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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...

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Boxing Day Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2019 (December 26-27)

Let's be honest, this is a time of the year where most of us will be spending time with families so there is only limited time to produce the three threads needed to cover the Premier League fixtures and Fantasy Football plays.

I am going to get into it with the Picks from the Boxing Day round of games below followed by my GW19 team which is not going to have any transfers added to it after I played my Wild Card in GW18 as I had mentioned.

Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton Pick: I was largely disappointed with the Tottenham Hotspur performance on Sunday, but the continued defensive errors will be frustrating Jose Mourinho. There is nothing I can say to justify the penalty given away by Spurs in the loss to Chelsea which came in injury time at the end of the first half, but the lack of a real threat in the final third reminded me of the levels produced against Manchester United earlier this month.

It is something Mourinho is going to have to fix if Tottenham Hotspur are going to get closer to the top four, but they have at least played well against the teams lower down the Premier League table. Since the new manager has arrived, Tottenham Hotspur have beaten West Ham United, Bournemouth and Burnley and Spurs have scored plenty of goals in those games.

Losing Heung-Min Son to suspension is a blow to the team, but there is enough quality in the final third to believe they can cover for that in their next three games beginning with this one against Brighton.

I do like what Graham Potter is doing with Brighton and they are a much more pleasing team to watch, although results will ultimately determine whether or not this is a successful season. It does look like Brighton are going to have to avoid the drop, while they did recently win down the road at the Emirates Stadium, but this is a team that has mainly struggled for form away from home.

They do attack teams and that has resulted in a few goals, but Brighton have not defended well and they do offer up chances. I think that will be the case on Boxing Day and Tottenham Hotspur can exploit that in a win as I look for them to bounce back from the loss to Chelsea by seeing off Brighton in a game that I expect features two or more goals.

Aston Villa v Norwich City Pick: After seeing the Aston Villa performance in the 1-3 home loss to Southampton last Saturday I don't think you could reasonably back them with any expectation. That makes them a very short price to win this big fixture, although Norwich City have looked vulnerable away from home for much of the season.

A couple of weeks ago I would have been more comfortable in backing Aston Villa, but that defeat to Southampton coupled with the fact that Norwich City have found positive results at Everton and Leicester City recently makes it a much harder game to read.

Like Saturday I would not be surprised if both teams score and at least three goals are shared out on the day, but those markets are plenty short too.

It could be a fun game for the neutrals to enjoy, but a tense one for two sets of fans hoping for a late Christmas present as they bid to avoid the drop into the Championship. Personally I think there are better options you can back out there.

Bournemouth v Arsenal Pick: The Arsenal trip to Everton was a miserable game of football on the field and the most intriguing aspect of the day was the away fans turning on Arsenal TV, a fan YouTube Channel which irritates me and finally seems to be grating on those who follow this club around the world.

It shows the kind of divide that exists at Arsenal and Mikel Arteta can't be underestimating the tough job in front of him as a rookie manager. Two years ago it was considered that Arteta was not experienced enough to take over at Arsenal, but he has been learning under Pep Guardiola since then and the Spaniard is confident he can get this club turned around.

His first team selection is going to be interesting and there are a number of injury issues and suspensions to deal with.

At least Arsenal secured a clean sheet on Saturday as they have looked like a team who will score goals. The clean sheet will be a boost to the defence and to Arteta and I think they will be able to get the better of their hosts on Boxing Day.

Bournemouth are in miserable form and they are missing some big time players in the squad ahead of this fixture. The 0-1 defeat to Burnley at the Vitality Stadium means Bournemouth have not scored in their last 2 games here, while Bournemouth have lost 6 of their last 7 overall including the last 3 in a row in front of their own fans.

They don't have the best record against Arsenal and you have to think The Gunners will find enough in the final third to secure a vital three points on Boxing Day. It won't come easy and the first goal is going to be huge for both clubs, but I think Arsenal have shown a little more in the final third in creating chances of late and that can see them win at odds against before two big home games against Chelsea and Manchester United.

Chelsea v Southampton Pick: In recent weeks we have seen Chelsea earn some big results and fail to follow them up and so that is the challenge for Frank Lampard and his players on Boxing Day when they host Southampton.

The win at Tottenham Hotspur was very deserved for Chelsea, but they have lost 2 of their last 3 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge. Those losses to West Ham United and Bournemouth are not against the best teams in the Premier League and Chelsea have found it difficult when they have not taken the early chances they have created.

It will be encouraging for Southampton who impressively saw off Aston Villa on Saturday and who have scored in 11 away games in a row in all competitions. That includes scoring at Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City (twice) and Arsenal so playing at Stamford Bridge should hold no fear for The Saints who have nothing to lose having moved out of the bottom three.

No one will expect anything from Southampton, and they had lost 4 of 6 on their travels before the win over Aston Villa. With that in mind this feels like a game in which they can play their part, but the defensive problems are likely going to give Chelsea ample chances to still come away with a win.

Chelsea have not had the best recent home record against Southampton with 2 wins from their last 5 at Stamford Bridge against them. That might make some reconsider the very short odds on the home win, but I think Chelsea have been creating chances and should be very confident after winning so well at Tottenham Hotspur.

A home win in a game that features three or more goals looks the outcome of this one.

Crystal Palace v West Ham United Pick: Having had the weekend off I can make a reasonable case to back West Ham United to win at Selhurst Park, but I don't want to underestimate the home team.

Roy Hodgson's men are lacking goals and they are not defending as well as the run of clean sheets are suggesting. They have conceded in their last 2 Premier League games and Crystal Palace don't look capable of winning games if they do that, but West Ham United have been porous defensively which makes them hard to trust too.

I can see both teams coming in with belief, but it might be a tight game with all three results something you can make a case for. Again there look to be better options out there on Boxing Day through to the late Friday night game and I will look at those instead.

Everton v Burnley Pick: This is an important game for both Burnley and Everton who are coming off League fixtures in which they have earned clean sheets.

Managing the first of two games to be played in three days is challenging for every manager in the League, but it might be a bigger test for Carlo Ancelotti who will want to get a first hand experience of the squad he has inherited at Goodison Park.

The appointment of Ancelotti looks a real coup for Everton who are trying to break into the 'top six club' in the Premier League. A suggestion has been made that Ancelotti will be given serious funds to change the squad, but Everton might not be the most appealing destination for the big names so the Italian's Coaching skills will be tested here.

Everton have played well at home over the last twelve months, although they are in the midst of some poor form here. Scoring goals remains a big problem for the team, but they should have chances against a Burnley team who have not looked completely watertight at the back.

On the other hand Burnley have shown they have a style which can cause problems with two big strikers capable of causing havoc. They were not at their best at Bournemouth, but the weather conditions were pretty terrible and I think Burnley have shown enough in the final third in the last month to believe they can at least score here.

It makes this a hard game to read, but I do think Everton will have a bounce thanks to the excitement of having someone like Carlo Ancelotti taking over as manager. Before the goalless draw with Arsenal, Everton had scored three against Chelsea and two against Leicester City in games here and I think they will play their part in a surprisingly high-scoring game.

Backing at least three goals to be shared out is the selection.

Sheffield United v Watford Pick: The strong win over Manchester United will have just given the Watford squad an injection of confidence to take into the three games to be played across a seven day period.

However Watford can't expect to have things as comfortable as they were at Vicarage Road when they visit Sheffield United who have won 3 in a row in the Premier League.

Sheffield United have proven to be a very good Premier League team with a solid balance between attack and defence and they are now finding the end product to the chances being created. It is a different kind of test when you are expected to win games, and Sheffield United were beaten by Newcastle United in that spot recently, but the victory over Aston Villa suggests Chris Wilder has kept his squad's feet firmly planted on the ground.

As strong as the Watford performance and result was on Sunday, they are a team who will have had one less day to recover and have lost 3 away games in a row while conceding at least twice each time. Defensively there are some major injury concerns and Ben Foster is going to need to have a big game if Watford are able to earn a positive result.

Watford have also struggled for goals and I think there is enough there to back Sheffield United to win this game. It might be closer than some think because The Blades are unlikely to cut through teams constantly and especially not without the clinical finishing that others in the League can offer, but even then I believe the home team create enough to win this game.

They failed at odds on to beat Newcastle United, but I think Sheffield United make up for that on Boxing Day.

Manchester United v Newcastle United Pick: It really felt like Manchester United hit rock bottom on Sunday after losing to the club propping up the rest in the Premier League. At this stage of the rebuild Manchester United are going to have setbacks, but the limp performance until it was too late suggests a deeper issue and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is back under the gun.

The return of Paul Pogba was a positive, but Manchester United need to quickly bounce back ahead of two tough looking away games at Burnley and Arsenal. They host Newcastle United on Boxing Day and the 4 draws from the last 6 Premier League games at Old Trafford is just not good enough for a team that is better than the 8th place they occupy.

Games at home have at least seen Manchester United produce a few more chances in recent weeks and I do think they could be facing Newcastle United at the right time. At this stage of the season managers have to balance their squads with games coming very quickly and I would not be surprised if Steve Bruce will be keeping some players held back for a much more winnable home game against Everton which is played forty-eight hours after this one is concluded.

Bruce has said as much by hinting some players are not able to play twice in a short space of time and I think that could leave Newcastle United vulnerable. They are already weakened at the back with injuries taking a toll and losing Paul Dummett is another blow that should give Manchester United a chance to take advantage.

I expect changes in the home team too after a slow tempo was set by the starters on Sunday. Expect the likes of Andreas Pereira and possibly Brandon Williams being drafted in, while Mason Greenwood must deserve an opportunity.

The biggest key could be a return to starting action for Paul Pogba who made a big difference in the time he was on the pitch on Sunday. A player who is looking to pass the ball forward with quality has been missing and Pogba showed enough to believe two more days of training will be good enough for him to start as long as he has not had a negative reaction to the first football played since the end of September.

I think Pogba will help break down a Newcastle United team that will be looking to sit in deep and I would not be surprised if Bruce has targeted the two home games coming up as being more important than this one. It might offer Manchester United a rare opportunity to beat a club sitting below them in the Premier League table and I think the home team can be backed to cover the Asian Handicap considering the chances they have been creating and the addition of Pogba to the starting ine up.

Manchester United are not easy to back at the prices for obvious reasons, but I think they should have enough to beat a Newcastle United team who have lost 5 of their last 7 away from home.

Leicester City v Liverpool Pick: The final Premier League game to be played on Boxing Day is a big one as it is being competed by the current top two in the table, but some of the power of the match has to have been lost by the manner in which Leicester City were beaten by Manchester City on Saturday.

Just judging that one result you can't really criticise Brendan Rodgers and his players as many will have been outplayed by Manchester City.

But this has come at a time when Manchester City have looked vulnerable and Leicester City were trying to show they are genuine title contenders. Instead of showing that, The Foxes were beaten convincingly and are 10 points behind Liverpool having played a game more.

Anything less than a win would make it very difficult to believe Leicester City will be able to close that gap in the second half of the season. They have to knock Liverpool's confidence by beating them and hoping others can follow suit, but it won't be easy for Leicester City having been given the runaround by Manchester City just a few days ago.

Thankfully for them, Liverpool needed Extra Time to win the World Club Cup against Flamengo on Saturday and will be travelling back to England to prepare for this Premier League game. The League leaders are missing some defenders and Fabinho which may give Leicester City some encouragement, especially when you see chances the likes of Watford and Monterrey have created against Liverpool of late.

Controlling the front three is a difficult task though and games between Leicester City and Liverpool have been high-scoring ones in recent seasons. They already shared out three goals at Anfield this season which means 6 of the last 7 Premier League games between the clubs have resulted in that total mark being hit.

4 of the last 5 Premier League games between these clubs at the King Power Stadium have also seen three or more goals shared out and I would be surprised if both teams do not score here. The 1-1 won't be a bad result for Liverpool who will be happy to maintain the gap to Leicester City, but the home team pushing on could leave them open at the back and I will look for three or more goals to be shared out on Boxing Day.

Wolves v Manchester City Pick: It does feel like the Premier League title is going to be beyond Manchester City already as they face an eleven point deficit to leaders Liverpool who have a game in hand. Pep Guardiola is hoping the likes of Leicester City, Wolves and Sheffield United can step up when they face Liverpool, but his own Manchester City team face each of those opponents in the immediate game before they go on and face Liverpool.

Last Saturday Manchester City came from behind to beat Leicester City convincingly at the Etihad Stadium and they have some momentum behind them. There is no doubt that Manchester City are a team who could string ten or eleven League wins in a row and they are going to be a tough test for anyone they face.

There have been times Manchester City have not convinced at the back though and those vulnerabilities have been exposed by teams who can counter with pace. One of those was Wolves who won 0-2 at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season and I think the home team are going to pose plenty of questions for Manchester City on Friday evening.

Wolves have been in good form and they should have at least avoided a defeat when hosting Tottenham Hotspur in their last game here. There are still some questions about them from a defensive point of view though and I think this is a game that can see both teams having their chances to score.

That has been the outcome in 6 of the last 7 away Manchester City games played in all competitions while it has also happened in 4 of the last 5 home Wolves Premier League games. I would be surprised if Manchester City didn't score as they have been very productive in the final third all season and have Sergio Aguero back in contention, while Wolves have been creative in the final third and will exploit spaces that Manchester City leave behind.

It is an attractive price and I think backing both teams to score is the right play.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.72 Coral (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea & Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.86 Coral (2 Units)
Everton-Burnley Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Sheffield United @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Leicester City-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.66 Bet365 (2 Units)
Wolves-Manchester City Both Teams to Score @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)

December 2019/20: 12-10, + 1.40 Units (44 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
November 2019/209-16, - 12.66 Units (50 Units Staked, - 25.32% Yield)
October 2019/2016-14-2, + 6.14 Units (62 Units Staked, + 9.90% Yield)
September 2019/2013-9-1, + 8.82 Units (46 Units Staked, + 19.17% Yield)
August 2019/2014-17-2, - 8.78 Units (64 Units Staked, - 13.72% Yield)

Fantasy Football GameWeek 19
I don't know what has happened over the last month, but the slip from around 75K in the FPL game to down to 800K has been as frustrating as it could be.

It goes back to all of the early mistakes with my Captain and those points that have been left on the table, but I have also not had a lot of luck with the players picked. Twice in the last six weeks my Captain has had a goal ruled out by the nonsense VAR system used by the Premier League, while I seem to be on the wrong side of some form (Todd Cantwell, I hope you are well).

We have only reached the halfway mark of the season though and I am not going to worry too much about the slide knowing things could quickly change back in my favour. The decision to still manage without the top two Leicester City players has continued to hurt me, but I am not going to let this season go the way of the 2015/16 campaign and that was in my mind when making my Wild Card selections.

This week I won't be making any transfers as I had looked to put a squad together that could negotiate the GW18 and GW19 schedules. I am also going to stick with one Captain during this very busy festive period, although bringing in Harry Kane to do that job was not an effective one as I finished with the same amount of points as the average.

My GW19 Fantasy Team
Paulo Gazzaniga- the performance in GW18 summed up my last month... He doesn't just concede twice, but concedes the most ridiculous penalty you will see. Would have underlined the nonsense of the last month if he had been sent off, but a home game with Brighton is a chance to make amends.

Serge Aurier- might not be the best defender in the world, but a real outlet for Spurs in system used by Jose Mourinho and can get amongst the goals and assists.

Harry Maguire- am I biased because I support Manchester United? Maybe, but I do think United can keep a clean sheet on Boxing Day, although I might not bet on that.

John Lundstram- the FPL cult hero has a home game with Watford.

Jack Grealish- one of the rare successes of my Wild Card, Grealish scored again on Saturday and is a big threat for Aston Villa against a defensively weak Norwich City.

Christian Pulisic- did not play on Sunday in the win at Tottenham Hotspur, but I think his underlying stats have been good. Needs a goal, maybe a risky pick if he doesn't start, but I think the American is a good price for now.

Sadio Mane- coming back from Qatar, Liverpool look stronger favourites to win the Premier League title. Winning at the King Power Stadium won't be easy but Mane is a big threat for the League leaders.

Kevin De Bruyne- a cramp ended his game against Leicester City, but he should be good to go by Friday. The Belgian has been in great form for Manchester City.

Wesley- he hasn't scored in months in the Premier League, but Wesley is a stats play considering the chances that have come his way. The goal against Liverpool in the League Cup has to have boosted confidence, but he is a short-term option with games coming up for Aston Villa.

Marcus Rashford- the return of Paul Pogba should boost the Marcus Rashford chances for attacking returns. I think he has been in good form and there are some good fixtures ahead until United travel to Liverpool.

Harry Kane (C)- he has been back in more attacking positions under Mourinho than he was at the end of Mauricio Pochettino's era at Tottenham Hotspur. On penalties and with games against Brighton, Norwich City and Southampton to come I will back Harry Kane as my Captain for the entire festive period.

Bench- Micahel McGovern, James Ward-Prowse (away game at Chelsea, but I don't mind the Southampton midfielder as first sub as he has the set piece threat to surprise), Caglar Soyuncu (hard to expect a clean sheet against Liverpool, but I doubt Leicester City concede more than two goals), Federico Fernandez (there might be some changes to the Newcastle United starting eleven which weakens them for the trip to Old Trafford).

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