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Premier League Picks Week 26

Philip Keidel - February 8, 2019

Photo Credit: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

It was a winning week, for once, but it wasn’t an especially profitable week. Although, when you’ve lost as much as I have in this column, any positive number is welcomed. Still, after cashing my first two picks last weekend only to see Arsenal roll over and play dead against Manchester City, I was reminded of Charles Barkley’s exchange with that fake doctor in the TV commercial for an online sportsbook.

You know, the one where the doctor tells the Chuck Wagon that he is suffering from “acute win deficiency,” i.e., he’s winning, but he’s not winning enough. Barkley replies, mournfully, “oh, no.” I know exactly how he feels.

Just as the only remedy for a certain kind of fever is more cowbell, the only remedy for acute win deficiency is more winning. Let’s get to it.

FULHAM v. MANCHESTER UNITED

For the first few months of writing this column, I tried way too hard to find even-money or better bets. Doubling your money (or more than doubling it) is fun, and it feels like you outsmarted the book. As the results have shown, the only person I truly outsmarted was myself.

The way out of this hole, then, is to first stop digging. Is it especially sexy or exciting to pick the surging Manchester United over the plainly awful Fulham this weekend? It’s not. United have nine wins and one draw in Solskjaer’s first ten matches.

Meanwhile, Fulham are seven points from safety in 19th place in the table and are almost certainly heading back to the Championship next season. The Cottagers have lost four of their last five Premier League matches. United slapped Fulham around on their way to a 4-1 win in December. Against the top five clubs this season, Fulham have given up the following goal tallies: three, three, two, two, four, two. All that while scoring a total of three times in those six fixtures.

Putting out a hundred to win sixty is unexciting, but as I indicated above, if they’re willing to pay the sixty when United wins this match 2-0 or 2-1 or 3-1 or whatever, I’m happy to accept it. Take Manchester United to win at 6/10.

WATFORD v. EVERTON

Ooooh, what’s this? We have a Premier League beef! Everton’s manager, Marco Silva, used to manage Watford until they fired him last January. Silva now manages Everton (pretty poorly lately, but we’ll get to that in a minute). Watford striker Troy Deeney obviously doesn’t think much of the job Silva did at Watford, or the circumstances of his departure.

So ordinarily I wouldn’t think twice about this match, but the quotes from Deeney and Silva are just too good. Deeney: “The people at Everton are fantastic. Not the manager.” Silva: “I know some of the players already saw that. They are aware of it…Watford chose this strategy during the week.” Grown men swinging verbal handbags at each other, it just doesn’t get much more fun than that in early February with two teams stuck firmly in mid-table.

As for the pick, it’s Watford all the way. Everton have lost four of their last five matches in all competitions and they are no better on the road, having lost three of their last four in the league away from Goodison Park. Watford have been in a funk for a few weeks, playing low-scoring matches and sleepwalking a bit. Deeney is their lightning rod, though, and he’s likely to score (he’s 2/1 to score, if you like it.) In the spirit of keeping it simple, we’re taking the motivated home team to win: Take Watford to win at 13/10.

MANCHESTER CITY v. CHELSEA

All of my reasons to bet against Chelsea were set out at length in this space last week. One 5-0 beating of the league’s worst team (which I called) won’t undo all of the internal damage at Chelsea. The team’s best player still isn’t too impressed with the manager, who has expressed concern that he cannot motivate these players to try their best.

Conversely, Pep Guardiola has Manchester City back at the top of the table (on goal difference, and yes, Liverpool has a match in hand). City lost to Chelsea earlier this season, a loss that exposed some flaws in Guardiola’s side and was shortly thereafter followed by the bad losses home to Crystal Palace and at Leicester City that allowed Liverpool to grab the league lead in the first place. City have a score to settle with Chelsea. There is also the small matter of the League Cup final between these two teams in two weeks. City will want to put a mark on Chelsea here, and the short money line tells you that they will. Take Manchester City to win at 1/2.

Good luck this weekend.

WEEK 25 RESULTS

Chelsea to win against Huddersfield Town AND over 2.5 goals at 20/23: WIN

Tottenham Hotspur to win against Newcastle United at 4/9: WIN

Arsenal to draw OR win at Manchester City at 5/2: LOSS

WEEK 25 TOTAL: +$31

SEASON TO DATE: -$1719

Premier League Picks Week 25

Philip Keidel - February 1, 2019

The January transfer window action was as cold as our weather these past few days. When the two biggest names to move are arguably Michy Batshuayi and 38-year-old Peter Crouch, it’s safe to say that nobody did the sort of business that ultimately wins titles.

It’s strange, too, because there are at least four clubs who really should have made a splashy move. Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are in a scrap for the final Champions League place; a key addition to any of those teams could have been the difference between the cash windfall that CL qualification brings and another slog through the Europa League. Then there’s Tottenham Hotspur, now just two points behind Manchester City. Adding an attacker or at least an offensive-minded midfielder might have given Spurs a path to a second-place finish in the table.

Instead, all of these clubs stood pat. Spurs will eventually get Harry Kane back from injury, and presumably, Chelsea thinks there is nowhere to go but up from here. Well, we’ll see about that. In fact, let’s get right to the picks and say a few more things about Chelsea.

CHELSEA v. HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

As was covered in this space last week, there is pretty clearly a mutiny afoot at Chelsea. The players aren’t turning up for manager Maurizio Sarri. But the Italian gaffer shouldn’t take it personally — Chelsea players have a habit of quitting on managers whenever things aren’t going their way. It happened with Antonio Conte. It happened with Jose Mourinho. It seems to be happening again to Sarri.

He thinks he has the answer, apparently: Continue Reading

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Premier League Picks Week 24

Philip Keidel - January 29, 2019

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I can assure you that I experienced all five of these stages within five minutes of this happening — killing my Fulham-win-or-draw pick and guaranteeing another winless week:

When Harry freaking Winks scores after the allotted stoppage time to beat you, you know it’s not meant to be. Call me crazy (I see the comments, you’ve called me worse) but I’m still convinced I’m going to end up in the black once the season is over. There’s a lot of time left. On to the Week 24 winners:

BOURNEMOUTH v. CHELSEA

The Cherries have been abysmal for the better part of three months. At one point, Bournemouth lost six of seven league matches. But Eddie Howe’s men have “sort of” steadied the ship, with two wins and a draw in their last three home matches in the league. They’re still terrible on the road, but they host Chelsea here.

And what a time to catch Chelsea. After their desultory, disinterested performance at Arsenal, Maurizio Sarri told the assembled press that his players are “extremely difficult to motivate.” Well now. That’s a dangerous game to play with a squad full of multi-millionaires who know they can’t win the league and are getting by just fine without Champions League matches to play this season, thank you very much. It went about as well as you might expect with the team’s best player:

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Premier League Picks Week 23

Philip Keidel - January 18, 2019

You can analyze trends and probabilities all you like. You can diagnose a match to within an inch of its life. But there are certain things you really can’t account for. Before shutting out an impotent Newcastle United on January 2, Manchester United hadn’t kept a clean sheet in the league in their prior seven matches. The Red Devils went to Wembley last weekend to take on Tottenham Hotspur. Goals aplenty, right? Yeah, no:

World class players occasionally thwart the best of all laid plans. The blinder from de Gea cost me a winning week, but as usual, the best part about the past week is that it’s in the past. Looking for a rebound in Week 23, we’re going to ignore the early card and hone in on the weekend’s final three matches. Here come this week’s winners:

ARSENAL v. CHELSEA

This time of year you start hearing a lot about “relegation six-pointers.” That’s when two clubs near the bottom of the table play each other; the winner gets the benefit of adding three points to their tally while depriving their fellow strugglers of a potential three points.

Neither Arsenal nor Chelsea is anywhere close to being relegated. But this match can fairly be called a “Champions League place six-pointer.” Chelsea is fourth in the table with 47 points, clutching onto the last Champions League place. Arsenal is tied with Manchester United on points for fifth (the Gunners have a slightly better goal difference) with 41 points.

Chelsea will naturally see this match as a chance to put Arsenal irretrievably behind. A Blues win would stretch their lead over Unai Emery’s men to nine points with nearly two-thirds of the season gone. Chelsea is on a nice run in league play, with five wins and a draw in their last seven. Meanwhile, Arsenal continue to waste time figuring out what to do with the expensive malcontent that Arsene Wenger stuck Emery with:

Arsenal is not favored at home for a reason. Two losses from three in league play, including the 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool, make the Gunners the wrong side of this tie. Take Chelsea to win at 5/4.

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Premier League Picks Week 22

Philip Keidel - January 11, 2019

The new year so far is as unprofitable as the year prior was. But I still believe in what I’m doing, especially since so many of these outcomes are determined by things that no one could ever foresee no matter what sort of data bank is available.

Last weekend on this site I picked the Philadelphia Eagles to lose to the Chicago Bears but to cover 6.5 points. It was actually a rocking chair cover as these things go — the Eagles were down 5 late in the game before Nick Foles saved them again. Well, Foles and former Eagle Cody Parkey (with some help from current Eagle Treyvon Hester):

Parkey’s kick goes through and my prediction is basically spot on — Eagles loss, cover, you’re welcome. I’ve never been happier to be wrong…but it doesn’t get much stranger than that.

In my first soccer picks column of 2019, after splitting my first two picks, I only needed league-leading Liverpool to win or draw away to Manchester City to give me a second consecutive winning week. Liverpool was in line to take an early lead, which would most likely have led to them winning or at worst earning a draw, when this happened:

The tweet doesn’t even mention that Liverpool’s Sadio Mane had hit the post seconds before Stones miraculously volleyed that ball out in the last split second he had left. It’s tough to be on the wrong side of the result when the analysis going into the pick is sound.

The only solace is just that: The analysis is sound, and the results are due to come good. Here come your Week 22 winners:

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR v. MANCHESTER UNITED

United has treated me quite well since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over for Jose Mourinho as manager of the biggest club in England. As a City supporter, though, I have been waiting for the right time to bail out on United and make some money doing it. That time is now.

Tottenham Hotspur had an unsightly blip against Wolverhampton Wanderers on December 29, but that defeat was preceded by five straight wins in the league. Spurs comfortably dispatched Cardiff City on New Year’s Day, and since then have advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup and won a crucial first leg against Chelsea in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup. Manager Mauricio Pochettino has Spurs scoring goals for fun and winning a lot.

It’s really tempting to just pick a goal total wager (over 2.5 goals feels like free money at 8/13 because United hasn’t kept a clean sheet against a top-5 team this season), but a Spurs win is just as likely and carries a better payoff, so take Spurs to win at 21/20.

MANCHESTER CITY v. WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS

City is still my team but I didn’t much care for their antics over this most recent domestic cups break. City’s opponent in the Carabao Cup, Burton Albion, saw that City hung a 7-0 beating on Rotherham United in their FA Cup match, and had this to say:

Little could anyone know that 7-0 was a scoreline Burton Albion would envy by the end of the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final:

A little context: City is one of the richest and most powerful sides in the world. City is favored to win the Champions League (which is ridiculous, but those are the odds). City is the defending Premier League champion. Rotherham is in danger of falling out of the Championship, which would put them in League One with Burton.

Pep Guardiola might have been feeling himself a little bit after (barely) beating Liverpool. And it is indisputable that there is no room for mercy or for not trying in professional sport. But that assumes comparable opponents. That’s not what these matches were. These were empty routs. I’m not the only one saying this:

Pride goeth before a fall, it’s written, and in a perverse way I would love to see City dragged for its arrogance in this matchup with Wolves. Unfortunately, all of the indicators are going the other way. Wolves drew with City earlier this season, so City will be motivated to correct that error. Wolves posted wins over Chelsea and Spurs in past month — but they also drew with Fulham and lost to Crystal Palace at home.

Wolves are just too uneven to trust. Throw in City’s inability to keep a clean sheet in the league (eight straight matches conceding since December 1) and this looks all the world like 2-1 or 3-1 to City. So take City to win AND over 2.5 goals at 8/13.

CARDIFF CITY v. HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

We can’t spend all our time (and money) in the upper tier of the league. Sometimes you have to slum it. So here we go, making a selection in a match featuring 17th-place Cardiff City and DFL (20th-place) Huddersfield Town. I feel a little dirty…not for the first time.

Cardiff is no prize, but give the Bluebirds this: They know which matches they absolutely must take points from. Against the three teams above them in the table (Crystal Palace, Newcastle United, Burnley) and the three teams below them (Southampton, Fulham, Huddersfield Town), Cardiff’s results this season are two wins, three draws, and a loss. Additionally, Cardiff beat Leicester City on December 29 before their understandable loss to Spurs. Cardiff knows this is a six-point match from a relegation standpoint, they’re better than Huddersfield and they’re at home.

Meanwhile, Huddersfield has plunged to the bottom of the table on the strength of eight straight league losses. They have scored 13 goals in 21 matches and have only one road win in the league this season. The dream isn’t dead for the Terriers, but it’s on life support and fading fast. Take Cardiff to win at 5/4.

Good luck this weekend.

Week 21 results:

Manchester United to win at Newcastle United at 6/10: WIN

Wolverhampton Wanderers to beat Crystal Palace at evens: LOSS

Liverpool to win or draw at Manchester City at 8/11: LOSS

WEEK 22 TOTAL: -$140

SEASON TO DATE: -$1237

Premier League Picks Week 21

Philip Keidel - January 1, 2019

Photo Credit: Brad Penner, USA TODAY

The first match week of the second half of the Premier League season was good for me. Obviously, with the season total to date still far in the red, there is no use gloating or even getting too excited about a 3-0 weekend. The only way out of this hole is to win my way out, though, and the top of the hole is closer to me now than it was before those three picks came through.

January also brings the opening of the midseason transfer window. Every club but Liverpool has ground to make up, and as a result, many of the teams you watch on a regular basis will look a bit different by the end of this month. Teams will buy to plug holes created by injury or to add a necessary piece; teams will sell to be rid of underperformers or simply to save the transfer fee received for future use. A byproduct of all of this potential volatility is that many players know that more than any other time in the season, they are playing for their jobs.

It’s that sort of urgency that fuels this week’s picks. There is still a long way to go to make this column profitable. Here are this week’s winners:

MANCHESTER CITY v. LIVERPOOL

It’s always special when the league leaders play the team directly behind them in the table. Liverpool remains unbeaten through 20 matches — they have only dropped points three times — and have won nine league matches in a row. City temporarily righted themselves with a win over the weekend, but questions persist about their current form, especially since star midfielder Kevin de Bruyne continues to struggle with injury.

KdB may miss this showdown with Liverpool:

That’s very bad news for City, who desperately need to win this match to keep Liverpool from running away and hiding. Clawing back four points over the remaining 17 matches after this one is doable; recovering from seven will be very difficult and if Liverpool wins and the lead over City becomes 10, that might be it for City’s title hopes.

Unfortunately for Pep Guardiola’s men, this particular opponent is not only the best side in the league right now — Liverpool also pretty much owns City. The Reds eliminated City from the Champions League in the spring, winning both legs of their quarterfinal matchup. In league play, going back to March 2015, Liverpool has won five, drawn two and lost one against City.

The odds on this match (City is 19/20 to win) reflect what is expected to be City’s maximum effort to win this match and keep Liverpool within shouting distance. Here’s the thing, though: Liverpool is better, and ultimately they don’t even need to win. And if Liverpool scores first at the Etihad on Thursday, it’s going to get very quiet. Liverpool to win at 23/10 is really tempting, but Jurgen Klopp would probably take a draw right now if you offered it to him. With that in mind, the play here is to take Liverpool to win OR draw at 8/11.

NEWCASTLE UNITED v. MANCHESTER UNITED

Don’t look now, but it’s possible Jose Mourinho didn’t manage United quite long enough to keep the Red Devils from chasing down Chelsea for the fourth Champions League place. (And yeah, Arsenal is in fifth…but you saw what Liverpool did to Arsenal over the weekend. The Gunners are not Champions League material.)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has located the Paul Pogba cheat code and isn’t going to stop using it until somebody keeps Pogba from scoring, which he is now doing at will:

The last time these two teams played, Newcastle jumped out to a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford only to see United storm back late in the second half to claim a 3-2 victory that temporarily saved Mourinho’s job. United is no longer that stressed-out, miserable bunch. Solskjaer has them playing with joy and, most importantly, with bad intentions. Newcastle does not have nearly enough quality to keep United from winning their fourth straight league match under their new manager, so take United to win at 6/10.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS v. CRYSTAL PALACE

Wolves shook up the world over the weekend, dumping Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 at Wembley Stadium and knocking Spurs out of second place in the table in the process. They are 4-1-1 in their last six, with quality wins over both Spurs and Chelsea. The only loss was a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool, which as we have already established is nothing to be ashamed of.

Spectacular and unexpected results like Manchester City 2-3 Crystal Palace resonate, and they can also create false impressions that can cost you money. Palace played their best match of the season in that win at the Etihad, but aside from that notable victory the Eagles have been quite poor on the road. Before the win over City at the Etihad, Palace had lost five of their prior six league matches on the road, including losses to iffy sides like Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham United.

This is another good time to keep things simple. Wolves are evens to win at home against a Palace side that is far closer to relegation than it is to Wolves in the table. Wolves are better than a coin flip to beat Palace, so take Wolves to win at evens.

Best of luck, and here’s to a profitable 2019.

WEEKEND’S RESULTS:

Liverpool/Arsenal over 3.5 goals at 5/4: WIN

Manchester United to win over Bournemouth AND over 2.5 goals at 10/11: WIN

Manchester City and Southampton both to score at 10/11: WIN

WEEKEND TOTAL: +$307

SEASON TO DATE: -$1097

Eagles Secure Playoff Berth and Late Sunday Broadcast Position

Philip Keidel - December 30, 2018

Well what do you know, the defending champion Super Bowl Eagles are an entrant in the 2018-2019 Super Bowl tournament.

While we are here, what do you know, a team that has Kirk Cousins as its quarterback choked away a must-win game at home as a touchdown favorite over a Chicago Bears team that essentially had nothing to play for.

Twitter has written the narrative for this piece, but let’s start with the fact that Jeffrey Lurie will almost certainly find a way to shuttle this missing million dollars to Big Dick Nick:

Besides, given what Foles will clearly command on the free agent market in the offseason, a million dollars is just a rounding error to the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

Suddenly, the Eagles have gone from the team that couldn’t get out of its own way to the fearsome sleeping giant that woke up just in time to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting playoff field. People have thoughts:

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Premier League Picks Week 20

Philip Keidel - December 29, 2018

Photo Credit: Brad Penner, USA TODAY

Consistent readers of this series know that the results have been…not good. A recurring theme of the opening paragraphs of these entries has been the turning over to a new page, the seizure of the opportunity for a new start, “it all turns around starting now,” etc.

Week 19 of the Premier League provides yet another chance to put the past in its proper place, i.e., behind us, because the Premier League season is now half gone. All of the matches going forward will be return fixtures. The symmetry of the league slate is a wonder, and yes, it does give us a real opportunity to put prior missteps in the rearview. That doesn’t mean the “to date” counter is resetting — that would be cowardice. It just means that, starting now, there is time to set it right.

And if these picks don’t work out this week, well, the next entry in this series will come in 2019, and guess what that theme might be.

On to this week’s winners:

LIVERPOOL v. ARSENAL

Liverpool’s 4-0 Boxing Day destruction of Newcastle United, coupled with another Manchester City debacle away to Leicester City, staked the Reds to a six-point lead in the table. Not over City, who are now third, but instead over white-hot Tottenham Hotspur. Liverpool has not dropped points in a league match thus far, joining past iterations of Arsenal and Manchester United, and last year’s City side, as the only clubs in the league’s history to make it to the halfway point in the schedule unbeaten.

There is no value in Liverpool to win at 2/5, and because Liverpool hasn’t lost to Arsenal in the last seven league matches these teams have played, there isn’t much point in backing Arsenal to win, either. But the total goals wager? That’s a different story.

The last six league matches in this series have featured goal totals of two, six, four, four, seven and six. You could argue that, at least in the past couple of seasons, neither of these sides was as potent as each of them is now. Virgil van Dijk is a great defender, but his presence alone isn’t enough to suggest that these teams can’t score four goals between them in this match. Liverpool might get four by themselves. Take over 3.5 goals at 5/4.

MANCHESTER UNITED v. BOURNEMOUTH

Spare a thought for your old friend here who last week had a 3/1 payoff scuttled by a meaningless 88th-minute strike:

That disappointing development aside, there is no good reason to stop backing United now. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done the smartest thing (also the most obvious thing) and reinstated Paul Pogba as a fulcrum of the club. Pogba has responded:

Hard to believe it took Solskjaer like a minute to figure out the wisdom of bringing the best out of Pogba when The Special One never could. United is home again in this match to a Bournemouth club that is in a legitimate free-fall. The Cherries’ brief flirtation with the European places was washed away in a sea of red ink. Having lost seven of nine in the league, the Cherries are ripe for picking in this match.

Note also that in their last five matches against the top 6 in the league, the goal totals in those matches were five, four, four, three and three — including their 1-2 loss to United on November 3. Take United to win AND over 2.5 goals at 10/11.

SOUTHAMPTON v. MANCHESTER CITY

After taking City midweek under the guise of “no way they lose twice in a row,” the Sky Blues went out and lost a second straight league match for the first time since December 3 and December 10 — 2016.

Plus, you have City manager Pep Guardiola rallying the troops with inspirational messages like this:

Yikes. There is no point in trying to figure out whether the City side that rampaged through its early schedule will turn up against Southampton, or whether instead we will get the same confused, lackluster, apparently tired side we have watched in recent days. Again, though, the value is in the goal totals.

City has not kept a clean sheet in nine consecutive matches in all competitions, six of them coming in league play. They concede to great clubs (Lyon, Chelsea) and merely good clubs (Bournemouth, Watford.) Southampton is pretty poor, but dating back to their 6-1 loss at the Etihad on November 4, the Saints have scored in eight of their last nine league matches, including a home draw against United and a home victory over Arsenal.

Both teams are going to score in this match, and at this point it doesn’t really matter to me whether City turns up or not. Take both teams to score at 10/11.

MIDWEEK RESULTS

Manchester United to win both halves, to surpass 2.5 goals in the match and to keep a clean sheet over Huddersfield Town at 3/1: LOSS

Manchester City to win away to Leicester City at 4/11: LOSS

Arsenal to win and over 2.5 goals at Brighton & Hove Albion: LOSS

MIDWEEK: -$300

SEASON TO DATE: -$1404

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