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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, 19 January 2018

Weekend Football Picks 2018 (January 20-22)

The Premier League is back for another round of fixtures this weekend and I have to say I am feeling better about that as the FA Cup continues to kick my backside.

It wouldn't have been a problem if Chelsea had not conceded a last minute goal against Norwich City, but that is just the way the things have been rolling for me so far in that competition.

The transfer of Alexis Sanchez is still up in the air as I write this, although Arsene Wenger suggested it could have been done by Friday to ensure Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are both able to be registered in time to play this weekend.

Personally it always felt like the Manchester United game with Yeovil Town would have been the more likely debut spot for Sanchez IF the deal does cross the line. Reports continue to say Mkhitaryan is dragging his feet and I am not sure that's a good thing for a player I do really like.

Failing to move will surely mean an end to his season as I am not sure Jose Mourinho will be someone who easily forgives Mkhitaryan, while it will put a few fans' noses out of joint. No one should be forced to move to any club, but Mkhitaryan could potentially thrive at Arsenal and will be available for the suddenly important Europa League.

That was a competition in which Mkhitaryan excelled last season and the move seems to make sense for all parties. However, any time a transfer drags on as long as this one has done then there is always the possibility for a late breakdown.

There are some important games in the League this weekend as the race for the top four heats up with five contenders going into those spots. I'll assume Manchester City have locked up one of those which means Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are all looking to build some momentum ahead of the resumption of the Champions League.

With Tottenham Hotspur hosting Manchester United in ten days time, both clubs will want to make sure they don't drop points in tough away games this weekend. For Tottenham Hotspur it's more important, perhaps, as they face Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in three consecutive games in February.

You wouldn't expect the three other clubs in the top five to drop points, but Chelsea's form is leaving a lot to be desired.

Arsenal fans could wonder why I am now talking about a top five, but slipping 8 points off the top four is a tough road to tread. I imagine the Europa League is building importance in each passing week for Arsene Wenger as he will try and emulate Manchester United with a second path into the Champions League next season.

Fail to beat Crystal Palace this weekend and you would say the Europa League is the priority for Arsene Wenger going into February.

Brighton v Chelsea Pick: Most of the headlines out of the FA Cup Third Round Replay would have been about the non-use of the VAR system for what looked a clear penalty for Chelsea in extra time. However you can’t ignore the fact that The Blues remain firmly out of form and now travel down to the south coast with both Pedro and Alvaro Morata out through suspension.

The games keep coming thick and fast for Chelsea who can’t afford to keep slipping up in the Premier League in a tight race for top four places. They have two more Cup games in the eight days after this League game and Antonio Conte’s future plans remain up in the air.

It all feels like Chelsea are ripe for being upset by Brighton who are unbeaten in 4 home games in all competitions and have won half of those games. However that is still asking a lot of Brighton as far as I am concerned as they have found the best teams in the Premier League a little too good for them so far this season.

Brighton are also struggling for form and Chelsea have remained tough enough defensively to feel they can limit what the home side are able to do.

Personally I was hoping the layers would have underestimated the chance of seeing two or fewer goals in this match or the potential for one, or both, of these teams not to score but that is not to be. Those prices are all short enough to ignore and instead I think it may pay to back Chelsea to win here.

Both Manchester City and Liverpool have done that this season, while Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Chelsea have all beaten Brighton at home. Brighton have managed to score just a single goal in that time and I think Conte is going to set up his team to be hard to beat and look for Eden Hazard to play the ‘false nine’ position as he did to strong effect at Huddersfield Town.

For all the negative feelings at Chelsea at the moment, they still have plenty of quality and they did have enough chances to win some of the games they have drawn of late. I considered backing Chelsea to win this game with a clean sheet which is a very big price, but the better angle may be backing the away side to win a game where fewer than four goals are scored.

Only Liverpool have managed to blow Brighton away this season and I don’t think Chelsea are playing with enough confidence to do the same. Antonio Conte will just want to find any sort of win and I think Chelsea will use a defensive base to provide the chance to do that.

This also covers any Brighton goal, which would scupper the win to nil, as I am not convinced Chelsea will score more than two goals here. Not after playing extra time on Wednesday and looking a little fatigued at times.

Brighton have had 6 games against the top six this season and 5 of those have ended with fewer than three goals scored and all 6 have ended in losses. At odds against I will back Chelsea to win a game featuring three or fewer goals.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace Pick: 
I can’t imagine there will be a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere for the home manager Arsene Wenger on Saturday as the fans are likely to be ready to vent their anger. A poor run of form coupled with Alexis Sanchez likely moving to a Premier League rival will be putting pressure on Wenger and Arsenal are desperate to get back in touch with the top four places.

An 8 point gap has developed between Arsenal in 6th place and Chelsea in 4th place and failing to beat Crystal Palace will not go down well with the locals.

It is a tough game for Arsenal as Roy Hodgson has got Crystal Palace well organised and hard to beat. They are unbeaten in 5 away games in the Premier League and Crystal Palace have shown they can battle through all the injury issues they are having.

The defensive injuries are a blow for Crystal Palace, but they will feel they can be well organised and make life as difficult as possible for the home team. With the speed of Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace will offer a threat going the other way too and this does look a tough test for Arsenal on paper.

It has been a long time since Arsenal would be the kind of price they are to beat a team in the bottom half of the table at home. That says a lot about how The Gunners have been playing and they have lacked a bit of creativity in the final third in recent games.

Defensively Arsenal do tend to be better at home and they did have a couple of narrow wins over the likes of Newcastle United and West Ham United in recent weeks. That looks the best case scenario for Arsenal on Saturday especially with the fans likely to be itching to get on the backs of the players on the field.

The game a couple of weeks ago between these two teams produced fireworks in the final third, but that has not really been the case under Roy Hodgson for Crystal Palace against top clubs. Recently they have narrowly lost at Tottenham Hotspur and held Manchester City to a goalless draw and I do think goals could be at a premium on Saturday.

A narrow Arsenal win is perhaps the most likely result, but I will take a chance on seeing less than three goals at odds against. I think Roy Hodgson will want Crystal Palace to frustrate Arsenal as long as possible and then break in the second half and so a tight game feels like it is in the offing.

The last two fixtures between these teams at the Emirates Stadium have ended with two goals exactly and I will back fewer than three to feature in this one.

Burnley v Manchester United Pick: The big question ahead of this League fixture is whether or not Alexis Sanchez has signed for Manchester United from Arsenal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way? At the time of writing the deal is supposed to be hours away from being announced, but whether the paperwork is in by noon on Friday to see both players registered for this round of fixtures is up for debate.

Jose Mourinho won’t be worrying about that with his focus on making sure Manchester United keep the momentum behind them after 3 successive wins. That includes an impressive display at Goodison Park, but Manchester United will be well aware of the challenge in facing Burnley.

It has only been three weeks since Burnley were leading 0-2 at Old Trafford in a game that eventually ended 2-2. That will give the players confidence, but Burnley have not been in the best of form of late and that has to play a part in this one.

As long as Manchester United don’t come out and gift Burnley a two goal start as they did at Old Trafford, the away side should prove to be too good. Goals have not been a problem for Manchester United away from home although Mourinho will want to see better defensive performances having dropped points at Leicester City and allowed Watford, Arsenal and West Brom back into games Manchester United led 0-2.

Burnley have shown they can score goals, but they have also been beaten in their 3 home games against the top six this season. Granted two of those came deep in injury time against Arsenal and Liverpool, but Burnley do feel like they have hit a wall of late and Manchester United are playing well enough to punish them.

Last season United won by a couple of goals here and I would expect the same on Saturday. With a team rounding into form and with the potential signing of Alexis Sanchez giving them another boost, I like Manchester United to win by a two goal margin here.

However there have been some problems for Manchester United defensively that Burnley will look to exploit too and I would not be surprised if this game produces at least three goals. Manchester United did get a rare clean sheet at Everton in their last away game, but Burnley can do enough to be involved in this one and I will take a big price on Manchester United winning in a game that features at least three goals.

Both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool won games with that many goals at Turf Moor in the last month and Manchester United can become the latest. Before the Everton game, the last 5 Manchester United away games had featured at least three goals and I will look for that to be the outcome in a winning effort for Jose Mourinho’s men on Saturday.

Everton v West Brom Pick: Both Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew look to keep their teams well organised and use that as a platform for success and this could be one of the less entertaining games of the weekend.

A point for West Brom would be seen as a good result so I am not convinced Pardew will want them opening up while the game is level. On the other hand Sam Allardyce has admitted he is going to go back to basics after Everton have lost 4 games in a row in all competitions and so there won't be too many risks taken by the home team either.

There is an onus on Everton to make a little more of the play though and Allardyce has added some solid pieces to his team in this transfer window. Theo Walcott is the latest to come in, although I am not convinced he will start this game as he builds match fitness after limited opportunities at Arsenal.

Walcott could come on and make an impact in a match that won't have a lot between these teams. You do have to say that Everton look to have a little more about them compared with West Brom and they won't be the only team to fail to beat Chelsea and Manchester United at home.

Prior to that Allardyce had found the right formula to keep the points ticking over and I can see Everton winning a narrow one this weekend. One goal could be enough to win this for either team, but I will look for Everton to get that and back them to win at odds against.

Leicester City v Watford Pick: This should be a decent game of football at the King Power Stadium on Saturday with two teams who have liked to play attacking football. The Leicester City performances in recent weeks will be really encouraging and they made their way through to the FA Cup Fourth Round comfortably enough with a win on Tuesday.

Peterborough United are next for Leicester City and Claude Puel will believe his side are capable of a big run, but the Premier League and finishing in the top seven is a key goal for the club too.

The Burnley stumble has given Leicester City a chance to move up behind them and the side are going to feel good about making it 3 wins in a row in front of their own fans. Defensively Leicester City have been much improved too with 4 clean sheets and it will be tough for Watford here.

Watford have started to pick up their form again and their 2-2 home draw with Southampton in a game they trailed 0-2 will be seen as a positive point. However it has been much more difficult for The Hornets away from home and I think that may be a difference maker in the outcome of this fixture.

Leicester City have won 3 of their last 4 at home against Watford and I will back them to earn another win here. It won't be an easy game, but Leicester City are playing with a little more positivity than Watford at the moment and I think they can earn the three points in this one.

West Ham United v Bournemouth Pick: Both West Ham United and Bournemouth earned a big Premier League win last weekend before having contrasting results in the FA Cup Third Round Replays played during the week. If both had won this would have been the first of two meetings between the clubs over the next eight days, but Bournemouth exited the competition and now can focus on the Premier League.

The Premier League is the priority for David Moyes too, but he will be happy his West Ham United team have kept the momentum going with a 6 game unbeaten run coming into this fixture.

Recent weeks have been more difficult in finding wins, but the same could be said for Bournemouth before both clubs won last weekend.

Both teams will have looked at this fixture as a big chance to add another three points towards survival and that could mean another game with plenty of chances is in the offing.

West Ham United have scored and conceded goals in recent games as they have struggled through injury, while Bournemouth do score goals on their travels. The Cherries have struggled to avoid losses though and I think my lean is towards West Ham United winning a high scoring contest.

5 of the 6 matches between these clubs have finished with three or more goals scored since Bournemouth earned promotion to the Premier League. The one exception was here last season, but I think the defensive concerns of both clubs is hard to ignore and I will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Manchester City v Newcastle United Pick: The Premier League unbeaten run is over for Manchester City but they still have a healthy lead at the top of the table and have the perfect run of fixtures to bounce back.

First up is Newcastle United and then it is West Brom who come to the Etihad Stadium and Manchester City will be expected to beat both. In between the two games are two Cup ties in the League Cup and FA Cup and Pep Guardiola will have been happy to have given his players six days to recover and get ready for this fixture.

You have to feel that Newcastle United will play this the same way they did at the end of December when they hosted Manchester City. Rafa Benitez was looking to make his team as hard to beat as possible and I think the team will defend in numbers and try and frustrate the home team.

That may be difficult against a City team who will want to bounce back from the defeat against Liverpool last Sunday. Manchester City have been tough to contain at the Etihad Stadium and I do think they can win this fixture and perhaps even win by a wide margin.

However the best option may be to look for Manchester City to control the match to the extent of being able to limit the chances Newcastle United can create. That should help them earn a rare clean sheet in recent weeks and backing the home team to win to nil looks the way to go.

Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This is a big game at the top and the bottom of the Premier League table as the television cameras arrive at St Mary's on Sunday afternoon. The form guide is only pointing in one direction with Tottenham Hotspur having won 5 of their last 6 and Southampton struggling for results in the Premier League.

The Saints have not won any of their last 4 home games in the League and have suffered losses in half of those games as they slipped to just outside the bottom three. Losing Virgil Van Dijk is a blow and Southampton have yet to bring in the new faces to turn things around.

A confident Tottenham Hotspur come to town having won at Turf Moor and the Liberty Stadium in their last couple of away League games. The goals are flowing and the team look to be rounding into form ahead of a tough February when they face three of the top six as well as Juventus in the Champions League.

Prior to the wins at Burnley and Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur had been in poor form away from home and that raises some questions about how they can do here. However they have won on 4 of their last 5 away games at Southampton and they have scored plenty of goals in that time.

Tottenham Hotspur hammered Southampton at Wembley Stadium on Boxing Day and I think they will be too strong again. The handicap market is a tight one with Spurs needing to win by more than a single goal margin to earn a full pay out and that's difficult when you think Southampton have scored in their last 5 at home.

However I think Tottenham Hotspur will find a way to win here and you can back them at close to odds against to win a game that features at least two goals. The side have scored at least twice in back to back away wins and they have scored at least twice in their last 5 trips to St Mary's.

Games between these two have been high-scoring and I will back Spurs to win a game with two or more goals shared out.

Swansea City v Liverpool Pick: There will be plenty of excitement in the Liverpool fan base after seeing their side end the unbeaten run of Manchester City in the Premier League last time out. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping his team can kick on from that as they try and maintain the push for a top four finish.

Liverpool do kick off last this weekend which may put some additional pressure on them if the rest of the top five teams have won. However the match up with Swansea City should be one they enjoy as the home team will allow Liverpool to play their football.

It has been tough for Swansea City when coming up against teams who are in the top half of the Premier League table and this looks another tough test for them. While earning some positive results under Carlos Carvalhal, Swansea City's performances have to improve to compete with the best teams in the Premier League.

The style is one that the top Premier League clubs will enjoy playing against and Manchester United (twice), Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have all won here by a couple of goals.

Liverpool did need a late goal to win at Burnley last time out, but they have been free scoring away from home in their 7 game unbeaten run on their travels. They had scored at least three times in 6 away games before the 1-2 win at Turf Moor and I think Liverpool will have the chances to become the latest top five club to visit here and win by a comfortable margin.

Even the doubts around Mo Salah won't put me off and I am expecting Liverpool to show their class in this one. Defensively they have not been as strong away from home which would be a concern when you think of this handicap, but I think Liverpool will find a way to win here by a couple of goals on the night.

MY PICKS: Chelsea to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 2.15 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Arsenal-Crystal Palace Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.40 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester United to Win & Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.87 Coral (2 Units)
Everton @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 1.86 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
West Ham United-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet365 (2 Units)

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