Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
Leicester’s inconceivable league position is a remarkably powerful distillation of just how crazy this league is. It’s hard to decipher which is more remarkable, their success or Chelsea’s stubborn insistence on being awful. In any event, City and Arsenal still lag behind Leicester going into one of the matches of the season. City’s trip to the Emirates is going to prove a real test of Arsenal’s title ambitions. For sure, City will crave the three points with equal relish, but it’s really up to Arsenal to prove that they are ready to take on the establishment at home.
Another mouth-watering encounter sees unlikely pacesetters Leicester travel to free-scoring Everton. And perhaps of even further consequence may be Villa’s trip to Newcastle, where they simply have to pick up the points should they have any hope of survival.
Saturday 19 December
West Bromwich Albion 14/10
The Albion were left somewhat apoplectic at a protracted - yet correct - offside call that may have been the difference between a draw and three points against Liverpool. They were massively dangerous at set pieces, with Ollson and McCauley providing a constant physical presence that Bournemouth are going to have to offset. Bournemouth’s injury plagued season has come to life with two stunning victories over United and Chelsea. King and Stanislas have proved able deputies for Gradel and Wilson, allowing Eddie Howe the freedom to not deviate too markedly from his natural attacking game-plan.
Verdict: West Brom to win at 14/10. This may seem a tad counterintuitive, with West Brom’s poor home form and Bournemouth’s current run, but I can’t see Pulis’ side being complacent against Howe’s side. I expect them to utilize their strength at set-pieces to grind out a victory.
Stoke City 27/10
Crystal Palace 2/1
This game will offer an excellent barometer on the relative strengths of both sides. Alan Pardew’s side have cut their teeth on dominant away performances, while Stoke’s season has started to gain some traction with the likes of Shaqiri and Arnanutovic beginning to thrive. Stoke’s growing emphasis on possession-based football plays perfectly into the counterattacking tactics employed by Palace. Bolasie and Zaha should benefit from a Stoke side eager to please their home fans.
Verdict: Double Chance - Palace to win or draw at 11/20 - Stoke are perfectly suited to Palace and will find it hard to curb their speed. However, individual ability may allow them to sneak a point.
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Manchester United 9/20
Norwich City 57/10
The problem with Norwich, despite their pugnacious ability to pick up valuable points, is the fact that the Newcastles and Bournemouths of this world are able to pick up victories more regularly. Manchester United’s misguided title ambitions were thrown into stark light by a disjointed, naive performance against Bournemouth. Louis Van Gaal- so called tactical mastermind - decides to play Varela at right-back ahead of Young while Borthwick-Jackson plays at left back. He doesn’t even bring on Schneiderlin. He has lost touch with reality and now has a smorgasbord of injuries to contend with.
Verdict: United to win at 9/20 - Despite my reservations regarding Van Gaal, United should have too much for a Norwich side who will surely be among the relegation scrapheap come May.
Leicester City 5/2
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Chelsea’s defeat at Leicester was the least surprising David vs Goliath upset in recent memory. It seems as if Mourinho’s men have almost psychologically vacated the Premier League building, banking on European glory for their salvation. Their biggest concern, however, will be in their relative ability to recruit major players considering their grim Champions League prospects. Sunderland suffered another hiccup in a particularly tough relegation battle. Villa’s almost certain demise may offer some solace to Sunderland, but the improved forms of their contemporaries will be a concern for Allardyce.
Verdict: Chelsea to win at 3/10 - I’m feeling a horrible 1-0 victory to Chelsea here, with Allardyce no doubt coming with two buses in tow. Perhaps that elusive run of Chelsea’s starts here.
Newcastle United 19/20
Aston Villa 11/4
Newcastle’s recent upturn in fortunes - while admirable - have come at the expense of two tired sides recovering from dual domestic and European concerns: Liverpool and Spurs. They were actually terrible for the first hour against Spurs until McClaren had the good sense to turn Ayoze Perez loose on a beleaguered Spurs defence. Villa’s run of form shows no sign of abating, with Remi Garde casting an increasingly forlorn shadow over the club. Surely the more unpredictable talents of Adama Traore are worth exploring in a hour as desperate as this. Similarly, Jack Grealish’s disciplinary infractions may need to be policed somewhat more leniently: He is a firm fan favourite and creative hub of the side.
Verdict: Both sides to score - No - at 9/10 - The momentum may seem to be in Newcastle’s favour, but I feel an ironclad snooze-fest will ensue of which I can’t truly determine the result. Surely both of these sides won’t score in this cagey relegation battle.
Sunday 20 December
Jurgen Klopp’s heavy-metal mantra has come under severe scrutiny against the less fancied teams in the league. Klopp’s philosophy seems to presuppose that sides will fall into the high-paced, frenetic blueprint that he wishes to implement. Sturridge’s continued injury issues have served to fast-track the development of Origi and Ibe, but it’s really the somewhat deflated performances of Coutinho and Firmino that have been disappointing. Watford are a highly pragmatic side with just the right amount of physicality to disrupt Liverpool, especially considering the injury sustained by Lovren. Ighalo and Deeney will be highly motivated against a side battling to balance brilliance and steel.
Verdict: I’m going on a massive whim here and going for the Watford win at 57/20, purely on my perceived belief in Klopp’s slight naivety regarding the lower ranked sides: they are not as comfortable as the fixtures at the bottom half of the Bundesliga.
Swansea City 1/1
West Ham United 53/20
Swansea City’s committed performance against City reflected, to some degree, the potential at the club. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that this is going to be a long hard season for the Welsh side unless they beef up their striking options in January. The injury issues at Arsenal and Manchester United are well documented, but it’s hard to look beyond West Ham for the importance of the injuries incurred. Winston Reid and Victor Moses have joined Diafra Sakho and playmaker Payet on the side lines. It’s hard to look beyond the magnitude of these injuries and I fear for Billic’s side, who much like Allardyce’s side last year seem to be crashing at the wrong time.
Verdict: Total Goals Under 2.5 at 7/10 - I predict a distinct lack of quality that may prove more reliable than trying to pick a winner here.
Monday 21 December
Manchester City 19/10
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