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Saturday, 16 March 2019

Weekend Football Picks 2019 (March 16-17)

There are four FA Cup Quarter Final matches and five Premier League matches to be played on the final weekend before the first international break of the season.

It does mean I am going to not have a full post with Fantasy Advice this week and instead just focus on the Fantasy Star and Alternative that I have been using for a while.

As we get down to the final weeks of the season, this is the time of the year more people will begin to play their 'Chips' in the official Fantasy game. From next season I am planning to offer more of a breakdown as to how I am going to play mine to try and maximise returns and I will also have more screenshots of the way I have developed my team, but for this season I can say that I am using my 'Free Hit' in this GameWeek while keeping three other Chips for after the international break.

This was the best play for me as I think I have the options to 'Triple Captain' in GW32 and then have the chance to put a Wild Card together for the maximum Bench Boost for GW35. It should put me very much in a position to surpass the 2000 point mark for the season, but I am looking for more as I want to crack the top 100k by the time the season is over.

Bournemouth v Newcastle United Pick: The Premier League fixtures have been decimated this week due to the FA Cup Quarter Final matches scheduled for the same weekend, but there are still some important games to be played.

One of those comes at the Vitality Stadium where both Bournemouth and Newcastle United will be chasing the three points that can improve their chances of completing their ambitions for the season. Bournemouth are hopeful of another top 10 finish in the Premier League, while Newcastle United will edge closer to the 40 point mark they would have been targeting back in August if they can secure the upset here.

It could be quite a good game despite the windy conditions that are affecting the United Kingdom at this moment. Those conditions can be a little more brutal on the coasts and that is my one concern here, but otherwise two teams who have gotten forward and continued to show defensive vulnerability could combine to produce at least three goals on the day.

Rafael Benitez is perhaps known as a defensive manager, but he has gotten Newcastle United playing much further up the park in the last few weeks and the results suggest he won't change his tactic. On the other side is Eddie Howe who wants his team to get forward and score goals and the returns of Callum Wilson and David Brooks should help Bournemouth have chances to get back to winning ways at the Vitality Stadium.

The last two fixtures between these clubs have seen both teams score and at least three goals shared out on the day and I think that will be the case here. Barring completely horrendous conditions, I will look for goals to be scored here.

Fantasy Star: Callum Wilson- scored on his return last week and should be leading the line for Bournemouth in this one too.

Alternative: Ayoze Perez- been in good goal-scoring form for a more adventurous Newcastle United and is facing a vulnerable Bournemouth defence.

Burnley v Leicester City Pick: This is a vital game for Burnley as they look to move clear of the bottom three after a weekend in which almost everything went wrong for them.

Failing to hold onto a lead at Anfield was not that unexpected, but Brighton, Southampton and Cardiff City all won on Saturday and that means they have dragged Burnley back to a position just outside the bottom three.

If this was being played a month ago you would have really fancied Burnley to get a result, but Claude Puel has left Leicester City and the players look a lot happier now. Brendan Rodgers will play to the strengths of the likes of Jamie Vardy and the former England international has responded with goals in each of the last two games since Rodgers officially took over as manager.

Leicester City have looked more confident going forward, although they are going to be tested defensively by a Burnley team who are creating chances. The concern for the home team is that they have made some sloppy mistakes themselves in their own final third and I do think this could be yet another game that features goals this weekend.

Both teams have scored in all 5 Leicester City away games played in 2019 and 4 of those ended with three or more goals shared out. In fact both teams have scored in 9 of 10 Leicester City games in the new calendar year and all but two of those fixtures have ended with three or more goals produced.

It might surprise but both teams scoring has been a factor in recent Burnley games too with the last 4 at Turf Moor ending that way. The 1-1 is thus the one scoreline that could be a killer, but I will back at least three goals to be shared out by these teams at odds against.

Fantasy Star: Jamie Vardy- has been scoring goals for Leicester City and I have identified Jamie Vardy in each of the last three weeks and I don't want to get off the bandwagon.

Alternative: Ashley Barnes- Burnley have been creating chances and they will need Ashley Barnes at his best to secure a result.

West Ham United v Huddersfield Town Pick: David Wagner felt he could do no more with his Huddersfield Town team when he resigned as manager a few weeks ago and the appointment of Jan Siewert looks to be one that is going to keep the consistency of the model going despite Wagner's departure.

You have to feel that preparation for life back in the Championship has been going on for some time for Huddersfield Town who have spent two years overachieving and upsetting the odds.

The 2018/19 season has proved a step too far for them and The Terriers will soon have relegation confirmed barring a miracle beyond miracles. They have continued to struggle for goals when not playing Wolves and Huddersfield Town have not hit the net in 6 straight away games in all competitions ahead of this visit to the London Stadium.

West Ham United are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Cardiff City last weekend, but playing at home has been a much more positive experience for them. They are unbeaten in 6 here and West Ham United have won 4 of their last 5 in front of their own fans.

3 of those wins have come with a clean sheet and I do think they can be the latest to achieve one of those against Huddersfield Town. The Hammers are not always the most convincing defensively and they are going to have to deal with long, high balls being played into strong winds and that could cause one or two problems for them.

However I still think Huddersfield Town are going to need someone to either get a little fortunate or a big mistake from West Ham United if they are going to score with confidence in a bad place at the moment. With that in mind I think the home team will win and can be backed to do so with a clean sheet at a good looking price.

Fantasy Star: Manuel Lanzini- he has looked good on his return to the West Ham United team and this is a game in which he can shine.

Alternative: Declan Rice- another favourite of mine especially when someone set as a defender is playing much higher up the pitch.

Fulham v Liverpool Pick: The layers are expecting a routine win for Liverpool at Craven Cottage on Sunday as they are looking to build on the momentum of an away win in the Champions League and take that into this Premier League fixture. The Premier League title contenders look very, very short for a win here when you think of the prices other clubs have been, but I can't really look beyond a Liverpool win.

Fulham simply have not competed well enough to believe anything else will happen, but they have been better at home as indicated by narrow defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at Craven Cottage. However both Arsenal and Manchester United won by wide margins and I think the Asian Handicap is hard to call.

The best the home team could do is cause one or two problems for Liverpool who would have put a huge emotional effort into winning at Bayern Munich during the week. The game was on Tuesday and this one is on Sunday so there is time for Liverpool players to have reset their minds, but Fulham have scored against Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea and missed glaring opportunities against Manchester United which suggests they could score in this one too.

It is about as good as I think it will get for Fulham, although scoring goals against Liverpool has proved to be far from easy this season. Teams do have their chances, but not too many so much will depend on how clinical Fulham are in this fixture.

Regardless I think Liverpool will win the game, but backing both teams to find the net at odds against isn't the worst shout in the world. Liverpool are most definitely scoring unless Fulham have found a brand new defence and I do think the home team have been able to cause one or two problems for the top teams to believe they will have their opportunities here and it just depends on whether they can take them.

Fulham have scored in 6 of their last 7 at Craven Cottage and backing both teams to score is the pick here.

Fantasy Star: Sadio Mane- has scored four goals in the last eight days and covered up the Mohamed Salah dip in form.

Alternative: Ryan Babel- the former Liverpool player is going to be a threat for Fulham and any goal the home team is going to earn will need his influence.

Everton v Chelsea Pick: The trip to the Ukraine on Thursday night does make this away game a little more awkward for Chelsea as they look to move up alongside their rivals for a top four finish in the Premier League. Maurizio Sarri can't use the travel as an excuse and Chelsea have a chance to put some pressure on the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester United who are not playing in the Premier League this weekend.

Everton have been resting and recovering in that time which may give them a chance of springing the upset, but they are going to have to be a lot better than last weekend when they blew a 0-2 lead at Newcastle United.

They have been struggling for goals at home which makes it hard to trust Everton and they are a team that still feels like it needs some huge investment despite the outlay made by the club in the last two summers. The season has not gone quite as Marco Silva would have hoped and Everton have found the very top teams tough to contain.

Earlier this month they did hold Liverpool to a goalless draw, but poor finishing from the visitors contributed to that and now they host a Chelsea team in decent form. The motivation for the Everton fans and players won't be nearly as high as when they hosted the Merseyside derby and I think that will help Chelsea find a way to produce a big three points prior to the international break.

Goodison Park has proved to be a tough venue for Chelsea to visit in recent seasons, but they did win here a couple of years ago. The Blues are clearly still a work in progress under Maurizio Sarri, but they have been playing with more confidence of late and Everton's struggles in front of goal could give the visitors the opportunity to leave with a victory on the day.

Fantasy Star: Eden Hazard- scored a fabulous equaliser for Chelsea last weekend and is clearly the spark for the team.

Alternative: Dominic Calvert-Lewin- has been on the scoreboard for Everton and the favoured player to lead the line for Marco Silva at the moment. If Everton are going to have success, Calvert-Lewin could be key to it.

Watford v Crystal Palace Pick: Both Watford and Crystal Palace have to view this FA Cup Quarter Final as a real opportunity to make their way to Wembley Stadium and perhaps even go on and win the Cup with a bit of fortune.

The two Manchester clubs are both still involved and are the favourites, but the winner of this one will believe they can upset the odds once they get into the neutral venue matches in the Semi Final and Final.

This is not an easy game to read and you can make a case for both clubs.

Watford have done the Premier League double over Crystal Palace this campaign and they snapped a run of 7 at home without beating The Eagles in the victory at Vicarage Road. They have been in good form when not playing the top two teams and Watford have scored plenty of goals which makes them dangerous.

The case for Crystal Palace is that this is a team that have enjoyed playing away from home as they tend to get a little more space to exploit in those matches. They have been punishing those spaces with 3 straight wins away from home in all competitions and Crystal Palace have scored at least twice in each of those wins.

Both teams will be playing with a bit of pressure knowing what the prize is for the winner and the belief they should be winning this tie. Picking a winner is not easy although the mental edge has to be given to Watford with the two League wins over Crystal Palace behind them.

The two games have both featured at least three goals shared out and the underlying stats showed that the number of chances should have produced those goals. The situation could mean both teams are more cautious than they would be because the players will be desperate to play in the FA Cup Semi Final, but I think we are going to see another 2-1 scoreline although not necessarily to Watford for the third time.

Swansea City v Manchester City Pick: As we go into the final two months of the season Manchester City remain on course to win an unprecedented Quadruple even if the manager is not allowing his players to think of history. The old cliche of taking things game by game is being applied by Manchester City, but so far it is working a treat and they are big favourites to reach the FA Cup Semi Final.

Even if Pep Guardiola decides to make a number of changes to his first team, Manchester City have a lot of good options to go with and that means they should not be weakened too much. Most of the play will be dominated by the visitors and the way this match goes will depend very much on how Swansea City approach it.

The home team could choose to sit in and make life difficult for Manchester City as Bournemouth did earlier this month, but it is not really the style of Graham Potter or the club. And that would worry me if I supported Swansea City.

While they have nothing to lose, playing an open style of football and looking to get on the front foot could leave Swansea City massively vulnerable to Manchester City here. There is pace in the final third that will make the home team dangerous and they do have a very strong recent record at the Liberty Stadium, but Swansea City have not really come up against too many teams like this Manchester City one and I do think they could be put to the sword.

My feeling is that Manchester City will be able to get going in the first half and then begin to pick off a Swansea City team chasing the game in the second half. This is a huge handicap for Manchester City to cover away from home, but they are playing with confidence and players can leave things on the line with a two week international break to come when they will get a chance to rest some tired limbs.

I do think the home team will have one or two moments of their own, but Manchester City are rolling along and they can win by a comfortable margin to reach yet another Semi Final under Pep Guardiola.

Wolves v Manchester United Pick: The last of the FA Cup Quarter Final ties to be played on Saturday looks to be the best one on paper and I think both Wolves and Manchester United can contribute to a decent watch for the fans.

There are times I do watch Wolves and think they are a workmanlike team with a touch of quality about them, but other times when I am very impressed with them as they swarm forward and cause problems for opponents including from those in the top six of the Premier League.

Being at home means there is an onus on Wolves to play further up the pitch compared to their counter attacking style away from home. That has seen them beat Chelsea and draw with Manchester City here, but both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have won. The latter two visitors both scored at least twice in the Premier League games here, but Wolves got some revenge over Liverpool by beating them in the FA Cup Third Round.

Wolves have been very good going forward in recent games at Molineux with two or more goals scored in 5 of their last 6 fixtures here. That should mean they are confident enough to test the Manchester United defence, although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has got his tactics right away from home as proven by their 9 game winning run which was only ended last Sunday in the defeat at Arsenal.

Prior to that Manchester United had scored two or more goals in 4 away games in a row in all competitions and I do think the attacking football both of these teams will look to play could lead to another high-scoring FA Cup tie. Spaces will open up if one of these teams is leading going into the final fifteen minutes, but I would expect at least three goals to have been scored as both teams hit at least one on the day.

Manchester United are the favourites, but Wolves won't make this easy and it could be a game that features three or more goals at odds against.

Millwall v Brighton Pick: Fixtures between Millwall and Brighton have been tight affairs in recent years, but they meet for the first time in four seasons in this FA Cup Quarter Final and I do think we could see a lot more in terms of goals this time around.

This is a one off tie to reach the FA Cup Semi Final and Millwall being at home means they should have the confidence to get forward and cause problems for Brighton. The win at Birmingham City during the week is a huge result for Neil Harris and his players and they have already beaten Everton here in the Cup this season.

In fact Millwall have a decent record in the FA Cup in the last three seasons and that has seen them go unbeaten in 9 ties they have hosted. In that time Millwall have beaten FOUR Premier League clubs and for the most part they have been in a similar League position to the one they find themselves in now.

The last couple of games at the New Den have not gone in Millwall's favour, but there have been four goals shared out in both and this is a team that looks like they can create chances, but also concede plenty of goals too.

Brighton might not be the best travellers in the Premier League, but I do think they can take advantage of some of the defending Millwall have produced. The win in the big rivalry game against Crystal Palace last weekend means Brighton have scored in 7 straight away games in all competitions while they have now conceded in 12 away games coming into this weekend.

A 1-1 scoreline and Extra Time would not be a huge surprise here, but I think Brighton could potentially just edge Millwall out in the ninety minutes regulation. They are likely going to need at least two goals to do that and I will look for this to be the fourth FA Cup game of the weekend that produces at least three goals on the day and another one at odds against quotes too.

MY PICKS: Bournemouth-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals
Burnley-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals
West Ham United Win to Nil
Fulham-Liverpool Both Teams to Score
Watford-Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals
Manchester City - 2.25 Asian Handicap
Wolves-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals
Millwall-Brighton Over 2.5 Goals

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