Chelsea’s monumental defeat to City has rocked the foundations of the Premier League, lending many to openly criticise the once impeachable Jose Mourinho. The clandestine manner in which they swooped for Pedro exemplifies a growing sense of frenzy in the camp of the champions, further exacerbated by the somewhat inflated bidding process for John Stones. Arsenal host Liverpool in a game that could have a psychological bearing on the race for the top four; perhaps even the title. Liverpool are higher on the table while Arsenal look the better side, especially with Sanchez and Ozil dovetailing so beautifully in midfield. There are various other games with a multitude of permutations that make for a fascinating weekend of action.
Saturday 22 August
Manchester United 4/10
Newcastle United 13/2
Manchester United’s failure to secure the signature of Spanish playmaker Pedro will no doubt leave a rather astringent taste in the mouth of Louis Van Gaal. That being said, Memphis Depay was nothing short of magnificent against Club Brugge, highlighting the difficulty that Ashley Young will have in finding a regular berth in this side. Newcastle were hampered against Swansea by the inexplicable sending off of Janmaat, while Wijnaldum failed to have the same impact that he did upon his debut. Manchester United will exploit Newcastle’s weakness on that right hand flank through the virtuosity of Depay. United to win at 4/10.
West Ham 5/4
This represents something of an ironic clash of footballing sensibilities, as entrenched Premier League side West Ham - arch pragmatists - host the newly promoted and quite expansive Bournemouth team. Eddie Howe’s side have been highly competitive in their first few games but have lacked the crucial firepower that separates England’s top division from the more bourgeois charms of the Championship. This should be a tight affair however, with Bournemouth potentially controlling large tracts of possession but lacking the penetration necessary to make it count. While I think West Ham may win this one, perhaps it’s more prudent to adjudge this as a potentially cagey affair. Under 2.5 goals is the bet here at 17/20.
Swansea City 1/1
Dick Advocaat must be wondering why on earth he decided to stay on as head coach of this mob. All things considered, it is something of a miracle that this rag-tag constellation of over-the-hill professionals survived the gravitational pull of relegation last season. How on earth are they going to handle the pace of Jefferson Montero or the power of Gomis? Swansea were ruthless against a ten-man Swansea City and will be relishing the prospect of a trip to Sunderland. Jonjo Shelvey has to learn to keep possession a bit better; his percentage of completed passes last week was abysmal. However, Sunderland are inordinately bad, especially without problem child Adam Johnson. Swansea to dominate this match at even money.
Norwich City 13/10
Stoke City 21/10
Norwich were fortunate to meet Sunderland in a rather generous mood at the weekend, giving them a welcome three points that gives them the ascendancy over the fellow promoted sides. Stoke showed great character in their comeback point at Spurs, showing that they are beginning to build some momentum on the road that can rival their generally serene home form. This may be a roughly hewn affair, with Alex Neil’s side desperate to consolidate after their three points last week. But I fancy Stoke’s extra quality to come through as they ride the wave of that second-half performance at White Hart Lane. Back Stoke to win at a valuable 21/20.
Leicester City 16/10
Tottenham Hotspurs 16/10
Claudio Ranieri, basking in his Tinker Man persona, has perhaps pulled off a signing that could rival that of Cabaye and Sheqiri in terms of…what? Swiss captain and highly influential midfielder Gokhan Inler is joining the club from Napoli, clearly filling the void left by the departure of Cambiasso. Joining the likes of Mahrez, Vardy and Albrighton, Inler will bolster an already impressive Leicester side. Spurs will be gutted by the manner in which they surrendered a two-goal lead to Stoke at the weekend. With Harry Kane yet to open his tally for the season, there are already dark clouds looming over Pochettino’s reign at this early stage of the season. This is an expensively assembled squad that would benefit greatly from the addition of say…Saido Berahino. Leicester have the momentum at this point and more pressingly, they have the more coherent identity. I’m backing the Foxes to win at 16/10.
Crystal Palace 8/10
Aston Villa 7/2
Villa have a few problems in the wake of their ransacking in the transfer window. Aston Villa’s Jordan Ayew has yet to hit the ground running while Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards are still coming to terms with playing consistent first team football. Palace were beaten by an impressive Arsenal side and will be earmarking this as a must-win giving the investment that they have put into the club. Cabaye will have much more space in this game while Bolasie and Zaha should be able to exploit Villa’s defensive frailties. I’m being bold here, such is my confidence in this Palace side. The halftime-fulltime double with Palace to win both halves is my tip at 18/10.
Sunday 23 August
West Brom 9/2
Tony Pulis and Jose Mourinho will both be desperate for their clubs to secure their first respective wins of the season. West Brom are said to have rejected a formal bid for Saido Berahino while Chelsea have been proper rapscallions and seemingly hijacked Pedro’s move to United in a desperate attempt to remain relevant following a horror outing against City. Mourinho is dividing fans with his near draconian antics, alienating himself by substituting the iconic John Terry at half time. West Brom’s Chris Brunt will be hoping to cause problems with his dead ball delivery in much the same way that David Silva did last week. Chelsea to win/draw is painfully short at 1/7 but is the only sane way to bet on this match.
Perhaps the most crucial injury news thus far this season has been that of Ronald Koeman. The ordinarily hands-on Southampton boss has been relegated to the sidelines by injury and forced to watch as his side have endured a difficult start to their campaign. Now there are rumblings that United may be in for Mane, a move that Southampton could ill afford to suffer. Watford’s pugnacious attitude does not perhaps have quite the same swagger of Bournemouth, but it has got them off and running in a league where every single point is precious in the end. Another short Double Chance bet is the play here, with Southampton to win/draw at 8/20.
Manchester City 7/10
Everton’s Ross Barkley has been inspirational thus far this season, filling the all-purpose English midfielder void left by the departures of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Lukaku has similarly looked reenergized as Everton confound expectations after a curiously inactive transfer window. City’s systematic demolition of Chelsea - despite what Mr Mourinho will want the public to believe - has many believing that it will take a miracle to halt City in their pursuit of a second title for Pellegrini. Vincent Kompany has regained his solidity while Yaya Toure looks to have shaken the lethargy that plagued him for large portions of last season. I know this one sounds somewhat optimistic but both these sides are in free scoring mode at present. Additionally, I’m using that crazy Chelsea-Everton game from last season as a reference point for my suggestion of Over 3.5 Goals at 29/20.
Monday 24 August
Another early season heavyweight clash beckons as Brendan Rodgers’ vastly reshuffled Liverpool travel to Arsene Wenger’s dynamic Arsenal side. Although Liverpool have double the points of Arsenal, it is probably fair to say that the Gunners have looked the brighter of the two sides in the first two matches. West Ham took advantage of their missed opportunities, while they dominated a highly competitive Palace side away from home. Mesut Ozil had one of his most complete games in an Arsenal shirt while Alexis Sanchez’s reintegration into the side added vital energy to their attacks. Benteke will be closely monitored while Coutinho won’t be afforded too much space under the charge of Coquelin. I’m backing Arsenal to come up trumps at 7/10.