and make it worth backing them on the Asian Handicap which would return the stake in the event of a draw.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United PickPep Guardiola has become the latest manager to arrive in England and make some big complaints about the fixture list, but I can't imagine either Tottenham Hotspur or West Ham United are happy about the scheduling of this fixture.

The game will be played less than 48 hours after their last Premier League fixtures were completed and I do think the negative impact may fall on West Ham United's shoulders a little more.

Tottenham Hotspur had a relatively comfortable night at the Liberty Stadium, albeit in some awful conditions, and Harry Kane has a little more time to get ready to start this one. On the other hand West Ham United had to scratch and claw for the whole 90 minutes to come from behind and score a goal deep into injury time to beat West Brom on Tuesday.

The three points earned may make David Moyes believe he is in a better position to make changes for this one and I can see the manager setting up West Ham United to be difficult to beat and hope to take advantage of any frustrations Tottenham Hotspur begin to feel.

That won't be easy with Tottenham Hotspur in some fine form in recent weeks and I think Mauricio Pochettino will keep that going. A win would put Spurs right behind Liverpool in the tough battle for a top four finish and I think Kane is going to be chomping at the bit from the off in this one.

Kane has scored seven goals in his last six appearances against West Ham United and I think he will help Tottenham Hotspur record a win by a couple of goals on the night. I think at some point West Ham United will just tire off from the defending they are likely going to have to do just a couple of days after an emotional win and that will play a part as Spurs record another decent win at Wembley Stadium.

MY PICKS: Brighton-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.62 William Hill (2 Units)
Burnley-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.37 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Manchester United - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 2.05 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
West Ham United @ 2.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Chelsea 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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