EPL betting previews, latest odds and expert tipsPosted on 13/05 by Joe Gann
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The final weekend of a memorable Premier League season is upon us with all but a few issues already decided. With the relegation question put to bed in midweek with Sunderland’s win simultaneously dumping both Norwich and Newcastle out of the top flight, the remaining items to be addressed involve European qualification.
The battle for the final Champions League spot may provide some last day drama – a situation in which both protagonists are extremely well versed.
Manchester United ($1.30) v Bournemouth ($9.00).
Will this weekend deliver an unlikely top four berth and redemption for Louis Van Gaal? Despite a goal difference of just 12, a Champions League place is still attainable for the Reds – a telling reflection of the mediocrity of the teams around them. After United’s surrender at Upton Park during the week, the top four battle has seen the pendulum swing massively in City’s favour.
Van Gaal’s side gave brief hope to their supporters that the idea of a top four place was within their grasp before a characteristically limp performance put paid to the notion of Champions league football. A turn of events indicative of the immensely frustrating tenure of Louis Van Gaal.
Bournemouth have nothing to play for and can treat the trip to Old Trafford as a day out. A victory for the Cherries will bring the curtain down on an immensely pleasing season for Eddie Howe and his players.
Newcastle United ($2.75) v Tottenham Hotspur ($2.30).
The prospect of relegation is bad enough, but to be consigned to life in the championship at the hands of bitter enemies Sunderland must be unbearable for the Toon supporters. Sunderland’s win over Everton was the final nail in the Magpies’ Premier league coffin and it remains to be seen if the Geordies can retain the services of Rafa Benitez and key playing personnel amid the devastation of their demotion.
It may be as good a time as any to face a Spurs side who look completely deflated by the manner in which they missed out on the title to Leicester City. Last week’s loss to Southampton has presented bitter rivals Arsenal with the opportunity to finish above them – an unpalatable scenario for the Spurs fans. It will be a sombre atmosphere at St James’ as both sets of supporters are left to ponder what might have been.
Chelsea ($2.00) v Leicester City ($3.50).
John Terry will miss his own farewell party here due to his red card at the Stadium of light – his second dismissal of the season has earned him a two match ban. It will be Guus Hiddink’s final game of his second spell at the club and the popular Dutchman is sure to receive a warm send-off as the London club prepare for a future under current Italy boss Antonio Conte.
Leicester revelled in the jubilant celebrations of last week’s trophy presentation and it would have been a fitting end to the season for Claudio Ranieri’s Champions. However, they still have one more fixture to tie up loose ends although it may well display the intensity of a friendly match.
With the Champions league to look forward to, attention may switch to fending off potential predators hoping to swoop in for the Foxes’ prized assets.
Everton ($2.00) v Norwich City ($3.50).
Everton may be playing their last game under Roberto Martinez; who is facing increased calls for his head after an underwhelming campaign. The capitulation at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday will have provided additional ammunition for the critics who are anxious to see the departure of the Spaniard. There will doubtless be more supporter protests at Goodison Park as the unrest reaches boiling point.
Despite finally cutting loose against Watford in midweek, Norwich’s failure to find the target in each of the previous four games has crippled their survival attempts.
The goals dried up at the worst possible time as the Canaries were desperately trying to avert their descent into the championship – a quest that was rendered futile by Sunderland’s crushing 3-0 victory over Everton on the same night.
Arsenal ($1.17) v Aston Villa ($15.00).
Arsenal saw their participation in next year’s Champions League confirmed by West Ham’s victory over Manchester United on Tuesday. The remaining goal for the Gunners will be to finish above North London rivals Spurs, thus maintaining a status quo that seen the Emirates side finish above their neighbours in every season since 1995.
For Villa, every game is prolonging the agony of their desperate campaign. Last week’s draw with Newcastle at least brought a halt to a horrendous run of 11 defeats, a result that at least helped to avoid setting a new club record, set in 1963. Supporters displayed their anger by disrupting the match in the 74th minute – by throwing beach balls on the pitch.
Southampton ($1.44) v Crystal Palace ($7.00).
2014/15 was such an impressive season for the Saints that this campaign’s success has gone unnoticed to some degree. Since the New Year, they have amassed 36 points – a total only bettered by champions Leicester City. Ronald Koeman’s side have already equalled their best ever points haul of 60 which they achieved set last term.
A win here would seal seventh place – possibly sixth depending on the West Ham result and a well-earned Europa League slot.
The Palace players are eager to impress boss Alan Pardew with the Cup Final on the horizon. The manager has hinted that the line-up is not set in stone, a tactic to prevent any complacency setting in for the remaining league games. With places for that Wembley showpiece up for grabs, it is a fine balancing act for players to avoid any injuries yet approach the game in peak form.
Last week they confirmed their place in the Premier league for the fourth consecutive year with victory over Stoke City and together with a victory next weekend, the final few weeks would transform the complexion of the Eagles season.
Stoke City ($2.50) v West Ham United ($2.70).
Stoke’s European ambitions have long since subsided as Mark Hughes’ side carry out the formalities of completing a season that had promised so much at times. Thrilling victories over both Manchester clubs earlier in the campaign suggested that the Potters could perhaps challenge at the upper end of the table for a while, but it was not to be as results tailed off and the optimism gradually fizzled out.
West Ham celebrated their last game after 112 years’ occupancy at the Boleyn Ground in perfect style, with a memorable victory over Manchester United. Their move to the Olympic Stadium has seen over 50,000 season tickets already sold for next season, as the Hammers look forward to the beginning of a new era at the club. A win here will ensure that the new stadium hosts European football in its maiden season.
West Bromwich Albion ($2.60) v Liverpool ($2.50).
With only 1 away win in the league in 2016, the Baggies will have much to ponder as they make their plans for the next campaign. Whether Tony Pulis will still reside in the Hawthorns dug-out is open to speculation given his ambiguous statements earlier on in the year. It could be an eventful close season at the Midlands club.
Jurgen Klopp will select a much changed team here, with only a passing interest in this match – understandably so. All the focus will be on preparation for Wednesday night’s Europa League final against Sevilla which offers the Reds a backdoor route into next season’s Champions League.
Swansea City ($5.00) v Manchester City ($1.61).
Although they have nothing to play for, Swansea will still be motivated to perform well here against a Manchester City side requiring just a point to claim the coveted fourth place. Buoyed by last weeks’ fantastic performance at Upton Park, the Swans will be keen to avoid defeat in front of their own fans in the season’s finale.
United’s slip up at West Ham offered City a lifeline after the Blues looked to have thrown away their place at Europe’s top table with Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal. In a race for fourth spot that neither team seems committed to win, City now have the initiative - surely they won’t let it slip again?
Watford ($2.60) v Sunderland ($2.60).
Watford are limping over the Premier League finishing line; the deteriorating form over the latter part of the season is personified by top scorer Odion Ighalo - only 2 of his 14 goals have come since the turn of the year.
Sam Allardyce - the survival specialist. People may criticise his playing style at times but his ability to orchestrate a relegation escape is beyond reproach. Sunderland timed their sprint finish to perfection and made it over the line with one game to spare. The fact that they achieved this at the expense of hated rivals Newcastle will no doubt have made the act all that much sweeter for the Wearsiders.
With the Championship race done and dusted, attention switches to the two remaining unresolved issues: relegation and European qualification. With that in mind, the clashes at Carrow Road and the Etihad are key fixtures this week – it is likely that the destiny of some will be decided over the coming weekend.
Norwich City ($4.20) v Manchester United ($1.80).
The Canaries’ season took a turn for the worse last week – defeat at Arsenal combined with a win for fellow strugglers Newcastle and a draw for Sunderland has seen their survival hopes deteriorate. Only victories will do now for Alex Neill’s side – and even then it may not be enough to save the Norfolk outfit from an immediate return to the Championship.
The two points dropped against Leicester City dealt a blow to United’s top four hopes. The draw leaves the Red Devils four points adrift of neighbours City, albeit with a game in hand – despite the blues suffering a setback of their own at St Mary’s. This is a clash in which victory is mandatory for both sides - something will have to give.
Crystal Palace ($1.95) v Stoke City ($3.75).
Sam Allardyce’s comments about the Crystal Palace players’ commitment levels in their game against relegation rivals Sunderland touched a nerve with Eagles’ boss Alan Pardew. However, it will now shine the spotlight squarely on the Londoners’ efforts in their remaining games with the FA Cup final on the horizon. They are still finding that magical 40 point threshold elusive.
In their draw last week, Stoke at least managed to shore up what has become an increasingly leaky rearguard – they had shipped four goals in each of the three previous games – although it is now eight matches without a clean sheet for the Potters. The form of Marco Arnautovic has been a plus for Mark Hughes – the Austrian is Stoke’s leading scorer with eleven for the season.
Aston Villa ($4.00) v Newcastle United ($1.83).
Villa have at least rediscovered the knack for scoring goals – it’s four goals in two matches now for the championship-bound club – although neither game yielded any points.
Newcastle find themselves out of the relegation zone, thanks in part to Saturday’s precious victory over Palace. The battle to stay up took another twist as Andros Townsend’s strike – his fourth since joining the Toon in January – claimed all three points and provided a timely boost to the Magpies’ survival hopes.
The fixture list has been kind of late, this week they face another team who are left with only their professional pride to play for.
Bournemouth ($1.73) v West Bromwich Albion ($4.50).
Bournemouth are experiencing a late season slump – it is now three consecutive losses and five defeats from six for Eddie Howe’s side. Defensive issues still plague the south coast club – only Newcastle and Villa have conceded more than the 63 Bournemouth have leaked. Nine points and four places above the drop zone suggests that the Cherries should be safe but it has been a disappointing end to a season that promised much at times.
No win in seven now for a struggling Baggies side. Tony Pulis gave a start to academy graduate Johnathon Leko last week; who at seventeen years old became the first player born in 1999 to start a Premier League match.
Sunderland ($3.50) v Chelsea ($1.95).
Sunderland gained what boss Sam Allardyce described as ‘a precious point’ at Stoke on Saturday – courtesy of another Jermaine Defoe strike. The former Spurs forward now has ten goals in his last eleven games – eleven of his total of fourteen this season have come away from the Stadium of Light. Although the Black Cats have lost only one of the last eight, they slipped to eighteenth – one point behind Newcastle but with a game in hand over their North East rivals.
Chelsea will have taken delight in wrecking Spurs’ title bid and in the process, hand the title to Leicester City - the fiery encounter at Stamford Bridge may have disciplinary after effects though. Guus Hiddink’s men managed to fight back from two goals down and preserve a twenty six year unbeaten home record against the Lillywhites.
It was a bad tempered contest, in which twelve players were booked and a brawl ensued at the final whistle which may have consequences once the authorities study the evidence. The fixture on Wearside this week will provide the former Champions with an opportunity to shatter the dreams of another team following on from the misery they heaped on Tottenham on Monday.
West Ham United ($1.61) v Swansea City ($5.00).
In reclaiming fifth place at the weekend, West Ham went ten games unbeaten in the league in a season that has seen the Hammers reach their highest ever Premiership total of 59 points. They look set for a top six – and a richly deserved Europa League place.
Swansea’s easy win over Liverpool confirmed their Premier League survival – they are up to thirteenth and with an unreachable eleven point gap from Sunderland in eighteenth. The Swans were much improved in sweeping aside an inexperienced Reds side after dreadful showings against Newcastle and Leicester – scoring three goals for the first time this season. With four home league wins in a row, Swansea have achieved their best ever Premiership run at the Liberty Stadium.
Leicester City ($2.10) v Everton ($3.30).
Leicester City – the Premier League Champions. It is a phenomenal achievement and one that is richly deserved, the Foxes have been the outstanding team of the 2015/16 season. The team has been unrivalled in their consistency and immense credit must go to Claudio Ranieri who has cultivated an unshakable belief and team spirit at his squad.
Starting at 5000/1 in August and the improbable achievement of a first league title in 132 years, the success is simply astounding and is quite rightly being talked of as possibly the biggest sporting upset of all time – one that is almost impossible to replicate.
Everton will find themselves as guests at a special celebration this weekend. It will be an awkward situation for the Blues to try to focus on the game as the euphoria sweeps around the stadium. The Toffees will be looking to build upon last week’s victory over Bournemouth which gave beleaguered coach Roberto Martinez a respite from recent calls for his removal.
Tottenham Hotspur ($1.57) v Southampton ($6.00).
Spurs must be shattered by the week’s events. Despite enduring title heartbreak this week, it would be unfathomable for keen disciplinarian Mauricio Pochettinho to allow his high standards to slip in the aftermath of Leicester’s championship triumph. It has been a tremendous season from the team from White Hart Lane and they will want to end it on a positive note.
This is a difficult game against a Southampton side fresh from their 4-2 demolition of Manchester City last Sunday. They scored four or more goals in consecutive games for the first time in Premier League history in what was a dominant display against the Champions League semi-finalists.
Liverpool ($1.44) v Watford ($7.00).
Liverpool have gambled their season on Europa League success - the semi-final against Villareal takes precedent over league matters for the Merseysiders this week. Despite that, they will be confident of a win over a fragile Watford side here.
Speculation is mounting that Hornets boss Quique Sanchez Flores will be replaced post-season after a disappointing second half to the season for the Vicarage Road team. In surprising sequence of events, the coach is reportedly ‘resigned’ to the fact that he will leave the club after May after interpreting signs that owner Gino Pozza intends to activate a break clause in the Spaniard’s contract. It seems extremely harsh given that Flores fulfilled his pre-season remit of keeping the team in the Premiership - he also provided the added bonus of an FA Cup semi-final appearance.
Manchester City ($2.05) v Arsenal ($3.50).
This could be the pivotal game of the weekend as City take on a stuttering Arsenal side at the Etihad. Victory for either team will cement a top four place and a guarantee of Champions League football for 2016/17. City have been preoccupied with their Champions league quest this season and as a result, league form has suffered.
There is an element of disillusionment aimed primarily at the respective managers from within each fanbase, and it has been a season of underachievement given the nature of the league this term. The fact that Spurs and Leicester highlights how under-par both teams have been in what has been a surreal season.
A sprinkling of dead rubbers amongst a clutch of vital clashes make up this week’s round of fixtures.
The most important question of the weekend is surely whether Leicester can secure the victory at Old Trafford that will seal a first Premier League title?
Stoke City ($2.30) v Sunderland ($3.00).
After an abject showing at the Etihad last week, Mark Hughes’ side appear to be counting down the days to the summer holidays. Up against a hungry Sunderland team, it would require a huge turnaround in attitude if they are to come away with anything here.
A seemingly disinterested Stoke team could be welcome opponents for a Sunderland side desperate for a win. Last week’s gritty stalemate with Arsenal contributed another priceless point to the Black Cats’ rescue campaign.
Newcastle United ($1.91) v Crystal Palace ($3.90).
Meanwhile, North East rivals Newcastle are mounting a survival escape attempt of their own, and with 5 points from the previous games against Manchester City, Liverpool and Norwich, the Geordies are in good form going into the season’s climax. Having played a game extra though, the odds are still against Rafa Benitez in their final three games.
They will be hoping that former boss Alan Pardew will be distracted by the upcoming FA Cup final appearance and that the Eagles may not be at their most committed in preparation for the Wembley showpiece. The Eagles progressed courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Watford, a remarkable achievement considering their abysmal form since the turn of the year.
Everton ($1.91) v Bournemouth ($4.00).
Two teams with very little to play for here. The Everton players have the fate of manager Roberto Martinez in their hands, although it may already be too late for the Spaniard following FA cup defeat at the hands of Manchester United on Saturday.
Bournemouth were torn apart by an on-song Chelsea last weekend and have the look of a team who are satisfied by their season’s efforts up to this point.
Watford ($1.61) v Aston Villa ($5.50).
This is another fixture with little bearing on anything. With only pride left to play for, although even that went out of the window a long time ago for Villa, this game generates little interest outside of the two teams involved. Watford will be reeling from the disappointment of the Semi Final defeat to Crystal Palace but can take solace from the fact that they should cement top flight football for next year.
Villa are in turmoil and amid the impending departure from the division there appears to be enormous unrest behind the scenes. With Gabriel Agbonlahor suspended by the club, Jolean Lescott a target of the fans ire, a manager dismissed after just 147 days and continuing protests against the owners it has been a season to forget for the former European Champions.
West Bromwich Albion ($3.40) v West Ham United ($2.15).
West Brom seemed to have downed tools prior to the shock draw at Spurs on Monday. However, Tony Pulis’ side demonstrated that they have the ability to produce such displays and will be looking to deliver them on a much more frequent basis next season.
West Ham still need victories to secure Europa league qualification and would be confident of taking maximum points here despite that result at White Hart Lane. They managed to put an end to a run of four consecutive draws with a victory over Watford and with a reasonably comfortable run of fixtures, the Hammers should finish the campaign strongly.
Arsenal ($1.30) v Norwich City ($11.00).
This is a huge game for very differing reasons. Arsenal, struggling for consistency of late are in severe danger of dropping out of the top four places. Facing a fraught Norwich side anxious to keep their heads above water, this could be a potential banana skin for Arsene Wenger’s charges. Having slipped back into the bottom three last weekend, this really is a do-or-die contest for the Canaries.
Swansea City ($3.50) v Liverpool ($2.10).
Leicester demolished the Swans on Sunday and although they have reached the sought after total of forty points, they are not mathematically safe yet. With the bottom teams rejuvenated, the Swans will need to raise their game to avoid a potentially catastrophic conclusion to the season.
Despite dropping points to Newcastle last week, the Reds are in decent form with three wins in the last six. Playing a Swans side who have conceded seven in their last two league outings, it could be a productive day for Liverpool’s forwards.
Manchester United ($2.10) v Leicester City ($3.40).
For United, this is one of the four remaining games that boss Louis Van Gaal has declared are essential wins if they are to finish in the coveted Champions League places. Currently in a rich vein of form which has seen them reach the FA Cup final for the first time since 2007, the Red Devils can be optimistic of sabotaging Leicester’s coronation – if only temporarily.
A win here for Leicester will see them confirmed as Champions. Jamie Vardy will be missing out yet again after having his suspension extended due to a charge of improper conduct - however that appeared to have no detrimental effect on the Foxes last week as they dismantled a weak Swansea City.
Southampton ($3.25) v Manchester City ($2.25).
This game is important for Southampton in their attempts to qualify for Europe. After a patchy victory over Aston Villa in which the Birmingham side managed to breach the Saints’ defence twice, Ronald Koeman will be aware that a repeat of such defensive flimsiness here will certainly be punished by the division’s top scorers.
It’s an intense period for City as they continue to pursue Champions League glory in conjunction with a top four finish. A Real Madrid double header placed between vital league fixtures will no doubt test the Blues to their limit. Now sitting in third, it would be surprising if they were to miss out next season.
Chelsea ($3.00) v Tottenham Hotspur ($2.37).
After a thumping win at Bournemouth, in which they resembled flashes of the side that won the Championship last season, Chelsea will be keen to scupper what slight title chances Spurs still have. A London derby that generates a large degree of animosity between both sets of fans, this should be a fiery encounter.
Unfortunately for Tottenham, a victory for Leicester at Old Trafford will render a win here relatively meaningless in terms of the league title.
The FA Cup has robbed this week’s programme of 3 fixtures as the all-Premier League Semi Finals take place at Wembley this weekend. The ragged nature of the fixture list at present is clouding the true picture of the league.
In the next couple of weeks, teams with games in hand will have caught up and the distorted situation will become a lot clearer, leaving all remaining issues to be resolved in due course.
Manchester City ($1.36) v Stoke City ($9.50).
Inevitably, the thoughts of City’s players may be elsewhere - namely Wednesday night’s Champions League blockbuster against Real Madrid. It is a sign of the changing face of football that City were relatively happy to draw Real Madrid - to suggest City would be competing at this level ten years ago, would have been laughable. That midweek engagement may deliver an added ingredient to a match that may not be as clear-cut as it first appears – if the Potters can find a return to their early season it would make a mockery of the $9.50 on offer here.
However, that is a big if, it is far more likely that City, currently riding the crest of a wave will steam roller the hit-and-miss Staffordshire side. As ever, we are in the dark as to which of the 2 conflicting sides of Stoke will show themselves here. Mark Hughes generally has a point to prove against ex-employers, and with the propensity to provide extra motivation to his troops for these fixtures, they could provide obstinate opponents to the high-flying Mancunians.
Bournemouth ($3.20) v Chelsea ($2.25).
Bournemouth were enjoying a productive spell of 4 wins in 6 before the 1-2 reversal to Liverpool at the weekend. They are in 13th and will strive to push for a top half finish which would represent an immensely satisfactory debut season in the Premier League for the Cherries.
A taste of reality for Chelsea in defeat at the hands of Manchester City last week; the difference in class between the two teams must have been alarming for Chairman Roman Abramovich. He will no doubt be banking on new arrival Antonio Conte to hit the ground running upon his arrival at the conclusion of his duties with the Italian national team at the Euros. The team appears to be treading water - marking time until the end of the season, when an overhaul of the squad is likely to take place.
Aston Villa ($5.50) v Southampton ($1.67).
Eric Black has urged the club not to allow relegation to give rise to ‘anarchy’ at the club this summer. For the first time since 1987, the Villains will not be playing top flight football when the action recommences in August - a fact that they will be seeking to rectify at the earliest opportunity. Another agonising statistic that the Villa Park have managed to secure is that they have succumbed to the earliest relegation since Portsmouth in 2009/10. They will be hoping that they will not be an addition to the list of thirteen clubs who have been relegated from the top tier – never to return.
One of Southampton’s main headaches this year has been the ability to find the net on a regular basis away from St Mary’s. The meagre total of 14 away goals has hindered the Saints’ ambitions, although a Europa League berth is still well within reach. It is now 8 games without a clean sheet for Ronald Koeman’s side, quite a turnaround for a previously miserly defence – it was 6 matches in a row without conceding before that. They will be unquestionably optimistic of improving that record at the expense of a truly dreadful Aston Villa side.
Liverpool ($1.44) v Newcastle United ($7.50).
The return of Rafa Benitez to his old stomping ground will provide an intriguing sub-plot to a match that is vital to the Spaniard’s hopes of avoiding relegation next month. Although the reds are in rude health currently, this is surely a tempting price for a team desperate to plunder maximum points.
It has been a satisfying week for the Magpies, a 4 point haul in games against Swansea and Manchester City was just the tonic for a team beginning to exhibit signs of a team who had accepted their fate. With Sunderland, of all teams, kick-starting the revival at St James’ Park on Saturday with their win over Norwich, the Geordies would have taken a similar amount of pleasure from the downfall of the Canaries.
Sunderland ($5.00) v Arsenal ($1.73).
The manner of last week’s essential victory at Carrow Road, will have roused the Black Cats and increased belief that relegation is still avoidable. Closing the gap between themselves and the Canaries was imperative and they will look to kick on here. Although a match against one of the top four is not ideal at this juncture, they will take heart from the mixed displays from Arsene Wenger’s men over the last few weeks.
With supporter unrest increasingly obvious, the Gunners took the unusual step of placing tickets for the West Brom game on general sale - as fans show their discontent with what they are seeing at present. However, that is hardly likely to benefit the team when they are in need of the support in order to secure the Champions League spot that the Emirates’ following demand. They may receive a boost this weekend following boss Wenger’s declaration that Jack Wilshire is in line to make his long awaited return from injury in this game.
Leicester City ($1.73) v Swansea City ($5.00).
The draw for Manchester City on Tuesday means that Leicester have now qualified for the group stage of the Champions League – a tremendous achievement for the East Midlands club guaranteeing an eye watering influx of cash in addition to the prospect of some of the giants of European football gracing the King Power next season. The loss of leading marksman Jamie Vardy through suspension may throw a huge spanner in the works for Leicester in terms of the Championship race however. One of the biggest strengths of the Foxes this season has been the continuity of team selection, but there has been slight signs that the table toppers may be running out of steam.
Needing just 8 points from the final 4 games - can the Foxes hold a rampant Spurs side at bay long enough to land the coveted prize?
Swept away by a hungry Newcastle at St James’ Park on Saturday, a trip to the league leaders would not be high up on the wish-list of Swans boss Francesco Guidolin this week. The absence of key man Jamie Vardy will no doubt boost the Swans but it remains a tough assignment against the league leaders who are closing in on the Championship. Having accumulated 40 points already, Swansea don’t have a lot to play for realistically and could be perfect opponents for the Foxes here.
Tottenham Hotspur ($1.25) v West Bromwich Albion ($13.00).
Spurs are in red hot form, and are powering their way to the finishing line. The only negative for them at the minute is the rapidly dwindling number of fixtures left - they have 4 games remaining in which to overhaul Leicester’s 5 points lead. If there was ten games to go, Spurs would be heavily backed to reel Leicester in - they look by far the stronger of the 2 teams at present. As it is, with four games remaining, the title may remain agonisingly out of reach. The relentless pursuit from the North London club may just be causing a few jitters at Leicester, and a maximum points return from the final games may take this title tussle right to the wire.
West Brom face a foreboding North London double-header this week. After a trip to the Emirates on Thursday night, the Baggies remain in London for a visit to the fortress of White Hart Lane 4 days later. Overtaken by Watford as a result of the defeat to the Hornets last weekend, Tony Pulis’ side find themselves in 14th looking up at 2 promoted sides (Watford and Bournemouth) in the table.
With only 50 goals scored in 51 games under the Welshman’s tenure, the style of football adopted by the Black Country outfit has been the subject of criticism from sections of the support. Still, a solid campaign in which they were never part of a relegation struggle is an achievement that should not be understated.
Half of the teams are in action in midweek - the games coming thick and fast as the season draws to a close. Huge victories for Newcastle and particularly for Sunderland at the weekend, coming as it did at the expense of fellow strugglers Norwich, has transformed the complexion of the relegation battle.
The Newcastle v Manchester City game now takes on extra significance with the top 4 battle also yet to be decided.
Newcastle United ($6.00) v Manchester City ($1.61).
A vital win for Newcastle on Saturday has breathed new life into their pursuit of safety. Although they are facing one of the league’s in-form teams, the Geordies will be hoping to exploit the visitors’ recent heavy workload.
The manner of victory over Swansea will have surely instilled a much needed shot of confidence, a commodity that has been sorely lacking of late. Now 3 points adrift of Norwich City in 17th place with an inferior goal difference of just one, this is their game in hand over the Canaries and they will be desperate to make the most of that advantage.
The return of some familiar faces for the Blues has been a welcome boost at a crucial point in their season. The fluidity and vibrancy has returned to their play and they look like a difficult team to stop at the minute. Sergio Aguero’s hat-trick on Saturday saw him become only the fifth player in Premiership history to score 20+ goals in 3 seasons - joining Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Les Ferdinand. City are in superlative form and must be ruing the fact that they have left it so late to put these kind of performances together.
West Ham United ($1.80) v Watford ($4.20).
West Ham’s season has taken a turn for the worse of late. Dumped out of the FA Cup at the hands of Manchester United and with the hopes of Champions League football all but over, it has been a demoralising period for the Irons. Still, a Europa league berth is not to be sniffed at and it will cap an excellent season overall.
Watford have a FA Cup Semi-final to prepare for this weekend and may not be at full throttle here. 2 penalty saves by Heurelho Gomes – becoming the first man to achieve that feat in 2 Premier League games - at the weekend contributed to a much needed victory over West Brom. The Hornets are up to 12th as a result and will arrive in May comfortably mid-table.
Liverpool ($1.61) v Everton ($5.00)
Although both teams may have bigger fish to fry in the context of trophy success, this is one fixture that will never be allowed to play second fiddle in the minds of supporters. Still basking in the dramatic victory over Borussia Dortmund, confidence will be sky high at Anfield.
Everton have all their eggs in the FA Cup basket as the Toffees pin their hopes on the competition as their sole hope of making this season a successful one. It has been a substandard campaign on the whole for the blue half of Merseyside and Roberto Martinez may find his job on the line in the close season. Without a win in the last 6, this mammoth week may go some way to deciding the Spaniard’s future at the club.
Manchester United ($1.50) v Crystal Place ($6.50).
United appear buoyed by the replay win at the Boleyn Ground last week, continuing to profit from an injection of youthful energy - a marked contrast with the majority of drab football they have offered for much of the season. Marcus Rashford made it 7 goals in 12 first team appearances, continuing to enjoy a meteoric rise this season.
The game against Villa saw Van Gaal rotate his side from the 11 that won at West Ham, making 5 changes which included the return of Captain Wayne Rooney after 2 months on the sidelines.
Putting paid to a woeful losing streak must have been a collective weight off all concerned as Palace finally back to winnings ways last week. A good price here - although United have an impressive home record with 11 clean sheets in the last 16 at Old Trafford. An ominous statistic for a team who have found goals hard to come by this term.
Arsenal ($1.30) v West Bromwich Albion ($11.00).
Arsenal suddenly look to be entangled in a fervent scrap for the final Champions League place. With both Manchester clubs stringing together enough results to put pressure on the Gunners, their fine record of 18 consecutive appearances in the competition could be in real peril.
West Brom suffered defeat to Watford, being leapfrogged by the Hornets in the process, on Saturday with Saido Berahino missing 2 penalties. On 40 points, the Baggies are safe but are one of a number of teams coasting to the season’s finale with no obvious targets in sight.
$11.00 would appear to be logical for a team who seem to be bereft of any vigour or ambition.
Whatever happens between now and May, it would seem evident that a new name will be etched onto the Premiership trophy come the end of the season. With only 5 teams having won the prize, it appears extremely likely that either Leicester City or Tottenham Hotspur will be adding their names to that exclusive group.
Results over recent weeks suggest that it will be 2 from Newcastle, Sunderland or Norwich that will join Aston Villa in the Championship next term. With just 6 games remaining and 6 points dividing the sides, it is a race that is destined to go right down to the wire.
Norwich ($2.30) v Sunderland ($3.10).
The disappointment of last week’s loss at Crystal Palace quickly subsided as news of defeats for Sunderland and Newcastle meant that no ground was lost in the relegation battle. With just 4 points separating these two teams, this game is monumental - a defeat could completely change the landscape for one of them.
Defeat to Champions in waiting Leicester leaves Sam Allardyce’s team deep in trouble. Allardyce has never been relegated from the Premier League but that prospect is becoming a distinct possibility for the highly experienced boss. They will need to improve on their finishing - execution in the last third of the pitch has been nothing short of dreadful.
Everton ($2.20) v Southampton ($3.20).
Unrest amongst the Toffee’s support was palpable at Vicarage last week. A section of the away fans unfurling a banner calling for Roberto Martinez to leave the club highlighting the dissatisfaction with the team’s performances this season. With an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to, it’s not all doom and gloom at Goodison Park, however it seems that a date at Wembley is not enough to placate the Blues’ followers.
A thumping win over relegation-haunted Newcastle has breathed new life into the Saints’ Europa League quest. The sight of Jay Rodriguez making an appearance from the bench was one which lifted the stadium, the striker has had wretched luck with injuries over the past couple of years. Ronald Koeman’s men didn’t really have to break sweat to overcome the Magpies, easing to a 3-0 half time lead and effectively finishing the game.
The Saints are in fine form and have won 6 of the last 8 - $3.20 is a tempting price, given Everton’s form at home so far.
West Bromwich Albion ($2.25) v Watford ($3.30).
Lack of goals has been a source of frustration for the Baggies, they have registered just 2 shots on target in their last 3 matches. They have won just 1 in last 11 away games but a win here could assist Tony Pulis’ side achieve a top half finish.
Watford seem to be holding back their best form in anticipation of the FA Cup Semi Final, an understandable yet risky strategy. The ability to initiate good performances on tap is a notoriously difficult skill and it is possible that the Hornets will pay for taking their foot off the gas in recent months.
Manchester United ($1.22) v Aston Villa ($13.00).
It has been a largely forgettable season for the Red Devils, their top 4 hopes were dented yet again with Sunday’s loss at White Hart Lane. Rare highlights for the Old Trafford faithful have been provided by the youth team graduates that have been given first team opportunities by Louis Van Gaal. With the lavish spending sprees of the last 2 summers not even coming close to paying dividends, major decisions lay ahead for the club’s hierarchy this summer if they are serious about re-establishing themselves as part of the European elite.
Villa will already be planning for life in the Championship, confirmation of the relegation should take place here this weekend. It will be a summer of upheaval at Villa Park as wholesale changes are set to sweep across the club. The possibility of new owners taking control, another change of manager and a recycling of playing personnel are all issues that will need to be resolved before August.
Newcastle United ($2.37) v Swansea City ($3.00).
The Magpies still only have 25 points and the last time they were demoted to the Championship, the total they amassed was 34 – a figure that looks unattainable on current form. Now 6 points adrift of Norwich in 17th with 6 games remaining, their survival hopes are starting to look bleak. One ray of light is the fact that they have the benefit of 4 home games from their last 6.
This may be handy as their away form is atrocious - they have only accrued 7 points on their travels and are in the middle of a run of 9 consecutive defeats - but with only 4 home wins all season, St James’ Park is hardly a fortress either.
Swansea have all but guaranteed their survival now courtesy of an excellent win over Chelsea last week. The goals of Gylfi Sygardsson have been vital in the Swans’ ascent away from trouble; only Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane have scored more than the Icelander since the turn of the year.
Chelsea ($2.37) v Manchester City ($2.90).
In years gone by, this game, being played in April, would’ve had a huge bearing on the title race. It sums up the below par seasons that each club have endured that the sides are sitting 10th and 4th respectively. In City’s defence, they have won a trophy and have progressed further in the Champions League than ever before. A top 4 four spot would just about keep the fans content after an unexpectedly weak title challenge.
City are 15 points behind Leicester, but have recently been boosted by the return from injury of Samir Nasri and Kevin De Bruyne. The victory over West Brom last week meant consecutive wins for the first time since October for the Blues.
Chelsea surrendered their 14 game unbeaten record at Swansea last week with a limp display. They remain in 10th and incoming boss Antonio Conte will no doubt be running his eye over the current squad before deciding what changes he needs to make. The club have stated that they have no plans to sell last year’s double Footballer of the Year Eden Hazard, despite a hugely underwhelming campaign from the Belgian. This game may be the stage that the players need to put on a performance, and maybe one or two will be fighting to save their Stamford Bridge careers.
Bournemouth ($3.40) v Liverpool ($2.15).
Eddie Howe was delighted with the win last week that meant the Cherries had reached the magical 40 points figure. More good news came with the return to action of striker Callum Wilson after 6 months on the sidelines. Assured of top flight football again in 2016/17, the south coast club face an in-form Liverpool side with no real pressure hinging on the result.
Fresh from the 4-1 thrashing of Stoke City, the Reds are still eyeing a top six finish. The last couple of months have seen a marked improvement in performances as Jurgen Klopp’s methods appear to be starting to bear fruit at Anfield.
Leicester City ($1.95) v West Ham United ($3.80).
The atmosphere at the final whistle at the Stadium of Light last weekend had the feel that something decisive had just transpired. With Jamie Vardy delivering a nicely timed return to goal scoring action, the 3 points saw the Foxes remain firmly in the driving seat of this title race. This game will be a stiff test, but Claudio Ranieri’s men have not been found wanting yet and to fall short at this late stage is simply unthinkable.
Saturday’s pulsating encounter with Arsenal ended in a creditable draw for the Irons, one which leaves them 5 points behind City in the race for a top 4 spot. Realistically, a Europa league slot should be achieved and it will cap off an exceptional first season for Slaven Bilic.
Arsenal ($1.33) v Crystal Palace ($9.00).
Dropped points at Upton Park last week has finally put paid to any lingering title hopes that the Gunners might have held. Throwing away a 2 goal lead, they were fortunate in the end to come away with anything. It has been a familiar season for Arsenal, minus the silverware they have racked up in the previous 2 campaigns.
A first win of 2016 for Palace increased the gap to 6 points between themselves and Norwich in 17th position. That victory will probably be enough for the Eagles to avoid any relegation troubles at the tail end of the season and a return to winning ways will hopefully be a precursor to a strong conclusion to a mixed campaign.
Stoke City ($4.10) v Tottenham Hotspur ($1.91).
Sunday’s chastening defeat at Anfield saw the Merseyside club leapfrog the Potters into 8th place. Mark Hughes’s side lie in 9th – the position they have finished in each of the previous 2 seasons. In a campaign that promised so much more earlier on, it is slightly disappointing that old inconsistencies have reared their head again to put the brakes on a season that could have delivered so much more. In true Stoke style, they will more than likely put on a much more spirited display against a Spurs side desperate for all 3 points.
Hoping for a Leicester slip-up is becoming a soul destroying pastime at White Hart Lane, as the Foxes refuse to be dislodged from their perch. The relentless victory march taking place at the King Power Stadium is out of the hands of Spurs, and all the players can do is continue to win their games, and pray for a favour from other teams. The second half demolition job that they performed on Manchester United at the weekend at least highlights that the Tottenham players will not be giving up the fight easily.
While nothing has been decided just yet, the defining period of this incredible season is upon us. It seems like every week throws up a potentially significant set of fixtures – and this week is no exception. The games at Upton Park and White Hart Lane could have a huge bearing on the top of the division; whereas St Mary’s, Selhurst Park and the Stadium of Light host equally important fixtures impacting clubs at the opposite end.
West Ham United ($4.00) v Arsenal ($1.91).
West Ham have seen their quest to break into the top 4 stall of late. Consecutive draws against London rivals Chelsea and Crystal Palace are hardly a disaster, but when dropped points can prove so costly, it is imperative that they get back to winning ways as soon as possible. The consistently excellent Dimitri Payet will no doubt play a big part in the Hammers league and cup ambitions for the rest of the season, his performances have been a highlight of a superb first season under Slaven Bilic.
He netted his 12th goal of the campaign on Saturday and has been directly involved in 23 goals in all competitions - 13 more than any other West Ham player.
After easing to victory over Watford, it seems as though Arsenal are about to embark upon their customary strong finish to the season. It would appear that with the pressure off in terms of their title aspirations, the Gunners have relaxed and are producing displays more akin to some sublime early season performances. This will be a tough test though as West Ham look to turn around recent patchy form, in a London derby which has produced some terrific games over the years.
Southampton ($1.57) v Newcastle United ($6.50.)
Southampton have again been left cursing their luck after finding themselves on the wrong end of some dubious refereeing decisions of late. Boss Ronald Koeman was livid after Michael Oliver’s decision to wave play on after Leicester defender Danny Simpson appeared to handle a goal bound Sadio Mane effort last week. Justifiably, the Dutchman thought that the resulting punishment would have changed the course of proceedings and he was left ruing yet another harsh call against his team.
5 defeats from 6, including last week’s alarming defeat at Carrow Road, has left the Geordies’ Premier League lives in grave danger. On paper, the Magpies have more than enough quality to be comfortably mid-table. However, how many clubs have been relegated over the years despite believing those same sentiments? It must be a feeling of Déjà vu for the Newcastle fans to yet again witness an expensively assembled squad fail to live up to its promise.
Rafa Benitez finds himself in unfamiliar territory embroiled in a relegation battle, and time is running out for the former Real Madrid coach to turn things around.
Crystal Palace ($2.00) v Norwich City ($3.75).
After a much improved display against West Ham last week, the Eagles can be cautiously optimistic in the run up to this game. Although they are still without a victory in 14 Premier League games, Alan Pardew’s men will take heart from their spirited performance at Upton Park last time out. Palace are in 16th, 7 points clear of Sunderland in 18th and this weekend’s game as well as the upcoming fixture against Newcastle will have a huge bearing on the final standings in May.
Norwich are riding high after 2 invaluable wins in as many games. The dramatic 3-2 win over Newcastle last weekend may have enormous implications for both clubs in the relegation fight. If they come away from this game unscathed, the Canaries will be very upbeat about their survival chances.
Aston Villa ($3.50) v Bournemouth ($2.10).
It was all change in the Villa Park dug-out this week as Eric Black took on the role of caretaker manager following Remi Garde’s exit. The appointment appeared to have altered little though, as the Birmingham side continue to sleep walk towards the Championship. The only positive at this stage is that Villa are not far away from being put out of their misery, as their ignominious league season limps to an end. 7 straight defeats and only 3 victories all season is the grim epitaph of a woeful campaign.
Callum Wilson remains Bournemouth’s top goal scorer with 5, despite being absent since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in September. Lack of goals is an obvious weakness for the Cherries and it may be an area that Eddie Howe will seek to address in the summer. Nevertheless, playing championship-bound Villa should provide a chance for the south coast club to bounce back after being comprehensively outplayed by Manchester City last week.
Swansea City ($3.75) v Chelsea ($2.00).
A comeback point at Stoke last week has surely cemented Swansea’s place in English football’s top league for another year. The Swans can achieve the coveted 40 points total this weekend with a victory over the soon to be ex-Champions. The speculation regarding Brendan Rodgers’ possible return to the club this week seems ridiculous considering the job Francesco Guidolin has done in reviving the Welsh club.
Chelsea extended their unbeaten run to 15 matches in the 4-0 stroll over Watford last week and will hope to continue this momentum going into next season. By that stage, there will be yet another new face occupying the Stamford Bridge hot-seat. It was announced earlier this week that present Italy national coach Antonio Conte will take the reins in August, despite being implicated in a match fixing scandal in his home country earlier in his managerial career.
Watford ($3.10) v Everton ($2.30).
Watford were abysmal in defeat to Arsenal in their last outing and their decline since Christmas has been shocking. It is just 2 wins in 13 and 5 losses from the last 6 games for them. It is a testament to the strength of their early season showing that the Hornets can take their foot off the gas for the season’s conclusion. 10 points clear of Sunderland, it is inconceivable that they will be dragged into the relegation fray.
Everton were unfortunate to come away from Old Trafford empty handed last week, as another solid performance went unrewarded. Lying in 12th, partly as a result of 3 straight losses, the FA Cup may be more of a priority at this late stage. A situation that also applies to this weekend’s opponents.
Manchester City ($1.33) v West Bromwich Albion ($9.00).
The return to action of Kevin De Bruyne last week seemed to inspire a much sharper looking City side dispatch Bournemouth, in what looked like a return to form for the blues. Now engaged in a battle for Champions League spot, City - like Arsenal - also appear to have gained an element of freedom from the demise of their title hopes. Overwhelming favourites here, expect a strong finish to the campaign for the Citizens.
West Brom delivered a blow to Sunderland’s survival hopes last week and will be hoping to do something similar to City’s top 4 chances here. The odds are against the Baggies, particularly given City’s impressive performance at Bournemouth, but Tony Pulis will be hoping to exploit any perceived lack of focus generated by the Blues’ midweek Champions league encounter with PSG. In reasonable form with 40 points already in the bag, and with nothing to lose, the side from the Black Country can afford to throw caution to the wind here.
Sunderland ($3.50) v Leicester City ($2.10).
Sunderland’ top flight status hangs by a thread and they need an unlikely win against the Champions-elect here. Languishing in 18th, 4 points adrift of a resurgent Norwich City, the Black Cats are in dire need of victories. With 4 consecutive draws, it is paramount that Sam Allardyce’s team transform those single points into all 3.
Leicester’s 1-0 win over Southampton – their fifth win in six matches by the same score line – means that the Foxes now only need 4 more wins from their remaining 6 games to clinch an astonishing title triumph. A valuable asset that Claudio Ranieri’s men possess is the ability to score goals from all areas of the pitch. The unlikely hero last week was Captain Wes Morgan, who’s impeccably timed first goal of the season helped seal all 3 points.
Liverpool ($1.55) v Stoke City ($5.50).
Liverpool managed to dominate for periods against potential champions Spurs last week, landing a potentially terminal blow to the North London club’s title chances in the process. It was yet more proof of the effectiveness of the Merseysiders on certain occasions. The club’s outstanding performer once more again Philip Coutinho and the $8.5m fee that they paid Inter Milan for his services in January 2013 now looks like an absolute steal.
Inconsistency is hampering Stoke’s attempt to claim their highest league finish since 1975. It was more frustration for the Potters last week as they relinquished a 2 goal lead to finish with a solitary point at home to Swansea City. They are a decent price here, depending on which version of Mark Hughes’s side turns up.
Tottenham Hotspur ($1.91) v Manchester United ($4.00).
Tottenham host United here hoping to regain a foothold in the championship race after last week’s slip up at Anfield. With Leicester now savouring the luxury of a 7 point cushion at the league’s summit, this is simply a must win game for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
The Red Devils are currently revelling in a fine spell – it’s now 4 wins from 5 in the league for them. However, you sense that Van Gaal’s side are never far away from a damaging defeat which could precipitate yet another bad spell. A win here though would certainly enhance the belief that a top 4 finish is possible.
League proceedings have been on pause as the preparations for this summer’s European Championships took centre stage this week. The risk of injuries whilst on international duty will have been the primary concern for the majority of managers; the loss of key personnel could be catastrophic at this late stage.
With just 8 games remaining, the spotlight returns to domestic matters as we witness the last of the international commitments before the season’s end -Premiership bosses can now breathe a collective sigh of relief as they organise the final push of the campaign.
Aston Villa ($6.00) v Chelsea ($2.50).
With Villa’s inevitable relegation just a matter of weeks away, allied to the fact that Chelsea have very little to play for, this may not be the most competitive fixture around this week. Villa have lost their last 6 games as they edge closer and closer to the Premiership trap door.
Chelsea remain tenth with no discernible targets remaining for the season. Out of all cup competitions, the sole aim would appear to be trying to finish as high as possible up the table. In all probability, everyone associated with the club will be eagerly awaiting the end of what has been an extremely unfulfilling campaign for the club.
Bournemouth ($3.75) v Man City ($1.95).
Only the top 2 have collected more points since the beginning of December than Bournemouth - in what has been a wonderful run of form. However, they will be looking to make amends for a below par performance at White Hart Lane before the break. Currently in 13th and with a 12 point cushion to alleviate any potential relegation concerns for Eddie Howe’s men, it may be liberating for the players to express themselves without any degree of anxiety.
It has been an extremely satisfying maiden season in the top flight for the Cherries and they have acquitted themselves superbly - it is a reward for their endeavours so far that the run in may be more comfortable than many would have predicted prior to the start of the season.
City haven’t won back to back league games for 5 months, and it looks as though form has deserted them in recent weeks – they have drawn a blank in 3 of their last 4 matches. Injuries are mounting at the Etihad - Joe Hart became the latest admission to the treatment room, joining Vincent Kompany, Raheem Sterling and long term casualty, Kevin De Bruyne on the absentee list. They face the very real prospect of welcoming new boss Pep Guardiola to the club with the unwanted gift of Europa league involvement.
Arsenal ($1.33) v Watford ($9.00).
The win at Goodison Park a fortnight ago was the Gunners’ first league win since the success over Leicester on February 14th. Dumped out of the FA cup and Champions League this month, they find themselves 11 points behind Leicester, and possibly out of the title race.
They will be praying for an unlikely late collapse from their title rivals. A top four finish should be well within reach but the feeling at the Emirates will surely be that this was their best chance of winning the championship in recent memory. It will be with disappointment that they reflect on this season, and yet another missed opportunity.
Watford comfortably beaten by Stoke at home in their last match will need to raise their game here. Amid the euphoria of reaching an FA Cup semi-final, the poor league form of 2016 has been largely ignored. It is now only 2 wins from the last 13 matches for the Hornets - although being situated 12 points above the bottom 3 with 8 games to play will make Quique Sanchez Flores’ men confident that they will be playing top flight football next season. 23 of their 30 Premier League goals have been scored by Troy Deeney or Idion Ighalo this season - a worrying statistic which hints at an unsustainable overreliance of the duo.
Norwich City ($2.25) v Newcastle United ($3.20).
A massive game at the foot of the table and a loss for either team here would be a disastrous. Gaining a crucial win last time out at the Hawthorns, the Canaries went into the international break with the psychological boost of achieving clear daylight between themselves and the drop zone.
They will be desperate to take full advantage of the home fixture and attempt to navigate their way up the league.
Newcastle ended a 4 game losing streak with a draw in the Tyne-Wear derby and the Toon will be hoping to use this as a springboard for a late push in the final 8 games. To that end, they will have to address the fact that they have lost their last 7 away games - this would be the perfect time to do just that.
Stoke City ($2.10) v Swansea ($3.60).
The new free-flowing style of this Stoke side has won many admirers this season and Mark Hughes’s side are still on course for a European berth next year. The club were dealt a double blow this week however, with the news that newly crowned Austrian footballer of the Year Marko Arnautovic has yet to agree a new contract with the club.
Speculation this week suggests that a clause exists in his current deal that will allow him to leave the Brittania Stadium for just £12.5m in the summer. In addition, news that goalkeeper Jack Butland had suffered a fractured ankle on international duty was a major disappointment – the stopper has had an outstanding campaign and was a certainty to be included in the England squad at this summer’s European Championships.
An impressive recent spell has seen the Swans open up an 11 point gap from the bottom 3. The appointment of Francesco Guidolin has paid huge dividends as the improvement in results appears to have fully justified the managerial changes that were put in place earlier this year.
Sunderland ($2.10) v West Bromwich Albion ($3.75).
It is now 17 games without a clean sheet for the Black Cats; substandard defending is the fundamental reason why the Wearsiders are in such a perilous situation. Boss Sam Allardyce has set a target of 4 wins from the final 8 matches; with just 6 wins in the whole of this season so far, it will be a mammoth task.
Tony Pulis was bitterly disappointed with his side’s display against Norwich last time out, describing the reversal as a ‘backward step’, coming off the back of 3 straight wins. With 5 players representing their country in midweek (Evans, McAuley, Fletcher, Chester and Rondon), he will be hoping that the exertions haven’t taken too much of a toll as he aims to add to Sunderland’s woes this weekend.
West Ham United ($1.91) v Crystal Palace ($4.00).
Hammers co-owner David Sullivan revealed that the club are interested in bringing Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the club in the summer. How realistic that proposal is remains to be seen, but it is indicative of the upbeat atmosphere around the club at present. Riding high in the league with Champions league football a possibility, a place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup within reach, and the move to the new stadium to look forward to this summer, these are exciting times in the East End.
Still without a league victory since December 19th, Palace remain the only side in England’s top four divisions to still be without a win in 2016. The loss to Leicester was the 6th straight home defeat of an awful spell – they are aiming to put an end to a dismal run of 13 games without a win. They face a daunting prospect in attempting to overcome an ever improving West Ham side who harbour genuine top 4 ambitions.
Liverpool ($2.50) v Tottenham Hotspur ($2.87).
After a second half capitulation at St Mary’s, Liverpool achieved the unenviable record of having surrendered 15 points from winning positions this season. Another Jekyll and Hyde performance at St Mary’s saw the team from Merseyside throw away a 2 goal half time lead, to leave the South coast empty handed.
The Anfield side are one of only 2 teams to have beaten league leaders Leicester this term, their ability to beat the top teams has been a feature of their season so far. It would not be too much of a surprise if Liverpool took something from this game, a result that would seriously dent Spurs’ title charge in the process. This will be a severe test of Spurs’ mettle and coming at this time of the season, it is a significant fixture that could have far-reaching consequences.
England have reaped the benefit of the burgeoning relationship between Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The combination has produced 7 goals so far, the most assists between two players in 2015/16. Kane has already equalled his goal scoring exploits of last season with 7 games to spare and is the league’s top scorer with 21. In reaching that milestone, he becomes just the 5th Englishman to pass the 20 goal mark in consecutive Premier League seasons, joining Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand and Robbie Fowler in the exclusive club.
Leicester City ($2.20) v Southampton ($3.30).
The Leicester title bandwagon rolls on and the Foxes host Southampton here with the knowledge that just 6 more wins will clinch an astounding first league championship for the club. With 3 consecutive 1-0 wins under their belt, Claudio Ranieri’s men have perfected the art of rolling up their sleeves up and winning ugly if necessary - it is going to take something special to deny them the title now.
The astute substitutions made by Ronald Koeman against Liverpool were instrumental in an extraordinary second half turnaround. The introduction of Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane completely changed the complexion of the game as the Saints recovered from 2 nil down at the break to win 3-2. It was a sublime second 45 minutes from the South coast club and will provide¬¬¬ a fillip going into this one against the league leaders.
Manchester United ($2.00) v Everton ($4.00).
United saw a revival of their Champions league aspirations with a huge victory in the Manchester derby. Yet again, Van Gaal managed to grind out an important win just as it appeared that the axe was about to fall on the Dutchman. As at numerous times in the past though, it could be a case of two steps forward and one back for United as they have displayed an inability to build upon promising results.
Precocious talent Marcus Rashford has been an unexpected success with 5 goals in his 8 games since his promotion to the first team, ably filling in for the injured Wayne Rooney.
Everton were booed off by their own supporters in the wake of the defeat against Arsenal last time out. It has been an unpredictable season for the blue half of Merseyside, a successful run in the FA Cup has been tempered by some below par league performances. It may be beneficial for Everton to be playing away from home this week, as results at Goodison have been awful, with 4 defeats from 5 and only 1 win in 9. The Toffees also have the worst home defensive record in the league with 28 goals conceded.
This week’s fixtures are dominated by two potentially season-defining local derbies in Manchester and Tyneside which are likely to have a huge impact at both ends of the table. The battle for a spot in the top 4 continues this week with all eyes on the game at the Etihad; but can West Ham upset the odds and claim a coveted Champions League place?
The dismissal of Steve McClaren was the last throw of the dice for Newcastle; will it be the gamble that saves their season?
Two highly significant games, given extra spice by local hostilities, in what promises to be yet another enthralling Premier League weekend.
Everton ($2.62) v Arsenal ($2.62).
Everton, high on confidence after dumping Chelsea out of the cup last week, entertain an out of sorts Arsenal, who could well arrive at this game 11 points off top spot. They may be relieved to be playing away from the Emirates, the loss to Watford last week was their third consecutive reversal at home – in 3 different competitions – and signalled the worst run at the stadium since their relocation from Highbury in 2006.
The wheels have fallen off recently for Arsene Wenger and his position is yet again under scrutiny. It has become a predictable theme for Arsenal fans as they once again witness their chances of silverware implode at the approach of the season’s climax.
Crystal Palace ($2.87) v Leicester City ($2.50).
Palace at least have the welcome distraction of a Wembley visit coming up to divert attention away from the wreckage of their Premier League season. It was such an upbeat start to the 2015/16 season, and it must be particularly galling to see all of that early cheer completely eroded. Down in 15th and with 8 defeats in the last 10, the Eagles continue to plummet down the table. Only 8 points above the bottom 3 now, these are troubling times at Selhurst Park.
Leicester are undefeated in 30 of the last 33 matches. Claudio Ranieri has the luxury of being able to choose from a fully fit squad; one of the strengths of the Foxes this season has been the stability in team selections. Leicester have acquired the priceless knack of producing 1-0 victories in the absence of champagne football, and with only 8 games remaining, belief is growing stronger in the East Midlands.
Watford ($2.50) v Stoke City ($2.87).
Watford are another team who will be buoyed by the prospect of a Wembley appearance as they shocked the holders Arsenal at the weekend to claim a place in the semi-final. With top scorer Odion Ighalo back amongst the goals, morale will be sky high at Vicarage Road this week.
After a setback last week against Southampton, Mark Hughes’ men will be looking to get back on track here. With the incentive of 3 Europa league slots still potentially up for grabs, Stoke are still in the mix - currently situated only 4 points behind Manchester United in 6th.
Chelsea ($1.61) v West Ham ($5.50).
An excellent price for West Ham against a Chelsea side without too many targets left for the season. 2 defeats in 2 cup competitions effectively ended Chelsea’s campaign last week and the soon to be deposed Champions are left to play out the season without any real objectives, the aim of Europa cup qualification now the only goal of a below-par season for the Londoners.
Albeit, an accomplishment that would have seemed extremely improbable at the start of this year and testament to the turnaround that Guus Hiddink has overseen since his arrival.
It is West Ham who may be the more motivated side in this one, with a Champions League place still within reach – a win here coupled with a defeat for Manchester City in the derby would see the Hammers move up into 4th.
West Bromwich Albion ($2.10) v Norwich City ($3.40).
West Brom are comfortably up to 11th after last week’s victory over Manchester United. With 39 points now and Premier League status all but assured, attention will no doubt switch to the future of manager Tony Pulis over the coming months. The Baggies’ chief has refused to give any assurances about a decision to stay at the club beyond May and his services will no doubt be in high demand should he decide that his future lies away from the Hawthorns.
Norwich gained an unexpected point against Manchester City last week with a spirited performance. However, in the latter stages of the season, it is victories that are going to be imperative in the quest to survive. With the form of rivals drastically improving, solitary points may not be enough to guarantee safety.
With games coming up against Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Sunderland, the fate of the Canaries may well be decided in this key period. It is imperative that they win here against West Brom, prior to that crucial spell.
Swansea City ($1.61) v Aston Villa ($5.50).
Swansea are 8 points clear of the drop zone. Only Norwich have kept fewer clean sheets on the road than Swansea, so it will be a relief for them to be back at the Liberty Stadium. Gylfi Sygardsson has been instrumental for the Swans in their recent rich vein of form, only Sergio Aguero has scored more league goals in 2016 than the Icelander.
Any side facing Villa at the moment must sense the opportunity to extract maximum points; the Villains are in the middle of a lamentable run of 5 straight defeats.
Villa’s precarious grasp on their Premiership status was weakened further last week and next season’s participation in the Championship is just a formality now. The loss to Spurs on Sunday was their 20th of a traumatic campaign. Now 9 points from safety, having played a game more than Sunderland, it is a matter of when - not if - the club’s relegation is confirmed.
Newcastle United ($2.15) v Sunderland ($3.50).
The appointment of Rafa Benitez has helped lift some of the gloom that has been hanging over the club of late and brings a wave of optimism to Tyneside, as the vastly experienced Spaniard attempts to navigate the Geordies away from danger. A huge test of his motivational skills, his main task will be to challenge the attitude of the underperforming players he will be inheriting. Having started the season in the Spanish Capital in charge of Real Madrid, it is bizarre that he will end it fighting relegation in charge of the Magpies.
It is something of a coup for Newcastle to land one of Europe’s leading coaches; Benitez is well regarded on the continent and is more accustomed to guiding his teams in the pursuit of silverware than trying to avert a relegation. It will be fascinating to see how he adapts to his new environment. If Monday’s narrow loss to Leicester is any indication, then it would appear that the players responded positively to his methods in what was a much improved display that augers well for the remaining games.
Sunderland have had a 2 week break coming into this massive clash, due to domestic cup competition taking place around them. They will have enjoyed the luxury of spending the fortnight out of the bottom 3 as they recharge the batteries ahead of a final push in the struggle to avoid the drop. It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of this one - with very little between the 2 sides, home advantage may play a part as the Toon army will no doubt turn St James’ Park into a cauldron of noise against their bitter rivals.
Southampton ($2.62) v Liverpool ($2.70).
The serial inconsistency of the teams above them has ensured that the door remains ajar for Liverpool’s aspirations of European football again next year. This is a tricky, much will depend on the application of the Liverpool players after the draining Europa league exertions.
Likewise, Southampton’s unpredictability has made it an uneven season for the Saints. A mixed bag of results for Ronald Koeman’s side of late with3 wins, 2 defeats and a draw in their last 6. This is an opportunity for the Saints to gain revenge for the 1-6 hammering the Anfield side handed out in the Capital One cup at St Mary’s in December.
Tottenham Hotspur ($1.53) v Bournemouth ($6.50).
Spurs kept up the pressure at the top at the weekend, temporarily closing the gap to 2 points on Saturday, before Leicester restored their 5 point cushion in Monday’s win over Newcastle. Harry Kane bagged his 18th and 19th league goals last week as Spurs’ main man continues to fire at the right time for his side. Although Bournemouth are in sparkling form at the moment – 3 consecutive wins, and 10 points from the last 4 games – Tottenham will be confident of taking all 3 points at home.
Bournemouth earned themselves more breathing room with a thrilling victory over Swansea last time out that the South coast club move into 13th place. The 38 points they have amassed so far should be enough for Eddie Howe’s men to remain at football’s top table again next season. If they can manage to take any points here, it would be viewed as a bonus - the price of $6.00 highlights this.
Man City ($1.80) v Man United ($4.50).
Having unexpectedly dropped points at Carrow Road last week, City’s title hopes are dwindling. Now 9 points behind front runners Leicester City, it looks as though securing Champions league involvement next year will be the priority for the Blues for the rest of this campaign.
With 9 games remaining, this game will more than likely herald the end of Champions League hopes for United should they lose. This may be the final nail in the coffin of a wretched campaign for United; time is fast running out of the Reds and for coach, Louis Van Gaal.
It’s an abridged version of the fixture list this week as FA cup quarter finals commitments force the postponements of 4 matches. There are still important issues to be resolved as another fixture is crossed off the list and the countdown to the season’s conclusion continues.
Norwich City ($5.50) v Man City ($1.61).
City have been aided by a kinder fixture list of late. In poor form with 3 losses on the spin prior to the Villa game last weekend, the Birmingham side proved to be perfect opponents for a team to seeking to regain championship form. With the goals flowing again, the confidence was plainly restored against Villa as the latter part of the match resembled a practice match, with the Blues free to hone their attacking skills.
Norwich are exhibiting all the hallmarks of a team heading towards relegation. Last week’s extremely damaging loss to Swansea could be a terminal blow to their hopes of staying in this division beyond May. It is now 8 defeats from 9 for Alex Neill’s men and it is hard to imagine that a fixture against a reinvigorated Manchester City will reap any reward for the relegation strugglers.
Bournemouth ($1.91) v Swansea ($4.20).
Back to back wins for these 2 teams has helped to ease any lingering relegation fears they had. This could still be an important clash but both teams have established a reassuring gap to the foot of the table; a point here would not be a disaster to either manager. 11 points clear of the bottom 3 - the Cherries find themselves tantalisingly close to preserving their Premier League status for the lucrative 2016/17 season.
Swansea are 9 points clear of the drop zone after a wonderful spell which has resulted in wins at Arsenal and at home to Norwich. The timing of this surge in form has been impeccable and the picture looks a lot healthier than it was a few weeks ago for the Swans as they become increasingly confident of survival.
Stoke City ($2.70) v Southampton ($2.60).
A strong showing at Stamford Bridge last week helped cement Stoke’s recent resurgence. With 3 wins in 4, the Potters seem re-energised after a poor spell at the turn of the year. They appear to have finally recovered from a devastating period which saw them dumped out of 2 cup competitions within the space of a week. They are in with a decent chance of 5th place if they can maintain their current displays; however the fixture list promises some difficult games ahead.
After an outstanding string of results throughout February, Southampton are experiencing a mini slump - it’s no win in 3 for them now. With European football now a forlorn hope, it is the responsibility of boss Ronald Koeman to make sure the remainder of the campaign doesn’t fizzle out. A tough test awaits here against a Stoke side high on confidence.
Arsenal ($1.36) v West Brom ($8.50).
Arsenal would have been relieved to have snatched a point from last week’s North London derby; particularly as they were reduced to 10 men before half time - courtesy of Francis Coquelin’s dismissal. They will take heart from that resilient performance and hope that it will act as a stimulus in their bid for the Premiership crown.
$8.50 is a generous price given what Swansea accomplished at the Emirates last Wednesday, and Arsenal are far from infallible. However, it is hard to imagine lightening striking twice, given Arsenal’s need to collect maximum points here.
12 points clear of Norwich in 18th, the Baggies have probably now done enough to maintain their top flight status. West Brom chief Tony Pulis deserves credit for the job he has done in steering the Black Country club away from danger for the second successive season.
Aston Villa ($6.50) v Tottenham Hotspur ($1.50).
Villa are incredibly unlikely to add to their paltry total of 3 victories this season in this one. The relegation of the Midlanders – their first since 1987 – appears to be a foregone conclusion now. Fan protests against the owners, tales of dressing room mutiny and uncertainty surrounding the coach are all depressing ingredients contributing to the gloomy atmosphere currently hanging over Villa Park.
A golden opportunity for Spurs to get back to winning ways after a return of 1 point from the last 2 games has seen their title charge stall of late. Overwhelming favourites here, it would be a huge upset if they returned down south with anything less than maximum points; a situation that would cast serious doubt over their ability to win the title this year.
Consistency is still the central attribute of the new look Spurs this term, the Lilywhites are unbeaten in 25 of the last 28 league fixtures.
Leicester City ($1.61) v Newcastle United ($6.00).
Leicester are digging out vital results in the manner of true champions. In each of the recent tight encounters against Watford and Norwich, the Foxes have managed to transform 1 point into 3, a trait that could well see Claudio Ranieri’s men crowned Champions in May. They have shown an admirable mental toughness to come through a testing period and have now stretched their lead at the summit to 5 points. It is an unusual circumstance that has now developed for the Foxes; they are fast becoming the prized scalp in the division.
A situation exemplified by the defensive tactics deployed by opposition managers of late in an attempt to nullify the threat of the free flowing football Leicester have displayed on a regular basis this season.
Newcastle were half hearted in defeat at home to Bournemouth last week as the Magpies continue to flounder in the relegation zone. Rumours circulated regarding the future of head coach Steve McClaren on the eve of Saturday’s defeat, as the plight at the North East club worsens. There were suggestions that he would be sacked if they failed to win last Saturday - whether or not that transpires, the relentless speculation must be having a destabilising effect on everyone at St James’ Park.
Although home results have been satisfactory - Saturday’s loss was the first in the league at St James’ Park since Boxing Day - away form has been abysmal; they have collected just 7 points on their travels all season. It is a tall order to expect Newcastle to buck the trend this weekend against the league leaders, particularly given the turmoil behind the scenes at the present time.
It’s tight at the top – and even tighter at the bottom. No doubt this season will deliver yet more twists and turns as we head towards the final 10 games. A loss of form, or conversely, a sudden improvement can drastically alter the course of the season even at this late stage. As we approach the home straight, some teams will produce a sprint finish whereas others will fall short of the line. With expectation weighing heavily, the most unpredictable Premier League season we have ever witnessed is building to a crescendo.
Tottenham Hotspur ($2.30) v Arsenal ($3.00).
The blockbuster clash of the weekend. This has the potential to be the most significant North London derby in decades. It is the first time in a generation that both of these teams have been in the hunt for the title at this late stage. Both teams have an immediate opportunity to make amends for surprising midweek defeats. It is 2nd versus 3rd at White Hart Lane in a game that neither side can afford to lose.
Arsenal are currently in awful shape, with just 3 wins in 11 in all competitions. Spurs have fared much better with 6 straight wins before Wednesday night’s setback at Upton Park. Form can generally be irrelevant in the context of a local derby but when the importance of the outcome has repercussions on the Championship, confidence and recent results can have a bearing. Home advantage may just tilt this in Spurs’ favour.
Everton ($1.80) v West Ham Untied ($4.30).
Everton enjoyed a dominant victory over Championship-bound Villa during the week. News of an investment from Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri will add to the festive mood that is pervading at Goodison at the moment. The icing on the cake of Tuesday’s victory is that it had the added bonus of ensuring the Toffees temporarily overtook the arch enemy from across Stanley Park, as they moved past Liverpool up to 10th. They are looking for a 4th win from the last 5 league games against the Hammers here.
West Ham enjoyed an unexpected win over high flying Spurs on Wednesday courtesy of a superlative showing. The Hammers are up to 6th now and the midweek display was yet more evidence that Slaven Bilic’s side contains sufficient quality to compete with the very best.
Manchester City ($1.25) v Aston Villa ($12.00).
The ultimate home banker. Villa’s tenure in the top flight is all but over; they remain 8 points from safety with 10 games left to play. 5 of those games are against Manchester City, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United and the chances of the Villains collecting enough points to climb out of the bottom 3 are incredibly remote.
City, comprehensively beaten at Anfield during the week, seem to have abandoned a title challenge in pursuit of cup glory. Leading Dynamo Kiev 1-3 from the first leg of their last 16 tie in the Champions League, the Blues may have the mindset that this is the year that they make a statement of intent on continental football. It would be a monumental achievement for outgoing manager Manuel Pellegrini, if he was to lift Europe’s main prize.
More realistically, progress in the tournament will surely prove valuable to incoming boss Pep Guardiola, as he prepares to fulfil his remit of turning the Manchester club into European heavyweights in the forthcoming years.
Newcastle United ($2.25) v Bournemouth ($3.00).
Another loss for Steve McClaren in the week has turned up the heat in the relegation pressure cooker. They find themselves flailing just one place off the foot of the table locked on 24 points alongside Sunderland and Norwich but sit in 19th place due to an inferior goal difference.
Bournemouth are 8 points clear of relegation thanks to a convincing win over Southampton on Tuesday night; where the fellow South Coast club were undone by the home side’s customary fast start. Manager Eddie Howe has described this month as a ‘defining period’ for his team, who face fellow strugglers Newcastle and Swansea in the upcoming weeks. 3 points against the Saints was a welcome start to this spell as the Cherries hope to emerge comfortably clear of the danger zone.
They have been assisted by the form of striker Benik Afobe, who has a strike rate of 1 in 2 since his January transfer. Accomplishing a second consecutive clean sheet in midweek – their first time they have achieved this statistic this season – is ideal timing.
Chelsea ($1.50) v Stoke City ($6.50).
Chelsea are up to 8th and in the top half of the division for the first time since the opening weekend of the season. It is now 12 unbeaten in the league for Guus Hiddink’ charges as the blues look genuine challengers for a European slot.
Stoke are now up to 7th and on course for their best ever Premier League finish of 9th, which they achieved last season. 3 points above this weekend’s challengers, the Potters are in good form with 3 wins in a row under their belt.
Southampton ($1.50) v Sunderland ($6.50).
Southampton’s weak spot is finding the net on their travels; they have only hit the target in 6 of the last 10 away. Home form remains solid though, with 7 wins from their 14 at St Mary’s.
Sunderland are showing that they have the stomach for a fight with Fabio Borini’s late equaliser rescuing a point against Crystal Palace – a point which subsequently lifted the Black Cats out of the bottom 3 on goal difference.
Swansea City ($1.90) v Norwich City ($4.00).
Swansea pulled off the result of the week with a superb win at the Emirates on Wednesday. It would be surprising if that didn’t provide an enormous boost to the Swans morale going into this crucial fixture. 6 points above the bottom 3, this is a fantastic opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the teams at the bottom.
Norwich’s form has abandoned them at the worst possible time. Into the bottom 3 after a return of just 1 point from a possible 24. Enduring 8 defeats from the last 9 and having only scored 4 goals in 8 outings, figures that must have the alarm bells ringing at Carrow Road. The old cliché of things going against you when you are at the bottom probably resonates with the Canaries this week.
Refereeing decisions and defensive lapses cost the Canaries dearly; by conceding a first minute goal, they gave themselves a mountain to climb, the situation is grave enough without the players making life even more difficult. The predicament is starting to look ominous for the Norfolk club.
Watford ($2.70) v Leicester City ($2.50).
Watford put in a much improved display at Old Trafford but left without having anything to show for their endeavours. The Hornets are still fairly comfortable in 12th but will be looking to gather points quickly in an attempt to avoid any relegation fears creeping in. They have been hampered by the loss of form of Odion Ighalo. The goals have dried up for this season’s scoring sensation; he has not scored for 9 games now and it has highlighted how heavily reliant the Vicarage Road outfit have been on him and strike partner Troy Deeney.
Leicester missed the chance to go 5 points clear against West Brom last time out despite having 22 attempts at goal. However, with the other teams around them slipping up 24 hours later, the result appeared to be point gained rather than 2 slipping away. After the disappointment of Tuesday’s draw, it would have been a welcome development for Caludio Ranieri’s men to discover that they were the only team in the top 4 to avoid defeat. Another huge test of the title aspirations awaits here as they seek to demonstrate their ability to hold their nerve under steadily mounting pressure.
Crystal Palace ($3.10) v Liverpool ($2.25).
Palace almost achieved a first win in 11 games in midweek; they were thwarted by substitute Fabio Borini’s late leveller. Still no league win in 2016 for them and, lying only 9 points above the relegation zone, are not out of danger yet. The form of Connor Wickham is one of the bright spots in what has been a dark period for the Eagles; he has scored a brace in each of the last 2 games.
For Liverpool, it’s a return to the venue which saw the death of the title dreams 2 seasons ago. Since then, they have been beaten in each league game by Palace, who will hope to capitalise on the hoodoo they seem to hold over the Anfield outfit. With a demoralising loss at Wembley fresh in their minds, the Merseysiders now have just the Europa league to fall back on in an attempt to rescue silverware from an unsatisfactory campaign.
However, league fortunes improved in midweek as they jumped up into 8th due to a crushing win over a lacklustre Manchester City, simultaneously attaining a degree of retribution for last weekend’s Cup final defeat.
West Bromwich Albion ($4.20) v Manchester United ($1.80).
West Brom have lost only 2 in the last 10 games and remain in 13th, 12 points from danger. They will be difficult opponents for United here at the Hawthorns and will be buoyed by their showing against table topping Leicester on Tuesday.
For United, the injury crisis reached epidemic levels this week as a 17th first team player joined the casualty list. Bizarrely, the absence of more established faces has led to a spate of positive results. Van Gaal has experienced perhaps his nadir at the club following the home defeat to Southampton last month.
Since then, his side have reached the Quarter Finals of the FA cup, the last 16 of the Europa cup and are now level on points with neighbours City who currently reside in 4th place. Against Arsenal, all 6 of United’s outfield substitutes were under the age of 21 and Van Gaal has now given 11 academy graduates their first team debut under his leadership. It underlines the long term potential of his squad.
A guaranteed £100m for the 20 competing teams in the 2016/17 Premier League is the carrot being dangled; a prize that will spark a ferociously competitive finale to this campaign. The events that transpire on the pitch between now and May will have far reaching consequences throughout each club involved – particularly at boardroom level. With that in mind, we focus on this week’s games; particularly on the battle at the bottom and as the list of fixtures dwindles, pessimism and optimism fluctuates in equal measures for all involved.
Leicester City ($1.40) v West Bromwich Albion ($6.50).
The ability to grind out a win when slightly out of sorts is an aspect of this Leicester side that we haven’t seen too often this season; but it is a vital attribute that all championship winning sides need to have. For all the free flowing football the Foxes have produced so far, it may be that the weekend’s battling victory over lowly Norwich may be the key performance when we look back at the conclusion of the season. Another home game here in which they start as favourites, Claudio Ranieri’s side will need another 3 points, however they accomplish it.
They will face stubborn resistance in the shape of a West Brom side who have now enjoyed back to back wins for the first time since the turn of the year. The Chris Brunt incident seemingly galvanising the club as fans showed their support for the Northern Irishman – struck by a coin thrown by Baggies supporters last week.
Aston Villa ($3.60) v Everton ($1.90)
Villa are all but down following yet another blow to their survival hopes at the Brittania Stadium. 8 points adrift and with time rapidly running out for them to embark upon any sort of rescue act, their impending demotion to the Championship moves another step closer.
Everton, although not always a reliable bet, will be confident of claiming maximum points here. Slipping down to 12th at the weekend due to their absence from the fixture list, combined with Chelsea’s victory at St Mary’s, the Toffees season looks like it may end in mid table obscurity. A win here may help to ensure that they can back up boss Roberto Martinez’s assertion that the Blues will finish the season with a bang.
Bournemouth ($2.90) v Southampton ($2.30)
A point at Vicarage Road on Saturday helped Bournemouth edge away from the bottom 3 and the ability to achieve results on the road may be decisive in this relegation battle. The Cherries have lost just once in 8 games on their travels. Back to the Vitality Stadium this week though and home form remains patchy – a victory here against a Saints team that have been performing very well of late would be massive.
Unfortunate to concede a late winner against Chelsea at the weekend, goalkeeper Fraser Forster was finally beaten after 667 minutes, a new top flight record. It would be unthinkable for this result to herald the start of a subsequent slump. It’s unlikely, and the Saints are favourites here to recover immediately from the disappointment.
Sunderland ($2.50) v Crystal Palace ($2.75)
A deflating loss to former side West Ham at the weekend has increased the pressure on Sam Allardyce and, alongside fellow strugglers Newcastle and Swansea, the fate of Norwich could be key to the Black Cats’ chances of survival.
10 league games without a win now for Palace, the only wins of 2016 have come in the cup. Sliding down the table at an alarming rate, the now sit in 14th - the last time they won, they were in 6th.
Norwich City ($5.50) v Chelsea ($1.60).
The last thing that Norwich need is to confront a Chelsea side enjoying their best spell of the season. After a much more dogged defensive display against Leicester, the Canaries were shattered by the late winner that saw all their hard work go unrewarded. Level on points with Newcastle who are themselves in the relegation zone, their Premiership status is looking increasingly precarious.
Incredibly, the win at St Mary’s was the first time the reigning Champions have completed successive league victories this term. They are still unbeaten in 11 league games under Guus Hiddink.
Strong favourites here despite distracting cup involvement, the opportunity to qualify for European qualification through league placing is still a possibility.
Arsenal ($1.40) v Swansea City ($8.00).
After the demoralising defeat by Barcelona, it may be time for the Gunners to put all of their eggs in the domestic basket. The problem of squeezing a cup replay with Hull City into an already congested fixture list has proved problematic but these are the kind of hurdles Arsene Wenger is going to have to navigate in order to finish the season with silverware. Regardless of recent travails, this is a game that they need to, and should win.
Swansea are in the midst of a dogfight at the wrong end of the table and will be aware of the need to acquire points on a regular basis. The dependence on other teams’ failings is not an ideal mindset and the Swans must concentrate on doing enough to make sure their survival chances are in their own hands.
A tough ask here, but March can throw up unexpected results, it is the beginning of the final run in where form and league status can be turned on its head.
Stoke City ($1.80) v Newcastle United ($4.20).
Stoke have bounced back in fine fashion after an awful beginning to the year. Back to back league wins over Bournemouth and Villa have been a welcome boost but the upcoming fixtures against Chelsea and Southampton will be a sterner test for the Potters and a measure of how stable their recovery has been.
Newcastle are a big price here, understandably given the away showings from Steve McClaren’s men thus far. With 5 away defeats in a row, the Geordies really need a victory here to capitalise on the failings of fellow relegation rivals around them at the bottom.
West Ham United ($3.60) v Tottenham Hotspur ($2.00).
This has the potential to be a fantastic London derby. A consistent Spurs side who are well in the hunt for the title will travel to Upton Park to face a West Ham team who have so far reserved their best performances for games against the teams at the top of the table.
Spurs are unbeaten in 12 away games, the longest sequence since a streak of 16 in 1984/85. The only cloud on the horizon may be the continued participation in the Europa League, the Thursday night fixtures are not an ideal sideshow for teams competing for the Championship.
Manchester United ($1.60) v Watford ($5.50).
United need to transfer fine recent cup showings into league results. 8 goals in 2 matches would generally be a haul that would take a couple of months to amass. With Anthony Martial joining David De Gea and Wayne Rooney in the treatment room, the number of injuries now extends to 14 first team stars.
Van Gaal has handed a debut to 26 players during his year and a half at the club, and it was the youthful exuberance of the academy graduates that has helped breathe new life into a squad that had shown signs of collapse. It is the willingness to promote through the ranks that has encouraged some at the club to persevere with the beleaguered Dutchman at times.
The clamour for Jose Mourinho to take over has abated slightly in the wake of those 2 cup victories. Would a trophy, or possibly 2, quash the hysteria surrounding the arrival of the Portuguese, or has the inadequate results that have been served up so far already sealed the fate of Van Gaal?
Watford seem to have achieved their goal of survival ahead of schedule and recent performances may point to a complacency creeping into their game. Mid table comfort has been the reward for a strong opening to the campaign and it seems that the Hornets are content with what they have. With 37 points already racked up, 42 points may be enough to stay up, a goal which is well within their reach with 11 games remaining.
Liverpool ($2.60) v Manchester City ($2.60.
In a quirk of the footballing calendar, these two sides face each other again just days after the cup final. Neither side is in particularly good shape, in the league at any rate, going into this fixture. There is a case to be made that both teams have identified cup competitions as the preferred route to success this year.
City took 21 points from the first 9 games but have taken just 26 from the subsequent 17 matches. They have won just once against sides currently in the top 8 so far. The defeats to Spurs and Leicester recently may have damaged their title chances beyond recovery.
After a week long absence from league matters, the teams prepare themselves for a busy impending schedule. In action again in midweek, there will be domestic cup issues to be resolved in addition to European matters for some. It is the time of year when squads will need to be fully utilised as the strain of this intense competition increases. It’s another round of make or break fixtures.
West Ham United ($1.80) v Sunderland ($4.30).
West Ham’s form has been chequered of late – 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats in the last 6. However, the appearance in the opposition dug-out of former boss Sam Allardyce will add an extra bit of spice to this encounter. After clinching a place in the last 8 of the FA Cup last week, it may be that the focus shifts slightly in the next few weeks and the chance of silverware may take priority over league concerns.
Sunderland’s January signings had the desired effect against Manchester United, with Tunisian forward Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone bagging both goals in the vital win. Without a clean sheet in 12 league games, Sam Allardyce returns to his former club at the weekend, where he remains an unpopular figure amongst the Hammers’ support. The Sunderland players have been treated to a warm weather break in Dubai this week, a move designed to recharge the batteries ahead of a critical 3 months of action.
They are now just 1 point behind North East rivals Newcastle; and more importantly, 1 point from safety. With Newcastle inactive this weekend, the opportunity to leapfrog the Geordies will be a huge incentive for the Black Cats.
Stoke City ($1.60) v Aston Villa ($5.50).
The 0-6 hammering by Liverpool has surely taken what little wind there was out of the sails of Villa’s tentative renaissance - going into that game, they had taken 8 points from the previous 6 matches. After briefly flirting with the idea of rising within touching distance of safety, the crushing defeat last time out has more than likely condemned the Midlanders to Championship football next season. It is not just the lost points, but the extinguishing of the little hope that will prove to be most shattering for Remi Garde’s side; they are now a seemingly insurmountable 8 points adrift with 12 to play.
They were not helped this week by news of a 3-0 defeat by the club’s under 21 side in a game behind closed doors. It may be that Garde is preparing to ring the changes at the under-performing Villa Park side.
Stoke helped themselves to all 3 points last time out, in a much improved display at the Vitality Stadium, putting an end to a miserable run of 3 consecutive defeats. It was encouraging to see new signing Gianelli Imbula finding the back of the net in that game; his long range strike putting an end to a goal drought that had lasted for more than 6 hours for the Potters. The price here is reflective of both the dire situation that Villa find themselves in, and the relatively strong home form of Mark Hughes’s side.
Watford ($2.30) v Bournemouth ($3.10).
Watford are now up to 8th courtesy of the win over Palace. Just 4 points shy of the magic 40 point total, a figure which was probably the aim at the beginning of this season, it says much about the Hornets’ season that they are approaching this tally before the end of February.
Back to back defeats and out of the cup; it hasn’t been a good couple of weeks for Eddie Howe’s men. Another side for who the next batch of fixtures could prove critical, as the relegation picture becomes more convoluted. A run of defeats combined with teams around them picking up points could see their situation worsen and the threat of relegation become a grave possibility.
Southampton ($2.60) v Chelsea ($2.70).
Clean sheets seem to be the order of the day here. The Southampton defence hasn’t been breached for 6 Premier League games now and Chelsea have kept the opposition at bay for the last 4 away games. Cue a goal-fest, no doubt…
The Saints are in excellent form, unbeaten in 6 with 5 wins coming in that period. The excellent revival of late has manager Ronald Koeman dreaming of participating in European competition again next season.
Chelsea are also in good form, hammering a youthful Manchester City in the FA Cup at the weekend and are on course for a strong finish to an underwhelming season. Unbeaten in the last 6, but with 4 draws amongst that spell, this will be a tight match between two of the division’s form outfits.
Leicester City ($1.50) v Norwich City ($6.00).
The Foxes were agonisingly close to a result which would have seen them collect 4 points from consecutive away matches at the Etihad and the Emirates, a return that would have strengthened their case for the title immeasurably. As it was, Danny Welbeck’s injury time winner snatched all 3 points for the North London club and helped close the gap at the top to just 2 points. With 10 penalties awarded in their favour,
Leicester have had twice the amount of any other Premier League side so far - Jamie Vardy has won 6 of those, twice as many as any other player.
Worrying times for the Canaries as they continue to endure a nosedive toward the trapdoor. Defensive frailties again cost them dearly as West Ham recovered from 2-0 down to claim a draw at Carrow Road last Saturday. The failure to hold on to a lead is becoming a recurring theme for the Norfolk team and this carelessness may become psychologically damaging.
They have not won in the last 6 matches and have conceded at least twice in each of those games. A difficult task lies ahead here against a Leicester side who will be anxious to make amends for the defeat the Emirates last time around.
West Bromwich Albion ($2.50) v Crystal Palace ($2.80).
A poisonous atmosphere descended upon the Baggies last week as midfielder Chris Brunt was struck by a coin thrown by Albion fans. The incident happened as the Irishmen attempted to placate fans who were livid at the performance which saw Championship side Reading dump the Baggies out of the cup. The mood in the camp will not have been boosted this week by the news that Tony Pulis has refused to give assurances about his future beyond the end of this season.
Troubling times at the Black Country club as they try to ward off the possibility of relegation. With 2 wins in the last 11 games in all competitions, they look like another team who are conceivably on the brink of a relegation battle.
No win in 9 league games for the Eagles now and their campaign looks like it is running out of steam. They will be without Papa Souare here, the Senagalese receiving a straight red card for a two footed challenge against Watford. Only Bournemouth and Aston Villa have taken less points than Palace at home this season. In the Cup, it is a different story however, the victory over Spurs on Sunday may well give their spirits a significant lift.
Tottenham Hotspur ($1.40) v Swansea City ($7.50).
Spurs are in imperious league form, with 5 straight victories. They will expect to build on the hard earned win at the Etihad last time out here - a victory which has cemented their position as one of the title favourites. The Cup defeat to Palace was their 5th game in 19 days and it looked as if the recent condensed fixture list had an effect on the Lilywhites. They will be eager to put that behind them here and get their somewhat unexpected title push back on track.
Swansea have had just 6 different scorers this season, the least of all the top flight sides. A fact that doesn’t bode well coming into a match against the league’s meanest defence. Although luck has played a part - they have hit the woodwork more than any other side this season (15). They lost their first game under new boss Francesco Guidolin in the defeat to an in-form Southampton and now sit just 3 points above the bottom 3.
Manchester United ($2.70) v Arsenal ($2.60).
With neighbours City participating in the League Cup this weekend, United can close the gap to an improbable 3 points with victory here. A situation indicative of this fantastically peculiar season. Louis Van Gaal somehow remains in charge at Old Trafford despite overseeing a campaign that lurches from one disaster to another; culminating in the embarrassment of a defeat away at FC Midtjylland. The midweek cup victory over League one side Shrewsbury Town was mandatory for Van Gaal and defeat may have accelerated his exit.
However, the win has ensured his continued presence at the club although the whispers surrounding Jose Mourinho’s appointment have reached deafening levels recently. The Red Devils have 14 players on the sidelines now as the injuries mount and it is a situation the Dutchman points to as one of the mitigating circumstances around the Reds’ horrendous form of late. United now have their lowest points total in Premier League history (41) after 26 games. They have collected just 6 points from their last 7 away matches, and remain 6 points adrift of the top 4.
A cup replay away at Hull is the last thing that manager Arsene Wenger needed, coming as it does in the middle of such a challenging period for the Gunners. With the forboding prospect of a majestic Barcelona team standing between them and a Quarter Final place in the Champions League, Arsenal are looking to become only the third team in history to win the FA Cup 3 times in a row.
Sitting just 2 points off the summit thanks to Danny Welbeck’s last gasp winner against Leicester, a goal which may just help tip the title race in the Gunners favour. However, they have a tough set of fixtures coming up with trips to White Hart Lane and Old Trafford squeezed in between that double header with Barcelona.
The top 4 all face off this week on what promises to be a mouth-watering Super Sunday. As we embark upon the final third of a terrific season, the pressure continues to build throughout the division. At the bottom, recent results have extended the list of teams who may be drawn into a battle to remain in the top flight.
Another week, another potentially decisive fixture list. 2015/16 will be remembered as the season like no other, will it have a finish like no other?
Sunderland ($5.00) v Manchester United ($1.75).
The shadow of Jose Mourinho looms large over Louis Van Gaal and the expected departure of the Dutchman looks almost certain this summer. Despite a creditable draw at Stamford Bridge, the shared spoils was largely useless to both teams. 6 points adrift of neighbours City, who are currently in possession of the coveted 4th spot, United could very possibly be set to miss out on Europe’s elite tournament for the second time in 3 years, a situation that would be intolerable to the money men at the club.
The stark reality for the reds is that the 4 clubs above them do not look like slipping up to the extent that would allow them back into contention. Jesse Lingard saw his excellent opener wiped out in the Stamford Bridge stalemate by Diego Costa’s injury time equaliser; the Warrington born attacker has scored 3 goals with his last 4 shots on target for the Red Devils. In contrast, after a prolific start to this season, Juan Mata has no goals or assists in his last 12 games.
The North East rivalry has been cranked up a notch with Premiership survival at stake. 11 games without a clean sheet is harming the Black Cats’ chances of avoiding the drop, although at the other end there are promising signs. Only Sergio Aguero (7) has scored more league goals than Jermaine Defoe (6) in 2016. Still in deep trouble, will the Mackems build on last week’s draw at Anfield to embark upon Sam Allardyce’s desired ‘long unbeaten run’.
Bournemouth ($2.10) v Stoke City ($3.60).
Despite a decent showing last time out, it was the finishing that let Bournemouth down against Arsenal. Eddie Howe will no doubt be targeting this game as an opportunity to muster a heartening victory for the Cherries. Wins for Newcastle and Swansea, the 2 teams immediately below them on the ladder, has ratcheted up the tension and increased the chances of more teams being dragged into the relegation battle. Today’s opponents are far from safe in 11th.
Stoke have now endured 3 defeats in a row. Recent events will be sapping confidence after what has been an awful month for Mark Hughes’s men. The harrowing facts keep on coming: dumped out of both cup competitions and with no win since beating Norwich on January 1; 1 point from a possible 12; sliding down the table from 7th to 11th; they have scored just once in 6 games and failed to score in 4 Premier league games in a row for the first time, their worst period since March 1985.
An example of the kind of money floating around all clubs at the top table of English football came last week with the debut of record £18.3m signing Gianelli Imbula, who struggled to make any impression in the dismal home loss to Everton.
Crystal Palace ($2.30) v Watford ($3.30).
Watford were lacklustre in defeat at Spurs last week and didn’t manage a shot on goal. They now drop to 10, and after an impressive first half to the campaign, it looks as if they are starting to tail off. In picking up a point at Swansea, Crystal Palace became the final team in the top 4 divisions in England to register a point in 2016, a draw that helped to arrest a run of 5 straight defeats.
Another team that had an incredibly bright start to 2015/16 - in fact at one point, the Eagles were threatening the Champions League positions – alongside the Hornets, the fiercely competitive nature of the Premiership looks like it is starting to take its toll.
Swansea City ($2.80) v Southampton ($2.50).
Swansea slipped to 4 points above the relegation zone this week, although they remain unbeaten under Francesco Guidolin. 5 goals in 6 for Man of the Match Gylfi Sigurdsson - the Swans will be keen for the Icelander to maintain his excellent form.
Southampton have not conceded in 7 and a half hours, 5 games, or put simply, since Fraser Forster’s return from injury. A sterling victory last week saw them playing 37 minutes with a man less, yet another reckless red card from Victor Wanyama, his 3rd of the season in which he became only the 7th player in PL history to achieve this unwanted milestone. 4 wins in 5 now for the in-form Saints.
Everton ($1.60) v West Bromwich Albion ($6.00).
Everton enjoyed back to back wins for the first time this season, in only their second ever win at the Brittania on Saturday. It’s now only 1 away defeat all season. The task is now to turn all of those draws into victories. Romelu Lukaku has 16 goals now, the most any Everton player has managed since Tony Cottee did the same in 1993/94.
Aaron Lennon scored for third consecutive game in all competitions for first time in his career, his move to Goodison has seemingly given the England international a new lease of life.
West Brom have no away win in 7 now. They are approaching a perilous situation given the ability of some teams below who are starting to amass enough points to close in on the Baggies. They have been comfortable all season, and it looks as though they may have become complacent, assuming they have enough points on the board already. With no win in 5, they are just 6 points above the drop zone. They’ve won none of the last 7 away games and also failed to score in 3 of the last 4 matches. A trip to Merseyside does not look like providing any comfort for the team from the Black Country.
Norwich City ($2.40) v West Ham United ($2.90).
Norwich’s survival hopes are looking increasingly precarious. The weak surrender to Aston Villa last Saturday dealt a blow to their hopes of avoiding an immediate return to Championship football next season. 5 straight defeats now for them and the struggle to keep their heads above water looks like it might be a task that is beyond them. Down in 18th and giving the impression of a team bereft of confidence, chronic defending remains a huge problem.
The Canaries are the only team yet to keep a clean sheet on their travels and will be hoping that doesn’t start to translate to home performances.
West Ham missed the chance to overhaul Man United and go 5th with defeat to Southampton last Saturday. They were given a confidence boost midweek, with an Extra time winner to send Liverpool crashing out of the FA Cup at the 4th round stage.
An immensely talented yet frustrating side, the Hammers need to improve their consistency. 6th place is still a healthy situation and they will surely have high hopes of taking all 3 points back to London here.
Chelsea ($1.40) v Newcastle United ($6.00).
Chelsea will be reeling from the sickening injury to Kurt Zouma who will take no further part this term and possibly the next 6 months after sustaining knee ligament damage against Manchester United. The Champions have drawn the last 4 home games - 6 in 8 in total – and are 7 points above relegation but at least remain unbeaten under Guus Hiddink.
Newcastle secured an important win over West Brom to elevate themselves out of the bottom three at the expense of Norwich City. In producing one of their best performances of the season last week, they attempted more shots in one game than they did in the previous 2 combined. Now 17th, and one point above Norwich in 18th, the psychological boost of climbing out of the bottom 3 may be significant.
Arsenal ($1.80) v Leicester City ($4.00).
After experiencing a slight wobble lately, Arsenal got themselves back on track with a win at Bournemouth last Sunday, scoring twice in 88 seconds. They moved level on points with neighbours Spurs but lie in 3rd due to an inferior goal difference. After the win over Bournemouth, Arsenal are now unbeaten in 23 games against promoted sides. With a proud home record, they haven’t suffered a loss in 40 of the last 44 home games, this will be a stern challenge for Claudio Ranieri’s men. However, Leicester have lost only one in the last 16 away games.
Foxes boss Claudio Ranieri praised his current squad after the magnificent result at the Etihad, describing the mood in camp as the best team spirit he has experienced in 30 years of management. A commodity that cannot be underestimated, it was an attribute that showed a clear distinction between the 2 sides on Saturday. After swatting aside Liverpool and now City within a week, the last of the trio of so called big tests await, with a trip to the Emirates. Could this be the ultimate test?
Standing on the brink of one of the biggest shocks in English football history, one of their greatest hurdles will be how such an inexperienced side will be able to cope with the pressure cooker situation of a championship run-in. Starting the season at 5,000/1 no hopers, they are now incredibly the bookies favourites to go on and land the biggest prize of all. Leicester continue to be priced generously, it would be hard not to be tempted here at $4.00 given their away form so far.
Aston Villa ($4.50) v Liverpool ($1.80).
Have Villa left it too late? They have closed the gap slightly and now lie 8 points from safety. Another win here though and the gap becomes a potentially retrievable 5 points. A 3rd win of the season came courtesy of last week’s 2-0 success over fellow strugglers Norwich. A result that helped achieve the unusual statistic that the Villains have now won 2 of 3 home games in 2016, after winning just 3 throughout the whole of 2015. Gabriel Agbonlahor’s goal meant that has now scored in 11 consecutive Premier League seasons for Villa.
Liverpool are still without a home league win or clean sheet in 2016 and were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup midweek. The defence continues to be placed under the microscope, they have conceded 14 in the past 6 league games. With the top 5 looking like a long shot, the best chance of European qualification may come in the guise of the League Cup. Roberto Firminho has now been involved in 7 goals in his last 5 games.
It may have been a coincidence but Liverpool hardly benefitted from the supporter walk out last week, which preceded the late collapse. The planned 77th minute protest from fans furious about the club’s plans to increase season ticket prices next year, seemed to work in Sunderland’s favour; the black cats subsequently scoring twice to rescue what could be a valuable point. Jurgen Klopp, who missed this game through illness, doesn’t appear to have progressed the side much since taking over the reins from Brendan Rodgers.
He has hardly worked wonders after being hailed as the man to restore the glory years to the success starved Anfield outfit, although he will no doubt endeavour to mould his own squad, starting with the summer transfer window.
Manchester City ($1.80) v Tottenham Hotspur ($4.00).
City performed dreadfully against Leicester and some players looked disinterested. It would be fitting if such a memorably chaotic season culminated in Leicester City being crowned Champions in May. It’s impossible to overstate how gargantuan that achievement would be; such an idea still sounds incomprehensible. The prospect of a squad - assembled at a cost of £60m and who were embroiled in a relegation battle just 12 months ago - who find themselves with the possibility of waltzing away with the title, is simply astounding.
It would be a landmark in British sporting achievement. To say City should have walked the league this year would be doing Leicester a great disservice; however with the calibre of players, options and title winning experience in their ranks, the argument that the Mancunians are underachieving does hold weight. The Guardiola news has apparently not been such an inspirational announcement to some wearing the City shirt, and the lame duck tenure of current boss Manuel Pellegrini could be a problematic situation in the remainder of the season. One man who is above any criticism is Sergio Aguero; 12 goals in 10 now for the brilliant Argentine.
City have lost as many home league games this campaign (3) as they did in 2013/14 and 2014/15 combined under Pellegrini.
Spurs enjoying a dominant 1-0 win - the bread and butter score-line of a side with serious title-winning ambitions. They have as good a chance as anyone else, with 4 consecutive wins for the first time in 2 years. They are confidently residing in runners up spot, a position they have not finished in since 1963. The win over Watford continued the run of fine form, it’s now 7 wins in 9, and just 3 defeats all season. Delle Alli’s form is causing a stir, with his eye catching goal of the season contender at Selhurst Park putting the gloss on a supreme season for the former MK Dons man. Saturday’s assist came after being on the pitch for just 176 seconds and he has now played a part in 11 goals in his last 14 matches.
Simply a massive game for both teams here, a win will help substantiate Spurs’ - and City’s - legitimate title chances.
The closure of the transfer window, in which Premier league clubs spent a combined £193m, heralds the last throw of the dice for many clubs. In Fantasy football parlance, the last opportunity to play a wildcard has now gone and managers will have to go with what they have.
The top two face off this week in a match that will have armchair viewers glued to their screens. At the other end, it’s do or die at Villa Park where Norwich City travel to an Aston Villa side praying for a miracle escape act. Elsewhere, Chelsea v Manchester United would once have been the stand out fixture of any week on the footballing calendar, it still holds many intriguing issues but its lack of hype highlights the scale of the fall from grace of these two giants of the Premier League era.
Manchester City ( ) v Leicester City ( )
The undoubted headline story of deadline day came at the Etihad where the worst kept secret in football was announced. The appointment of Pep Guardiola from next season has thrown down the gauntlet to the rest of the Premiership, as the most sought after manager in world football agreed to take over the reins from Manuel Pellegrini.
What impact this will have on the Blues for the rest of the campaign is open to debate, with many of the present line-up surely apprehensive for their playing careers under the mercurial Spaniard. Expect City to be linked with everyone from Messi to Muller in the coming months as transfer gossips everywhere will be whipped into a frenzy of speculation as to which of Guardiola’s former players will be joining him in Manchester.
Will this be the test that showcases Leicester’s legitimate title chances? Or is the commencement of the much hypothesised decline about to finally materialise over the latter part of the season. The Foxes continue to prove the doubters wrong, Tuesday’s victory over Liverpool consolidated their position at the summit; 3 points ahead of this weekend’s opponents.
It is entirely probable that one of these teams will be crowned Champions in May, most people will stake their money on the Blues from Manchester. City have won 16 of their last 19 Premier league home games, although defensive flaws remain the primary weakness.
It is crunch time for Leicester – the surprise package of the season. Next up is Arsenal in what could prove to be a monumental period for them. Is a first Championship in 132 years beyond them? History is on their side in one regard: the team topping the table at the beginning of February for the last 11 years have gone on to win the title…
Without question, this is the match of the weekend, neutrals will be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of the top two facing off in this highly significant clash at the Etihad. City are enormous favourites here, but $6.00 could prove extremely tempting for some.
Liverpool ( ) v Sunderland ( )
For Liverpool, the defeat at the King Power Stadium was another example of the inconsistency they have exhibited this season. The inactivity during the January won’t have instilled much confidence in the reds faithful about their team’s prospects of a top 4 finish. Marko Grujic, recruited in this window and immediately loaned back to Red Star Belgrade, and Steven Caulker remain the only 2 arrivals at Anfield this winter.
Sam Allardyce admitted this week that the Black Cats are in trouble, despite a strong showing in the 0-1 defeat to Manchester City. His view is that they need to go on a ‘long unbeaten run’, a feat that they have rarely looked like accomplishing so far. Whabi Khazri, at £9m was the most expensive of the five January acquisitions for the North East club this winter, as Sam Allardyce made his move to alleviate relegation fears for the Wearsiders.
Aston Villa ( ) v Norwich ( )
Norwich have enjoyed a successful January off the field, splurging over £20m on new faces; which is in complete contrast with Saturday’s opponents. The Canaries have been boosted by the capture of 8 players in a bold attempt to maintain top flight status next year. Steven Naismith made an immediate impact, scoring in the thrilling 4-5 reversal against Liverpool a fortnight ago and it is that kind of instant return that Alex Neil will be desperate to see replicated.
Villa’s inability to add to their ranks has prompted rumours to circulate regarding the future of boss Remi Garde who is reported to be disillusioned with the club. It all adds up to a bleak landscape at Villa Park and it looked like the team had already hoisted the white flag during the defeat to West Ham in the week.
Tottenham ( ) v Watford ( )
In securing a goalless draw with Chelsea, Watford kept their 7th clean sheet at home this season – only Manchester United have more. It is that miserly streak which has helped propel the Hornets through a largely comfortable return to the top tier. They still lie 9th despite 4 defeats in their last 6 games, a testament to the terrific start they made to this campaign.
Home comforts for Spurs this week; the North London side are on the back of a run of 4 straight away games; they have won all 4. They produced an effortless victory at Norwich during the week, exuding class and authority in a 0-3 stroll. Manager Mauricio Pochettino is forging an impressive reputation and if his side can continue this momentum, they will be a real title threat.
Swansea City ( ) v Crystal Palace ( )
Gylfi Sigurdsson scored his 4th in 5 games for the Swans at the Hawthorns in midweek; his strike appeared to have sealed a second successive victory for new coach Francesco Guidoli, only to be thwarted by a 92nd minute equaliser from Salomon Rondon. They start as favourites here, mainly due to their opponents’ inadequacy in front of goal.
The Eagles achieved a landmark of sorts in the midweek defeat to Bournemouth; it was their 100th Premier League match since re-joining the elite division. Scott Dann achieved the dubious honour of becoming the first Palace player to find the back of the net since December 19th; 7 of their goals this season have come from defenders, a league high. Surprisingly, this was Wilfrid Zaha’s first assist of the campaign, a strange statistical quirk as he has been one of the key attacking players for the South Londoners.
They are in the midst of a 5 game losing streak and would dearly like to end that sequence in Wales at the weekend.
Stoke City ( ) v Everton ( )
Defensive woes and a lack of vigour at Old Trafford on Tuesday, Stoke have the air of a team out of sorts. Mark Hughes’s men have been unable to build upon some wonderful results this term, and are in danger of reverting back to the inconsistent, unremarkable outfit of old. This campaign was a good opportunity for the Potters to progress to the upper third of the division and seriously compete for a European slot. Instead, they currently lie in 10th and need to rejuvenate themselves in order to ensure their hard work in the earlier part of this season doesn’t go to waste.
Everton put on an assured display against Newcastle during the week. In what was a first league win at Goodison Park since November, and only the 5th clean sheet of the season, the victory gave the Toffees some welcome relief from their recent travails. Ross Barkley made his 100th appearance for the club and celebrated the occasion in style by netting twice from the spot.
The only negative from the evening was the forced substitution of striker Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian received a knock to the back and is a doubt for the clash at the Brittania.
Newcastle United ( ) v West Bromwich Albion ( )
West Brom rejected a £21m bid for Saido Berahino from Newcastle on deadline day, and the refusal to cash in on their prized asset is a curious one as he regularly finds himself relegated to the substitutes’ bench. In his place, Salomon Rondon ended a run of 9 matches without a goal, his lean spell stretching back to October of last year.
Having spent more than anyone else in the recent window, Magpies boss Steve McClaren admits that there are, in his own words, ‘no excuses’ if his side fail to avoid relegation. However, after the latest loss to Everton in midweek, they are deep in the relegation mire; only Norwich and Aston Villa have conceded more goals ¬¬than the Toon.
Bournemouth ( ) v Arsenal ( )
Bournemouth are now 7 points clear of the drop zone and, after losing 5 of the first 6 away games this term, they have now lost just 1 of the last 7. New signing Benik Afobe has certainly hit the ground running at the Vitality Stadium, notching his 3rd goal in as many games against Crystal Palace. He will be hoping to extend his purple patch to 4 in 4 against an Arsenal side who may be showing their annual championship jitters.
Chelsea ( ) v Man United ( )
Against Stoke, United displayed an attacking inventiveness all too rarely seen under Louis Van Gaal. Even the most vocal critics of the Dutchman would grudgingly admit it was a display full of the kind of enterprise that the fans have been crying out for. 6 goals in 2 games is very much out of character for this United side of late. Next up is a testing trip to Stamford Bridge, a notoriously difficult fixture for the reds over the years. Wayne Rooney is in fine form, netting his 7th goal in 7 games. In doing so, he moved up to 244 goals, just 5 short of Bobby Charlton’s club record.
With the return of Adnan Januzaj – arriving back prematurely from a season long loan spell at Borussia Dortmund - being United’s sole incoming activity during the January market, it looks as though the Red Devils are keeping their powder dry, for what is potentially going to be a huge summer for the club. Whether a transfer kitty will be the responsibility for the present man in charge to spend is the burning question for the hierarchy at Old Trafford.
Chelsea extended their unbeaten run under Guus Hiddink to 7 Premier League games with a draw at Watford in midweek. The acquisition of Alexandre Pato from Corinthians will add more variety to an attack that is far too dependent on Diego Costa. To highlight the paucity of options, flop signing Radamel Falcao has been judged not worthy of a place in the newly submitted Champions league squad.
Southampton ( ) v West Ham United ( )
This has the potential to be a keenly contested encounter between two of the league’s form teams. 6th plays 7th at St Mary’s and with the two sides sharing 70 goals between them already, attacking play should be at the forefront here. West Ham have 4 wins in the last 6, whereas it is 4 clean sheets in a row now for the resurgent Saints.
Arsenal ( ) v Southampton ( )
Arsenal, hampered by the dismissal of Per Mertesacker, failed to win over their sceptics with a disappointing loss to Chelsea last weekend. The stage was set for the Gunners to establish themselves as title favourites against the current Champions last week, but they blew it. They have now lost the last 6 league games against the Blues without registering a goal.
Southampton ran out worthy winners against a toothless Manchester United last week; they have now kept a clean sheet in each of the last 3 league games. The recent run of form is more in keeping with the Southampton we have come to know in the last couple of years and they will prove to be tough opponents for Arsene Wenger’s men here.
Norwich City ( ) v Tottenham Hotspur ( )
The manner in which they surrendered the points to Liverpool last Saturday, after relinquishing a 2 goal lead, will have set the alarm bells ringing in Norfolk. It was an extremely deflating end to a pulsating encounter. After equalising in injury time, seemingly saving at least one point, the Canaries almost straight away succumbed to Adam Lallana’s devastating 95th minute winner.
The wastefulness of seeing 3 points disappear in the space of 20 minutes must be extremely dispiriting for a club in their predicament, now just 2 points above the drop zone. The Canaries’ supporters will be worried about their ability to recover from this setback. In midweek, they will entertain a rampant Spurs side - not an ideal remedy for their current woes - fresh from a thrilling comeback victory of their own.
Spurs have the best defence in the league and also joint best goal difference alongside Manchester City. As a result of his equaliser at Crystal Palace, it is now 12 goals in 14 for Harry Kane; although he was overshadowed by England team-mate, Dele Alii and his breathtaking Goal of the Season contender.
Leicester City ( ) v Liverpool ( )
Liverpool rediscovered their scoring touch at Carrow Road yet simultaneously provided ample evidence of their ongoing defensive flimsiness. Better teams than Norwich will no doubt exploit that Achilles heel as the season reaches its conclusion. The entertainment levels have certainly been high in games featuring the reds recently and expect that trend to continue here against the league leaders.
Leicester may profit from their FA cup departure this week as the prospect of fixture congestion eases. It would be an amazing achievement if the Foxes could secure Champions League football next season, and judging by performances so far, there is no reason why they can’t. In an attempt to achieve that incredible goal, Claudio Ranieri’s side have this week been linked to CSKA Moscow forward Ahmed Musa. With 72 goals scored and 58 conceded between the 2 teams, this could be the game of the week for the neutrals.
West Ham ( ) v Aston Villa ( )
Despite being unbeaten in the last 3 league games, an away game against a West Ham side full of attacking talent will prove an intimidating task for the Villains. Villa have failed to win 21 out of the last 22 matches, however they are showing admirable fighting spirit for Manager Remi Garde.
West Ham, on the back of a good performance against prospective Champions Manchester City will be relishing this clash against the division’s bottom side. Handily placed for an assault on the European places in 6th, West Ham have been lifted by the return to action of Dimitri Payet and Enner Valencia, the pair haven’t missed a beat and the transition back into the first team has been seemless.
Sunderland ( ) v Man City ( )
Sunderland are 19th with 19 points. The relegation battle is taking on even greater significance given the Tyne- Wear rivalry involved. Wearside has been a happy hunting ground for City, and in particular the in-form Sergio Aguero in recent times. In the same fixture last year, City ran out 1-4 winners with the Argentine scoring 2.
City are currently the league’s top scorers with 45 and unbeaten in the last 6, Sunderland will do well to take anything from this one.
Manchester United ( ) v Stoke City ( )
Another predictably listless performance from United last week. United are in a state of limbo -treading water until the inevitable parting of ways with Louis Van Gaal. It has become extremely difficult to make a credible argument for the retention of the Dutchman’s services.
It is not only the manager who should be held accountable for this egregious period in the club’s history though; Chief Executive Ed Woodward ought to be the subject of an equal level of scrutiny as a result of his inept managerial appointments, reckless spending and an unforgivable neglect of the club’s proud academy structure. The perceived self-interest at boardroom level is helping to cultivate a previously unfamiliar state of turbulence previously unseen at England’s biggest club.
Stoke suffered penalty shoot-out heartbreak at Anfield in the week as they missed out on a place at Wembley. Mixed league form of late, with 3 wins 2 draws and a loss in the last 6 and sitting in ninth. After easily brushing aside a feeble United outfit in the corresponding fixture on Boxing day, the Potters will be quietly confident of emulating Southampton’s triumph here last weekend.
Crystal Palace ( ) v Bournemouth ( )
Palace at least scored a goal last time out against Spurs, even if it did come via the helping hand of Jan Vertongen’s own goal. Yohan Cabaye is currently top league goal scorer for the club with 5, hardly surprising then that Pardew has added to his attacking ranks with the loan signing of Premier league veteran Emanuel Adebayor.
The dip in form of late will be of concern to Eddie Howe, with only 1 win in 6 for the South coast side, they slipped below Swansea into 16thplace this week. A positive for the Cherries has been the impact of new signing Benik Afobe, notching another goal last weekend, it’s now 2 in 2 for the new boy.
West Brom ( ) v Swansea ( )
Transfer rumours at the Hawthorns continue to be the main source of interest for fans looks increasingly like Saido Berahino will remain at the club as a loan move for QPR’s Sandro appears to be close to completion. West Brom don’t look in great shape presently and a new arrival or two would be a welcome boost to a squad who need to avoid being dragged any further towards the foot of the table.
Swansea have been lifted by the new presence of a new figure in the dug-out - Francesco Guidolin is the 9th Italian to manage in the Premiership and began his tenure in style guiding the Swans to a first ever league win over Everton last Sunday. It’s now 3 wins from 6 and they move up to up to 15th.
To add to the feel-good factor at the Liberty Stadium, there is the possibility of a couple of January acquisitions with moves for Marcus Gayle and Alberto Paloschi being touted. $3.20 could be attractive for the Welshmen to extend their promising form.
Watford ( ) v Chelsea ( )
The victory over Newcastle last Saturday saw Watford emerge from a slump in which they had suffered 4 consecutive defeats. Another club to dip into the transfer market this winter, as Spain International Mario Suarez completed a medical ahead of his expected transfer from Fiorentina.
Chelsea remain unbeaten under Guus Hiddink as the Dutchman picks up the pieces of a difficult season for the Champions. Up to 13th after last week’s win at the Emirates, such is the erratic form of the teams above them, they are now only 14 points from a Champions League spot.
The loan deal of Alexander Pato has been confirmed this week, as Hiddink bolsters his forward line. The 3 points earned at Arsenal on Sunday was the first time back to back wins have been achieved this season as Hiddink’s men look to make it a hat-trick at Vicarage Road.
Everton ( ) v Newcastle ( )
Roberto Martinez has come under fire in some quarters this week, the Blues were booed off at the end of the defeat to Swansea last weekend and now have one win in the last 6 in the league and crashed out of the league cup on Wednesday to pile more misery on the Scousers. The weak link is the defence, the Toffees have dropped 11 points from leading positions this season, more than any other side.
With a defence containing a potential back line of Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, John Stones and Seamus Coleman critics have questioned Martinez’s ability to construct a water-tight defensive unit. Players are possibly at a low ebb with 2 defeats in a week, including the controversial Semi Final defeat to Manchester City in midweek. Entertainment has been virtually guaranteed with the admission fee at Goodison Park this term, 46 goals have been witnessed by the home fans.
In what would perhaps be a surprising statistic to some, Everton have scored more than Arsenal this season. If only the defence could be strengthened…
Newcastle, with 3 new signings in this transfer window are investing shrewdly in their attempt to avoid demotion in May. Andros Townsend was the newest face to arrive through the gates at St James’s Park as he completed £12m move from Spurs this week.
Steve McClaren will be hoping he will make the most of this opportunity to kick start his career, the North East may be the platform he needs to showcase his undoubted talent. If the Magpies finish 17th or higher at the season’s finale, January’s outlays will be seen as very astute purchases. They have lost 14 out of the last 17 away games, but the timing of this meeting is possibly beneficial to the Geordies.
The big clash of the week comes at the Emirates where Arsenal will be looking to conclude a tough run of recent fixtures with victory over London rivals Chelsea.
Elsewhere, redemption is a priority for the likes of Liverpool, Crystal Palace and West Ham and the relegation battle takes a new twist as yet another new manager joins the fray.
With the small matter of a place in a Wembley final to be decided next week, some clubs are feeling the strain as they reach the culmination of such an intense period of matches.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, in the case of the supporters) this is the English Premier League and as such, there is simply no respite, as we preview another tantalising round of games….
Norwich City ($4.00) v Liverpool ($1.90)
Norwich are now in 16th, having lost their last 2 games. Comprehensively beaten at Bournemouth last time out, they will have to call upon the resolve which saw them turn around a seemingly terminal nosedive during October.
It is imperative that Alex Neil’s men address this decline before the rot sets in, particularly with teams just below them in the table suddenly finding form.
Despite having the better of the match against United, Liverpool’s failings in front of goal were still evident as the reds failed to convert any of the string of half chances they created. The continued absence of Daniel Sturridge is a dilemma that Jurgen Klopp must solve; he clearly doesn’t trust big money signing Christian Benteke in games of this magnitude, which raises questions about the recruitment policy at Anfield. T
he winning goal at Anfield last week was the latest example of the Scousers’ weakness when it comes to defending set pieces; this was the seventh they have conceded from a corner kick this season.
Watford ($1.90) v Newcastle United ($4.00)
Recognition of Watford’s sterling work this season came in the guise of last week’s double award; scooping both the Manager and Player of the month prizes for December, with Quique Sanchez and Odion Ighalo the respective winners.
In doing so, Sanchez became the first manager in club history to achieve this milestone; a superb achievement in his maiden Premier League campaign.
Newcastle were first-rate in victory over West Ham last week; gaffer Steve McClaren has transformed the Toon in recent weeks.
He will be delighted with the immediate impact of new signing Jonjo Shelvey who played a part in both goals last week. However, after briefly experiencing life out of the drop zone with that victory, they returned to the bottom three on Monday night - courtesy of Swansea’s victory over Watford. Despite the positive results of late, they still need to improve away showings, with 13 defeats from their last 16 away games this season.
McClaren will be hoping to set aside the disappointment of their reappearance in the relegation zone after such an upbeat weekend.
Crystal Palace ($3.50) v Tottenham Hotspur ($2.10)
Palace are in extremely poor form of late and they were dismissed easily by an under strength Man City last week. They have now failed to score in their last 5 games, a dire stretch that they will be keen to put to an end.
Regardless of those rather miserable statistics, this weekend sees them at home in a London derby and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them raise the game against a Spurs team looking to stake their claim for a top 4 berth.
After the surprising mid-week loss to Leicester, a dominant display saw the North Londoners sweep aside the Black Cats last weekend, as Spurs re-established their Champions League intentions. They are a short price to do just that at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Sunderland (3.00) v Bournemouth ($2.30)
Sunderland continue with their erratic form, and were well beaten at Spurs last week. They seem to be picking and choosing when they perform, with promising victories followed by atrocious defeats. Sam Allardyce will be all too aware of the need to instill some stability into the Mackem’s performances in the coming months.
For new recruits, it’s essential to get off to a good start at a new club; it is even more crucial for strikers and that is precisely what new boy Benik Afobe did with his well taken goal last week against Norwich. The Cherries coasted to a 3-0 success, Bournemouth’s biggest win of the season so far.
They may well have their sights aimed on climbing above Chelsea this week, they will achieve that as a result of a win over Sunderland accompanied by the Blues dropping points in their big game against Arsenal. Bournemouth are customary fast starters, they have more goals in the first 15 minutes of game than any other team, a fact the Black Cats will do well to take note of.
Leicester City ($2.00) v Stoke City ($3.75)
Still enjoying life at the summit, they are second to Arsenal only on goal difference, Claudio Ranieri’s men continue to defy the odds. After a disappointing draw with bottom placed Villa last week, Leicester are another team looking forward to making amends this weekend.
After star man Riyad Mahrez missed his second penalty of the month, a meeting with Ranieri was scheduled this week to discuss his position as club penalty taker. Leicester have the best away record in the league and their objective will be to bring their home form up to that standard.
Stoke are nicely positioned in seventh place and showed evidence yet again against Arsenal that they have the capability to compete with anyone in this division. They have a huge fixture looming against Liverpool in the League Cup Semi Final in mid-week, where they will be seeking to overturn a 0-1 first leg deficit.
It would be understandable if the Potters had one eye on that game and consequently a chance of a trip to Wembley, a possibility that could be beneficial to Leicester here.
Manchester United ($1.80) v Southampton ($4.50)
For United, last week’s smash and grab win at Anfield should be a timely tonic to a squad badly in need of a confidence boost. Currently, the best performers are at opposite ends of the field as the faultless David De Gea appears to keep up his ongoing mission to win points for the team single-handedly.
Up front, Wayne Rooney has finally found some semblance of his former self, his winner on Merseyside ensuring that he has now scored more goals for one club than any player in Premier League history.
Southampton have pulled off the coup of the window so far, attracting Charlie Austen to St Mary’s for a bargain £4m. In Austen, they have a proven Premier League performer and he should be a guaranteed source of goals. The Saints have been more like their old selves lately, with two wins on the bounce.
They will hoping for a repeat of their victory here last year, and against a United team that have still not fully recovered from a catastrophic December, $4.50 may have quite a few takers.
West Bromwich Albion ($1.90) v Aston Villa ($4.30)
West Brom’s midfield is decimated by injuries to key players, with Darren Fletcher joining James Morrison- who is out for 2 months with hamstring damage- on the casualty list. Poor in defeat at Southampton last week, they will need to restore some pride in this Midlands derby.
Villa have shown admirable fighting spirit in recent times, although it is still a stretch to suggest that they are capable of embarking on the kind of run necessary to fend of relegation. Even after securing a morale boosting points haul over the last few weeks, they languish 10 points adrift of Swansea City in 17th position.
West Ham United ($5.00) v Manchester City ($1.70)
West Ham are looking to complete an improbable league double over the title favourites here. City’s away form has been mediocre and after a blip against Newcastle, West Ham will be looking to claim another big name scalp to add to their impressive resume this season. T
hey were poor last week and this could be an ideal fixture to revert to the kind of form that saw them go 8 games unbeaten prior to that fixture in the North-East. It would encapsulate the 2015/16 season for West Ham if they were to follow defeat at St James’s Park with a win over Manchester City here.
The undoubted promise in their talented squad would ensure that it would not be a revelation if it does transpire.
Everton ($1.60) v Swansea ($6.00)
Still reeling from the injustice of conceding a 98th minute equaliser at Chelsea last week - an offside one to boot - Everton have a chance to dispel that haunting memory against a team hovering above the relegation zone.
The Toffees’ are strong favourites to win this one but have drawn the last 3 Premier League games, and are $3.60 to continue that trend here with Sportsbet.
Swansea’s new joint manager Francesco Guidolin, got off to an ideal start with 3 points in Monday night’s clash with Watford. Swansea have won just twice at home since August and will have to rectify that poor statistic if they are to survive this season. $6.00 is reflective of the difficult task they face at Goodison, despite the euphoria that a newly appointed manager and a recent victory can bring.
Arsenal ($2.00) v Chelsea ($3.60)
There was a time when Chelsea held an Indian sign over the Gunners in this fixture, with Arsene Wenger’s men seemingly powerless to prevent the three points disappearing to West London. A quick look at the price will highlight just how far each team’s fortunes have swung in opposite directions.
A crumb of comfort for the soon to be deposed Champions is that they have shown a slight upswing in form since the appointment of Guus Hiddink; he remains unbeaten in his second stint at the helm of the Stamford Bridge club.
A decent point at Stoke last week without star men Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. The Gunners demonstrating a new found resilience to come away from 2 difficult away games at Anfield and the Britannia undefeated.
A third difficult game on the spin will see their title challenge come under scrutiny, a situation in which the Londoners have not been found wanting up until now.
The January transfer window is in full swing and there is fervent activity amongst clubs at both ends of the table as they all try to gain the upper hand between now and May. Many clubs will take a gamble on new faces to administer a potentially life-giving shot in the arm.
However, it’s always a tall order to expect new recruits to hit the ground running, particularly when they are new to the unique rigours of the English game. This transfer window could be incredibly busy as clubs all desperately try to maintain Premier league status for the 2016/17 season and all the financial rewards that it entails.
Arsene Wenger believes this window will be the busiest for many years with clubs eager to pre-empt the escalating fees which the influx of cash will precipitate next year. It adds an extra dimension to a remarkable season and sets up what promises to be a thrilling conclusion.
Tottenham Hotspur ($1.30) v Sunderland ($9.00)
Sunderland have made inroads into the winter transfer market with an early spending spree as the Wearsiders leave no stone unturned in their quest to stay up. Having already made 2 signings this month, Dame N’Doye joining last week’s new boy Jan Kirchoff at the Stadium of light and boss Sam Allardyce has his eyes on further moves if the chances arise.
Harry Kane’s last minute penalty equaliser against Leicester on Sunday, earned the Lilywhites a replay – an extra game that neither side would have welcomed. That was followed in midweek by a jarring loss to the Foxes, just the third of the season.
Will Spurs react positively to this setback, or is it evidence of the old fallibility that is often used to dismiss their title credentials?
Manchester City ($1.30) v Crystal Palace ($9.00)
The price here reflects City’s home dominance this term and also the fact that it is hard to predict which Crystal Palace side are going to turn up. Will it be the scintillating one who destroyed Newcastle 5-1, or the benign outfit who became only the second team this season to suffer defeat at the hands of Aston Villa?
They are currently in the midst of a mini-slump; it’s now 4 games without a win for them and Alan Pardew will be eager to bring an end to the current state of malaise that the Eagles find themselves in. A lack of goals is becoming a major issue and the fact that the strikers have only managed one goal between them is a serious problem that Pardew will have to find a solution to.
Bournemouth ($1.80) v Norwich City ($4.50).
Eddie Howe has also been busy, signing strikers Benik Afobe and former player Lewis Grabben in an attempt to increase the firepower at his disposal. Despite the outlay, the Cherries were beaten by some superlative West Ham finishing on Tuesday evening and will be hoping to bounce back here.
The odds suggest that Norwich will struggle in this one and after going down to Stoke City – albeit having been forced to play over an hour with 10 men as a result of Gary O’Neil’s red card- they are in need of a pick-me-up. Bournemouth can leapfrog the Canaries into 15th with 3 points in this one and $1.80 may signal a positive outcome for Eddie Howe’s men.
Newcastle United ($2.60) v West Ham United ($2.70)
Benefitting from the fillip of a last minute equaliser during the pulsating 3-3 draw with Man United during the week, Newcastle can approach this game with cautious optimism. Their opponents West Ham also enjoyed productive midweek, running out comprehensive 1-3 winners away at Bournemouth.
The difference in attacking strength was evident as the returning absentees Dmitri Payet and Enner Valencia – who have been sorely missed- made the Cherries pay. Two away wins in a week is not out of the question for the buoyant Eastenders who are now unbeaten in 9 and have eased their way into the top 5.
Chelsea ($1.60) v Everton ($5.00)
The pertinent question being asked of Guus Hiddink’s side at present is whether they have turned the corner or are we simply witnessing another false dawn. If it is the latter, $5.00 looks an excellent price for an Everton side who have Romelu Lukaku looking to return to haunt his former employers.
There have been glimmers of the re-emergence of the old Chelsea, but not on a consistent basis. The fact remains that the reigning Champions of England still reside in a humiliating 14th place at the turn of the year.
A good point for Everton at Manchester City on Wednesday and they will be hoping for a repeat of the performance in this fixture at Goodison Park in September when the irresistible Toffees helped to heap more misery on the then-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.
Southampton ($1.70) v West Bromwich Albion ($5.00)
Southampton addressed a worrying sequence of 4 defeats from 5 with victory over Watford during the week- it was only a second win in 11 for the Saints. Can they build on the foundations laid on Wednesday and begin to show the impressive form that carried them to a 7th placed finish last term?
Tony Pulis continues to steer his side to mid-table comfort, after a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Even taking into consideration the plight of the Blues this season, the statistic of only allowing the Champions 2 shots at home is astounding and typifies the work-rate synonymous with all Pulis’s teams.
$5.00 looks like a very generous price for the canny midlands side up against a delicate Southampton.
Aston Villa ($3.50) v Leicester City ($2.10)
Anything over $2 would have to represent good value against Villa at the moment, particularly when their opponents are flying high at the top of the table. Robert Huth’s late header at White Hart Lane snatched the points for the Foxes mid-week and put paid to the premature talk of their decline.
The draw with Wycombe exacerbated an unenviable situation for Remi Garde, who came out fighting this week announcing that he has no intention of quitting the club after just two months in the hot seat.
They enjoyed an extremely rare success last time out, 157 days in the making, emerging victorious for the first time in 5 months as they beat an unpredictable Crystal Palace; it was just the 6th time this season that they have taken the lead. Remain rooted to the foot of the table.
Liverpool ($2.40) v Manchester United ($2.90)
This is the kind of game for which the clichéd phrase ‘form goes out of the window’ was intended. Which is fortunate because if United are true to form, the dreary nature of their play would repel the neutrals in droves.
Despite both clubs presently representing a shadow of their former selves, with past glories seemingly a distant memory, the fierce rivalry and animosity remains alive and well. Maybe this will be the game that finally gets the blood pumping in the United players and rouse them from the interminable drudgery to which they have been consigned under Louis Van Gaal – Tuesday night being an exception to that rule.
If a visit down the East Lancs, to the home of their greatest rivals can’t ignite a passion in the eleven on the pitch – or the manager- there really is no hope for them.
Liverpool’s performance mid-week was indicative of how the season has unfolded for them. When an important fixture is upon them, they generally play well. Slight favourites here at $2.40 but in a game of this magnitude, the label of favourites can be taken with a pinch of salt.
Stoke City ($4.00) v Arsenal ($1.90)
The Brittania Stadium used to be the type of venue where an Arsenal team, packed with talent but lacking a resilient backbone, would be out fought, overpowered and sent packing. However, this team may be made of sterner stuff and they will need to be as Stoke have turned over both Manchester teams on their own patch so far.
The thrilling 3-3 draw at Anfield ensured that Arsene Wenger’s side remained perched on the top of the tale this week. It is a challenging week for the Gunners with 2 tricky away fixtures coming in the space of a few days.
The brace from Olivier Giroud sent his goals tally to 12 for the season.
Swansea City ($2.30) v Watford ($3.10)
Swansea, reeling from the FA Cup 3rd round’s shock result as they went down at home to Oxford United of League two saw their fortunes take a turn for the worst with a defeat to Sunderland on Wednesday night.
Now just one point and one place above the trapdoor, they are in urgent need of a spur to restore some confidence and victory here could be just the tonic to lift the gloom that has descended over the Liberty Stadium of late.
Sandwiched between the 2 Merseyside teams, Watford are going through a testing period with 3 defeats in a row now. They are sitting comfortably in 10th and will surely fancy their chances of putting an end to the poor recent form with a win in Wales.
After a week long hiatus due to FA Cup activity, league action recommences with a midweek programme packed with absorbing clashes that could have enormous repercussions at both ends of the table.
The game of the week is at Anfield where Arsenal will be seeking to strike a blow in the race for the Championship, whereas Liverpool will be desperately trying to establish some consistency in a hitherto erratic season.
Tottenham and Leicester City reprise their roles from the cup tie at the weekend and Swansea and Sunderland battle it out as they continue their fight for survival. As the New Year gets under way, the quest for silverware and top flight preservation intensifies.
Newcastle United ($4.30) v Manchester United ($1.85)
Newcastle’s display at the Emirates last week was encouraging enough to suggest they have the ability to stay up despite the 1-0 reversal. Having beaten Liverpool and inflicted only a second defeat on Spurs this season, the Geordies can take solace in the fact that they possess sufficient quality to compete at this level. A win against the reds here would help boost confidence ahead of the taxing latter half of the season.
United’s much needed victory over Swansea alleviated a small amount of pressure on boss Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman is seemingly enjoying the backing of Ed Woodward who would appear reluctant to be the man to appoint, and then dismiss the two successors to Sir Alex Ferguson. Against Swansea, they still exhibited signs of the brittleness that a lack of confidence brings, and if Lukasz Fabianski’s late header would have landed inside of the post rather than just wide, the mood at Old Trafford would be much more sombre coming into this one.
The victory over the Welshmen has at least put a halt to a desperate sequence of 8 matches without a win. Wayne Rooney scored his first goal in 2 months against the Swans and in doing so, became the second highest scorer in both United’s and Premier League history. Starting the New Year on the back of the worst December in the club’s history- a spell which reaped only 4 goals- was a damning indictment as to how dire things have been at Old Trafford of late. Nevertheless, it doesn’t reflect well on the teams around them that the Red Devils still lie only 9 points adrift of the league leaders after such a catastrophic period. On a rare positive note, they have started the year with a win and it isn’t inconceivable that it could spark a revival of sorts.
Bournemouth ($2.00) v West Ham ($3.75)
Bournemouth sit comfortably in 16th with just 1 defeat in the last 6 and have navigated the busy festive period relatively unscathed. Despite losing an appeal to overturn the red card shown to Simon Francis during last week’s goalless draw at Leicester, the Cherries will not be short of confidence, experiencing only 1 defeat in the last 8.
Eddie Howe is expected to be active in the market in the next month, having already wrapped up one signing, with Argentinian Juan Iturbe joining the club on loan from AS Roma until the end of the season with a view to a permanent deal in the summer. Additionally, they are linked with a move for AC Milan forward Stephen El Shaarawy according to reports in the Italian media.
If West Ham could apply their form against the bigger teams to the rest of their matches, they would perhaps be challenging at the top of the table. They have been unfortunate with injuries to key players but are now on a good run and will be boosted by the return from injury of Dmitri Payet, Enner Valencia and Manuel Lanzini, to bolster their attack. Undefeated in the last six and upbeat on the back of 2 wins which has resulted in Slaven Bilic’s team moving up to sixth in the table, $3.75 could be worth a flutter here.
Aston Villa ($3.00) v Crystal Palace ($2.40)
Aston Villa, despite being 11 points from safety, at least managed to claim the dubious honour of racking up more points (3) than Manchester United (2) in December. However, following a crushing, mostly self-inflicted defeat at Sunderland last week, it looks increasingly like the Villains will be plying their trade in the Championship next term.
The upshot of that loss at the Stadium of Light is that Villa have now slipped further adrift at the foot of the table, 11 points from safety.
Despite suffering a comprehensive 0-3 reversal to a Chelsea side last time out, it would be a surprise if the Eagles didn’t bounce back here against a Villa side without a win since the opening day of the season; a streak which has now reached 19 games
Southampton ($1.80) v Watford ($4.50)
The Saints’ exemplary display against Arsenal over the Christmas period may have been a false dawn as they immediately slipped to a couple of disappointing defeats at Upton Park and Carrow Road. Boss Ronald Koeman was unhappy with the lack of professionalism shown by Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama last time out as the Saints were beaten by Norwich; after being forced to change the line- up 2 hours before kick-off due to a breach of club discipline by the Senagalese winger.
The reckless sending off of Wanyama, was a lesson in how not to attempt a tackle when already on a yellow card. It came at a crucial point in proceedings with the scores still level, and helped to swing the game in the Canaries’ favour; leaving Koeman infuriated. With transfer speculation surrounding the pair, it would be foolhardy if the Saints were to allow yet more of their top performers leave the club, particularly at such a key point of the season.
It is likely that the ongoing exodus of big name players could have contributed to the uneven form on the South coast this season. As the pressure to replace established players with unproven alternatives goes on, such upheaval will eventually prove unsustainable. It would be somewhat unrealistic to expect the scouting department to perpetually unearth the sort of undiscovered talent that they have produced over the preceding summers. Could the draining of the club’s star assets finally be catching up with Southampton?
Watford have seen their excellent progress this season falter of late, with defeats to Spurs and Manchester City at the turn of the year. With a trying set of fixtures behind them, Quique Flores’s team can look forward to a more serene January, with games against teams in the bottom half of the table on the horizon. With the propensity for Southampton to blow hot and cold this term, $4.50 could be good value as the Hornets attempt to rediscover their fine pre-Christmas form.
Chelsea ($1.30) v West Bromwich Albion ($9.50)
At the height of the Jose Mourinho debacle this autumn, $9.50 would have been extremely appealing, particularly given the Baggies admirable away form. However, last time out, Chelsea put in a commanding display at Selhurst Park, perhaps signalling a return to form for the ailing Champions.
Fresh from gaining maximum points from the last 2 home games over the New Year period, West Brom also have a spring in their step.
Goalkeeper Ben Foster is on the brink of a return to action after completing 45 minutes of a friendly match against Kidderminster U21s this week. The England stopper has been out since suffering cruciate ligament damage against Stoke in March 2015. Manager Tony Pulis is preparing to finalise transfer plans with Jeremy Peace this week as the Baggies concentrate their efforts to consolidate Premiership status.
Stoke City ($1.80) v Norwich City ($4.50)
Fatigue is beginning to play a part at this hectic part of the year, as the games come thick and fast. With the FA cup third round commencement this week, Stoke will play 3 games within 8 days. Against Liverpool, some players appeared to have little left in the tank and it encourages the annual debate about a mid-season break yet again.
Stoke took maximum points over the Christmas period but then lost the 2 subsequent games, against West Brom and Liverpool in the league cup semi-final first leg, and boss Mark Hughes may be tempted to give some of his stars a rest. Geoff Cameron was successful in his appeal to have his red card earned against West Brom overturned in the week, meaning he will escape an automatic three match ban.
Norwich, sitting level on points with Chelsea and only a couple of wins away from mid-table security, are currently occupying a far healthier position than looked possible a few months ago. The Canaries have done a fine job in turning around their form that had threatened to unravel during October. Norwich Boss Alex Neil has handled the pressure of his first top level campaign stoically and will no doubt be extremely satisfied with his players’ application so far.
Swansea City ($1.70) v Sunderland ($4.00)
The sense of relief that the victory over fellow strugglers Aston Villa brought last time out, was palpable and Sam Allardyce’s men will attempt to build on what was potentially a pivotal result; one which may go some way towards helping to stave off a relegation that could be disastrous for the all the clubs involved. Sunderland have wasted no time in their attempts to avoid the drop, completing the first acquisition of the newly open transfer window by signing defender Jan Kirchoff from Bayern Munich on an 18 month contract.
Swansea sit one place above the relegation zone and 4 points adrift of the Black Cats and they face off in what could be a classic 6 pointer. Caretaker boss Alan Curtis has this week been handed the reins until the end of the season, and is immediately tasked with the job of guiding the Swans to safety.
Manchester City ($1.50) v Everton ($5.50)
City will be relieved to have ended a dreadful recent away slump at Vicarage Road last week, a run which had seen them take just 3 points from a possible 18 on their travels. Although not at their best, it was the kind of outcome vital for aspiring Champions – the ability to turn a likely defeat into 3 points- displaying the attributes of character and spirit that augers well for their title challenge.
The home form remains excellent, with 15 of the last 17 fixtures going the way of the Manchester side.
Everton have been involved in some exhilarating contests of late, with 19 goals coming in fixtures featuring the Toffeemen during December. However, an injury to top goal scorer Romelu Lukaku, suffered in the League cup victory over Manchester City will be a concern, bringing into focus the Blues’ reliance on the Belgian.
This fixture arrives in the middle of the two teams’ League cup double header, meaning they will face off 3 times in as many weeks. Everton have the upper hand going into that second leg courtesy of a well-deserved 2-1 win last week at Goodison Park.
Tottenham Hotspur ($1.80) v Leicester City ($4.20)
Another pair who will be increasingly familiar with each other’s game are Leicester and Spurs. Having been pitted against each other in the FA cup, this league clash is not ideally timed for either club. Leicester are enduring a slight wobble at present with no wins in 3 and goals beginning to dry up, they are not helped by the loss of talismanic front man Jamie Vardy who has undergone minor surgery on a groin injury.
It’ll be interesting to see how they react to the first real signs of adversity. The price of $1.80 reflects Spurs’ growing reputation as a title force and people are starting to speak about them as genuine challengers. With 1 defeat in 18 and with the best defensive record in the league, could this be the year the North London outfit finish at the pinnacle of the English game for the first time since the 1960/61 double winning season?
Liverpool ($2.60) v Arsenal ($2.60)
The Liverpool players would appear to enjoy frustrating manager Jürgen Klopp, achieving some mystifying results since his arrival. Eye catching victories at Stamford Bridge, St Mary’s and the Etihad have been tarnished by some abject outings against Watford, Crystal Palace and West Ham. Progress has being hampered by continual injury woes, with a spate of hamstring problems currently plaguing the reds.
While the Merseysiders tend to raise their game against the better teams, the Gunners need to lay down a marker here as they are involved in a title race that they have an outstanding chance of winning. It will be a real test of their mettle and an opportunity to finally shed their tag of perennial under achievers.
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