Featured post

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...

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Midweek Football Picks 2018 (January 30-31)

It's hard to know where the time goes when the first month of 2018 is already set to go into the books.

For most managers in European Football they may be glad the month is coming to an end as it also means the January transfer window is about to shut. This is a disruptive time as teams try to mould their squads to the best shape for the remaining four months of the season when all the silverware, and heartbreak, is set to be handed out.

Some big deals have been concluded in the Premier League with the headline made by Manchester United in swooping up Alexis Sanchez. I wrote a short piece about his arrival which can be read here.

Other big clubs have also made some serious moves and the money spent is eye-watering to say the least. That is just the way football has gone these days at the very top level and there isn't really much we can do about it.

Talking about something we can't do much about, VAR is set to be rolled out fully next season in the Premier League despite the controversies attached to the system.

I've not been a fan of any system that is going to be used to decide subjective events, but for objective events it isn't a bad tool.

Objective events like goals and offside decisions are either right or wrong, there is no grey area. But for penalties and red cards there is and it is going to come down to what someone thinks while sitting in a booth miles away from the play.

Those are the decisions that will absolutely slow down the game and they won't always be straight-forward decisions that everyone agrees on so I have to say that I think the referee on the field is going to be undermined at times.

And for those fans in the Stadium, the match going experience is definitely going to feel much more negative than it does at the moment with little communication to let them know what is happening. At Anfield on Saturday you could see the confusion, although the focus has been on the three correct decisions made in the first half.

Fine, those were correct even if I thought the penalty was harsh with a theatrical jump from Mo Salah and the ball seemingly going to be well over his head anyway. However for the most part people agreed with the decisions.

What has been ignored is the reason why the referee went to VAR for Salah's second half goal? Taking away the pure enjoyment of the moment for absolutely no reason that was plain to see is my biggest concern for a system that will be used at the most passionate time of being a football fan.

I want to celebrate a goal, not sit back and let the referee spend a minute to make sure everything has lined up even when they don't need to. I mean I thought it was going to be used for 'clear and obvious decisions' which has not been seen, so why did the referee go to the system for what looked a clear goal?

That has barely been touched in the last couple of days, but taking away the passion of the supporters in the stands is something the Premier League has been working on for years and this is just another blow to it.

Ultimately it doesn't matter that I don't like the system- it is coming in regardless. I just hope those in power realise a way to reduce the lag in the game that was seen at Anfield else football as we know it is not going to be the same again.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we have another full round of Premier League fixtures as we get closer to the final third of the League season. The battle against relegation looks remarkably tight with the improvement made by both Swansea City and West Brom, while the three places below Manchester City in the race for the Champions League spots also look like will be going down to the wire.

With a full round of fixtures, there is a full round of football picks.

Swansea City v Arsenal Pick: The performance Swansea City produced in their win over Liverpool will have given the players a real shot in the arm that they can avoid the drop to the Championship. They will have to bring the same type of energy and defensive effort they did in that win last time out if they are going to get something from this one too.

On paper you would suggest the game against Arsenal is a ‘better’ one for Swansea City than facing Liverpool, but this is an Arsenal team who can be very strong on their day. They have had the benefit of a rest this weekend having not played in the FA Cup, and there has been a suggestion the players have been freed up by the end of the Alexis Sanchez saga.

They have certainly produced a couple of very good performances to beat Crystal Palace and Chelsea, but Arsenal have to show they can do the same away from home.

Arsenal have not won any of their last 4 away games, but they led at West Brom and Bournemouth before mistakes cost them. Mesut Ozil is available though and he has proven to be a very big player for Arsenal in the last couple of months with an ability to open teams up with his passing.

With Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all available as other supporting players, Arsenal have enough creativity to break down Swansea City here.

Credit to the way Carlos Carvalhal has got his team playing, but the win against Liverpool was a rare success against a top six club. The one defeat under Carvalhal’s management came against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League at the Liberty Stadium and the likes of Manchester United (twice) and Manchester City have also won comfortably here.

For all of the poor results Arsenal have had away from home of late, they have scored first in their last 3 away games in the Premier League. That could be crucial here and Arsenal have won 4 of their last 5 at the Liberty Stadium with the last couple of visits ending in comfortable wins for The Gunners.

I will look for Arsenal to win here and cover the Asian Handicap in the process. The first goal is going to be crucial to that, but Arsenal have scored first in their last 3 away League games and doing that here might be enough to begin wearing down the Swansea City players who were in action on Saturday.

West Ham United v Crystal Palace Pick: There is plenty on the line in this London derby as both West Ham United and Crystal Palace continue their fight against relegation. For all the improvement both clubs have made with new managers at the helm, both remain within touching distance of the bottom three.

A win on Tuesday for either club will go a long way to pulling them away from the bottom three and begin to feel a little easier about their position. However that would leave the losing team once again looking over their shoulders at the teams below them who have all shown signs of improvement in recent weeks.

Injuries are hurting both West Ham United and Crystal Palace and this may come down to which of the teams deal with those injuries better. Both have some key players returning for this fixture, but I do worry for a West Ham United team who are missing some big names in the final third.

They also had to battle through a difficult 2-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic on Saturday while Crystal Palace have been resting since their stunning 4-1 defeat at Arsenal.

Barring a poor start like that one, Crystal Palace should be the team with the better opportunity to win this game. They may be away from home, but before the defeat to Arsenal Crystal Palace had won 2 of 3 away League games and shown toughness on their travels.

With Manuel Lanzini and Marko Arnautovic out of the line up, West Ham United may find it tough to find the creativity in the final third to break down Crystal Palace in this one. The 1-1 scoreline is a real player, but I think Crystal Palace can show a little more in the final third against their injury hit hosts to work their way to the three points.

I would keep stakes to a minimum in a game which is as close as this one looks to be, but having a small interest in Crystal Palace to win for a third time in five years at West Ham United looks a decent price.

Huddersfield Town v Liverpool Pick: There is no doubting how big this Premier League game is at the top and bottom of the table with the two teams involved in tight relegation and top four battles respectively.

Both Huddersfield Town and Liverpool are hoping to bounce back from some poor results of late.

Huddersfield Town have proven to be a tough team to face at the John Smith’s Stadium with the win over Manchester United the stand out result. However they also led against Manchester City to show they are more than capable of challenging a Liverpool team who have defended incredibly poorly on their travels.

Unfortunately for Huddersfield Town, they have to worry about a backlash from Liverpool in this one after defeats to the bottom two clubs. Those losses were not good looks for Liverpool, but they will have seen the way Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and most recently West Ham United won on this ground this season.

The home fans have to worry that a fast start by Liverpool will see them very difficult to contain and it is a big test for Huddersfield Town. They will try and press Liverpool, but that could leave spaces to be exploited and I do think the away side will be very difficult to contain for Huddersfield Town.

Huddersfield Town can play their part too against a Liverpool defence that is susceptible against set pieces. They have scored against Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea here in the Premier League and they should have chances.

However Liverpool will also likely create opportunities and this could mean a high-scoring game at the John Smith’s Stadium. Backing at least three goals to be shared out looks the best way to approach this game with the fact that all 4 Huddersfield Town home games against the top six have ended that way.

Liverpool had been involved in 9 straight away games in all competitions which featured at least three goals before the loss at Swansea City. I will look for that trend to return here with at least three goals shared out between these teams.

Chelsea v Bournemouth Pick: Trying to work out what Chelsea will turn up from game to game has been very difficult this past few weeks. They performed really well to see off Brighton and Newcastle United, but in between draws with Norwich City and Leicester City have shown a set of players that have lost full confidence.

There has been elements of fatigue at times and I do worry that Chelsea have had to play twice since Bournemouth were last in action.

Eddie Howe has to make sure he sets up Bournemouth to take advantage if Chelsea are not able to produce their best. With Alvaro Morata missing, Chelsea may be lacking in the final third, but Eden Hazard will have to be contained if Bournemouth are going to spring the surprise.

It will all be about frustrating Chelsea who have shown they can quickly get into their stride if they can score early. Those strikes against Brighton and Newcastle United have then seen Chelsea dominate proceedings and that will be a worry for Bournemouth.

Recent weeks have seen Bournemouth produce some big results which should mean they come to Stamford Bridge with some belief. However they tend to be a side that gives the top teams in the Premier League the space to perform and that has resulted in some heavy losses to the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in the League this season.

Last season they were beaten 3-0 at Stamford Bridge too and I think Antonio Conte had a chance to give the likes of Hazard and Pedro a rest on Sunday to be ready for this one. Bournemouth simply concede too many goals and the focus could quickly turn to the home game with Stoke City on Saturday which looks a massive one for Eddie Howe’s men.

Chelsea have not been putting a consistent run of wins together in recent weeks, but they have tended to win comfortably when they have. The Blues have only won 4 of their last 10 games in all competitions, but all of those wins have come by at least a two goal margin and I think they can do the same here.

I have to respect Bournemouth for the toughness they have shown in recent games and character to produce plenty of positive results. However they have tended to struggle against the top teams and I will back Chelsea to cover the Asian Handicap in a win on Wednesday.

Newcastle United v Burnley Pick: There are only fourteen games left in the Premier League which means we are getting very close to the point of the season where you’ll start seeing which sides are able to move away from relegation troubles and which are being dragged into it.

At the moment the Premier League is tightly congested from 10th down to 20th as 6 points will blanket those teams. Newcastle United are one of those teams and the fans continue to vent their anger at owner Mike Ashley, while Rafa Benitez makes it clear that he feels his squad needs reinforcements.

Benitez may not be very lucky when it comes to getting deals over the line and the atmosphere at St James’ Park makes it difficult for the players to perform. That is part of the reason that Newcastle United have not won any of their last 7 home Premier League games and had to settle for draws with Brighton and Swansea City in their last couple of League games here.

A lack of goals is a real concern and that is likely to be an issue against Burnley on Wednesday. Burnley have not been playing very well of late with 4 straight losses heading into this fixture, but the games they have played have been difficult.

Sean Dyche will organise Burnley to be tough to beat and they can at least contain Newcastle United to a point and give themselves a chance to earn valuable points. They have been tough to beat away from home and Burnley do have a threat which could cause problems for the home team who are lacking confidence.

I really don’t think there will be much between these teams and Burnley look tempting to back with a start on the Asian Handicap. Even though they have been in poor form, Burnley are still a tough team to beat as both Liverpool and Manchester United will tell you after narrow wins over them.

Burnley also look capable of scoring here and one goal could be enough to avoid defeat against goal-shy Newcastle United. With the poor run Newcastle United have been on, they don’t look a great favourite to back and I am going to back Burnley to earn a result here and snap their run of 4 losses in a row.

Manchester City v West Brom Pick: I have to admit I was very surprised with the strength of the team Alan Pardew picked in the FA Cup tie at Liverpool and even more surprised by the way West Brom were able to come from behind and win that tie.

They have simply not travelled that well away from home all season, but West Brom punished Liverpool for some weak defending and will be hoping to do the same at the Etihad Stadium.

it is a different challenge though with Pardew seeing some key players go down with injury on Saturday at Anfield. That could mean West Brom are a little short of numbers in this fixture and keeping players fresh for the big game against Southampton on Saturday may be on the mind of the manager.

Manchester City also suffered a big injury in their Cup tie this weekend, but Leroy Sane sounds like he has avoided a long-term injury. His team continued progressing in every competition they have entered this season and Manchester City will be a strong favourite to see off West Brom.

However it has to be noted that Pardew has made his team tough to beat and West Brom have caused problems for the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal before the win at Anfield. West Brom also drew 0-0 at Liverpool in the Premier League and I expect Pardew will want to soak up pressure and hit Manchester City on the break in this one.

The injuries are a big concern for West Brom with Jonny Evans, Kieran Gibbs, Jake Livermore and Hal Robson-Kanu all expected to miss out. I do think that just makes West Brom a little more vulnerable and Manchester City should be too good for them.

Conceding goals has been an issue for Manchester City with them seemingly being punished for every mistake they have made. Teams have had limited shots but managed to find the net and West Brom will be hoping to do the same as they did at Liverpool in the FA Cup by taking the chances that do come.

The Baggies are a big threat from set pieces, but I do think chances will be few and far between and Manchester City should have enough to win this one with a clean sheet. The Asian Handicap looks right on the money and I think backing Manchester City to win with a clean sheet is the most likely outcome of this fixture with the injuries West Brom will be dealing with.

There is also a chance that Alan Pardew will turn attention to the League game against Southampton on Saturday which is arguably more important than this one. It would mean maybe keeping some key players out and hoping to frustrate Manchester City and I think the play will dominated by the home team.

As long as they can avoid the big mistakes which have cost them of late, Manchester City can win to nil.

Stoke City v Watford Pick: We are almost down to the final third of the Premier League season and that means fixtures are increasing with importance in every passing week. For both Stoke City and Watford this is going to be a 'relegation six pointer' with both clubs trying to avoid relegation to the Championship.

Both have recently decided to make a managerial change and Stoke City had an immediate jolt after beating Huddersfield Town under Paul Lambert. The former Aston Villa manager is going to look for back to back wins for Stoke City for the first time since the end of August and being at home does give them an advantage in this one.

For all the negatives around Stoke City, they have won 3 of their last 5 home games in the Premier League and they are certainly in relatively better form than Watford. Their visitors were beaten on their travels again on Saturday and that means Watford have lost 8 of their last 9 away games in all competitions.

Injuries are really stretching the squad and that could be a problem for Watford considering Stoke City should be well rested coming into this fixture.

Games like this do tend to be close and these teams are closely matched which suggests there won't be much between them. On any given day matches between Stoke City and Watford could go either way, but I think the rested home team may have a slight enough edge to win this one.

Watford are still trying to get to grips with what Javi Gracia will want from them and I think Stoke City can take advantage of that. While Gracia hasn't had a lot of time to implement his ideas, Paul Lambert has been working with his players for ten days to have them ready to fulfil his game plan on Wednesday.

It won't be an easy game for either team, but Stoke City may just have the edge in this one and I will back them to win this fixture.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United Pick: This is the big game of the week as two of the top five meet at the national Stadium in the Premier League.

The importance of the match will not be lost on either Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester United and it has all of the hallmarks of a close one.

Both teams are coming into the contest in very good form which is making it a tough one to read. I have to say I was surprised to see Manchester United as such an underdog to win here, but that may have something to do with the poor away record against the top teams in England under Jose Mourinho.

Tottenham Hotspur have also won 6 of their last 7 at Wembley Stadium in all competitions and beaten the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid in emphatic fashion. With the likes of Christian Eriksen returning and Dele Alli and Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur have the quality to test a Manchester United backline which has kept 6 clean sheets in a row.

I do think Manchester United can win here, but can’t back them because of the poor record at Tottenham Hotspur in recent years. They did win at Arsenal in early December to snap a poor away record at the top six clubs, but Manchester United will also have to recognise that Tottenham Hotspur are arguably a tougher team than The Gunners.

I expect both teams will have their successes in this one with the attacking talent they can both call upon and I am looking forward to what should be a very good game of football. Games between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in North London have tended to be fun affairs for the most part and in each of the last two seasons there have been at least three goals shared out.

Tottenham Hotspur have hosted Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid this season and all of those games produced at least three goals. For the most part Manchester United away games under Jose Mourinho against the bigger clubs have been low-scoring affairs, but there has been more attacking intent in the last two at Chelsea and Arsenal and the latter did produce four goals and countless other chances for both Arsenal and United.

The layers have offered the chance of seeing at least three goals at odds against and I think that can be backed. The 1-1 is perhaps the biggest hindrance to that number being hit, but I think both clubs will be trying to win this fixture and the weather in London should allow the two teams to express themselves.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 2.60 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Huddersfield Town-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.70 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.25 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

No comments:

Post a Comment