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Wigan vs Manchester City: Preview

Monday 8pm, DW Stadium

Wigan 8.00 Draw 4.20 Manchester City 1.44

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Awkward little fixture for City this – despite Wigan’s deficiencies, it’s not the most appetising venue for a must-win game.

Doubts exist over David Silva(f/g) and Mario Balotelli(f/g) for Roberto Mancini, and the Toure brothers are away with the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Wigan welcome back Albert Crusat(f/g), but Mohamed Diame is also on international duty with Senegal.

Wigan are a team that needs momentum, a side that can grind through the gears and cause you problems if you let them. Roberto Martinez has seen his side hit the bottom of the league since Blackburn’s resurgence, and will ensure that his players appreciate the urgency for points.

City have not looked themselves for a while now. The stuttering performance against Liverpool, the refereeing travesty that was the derby game, and the stalemate at the Hawthorns have added up to the first semblance of doubt over their title credentials. Sunday’s encounter with Tottenham may promise bigger headlines, but victory tonight is just as important.

There’s not a lot of subtlety in the way the home side defends, and that promises much for a visiting attack stuffed with guile and creativity. If David Silva’s fit, expect him to enjoy himself – Wigan really aren’t equipped to handle that kind of player. Up front as well, I’m not sure that Franco Di Santo and Hugo Rodallega are capable of exposing the weakness felt by Vincent Kompany’s absence. All signs point to an away win, indifferent form or not.

If this is to be competitive, Wigan have to be forceful in midfield. City undeniably lose something when Yaya Toure isn’t playing, and it’s up to James McCarthy and probably Hendry Thomas to clog-up what will be an unfamiliar Barry/De Jong/Silva axis. Victor Moses has begun to show signs of why he was so coveted when at Crystal Palace, and his form this season has a lot to do with Wigan having as many points as they do – can he make an impact here though? Doubtful.

8/1 on Wigan? Only if you’ve got money to burn – City to win 3-0.

Chelsea vs Sunderland: Preview

Saturday 3pm, Stamford Bridge

Chelsea 1.36 Draw 4.75 Sunderland 8.50

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All of a sudden the table looks an awful lot better if you’re a Sunderland fan. Martin O’Neil’s arrival at the club seems to have created an enthusiasm that had long since evaporated at Sunderland, and that’s well-documented by the four wins out of seven achieved during O’Neil’s short tenure. In fact, almost 60% of Sunderland’s points this season have come under the Irishman’s watch, despite him only being appointed in December.

For Chelsea, John Terry and Daniel Sturridge(f/g) are fit to start, although Branislav Ivanovic, John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien remain sidelined – Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are with the Ivory Coast at the ACN.

For the visitors, Nicklas Bendtner(f/g), Connor Wickham(f/g) and Phil Bardsley are all nearing fitness, although Wes Brown, Jack Colback, and Titus Bramble are out. Long-term absentee Fraizer Campbell is available.

Chelsea’s internal issues have been covered to death, and we all know that they’re struggling for consistency. Fernando Torres(f/g) clearly doesn’t offer the same kind of threat posed by Didier Drogba, but I still think through weight of pressure that this is a home win. Sunderland’s resurgence has been remarkable, but also characterised by not being particularly direct in the attacking third. To beat Chelsea at home, you need pace up front, which is not really something they possess at the moment. The visitors will be neat and tidy on the ball, but it’s hard to see them making that much of an impression.

Chelsea to labour, but to ultimately take the points. 2-0.

Newcastle vs QPR: Preview

Sunday 1.20pm, St James’ Park

Newcastle 1.72 Draw 3.50 QPR 5.00

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A strange time for both clubs. QPR for obvious reasons; a new manager and new faces imminent. For Newcastle though, the kick of the Africa Cup of Nations is about to be felt, as Chiek Tiote and Demba Ba are both absent.

Danny Guthrie and Leon Best(f/g) will likely replace the notable absentees for the home side, and their ability to offer the same kind of contribution will obviously be key to how Newcastle cope with this January period.

Mark Hughes’ first team selection will tell us a lot about who has a future at Loftus Road and who doesn’t. It’s always dangerous to second-guess the impact of a new manager on a club, but expect – this weekend at least – the team to retain a Warnock-like feel to it. Bids have already been lodged for Alex and Chris Samba, which suggests that the future may not be bright for Danny Gabbidon – the Welshman is also expected to bolster his front-line at some point this month, so whichever forwards don’t start on Sunday probably need to be placing calls with their agents sharpish.

The loss of Demba Ba and Tiote is an obvious, yet pertinent, point. I don’t think Newcastle have enough substance without them. Certainly, if you take Ba out of the equation, you’re removing 15 of the 29 total goals that they’ve scored this season. That’s a concern, because while Leon Best is a decent player, he doesn’t offer anything like the presence of his Senegalese teammate. Danny Guthrie? A blue-collared player for sure, but with a Championship feel to him – if Yohan Cabaye(f/g) is to continue to prosper, Guthrie needs to play above himself in anchoring that midfield.

I think QPR will get something on Sunday. They’re obviously not a huge attacking threat, but they’ll be competitive – and they are marginally better away from Loftus Road. I don’t expect Bothroyd and Helguson to get much change out of Coloccini(f/g) and Williamson, but then neither do I think that Newcastle have enough edge up the other end to do any damage.

Rangers to be competitive enough for a stalemate – 0-0.

Tottenham vs Everton: Preview

Wednesday 7.45pm, White Hart Lane

Tottenham 1.57 Draw 3.75 Everton 6.50

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A huge game for Spurs, as victory would see them draw level with Manchester United in second place – this is the game in hand for both sides that was produced by the civil unrest in August.

For the home side, Ledley King and William Gallas are ruled out, but Michael Dawson makes a very timely return to action to partner Younes Kaboul in the centre of defence. Scott Parker is doubtful with the knee problem that saw him miss the victory over WBA, and Sandro is out after tearing a calf in the same game.

Everton’s injury list is even longer; Phil Jagielka is definitely out, while Tim Cahill, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, Jack Rodwell, and Seamus Coleman are all question marks.

Looking at those respective injury lists, and the squads in place to cover for them, it’s hard to look beyond Spurs. David Moyes will likely arrive in North London with the intention of shutting-up shop and taking a point, but without the influential Jagielka that looks a tall order. Tony Hibbert’s absence would be a concern too, as the right-back has been excellent so far this season – and you don’t want to patching up your right side when you’re about to face Gareth Bale.

Further bad news for the visitors comes in the form of Aaron Lennon’s(f/g) return to action. Lennon’s style of wing play may be overshadowed by his Welsh teammate, but his presence restores the natural balance to the Tottenham team – with Lennon and Bale playing, the opposition doesn’t really have the option for double-up and subdue either.

Marouane Fellaini(f/g) is to key to Everton tonight, as he’ll be asked by Moyes to subdue Luka Modric. The Belgian, on form, is one of the most effective midfield anchors in the league, and his ability to combine his physical presence with a semblance of discipline is key to the visitors stemming the tide.

White Hart Lane, both wingers playing, Rafael Van der Vaart(f/g) restored to his usual free-role; Tottenham win here I think.

3-1 Spurs.

Newcastle vs Manchester United: Preview

Wednesday 8pm, St James’ Park.

Newcastle 5.00 Draw 3.60 Manchester United 1.72

Reprieved by Manchester City’s loss to Sunderland, there’s no such margin for error tonight for Manchester United. I think if Sir Alex Ferguson was honest with himself, he’d accept that he and his players took Blackburn a bit lightly on New Year’s Day.

Newcastle will be without Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands, but Gabriel Obertan(f/g) should be fit to face his old club. Manchester United could include Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling for the trip to the North East, while Wayne Rooney will likely be reinstated following his ‘resting’ last time out.

The victory against Bolton aside, Newcastle have had a mixture of bad luck and poor performances stretching back to November. In all fairness, Alan Pardew’s side have endured a tricky run of fixtures too; Manchester United, Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, and Norwich away were always going to be a stern examination. Last time out they were well-beaten by a fairly average Liverpool team, and it was a disappointing surrender given what they’ve already shown themselves to be capable of.

Pardew will hopefully twin Leon Best with Demba Ba(f/g) up front tonight, as that clearly gives them the best chance of maintaining possession in the opposition’s half – Ba, for all his qualities, doesn’t look quite fit at the moment, and could do with a willing runner alongside him. Chiek Tiote’s return to the side is a big plus, and he’ll look to dominate the midfield – where United are clearly weakened at the moment.

With Wayne Rooney(f/g) back in the side, expect Dimitar Berbatov to drop to the bench – and I don’t think anyone will expect a repeat of the Rafael midfield experiment. If fit, Chris Smalling and Rio Ferdinand will take their places at centre and right-back, with Antonio Valencia moving into his more natural wide-midfield habitat. Anderson and Michael Carrick will likely start in the centre of midfield.

Manchester United are vulnerable at the moment, and this game will be decided by how much belief Newcastle have in their own ability to get at the Champions. A good atmosphere, a good work-rate, and a good level of discipline, and the hosts should make this a very awkward evening. I expect Manchester United to start well, with their manager’s ire still lingering in their ears, but the weight of Newcastle’s desire should be enough over 90 minutes. United are there for the taking at the moment, the reputation with which the beat so many teams wont be enough tonight.

Newcastle 2-1.

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Manchester City vs Liverpool: Preview

Tuesday 8pm, Etihad Stadium

Manchester City 1.83 Draw 3.50 Liverpool 4.50

No new injury concerns for either side, as Mario Balotelli returns to the City squad, and Steven Gerrard(f/g) and Luis Suarez(f/g) will both likely start for Liverpool.

As angry as Roberto Mancini was about the Sunderland result, those are just ‘things that happen’ in football sometimes – on another day, City have that game won within an hour. It shouldn’t be a factor coming into this fixture.

Liverpool have never really got going this season, good results seem invariably to be followed by underwhelming performances. The win against Newcastle was about as good as they’ve been at Anfield at home this term, but to build any momentum off the back of it would require their best away performance of the season so far.

Luis Suarez returning is an obvious boost, but Liverpool are still being short-changed by several of their other starters. Stewart Downing has been average so far, Jordan Henderson largely anonymous, and Charlie Adam hasn’t had the kind of influence on games that he was bought to provide. Depending on which of those players start, more is needed. Hopefully Craig Bellamy(f/g) will be given a chance on the big stage again, his pace, movement and energy will go along way to unsettling the City backline.

Expect City to revert to type. David Silva(f/g) will come back into the starting line-up, as well Sergio Aguero(f/g), Micah Richards and Gael Clichy. Yaya Toure will be key here, because he potentially gives City the midfield weight to strangle Liverpool’s presence in the game. If Jay Spearing starts for the visitors, that would be a concern for Liverpool – he’s a capable player, but one that doesn’t really belong in this type of fixture. It’s possible that Steven Gerrard might be preferred in that role to nullify the Silva threat, because the little Spaniard would surely be favoured in any Spearing match-up.

City win this 2-0.

Best bet: Liverpool not to score at 2.50

Tottenham vs West Brom: Preview

Tuesday 7.45pm, White Hart Lane.

Tottenham 1.36 Draw 4.50 West Brom 9.00

All of a sudden, Tottenham’s point at the Liberty Stadium looks like ground gained rather than lost; Manchester City lost, Manchester United lost, and Arsenal lost. A win here puts Spurs 5 points ahead of Chelsea and six in front of their North London neighbours – with a game in hand over each.

Scott Parker will receive a late fitness test after suffering a knee ligament strain in Wales, but Ledley King and Aaron Lennon are both fit to return.

West Brom have something of a mini-injury crisis; influential midfielder Chris Brunt misses the trip to London, while Shane Long and Jonas Olsson are both doubtful.

There return of Aaron Lennon is crucial for the home team – they haven’t looked nearly as potent since he limped off against Sunderland before Christmas. With both flanks now in tact, expect the natural level of pace and width to be restored to this Tottenham team, and that should also see Rafael Van der Vaart return to his more favoured position in the attacking hole.

West Brom were deeply disappointing on New Year’s Day against Everton, as they failed to register a single shot on target through the entire ninety minutes. Don’t expect that to improve without the creativity of Brunt and the outlet provided by Long. Key to achieving a positive result at White Hart Lane will be the performance of Peter Odemwingie(f/g) – the ball needs to stick at his feet tonight, or Roy Hodgson’s side will see wave after wave pressure.

It’s hard to see anything other than a home win here. There’s nothing in the visiting midfield that suggests that Luka Modric(f/g) can be subdued, and when the Croatian is allowed to play Tottenham usually win. As important as Scott Parker usually is to Spurs, his presence isn’t essential here – you’d expect a confident and attacking performance from the home side, and with it some goals.

Best bet: Tottenham to be winning at h/t and f/t at 1.90.

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Fulham vs Arsenal: Preview

Tuesday 5.30pm, Craven Cottage.

Fulham 3.75 Draw 3.40 Arsenal 2.00

Martin Jol will be without Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson for this London derby, although Damien Duff has a remote chance of being involved.

Treatment room-regular Thomas Vermaelen returns to his natural habitat after picking-up a calf strain during the win against Queens Park Rangers.

Fulham are one of the league’s true ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ teams, and have seemingly lost some of their traditional resilience this season. Craven Cottage has also apparently lost some of its awkwardness to opposing teams, as the nine Premier League fixtures there this season have been split 3-3-3. The 5-0 humbling aside by Manchester United aside, they are a side who thrive against the bigger teams. Liverpool, Manchester City, and Tottenham have all been bloodied down by the Thames, and Arsenal should be wary of giving their hosts a foothold in the game.

Bobby Zamora’s absence obviously hurts Fulham, but in Moussa Dembele(f/g) and Clint Dempsey(f/g) they do possess two of the most underrated players in the league – both of whom will be a test for this patched-up Arsenal defence. Watch out for Bryan Ruiz as well, who’s becoming more of a creative force as he finds his feet in English football.

The visitors approach this game knowing that they need to produce much more of a cutting-edge than they did when these teams met at Emirates Stadium at the end of November. Fulham are a blue-collar team that will look to subdue the creative forces in the Arsenal side, that means the order of the day is slick, non-ponderous football – and preferably an early goal to make their opponents chase the game.

Arsene Wenger will probably restore Gervinho to the first eleven, and will hope that combined with Theo Walcott, Arsenal’s flanks can give the ageing John-Arne Riise and the shaky Stephen Kelly a rough ride. Arsenal will be delighted that Cameroon failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations this year, as it means they will retain Alex Song – another unheralded Premier League performer. Song is as key to Arsenal as Robin Van Persie(f/g), because everything that the team do seems to go through him at some point – he’s a far more complete midfielder than anybody seems to give him credit for. Expect Song’s performance to be key to the result, and Arsenal’s ability to subdue Danny Murphy and the forward-thinking Dembele.

Arsenal 2-1.

Best Bet: Over 2.5 match goals at 1.83.

Tottenham vs Chelsea: Preview

Thursday 8pm, White Hart Lane

Tottenham 13/8 Draw 12/5 Chelsea 13/8

Had this game taken place six weeks ago, I don’t think you’d be getting such a high price on Spurs for the win. However, a Chelsea resurgence and a mini injury-crisis for Harry Redknapp has narrowed the gap between the sides.

For the home side; Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson are all out, while Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe, and Emmanuel Adebayor are all doubtful. Younes Kaboul returns from suspension, while Ledley King should be fit to lead his side.

Chelsea could be without David Luiz and Ramires, although the latter has the better chance of making this fixture – John Terry will overcome an achilles problem though.

A lot will depend on which Tottenham side actually takes the field tonight, and more specifically whether Gareth Bale does in fact start. Spurs are a different side with and without him, and if he’s included then that will be a big step towards the points. Expect Rafael Van der Vaart to move to the right wing, with Harry Redknapp likely to partner Defoe with Adebayor up top.

In light of his recent impact, Didier Drogba will surely be preferred to Fernando Torres, with Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge providing the width. The battle down the flanks will be interesting, as Tottenham possess two of the quickest and most attacking full-backs in the league in Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker – that means a defensive as well as attacking responsibility for Sturridge and Mata. Oriel Romeu, Frank Lampard, and Ramires/Mikel/Meireles will make-up the away midfield.

Andre Villas-Boas will hope that Chelsea’s extra numbers in midfield will nullify the obvious threat of their opponents – Luka Modric cannot be allowed to wander between the lines as per usual at White Hart Lane.

This is always an entertaining fixture, and usually one with goals (over 3.5 goals at 15/8). Expect Tottenham to start fast and to impose themselves on their local rivals, but Chelsea to have enough belief and resilience to emerge from North London with a point.

2-2.

Interesting Fact: Matches involving Tottenham average 3.29 goals per game this season.

Best Bet: Tottenham to win either half at 4/5

Everton vs Swansea: Preview

Wednesday 8pm, Goodison Park

Everton 8/13 Draw 13/5 Swansea 5/1

Maybe I should just copy and paste the preview I did for Everton’s game against Norwich on Satuday? This will be similar, but with fewer goals.

Seamus Coleman and Jack Rodwell are out for the home team, while Angel Rangel returns for the visitors to hopefully shore-up the troublesome right-back spot.

The problem Everton have, is that they have to work so hard for so long to achieve so little. It’s not that they’re wasteful at home, it’s that they don’t have any dynamism – or the little they do have is sporadic.

Enigmatic as he may be, I’d like to Royston Drenthe start tonight – because you have to do something if you’re David Moyes. Drenthe gives a team pace and a direct approach, and yes, while he’s undeniably hit-and-miss, he would make Everton less predictable. That may sound harsh, but only Wigan and QPR have scored fewer goals.

You know what you’re going to get with Swansea. Everything will be neat and tidy, the approach play will be patient, and they’ll work extremely hard for Brandon Rodgers. Unfortunately, Nathan Dyer is missing tonight, who’s certainly a player capable of getting beyond defenders and causing trouble.

Swansea have scored, like Everton, a paltry 16 goals this season, and with the draw-orientated approach that they’re likely to take to Goodison Park, probably don’t expect a scoring-fest.

Goalless draw.

Interesting Fact: Based on away fixtures only, Swansea are bottom of the league table.

Best bet: 0-0 draw at 9/1