EPL: Week 26 Preview

Written by Damian Kayat for Hollywoodbets.

No love will be lost this Valentine’s Day weekend – excuse the seasonal pun- as the league builds to a crescendo in the warm, fuzzy hue of Leicester defiance. Everything seems far less obvious than my Valentine’s metaphors, with Manchester City’s mega-money fuelled title push coming unstuck against Leicester’s band of brothers. City simply have to beat fellow title rivals Spurs in a Super Sunday that could have massive permutations for the rest of the title race. Villa host Liverpool in a match that may get lost in the Super Sunday maelstrom but could be hugely influential in the relegation struggle. Liverpool are potentially there for the taking following that slightly disheartening Cup exit. The entire complexion of the weekend is additionally flavoured by the return of European football next week.

Saturday 13 February
Sunderland 77/20
Draw 26/10
Manchester United 15/20
You have to feel for the phlegmatic United manager. They have finally started to play a more attractive brand of football but he still can’t escape the doomsayer’s call for a certain ‘special’ intervention. Borthwick-Jackson has been revolutionary in re-establishing United’s image as a side that plays with width. Additionally, Wayne Rooney’s talismanic touch has returned, shifting the chief focus of criticism onto their beleaguered manager. Sunderland got out of jail against Liverpool with two late goals that completely skewed the overall complexion of the game. Big Sam’s side may feel the need to dictate the pace giving their perilous league position, a fact which may play into the hands of United.

Verdict: United to win at 15/20: I honestly feel that United’s last two performances were amongst their best of the year. They will hit Sunderland hard on the counterattack, exposing their lack of cohesion in the centre of defence.

Swansea City 21/10
Draw 21/10
Southampton 14/10
Guidolini has brought some much-needed urgency back to Swansea; the rejuvenated performances of Glyfi Sigurdsson almost begs the question as to what actually occurred under Monk’s reign towards the end. Southampton have benefited immeasurably from Frazer Forster’s return to the side. Five consecutive clean sheets has shifted the emphasis at Southampton from damage limitation to European ascension. Wanyama and Mane have been vastly improved, managing to get past their respective transfer sagas with a surprising amount of grace.

Verdict: Total Goals Under 2.5 at 11/20: I can easily see a 1-1 draw or narrow 1-0 victory either way here. Both sides favour the tika taka stylistic model, which often neutralises the actual amount of opportunities in the match.  

Norwich City 14/10 
Draw 23/10
West Ham United 19/10

Slaven Bilic’s dream season at West Ham continued with an inspirational victory over Liverpool in the dying embers of Tuesday night’s League Cup replay. Dimitri Payet’s Ozil-esque influence over matches has found outstanding, industrious support in the likes of Valencia and Antonio. A likely hamstring strain to Winston Reid will be a slight blow for the Hammers, likely necessitating the inclusion of Collins in the first team. Norwich have never psychologically recovered from the damaging 5-4 home loss to Liverpool. Scoring four goals at home and not even getting a point is the footballing equivalent of finishing second in a season of the
‘The Bachelor’. Steven Naismith has not quite had the impact that O’Neill would have hoped for as the Canaries seem to be heading for another brief foray in the league.

Verdict: Double Chance - Norwich to win or draw at 7/20: I really feel that Norwich have the character within the side to pick up a point, especially considering the injury issues facing West Ham in the wake of the Cup game. This option seems to offer the best value.  

Everton 11/20
Draw 31/10
West Bromwich Albion 5/1
Everton’s return to winning ways seems to strangely dovetail with the absence of England’s newly anointed defensive saviour: John Stones. Martinez will hope that Stones’ return from injury will not disrupt a newly found obstinacy in their defence. Lukaku and Barkley continue to shine and will be relishing the visit of a slightly disjointed West Brom side. West Brom have struggled without Morrison and have truly been hampered by the Berahino saga. Frankly, I think it would have been healthier for the club if Pulis suspended his personal duel with the player and cashed in on his worth, allowing the club to move forward.

Verdict: Everton to win comfortably at 11/20: I can’t see any other result than a comfortable home win.  

Crystal Palace 12/10
Draw 22/10
Watford 24/10
These are two sides that have both found it hard to maintain their early season momentum. Both are finding goals hard to come by and will realise the importance of this match in building momentum for the remainder of the season. Palace’s issues seem to derive from their lack of potency in the business end of the pitch. Adebayor’s acquisition will always have some baggage attached to it, while their wide players almost seem to be feeling the effects of a season of constant counterattack. Watford have probably got a more solid midfield base with the likes of Watson and Deeney. Gomes has been in inspirational form for the club, a stark contrast to the goalkeeping ‘crisis’ facing Pardew with Hennessey and Speroni.  |

Verdict: Total Goals under 2.5 at 6/10: Both sides lack fluidity at present and this should make for a low scoring affair.


Bournemouth 21/20
Draw 9/4
Stoke City 11/4
Eddie Howe’s side were fairly comprehensively beaten by a slick, professional Arsenal side last time out. Stoke City have not won a game in four and seem to be in a real identity crisis. They simply are not the same defensive unit without Ryan Shawcross. Bojan’s absence has also stunted their creativity, while Bournemouth have looked far more dangerous with the signing of Benik Afobe. Bournemouth are a side that feed off momentum and they should be able to exploit Stoke’s current nosedive in form.

Verdict: Bournemouth to win at 21/20: I expect Afobe and Arter to exploit a weakened Stoke defence.

Chelsea 9/20
Draw 36/10
Newcastle United 57/10
Chelsea’s unbeaten streak under Hiddink has hardly been within the domain of fantasy fiction. A glut of draws has left the defending Champions languishing in a veritable no-man’s land in the league. Kurt Zouma’s horror injury will see him on the sidelines for six months, rendering the entire John Terry saga ever more intriguing, given the fact that he will be playing every single game from here on in. Jonjo Shelvey’s passing range has broadened the playing template of the side while Townsend’s speed also caused some issues for West Brom last time out.

Verdict: I’m going for a bold halftime-fulltime double call here - with a draw in the first half followed by a Chelsea victory in the second at 3/1: Chelsea have shown a never say die attitude in recent weeks which leads me to believe that they will grind out a win in the second half.  

Sunday 14 February
Draw 28/10
Leicester City 36/10
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Aston Villa 7/2 
Draw 5/2
Liverpool 17/20 

Remi Garde’s side picked up a vital morale-boosting victory last week. They have actually played consistently well in recent weeks, with Gabby Agbonlahor's return to the side already bearing fruit thus far. Liverpool’s exit from the F.A Cup has put even more pressure on the recovering Jurgen Klopp. The return of Sturridge and Coutinho to fitness will be encouraging, but it’s really in the key position up front and in the centre of defence that needs the most attention. While Lucas was fairly inspirational in a makeshift central defensive role against West Ham, his lack of physical stature will be exposed by the likes of Gestede and Lescott.

Verdict: Double Chance - Villa to win or draw at 9/10.

Manchester City 21/20
Draw 26/10
Tottenham Hotspur 5/2

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