Dec. 16 NCAA Basketball Picks

These are the condensed versions of picks for Sunday’s college basketball games for Winners and Whiners. A link to the full preview is below, and confidence ratings are in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Pacific at Cal State Northridge

Side Prediction/Full Game: Pacific -6 (4/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game:  Over 152 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Half: Pacific -2 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half:  Over 73.5 points (5/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half:

Miami of Ohio at Northern Kentucky

Side Prediction/Full Game: Northern Kentucky -7.5 (4/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game:  Under 142 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Half: Northern Kentucky -3.5 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half:  Under 67.5 points (5/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half:

Previous Day’s Record: 4-4 (.500)
December Record 41-33-2 (.553)
November Record: 81-91-6 (.472)
Season Record: 122-124-8 (.496)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)             (0-0 (.000) in December)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)             (0-1 (.000) in December)
3-Star Pick Record: 2-2 (.333)             (18-18-1 (.500 in December)
4-Star Pick Record: 0-2 (.000)             (11-7-1 (.605) in December)
5-Star Pick Record: 2-0 (1.000)           (12-7-0 (.632 in December)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

There are two important things Jurgen Klopp has yet to do at Liverpool – lift a trophy and defeat Manchester United in Premier League play. While the Reds still have three opportunities to do the former, they have arguably the best chance during his tenure to do the latter Sunday when the table-topping Reds host Jose Mourinho’s inconsistent side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Since arriving at Merseyside in October 2015, Klopp has one win in seven lifetime matches (1-4-2) against Manchester United – a 2-0 victory in the first leg of Liverpool’s round of 16 tie in the 2016 Europa League. That was one of two continental runners-up finishes for Liverpool (13-3-0), the other coming last spring in the Champions League.

There was also a runners-up finish in the 2016 League Cup, and the absence of silverware alongside the five European championships, 18 league titles, seven FA Cups and eight League Cups since lifting the 2012 League Cup has been the one thing that has frustrated supporters.

United (7-5-4), in turn, have done a good job flustering Klopp in league play with three draws and two defeats. Liverpool have failed to score in Klopp’s three matches at Anfield versus United, suffering a 1-0 defeat to Louis van Gaal in 2016 before being held to scoreless draws by Mourinho in the last two meetings.

“In the league, I don’t remember bad results too much, to be honest, but I don’t feel we always got the right result for the performance we had,” Klopp said at his Friday news conference when asked about the overall interest in the match between the two football titans. “Last year, they had a very, very good start in the home game against us and then we more or less took over but couldn’t get the game back, so it was a draw.

Before, I don’t even remember it, but I don’t think we won a lot, so we’ll try to change that at least. It will be a very intense game and we need to be ready for that.”

Liverpool are enjoying their best Premier League start in club history and emerged as the last of the unbeatens after defending champions Manchester City lost to Chelsea last weekend. That defeat, coupled with the Reds’ 4-0 thrashing of Bournemouth, put Klopp’s side atop the Premier League table for the first time since Sept. 22.

To continue ruling the roost, Liverpool will have to show plenty of resiliency after scraping into the Champions League knockout round for a second straight year. The Reds finished runners-up in Group C after a nervy 1-0 victory over Napoli on Tuesday – a triumph and advancement preserved by Alisson’s point-blank save on Arkadiusz Milik in stoppage time.

The save by the Brasil international shows how Liverpool have come full circle in their footballing, from a swashbuckling side willing to win matches by outscoring opponents as late as last season’s Champions League semifinals to one who can deliver this type of grind-out 1-0 result with a rock-strong defence anchored by Alisson and towering centre back Virgil Van Dijk.

The combined £125 million in transfer fees for the pair have been worth every penny as Liverpool are contenders to lift their first Premier League trophy and win their first title since 1990. But the primary goal in this match is to put another three points on top of the 16 that already exist between themselves and United.

“You know what you’re going to face,” Van Dijk told Sky Sports when asked about playing United. “We have pretty good pace as well, so we don’t need to be scared of anything. But obviously we need to be aware of their danger; they have good players, especially up front.

“We need to be ready for that. But we need to play our game and make sure we are on top of them and make sure they are put under pressure.”

Klopp will have to reshuffle parts of his back four since centre backs Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are sidelined with injuries. Gomez’s versatility will be sorely missed – he also played right back – but Dejan Lovren is still a quality partner for Van Dijk. Right back Trent Alexander-Arnold is also expected to miss out with an ankle injury, with Nathaniel Clyne likely starting in his place.

In his attacking six, it is unknown if Klopp will stick to his regular 4-3-3 in which Mohamed Salah – the offensive hero against Napoli with his first-half goal – Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are across the front line, or use a 4-2-3-1 he has preferred of late in domestic play in which Salah is up front and Mane, Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri are behind him.

Salah is in blistering form with six goals in his last seven matches across all competitions, but the Egypt international, Mane and Firmino have failed to breach United’s defence for a goal in 855 minutes playing together.

While there are few as good as setting up a defence to negate an opponent’s offence as Mourinho, this United team has lurched in quality from match to match all term and arrive at Anfield on a low ebb of that range. Manchester United squandered a chance to finish atop Group H in the Champions League, turning in an insipid performance at Valencia in a 2-1 defeat Wednesday.

Mourinho rotated a good portion of his side for this contest – he made eight changes from the side that beat Fulham 4-1 last weekend as United were already through to the Champions League round of 16 – but the back four continued to be problematic as they conceded on 17 minutes and again right after halftime as defender Phil Jones had a brutal own goal in which his sliding back pass rolled right past keeper Sergio Romero.

Marcus Rashford had a late consolation goal, but with group leaders Juventus suffering a stunning loss at home to last-place Young Boys, United’s performance against a team currently 15th in Spain’s La Liga was too poor for Mourinho to not lose his cool post-match.

“I didn’t learn anything from this game. Nothing that happened surprised me,” he fumed. “I thought we were too passive in the first half. But I think fundamentally this, we wasted the first half playing too comfortable and not enough with the intensity.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba did play the full 90 minutes in his first start in three matches, but he showed Mourinho little reason to be included in the starting XI for this match. Antonio Valencia’s performance at right back also left little to be desired, and it is very possible two of Diogo Dalot’s first three starts at that spot will come against fellow Big Six opponents after the first one came against Arsenal earlier this month.

Up front, Mourinho is hoping Anthony Martial will be available after sitting out the last two matches due to injury. The France international has been United’s best performer in league play with a team-high seven goals despite logging just 787 minutes. By comparison, Romelo Lukaku – the only other player with more than three goals in league play – has six in 1,094 minutes.

Rashford, though, has been in a fine patch of form with two goals and four assists in his last four matches in all competitions. He also powered United to a win over Liverpool in the most recent meeting last term, bagging a brace in the first 24 minutes of a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

United are unbeaten in their last eight in league play (5-3-0) against Liverpool since a 3-0 defeat at home March 6, 2014. They are also 12-6-8 at Anfield in the Premier League era and 2-2-0 since a 1-0 defeat Sept. 1, 2013, on a fourth-minute goal by Daniel Sturridge.

Sturridge also recorded Liverpool’s last home goal against Manchester United in a 2-1 loss March 22, 2015, with their home drought versus United at 291 minutes in league play.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are healthy 4/7 favourites to claim all three points and remain atop the Premier League table, while United are 11/2 underdogs to regroup from their setback in Spain and begin their charge to challenge for a top-five spot. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 16/5.

Though it would surprise no one to see Mourinho set up United in a defensive stance, oddsmakers do not appear overly convinced it will slow Liverpool down much as there are 8/11 odds for more than 2.5 goals scored compared to 11/10 odds to finish under that threshold. There is even money for one side to post a shutout compared to 3/4 odds for both teams scoring.

Liverpool own the first six slots for potential first-goal scorers, with Salah leading the way at 10/3. Understudies Daniel Sturridge (7/2) and Divock Origi (4/1) complete the top three, followed by Firmino (9/2), Mane (5/1) and Xherdan Shaqiri (13/2). While Lukaku is United’s top option, it is a clear fall-off for oddsmakers at 17/2. Martial is a 9/1 option, while Pogba and Rashford are both 11/1 — just behind James Milner (10/1).

For any-time goal-scorers, both Salah (10/11) and Sturridge (20/21) are better than even money selections. Origi is 11/10, followed by Firmino (5/4), Mane (7/5) and Shaqiri (15/8). Lukaku and Martial are United’s top options once more at 13/5 and 11/4, respectively, while Rashford and Pogba again slot behind Milner, this time at 10/3 compared to 3/1 for the Merseyside’s dependable penalty-taker.

PREDICTION

The debate for Klopp between using a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 will rage right up to kickoff, but Liverpool have a chance to go for the jugular here in terms of showing their superiority over Manchester United. Thus, the expectation in this space is Klopp will go all out to turn the screws on Mourinho. That means putting a well-rested Shaqiri into the first XI and testing Shaw and Dalot on the flanks early and often through the Swiss international and Mane.

With Liverpool’s back four mainly defined by who is not available for Klopp, the midfield presents selection headaches of the good kind because the Liverpool gaffer can mix and match to his wants. It was telling Klopp trusted Fabinho enough to start him in the Merseyside derby, and that was with Everton having a far better playmaker in Gylfi Sigurdsson than any one United can offer in the middle of the park if Mourinho drops Pogba to the bench as expected.

The only potential midfielder who would be a surprise inclusion into the first XI would be Adam Lallana, otherwise, the expectation is to see Fabinho and Giorginio Wijnaldum reprise their partnership as the defensive midfield pairing.

Given how Mourinho plays pragmatically, the lineup above is arguably the most defensive route he can take and a formation that can morph into a 5-4-1 with Lukaku as the lone striker. Would it surprise anyone if he did start Pogba? Not really, but after a vanilla performance against Valencia mid-week, there is little to believe Mourinho would give him a second chance.

Given Martial’s injury issues, the expectation is he will start on the bench behind Lingard, who has been solid since picking up his play of late. Rashford right now is the best thing United have going offensively, and he must challenge Andrew Robertson at every opportunity to at least try and stretch Liverpool’s back four.

With no trophies since his arrival, this is a de facto cup final for Klopp and Liverpool. Win this match, and win it impressively, and it serves notice to Manchester City there is most certainly a title race for the final five months. Nothing less will suffice in this instance, and given United’s poor form, nothing less should suffice.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 2, Manchester United 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)

Dec. 15 — NHL Picks

These are the condensed versions of picks for Saturday’s NHL game for Winners and Whiners. A link to the full preview is below, and confidence ratings are in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Dallas at Colorado:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Avalanche -165 (4/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game: Over 6 goals (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Period: Stars +0.5 goals -175 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Period: Over 1.5 goals (5/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Period:

Previous Day’s Record: 3-1-0 (.750)
December Record 16-12-0 (.571)
November Record: 44-36-0 (.550)
October Record: 31-22-0 (.585)
Season Record: 91-70-0 (.565)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in December)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)           (0-0 (.000) in December)
3-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)           (6-8 (.429) in December)
4-Star Pick Record: 1-0 (1.000)         (6-1 (.857 in December)
5-Star Pick Record: 1-0 (1.000)           (4-3 (.571 in December)

Dec. 15 — NCAA Basketball Picks

These are the condensed versions of picks for Saturday’s college basketball games for Winners and Whiners. A link to the full preview is below, and confidence ratings are in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

UCSB at Rice

Side Prediction/Full Game: UCSB -5.5 (4/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game:  Under 142 points (3/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Half: UCSB -3 (5/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half:  Under 67.5 points (3/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/1st Half:

Kent State at Louisville

Side Prediction/Full Game: Kent State +14 (4/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game:  Over 148 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Half: Kent State +7.5 (5/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half:  Over 70 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half:

Charleston at VCU

Side Prediction/Full Game: VCU -6.5 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game:  Under 128 points (4/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Half: VCU -3 (5/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half:  Under 60.5 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half:

Utah at No. 19 Kentucky

Side Prediction/Full Game: Kentucky -14.5 (5/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game:  Under 146.5 points (4/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Half: Kentucky -8.5 (3/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/1st Half:  Under 68.5 points (3/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half:

Cincinnati at No. 18 Mississippi State

Side Prediction/Full Game: Mississippi State -2.5 (5/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/Full Game:  Under 130 points (4/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Half: Cincinnati +1.5 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/1st Half:  Under 61 points (3/5) — LOSS!
Prop Prediction/1st Half:

Previous Day’s Record: 10-10 (.500)
December Record 37-29-2 (.559)
November Record: 81-91-6 (.472)
Season Record: 118-120-8 (.496)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)             (0-0 (.000) in December)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)             (0-1 (.000) in December)
3-Star Pick Record: 5-5 (.500)       (16-16-1 (.500 in December)
4-Star Pick Record: 3-2 (.600)             (11-5-1 (.676) in December)
5-Star Pick Record: 2-3 (.400)             (10-7-0 (.588 in December)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)

Not invincible but still certainly imposing, the hunted are the hunters Saturday when reigning champions and second-place Manchester City host Everton at the Etihad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Citizens (13-2-1) had little time to wallow after their first loss domestically last weekend – a 2-0 setback at Chelsea that ended a seven-match winning streak in league play – as they needed a result Wednesday against Hoffenheim to wrap up the top spot in Group E of the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola’s team got that result – a 2-1 victory at home over the German side – but not without some effort as Leroy Sane continued his blistering form with a brace on either side of halftime to negate a first-half penalty by Andrej Kramaric.

Sane’s first was a world-class free kick in first-half stoppage time, and just after the hour, the Germany international finished a 1-2 with Raheem Sterling for his fifth goal in six matches across all competitions.

Manchester City have a limited field of potential opponents in the round of 16 in February, with the toughest of the four they can draw Friday being notoriously stubborn out and Spanish side Atletico Madrid. Other possible matchups could be against 2018 semifinalists and Serie A side AS Roma, German outfit Schalke 04 and Dutch club Ajax.

“Incredible. Today finished group stage in best way,” Guardiola said post-match as City returned to the Champions League knockout rounds for the sixth straight year. “Best 16 teams in Europe. We try to arrive in February in the best condition with players fit.

“Big compliment for this group because every group is tough, and we did it so well.”

As Sane stole the headlines, teenager Phil Foden caught the eye of many as he was given a rare start by Guardiola. The 18-year-old looked composed on the ball and was the focal point of bright, positive play throughout the match in the midfield as England’s pipeline of youth is proving deeper than the 23 who powered the Three Lions to the World Cup semifinals in the summer.

“In general over 90 minutes, Phil was outstanding,” Guardiola beamed. “I never had doubts. The quality he has with the ball. Looks skinny but really strong. Huge talent. England has a diamond. Against German teams it is so demanding, but he played like a man.”

Foden, though, still has to fight to even stay on the bench for City in Premier League play, and City discovered they have a fight on their hands to repeat as champions. This is the first time since Sept. 29 the Citizens are entering play not atop the table as Liverpool moved one point ahead of them.

Guardiola rotated a good portion of his side midweek, some out of protection as midfielder Fernandinho was one yellow card away from being forced to sit out the first-leg round of 16 tie. Sergio Aguero also had that problem but was also not 100 percent due to an adductor injury.

City are also still without winger Kevin De Bruyne, who is close to a return, but fellow playmaker David Silva could be out until at least the new year with a hamstring injury. Kyle Walker played the second half at right back after John Stones played 45 minutes out of position there with Nicolas Otamendi getting the call in central defence.

The squad rotation figures to continue as the fixtures come thick and fast between now and the new year, with City’s next midweek clash a Carabao Cup quarterfinal matchup at Leicester City on Tuesday.

Everton (6-6-4) are seventh in the table and are coming off back-to-back draws following their 2-2 stalemate Monday against Watford in the “Silva Derby.” Lucas Digne’s free kick in the 96th minute bent around the wall and inside the left post, giving the Toffees a share of the points in the first match between the teams since current coach Marco Silva was sacked by Watford in January.

Richarlison, who reunited with Silva in the summer from Watford, scored the other goal for Everton. The Toffees, though, were second-best for large stretches of the match and watched Gylfi Sigurdsson have a 67th minute penalty stopped by Ben Foster before Digne rescued them with his first goal since joining the club.

“He is settling in really fast,” Silva told the club’s official website about Digne, who leads the Premier League with 128 crosses from his left back spot. “In my opinion, when you are a really good football player – and he is – when you are a really focused player – and he is – it is easy to understand (why Digne has swiftly adapted to Premier League football).

“He comes to USM Finch Farm every day to work really hard and he is a very good professional, with high quality. He is playing so well, improving every time, not just in our defensive process … he is a really important player in our offensive process as well from Barcelona this summer.”

With yet another road contest against one of the Big Six, the talk involving Everton inevitably returns once more to the Toffees in search of that culture-changing road victory to kick onto the next level.

The winless drought at Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Emirates, Wembley/White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and the Etihad has reached 32 matches (0-10-22) after their heartbreaking Merseyside Derby loss to Liverpool a fortnight ago. Bryan Oviedo’s 86th-minute winner at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013, remains the last such victorious moment on one of these grounds for the Toffees.

This is already Everton’s fifth match at the six sites this term, and while they have taken only one point from the previous four, it is clear Silva has at least got the Toffees to believe they can get a result in these contests since they have given as good as they’ve gotten in those matches. Additionally, one of those 10 draws came in last season’s corresponding fixture, though it can be argued catching City on the second match day of the season was beneficial to Everton’s cause.

The Toffees are winless in their last eight trips (0-4-4) to the blue side of Manchester since a 2-1 victory Dec. 20, 2010, in which Tim Cahill and Leighton Baines scored in the first 19 minutes. Everton then held out with 10 men for the final half-hour after a red card to Victor Anichebe and conceding an own goal through Phil Jagielka.

A 10-man City held Everton to a 1-1 draw last term as Sterling equalised eight minutes from time. Wayne Rooney had given the Toffees – who also finished with 10 men after Morgan Schneiderlin picked up his second yellow on 88 minutes – a lead late in the first half. Walker had gotten his marching orders before intermission for two yellow cards in a three-minute span.

Sterling’s goals in both matchups last season are his only two in 10 career matchups with Everton.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet 365, City are strong 2/9 favourites to pick up three points in the first match of the weekend and keep the heat on Liverpool. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 13/2, and Everton are 12/1 longshots to deal the Citizens back-to-back losses in league play for the first time since defeats to Chelsea and Leicester City on Dec. 3 and 10, 2016.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals, with 4/11 odds on the teams combining to score more than 2.5 goals compared to 11/5 odds for a defensive struggle to break out at the Etihad. There are 3/4 odds for both teams to score at least one goal, while there is even money on a clean sheet in either direction. City have not been held without a goal in back-to-back league matches since a draw at Norwich City and loss to Manchester United on March 12 and 20, 2016.

With the possibility of Aguero returning to lead the line, the former Argentina international has been installed as the frontrunner to open the scoring at 12/5. Gabriel Jesus is a 3/1 pick, while Sterling (9/2), Riyad Mahrez (5/1) and Sane (6/1) round out the top five. Despite his fine recent form, Richarlison is joint-11th on the list for first-goal honours with teammate Cenk Tosun at 12/1. Sigurdsson, Everton’s designed penalty taker, is listed at 18/1.

Aguero (4/9), Jesus (4/7) and Sterling (20/21) are all expected to score in this match per the odds for an any-time goal, while Mahrez (21/20) and Sane (13/10) are just off that standard. Brahim Diaz, Felix Nmecha and Bernardo Silva are lumped together at 15/8, while Foden and Gundogan are 11/4.

Richarlison and Tosun are again joint-top picks for Everton at 3/1, followed by Dominic Calvert-Lewin (7/2) and Theo Walcott (4/1), with Sigurdsson a step back at 9/2.

PREDICTION

To put City’s Premier League dominance prior to last weekend’s loss to Chelsea, consider the Citizens had trailed for all of 12 minutes through 15 matches, and that was on a goal by Wolverhampton that VAR would have disallowed. Even with the loss to Chelsea, Man City have still trailed more in their six Champions League matches than they have in 16 league contests.

The tweak by Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri to use Eden Hazard as a false No. 9 in his 4-3-3 formation versus City will undoubtedly spring copycat versions up and down England (and Wales for you Cardiff City readers), yet how many have the personnel to pull off such a shift? That brings us to the second half of this “revelation” … are City opponents willing to risk ceding possession so quickly by hoofing the ball up the pitch and letting their speedsters on the wings or in the middle give chase?

Is it a better plan than sitting in two low banks and hoping to catch out City on the counter stringing two or three passes to get through the middle of the pitch? It’s a debate that will be pondered across opposing locker rooms, but again, not many teams have that kind of personnel.

Everton do not have that type of personnel unless Silva is willing to move Richarlison back to the left wing spot where he started the season and play Dominic Calvert-Lewin over Tosun to lead the line in his 4-2-3-1 set-up. The Toffees, though, have also been credible enough against the Big Six this season that Silva will not gimmick his way through these 90 minutes. That is a testament to the culture change he has made, even if some of the recent results have been one point instead of three.

What is good about this Everton side is they are willing to throw a punch against the big boys. It can be argued the only match of the four against the perennials where the Toffees struggled was at Old Trafford, and even that was a 2-1 loss in which it was more spurning quality scoring chances than being run off the pitch by Manchester United.

They scrapped hard with Chelsea to nick a point at Stamford Bridge and were arguably seconds from a point at Anfield before the crossbar conspired against Jordan Pickford. It may very well be the case City — even short-handed City — are an entirely different animal at this point in time and do run Everton out of the Etihad. But it feels more likely Everton will at least make Guardiola’s side earn their three points.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 3, Everton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)

A pair of sides looking to consolidate their top-half status collide at Molineux on Saturday when Wolverhampton host Bournemouth.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Promoted Wolves (6-4-6) have clawed their way into 10th place in the table on the strength of back-to-back 2-1 wins, the more recent one coming at St James’ Park versus Newcastle United last weekend.

Playing with a man advantage from the 57th minute, Wolverhampton left it late to reap the dividends of numerical superiority. Matt Doherty’s close-range header on the save of a shot by Diogo Jota in the fourth minute of stoppage time proved to be the match-winner.

“It was good. It is probably the best way to win,” defender Ryan Bennett told the club’s official website. “You don’t want to win like that, but when you get that feeling of scoring so late it’s the best feeling you can have in football.”

Jota, who scored Wolves’ first goal on 17 minutes and for the second straight match, was a menace throughout the match and the reason Newcastle were reduced to 10 men in the second half. He dispossessed DeAndre Yedlin, forcing the American international to foul him from behind on a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

Ireland international Doherty has two goals in Wolves’ last three matches, while centre-forward Raul Jimenez, who was denied by the crossbar in the second half versus Newcastle, has two goals and an assist in his last six contests.

There has been the talk Wolves will make his loan from Benfica permanent this summer at a reported price tag of £30 million, but the Mexico international is more concerned with the present and keeping Wolves up.

“It’s too early. I have to do the things I’m doing, help the team to get good results,” Jimenez told the Express & Star. “At the end of the season we’ll see what happens. I try to play well and help the team, it’s going well for me and also the team.

“It’s exciting for me, I’m doing things well and that’s the reason I’m an important part of the team. I’ll try and keep doing the same things to help us keep winning.”

While Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo has no injury or personnel concerns ahead of this match as Wolverhampton seek three consecutive victories for the first time in the Premier League, two of his back three are walking a very fine line. Both Bennett and centre back Connor Coady have four yellow cards, which means any booking for either player over their next three contests will result in a one-match ban.

Jota is in a similar predicament as all three picked up their fourth cautions in the win over Newcastle. Midfielder Ruben Neves has already served a one-match ban for five yellow cards.

Bournemouth (7-2-7) are one point better than Wolverhampton and eighth in the table on 23 points, but their inability to stand up to the Big Six again cost them a chance at making some headway on potential European play next season.

The Cherries seemed content to try and nick a point off Liverpool without injured striker Callum Wilson, but those plans came undone by Mo Salah in the 25th minute as his controversial goal – to Cherries boss Eddie Howe at least – opened the floodgates that also included an own goal by defender Steve Cook.

“It was a difficult match and a tough score-line to take,” Howe admitted to the club”s official website. “The first goal had a massive bearing on the game because I thought our shape had been good and Liverpool hadn’t opened us up at that point. The first goal shouldn’t have stood.”

Howe’s protestations aside, the loss drew another red line under Bournemouth’s inability to kick on to that next gear. The Cherries are 0-0-5 against the Big Six – they face Tottenham Hotspur on Boxing Day – and have been outscored 13-3 in those contests.

Having Wilson available in this contest will be vital considering the forward has factored on eight of Bournemouth’s last 11 goals in league play via scoring or assisting. His eight goals in league play are tied for fourth and two behind leader Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal.

Bournemouth will be without injured midfielders Lewis Cook and Dan Gosling, while left back Adam Smith is a long-term injury absence following knee surgery last month.

This is the first top-flight matchup between the sides, who have not met since Bournemouth did the double in the Championship in 2014-15 with a pair of 2-1 victories. The Cherries are 6-2-3 all-time against Wolverhampton and unbeaten in the last five (3-2-0) since a 3-1 defeat at Molineux in 1989 while in Division Two.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Wolves are solid 19/20 favourites to record their unprecedented third consecutive Premier League victory, while Bournemouth are 10/3 underdogs to snap out of their recent funk and post a fourth road win this term. The odds of the teams sharing the points checks in at 13/5.

Oddsmakers are not sure if the offences will stick or twist in this contest as there are 10/11 odds on both sides of the 2.5-goal threshold. There is more expectation both teams will score at 3/4 odds compared to even money for at least one side posting a clean sheet.

The home side has the top three options for opening the scoring, with Jimenez the frontrunner at 9/2, ahead of Wolves reserve striker Leo Bonatini (5/1) and Jota (11/2). Wilson headlines the Bournemouth list at 6/1, with pair of Wolves wingers — Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro both right on his heels at 13/2. Veteran Cherries striker Jermain Defoe is a 7/1 pick to make it 0-1, while Wolves speedster Adama Traore is a 15/2 option.

Jimenez also leads the line for any-time goal-scorers at 11/8, followed by Bonatini (6/4) and Jota (7/4). Wilson is a 15/8 option for the Cherries, with Cavaleiro and Costa again in tandem — this time at 21/10. Defoe (9/4) and fellow Bournemouth forward Joshua King (11/4) bracket Traore (12/5), while Wolves starlet Morgan Gibbs-White is also an 11/4 option.

PREDICTION

Bournemouth have been the epitome of a flat-track bully — they are a minus-10 with three goals scored in five matches against the Big Six but a plus-9 with a whopping 22 goals in their 11 matches against the rest of the Premier League. Yet this is a match that could play into Wolverhampton’s wheelhouse given the technical ability of the Cherries that will be more about a football matchup than the blood-and-thunder physical sides sometimes prefer.

To that end, Wilson’s availability is a huge question mark dangling over the Cherries at the moment. He has been one of the best strikers in the top flight this term, period, showing as much playmaking and interplay with his attacking midfielders as he has finishing. His nine goals in 17 matches across all competitions recalls his rate of 23 in 50 for Coventry City in 2013-14 — the production rate that resulted in him being Bournemouth’s record signing.

He will have his hands full with Wolves’ back three, but Wilson will also have the support of a Bournemouth midfield that can push and pull their Wolves’ counterparts through the middle. While Wolverhampton have had the luck of the green to a degree in their last two wins, their work rate cannot be questioned as they have taken the fight to teams and shown an ability to battle back after taking a punch.

This match has the feel of a late Wolves goal somehow factoring into this match, whether it results in a draw or a win for the hosts at Molineux is the question. The Cherries have failed to score in only two of their eight league road matches — their clunker at Burnley and at a Chelsea team who limited Howe’s side to 32 percent possession. Wolverhampton will cede more than that, and the result should be a finely balanced match decided late.

PREDICTION: Wolverhampton 2, Bournemouth 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)

Their ticket to the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year punched in dramatic and emphatic fashion, Tottenham Hotspur try to come down off their high and stay in the thick of the Premier League race as their hectic December fixture list continues Saturday at Wembley versus Burnley.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

It could very well go down as the greatest draw in Spurs history, regardless of the strength of the Barcelona side they faced Tuesday at the Nou Camp. Mauricio Pochettino’s team – and specifically untested right back Kyle Walker-Peters – shook off a seventh-minute goal by Barca’s Ousmane Dembele to scrape out a gritty 1-1 draw courtesy of Lucas Moura’s goal three minutes from time.

The result, coupled with Inter Milan surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by group-bottom PSV Eindhoven, allowed the Lilywhites passage to the Champions League round of 16 as Group B runners-up.

For the moment, no one is worried about potential opponents Juventus, Bayern Munich or even reigning three-times champions Real Madrid ahead of Friday’s draw for their February fate after the staggering amount of energy Spurs expended to claim seven points from their final three group play matches to simply be included.

“It’s a massive achievement for the Club,” Pochettino said post-match. “It’s so important to be in the next stage of the Champions League. It’s a massive boost for everyone. Now we keep going. We were a little unlucky in how we conceded the first goal after seven minutes and that changed our strategy a little and we started to play in two different stadiums – here at the Nou Camp and in Milan.

“In the second half we found a way to link play better in our possession and started to create chances. We deserved to go through. We’ve made the impossible, possible and it’s important to show everyone if you believe, everything in football is possible. That emotion is so important and we need to protect that and use it in the right way, trying to push with everyone involved and the belief that we can improve and do better.”

To say Spurs left it late in their five-week scramble would be a huge understatement since both match-winners versus PSV and Inter and Moura’s equaliser Tuesday came on 80 minutes or later. For Moura, his seventh goal this term in all competitions was also a personal redemption after the nightmare he endured at the Nou Camp in his last visit with PSG in March 2017 when Barcelona stunned the French side with three goals after the 88th minute to advance with a 6-5 aggregate win in the round of 16.

“It was a very important goal and I’m so happy to score here in the Nou Camp in the Champions League and help my team-mates to qualify,” the Brasil international told Spurs’ official website. “It was an amazing moment. The last time here was really sad for me and this is really different.

“In the second half we did very well. We had many chances to score. We could win. It was a deserved result. … It was a very happy night for me, an amazing moment.”

Now, though, it is time for Spurs (12-0-4) to turn their attention back to domestic play. Thanks to derby rivals Chelsea, who knocked off previously unbeaten and reigning champions Manchester City last weekend, Pochettino’s side is just six points back of new leaders Liverpool and part of a three-time race.

“To qualify for the next stage of the Champions League is an amazing thing for the club, it means a lot for the fans and the players,” Pochettino said. “But now we are thinking about Burnley, a tough game on Saturday, and we need to create an amazing atmosphere at Wembley because it’s an important three points.

“We need to be ready because the competition doesn’t wait for you, it doesn’t stop, and it’s so important to be in our best condition to compete. We need to take the game in the same way as Barcelona with the same motivation. If we want to be consistent, it’s a game where we need to give our best and compete in our best way.”

Pochettino will likely again lean on the 21-year-old Walker-Peters since first-choice right back Kieran Trippier is still sidelined with a groin injury and understudy Serge Aurier just returned to training after suffering a groin injury in last weekend’s win over Leicester City. It would also not be surprising to see Moura and Erik Lamela in the starting XI given the amount of energy Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen expended at the Nou Camp.

Burnley (3-3-10) moved above the drop last weekend with a crucial 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion that ended a three-match losing streak and eight-match winless spell (0-2-6) overall.

Jack Tarkowski was able to re-direct Jack Cork’s 40th-minute cross for the lone goal, and the Clarets’ defence that had gone missing for so long this term finally showed its teeth as it followed up the solid effort in their 3-1 loss to Liverpool with their first clean sheet at home since routing Bournemouth 4-0 on Sept. 22.

“We know there is a strength to the unity of the side and recently we haven’t got over the line in games where we could have done,” Clarets boss Sean Dyche said post-match. “Others have rightly gone against us because we haven’t performed. But slowly and surely we are remodelling our game and in three of the last four we’ve looked more like ourselves.”

Dyche has some injury concerns to deal with as attacking midfielder Steven Defour and right wing Johann Berg Gudmundsson will be late decisions due to calf and hamstring injuries, respectively. Aaron Lennon would likely replace Gudmundsson on the flank while Dyche has multiple options for Defour, including dropping Ashley Barnes into the playmaking role and pairing together strikers Chris Wood and Sam Vokes.

Having finally ended their winless run, Dyche feels a weight has been lifted off his side and will be able to play freely at Wembley.

“We go down there with a bit more freedom, the expectation changes,” he noted to Sky Sports. “Last week against Brighton when there is really heavy expectation for us to get a result. “It changes when you go to places like Tottenham. That gives us just that little bit of freedom to take the game on and hopefully deliver a very good performance, because we will need it.”

The Clarets nicked a point off Spurs in their trip to Wembley last term, with Wood’s 92nd minute canceling out a goal by Dele Alli just before the hour. Burnley are winless in eight (0-3-5) in all competitions versus Spurs since their long Premier League win in eight tries (1-2-5) – a 4-2 victory at Turf Moor in 2010.

Kane had a hat trick in the most recent meeting, a 3-0 win for Spurs on Dec. 23.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Spurs are whopping 2/11 favourites to avoid a letdown and claim all three points, while Burnley are 18/1 underdogs to post back-to-back wins. The odds of the teams splitting the points are a somewhat 7/1 longshot.

Even with Burnley’s improved defensive play the last two matches, oddsmakers are confident the Lilywhites have the class to carry most, if not all, of the 2.5 goal threshold. The odds are 4/9 of clearing that mark compared to 7/4 for staying under that amount. There are also 4/6 odds of there being at least one clean sheet compared to 11/10 odds both teams put up at least a “1” on the Wembley scoreboard.

Unsurprisingly, Kane leads the line for first goal-scorer options at 2/1, comfortably ahead of understudy Llorente (7/2). Son and Moura are both 4/1 options, followed by Dele Alli (5/1), Lamela (11/2) and Eriksen (6/1). There are another three Lilywhites before finding the first Burnley player as Wood, Barnes and Matej Vydra are all 14/1 picks to make it 0-1.

Kane is a staggering 2/5 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Llorente is also better than even money at 4/5. Son and Moura are also in that group at 10/11, while Alli is just off that standard at 6/5. The playmakers Lamela (13/10) and Eriksen (6/4) are also strong options. For the Clarets, Barnes, Wood, and Vydra are 15/4 options, and Sam Vokes is another tick back at 9/2.

PREDICTION

I get the desire to want this to be a competitive match. Burnley look to have finally turned a corner in terms of getting a disappointing season to kick on, and Spurs expended a staggering amount of energy and fight to get that point at Barcelona and are not 100 percent on the back line and so on and so forth.

Sometimes, though, a good offence is a better defence, and that is the case for the Lilywhites. Burnley will be disciplined and will be difficult to break down their two banks of four, but what they are not going to have is a noticeable amount of possession with the ball.

Dyche can claim his side will be adventurous in this match, but that is an “I’ll believe it when I see it” claim for the Clarets, especially if their most creative player (Defour) and best crosser (Gudmundsson) are struggling to be match fit.

For all the hue and cry of Spurs not signing anyone this past summer (note: this space was among those skeptical), the 25 players Pochettino has on his roster are all players who can contribute. Moura and Son are interchangeable, as are Lamela and Eriksen, and there is little drop-off to the expected starting pair in this match at the Premier League level. And having Alli in support in the middle makes them better.

There may be some concern in rebuilding Walker-Peters’ confidence after that man vs. boy goal by Dembele at the Nou Camp, but that is a concern for another day since he must play given the injuries to Trippier and Aurier. The 21-year-old will play until one or both of them are healthy, and will be an important piece of the holiday fixtures.

It will likely take a half for Tottenham to run through their gears, but as long as they maintain possession of the ball, there will be little for Burnley to do but harass and try to hit on the counter. And that will lead to a lack of opportunities that will allow Spurs to stay in the title hunt.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, Burnley 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)