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Friday, 18 September 2020

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (September 19-21)

So is everyone glad the Premier League is back?

It still doesn't sit right with me that the fans are not able to attend fixtures, although I am no conspiracy theorist and know exactly the kind of issues the Coronavirus pandemic is creating. Even then it is strange to see some of the NFL teams bringing in a number of fans with the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns managing to do that, although the fact that there was a positive test in the stands at the Chiefs can underlines the kind of problem the sporting authorities and the government are going to have dealing with a highly contagious disease.

News reports that a second 'short term' national lockdown is about to be put in place in the United Kingdom means any fans being allowed into the Stadiums is very likely to be pushed back from the October 1st date that many had targeted.

2020 has been a pretty miserable year, but there feels like at least another dip to come during the long winter months, and that is before any real hope of a stronger, longer term solution to be put in place.

I will have a small section about the Fantasy Football game below like I do usually, but before that you can read my thoughts from the Premier League games to be played in GW2 of the 2020/21 season.

Everton v West Brom Pick: You don't want to get carried about the performance of a team after one week but I was very impressed with the way Everton performed in North London in their 0-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur.

Carlo Ancelotti has brought in some real quality in the middle of the pitch and Everton may still be looking to do some business before the close of the transfer window. They will certainly feel the early fixture list is a bonus for them as they prepare to follow the win over Spurs by facing three clubs that many will tip up to finish in the bottom six of the Premier League next May.

Producing more consistency at Goodison Park is going to be key for Everton if they are going to push towards the top six and they will certainly feel a newly-promoted West Brom team are there for the taking in the early Saturday kick off.

Slaven Bilic's men might have earned promotion, but they were not at their best in the second half of last season. If it wasn't for Brentford's own failures in the final week of the season, West Brom would not have been automatically promoted and they virtually fell over the line.

Last weekend they played well at times against Leicester City, but lacked the quality to produce more in the final third. Defensively there were mistakes made and I think that is something that will concern former defender Bilic ahead of this fixture.

West Brom do have a decent recent record at Goodison Park, but this Everton squad looks to be better than those they would have faced in those games. I do expect Everton to kick on after two wins to open the new season and I will expect them to win this fixture.

There might be some chances for West Brom, but Everton look like they can create plenty of chances of their own with the quality from set pieces making them dangerous. With Richarlison, James Rodriguez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the final third, Everton should have the goals in the squad to make it three wins from three.

Leeds United v Fulham Pick: Newly promoted clubs would love to get off the mark at a higher level as soon as possible and both Leeds United and Fulham have to be targeting the full three points in this Premier League fixture.

Only six weeks ago both were playing in the Championship and both learned how quickly you can be punished at the Premier League level as they conceded at least three goals in defeats last weekend.

At least Leeds United showed some competitiveness in the 4-3 defeat at Anfield rather than the limp display Fulham produced in losing 0-3 at home to Arsenal. The two managers will respect the fact that they won't face that level of competition every week, but Leeds United have shown more than Fulham in the very, very early stage of the new season.

Leeds United also beat Fulham handily when these two clubs met at Elland Road in June and I do think they deserve to be favourites here. I don't want to make a snap judgement about Fulham after one game, but I do think they look very similar to two years ago when they were relegated from the top flight.

In that season Fulham were beaten in 16 of their 19 away Premier League games and defensively they look like a team that can be got at.

Scott Parker will believe his team can cause problems for Leeds United as they did when they met in June, but the home team had enough firepower to get past them on that day. I think that will be the case here too as they win a game featuring two or more goals.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace Pick: Most clubs have had a week of competitive action under their belts going into the middle of September, but Manchester United will have been preparing for the new season having been afforded an extra week off.

That came about thanks to a late finish to the 2019/20 season having reached the Europa League Semi Final, but there will be no excuses if they cannot get off to a strong start to the new campaign.

Fans are a little restless considering the lack of investment made by the owners, something that is far too common under this regime. While things look unlikely to change any time soon, it also means the reality of a title challenge looks to be some way away.

Even then there is pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to build on what was a successful if not an outstanding season. Reaching three Semi Finals, but failing to win silverware is not really good enough for Manchester United, but earning a top four spot was important even if the owners and management of the club means they don't bother investing from a position of strength.

Things may change by the time you are reading this, but for now the squad will go into the season looking to have just recharged the batteries for what looks a relentless season. Manchester United will basically be playing every few days until late January at the earliest and that means the whole squad are going to need to step up.

I do think they will be too good for a Crystal Palace team who did win at Old Trafford last season, but who have injury concerns of their own. Roy Hodgson's men have to be credited for their deserved win over Southampton last weekend and Wilfried Zaha remains motivated, but injuries at the back make Crystal Palace more vulnerable even if back to back clean sheets over the last seven days makes a mockery of that statement.

At the end of the day Crystal Palace did lose their last 4 away Premier League games and they have not scored in 5 away games in all competitions. The club have tried to rectify that by bringing in Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea, but this is a big test at Old Trafford where Manchester United only conceded 17 Premier League goals last season.

Defensively Manchester United don't always look secure, but they did manage a clean sheet in winning at Selhurst Park in mid-July and they largely restricted the home side that day. Even in the 1-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace in August 2019 came thanks to some clinical finishing from The Eagles and that is not something you can expect to see regularly.

They might not have lost either of their last 2 visits to Old Trafford, but I expect that run to come to an end on Saturday. Manchester United might not be at their fluent best, but I think they will contain Crystal Palace and that should lead to a win with a clean sheet.

Arsenal v West Ham United Pick: It is very easy to get carried away by the opening weekend results and make vast predictions as to how a season may develop.

Arsenal crushed Fulham at Craven Cottage so people are feeling bullish about their chances of earning a top four spot, while West Ham United were beaten at home by Newcastle United and might have had some putting some money down on them being relegated.

You are never as good or as bad as an opening result, but this does look like the start of a difficult run for West Ham United. They didn't play badly last week, but were punished at the back and I do think they remain defensively vulnerable which is a concern with the next set of six fixtures coming up.

David Moyes is an experienced manager though and the win over Charlton Athletic in the League Cup Second Round will have just given the squad a boost. They should be set up to be hard to beat and West Ham United are unbeaten in 3 away Premier League games which includes a visit to Old Trafford.

And as well as Arsenal played last week you do have to put into context- I think Fulham will struggle in the Premier League and the result might not be as impressive come May as it looked on the opening weekend.

Arsenal have shown improvement under Mikel Arteta and some of their Football really impressed, but I do think this is a team that is still more functional than one that will dominate as they did in their heyday under Arsene Wenger. Defensively they can still be exploited and that is what David Moyes will be asking his players to do with the pace they do have in the final third.

I do think West Ham United will have their chances in this one, and I think the underdog looks a little under-rated. Neither team can really point to their defensive strength and I think there will be goals in this one as long as the chances created are being taken.

I did lean towards West Ham United having enough to earn a result and both teams hitting the net, but Arsenal are unlikely to sit back if they need to chase the three points and I think the most likely outcome is that there will be at least three goals shared out.

Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This might not have been the best week for either Southampton or Tottenham Hotspur, but it would have been much worse for the latter if they had been Knocked Out of the Europa League in the Second Qualifying Round.

The Europa League path back into the Champions League was the route Jose Mourinho took when managing Manchester United in 2016/17 and he will feel his Tottenham Hotspur team are capable of a very deep run as a back up to the top four aspirations.

A win in Bulgaria on Thursday will be a boost, but the bigger one might be the expected signing of Gareth Bale which is due to be completed before the weekend. That will give Jose Mourinho more attacking options and a real world class performer to pair up with Harry Kane in the final third.

For now they may have to give Bale a bit of time, but that won't mean Tottenham Hotspur can have any excuses for more dropped points having lost to Everton last Sunday. A trip home from Bulgaria is not ideal, but Spurs are playing a Southampton team who have lost 2 from 2 games and have failed to score in either.

The Saints did create chances at Selhurst Park last Saturday, but they looked vulnerable at the back and I do think Tottenham Hotspur will cause problems for them. However, I do believe Southampton can benefit from playing a team against whom they don't have to deal with the same type of expectations that they had in their first 2 matches.

The side have won their last 2 home Premier League games against Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton challenged them in all 4 meetings in the 2019/20 season. Having to go without Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond is a blow for Southampton, but even then I think they can play their part in this early kick off and I think it will be a game which features at least three goals.

Newcastle United v Brighton Pick: If recent history is anything to go by, this may not be the most entertaining fixture to come on Super Sunday when four Premier League games are set to be played.

Both League games between Newcastle United and Brighton finished goalless last season and only four goals have been scored in the last 6 between them.

2 of the last 3 at St James' Park between these opponents have finished goalless and Newcastle United and Brighton have combined for 3 clean sheets in their first 4 games played this season.

Newcastle United did create chances in their win at West Ham United last weekend and also looked a little vulnerable at the back, but I am not sure Brighton have enough goals in them to hurt them here.

On the other hand Brighton did play well against Chelsea and may be more dangerous than some expect, but I do feel these teams cancel one another out. Steve Bruce will look for his Newcastle United team to be organised, while Graham Potter will want his Brighton team to dominate the ball.

The feeling is that Newcastle United can largely contain Brighton, but they will need their new signings to gel together to hurt their visitors when they do go forward. I think Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser are decent signings for Newcastle United and they may snap their poor recent record against Brighton, but I think the simple play here is expecting at least one of the teams failing to hit the back of the net.

Chelsea v Liverpool Pick: Both Liverpool and Chelsea got off to winning starts on the opening weekend of the season against clubs they would have been favoured to beat, but on Sunday they have a chance to announce their intentions to win the Premier League title this time around.

Liverpool did finish 33 points clear of Chelsea last season, but the latter have spent a lot of money to close that gap and Frank Lampard will know this is the chance for his team to produce a statement performance.

There is no love lost between the clubs in recent history and even their last Premier League meeting was very tetchy when Lampard and Jurgen Klopp seemed to fall out. Chelsea are potentially going to be missing a number of their new signings, but being at home means the expectation is going to be on them to show they are ready to take the next step in their development.

It is also a big game for Liverpool who have spoken about 'attacking the title' rather than 'defending' it and their 4-3 win over Leeds United was an important result. There have been some inconsistent performances from Liverpool in recent months and 2 wins from their last 8 away games in all competitions has to be a big concern for them.

They can't afford to defend as poorly as they did last Saturday and they will be very aware of what this Chelsea team can do having been a little fortunate to come away with a 5-3 win over them in the Premier League in July. Chelsea also created the better chances in the 1-2 home defeat to Liverpool twelve months ago and I do think they are a big looking underdog in this fixture.

The injuries to what are going to be key players is a worry though and the potential absence of Christian Pulisic is a real concern. His attacking thrust will be missed, but Chelsea should still pose questions for Liverpool, although defensively they do look very vulnerable themselves.

For me the most likely outcome is a 2-1 result either way or a high-scoring draw. With that in mind I would be very surprised if we don't see a few goals in what could be a very exciting fixture.

Leicester City v Burnley Pick: The final game on a long Sunday of Premier League action comes from the King Power Stadium as Leicester City look to back up their 0-3 win over West Brom last weekend. They host a Burnley team who are playing their first Premier League game of the 2020/21 season, and one who can't be underestimated.

There were all sorts of rumours that Sean Dyche would be leaving Burnley at the end of the 2019/20 season and I do think they could have been vulnerable if he did. While Dyche is here as manager, Burnley will continue to overachieve even if they eventually decide to cash in on James Tarkowski.

Burnley have been very hard to beat in their most recent away Premier League games and 1 loss in their last 8 on their travels has to be respected. That did come in a heavy defeat to Manchester City, but in the same run Burnley have won at Old Trafford and drawn at Anfield.

Their hosts struggled down the stretch which will concern them, but Brendan Rodgers has to be pleased with the way his Leicester City performed against West Brom.

The two Premier League games between these teams last season were decent to watch and I do think the return of James Maddison is huge for Leicester City. They won't have things completely their own way, but Leicester City have won 3 of their last 4 at home against Burnley and that has to be acknowledged.

My feeling is that the home team will edge this one and another 2-1 scoreline between these teams is not out of the realms of possibility.

Aston Villa v Sheffield United Pick: This was the first fixture that was played after the three month suspension of English Football back in June and it proved to be a pivotal one when the final points were tallied up in July.

The goalless draw meant the point earned by Aston Villa kept them in the Premier League, although rivals Bournemouth and Watford will be aggrieved that the point was secured thanks to an error in the goal-line technology. Instead of awarding Sheffield United what was a clear first half goal, the technology was bamboozled and the eventual point earned was a huge one for the hosts.

Aston Villa now come off another break in the Premier League to meet Sheffield United having not played on the opening weekend of the 2020/21 season. They have won at Burton Albion in the League Cup to get some competitive football back in the legs of their key players, but this is a big game for Aston Villa to show what they have learned from last season and whether the new additions to the squad can make it a relatively more comfortable season.

Scoring goals was a problem for Aston Villa, but they showed some real improvement defensively following the three month break. That could be key for them here against a Sheffield United team that can be dangerous from set pieces, but who have had some of the confidence knocked after losing 4 Premier League games in a row and scoring a single goal in that run.

Chris Wilder will not be happy with the first week of the new season as his side lost their opening Premier League game and were also beaten in the League Cup Second Round. The manager has usually gotten a pretty good reaction from his team, but he will want to see a little more stubbornness in the defensive areas where Sheffield United were strong for much of last season.

Losing Dean Henderson will have hurt, but I do think Sheffield United should be good enough to contain this Aston Villa attack. However, The Blades have lacked some sharpness of their own and I would not be surprised if at least one of these clubs can keep a clean sheet.

Wolves v Manchester City Pick: In the early weeks of this 2020/21 season I do think we are going to see some up and down performances from teams who are still at different stages of their recovery for a new campaign. The short off-season and the heavy schedules are going to play havoc and managers are already admitting that within their own squads players are further along with their progress than others.

To compound the issue will be the fact that some of the Premier League clubs playing this weekend have yet to play a competitive fixture while others have had two games in the legs. That could certainly have an impact in the results and it is something Wolves will be looking to take advantage of when they face Manchester City on Monday night.

It has not all be plain-sailing for Wolves who beat Sheffield United last week, but were then upset at Molineux by Stoke City in the League Cup Second Round. Nuno Espirito Santo did pick a relatively strong team for that League Cup tie so will be disappointed, but Wolves have shown they can raise their levels when facing up to some of the better teams in the Premier League.

They will need to do that on Monday night in the final Premier League in this round of fixtures as they prepare to host Manchester City. Revenge will be on the mind of Pep Guardiola's squad having lost twice to Wolves in the Premier League last season, although there hasn't been the kind of investment in the playing staff that so many believed there would be.

It remains a strong squad, although the absence of Sergio Aguero is a blow, and Manchester City will be itching to get out there and set the record straight against this opponent.

The players will also want to erase those memories of their last performance when beaten in the Champions League Quarter Final by Lyon. That result would have stung all at the club, but Manchester City are still very much a title contender and there is enough here to think they can close the 18 points to Liverpool as long as they stay healthier than last season.

This fixture might be a tough one for them as they have not looked like they have matched up well with a Wolves team that has pace on the counter attack to get to Manchester City's soft underbelly. However, Manchester City created plenty of chances in both Premier League games against Wolves last season and it was the Ederson sending off in the 12th minute at Molineux which really meant it was a tough day in the office.

Even then Manchester City led here twice before eventually succumbing to a defeat.

Wolves were beaten by Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Molineux last season and needed to come from behind to earn results against both Manchester clubs. While Manchester City were not at their best on their travels last season when it comes to the consistency levels, I do think they can find a way to edge to the three points here with their superior attacking quality likely to give them the advantage.

It should be a very good way to close the latest round of Premier League games in what should be an entertaining fixture.

MY PICKS: Everton to Win & Over 1.5 Goals
Leeds United to Win & Over 1.5 Goals
Manchester United Win to Nil
Arsenal-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals
Southampton-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals
Newcastle United-Brighton Both Teams to Score- NO
Chelsea-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals
Leicester City & Over 1.5 Goals
Aston Villa-Sheffield United Both Teams to Score- NO
Manchester City & Over 1.5 Goals

Fantasy Football GameWeek 2
The first week of the Official Fantasy Football game is in the books and it is an easy time to have plenty of knee-jerk reactions to what you have seen on the opening weekend.

At this point I imagine everyone wants to get off the trendy Southampton Hype Train, while Tottenham Hotspur players are no longer facing a positive run of fixtures to begin the campaign and those assets need to be sold, sold, sold!!

On the other side an upset win for Everton in North London and three good looking fixtures means their assets are being purchased at a huge rate, while both Manchester clubs are back in action.

Ultimately it is GW1 though and there is a long season ahead of us with twists and turns to come which makes me think this is not the time to panic. My own squad looks a little more vulnerable than I felt it did when I picked it ten days ago, but I don't want to deviate from the plan although some of the parts of said plan may have been pushed forward a week.

Personally I don't want to take a hit right now having found a reasonable path to bring in at least one strong Manchester United and Manchester City in time for the start of GW3. They may not be the same assets I had targeted before GW1 began, but a part of the reason for that is one name in my fifteen.


Like many I am sure the 'All or Nothing' Tottenham Hotspur documentary on Amazon has made for interesting viewing ahead of the new season and it did have me convinced that Dele Alli was going to be an important player for Jose Mourinho.

However he was subbed off at half time in the 0-1 defeat to Everton, missed the trip to Bulgaria in the week and has been linked with a move away after Spurs look to have secured the signing of Gareth Bale.

Unsurprisingly his value has dropped as many owners jump off the bandwagon and what I am going to do with him is the big question ahead of this GW- if not for the uncertainty I was looking to bring in a Manchester United and Manchester City asset before GW3 and Alli was going to be the player I would have sacrificed having kept some money in the bank to make changes, but the drop in price was very much unforeseen.

It's not going to ruin my plans as such, but I do think it is a little frustrating to have left myself in this position.

I am very much going to be considering my transfer plans right up until the deadline on Saturday morning, but at this stage it would be a surprise if I didn't choose to make one.

Timo Werner looks like he will be passed fit to play against Liverpool so the squad is largely in a good position aside from Dele Alli's situation. At this stage I can't really recommend any Tottenham Hotspur attacking assets outside of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son as we will need to see how Gareth Bale is going to be added to the mix and whether a change in formation is going to be needed to incorporate the Welshman and Sergio Reguilon who is also looking like he will be signed by Spurs from Real Madrid.

Last week I can mainly look to Mohamed Salah as to the reason my GW1 score ended at 74 points with 40 of those coming from the Egyptian who had been handed the Captain armband. I am never as happy to do that when Salah is playing away from home like he is this week, but I am not sure I understand those who are talking about selling him right now?

Liverpool are one of the stronger teams in the Premier League which means they are largely fixture proof and Mohamed Salah looked the sharpest of their attacking options in their win over Leeds United.

Outside of Salah it was a pretty 'meh' week to be honest having seen Che Adams resort to the kind of form he showed when I selected him last season by missing a chance that looked easier to score. Dele Alli's issue has already been spoken about, and I am going to need more consistency from those I have selected to make up for the fact that Chelsea play Liverpool this weekend.

In the FPL Community there has been a lot of talk about what to do with the first Wild Card this season which has to be used before GW16- some had planned a GW1 team knowing they would use it in either GW2 or GW3, especially with four clubs not in action on the opening weekend of the season.

My personal approach was to pick a team I could largely rely upon through GW4 of the FPL game knowing I would be able to use up to three transfers to fight any fires that have popped up (looking at you again Dele!)

The reasoning I have for this approach is that I feel I can have a pretty strong team for the first four rounds of the season and it would also cover the transfer window which is open until October 5th. GW4 is the final one before the international break so I would be happy to break out my Wild Card either ahead of GW5 if the transfers have changed the outlook for the players I have in my squad, or having that option in the weeks ahead when we will begin to find out which of the clubs are going to have a 'DGW' in January when the League is split across two match days.

At that stage we should also have a lot more information about tactics, positions of players and whether there are a few bargains to be had, but a lot can change (injuries, needing multiple hits to change the squad as I would like) which may impact when that WC is used.

But overall it isn't one I wish to use this side of the next international break if I can help that at all.

Over the coming hours I will have a good think about what to do with the Alli problem- I think I have a lean, but need to wait for final pressers to really knuckle down on it.

Good luck to all in GW2.

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