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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, 13 December 2019

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2019 (December 14-16)

The games keep coming thick and fast for those clubs in the English Leagues and it is another round of Premier League fixtures upon us this weekend.

These come at the end of the final Group fixtures in the Champions League and Europa League and fans of the English Premier League clubs will all be looking forward to where they may be heading in February when those competitions resume. Those ties will be drawn out on Monday so the focus this weekend will solely be on the Premier League at the start of a week in which the majority of teams will know will be their final chance to rest up wary legs ahead of the festive schedule.

The likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton, Aston Villa and Leicester City do have Cup commitments to come this week, but the other fourteen Premier League clubs will have a week to prepare for their next fixture following this one. We then have a thirteen day period in which FOUR full rounds of Premier League fixtures are going to be played including the traditional Boxing Day and New Year's Day commitments.

We do have a Winter Break this year... Except that is going to come in the second week of February and that means the festive time of the season is as busy as it ever is. Most managers won't appreciate the short time between games, and for fans it can also be stressful particularly those who make the effort to travel to fixtures.

Those sitting down in their warm homes to watch the games probably can't get enough with live fixtures throughout those thirteen days mentioned.

November was a pretty miserable month for the Football Picks, but December has opened much better and it was another winning week last time out. The Fantasy game did not go nearly as well for me as I continue to arrogantly overlook Leicester City much as I did four years ago, although I have at least been smart enough to ride them on their strong winning run as far as the Picks go.

My Fantasy thoughts were GW17 will be seen below as I consider the use of my first Wild Card of the season, but before that let's get on with the Picks from the games to come over this weekend.

Liverpool v Watford Pick: The first Premier League game of the weekend comes from Anfield and Liverpool are very firm favourites to extend their lead at the top of the table for a few hours at least.

A solid win at Salzburg in the Champions League during the week has helped Liverpool into the Last 16 draw in that competition and they continue having to face a busy fixture list during this festive month. Jurgen Klopp has rotated his squad efficiently, but there are plenty of days between the Salzburg, Watford and then the World Club Cup Semi Final to ensure he can pick the players he wants.

On recent showings it doesn’t really matter what kind of team is selected by Klopp as Liverpool have worked their past teams comfortably. Changed teams beat Everton 5-2 here and Bournemouth 0-3 at the Vitality Stadium and I think it is going to be a very difficult match for their visitors.

For the third time this season Watford players will have to listen to a new voice leading the dressing room. Nigel Pearson has surprisingly been given the task of picking the players up as they have found themselves 6 points from safety while occupying bottom place in the Premier League table.

The Hornets were a touch unfortunate not to beat Crystal Palace at home last weekend, but prior to that their three losses in a row had come in games they had been dominated. Better finishing from opponents would have seen heavier losses for Watford and Pearson is likely going to want his team to get back to basics and at least defend better than they have been.

However it is a big ask of them with injuries piling up and I think Watford might be in for another forgettable visit to this ground.

The last six visits have all ended in losses, but the last three have come by five goal margins each time as Watford have been outscored 16-1 in that time.

I can only see a relatively comfortable win for Liverpool who have had back to back clean sheets this week. Only two of Liverpool’s eight home wins have come by more than two goal margins which is needed to cover this Asian Handicap, but I think Liverpool will earn a push at the very least and recent history suggests they can blow this short of confidence Watford team away.

Burnley v Newcastle United Pick: These teams have slipped past one another in the last couple of weeks as Burnley’s form has plummeted at the same time Newcastle United have begun producing some big results.

It might have changed the feeling around the two clubs too, but I think you have to look a little deeper at the factors in play to determine what has been happening.

Newcastle United have earned 7 points from a possible 9, but to say they have been a touch fortunate might be an understatement. These two teams have both hosted Manchester City in the last couple of weeks and the underlying numbers were superior for Burnley compared with Newcastle United, but Burnley were beaten 1-4 and Newcastle United drew 2-2.

Even in the last couple of wins earned by The Magpies you could point out that they have been on the right side of the luck and I do think that is something that can’t be ignored.

Burnley have been very poor the last couple of games in terms of their defensive performances, but Sean Dyche has had a week to work with his players and I would expect them to be a lot better on Saturday. Aside from the Manchester City defeat, Burnley have actually played well at home and deserved more than what they got in their defeats to Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

Those teams mentioned are also stronger than Newcastle United in general and I can see Burnley bouncing back for a win this weekend. Being able to back them on the Asian Handicap which returns half the stake in the event of a draw is tough to pass up and I will look for the home team to return to winning ways on Saturday.

Chelsea v Bournemouth Pick: For the most part I do think Chelsea fans are going to accept their current position as a young team continues to lack the consistency that those fans have become accustomed to. However Frank Lampard will point out how well his team are doing considering they are in the top four in the Premier League and in the Last 16 of the Champions League.

Recent results might have been disappointing and Chelsea concede too many goals, but they have flourished going forward and the removal of the transfer ban could see them improve further in January.

In saying all that, Chelsea are a pretty hard team to get a strong read on. They do play some very good football, but they are not clinical in the final third and that has meant some tighter than expected games. Take Tuesday as an example as Chelsea hammered Lille for a large majority of the fixture, but conceded and had to hold on a little bit in the 2-1 win.

Every team will come to Stamford Bridge and think they do have a chance to score goals, but Bournemouth might be short of some firepower this weekend. Injuries have really hurt a team who have lost 5 Premier League games in a row and 5 of their last 6 away from home in all competitions and it was more of the same last weekend.

Both Nathan Ake and Callum Wilson are set to miss out and that really hurts Bournemouth on both sides of the field. It may make it more difficult to keep a Chelsea team at bay who have been creating a lot of chances, while the loss of a threat like Wilson should make things a touch easier for Chelsea to deal with too.

Bournemouth have won 2 of their 4 visits to Stamford Bridge in the Premier League and they have been largely competitive in games. However they needed two very late goals to claw back a 3-0 deficit to Tottenham Hotspur in their last visit to London a couple of weeks ago and I think Chelsea can win by a comfortable margin.

The Blues are hard to trust to do that considering the amount of goals they have been conceding, but I think they have the attacking threats to pull away for a solid win this weekend.

Leicester City v Norwich City Pick: In the last few weeks Leicester City have been easy winners for anyone reading my picks, but they have perhaps been found out now by the layers.

During that time we have been able to comfortably back Leicester City at - 0.25 and - 1.25 on the Asian Handicap in home games in the Premier League, while we also hit a couple of games where we could back Leicester City to win fixtures that feature at least two goals.

All of those markets have been comfortably dominated by Leicester City in their 9 game winning run, but the layers are now asking them to cover a much bigger handicap. Forget about backing Leicester City to win a game with two or more goals as that is very, very short too, but I do think Brendan Rodgers has his team playing with a lot of confidence at the moment.

It is hard to see Norwich City changing that, although Leicester City have to be focused. They do have a big League Cup Quarter Final coming up in the week before facing Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League, so it is easy for fans and players to take a fixture like this for granted, but I would expect Rodgers to have drilled professionalism into his team.

If that is the case, I do think Norwich City will have a very difficult day as they continue to allow teams to create too many chances against them. Daniel Farke wants his team to play in a particular way, but that has not really worked out as planned and Norwich City are a team who can be punished by one like Leicester City.

I am going to take some of the juice out of this price as it is hard to see Leicester City clearing the bigger Asian Handicap. While they can do it when at their best, Leicester City have only won 1 of their 8 home League games by more than a two goal margin.

However 4 of those games have ended with wins by exactly two goals and so backing The Foxes to cover the smaller Asian Handicap is reasonable enough at the price.

Sheffield United v Aston Villa Pick: These two teams were both promoted together last season and both should be happy with the way things have gone for them so far in the 2019/20 campaign.

The happier are going to be Sheffield United, but they needed to come from behind to beat Norwich City last weekend and snap a run of 4 games without a win in the Premier League. Last time out here they were beaten 0-2 by Newcastle United and that makes it very hard to look at the odds on quotes for a home win and be satisfied with the price.

On the other hand Aston Villa have also been in poor recent form, although they have been involved in a difficult part of their fixture list having faced all of the current top six in their last 7 Premier League games. It won't surprise that they have lost a fair few of those games, but Aston Villa were only narrowly seen off by Chelsea and earned a draw at Old Trafford in the last couple of weeks.

Those results have to be respected and I think Aston Villa play enough attacking football to cause problems for the hosts. Defensively they look very vulnerable though and I think it makes this a very difficult game to call.

Backing at least three goals to be shared out appeals and both League games between Sheffield United and Aston Villa produced at least five goals last season. Recent Sheffield United games have perhaps been a little harder to get a read on with the team capable of strong defence, but also showing they can create chances and score goals.

However Aston Villa games have largely featured plenty of goal-mouth activity and I think that will be the case when these teams meet for the first time as Premier League clubs since 2006/07.

Southampton v West Ham United Pick: In the last couple of months I have mentioned a few times that Southampton home games tend to be high-scoring and both teams scoring has been a regular occurrence.

For a long time the layers seemed to ignore this despite all the underlying stats suggesting it was not just a lucky trend, but one where teams were both creating chances and being challenged by Southampton regularly.

Now the layers are winning with very short prices on both the over 2.5 goals and both teams to score market. Some of that may also be down to the opponent as West Ham United have continued to concede far too many goals, but also score a fair few themselves.

Southampton have won back to back home games which has seen them placed at odds on to win this one, but that looks incredibly short to me. As good as they have been to win those games, you can't ignore one was against Watford and the other against Norwich City, while Southampton needed late goals to overturn the 0-1 deficit they faced against The Hornets.

They are facing another team who are struggling so Southampton are rightly expected to win this game, but I would want a better price than I am seeing. Even backing goals might not be ideal in this one considering how poor West Ham United have been away from home in recent games and the fact they have failed to score in 3 of their last 4 on their travels in the Premier League.

Games between these two teams have been high-scoring in recent times, but I think this one I can move past.

Manchester United v Everton PickAfter beating Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, facing AZ Alkmaar was a slightly flatter game for Manchester United and for the first half you could see that in the performance.

However Ole Gunnar Solskjaer clearly fired up the players and reminded them of their responsibilities and Manchester United went on to win the game 4-0 and top their Europa League Group. They can put that competition to the back of their mind for a couple of months, while Manchester United will be hoping they can keep the momentum going with a fourth win in a row.

They are back at Old Trafford for the second of three straight games here and Manchester United have begun to find a lot more goals in recent games. They have scored at least twice in 5 straight in all competitions here and unsurprisingly Manchester United have managed to win 4 of those games with the sole exception being a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.

Confidence is flowing through the squad at the moment and some of the key performers have been well rested on Thursday so they should be ready to go.

The same can be said of Everton though after being fired up by former player turned interim manager Duncan Ferguson who was beloved at the club. The fans will get behind Ferguson, someone I have admired for his play, and he was someone who loved scoring against Manchester United from his days on the field.

Duncan Ferguson will be hoping to take that former pedigree against Manchester United into his managerial career, but he is dealing with a few injuries in the Everton squad. It also doesn't help that the side are playing away from Goodison Park and Everton have been conceding far too many goals on their travels which makes it hard to see them earning a result here.

Manchester United have not have many clean sheets and I have no doubt that will encourage Everton, but I do think the defensive concerns override the ones at the other end. Injuries are not helping the cause for Everton and they have conceded at least two goals in 5 of their last 7 away Premier League games.

The recent record at Old Trafford does not make for great reading either for Everton and I think Manchester United can keep the positive vibe going through another weekend. A rested set of players can come out and secure the win and I will back Manchester United to do that in a game featuring two or more goals too.

Wolves v Tottenham Hotspur PickI was a little surprised to note that this is not a game that was selected for television coverage considering how much fun the two Premier League games played between Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur were in the 2018/19 campaign.

Both were won by the away team who needed three goals to secure the points and it could be more attacking football on display on Sunday.

The television companies surprised me, but so did the layers who have Tottenham Hotspur as favourites to win here. Jose Mourinho has made an immediate impact since taking over what was an underachieving team, but 3 of the 4 wins earned have been secured at home.

As they did under Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur have struggled on their travels and they have been beaten at Manchester United and Bayern Munich in their last couple away from home. The latter was a dead rubber, but Tottenham Hotspur continue to concede goals for fun and only in 1 of the 6 games under Mourinho have they allowed fewer than two goals.

Wolves have been strong and they have managed their European and domestic commitments better than most would have expected. Over the last sixteen months they have constantly shown they can give the top teams something to think about and I don't think they will be intimidated by Tottenham Hotspur, especially not when you consider they have won 3 of their last 4 here.

The home team have been creating chances and scoring goals and that gives them every chance of upsetting Tottenham Hotspur in this one. I can only imagine it will be a fixture that features goals considering the recent form of the two clubs, but I can see Wolves avoiding defeat and that makes me want to go for a 'same game multi' at Paddy Power.

Backing Wolves to avoid defeat and adding the fixture to be one that features two or more goals can be found at odds against at that layer. Considering the recent level of Tottenham Hotspur it is very difficult to imagine them failing to score, but they concede enough to give the home team confidence to maintain their unbeaten run here and that looks the selection for me.

Arsenal v Manchester City PickIf you are someone who enjoys watching high-scoring football matches I do think this could be the right match for you on Sunday afternoon when Arsenal host Manchester City.

Neither team has looked very comfortable at the back and teams are able to create chances against them, while both Arsenal and Manchester City have been productive in the final third when looking to attack.

Goals can quickly change games and I do feel the team to get their nose in front in this one will be difficult to pull back. I don't think either is playing with a lot of confidence, but both Arsenal and Manchester City have recovered from being a goal behind in matches this week and that may be the only encouragement for whichever team concedes first.

Arsenal are going to be playing in a difficult environment as the fans have been quick to get on the backs of players at the Emirates Stadium. I do think that is contributing to the poor run here and losing home matches to Eintracht Frankfurt and Brighton is not ideal preparation for a fixture like this one.

They have to deal with a Manchester City team who have arguably produced their two best away performances in wins over Burnley and Dinamo Zagreb this month. Playing away from home has given Manchester City the chance to exploit more gaps as their hosts have come onto them and I do think the defending Champions are still playing well enough to believe they can win here.

As I have mentioned, I would not be surprised if both teams score in this fixture and I am expecting goals. However my bigger feeling is that Manchester City are going to continue to be too good for an Arsenal team who have defended very, very poorly and I like the visitors to win here.

They have beaten Arsenal 5 times in a row and all of those wins have come by two or more goal margins including the last 2 at the Emirates Stadium. If Manchester City score first I can see them really hurting Arsenal with the spaces that are likely to be left behind by the home team and I will look for Pep Guardiola's to get back to winning ways in the Premier League in an Asian Handicap covering effort.

Crystal Palace v Brighton Pick: Monday Night Football might not look that appealing on first glance, but any derby game should bring plenty on intensity to the fore.

The M23 rivalry is a strange one as Crystal Palace and Brighton really aren’t that close in terms of distance. It developed in a different way to most rivalries, but that does not mean it is any less fierce and there should be plenty of passion on display in the stands.

The atmosphere will help, but the bigger factor here is the improving Brighton team who are learning more and more about the style Graham Potter wants them to use. There is no doubting that The Seagulls are a lot more pleasing on the eye than when under the guidance of Chris Hughton, but importantly it is a style that is producing positive results too.

Brighton’s win over Arsenal and the draw with Wolves shows what they can achieve, although it is also a style that has made Brighton a little less solid defensively. That is the balancing act Graham Potter is playing with, but it does mean Brighton games have featured more goals than previous seasons.

Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace can’t really say the same though as they continue to be a functional side that relies on one or two special moments to win games. At home it has been hard for them as teams won’t be as open to leave spaces for Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend to exploit, but Crystal Palace have been dragged into high-scoring games by Brighton in recent times.

In fact the last four times this derby has been played it has featured at least three goals scored. I can see both teams having their chances in this one with Brighton showing good threat in the final third without being as tough defensively.

A lack of creativity continues to hurt Crystal Palace, but I expect them to have one or two more chances than usual at Selhurst Park and backing at least three goals to be shared out at a big price is the selection for the last Premier League match of this round of fixtures.

MY PICKS: Liverpool - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.70 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.71 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.62 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sheffield United-Aston Villa Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Manchester United & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.15 Coral (2 Units)
Wolves/Draw Double Chance & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.07 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Brighton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December 2019/209-6, + 4.56 Units (30 Units Staked, + 15.20% 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 17
Just like Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park: The Lost World, my first reaction to seeing Jamie Vardy had scored yet again was 'hang on, this is going to be bad'.

And it was.

I had a terrible GameWeek 16 and one which has seen me fail to Qualify for the FPL Cup after a lowly 48 points for the week.

The last month has been pretty terrible to be honest and it has seen what was a very positive start lose a lot of momentum. The Vardy run has been a killer and it is more irritating that he has got away with some real luck in that time with a couple of penalties including a retaken one which produced a massive swing for those who had him in their squad and especially those who had Captained him.

Some may say it is my own arrogance that is doing me in, but I mentioned Vardy before the Southampton game and decided to go a different way when he was valued at less than 9 million. Now he is over 10 million and with the couple of big League games coming up I am going to take the pain of knowing he is facing a defensively inept Norwich City this weekend.

Another aspect which has hurt during this Leicester City run is the lack of returns from Youri Tielemans who was someone else I had considered removing from the squad. While the fixtures were decent I decided to leave him in, but have had little reward although he does have one more week to make up for it.

The Captain pick continues to let me down too an dI have left far too many points out there, although the frustration is expected to continue during the festive period when players are rotated in and out during a hectic time of the year.

Thank God for Anthony Martial and Danny Ings who at least helped me produce a semi-competitive score and I know am in a position where I believe I am going to be using my WildCard next weekend.

I can carry two transfers over and make enough changes to have a full eleven next week despite Liverpool and West Ham United not being in action, but my decision is leaning that way because I have gone big at the back with the League leaders (and typical they get a clean sheet on the one day when one of those defenders is rested having failed to have one in eleven previous games).

While both Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have produced returns, a difficult run is coming up for Liverpool and as I don't support them I am hoping it will be one where they can drop points. It will mean making changes at the back, but I feel those are best served if I can make big improvements in the midfield and attacking areas to make those transfers worthwhile.

The reality is I am not making a vast change to the process- the Wild Card was either going to be used for the Boxing Day fixtures or the GW18 coming up, so I am maintaining what I want to do with my squad.

With that in mind I should have a fuller FPL portion of this thread next week as I write down some of my decision making in reshaping the squad. This week I am going to use my one transfer to remove Fiyako Tomori from my squad, although it is not one that is going to affect the first eleven I am selecting.

48 points was a terrible score last week, I am expecting a lot better this time around.

My GW17 Team
David De Gea- Manchester United have found some form and I do think the underlying statistics suggest they will get back amongst the clean sheets sooner than later. The next three games might be that opportunity for the team.

Andrew Robertson- rotation is a concern for Liverpool, but this is the biggest game they play this week. A chance for a third clean sheet in a row.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: one more booking will mean a suspension for the right back and that would come against Leicester City on Boxing Day if he gets it here. It might mean the full back is rested to avoid that scenario which would not be a big surprise despite Liverpool defensive injuries.

Caglar Soyuncu- Leicester City host Norwich City who have struggled for goals away from home all season.

Sadio Mane (C)- was rested against Bournemouth, but Liverpool played last Tuesday and will be next out with the first team on Wednesday. It should mean Mane is starting against Watford who have conceded 16 goals in their last three visits to Anfield.

Raheem Sterling- people are jumping off the Raheem Sterling bandwagon at an alarming rate, but he should have an opportunity to punish them against Arsenal.

Anthony Martial (VC)- a goal in the Manchester derby should give Anthony Martial a lot of confidence. Got 60 more minutes in the Europa League to build sharpness and is the Manchester United Number 9.

Youri Tielemans- has not really provided an attacking return even if he remains a quality midfielder. One more chance to impress me from a stats view, I already know he is someone I would love in the Manchester United midfield.

Dele Alli- a tough game at Wolves this weekend, but Alli was rested during the week and is Jose Mourinho's 'main man' in the Number 10 position at Tottenham Hotspur.

Lys Mousset- was taken off early last Sunday, but Chris Wilder says that had nothing to do with an injury. Should get the start against a defensively suspect Aston Villa.

Danny Ings- I brought him in because of the Southampton fixture list and Danny Ings has not disappointed. You would think he will have one or two chances to keep his own goal streak going when facing West Ham United at home.

Bench- Michael McGovern, John Lundstram (I don't mind him as the first sub as a potential midfielder coming in to play against Aston Villa who concede a lot of goals), Serge Aurier (Now this is the transfer I am using this week even though I am keeping Aurier as my second sub- my thinking is that he has established himself as the right back of choice at Tottenham Hotspur and offers attacking returns, while I think he has the potential of improving in value. A game at Wolves and then home against Chelsea isn't easy, but Spurs have a good set of matches after that in which I will be using Aurier more often than not and only 300K more expensive than Tomori who has been banged up), Xande Silva

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