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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, 17 January 2020

Weekend Football Picks 2020 (January 18-19)

This is the first Football thread I am putting out there in 2020 as things have been a little hectic to start the New Year.

I even managed to miss one of the deadlines over the last three weeks which hurt seeing as I had already carried one Transfer over at the time, although it has not left me with a great setback. This week we have two Rounds of Premier League games to come and I think it is going to be a GameWeek in which I will hold my transfer and use two on Tuesday ahead of what is the first Double GameWeek of the season with both West Ham United and Liverpool playing twice over an eight day period. That makes up for a game that was postponed over the festive period and comes ahead of the Winter Break which is now only a couple of weeks from beginning as the Premier League schedule is split over two weekends.

It is not ideal for Fantasy players with the lack of team news ahead of the second half of those matches when the majority of the top teams are being scheduled to play. And those games are also just before the Champions League resumes so will need some negotiating to ensure the best elevens are picked.

That is for another week though and before that we have to get through this round of Premier League games. Below you can see my thoughts and how I feel the Premier League games will develop this weekend and then I will have a few thoughts about the latest Fantasy Week and update how my team has developed in the last two Rounds.

Watford v Tottenham Hotspur PickThe opening Premier League game of the weekend immediately leaps off the page as you can't really justify Tottenham Hotspur as the favourite to win at Vicarage Road.

First is the very poor away record of Tottenham Hotspur over the last year and coupled with the clear improvements Watford have made under Nigel Pearson I am surprised the odds for the home and away win aren't much closer. Add in the amount of goals Watford have been scoring and those that Tottenham Hotspur are conceding and it really makes it difficult to want to back the visitors at the prices.

Unlike Tottenham Hotspur, Watford did not play their FA Cup Third Round Replay during the week and that should also benefit a group of players who have to be excited about their upturn in form. The Hornets have won 3 Premier League games in a row at Vicarage Road and scored at least twice in each win which includes victories over Manchester United and Wolves who both sit above Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League table.

In the absence of Harry Kane Tottenham Hotspur have been struggling while key injuries in the middle of the park have contributed to their problems. They needed a very late goal to win at Wolves recently, but Tottenham Hotspur have lost at Southampton and drawn with Middlesbrough since then and I do like the way Watford have managed to hurt teams when they get forward.

Backing Watford on the Double Chance and coupling it with at least two goals being shared out on the day is an odds against shot and I do like that. I would not be surprised if there is at least three goals shared out at the end of this one, but Watford look under-rated considering how the two teams have been playing of late and it looks an appealing play.

Arsenal v Sheffield United PickThere is no way Mikel Arteta is going to want to put the Premier League down to the back of his priority list, at least not in January with so much football to come. However this competition is likely going to be used as a chance to build some consistency with Arsenal more interested in picking up some silverware and potentially returning to the Champions League by winning the Europa League.

The Gunners have lost 1 of their 6 games played under Arteta, although half of those have ended in draws with the side still adjusting at both ends of the field to the new manager and his requirements.

Losing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to suspension is a big blow for Arsenal who have created some chances, but not found the cutting edge in front of goal. The striker has scored half of the six goals managed under Mikel Arteta and his absence against a well organised and disciplined Sheffield United team will be hard to make up for.

Sheffield United have won back to back games to regain some of the lost momentum following consecutive defeats at Manchester City and Liverpool. Both victories did come at home, but Sheffield United have continued to play at a very good level even through those losses and they should cause Arsenal all sorts of problems in this one too.

Chris Wilder's team know exactly what the manager demands from them and that has seen a consistent level to their performances all season. A clinical striker is perhaps still missing, but Sheffield United do create enough chances to believe they can avoid defeat here.

Losing at Manchester City and Liverpool is no disgrace and Sheffield United did play very well in the loss at the Etihad Stadium. On another day they may have earned an upset there, but Arsenal are not Manchester City and missing a key striker makes them vulnerable here.

I am surprised that Arsenal are odds on favourites for this one and I will take Sheffield United with the start on the Asian Handicap.

Brighton v Aston Villa Pick: On first glance you have to say that Brighton look very, very short to beat Aston Villa and I do wonder how much of that is down to the collapse the visitors had in their home game against Manchester City last Sunday.

Injuries are also taking a toll on the Aston Villa squad, but some reinforcements have arrived and Brighton have not exactly been in stellar form themselves. In fact they have lost 4 of their last 6 games in all competitions and won just 1 of their last 6 games at the Amex Stadium.

Those are not impressive numbers, while Brighton have failed to score in back to back games. Scoring goals is not really a major problem for Aston Villa though and they have won at Burnley and drawn at Leicester City already in the 2020 calendar year which has to be respected.

It just feels like the kind of game in which Aston Villa will be able to bounce back and perform much better than they did last Sunday. One goal may be enough to avoid a defeat, although I can't really back the visitors with any conviction either.

A 1-1 scoreline would not surprise me at all between these clubs, but both have had some issues defensively which may see a mistake provide a winner.

Manchester City v Crystal Palace PickThe title race may be all but over with Liverpool 14 points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, but that doesn't mean Pep Guardiola is going to allow standards to slip. The 1-6 win at Aston Villa shows Manchester City can still be at their most devastating best and Guardiola has to be encouraged by the status of his squad with key players all returning ahead of the resumption of the Champions League.

Over the next four months the Cup competitions are going to be more important for Manchester City than the Premier League as the team are firmly in control of a return to the Champions League. They are good enough to still win games in this Division and we might not see wholesale changes made until we get in and around the Champions League fixtures and that should mean a strong Manchester City is selected for this game.

They are a team who create plenty of chances and Crystal Palace have been far from watertight since injuries have hit them hard at the back. Those injuries have shown little sign of clearing up of late and I think it will be difficult for Crystal Palace to contain Manchester City even though they have proven to be a difficult team to beat thanks to Roy Hodgson's tactical acumen giving them a solid shape to build from.

Expecting that to be enough at the Etihad Stadium seems like a long shot and Manchester City have been scoring a lot of goals in their 4 game winning run here. Defensively there are questions about Manchester City which can make it hard to trust them to cover an Asian Handicap like the one they are being asked to on Saturday, but Pep Guardiola and his players won't have forgotten the 2-3 upset suffered at the Etihad Stadium to this opponent last season.

I expect that to give the home team some motivation to keep pushing forward in this one and they should be able to produce another big win to follow the one secured at Villa Park.

Norwich City v Bournemouth Pick: This is effectively a 'must win' game for Norwich City as you would feel they are going to be cut off at the bottom of the Premier League without doing that. They are already eight points from safety and losing to 19th placed Bournemouth would be a blow from which I can't see Norwich City recovering.

Even a draw is not really good enough but the favourites look plenty short when you think Norwich City have not won any of their last nine Premier League games. In all honesty they were the worst team I've seen play at Old Trafford in a long time when losing 4-0 to Manchester United last weekend and it will take a mighty effort to do better this time around.

Teemu Pukki could be back which will be a help, but Norwich City look miserable at the back and you can't be confident in backing a team that concedes as many goals as they do.

On the other hand how could anyone outside of a Bournemouth die-hard fan believe they are going to get a result this weekend? The 0-3 home loss to Watford was not flattering to the visitors and Bournemouth look like a side with all of the hallmarks that are attached to those who end up being relegated.

Even Eddie Howe is beginning to question what he can do to turn things around and that is not a good look for Bournemouth who are trying to bring in new faces to freshen things up around the Vitality Stadium.

Again it makes this a very hard game to call with some much on the line for both clubs- a draw might suit Bournemouth a lot more than Norwich City, but I can see them getting at least a point here against a home team that has looked out of their depth in the Premier League all season.

Southampton v Wolves PickIt is one thing losing at Old Trafford, but there were definite signs for Wolves that a long season could be taking its toll on the players. Nuno Espirito Santo has largely selected from a very small group of players who were involved in their 38th game this season already when taking to the field at Manchester United in an unwanted FA Cup Third Round Replay.

The defeat might not be too bad for the long-term prospects of the squad as Wolves have now secured what is essentially a three week break during which time they will play once. That will give the squad a chance to just get some energy back in the legs and a boost to take into the final three months of the season when the Europa League and Premier League fixtures resume the Thursday-Sunday/Monday schedule.

However that break is still a few days away and it means Wolves could be vulnerable in their remaining two Premier League games before entering that long patch without fixtures.

First up is a trip to rested Southampton who are also one of the hottest teams in the Premier League with 5 wins from their last 6 in all competitions. They have also won 4 of their last 6 at St Mary's and I do like the level being produced by Southampton which makes them a worthy favourite in this one.

Even with that form in mind and with Wolves having a tough game at Old Trafford during the week, it is not entirely easy backing Southampton to win with a lot of confidence. The team have been creating chances and scoring goals, but Wolves can pick up their level at any given time and I do think they are dangerous enough to be respected here.

I'd be disappointed if Southampton were to lose this game though and backing them on the Double Chance and coupling it with at least two goals being scored looks the play. There have been two or more goals shared out in all 3 of their Premier League meetings since Wolves returned to the top flight eighteen months ago and even the 2 clean sheets Southampton have had in back to back games here doesn't have me believing in what has been a vulnerable defence all season.

Southampton do have goals in the side though and can expose any tired legs they find so the pick highlighted looks the best one for me.

West Ham United v Everton PickThis is an interesting game between two clubs who have employed new managers over the last few weeks as they bid to retain Premier League status. Both Everton and West Ham United were considered teams that could push towards the top six before a ball was kicked in the 2019/20 season, but only Everton look like they are close to reaching those ambitions.

Things have been much tougher for West Ham United as they have not been helped by a very long injury list throughout the season. It meant they gave Manuel Pellegrini a little more time to try and turn things around, but ultimately The Hammers remain too close to the bottom three for comfort and so turned to David Moyes.

A 4-0 win over Bournemouth in the first game played under Moyes will give the fans confidence he will be able to turn things around for them, but the injuries in the squad continue to hinder the chance of earning some consistency.

West Ham United have a poor home record against Everton in recent years and I do think the visitors are right to be favoured.

Everton have won 3 of their 5 games played under Carlo Ancelotti, but the amount of shots and chances being created can't be ignored either. They should have got more than the single goal scored in the victory over Brighton last weekend and Everton look like they will at least give it a go at the London Stadium having recently won 1-2 at Newcastle United.

It won't be an easy place to win as I expect West Ham United to be organised and looking to make things difficult throughout, but Everton should do enough to avoid defeat. Neither defence is the most secure and I think adding Everton on the Double Chance to a game featuring at least two goals shared out looks a good price here.

Newcastle United v Chelsea PickThe final Premier League game of Saturday afternoon comes from the North East as Newcastle United host Chelsea and bid to extend their winning run after the 4-1 win over Rochdale during the week. No doubt this is a much bigger test for the injury hit hosts who have been struggling for League form, but Newcastle United showed resiliency in somehow earning a 1-1 draw with Wolves last weekend.

They were able to ride their luck in that game as Newcastle United planned to sit deep and frustrate their hosts, but it could have been a different story with better finishing from Wolves. At St James' Park the onus is on Newcastle United to try and get forward to get the fans behind them and that may play into the hands of their visitors Chelsea who have been very good away from home throughout the 2019/20 season.

Chelsea have certainly made sure they have won the games they have been supposed to and this is a team who score and create plenty of chances. The 3-0 success over Burnley means 2020 has begun in exactly the fashion Frank Lampard would have wanted and last season Chelsea snapped what had been an awful recent history at Newcastle United.

That will give the players a bit more belief, but this is a young team that has been happy to take the game to whoever they have faced. Some of the bigger teams in England and Europe have been a bit too battle hardened for a young squad, but Chelsea's wins at Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal suggest they are getting things turned around.

Chelsea score plenty of away goals and Newcastle United have struggled to compete through the injuries they have been dealing with. They have lost their last 2 Premier League games here to Everton and Leicester City and Newcastle United have been someway second best in both of those home losses.

They will be encouraged by Chelsea's failure to win at Brighton, but it is still a big ask for Newcastle United and I think the West London club can earn what will be an important win away from Stamford Bridge. I do think backing Chelsea to win is the right play and adding it to a game that features less than five goals shared out is a good looking price here.

Burnley v Leicester City PickMost of the eyes of the neutrals will be on the second Premier League game to be played in the North West of England on Sunday, but this is an important fixture for Burnley and Leicester City who are looking for better consistency in the next few months.

Both are off disappointing defeats, but Burnley are struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table while Leicester City are still very much on course for a return to the Champions League.

Burnley have really hit the wall of late with 4 losses in a row in the Premier League and largely being outplayed in those games. They have struggled in the final third at both ends of the pitch, and that has put a lot of pressure on the players as they have begun to slip back towards the bottom three.

Leicester City are off the back of a couple of poor results themselves with a home draw with Aston Villa in the League Cup Semi Final First Leg followed by the home defeat to Southampton in the Premier League. However I do think this is a team who are suited to playing away from home with the spaces much more easy to identify as teams have to come onto them.

It is no surprise that Leicester City have won 7 of their last 9 away from home in all competitions and during a time when they have failed to win a couple of games in front of their own fans as a big favourite.

I think it will work well for them this weekend when they visit to Turf Moor especially as Burnley have not looked at all watertight of late. Leicester City have won on 5 of their last 7 visits to Turf Moor including a win over them here last season and I think they can edge to the victory here with the price just about appealing enough to take.

Brendan Rodgers will be looking for a reaction from his players after the loss to Southampton and I think they are playing well enough away from home to expose the low confidence Burnley team they face on Super Sunday.

Liverpool v Manchester United PickThese two clubs will always be the big two in England and this remains the fixture that most Manchester United fans will search for first.

Unfortunately it looks to be coming at a bad time for Manchester United with injuries taking away real options from the manager while they also had to play a FA Cup Third Round Replay during the week at the same time Liverpool were resting and preparing.

Marcus Rashford's status is going to be key- if he can play Manchester United do have some pace in the final third that could be effective, but the midfield looks short of quality and Liverpool are flying at the moment.

They might not be hammering teams in the manner Manchester City can do, but Liverpool are looking strong at the back with 5 clean sheets in a row and they will always score. 3 of their last 4 games have been won 1-0 and I can understand why Liverpool are such short favourites to win this fixture.

It is actually only a slightly shorter price than when Liverpool beat Manchester United here last season and I imagine there will be plenty behind the home team. I can't really blame the thinking considering where these two teams are at the moment, but I do think Manchester United will be able to play a part as long as Rashford is able to go like I believe he will be able to do.

Teams have created chances against Liverpool and it is a matter of having a bit more fortune which would have changed the narrative on the clean sheets being secured. Wolves had a goal controversially chalked off, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur had multiple glaring openings and Manchester United have played well against the big teams for the most part under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Manchester United have certainly been able to score goals in the vast majority of those big games even when they have been seen off and I think they can do that here at Anfield. I would be very surprised if United can keep a clean sheet though and backing both teams to score is my selection.

Liverpool needed two late goals to secure the win over Manchester United last season and they have won 4 of their last 10 at Anfield against their rivals from down the M62. Both teams have hit the net in 4 of the last 6 overall, although the majority of those fixtures have been at Old Trafford. However it happened here last season and I think Manchester United can produce a big effort to at least be competitive against the runaway League leaders.

MY PICKS: Watford Double Chance & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sheffield United + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Southampton Double Chance & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Everton Double Chance & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea & Under 4.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Liverpool-Manchester United Both Teams to Score @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)

December 2019/2016-14, - 0.58 Units (60 Units Staked, - 1% 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 23
I'm sure most of us have had a busy period of the year with the festive period meaning games were played thick and fast, while at the same time we all want to have some quality family time before heading back into the start of a New Year.

I had some things in place which made it impossible to put a couple of threads out over that time and so I had to just tweet out the kind of moves I was making in the Fantasy Football squad I have.

This week I am going with a transfer-free policy so I have two to use for the midweek set of games which will begin on Tuesday. The three transfers I have made since the Wild Card was used has seen me bring in Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Pablo Fornals and Roberto Firmino for Wesley, Christian Pulisic and Harry Kane respectively.

Those have freed up some funds, although both Calvert-Lewin and Fornals have come off the boil with the latter looking like he might not be involved in David Moyes' starting plans at West Ham United. This week could be different with some additional names showing up as injury concerns, but the main reason I brought in Fornals was for the upcoming DGW The Hammers are going to be playing.

The same thought process was in place when bringing in Firmino for the injured Harry Kane, although I do have room for one more Liverpool player that I am almost certainly going to be using during the week.

My GameWeek 23 Team
Paulo Gazzaniga- he is not long for my squad as Tottenham Hotspur continue to stumble through games without clean sheets.

Serge Aurier- squad problems means I have to go with two Spurs players at the back this weekend despite fancying Watford to pull off a potential upset. At least Serge Aurier has the potential for attacking returns.

John Lundstram- Sheffield United have proved to be a stubborn away side and visit an Arsenal team without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Caglar Soyuncu- the hot streak is over for Leicester City, but I think they have a real chance of earning a clean sheet at Burnley.

Sadio Mane- hate picking players facing Manchester United, but have no option here.

Kevin De Bruyne (C)- a home game with Crystal Palace should give Manchester City a chance to add another big win to the board.

Jack Grealish- not an easy away game at Brighton, but if Aston Villa are going to have success I imagine Jack Grealish will be at the heart of it.

James Ward-Prowse- at the heart of any set pieces and Southampton facing a Wolves team that looked a little heavy legged on Wednesday.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin- Everton have been firing lots of shots and creating plenty of chances under Carlo Ancelotti. No reason that doesn't continue at West Ham United.

Marcus Rashford- a major doubt, which is a real body blow for Manchester United. Still could be passed fit so keeping him in the starting line up knowing a substitute will come in.

Roberto Firmino- had to sign him up earlier than planned with the Harry Kane injury, and again hate to start someone facing Manchester United.

Bench- Michael McGovern, Pablo Fornals (happy to have him first off the bench if Rashford can't go), Federico Fernandez (clean sheet unlikely against Chelsea this weekend), Harry Maguire (clean sheet unlikely at Anfield).

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