English Premier League Week 20 Preview

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.

Just to define how tight this year’s title race has become; Liverpool sat top of the pile when Santa was in town, on New Year’s Day they sit outside the Champions League places. Chelsea managed to mentally outmanoeuvre a Liverpool side fast earning the reputation of being flat-track bullies. City and Arsenal ground out mechanical victories that saw them gain some ground on the Merseysiders. Perhaps the most astonishing result of the week was Hull’s second half decimation of Fulham. Alan Curbishley must be relishing his new role as the first team technical director of Fulham; he will need a degree in quantum mechanics to get down to the bottom of what went wrong on the weekend. The New Year’s Day fixtures bring an end to the chaotic Christmas period that has come to define the most famous league in the world.

Swansea City have been plodding along methodically in recent weeks, barely registering on the collective consciousness of Premier League observers. Manchester City were forced to be patient as Palace parked more than just the bus at the Etihad. But Edin Dzeko once again reiterated the depth of the title favourites, with his fourth goal in thirteen Premier League appearances this season. City will probably be fortunate on the road against Swansea; the Swansea supporters have come to expect a particular brand of football from their side, regardless of the magnitude of the opposition. This should see an open game that will gradually favour the away side, priced at 7/10.

The tension between Malky Mackay and Vincent Tan would have no doubt been ameliorated by a home win against Sunderland. Sunderland were allowed to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat, with the Cardiff owner visibly distraught. Arsenal and Liverpool are the two resurgent sides in English football, both desperately hoping to recapture some of their former glory. Arsenal have turned out to have the street smarts necessary to maintain their surge, winning games that they would have surrendered in seasons past. The injury to Ozil should be no concern at the Emirates. Players such as Wilshere and Cazorla are able to come in and out of the team without compromising the quality. Cardiff will be tenacious but should prove nothing more than a momentary distraction. The score line will not reflect the overall domination; Arsenal do like to play with their food. I’m calling under 2.5 goals at 5/4.

Crystal Palace’s draconian approach almost yielded success at City; Tony Pulis has done a fantastic job thus far by instilling a new found tenacity in the Palace side. The injury to Cameron Jerome will be a slight concern for Pulis, but fortunately he still has the dramatically improved Marouane Chamakh to call on. Norwich were dogged against Manchester United and are a side never to be underestimated. Players like Hoolahan and Snodgrass are able to come in and play effectively in Chris Hughton’s systems. Gary Hooper will prove a constant threat but I feel Palace will edge this game at home. Get them at 27/20.

Rene Meulinstein must have been wondering what happened to his side in that fabled second half at Hull. I didn’t watch the match live, so I just assumed that Fulham had had a glut of red cards. But no. No cards at all in fact. They were just eleven men destroyed by a recently promoted side. This is a London derby of epic proportions, as West Ham’s under-fire Sam Allardyce needs a result before a decision on his future is made. The way their season has been going, you would have thought that three home goals would have done the world of good for the Hammers. But to concede those three goals to West Brom must have sent Allardyce into hysteria. Although the Hull result must have left a tarnish on the Fulham psyche, West Ham are a side in need of change. Allardyce, always looking like he walked off of a Guy Ritchie movie, will have a far more committed Fulham side to deal with at Craven Cottage. Back the home side at 27/20.

Liverpool will hope that inspirational captain Steven Gerrard returns for an absolutely must-win fixture against Hull. Liverpool will know that their worst performance of 2013 was likely in the first fixture against Hull this season. Looking at the Hull team, I think I can determine the reason for their abject performance that day. Liverpool play sexy football, but they lack a physical presence in the midfield. The side’s increasingly diminutive stature allows strong sides to impose themselves on the game. Liverpool will however overcome Hull on the day, in what will likely be a lacklustre performance. I’m backing Both Teams to Score at 9/10.

Chelsea’s victory over Liverpool truly announced a seismic shift in the title race. Most onlookers, myself included, thought that this game would reveal some truth about Chelsea, that they were pretenders to the throne. But Mourinho’s side have more substance than one would give them credit for. The relationship between Oscar, Hazard and company has started to find momentum. Southampton were beaten by an Everton side in great form and will not have any fear going into this game. I just think Chelsea stand on the precipice of something special, and Southampton, for all their endeavour, will not be able to halt it. Chelsea are priced up at 21/20, which is good enough for me.

This will be my upset special for the week. Everton have been in a rich vein of form recently, the likes of Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley have been scoring amazing goals on a weekly basis, while Lukaku cuts an imposing figure in the advanced post. Stoke were convincingly beaten by Spurs, but they have managed to regain their once proud home form, including an unlikely victory over title contenders Chelsea. This is the one stage of the year where Stoke’s physical presence can really exert its authority, with such a succession of demanding games. Stoke at 34/10 is where my money is going.

There is often talk of the veritable six-pointer. This is more than that. Sunderland need a victory. There is only so far that heroic defeats and stoic draws can get a team. Aston Villa have been awful recently and the Villa faithful must be growing tired of Paul Lambert’s prickly demeanour. Villa have not built on their swathe of youthful talent. Worst of all, they seem to have lost self-belief. Sunderland may be without Fabio Borini after he fainted in the tunnel last week, but they should have the ability to see off the venom-less Villains. Sunderland at 11/10.

West Brom displayed all of their schizophrenic sensibilities in the enthralling three-all draw with West Ham. Anelka scored twice, while Berahino nearly snatched all three points for the Midlands side. Newcastle were unfortunate not to get at least a point from their troubles against Arsenal. They have managed to strike an improbable balance between physicality and intricacy, no doubt benefiting from the focal point that is Loic Remy. Newcastle have been consistent recently and should be too strong for a defensively porous West Brom side. Newcastle are outsiders at 19/10, get on it.

Spurs travel to Old Trafford on New Year’s Day, a stadium that ironically enough was the sight of Andre Villas-Boas’ greatest managerial moment. Manchester United have managed to rediscover some of that old ‘Fergie spirit’ of late. Danny Welbeck has added some goal scoring proficiency to his general industry, his seemingly awkward style of running has oft times left supporters quizzical about his overall ability. Tim Sherwood will have been bolstered by the comfortable home win against Stoke, a victory that - lo and behold - saw another penalty scored by the ever reliable Roberto Soldado. This is a watershed moment for both of these clubs; victory for either will underline the upward mobility of both sides. United should welcome back Wayne Rooney from a hamstring strain, a fact that should see them just see off Spurs at 8/10.

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.

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