Chelsea cemented their status as title favorites with two key events this weekend. Their Capital One Cup victory highlighted the big match temperament that the side possesses, while City’s defeat to Liverpool could prove vital in deciding the champions of England this year. Mid-week fixtures return as sides battle to juggle the concerns of multiple competitions and mounting injuries. Aston Villa need a result as Tim Sherwood’s tenure as Villa boss has had a less than fantastic start. Two huge London derbies dominate the fixtures, as QPR and West Ham play host to Arsenal and Chelsea respectively. It promises to be another thrilling midweek dose of Premier League action, with the race for the top four and the battle against relegation rapidly approaching fever pitch.
Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa are now twelve Premier League games without a victory, with only three points gained out of their last 36. Their issues with scoring have approached mythic proportions, with confidence seemingly drained from Benteke and Weimann. Scott Sinclair has yet to fully integrate within the side while Sanchez has at least provided solidity to the midfield. Tony Pulis’ love affair with club resurrection has continued in his brief reign at the helm of West Brom. Saido Berahino’s push for a English call-up shows no signs of relenting while Darren Fletcher and James Morrison have strengthened the spine of the side. Villa are battling to score and Pulis sets his side out very conservatively on the road. Take Under 2.5 goals at 9/20.
Hull City can be forgiven for their defeat against a well-drilled Stoke City. Steve Bruce’s striking options were hampered by an injury to Nikica Jelavic as well as the benching of N’Doye. Even the introduction of Hernandez and N’Doye late on could not rescue a point for the side. Sunderland seem a bit devoid of ideas lately, with Defoe and Wickham unable to convert chances. The red card of Wes Brown obviously proved decisive and Sunderland will sorely miss their hard tackling center half. Once again, this one seems almost impossible to call so I’m going to opt for the low goal angle. Under 2.5 is available at 11/20.
Southampton have fallen off the break-neck top four race, with far too many of their players out of form. Tadic, Pelle and Wanyama have dropped off badly in recent weeks while the usually solid Fraser Forster has been prone to error of late. Crystal Palace picked up a gigantic away victory this weekend with Jason Puncheon providing three assists in the game. Palace will be without Murray for the match following his red-card, while Mile Jedinak could face further disciplinary action for an apparent elbow. This one is a classic case of possession based football versus quick counterattacking and I expect Zaha and Bolasie to prove pivotal on the counterattack. Palace to win at a huge 4/1, effectively ending Southampton’s top four surge.
Manchester City’s defeat at Liverpool will have damaged the collective psyche of Pellegrini’s side. Things just never flowed in the second half as the pace and work ethic of Liverpool outmatched City’s healthy grip on possession. Wilfried Bony came on and completely failed to impact on the game. Nigel Pearson’s Leicester will have drawn heart from their last match out, a courageous 2-2 draw with Everton. Vardy made all the difference as Pearson’s side looked dynamic, with Konchesky dangerous with those whipped in crosses from the left. However, City are amazing flat track bullies and will put Leicester to the sword in a similar manner to Newcastle. City to win comfortably on the halftime-fulltime double at 7/10.
John Carver has steadied the ship at Newcastle following that dismal display against City. Papiss Cisse clinically finished as his side gave a dogged home performance that sees them flirting with the top half of the table. Manchester United had to rely on the heroics of Wayne Rooney again this weekend, with Van Gaal finally choosing to play the English star in his preferred forward role. Ashley Young also looked dangerous while Van Gaal made the bizarre decision to start Mata on the bench. This will be a tough match for United, with the strong ethic of Newcastle well suited to deal with the unpredictable nature of Van Gaal’s side. This is another one where I’m going with my gut feel, largely based on United’s poor performance at Swansea a few weeks back. Newcastle to win or draw on the Double Chance at 15/20 is the tip.
QPR were able to rest up this weekend whilst remarkably not losing ground at the foot of the table. Burnley and Villa lost in results that will ease some of the pressure going into this intimidating fixture. Arsene Wenger was full of praise for striker Olivier Giroud, whose goal on the weekend went some way to atoning for his lacklustre display against Monaco last week. Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil were once again excellent while Coquelin continues to grow in his midfield role. This will not be an easy day out for the potentially jaded Arsenal, with Charlie Austin eager to inflict some damage upon a side with many games under the belt. I really feel that Arsenal will struggle in this London derby, as QPR will probably benefit from the absence of suspended Joey Barton. Another bold call, but QPR to win or draw on the Double Chance is appealing at 5/4.
Peter Crouch’s 46th headed goal in the Premier League took him alongside Alan Shearer as the number one practitioner of football’s most idiosyncratic art. Stoke have only lost three of their last thirteen games in the league, with all three defeats coming against top four sides. The physicality of N’Zonzi and Whelan dovetails well with the occasionally lazy presence of Stephen Ireland. Charlie Adam may have earned a recall to the starting line-up following his critical contribution in the match. Everton’s performance against Arsenal was rank with fatigue as Martinez struggles to find the balance between domestic and European exertions. Stoke’s physicality should be too much for an Everton side struggling to maintain their gusto. Get Stoke at 27/20.
This is almost a must-win game for Spurs considering the ferocity of the top four race. Swansea come into the game with some decent form, Monk finally beginning to adapt to life without Wilfried Bony. Gomis has been scoring while Ki and Sigurdsson provide guile. They have however been generally poor on the road, with only one goal scored in their last seven away from the Liberty Stadium. Kane should be able to wreak havoc here in his indomitable fashion, while Andros Townsend’s pace could cause real issues to the Swansea side. This could be tight, perhaps Spurs will only crack Swansea down in the second half. I’m still backing the Spurs win at 15/20.
Sam Allardyce will no doubt consider West Ham’s defeat to Palace as one of the real low points thus far this season. He was left to lament a few contentious decisions - especially the apparent elbow thrown by Mile Jedinak on Diafra Sakho - but he also had to assess his side’s own poor performance. Enner Valencia’s consolation goal was a rare bright moment in an otherwise tepid display that saw the rambunctious West Ham faithful boo Allardyce off the ground. Despite being crowned Capital One Cup champions this weekend, Jose Mourinho will surely feel that City’s defeat at Liverpool was the highlight of the week. Chelsea should be perfectly set up to take on under-fire West Ham, especially with the pace of Hazard and Willian. A Chelsea win is tipped at 6/10.
The brilliance of Philippe Coutinho has been a critical determinant in refueling Liverpool’s top four pretensions. The absence of Steven Gerrard has barely been noticed with the growth of the Brazilian playmaker. Jordan Henderson has also developed into the future Gerrard figure remarkably well as Liverpool hope to inflict another defeat on Sean Dyche’s unfortunate Burnley. Dyche was left to bemoan an unfortunate own goal at the weekend that could have drastic ramifications for the relegation bound side. Despite their encouraging draw at Chelsea next week, their next five games are against teams from the top seven in the log. Liverpool should have too much pace against a Burnley side who have only kept one clean sheet in their last sixteen matches. Liverpool to win at 4/10 is the tip.