The fallout from the weekend’s action sees the top five separated by only seven points. Van Gaal’s United were thoroughly unconvincing upon their trip to Anfield, but then again, they didn’t really have to be. The onus was on Liverpool to break down a pugnacious United side. Klopp is finding it difficult to ascertain the identity of his best eleven amidst such alarmingly schizophrenic performances.
Arsenal and Chelsea both picked up a point, albeit in entirely different circumstances. The huge London derby on Sunday is firmly weighted in favour of Wenger’s side for the first time in ages. This will be a fascinating test of Arsenal’s true title credentials. Elsewhere, City travel to West Ham while Leicester host an upbeat Stoke City side.
Saturday 23rd January
Norwich City 31/10
I wonder if Canary fans still have sleepless nights revolving around a certain Uruguayan’s ridiculous goal scoring antics. This is however, a different Liverpool that Norwich face this year, with goal scoring proving uncharacteristically difficult for the Reds. Injuries to Ings and Sturridge have been compounded by the slump in form that has beset Christian Benteke. Norwich were soundly beaten by Bournemouth at the weekend, convincing many that this may be the beginning of the real difficulties for Alex Neill. The acquisition of Steven Naismith is a positive move for the club, recognizing the need for goals to ensure survival.
Verdict: Double Chance - Liverpool to win or draw at 2/10: While Liverpool have hardly been at their most fluent of late, I can’t see them losing against an average Norwich.
West Bromwich Albion 21/20
Aston Villa 57/20
Tony Pulis’ side were rather insipid at Southampton, a trait not usually associated with the Baggies. Cup success at Bristol helped to rebuild confidence and Pulis will be eyeing all three points this weekend. The absence of James Morrison will take away somewhat from the creativity of the Albion, while the Berahino saga wages on interminably. Remi Garde’s side have shown some much-needed grit in recent weeks. Surely Garde has to recognise that starting with Gestede up front is the only chance his side has of attaining survival. West Brom’s counterattacking prowess will pose some interesting problems for Villa.
Verdict: Total Goals under 2.5 at 8/10: It’s hard to tell which way this one is going to swing. I’m feeling a 1-1 draw- a common result for Villa this season.
Newcastle United 53/20
Watford have slumped rather uncomfortably in recent weeks, with Sanchez Flores seeking striking depth with the signing of Amrabat. He has recognised the weight of pressure that has been put on Ighalo’s shoulders and acted accordingly. Newcastle have perhaps picked up the signing of the window thus far with Jonjo Shelvey. He has invigorated a static midfield and freed up both Wijnaldum and Sissokho to drive forward more regularly. Newcastle are in buoyant mood and will feel confident of picking up all three points on the road.
Verdict: Newcastle to win at 53/20: I feel that Shelvey will actually unleash Newcastle’s full potential.
Sam Allardyce’s side displayed their rampant inconsistency with yet another dour performance against Spurs. They just seem to have the capacity, unlike any other side, to ship in four or five goals on a regular basis. Jermaine Defoe’s goal scoring exploits will be rendered obsolete if they fail to keep clean sheets. Eddie Howe’s side were excellent against Norwich, with Benik Afobe scoring his first goal for the club. Howe will know that their home form will be especially important in guaranteeing the side’s survival. Sunderland have been quite impressive at home, with Van Aanholt and Jones freed up to advance down the flanks.
Verdict: Both sides to Score - Yes - at 8/10: This one looks quite difficult to call. While Bournemouth have some momentum, Sunderland have been far more fluid on their own patch. But I can’t see both sides keeping a clean sheet.
Manchester United 17/20
It’s no secret that there is a level of antipathy between Louis Van Gaal and Ronald Koeman. Van Gaal’s side are currently enjoying the best period of their season thus far, vanquishing bitter rivals Liverpool last weekend in a game that extended Wayne Rooney’s recent scoring spree. Southampton have found some form since the return of both Forster and Pelle. The acquisition of Charlie Austin from QPR for a paltry 4 million pounds will go a long way to satisfying goal quotas at the club. United need to neutralize the combative presence of Sean Davies in midfield. Additionally, they will need to avoid giving away cheap free-kicks with Ward-Prowse in the side. However, there is some momentum at United and a slight rejig in the midfield may be enough to give them the ascendancy here.
Verdict: United to win at 17/20: I expect a tight win, 1-0 or 2-1.
Leicester City 1/1
Stoke City 28/10
Claudio Ranieri’s side have managed to keep themselves in the title race through a combination of willpower and general group hysteria. City and Arsenal both seem unprepared to pull away from the pack, keeping Leicester very much in the race. Okazaki has complemented Vardy brilliantly, while Mahrez continues to find himself in dangerous areas. Personally, I feel that Kante and Drinkwater are the real unsung heroes of this Leicester juggernaut, cherishing the little possession they do get and breaking efficiently. Stoke are starting to realize their staggering potential. Their newly found emphasis on possession should dovetail well with Leicester’s counterattacking threat.
Verdict: Leicester to win at 1/1: Many are earmarking this as a potential stumbling block for the Foxes. I just think that they have shown the requisite grit in recent weeks that they are due a win.
Crystal Palace 5/2
Tottenham Hotspur 11/10
Alan Pardew’s sides, historically, seem to go on winning and losing sprees. Palace are currently in one of those downward trajectories. Cabaye’s absence has been an issue, while Sakho and Zaha seem to have run out of energy. Furthermore, the combination of Dann and Delaney, seemingly so solid, has started to look a tad shaky since Christmas. Spurs have probably remained the most consistent of all the sides vying for that fourth Champions League spot. Eriksson has been their standout player in recent weeks, providing an injection of momentum from midfield that has alleviated some of the pressure from Kane.
Verdict: An away win for Spurs at 11/10: Spurs are perfectly set up for this fixture, with the ability to counterattack swiftly through Alli and Lamella.
West Ham United 38/10
Manchester City 13/20
Manchester City once again looked imperious at the weekend. When they are at their fluid best, I’m still convinced that they are the best side in the country. It’s really been a question of having Aguero and Silva completely fit at the same time. And it seems that is happening at just the right time for a side with a wealth of attacking options. De Bruyne has been nothing short of brilliant in his debut season while questions still remain over a defensive unit sans Vincent Kompany. West Ham were poor against Newcastle, showing defensive frailties akin to that shocking 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth earlier this season. The likes of Cresswell and Jenkinson are far better front foot defenders, while the continued absence of Winston Reid will cost them against sides of this quality.
Verdict: Halftime-Fulltime Double - City to win both halves at 15/10: I think that the Aguero-Silva connection is going to reap huge rewards for Pellegrini going forward.
Sunday 24 January
Swansea City 42/10
Everton supporters must be wondering how on earth it is that they find themselves languishing in the bottom half of the table. Their dynamic attacking play has provided the Goodison faithful with some of the most entertaining football that they have seen in years. I think that the answer lies in their defensive midfield area. Just look at the way Fabregas was practically allowed to walk into the box for the first equaliser. That is where Martinez has to find reinforcements. Swansea’s appointment of Guidolini seemingly galvanized the side towards a decent Monday night victory. Ashley Williams showed the character necessary for the Welsh side to survive.
Verdict: Everton to win handsomely at 13/20: I just have the impression that there is something amiss at the Welsh outfit. Why let Shelvey go to one of your direct relegation rivals?
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