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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, 1 December 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (December 2-3)

Have a quick look at the fixtures of the top clubs in the English Premier League that are coming up and you can see why December is going to be such a difficult month to get through. Managers will have to rotate the players they have to keep everyone fresh and happy with so many weeks having multiple games scheduled.

With the modern day football stadiums as they are, it will take a lot for any games to be postponed these days at the very highest level and teams have to take things day by day to make sure they are in a position to earn as many points as possible in the Premier League.

We also have a round of Champions League Football and the League Cup Quarter Finals scheduled in December and it is a very, very busy time of the season.

On Friday the World Cup Finals draw was put together and once the initial excitement of the draw was over I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed with the Groups and the potential matches we are going to see. That opinion is likely to change once the domestic season is in the books and knowing more football is to come in the summer, but for now I have to say the Groups just underline how far international football has fallen as far as I am concerned.

England should be very happy with the draw they have been given though as they are matched up with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama and I would fully expect them to get through to the Second Round. In fact the way the draw has panned out I think anything less than a Quarter Final spot would be an underachievement for England, but we can stick the World Cup on the back burner until May.

The Premier League has scheduled matches over two days this weekend and the big game of the weekend comes on Saturday afternoon when Arsenal host Manchester United. The Picks from the Premier League games played this weekend can be found below.

Chelsea v Newcastle United Pick: Only some really quality last ditch defending, a decent display from the goalkeeper and some poor finishing from Chelsea helped Swansea City leave Stamford Bridge with a 1-0 loss on Wednesday. That was a Chelsea team that had a few changes made to the starting eleven to freshen things up, but a returning Eden Hazard may not be good news for Newcastle United in the first match of the Premier League weekend.

There were some concerns that the Chelsea players had lost a bit of faith in Antonio Conte after some inconsistent results, and the 3-0 loss in Roma was a particularly worrying day in the office. However they have since recovered with some strong performances and Chelsea have managed to produce a 5 game unbeaten run during which time they have won 4 games.

Conte is a perfectionist though and I am sure he wants to see his players produce a little more clinical finishing, but I do think they will have the chances to win this game handily enough.

Newcastle United might have restored some confidence in the 2-2 draw with West Brom on Tuesday after coming from 2-0 down, but they are conceding goals at an alarming rate at the moment. With the games coming thick and fast and the likes of Jamaal Lascelles and Paul Dummett sidelined, Rafa Benitez can't freshen up his side as he may like and I think Chelsea can prove to be too good for them.

As I said before Newcastle United visited Manchester United a couple of weeks ago, I don't know if this squad is going to be good enough to contain the top teams in the Premier League. Chelsea certainly fit that billing and I will look for them to do the same as Manchester United and win this game by at least a two goal margin and cover the Asian Handicap.

Brighton v Liverpool Pick: There has to be a lot of respect given to Brighton for the hard work they are putting into their games and the defensive resiliency they have shown. Chris Hughton will want that to be the foundation for their successes and earning 17 points already means Brighton have made a big step towards survival in their first season back in the top flight for over thirty years.

Games like this one have to be seen as a 'free hit' for the Brighton players but it does come at the end of a tough week when they have put in a lot of hard work. Unlike the top sides in the Premier League, the Brighton squad depth is not one that can see a host of changes made to keep the side fresh and I think the work done this week could catch up with them

It will always be a difficult game to face a Liverpool side who have been scoring goals for fun in recent away games having managed at least three goals in 4 of their last 5 on their travels including all 3 since the 4-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur.

The space that Liverpool get away from home is certainly going to be exploited with the speed and quality they have in the final third and I do wonder if Brighton will be able to stay with their visitors. Brighton have proven tough to beat here, but they haven't hosted too many of the big names and Manchester City did win 0-2 here.

With the goals Liverpool are producing, I think Brighton will have to take chances at some point and that is where they could be caught out on the counter attack. I will look for Liverpool to keep the goals coming and I will back them to win here by a couple of goals knowing the stake is returned in case of a win by a single goal margin.

Brighton will make life tough, but I think they will go behind and then get caught later on and I would be surprised if Liverpool don't win here to at least return the stake.

Everton v Huddersfield Town Pick: It was a huge game for Everton on Wednesday and you could get a sense of that from the crowd which was not at the usual levels you would expect in a night game at Goodison Park. The 4-0 win would have pleased the majority, but many are still not convinced Sam Allardyce is the positive managerial appointment they were looking for and that contributed to a fairly flat atmosphere.

David Unsworth and the players have to feel they did their best to raise the roof with a strong 4-0 win over West Ham United, but there was a touch of fortune about the result. It took a penalty to break the deadlock, and a penalty save from Jordan Pickford at 2-0 at the beginning of the second half was a key to the outcome.

There is still work to do for Everton to make sure they can begin climbing the table, but they may not be able to really get into what Sam Allardyce wants until a few weeks are passed. Even with that in mind, the confidence coming out of the win over West Ham United can't be underestimated and Everton are facing a poor travelling Huddersfield Town team.

Huddersfield Town work very hard which can make it difficult for Everton, but they have yet to really put a strong goal threat together away from home. The 4-0 loss at Bournemouth and 5-0 loss at Arsenal are concerning results and this game comes at the end of a tough week for The Terriers.

You can see why Everton are favoured to win the game, but I am not convinced they have completely turned a corner. They have won back to back League games at Goodison Park to get the fans behind them, but Everton still look a little nervy at times and they were fortunate to be facing a team with confidence issues of their own on Wednesday.

While I don't think confidence is an issue for Huddersfield Town, I do think there may be a lack of real quality that can be shown up without their fans really getting behind them as they do at the John Smith's Stadium. That energy can get 10% more out of players that they perhaps don't find away from home and I think Everton look a huge price to win this one with another clean sheet.

That price is worth a small interest rather than backing Everton to simply win and I will look for the home team to earn another vital three points in their move away from the bottom three.

Leicester City v Burnley Pick: Both Leicester City and Burnley have produced the kind of results that will make them believe they are capable of finishing best of the rest behind the top six in the Premier League. While Sean Dyche won't entertain this thought at all, some Burnley fans may even feel they can break into the top six with the results they have already earned.

That would be a remarkable achievement for Burnley who continue to bounce back from setbacks in the most positive of ways. After controversially being beaten by Arsenal, Burnley were back to winning ways at Bournemouth and their away form this season has been as good as it was disappointing last season.

Burnley have remained incredibly well organised and that has made them very tough to beat this season. Only Manchester City have won by a comfortable margin, but even then it took late goals to put Burnley away and I do think they can pose problems for Leicester City.

The Foxes have been in good form and they had a very impressive 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday. It can only give them confidence having now won 3 of their last 4 games at home, but I think Burnley will make it tougher than Spurs did who defended poorly for the goals they conceded and had plenty of chances to earn a result.

It feels like a really close game that won't have much between the teams, and both have had some strong results at home/away respectively this season. The draw is a real player, but Burnley may have the better opportunities to win here with their organisation likely to frustrate a Leicester City team who want to hit teams on the counter attack.

Backing Burnley with the start on the Asian Handicap will return half the stake if Burnley are beaten by a single goal margin, but I think they can do better and earn a result here. With wins at Chelsea and Everton already this season and draws at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool I do think Burnley will feel they can get some kind of result here and I like them with the start.

Watford v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This is a big game for Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday as they try and get back on track in a League where the top teams look like they are not going to be dropping a lot of points. The Premier League title challenge looks long gone after 3 straight away losses, but the top four has to be the goal for Tottenham Hotspur and they can get back on track for that.

It won't be easy at Watford who showed they have plenty of heart and desire when recovering from 0-3 down against Manchester United and get back to 2-3 before a late goal finished them off. Marco Silva's future at the club has been set for the next few months at least and the players have looked like they have really enjoyed playing for this manager who wants to play attacking football.

Unfortunately the injuries at the back have meant Watford have been conceding goals and chances at an alarming rate and that has to be a problem when facing Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday. Even though they were beaten at Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur had so many clear cut chances to score and you have to think it is a matter of time before they can get things turned around and start gobbling them up.

I expect there will be plenty of opportunities at both ends of the pitch in this one and I am going to look for goals as I did during the week. Tottenham Hotspur look very short when you consider the current form, but I also think there is the chance of backing at least four goals to be shared out in this one.

That happened twice in the League meetings between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur last season and I can't ignore the fact that it has been a feature of Watford's games against the top teams this season. That number would have been hit in 4 of 5 games against the top six from last season including against Manchester United on Tuesday and the defensive injuries do mean both teams look better in the final third than when it comes to defending.

It is a big price for at least four goals and I think that can be the outcome of this one.

West Brom v Crystal Palace Pick: Alan Pardew has been given the top job at The Hawthorns and will get to face his last club in his first match in charge of West Brom. While Pardew is excited about the potential in the squad he has inherited from Tony Pulis, I have to agree with the manager that it will take a little time for everyone to get up to speed to his demands.

Crystal Palace look a little further ahead with Roy Hodgson as the performances have picked up in the two months he has been in charge. With improving performances have come improving results and a win for Crystal Palace here would potentially take them out of the bottom three when so many had already put a fork in the club after a terrible start to the season.

However it won't be easy to win here with the struggles for goals Crystal Palace have had away from home, They have yet to score in the League on their travels, but The Eagles have definitely become a little tougher defensively and that gives them every chance to earn a result.

West Brom had a decent reaction to Pulis' sacking and this feels like a match where the two teams could cancel one another out. I backed Crystal Palace to earn a draw at Brighton during the week and it does feel like the points could be shared in this one too.

Games between these clubs tend to be well fought out and I don't think there is a lot between them. I considered backing Crystal Palace with a small start on the Asian Handicap but a lack of goals is an issue, but I think they can get something here and backing the draw for a small interest has to be worth backing.

Arsenal v Manchester United Pick: Two of the top four meet on Saturday afternoon in the biggest game of the Premier League weekend and the importance of the three points will be lost on neither of them. The motivations and goals for the season are different for both Arsenal and Manchester United with the former likely seeing the top four as the best they can achieve while Manchester United continue chasing rivals Manchester City in a title bid.

Arsene Wenger won't be conceding the title challenge at this point of the season, but they do look a long way behind Manchester City and anything other than a win would likely be curtains for that. However Wenger has been getting the best out of his Arsenal side to hink they can win this one and the confidence of the players is key.

Even with Alexandre Lacazette on the sidelines, Arsenal have options in the forward areas to trouble Manchester United who have not defended as well away from home as they have at Old Trafford. That showed up in allowing Watford back into things at Vicarage Road and the absence of Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini does remove some of the defensive cover for the visitors.

It would still be a surprise to see Manchester United as open as they were at Stamford Bridge in the 1-0 defeat at Chelsea, especially as that will play into Arsenal's hands. Instead I expect Manchester United to be a little more solid and expect to create chances against Arsenal on the counter attack as Jose Mourinho tries to earn his first really big away win as manager of Manchester United.

Arsenal will play the same way they always do at home as they try and get forward and create chances, but the loss of Lacazette is a blow for them. If Alexis Sanchez is limited by his hamstring issue then there will be more problems for Arsenal, but the 12 League game winning run at the Emirates Stadium should give The Gunners plenty of confidence.

I do think there will be chances for both clubs in this fixture, but I am also anticipating another close game between them. Manchester United's record in away games at the big clubs under Jose Mourinho has been talked about plenty, but they have been close in a couple of those to turn things in their favour.

I would be surprised if one of the 0-0, 1-1, 1-0, 2-0, 0-1, 0-2 potential scorelines do not come out of this one. I have a sneaky feeling Manchester United can get a result here against an Arsenal team who have won 12 straight home games but only played two top six clubs in that time.

The first goal could be all important, but the better option looks to be there being less than three goals to be scored in this one. That has been huge in Manchester United away games at the big clubs, while the last couple of home games Arsenal have played against teams from the top six have also finished less than three goals.

This should be a tense fixture with both clubs knowing what is on the line for them and I will look for less than three goals to be shared out.

Bournemouth v Southampton Pick: The one worry for Southampton coming out of their 2-1 loss at Manchester City has to be the effort they put into a fixture which saw them undone in the 96th minute. The players do have an extra day to recover from their exertions than they would have expected, and playing in a south coast derby should make sure there is enough adrenaline pumped into the players to get them going for this one.

The Saints will get a chance to play their football with the way Bournemouth approach things and I do wonder if there may be a little more positive attitude from Mauricio Pellegrino here. You can't blame him for trying to make things as hard as possible for Manchester City, but the fans will expect to see more concerted attacking in this fixture and I do think Pellegrino will set Southampton up to do that.

It will certainly help the overall appeal of the game with Bournemouth likely trying to get forward as much as possible themselves. The goals have begun to come for Bournemouth with all of the attacking options they do have and they will feel they can at least test a Southampton team who have not produced a lot of big results in recent weeks.

The performances have been better which means Southampton should be able to play their part in an entertaining game and I think both teams are capable of creating chances. It is an important three points on offer in this one as both Southampton and Bournemouth try to steer clear of the bottom three and I do expect a positive attitude from both managers which should translate onto the field.

The layers are not expecting a high-scoring game, but I do think goals could be the outcome of this one. The last two at Bournemouth have both featured at least three goals and 3 of the last 4 away Southampton games have done the same. Last season we got four goals at the Vitality Stadium between these teams, but I will settle for one fewer here at odds against.

Manchester City v West Ham United Pick: The moment when I lost confidence in David Moyes as manager of Manchester United was hearing him speak ahead of a match with Newcastle United and suggesting the goal was to 'make life difficult for them'. Later that same season Moyes suggested that Manchester City were the standard for Manchester United despite taking over a team that had been Champions the season before his arrival.

That negative mindset ended any chance of success as manager of Manchester United and I do worry for West Ham United as I can imagine that the mindset of Moyes will be to try and spoil the game and hope for something than truly believe he can help The Hammers earn a result here.

The negativity will likely spread to the squad who are coming in off a hammering, pardon the pun, at Everton during the week. Injuries in key areas in the centre of the defence does not bode well for West Ham United and I think they could have a long day in the office if they concede early in this one.

There have been signs that Manchester City are not firing on all cylinders at the moment, but the style of football has worn down opponents and three late winners highlight that. Leroy Sane was missed badly against Southampton, but could return to the squad this weekend, and I think Manchester City will have large periods with the ball which can make them very dangerous throughout this one.

Late goals will breed confidence and Manchester City smashed West Ham United three times last season. I have a feeling this could be one of their better days in the office in recent games and I will look for Manchester City to record a fairly comfortable win on the day.

Goals have not been flowing as well as they were, but West Ham United have looked really poor in recent weeks and the defensive injuries means they have struggled to keep the back door shut. Joe Hart would love to have a big game but unfortunately for the goalkeeper he is unable to play against his parent club, although that might not be a bad thing having been criticised by the new manager for his part in the Everton goals on Wednesday.

All in all it does look a really difficult day for West Ham United and I can't see how they will be able to contain Manchester City. It will need a lot of luck from The Hammers to stay in this one, but I think they could have a really long day if they fall behind early in this one and I will look for Manchester City to cover a big Asian Handicap in the second of the live Sunday games.

MY PICKS: Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton Win to Nil @ 2.75 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Burnley + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Watford-Tottenham Hotspur Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.75 William Hill (2 Units)
West Brom-Crystal Palace Draw @ 3.20 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Arsenal-Manchester United Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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