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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, 15 December 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (December 16-18)

You do begin to understand how much football is being played by the top Premier League players at this time of the year when noting another round of fixtures are ready to be played so soon.

It is a big time for rotation and trying to get the best out of the players as teams look for vital points at the top and bottom of the Premier League table.


Before the Bournemouth game on Wednesday, I had written a short piece about Manchester United which can be read here.


Now onto another round of picks before we can all have a little break between this weekend and next Friday when it all goes again. The League Cup Quarter Finals are played on Tuesday and Wednesday, but for the majority of the big names this will be a week of rest before a run of four more games in the space of ten days to conclude the festive period.


Leicester City v Crystal Palace Pick: With the fixtures coming as quickly as they are at the moment, it can be difficult to know how much rotation Claude Puel and Roy Hodgson want to put into their starting elevens. Both will be looking at this as a very winnable fixture for Leicester City and Crystal Palace respectively, and the early Saturday kick off should be one in which both teams push for the win.

It is a big week coming up for Leicester City who play three home games against Palace, Manchester City and Manchester United. The middle game comes in the League Cup and Puel will take that seriously having guided Southampton to the Final last season, and I think the Leicester City players can come in with plenty of confidence to an important week for them.

Having 4 straight wins behind them helps and Leicester City have been playing very well at home. They have won 4 of their last 5 games at the King Power Stadium and so this is a team who will believe they have the ability to put another three points on the board and get a little closer to the top four.

They will have to work hard to break down a Crystal Palace team who are unbeaten in 6 games in the Premier League. However this is a team who have struggled for goals away from home and I think that could be a problem for Crystal Palace here at a ground where they have lost on their last couple of visits.

The lack of goals is something Hodgson is working on and even though they have earned back to back clean sheets at West Brom and Brighton, I do think Leicester City have more firepower which can be difficult to contain. It may be that Crystal Palace try and soak up the pressure and use Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend on the counter attack, but defensive injuries won't help the visitors here.

I imagine it will be a competitive game with little between them, but Leicester City have the confidence of plenty of wins in recent weeks and I think that helps them find a winner in this fixture.


Arsenal v Newcastle United Pick: There have been a couple of excuses offered up by Arsene Wenger as to why his Arsenal side have underperformed in the draws at Southampton and West Ham United over the last eight days, but privately the Frenchman cannot be happy. While it can be difficult to keep fatigue out of the bodies of the players, Wenger and the Arsenal fans would have expected so much more.

Slipping down to 7th in the Premier League table is not a concern for now considering Arsenal are a point behind 4th placed Tottenham Hotspur, but The Gunners cannot afford to drop more points this weekend. They will feel they have to take advantage of the fact that Tottenham Hotspur travel to Manchester City and both Manchester United and Liverpool play away from home on Sunday, and Arsenal will at least feel better in familiar surroundings.

Arsenal were beaten 1-3 by Manchester United last time out at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League, but they have been very strong here going back a few months. Goals have been an issue on their travels, but that has not been the case at home and I really do feel like Newcastle United could be on the end of another tough day in the office.

If Arsenal fans feel their team is out of form, they will have to spare a thought for Newcastle United fans who have seen their team lose 7 of their last 8 League games to land just outside the relegation zone. The new ownership cannot take over quick enough and it has been a huge task for Rafa Benitez to get a tune out of a squad that currently does not look good enough at this level.

Newcastle United have recently taken the lead at both Manchester United and Chelsea, but on both occasions they were well beaten in a 4-1 and 3-1 loss respectively. I think they will find it tough to contain Arsenal too despite the tactical advice Benitez will give and Arsenal definitely play better at the Emirates Stadium than they do on their travels in the League.

Goals have not been a problem at home and Arsenal can extend their run to 6 straight wins over Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium. I expect The Gunners can match both Manchester United and Chelsea in winning this fixture by at least a couple of goals on the day and I will look for the home team to cover the Asian Handicap here.

5 of the 7 Arsenal home wins in the League have come by at least a two goal margin and 3 of their last 4 home wins over Newcastle United have done the same. I will look for that to occur here too.


Brighton v Burnley Pick: This is one of those games where you can't get your head around which team is favoured and that has made the 'underdog' an appealing team to back on the Asian Handicap.

Before I saw the price for this match, I actually thought Brighton would be around 2.88, the draw around 3.30 and the Burnley win to be around 2.50 considering how well the latter have been playing. Add in a poor run for Brighton and I really couldn't see anything other than Burnley being favoured to win here and at those prices it would have been a watching brief as far as I am concerned.

Instead Brighton are favoured and you can get a decent price on Burnley with a start on the Asian Handicap which seems ridiculous. Yes Burnley lost at Leicester City recently, but they have won matches at Everton, Southampton and Bournemouth over the last couple of months and no one will be able to tell me that Brighton are superior to those teams.

In fact Brighton were perhaps a little fortunate to draw with Stoke City at home recently and the 2-0 loss at Huddersfield Town last weekend says a lot about the confidence.

Burnley don't score a lot of goals which can make it difficult to trust them, but it is hard to see them losing at the Amex Stadium. That makes the start appealing enough which will return a winner in the case of the draw and Burnley are the more likely winners overall in my opinion and so look the right team to back.

I can imagine Burnley are tipped up quite a lot and we know that can burn everybody at the same time, but they look the right side for me.


Chelsea v Southampton Pick: There were a couple of angles I considered for this fixture and both involved seeing a few goals on Saturday afternoon. I considered backing at least three goals to be scored and also considered both teams to score, but ultimately I have settled on backing Chelsea to keep their strong run at home going.

The Blues may have drawn with Atletico Madrid last time out at Stamford Bridge, but they had won 5 straight here in all competitions prior to that. There has been an improvement in recent performances from Chelsea barring the 1-0 loss at West Ham United and I also think having an extra day to recover for this fixture will work to the hosts favour.

Alvaro Morata should be back to lead the line for Chelsea having been rested during the win at Huddersfield Town, while Antonio Conte has the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian showing positive form. That should mean Chelsea are able to dominate the play against a Southampton team who can be well organised, but who have to pick themselves up from a heavy 1-4 home defeat to Leicester City.

I do think Southampton can cause some problems on the counter attack with the pace they have, but they had some key players last the full ninety minutes on Wednesday. Chelsea had the chance to give Hazard and Morata a rest and I think that can make a difference here.

You have to respect Southampton for the way they have played in narrow losses to Manchester United and Manchester City, while they also earned a home draw with Arsenal last weekend. However they were crushed at Liverpool recently and I think Chelsea will be able to take advantage of any tiredness that may exist in the Southampton squad.

Both games last season were won by a couple of goals by Chelsea and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.


Stoke City v West Ham United Pick: Games in December aren't going to be considered 'deciders' but this one has all the makings of a relegation six pointer for both Stoke City and West Ham United. It is of particular importance to Mark Hughes who is beginning to feel the pressure as manager of Stoke City and this is sure to be a big game on Saturday afternoon.

It is going to be interesting to see what kind of reaction the Stoke City players get having been confronted by some of the fans after the 5-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium. They were much better in the 1-0 loss at Burnley during the week and Hughes has to see if he can extract a similar level of performances from his players.

They can't afford to go behind though as the fans may make this a toxic atmosphere for the home team in that situation. However this looks to be a good spot for Stoke City who played on Tuesday while West Ham United produced another huge effort in their goalless draw with Arsenal on Wednesday.

That extra day of recovery from a game in which Stoke City were arguably considered the better side at Turf Moor can be huge compared with West Ham United who were putting plenty of effort in their games against Chelsea and Arsenal.

It will be interesting to see how West Ham United can freshen things up in time for this one, but I also think The Hammers can have more consistent success going forward. This time they are facing a Stoke City team who have conceded plenty of goals both at home and away and West Ham United can at least cause problems early in the fixture while the energy remains high.

There has been an improvement from West Ham United defensively in their last few games, but this is a team who have struggled away from home. West Ham United have conceded at least twice in their last 5 away games in all competitions and I can see both teams having their moments in this one.

It does feel the layers are underestimating the chance to see at least three goals shared out. The last 8 in all competitions at the Bet365 Stadium have seen at least that number of goals returned, while 4 of the last 5 West Ham United away games have done the same.

Before last season there had been 3 games in a row at Stoke City between these clubs which had featured at least three goals and I will back the odds against quotes for that to happen here.


Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The big game in the Premier League this weekend comes from the Etihad Stadium and neutrals all around England will be hoping Tottenham Hotspur can stop the steamroller of Manchester City from continuing what looks like an easy march towards the Premier League title.

The recent form of Tottenham Hotspur will offer some encouragement, but Manchester City are playing at an extremely high level and they have already proven their worth with wins at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford this season. They have also recorded big wins over Liverpool and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium and it is tough to see how Tottenham Hotspur can slow them down.

As well as Tottenham Hotspur have done under Mauricio Pochettino's guidance as manager, this is a team who have struggled to match the top teams in England when having to travel to those grounds. This season Tottenham Hotspur have not played well in defeats at Manchester United and Arsenal, while Chelsea have also beaten them at Wembley Stadium.

The away record is the focus though and Tottenham Hotspur have lost 5 of their last 6 away games at the top English clubs (lost twice to Manchester United, lost at Chelsea, lost at Liverpool and Arsenal in that time). The one exception saw Tottenham Hotspur come back from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium but suffice to say it is a completely different prospect trying to do that against this current Manchester City team.

Recent weeks have seen Manchester City find it a little tougher to win matches, but the confidence from the win at Old Trafford cannot be understated. I also don't think Tottenham Hotspur have been playing at their best defensively with three key pieces missing for them this weekend to add to those problems.

Tottenham Hotspur should be set out to at least challenge Manchester City on the counter attack and there is some pace in the squad that can cause problems for a backline that is not the best. However being that positive is likely going to mean Manchester City also have more spaces to exploit and I think they are going to be a little too good for their visitors on Saturday afternoon.

The defeats Tottenham Hotspur have suffered to the big clubs this season is a concern for them as they now face the one team who have been head and shoulders above all others.

Personally I would love to see Tottenham Hotspur find a way to stop the Manchester City winning run, but unfortunately I think they are not quite playing up to the level that is going to be required. With a poor recent away record in the Premier League, I think Tottenham Hotspur will need to ride their luck to avoid another away loss at a big six Premier League club.

With that in mind, I will back Manchester City to beat a third rival at the Etihad Stadium by at least a couple of goals and I will look for the home team to cover the Asian Handicap even if I would love to be wrong on this occasion.


West Brom v Manchester United Pick: There are a couple of ways you can play this fixture this weekend and I do think the first of the two live Sunday fixtures in the Premier League could be a surprisingly exciting game.

On the face of things it may not seem that way with West Brom likely to set themselves up to be hard to beat, but Alan Pardew has a different mindset to Tony Pulis. While Pulis would be content to frustrate Manchester United, Pardew will want his side to get forward and have a go at their visitors and I do think the additional space provided will work well for Manchester United.

West Brom have yet to score for Alan Pardew, but scoring goals has not been much of a problem for Manchester United of late. They have managed seven goals in away games at Watford and Arsenal, but Manchester United may also offer West Brom some encouragement having kept just a single clean sheet in the last 6 away from home in all competitions.

The chances that Watford and Arsenal created will make West Brom believe they can have success with a bit of positivity, while the home team should be a threat from set pieces. Both Manchester City and Bournemouth caused problems for Manchester United from set pieces so there are signs that West Brom could have success doing that.

I am a little concerned for West Brom considering the amount of energy invested in the goalless draw at Anfield though. While Manchester United also had to work harder than expected, the West Brom effort would have been both mental and physical in a tough environment and that is likely to have sapped some energy and with less options to rotate than Jose Mourinho has at United.

Both Manchester City and Chelsea have played here in the League this season and both managed to score at least three times. With Manchester United showing some real bite in the final third at Watford and Arsenal, they could become the latest to get in front at The Hawthorns and then pick off their hosts who will try and come forward.

That is why both the over 2.5 goals market and Manchester United covering the Asian Handicap appeal here. The tiredness factor could see United pull away in the second half with a couple of quick strikes to finish off their hosts, but I also think West Brom could play a part in this one before tiredness perhaps takes over.

I can see both markets hitting here at odds against.

The more likely feels like Manchester United to cover the Asian Handicap and I will back that to happen in another important win for Jose Mourinho's men ahead of another big week, but I will also look for at least three goals to be scored in this fixture.


Bournemouth v Liverpool Pick: This is an important game for both Bournemouth and Liverpool who have not had the best weeks in terms of results. Both teams will feel they should have had a few more points on the board than they have earned, and now both Bournemouth and Liverpool are looking for vital points at the bottom and top of the Premier League respectively.

Games between Bournemouth and Liverpool have tended to be very good viewing for the neutrals in the last couple of years and this is another that should feature a few goals.

With the way Bournemouth approach things under Eddie Howe, this is a team that will challenge Liverpool and the porous defence which has been very weak when playing away from Anfield. Only three Premier League clubs have conceded more goals than Liverpool away from home to this point, and Bournemouth will feel they can at least create a few chances in a bid for the upset.

On the other hand it will be tough for Bournemouth to contain a Liverpool team who have scored 20 away League goals which is only surpassed by Manchester City who have also played one more away game. The Reds have been rampant in recent away games which makes them very dangerous and an attack that has not been at their best in the last couple of games never feels that far away from getting things turned back around.

Liverpool have scored at least three goals in wins at West Ham United, Stoke City and Brighton in the Premier League, while they were also 0-3 up at half time in Sevilla in the Champions League. That makes me lean towards them opening up against a Bournemouth team that will allow Liverpool to express themselves and I expect the away side to create chances here.

That makes it a fun game and the layers are not offering great prices on at least three goals being shared out. I expect that will happen here, but I also think Liverpool win the game and you can put those markets together for an odds against quote on Sunday.

All 4 Liverpool away Premier League wins has come in high scoring games, and Bournemouth home games against the big six English clubs have tended to produce goals. Recently Chelsea won here 0-1, but over the last three seasons Bournemouth home games against the top six clubs have ended with a 10-4 lean towards three or more goals compared with two and fewer.

I do think Liverpool are a dangerous away side and they can bounce back for a win here on Sunday and I will look for that to happen in a high scoring fixture.


Everton v Swansea City Pick: There has to be some real discussion at the Liberty Stadium as to whether they should be making a change in the manager's office as Paul Clement has struggled to get a consistent run together. Being bottom of the Premier League at Christmas has historically been a tough position to recover from and Swansea City have not shown the kind of form to think they can get out of their current predicament.

Now they have to travel to face an Everton team who have been rejuvenated by Sam Allardyce and have subsequently won 4 of 5 games in all competitions. The wins in the Premier League have come behind some strong defensive efforts and Everton are going for a fourth straight win at Goodison Park in the Premier League.

You have to think they can do that, although the short odds on Everton suggests the layers have completely forgotten about how much this club was suffering before Allardyce arrived.

That makes it hard to back Everton at short odds, especially as Swansea City have been a well organised team away from home. The problem both at home and on their travels has been the lack of goals being scored and that may be the difference here with Wilfried Bony potentially missing too.

Bony has scored the last couple of Swansea City League goals so his absence would be a blow and I do think Everton are the more likely winners.

Instead of taking them at a short price, I will have a small interest on Everton continuing their recent trend of clean sheets in their wins. All 4 wins in the last couple of weeks have come with a clean sheet including at Newcastle United during the week.

Swansea City have only scored 4 away goals in the Premier League and half of those came in a 0-2 win at Crystal Palace. I will thus have a small interest in Everton winning this one with a clean sheet at a nice looking price.

MY PICKS: Leicester City @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.93 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Stoke City-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
West Brom-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Liverpool to Win & Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Everton Win to Nil @ 2.70 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

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