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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, 31 January 2020

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 1-2)

The January Transfer Window is still open at the time of writing and some late deals could really be the reasons why some clubs have a very successful end to the 2019/20 season, while others perhaps look back with some regret.

The Premier League title race looks over, while three of the four Champions League places are almost certainly going with the current top three, but the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolves, Tottenham Hotspur and even Sheffield United will believe the final spot in the biggest Cup competition in European Football is up for grabs.

At the bottom Norwich City might already be preparing for a step back into the Championship, but 2 points separate 15th to 19th and spending some money now could be the reason clubs are still earning the profits of being in the top flight and others are not.

Transfer deadline day is also a bit of the pain in the backside for Fantasy Players as systems are tweaked and previously set starting players are now facing more competition for places, but I will get onto that at the bottom of the thread when looking at the Fantasy Football decisions being made for GW25.

Before that I will put down my thoughts for the Premier League games to be played this weekend. Ten days ago things couldn't have really gone much worse when Everton conceded twice deep into injury time to blow one pick, while Chelsea couldn't finish off ten man Arsenal to blow another.

Hopefully the end of a miserable and seemingly endless January can also turn the momentum for the Picks too.

Leicester City v Chelsea PickThe opening fixture from the Premier League this weekend comes from the King Power Stadium and both Leicester City and Chelsea will be having at least thirteen days off after this one in the first Winter Break placed in the top flight calendar in England.

The two teams are both chasing Champions League spots and you would have to say that Leicester City are almost assured of a top four finish if they can win this game. Brendan Rodgers' has seen his team move 14 points clear of 5th placed Manchester United and they are 8 points clear of Chelsea going into this weekend.

Leicester City were beaten in the League Cup Semi Final Second Leg during the week to miss out on a place at Wembley Stadium, and Rodgers is going to have to work on picking his players up. They have not been in consistent form since the turn of the calendar year, but Leicester City have perhaps been a touch unfortunate in matches to prevent them having a stronger run going into this fixture.

At least they are facing a Chelsea team who have also struggled for consistency of late and who have not signed the kind of reinforcements that were expected to arrive when their transfer ban was lifted. Things might have changed by the time you read this, but at the time of writing it looks like Frank Lampard will have to go with what he has.

His team do create chances, but they have lacked composure in the final third and Tammy Abraham's potential absence is a blow. However I do have to respect the fact that Chelsea have been successful creating chances especially as Leicester City have looked far from watertight at the back in recent matches and I would not be surprised if both teams scored.

The Foxes have a poor home record against Chelsea in recent years, but they will be happy with Frank Lampard's style of play that will leave his team susceptible to the counter attack. Jamie Vardy is likely going to be healthy enough to start and I think that will help Leicester City who I fancy will edge this match.

However the better option may be backing at least three goals to be shared out with the opportunities Leicester City are allowing at the back and that is going to be my play.

Bournemouth v Aston Villa Pick: 18th place hosts 16th place in the Premier League this weekend and make no mistake about it- this is a monster game for both Bournemouth and Aston Villa.

Ten days ago Aston Villa scored a late, late winner to beat Watford and move out of the bottom three while they also have a League Cup Final to look forward to. This should give them momentum and they will head to the south coast knowing Bournemouth have been struggling at both ends of the field.

However Bournemouth did beat Brighton 3-1 here in their last Premier League game and exiting the FA Cup on Monday night won't be a massive concern for Eddie Howe. Injuries have piled up throughout the season and Howe is hoping for a bit more luck on that front, although the lack of goals is beginning to be a real concern despite the comfortable win over Brighton.

They were a touch fortunate as the away side had some huge chances themselves and perhaps deserved more than they go, while you have to wonder if Howe has taken Bournemouth as far as he can anyway.

Picking a winner isn't easy as Aston Villa have struggled on their travels for much of the season and also look like a team who are defensively vulnerable. Aston Villa do have the best player on the pitch in Jack Grealish, and the momentum from the League Cup win over Leicester City, but I am not convinced.

A 1-1 draw might not do either team many favours, but I can see tension filling the ground and it might just mean a mistake either way settling things.

Crystal Palace v Sheffield United Pick: Two clubs who were considered amongst the pre-season favourites for relegation meet on Saturday with fans dreaming of a potential place in European Football for next season.

Sheffield United are also progressing nicely in the FA Cup and have a Fifth Round tie against a mid-table Championship club to come once Reading and Cardiff City complete their Replay. The signing of Sander Berge has shown the kind of ambitions this club have and they have long been tough to beat away from Bramall Lane.

At the same time Crystal Palace have had ten days to prepare for this game and look to be in healthier shape with some key players returning to the squad. They are well organised under Roy Hodgson, although a lack of goals does leave Crystal Palace vulnerable at times.

Again, picking a winner looks a very tough prospect and again I would not be surprised if the teams cancel one another out and with an error perhaps leading to one pulling out the win. My feeling is that this could be another draw, but I am largely guessing with all three results equally likely to come off.

I am surprised Sheffield United are the favourites away from home, but there is nothing screaming value in backing Crystal Palace either.

Liverpool v Southampton PickIt is going to be a party atmosphere for Liverpool fans over the next couple of months as the team is almost guaranteed to pick up their first Premier League title and first English title since 1990. Another win during the week has pushed Liverpool forward and it will take a miracle for them to blow a 19 point lead with just 14 Premier League games to play before the end of the season.

The key for Liverpool now will be to wrap up the title as soon as possible and then turn full attention to the defence of the Champions League. They may even still be in with a chance of winning The Treble, which would be a remarkable achievement that only one club has managed before in England, but Jurgen Klopp won't be allowing his players to think too far ahead.

So far he has managed that very effectively and the players should be focused on making it a thirteenth straight win at Anfield in the Premier League this season.

However you can't draw a line through a Southampton side who have lost 1 of their last 9 games in all competitions and who have won 4 away Premier League games in a row. Ralph Hasenhuttl deserves a lot of credit for sticking by his principles and former Liverpool striker Danny Ings has been vital to Southampton who will head to Anfield looking to make a game of things.

The last couple of visits have been difficult for Southampton who were 3-0 down by half time last season, but it is the first time Hasenhuttl will have taken The Saints to this ground. His system has seen Southampton challenge plenty of teams and they have recorded wins at current top four teams Chelsea and Leicester City, while Southampton led at Manchester City before conceding two late goals in a 2-2-1 defeat there.

Liverpool do have a strong run of clean sheets behind them, but teams are not being blunted- better finishing from Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United in matches against Liverpool last month would have threatened the clean sheets earned in those matches.

At points this season Southampton have been guilty of being wasteful in the final third, but they will give this fixture a go and I think they can help produce a high-scoring game. It is hard to see Liverpool dropping points at the moment though and I will expect Liverpool to win a game featuring three or more goals shared out.

Newcastle United v Norwich City PickInjuries have been a real problem for Newcastle United and Steve Bruce, but the Winter Break will give the entire squad the chance to rest ailing bodies.

A strong run of form has helped Newcastle United just maintain a gap to the bottom three in the Premier League and has also meant the manager has picked strong teams for the FA Cup games played, but ultimately everything for this club is based around avoiding the drop.

That makes this fixture a big one for The Magpies as they can put Norwich City back in a very difficult position while moving clearer of those teams fighting to avoid the drop. In the main Newcastle United have been very good at St James' Park, but they can't overlook Norwich City who look to be healthier going into the weekend.

Daniel Farke's men are coming off an impressive win at Burnley in the FA Cup, but Norwich City have lost 4 of 5 away Premier League games including the last 3 in a row. They might be getting healthier, but Norwich City concede too many goals at away from home and they are short of confidence in those games.

Newcastle United have won 6 in a row at home against Norwich City and being at home should give them the edge in the contest. The goalless draw with Oxford United last week in the FA Cup was a poor result, but Steve Bruce will be looking for a couple of big efforts from his players and can inspire them to a success on Saturday.

Backing the home team on the Asian Handicap looks the best way to approach this fixture.

Watford v Everton PickTwo teams who are still in the 'honeymoon' period that comes with the appointment of new managers are meeting at Vicarage Road and I do think this is a very difficult game to call.

Both Watford and Everton have had some extra time to prepare for this fixture as both teams were beaten in the FA Cup Third Round. That competition likely meant more to Everton than it did to Watford, but both teams now will be focusing on the Premier League for the remainder of the 2019/20 season.

This fixture is more important to Watford than Everton in the overall scheme of things, and the home team are much improved under Nigel Pearson. They have been creating plenty of chances and scoring plenty of goals and I do think Watford can give Everton a lot of problems this Saturday.

At the same time Everton have to be respected considering the amount of shots they are generating under Carlo Ancelotti. They would be coming in with a lot of confidence if they had not remarkably blown a 2-0 home lead against Newcastle United last time out when they conceded twice in the final sixty seconds of the game.

Everton have still not been at their best away from home, but they created chances at West Ham United and Liverpool last month and this is a team who look to have key players returning to the squad for this fixture.

Games between these clubs have tended to be low-scoring at Vicarage Road in recent seasons, but the defensive vulnerabilities coupled with the attacking threat the two teams are producing might change that narrative. Neither team can convincingly suggest they are ready for a clean sheet, while both are comfortable going forward and creating chances.

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

West Ham United v Brighton PickThis is a huge game at the bottom of the Premier League table as both West Ham United and Brighton are firmly involved in the relegation battle that is developing.

Norwich City might find it very difficult to get back into contention, but just 2 points separate Brighton in 15th place and Watford in 19th place and West Ham United are sitting right in the middle of that mini-section of the table.

The fixture list looks very intimidating for West Ham United over the next two months and that only increases the pressure on them to get a result this weekend. They didn't play badly in the 0-2 home loss to Liverpool, but West Ham United have continued to look vulnerable at the back and that is hard to ignore.

David Moyes will be working on making them stronger defensively, but things are made all the more difficult in trying to earn results when key attacking players are missing. Even then they are creating chances and I would expect West Ham United to have some joy against a Brighton team who are missing two key defensive players and who have conceded at least once in 9 straight away games in the Premier League.

The management style of Graham Potter has given Brighton some impetus going the other way though and they should be able to expose the issues West Ham United have continued to have at the back. The Hammers have a single clean sheet in 10 home games in all competitions and I do think we are going to see goals in this match where a draw doesn't really do anything for either team.

Brighton would likely be the more likely to accept a point if it gets down to it, but West Ham United have to take chances and I will look for at least three goals to be shared out on what could be a wet day in East London.

Manchester United v Wolves PickThere will be some encouragement at Old Trafford thanks to the 0-1 win at Manchester City on Wednesday and the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese international is likely to go straight into the starting line up as Manchester City look to get back to winning ways in the Premier League where they were beaten by Liverpool and Burnley in their last couple of League games last month.

Things are going to be far from easy against a Wolves team who have been a stubborn opponent and who can create chances in the final third. They might not have scored in their last couple of games against Manchester United, but Wolves did have their chances and I think they benefit from having ten days to prepare for this game while Manchester United had away Cup ties to deal with.

It might be a factor in the outcome of this one and both teams had scored in 4 meetings between these clubs before the two FA Cup ties played last month. Manchester United have been creating chances at home and Wolves are a team who will offer one or two gilt-edged opportunities for opponents.

On the other side Manchester United have defended well enough, but they can't seem to avoid a mistake or two at the back which has proven to be costly. Burnley took limited opportunities to win here in the last Premier League game at Old Trafford and only three of the twelve League visitors to this ground have failed to score.

Wolves should be able to cause problems as they have every time they have played Manchester United and having the additional preparation time makes them dangerous. A 1-1 draw would not be a massive surprise, but I do think we could even see more goals than that, even though only a third of the last 6 games between the clubs have seen three or more goals shared out.

However I do think the better play is backing both teams to score when you think a couple of the last 6 between these clubs have ended 1-1. It's a decent enough price in a game which may not be as low-scoring as the layers believe.

Burnley v Arsenal PickIt is clear that Mikel Arteta is having an impact as Arsenal manager having recently taken over from Unai Emery and his players have largely responded as he would have liked.

The next several months will be used for analysing those who can be part of the future with the club and those that need to be moved on and it is not going to be an easy task for Arteta. Things will be much tougher to improve if Arsenal are not playing in European competition and that has to be the target for the manager along with having strong Cup runs in the FA Cup and Europa League.

Arsenal will head to Burnley with an 8 game unbeaten record to protect away from home, although they are facing a team who had back to back wins over two clubs currently inside the top five of the Premier League table. Granted Burnley were beaten in the FA Cup since the wins over Leicester City and Manchester United, but confidence won't be in short supply and Burnley simply have not dealt with draws in recent weeks.

They have won 8 and lost 11 of their last 19 games in all competitions, but Burnley will believe they can hurt an Arsenal team that still looks vulnerable at the back. Pablo Mari could make his debut here, but it will be an eye-opening experience at Turf Moor and facing the long balls and Chris Wood.

It is hard to believe Arsenal can earn a clean sheet with their vulnerabilities at the back and the set piece delivery that Burnley thrive upon. However they do have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back in the squad and Arsenal will be encouraged by the amount of chances that Leicester City and Manchester United created against Burnley in those losses.

Sean Dyche does get the best out of his squad, but Burnley have to ride their luck at times and I do think we are going to see goals in the first of two live games to come on Sunday. The last 4 between these clubs have all produced three or more goals shared out including earlier this season at the Emirates Stadium and at Turf Moor last season.

Both teams scoring would be the least I would expect from this fixture and Burnley's run of 19 games without a draw means I will also be looking for one of the teams to find a way to win the game and secure at least three goals shared out on the day.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City PickJose Mourinho versus Pep Guardiola is always going to lead to some headlines, but both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City have been underachieving in the Premier League this season.

You have to think both managers are looking to rebuild somewhat in the summer, but both will also believe their current squads are good enough to challenge for silverware in the next four months. Tottenham Hotspur are alive in both the FA Cup and Champions League as they look to maintain their League form to challenge for a top four berth, while Manchester City are looking to defend the two domestic Cups they won last season and improve on Quarter Final exits in the Champions League.

The Premier League is thus likely to be more important for Tottenham Hotspur than Manchester City in the next couple of months. Manchester City are in a very strong position for a top four finish, but Pep Guardiola does not want his players to drop their intensity as they bid to take some momentum into the big Champions League games coming up.

No one will dispute that Manchester City are not as strong as they have been in the last couple of years, but they are still a team that creates a lot more chances than they allow. Jose Mourinho is likely going to want his Tottenham Hotspur team to frustrate their visitors and so the pattern of the game is not too difficult to predict.

However Tottenham Hotspur have not really looked like they defend well enough to contain Manchester City and their best chances are going to be to try and get after what has been a vulnerable defence all season. Aymeric Laporte is likely to miss out which makes them even more vulnerable at the back, but Jose Mourinho doesn't always want to take the risks that are needed and I can only see Manchester City bouncing back here.

They seem to be more at ease playing away from home and I think Manchester City will earn some revenge for some controversial VAR decisions which have cost them in a couple of games against Tottenham Hotspur over the last ten months. Manchester City will need to show better finishing than they did at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, but they are more than capable and I think Manchester City will dictate the play and win by a comfortable margin against a defensively vulnerable Tottenham Hotspur team.

MY PICKS: Leicester City-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool & Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Coral (2 Units)
Newcastle United - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Watford-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
West Ham United-Brighton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United-Wolves Both Teams to Score @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Burnley-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.93 Bet365 (2 Units)

January 2019/205-12, - 14.66 Units (34 Units Staked, - 43.12% Yield)
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 25
The January Transfer Window officially closes a little over twelve hours before the GW25 deadline of the FPL game, but this is the time of the season when you have to almost re-evaluate some teams.

Manager changes, system tweaks and new signings can all make what had been nailed on starters suddenly look vulnerable for playing time. John Lundstram, a Fantasy Football Cult Hero in the 2019/20 season is facing new competition in his midfield spot and has already been losing some playing time and is definitely a member of my squad that looks like he will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

It helps that Sheffield United are one of four teams that are going to be facing a 'Blank' week in GW28 so expect him to be moved before that week. I do like the Sheffield United fixtures though so I am intrigued by whether there are options from their squad that can be signed up, although that Blank is an issue.

Other teams soon to be sitting out are Aston Villa, Arsenal and Manchester City and I think Jack Grealish may only have a couple of weeks left in my squad until the make up game is announced.

These are things we have to begin thinking about, while the looming GW31 is the one that most should be focusing on. At the moment eight of the ten Premier League games scheduled for that week are going to be postponed for FA Cup Quarter Final action, although those issues will be cleared up early next month when the Fifth Round is completed between March 2nd and 4th.

You can make some predictions though after the draw and I would be surprised if the following games are played:

  • Chelsea vs Manchester City (the latter travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the Fifth Round)
  • Manchester United v Sheffield United (both facing lower League clubs in the Fifth Round and one of these clubs is surely going to win)
  • Leicester v Brighton (The Foxes host a lower League team in Fifth Round)
  • Southampton v Arsenal (the visitors travel to Portsmouth in the next Round, while Southampton will face Norwich City at home if they can win the Replay at Tottenham Hotspur next week).
There is still the potential for as many as all eight of the fixtures of that GameWeek to be postponed and I do think that is going to be a key in determining how I am going to be playing the four Chips we have (assuming the Triple Captain was not used in GW24 like some did).

I will have more thoughts on that once the FA Cup Fourth Round Replays and the FA Cup Fifth Round is in the books, but I do think we should begin to prepare for that GW in case you want to use the FH at a different time. If those games are postponed as could be the case, that will be when I use my Free Hit Chip and I will use my second Wild Card to manage the squad for the DGWs once they are confirmed in the March International Break.

My GW25 Team
The only positive from GW24 was the fact that I held onto my Triple Captain after my actual Captain Sadio Mane played less than a half in the Double GameWeek Liverpool enjoyed.

His injury has made my transfer ahead of GW25 an easy one as I replaced him with the in-form Mohamed Salah. I am likely going to be using a transfer a week through this month to just shape my squad with some players already on my list to be removed.

For GameWeek 25 my team is as follows.

Alisson- home game against Southampton.

Harry Maguire- I am not sure Manchester United will get a clean sheet in their home game with Wolves, but they did in both fixtures against them last month.

Federico Fernandez- home game against Norwich City who are one of the weakest away teams in the Premier League.

Caglar Soyuncu- no doubt that Leicester City have come off the boil, but he looks the best option for me in a three at the back system.

Mohamed Salah (C)- home game with Southampton should see Liverpool create chances.

Kevin De Bruyne- always capable of an assist or a goal.

Jack Grealish- Bournemouth have looked very weak at the back and Jack Grealish is at the heart of almost everything positive that Aston Villa produce.

Pablo Fornals- seems to be out of favour under David Moyes, but a home game against Brighton and attacking options are lacking at West Ham United.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin- away game at Watford looks tough, but the English striker has been thriving under Carlo Ancelotti.

Troy Deeney- has been in fine form and he should have one or two chances against this Everton team.

Roberto Firmino- hasn't scored a League goal at Anfield in a long time, but fixtures look kind for Liverpool over next couple of months.

Bench- Michael McGovern, John Lundstram (is he now out of favour at Sheffield United?), James Ward-Prowse (tough away game at Anfield), Serge Aurier (Tottenham Hotspur struggle for clean sheets and now host Man City).

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