Written by Damian Kayat for Hollywoodbets.
The Carling Cup Final necessitates a slightly truncated fixture list this weekend, with Sunday’s fixture at Old Trafford sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb amongst the fixtures. Van Gaal’s woes will be somewhat abated if his side can find a way to silence the old enemy, while Wenger knows that a result may be necessary to hang onto the coattails of Leicester City. Leicester start a favourable run of fixtures this weekend with a home match against Norwich. Spurs also have a fairly enticing home fixture against Swansea to look forward to, with Pochettino hoping to bounce back from a surprise Cup exit last weekend. Elsewhere, Sunderland have the opportunity to steal a march on their Tyne-Wear rivals in the quest for survival, with Newcastle’s fixtures being rejigged for the weekend.
Saturday 27 February
West Ham United 31/20 | Draw 2/1 | Sunderland 18/10
Slaven Bilic’s side negotiated a potentially awkward Cup trip to Blackburn with significant aplomb; Dimitri Payet continued the inspirational run of form that has seen him enter the consciousness of many of the bigger clubs in England and Europe. Emenike and Antonio have also been improving, highlighting the potency of the West Ham attacking unit. Sunderland picked up an invaluable three points against United that will have gone a long way to revitalizing the confidence of the relegation-threatened club. Defoe has been in excellent form and may be the key upon with their survival hope hinges.
Verdict: West Ham to win - I know that West Ham have struggled to replicate their amazing away form at home, but their squad is in ebullient mood and features a host of attacking players that can threaten a slightly laboured Sunderland defensive unit.
Watford 27/20 | Draw 22/10 | Bournemouth 21/10
Watford’s continued involvement in the Cup has not seemed to interfere too directly with their league commitments. Victory at Palace - heavily influenced by the vastly unsung Troy Deeney - has seen them maintain an unlikely push for European football. Bournemouth have managed to circumnavigate major injury issues through sheer power of will; Benik Afobe has clearly provided some added emphasis up front that is critical in maintaining survival hopes. In many ways, these two sides represent two sides of the survival conundrum: Watford clearly aim to minimize risk and play a far more controlled brand of football while Bournemouth adopt a more cavalier approach.
Verdict: Total Goals over 2.5 - Bournemouth are going to come at this game hard, I believe and will defiantly look to attack at all opportunities. Look for Charlie Daniels and Harry Arter to come from deeper positions, while the partnership of Deeney and Ighalo should keep Watford interested too.
Stoke City 13/20 | Draw 26/10 | Aston Villa 9/2
Stoke City were brilliant at Everton, with new signing Imbula proving instrumental in their success. Bojan has signed a new contract recently, giving fans further belief in the long term plans of Mark Hughes. Villa’s shock defeat at the hands of a Villa junior side in a behind closed doors game has highlighted how dire the situation at the club. Players such as Traore and Gestede have been underutilized while the likes of Gueye are persisted with relentlessly. Stoke are far too good and will probably relegate Villa spiritually this weekend.
Verdict: A comfortable Stoke victory.
Southampton | Draw | Chelsea
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Leicester 5/10 | City Draw 33/10 | Norwich City 5/1
In many ways this is where the pressure really starts to build on Claudio Ranieri’s men. They weren’t expected to pick up six points from the three consecutive fixtures against Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal. Now they are in the box seat and expectations are high that this fixture will be a routine victory- which I just don’t think will be the case. Norwich are fighting for their lives while Leicester aren’t exactly comfortable setting the pace in matches. They will have more possession than usual and may need to find other avenues of finding space than pure counterattack.
Verdict: Halftime-Fulltime Double - 31/10: A Draw for the first half with Leicester ultimately winning at I see the Foxes struggling to break Norwich down for about an hour, with a moment of Mahrez or Vardy inspired brilliance breaking the deadlock in the second half.
West Bromwich Albion 31/20 | Draw 2/1 | Crystal Palace 18/10
Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew have both cast rather disconsolate figures at various times in recent weeks. Palace’s terrible run of league form was somewhat curtailed by a surprise Cup victory over Spurs. The Albion have their own issues as Tony Pulis is said to be unhappy with the transfer policy of the club and may be considering departure if changes are not made. The return of Yannick Bolaise is critical for Palace while the presence of Salomon Rondon will test Palace’s usually powerful central defensive unit.
Verdict: Both teams to score - No- at 15/20: Both of these sides are desperate for points and this should see a fairly cagey fixture unfold. Both sides are also keen proponents of the counterattack, which should add to the cat and mouse feel of things. I see a 1-0 scoreline either way.
Sunday 28 February
Tottenham Hotspur 9/20 | Draw 7/2 | Swansea City 13/2
Spurs will perhaps not admit it, but that Cup exit may have been the best thing that could have happened to them. n attempting to win a historic title, attempting to balance both Europa League and domestic Cup concerns was beginning to look quite treacherous. Swansea have been mildly resurgent under Guidolini and will be hoping to frustrate a Spurs side that thrives on possession. Spurs are just too strong at this moment in time and know that they need to keep getting results in pursuit of the title.
Verdict: Tottenham Hotspurs to win - I expect Alli and Dier to dominate the midfield while their full-backs really gain the ascendancy in the game.
Manchester United 18/10 | Draw 5/2 | Arsenal 31/20
The plight of one Louis Van Gaal shows little sign of ending; the nefarious presence of Jose Mourinho lingers in the background like impending doom. United’s extensive injury list is also a concern, with form players like Rooney and Borthwick-Jackson likely to miss out this weekend. Arsenal’s humbling defeat to Barcelona has perhaps cleared the European fog out of Wenger’s mind. Additionally, with Guardiola and his menagerie pulling into City next year, when will Arsenal have a better chance of winning this title? Ozil will find space in this game as United battle to find a coherent defensive midfield. Martial will look to keep Bellerin honest while Lingaad will likely attempt to do likewise with Monreal.
Verdict: Double Chance - United to win or draw at 5/10: I know that all rational thought points at Arsenal, especially considering the 3-0 victory in the reverse fixture for the Gunners. But my mind wanders to the Chelsea defeat and Arsenal’s apparent inferiority complex in these marquee games.
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