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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

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Friday, 12 January 2018

Weekend Football Picks 2018 (January 13-15)

Damn the Cup games...

What a miserable week of Picks from the FA Cup and League Cup ties that have been played over the last nine days and let's just say I am more than glad the Premier League is back this weekend.

There are some big games to come over the weekend with the one garnering the most interest coming on Sunday at Anfield when Liverpool, minus Philippe Coutinho, take on Manchester City, who have yet to prise away Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal.

I have also written a short piece about Manchester United at the end of a tough festive period which can be read here.

Onto the picks which come from the Premier League games to be played between Saturday 13th January and Monday 15th January 2018.

Chelsea v Leicester City Pick: Back to back goalless draws in the two Cup competitions will not have made Antonio Conte very happy, but he has to at least be pleased Chelsea are creating chances. With the talent they have in the squad, it is only a matter of time before they are converting more of those and once again putting some momentum behind them.

They are lacking a little bit of that going into the weekend having drawn 3 games in a row in all competitions, even if they did have chances to win all 3. A busy January is not helping their cause with the addition of a FA Cup Replay in the calendar, but defensively Chelsea have begun to show their mettle again.

The Blues have now kept clean sheets in 5 of their last 6 games in all competitions and also in 4 of their last 5 at Stamford Bridge. That will always give Chelsea a chance to win games and I do think they can expose the defensive issues Leicester City are having now they are missing both Danny Simpson and Wes Morgan from the backline.

Leicester City can point out back to back clean sheets, but Huddersfield Town and Fleetwood Town do not pose the same threat as this Chelsea team. A little confidence has to have been lost with their last 2 away Premier League games both ending in losses despite Leicester City taking the lead in both, and Leicester City have conceded at least twice in 3 of their last 4 on their travels in the League.

The Foxes have conceded at least twice in all 3 away games played against the ‘big six’ in the Premier League this season and I think they could be coming against Chelsea at the wrong time.

To be fair to Leicester City they are rarely beaten by a big margin and only 3 of their 8 League defeats have come by more than a single goal margin. However I think the defensive issues combined with Chelsea due to give someone a going over might produce the ‘perfect storm’ for Chelsea to win this one by a couple of goals on the day.

3 of the last 4 at Stamford Bridge between these two teams have ended in comfortable Chelsea wins and I will back them to get back to winning ways and cover the Asian Handicap this week.

Crystal Palace v Burnley Pick: Both Crystal Palace and Burnley exited the FA Cup in the Third Round last weekend, but I imagine only the hosts of this fixture are happy about that. They can now concentrate on their relegation battle, while Burnley already have 34 points on the board which would have meant an FA Cup run could have been taken seriously.

They are where they are though and Sean Dyche won’t want his players to slow the momentum as they try and finish as high as possible in the Premier League table. A poor festive period has come as they faced some of the toughest teams in England, but Burnley have remained difficult to beat.

A late Liverpool winner was needed to win at Turf Moor, but Manchester United failed to beat Burnley at Old Trafford and the visitors have drawn their last 3 away games in the League.

Burnley have to feel they can take advantage of the host of injuries Crystal Palace have suffered in defensive areas, although goals have been a bit of a problem for the side. That will be helped by the defensive issues Palace have as well as the fact that Roy Hodgson’s men will have targeted this fixture for a win which may give Burnley more spaces to exploit.

On the other hand Crystal Palace may feel attack is the best form of defence in this game and they still have quality in the final third which could cause problems. Scoring goals has not been an issue for Crystal Palace, unless they are being asked to do that from a penalty situation, and they have been particularly effective at home.

Anyone who saw Brighton’s recent home game with Burnley will know you can create chances against one of the better defensive records in the Premier League and Crystal Palace have the players to do that.

Losing 3 times in a row to Burnley has to play on the mind of the home players though and that puts me off backing Crystal Palace to win this game, despite my belief they can do that. At the moment Palace have needed two goals to win games with their defence having a few problems and the layers may have under-rated the chance of seeing three goals shared out here.

It certainly looks a big price at odds against when considering 7 of the last 8 at Selhurst Park have gone that way. Both teams had scored in 7 straight before the goalless draw with Manchester City too and I think the biggest danger here is the 1-1 draw.

Huddersfield Town v West Ham United Pick: This is a big game for both Huddersfield Town and West Ham United as they try to earn the points to move away from the bottom three and the winner is going to be feeling a lot more comfortable on Saturday evening.

However I imagine that knowledge is going to be a factor in this game and could produce a tense atmosphere where both David Wagner and David Moyes recognise how important it is to not lose this fixture.

That is also going to be noted by the fans and it could be tough for the players to really express themselves. It doesn’t help that both Huddersfield Town and West Ham United will be very well organised to prevent the other from picking up some momentum and I can’t imagine a lot of free flowing football and chances galore being created in this one.

A single goal could easily be enough to win this, but both Huddersfield Town and West Ham United have been playing plenty of tight matches at home/away respectively in recent weeks. The last 3 West Ham United away games have ended in draws, while the last 2 Huddersfield Town home games have done the same.

I think that could be the outcome on Saturday with the teams potentially cancelling one another out in a bit of snore-fest, but both managers would likely take a point, shake hands, and move forward at this stage of the season.

Watford v Southampton Pick: It is hard to really trust either of these teams to produce a win on Saturday when you think of their current form, but Watford and Southampton may surprise by producing a game that features at least three goals. These two will meet again in the FA Cup Fourth Round in two weeks time, but the focus is most definitely on this Premier League fixture.

Neither team has been defending that well in recent games which should give the attacking players more opportunities than they have had over the last month. It is hard to trust Southampton to produce in the final third with what has become a glaring problem in front of goal, but Watford’s defensive injuries should help them in this one.

On the other side of the field Watford have continued to pose problems for teams when they get forward even if they have slipped off their early season form. The Hornets have scored in their last 7 games at home in all competitions and the last 4 here have produced at least three goals shared out.

Even a goal-shy team like Huddersfield Town managed to score multiple times at Vicarage Road in a recent visit so Southampton’s problems in front of goal concern me a little less than usual. Defensively they can be a tough team to break down, but you have to think Mauricio Pellegrino plays a more forward thinking team with the need to put points on the board.

The 1-1 is perhaps the most dangerous outcome of this fixture, but Watford really only play in one way and can’t rely on their defence so should have attack on the mind. On the other side I would expect Southampton to continue to target three priceless points too.

Recent games between these clubs have seen three goals shared out in 7 of the last 8 between them at Vicarage Road including last season. At odds against backing at least three goals to be shared out here looks the call.

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton Pick: After an initial boost in confidence under the guidance of Sam Allardyce, Everton have just hit the rocks in recent games and 3 consecutive losses have just curtailed the progression being made. This transfer window is all about moulding the squad to suit Allardyce a little more, but the key is to remain focused on the pitch.

The arrival of Cenk Tosun is supposed to fill the glaring hole that was left when Romelu Lukaku moved to Manchester United in the summer. While he has scored goals in the Champions League for Besiktas, Tosun may need a couple of weeks to understand the pace of the English game.

That could mean another strong defensive shape set out by Sam Allardyce to prevent Tottenham Hotspur getting the space they tend to enjoy. He would have seen West Ham United frustrate Tottenham Hotspur in a 1-1 draw at Wembley Stadium in their last Premier League game and I expect Allardyce will want to do the same.

However Everton have not looked watertight in their most recent games and face a Tottenham Hotspur team who can be relentless going forward. The clever moves that Manchester United put together really baffled Everton on New Year’s Day and I think Tottenham Hotspur can do something similar with Harry Kane in devastating recent form.

Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are also showing signs of rounding into form and Tottenham Hotspur have enjoyed recent games against Everton.

I have no doubt that Allardyce can organise a team to be very difficult to beat, but Everton have just been a little out of form recently. They were outplayed by Manchester United for large parts of that fixture and a rested Tottenham Hotspur should be able to create enough chances to win this one by a couple of goals.

4 of their last 5 home League wins have come by at least a two goal margin and I expect Tottenham Hotspur to have enough to do that here.

Bournemouth v Arsenal Pick: The two ‘Super Sunday’ offerings from the Premier League look like they could provide plenty of entertainment this weekend with the first coming from the south coast.

Bournemouth and Arsenal both like getting the football down and playing plenty of passes, but both have similarities in looking decent enough going forward and pretty shocking at the back.

That was not in evidence in the Arsenal goalless draw at Chelsea on Wednesday, but they are missing some key players at the back. A Bournemouth team who have scored at least twice in their last 4 games overall and last 3 at the Vitality Stadium will feel they can break down this Arsenal defence when they get on the front foot.

On the other hand Arsenal have to believe they have the quality to create chances and score goals against a porous defence. Bournemouth have conceded at least twice in 6 of their last 7 overall and 3 of their last 4 at home and it would be a surprise if there are not a few goals shared out here.

Games between the clubs have produced plenty of goals with at least one side hitting three goals in each of their last 3 against one another. This season the game at the Emirates Stadium finished 3-0 in favour of Arsenal, but last season both League fixtures produced at least four goals and that could be the case again on Sunday.

5 of the last 7 Bournemouth games and 4 of the last 6 Arsenal games have ended with at least four goals produced. With two defences struggling and two teams who like to get forward matching up well enough, I am looking for at least four goals to be shared out by these teams on Sunday.

Liverpool v Manchester City Pick: The big game in the Premier League this weekend comes on Sunday afternoon as Liverpool host Manchester City in a battle between two of the top four.

Philippe Coutinho is not going to be involved for Liverpool having finally completed his move to Barcelona during the week, but the news that Mo Salah looks to be recovering from an injury has to be a boost for the fans.

It will be interesting to see how Liverpool try and make up for the loss of Coutinho, but this is a team who have given Manchester City some problems in recent years. That may be funny to read when you think Manchester City thumped Liverpool 5-0 at home earlier in the season, but that game was changed massively by Sadio Mane’s sending off.

Prior to that Liverpool had given as good as they got from Manchester City and I do wonder how the game would have gone without that sending off. Liverpool certainly have the pace in the forward areas to give this Manchester City backline fits, and the style the away team will look to play with should offer Liverpool opportunities on the counter attack.

Of course it is hard to imagine a scenario in which Manchester City don’t open up this Liverpool defence, even with the addition of Virgil Van Dijk to try and shore things up. Pep Guardiola will have his team probe for mistakes and the high press both teams employ should lead to quick opportunities.

Liverpool do look a big price as the underdog to produce a result here, but the two teams have fared differently in ‘big games’ so far which puts me off slightly. While Liverpool crushed Arsenal here, both Manchester United and Chelsea have left with a point while they have been beaten at Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

On the other hand Manchester City have beaten all five teams below them in the table, including wins at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. I don’t believe Liverpool defend nearly as well as Chelsea and Manchester United, despite the home defensive records in the League, and those wins makes it hard to back Liverpool with a lot of confidence.

Having the start on the Asian Handicap is appealing, especially at a slightly bigger price than Manchester United were to avoid defeat against Manchester City at Old Trafford last month. It is a winner as long as Liverpool don’t lose the game and I think The Reds are capable of achieving a result, but the loss of Coutinho has to be considered and potentially has had a negative effect on the players.

So instead I will back at least four goals to be shared out by two attacking teams who should have the better of the defences they face. Both League games were tight affairs last season, but there were plenty of chances in the second of those that ended 1-1 and the game earlier this season looked to be very, very open before the Mane sending off.

I do think there will be chances at both ends in this one too and recent years have produced plenty of goals when Liverpool and Manchester City have met at Anfield. Prior to last season, 7 of 8 at Anfield had featured at least three goals shared out and 4 of those 7 had gone on to feature at least four goals.

Liverpool’s 15 game unbeaten home run against Manchester City and the fact they have beaten them 3 times in a row at Anfield will bring in Liverpool backers. I was almost tempted to go the same way, but I will instead look for at least four goals shared out in what looks a barnburner on paper.

The teams should match up well enough to produce the chances to get close to four goals shared out and the 2-2 draw looks a real player in this one.

Manchester United v Stoke City Pick: In an ideal world I would have loved to have seen Mark Hughes remain in charge for at least one more game for Stoke City- that is definitely coming from the Manchester United fan inside of me!

Realistically Stoke City had to part ways with a manager who seemed to have lost the players confidence and the side had been lurching from one bad result to another.

We have seen teams respond positively when a manger is sacked  and that is my only real concern from a fixture Manchester United should be winning. The injuries look to be clearing up and I do think the Manchester United players would have enjoyed getting out to Dubai for some warm weather training which should see a positive performance produced.

It has been a struggle at home in recent games, but I think Jose Mourinho will be happy with the options his team now have in the forward and midfield areas. Mourinho will have a chance to change things if it is not going right, but I would imagine Manchester United will be too strong for a Stoke City team who have been conceding goals for fun.

That may change with a new voice in the dressing room and Hughes gone, but I expect Stoke City will have to wait another week to show that. They did earn a 1-1 draw here last season, but Manchester United have generally been too good for Stoke City having won 13 straight at Old Trafford against them prior to that.

Goals have just dried up a little of late, but I expect a positive reaction from the Manchester United players to having had a chance to head to Dubai for a few days. They are also facing a Stoke City who have taken heavy losses against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea of late and I expect Manchester United to do the same.

I will back the home team to cover a big Asian Handicap on Monday night and remain on course for a top four finish.

MY PICKS: Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet365 (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Burnley Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.40 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-West Ham United Draw @ 3.10 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Watford-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Arsenal Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.40 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Liverpool-Manchester City Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.40 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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