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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, 20 December 2019

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2019 (December 21-22)

Most Premier League clubs are set to play four games in the space of thirteen days which is a pivotal time of the season for the teams, while also being a source of frustration for the FPL managers.

The FPL game has been kicking my backside anyway of late and I have activated my Wild Card this week which I will write about at the bottom of this thread.

First we get to the nine Premier League games being played on Saturday and Sunday, the final games to be played this side of Christmas Day. We then have a loaded Boxing Day schedule for Thursday and another full round of Premier League games to come next weekend so this is going to be a busy time for players and fans.

I am unlikely to have a very long thread for the Boxing Day games, but may have one or two thoughts about the Fantasy Football GW20 fixtures which begin next Saturday.

And the last thing to say is Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating and hope you get to enjoy time with families over the next few days.

Everton v Arsenal Pick: The opening Premier League game of the weekend involves two clubs who will likely be managed by a caretaker for the last time.

Big Duncan Ferguson has really inspired Everton in the three games he has taken charge even though all have been against clubs currently in the top six of the Premier League table. The fact that Everton went unbeaten in normal time shows the players have bought into what Ferguson has wanted from them and he is likely to be kept on as a member of the new staff taking over the club.

Everything is pointing to Carlo Ancelotti being the new manager at Goodison Park and that is going to raise expectations of the fanbase. He is expected to have some funds to spend in the January transfer window and Everton can sign off under Big Dunc with a strong performance here.

They host an Arsenal team who were hoping replacing Unai Emery with Freddie Ljungberg would inspire an immediate bounce back like Manchester United experienced under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at this time last year. Instead the former player has struggled to deal with the negative vibe around the club and the 0-3 loss to Manchester City last Sunday has seen Arsenal double down on finding a replacement.

For all intents and purposes it looks like Mikel Arteta is going to be the new manager of the club and it is something ironic that he will be appointed just before a meeting between two clubs he represented as a player.

I am not sure whether Arteta is going to be the right man for Arsenal or not, but he has been learning under Pep Guardiola and that has to be an encouragement for the fans. It will take time to fix the glaring problems at the Emirates Stadium and this is not really the time of the season to get that done, so I am not sure Arsenal are going to suddenly start churning out big results.

This is already a difficult venue to play at and I think Everton can avoid a loss in this one. Backing them to do that in a game that features at least two goals is a decent enough price and I will look for Ferguson to beat out Ljungberg in the battle of the caretakers that are both going to be in more familiar roles by Monday if all the rumours are to be believed.

Aston Villa v Southampton Pick: I was quite impressed by what I heard from Dean Smith ahead of this Premier League fixture and I think it is important that his team look to take their chances with a good portion of their fixture list to negotiate over the festive period.

However it can be difficult to trust Aston Villa when you think of the defensive issues they have had all season and they are facing a dangerous Southampton team, despite what the League position may say.

Like Aston Villa, Southampton have looked better going forward than defensively and they are a team that creates chances. They could easily have won at Arsenal recently and led at Newcastle United so I would not rule out an upset here which makes it hard to pick a winner at the prices involved.

I mentioned last weekend that the layers might be getting on top of the fact that Southampton have been involved in a lot of games in which both teams have scored and at least three goals being shared out. Both markets were massively shortened last weekend and I skipped past the game, but those taking short prices were punished as Southampton went down to West Ham United without scoring.

This week my major lean is that both teams will score and there will be at least three goals shared out, but once again a short price means I will look at better options that are out there.

Bournemouth v Burnley Pick: Both Burnley and Bournemouth had lost at least 3 Premier League games in a row before their 1-0 victories over Newcastle United and Chelsea respectively last weekend.

Those wins will have given both clubs a huge boost ahead of the run of four games in thirteen days, while also arresting the slump towards the bottom three that both Bournemouth and Burnley were experiencing.

I think Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche will be targeting maximum points in this fixture and I do think it is a close one that is hard to call. With that in mind I was surprised to see Bournemouth as such a strong favourite to win the game considering they have won 1 of their last 5 at home against Burnley and lost the last 2 Premier League games to them at the Vitality Stadium.

Both League games were dominated by Burnley last season and I also think this is a team who are playing the better football of the two teams.

Bournemouth had a very good win over Chelsea last weekend, but I think that may have them overrated for this fixture. They were far from dominant and it would have been a different story if Chelsea had taken their chances, while Burnley have been a team who have been creating chances and been unlucky in a couple of recent defeats.

Injuries are hurting Bournemouth and the problems in defensive areas should be exposed by Burnley here. With Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes causing problems, I think Burnley look underrated and I will back the visitors with the start on the Asian Handicap to at least avoid a defeat.

Brighton v Sheffield United Pick: These two might not be the most fashionable clubs in England, but being managed by Graham Potter and Chris Wilder has made Brighton and Sheffield United both attractive to watch.

So far the better balance has been provided by Sheffield United who have largely defended very well but also created enough chances to win games. They are perhaps lacking a truly clinical striker that would love to get on the end of the build up play that Sheffield United have produced, but if Wilder can get that player in the January transfer window I have no doubt that they will finish in the top half of the table.

That would be a big achievement for Sheffield United who were considered a favourite for relegation.

Brighton were another highly tipped up for relegation after deciding to sack Chris Hughton and bring in a manager in Graham Potter who would change the tactics and playing style. Instead the side have prospered under Potter and they have been very good going forward, although the balance with the defensive side of the field has not been to the same level as what Sheffield United have been able to produce.

I do think Brighton will cause problems for Sheffield United and they have been a little more clinical than their visitors. However I would be surprised if Sheffield United did not create chances too having scored in 4 straight away games in the Premier League and Brighton having just 2 home clean sheets in all competitions.

The Seagulls have scored plenty of home goals though and Sheffield United have conceded in 4 away games in a row.

Backing both teams to hit the net looks a very appealing price with all things considered and that will be my play.

Newcastle United v Crystal Palace Pick: Injuries and mixed form makes this the hardest League game to call in the English top flight this weekend.

Flip a coin and I think you won't go far wrong whichever way the coin lands and it could come down a moment of magic or a mistake.

Wilfried Zaha is in fine form and could be the player to shine the brightest, but Newcastle United have been strong at home under Steve Bruce and I would not be surprised if they found a way to win this fixture.

Unsurprisingly I am skipping past this game and just looking to add the numbers from the game for future references.

Norwich City v Wolves Pick: Throughout this season there have been some big results produced by Norwich City and they had another upset last weekend when earning a draw at Leicester City. You can put that result alongside the win over Manchester City and the draw with Arsenal as unexpected ones for Norwich City, but Daniel Farke's men have struggled to back that up with another big performance next time out.

They will be looking to do that against Wolves this weekend in what is a very important fixture for Norwich City. They have got into a position where they are 3 points behind the two clubs immediately above them, but Aston Villa host Southampton this weekend so it is important for Norwich City to try and stay in touch.

It puts some pressure on a team that are conceding far too many goals.

Norwich City have conceded at least two goals in 7 straight home Premier League games and I don't think it is a big surprise to read they have lost 4 of their last 5 here.

Things won't be easier against Wolves who largely dominated Tottenham Hotspur last weekend and deserved much more than a 1-2 home defeat. That ends a run of 9 games unbeaten for the visitors, but they have not lost any of their last 4 away from home and Wolves should still be confident they have enough to secure a win here.

In recent away games Wolves have created chances and been finding a consistent avenue to goals, but they have not been defending as well as they would have liked. Those defensive issues will give Norwich City some opportunities here, but I am still not convinced The Canaries have enough to survive at this level.

Wolves do have two huge Premier League games to come in the next week against Manchester City and Liverpool, but I think the loss last weekend will focus them here. I have not really backed Wolves too many times this season as I feel they don't score enough goals, but they have been creating enough in recent games to believe they can edge out Norwich City.

The home team will have their moments too, but backing Wolves to win here is the call.

Manchester City v Leicester City Pick: The final Premier League game to be played on Saturday comes from the Etihad Stadium and both Manchester City and Leicester City will be looking to take advantage of Liverpool's World Club Cup commitments.

For Liverpool fans anything other than a Leicester City win would likely be seen as a positive as that would mean going into Christmas Day with at least a 9 point lead at the top of the Division and with a game in hand.

Neither Manchester City or Leicester City will be worrying about anything but themselves in this League game and I really think it could be a very good one to watch.

Pep Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers are managers who like their teams to get forward and score goals and I think they are going to mesh very well. Leicester City are very dangerous on the counter attack and they will have seen the success that Manchester United had here in the derby and look to follow that same kind of tactical plan.

With that in mind I do find it very difficult to see how Manchester City will keep a clean sheet- they have simply not been defending well enough to believe they can keep Leicester City out here and the tactics always leave them vulnerable at the back.

On the other hand very few teams have been able to keep Manchester City out and I think Guardiola's men will be looking to keep the recent momentum behind them. They have quality in the final third of the pitch that will be able to create chances against a Leicester City team that are far less watertight than their recent run of clean sheets might have suggested.

The game here last season ended 1-0 to Manchester City, but it came at the end of the season when tensions were very high. While this is an important game, it should also be one where both teams are able to play with a touch more freedom and before that result at the Etihad Stadium 7 of the previous 8 games between these clubs had ended with both teams scoring.

That includes the previous 3 at the Etihad Stadium between these clubs and I think that is the most likely outcome of this one too. Picking a winner is not easy with the belief that Leicester City are going to be very dangerous on the counter attack throughout this one, while Manchester City are a team who can blow anybody away when at their best.

Both teams are creating enough chances to think both teams will hit the net at least once and I will back that to be the outcome of the fixture.

Watford v Manchester United Pick: Both Watford and Manchester United may feel their performances warranted better results than they achieved last time out in the Premier League. The Hornets were beaten at Anfield despite creating some huge chances when the game was goalless and 1-0 to Liverpool, while Manchester United felt hard done by in the 1-1 home draw with Everton.

Games like this one have proven to be difficult for Manchester United all season and throughout the tenure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager. Some of that is down to the tactics of the manager who is heavily reliant on counter attack, spaces that teams lower down the League table simply don't offer up against the big clubs.

Manchester United did deservedly win at Norwich City, but over the last nine months they have failed to win at Huddersfield Town, Southampton, West Ham United, Newcastle United and Bournemouth and all of those clubs have been struggling in the bottom half of the Premier League table.

Watford are the latest club Manchester United will face in that situation and I do think Nigel Pearson's team will believe they can cause problems for their visitors. If they play anything like the level they did against Liverpool I do think Watford can create chances against a Manchester United defence that can't help but make one or two mistakes during games.

However I also can't ignore how poorly Watford have defended and injuries are hurting them at the back. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial both scored during the week and Manchester United have found goals against Watford in recent fixtures between these clubs.

My lean is that Manchester United will do enough to win here, but it is hard to back them considering the poor away record which has stretched a number of months now. Watford haven't won at Vicarage Road yet, but they have been creating chances and I am looking for at least three goals to be shared out in this one.

The last 7 times Watford have hosted Manchester United there have been at least three goals shared out on each occasion. Days before Christmas I think this could be an enjoyable game for the neutrals with both clubs likely to find the net in a competitive fixture.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea Pick: For the second time in December Jose Mourinho is going to be leading his new Tottenham Hotspur team into a fixture against a former club he has managed in England. While the Manchester United fans gave Mourinho a good reception, he can't really expect the same from the Chelsea fans travelling to North London who despite Tottenham Hotspur more than United.

Even in his time at Old Trafford the Chelsea fans were not too far away from giving Mourinho stick so I imagine he is prepared to hear some more from those fans this weekend.

All Jose Mourinho will be looking for is a big performance from his Tottenham Hotspur players that can inspire the home crowd to drown out the visitors and he will feel he can get one. They might not have been at their best last weekend, but Tottenham Hotspur won and they have also won 3 in a row at home under Mourinho while scoring three or more goals each time.

They will feel they can expose a Chelsea team who have not won any of their last 3 away games in all competitions and The Blues have conceded at least twice in each of those fixtures.

While Chelsea have still looked threatening going forward, a young team have just hit the wall of late with 4 losses in 7 games in all competitions. Young players will sometimes just lack the consistency teams are looking for and Frank Lampard has recognised Chelsea need to bring in some experience in the January transfer window to really push on.

Earlier in the season they were playing very well away from home, but Chelsea have lost back to back Premier League games on their travels. Chelsea have also struggled against the top teams in the Division with losses to Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City and draws at home with Leicester City and Sheffield United.

With that in mind I do think backing Tottenham Hotspur on the Asian Handicap is the right play here. I am still not convinced by the defending Spurs have produced, but they have been scoring enough goals to make up for that and I just think the experience factor is with the home team which can make the difference in games like this one.

Tottenham Hotspur don't have the best record against the top clubs they have faced, but the win over Wolves will give them a boost and I would be surprised if the home team were to lose this fixture.

MY PICKS: Everton Double Chance (Draw or Win) & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.65 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Burnley + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brighton-Sheffield United Both Teams to Score @ 1.86 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Wolves @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester City-Leicester City Both Teams to Score @ 1.61 Coral (2 Units)
Watford-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.72 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 18
I have had four of the most miserable weeks in the Fantasy Football game as I have had in a long time and coming in consecutive weeks it has seen my overall ranking dip badly.

You can't ignore the process, but all that has happened is I have decided to play my Wild Card a week earlier than I thought I would.

With three Liverpool players in the squad I have not had much luck with rotation considering the two defenders have been in and out of the starting team at a time when Liverpool have begun picking up the clean sheets I have expected all season. A tough set of fixtures are coming up for Liverpool and I think it is reasonable that both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are dropped for now, leaving Sadio Mane as the only Liverpool player I am going to have in the squad for the next couple of GameWeeks.

At the prices I think it was time to switch where the majority of the money is being spent on my squad while also making sure I felt much happier all around with the team in place.

I don't think I will be surprising anyone when I say I am likely going to be making changes to my squad right up until the time of the deadline on Saturday morning so I can't really place a squad down here. What I am going to do is identify some teams who I believe can provide good returns in the next couple of weeks when I will be using the transfers to just reshape things around the edges.

Tottenham Hotspur- games against Chelsea, Brighton, Norwich City and Southampton before FA Cup Third Round weekend looks a very good time to get behind Jose Mourinho's new team.

They have been scoring plenty of goals under the manager, but you have to be wary of some squad rotation at this time of the season. I think the goalkeeper, Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane are arguably the 'undroppables' that Mourinho loves identifying at clubs.

Manchester United- you can't argue against the fixtures, but Manchester United haven't always been at their best in games they should win.

Even then I do think goals are being scored and again this may be a team worth picking from, although more likely to be hit by some rotation. Jesse Lingard has had big December months before, maybe it is time for him to shine if he gets a run in the team like I think he may as long as Paul Pogba is missing.

Aston Villa- Southampton, Norwich City, Watford and Burnley and with Dean Smith suggesting he needs to take the hand-break off his team when it comes to fulfilling their attacking potential, I do think Aston Villa could have some strong returns.

Wesley snapped his run without a goal on Tuesday and it may spark something out of a player who has had some big opportunities in recent weeks but just lacked the confidence to make full use of them.

Crystal Palace- the fixtures look good, but Crystal Palace are not the most adventurous team which makes them hard to trust. If you are looking for a midfielder that could be in the middle of a nice streak it could be Wilfried Zaha who has been amongst the goals including last Monday evening.

West Ham United- they are not playing in GameWeek 18, but West Ham United have some very good looking games out of their mini break. The last three weeks have seen some better performances so maybe West Ham United are about to hit some positive form.

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