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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, 22 December 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (December 22-23)

The festive period is here which means four Premier League games for each club over less than two weeks and this could be an important time at the top and bottom of the League table.

With the games coming thick and fast, I will put my picks from the latest round of Premier League fixtures below.

Arsenal v Liverpool Pick: There are four rounds of Premier League games being played between Friday 22nd December and Thursday 4th January so this is the time of the season when injuries and fatigue can be a big factor.

The opening fixture shouldn't be one where the managers decide to ring the changes though as Arsenal take on Liverpool in a match between two of the top five teams in the League table. This could be a fixture with major top four implications down the stretch and it has all the makings of a really good game of football.

I don't think either Arsene Wenger or Jurgen Klopp will be changing the way they approach the game and with both wanting to get forward and score the goals to win the game. The two teams are both much better going forward than defending so it makes sense for Arsenal and Liverpool to want to impose themselves on the other, and that has usually resulted in plenty of goals.

Wenger and Klopp have faced each other four times since the German took over as Liverpool manager and there have been at least four goals shared out each time. Liverpool have got the better of things with 3 straight victories and a draw, including a 3-4 win in the only game played at the Emirates Stadium in that time, while Liverpool have scored at least three goals in all 4 matches against Arsenal.

A couple of weeks ago Liverpool would have been a very appealing price, but their recent form has been much stronger than Arsenal's and that has seen the price come in significantly.

Instead I am going to look for the trend of a lot of goals in these fixtures to continue- recently Manchester United's visit to Arsenal produced four goals and there could have been a lot more that day. Liverpool themselves have scored at least three times in 5 consecutive away games in all competitions, but also look vulnerable at the back and seeing at least four goals shared out between these teams looks to be the call.

That has hit every time Arsenal and Liverpool have met since Klopp took over at Anfield and I will look for this fixture to be the 5th consecutive time that number is reached in what could be a brilliant game of football.

Everton v Chelsea Pick: A few weeks ago you would have picked Chelsea to win this Premier League game with some comfort, but Sam Allardyce has really helped Everton pick up their play. That makes them a threat for Chelsea, but I still think we have yet to really see how much Everton have turned the corner with the fixture list also providing a relief during Allardyce's time with the club.

Some will point to the 1-1 draw with Liverpool as proof Allardyce is making a huge difference, but Everton were second best that day and a similar level of performance will not cut it against Chelsea.

Decisions went their way in the 3-1 win over Swansea City last Monday night in a game Everton trailed in, while wins over Huddersfield Town, Apollon and Newcastle United are solid results but not ones to compare with playing Chelsea.

This is a much different level of test as they are facing a confident team who have won plenty of games in recent weeks and have the talents of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata in forward areas to cause problems for the hosts. The 1-0 loss at West Ham United was a disappointment and has a similar feel to this fixture at Goodison Park, but I don't expect Chelsea to play as poorly as they did that day.

In recent years the trip to Everton has been a very difficult one for Chelsea, but they won here 0-3 a few months ago and I still think a young Everton defence are going to have to raise their level to contain the forward thinking players they will meet on Saturday. I don't think Antonio Conte plays a risky eleven like Jurgen Klopp did in the Merseyside derby and I do think Chelsea win here.

All credit has to be given to Sam Allardyce for the improved performances Everton have produced, but this is a big test for them and I expect Chelsea to win on Saturday. When Chelsea are on, they tend to be really on and I can see them winning this one and covering the Asian Handicap too.

Brighton v Watford Pick: Two teams out of form meet on Saturday and both Brighton and Watford have to be looking at the other as the chance to turn things around.

There were at least some positives from the Brighton performance in the goalless draw with Burnley last weekend and they have been better at home. The missed penalty means two points dropped for Chris Hughton's men, but Brighton are a team that will try and get forward and that could pay off against a Watford team suffering with many a defensive issue.

Last weekend it was goal-shy Huddersfield Town who took advantage in a stunning 1-4 win at Watford so Brighton will feel they can create chances and score goals.

Watford themselves continue to be a threat going forward though and that makes them a dangerous team on any given day. They may have lost 2-1 at Crystal Palace recently, but Watford created enough chances to win two games that day and this is a team that continues to look more threatening in the final third than they do at the back where chances are being given up at an alarming rate.

The Hornets have scored in 7 of their last 8 games in the Premier League and I do think they will create chances. However I am expecting Brighton to have more success in the final third than they are used to too and I do think the layers are underestimating the chances of at least three goals being shared out.

6 of the last 7 Watford away games have seen that number of goals hit, and 2 of the last 4 home Brighton games have done the same. With the defensive issues both teams could be facing this weekend, I expect the manager's to want to approach this with a positive attitude and that could result in goals being the outcome.

Manchester City v Bournemouth Pick: Some of the prices on Manchester City to win Premier League games have become as short as you would see in the other European Leagues when the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona/Real Madrid, Bayern Munich would be playing. You can't blame the layers either when you think Manchester City have won 16 Premier League games in a row and it is hard to make a case against them winning this weekend.

As much praise as Eddie Howe gets from the media for his style of play, it is also one that the big clubs tend to enjoy playing against. Yes Bournemouth will give it a go, but they are also very open to be attacked and I think that is the reason Howe's team tend to take some heavy losses when playing the top clubs.

That is what the layers are expecting with Manchester City at odds on to win by three or more goals, but it might not be at the forefront of the players minds at this time of the season. With another game in a few days time, Manchester City could easily coast once they get in control of this fixture although they have shown they can be susceptible at the back.

Bournemouth will try and expose those vulnerabilities, particularly if Manchester City have to play a makeshift centre half with injuries hitting them in that area. However this is a team who have failed to score at Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, while Bournemouth also failed to score in home losses to Chelsea and Liverpool.

They did go ahead against Manchester City when hosting them back in August, but that is a long way away now and the hosts are looking very strong at the moment. I do expect Manchester City to win this one and I am going to back them to win to nil.

That has not worked out for me in recent weeks with late goals hitting Manchester City, while they have only had 1 clean sheet in 5 games at the Etihad Stadium. However Bournemouth could be short in the forward areas they have more winnable games to come and this could be a damage limitation exercise for the visitors.

At almost odds against, I will back Manchester City to win with a clean sheet.

Southampton v Huddersfield Town Pick: When you look at the odds for this game this weekend, Southampton look very short considering the lack of wins they have produced over the last couple of months. However I think the prices are very much based on the fact that Huddersfield Town have not performed that well away from home despite the 1-4 win at Watford last weekend.

Prior to that Huddersfield Town had not scored an away goal since the opening weekend 0-3 win at Crystal Palace and the lack of goals on their travels is still a problem. I say that even though they scored four times at an injury hit Watford last weekend and I am expecting Southampton to be a little more solid than Watford were.

The problem for Southampton is trying to produce the consistent performances which will produce the points they need to get away from any relegation troubles. The best performances have come against the top teams, but those games are much harder to produce points in and that is a reason Southampton are only 3 points clear of the bottom three.

A lack of clean sheets has to be a concern for Southampton too considering that has been the platform for their successes in recent years, but they have a chance to get one here. I am still not convinced that Huddersfield Town have a consistent goal threat away from the John Smith's Stadium and I do think Southampton have enough defensively to contain them.

Set pieces could be a problem as is the injuries to the two full backs, but I think the home team are worth a small interest to win this game with a clean sheet. The Saints have scored in 5 of their last 6 at St Mary's so I would expect them to find a way to goal in this one and it is a big price for Southampton to win with a clean sheet when you think of how much Huddersfield Town have struggled away from home.

All 7 away League goals have come in two League games, so that means Huddersfield Town have not scored in 7 of 9 on their travels. I will look for Southampton to win with a clean sheet and place a small interest in that to happen.

Swansea City v Crystal Palace Pick: Paul Clement has been relieved of his role as manager of Swansea City and it is going to be interesting to see how his players react. This is a club that looks to be heading towards the Championship, but Swansea City managed to survive a similar situation last season.

A 1-2 win at Crystal Palace sparked the confidence and they face the same opponents this weekend, although Roy Hodgson has got his Palace side playing with plenty of belief. The win at Leicester City last weekend was very, very impressive and this is a side that is can score goals.

However it has not been the same away from Selhurst Park outside of those goals in the win at the King Power Stadium last weekend. That makes the prices on Palace as the favourites a little less appealing as they may have been if they had been performing to that standard more regularly.

One thing they have got right is keeping clean sheets away from home and that is going to give Crystal Palace the chance to win here. Swansea City have struggled for goals themselves so a Crystal Palace clean sheet this weekend is not a stretch to imagine and that should mean they have every chance of winning the game.

It is only the decent enough defensive performances from Swansea City that are really encouraging me here though and I think a small interest in Crystal Palace winning is the call.

West Ham United v Newcastle United Pick: The financial rewards for playing in the Premier League are so great these days that teams tend not to wait too long to change managers if things are going wrong. West Ham United are one of a number of clubs who have already made a change and the incoming David Moyes has helped The Hammers produce some positive results to take them out of the bottom three.

They will be confident of getting back on track this weekend despite the League Cup Quarter Final loss at Arsenal during the week. The absence of Manuel Lanzini is a blow, but Moyes is getting the best out of his squad and the confidence of the players should be in a much better place than Newcastle United.

A takeover at Newcastle United was expected to be concluded by now, but the poor run of form has dropped them into the bottom three which has caused problems in the board room. With Mike Ashley unlikely to take a step back from any negotiation, Rafa Benitez is almost left in limbo with a squad that doesn't look good enough at this level.

The January transfer window was supposed to be the saviour for Newcastle United, but the takeover being up in the air will mean funds are limited. That isn't helping Benitez in his plans, while it is clear the manager has fallen out with some of his players who could potentially make a difference.

This is a team who are conceding plenty of goals and creating little and that is a reason they have lost 8 of their last 9 Premier League games.

With West Ham United playing with a little more confidence and a system in place which is working for them, I do think they can make the odds against quotes for a home win look a little too big. It can be hard to trust a team that has their own struggles in front of goal, but defensively Moyes has put a system in place which is getting the best out of his squad of players.

That could be enough to at least give West Ham United every chance of securing another vital win at the London Stadium and I will back them to do that this weekend.

Burnley v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This is going to be a real test for Tottenham Hotspur this weekend which makes their short odds for a victory look incredibly stingy. For a team that has won none of their last 5 away Premier League games and lost 4 of those it is hard to trust Tottenham Hotspur although I am leaning towards them snapping that run.

That may be a surprise when you think of how well Burnley have played all season, but this is a team who have lacked goals. I also think they have been riding their luck a little over the last couple of weeks having been outplayed by Stoke City before securing a late 1-0 win over them at Turf Moor, while last weekend Brighton missed a penalty in a goalless draw with Burnley.

James Tarkowski could miss out this weekend which means Burnley's solid backline are potentially missing a couple of players, while their home record is strong but comes against mainly teams who are lower down the League table. The one 'top six' club' Burnley have hosted ended in a controversial 0-1 defeat to Arsenal and I think Tottenham Hotspur are playing better than their own recent results.

This is a team who can create chances and the return of Davinson Sanchez offers Tottenham Hotspur a little more strength at the back. Even though they have lost 4 of their last 5 away Premier League games, Tottenham Hotspur have lost 3 of those against teams in the top five. The other at Leicester City came in a game where Tottenham Hotspur should have earned a result with the chances created, but I don't think Burnley are going to blow them away.

Set pieces have to be defended properly, but I do think Tottenham Hotspur will have the better of the game over ninety minutes. If Burnley play as they have the last couple of games, I do think Tottenham Hotspur will have enough in the final third to win this one, but how to back them?

The best way may be backing Spurs to win a game where fewer than four goals are shared out- that is offered at odds against and I can't see this being a fixture that either side is able to score a lot of goals.

Burnley games have tended to be tight and I think Tottenham Hotspur are not in a position to blow any team away. I can see Tottenham Hotspur winning a tight one though as they show a little more in the final third and I will back them to do that here in a game featuring fewer than four goals.

Leicester City v Manchester United Pick: Both Leicester City and Manchester United suffered League Cup Quarter Final exits during the week and both will be looking to give their fans some Christmas cheer in the final Premier League game before Christmas Day.

The recent form of Leicester City has to be respected with some impressive wins, but the 0-3 loss to Crystal Palace last weekend has snapped some momentum. The Foxes have also been a little up and down at the King Power Stadium and that defeat to Crystal Palace could spark a little downturn in form.

It is a big test for Claude Puel against a Manchester United team who are looking to bounce back from the upset at Ashton Gate. Manchester United have won 3 straight away Premier League games at Watford, Arsenal and West Brom and that is the kind of form which will make them believe they can win here.

I think Manchester United can do that too when you think of the chances Leicester City have been guilty of offering up at home. Even in the 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur here, Leicester City could easily have blown their 2-0 lead if their visitors had been a little more clinical in front of goal.

A lack of clinical finishing in recent away games have been costly for Manchester United when you think of the losses at Basel and Bristol City. However they have found their form in the Premier League with at least two goals scored in their last 3 away Premier League wins and I do think that will be enough to secure the three points here.

The pace Leicester City have will cause problems and Manchester United have to respect the counter attacking threat the home team have. However some of their key players had a long outing on Tuesday and I think the first goal can be important for Manchester United as they can then employ their own effective counter attack to put Leicester City away.

It won't be an easy game, but Manchester United are a bigger price than Tottenham Hotspur were to win a game here recently. That looks out of sync to me and I will back Jose Mourinho to get a positive bounce back result for Manchester United.

Manchester United have failed to win 7 competitive games this season, but have won the next one each time. I will look for that trend to continue against a Leicester City team who have lost home League games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City already this season.

MY PICKS: Arsenal-Liverpool Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.40 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Chelsea - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brighton-Watford Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Southampton Win to Nil @ 2.50 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Crystal Palace @ 2.50 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
West Ham United @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)

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