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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, 16 August 2019

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2019 (August 17-19)

The first round of Premier League Fixtures are in the books and it can be very easy to get carried away from one set of results and make sweeping statements behind them.

Rarely are the results alone reflective of the way a game developed and it would be foolish to read too much into those at this stage. A small sample, in this case a one game sample, is not the position from which you should ignore everything you perhaps thought before a ball had been kicked.

Wins for Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur won't have surprised too many people with all three tipped to be in the top four for much of the season, but the results achieved by Arsenal and Manchester United would have been very encouraging.

Some have already relegated Norwich City off the basis of a heavy loss at Anfield, but things can quickly change in terms of perceptions especially as The Canaries were much better than the 4-1 defeat suggested. They have a big game this weekend against Newcastle United and I do think we will see a reaction, while the other newly promoted clubs also make their Premier League bows in front of their watching faithful.

Watch out for another round of snap judgements from those you are reading on Monday morning, but that isn't all bad for those who are making selections off the basis of a deeper look into the way things have gone. Hopefully that will give me an edge going forward as I try and the best plays from the weekend.

Arsenal v Burnley Pick: You never want to read too much into an opening weekend performance, but both Arsenal and Burnley will be very happy with the results they achieved last time out.

Both teams have gotten off to winning starts, although neither was perhaps convincing enough to really deserve the full three points. That won't matter to Unai Emery or Sean Dyche who know the importance of trying to make a fast, positive start to the season after what had been an inconsistent end to the 2018/19 season.

Emery in particular would have been extremely satisfied with the defensive performance his Arsenal team put together. They earned just one away clean sheet in the Premier League last season so to match that on the opening day of the 2019/20 campaign is a huge boost, especially as they can now add David Luiz' experience to the backline.

Sead Kolasinac and Mesut Ozil could also be back, but the biggest boost would be if Dani Ceballos, Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette all can get a full week of training under their belts to be ready to make their first starts of the campaign. This is an Arsenal team who deservedly finished with the third most home goals in the Premier League last season and I do think the boost from those attacking players gives them a big edge over Burnley.

Like Unai Emery, Sean Dyche will be very pleased with an opening weekend win coupled with a clean sheet for Burnley, but this is a side who were much more vulnerable defensively when playing away from Turf Moor last season. The team is going to be settled and everyone is going to know what to expect from Arsenal and what they need to do, but Burnley conceded six goals in two Premier League games against them last season and have conceded in eleven in the last three versus The Gunners.

I expect the attacking arsenal available to Unai Emery to be a difference maker on the day, pardon the pun. Last weekend Arsenal were missing the really clever players in the final third, but I expect a number of those to be available this weekend and I think Arsenal will be able to maintain their 100% start to the new season.

12 of Arsenal's 14 home Premier League wins came by two more goals last season and 8 of Burnley's 10 away losses came by the same margin.

One concern has to be that Arsenal did struggle to see off the teams right at the bottom with narrow wins over Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town and a draw with Brighton at home, while Burnley did draw at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. However even with that in mind I can't ignore the fact that Arsenal have had too much firepower for Burnley in their recent matches and I will back the home team to win by at least two goals on the day.

Aston Villa v Bournemouth Pick: You can't really learn a lot about teams from the opening weekend of the season especially a newly promoted team like Aston Villa who faced a very difficult away game at a club that has become a consistent top four one. While fans can have excuses for the defeat there, they will be less forgiving when hosting a team like Bournemouth who could be a rival when it comes to avoiding relegation in May.

Last week Bournemouth could only earn a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United at home as both teams gave it a good go and it was a fair reflection of the game. Defensively there remain some big questions about Bournemouth who conceded 45 away Premier League goals last season and Aston Villa will believe they are a team with enough goals in the squad to earn their points at home.

Aston Villa only scored fewer than Norwich City and West Brom at home in the Championship last season and there was enough vibrancy in their attacking play at Tottenham Hotspur to be encouraged if you support them. Now they will be expected to get forward and challenge a Bournemouth team who only conceded less than two goals in 5 of their 19 away Premier League games.

However they can't afford to be gung-ho in their approach considering Bournemouth are still capable of creating their own chances in the final third. They finished as the 8th highest away scorers in the Division and Bournemouth were not unfortunate with that stat considering the chances they created on their travels.

It is pointing to a potentially high-scoring game at Villa Park on Saturday. 4 of the 6 away games Bournemouth played against teams that finished below them in the Premier League table ended with at least three goals shared out with the two exceptions both producing two goals. Last time here between these clubs we saw a game featuring three goals and I think the approach of both managers could set up this fixture to follow suit.

Brighton v West Ham United Pick: One team won 0-3 away from home and the other lost 0-5 at home, but it would be silly to think that is the way things are going to be for Brighton and West Ham United respectively.

Brighton were a touch fortunate last week to win, let alone win by such a margin. On the other hand West Ham United will know they are not going to face teams as strong as Manchester City every week and I expect a big reaction from them.

However it is The Seagulls who have won back to back home games against West Ham United since being promoted to the Premier League and so it feels this is a fixture that is worth a watching brief to add to the information we have on them. I can see all three results occurring, so I will move past this one.

Everton v Watford Pick: It was perhaps the biggest surprise result of the opening Premier League weekend when Watford's defeat to Brighton at home came through. Of course it is one thing losing, but another all together to be beaten 0-3, although the underlying statistics show that it was a harsh scoreline on The Hornets.

Javi Gracia has to pick his players up who have followed a poor end to last season with a poor start to this one. The three goals conceded to Brighton means Watford have conceded 18 goals in their last 5 in all competitions and that doesn't make for very good reading no matter which may you cut things up.

In recent years a trip to Goodison Park has been fairly productive for Watford who have been unlucky not to earn their first ever win on this ground. Last season they had to settle for a point thanks to Lucas Digne's injury time equaliser for Everton, while the season before they blew a 0-2 lead in an eventual 3-2 defeat.

Watford also led here until the 86th minute in August 2015 before having to settle for a point so Everton should have plenty of respect for the visitors.

However Everton have been in very strong form under Marco Silva in the latter stages of last season. There is still a worry that there are not enough goals in the squad despite the arrivals of Alex Iwobi and Moise Kean, but Everton fans know Goodison Park was a tough place to visit in the final months of last season having won 4 in a row here without conceding a goal.

Even Liverpool had to settle for a goalless draw as Everton followed that result in the Merseyside derby with comfortable wins over Chelsea, Manchester United and Burnley and a 1-0 win over Arsenal. Marco Silva has to believe his team are solid enough defensively to cope with Watford better than they did last season and Everton have been much better in front of goal here in the closing stages of the 2018/19 campaign.

My feeling is that we are going to see a lot better from Watford than what they produced last weekend, but I also think Everton have the edge being at home. It might need a couple of goals to earn the three points though and I think backing Everton to win a fixture with two or more goals produced is a decent looking price at odds against.

Everton's poor recent home record against Watford has to be in the back of the mind, but the home team might be playing with a little more confidence than their visitors and secure their first three points of the season.

Norwich City v Newcastle United Pick: I was hoping that the Norwich City result at Liverpool would have had the layers making this something of a pick 'em match, but instead Norwich City come into the weekend as a healthy favourite.

I considered backing them, but Norwich City have to show massive defensive improvements and Newcastle United have shown they can win games like this one in the last couple of years. It has been a key reason they have avoided the drop, but Rafael Benitez is gone and Steve Bruce will be under pressure to deliver.

I also considered backing over 2.5 goals after the way Norwich City played at Liverpool, but ultimately I feel like this is a game that could be the surprise result in the League. Newcastle United might be looking to bunker down and make life difficult for Norwich City and they might secure a positive result in a low-scoring game.

They have presented enough of a doubt to make me want to move past this one too.

Southampton v Liverpool Pick: If it was up to Jurgen Klopp I am sure Liverpool would have not travelled to Istanbul for the UEFA Super Cup between the first two Premier League games to be played in the 2019/20 season. Winning the trophy would have helped, but Liverpool won't have returned home until Thursday morning and have little time to prepare for a big League game at Southampton on Saturday afternoon.

If you simply looked at the results last week you would perhaps think Liverpool are in for a comfortable ride, but Southampton were a touch unfortunate to lose, let alone lose 3-0 at Burnley. They have been much better at home under Ralph Hasenhuttl, although Liverpool did come from behind to win 1-3 here in April.

I do think Southampton will cause problems for Liverpool who have looked rocky defensively even before Alisson went down with an injury. Now they have to rely on someone who was the backup goalkeeper at West Ham United last season and Liverpool have conceded in all 3 games they have played so far this month.

Southampton scored the vast majority of their home goals once Hasenhuttl took charge of the club and they are a team that will give it a go against Liverpool. It will take a much better effort than we have seen so far from Liverpool to keep a clean sheet and I do think Southampton have to be respected for scoring in every home Premier League game that Hasenhuttl has taken charge of.

Clean sheets were much more difficult to come by though and Southampton earned just one in the 13 games the Austrian has been in charge of at St Mary's. Last weekend we saw Southampton can be a little weak mentally if they fall behind, but I expect a much better showing this weekend and the fact that Liverpool are travelling back from Istanbul should most certainly help their cause.

It is hard to imagine Southampton keeping Liverpool out at the other end and I am going back to a market that I selected in April when these teams met and that is backing both teams to find the net.

Liverpool have been tough defensively over the last twelve months, but they have looked shaky to open this season. With the potential tiredness in the legs, I think Southampton will challenge them here and backing both teams to score looks the best approach to this fixture.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: By far and away the biggest game in the Premier League this weekend comes from the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City host Tottenham Hotspur so expect to hear plenty about the Champions League Quarter Final epic played between these teams a number of months ago.

Even though they have played in the Premier League since the Quarter Final, both clubs know how important that tie was.

Manchester City did win the Second Leg at home and they have won 3 in a row against Tottenham Hotspur here which should give them the mental edge. The absences of Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli are real blows to Tottenham Hotspur, especially the former who scored three of the four goals Spurs managed against Manchester City in the Champions League tie.

There is a real energy about Tottenham Hotspur even without those two players, but Christian Eriksen can't begin this one on the bench if Mauricio Pochettino really wants to oversee a stand out win. Last season Tottenham Hotspur lost here as well as Stamford Bridge, Anfield and the Emirates Stadium and I do think they can't really call themselves title contenders unless they do better in those big away games.

Manchester City simply have been dominant at home over the last couple of seasons with 34 League wins from 38 played here. At the end of last season they became pragmatic in their play with a number of 1-0 results secured, but Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all conceded at least twice here and Tottenham Hotspur conceded four in the Champions League Quarter Final.

I do think this will be a good game of football with Tottenham Hotspur likely to give it a go, but they have to show a better defensive resiliency than they did in big away games last season. Those issues were perhaps not highlighted as Spurs made a strong run in the Champions League to the Final, but they had conceded at least twice here and in Amsterdam before doing the same in the Final. They also did that in the Premier League at Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea and in the League Cup Semi Final at Stamford Bridge too.

Ultimately I do think the defensive side could let them down here and I will back Manchester City to cover the Asian Handicap as they remind the rest of the Premier League that they remain the team to beat in 2019/20.

Sheffield United v Crystal Palace Pick: The television cameras will arrive at Bramall Lane for the first time in the Premier League for over a decade. Sheffield United and Crystal Palace both picked up a point on the opening Saturday of the Premier League season and so there is something for them to build on here.

This looks a really tough game to call with both clubs looking like they have positives that could see them earn the victory. A draw would not surprise, but I have to respect how well Crystal Palace played away from home last season with plenty of wins on their travels.

Sheffield United were very strong at home in the Championship and will feel their home form will determine whether they can survive in the top flight and I think it is a game that could be interesting to watch.

It is definitely a tough one to have a strong feeling about, but I think it could be an intriguing watch ahead of the Chelsea-Leicester City game in the second half of Super Sunday.

Chelsea v Leicester City Pick: Like Liverpool, Chelsea have had to do a lot of travelling in the last seven days and they would have appreciated not having to have played Extra Time and then Penalties in their UEFA Super Cup defeat on Wednesday evening. At least Chelsea have an extra day before they are due to be out for Premier League action, but the negative side compared with Liverpool is suffering a defeat in Istanbul.

After the 4-0 defeat at Manchester United, Frank Lampard would have been much happier with the performance against Liverpool. To be fair Lampard wasn't critical of the performance at Old Trafford either and the big question for Chelsea through the next ten months is whether they have enough goals to really compete for a top four place.

In the first two games they have played Chelsea have impressed with the number of chances they have created, but the finishing touch has been lacking. I also think they have a few issues at the back to deal with, while the transition from attack to defence has been very poor.

That could be a really big issue for them on Sunday when they face Leicester City who are going to look to try and frustrate their hosts and hit them on the counter attack. There is plenty of pace in this Leicester City team and plenty of quality too which makes them a very dangerous opponent off a tough fixture in Eastern Europe as the one Chelsea just faced.

Leicester City have a decent recent record at Stamford Bridge too with a single defeat in their last 4 visits and I do like The Foxes in this spot. Before the thumping at Old Trafford Chelsea looked a very short price in this fixture, but even now I can't be having them at odds on to win this game.

A start with Leicester City on the Asian Handicap means a single goal loss will return half our stake and I would be surprised if Brendan Rodgers' team capitulates here. The counter attack should give them a chance of springing a surprise throughout this fixture and I will back the visitors to find a way to the upset result here.

Wolves v Manchester United Pick: The final game from the Premier League this weekend comes from Molineux on Monday evening in what is a big couple of weeks for Wolves. While most clubs will have one game a week at this stage, Wolves are playing between Europa League commitments and Nuno Espirito Santo knows he has to manage his squad very well before the international break in early September.

Hammering Pyunik away from home in the Europa League Third Qualifying Round First Leg meant the manager could rest the majority of his first team players so Wolves will have no excuses ahead of this League fixture. Motivation should not be a problem for fans and players in the Premier League opener, but those levels can only be added to as Wolves look for a third straight win over Manchester United.

Last season they beat United twice at home in the space of three weeks and both by the same 2-1 scoreline. After a solid opener to the season I am very surprised Wolves are considered such an underdog in this fixture, but a part of the issue may be the 4-0 scoreline Manchester United produced.

It was a fantastic result against Chelsea, but the game was much closer than the scoreline suggested and this is a really big challenge for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who noted the two losses he has managed at Wolves a few months ago. Defensively Manchester United will have to be better and I do think spaces won't be as free in this fixture as they were in the win over Chelsea.

Wolves have shown their methods are very effective against the top sides and if I didn't support Manchester United I would absolutely suggest they can be backed to win this one. Last season Manchester United (twice), Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea were all beaten at Molineux while only Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur left with wins.

On the other hand Manchester United lost 4 of 7 away fixtures at the top eight clubs in the Premier League and had that loss here in the FA Cup too. They did win at Chelsea and Arsenal in the FA Cup, but Manchester United are going to need to show considerable improvement to get a result here.

I know there will be plenty who will take Wolves with the start on the Asian Handicap that returns a profit if the home team avoids defeat and I couldn't really argue against that.

However my selection is going to be on at least three goals to be shared out.

The layers have set that as an odds against shot and 12 of Wolves' 19 home Premier League games finished with less than three goals shared out last season. However 4 of the 6 League games at Molineux against teams that finished above them in the League table all produced at least three goals, while Wolves had a 2-1 win over Liverpool and Manchester United in the FA Cup here too.

Manchester United saw 5 of the 7 away Premier League games at the top eight in the Premier League finish with at least three goals shared out last season. While Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka can make an impact on them defensively, United still looked vulnerable at the back in the win over Chelsea and the clean sheet perhaps glosses over the actual performance, one that Wolves will punish if a similar level is produced.

There were plenty of chances created in the Premier League game between these clubs here when Manchester United were unfortunate to lose considering chances they created. I expect both to do the same here and it should be the fourth consecutive fixture between these clubs that finish with at least both teams scoring.

I do think that both teams won't want to settle for a draw so we should see plenty of attacking football here and I will back at least three goals to be shared out for a third consecutive game at Molineux between Wolves and Manchester United.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Aston Villa-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.10 Coral (2 Units)
Southampton-Liverpool Both Teams to Score- YES @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Leicester City + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Wolves-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Season 2019/20 Update: 4-4-1, - 0.18 Units (18 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)

Fantasy Football (GameWeek 2)
I am sure I was not the only one out there that decided to make a last minute change to their Fantasy Football team in GW1 before the deadline meant we could no longer make unlimited changes.

My decision to move out Diogo Jota in favour of Joshua King didn't have the impact I desired, but I still finished with 84 points in GW1 thanks to Raheem Sterling's huge performance at the London Stadium.

Mohamed Salah, Anthony Martial, Ederson and Caglar Soyuncu all added multiple points, but it was the Sterling hat-trick that really motored the points forward.

Without a doubt the biggest disappointment was Bernardo Silva being left on the bench by Pep Guardiola. Riyad Mahrez had a big game which puts pressure on Bernardo, but I would be surprised if the Portuguese midfielder is not in the line up this weekend.

Below I will show you the team I am going with in GW2 having decided I will hold my transfers until next weekend when I will be able to make two.

However before that I will identify some players that you may feel could be targeted if you are thinking of making some changes this week.

The injury to Alisson would have had many fantasy managers ripping out their hair just minutes into a new season, but most will be looking to transfer the Liverpool goalkeeper out now he is expected to miss the remainder of the month.

He is the joint most expensive Goalkeeper in the game so plenty of options are available to replace him.

Adrian (4.5 Million- Liverpool): In usual circumstances I am guessing most would make the like for like change, but Jurgen Klopp's warning about an injury suffered by Adrian on Wednesday evening is a big concern. I would rather wait for Adrian than bring in Andy Lonergan as another change would need to be made very quickly and it would likely result in a hit to the the points tally.

Jordan Pickford (5.5 Million- Everton): A strong set of games to open the season and Everton have actually been a solid team defensively for months under Marco Silva. They have kept clean sheets in their last 5 League games here and Watford, Wolves and Sheffield United are the next three visitors. With away games at Aston Villa and Bournemouth in between those home games, Pickford has to be a big shout.

I have to admit I would be a touch concerned about the way Liverpool have opened this season defensively and there may be better options out there. Players I am monitoring are below.

Fabian Delph (5.5 Million- Everton): A potential player who will be playing much further up the pitch than his defender status in the game would suggest. I have mentioned Everton's run of clean sheets and the fixtures that are in front of them, plus it would give me the chance to reinvest funds elsewhere if removing a Liverpool defender.

Harry Maguire/Aaron Wan-Bissaka (5.5 Million- Man United): The clean sheet against Chelsea was a boost and both could offer some attacking threat too.

However I would keep a watching brief on the way United perform defensively even though the fixtures look decent on paper. Might be worth bringing in one next weekend for the remaining August fixtures against Crystal Palace and Southampton.

Riyad Mahrez (8.5 Million- Man City): After Leroy Sane was ruled out for the next several months, it was interesting to see Mahrez get the nod in one of the three forward spots. His performance against West Ham United won't be ignored by Pep Guardiola and I am going to have a watching brief as to the kind of main starting line up that the Spaniard will be using.

Paul Pogba (8.5 Million- Man United): While the European transfer window is open you do wonder if Paul Pogba will try and force a move out of Old Trafford. I doubt that at this stage, but until then I will keep the Frenchman on my watch list. It is a blow that he is seemingly off penalties this season.

Gylfi Sigurdsson (8 Million- Everton): A third Everton player is on the list thanks to their strong early set of fixtures. The Icelandic midfielder scored 13 goals last season and came closest for Everton at Crystal Palace last week.

Ashley Barnes (6.5 Million- Burnley): They are not a fashionable team but I had Barnes on my solid performer list for much of last season, especially at this price. The August fixtures are far from easy, but from September I think Barnes will be joining my team as Burnley get set to face Brighton, Norwich City, Aston Villa, Everton and Leicester City between games against Liverpool and Chelsea.

Teemu Puuki (6.5 Million- Norwich City): Scored last week so showed he can take his form up a level. Norwich City look like an attacking team and Puuki could have chances in the next few weeks to add to his total. Definitely a player worth considering.

Roberto Firmino (9.5 Million- Liverpool): If you find space for a third Liverpool player after removing a defender, Firmino could be the man to target. Looked in hot form in the first three games played and looks a source of goals and assists.

GameWeek 2 Team
Like I said, I am holding onto my squad this week with the knowledge that I can make two transfers next week. I had put a Fantasy squad together that I did not want to change in the first couple of weeks and the injury to Alisson has perhaps meant a change in having multiple Liverpool defenders. I have a feeling they won't be able to keep Southampton out this weekend and then face an attacking Arsenal team before a trip to Burnley.

However I don't like making snap judgements on a team and so I want to see how they perform this week before deciding on moves to improve the squad with multiple transfers in GW3 or GW4.

The eleven I am starting with this weekend is below:

Ederson- Manchester City had two clean sheets against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League last season and Ederson has been picked as my firm Goalkeeper considering the back up is a cheap option who won't start.

Virgil Van Dijk- a threat from set pieces even if Liverpool concede.

Andrew Robertson- another Liverpool defender despite my feeling that Southampton will score this weekend. Andrew Robertson always an attacking threat and assists are a big part of his game.

John Lundstram- Sheffield United defender who started much higher up the pitch and created a couple of good chances for his team. Home game with Crystal Palace is a chance for what may be a rare clean sheet for The Blades.

Youri Tielemans- it is a tough away game at Stamford Bridge for the Leicester City midfielder, but Chelsea have looked far from watertight. He plays in an advanced position and will be key to any upset Leicester City earn here.

Mohamed Salah (C)- the Egyptian has scored in the Premier League opener and has looked very threatening in all three games played for Liverpool. Hard to ignore his claims to be Captain considering he scored in both League games against Southampton last season.

Raheem Sterling (VC)- hat-trick to open the season and almost the first choice on the Manchester City team-sheet. Has scored twice in two of the last three home Manchester City games against Tottenham Hotspur.

Bernardo Silva- missed out last week, but I think Bernardo will be back in action this weekend and always involved in either producing or scoring goals. Expect a big game in response to Riyad Mahrez' performance last week.

Che Adams- he had his chances last week for Southampton and could be the biggest threat to a Liverpool team that may be down to a third choice goalkeeper. I do believe he is a striker who will score goals at this level.

Josh King- I made a last minute decision to pick King ahead of Diogo Jota. It didn't work out last weekend, but he should have space to operate in against an attacking Aston Villa team and is one of the top choices for penalties.

Bench- Michael McGovern (Norwich City back up), Tyrone Mings (could have a clean sheet chance, but Bournemouth have a strong attack), Caglar Soyuncu (Chelsea have looked good going forward, clean sheet unlikely), Xande Silva (West Ham back up).

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