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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, 2 February 2018

Weekend Football Picks 2018 (February 3-5)

There is a quick turnaround in the Premier League this week after a full midweek set of games and another round of fixtures to come this weekend.

The big games keep coming with the stand out fixture taking place at Anfield this week when Liverpool taking on Tottenham Hotspur, but there is plenty of intrigue around the Premier League with congested top four and relegation battles.

My short piece about Alexis Sanchez arriving at Manchester United can be read here and then it is on to the Weekend Football Picks.

Burnley v Manchester City Pick: There is going to be something of a slow down when it comes to the amount of football some clubs are going to play in February with only 3 League games scheduled. That is all Burnley will have on the schedule as they continue trying to surprise the critics with their results, but for Manchester City chasing success on four fronts it is another busy month coming up.

That is making the injuries to the likes of Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus stretch the attacking options Manchester City have, although they haven't missed a beat with 4 straight wins in all competitions. The Premier League title looks firmly in their grasp with a 15 point lead at the top and Manchester City will head to Turf Moor with some confidence and the chance to have a seven day rest following this fixture.

Pep Guardiola won't want his players to become complacent despite the lead at the top of the Premier League table and I don't think Manchester City will take their eye off the ball at a tough ground. They are looking to bounce back from a couple of tough away results in the Premier League having drawn at Crystal Palace and lost at Liverpool and I think Burnley is a good opponent for them.

The home team will look to make life difficult for Manchester City by defending in numbers, but they have found it tough to keep them out. Both previous games against Manchester City this season have been played at the Etihad Stadium, but Burnley have conceded 7 times in those games and defending deep will only be successful for so long.

Burnley have also found it tough against the top Premier League teams with 4 of their 5 home League defeats coming to those teams in the top six places. Arsenal won here earlier in the season and the last 3 Burnley home games have been defeats to Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester United and now they face the best team in England.

I think Manchester City are in fine form at the moment, although they have tended to be a little more vulnerable away from home. That might sound strange with 10 wins from 12 away Premier League games, but only 4 of those wins have come by more than a single goal margin so Burnley might have some belief they can frustrate their visitors.

Earlier in the season I would have been more confident in Burnley, but I think they have just hit a poor patch at the wrong time. If they score first it could be a real test for Manchester City to turn it around, but I would worry for Burnley if they fell behind. 

Ultimately I think that is the more likely scenario and I don't think Manchester City will be as poor as Manchester United were in securing the second, killer goal when winning 0-1 here. United had chances that day to finish Burnley off and I think Manchester City will take those as they secure a fifth win in a row.

Bournemouth v Stoke City Pick: The bottom half of the Premier League continues to be very congested and that means a couple of bad results, or a couple of positive ones, can make a big differences to where teams stand in the League table. However there isn't much in the points between Bournemouth in 10th place and West Brom in 20th place as teams continue producing inconsistent results against one another to keep things very tight in the bottom half.

Both Bournemouth and Stoke City will come into the weekend in a more positive frame of mind after recent results and I think both Eddie Howe and Paul Lambert would have targeted this fixture as a potential win.

That should mean both managers play attacking line ups in a bid to win the fixture.

Bournemouth are getting the edge from the layers after a really impressive 0-3 win at Chelsea during the week and having a 4 game unbeaten run at the Vitality Stadium to protect. They have won their last couple of Premier League games here, but Bournemouth remain vulnerable with goals being conceded far too regularly for the liking of Eddie Howe.

However Bournemouth score goals and that should put the pressure on Stoke City who have picked up 4 points from the last 6 available. All of those were earned at home though and Stoke City have not travelled that well in recent weeks with 6 losses in their last 7 away from home including a 2-1 loss at League Two Coventry City.

Paul Lambert is trying to take the team back to basics by producing a strong foundation and has been rewarded with back to back clean sheets. Those have come against the likes of Huddersfield Town and Watford though and I think Bournemouth are a much more confident team going forward.

The home team have scored at least twice in their last 4 home games in all competitions which makes Bournemouth dangerous. They have also conceded in their last 7 at the Vitality Stadium and I think there will be chances for these two teams to combine for at least three goals on Saturday.

Since Bournemouth were promoted to the Premier League, 4 of the 5 games against Stoke City have seen at least three goals shared out. The lack of goals Stoke City have scored of late is a concern, but Bournemouth are not watertight at the back and I will look for this fixture to produce at least three goals.

Leicester City v Swansea City Pick: The Riyad Mahrez situation proved to be a distraction for the Leicester City players who have not been happy with the way their team-mate has tried to force a move away from the King Power Stadium. That has to have contributed to the 2-1 loss at Everton during the week and it looks unlikely that Mahrez will be involved this weekend having missed training during the week.

You can understand the frustrations Mahrez has to be feeling having been prevented a move to Manchester City, but the attitude has rubbed up his team-mates the wrong way. It might be a tough road back for Mahrez to be accepted again, but Claude Puel won't be too concerned about selecting the player if he does resume training.

That issue is going to rumble on in the run up to the Premier League game against Swansea City on Saturday and Leicester City can't afford to be distracted against an improving opponent.

Swansea City have beaten Liverpool and Arsenal in back to back League games which has taken them to within a point of safety in the Premier League. Carlos Carvalhal has improved the belief of his players and has Swansea City well organised, although the majority of the better results have come at home.

Taking the results from home and bringing them onto their travels can be tough for any team and Leicester City have been very strong at home in recent weeks. Defensively they are also well organised and I think Leicester City have a little more about them in the final third which can prove to be a difference maker for them on Saturday.

Leicester City have dominated Swansea City in recent years with 7 straight home wins against them and I am looking for the home team bounce back from their loss at Goodison Park. They have 3 clean sheets in a row at home and Leicester City have dismissed Huddersfield Town and Watford in their last couple of League games here.

As improved as Swansea City have been, they have yet to show that same quality away from home and I think Leicester City are able to get the better of them on Saturday. I was hoping Swansea City would be a little over-rated having beaten Liverpool and Arsenal at home, but the layers are yet to be full believers in their full revival and I have to agree with that.

With the goals Leicester City have been scoring coupled with solid defensive performances, I will look for the home team to win this one.

Manchester United v Huddersfield Town Pick: It was a tough night on Wednesday for Manchester United as they were beaten very comfortably by Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium. That was as poorly as Manchester United have played in any game under Jose Mourinho and I expect to see a big reaction on Saturday as they return home for the latest Premier League game.

The opposition looks a good one for Manchester United as they host Huddersfield Town who have been really struggling in recent games as they have slipped back towards the bottom three.

The Terriers looked a little lost with what they wanted to do in the 0-3 home defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday and they have lost 4 straight Premier League games with the majority of those coming fairly comfortably.

Defensively they have lost some of the structure that was working well earlier in the season and Huddersfield Town will likely defend deep and hope to frustrate Manchester United in this one. However that has not been working as well of late and Manchester United have some special players who can unlock the defence that Huddersfield Town will have on Saturday.

The key for Manchester United will be to put Huddersfield Town under pressure from the outset and force them to go deeper and deeper. The away team have been making a few more mistakes defensively which can hurt them here and I think Manchester United have played well enough in recent weeks to get back to winning ways by bouncing back from the Tottenham Hotspur defeat in the right way.

Manchester United have not been scoring as freely as they would like which is a concern when it comes to this Asian Handicap. However they have recently beaten Stoke City 3-0 at Old Trafford and the likes of Newcastle United, West Ham United and Crystal Palace have been beaten comfortably at Old Trafford this season.

Huddersfield Town have lost 3 of their last 4 Premier League games by three or more goals, and half of their 8 away League defeats have come by three or more goals. I will look for a big reaction from Manchester United on Saturday and back them to cover a big Asian Handicap in the home win.

Arsenal v Everton Pick: There should be plenty of positive voices in the Arsenal home support after the deal to bring in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was completed during the week. However many others will have remembered the really poor performance in the 3-1 loss at Swansea City on Tuesday evening and another poor showing from Arsenal will not be tolerated.

It will also be devastating to their chances of finishing in the top four in the Premier League, but Arsenal have been better at home. They have the attacking quality to give Everton plenty to think about even if Sam Allardyce is going to want to set his team up to be hard to beat.

That has not been the case for Everton in recent weeks with 3 straight away losses and they had not been in great form prior to the 2-1 win over Leicester City on Wednesday evening. Theo Walcott has been though and he could come back to haunt an Arsenal back line which has looked vulnerable, although the most likely result is an Arsenal home win over a team they have dominated in recent years.

With the likes of Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang in the attacking positions, Arsenal should cause plenty of problems and make up for any defensive lapses they have been producing.

It may also mean this is a high-scoring game with both teams potentially scoring in the fixture. Everton have not been blessed with goals away from home, but they will have some spaces on the counter attack, while they have been conceding a lot of goals for an Allardyce team in recent weeks too.

Arsenal do score and concede goals for fun at times, but I do think they have played well enough at home to win this one. The Asian Handicap looks on the money with good reasons to back either team, but I think backing Arsenal to win a game featuring three or more goals looks a decent price here.

The last 3 Everton away games, all losses, have seen that number hit, while Arsenal have won back to back games at the Emirates Stadium with three or more goals scored.

Crystal Palace v Newcastle United Pick: Any fixture involving teams in the bottom half of the Premier League table playing against one another have a big feel and that is the case on Sunday when Crystal Palace host Newcastle United. These two teams are only a few points clear of the bottom three and the losing team is really going to feel the pressure increasing on them.

That may see both Roy Hodgson and Rafa Benitez take cautious approaches to a game where any point earned could prove crucial at the end of the season.

In all honesty there is more pressure on Crystal Palace who will know how important the home games are to them, while Newcastle United can use this as a 'free shot'. However, Newcastle United fans are ready for outright protest against the direction of the club which has to filtering down to the players who may feel they need a big performance to keep the fans behind them.

Crystal Palace have been playing better at home under Roy Hodgson, but you have to also respect a Newcastle United team who have recently won big away games at West Ham United and Stoke City. Those wins at relegation rivals shows this Newcastle United team can produce in tense moments and Crystal Palace will have to acknowledge the capabilities of the away side.

Even with that in mind, I do give the edge to Crystal Palace with the amount of goals they have been scoring at Selhurst Park since Hodgson took over as manager. There is some real quality in the final third which can challenge a Newcastle United team who concede plenty on their travels, while The Magpies have not been as clinical in the final third.

I think Crystal Palace will show that superiority in the final third in this fixture and they can find a way to earn the three points. It will be close and Newcastle United's results at the London Stadium and Bet365 Stadium show what they can do when they get things right, but I think Crystal Palace have been in decent form and can back that up with an important three points.

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The race for the top four and getting back into the Champions League looks like the most interesting battle at the top of the Premier League with Manchester City miles clear at the top. Two of the teams chasing those places meet at Anfield on Sunday when Liverpool host Tottenham Hotspur in what has all the makings of a good game of football.

Both teams will look to approach things in a similar manner with strong pressing from the front to try and force the other into mistakes. Both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will feel they can have success doing that, although the home team will look to exploit spaces with a quick counter attack too and Tottenham Hotspur may feel they are superior defensively.

That is going to be important for Tottenham Hotspur if they are going to earn a result at Anfield but they have struggled when facing the top teams away from home. They have already lost at Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City in the Premier League and you would have to say that Tottenham Hotspur played pretty poorly in all of those games.

Liverpool are also a dangerous team at home as they showed in their 4-3 win over Manchester City and 4-0 crushing of Arsenal, but both Chelsea and Manchester United showed organisation can produce a result here. I don't think Tottenham Hotspur will be as defensive as both United and Chelsea began at Anfield, which will encourage Liverpool, but they have the attacking talent to cause problems for a vulnerable Liverpool defence too.

I was initially leaning towards Liverpool who have a decent home record against the top clubs in recent seasons and have beaten Tottenham Hotspur in 5 of their last 6 meetings at Anfield. I still think they are the more likely winners, but Liverpool have not looked completely at ease in the last couple of weeks and they concede enough goals to encourage Tottenham Hotspur and make them believe they can get a result here.

Tottenham Hotspur's poor away record against the current top six can't be ignored and they have been beaten at Old Trafford, the Emirates Stadium and the Etihad Stadium already this season. That again seems to suggest Liverpool are the right team to back, but I can't ignore the performances since the Manchester City win.

Instead I am going to back at least four goals to be shared out by two attacking teams who will feel they have the threat in the final third to unlock the defences on show. Liverpool have seen that number hit in their home games with Arsenal and Manchester City this season, while Tottenham Hotspur's trip to Manchester City ended with at least four goals too.

These two teams shared out five goals in their fixture at Wembley Stadium and both teams will likely create enough chances to have a chance to reach four goals here. Both teams have shown they can take the opportunities which come their way and I will back goals to be the outcome of this one.

Watford v Chelsea Pick: The final game in the Premier League this weekend is played on Monday night as Watford and Chelsea search for the three points in their relegation/top four battles respectively. Playing the last game of the weekend can increase the pressure on teams if results have gone against them in the earlier fixtures and that could be an issue when Watford and Chelsea kick off.

Injuries have been hurting both clubs, while Chelsea have had a very busy January which has stretched the squad to breaking point. As far as Antonio Conte has been concerned, he has been let down by the Chelsea transfer policy but some new arrivals have come in during the January transfer window.

One of those is Olivier Giroud from Arsenal and the Frenchman could easily be given the chance to to start on Monday with Alvaro Morata struggling. He will give Chelsea the focal point they have been lacking, although the players have to show a better attitude than they did in the 0-3 home defeat at the hands of Bournemouth.

Chelsea have not played that well away from home in recent weeks, but they have been hit and miss with a strong performance resulting in a 0-4 win at Brighton and a poor one ending in a 2-1 loss at Arsenal.

They definitely have the talent to hurt a Watford team who have been out of form and having limited players available for new manager Javi Gracia. However Watford have been tougher to play at Vicarage Road compared with their recent away form, and goals have been easier to come by in front of their own fans.

With the injuries Chelsea are dealing with defensively, Watford can cause problems here and I think they have the talent to score against The Blues. Defensively they will be challenged by the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian and this has the makings of a high-scoring game.

7 of the last 8 between Chelsea and Watford have ended with at least three goals shared out including the last 3 Premier League games overall. The last 5 at Vicarage Road have all finished with at least three goals and 4 of the last 6 Chelsea away games have also finished with that number and this game should go the same way.

The recent lack of confidence both teams are experiencing could make it more difficult for the chances to be converted into goals, but there should be opportunities at both ends of this one. Backing at least three goals in a game that could go either way looks the way to approach this fixture.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Stoke City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal to Win & Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.86 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Crystal Palace @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.60 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Watford-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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