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Friday, 5 January 2018

Weekend Football Picks- FA Cup Third Round 2018 (January 5-8)

The festive period is one for family, but things have settled back down now the New Year has been rung in.

The players in the English Leagues may be feeling the same with January a much less frantic month compared with December, while some of the bigger names will be given a couple of weeks off by not being asked to take part in the FA Cup Third Round weekend.

You have to almost second guess what managers are going to do no matter where their teams sit in the English Divisions, but you can begin to hazard a guess. It does make the Third Round a bit of a minefield to make predictions in, but that is what we have this weekend.

Next week I am planning to get down my latest 'United Corner' after a tough run for Manchester United, but one they are looking like coming out of the other side of.

I will also have a full update from the December Picks after a hectic time before a couple of different posts which will have picks from the League Cup Semi Final ties as well as the next round of Premier League fixtures to be played.

Liverpool v Everton Pick: The festive period can be very difficult for clubs in the Premier League and that has seen the Third Round of the FA Cup suffer with much changed line ups taking to the field.

That is likely to be the case for much of the Third Round, but the Merseyside derby could be a little different with both Liverpool and Everton likely to respect the history of the fixture.

Injury could be a bigger factor for Liverpool as both Philippe Coutinho and Mo Salah are expected to miss out, although rumours about Coutinho’s future with the club have resurfaced. A mistake by Nike saw an advert for Coutinho named Barcelona shirts to be ordered, although Jurgen Klopp has dismissed all suggestions the Brazilian is about to leave Liverpool.

With both Coutinho and Salah out, Liverpool do lose considerable threat in the final third, although both Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are expected to play a part. The squad depth also showed in the 1-2 win at Burnley on New Year’s Day and I am not sure Everton can make as many changes and remain as effective as Liverpool can do.

It will be interesting to see what kind of team Sam Allardyce picks with recent years showing he is not the most disappointed with an early FA Cup exit. That is usually as he is focusing on keeping a team in the Premier League, but Everton look to have more about them and Allardyce has to be a little disappointed with the way the draw panned out.

One factor you can count on is Everton looking to be tough to beat and frustrate Liverpool. However they have just lost a little of their way in the last week and I think that may show up here as Liverpool get revenge for dropping two points against their rivals in December.

Those were dropped in controversial fashion and I think the game will mean more to the men in red, which I expect to make a difference. This time I don’t think Liverpool miss the host of chances they did when hosting Everton in December and I will back the home side to win and cover the Asian Handicap on their way through to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup.

Manchester United v Derby County Pick: Jose Mourinho will always point to his trophy record when he is under pressure and he would love to deliver another to Old Trafford to add to the League Cup and Europa League won in his first season in charge. With the Premier League gone, the Champions League and FA Cup are very important and I think the team choice will reflect that.

Strong teams were also picked when Manchester United hosted Reading and Wigan Athletic from the Championship last season. This game also has more in common with the Third Round success over Reading twelve months ago as they are facing another team flying high in the Championship and hoping to be visiting Old Trafford in a League fixture next season.

Derby County are in one of the top two positions for automatic promotion to the Premier League and the Championship is clearly the priority for Gary Rowett. That should mean he is making changes to freshen up his team and giving the key players a chance for a little rest and I do think Manchester United may take this more seriously than their visitors.

Of course playing at Old Trafford will be an inspiration for any player, but Jose Mourinho’s team have generally been very good against teams from this level. Derby County may take encouragement from Bristol City’s win over Manchester United in the League Cup Quarter Final a few weeks ago, but that game was at Ashton Gate and playing at Old Trafford is a different matter.

Recent results have not been the best for Manchester United at home, but Reading, Wigan Athletic and Burton Albion have been thumped here in Cup competitions over the last twelve months. All three teams were Championship clubs and all three conceded four times in those losses.

With the limited room to change the starting eleven, a strong Manchester United team can book their place in the Fourth Round without the need for a Replay. I think Derby County’s attention could turn away from the Cup and back towards the League which will suit them and I will back Manchester United to win by two or more goals on the evening.

Fleetwood Town v Leicester City Pick: The 'Jamie Vardy derby' has been selected for live television coverage on Saturday lunchtime in the FA Cup Third Round, but both sets of fans will be hoping Vardy is able to take part in this one.

The England international banged in 34 goals in only 42 appearances in all competitions for Fleetwood Town in his one season with the club in 2011/12 before he was sold on to Leicester City. The fans are almost certainly going to want to welcome back a cult hero, but Vardy was suffering with an issue which kept him out of the Leicester City win over Huddersfield Town on Monday.

Claude Puel won't let sentiment play a part in his selection, but I do think the Frenchman would know how important the Cup competitions are to the Leicester City owners. Picking up silverware, or at least trying to, is going to be key for a long-term future as manager of the club and so I would anticipate a strong team will be picked, albeit one with a few changes.

That team should be good enough to win at Highbury against a Fleetwood Town team who have been inconsistent at the League One level. They have lost their last 3 home games in a row which won't have improved the mood of the players, or the confidence, and I think Leicester City will find a way to wear them down.

Tactically it will be a little challenge for Leicester City at first as they won't be used to having as much of the ball as they are likely to have. The counter attack might not be as open as they are used to away from home either, but the quality of the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy should be able to unlock the Fleetwood Town backdoor.

Leicester City were upset 1-0 at then League One Millwall last season, but that came during a terrible time for Claudio Ranieri and the club fighting against relegation. Without those worries I would expect a more focused Leicester City to turn up at Highbury on Saturday lunch time and I do think the away side can win by a comfortable margin as they pick off Fleetwood Town once they take the lead.

Bolton Wanderers v Huddersfield Town Pick: When both teams are expected to make the kind of changes that Bolton Wanderers and Huddersfield Town are expected to do for the FA Cup Third Round fixture, it can be difficult to really get a feel for how the fixture will go. Chemistry can be an issue for players who are not used to playing with one another, but I also think Bolton Wanderers being at home is going to be very important for them.

In recent weeks Bolton Wanderers have found a vast improvement in results and performances which has carried them out of the bottom three of the Championship. That may give Phil Parkinson more reason to keep the momentum going after winning 3 of their last 4 League games, while the fans will sense there is an upset here to be had.

Huddersfield Town played weakened teams in the League Cup and David Wagner won't lose a lot of sleep if The Terriers were to be knocked out here. That doesn't mean his players will roll over as they will want to show the manager they are good enough to aid in the Premier League survival battle, but I think it would be a big surprise if Huddersfield Town don't feature a starting eleven with wholesale changes.

That certainly makes them look an unappealing price at close to odds on to win at the Macron Stadium despite the Division between the clubs. It does feel the motivation will be stronger from the home team who won't want to disappoint at home, and I think that could be enough to make the difference in a tight game where there is little between them.

I would limit stakes to a minimum in this one with some uncertainties about both teams, but backing Bolton Wanderers with a start on the Asian Handicap looks good enough to me.

Bournemouth v Wigan Athletic Pick: Usually you would say a Premier League club hosting one from League One is only going to end one way, but Wigan Athletic will head to Bournemouth with confidence of perhaps earning an upset. While there are likely to be changes for the home team, Wigan Athletic will pick a more familiar looking line up and are on a very good run of form to only improve the belief of the players.

Actually picking the upset would have been easier if this game was played in Wigan, but it will be difficult for the visitors to leave the Vitality Stadium with a win.

At least Wigan Athletic will believe after seeing some of the defensive performances that have been produced by Bournemouth in recent weeks, even if those have come at a much higher level than The Latics are competing at. They have a team who have been scoring plenty of goals, but the 5 game run without conceding a goal will be under threat against superior players.

Eddie Howe will also be prioritising the Premier League over the FA Cup, or so you would think after Bournemouth were dragged back towards the bottom three, and last season that resulted in a 3-0 loss at Millwall from League One. Granted that came away from home, but Wigan Athletic will look to that result and look to replicate it.

I did consider picking Wigan Athletic with the start on the Asian Handicap, but the layers aren't taking many chances with the size of the start the visitors are getting.

Instead I do think Wigan Athletic can play a part in a good game of football this weekend. The weather is improving on the south coast which means a cold, but relatively dry day which should mean the playing surface allows both teams to express themselves and I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out.

I would expect Bournemouth to score at least once against a League One opponent, while their own defensive issues should mean Wigan Athletic have a few chances of their own. As long as the two teams find the finishes, this should be a game that has enough chances to provide three goals to be shared out.

Fulham v Southampton Pick: The FA Cup has a history of producing some big surprises, but those have begun to become less common in recent years as the top clubs have the strength in depth to cope with all the challenges they face.

However there are a few teams you would look at this week and wonder how much motivation there is for a long FA Cup run, particularly in the Premier League where relegation is a huge financial blow for clubs.

Southampton may be one of those teams vulnerable to the upset having blown a 1-0 lead to lose to Crystal Palace on Tuesday night and slip a little closer to the bottom three. Losing a game to a potential relegation rival is a blow, but losing one of those when leading is really tough to take.

The pressure is firmly on Mauricio Pellegrino, but the FA Cup is likely an unwanted distraction for a club who are going to put the Premier League fixtures above all others. Southampton have already been beaten by a club from the Championship in the League Cup, and now Southampton have to travel to a tough ground.

Playing a team in the form Fulham have been producing only increases the threat of the upset and this is a side who have won 4 straight at home and 3 of their last 4 overall. With chances and goals being produced, Fulham might have all the ingredients for the upset this week and I was tempted to back the home team at a big price to win outright.

However you can get decent odds quoted with a start on the Asian Handicap which provides a positive return even in case of a draw. A Southampton win would be an ‘upset’ as far as I am concerned, despite the prices having them down as favourites, and I will take Fulham with the start to earn a positive result.

Manchester City v Burnley Pick: Both Manchester City and Burnley would likely have hoped for a better FA Cup Third Round draw considering the spot in the schedule this Round takes. Coming off a really difficult December, one even more so than usual, means both managers will take the opportunity to rotate their squads and home advantage should be key for Manchester City here.

It is tough to know exactly how many changes the two managers will make and this can also produce less than the usual intensity from the starting elevens. That isn't because of a lack of effort, but the lack of chemistry between new faces can make it tough to really get into fifth gear.

Manchester City may have a slight advantage having used mixed teams in the League Cup throughout this season and also in the Champions League final game at Shakhtar Donetsk. That means the players are a little more familiar with one another and Manchester City have a deep enough squad to continue winning their games even when changes are made.

Burnley won't roll over for them and I expect them to make it as difficult for Manchester City as they did when these teams met in the Premier League. It was a couple of late goals that made the scoreline look like a one sided win for Manchester City, but it was far closer than the final 3-0 result suggested.

I expect Burnley will look to make it difficult for Manchester City again and hope they can frustrate the home team into a mistake or two. That might mean another tough day for Manchester City, but they have shown they generally find a way to break teams down and Pep Guardiola won't want a Replay in this tie.

It feels like Manchester City will find a way to earn a narrow win here and I will back them to win a game where fewer than four goals are scored.

Norwich City v Chelsea Pick: The live televised FA Cup tie on Saturday afternoon comes from East Anglia and Norwich City will be hoping they can earn the upset over a Chelsea side that could be making wholesale changes.

However Chelsea have plenty of players in the squad who are full internationals that need minutes and I expect Antonio Conte will be playing a team that is capable of winning here. They made plenty of changes in a 4-1 win over Peterborough United in the Third Round twelve months ago, although that game was at Stamford Bridge, and I think Chelsea will be too good for an inconsistent Norwich City.

With a forward line up expecting to be made up by Pedro, Willian and Michy Batshuayi, Chelsea will have enough quality to create chances and score goals here. They may even have the likes of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata on the bench in case of difficulties and I do think Antonio Conte avoids the upset.

The League Cup Semi Final First Leg against Arsenal is played in a few days time and I do think that is the focus, but the players coming into the Chelsea side should be good enough to get the better of a Norwich City team who have been beaten by Wolves and Derby County here.

Those are the top two in the Championship and even a second string Chelsea team should have enough to win this one. In a Cup tie Norwich City could find themselves overcommitting to get back into it if they are behind and Chelsea may catch them on the counter as the game develops.

It makes me believe Chelsea covering the Asian Handicap is the right play here even with the chances expected.

Nottingham Forest v Arsenal Pick: There is no doubt at all that Arsene Wenger will continue with the same policy he has had for many years with the team selections in the Cup competitions. A few injuries may change that, while the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey could return to earn a few minutes to aid their recovery.

In general it will be a team with a few younger players out there and that may give Nottingham Forest some encouragement they can upset the Premier League club.

However those Cup teams have built a bit of chemistry and they have tended to be good enough to win ties like this one. A much changed Arsenal team won 0-4 at the City Ground in the League Cup last season and Wenger will believe his squad is good enough to win without the need for a Replay.

Nottingham Forest have been out of form in recent weeks and 3 losses in their last 4 home games won't have given the players much confidence. The search for a new manager continues too and so Nottingham Forest don't exactly feel like they are in a position to try and upset one of the leading teams from a Division above.

Playing a second string eleven will help, but Arsenal have a squad capable of coping with this fixture and also the League Cup Semi Final on Wednesday and I think The Gunners will be too good. Nottingham Forest have been conceding plenty of goals at home in recent weeks and I will look for Arsenal to win by more than a single goal margin.

MY PICKS: Liverpool - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Leicester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bolton Wanderers + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Bournemouth-Wigan Athletic Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Fulham + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Manchester City to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 2.10 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet365 (2 Units)

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