This weekend could prove a crucial determinant in the outcome of both ends of the league table. The Arsenal-Chelsea encounter pits two aesthetics against one another; dogged determination and flagrant expression. This is given added impetus by the highly charged relationship between Mr Mourinho and Wenger. Elsewhere, the other top clubs vying for European consideration have imminently winnable games, feeding the importance of the aforementioned grudge match. Burnley host Leicester in a game that could hold the key to the entire fate of the relegation bound teams.
Mauricio Pochettino’s return to St Mary's should be a weird culmination of pride and bizarre regret. Who would have thought that Ronald Koeman would have done such a stellar job at resurrecting Southampton’s fortunes? Spurs have been surprisingly resilient on the road, but the Saints should have too much at home for a creaky Spurs side. Take the Saints to win at even money.
This proverbial six-pointer pits the rejuvenated Foxes against a gallant Burnley side. Burnley just seem to lack the defensive acumen to launch a proper survival campaign. Leicester, on the other hand, are playing with a swagger ordinarily reserved for a club pushing for European competition. Ulloa and Vardy have come into rich scoring form just at the time when Ings and Vokes have dried up. However, Turf Moor should provide the basis for a serious struggle. This game is impossible to call, but I can’t see both defensive systems remaining unscathed. Back Both Teams to Score at 8/10.
There could be no bigger contrast in fortunes than that of Alan Pardew and Steve Bruce. Crystal Palace, though unimpressive last week, will be emboldened by the visit of a hapless Hull side beset by injury at every turn. Hull will be desperate to capitalise on a relatively easy fixture in their difficult upcoming set of matches, but Palace should have far too much pace on the flanks and dominate a Hull side starting to resemble a Championship outfit. Crystal Palace at even money is the tip.
Swansea just need to avoid defeat to garner their highest points tally ever in the top flight. That possibility should be exponentially improved by their opposition this weekend. Newcastle are in complete freefall under the unfortunate guidance of John Carver. He has inherited a squad he does not fully understand and can’t seem to motivate his players. Gary Monk is on the opposite side of the spectrum: his players seem to have internalized his footballing doctrine wholeheartedly and are willing to go the extra mile for him. Swansea at 2/1 is a gift, jump on.
QPR’s rollercoaster season will be given a welcome boost by a victory over mid-table West Ham. This London derby actually pits two similar styles against one another: two physical sides who look to capitalise on their opponent’s mistakes. West Ham’s injury woes have served to truncate what seemed like a promising season. Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora have formed a decent partnership in the lack of an alternative solution at QPR. I think that Phillips’ pace will wreak havoc amongst the West Ham ranks. Queens Park Rangers at 13/10 looks a great bet.
Stoke’s imposing home form was validated last week with an impressive win against the high-flying Saints. The work ethic of N’Zonzi and Adam has provided a solid platform to their season. Sunderland’s season looks to be on the point of implosion, especially with the resurgent form of Leicester City. They just don’t score enough goals, despite the presence of Defoe and Wickham. Four goals in eight games paints a sorry portrait of the inadequacies facing Dick Advocaat at present. Back the home side at 9/10.
An ailing West Brom were given a much needed shot of momentum by a surprise away win at Palace. Pulis showed his proclivity for ousting former clubs with a performance that came out of nowhere. Brendan Rodgers’ disappointing season has culminating in a flurry of contractual negotiations that are geared towards retaining the nucleus of Liverpool's squad. Rodgers clearly envisaged Champions League football as the chum for top quality talent, but now he seems to be on the defensive. This game, is not anything else, offers the opportunity to pit two of English football’s hottest talents - Berahino, Sterling - against one another. Although I’m not overly enthused by Liverpool at present, their push for European football should give them the edge at 19/20 over a West Brom side basically guaranteed survival.
Manchester City’s erratic season is going to be put to a severe test by a visiting Aston Villa side resplendent with confidence. The problem that City have faced is their absolute overreliance on former stars. Yaya Toure is the optimum example; the all-conquering Ivorian has sailed by reputation alone, with no concern for who could replace him. Tim Sherwood’s mini-revolution is greatly indebted to Benteke’s sudden return to form. Despite all this, I feel that City will grant their fans another comfy home victory. The home win at 1/4 can add a little value to multiples.
Manchester United have failed to score a goal at Goodison Park for three consecutive matches, displaying a soft underbelly at a Everton side renowned for their grit and determination. This Van Gaal side seems to be a different proposition to the one that was embarrassed at home to Leicester however, and Fellaini’s presence alone provides them with ample physical weight to challenge a slightly lightweight Toffees. Aaron Lennon’s pace may bother United periodically, but Mata’s intelligence should be able to separate the two sides. United to win at 11/10.
So to the grand finale. Arsenal’s incredible form has transformed what would have been an obligatory London derby into a symbolic representation of the balance of power in English football. Arsenal have always been the quintessential fling; momentarily enchanting but ultimately unfulfilling. They now, however, seem to possess a rigidity that has long since seemed detached from the club. Chelsea beat United with 29% possession last week. 29%. Arsene Wenger has not beaten Mourinho in twelve attempts. These are startling statistics that almost seem to supersede all contexts. I don’t see Arsenal beating Chelsea, despite dominating the game. This may be the first time that I do this, but I am honestly predicting a 0-0 draw. In the interest of trying to minimise risk however, the half time draw is available at even money and looks a winner.