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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, 9 August 2019

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2019 (August 9-11)

After what has felt a really long summer, the Premier League is back this weekend and that also means the return of Fantasy Football.

This summer we at least had the chance to watch some football with the Copa America, African Cup of Nations and the Women's World Cup taking centre stage, but it's all filler until the Premier League resumes. The summer transfer window continues to close before the weekend fixtures begin to give squads the chance to settle into the season and for the most part fans know who they are going to be seeing until January at least.

August is a big month with the Champions League and Europa League Group Stage draws to come before we move into September and there are also four rounds of Premier League fixtures to be played before the first international break of the season. No one can win the title at this stage, but it will be interesting to see how fans of the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are reacting if making poor starts, while the pressure will be on at Everton, Leicester City, Wolves and West Ham United to make fast starts too.

Last season the race to avoid relegation was something of an anti-climax with Huddersfield Town and Fulham cut off fairly early and then Cardiff City were unable to push things to the final day to try and secure their own survival. I think the bottom will be much tighter this season with all three promoted clubs looking like they may make an impact in the Division, while the likes of Brighton and Newcastle United are hoping to avoid a slip backwards.

In this thread I have made my prediction for how the final standings in the Premier League will shake up and that will be followed by my weekend selections from the games scheduled to be played. And then it will be onto the Fantasy Football selections where I will list the players I believe can make an impact through the first month of the season.

Predicted Premier League Table
1) Manchester City- it was a close race last season, but Manchester City have set the standard over the last two seasons and I don't see them slipping as much as I do their main rivals for the title. Rodri is a solid new signing and Kevin De Bruyne should have a healthier season all around which makes Manchester City the team to beat.

2) Liverpool- this was perhaps a summer when more investment could have been made in the squad to push on, but Liverpool remain heavily reliant on Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. All three played in international tournaments this summer so I would worry about the minutes played, while Liverpool overachieved in the XG column which suggests a drop back from the 97 points earned last season.

3) Tottenham Hotspur- investment has finally been made by Daniel Levy and I think Tottenham Hotspur look a stronger squad for the most part. Losing Kieran Trippier without replacing him is a blow, but I think Mauricio Pochettino will continue getting plenty out of his squad and perhaps finally win some silverware.

4) Arsenal- there are still some big questions defensively, but I think Arsenal will score plenty of goals. David Luiz will help and I think they will feel they don't have to improve too much to finish in the top four. They have made some good signings and I think they may edge out Manchester United.

5) Manchester United- Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka should help Manchester United improve defensively, but the midfield looks incredibly light. A lack of investment may mean another season without a top four finish especially if the likes of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Daniel James can't provide the goals the club needs after selling Romelu Lukaku.

6) Chelsea- Frank Lampard has been limited in the transfer window thanks to the embargo Chelsea are under, but he will be given time as manager of this club. The youngsters will need to step up to cover the loss of Eden Hazard and I just feel it may end up being a transitional season for them.

7) Leicester City- losing Harry Maguire is a blow, but I think Brendan Rodgers is going to do a fine job as manager of Leicester City. The attacking players should thrive under his watch and I think the absence of European Football will give Leicester City a chance to get very close to the top six. Jamie Vardy is still very important to the team without a replacement for him, but I think Leicester City will finish best of the rest and possibly even higher.

8) Everton- there are big ambitions at Everton but I think they may have to settle for a third straight 8th place finish. Alex Iwobi and Moise Kean are good young signings, but the latter might need some time to settle in the Premier League. Kurt Zouma is back at Chelsea and I think Everton might be a little short defensively which prevents them making a leap forward this season.

9) Wolves- I really like what Wolves have done under Nuno Espirito Santo and the new owners, but I think the squad could be stretched by being involved in the Europa League. If they exit that competition before the Group Stage, Wolves may actually replicate their finish from last season and possibly have another deep Cup run.

10) West Ham United- some of the attacking talent at the London Stadium should excite the fans, but West Ham United still look like they are vulnerable defensively. Manuel Pellegrini could be under pressure if The Hammers are not able to finish a little higher than this considering the investment made in the club.

11) Watford- Javi Gracia has really earned the faith of the board having guided Watford to the FA Cup Final last season and he had them entrenched in the top half before a late season collapse when the Final was perhaps a distraction. Keeping the squad together from last season and adding a couple of players to the squad should mean Gracia keeps things rolling at Vicarage Road and I would not be that surprised with a top half finish to exceed this prediction.

12) Southampton- the Saints have finished 16th and 17th in the last couple of seasons in the Premier League, but I have been very impressed with Ralph Hasenhuttl since he took charge in December 2018. I expect Southampton to be much clearer of relegation this time around especially if Che Adams can bring his goal-scoring form to the Premier League level.

13) Crystal Palace- keeping hold of Wilfried Zaha is very important for Crystal Palace and I think that will give them every chance of another mid-table finish. Victor Camarasa impressed at Cardiff City last season and could be a very good signing for Palace too.

14) Aston Villa- Fulham invested a lot of money into improving the playing staff last season and it didn't go so well, but I think Aston Villa may have more fortune doing that. They look to have made the right kind of signings in their return to the Premier League and I think the Play Off Winners can consolidate their spot in the Division.

15) Bournemouth- Eddie Howe is the longest serving manager in the Premier League and I think Bournemouth will maintain their status as a top flight club. They were not in great form in the second half of the season, but I think they will score enough goals at home to ensure they steer clear of a sharp drop into the bottom three.

16) Norwich City- two seasons ago a former Borussia Dortmund II manager had just guided a club into the Premier League and they were immediately installed as favourites for the drop. Norwich City are in the same position as Huddersfield Town, but I think Daniel Farke can replicate David Wagner and ensure the Championship Winners have survived in the top flight for a sixth consecutive season.

17) Burnley- somehow, someway Sean Dyche will make sure Burnley do just enough to avoid the drop. This is a team that could finish much higher up the League table, but Burnley's style has to be more familiar to the other teams in the Division and it could mean another slip from last season.

18) Newcastle United- Steve Bruce has been the uninspiring appointment at Newcastle United following the departure of Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard had this squad overachieving last season and they struggled for much of the campaign. Now both Ayoze Perez and Solomon Rondon are gone and I am not sure The Magpies are going to be able to avoid yet another relegation under Mike Ashley's watch.

19) Sheffield United- I love what Chris Wilder has done at Sheffield United and it is difficult to put his team in this position. Unlike some 'experts' I don't think this is a lump it team, but trying to play football in the Premier League with the style Wilder uses may leave them vulnerable at the back. They were very strong defensively in the Championship, but The Blades are going to need a few things to break their way in order to avoid the drop in my opinion. They will be fun to watch though.

20) Brighton- another manager I respect is Graham Potter, but it is a big task in keeping Brighton in the Premier League. They were miserable in the underlying statistics to end last season which cost Chris Hughton his job, but now a change in playing style might make Brighton a little more vulnerable. They have made some investments, but ultimately Potter has to get more out of this squad and I just think the upheaval in tactics may leave them short of the quality to survive at this level.

These are clearly predictions that could look very foolish in May, but that is why football is played on grass and not on paper. I would be surprised if the top three I have selected don't make up the top four of the Premier League, but there are positions up for grabs with the final place in the Champions League looking very open.

I also think relegation spots will be keenly contested and we are unlikely to see two teams fall away as quickly as we saw last season.

Hopefully Manchester United can find the goals to push into the top four as I do think they will be improved defensively, but this looks like a fascinating season in the making for the club and the Premier League in general.

Weekend Premier League Picks
Last season I decided I would try and tune the way I make the Premier League selections as I did for the Tennis and the NFL/College Football. Those sports have produced much better numbers in the last couple of years and I am hoping the same will happen with the Football selections.

The opening month of the season can be very difficult to get a good grip on as teams are perhaps not quite up to full speed when it comes to the fitness off a long break.

Liverpool v Norwich City Pick: The Premier League is back this weekend although Jurgen Klopp was not happy with the fact that the English League begins a week before the German and Italian ones get underway. To add to his frustration his Liverpool team have been picked to open the campaign on Friday evening for the television cameras, but the manager will have gotten over that by now and will be well underway in preparing his players for another crack at the Premier League title.

Last season they found 22 points and climbed two places in the table, but still ended a point short of Manchester City in the Division. An almost perfect record at Anfield will be difficult to replicate having won 17 of their 19 League games here, but Liverpool are strong favourites to at least put their first three points on the board this weekend.

Under Jurgen Klopp Liverpool have won their opening League game at Anfield in all three seasons in which the German has started the campaign as manager. They have scored four times in heavy wins over Leicester City and West Ham United and also narrowly beat Crystal Palace so this is a big test in front of Norwich City as they return to the Premier League for the first time since the 2015/16 season.

Newly promoted teams can find it tough work in their arrival in the Premier League, but Norwich City fans will be encouraged by the fact the last five Championship winners have all survived in the top flight. The squad has not been massively added to, but Daniel Farke has got them playing some attractive football and the continuity should help.

The two managers just missed working with each other at Borussia Dortmund, but the tactics and beliefs that both Farke and Klopp want to employ will be familiar to the other. Ultimately Liverpool have the class and even without Sadio Mane I do think they have far too much for Norwich City in the opening game of the 2019/20 season.

Liverpool beat 6 of the bottom 10 of the Premier League by three or more goals last season and only Brighton and Crystal Palace escaped with defeats of single goal margins. Crystal Palace had to score three times to do that though and I think it will be difficult for Norwich City to contain Liverpool who looked to be rounding into form by the end of the Community Shield against Manchester City last Sunday.

The Canaries only conceded 23 away goals in the Championship last season, but this is a big step up and without Christoph Zimmermann who played 39 games for them in centre defence. I think opening weekend games can be difficult to read, but Liverpool crushed West Ham United 4-0 twelve months ago and I think they begin this season with a strong win too.

West Ham United v Manchester City Pick: On paper this would have the makings of a difficult opening day game for any team in the Premier League, but Manchester City have really found themselves matching up well with West Ham United since Pep Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium.

That might be down to the home team playing in the 'West Ham way' which will see them take chances and thus be left wide open for a team like Manchester City to exploit gaps behind them. It is almost impossible to ignore the fact that Manchester City have scored 17 goals in their last 4 visits to the London Stadium and they have scored at least four goals in each game and I think they are rightly favoured to win this fixture.

West Ham United do look improved in forward areas even though Marko Arnautovic has finally forced his way out of the club. Pablo Fornals and Sebastian Haller both look talented enough to make an impact in the Premier League, but West Ham United might struggle to contain the Champions if they have not found a better way to defend against them.

Pre-season doesn't mean a lot, but you would worry about West Ham United's 4-1 defeat to Manchester City considering the amount of goals they have conceded to this opponent. The Hammers have tended to play Manchester City closer at the Etihad Stadium where their fans won't mind them sitting in and defending, but more is expected at the London Stadium and I think that plays into the hands of Manchester City.

West Ham United lost 6 times at home in the League last season and half of those came by two or more goal margins. 10 of the 14 Manchester City away wins came by two or more goals and their record here also adds to the reasoning I have for backing the Champions to get off to a winning start and a cover of the Asian Handicap.

This is the third season in a row Manchester City begin the campaign on their travels and they have won 0-2 in each of the last two seasons at Brighton and Arsenal. I will back them to at least reach that margin of victory on Saturday in East London.

Bournemouth v Sheffield United Pick: Two clubs who have come a long way since they last played one another as League One rivals will be meeting on Saturday in the Premier League at the Vitality Stadium. Bournemouth have become an established club in the top flight as they prepare for their fifth year in a row as a Premier League club, which actually surpasses the number of seasons Sheffield United have spent at this level despite being involved in the first ever Premier League season.

Both Eddie Howe and Chris Wilder know there is some hard work in front of them if they are going to achieve the targets set out for themselves at the start of the season. Bournemouth are still considered a potential relegation candidate having slipped in the final League position three years in a row, while Sheffield United are favourites for relegation along with Norwich City.

It could be a decent game of football between these two clubs who both try and get the football on the ground and produce attacking, positive plays. We will all be watching with interest to see if Chris Wilder continues asking his Sheffield United players to play with the style that caught the eye in the Championship, but that is a tough task at the Premier League level when the quality of opponents will be quicker to punish mistakes and spaces left behind.

Bournemouth are a team that could be hurt by a positive Sheffield United as they have continued to ship far too many goals, but the attacking players they have can cause problems for their visitors too. Since being promoted and consolidating their place in the Premier League, Bournemouth have hosted 9 newly promoted clubs and beaten 6 of them. That includes a 2-0 win over Cardiff City to open the 2018/19 season and I do think the home team can snap their losing run to Sheffield United with a victory on Saturday.

If they are to win, Bournemouth are likely going to need at least two goals with the way Sheffield United will approach things. Over the last three seasons, Bournemouth have won 24 League games at home and 19 of those have seen them score at least twice. Last season the only victory secured with less than two goals scored was the 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur to close the season and I think Bournemouth can be backed to win a fixture featuring two or more goals this weekend.

Burnley v Southampton Pick: I will be honest and say this is the one game this weekend where I really don't have a great feel either way. I am expecting a lot more from Southampton compared with the last couple of seasons when they have struggled to avoid relegation, but Ralph Hasenhuttl looks like a manager who can move them much higher up the League table.

His style of play resulted in a lot more wins and Southampton players should be happy playing for him.

In saying that I don't think you can rule out Burnley even though I think this is a team that may struggle this season. Burnley are a decent home team and they did win 4 of their 6 home games against the bottom seven of the Premier League last season which suggests they have every chance of winning this fixture.

A lack of away wins last season makes it difficult to back Southampton here, but I do think this is a team that will be much improved. As you can tell I have gone back and forth with this fixture and I simply think it is a fixture from which we can try and learn something than one where you would try and predict a winner.

The last 2 at Turf Moor and the last 3 Premier League games overall between these clubs have ended in draws and that looks the most likely of the outcomes in my opinion, but I will move on.

Crystal Palace v Everton Pick: This is one fixture that I really wanted to wait until the transfer window was closed to see where both Crystal Palace and Everton would sit as both were expected to be busy right until the final minutes.

The big decision was surrounding Wilfried Zaha who Everton had been chasing for a couple of weeks, but ultimately Crystal Palace were able to hold onto the winger for at least the next five months. It will be interesting to see if Zaha is available this weekend considering he was sent home from training on Thursday and even if he is, I am not sure he is going to be at his best.

Crystal Palace have brought in some reinforcements, but they look short defensively and I think it could be another season where they are perhaps stronger away from home than they are at home. They have won just 12 of their last 38 home Premier League games and Crystal Palace have a poor record against Everton having failed to beat them in any of the last 8 at Selhurst Park.

I do really like the kind of business Everton have done in the transfer window even though manager Marco Silva is a little frustrated that another centre back was not signed considering Kurt Zouma has returned to Chelsea. This is a squad that will believe they can finish higher than their 8th place finish from last season, although Everton did not win enough away games last season and have to improve on their 5 wins from 19 games on their travels.

They should really have won here a few months ago and the record at Selhurst Park has to give Everton some confidence they can get this season off to a positive start. The side finished last season with some positive momentum behind them too and I do think Everton deserve to be favourites to win here, although it will be a tough game.

My feeling is that backing Everton on the Asian Handicap which returns the stake in the event of a draw is the right play. They look the stronger team and I also think the potential absence of Wilfried Zaha for the home team will give Everton another edge in the contest.

Everton have won 4 of their last 8 games at Selhurst Park and they could have improved that number having dominated the goalless draw here at the end of last season. 3 of the last 4 here have ended in draws, but I will back Everton on the Asian Handicap to find a way to win this one.

Watford v Brighton Pick: In recent years if I had said one of these clubs have made some serious changes to the management staff and the other has stayed firm with what they have, you would likely have picked Watford as the one making the changes. Instead it is Brighton who come into the season with a new manager implementing a new style, although Graham Potter does have a big task in front of him to keep The Seagulls flying in the top Division.

Brighton barely avoided relegation last season and their 36 points earned is not exactly going to inspire a lot of confidence this time around either. Chris Hughton was sacked and Graham Potter brought in with the latter not only expected to keep Brighton in the top flight, but also improve the team's playing style on the pitch.

Potter's Swansea City were very good to watch, but he has not been able to mould this squad to his liking as much as he perhaps would have liked. Instead Potter has to improve the players that were bought by the previous manager and we have seen many clubs regret moving from a pragmatic manager to one that is expected to improve them aesthetically.

That has to be a concern for Brighton after the way last season shaped up and they open the season visiting a team who have kept the majority of their squad together after their most successful season since the early 1980s. Watford look much more settled going into Javi Gracia's second full season as manager of the club and this is one that is hoping to improve on their 11th place finish from last season.

The Hornets have not been as consistent as they would have liked to be at Vicarage Road and this is a team that can be hard to believe in when playing opponents they should be beating. That can be underlined by the fact that Watford won 5 of their 9 games at home against teams who finished below them in the League table.

However they did beat all of the bottom four clubs and Brighton might end up amongst those positions again. I can't back Watford at odds on, but I do note that 7 of their 8 home wins last season came in games where they scored at least two goals.

One of those was against Brighton and the visitors were beaten 12 times on their travels last season. 9 of those losses came in games where they conceded at least twice and the new style may make Brighton a little more open until they settle into the methods Graham Potter wants to employ so backing Watford to win a game featuring two or more goals looks a big price.

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa Pick: Newly promoted clubs love to get off the mark in the Premier League as soon as possible to make themselves feel like they belong at this level. Dean Smith will know it will be difficult for Aston Villa to do that this weekend when they visit a club who have become entrenched in the top four of the Premier League, but I think Aston Villa are also a tea that can surprise in the weeks ahead.

The investment made into the playing staff looks to be a very positive one for the club, even if it did not work out for Fulham as intended last season. Even at the time of writing Aston Villa are still looking to add to the quality of the squad, but it may also take a little bit of time for this team to really play as Dean Smith intends them to do.

Tottenham Hotspur are another club that looks like they will be active at the transfer window, but their squad looks more settled and this is a good opportunity for them to get the campaign off to a positive start. They have won their opening day fixture in each of the last two seasons, but Tottenham Hotspur have the chance to actually begin the season at home for the first time since 2010.

The side did fail to win their last 3 games in their new Stadium at the end of the last campaign, but Tottenham Hotspur have been strong at home for the most part. They have been particularly good when facing the newly promoted clubs at home with 20 wins from the last 21 in that spot and the only exception being a very strong Wolves side beating them last season.

With Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli both out through suspension and injury, Tottenham Hotspur might look a little short in the forward areas. Any new signings are unlikely to make an impact in the opening fixture, but they still call on Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen (who looks to be staying for at least one more season) and Lucas Moura and I think Tottenham Hotspur will do enough to win this fixture.

It could be close as far as the Asian Handicap is concerned and Tottenham Hotspur only won 7 of their 19 home games by more than a single goal margin. They played 8 times in their new Stadium and only 2 of those games resulted in a win by two or more goals against Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town.

This Aston Villa team look like they could be competitive at this level, but I think Tottenham Hotspur will have enough quality to edge them out on the day. I would be very surprised if Aston Villa crumbled though and I will back Tottenham Hotspur to win by either one or two goal margins at just under odds against quotes.

Leicester City v Wolves Pick: This game has been shifted to Sunday because Wolves were playing in Armenia in the Europa League on Thursday, but the comfortable 0-4 win in Pyunik should not have taxed the players too much.

Even then this would be a very tough game for Wolves against a Leicester City team who are expected to be enjoyable to watch and pushing up the Premier League table under Brendan Rodgers even though Harry Maguire has departed.

The two teams will feel they need to improve their home/away record respectively in order to achieve their goals this season. Leicester City only won 8 of their 19 home League games last season, but 4 of those came after Brendan Rodgers was appointed and this is a manager who will want his players to get on the front foot.

Wolves didn't play badly away from home, but they only managed 19 goals in their 19 games on their travels which ended up producing just 6 wins. In something of a surprise, Wolves lost 8 times away from home last season and 5 of those came against sides that finished in the bottom six. This season the development of the club has to show they can break down teams who are perhaps happy to sit in and make life difficult for them, although Wolves won't have to go looking for Leicester City in this opening game.

Leicester City only won 3 home games against the eight teams that finished above them in the Premier League last season and Brendan Rodgers will want to see that number improved. This looks a good opportunity for them to open with a victory considering the travelling Wolves will have had to do, although the away side might be further along in their fitness levels having been playing Europa League Qualifiers.

While they have been scoring for fun in the Europa League, those games have come against overmatched opponents and Wolves have to show they can be more effective in front of goal on their travels in the Premier League. I think that may potentially cost them in this first game of the season and I do have big expectations for Leicester City this season.

The Foxes can be backed on the Asian Handicap which will return half the stake in the event of a draw.

Newcastle United v Arsenal Pick: There are some serious question marks about both Newcastle United and Arsenal which have yet to be addressed (there are still 24 hours before the transfer window closes at the time of writing so perhaps those would have been resolved by the time this fixture is played).

Arsenal have not been able to bring in the defensive reinforcements that could take them back into the Champions League, but this is a team that has plenty of goals in the squad. On the other hand Newcastle United have made limited investment again as Mike Ashley continues to tighten the purse strings and the departure of Rafael Benitez in favour of Steve Bruce looks a big backwards step taken by the club.

Unsurprisingly Newcastle United have been tipped up for relegation by a number of different people and they are going to have to work very hard to avoid that fate. The key to their survival last season was beating 5 of the 7 teams that finished below them in the League table at home, but the squad looks weaker this time around and without the experience of Benitez leading the way.

The bigger concern would be the 9 losses suffered at home to the twelve clubs that finished above Newcastle United and it won't be a shock to anyone that Arsenal's price has come in over the last couple of weeks. They looked a great price at odds against to win here, but it is much harder to get excited about Arsenal being at odds on considering how porous their defence was last season.

However all 7 away wins in the Premier League came against teams that finished in the bottom half of the table. 6 of those wins came in games that featured at least two goals as Arsenal tended to be a team that had to outscore opponents to win games and they have also won on 6 of their last 7 visits to St James' Park.

My feeling is that Arsenal will put Steve Bruce under immediate pressure here and they have the goals to win at Newcastle United who have lost two key goalscoring contributors in the summer. The Gunners look like a team that will continue to score plenty of goals so backing them to win here in a game that features two or more goals at odds against is the play.

Manchester United v Chelsea Pick: The biggest game of the weekend comes from Old Trafford as Manchester United host Chelsea in a fixture that is being played by two of the top six from last season. Both clubs have had mixed off-seasons with Chelsea seeing their manager depart and being under a transfer embargo, while Manchester United have not made the kind of changes to the squad that the fans would have been hoping following a 6th place finish.

Neither club looks capable of closing the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool and instead the limits of their ambitions are likely going to be a top four finish and possibly picking up some silverware.

Frank Lampard will at least be given some time from the fans compared with Maurizio Sarri and this season may be about giving his younger players opportunities to impress. The loss of Eden Hazard is a big blow for Chelsea considering the influence he had on the squad last summer and this does feel like it could be something of a transitional season for them with the younger players having their chances and older heads being moved on.

Chelsea do look a little light in a couple of areas, but the fans are likely going to give Lampard time knowing the transfer embargo limits what he can do. A tough start to the season will give us a clue as to how Chelsea will go this season as they face two top half teams from last season, but there is going to be a lot more pressure on the home side in this one.

After a poor end to the season Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made suggestions that his squad will be overhauled this summer, but only Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera and Romelu Lukaku have departed. The arrivals of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire are sure to give Manchester United a lift defensively, but the midfield has been crying out for reinforcements and there is plenty riding on the fact that Paul Pogba is going to dig in and not throw his toys out of his pram having been denied a move away that he wanted earlier this summer.

Replacing Lukaku's goals won't be easy and only Daniel James has been signed in an attacking sense which does look to leave United short. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will be given a chance to show they can be more than potential, but it does feel like Manchester United have not closed the gap ahead of them as they would have been expected to do.

The opening month of the season is far from ideal for Solskjaer whose team ended last season with a single win in 9 games in all competitions. A poor start at Old Trafford this weekend will be difficult for the fans to swallow, especially after Manchester United failed to beat any of the top seven teams at home last season.

In the 2017/18 season Manchester United won 4 of those 6 games and only lost once, but last season they were beaten in half of the 6 games at Old Trafford. However this is a good chance to get back to winning ways against the top teams when you think Chelsea were beaten in 6 of their 7 away games at the top eight clubs last season and that was with Eden Hazard in the squad.

Chelsea only scored three goals at the top eight clubs last season and I do think they are going to need some time to find a way to create a lot of chances without Eden Hazard in the team. Last season they could look for the Belgian to create a moment of magic, but this time the team is going to have to find players to step up in his absence.

This is going to be a very interesting game to perhaps give us an idea how the season is potentially going to go for the two teams. I do think Manchester United might have a slight edge with an improved looking defence and with a team that did create a lot of chances against Chelsea in their game in April before a David De Gea mistake cost them two points.

Manchester United looked better than Chelsea in their three games last season and the loss of Hazard should mean the home team can get off to a positive beginning. I will back United on the Asian Handicap which will return half the stake in the event of a third straight League draw between them.

MY PICKS: Liverpool - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.45 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Everton 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Watford & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.55 Coral (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur to Win by One or Two Goals @ 1.94 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Leicester City - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Manchester United - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Fantasy Football (GameWeek 1)
Last season I began adding my thoughts about Fantasy Football and potential picks in each week and mentioned I would be changing the format slightly.

This time I will have my template of players below and in each week I will pick one or two players per position that could be a reasonable change to the squad. That will allow me to help identify potential key performers for the week while also playing within the budgetary demands of the game.

In this part of the thread I am only focusing on the official FPL game rather than the other options that are out there. Like many of you, by the time I have actually finished writing this there is a real chance that some changes will be made to my final team ahead of the deadline this week.

Below I will split my squad into two parts- there are those players that are almost certainly not going to be moved now, while the second part will be speaking about the players that I may yet change to strengthen the overall squad.

Key Squad Members
The way I have set out my Fantasy Team is to make sure it is one I am largely happy with through the first four weeks of the season. After the international break we have four months to use the Wild Card at any point the team is perhaps largely out of sync with what managers are selecting, but the key is to not want to waste points at this stage by having to take hits to move players in and out of my team.

These key members are almost certainly starting life in my squad and unlikely to be shifted out before the start of GW1, while they are players that I will select in the first XI as long as they remain in my squad.

It is a strange game this time around where I feel like the midfield options are loaded but there is a clear drop off from the very top strikers to the mid-priced ones. I think it is likely going to lead to a relatively early Wild Card once teams begin to settle, but for now my squad looks like this.

Ederson- the arrival of Joao Cancelo from Juventus has just muddled up the defensive options having had Oleksandr Zinchenko in my squad for much of the last month. Ederson should be an almost guaranteed starter and Manchester City have had 38 clean sheets in the last two seasons.

Virgil Van Dijk- the Liverpool prices have rightly been raised again this season, but this is a team with a fine defensive record. They have also earned 38 clean sheets across two seasons, but more important was a fixture list which looks like giving them an early lead in that category over other teams.

Andrew Robertson- this comes down to a straight choice between the left back and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right. Last season the latter won the assist count by one, but Robertson perhaps has less competition for his berth.

Mohamed Salah- looked lively in the Community Shield and, like the other two Liverpool players in my squad, the fixture list really looks kind to open the season.

Raheem Sterling- if you are looking for goals and assists from a midfielder, Raheem Sterling has to be right up with there with Salah and Sadio Mane as a high choice. Potential to play in the false nine position and Leroy Sane's injury means he should get a strong run without worrying too much about rotation.

Bernardo Silva- similar reasoning to Sterling in terms of limited rotation options, Bernardo Silva has been a key figure for Pep Guardiola. Even a returning Kevin De Bruyne is unlikely to shift him from the starting XI and he looks the best price of the City midfield options.

Youri Tielemans- Brendan Rodgers should be able to get the best attacking potential out of the young Belgian midfielder who has shown he has an eye for a goal. Leicester City should be one of the more entertaining teams in the League and that gives Tielemans ample opportunity to pick up strong points.

Squad Rotation Players
Caglar Soyuncu- Leicester City sold Harry Maguire and it feels like the young Turkish player is going to get the chance to partner Jonny Evans ahead of Wes Morgan. At 23 he might be ready to make an impact in the Premier League and Leicester City can be a decent enough defensive team, while the early fixtures are in their favour.

John Lundstrom- Sheffield United finished with the best defensive record in the Championship and Lundstrom looks like the latest in a line of 4 million pound defenders who actually start.

Tyrone Mings- most Manchester United fans will remember Tyrone Mings best for his altercation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and he is not going to be a GW1 starter in my team. However Aston Villa have a nice run of fixtures after facing Tottenham Hotspur and I expect Mings to be a key performer for them.

Anthony Martial- this is a big season for the Frenchman and the chance to pick a midfielder who may be playing up front is hard to resist. He does have an eye for a goal, but Manchester United do have a couple of tough tests to open the season.

Diogo Jota- I had Raul Jimenez in my squad from GW1 last season, but his price has gone up and instead Diogo Jota makes my squad. He was improved in the second half of last season and can continue his progress, although Wolves play at Leicester City and home to Manchester United to open the season.

Che Adams- as I have mentioned, I am pretty high on Southampton and I think Che Adams is going to be able to score goals at this level. Adams has performed well in pre-season with three goals in four starts and I think his manager will partner him with Shane Long or Danny Ings to open the season.

The remaining two places are made up by a backup goalkeeper from Norwich City and a cheap West Ham United striker. I was going to pick Mason Greenwood of Manchester United at 4.5 million, but he has a high ownership rate and if he doesn't get minutes in the first couple of weeks of the season, his price could potentially drop.

GameWeek 1 Team
After all of the time and effort of chopping and changing your teams, you just know two or three players are going to be surprisingly left out in GameWeek 1. I am hoping that is not going to be the case for mine, but the team picked this week is going to be as follows. The Captain (C*) and Vice Captain (VC*) are indicated too.

Ederson (@ West Ham United), Van Dijk (v Norwich City), Robertson (v Norwich City), Soyuncu (v Wolves), Sterling (@ West Ham United) VC*, Bernardo (@ West Ham United), Martial (v Chelsea), Tielemans (v Wolves), Salah (v Norwich City) C*, Adams (@ Burnley) and Jota (@ Leicester City).

Subs: McGovern (GK), Lundstrom (@ Bournemouth), Mings (@ Tottenham Hotspur) and Xande Silva (v Manchester City)

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