So weeks of waiting for the ‘inevitable’ implosion of Leicester City has ended in a fairly comfortable league win with two games in hand. The manner in which the Foxes sauntered towards the title in magisterial style has left me utterly bewildered. It will be intriguing to see if Ranieri is able to retain the services of his talismanic vanguard. Mahrez, Vardy and Kante are now top commodities in the European market.
City host Arsenal in a slightly depressing ‘what could have been’ fixture that really epitomizes the gravity of Leicester’s season. The relegation battle takes center stage this weekend as three sides fight for one survival spot. Newcastle seem to have some momentum and visit a hapless Villa side. Sunderland and Norwich have tricky home ties but both know that victory may be essential with time running out to save themselves.
Saturday 7 May
Norwich City 7/2 | Draw 26/10 | Manchester United 8/10
Norwich City will be wondering just how the two Tyne-Wear sides have managed to find their collective late burst of energy this season. The Canaries desperately need at least a point here - especially with Newcastle travelling to the marooned Aston Villa. Manchester United will sense the opportunity to really threaten that top four position - especially with City’s dispiriting elimination form the Champions League still hanging in the air. Redmond and Hoolahan will pose problems for United, but I expect the likes of Martial and Rashford to ultimately derail a Norwich side seemingly poised for relegation.
Verdict: United to Win at 8/10.
West Ham 5/10 | Draw 35/10 | Swansea City 52/10
West Ham’s tremendous season has been somewhat diluted by the amazing achievements by Ranieri’s title winners. Bilic managed to orchestrate a successful cup run whilst never relinquishing a hold on a European place. Payet and Noble, in particular, have helped elevate the Hammers to a status befitting their grand new stadium next year. The Swan’s victory over Liverpool was slightly skewed due to the haphazard line-up deployed by Klopp. They will battle to deal with the significant aerial threat offered by West Ham and should be soundly beaten this weekend.
Verdict: West Ham to Win at 52/10.
Sunderland 18/10 | Draw 24/10 | Chelsea 29/20
Eden Hazard’s return for the proverbial Premier League doldrums must have left Spurs fans rather apoplectic on Monday night. Chelsea played with great fluency in the second half- clearly a result of the incandescent Belgian winger. Sunderland’s pragmatic push for survival will perhaps need to step up a gear with local rivals Newcastle mounting an impressive survival bid of their own. I have been impressed by their recent organization while Defoe’s persistent goal threat remains their greatest asset. Chelsea will clearly aim to be spoilers again this weekend and will not meekly glide into the off-season ether.
Verdict: Total Goals Over 2.5 at 15/20. I can quite easily see a 2-1 or 2-2 result as Chelsea aim to at least reward their die-hard fans for what has been a miserable season.
Crystal Palace 1/1 | Draw 23/10 | Stoke City 28/10
Palace- safe in the knowledge that they still have Cup glory to aspire to- are not likely to take any undue risks in any of their remaining fixtures. Bolasie will likely be wrapped in cotton wool, as will the likes of Zaha and Puncheon. Adebayor may have a run of starts as Palace make up the numbers as the season winds down. Stoke stopped the bleeding last weekend with a hard-fought point over struggling Sunderland. Mark Hughes will be demanding professionalism from a side that seems to have a glaring discrepancy between talent and application.
Verdict: Total Goals Under 2.5 at 15/20 - Hughes will aim to build on their solidity last weekend while Palace will hardly press the issue.
Bournemouth 9/10 | Draw 26/10 | West Brom 3/1
Bournemouth’s fairytale survival is yet another narrative that has been largely undervalued in the wake of Leicester’s title win. Eddie Howe has to be congratulated for negotiating the travails of the league despite a litany of injuries to key players. West Brom have shown characteristic resolve and remain one of the most unpredictable outfits in the league. Whether they are able to retain the services of Saido Berahino in the summer is another question entirely.
Verdict: West Brom to Win at 3/1 - West Brom have actually been perhaps the hardest team to predict. This is probably because their away form has been so impressive. Bournemouth looked a little flat against Everton and I can see Pulis’ side frustrating Bournemouth into some silly errors.
Aston Villa 9/2 | Draw 3/1 | Newcastle United 6/10
Villa’s embarrassing descent from top flight security has surprised even the most cynical onlooker. They seem to have been stuck on 16 points for the length of the bible; whoever is in charge of Villa next season is going to have to be a master of psychology as they seek to exorcise the considerable demons of this season. Rafa Benitez’s has quickly earned himself cult-status in the bleachers of St James Park. They are playing with gusto and have managed to incredibly found defensive cohesion in the last few weeks. But is it all too late? Newcastle will do well to view Watford’s victory over Villa last weekend with caution. Villa have had bursts of commitment in games and Newcastle will do well not to underestimate their opponents this weekend.
Verdict: Newcastle to Win at 6/10 - I expect a moment of Townsend brilliance to separate the sides.
Leicester City 9/10 | Draw 27/10 | Everton 11/4
I almost feel as if there is still a twist in the tale of this year’s title race. Leicester City - champions of England! Cosmic forces seem to have colluded for what is undoubtedly the greatest underdog story in football - if not sporting - history. Jamie Vardy returns to the starting line-up following suspension and will be keen to underline his status as one of the hottest properties in the European market. Everton’s dreary season will be accentuated by the ebullience of the atmosphere at the King Power this season. Looking at their respective squads, surely Everton are the underdog story that should have been. Instead, they are stranded mid-table with growing frustration among supporters and looming uncertainty regarding Roberto Martinez.
Verdict: The Champions to Win at 9/10 - Vardy’s return will galvanize the squad and you can expect to see City play with freedom this weekend.
Sunday 8 May
Tottenham Hotspur 9/10 | Draw 26/10 | Southampton 28/10
Spurs really only have themselves to blame following Monday night’s heartbreaking result against Chelsea. They were sucked into Chelsea’s pugilistic tactics in a completely unprofessional manner; they would have probably won on Monday if they had just focused on the title and not on petty London rivalry. Dembele is almost certainly going to be suspended in the wake of an ugly eye gouging incident. That means that Spurs will be without both Alli and Dembele with an upwardly mobile Southampton visiting. Mane and Long have been sensational in the last few weeks while Sean Davies has brought solidity to the midfield. I expect Rose and Walker to stretch Southampton and their collective team pace should see them capitalize on the space.
Verdict: Spurs to Win at 9/10 - Spurs have amazing strength in depth and still have Arsenal breathing down their necks for that 2nd place in the standings.
Manchester City 14/10 | Draw 5/2 | Arsenal 18/10
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Liverpool 9/20 | Draw 7/2 | Watford 11/2
Liverpool - embroiled as they are in the Europa League- have slightly taking their eyes off the bread and butter that is the league. West Ham and Southampton have stolen a march on them as their resources have been spread. I still would have liked to see Klopp play his strongest squad against Swansea last weekend. Troy Deeney underlined his status as one of the season’s surprise packages with two late goals that saved Flores’ side from embarrassment against Villa. Deeney and Ighalo have the capacity to really get under Liverpool’s skin.
Verdict: Double Chance - Watford to Win or Draw at 15/10. I can easily see a surprise here as Liverpool struggle to balance European intensity with the weekly slog that is the Premier League.