Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
The group phase of the Champions League ended in rather embarrassing fashion for Manchester United. The entire Van Gaal experiment - already reeling following a dour 0-0 home draw with West Ham - is now under intense scrutiny and will be tested to the limit by a trip to the ebullient Bournemouth. The sacking of Gary Monk truly emphasizes the levels of pressure that next season’s hiked television deals have put on clubs. I’m not sure what the Swansea management expects of its club, but considering the way they dealt with Monk, could you imagine many managers wanting to take on that task? In any event, this weekend offers up another tantalizing set of fantastic fixtures with myriad permutations.
Saturday 12 December
Norwich City 18/10
Alex Neil’s side have been sent plummeting down to earth in recent times, desperately in need of a cash injection in the upcoming transfer window. Roberto Martinez’s side were desperately unlucky against Palace and look to be cultivating an exciting identity for themselves. Lukaku is on a Vardy-esque run of scoring, while Barkley and Deulefou are dynamic in support. The young Spaniard should relish this encounter against a slightly stagnant Norwich defence, especially giving the Canaries’ penchant for being overly ambitious at Carrow Road.
Verdict: Everton to win at 14/10
West Ham United 29/20
Stoke City 19/10
West Ham’s point at United was doubly impressive giving the critical injuries to both Payet and Sakho. Moses and Lanzini are their chief threats, but it is an increased focus on defensive solidity that has helped them in recent weeks. Reid and Tomkins have looked far more solid while Cresswell and Jenkinson have curbed their darker impulses. Stoke’s victory over City was described by Mark Hughes as their best ever performance under him. Shequiri was devastating, heeding my call for a more assertive performance. Arnautovic is slowly building the reputation as a quasi-Zlatan, with physicality and talent culminating in a highly volatile cocktail.
Verdict: Stoke to win on the road at 19/10. I expect Shequiri and Bojan to pull the strings and mastermind a Stoke victory.
Sam Allardyce will have been quite impressed by the performance of his side at the Emirates despite the loss. Defoe should return this weekend and perhaps rekindle a budding partnership with Stephen Fletcher. Van Aanholt and Jones look far more disciplined, lending far more solidity to their rather ageing central defensive options. Watford have perhaps been eclipsed by Leicester in the fairy-tale stakes this season, but one shouldn’t underestimate the job that Sanchez Flores has done. Ighalo and Deeney have resurrected the dual striker principle, with Ighalo having a hand in 65% for Watford’s goals.
Verdict: Both sides to score- No- at 17/20. I feel that Big Sam is going to go ultra-pragmatic here considering the counterattacking strength of Watford, relegating large portions of the game to the middle of the park. A 1-0 victor either way looks likely.
Manchester City 3/10
Swansea City 72/10
Garry Monk’s termination leads me to think that there was something amiss behind the scenes at a once effervescent Swansea side. They have been in a poor run of form, but some odd selection policies seem to indicate a riff was there in the dressing room. Sigurdsson and Shelvey found themselves on the bench on several occasions while stalwart (and likely ally of Monk) Leon Britton found his way out of the side. The availability of Brendon Rodgers likely has a role to play in this. In any event, City’s tremendous midweek performance indicates the depth within their squad and they should dominate a side in turmoil this week.
Verdict: Halftime - Fulltime double - City to win both halves at 8/10.
Crystal Palace 15/10
Palace managed to sneak by with a point on Monday in a game that was largely dominated by Everton. But what cannot be denied is the fact that Pardew’s side are one of the best counterattacking acts in the business. Wickham is a slightly underrated component of that machine, holding the ball up ably for the likes of Bolasie and Puncheon to drive through. Dann and Delaney are a hugely unsung central defensive partnership, additionally offering a threat in the opposite six-yard area. Southampton have looked a little lazy at the weekend, perhaps somewhat humbled by the events against Liverpool last week. Mane has been excellent while Ward-Prowse’s delivery remains a threat.
Verdict: Total Goals over 2.5- at 11/10. This will be a classic clash of two sensibilities, with Southampton likely to play the role of the home side with superior possession, lending itself to end to end action.
Manchester United 12/10
Manchester United’s fairly inevitable elimination from the Champions League has sent a shockwave through the fabric of the English game. United’s recruitment policy and Van Gaal’s overly rigid predisposition have been the chief bugbears for a group of fans weaned on success. They have a litany of injury concerns, not least of which in the centre of the park, where Herrera and Schneiderlin's absence has left them looking rather leggy. Bournemouth’s win - courtesy of a clever Glenn Murray finish - has helped concertina the relegation battle above struggling Villa. Howe has managed to offset their long-term injury problems with a side worth a fraction of Van Gaal’s.
Verdict: Once again, I’m going for a slightly surprising one. Double Chance- Bournemouth to win or draw at 6/10.
Sunday 13 December
Aston Villa 47/10
They may have picked up a point at the St Mary's last weekend, but many of their direct opponents for relegation picked up surprise victories. It’s come to the point where a single point isn’t enough to fill that void. Arsenal’s heroics in Greece will have galvanized a squad looking to be in something of an injury freefall. Joel Campbell has come to the party while Olivier Giroud continues to laugh off sceptics with goals in all competitions. There’s a chance that Arsenal may come into this game slightly jaded, while Villa’s desperation for points is plain for everyone to see.
Verdict: Double Chance- Arsenal to win or draw at 1/8 - While I can’t see Villa winning, I give them credit for maybe stealing an ugly point.
Tottenham Hotspur 7/20
Newcastle United 62/10
As encouraging as Spurs’ season has been thus far, there has been a tendency for Pochettino’s side to let leads slip in favour of draws. They are overly reliant on Kane’s goal-scoring exploits but have cultivated an excellent cohesion throughout the components of the squad. Alli showed how invaluable he was to the side upon his return to action last weekend. Steve McClaren’s side were on the receiving end of a Liverpool performance that stank of fatigue. Yes, Wijnaldum and Sissokho were tireless and their defence looked far more solid, but Liverpool were shoddy and I expect Spurs to dominate in front of their home fans.
Verdict: Spurs to win at 7/20- Alli and Dier may be one of the midfield duos that has both the discipline and athleticism to nullify Wijnaldum and Sissokho.
West Bromwich Albion 72/10
It isn’t any wonder that Liverpool’s ‘heavy metal’ approach has had an effect on the fitness of the players. Daniel Sturridge’s fresh injury concerns bear testament to the rigorous expectations imposed by Klopp. Another thing that doesn’t surprise me is the fact that they look more dangerous on the road, with little impetus on controlling the game and dictating the pace. West Brom are masters on the road, able to lull their opponents into underestimating their counterattacking abilities. Pulis may be tempted to play both Berahino and McClean in an attempt to keep the Liverpool side honest.
Verdict: I honestly feel that Liverpool are going to drop a few points here. Double Chance- West Brom to win or draw at 7/4. There’s decent value in backing on Pulis’ canny away tactics.
Monday 14 November
Leicester City 21/10
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