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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...

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 22-24)

It feels like the last Fantasy Football deadline was 'months' ago with the Winter Break meaning the last GameWeek was spread over two weekends.

The week wasn't a bad one, although it was also not a great one and I will have more thoughts about that below. Before that I will have a few thoughts about the Premier League fixtures to be played this weekend.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Most people will be predicting goals when Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur meet in the early fixture on Saturday afternoon, but there are likely going to be some key attacking players missing for both teams.

Both clubs are coming in off a loss and there is just a point separating them in the Premier League table so this is a very big game for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.

Chelsea have had longer to prepare, but Frank Lampard is struggling to find the balance he wants from his team, while Tottenham Hotspur are still being moulded into a shape Jose Mourinho will like to see. It makes it a tough game to predict, but Chelsea as odds on is as baffling as I thought it was when they hosted Manchester United on Monday.

However neither team is creating a lot of chances at the moment which is perhaps not a surprise considering the kind of players missing. It could mean both Lampard and Mourinho are looking to set their teams up to be hard to beat and try and steal something from set pieces or asking for a player to create a moment of magic to separate them on the day.

At odds against I will look for fewer than three goals to be produced with the feeling that one of these teams might actually struggle to hit the back of the net.

Burnley v Bournemouth Pick: Both Burnley and Bournemouth have had some recent successes in the Premier League which will give them some belief, although Bournemouth are coming off a two week break in which they will have been thinking about blowing the lead at Sheffield United.

This is a difficult test for Bournemouth who have not played as well away from home as they have in front of their own fans, although the attacking options that are available to them makes them dangerous. The Cherries have Josh King back and they have been creating chances, although defensively there remain some major concerns that have to be fixed.

Eddie Howe has had two weeks to work on improving the defensive performances of the side, but Burnley have also been creating a few chances. However, the bigger factor for Burnley is they have been clinical in front of goal which means they should be able to punish their visitors.

Teams are still creating chances against Burnley too and 7 of the last 9 between these clubs have finished with both teams scoring. The more recent fixtures have seen Bournemouth fail to score in 2 of the last 3 against Burnley, but with Callum Wilson and Josh King up front they should have opportunities in this fixture too.

Both teams should have enough in the final third to at least hit the back of the net in this fixture and that is the best angle to approach this game.

Crystal Palace v Newcastle United Pick: This is honestly one of the toughest games to call this weekend as neither team can point to a consistent avenue for goals.

At the same time neither has been watertight at the back and it may take a VAR intervention or an unfortunate bounce of the ball to separate them on the day.

Gun to the head I would probably back the draw, but it is a very difficult match to be confident about.

Sheffield United v Brighton Pick: Coming from 0-1 down to beat Bournemouth 2-1 at home two weeks ago was an important result for Sheffield United who have sometimes lacked goals despite their obvious good play into the final third. It is a result that will give the players belief that they can finish this exceptional season with a European place, and some will even be thinking of a potential Champions League spot if the CAS upholds the decision to ban Manchester City from the top competition in European club football.

Chris Wilder is a straight talking kind of manager though and I very much doubt any European prospects are not discussed on the training ground and instead it is all about focus. The Blades have had two weeks to prepare for this game and they will believe any kind of consistent end to the season will bring its own rewards.

The same can be said for Brighton who will have spent time trying to recharge batteries and get ready for the relegation fight that is in front of them. They have not won any in 7 games in all competitions which will put Brighton under pressure, but the points earned against West Ham United and Watford prior to the Winter Break could still be all-important when the final standings are produced in mid-May.

Games like this one are important for Brighton even if anything they earn will be considered a bonus- with twelve games left any against a team that is not called Liverpool or Manchester City have to be seen as ones from which points can be earned.

Brighton have played well at times and they do create chances, but the defence has suffered with the new style of play and Sheffield United can take advantage. For all the praise the home team deserve, they are a team that will offer up chances as they take risks getting forward, and I would not be surprised if this is a fixture that produces three or more goals shared out.

Neither is a team that is scoring a lot of goals, but the 1-1 might only suit Brighton and Sheffield United's attacking instincts could see them rally as they did against Bournemouth two weeks ago. Backing at least three goals to be shared out at odds against looks the play.

Southampton v Aston Villa Pick: This is a very important game for both Southampton and Aston Villa and I have no doubt at all that both managers will send their teams out fully believing this is a winnable fixture.

6 points separate these teams and with twelve League games to play there is no doubting how important the three points on offer can be.

Southampton have had a strong couple of months which has seen them progress up the standings, but recent results and performances have just come off the kind of standard they had been producing. They have not been creating as many chances and that is a problem when coupled with the fact that Southampton continue to look vulnerable at the back.

They will feel they can hurt an Aston Villa team who have not been able to put consistent defensive performances in all season. However it does have to be said that Dean Smith's team have really shown some strong attacking potential of late and in Mbwana Samatta they look to have someone who can lead the line and give the attacking players around him the chance to play off him.

Aston Villa have struggled away from home which can't be ignored, but they have been competitive in recent weeks. They have looked the stronger team in the final third when attacking of late, and I think that gives them a chance against what looks a very short priced Southampton team.

Backing Aston Villa with a full goal start should be enough to at least earn a push, but I would not be stunned if The Villains can earn something here.

Leicester City v Manchester City Pick: All of the talk coming out of Manchester City is that they are positive they are going to overturn the UEFA ban that was handed out last week and will mean two seasons without European competition. Pep Guardiola is trying to make sure his players are focused on the field and he has set out a target of winning the last three competitions they have a realistic chance of winning.

He has also pointed out he wants Manchester City to finish 2nd in the Premier League and a win on Saturday will go a long way to doing that. However you can't deny that the focus has to be on the Cup competitions and Manchester City have a huge game against Real Madrid to come this week which could be a big distraction on the day.

They might be facing Leicester City at the right time though with Brendan Rodgers' team just struggling for consistent results in recent weeks. However The Foxes will be able to put their full power into winning this game and that could see them extend their recent strong run against Manchester City at the King Power Stadium.

Leicester City will look to counter attack and there is no doubt that Manchester City remain vulnerable at the back. The visitors do create chances, but they will offer Leicester City chances and if there are changes made with the Real Madrid tie in mind it may give the home team more of an edge.

I have to be concerned by their record against the top two this season as Leicester City have lost all 3 of those games and two by wide margins. However the situation may just give them a chance in this one and I think Leicester City might have enough in them to earn a positive result so backing them with a start on the Asian Handicap looks to be the play.

Manchester United v Watford Pick: This is a very important game for both Manchester United and Watford who will know they can't afford to keep dropping points as they enter the final quarter of the Premier League season. The home team are still very much hoping to return to the Champions League, while Watford are desperate to avoid the drop and so the three points available on Sunday are very important to both.

Since Watford earned a 1-1 draw at Brighton two weeks ago they have been on their Winter Break while Manchester United have played at Chelsea and Club Brugge. It could mean Watford are fresher, but some teams have struggled with this first time Winter Break and Nigel Pearson will be demanding a big performance from his team.

His arrival has seen Watford's performances improve, but they have not won any of their last 5 games in all competitions. The Hornets have not won any of their last 4 in the Premier League, but they have led in each of the last 3 games and somehow managed to lose two of those.

It will have knocked some of the confidence from the players and I do think that could play a part here. Manchester United will restore some key players, although I am always a touch concerned in backing the home team when you think of how they play against teams who will look to sit in and make things difficult as I imagine Watford will try and do.

However Watford have struggled for clean sheets and they are giving up too many chances for Nigel Pearson's liking. So even a low block defence may not be enough to contain Manchester United who will have Bruno Fernandes back in the line up to produce the creativity that has sometimes been lacking for the home team.

Goals have been a problem for Manchester United too and that is another factor that can't be easily put aside. They have beaten Watford 8 times in a row at Old Trafford though and I do think the match fitness may see the home team being a little sharper on the day and they can find a way to break down this Watford team.

Backing the home team to win a game featuring two or more goals looks the play considering Watford's recent poor performances at the back.

Wolves v Norwich City Pick: After dismissing the challenge of Espanyol on Thursday night, Wolves will be looking to keep another avenue into the Champions League open to themselves by seeing off another club that is bottom in one of the top European Leagues.

This fixture is against Norwich City who have looked overmatched when it comes to the Premier League and who need to find wins sooner rather than later. The Canaries are as healthy in the squad as they have been at any point this season, but they are struggling at both ends of the field and I do think a team like Wolves can expose those issues.

Wolves are not an easy team to back simply because they can be a little lacking in the final third. They are hard to beat, but Wolves don't score a lot of goals even with the 4-0 win over Espanyol in mind and I do think that makes them a hard back at times.

Despite that, I do think Wolves can hurt Norwich City with the attacking players they can call upon.

Norwich City might have their moments if they can play as they did against Newcastle United prior to their Winter Break, but Wolves are a much more solid team all around than Steve Bruce's team. I expect that to show up here and I think backing Wolves to win a game featuring two or more goals has to be the call.

Arsenal v Everton Pick: The home team have picked up a couple of big results this week which has to give them confidence, but Everton are playing well enough to offer a lot more threat than Newcastle United or Olympiacos posed to Arsenal.

Mikel Arteta has made Arsenal tougher to beat which means the layers are about right to have them as favourites, but I would not rule out Everton getting a result here.

Arsenal have not been dominant in front of goal under their new manager and that has led to a lot of draws. They have shown a little more defensive resiliency which makes this a difficult game to predict, while the layers are well on top of the 'Both Teams to Score' and 'Over 2.5 Goals' markets.

Again I would not be surprised if this game ends in a draw, but I don't think there is an angle to recommend here.

Liverpool v West Ham United Pick: There have been a couple of signs that Liverpool are just struggling through the full ninety minutes of fixtures at the moment as they try and maintain the standards they have been setting for the last twelve months.

A battling win at Norwich City was followed by an uninspired defeat at Atletico Madrid, but Liverpool have had almost a full week to prepare for this fixture.

That should help as they look to bounce back and if David Moyes employs the same tactics he did at Manchester City on Wednesday it is going to be a one sided game for much of the evening. Liverpool will be happy if West Ham United sit back as this is not a team who have been that strong at the back and unlikely to prevent chances like Atletico Madrid do.

It will be good preparation for the Second Leg of the Champions League Last 16 tie, but I also think Liverpool will want a reaction to a defeat. They have scored four times in each of the last two West Ham United visits to Anfield and I think the home team will be too good here.

Liverpool have won 9 games in a row here and the last 7 have come with a clean sheet. They have sometimes done just enough to secure the points and backing them to win another fixture with a clean sheet looks a good price at close to odds against and especially if West Ham United are as negative as they were on Wednesday evening at Manchester City.

MY PICKS: Chelsea-Tottenham Hotspur Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burnley-Bournemouth Both Teams to Score @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sheffield United-Brighton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Aston Villa + 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City + 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.00 Coral (2 Units)
Wolves & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.86 Coral (2 Units)
Liverpool Win to Nil @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)

February 2019/208-10, - 3.74 Units (36 Units Staked, - 10.39% 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 27
The Winter Break caused problems for managers as the Fourth Round FA Cup Replays were scheduled to be played at a time when some Premier League clubs were supposed to be having the break promised to them.

It was also not ideal for FPL players who have had a long wait between GameWeek 26 and 27 and during that time there have been some key players that have gone down with injuries which could be important to any decisions on transfers that need to be made.

My choices are fairly simple with a couple of members of the squad needing to be moved out, while we have yet to hear about any potential DGWs that are going to be played later this season. Those games won't really come to light until the FA Cup Fifth Round is completed, although I think it should be noted that we may get very late notice for an earlier than expected DGW if Manchester City make it through to the FA Cup Quarter Final.

It would mean Manchester City have potentially three games to make up and there would only be two potential midweeks to come after the March international break if the team continue to progress in the Champions League too. This issue is something to keep in mind, although you would also have to factor in the potential rotation that Pep Guardiola will use in the Premier League down the stretch as they are almost assured of finishing in the top four, but also out of the title race.

My GW27 Team
I might have gotten it slightly wrong in GW26 by removing John Lundstram from my squad considering he came on and scored the winning goal against Bournemouth, but the long-term starting prospects of the cult Fantasy Player means it is the right play for me.

The next player out of the squad is going to be Pablo Fornals who is out of favour with David Moyes at West Ham United. The fixture list for West Ham United was unappealing anyway, but not getting any minutes makes this an easy choice for the Free Transfer I have this week.

My main plan for the rest of the season remains the use of the Free Hit in GW31 and that means I can pick a short-term option for Fornals. The likes of Wolves, Leicester City and Newcastle United have perhaps the most favourable fixture list which includes fixtures in GW28, an important weekend when four of the twenty Premier League teams will not be in action.

The choice I ended up making is picking Adama Traore who is cheaper than Fornals and means I can stick with my plan of upgrading Troy Deeney if I choose to do that next week. I am still toying with the idea of removing Jack Grealish who will be having a blank week, especially with the fixtures Aston Villa have coming up, but the potential make up game with Sheffield United could be played before GW31 if the latter progress in the FA Cup and I think Deeney may be the next player on the way out of the squad.

I will have more on that next week.

Alisson- home game against West Ham United, easy choice even if I had to make one.

Harry Maguire- scored last week to go with a clean sheet for some huge points. Home game against Watford presents a chance for another clean sheet.

Enda Stevens- I think the Sheffield United game against Brighton might be more entertaining than the layers think, but a home clean sheet would not be a massive surprise.

Federico Fernandez- tough away game, but I feel Newcastle United have a better chance of a clean sheet than Serge Aurier and Caglar Soyuncu.

Adama Traore- brought in and has been a revelation for Wolves who look to be entering a favourable stretch in their fixture list.

Mohamed Salah (C)- home game against West Ham United makes the Egyptian an easy choice as Captain.

Kevin De Bruyne- a big game with Real Madrid to come during the week which may see Manchester City rotate the squad, but the Belgian is a key figure for them and should get 60-70 minutes.

Jack Grealish- Aston Villa need their Captain to perform and they are facing a porous defence Southampton bring.

James Ward-Prowse- hasn't produced as many points as I would have liked and Southampton been a little weak in the final third in recent games which makes him a vulnerable member of my squad.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin- an away game at Arsenal is tough on paper, but Everton have been playing well and the young English player has been in great form under Carlo Ancelotti.

Roberto Firmino- hasn't scored a League goal at Anfield in a long time, but as good a chance to snap hat run as he will have when facing West Ham United.

Bench- Michael McGovern, Serge Aurier (tough away game at Stamford Bridge), Troy Deeney (I won't rule out a Watford goal at Old Trafford, but it won't be easy), Caglar Soyuncu (maybe a better chance of a clean sheet than I think considering Manchester City's recent results and upcoming match against Real Madrid, but I like the other two outfield subs a bit more).

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