Trouble for Hammers; hope for Hull
Ben Coley and Nic Doggett preview Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League.
- 2.5pts Liverpool to score three or more v Cardiff at 20/21 (Ladbrokes) - Reds firing on all cylinders and can run up a score
- 1pt Fulham (draw no bet) to beat Manchester City at 6/1 (BetVictor, 888sport) - Fulham improving and City too short away from home
- 2pts Manchester United to beat West Ham to nil at 5/4 (Betway) - West Ham struggle for goals and United are improving
- 3pts Norwich and the draw v Sunderland at 5/6 (bet365) - Sunderland in dire form despite cup heroics; Norwich can get a result
- 1pt Hull to beat West Brom at 18/5 (Bwin) - Steve Bruce's side have done well in key games; West Brom lacking form and confidence
Liverpool v Cardiff (1245 GMT)
Liverpool have scored three or more goals in their last five Premier League matches at Anfield and should be backed to do so once again against Cardiff in the early kick-off. Ladbrokes offer 20/21 on over 2.5 Liverpool goals, whilst 10/11 is freely-available elsewhere. Brendan Rodgers' side were ruthless against Spurs at White Hart Lane on Sunday and they looked very composed despite the absence of Steven Gerrard in midfield. Whilst Gerrard is a massive influence, Rodgers' side have played with more alacrity since Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling returned to the line-up. The latter terrorised Kyle Naughton at the weekend and he will be keen to force his way into Roy Hodgson's plans for Brazil. There's not much recent form to go on between the two sides as, bar two games in the Carling Cup in the last five years, the two teams haven't met since 1959. However those cup games featured seven goals in total (although Cardiff were in the Championship at the time) and more goals look on the cards. Cardiff conceded four away at Chelsea, as well as three against Arsenal and, although confidence levels will have been boosted by their win last weekend against West Brom, a trip to Anfield will soon knock that. It's no secret that Luis Suarez has scored more goals this season than half of the teams in the Premier League, and his goals have come in a fairly regular pattern. The Uruguayan returned from injury in late September and has only failed to score in three of the 11 games he has played. Suarez has tormented the struggling clubs in Liverpool, scoring 14 goals in five games against teams in the bottom seven, and Cardiff have fallen into this category. His 17 goals have come in groups - he has scored one goal on just two occasions - so the 2/1 about a brace may make some appeal, but the price doesn't have much wiggle room in it. Malky Mackay's side have raised their game for the big matches at home, recording draws against Everton and Man United as well as wins over Swansea and Man City. But they have only won once on the road this season, and that was against a woeful Fulham back in September. At the risk of putting all of our eggs in one basket, Liverpool also make plenty of appeal on the handicap (-2). Paddy Power go 13/8 about the Reds, and that looks good value considering four of Liverpool's five Anfield wins against teams in the lower half of the table have been by at least three goals.
Verdict: Liverpool 3 Cardiff 0 (ND)
The last meeting between these two sides was the Carling Cup final of 2012 when Liverpool won on penalties after a 2-2 draw at Wembley.
Suarez's total of 17 goals is more than 10 of the 20 Premier League clubs have managed this season.
18 of Luis Suarez's 27 Premier League goals in 2013 have come at Anfield.
Crystal Palace v Newcastle (1500)
A glance at the Premier League form table has Newcastle fourth, with 13 points from their last six games. But before we get carried away with that fact, glance just three places lower and you'll see Crystal Palace, who've finally deigned to show some fight having looked all at sea in the top flight. Bookmakers are on to this, of course, and that rules out a bet on the hosts which we simply wouldn't have been considering six weeks ago. It must also be noted that, for all credit is due, Palace have secured three victories against three poor sides. Neither Cardiff nor West Ham have produced consistent performances on the road and Hull have been struggling at home, and there seems little doubt that Newcastle will provide a much tougher test. Alan Pardew's side are known for their home exploits but victories at Aston Villa, Cardiff, Tottenham and Manchester United account for almost half of their total points haul for the season. There have been disappointments, none more so than a 3-0 defeat at Swansea, but in the main they've become an extremely tough side to beat. Indeed, if there's anything in this it should only be a goal - that's the margin that's separated the sides in 10 of Newcastle's 13 games in which there's been a winner. Similarly, it's been the margin of victory or defeat for Palace in four of their last five. All of this points to a close encounter and if pushed for a bet we'd lean towards the draw, but all things considered this is a game priced correctly so we'll move on.
Verdict: Crystal Palace 1 Newcastle 1 (BC)
Crystal Palace have failed to score in their last five meetings with Newcastle in all competitions.
Newcastle United have won their last four league trips to Selhurst Park to play Palace.
The Eagles have lost four of the last five matches against Newcastle in all competitions all by a 2-0 scoreline (W0 D1 L4).
Fulham v Manchester City (1500)
There is absolutely no doubt that Manchester City are hitting their straps as we approach a key point in the season, but do you trust them enough to take 4/11 about an away win? Remember, City have won only two of their eight Premier League away games and while a repeat of either performance would do for Fulham, it's the absence of consistency which means you're brave to take the price offered - incidentally, they were a bigger price to win at Leicester in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday. What of Fulham, then? On the face of it, a 4-1 defeat at Everton means they arrive with further questions to answer but there are caveats here - one is they always lose at Goodison Park, and another is they were level after 70 minutes against an Everton side who've been superb all season, particularly at home. Prior to that, Fulham were unfortunate to lose to Spurs before deservedly beating Aston Villa and early signs are that the change from Martin Jol to Rene Meulensteen has been for the better. Fulham can also call upon a decent record at home against City - they fought back from 2-0 down to gain a point two seasons ago and were a shade unfortunate to lose 2-1 last year - and I just think 6/1 draw no bet is too big. It is, without question, a bet which could look very silly, very quickly, but on their day this is a Fulham side capable of causing a shock and a minimum-stakes play is the call against a City side who are sure to miss Sergio Aguero over the coming weeks.
Verdict: Fulham 2 Manchester City 1 (BC)
If only away games counted this season than Manchester City would only be 11th with eight points.
Man City have averaged 7.6 shots on target per game at home this season but only 5.3 in away games.
Alvaro Negredo has scored in only one of his last seven away appearances for Man City (one goal in total) in the Premier League.
Manchester United v West Ham (1500)
Manchester United have dropped 10 points at Old Trafford against teams in the lower half of the table and there is every chance that West Ham will try to frustrate the misfiring Red Devils on Saturday. However the home side - despite the likely absence of Wayne Rooney through injury - still look capable of breaking down Sam Allardyce's team and a narrow win looks the most likely outcome. Man Utd have only scored eight goals at home this season in the Premier League but Danny Welbeck looked full of confidence against Aston Villa last weekend and Rooney's likely absence should allow Shinji Kagawa to play in his more favoured number 10 position. Ladbrokes and Stan James offer 7/1 about a 1-0 win and this match-up has a history of that bet landing; the last two were won by solitary goals. Both of those matches featured very early strikes and all of Man Utd's three home wins this season have seen them score before half-time. BetVictor offer even money about the home side winning at half-time and full-time and that looks interesting, as does the same firm's 5/4 about David Moyes' side winning to nil. Their last five victories in all competitions have all been achieved without conceding, and they have kept a clean sheet in eight of their last 10 home matches against the Hammers. West Ham are one of the most impotent teams in the Premier League, especially away from Upton Park. Four goals in eight matches (three of which came in a rumbustious victory at Spurs) illustrate the club's striking frailties and Sam Allardyce has suggested that his troops are thin on the ground for the weekend's task. His team do come into the match on the back of a fine Capital One Cup win - again at White Hart Lane - where Allardyce played a striker(!) Carlton Cole will presumably continue on Saturday as Kevin Nolan serves the final match of his three-game ban and the former England international has scored against Man Utd in the past, most notably when notching a brace against them in the LEague Cup in 2010. However Cole only has one goal to his name this season and it is his namesake Joe who has been more of a goal threat along with Ravel Morrison; they have scored five of West Ham's 13 Premier League goals this season.
Verdict: Manchester United 1 West Ham 0 (ND)
The Hammers have failed to score in six of their last eight Barclays Premier League games against Man Utd.
West Ham have won just one of their eight Premier League away games this season (D3 L4), failing to score five times.
West Ham have failed to score in nine of their Premier League games this season - only five sides in the history of the competition have failed to score in more of their opening 16 games of a campaign.
Stoke v Aston Villa (1500)
Goals goal goals, I'm looking for a good time. If you're singing that (and not many people do), then this probably isn't the match for you. Two of the last four clashes between these sides at the Britannia have ended 0-0 and the reverse fixture at Villa Park last season also finished goalless. In a recurring theme, both Aston Villa and Stoke have struggled for goals this year. Stoke have notched just eight times in as many home games, whilst Villa have found the net 16 times in 16 games. To their credit, they have fared better away from home, with 10 in eight, but they look toothless in front of goal at present (no goals in three of their last four games). Top scorer Christian Benteke (4) looks short of confidence and manager Paul Lambert's decision to drop the Belgian to the bench for the game against Southampton hasn't helped. Although (a counter-attacking) Villa won that game 3-2, Benteke has not scored in the two games since being restored to the team; he has now gone 10 games without a goal. Gabriel Agbonlahor picked up a fifth yellow of the season against Man Utd last time out and the former England international has been the creative spark this season; he tops the assist list with three. Lambert's side have conceded at least two goals in their last three away matches, however they were against Man Utd, Southampton and a renewed Fulham, and Stoke don't pose as strong a threat. Mark Hughes' side have failed to score in four of their last five matches and will be missing the guile of Stephen Ireland who is ineligible to face his former club. Stoke will have Jonathan Walters available after serving his suspension but the bare facts of eight goals at home suggest that a stalemate is a real possibility. Since Stoke made it back into the top flight, six of the last nine games between these two teams have ended in draws and that looks the likeliest scenario once again.
Verdict: Stoke 0 Aston Villa 0 (ND)
Christian Benteke has now gone 11 hours and 59 minutes without scoring a Barclays Premier League goal.
Stoke have lost only one home game in the Premier League this season (W3 D4).
Both Aston Villa and Stoke have failed to score in three of their last four Premier League games.
Sunderland v Norwich (1500)
This is a massive game for both clubs. Regardless of their midweek Capital One Cup heroics, this is the biggest game Sunderland have faced in a while. Win, and while they'll end the week bottom still, they will have built momentum which could see them climb the table in the coming weeks. Lose and, with away games at Everton and Cardiff next, they risk entering 2014 with just nine Premier League points. For Norwich, the top half of the table isn't far out of reach but make no mistake, their focus is on increasing the gap to those below them. Ten points from a possible 18 is much more like it and although Chris Hughton remains under pressure, a win here followed by another against Fulham on Boxing Day and they'd be on a more than respectable 24 points and well clear of the fight for survival. Norwich have done reasonably well on the road this term and shouldn't fear Sunderland, who are now winless in five in the league since beating Manchester City and are under real pressure to perform here. There's a case to be made for them struggling to match the intensity shown against the bigger sides when faced with these arguably more important challenges, and Gus Poyet's threadbare squad also have to recover from 120 grueling minutes against Chelsea. With that in mind, bet365's 5/6 about Norwich and the draw looks good value to me. Norwich are in better form and were a shade unlucky in this fixture last year, while their last trip to this part of the world saw them give in-form Newcastle a scare or two in a narrow defeat. They should be able to play with greater freedom and can capitalise with a vital win.
Verdict: Sunderland 1 Norwich 2 (BC)
After failing to score in his first five Premier League appearances, Gary Hooper has now scored in four of his last six (four goals in total) games for Norwich.
Norwich have conceded more goals away from home than any other team in the Premier League this season (21).
Sunderland, meanwhile, have conceded more home goals than any other Premier League side (16).
West Brom v Hull (1500)
These two sides haven't met in the league for nearly five years however it's a match which has a history of going to the away team and, at this stage of the season, Hull look a much more accomplished side than West Brom. Steve Bruce's side are 18/5 to claim all three points and that looks worth a small interest. Some may point to Hull's woeful away record - they have lost six of their eight away games this season - however all of their defeats have come against teams in the top-half of the table. Wins at the KC Stadium against Norwich, West Ham and Sunderland prove that Bruce is adept at firing up his team for the crucial games against the weaker sides in the league. Yannick Sagbo and Danny Graham are starting to work well together and provide a strong physical presence up-front, whilst former Spurs duo Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore are imposing themselves more and more in the centre of the pitch. Confidence at managerless West Brom is low after just seven wins in this calendar year and a 1-0 defeat at Cardiff last weekend was the straw that broke the camel's back for Steve Clarke. That was the Baggies' fifth defeat in eight games and, despite having a squad of talented players, they haven't been working well together. They were two goals up against Villa at the Hawthorns in November but let their arch rivals back into a game which eventually finished 2-2. Backers of West Brom will take comfort from their home wins against Sunderland and Crystal Palace but Hull look a better - and more organised - side. Interestingly Hull have won on their last two visits to the Hawthorns and the away team has won four of the last five clashes between these two sides. The pressure is off for 12th-placed Hull and they can take advantage of the uncertainty currently enveloping their opponents.
Verdict: West Brom 0 Hull 1 (ND)
Hull City have won their last two league trips to the Hawthorns to play West Bromwich Albion.
West Brom have now gone three hours without a Premier League goal.
WBA have lost each of their last four Premier League games. They have not lost five in a row since January 2011.
- Liverpool v Cardiff is live in the UK on BT Sport.