The midweek fixtures truly offered up a feast for any footballing enthusiast. Goals reigned in from all angles when teams dispelled the notion that there would be tired legs leading to potential snooze-fests. Manchester United provided some entertainment for a change, while the Arsenal-Liverpool game was perhaps the best game so far this season.
Leicester continue to write their own incredible chapter of Premier League history and visit struggling Villa with top spot potentially within their grasp again. Clubs like Stoke and Everton have bridged the gap in quality with the top teams, which means that if Leicester can avoid defeat regularly, the top four is a realistic possibility for the side. The United-Liverpool game could ultimately prove vital in determining whether either of those sides have a realistic chance of taking an increasingly elusive Champions League spot.
Saturday 16 January
Tottenham Hotspur 7/20
Spurs will feel disappointed that they never got more midweek against an ebullient Leicester side. At times, they can look slightly overly dependent on Monsieur Kane to just make it happen up front. They need their midfielders to offer slightly more in order to turn some of those pesky draws into wins. Sunderland’s 4-2 victory at Swansea was ultimately all about ex-Spurs boy Jermaine Defoe. He once again demonstrated the importance of having a striker with proving goal scoring threat by bagging a crucial hat-trick for the Black Cats. Sunderland will feel confident, but I just have the feeling that Pochettino’s side will have the tactical superiority going into this game.
Verdict: Spurs to win at 7/20
West Bromwich Albion 42/10
Southampton’s midweek victory could not have come at a better time for beleaguered manager Ronald Koeman. The result had extra special significance with the expected returns of both Forster and Pelle imminent. West Brom were typically pugnacious in defying the odds and picking up another vital point at Chelsea. One thing about Tony Pulis’ side, they don’t go down without a fight. The likes of Gardiner and McClean are able to overcome their limitations within a Pulis framework. Southampton will boss possession while West Brom will look to break quickly.
Verdict: A West Brom away victory at 42/10. There’s just something about this West Brom side that continues to surprise.
Newcastle United 14/10
West Ham United 19/10
Newcastle’s entertaining draw with Manchester United did reveal some of the poor defensive issues that have plagued Newcastle. Wijnaldum was once again excellent and will prove a hugely influential figure in their possible survival this year. The signing of Jonjo Shelvey, while surprising, may also prove decisive in bringing some more verve into that midfield. Tiote looks somewhat deflated while the likes of Anita and Colback hardly enthral. Slaven Bilic’s side look ascendant again, with both Payet and Valencia back from injury and performing very well.
Verdict: Newcastle to win at 14/10- This is my slight surprise pick for the week. I think that Newcastle may just have enough in the tank to beat a West Ham side who can’t keep on winning on the road. Look for Shelvey to shine on debut.
Manchester City 7/20
Crystal Palace 62/10
Something just seems to be missing with this City side. I don’t know if the Guardiola rumours have perhaps destabilized the side, but City just don’t seem to have the commitment necessary to win the title this year. Tim Howard was exceptional in goal for Everton, but you just don’t get that feeling of giddy excitement with City this year. Palace have been in their own slump of late, with Alan Pardew desperate to bring a conventional number nine into the side. I think that City are actually going to dominate this game and could finally bring their brand of swagger back into proceedings.
Verdict: City to win at 7/20
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Norwich City 32/10
Eddie Howe's brave approach to attacking the perils of the Premier League will be severely tested in their two upcoming matches against fellow relegation candidates. Their approach backfired against West Ham in rather insipid fashion, with new signing Afobe looking rather laboured in possession. Norwich were equally poor against Stoke, with Gary O’Neill’s outrageous red card indicative of their general naivety. Matt Jarvis should return this weekend from a lengthy layoff, bolstering the creativity of a side slightly devoid of creative depth.
Verdict: Both Teams to Score- No- at 17/20: I think this will be a one-nil affair, either way, with the importance of the fixture perhaps dictating the nature of the game.
Aston Villa 9/4
Leicester City 12/10
The fairy-tale success story of the season, Leicester, meets a club in desperate need of some of their positive juju. Villa managed to pick up their first victory under Remi Garde midweek, but Sunderland’s victory just illustrates the immensity of the task at hand for the Midlands side. They just don’t seem to have enough goals floating around that side. Leicester, on the other hand, will travel to Villa upbeat and relishing the opportunity to play on the counterattack as they do so well. One thing you have to admire about this Leicester side is their defensive cohesion, which has allowed them to tread water when both Vardy and Mahrez have had slight goal droughts.
Verdict: Leicester to win at 12/10: I think that Vardy and Mahrez are both due big performances and their quality on that devastating counterattack should prove too much for Villa.
Sunday 17 January
Manchester United 9/4
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Stoke City 32/10
Stoke City’s rollercoaster ride of a season continued with an excellent home win over Norwich midweek. John Walters has shown his value as a squad player, understanding that their new array of stars would relegate his role to a supporting capacity. Arsenal’s away form has been somewhat patchy of late, culminating in a stirring midweek trip to Arsenal that did reveal some of their defensive failings. If Arsenal are to win the league, they may need to be slightly more street savvy in games of that magnitude. Stoke are a slightly different beast from the physical one that has given Arsenal problems over the years. However, I believe there is enough in the likes of Shaqiri and Arnautovic to suggest that they can get a result.
Verdict: Double Chance: Stoke to win or draw at 17/20.
Swansea City 29/20
Swansea’s defeat midweek was just another indication that the Welsh side may be relegation bound. The bizarre move of talismanic playmaker Jonjo Shelvey to relegation rivals Newcastle was probably one of the best indicators that something is amiss in Wales. The Gary Monk termination was just the beginning in what has been a pretty dramatic downward spiral for a side with Andre Ayew performing spectacularly. Watford’s defeat to Southampton, though surprising, will hardly keep Flores awake at night. His side will sense the opportunity to get one over a fairly vulnerable club at this point.
Verdict: Total Goals under 2.5 at 13/10 - I think Watford may just edge it, but perhaps a safer bet will be in backing a cagey affair with both sides eager to avoid consecutive defeats.