Tuesday night offered an interesting glimpse into how tight this year’s title race has become. Leicester’s victory over Liverpool once again indicated that they are not just going to go away, while Arsenal’s inability to score for their third consecutive game has opened the door for fellow North London giants, Spurs, to really become a force in this title race. The most telling news of the week must be that Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure as City boss will come to an end at the end of the season, with the Messianic figure of Pep Guardiola replacing him.
There are two fixtures that really jump out at the viewer this weekend. The Leicester-Man City game could have massive ramifications for the title, while the Chelsea-United game offers an intriguing glance into the changing dynastic power systems in British football.
Saturday 6th February
Manchester City 5/10
Leicester City 5/1
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Tottenham Hotspur 9/20
Spurs are riding an impressive wave at present, managing to keep their squad relatively injury free while keeping their marquee players fresh. Kane and Alli are peaking at the right time, while Vertongen’s injury was barely noticed midweek. Watford have lost a little bit of the savoir-faire that was the hallmark of their start to the season, but it seems as if they have probably already done enough to survive and this could lead to a late season slump.
Verdict: Spurs are just a well-oiled machine at the moment and I can’t see anything other than a comfortable Spurs victory.
Swansea City 5/4
Crystal Palace 9/4
Guidolin has brought a sense of optimism to a club that was desperately in need of some positivity. Glyfi Sigurdsson has come out of relative obscurity since Monk’s departure and recaptured a sense of ascendancy in the midfield. I still can’t help but think that the departure of Shelvey will have long-term ramifications for the club. They are fortunate, however, in that they face a team in sharp decline this weekend. Palace will be hoping that Emmanuel Adebayor can reignite their woeful scoring form. Pardew’s record of going on long losing sprees has come to fruition at a time of the season where expectations were at fever pitch.
Verdict: Both sides to Score- Yes- at 19/20. Both sides possess slightly porous defences that should both be penetrated this week.
Stoke City 31/20
Stoke City and Everton are perhaps the two most enigmatic sides in the Premier League: outside of that Bermuda Triangle known as Chelsea Football Club. Stoke have managed to upset the top clubs, while their galaxy of talent has failed to emulate this against the ‘weaker’opposition. It’s almost as if Hughes’ attempt to evolve the club has made them susceptible at the lower levels. Everton, similarly, have seemingly focused too much on playing expansive football and need to solidify their defensive frailties. The signing of Niasse from Lokomotiv Moscow seems to be a tremendous misallocation of resources.
Verdict: Stoke to win. I feel that Stoke will have too much for an Everton side smarting from a season of missed opportunities.
Newcastle United 19/20
Salomon Rondon managed to rescue a point for Tony Pulis’ West Brom in a week which saw them hold off multiple suitors in pursuit of the troublesome Saido Berahino. Pulis’ side have the tenacity to hold off relegation and have been particularly effective in combating sides away from home. Big spending Newcastle have the chance to unleash Shelvey, Townsend and Saivet in their quest to avoid relegation this season. The mobility of Townsend and Wijnaldum could prove decisive for Newcastle.
Verdict: Newcastle to win. West Brom were fairly fortunate midweek and should run into a side with more quality and frankly a greater need for victory.
Jurgen Klopp seemed apoplectic in the wake of an insipid performance at the King Power Stadium. Sure, Leicester are the current table toppers, but one would have thought that Liverpool would have created more clear cut chances with the lion’s share of possession. Additionally, the continued absence of Skrtel has left them woefully short in the central defensive areas. Sunderland were actually rather unfortunate to not get something more out of their match against City. Defoe and Borini were a constant threat while Allardyce seems to have got some more control on the defensive side of things.
Verdict: Double Chance- Sunderland to win or draw at 18/10. I think that there is value in Sunderland, especially with Liverpool lacking central defensive cohesion and a consistent goal threat.
Aston Villa 27/20
Norwich City 2/1
This really is it for Villa. They simply need to beat fellow relegation candidates Norwich if they stand even the faintest chance of survival. Norwich have lost four consecutive matches, with the signing of Steven Naismith unable to give them the boost necessary thus far. Jordan Ayew’s maniacal behaviour on Tuesday night must have infuriated Remi Garde to no end, virtually resigning them to defeat. I do believe, however, that Garde could potentially use this to galvanize his side towards an essential victory here.
Verdict: Villa to win. Of the bottom six sides in the transfer window, Villa were the only one to not make a signing, which would indicate that they may be somewhat resigned to their fate. But it could backfire on their opponents in the sense that Villa may have more cohesion than their fellow strugglers.
West Ham United 9/2
Southampton have bounced back terrifically in recent weeks, despite being utterly dominated by Arsenal on Tuesday night. The signing of Charlie Austin has been positive, while the return to fitness of Pelle and especially Fraizer Forster has reinvigorated the club. After Vardy, Long is perhaps the striker in the league eager to get in behind defences most regularly. Reid and Tomkins will do well to try to combat that desire. West Ham’s terrific season has been built on pragmatism and a terrific attitude away from home. Payet and Valencia have brought some energy back into the club at the right time. Personally though, Southampton look to be back to their best and could pose West Ham some real issues.
Verdict: Southampton to win.
Bournemouth have given themselves some valuable breathing space with a terrific away victory over Crystal Palace. The signing of Benik Afobe has probably been the most successful of the January window thus far. His sheer physical presence has allowed them to alter the way they play more fluidly. Arsenal have not scored in three consecutive Premier League matches- the first time this has occurred since 2009. It was certainly not for lack of trying against Southampton. Personally, I think their biggest issue is Wenger’s sentimental attachment to Mathieu Flamini. In Mohammed Elneney, they have a far more mobile box to box midfielder who can dovetail well with either Ramsey or Coquelin.
Verdict: Double Chance - Arsenal to win or draw at 1/4.
Manchester United 11/4*Click here for a full preview
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