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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, 7 February 2020

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 clubs would have hoped.

Teething problems for a new part of the calendar are not that surprising, but you have to think the FA would have realised that placing FA Cup Fourth Round Replays during what should have been the time off was going to be problematic. Some are calling for Replays to be scrapped all together, but I am not sure that is going to be passed by lower League clubs who know the kind of impact this competition gives them from a financial point of view, especially when lucky enough to pair up with a big name.

The Fifth Round Replays are already gone so it wouldn't be a big surprise if further changes are made to the famous old Cup, but something is going to have to be done which could include starting the Premier League one week earlier than normal, or making changes to the League Cup Semi Final and removing the two Legs.

Things could become more problematic in the years ahead if UEFA make changes to their Champions League format as has been long rumoured, while the addition of a third European competition won't be easing what is a congested English calendar already. The potential of the Premier League being cut from 20 to 18 teams can't be ignored either, even though many clubs will rail against that too, and it looks to be some decisions that need to be made.

The Winter Break is here for now in a format where eight of the Premier League clubs will play this weekend and the remaining twelve will play next weekend. It will satisfy the television companies who can broadcast every game, while the majority of teams involved will get their full rest that was promised to them in April 2019.

I will add the remaining Picks from this round of games to this thread next week, but the Fantasy Football deadline is Saturday 8th February which covers two weekends. More on that after the Football Picks are placed below.

Everton v Crystal Palace PickThe Premier League is going on a Winter Break, but unlike other European Leagues which do the same it means the ten fixtures scheduled in this week will be split over two weeks.

This weekend we have four League games beginning with this one from Goodison Park and both Everton and Crystal Palace will be looking for some key points to get closer to fulfilling their ambitions for the season.

Everton have been in fine form under Carlo Ancelotti and key figures were back last weekend which helped them overcome Watford at Vicarage Road. They have been creating chances galore under the Italian manager and the team would have been flying up the League standings if they had not blown a 2-0 lead over Newcastle United last time out here.

Frustratingly for the home fans and Everton backers they conceded twice within 60 seconds deep into injury time in that game so Crystal Palace will note there are some vulnerabilities which can be exploited. And despite the back to back home League losses, Crystal Palace have remained a stubborn and hard to beat team when they go out on their travels.

Roy Hodgson would likely accept a point from this game, but Everton might have a bit too much in the final third. The improving injury crisis at Crystal Palace makes them more dangerous, but the side have not defended as well as they would have liked and they struggle for goals.

Everton have won their last couple at Goodison Park against Crystal Palace, and I think they can be backed to win this one in a game that features two or more goals shared out.

Brighton v Watford PickIt might be too early to describe this a 'relegation six pointer', but there is no doubting the importance of this Premier League fixture between Brighton and Watford.

Just 3 points separate Brighton in 15th place and Watford in 19th place so there is no doubt the outcome of the fixture is going to have a big impact in how these teams will go into the remainder of the season.

A Brighton win will certainly make them feel they are well on the way to safety, but a Watford victory drags a number of clubs back towards the relegation fight so there will be plenty of eyes on this one.

Brighton have been playing well, but they have looked very poor defensively which has been exploited by clubs. Conceding three times to both Bournemouth and West Ham United underlines the point, although both were played away from the Amex Stadium.

The one theme that continues to be displayed is that Brighton are likely to concede goals, but they create enough chances to hurt teams too.

This weekend they host a Watford team who might be regretting recent dropped points- Nigel Pearson's men missed a penalty in the goalless draw with Tottenham Hotspur and had a 0-1 lead at Aston Villa and 2-0 lead over Everton but lost both of those games.

In the main the manager has to be happy with the reaction of his players to his voice since coming in, but Pearson will also recognise how important those dropped points could be. I don't think he will change his style where Watford have been creating chances and scoring goals, but they have struggled defensively despite having a goalkeeper like Ben Foster between the sticks and like Brighton they look like a team that will score and concede goals.

A draw might not be the worst result for either team in the bigger picture, but I don't think either Graham Potter nor Nigel Pearson would take that before a ball has been kicked. With that in mind I am expecting to see an attacking game and the teams pushing forward which could see them combine for three or more goals.

In recent seasons this has not been a fixture which has been very high-scoring, but Brighton scored three earlier this season and I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out here with my expectation being that both score at least once.

Sheffield United v Bournemouth PickWith the majority of teams in and around them not playing until next weekend, Sheffield United have a chance to really put their credentials for a European berth open for all to see on Sunday.

This weekend they host a Bournemouth team who have won consecutive Premier League games, but Sheffield United have been in fine form themselves and looking to make Bramall Lane a little more difficult to visit.

Chris Wilder has done a fine job at Sheffield United this season, but the manager will be a touch disappointed that they have lost 5 of their 12 League games here. For all the good football that they are capable of playing, Sheffield United can be a little short of goals and will need to improve that if they are going to push on for a European place.

It might be something that needs to be addressed in the summer, but Sheffield United do create chances and they should cause problems for a Bournemouth team who have struggled defensively for much of the season. Eddie Howe's men have relied on some fortune to avoid heavier defeats than they have faced, while Bournemouth have struggled for goals away from the Vitality Stadium which makes it difficult to see them causing an upset here.

Backing Sheffield United at short odds has not been productive this season, but I do think they will be too good for Bournemouth this weekend.

There will likely be enough chances for the home team to win by a good margin too if they continue to play as they have and Bournemouth continue to struggle. Backing The Blades to cut through their opponents and win a game featuring at least two goals is an odds against quote and I think that is worth backing.

Manchester City v West Ham United PickThere has clearly been something a little wrong at Manchester City this season as they have struggled for consistency in the final third- some of it is down to poor decision making and some of it is down to poor finishing, but not for the first time Manchester City created some gilt-edged chances in a game they eventually threw away when losing at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

I would expect the home team to have too much for West Ham United this weekend and bounce back from their disappointing losses to Manchester United and Spurs. They are still creating a bunch of chances and Manchester City are likely to do the same against a West Ham United team who have looked miserable at the back for much of the season.

Even the arrival of David Moyes has not really sparked them as expected and it looks like being another difficult afternoon for the East London club.

West Ham United blew a couple of two goal leads in their draw with Brighton last weekend and the next several weeks could see them cut off inside the bottom three. After this game The Hammers meet Liverpool, Southampton, Arsenal, Wolves, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea and you would not fancy them to take too many points from that run which will increase the pressure on the players.

They have been stubborn opponents for Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in recent seasons in contrast to some home heavy losses West Ham United have taken. David Moyes will have had a week to prepare his players to do the same on Sunday, but Manchester City have to be looking for a reaction and I think they are going to be too strong for the visitors.

It is a big Asian Handicap when you think of the way Manchester City's form in the final third has fluctuated, but they are capable of putting teams to the sword. After the complacency of last Sunday, I think the manager will be emphasising focus in the final third this time around and Manchester City should come away with a relatively comfortable win.

Wolves v Leicester City PickTwo Midlands clubs meet on Valentine's Day but there will be no gifts and proclamations of love being handed out when Wolves host Leicester City in the live televised offering.

Both of these clubs will be dreaming about playing in the Champions League next season and have serious ambitions of doing that. Leicester City are well on their way to a top four finish, but Wolves could join them with a strong run in either the Premier League or the Europa League.

Both teams have not been playing as poorly as the recent results may suggest, but like many clubs outside of Manchester City and Liverpool there is a sense of inconsistency in levels being produced. On one day you will see both Leicester City and Wolves looking as good as any club out there, but on another they can be ground down and struggling for composure in the final third.

Having a two week break should help the clubs as batteries have been recharged and the game being played on the Friday night should mean they avoid the tougher conditions that might be around the United Kingdom over the remainder of the weekend.

Wolves will look to get forward and that should also mean there are opportunities for Leicester City. In recent games played by these two clubs, chances have come at both ends of the field and, while fixtures between Wolves and Leicester City have been tight in the last eighteen months, I do think we will see goals when these two meet this weekend.

The layers are less convinced, but Wolves will have hosted all of the current top six by the end of this fixture- in the last 5 we have seen 4 feature three or more goals shared out. 7 of the last 8 Leicester City away games have also featured at least three goals and I think we will see enough chances at both ends which should give us every chance of seeing that amount of goals shared out on Friday too.

Southampton v Burnley PickThere look to be some tough conditions to deal with on the south coast on Saturday and that may make it a more difficult game to predict at this stage.

However there is still some time for things to change and Southampton have to be confident in getting back to winning ways having lost at Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in consecutive fixtures.

The last two months have seen Southampton in some very good form and they have begun to feel more comfortable playing at home. Ralph Hasenhuttl has the players on the same page and The Saints have won half of their last 8 home games in all competitions.

Southampton did blow a 2-0 lead over Wolves in the eventual 2-3 loss here in the League which means they have won half of their last 6 Premier League games here. They are creating chances and in Danny Ings they have a striker capable of taking them which will make Southampton a threat to teams in the final three months of the season.

It won't be easy against Burnley who can be difficult to face in perfect conditions, while Southampton have been a little vulnerable at the back throughout the season. The home team have only had 2 Premier League clean sheets at St Mary's since November 2018, but the goals have been coming and Burnley have had their issues away from home which has me leaning towards the home team.

If it is the high winds and heavy rains forecasted it will make it a difficult day for both teams and the bounce of the ball could come down to a bit of luck either way. Southampton also have had a poor couple of home results against Burnley, but I think the form they are in will give them the edge.

As good as the recent Burnley run has been, they have been riding their luck at the back and I will look for Southampton to win a game featuring two or more goals.

Norwich City v Liverpool PickThere was a storm battering the United Kingdom last weekend and there is every chance we are going to see some very difficult conditions at Carrow Road on Saturday afternoon this weekend too.

That could even things up for Norwich City who have found the top clubs in the Premier League tough to deal with even when accounting for the 3-2 success over Manchester City earlier this season. Norwich City have been tougher to face in front of their own fans, but they are vulnerable defensively and that has been exposed by a number of clubs and in only 3 of their 12 home Premier League games have ended with the visitors scoring less than two goals.

It is going to be a test for Norwich City regardless of the playing conditions as we are set to deal with heavy rain and winds for a second weekend in a row.

The problem for Norwich City is that they are a team that wants to get the ball down and play too and that means they are not likely to throw in a load of crosses and try and unsettle Liverpool that way.

They have been scoring plenty of goals at home and Liverpool are far from watertight at the back regardless of their recent record of clean sheets. However I can't see how Norwich City will keep a clean sheet with a motivated Liverpool coming back from their own two week break and looking for some momentum to take into their Champions League Last 16 tie and I do think the away side are going to prove to be too strong.

Liverpool have won 6 in a row at Carrow Road and they have scored a boatload of goals in that run. 3 of their last 5 away wins in the Premier League have come by two or more goal margins and I think that is going to be the case on Saturday barring some big mistakes at the back when dealing with wet and windy conditions.

Half of Norwich City's 6 home losses in the Premier League have come by two or more goal margins and I will back Liverpool to do that here.

Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur PickThe first game from the two Sunday offerings from the Premier League comes from Villa Park and by all accounts the really poor weather of Saturday will likely be much more reasonable when this one kicks off.

It may still be wet and a little windy, but neither Dean Smith nor Jose Mourinho can afford to make excuses for their teams who are desperate for the three points for differing reasons.

Aston Villa are trying to fight to avoid the drop and Tottenham Hotspur are trying to get back into the race for the Champions League places so neither can really expect to want to settle for a point. The home team have played attacking football under Dean Smith and that has sometimes left them vulnerable at the back, but they do score goals and they can trouble a Tottenham Hotspur team that have not had a lot of clean sheets even after Jose Mourinho has come in.

The manager has had time to work with his players during this 'Winter Break' so we may see a more disciplined Tottenham Hotspur team, although they also have the distraction of a Champions League tie coming up.

In both recent Aston Villa and recent Tottenham Hotspur games teams have created chances at both ends of the field and the feeling is that this one won't be any different. The style of the home team should make it an open fixture and I would not be surprised if both teams were to find the back of the net.

With both teams likely keen on securing the three points it may keep things open through the majority of the ninety minutes and so backing at least three goals to be shared out looks the play.

I was close to suggesting Aston Villa with a start on the Asian Handicap, but their defensive concerns means I am less keen on that than backing at least three goals being produced on the day.

Arsenal v Newcastle United PickThe Winter Break has come and gone for both Arsenal and Newcastle United and both managers will be hoping to feel the benefit of the short break immediately.

Mikel Arteta will be hoping the time away with his squad will help him and his players begin to understand one another a little more. The results since he took over as manager of Arsenal have been a little inconsistent with some decent performances mixed in with old defensive mistakes left over from Unai Emery's time in charge.

On the other side will be Steve Bruce who has performed better than expected as manager of Newcastle United and finally seems to be getting the fans behind him. The run to the FA Cup Fifth Round has helped him strengthen his position in charge and Bruce will be keen to have a number of squad members return from injury off the break.

The squad had looked stretched prior to the Break, but Newcastle United have been stubborn and hard to break down. They seem to be playing with a lot of belief that has helped the club fight back from losing positions and that makes them dangerous against an Arsenal team who have struggled at both ends of the field.

Arsenal fans will be hoping the break will have helped put together better patterns in attacking and defensive areas and it is a little difficult to trust them to win games at the moment. Like Newcastle United, Arsenal have saved their wins for FA Cup games rather than Premier League ones, but this is a team who have won 2 of their last 3 here.

Neither team can point to really strong defensive performances and I do think the attacking players will have the better of the game. Arsenal have won 7 in a row at the Emirates Stadium against Newcastle United which should aid the mentality of the players and I do think they will get the better of The Magpies in the second of the two live Sunday games from the Premier League.

It is not easy to trust Arsenal when you think of the prolonged poor run of results they have had, but in what could be an open game I would think they can win and cover the Asian Handicap in the process.

Chelsea v Manchester United PickThe big game in the Premier League this weekend has been saved for Monday Night Football as Chelsea get set to host Manchester United. Both clubs have enjoyed two weeks to recharge the batteries and this is a game that could be pivotal to how the shake up for the Champions League places are concluded later this season.

Just 6 points separate Chelsea in 4th place and Manchester United in 8th and there will be a host of clubs keeping a keen eye on seeing how The Blues are coping with an increased pressure on them. While Chelsea have been stumbling, others have not been able to take advantage and that includes Manchester United who have won 1 of their last 5 Premier League games and been beaten 3 times in that run.

A lack of goals is a concern and Marcus Rashford remains sidelined so it is important for Odion Ighalo to get up and running immediately. There are chances being created by Manchester United and I do think the returns of Nemanja Matic and possibly Scott McTominay will really help the team going forward.

However they are facing a Chelsea team who have also been very good at creating chances without finding the consistency in the final third that Frank Lampard would have liked. Tammy Abraham has got goals, but not many against the better teams in the Premier League and there is a pressure on the young England striker after Chelsea were not able to bring in reinforcements in the January transfer window.

The lack of consistency in the final third has been punished by opponents taking advantage of what has been a vulnerable Chelsea defence and that may be the case here on Monday.

Manchester United have beaten Chelsea twice this season which will give them confidence, but Marcus Rashford scored four of the six goals and is missing. They are unbeaten in 3 at Stamford Bridge having scored at least twice in each of those visits, but Chelsea won't allow that to worry them and their style of play means they will likely get forward too.

I was close to backing Manchester United to avoid defeat, but it might need two goals from the away side to do that. Both teams will have their chances to score and I can see at least three goals being shared out when Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Monday.

A lack of United goals prior to the Winter Break is a concern, but they were creating chances and Ighalo has scored goals at this level. Having a more settled midfield will help, but Manchester United are far from watertight at the back and a high-scoring game is in prospect.

MY PICKS: Everton & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.10 Coral (2 Units)
Brighton-Watford Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sheffield United & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.35 Coral (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Wolves-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Southampton & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.25 Coral (2 Units)

Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Aston Villa-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.72 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)

February 2019/20: 4-4, - 0.06 Units (16 Units Staked, - 0% Yield)
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 26
Of course you can understand why the Premier League has placed a Winter Break into the schedule to try and help our clubs recover after a crazy couple of months.

The one thing most Fantasy Football players wanted to know was how GameWeek 26 was going to work in terms of our deadlines- would it be one to cover the round or two considering matches would be scheduled on different weekends?

The right decision was one deadline to cover the round, but the frustration is that we will only have eight of the scheduled twenty press conferences in the books before that deadline is met. It means almost second guessing some managers, while there are some key players who have picked up knocks that we won't be able to assess for this round of games.

I am a little frustrated by that too, although the majority of my squad do have a full bill of health going into this round of matches. Some may pick up knocks during their warm weather training camps, but it is what it is and we have to take it as it comes.

I mentioned last week that the FA Cup Replays could have an impact on GameWeek 31 and we will begin to note how many teams are going to be playing that weekend. Without a doubt I think the Free Hit chip is going to be most valuable for that round of games, although I think the draw for the FA Cup Sixth Round will be key.

That will be made after the Fifth Round ties are completed in the first midweek of March and barring a number of upsets I would be surprised if we don't have at least ten teams out of action in GameWeek 31. If there are less than that I may have to consider the draw and wonder if the Free Hit would be better used when the Semi Final weekend comes around, but those decisions will be for another day.

The worst case scenario is that only three Premier League matches remain in place and then the draw for the Sixth Round might be key in determining how I will handle the rest of the season.

We will come back to that in a couple of weeks once I get a few more thoughts about it cleared up.

My GW26 Team
I mentioned last weekend that I had some players on my list that will need to be removed with the Free Transfers over the next three or four weeks and I have begun that this weekend.

Last weekend I needed to change Sadio Mane for Mohamed Salah and it proved to be the key for the 79 points earned as the Egyptian managed 32 points of those with the Captain tag assigned.

While it means I had to delay some of my other transfers that I wanted to make, it is not a decision I will need to regret in what was a positive week after a difficult time of late.

The transfer this week was a pretty easy one as 'Cult' Fantasy player John Lundstram has been moved out of my team. I have had him before GW1 and the Sheffield United player has proved his worth by producing solid points all season.

However I have noted that his recent playing time has been on the decline and Chris Wilder has signed a player for a record fee that looks certain to take Lundstram's starting berth. He might still have some opportunities, but the signs are not good and moving him out in favour of team mate Enda Stevens was the call for me.

My GW27 transfer in two weeks time is also looking like a relatively straight-forward one to make, but it is always best to let fixtures be concluded in case some of the key members of the squad pick up injuries in the two weeks between the GW26 deadline and the GW27 one.

Alisson- Norwich City away and unlikely to be rested with the Champions League game at Atletico Madrid in mind.

Enda Stevens- Sheffield United been strong at keeping clean sheets and Stevens is a goal threat as well as a potential assist maker.

Serge Aurier- I am not convinced by Tottenham Hotspur at the back, but Serge Aurier can produce attacking returns.

Harry Maguire- my most difficult decision, but Manchester United have had two clean sheets against Chelsea this season. With likely better set piece delivery from Bruno Fernandes, perhaps a first League goal is not too far away either.

Mohamed Salah (C)- potential to be rested, but off a two week break I find it unlikely. Norwich City are poor at the back, and Mohamed Salah in fine form.

Kevin De Bruyne- home game against a porous West Ham United team.

Jack Grealish- tough home game against Spurs, but they are not quite right at the back and anything good from Aston Villa usually comes through Jack Grealish.

James Ward-Prowse- picked up a nasty injury against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup Fourth Round, but I expect him to be ready in ten days time.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin- leading the line for a shot hungry Everton team against Crystal Palace.

Troy Deeney- big game for Watford this weekend, but Deeney has a habit of picking up his play in these moments. Has been in good form under Nigel Pearson.

Roberto Firmino- another I would expect to avoid a rest after a two week break and been better away from home than at Anfield in the Premier League.

Bench- Michael McGovern, Caglar Soyuncu (if Ward-Prowse can't go, I don't mind Soyuncu being first sub over other options), Federico Fernandez (difficult away game at Arsenal), Pablo Fornals (seems out of favour under David Moyes despite the attacking injuries at West Ham United).

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