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Friday, 25 January 2019

Weekend Football Picks 2019 (January 25-28)

Honestly it doesn't feel right getting to the weekend football and not having either a Manchester United game to look forward to (I hate a Friday kick off, makes the weekend feel much longer than it should do) nor having too much Fantasy Football viewing to at least pass the time.

The Premier League is back on Tuesday so I will have my Fantasy choices from the games as well as my breakdown of how I think the fixtures will work out, while I am also working out how to change the way I produce the Fantasy selections.

That may not be entirely in place until later in the month in February, but it is something I am considering to make those selections more meaningful to readers.


The final weekend in January is reserved for the FA Cup Fourth Round ties and there are some big ones to be played. This is the last Round that will have any Replays as the FA have changed up the format and will remove Replays from the Fifth Round onwards to make sure teams are not being asked to really congest the remaining months of the season with additional fixtures, especially those still involved in European competition.

No will dispute the tie of the Round comes from the Emirates Stadium where Arsenal host Manchester United as a second team from the top six of the Premier League will be exiting the competition. Others may follow, but at least one is guaranteed to join Liverpool in having a free weekend in the middle of February which has been reserved for FA Cup Fifth Round ties.


The breakdown of the Fourth Round ties can be read below.


Bristol City v Bolton Wanderers Pick: At this stage of the competition the FA Cup is perhaps not the priority for managers up and down the country and that kind of blasé attitude about the competition has filtered down to teams in the Championship too.

Two of those clubs meet on Friday night in a game that will go under the radar because two of the top Premier League clubs meet in the tie of the Round at the same time.

Both Bristol City and Bolton Wanderers are prioritising the Championship for different reasons- Bristol City are on the brink of cracking into the top six, while Bolton Wanderers are fighting against relegation.

The visitors in this tie have a huge game in the League to come on Tuesday when Bolton Wanderers host Reading and I have to think Phil Parkinson is already preparing for that one. It may mean not risking key players, while Bristol City have an 11 game unbeaten run to protect and have won 5 in a row so Lee Johnson's motivation in this tie may be somewhat greater than the manager of the opponents in this fixture.

Bristol City also have eight days before they play again compared to Bolton Wanderers who play in a few days time and the home team have already beaten The Trotters here this month.

It was a dominant performance from Bristol City regardless of the narrow 2-1 win and I think they are likely going to dictate much of the play in this one too. Neither team will want to add to the congested fixture list by being forced into a Replay, but I don't think Bristol City will need one as they can win this fixture with at least two goals featured on the night.


Arsenal v Manchester United Pick: As soon as the draw was made for the FA Cup Fourth Round the tie of the Round was the fixture between Arsenal and Manchester United who are the two most successful clubs in the history of this famous old trophy.

It could be a pivotal fixture for the two managers too as they look to put their clubs in a position to win some silverware, but it may also serve as something of a momentum builder in the race for the top four places in the Premier League.

There may not be points on the line, but Manchester United have won 7 straight under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and beating another top four rival away from home will be a big confidence boost. They did that at Tottenham Hotspur a couple of weeks ago and denting the confidence of Arsenal may just give Manchester United a leg up on those teams going into February.

Unai Emery may be thinking the same having seen his Arsenal team beat Chelsea last weekend and doing the same against Manchester United in the Cup may indicate his team are through a poor patch of form. It could also be a win that gives one of these teams the mental edge with the Premier League fixture between the two just six weeks away and I think there is enough on the line to think two strong teams will be picked.

The Arsenal line up is arguably easier to predict, but I would not be surprised if Manchester United make changes in the final third and allow Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to both start. Those changes may have an impact in the type of speed and energy offered in the final third, but Marcus Rashford could need a rest and Solskjaer does want options in attacking areas with the fixtures coming thick and fast over the next month.

Neither defence offers a lot of encouragement and I do think this is going to develop into a fantastic, attacking Cup tie. Both teams will know how much more comfortable they are on the front foot and either team earning a clean sheet would be something of a surprise to me.

There were four goals shared out at Old Trafford when they met in December and the desire to avoid a Replay should mean both managers set their teams up to be very attack minded. Picking a winner is not easy because Manchester United look to have rounded into nice form, but Arsenal have to be respected as a team who have been much better at home than on their travels.

I would love to see United do this and continue the momentum into the next three League games ahead of the Champions League resumption against Paris Saint-Germain, but the best selection for the game looks to be backing at least three goals to be shared out on what is going to be a chilly London evening.


Accrington Stanley v Derby County Pick: The television companies may have picked this tie anticipating Southampton would be the opponent for League One Accrington Stanley, but it was Derby County who upset those plans by knocking out the Premier League club.

While the League may be the priority, Derby County have seen some strong teams named by Frank Lampard in the domestic Cup competitions and I would expect they are going to be good enough to win here.

Accrington Stanley did beat Ipswich Town from the Championship in the last Round, but Derby County are a much tougher test and the home team have not been in great form.

I expect they can cause some problems on a pitch that may not be the best and with the home support behind them, but I would expect the Derby County quality to come through in a win here. The home team may play a part though with the goals they have managed at the Wham Stadium so backing the higher League club to come through a game featuring two or more goals is the selection.


Brighton v West Brom Pick: The FA Cup can be a very difficult competition to work out especially in January when teams still feel Wembley is far enough away that they can rotate their squads to freshen things up.

I think both Brighton and West Brom may be thinking about League matters and making sure their squads are not being overly stretched ahead of a busy time of the season when you want to begin making a positive run to the finish line.

Home advantage should give Brighton an edge and they did reach the Quarter Final of the FA Cup under Chris Hughton last season. However that was the best run Brighton have had in the FA Cup since the 2011/12 season when they were beaten in the Fifth Round at Anfield.

Unlike their hosts, West Brom have had some real success in the FA Cup in recent times without quite making it to Wembley Stadium for the Semi Final. They will be looking for a fourth appearance in the Fifth Round in the last five seasons, but Darren Moore knows a strong Cup run won't keep him in his job if The Baggies miss out on promotion to the Premier League.

It may be a tight game, but I think Brighton may edge out their visitors with perhaps more motivation in the home team than I am giving them credit for. The game at Fulham on Tuesday is a huge one for Brighton and that is perhaps skewing my feelings somewhat, but I will back the home team on the Asian Handicap to win this one knowing a draw will return half of the stake.


Doncaster Rovers v Oldham Athletic Pick: You have to imagine both Grant McCann and Pete Wild will be trying to take away the pressure from their Doncaster Rovers and Oldham Athletic players respectively by making sure they focus on this FA Cup Fourth Round tie rather than what could lie ahead.

With teams down to the final sixteen in the next Round the chances of landing a huge tie won't be lost on the Chairmen of either club and the financial rewards that could be in the offering.

Neither Doncaster Rovers or Oldham Athletic would have wanted to face the other at this stage of the FA Cup but they have to deal with the situation and this could be a very good Cup tie. Both teams have to want to take chances to win this tie and both have been scoring and conceding plenty of goals of late which suggests this will follow suit.

Games between these clubs at The Keepmoat Stadium have tended to be low-scoring in recent seasons with the last couple ending 1-1. However Doncaster Rovers have scored at least two goals in 7 straight home games in all competitions and Oldham Athletic have conceded that number in 3 of their last 5 away games.

On the other side Oldham Athletic have scored at least two goals in 4 of their last 7 away games and Doncaster Rovers have conceded at least two goals in 2 of their last 3 here.

I have to say I do give the edge to Doncaster Rovers in the tie though and I fancy they will be able to progress at the first time of asking. Goals may be shared out in the game, but I will back Doncaster Rovers to win a fixture featuring two or more goals at odds against.


Manchester City v Burnley Pick: The pitch may not have been to his liking, but Pep Guardiola has to be happy that the majority of his players came through unscathed against Burton Albion in their 0-1 win on Wednesday. With one Cup Final secured, the manager will turn his attention to guiding Manchester City ahead in the FA Cup when they host Burnley on Saturday.

There will be more changes to the Manchester City team but I think the manager is definitely going to go with a more recognisable eleven than the one that started at the Pirelli Stadium. A couple of the youngsters may keep their places, but I don't think Guardiola will want to risk having to play a Replay and Manchester City have proven to be far too good for Burnley in the last eighteen months.

In that time Burnley have visited the Etihad Stadium three times and in each visit they have conceded one more goal from three to four to five.

That will be a concern for Sean Dyche considering Manchester City have scored 21 goals in 4 home games played in January, but ultimately the Cup is not an important competition for Burnley. Instead his focus will be on the second trip to Manchester coming up on Tuesday as Burnley fight and scratch for their Premier League lives and I imagine the team selection will reflect that.

If Manchester City pick a team anything like what I am expecting I can see them beating Burnley comfortably for the fourth time in a row at home. All three previous wins have come by margins of three or more goals and I am going to back Manchester City to reach that level again as they move through to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup before turning their attention back to the Premier League with a game at Newcastle United to come on Tuesday.

Burnley will also look to turn back to the Premier League where they host Southampton in a huge game next Saturday. First they have to face the other club from Manchester, United, on Tuesday but Sean Dyche should have his key players well rested for that fixture.


Middlesbrough v Newport County Pick: This might not be the most important match in the season for Middlesbrough, but I don't think they can really afford to go into a run of facing West Brom, Leeds United and Sheffield United off an upset loss to a League Two side.

Any upset won't matter to Tony Pulis if Middlesbrough were to win those games, but it will be much tougher to explain away a poor run if some momentum is lost this weekend with a 5 game unbeaten run to protect.

In all honesty Middlesbrough should be too good for Newport County even if the home team were to make some changes to the line up to rest some key players. They have a week before they are playing again so Pulis can still pick a strong team and getting through to the FA Cup Fifth Round will still be something to aim for even if the League is the priority.

Middlesbrough have to be wary of a Newport County team that may be playing in League Two but who have beaten both Leeds United and Leicester City in the FA Cup over the last thirteen months. They even held Tottenham Hotspur, but all of those games were at home and Newport County have simply not been as productive away from Rodney Parade.

They have lost 5 of their last 7 on their travels including the last 4 in a row and those have come at a lower level than the one they are dealing with on Saturday.

Middlesbrough's lack of goals is a concern, but they did manage to knock five past Peterborough United from League One in the last Round and I think they will be a little too good for Newport County in this one too. With that in mind I will back Middlesbrough on the Asian Handicap to progress through to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup which is played after those three big League games I mentioned will be played.


Newcastle United v Watford Pick: Determining the motivation of managers is a big key to working out how some of these FA Cup Fourth Round ties are going to go and I have to believe Javi Gracia is much more interested in a deep Cup run than Rafa Benitez is.

The layers seem to have that in their minds too with Watford going to the North East as a considerable favourite to win this match. They are odds against, but Watford being favoured to win at Newcastle United is always a big deal and much of that has to be down to the teams selected by Newcastle United in the two FA Cup Third Round ties against Blackburn Rovers.

The Spaniard has made it clear that the Premier League is the priority and the squad is not able to cope with the Cup and League together. With two League games to be played in the next eight days, Benitez may be resting key players and giving some of the young players another chance to impress.

Beating Blackburn Rovers is one thing, but beating a motivated Watford is another altogether and I would imagine Gracia will be keen on overseeing a strong Cup run. Performances in the Premier League suggest Watford have more than enough to survive in the top flight so there is no reason to not have a go at the FA Cup.

Things are complicated by the midweek set of Premier League games to come, but Watford are not due out until Wednesday and points may not be as important as getting through to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. At least that may be the case for the next few days and I will back Watford on the Asian Handicap to earn their place in the Fifth Round.

I will back Watford on the 0 ball Asian Handicap which will return the stake in the event of a draw because it is difficult to believe in them as the away favourite. However Watford have been scoring enough goals on their travels to make me believe they won't lose and I will look for them to have enough experience to edge out a much changed Newcastle United team.


Shrewsbury Town v Wolves Pick: Playing away from home in the FA Cup against a lower League club may offer some trepidation for Premier League players knowing how they will be received if they are upset in those fixtures.

Things have changed from years gone by though and these days you are less likely to be asked to play on tremendously poor pitches as you would have done before. This should make things more comfortable for a passing side like Wolves, although the temperatures in the United Kingdom have dipped and it could have hardened the Montgomery Waters Meadow playing surface.

It is still a huge ask for Sam Ricketts to mastermind an upset over the club he captained to the League One title in the 2013/14 season. The new manager has yet to have the kind of impact he would have liked with his Shrewsbury Town team and 1 win from the last 8 games in all competitions does not inspire a lot of confidence.

Shrewsbury Town also saw a long unbeaten run at home come to an end in their 0-3 defeat to Charlton Athletic last time out and I do think it will be very hard to contain their visitors.

Nuno Espirito Santo picked a strong team in the win over Liverpool in the Third Round and I do think the FA Cup is a realistic target for a Wolves team who have shown they can compete with the best in the Premier League. They are back in Premier League action during the week, but Wolves won't want to add to a February fixture list by taking chances with this fixture and having to play a Replay.

I imagine the team selection will reflect that and Wolves have shown they are very productive on their travels throughout this season. This is a team who does have goals in the side and I think they are going to be able to hit Shrewsbury Town on the break to complete the victory in this Fourth Round tie.

Wolves should be too good for a struggling League One team on what should be a decent playing surface and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap here.


Swansea City v Gillingham Pick: Both teams have important League games to come on Tuesday, but the chance to progress to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup has to excite both sets of players ahead of this weekend.

You can really earn a big tie once you reach the Fifth Round of the FA Cup, but I think it is a big ask of Gillingham to win at the ground of a higher League club who look to be rounding into some very good form.

Gillingham have been playing some decent stuff of their own and the results away from home have to be respected, but the standard of opponent does go up significantly in this one.

Last season Swansea City were playing in the Premier League and their comfortable win over Aston Villa earned their spot in the FA Cup Fourth Round. Getting into the Play Offs in the Championship is the target for Graham Potter and Swansea City and they do have that important game with Birmingham City to come on Tuesday, but they can keep the momentum going having won 3 of their last 4 games.

Beating Gillingham won't be straight-forward if there are too many changes made by Swansea City to their starting eleven, but the visitors have been struggling and can concede too many goals in a lower Division. That should show up here and I will back Swansea City to win and cover the Asian Handicap.


Millwall v Everton Pick: This is a very interesting FA Cup Fourth Round tie and I have to admit I was taken aback at seeing Everton at odds on to win at the New Den considering the form they have been in. 4 losses from their last 5 away games is not ideal and while those have come in the Premier League I do have to factor in a loss of confidence into this fixture.

They are facing a Millwall team who have been much more inconsistent this season than twelve months ago, but who have remained tough to beat in front of their own fans. It happened the last time Millwall played here, but 2 losses in 10 games at home in all competitions shows this is going to be anything but a straight-forward day that odds on quotes would have you believe.

Everton certainly have the talent to win here and when they put their qualities together they can be very hard to play. Marco Silva must know he needs a strong finish to the season if he wants to remain in charge of the club and so there is real pressure on him to extract a performance from his players on a difficult ground.

Scoring enough goals has been something of a problem for Everton and this is a Millwall side who beat Bournemouth, Watford and Leicester City a couple of years ago on a fabulous Cup run through to the Quarter Final. Fulham did win here in the League Cup earlier this season, but that was a Millwall team that started the season quite poorly and I do think the confidence will be much higher for an upset in this one.

I am not quite sure they have enough to do that, but Millwall can certainly make a game of this and they have the ability to at least earn a Replay in ten days time. Backing the home team with the start on the Asian Handicap looks the way to go in a fixture where Everton look very, very short.


AFC Wimbledon v West Ham United Pick: The last FA Cup Fourth Round tie to be played on Saturday comes from the Cherry Red Records Fans' Stadium as AFC Wimbledon look to do a little better when they host Premier League West Ham United for the second time this season.

These teams met in the League Cup and AFC Wimbledon actually took the lead, but a sending off inside the first 20 minutes left them in a very difficult position and eventually West Ham United took over.

This is a big FA Cup tie for West Ham United with fans believing they have every chance of a deep run in the competition. The Premier League looks to be in good nick for The Hammers and so Manuel Pellegrini will be expected to pick a side that is good enough to progress from this Fourth Round tie.

I do think Pellegrini will make changes though and West Ham United are a very hard team to get a read on with inconsistent results a feature of the team over the last month. However there is enough class in the final third to give them the edge over an AFC Wimbledon team propping up the rest of League One and in a real fight to avoid their first club relegation.

When they met in the League Cup West Ham United were in a poor run of form and confidence was not great, but they should be much better now. Having won here already I would expect The Hammers to be able to frank that win with another on Saturday and I think they won't be caught cold as they were in the League Cup.

A stronger West Ham United team should be picked and AFC Wimbledon have suffered back to back heavy home losses in League One. Heads could drop if they were to fall behind in this one and I will back West Ham United to win and cover the Asian Handicap.


Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: For 45 minutes Tottenham Hotspur looked lost on Thursday as they found themselves 2-0 down at Stamford Bridge, but they were much better in the second half and perhaps unfortunate to lose.

The squad is completely stretched at the moment and while Mauricio Pochettino would want to avoid a second Cup exit in a matter of days, he has to find a way to freshen things up.

Three key forwards are missing and Ben Davies is the latest to join a growing injury list. With just a few days before having to return to Premier League action with two games to be played in that competition over the next eight days, Pochettino has some big decisions to make.

The same can be said for Crystal Palace and Roy Hodgson who will pay a lot of respect to the FA Cup, but will also recognise that League games against Southampton and Fulham are vital to keeping his club in the Premier League for another season.

In the last Round Hodgson could afford to make changes against a League Two opponent, but he may be under more pressure to produce a stronger team with the feeling that Tottenham Hotspur are there for the taking.

It makes this a very difficult game to call, but what has been noticeable in Crystal Palace games hosting Tottenham Hotspur is the lack of goals. In a lot of Crystal Palace games at Selhurst Park that has been the case this season, while Tottenham Hotspur are not the same without three of their key attacking players.

A single goal could be enough to decide this tie one way or the other and I am going to back less than three goals to be produced in this Fourth Round tie.


Chelsea v Sheffield Wednesday Pick: The 6pm kick off time is a very strange one for a Sunday in England and it really doesn't account for the Sheffield Wednesday fans travelling to West London in huge numbers.

While I try and get over my utter 'surprise' that match going fans are ignored, the fixture on the pitch looks like one that Chelsea should be able to win without too many issues.

Clouding things is the fact that a strong starting eleven was needed to see off Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup Semi Final Second Leg on Thursday and the rotations that are going to be made should mean Chelsea are more vulnerable than they would usually be.

However Sheffield Wednesday are a team who have been struggling for consistency all season and are still waiting for Steve Bruce to come in and officially take over as manager. They have been in decent form of late, but this is a big step up for the players and Sheffield Wednesday have been a little weaker when playing away from home.

Last time out in the Championship they were swatted aside by in-form Hull City, but the changes made to the Chelsea team should make this a closer tie.

It is certainly something the layers are not quite factoring in and I think Sheffield Wednesday can be backed with a full two goal start on the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Bristol City & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Fred
Arsenal-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.53 Bet Victor
Derby County & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.25 Bet Fred
Brighton - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.70 Bet Victor
Doncaster Rovers & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Fred
Manchester City - 2.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Fred
Middlesbrough - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Fred
Watford 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor
Wolves - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Fred
Swansea City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.72 Bet Fred
Millwall + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor
West Ham United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Fred
Crystal Palace-Tottenham Hotspur Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Sporting Bet
Sheffield Wednesday + 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor

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