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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, 8 December 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (December 9-10)

It's a difficult time for the players and the managers with games coming as quickly as they do over the next few weeks.

The top teams are literally playing every few days which makes managing the minutes and finding the right rotations so important. December can prove to be a pivotal month at the top and bottom of the Premier League when you think how many League points are on offer so rotation for rotations sake is not good enough if the points aren't being earned.

This weekend is a huge one as far as the Premier League title race is concerned- a win for Manchester City at Old Trafford might already put Pep Guardiola's men in such a strong position in the Premier League that it might be almost impossible to reel them back in, but a Manchester United win really could open up a new title race.

The Manchester derby is going to be a huge game to round off the latest Premier League round of fixtures, but teams will be back in action on Tuesday/Wednesday before another big weekend of football next week.

A pivotal time to say the least.

The Last 16 of the Champions League was confirmed this past week and the draw for the Second Round will be made on Monday morning.

The five English clubs all made their way through to the Second Round, although only Chelsea failed to win their Group which means they already know they have to face one of Besiktas, Paris Saint-Germain or Barcelona in the Second Round.

Three of the four Group Winners will be looking to avoid both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid as the top second placed teams in the Last 16 draw, although Tottenham Hotspur cannot be paired with the current European Champions having finished above them in the Group.

Personally I would accept Manchester United being paired with any of the potential opponents outside of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

Juventus are a tough prospect, but they don't look as strong as previous editions and I would make Manchester United narrow favourites with the Second Leg to be played at Old Trafford.

Sevilla looked a mess against Liverpool and were beaten by Leicester City in the Second Round last season, while Porto are another team who are not of the standard of previous years and Manchester United beat Benfica twice in the Group Stage.

Shakhtar Donetsk looked very good in both matches against Manchester City in the Group, but they look a team that has a lot of energy early and then can be got at with a weaker defensive team than many out there. They will also be in the middle of a Winter Break and I would expect Manchester United to beat any of those four sides.

We will find out on Monday how the draw pans out and then the teams can drop their interest in the Champions League for a couple of months until February.

Now onto the Weekend Football Picks beginning at the London Stadium on Saturday lunchtime.

West Ham United v Chelsea Pick: The opening game of the Premier League weekend has big implications at the top and bottom of the table as 19th placed West Ham United host 3rd placed Chelsea.

The West Ham United performance against Manchester City will have been really encouraging for David Moyes and he will be looking for the same intensity when they return home to face Chelsea. The fans should be very much behind West Ham United against a rival, but the injuries in the squad are still hurting the home team.

Some key players may return this weekend, but they have a tough test against Chelsea even if the away team had a midweek assignment where a strong team drew 1-1 with Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. That was a difficult game as Chelsea looked to secure top spot in their Group, and West Ham United have to try and take advantage of any tiredness that may be in the Chelsea squad.

However there is enough time for Antonio Conte to ensure his key players have enough rest to produce a big performance at the London Stadium. Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata are in strong form and a West Ham United team who have struggled defensively could be stretched again.

Even if some reinforcements return, West Ham United might be a little rusty at the back and the way Chelsea have been playing I do expect them to find the spaces to exploit The Hammers. Being at home means West Ham United have to be a little more attacking than they were at Manchester City and that may leave a bit more room for Chelsea to find the openings to create chances here.

The performance last week was huge, but West Ham United could have a tougher time on Saturday. I think Chelsea may be a little too good all around for them and that's even accounting for any tiredness that may have come out of the Champions League game against Atletico Madrid.

With the away record as strong as it is, I will look for Chelsea to keep that trending in a positive direction and back them to win by more than a single goal margin here. 2 of the 3 West Ham United home Premier League defeats have seen that happen, while the other saw The Hammers recover from 0-3 down against Tottenham Hotspur in an eventual 2-3 defeat.

While Chelsea haven't always been dominant away from home, they have scored goals and I expect they have the chances to clear the Asian Handicap.

Burnley v Watford Pick: You can understand why Burnley are the home favourites to win this fixture this weekend, but I can't be backing them at the prices when you think of how effective Watford have been away from home. I said the same thing when Watford visited Newcastle United recently and they crushed the home team 0-3 on the day, but I expect Burnley to have a much better effort against them this weekend.

In saying that, I do think Burnley will be challenged by a Watford team who have been blessed with goals away from home. They have continued their trend of scoring at least twice in every away game they have played in the Premier League this season when scoring three at Newcastle United, and I do think Watford can create chances against a strong Burnley defence.

However Watford have not looked great defensively for much of the season and they had conceded at least twice in 3 straight away games prior to the win at St James' Park.

Watford have only kept 2 clean sheets in the last 11 Premier Leagues and I think Burnley have created chances in their games to have opportunities in this one. The home team have been tough to break down at times, but there have been a few more holes in recent games and I do think Watford can help produce a better game than the layers may expect.

It is big odds for at least three goals to be shared out in this one and the way Burnley and Watford have played should mean there are the opportunities for that number to be hit again. The games at Turf Moor have been low-scoring this season which is a concern, but Watford's style of play should mean there are the chances to make the odds against quote for three or more goals look far too big and I will back that to be the outcome of a game that is pretty tough to read in terms of finding a winner.

Crystal Palace v Bournemouth Pick: This is a big game for Crystal Palace who have become tougher to beat under Roy Hodgson but would love to turn a few of their results from draws into wins. A late goal helped them beat Stoke City at Selhurst Park in their last game here and Crystal Palace have been stronger at home.

The lack of goals on their travels has been replaced by positive attacks at Selhurst Park where Crystal Palace have scored at least twice in 4 straight games. Defensively there is still work for Hodgson to do but the back to back clean sheets at Brighton and West Brom has to have given Crystal Palace a real boost in confidence in their bid to get out of the bottom three.

These are the kinds of fixtures Crystal Palace have to be targeting for three points and I do like their chances of doing that against Bournemouth.

Credit where credit is due says Bournemouth have been playing much better in recent weeks than earlier in the season and they are unbeaten in 3 away games in the Premier League. However there are still a few issues to iron out in the final third and now facing a Crystal Palace team who have been scoring goals freely at home might be a big challenge for The Cherries.

It isn't an easy game for Crystal Palace with more onus to attack at home than they have perhaps had away from home in the last ten days, but this is a team who have responded to that.

I think Crystal Palace can just get the better of Bournemouth in this League game and earn a vital three points that could help them out of the bottom three before Christmas.

Huddersfield Town v Brighton Pick: There is much on the line when Huddersfield Town and Brighton meet in the Premier League on Saturday and both clubs will be looking to this fixture as an important one to earn three points which could be vital come the end of the season.

Neither side has been in great form of late but both Huddersfield Town and Brighton have to be feeling more confident with the opponent in front of them.

Huddersfield Town have been stronger at home than away from home all season and this is a team who have found enough in the final third to win games at the John Smith's Stadium. Much of that depends on a strong defensive performance and a high level intensity, but it won't be easy against a Brighton team who have looked more comfortable at the Premier League level.

Goals are an issue for Brighton too and I do think this will be a close game with little between them. However I also think Huddersfield Town are a big price to win the fixture considering how they have performed at home and I do think they are capable of finding a way to three points in this one.

I don't think Brighton will make it easy, but the lack of recent goals is a concern and a small interest in Huddersfield Town to win this one is worth taking. The Terriers have got the better of teams they have hosted that are currently outside the top 6 and while I respect the fact Brighton have recently won at Swansea City, I do think Huddersfield Town can do just enough to match the win they had over Brighton last season in the Championship.

Huddersfield Town are a big price, but I would keep stakes to a minimum in this one with the team suffering 4 straight losses in the League.

Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City Pick: Recent results have not been good enough for Tottenham Hotspur who had big ambitions coming into the season, although there has been a clear difference between Premier League and Champions League results. Some of the chances being missed by Tottenham Hotspur have been disappointing which would have resulted in more points on the board, but the next week is huge for them.

In that time Tottenham Hotspur host both Stoke City and Brighton at Wembley Stadium before visiting Manchester City and you have to think anything less than two wins from two at home will be a disappointing return.

Defensively there are questions for Mauricio Pochettino to answer as Toby Alderweireld's absence has hurt the club. With Davinson Sanchez also out of contention, Tottenham Hotspur have struggled for clean sheets and the lackadaisical starts have really hurt in the Premier League of late.

Tottenham Hotspur have won none of their last 4 Premier League games and in the last 3 they have been behind by the 13th minute. That is a tough place to start and Pochettino has to be demanding a much better start to this fixture.

It does feel like Tottenham Hotspur have a chance to produce a big result to give them some momentum following the Champions League win over APOEL. They are facing a Stoke City team who have been inconsistent to say the least and who have conceded the second most goals in the Premier League this season.

Stoke City have also struggled against the top clubs with heavy defeats to Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool already this season with the one exception being a 2-2 draw with Manchester United. All of those losses have come by at least three goal margins and Tottenham Hotspur are definitely better than they have shown in the last couple of weeks.

With the mental baggage Stoke City have been carrying after 3 consecutive 4-0 losses to Tottenham Hotspur, I will look for Spurs to get back on track with the Premier League with a win by at least two goals on Saturday.

Southampton v Arsenal PickThis is a big game for Arsenal to try and get back on the horse after the way they were beaten in the home game against Manchester United last weekend. It certainly isn't going to be an easy game for Arsenal who have been pretty dominant at the Emirates Stadium but not travelled half as effectively.

There is plenty of talent in the Arsenal squad, especially in the forward areas, but they have lost more than half of their away Premier League games which makes the odds on quote for a win at Southampton look remarkably short.

The Saints are a team who can get forward effectively with the pace in the final third and Charlie Austin is back amongst the goals. That is important for Southampton who are likely going to employ plenty of counter attacking in this fixture, even at home, while Southampton will be looking to make use of Austin's aerial ability against an Arsenal backline which is far from secure.

Last week showed how vulnerable Arsenal can be when teams are able to put an effective counter attack together and I can see Southampton looking to do the same with the likes of Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic capable of finding the creative passes to unlock Arsenal.

On the other hand I also think Arsenal will pose problems with a strong front three able to create chances like they did against Manchester United. A similar level of performance is expected to create more goalscoring opportunities for The Gunners and I would expect a little more composure in front of goal as well as the fact they are not faced by David De Gea leading to more goals.

The early kick off can lead to a slow build in these fixtures, but Southampton and Arsenal both will feel they can create chances against the other. The poor Arsenal away record makes it difficult to completely trust them here, although I am leaning towards the away side picking up three important points here.

However the better option may be picking there being at least three goals in this one. That has happened in 2 of the last 4 Southampton home games in the League and had been in 3 away Arsenal games before the 0-1 win at Burnley in a game that had plenty of chances in it.

3 of the last 5 between these clubs at St Mary's have also ended with at least three goals shared out and I will back that to be the outcome of a fixture where the two teams look to have enough in the final third to create enough chances to get to that number.

Liverpool v Everton PickThe Merseyside derby is part of a big day of Premier League football on Sunday and both Liverpool and Everton will be coming into the fixture with the confidence of producing wins in recent games.

However I think it is a long shot to think all of Everton's problems have magically vanished since Sam Allardyce arrived and they simply have not faced a team as good as Liverpool in that time. Wins over West Ham United and Huddersfield Town in the Premier League have seen Everton move away from the bottom three, but it is a completely different test heading to Anfield to take on a Liverpool team scoring as many goals as they have been.

Sam Allardyce is an under-rated manager when it comes to the tactical approach and I do think he can make Everton a little tougher, but he will also need time for his approach to really gel with the players. While it has looked good so far, Everton are still a team that lacks pace and defensively I am not sure they are good enough to soak up all of the pressure they will face on Sunday.

Allardyce will want to frustrate the home fans for as long as possible, and he did oversee a Crystal Palace win at Anfield in the latter stages of last season. However that Crystal Palace team had been under his guidance for a number of months by that point and it is going to be very difficult for Everton to nullify all of the threats Liverpool can call upon.

It would be a surprise if the four attacking players who tore apart Spartak Moscow are all not given another start in this one and the key for Everton will be to try and remain in the game in the first half. That is when Liverpool are at their most dangerous, especially the first thirty minutes, but all of the defensive injuries and lack of pace Everton have in the backline is hard to ignore.

I am expecting Liverpool to continue riding the momentum of recent games and they have beaten Everton in 3 of the last 4 at Anfield. All of those wins have come by at least a two goal margin and I think Liverpool will prove to be too good in this one too and I will look for The Reds to cover the Asian Handicap.

Manchester United v Manchester City Pick: The first Manchester derby of the season is a huge game for the two clubs involved and you have to think the majority of neutral fans out there will be in the unfamiliar position of wanting Manchester United to win this fixture. A Manchester City win would put them in firm control of the Premier League title, but a win for Manchester United may just give the fans a real title challenge in the months ahead.

The suspension of Paul Pogba is a huge blow for Manchester United, but there has to be encouragement from the recent Manchester City performances. Instead of sweeping away all competition in style, Manchester City have been pushed by Huddersfield Town, Feyenoord, Southampton and West Ham United and needed late goals to win all of those games.

Manchester City do have the ability to wear down opponents with their possession football and constant pressure trying to force mistakes from opponents. With David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne running the show it can be tough to contain Manchester City, but Manchester United have shown they have the ability to defend effectively when playing up to their level.

They will have to be better than they were at the Emirates Stadium last week when only a man of the match performance from David De Gea allowed Manchester United to leave with the three points. The counter attacking side of things was very efficient and Manchester United know they will get chances against this Manchester City backline, but giving up the same kind of chances they did against Arsenal will not be good news for the hosts.

I do think Jose Mourinho will play the three at the back system he has used in the last couple of away games at Watford and Arsenal. With Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young also looking to match the full backs I can see Manchester United using the likes of Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera to keep the pressure on David Silva and De Bruyne and prevent those two picking the passes that have unlocked defences.

It will be a tough test without Paul Pogba, but the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku will give Manchester United a threat on the break. Defensively it will be all about concentration from the centre backs, but Manchester United are capable of doing that and I have to say I am really surprised that Manchester City are such strong favourites to win here.

I think it is hard to argue against Manchester United being a stronger defensive unit than the likes of Huddersfield Town, Southampton and West Ham United so I do think the Jose Mourinho tactics can work. The key will be to make sure the counter attack is as effective as it has been against Watford and Arsenal over the last couple of weeks and doing that should give Manchester United opportunities to hurt Manchester City too.

This is bound to be a tense game and I do see Manchester City having plenty of the ball and a lot of that will be around the 18 yard box, but Manchester United have the players to earn what would be considered the 'upset'. I will simply look for Manchester United to get a result here of any kind as Manchester City look short to win here in my opinion.

The first goal is going to be critical, but Huddersfield Town and West Ham United have managed that against Manchester City of late. If Manchester United can do the same, Jose Mourinho does know how to get a result and I will back the home team with a start on the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Chelsea - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.82 Bet365 (2 Units)
Burnley-Watford Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town @ 2.75 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Southampton-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Manchester United + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.78 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December Update: 7-12, - 3.79 Units (30 Units Staked, - 12.63% Yield)

November Final: 30-26-1, + 8.10 Units (107 Units Staked, + 7.57% Yield)
October Final: 35-41-2, - 7 Units (152 Units Staked, - 4.61% Yield)
September Final: 28-30-3, + 2.06 Units (115 Units Staked, + 1.79% Yield)
August Final: 30-34, - 5.63 Units (108 Units Staked, - 5.21% Yield)

Season 2017/18 Update: 123-131-5, - 2.47 Units (482 Units Staked, - 0.5% Yield)

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