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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Midweek Football Picks 2018 (January 23-24)

January has been rough.

The only positives I can take is that Manchester United are producing the wins, but for the Football Picks it has been a very difficult month.

Late goals have proven to be a kick on the teeth on more than one occasion now, while I have completely misread a few games too and I have to take that on me.

Another positive is that Alexis Sanchez has been signed by United from Arsenal- I will admit I didn't believe it was going to be possible up until the last week and I didn't want to get too excited about the potential arrival until the deal was done. That was concluded on Monday and means Sanchez, or Alexis as he will have on the back of the famous Number 7 shirt, will be available for the FA Cup Fourth Round tie at Yeovil Town on Friday evening.

I will have a short piece for United Corner about the arrival of Sanchez and what it potentially means which should be posted before the FA Cup Fourth Round begins.

This is another slower week of football with the top English clubs getting a chance for a bit more rest ahead of another big push of games. Not all of the clubs are getting a rest though with the League Cup Semi Final Second Legs played on Tuesday and Wednesday with both ties very much up for grabs.

Bristol City v Manchester City Pick: The recent form of Bristol City may not be the best, but you have to think the players are going to be really up for the challenge of trying to add Manchester City to the list of Premier League clubs they have beaten in the League Cup. The 2-1 loss at the Etihad Stadium would have been a result that Lee Johnson would have taken before kick off as it gives his side the chance for the upset in the Second Leg.

It is still a big ask of Bristol City and Manchester City are a short price to make it to the Final as well as to win the Second Leg. They are being asked to cover a big number in this Second Leg, but there are expected to be a number of changes to the first eleven to keep the squad as fresh as possible.

Pep Guardiola has mentioned some of the squad players that deserve a chance, but I think he will sprinkle in some of the more familiar names in the starting eleven to make sure there isn't a shock on the cards. The Manchester City players will have played in tough atmospheres before so I am not concerned with how loud Ashton Gate will be and Guardiola will also believe how much his team dominated in the First Leg should have been rewarded with a bigger lead.

A similar level in the Second Leg should be enough to see Manchester City through to the Final, but Bristol City are certainly going to play their part. The direct and speedy counter attacking in the First Leg gave Manchester City some real problems at the back and Eliaquam Mangala is likely to be back in the line up after having been culpable for the troubles in defensive areas in the First Leg.

Bristol City can trouble Manchester City when they do come forward, but I also think there will be more spaces for Manchester City on the counter attack than in the First Leg. At some point Bristol City are likely going to have to open up with the expectation they are still trying to get back into the tie and the second half could be very entertaining.

A little more composure in the final third from both teams could see the number of goals from the First Leg surpassed in the Second Leg. Both teams should have big chances to score at least once and I think both teams are more comfortable going forward than defending which should be evident from the approach taken.

At odds against I will look for at least four goals to be provided by this fixture. All but one of Manchester City's games in 2018 have ended that way and Bristol City have been a decent attacking team at home which should melt together into a good game of football. A late goal can help this fixture get to the four goal mark as the spaces open up in this Cup tie and I will back that to be the outcome of the Second Leg.

Arsenal v Chelsea Pick: The Alexis Sanchez saga has come to an end at Arsenal and it is up to the players to prove that they are able to produce the quality to replace one of the best players in the Premier League.

It is a big challenge ahead for Arsene Wenger who is once again under pressure from sections of the fanbase who feel he should have moved on as manager some time ago. A Premier League title challenge is long gone and finishing outside of the top four would be a huge blow for the club.

However there is a chance Arsenal can replicate what Manchester United did last season by winning the League Cup and Europa League which would be a very successful season for the club. It would mean trophies and a place back in the Champions League so this League Cup Semi Final Second Leg is a very important one for the entire club.

It is no less important for Chelsea and Antonio Conte who has been under pressure during a run where the side have drawn too many games. That has put them in a tough spot when it comes to challenging for a top four berth in the Premier League and Chelsea also have a lot of football coming up with League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League commitments to come.

Even with that in mind, the team selections made by Conte shows how much he wants to see Chelsea progress in all the competitions they have entered. A strong team is expected to start at the Emirates Stadium too, but there has to be a concern at the poor Chelsea run against Arsenal since the FA Cup Final last season.

Chelsea lost that Final and have drawn all 4 games against Arsenal this season. They should have won with the chances created at the Emirates Stadium earlier this month though and that should give the players belief they can achieve a big result in this Second Leg.

Both teams will feel they can create chances against the other with the way they have matched up and I don't think there will be a lot between them in the ninety minutes. For the most part Arsenal and Chelsea have played tight games, but the Second Leg of the League Cup Semi Final could be a more open one.

These teams drew 2-2 here in early January which means the last couple of games between them at the Emirates Stadium have both ended with at least three goals shared out. I will look for the Wednesday game to go the same way as both teams will be desperate to earn their place at Wembley Stadium for the League Cup Final.

MY PICKS: Bristol City-Manchester City Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.20 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Arsenal-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)

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