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NBA Picks November 2017 (November 13-19)

The NBA season has begun in decent fashion for the NBA Picks I have been making and last week proved to be another with a winning record. ...

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (November 18-20)

Thank goodness we will not have to sit through another international break for a few months because these last two weeks have been very, very boring.

The football played in that time didn't help with so many matches ending goalless and I can't say I am disappointed that we are back to the bread and butter of domestic football this weekend.

The World Cup Finals will be fun... But the lead up has been a chore and the injury to Phil Jones while representing England once again highlights the nonsense of the friendly games that seem to be littered throughout the calendar year.

It's over now, so I am going to move on, but I can completely understand where Jose Mourinho was coming from when wondering what England were up to in pushing Jones through the pain barrier for a friendly game.

Speaking about Jose Mourinho and Phil Jones leads me to placing the link to my latest short piece about Manchester United. A difficult October has seen the criticism raise up, but Manchester United can get back on track in November before two more huge games against Arsenal and Manchester City which will determine the kind of goals United can aim for over the rest of the season.

You can read that short piece about Manchester United in my latest United Corner here.

Last time out in the Premier League, the eight picks made all returned as winners and I am hoping the international break has not ended my momentum. The picks from the Weekend Premier League games are below.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The final international break of the 2017 calendar year is now behind us and the Premier League return with a bang when the North London derby opens the next round of fixtures. The next six weeks are going to be an intense time with plenty of football in the top flight of English Football scheduled between now and the first few days of the 2018 calendar year.

Managers will be looking to guide their players through those tough stretches and will be hoping to avoid the injury bug. Mauricio Pochettino may be glad of the international break in that regards as his Tottenham Hotspur squad has the likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane nursing knocks, although the manager expects both to be available this week after being withdrawn from the England squad.

Both are key to the successes that Tottenham Hotspur can have, but Pochettino won't want to risk Alli and Kane and potentially lose them for the big stretch through December. However this is a huge game and both players should be ready to go against an Arsenal team looking to bounce back from their 3-1 loss at Manchester City.

The break has given the chance to a few players to get over injury concerns of their own and Arsenal have also benefited from the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey being given a rest by their national sides. A strong Arsenal team is expected to line up as they look to defend a long winning run at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League, although they are faced by a Tottenham Hotspur team who have been very strong on their travels.

The goalkeeping situation would be a concern for Pochettino if Hugo Lloris and Michel Vorm miss out again. With Toby Alderweireld expected to miss out, Tottenham Hotspur may not be as strong at the back and Arsenal have to try and take advantage of that with their attacking talent that is available.

That has probably contributed to the home side being a narrow favourite, but Tottenham Hotspur will feel they can challenge an Arsenal team who have looked vulnerable at the back. Both teams should have their moments and this has all the makings of a very close game.

It may not be a huge surprise that two teams who are closely matched do have so many competitive matches against one another. The last 3 at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League between these teams have ended in draws, while 4 of the last 6 North London derbies in the Premier League have seen the points shared.

Coming out of the international break into such a big game can be tough, and it won't be a big surprise if these teams end up cancelling one another out. Having a small interest in the draw from the first live game of the weekend looks the way to go in this one.

Bournemouth v Huddersfield Town Pick: Games like this one could prove to be so critical come April/May as the Premier League comes to a close and I don't think that is lost on Eddie Howe or David Wagner. It's hard to label games as 'must win' in November, but you can imagine certain fixtures have been circled by the managers and this has to be one that both Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town have looked to as one they can win.

The home advantage could be key to the outcome with Huddersfield Town clearly showing they are a much different proposition at home than on their travels. Goals have been hard to come by for The Terriers on their travels and defensively they have not been as tight as they have found themselves at the John Smith's Stadium.

A team like Bournemouth have the attacking power to take advantage of that and Eddie Howe will certainly feel they can win games like this at the Vitality Stadium. They had some real momentum going into the international break and the only worry for Howe is that the two break has snapped some of that.

Even with that in mind, Bournemouth have looked like an improving team and I think the absence of Christopher Schindler does weaken the Huddersfield Town rearguard. I can imagine they are set up to restrict Bournemouth and frustrate them, but the home team have played well enough and have the likes of Joshua King and Jermain Defoe to sniff out the chances.

The lack of goals has to be a concern for Huddersfield Town having failed to score in their last 5 away games in all competitions. On the other hand Bournemouth do create chances and I think they can take one which can lead to another important three points for a team climbing away from the bottom three.

Burnley v Swansea City Pick: It may be something of a surprise to note that Burnley and Swansea City have earned more points on their travels than they have at home in the Premier League this season. That makes the almost odds on quotes for Burnley to win this fixture less appealing than they may have initially looked, especially as Swansea City have shown some battling qualities away from home.

Paul Clement's men have narrowly been beaten at West Ham United and Arsenal and it has to be said they are facing a team who are not going to blow you away with their football. Goals have been a problem for both Burnley and Swansea City which suggests there won't be a lot between them and so the odds for the home team are not that appealing.

In saying that, Burnley have more momentum going into the international break than Swansea City which may play a part in this one. Defensively Burnley have shown they can be very tough to break down and they won't want to offer Swansea City too much encouragement in this one.

The problem is that Burnley can look a little predictable going forward which should mean most teams are fairly comfortable with what they are facing. While Swansea City have had their issues defensively at home, they have only conceded 3 times in 5 away games in the League and the players will have the confidence of having done the League double over Burnley last season.

I am actually finding it harder to separate them than the layers, but I am not convinced enough to back an out of form Swansea City with the start either. This is the kind of fixture that could easily be decided by a single goal and I do think it could be worth backing one or fewer goals to be shared out for a small interest.

An early goal can quickly change the whole dynamic of the fixture, but I think both Burnley and Swansea City will be looking to keep things tight and can have success doing that. 4 of the last 6 games between these teams in over recent years have finished with one or fewer goals scored including 3 in a row before Swansea City's 3-2 home win over Burnley last season.

Goals have come at a premium in Burnley home and Swansea City away matches this season and I will look for another tight game to develop here.

Leicester City v Manchester City Pick: The international break can be difficult for clubs to deal with as players are sent around the world to represent their nations. That is a particular concern for the top clubs in the top European Leagues who have the majority of their squad away from home and may be the biggest factor in slowing down a Manchester City team who have been rampant so far this season.

That hasn't been the case so far with Manchester City coming out of the last two international breaks with a 5-0 win over Liverpool and a 7-2 win over Stoke City. However both of those games were played at the Etihad Stadium and it is a different challenge when having to travel for a fixture with limited preparation time.

They are also facing a Leicester City who have played well in recent games and look to feel better under Claude Puel since he has taken over Craig Shakespeare. However The Foxes have not played one of the top teams in their recent run and it is hard to ignore the fact they have been beaten by Chelsea and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium in the Premier League this season.

In both games Leicester City have fallen a couple of goals behind before getting back into the game, but a slow start against Manchester City is much harder to retrieve with the way Pep Guardiola's men have played. You have to also consider that Leicester City have played six home matches against the teams that finished in the top six last season over the last eleven months and have lost 5 of those.

3 of Manchester City's 5 away Premier League wins have come by a single goal margin including a late winner at Bournemouth. However West Brom needed an injury time goal to get back to 2-3 in a home loss to Manchester City and this is a team who can create enough chances to really put Leicester City in a difficult spot in this one.

I just think Claude Puel may play this one a little too cautiously and allow Manchester City to dictate the play which is exactly where they are dominant. While they can cause problems on the counter attack with the pace in the starting eleven, Manchester City should be too strong and can score the goals to win this one.

The likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have all scored at least three times in their visits to Leicester City over the last eleven months. Manchester City have managed that number in their last couple of away games and I will back them at odds against to do the same here.

Liverpool v Southampton Pick: One of the big concerns for Jurgen Klopp is the injuries the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane have had to deal with throughout the 2017/18 season so far. His Liverpool side may have overcome those by remaining on the edge of the top four in the Premier League and almost progressing through to the Champions League Last 16, but Klopp will need a full squad to keep the momentum going.

Sadio Mane has returned from Senegal duty with another hamstring complaint and may have to miss out this week as Liverpool have struggled to get their four big name attackers onto the field at the same time. This week Philippe Coutinho should return, but Liverpool look plenty short to win this game.

As inconsistent as Southampton have been, they have proven to be a tough nut to crack at times. They certainly have the quality to raise their game when facing some of the best teams in the Premier League, and Southampton will be confident when you think how they played against Liverpool last season.

The Saints did not concede a goal in 4 games against Liverpool last season and beat them twice, while in recent years they have only lost 1 of 5 visits to Anfield.

Very rarely have Southampton been completely outclassed, but they are a hard to team to trust when they have been as inconsistent in front of goal as they have been. Instead you have to imagine Southampton will be looking to frustrate their hosts as they did in all 4 games last season and that could pay off with Mane missing.

Scoring goals remains an issue for Southampton who have just 9 all season in the Premier League. As poor as Liverpool have looked defensively, the majority of the poor performances have come away from Anfield and Liverpool have kept 3 clean sheets in a row here in all competitions.

With the head to head and the teams coming out on Saturday, I am surprised the oddsmakers have priced up one, or both, of these teams failing to score at odds against. The Liverpool defence has played better at home while Southampton can frustrate Liverpool when at their best and putting those factors together makes me feel that one of these teams, at least, are not going to score on Saturday.

West Brom v Chelsea Pick: There were some major questions about the Chelsea players when they bounced back from a 3-0 loss at Roma to beat Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League days later. The international break likely came at the wrong time for Chelsea who will be hoping Eden Hazard can overcome a knock he picked up with Belgium, but Antonio Conte will be looking for his side to start producing some consistency.

The Blues had won 4 of their last 5 games going into the international break, but some of those performances were not the most convincing. However Chelsea have faired pretty well away from home in the Premier League and now head to a West Brom team who are lacking confidence and have a manager of their own under pressure.

Tony Pulis' brand of football is far from pleasing on the eye but it has been effective in keeping the likes of Stoke City, Crystal Palace and West Brom in the Premier League. However there are signs that it is no longer producing the points at the same rate and West Brom have been awful over their last 20 Premier League games spread over two seasons.

The Baggies have earned just 12 points from a possible 60 in that time and produced a win just twice, while West Brom have not looked as secure defensively. That could be a problem in this one, although West Brom have scored in 4 of their last 5 Premier League games at home and have to feel they can challenge this Chelsea backline that is likely to be missing David Luiz again.

A problem for West Brom is the lack of belief and I do think Chelsea are going to get the better of them, although I don't want to back them to cover the Asian Handicap. It will need a win by at least two goals for Chelsea to return a full winner in this one and that may be difficult if West Brom do create chances like they did against Watford and Manchester City.

This is also a Chelsea team who have conceded goals and it is pointing to a game which features at least three goals shared out. That is priced up at odds against and this does feel like a match in which both teams will score with every chance of seeing a winner which is more likely to come from Chelsea.

6 of the last 7 Chelsea away games in all competitions have featured at least three goals, while the last 3 at The Hawthorns for West Brom have done the same. At odds against I will look for at least three goals to be shared out on Saturday.

Manchester United v Newcastle United Pick: The second live game in the Premier League on Saturday comes from Old Trafford as Manchester United look to bounce back from a disappointing 1-0 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This is a big couple of weeks coming up for Manchester United who are trying to keep tabs on Manchester City ahead of the first Manchester derby of the 2017/18 season.

Over the next eight days Manchester United will play twice at Old Trafford where they have been dominant so far this season. Games against Brighton and first Newcastle United are ones that Manchester United can ill afford to drop points and performances here suggest they won't be dropping points.

Manchester United have been confident at Old Trafford compared with last season and that has resulted in 8 straight wins in all competitions. They have created chances and scored 24 goals in those games, while defensively Manchester United have looked comfortable.

Phil Jones may not play this weekend, but Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling can produce a solid enough partnership to contain a Newcastle United side who have not been blessed with a lot of goals. Newcastle United have scored 4 goals in their last 6 Premier League games and could be missing Christian Atsu in this one.

Losing Jamaal Lascelles would be a blow for them from a defensive standpoint too as Rafa Benitez is sure to try and make life as difficult as possible for their hosts. The Magpies have yet to visit one of the top Premier League clubs this season and I think it will be a real test for them against a Manchester United team who have been very good at home.

Romelu Lukaku was back in scoring form for Belgium during the two week break and he looked sharp. It has been tough for him in recent away games with the way Manchester United have been set up, but this is a game in which Manchester United will look to get on the front foot and I think he will get his chances to snap out of his recent scoring drought at club level.

In recent games Manchester United and Newcastle United have played some close and competitive matches at Old Trafford, but the home team look considerably stronger now. A look at the starting line up from their last match against one another at Old Trafford in August 2015 shows how much Manchester United have improved compared to Newcastle United.

I expect that show up on the scoreboard in this one and I will look for Manchester United to cover the Asian Handicap.

Watford v West Ham United Pick: Maybe it has something to do with the horrific nine months of watching Manchester United under the guidance of David Moyes, or perhaps it is his ill-fated time in charge of both Real Sociedad and Sunderland, but I am not sure what West Ham United were thinking appointing him as their new manager.

The West Ham United fans seem to be wondering the same thing and there is plenty of negativity around the club which will only be removed if The Hammers can put some wins together. The next couple of weeks are so important for West Ham United to get on track before facing the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in consecutive Premier League games.

David Moyes has insisted the first part of his time with his new club is going to be working on the defensive side of the field as West Ham United have conceded far too many goals. That is going to be tested by Watford who have seen Marco Silva enhance his reputation to the point of having Everton try to come for their manager.

Silva's employers have refused that approach and he will continue trying to help Watford play the kind of football that has been receiving plenty of plaudits. Unfortunately the results have not matched the performances of late and injuries in defensive areas have seen Watford concede too many goals in recent games.

That is an area West Ham United will try and exploit, but the visitors have issues of their own that Watford will feel they can take advantage of. The Hornets have looked good in the final third and I do think they will have their chances even with Troy Deeney suspended.

It is an important game for both teams and the television cameras may be broadcasting an entertaining Sunday afternoon affair. I do think Watford are the more likely winners, but defensive problems and the home loss to Stoke City and failure to beat Brighton as the favourites at Vicarage Road put me off.

Add in the fact West Ham United have produced better away from home than at the London Stadium of late and Watford look a short price here. However I do think there will be at least three goals shared out between the teams with the way both have defended and attacked in recent games and I don't think Moyes will have had the time to stamp his defensive plans for The Hammers.

Backing at least three goals looks a decent price in this live game and I will look for the teams to reach that mark.

MY PICKS: Arsenal-Tottenham Hotspur Draw @ 3.70 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Bournemouth @ 1.86 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Burnley-Swansea City Under 1.5 Goals @ 2.70 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Manchester City Over 2.5 Team Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool-Southampton Both Teams to Score- NO @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
West Brom-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Watford-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

ATP World Tour Finals Day 7 Picks 2017 (November 18th)

The Davis Cup Final is still to come next weekend, but this is officially the end of the Tennis Tour for 2017 over the next couple of days with the ATP World Tour Finals down to the final three matches.

On Saturday we have two Semi Final matches before the Final is played on Sunday evening and then everyone can have a break and start preparing for the 2018 season which begins on New Year's Eve in Brisbane.

It really doesn't feel like a very long break, but that is the way it goes and the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Roger Federer, Jack Sock and David Goffin will be looking to build some momentum for the new season. We have seen in previous years players following their tennis in London with a strong start to 2018, while Goffin could use the performances here to inspire Belgium to a big success in the Davis Cup.

That's for another day though and the concentration on Saturday is on the two Singles Semi Final matches to be played throughout the day. It is Roger Federer and David Goffin who have been given the afternoon session before Grigor Dimitrov takes on Jack Sock in the second Semi Final in the evening.

Roger Federer - 4.5 games v David Goffin: I backed David Goffin to beat Dominic Thiem as the underdog in their 'winner takes all' Group Stage match on Friday and that means the Belgian Number 1 has earned himself a Semi Final spot. That is the good news, but the bad news for Goffin is that he has to face Roger Federer who has dominated their previous head to head and looks to be rounding into peak form at just the right time to win another ATP World Tour Finals.

He may have won all three matches played so far this week, but Federer has yet to really hit his best form. That has been highlighted by the close nature of his matches with the last two needing three sets to earn this wins over Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic.

Federer should be well rested having had Friday off while Goffin was winning a tense match against Dominic Thiem, but I have to be a little concerned with the slightly irritated manner in which Federer has carried himself this week. Maybe he is searching for perfection or been a little a tense because of the limited chances he knew he would get against some stronger servers, but Federer has to be happy he has come through with three wins.

Another factor that will encourage Federer is the kind of tennis he is going to face against Goffin with the latter not someone who is going to overpower an opponent. He will allow Federer to build a nice rhythm and I do think Goffin's serve is one that Federer will enjoy attacking which should mean he is on the front foot for much of this match.

The Federer serve has been a big weapon for him so far on a court that should suit him in this match up and I think the former World Number 1 is going to be too good for Goffin here.

Federer is 6-0 against Goffin which includes a 6-1, 6-2 win over him in Basel last month. The Swiss player has won all four matches against Goffin on the hard courts and has generally dominated those matches with one set dropped and this number of games is one that I think Federer is going to be good enough to cover.

As much as I want to credit Goffin for making it through to the Semi Final, I think it can't be ignored he beat an injured Rafael Nadal and a fatigued Dominic Thiem to do that. Now he faces a player who is much more confident and healthy than those players and I think Federer is able to work through to a 6-3, 6-3 win.

Jack Sock + 2.5 games v Grigor Dimitrov: The first Semi Final at the ATP World Tour Finals may not be as competitive as the fans will be hoping if it goes the way I expect. However I think the second Semi Final could a really good match between Grigor Dimitrov and Jack Sock and I am finding as difficult as the layers in trying to separate them.

That might be a surprise when you think how the two players have progressed through the Group Stage to reach this Semi Final.

While Jack Sock lost his opening match and needed final set deciders to beat Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov won all three matches in the Group and he has dropped just four games combined in the last two matches.

It shows Dimitrov is in very strong form and enjoying the conditions at the O2 Arena, but I have to factor in the weaker Group in which he was operating. I certainly think Dimitrov would have had his work cut out if he was swapped with Jack Sock while I would have expected the American to come through the other Group with some room to spare so I think this has all the makings of a close match.

Sock has the head to head advantage having won the last three matches between the players including in Indian Wells back in March, but I have to have a touch of concern with the amount of tennis he has had to play here. However Sock is enjoying his time and this has been seen as playing with 'house money' having sneaked into the ATP World Tour Finals and Sock has looked very confident with his tactics on the court.

You have to accept Dimitrov is going to be the fresher player despite playing on Friday while Sock was resting. He has not been taxed in either of the last two matches and Dimitrov has been producing some very strong tennis.

However I think the lack of pressure against his has just allowed Dimitrov to play his tennis with some freedom and I am looking for Sock to produce the big serves and heavy forehands which can force Dimitrov to look for more. If Sock serves well he has every chance of a third consecutive win as the underdog here in London and I do think there is a chance that Dimitrov is undercooked and ill-prepared for this one having won two matches easier than expected.

With the mental obstacle of facing a player who has gotten the better of him in their professional meetings and the serve working effectively enough for Sock, I do think the American can make use of these games, and I think he can challenge the Dimitrov serve with every chance of this one going at least three sets and being close all the way to the end.

Sock is good enough to win this and that makes the games being given to him that much more appealing here.

MY PICKS: Roger Federer - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Jack Sock + 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

ATP World Tour Finals Update: 8-4, + 6.76 Units (24 Units Staked, + 28.17% Yield)

Friday, 17 November 2017

United Corner- Momentum Needed for More Big Tests Ahead (November 17th 2017)

United Corner- Momentum Needed for More Big Tests Ahead (November 17th 2017)

On paper it looked like October was going to be a challenging month for Manchester United and even though Jose Mourinho claims he doesn't speak about injuries, it has been clear that Manchester United have been missing the influence of Paul Pogba.

With Marouane Fellaini, Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Pogba, Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all missing time or still on the road back, the squad has been a little stretched especially in the middle of the park.

I do feel for Mourinho in that regard, but what was he thinking bringing on Nemanja Matic when leading 0-2 at Swansea City in the League Cup Fourth Round and knowing the Serbian enforcer was going to be needed for all of the other big games being played?

It has been something he has been criticised for in the past, but the added reinforcements coming this month may make it easier for Mourinho to use the rotation that is critical at this time of the season. Games against Basel, CSKA Moscow and Bristol City should be seen as an opportunity for players not considered first team regulars to be involved and I don't think the likes of David De Gea, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku need to be playing a single minute in any of those games.

The games come thick and fast and it has been an issue in the past where you have seen Mourinho teams run out of legs in the last couple of months, especially with the number of games that can be backlogged.

The results in October may have dictated the team selection as well as the injuries as Manchester United won 1 of 4 Premier League games. It was a below par effort simply because of that loss to Huddersfield Town and the defeat at Chelsea would have hurt a lot less if that had not been the outcome at the John Smith's Stadium.

With Manchester City laying down a huge marker, those three points lost at Huddersfield Town had to be made up elsewhere and that was the reason the defeat at Chelsea hurt as much as it did. 8 points behind City already looks a lot of points, but it is too early to panic and simply means the back to back Premier League games against Arsenal and Manchester City in early December are vital for Manchester United's chances of really putting a title challenge together.

Now I do feel United 'must' beat Manchester City to just knock them back a step or two and anything less will mean looking for other teams or luck to help close a big gap.

But that's for another day and for now Manchester United have to be looking to get into those games with some momentum. Home games against Newcastle United and Brighton followed by a difficult looking trip to Watford have to see Manchester United return with 9 points or I think the pressure will really be on Mourinho.

The Champions League is in hand so those games should not affect the team selection for the League games coming up and I do think anything less than 9 points might already mean looking for a top four finish than a title challenge.

The return of the likes of Rojo and Pogba will be huge for United though and I think they can give the squad the boost it is looking for. Pogba has been a huge miss in the middle of the park which has been most noticeable in the big games played, while Rojo seems to come off as something of a leader who can drive the squad forward.

Both have that influence and I do think United have a different look with both playing, although Rojo's position is perhaps less secure in the starting eleven than the Frenchman's. The Bailly/Jones partnership has been effective for Jose Mourinho so there could be a system change with three at the back to incorporate Rojo, or the Argentinian may be asked to play at left back where he is not at his best. However that position remains a problematic area for Mourinho and Rojo can fill in for six months.

Personally I would rather play Rojo back at centre half where he was so good for United prior to his injury. I don't dislike Jones, but I think Rojo is a better all around centre half than the England international although I am sure there are many that will disagree.

For me a Bailly/Rojo partnership was a key part of the success United had in the second half of last season and I would pair them up over the Christmas period.

My ideal United starting line up has not changed much from the start of the season barring the return from injuries and would look like this: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Blind, Matic, Pogba, Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Martial and Lukaku in a 4-3-3 system.

Of course Mourinho may decide Rojo at left back and Jones and Fellaini are more important than Blind and Herrera, but there are options there once the squad is back to full health.

In fact reading into Mourinho's press conferences, I think his ideal team might actually involved Ibrahimovic back in the '10' position in a 4-2-3-1 which means Mkhitaryan isn't just pushed out to the right, but way not be the permanent fixture he looked earlier this season.

The left and right side of that 3 would be interchanged although I would begin with Martial and Mkhitaryan myself for the pace and creativity they offer.

But what of Marcus Rashford? I think Rashford is full of potential and he will continue interchanging with Martial on the left side of the three, but I also think there is more room for improvement than many others seemingly do.

His enthusiasm and confidence is a huge plus and I think that means he is someone who will take on board where he needs to improve and I am sure there are Coaches helping him along.

I would like to see a little more composure in the final third where Rashford can be hit or miss at times, while I do think he is yet to pick the right option when in the final third. There are times I would like him to pass and others when he hesitates to shoot, but that will come as it did for Cristiano Ronaldo in his development at Old Trafford.

The England man is definitely someone I like, but I do think he is yet to really cement a full time starting position in the Manchester United eleven. Over the next six weeks there are plenty of opportunities for Rashford to impress, I just hope he is beginning to figure out when to make the right decision in what has been a number of promising positions in the final third.

Thankfully the talking is over and the Premier League and Champions League are back this weekend. It was a tough few weeks, but the squad looks to be getting back to full health and hopefully the mood will be a lot better as we head into December and the two big Premier League games United open the month with against Arsenal and Manchester City.

That will be determined by the way United play against Newcastle United, Brighton and Watford, but I still have full belief in this squad and I can see improved performances to close out November.

We are not as far away as the press will have the fans believe and I think United can prove that with some big performances over the next couple of weeks before the game at the Emirates Stadium.

And it is great to have Paul Pogba, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic back.

College Football Week 12 Picks 2017 (November 18th)

We are getting down to the final couple of weeks of the College Football regular season which is going to set up the Conference Championship Games and also settle on the four teams who will be playing in the College Football Play Offs.

Week 11 proved to be another devastating week for the leading contenders with both the Georgia Bulldogs and Notre Dame Fighting Irish going down to losses and the chances of a two loss team being part of the final four has increased. The Committee may still be hoping things are easier to decide if four teams can run the table from here with the hope that Alabama, Wisconsin, Clemson and Oklahoma are those teams who would all be Conference Champions and none with more than a single loss to their name.

However the likes of the Auburn Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, and Georgia Bulldogs can still play a huge part, while the Big Ten has to worry that a team from the East is able to knock off the Badgers in their Championship Game.

There is also still an outside hope for the Ohio State Buckeyes to make the four selections if they can win out, but they are going to need a lot of help to achieve the goal they would have had at the start of this season.

Week 11 was a good one for the College Football Picks and hopefully the following Picks from Week 12 can back that up.

Michigan Wolverines @ Wisconsin Badgers Pick: If the Wisconsin Badgers can run the table and remain unbeaten they will be representing the Big Ten in the College Football Play Off but they are going to have to beat two Big Ten East opponents to do that. The Badgers are currently outside of the top four in the latest Committee Rankings because they have not exactly faced the most daunting of schedules, but Wisconsin remain unbeaten which has to be respected.

They face the first of two Big Ten East opponents in Week 12 when hosting the Michigan Wolverines having avoided meeting Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State during the regular season. That has gone against the Badgers who simply don't have many big wins on their schedule and even beating a two loss Michigan team may not be respected as much as it would have expected to be before the season began.

That's not something Wisconsin can concern themselves with and instead the focus has to be to win this game and keep the pressure on the other teams in the nation. For Michigan there is still something to play for as they have a 5-2 Conference record and will be the Big Ten East winners if they can win out and both Penn State and Michigan State lose another game.

It is a long shot, and some may think the focus has already turned to the home game with the much disliked Ohio State Buckeyes in Week 13 as Michigan have a chance to play spoiler for their great rival.

Michigan have a tough challenge in front of them as they hope Brandon Peters can continue his decent play from the Quarter Back position. His lack of experience is a concern in the most hostile atmosphere Peters would have seen in College Football, but Peters may not be asked to make too many plays through the air and instead make sure the mistakes are avoided which can be critical.

Running the ball will be a challenge for the Wolverines against a strong Wisconsin Defensive Line, but the Offensive struggles for Michigan will likely be matched by the Badgers.

As well as Wisconsin have played, they are now facing one of the premier Defensive units in the nation and it is not going to be easy for Alex Hornibrook who has been guilty of throwing at least one Interception in each of the Conference games this season. In a game where mistakes could be so influential to the outcome of the match, Hornibrook has to be careful to give Michigan extra possessions and the team who creates the most turnovers will have every chance of winning this one outright.

The Badgers will feel they can perhaps establish the run, but this has all the feeling of a really close game which may be decided by a Field Goal either way. It was Michigan who won a really close game in 2016 and that was low-scoring with every chance of this one going the same way.

Both teams have struggled against the spread when playing an opponent with a winning record. However the Michigan Wolverines did cover in their sole game as the underdog under Jim Harbaugh and I will take the points on offer in this one and look for a close game to develop.

Virginia Cavaliers @ Miami Hurricanes Pick: In one of the leading preview publications I read for the College Football season, the Miami Hurricanes were considered the Number 2 'Surprise Team' who could challenge for the National Championship. For much of the season it has been hard to believe in the Miami Hurricanes after some closer than expected wins, but the last couple of weeks have changed things.

The Hurricanes have dominated the Virginia Tech Hokies and Notre Dame Fighting Irish in those games and now they are occupying one of the top four places in the College Football Play Off Rankings. Winning out in style and then challenging the Clemson Tigers, or beating them outright, in the ACC Championship Game could be enough for the Hurricanes to earn a Play Off berth.

They come into this one as a heavy favourite to beat the Virginia Cavaliers who have been enjoying their best season since 2011. Bronco Mendenhall needs to be given a lot of credit for turning around the Cavaliers who finished 2-10 last season, but they have lost three of their last four games and are now playing a second consecutive road game.

Much will depend if Miami are focused on this one, but the same can be said for Virginia who have their big rivalry game with Virginia Tech next week. The number is immediately a concern when you think of how close Miami games have tended to be this season before the blow out over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Week 11.

The performances from the Hurricanes have been sparked by the Defensive performances as they have prevented either Virginia Tech or Notre Dame from scoring more than 10 points. That is impressive and I think the Hurricanes can shut down the Virginia Offensive unit who have struggled in their three losses in four games.

Jordan Ellis has struggled on the ground for the Cavaliers and it is a big ask for the team to establish the run against the Miami Defensive Line who have been playing at a high level. It has the hallmarks of a game where Virginia are stuck in third and long for much of the game when they do have the ball and that puts plenty of pressure on Kyle Benkert, although the Quarter Back has responded with some top performances.

It won't be easy to replicate those from Benkert in this one as he will be under pressure from the Miami pass rush who can pin back their ears whenever Virginia are in obvious passing downs. Benkert will also have to be aware of the ball-hawking Secondary who have been able to turn the ball over.

Running the ball had been a problem for Miami too for much of the season, especially with Mark Walton going down with an injury. However they have come alive over the last couple of weeks and Miami should be able to rip off some big gains against a Virginia Defensive Lie who have allowed 5.1 yards per carry over their last three games.

That only opens things up for Malik Rosier at the Quarter Back position who has been able to play with more confidence knowing he is not going to be left in third and long himself. However he too is going to be throwing against a strong Secondary so the majority of the day should be Rosier trying to make plays with his legs and possibly opening up the play-action to take his shots downfield, although mistakes made will be gobbled up by the Virginia Defensive Backs.

Overall it does feel like Miami could have another dominant performance on the Defensive side of the ball which can spark another solid win. They have not covered too many big spreads, but the Hurricanes have a chance against the Cavaliers who have not been at their best over the last four games and potentially looking ahead to their rivalry game with Virginia Tech.

The Cavaliers and the underdog have a strong recent run in this series. However they are 2-5 against the spread in their last seven road games and Virginia have lost by 17 at both Pittsburgh and Louisville of late. The Hurricanes are better than both and can win this one by a bigger margin and continue in their bid to earn a Play Off berth.

UCF Knights @ Temple Owls Pick: The defending American Athletic Champions the Temple Owls are not going to defend their title this season, but they can play spoiler for the UCF Knights in Week 12. It is a big time for the Knights who have three big games to play and win if they want to work their way through to one of the big Bowl Games this season, while some may even think an unbeaten end to the season can bring them into a position to challenge for a College Football Play Off spot.

That is not likely to be the case, but the Knights can finish this season unbeaten which would be a huge achievement for a team who didn't win a single game just two seasons ago. The Knights have already secured a Bowl spot, but they do want more, although they cannot look past Temple to the big State game against South Florida next week.

Back to back 10-4 seasons saw Matt Rhule leave for the vacant job at Baylor and Temple have taken a step back this time around. The Owls still need another win to become Bowl eligible for the third consecutive season and they would love to get that here while knocking UCF out of the realms of the unbeaten.

Temple have a chance of doing that with their much improved performances in their most recent games. They have found a way to get the run established which should be on show in Week 12 and that has opened the door for Frank Nutile to continue his fine performances from his last three games.

With the Offensive unit being placed in third and manageable spots, Nutile should be able to make some plays through the air to keep the Owls Offense moving the ball up and down the field. Nutile has 6 Touchdown passes with over 800 passing yards in his three starts for the UCF Knights and his Offensive Line has not only paved the way for solid outings on the ground but have also given the Quarter Back time in pass protection.

The bigger challenge for Temple may come on the other side of the ball as slowing down the Knights Offensive unit has proven to be too big a task for teams they have run into. The Knights have scored at least 31 points in every game they have played this season, and they too should have their success running the ball which will give them a chance to keep the chains moving in this one.

The key to the outcome of the game could come through the air as the high octane passing game of the Knights comes up against an improving Temple Secondary. McKenzie Milton has had a really impressive performance at Quarter Back for the UCF Knights and he should be able to make some big plays in this one, and I do think this could be a high scoring game between these teams.

The points could be key for Temple at home with the Knights knowing the huge game coming up on the schedule. Temple are 20-8 against the spread in their last twenty-eight games against a team with a winning record, and they are 8-3 against the spread in their last eleven at home.

Recently the UCF Knights have just found the spreads a little skewed against them and they have won their last couple of road games by a combined 17 points. This start for the Temple Owls looks appealing enough and I will take the points on offer with the home underdog in Week 12.

Pittsburgh Panthers @ Virginia Tech Hokies Pick: Two weeks ago the trendy pick in the ACC Coastal Division were the Virginia Tech Hokies but back to back losses have left them out of the equation in a Division won by the Miami Hurricanes. The Hurricanes and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have won back to back games against Virginia who have already secured Bowl eligibility but who need to win out of they want to match the 10 wins they earned in 2016.

That has to give the Hokies the motivation to pick themselves up off the floor after losing those back to back games. Hosting the Pittsburgh Panthers gives Virginia Tech the chance to get back to winning ways before facing rivals Virginia next week, although Pittsburgh have the motivation of needing to win their last two games to become Bowl eligible too.

The Panthers had won consecutive games themselves, but the home loss to North Carolina last week has put their chances of reaching a Bowl behind the black ball.

Pittsburgh do have their chances in this one as they have been able to establish the run very effectively in recent games which has put their Offensive unit in a decent spot on the field. They will be encouraged by the problems Virginia Tech have had on the Defensive Line in their most recent games, but those have come against Miami and Georgia Tech and I expect the Hokies to respond.

They have been difficult to run against at home and Virginia Tech know shutting down Pittsburgh on the ground, or at least limiting them, will put the pressure on Ben DiNucci at Quarter Back. DiNucci has offered Pittsburgh a spark with his duel-threat ability but throwing the ball against the Virginia Tech Secondary has proven to be a difficult test for teams throughout the season.

DiNucci would be under pressure from the pass rush in third and long situations behind an Offensive Line which has not been as strong in pass protection as run blocking. Throwing from difficult spots increases the expectations of throwing a pick and that is where the Hokies will look to put Pittsburgh in a tough situation for much of the afternoon.

Running the ball has proven to be a difficult task for Virginia Tech in recent games but this is a team who have played better at home. It is important for the Hokies to get back to basics running the ball as that can ease the pressure on Josh Jackson at Quarter Back who has not been playing at a high level in recent games.

Any established run game means Jackson has a little more time to make his plays down the field and that is important for Virginia Tech's Offensive Line. Any time the Hokies are in third and long would be a win for the Panthers and allow them to get after the Quarter Back, but any third and manageable spot would be good for Jackson to expose some of the holes in the Pittsburgh Secondary.

The underdog has been very strong in this series, but the home team is 5-1 against the spread in the last six. Pittsburgh have a poor 3-7-2 record against the spread in their last twelve games overall and like I have mentioned, Virginia Tech tend to play better at home where they have a solid 7-2 record against the spread in the last nine here.

It is a big number when you think how Virginia Tech have played in their last couple of games, but they are the superior team over Pittsburgh and I think they can show that. An Interception or two can swing this towards the Hokies and I will look for them to win this by around 17 points.

Kentucky Wildcats @ Georgia Bulldogs Pick: Two of the top four in the College Football Play Off Rankings were beaten last week and one of those were the Georgia Bulldogs who have dropped out of those positions. There is still a chance the Bulldogs can turn things around if they can win out having already secured a spot in the SEC Championship Game, but another loss would be curtains for Georgia when it comes to earning a Play Off spot.

The blow out loss to the Auburn Tigers was a real disappointment for Georgia who headed into the game as the favourites but suffered a 23 point defeat. Georgia and the Kentucky Wildcats finish off their Conference play this weekend and both schools are already Bowl eligible.

The Kentucky revival has been very important for a school that has usually turned towards their basketball team at this time of the season. While the 7-3 record has to be respected, Kentucky have not really played a team of the level of Georgia with the three losses coming against Florida, Mississippi State and Mississippi as the Wildcats avoided playing some of the top schools from the SEC West this season.

Kentucky will lean on Benny Snell in this one as they look for the Running Back to put the Offensive unit in third and manageable spots, although that won't be easy against a Georgia Defensive Line that have something to prove this week. Snell has been a huge part of the successes of the Wildcats over the last couple of seasons and he will be encouraged by some of the runs teams have ripped off against the Bulldogs Defensive Line over their last three games.

I do think the Bulldogs will look to clamp down on the run and give their Secondary the chance to make plays against Kentucky's Stephen Johnson at Quarter Back. Johnson has gone as far as Snell has been able to carry the Wildcats so Georgia will know they can make Kentucky a little one dimensional if they at to get a lock on Johnson.

Running the ball with Nick Chubb and Sonny Michel carrying has been the basis of Georgia's success this season and I imagine there will be a large dose of both Backs in this one. The Bulldogs know it is so important for them to get the run going to keep their Offense going in the right direction, although the line of scrimmage is where Kentucky's Defensive Line have played well too.

In all honesty I don't think Kentucky have faced a team who can run the ball anything like Georgia can so I am not so convinced about the strong Wildcats numbers. We will know for sure on Saturday, but I believe the Georgia Offensive Line will win that battle and keep the Georgia Offensive unit in third and manageable spots where Jake Fromm should be able to be effective at Quarter Back.

Fromm has been asked to manage the games for Georgia since taking over at Quarter Back and allow the Running Backs and Defense to dominate games. He has been effective at doing that and keeping him in third and manageable should slow down the Kentucky pass rush, while also opening up play-action passes against a Secondary who have turned the ball over, but also given up some very big plays.

I do like Georgia bouncing back in a big way here as I look for them to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That is so important in games in the SEC and it should give Georgia the chance to pull away and put an impressive win on the board to keep them in the mind of the College Football Play Off Committee.

Georgia are 5-1 against the spread in their last six games following a straight up loss, while the favourite is 4-0 against the spread in the last four in this series. A big number on paper, I will look for the Bulldogs to use their dominance at the line of scrimmage to make some big plays on both sides of the ball and pull away for a win by close to four Touchdowns.

Texas A&M Aggies @ Mississippi Rebels Pick: This has been a down season for both the Texas A&M Aggies and the Mississippi Rebels and it would not be a big surprise if both schools are looking for a new Football Head Coach next season. The Aggies have at least confirmed their Bowl eligibility before their final two games are to be played on the road in the SEC, while the Rebels are still searching for one more win.

The Egg Bowl is played next week which may take some of the focus away from this game for Ole Miss. That game is played on Thanksgiving Day this year which means a shortened preparation time than teams are used to and so the Rebels could be forgiven if they are not at full whack for this one.

In saying that Ole Miss need one more win to become Bowl eligible and this may be seen as the game in which they can earn that victory more than the one against Mississippi State on the road. The Rebels have won two games in a row which includes a road win at Kentucky to show they have far from quit on this season, but the Aggies have nothing to lose in this one.

With Nick Starkel back at Quarter Back, the Aggies have more of a threat at the Quarter Back position which should open a few running lanes for the team. The Mississippi Defensive Line have been one that has been inconsistent this season so the Aggies have every chance to at least put the Offense in decent down and distances and give Starkel a chance to make some big plays down the field.

The passing game is the key for Starkel and the Aggies and he should have a decent game against this Rebels Secondary. Running the ball will just give Starkel a little more time in the pocket and that should see him hit some of his big time Receivers which can see the Aggies have a decent day Offensively.

With the Aggies likely feeling confident when it comes to moving the chains, their Defensive unit will also believe they can get the better of their opposition on the other side of the ball. Playing in the tough SEC West can see the numbers affected, but the Aggies Defensive Line have played well and they will be looking to clamp down on the Mississippi Running Backs and force young Quarter Back Jordan Ta'amu to beat them through the air.

Ta'amu has come in for Shea Patterson who was injured for the season, but he has led the Rebels to an impressive road win at Kentucky. Now the question is how he can play against an Aggies Secondary who have played at a decent level all season, especially with the pass rush Texas A&M can generate up front likely to be in Ta'amu's face.

The Quarter Back has shown the confidence to make the big throws when he has needed to and I have little doubt he will be able to do that here. However I think the Aggies Defense can step up and make a couple of big plays which can see them change the momentum in their favour in what looks to be a very close game.

Texas A&M have not enjoyed playing in this series as they are 0-5 against the spread since joining the SEC, but the underdog is 4-1 against the spread. Neither team has been impressive against the point spread in recent games, but I do think this could easily be a pick 'em and getting the points with the road underdog look to be worth taking.

It will be close, but the Aggies have every chance of winning this one outright and I like having the points with me.

NC State Wolfpack @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons Pick: The ACC Atlantic Division has been won by the Clemson Tigers who battled past the NC State Wolfpack in a really close game a couple of weeks ago. While the Wolfpack will be disappointed to see their chances of winning the Conference come to an end, they are 7-3 this season and winning out will mean they have the chance for the first double digit winning season since 2002.

That would be a huge achievement for a school that has secured a fourth consecutive winning season already, but have yet to win more than 8 games in a single season in that time. They will be the favourites to win the final game next week, but the Wolfpack need to earn the upset on the road at the Wake Forest Demon Deacons to have a chance to get up to 10 wins in total.

After seven consecutive losing seasons, Wake Forest have the chance to finish with back to back winning years if they can win one of what is likely to be three games left in the 2017 season. The Demon Deacons became Bowl eligible after rallying for a big win at the Syracuse Orange last week, but it may still look a little funny to see them as the favourite to win in Week 12.

The chances to win the game have been improved by the tough schedule NC State have been battling through over the last few weeks which will have an accumulated effect on the players. The Wolfpack Defensive Line have been challenge on the ground and struggled to make the plays to slow teams down, but their numbers have been affected by the quality of the teams the Wolfpack have faced.

Matt Colburn should be able to get the run established for Wake Forest in this one which is going to make life that much easier for John Wolford at Quarter Back who has been producing some huge numbers. Wolford is helping the Demon Deacons average almost 400 passing yards per game over their last three games, but it will be interesting to see how they perform against the Wolfpack Secondary who can be helped by their Defensive Ends bringing the pressure up front.

However the Secondary has also been protected by the fact that the Wolfpack have faced teams who have been able to run the ball against them. I expect Wake Forest can make some big plays in this one and the pressure will be on NC State to try and keep up with them.

Motivation for the NC State Wolfpack is not an issue as they look to finish the ACC Conference play with a 7-1 record which will be the best performance in the Conference in their school history. They will be able to run the ball as effectively as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons which makes this a fascinating game where mistakes could prove to be very costly.

Ryan Finley has had a strong season at Quarter Back and should be able to make plenty of plays against this Wake Forest Secondary. The concern has to be some of the Interceptions that he has thrown in recent games, although those have come against a higher quality of opponent including Notre Dame and Clemson, and this Demon Deacons Secondary have given up plenty of passing yards.

The Wolfpack have won four of the last five games in this series and they have covered in each of their wins. While having a poor 1-7 record against the spread in their last eight in Wake Forest, the Wolfpack did cover the last time they played here.

The home team has been dominant against the spread in the series, but I think the Wolfpack are the superior team and can show that as the road underdog where they may feel a little disrespected. You can't read too much into games against the same opponents, but I do think NC State have been able to play the better Football this season and I think they can win this one outright which made it more of a surprise to have the benefit of receiving the points in this game.

MY PICKS: Michigan Wolverines + 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Miami Hurricanes - 18.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Temple Owls + 13.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Virginia Tech Hokies - 15.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Georgia Bulldogs - 21 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Texas A&M Aggies + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
NC State Wolfpack + 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)