Normality is starting to creep back into the foundations of the Premier League as debates continue to rage over the efficacy of the congested Christmas period. Chelsea were in cruise control against Newcastle while City were held by a meddling Everton side. Both ends of the table are completely unpredictable, with Leicester disproving the tag of certain despair that they possessed not three weeks back. United’s defeat to Southampton truly entrenched the Saints as top four contenders, while Arsenal and Liverpool continue to fight the cause for the established elite. This should be a cracking weekend of football that will probably raise more questions than answers.
Aston Villa’s eleven goal tally thus far this season makes them the second worst attacking threat in the entire top five flights of European football. However, Liverpool have shown an inherent incapacity to deal with Christian Benteke for quite some time now. I expect Liverpool to dominate possession, but if Lambert switches to Weimann, Villa could cause some real issues to Liverpool on the dreaded counterattack. Villa will be without both Vlaar and Clark, which should give Liverpool some encouragement. Liverpool have shown some grit on the road recently, but don’t discount that imperious Belgian threat that is Benteke. Take Liverpool to win or draw on the Double Chance at 1/5 for safety.
Even Mark Hughes had to admit, Stoke were soundly beaten by the Gunners last week. Crouch and Walters were barely able to enter the game due to the constant dynamism of Arsene Wenger’s side. Nigel Pearson’s Leicester side have shown steady progress and draw incredible inspiration from a fanatical King Power stadium. Ulloa has been ably supported by Nugent in recent weeks, adding a necessary duality to their forward movement. They have also been bolstered by the return of Paul Konchesky, an experienced campaigner with a fearsome left boot. I really think that Leicester have the beating of a Stoke side struggling for form on the road. Get the Foxes at 15/10.
Harry Redknapp’s QPR side are perhaps one of the most fascinating oddities in English football. They have lost ten consecutive matches away, but can boast a truly credible home record. Perhaps it’s down to the way that Redknapp sets out his stall at home, but they could pose serious problems for a Manchester United side that has yet to identify their fundamental defensive problems. Additionally, Falcao seems unsettled, while Rooney and Di Maria are both being utilised in bizarre positions. I think that QPR are on the cusp of an epic collapse, which should see United through to a much needed away victory. Back United at 6/10.
Mourinho’s men are in desperate need of a convincing away performance if they are to truly silence Chelsea’s numerous naysayers. Perhaps the absence of John Obi Mikel will curb some of the more limiting defensive urges of Mourinho on the road. Gary Monk has openly admitted to the difficulty of losing Wilfried Bony at this critical stage of the season. Swansea will have to adapt to the more direct impetus of Gomis, which should limit the midfield trickery of Sigurdsson and Routledge. Still, for the sake of safety, I’m leaning towards Chelsea to win or draw on the Double Chance at 1/8. This is surely one for all weekend multiples.
Spurs have had a truly weird season. Harry Kane’s rise to prominence against Chelsea was followed by a tepid defeat to Palace. They have no sense of occasion. Sunderland are in desperate need of a win following a slew of average results. Gus Poyet returns to his former club with a side lacking quality in key areas. Their one player of substance - Adam Johnson - seems to drift catatonically from match to match in a little bubble of reassurance offered from the arbitrary performance. Pochettino’s side seem to be building towards something and should have the edge over a lacklustre Sunderland unit at 6/10.
Newcastle were actually surprisingly competitive against Chelsea, despite the managerial rigmarole that has occurred there. Their whole combative style, however, is set to come up against a well-oiled machine this weekend in the guise of Southampton. Southampton almost represent Newcastle’s worst nightmare: a technically gifted side under the carefully directed tutelage of a definite authority figure. I think that Tadic and Pelle will prove far too nimble for a Newcastle defense torn asunder by injury and managerial upheaval. Pick up Southampton at a gift 12/10.
I think that Sam Allardyce’s success with West Ham may be starting to get to his head. Don’t get me wrong, I love Big Sam, but the open criticism of former striker Zarate coupled with a critique of Roberto Martinez’s managerial style seems to reflect a new side of Big Sam. Hull have been devastated by the news of extensive injury concerns to both Abel Hernandez and Nikica Jelavic (both suspected to be out for 6 weeks). So, despite the fact that I think Allardyce may be getting a little too big for his britches, West Ham should win comfortably here. Take them on the halftime-fulltime double at 31/20.
The undisputed megalith of the weekend, Manchester City have the opportunity to send a timely reminder to title challengers Chelsea that they are serious business. They will however be without the considerable midfield presence of Yaya Toure, which should delight the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this encounter is the manner in which Arsenal will approach this game. Surely Wenger will sense, in the absence of Toure, that his ebullient side could sidetrack the progress of Pellegrini’s men. The one area that City should have ascendancy is on the flanks, but I expect this to be an extremely tight match decided by the odd goal. This is a tough one, but City to win or draw at 1/5 makes enough appeal for this weekend’s multiple.
Martinez is under huge pressure, especially considering the level of interest in both Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman. Lukaku has simply not delivered this season while the enigmatic talents of Mirallas and Barkley are more often than not mentioned in Everton’s transfer speculation. The Pulis effect was felt last weekend for West Brom against a hapless Hull side, but this should represent a real test of Iron-Man Pulis’ mettle. He will no doubt set his side up to counter in a 4-5-1 formation, with much of the attacking onus placed on Berahino. I think this will be a harsh return to reality for Mr Pulis, particularly in the midfield areas. Take Everton to win at 8/10.
10-leg English Premier League Multiple Price - 243/1
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.