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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Midweek Football Picks 2018 (January 9-10)

The calendar has slowed down for teams in January despite the hectic FA Cup Third Round being played last weekend and most now have a few days to get their bearings right before getting back into League action.

For those who have exited the FA Cup in the top flight, things could not look much clearer in January meaning only three League games are set in the month, while most 'only' have to deal with four matches in this month.

Of course it is slightly different for the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea who have to continue to negotiate a difficult path thanks to their progression in all four tournaments they have entered. At least Manchester City have avoided a FA Cup Third Round Replay like the one Chelsea have to play next week and that means the latter are going to continue to play two games per week through January as the did in December.

Manchester City will have a few days off in the middle of the month to just gather their breath, but they have also received the more favourable draw in the League Cup Semi Final compared with Chelsea. The First Legs of the League Cup Semi Finals are played this week and that means the midweek football picks are only covering a couple of games.

Manchester City v Bristol City Pick: They may have ridden their luck to come through a couple of penalty shoot outs to reach the League Cup Semi Final, but Pep Guardiola has played decent teams in the competition. There is little doubt that winning silverware, all silverware, is at the forefront of Guardiola's mind and he would be very pleased with the League Cup Semi Final draw.

Guardiola won't say that outwardly as he won't want to disrespect Bristol City, but Manchester City can make a few changes and should still be too strong for their Championship opponents. The 4-1 win over Burnley in the FA Cup on Saturday shows what Manchester City can do to teams and I think a strong team will be picked with Guardiola's ambition to try and finish this tie in the First Leg likely to be the key to the selection.

That doesn't bode well for Bristol City who have won 1 of their last 5 games since beating Manchester United in the League Cup Quarter Final.

A bigger worry has to be the manner of their 5-0 loss at Aston Villa followed by a 3-0 defeat at Watford in the FA Cup Third Round. You would think Lee Johnson is going to try and set his side up to remain in the tie ahead of the Second Leg at Ashton Gate, but it does look a tall task for The Robins who have hit a poor patch of form.

Bristol City can't make as many changes to freshen their starting eleven as Manchester City and I am expecting a strong home team to win this fixture fairly comfortably on the evening. The next game against Liverpool isn't played until Sunday and I think the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero could all be picked and I would think they are going to help Manchester City win comfortably.

The visitors have surprised in this competition all season, but this is a bridge too far and I am going to back Manchester City to cover the Asian Handicap.

Chelsea v Arsenal Pick: Both Chelsea and Arsenal had disappointing results in the FA Cup Third Round this weekend as they travelled to Championship sides, but at least Chelsea can say they are still in the competition. The Arsenal loss would have really hurt Arsene Wenger and the fans have continued to show their frustration with the direction of the club.

It does mean the League Cup has added importance for Wenger and a Semi Final loss to Chelsea will not go down too well by those sitting in the stands. Wenger himself will be with them having been given a touchline ban for comments made about officials in recent weeks, and it is imperative that Arsenal are still in this tie when they host Chelsea in the Second Leg in two weeks time.

I don't imagine this tie will be over after the First Leg as I am expecting two tight contests, but that is also second guessing the two managers. I would expect both Wenger and Antonio Conte to pick strong teams in both Legs knowing how close they are to having a chance to play for silverware and the teams picked in the FA Cup Third Round suggested the managers did have this fixture in mind.

It feels like the game will be a tight one with both having their chances, but Conte may feel his Chelsea team are the stronger after their showing at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League last week. The Blues had enough chances to win two games on that day, although they also needed a big performance from Thibaut Courtois to earn a point and I am giving Chelsea the edge in this First Leg at home.

In recent years they have been better than Arsenal at Stamford Bridge and I have more faith in Conte playing a really strong team than I do in Wenger. The latter believes he can rotate in this competition, although I imagine his feeling has changed after the FA Cup exit, and home advantage for Chelsea should be a key in this First Leg.

This should be a tie with everything to play for when they meet in two weeks time in the Second Leg, but I would expect Chelsea to hold a narrow advantage when they do reconvene.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea @ 1.75 William Hill (2 Units)

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