Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
I don’t think that one can underestimate the effect that the defeat to Wigan in the Cup must have on the Evertonian psyche. Additionally, David Moyes’ refusal to sign a contract extension seems to indicate that he has realised that this is far as he is going to take Everton at this point in time. Manchester City on the other hand were devastating against a beleaguered Barnsley and have been doing their best to claw back United with every week. Tevez will look to keep his scoring momentum going in this one and the skilful Silva has started to replicate some of last year’s form. Everton were so poor on the weekend with their full strength squad and it seems their perennial lack of depth will cost them in the long run. City will just have too much for Everton in their futile quest to catch the champions in waiting. Expect Tevez to keep up the momentum. At 21/20, it’s a steal.
Liverpool’s victory over Spurs will go a long way to instilling the self-belief in the squad that they can compete with the big boys in the league. The Rodgers manifesto has actually started to materialise itself with the burgeoning partnership between Sturridge and Suarez a real source of excitement for the Anfield faithful. Southampton find themselves precariously placed, just above the drop zone, and know that they might have to pick up the odd point in a game like this if they are to guarantee survival. They managed to survive a soft penalty in the final minute of their encounter against Norwich and will hope that some of that positive momentum might flow into this game. Liverpool though will be a stiff task, and the game should prove to be quite an open affair with two sides committed to an attractive brand of football. Liverpool should sneak through, with that man Suarez finding the net again. I’ll be having some of that at 9/10.
Stoke have been on a truly awful run of form that was just exacerbated by their last gasp defeat at the hands of Newcastle on the weekend. Their approach of attrition seems to have been figured out by many teams while West Brom have continued to grow as the season has progressed. The hugely influential Romelu Lukaku has continued on his merry way and is providing an ideal target man for the service of Brunt and Morrison. Clarke’s team has not faded away as much as I thought that they would which bears testament to the spirit that he has managed to instill in what is essentially a small club. Stoke should be able to bounce back here with at least a point, as West Brom seem somewhat susceptible to the threat that Stoke do provide. But West Brom will look to counter well and should get a goal somewhere along the line. Another stalemate at 23/10 is my prediction.
These two sides have contrasting form at this point, yet both come into this encounter with a rather sombre mood. The sacking of McDermott at Reading contrasted with the Real Madrid debacle of Manchester United accentuates the gulf of stature that exists between the two sides. United could still win a double, despite their throwaway cup tie against Chelsea, but Reading will be praying for a miracle to survive at this stage. When you look throughout their team, outside of La Fondre they just don’t possess a gamebreaker of any real quality. The likes of Ledgerwood are honest professionals but they just don’t have that cutting edge. Expect a ruthless display by United, with Van Persie finally finding the net again. This will be a long afternoon for Reading. With hardly any value around, try your hand at the United clean sheet at 8/10. They’ve kept four in a row in the league in the run-in to this encounter.
Sunderland are in a shocking run of form at the moment that has seen them plummet down the table from a position of seeming comfort. The goals of Stephen Fletcher have been crucial to success for the team but there has been a lack of contribution from other areas on a consistent basis. The likes of Johnson and Sessenyong have been far too inconsistent and they will need them to come to the fore soon. Norwich have probably secured safety but have been quite uninspiring in recent weeks, missing a last gasp penalty that would have given them all three points against Southampton. Grant Hoult has been impressive at a point in the season when one might have suspected his performance level would drop. Norwich have been in some horrible nil-nil draws of late, and I would boldly suggest this could go the same way. Take another draw at 5/2.
Spurs should just look at the Liverpool result as an inevitable blip on an otherwise upward trajectory. They dominated large portions of the game and with Defoe only getting fitter they will feel that the team will gain some extra bite up front to support Gareth Bale. Fulham have managed to keep their heads above water with their home form and especially the glamour signing of Dimitar Berbatov. That extra bit of panache he brings has been vital in grabbing important points to keep them hanging in the top half of the table. It has allowed players like De Jager and Gear to carry on in their metronomic ways while they still struggle on the road. Spurs should be far too strong at home in this London derby, with Bale torturing Brian Hangeland all afternoon. Spurs on the handicap at 5/4 will do for me.
Chelsea need to win this game against a mightily unpredictable West Ham team to ease the pressure on an embattled Rafa Benitez. Despite their heroic comeback in the Cup against United the boo boys will likely still be out for the unfancied Spaniard, whose look of constant incredulity could be patented. Here lies a sub-plot; Lampard will be looking to score his 200th goal for Chelsea against his former club. Additionally, former Chelsea hero Joe Cole will return to the venue of such great success that always offers a vast array of narrative strands. If Chelsea play with anything like the verve that they displayed in the second half of the Cup tie they will cruise through this one. I feel it is written in the stars for Lampard to find the net, perhaps from the spot. However, the Blues have been leaky at the back and I expect Both Teams To Score in this one at 7/10.
Wigan were humbled by Liverpool last time out in the league but will have drawn significant encouragement from their Cup success against a full strength Everton team. If they win their game in hand they could pull themselves into a position to regain safety in the upcoming weeks. Beausajour and Scharner were excellent on the weekend while Kone was an ever present threat up front. Add Di Santo into the mix and they have real attacking threat in the team. Newcastle were quite fortunate I felt in their victory over Stoke and seem to have recently acquired the ability to win ugly, which any manager will tell you is a great ability to possess at this time of the year. A home victory for Wigan might come as a surprise pick from me, but I don’t think many would argue that the performance levels between these two sides are not a world apart. A home victory to spice up the relegation battle it is, at 27/20.
The man knows his football, but even he gets it wrong from time to time. Feel free to share your EPL tips and multiples below.