Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
The litany of amazing goals this weekend brought some much needed gloss back to a league under the spotlight in the wake of disappointing European ventures. The Manchester derby is not only important in the context of top four qualification, it also has particular significance in determining who holds sway in a fierce city rivalry. If United were to win, Manuel Pellegrini’s already tenuous hold on his current position will become positively desperate. Arsenal and Chelsea both face winnable away fixtures while Liverpool have the opportunity to rebound with a forgiving home game against Newcastle United. The relegation battle is also reaching boiling point with Villa and Hull aiming to extricate themselves from the basement battle. This should be yet another exciting weekend in a season rapidly building towards a thrilling finale.
Swansea have entrenched themselves in the Premier League under the prudent leadership of Gary Monk. Gomis has stepped up to the plate in the wake of Bony’s departure, adding goals to his strong work ethic. Everton’s late season revival may work to obscure the larger issues at hand for Roberto Martinez. Players such as Barkley and Coleman have not quite taken their games to the next level while Lukaku continues to befuddle spectators. I have a feeling that Swansea will expose some of Everton’s glaring areas of concern- particularly their ageing midfield combinations. Back the Swans at 29/20.
Two of the Premier League’s perennial bullies go head-to-head in what is sure to be a combustible fixture. Sam Allardyce and Mark Hughes have both made strides this season by integrating more finesse to their fundamentally physical approaches. Diafra Sakho has provided attacking potency for West Ham while Stephan Ireland has been the catalyst for a more technical Stoke side. Charlie Adam’s worldy at the weekend highlighted the kind of quality that has helped to make them a regular fixture in the league. West Ham seem to have lost some of their mojo and have gone into a late season malaise and I’m backing Stoke to upset the Hammers at 9/4.
West Brom’s shock defeat to QPR was a stark reminder of the realities that confront Pulis if his side is to survive the maelstrom of the league next year - that is assuming that they have done enough this year. Leicester’s victory at the weekend was cruelly undermined by the plethora of surprise results around them. The decision to partner Vardy and Nugent has provided added attacking emphasis while record signing Kramaric is starting to flourish in midfield. Leicester need victory and will set up similarly to how they did against West Ham. West Brom also showed a soft underbelly last week, which should necessitate a goal laden fixture. Over 2.5 goals is the play at 11/10.
Tim Sherwood returns to his beloved Spurs with something of a point to prove. His termination and the subsequent appointment of Pochettino was surely a hammer blow to Sherwood’s burgeoning managerial confidence. Luckily he seems to have an in-form Christian Benteke to lean on while young Grealish is Aston Villa’s champion for the current explosion of young English talent in the league. Spurs looked devoid of ideas at Burnley, relying too heavily on current English totem Harry Kane. Villa will provide considerable problems for Spurs, especially on the counterattack with the speed of Agbonlahor and Benteke. Stick your neck out and take Villa to win or draw on the Double Chance at 11/10.
Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland side followed in the grand tradition of Paolo Di Canio and Gus Poyet in registering a morale boosting win over Tyne-Wear rivals Newcastle. Let’s see how he fares against a well-balanced Crystal Palace side in an incredible vein of form. Murray has provided the attacking fulcrum that Palace have lacked the entire season, perfectly complimenting the wing play of Zaha and Bolasie. Puncheon has also looked rejuvenated under Pardew’s guidance, providing considerable threat from set-piece scenarios. Sunderland’s full-backs will battle against the pace and athleticism of Bolasie and Zaha, while Larsson's dead-ball deliveries will find sterner opposition in the heart of the Palace defence. Crystal Palace must be backed at 31/20.
This is just the beginning of an extremely difficult run in for Steve Bruce’s Hull, especially considering their wealth of injury concerns and suspensions. Hull are extremely combative and competitive but ultimately lack quality in key areas. Southampton’s top four pretensions are probably over, but Koeman still knows that Europa League football is a real possibility. Their home form has been excellent while Hull have been pretty dismal on their travels. However, there has been something unconvincing about Southampton in these fierce war-of-attrition-type fixtures, which may give the embattled Bruce something of a chance. I think it’s worth a gamble to assume that Hull could sneak a draw out of this game. Every time they have looked vulnerable this season they have managed to pull an unexpected result out of the bag, and their performance at Stamford Bridge the other day will give them immense confidence. The win/draw is available on the Double Chance at 13/10.
A detached observer may have viewed Burnley’s draw with Spurs as a valuable point gained for Sean Dyche’s side. However, given the context of other results, Burnley needed the three points desperately, especially with the visit of the form team in the league. Arsenal have clicked tremendously recently, winning fourteen of their last sixteen games in the league. Three weeks ago, I probably would have looked at players like George Boyd and Danny Ings and given Burnley a fair shout here. But Arsenal are a different beast now and should win comfortably. Arsenal to win at 11/20 with Giroud keeping up his prodigious scoring spree.
QPR have given themselves an out-ball with four points from their last two games. Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora have profited from Chris Ramsey’s more attacking approach while Matt Phillips continues to furrow away a growing reputation as a dynamic new midfielder. Chelsea, while not emulating their mesmeric early season form, have trundled along in typically adroit Mourinho fashion. They will be without the services of Diego Costa this weekend, but it is really their midfield machine that keeps Chelsea ticking over. QPR were fortunate against Villa in a game where they surrendered huge amounts of possession, but I can’t see them competing against a Chelsea side with a scent of blood in the water. You’ll pick up Chelsea at 4/10.
The balance of power in Manchester seems to have once again shifted, seemingly tilting towards the status quo of Old Trafford dominance. Manchester City have publicly reiterated their full support of incumbent boss Manuel Pellegrini, but one can’t help but feel that the South American’s days are numbered in the hottest of hot seats. Louis Van Gaal has got the best out of Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini - two of David Moyes’ signings mind you - and has loosened up the more attacking instincts of Ander Herrera. City have looked laboured in their build-up play recently, often just giving the ball to Yaya Toure in vain hope that he will bulldoze his way towards goal. Manchester United have the momentum and Fellaini will disrupt an out of form Kompany from ball one. United to win at 15/10 and Fellaini to score or at least assist a goal.
This appears to be the perfect rebound fixture for a Liverpool side somewhat traumatised by recent league defeats. Arsenal exploited their soft defensive centre last weekend in a first-half blitzkrieg that all but ended the Reds’ top four surge. Newcastle were awful against Sunderland, illuminating a dire need for fresh blood in the upcoming transfer market. Gouffran looks like he is simply picking up a paycheck lately while Gutierrez was wasted in a central midfield role. John Carver cuts a sympathetic figure in the Newcastle dug-out but seems slightly out of his depth for the vagaries of top flight management. Liverpool have absolutely dominated this fixture in recent times and should have no problem dismantling a poor Newcastle side. Back the Reds at 4/10.