The Premier League was given something of a reality check this week with its inauspicious showing in Europe’s top club competition. Arsenal, in particular, were hopelessly naïve for a side consistently applauded for Champions League qualification. Chelsea, in hyper stygian mode, were able to offer some solace with a fortunate draw with French champions PSG, underlining Mourinho’s ability to tactically mastermind a draw in an unlikely situation. With Chelsea contesting the Capital One Cup final this weekend, Manchester City have the ability to pull within two points of the table-topping Londoners. This will be no easy task however considering the form that Liverpool are currently in. Philippe Coutinho has been mesmeric of late while Daniel Sturridge is beginning to reclaim his best form. It promises to be a humdinger at Anfield in a slightly truncated, yet intriguing list of weekend fixtures.
Sam Allardyce would have been livid with the manner in which his West Ham side squandered a two-goal lead to bitter rivals Tottenham at the weekend, especially after controlling the match with considerable ease. Crystal Palace were outplayed by Arsenal and will be hoping to derive more joy from far more evenly matched opponents this weekend. The powerful running of Bolasie will be pitted against the equally assertive drives of Kouyate, in what could be a key determinate of the result here. But it is the incisive running of Stewart Downing that should give West Ham the ability to edge this one. Take the Hammers to win at even money.
West Brom’s dire draw with Sunderland was hardly the most exhilarating encounter, but it did serve to showcase the arch-pragmatism of Tony Pulis. The likes of Fletcher and Morrison are perfectly suited to anchoring Pulis’ tight midfield, facilitating the space necessary for Saido Berahino’s talent to shine. Southampton were disappointing against Liverpool, with players such as Pelle and Tadic failing to recapture even a modicum of their early season form. The tika-taka style that Koeman has championed is starting to dissipate as the season has worn on. West Brom have been impressive at home of late and will conquer Southampton on the counterattack. A shock West Brom win is tipped at 23/10.
Sunderland’s miserable run of recent form will no doubt frustrate ebullient manager Gus Poyet. Jermaine Defoe has only shone spasmodically while the dubious talents of Connor Wickham and Danny Graham continue to falter at every opportunity. Their defence, containing the likes of former United stalwarts O’Shea and Brown, blurs the line between experienced and ageing, which should encourage Van Gaal’s Manchester United. The Swansea loss was slightly unexpected, but Van Gaal’s side should be able to bounce back against tepid opposition. The speed of Di Maria and ingenuity of Mata should be too much for a dreary Sunderland outfit. I’m opting for the halftime-fulltime double here regardless of United’s poor showing last week. Remember, this is the same Sunderland that shipped eight against Southampton, and they are starting to have a jaded look to them. Back it at 9/10.
Burnley have managed to ride Barnes-Gate quite successfully, allowing the media fervour surrounding Ashley Barnes’ apparently reckless tackle to dissipate amidst immediate concerns. Their free-flowing, almost old fashioned brand of football should contrast well with Swansea’s more Eurocentric approach. Gomis will feel confident for Swansea while Ki Sung-yueng and Sigurdsson have started to develop a key midfield partnership. Danny Ings and Barnes will have to contend with the midfield ferocity of Jonjo Shelvey in another key battle that highlights how evenly matched these two sides are. This sounds like yet another bold claim, but I am anticipating a high-scoring encounter here with two attack-minded managers. You’ll get over 3.5 goals at 26/10.
Stoke’s away victory at Villa will have delighted Mark Hughes in the wake of their humiliating Cup exit to Blackburn. Peter Crouch has recaptured scoring form while Stoke’s notoriously physical approach has been complimented beautifully by the guile of Bojan and Ireland. Hull have resurrected their season through a sequence of excellent results, though they were somewhat aided by the pure idiocy of Joey Barton last weekend. They now have a striking duo in form, with Jelavic and new boy N’Doye providing a strong focal point to the side. Livermore and Huddlestone provide the anchor in midfield and will be tested to their physical limit by the likes of Whelan and N’Zonzi. Both sides should cancel each other out for large portions of a game that’s almost impossible to call. Under 2.5 goals is the tip at 11/20.
Newcastle were hopelessly outplayed by City last weekend, with the Magpies on the receiving end of perhaps City’s most fully realised performance of the season thus far. Remy Cabella’s injury almost completely suffocated Newcastle’s attacking ability, while a dogmatic midfield containing the likes of Colback and Anita found the afternoon immensely frustrating. Tim Sherwood was given a rude awakening regarding the enormity of his task at Aston Villa this season, with the Villains in dire form against Stoke at home. Neither of these sides score enough goals and I can’t see either one of them doing so here. Back Under 2.5 goals at 6/10.
The match of the weekend pits title contenders Manchester City against the side they pipped to the title last season, Liverpool. Liverpool have been the form side in the league of late, with Sterling and Coutinho providing a relentlessly speedy attacking thrust that has seen them tear through teams at times. City are more patient in their build up, with the guile of Silva and Nasri complemented by the bulldozing runs of Yaya Toure. I was impressed with Fernandinho against Barcelona, the midfield anchor was solid and crafty in equal measure, releasing pin-point through balls on various occasions. He will be vital in both breaking up the furious bursts of Liverpool and launching City on swift counterattacks. This promises to be yet another breakneck encounter, likely to end in the tantalizing 2-2 scoreline that has become customary for these two sides. Take over 3.5 goals at 17/10.
Everton’s 2-2 draw last week was met with heroic celebration by their manager Roberto Martinez, in what I perceive as a rather disturbing harbinger of the time at Everton. Their excellent European form seems to indicate that there is something missing in their domestic forays; physicality. They just don’t seem physical enough of late. Barkley seems to be the only really burly presence in a side peppered with diminutive ingénues. Arsenal’s form is the complete inversion of Everton’s, as consistency in domestic football could not be matched in Europe, with a shocking home display against Monaco. They are also a tad lightweight, which could aid the travelling Merseysiders. Arsenal’s talent should usher in the victory, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Everton manage to sneak a point here. Take the Gunners to win or draw on the Double Chance at 1/8 and add it into your weekend multiple.