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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, 26 January 2018

Weekend Football Picks 2018 (January 26-28)

It is back to FA Cup action this weekend as the Fourth Round is played and this comes just days before another very important round of Premier League fixtures.

With that in mind you have to be aware of what managers are saying around the Leagues to try and get a feel for the kind of teams they are going to play in the Fourth Round. At this stage it still feels far enough away to think about winning the Cup which means the priority remains with the League at a pivotal time of the season.


One player who could feature is Alexis Sanchez who has signed for Manchester United and is available for all competitions the side are still competing in. I have written a short piece about the new Number 7 at Old Trafford which can be read here.


On Friday the FA Cup Fourth Round fixtures are played and these ties take place over the next three days. Next Tuesday and Wednesday is another full round of Premier League fixtures before another weekend of League action at the beginning of February when the attention will soon turn to the resumption of the Champions League.


Yeovil Town v Manchester United Pick: The television cameras will rock up at Huish Park with the hope of seeing one of the biggest upsets in the history of the FA Cup but that does look a tall task for Yeovil Town.

Despite having home advantage, Yeovil Town are a team fighting at the wrong end of the League Two table and there is only so much adrenaline will be able to do for the players. I expect the crowd will try and make this a tough atmosphere for the Manchester United players and rile them into making mistakes, but enough of the Manchester United squad played here in 2015 and so will be familiar enough with what to expect.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez is expected to give his new team-mates a huge boost in the second half of the season and the FA Cup has proven to be a competition that Jose Mourinho will take seriously. He played a strong team in the home win over Derby County in the Third Round and this will be a starting eleven with a lot of international experience taking to the field at Huish Park.

The same can be said in the League Cup ties Manchester United have played and they should be fairly comfortable in this one. The layers feel the same with the shortened prices on Manchester United to win this one with a clean sheet and asking the away side to cover a pretty big Asian Handicap.

Yeovil Town have played well at home in recent weeks which would make them think they can cause problems for their Premier League visitors.

However there is a real difference in quality between the two clubs and even the changes that Manchester United will make will have a very strong team take to the field. They should be a little better than in January 2015 when Manchester United won 0-2 here and I will back them to go one better and cover this Asian Handicap with Alexis Sanchez perhaps getting on the scoreboard for his new club.


Peterborough United v Leicester City Pick: In the last couple of years there have been a few occasions when a club from League One have upset a Premier League opponent in the FA Cup. Last season Millwall beat Leicester City as one of those upsets and Peterborough United will feel they have been scoring enough goals at home to give their Premier League opponents something to think about.

However I do think the situation is different for Leicester City this time around as they are not facing a relegation battle in the League which is prioritised over the FA Cup. This time Leicester City look like they could easily finish as best of the rest outside of the top six domestically and that means the owners, fans and manager all seem to be on the same page when it comes to wanting a long FA Cup run.

Claude Puel will know how difficult this tie could be having needed a Replay to beat Fleetwood Town in the Third Round. There isn't a lot between Fleetwood Town and Peterborough United so this is another difficult test for Leicester City, but I expect  a strong team to be picked in order to avoid the need for another Replay.

It won't be easy having seen Peterborough United win 1-3 at Villa Park in the Third Round and this is a team who have scored plenty of goals at home in recent games. They will challenge Leicester City, but I think the recent performances from The Foxes should be good enough to weather the storm and take control of the match.

If you consider the team Puel picked for the Third Round Replay at home against Fleetwood Town, I do think he will use the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy in this Fourth Round tie. The Leicester City defensive performances have been solid enough to think they can restrict Peterborough United to some extent and I would expect the Premier League quality to tell at the end of this one.

Leicester City may have drawn at Fleetwood Town, but I think they will play a stronger team than the one that started at Highbury Stadium in the Third Round. Peterborough United will need to be contained while the fans are loud, but if Leicester City can go in front I would expect them to be very dangerous on the counter attack and to win this game by a couple of goals on the day.


Huddersfield Town v Birmingham City Pick: Both Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City are more concerned with their respective relegation battles in the Premier League and Championship than they are in having a long FA Cup run. This competition can provide some momentum to take into the League, but both teams have important home games on Tuesday which could mean changed line ups in this Fourth Round tie.

David Wagner has already admitted as much in his last press conference as he is expected to give his fringe players an opportunity. Those players did help win 1-2 at Bolton Wanderers in the Third Round and having home advantage against another team struggling in the Championship should give The Terriers more of an edge.

However they have to respect a Birmingham City team who have been improving as they have started picking points in the League. The Blues have lost 1 of their last 5 games in all competitions and they have only lost 1 of their last 5 away games which suggests they can make an impact in this game.

The layers are not expecting too much goalmouth action, but I can see both sets of players trying to show that they are good enough to help these clubs in their League matches too. With the draw the last result either Huddersfield Town or Birmingham City want, I do think an attacking game will develop and I like the chances of both teams scoring at odds against.

That has happened in 4 of the last 6 Huddersfield Town home games, while it also happened when they visited Bolton Wanderers in the Third Round. Both teams have scored in 3 of the last 5 Birmingham City away games too and I will look for both teams to play their part in this one and will back both teams to score.


Millwall v Rochdale Pick: There is still some work to be done for Millwall if they want to avoid a return to League One after earning promotion last season, but they are definitely on the right path to doing that. It is a much better position they occupy compared with Rochdale who are in the bottom four of League One.

However I expect the Rochdale players to get up for this Cup tie with the Fifth Round of the FA Cup in front of them and the chance for a really, really big tie. They won at Doncaster Rovers in the Third Round despite having a poor away record all in all and that could make Rochdale dangerous if Millwall do not take them seriously.

I don't think that will be an issue for Millwall who were playing at the same level as Rochdale last season and played two difficult games against them. That will keep the players focused as Millwall look for another successful FA Cup run having reached the Quarter Final last season before being thumped at Tottenham Hotspur.

Millwall have beaten Barnsley 4-1 here in the FA Cup already this season which means they have won six home ties in the competition since the beginning of last season. The side have also beaten Stevenage Town in the League Cup at the New Den and I think Millwall are going to be too good for a Rochdale team who tend to concede far too many goals away from home.

I fully expect Millwall to take this tie seriously with the hope they can have another strong run in the FA Cup and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap in a win.


Notts County v Swansea City Pick: With the pressure that comes with trying to stay in the Premier League top flight, there is no doubt the FA Cup can be a distraction for clubs who are focusing on the League. A few of those Premier League clubs are already out of the FA Cup, but Carlos Carvalhal seems like someone who is taking the competition seriously enough.

He had every excuse to pick a weakened team for the Cup tie against Wolves in the Third Round, but Swansea City started recognisable players in both the initial tie and the Replay. Perhaps Carvalhal sees this competition as a chance to keep momentum going after positive results since taking over as manager of Swansea City.

They have won back to back games, but this is a tougher challenge away from the Liberty Stadium where Swansea City have struggled for wins. Swansea City are unbeaten in 3 away games in all competitions and led at Newcastle United before settling for a draw at St James' Park and there is a feeling they have the quality needed to win here.

Notts County will come in with confidence they can knock out a top flight club with home advantage the key. However they have not been in the best of form over the last couple of weeks and I do think it will be tough to bridge the difference in levels between the clubs.

Historically Notts County do have a strong home record against Swansea City, but the latter have really moved forwards as a club since these teams last met in the 2004/05 season. While this could be a close match with Notts County using the fans to produce a big performance, I do think Swansea City are in the better form and also looking like they want to keep things rolling in a positive direction with the teams picked in the FA Cup ties against Wolves.

Notts County have lost their last couple of home games in the League, which is also their priority, and I think that may have dented the belief of the players prior to this Fourth Round tie.

At close to odds against, I will back Swansea City to win here and move through to the Fifth Round of the Cup.


Sheffield United v Preston North End Pick: There is a real hope for both Sheffield United and Preston North End to at least challenge for a Play Off spot in the Championship. That is clearly going to be the priority for the two clubs, but I also have a feeling the FA Cup is important enough to give this Fourth Round tie a proper go.

A chance to get into the Fifth Round and the potential for a huge tie won't be lost on the fans or the players and I think both Sheffield United and Preston North End would love to progress.

I am anticipating team selections to highlight that and this could be a very good game this weekend.

It also could be a tight one with little between the clubs after Sheffield United have slipped back from the early season pace and Preston North End are much improved of late. The latter have proven to be very tough to beat and I think they can at least force a Replay back at Deepdale in this tie.

Sheffield United have only won 1 of their last 6 games at Bramall Lane and their better results have come on their travels including a Third Round win at Ipswich Town. Hosting a team who have not lost any of their last 7 away games is a tough situation for the favourites and I think Preston North End are defensively sound enough to earn a result here.

They are close to odds against with a start on the Asian Handicap which will offer a payout as long as Preston North End do not lose this game. Both are back in League action on Tuesday which may take away some of the focus, but I think Preston North End can be backed here.


Southampton v Watford Pick: Both Southampton and Watford's main concern is going to be to avoid relegation from the Premier League and the FA Cup is someway behind in terms of priority for the two clubs.

In saying that, both Mauricio Pellegrino and Javi Gracia will perhaps be looking at this Fourth Round tie as being able to give their players a confidence shot in the arm ahead of vital Premier League fixtures.

That also means there could be some changes made to the starting elevens although Watford have far fewer options than Southampton. With neither team wanting to add an additional game to the calendar with a draw, I can see both managers looking to play attacking teams in a bid to earn a place in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup without the need for a Replay.

Just a couple of weeks ago Watford and Southampton played out a 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road and games at St Mary's have seen both teams scoring regularly. The last 6 at St Mary's have seen both teams score and these two teams have seen 3 of their last 4 games end with both teams score too.

The 1-1 draw is a concern, but I think the ambitions of both managers to try and win the game the first time around will pay off and produce at least one more goal. Watford have lost their way in recent away games, but I think they can play a part here in a bid to impress their new manager and I will back the two teams to contribute to a high-scoring tie.


Newport County v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: One of the biggest challenges when making picks from the early Rounds of the FA Cup is trying to second guess managers and work out the kind of selections they will go with. I never thought Mauricio Pochettino would play as strong a line up as he did when Tottenham Hotspur beat Wimbledon 3-0 at home in the Third Round and a similar team would be good enough to take care of Newport County.

That is no disrespect to Newport County who have been playing well in League Two and who have won all of their FA Cup ties at Rodney Parade this season. That includes coming from a goal down to beat Leeds United in the Third Round, while this pitch regularly proves to be one of the toughest to play football on which may be a culture shock to Premier League players.

You have to also add in the fact that Tottenham Hotspur are about to enter a pivotal moment in their season with big games ahead. Following this FA Cup Fourth Round tie, Tottenham Hotspur play Manchester United (H), Liverpool (A), Arsenal (H), Juventus (A) and you have to think Pochettino will have those fixtures in mind.

Bringing in the likes of Toby Alderweireld, who is back from injury, Harry Winks, Victor Wanyama and Erik Lamela does give Pochettino the chance to rotate his starters and still have a strong team out there. Last season he was picking strong teams in the competition even when facing the likes of Fulham and Millwall in the FA Cup and I think that makes me lean towards a decent team being picked here despite the fixtures coming up.

Pochettino won't want to see Tottenham Hotspur upset here and he won't want a Replay, while also knowing there are a few days before Manchester United are the visitors to Wembley Stadium. I would expect the starters to get the better of Newport County and I can see Tottenham Hotspur wearing down this opponent over the course of ninety minutes as their superior quality shines through.

Newport County have played well at home and that confidence could see them rattle a few cages in this one. However finding the quality to beat a Premier League club may be beyond a team who have been overachieving at the League Two level.

Over the last couple of years Tottenham Hotspur have beaten Gillingham, Fulham, Millwall and Wimbledon by three or more goals in domestic Cup competitions. Granted three of those games were at home, but they should be good enough to get away from Newport County in this one and I will back the Premier League club to cover the Asian Handicap with the belief that a push is the worst case scenario.


Liverpool v West Brom Pick: The 1-0 defeat at Swansea City summed up the way most feel about Liverpool and the lack of consistency this club seems to offer. One week they can hold their own against what looks to be the best team in England, and on another they are going down to a fairly straight-forward loss to the team at the bottom of the Premier League.

The lack of consistency has contributed to too many draws at Anfield in the Premier League this season and Jurgen Klopp will likely make changes to his starting eleven to freshen things up.

Klopp has already seen West Brom come to Anfield and escape with a 0-0 draw, although it was a very good performance from The Baggies who restricted what the home team offered that day. Alan Pardew has made sure he has organised West Brom to be hard to beat, but they have recently been turning a couple of draws into wins as they continue fighting against relegation in the Premier League.

Pardew didn't make a lot of changes to his starting eleven for the win at Exeter City in the Third Round of the FA Cup, but it is clear that the Premier League is the priority for the club. The Baggies have some tough games ahead and Pardew may decide to keep the key players rested in this one to make sure they are fresh and able to give their all in the League games coming up.

Either way I would expect West Brom to try and defend deep and make life very difficult for Liverpool in this one. The problem is that Liverpool will likely have a big reaction to the loss to Swansea City and being at home means there will be a lot of pressure on the visitors to keep Liverpool at bay.

They have shown they can do that once already, but it is tough to do it twice and especially so if a few changes are made. I think Liverpool will make changes too considering they are back in League action on Tuesday evening at Huddersfield Town, but I am expecting a stronger home team than the one the visitors will bring to this FA Cup Fourth Round tie.

Liverpool have been much stronger defensively at home too and I think they can win this one with a clean sheet. They have hosted 5 teams who are currently in the bottom half of the table of the Premier League and kept clean sheets in 4 of those games and Liverpool can do that here.

One goal may be enough to see Liverpool through and I will back them to win with a clean sheet as they move into the Fifth Round.


Chelsea v Newcastle United Pick: There is a real sense of disappointment around Chelsea after failing to make it to the League Cup Final, but Antonio Conte has to try and rally his players. The heavy January fixture list has taken a toll on some of the players who have shown a little fatigue at times, but they will be asked to carry the load again on Sunday.

I do feel that Chelsea have perhaps been a little unlucky at times too with both Arsenal goals coming in incredibly fortuitous circumstances. A double deflection off two Chelsea players saw the first one hit the net, while the second saw a cross deflect off the heel of Antonio Rudiger and landing squarely in Granit Xhaka's path.

They have had the chances to win a lot more games than they have been of late and I do think Chelsea will play well enough to win a fixture like this one.

I would expect a stronger looking line up for Chelsea than for Newcastle United who have relegation worries to consider when Rafa Benitez picks his side for this one. The Magpies have not been able to bring in the players they feel can help them avoid the drop back into the Championship and the fans continue to be frustrated with the Mike Ashley direction of the club.

Newcastle United have found it difficult to challenge the very best teams in England when they have played away from home at those grounds this season. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have all beaten Newcastle United at home and I can see Chelsea managing to do the same again this weekend against what is likely to be a visiting team with a number of changes made.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have all beaten Newcastle United by at least a couple of goals margin and I think Chelsea will be able to do the same here. The home team could have Alvaro Morata back this weekend and could also bring in the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Gary Cahill and Danny Drinkwater to freshen things up.

The injury to Willian is a blow, but Eden Hazard is in form and I think Chelsea will be able to do enough to win this game. I can see Newcastle United being picked off as the game goes on and I will look for The Blues to cover the Asian Handicap.


Cardiff City v Manchester City Pick: There is going to be something of a culture clash on Sunday in the FA Cup Fourth Round as Neil Warnock sets up his Cardiff City team to take on Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. This is the kind of game that will have got Warnock pumped and his team selection in the FA Cup Third Round Replay at Mansfield Town suggests he is very much looking forward to it.

Cardiff City have turned their form around in the last couple of weeks after a really poor run dropped them off the pace at the top of the Championship.

They remain in a position to finish in one of the two automatic promotion spots in the Championship and the Cardiff City fans should make this a great atmosphere on Sunday.

It will be interesting to see how Manchester City line up for this fixture having played a stronger than expected team in the League Cup Semi Final Second Leg at Bristol City. A similar team would be too good for Cardiff City too with the control they are able to exert, but Manchester City are likely to have a few more changes in this one which will give Cardiff City a chance to spring a surprise.

That still looks a long shot though with the way Manchester City have been able to produce results throughout the season. A Fourth Round Replay will be the last thing Pep Guardiola will want, but it is clear he has targeted a sweep of all the trophies Manchester City are playing in and so I imagine the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero could be asked to start the tie.

Those players should mean Manchester City are too strong here and I am going to look for them to produce a rare away Asian Handicap cover. They failed to do that on Tuesday in the win at Bristol City, and only 1 of their last 9 away games have ended with Manchester City by winning by more than a single goal margin.

I wouldn't be surprised if Cardiff City play their part in this one, but Manchester City will have the control to win fairly comfortably on the afternoon. A lack of Cardiff City goals in recent games would be a worry though and I will look for Manchester City to be a little more clinical with the chances that come their way on Sunday.

MY PICKS: Manchester United - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.78 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet365 (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-Birmingham City Both Teams to Score @ 2.30 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Millwall - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Swansea City @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)
Preston North End + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Southampton-Watford Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool Win to Nil @ 2.10 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.07 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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