Written by Damian Kayat for Hollywoodbets.
The international break has given sides the chance to ready themselves for their respective final battles this season. The deadly attacks in Brussels and the death of iconic Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff cast a dark shadow over the international friendlies in Europe, which will no doubt leave a lingering afterglow going into this weekend.
Leicester City’s march towards an unprecedented title sees them take on Southampton at the King Power Stadium this weekend. They will see this as a vital opportunity to lay down a marker, especially with Spurs facing a daunting trip to Liverpool. Norwich host Newcastle in what could prove to be a monumental day in the relegation battle. Furthermore, the race for that sacred fourth place has gone into overdrive with up to four sides competing for that final vaunted spot.
Saturday 2 April
Aston Villa 52/10 | Draw 3/1 | Chelsea 11/20
The failed tenure of Remi Garde speaks volumes to the horror-show that has befallen Aston Villa Football Club in recent years. You need to dig in your heels and launch an unfavourable survival bid? Why not hire a barely known, seemingly insipid foreign manager with no experience in this kind of dogfight. His inability to galvanize the players was clear to all and his departure is just the punchline of a season long joke. Chelsea have hardly faired any better considering their status as outgoing Champions. But can you really see this talented Chelsea squad losing to a Villa side sans leadership or inspiration. Verdict: Chelsea to win.
West Ham United 19/20 | Draw 5/2 | Crystal Palace 28/10
How are these for two contrasting seasons? While both sides remain alive in the Cup, Palace’s abysmal league form is the antithesis of West Ham’s, with the Hammers flirting with Champions League qualification. Palace have yet to win a game this year and could be the one presumably safe side that could find themselves in a relegation scrap. West Ham United have thrived on the virtuosic Payet, with Andy Carroll also finding fitness and form late in the season. Mark Noble’s steady presence is the perfect complement to Payet and I can’t see the Hammers being undone by a frankly predictable Palace side. Verdict: West Ham to win.
Sunderland 21/20 | Draw 22/10 | West Brom 28/10
Sunderland will no doubt benefit from the fact that Big Sam is no stranger to this pressure cooker situation. They also have a proven goal scorer in Jermaine Defoe, a detail that I believe will be critical in their survival push. West Brom have gone about their season in a typically bullish manner. Never one for the purists, they manage to overcome their deficiencies and remain an unglamorous fixture in the Premier League. Sunderland will see this as a major opportunity with Norwich and Newcastle engaged in a veritable six-pointer. I feel that they could win, but West Brom are not a side noted for giving favours to anyone. Verdict: Double Chance- Sunderland to win or draw.
Stoke City 11/10 | Draw 22/10 | Swansea City 27/10
These are two sides that will be breathing respective sighs of belief. Mark Hughes had assembled a cosmopolitan side in the transfer window, but had found some trouble in assimilating the likes of Sheqiri into the roughly hewn fabric of the side. Now they have found their rhythm and look one more successful transfer window away from becoming a force in the fight for European places. Swansea, on the other hand, were teetering dangerously above the relegation zone for some time following the termination of Gary Monk. Guidolini’s side have been able to pick up crucial results while the Tyne-Wear fault line has disintegrated. Verdict: Stoke City to win- Despite the loss of Jack Butland I fully anticipate a Stoke win. Swansea barely scraped past Villa last time out while Stoke were impressive at Watford.
Norwich City 12/10 | Draw 9/4 | Newcastle United 24/10
Alex Neill’s side had a remarkable week last time out. Not only did they pick up those precious three away points at West Brom, but the Tyne-Wear derby ended in a flaccid draw that did little to invigorate either one of the Geordie giants. The direct result of the last round of fixtures is that this is a far more critical game for Newcastle to win than the Canaries. The appointment of Benitez puzzled me on the level that Newcastle need a few wins. I feel that solidity and tactical efficiency are almost redundant teams in the bedlam of the last seven weeks, especially considering Newcastle’s precarious position in the league. Verdict: Both sides to score-no. Knowing Benitez, this is likely to be a turgid tactical battle. Norwich are not going to be flamboyant either, which could result in a 0-0 or 1-0 result.
Bournemouth 27/10 | Draw 5/2 | Manchester City 1/1
Eddie Howe’s side have banked largely on their formidable home form this season to put them on the brink of Premier league survival. They have that one invaluable resource that teams like Newcastle and Sunderland covet: speed. The likes of Daniels and King are able to thrive in the cauldron-like atmosphere generated at the smallest ground in Premier League history. Manchester City are dreaming Parisian as they are set to meet recently crowned Ligue A champions P.S.G. I really feel like Pellegrini and the players have mentally checked out of the league, clearly entranced by the glitz and the glamor of a tournament that they really have no chance of winning. Verdict: Boom- upset of the week- I predict Bournemouth to win. City have a huge European game next Wednesday night and have looked utterly lethargic in the league of late.
Arsenal 7/20 | Draw 39/10 | Watford 7/1
Arsene Wenger understands this game. While many are categorically dismissing the Gunners’ chances of lifting the title this season, there are various factors that play into Arsenal’s favour. They have an extremely favourable run-in and certainly possess the best squad in the competition. They were extremely professional against Everton, with Danny Welbeck’s return to the side proving more substantial than one would have originally envisaged. Watford have actually experienced a rather dismal fall from grace this season, perhaps distracted by the allure of the F.A Cup. Fortunately for Watford, there seem to be some really poor sides in the league and their early season momentum should already be enough to see them across the line. Verdict: Halftime-Fulltime Double- A drawn first half followed by an Arsenal win in the second. I see Watford getting numbers behind the ball and frustrating Arsenal in the first half, but ultimately being unable to contain the Gunners.
Liverpool 15/10 | Draw 9/4 | Tottenham Hotspur 18/10
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Sunday 3 April
Leicester City 12/10 | Draw 9/4 | Southampton 5/2
The little engine that could has slowly become the little engine that should. That brings its own particular pressure, especially considering the fact that they have a relatively benign run-in. Drinkwater and Kante have picked up invaluable international experience while Jamie Vardy has looked razor sharp for England. Southampton’s inspirational comeback against Liverpool was yet another example of what an unpredictable unit Ronald Koeman has assembled. They, in many ways, are Leicester’s ideal opponent: they are eager to dominate possession and are vulnerable on the counterattack. Verdict: Leicester City to win surprisingly comfortably. I can see Leicester City’s counter attacking style seeing them through 2-0, or 3-1.
Manchester United 1/1 | Draw 23/10 | Everton 11/4
Manchester United are probably one of the sides that have benefitted most from the international break. They have various players who are close to returning from injury, while their opponents this weekend have probably been amongst the biggest disappointments this season. How on earth Everton propose to hang onto prized asset Romulu Lukaku in the summer is a mystery to me. John Stones has gone backwards; casting some doubt on his legitimacy has England’s next Bobby Moore. United’s recent resilience should give them the edge against an Everton side that is extremely soft in the centre of the park. Look for Rashford and Martial to exploit the space left by the marauding Baines and Coleman. Verdict: United to win by one goal.
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